Weak Signals and Strange Attractors

The old Dodge half-ton ground its way up Highway 116. Azalia Dawn had decided to bypass Santa Rosa and was looking for the turn onto Coleman Valley Road. Milo slumped on the passenger side of the sagging bench seat, dispirited. An hour and a half before he'd felt happily content at La Honda. Now he was headed into uncertainty again. The young woman driving was certainly pretty and charming, but this did not soothe his dark trepidition.  

“She's way too damn dewy-eyed and chipper,” he reflected  glumly.

He glowered at the road ahead, taking intermittent short pulls from the bottle that Guerney Norman had handed off as a grudging parting gift. He'd offered it up as a kind of enticement as several pairs of all-too-willing hands had energetically - to all intents - shanghaied Milo and shoved him bodily into Azalia Dawn's's truck just as she pulled out of Kesey's yard.  

Milo felt the bottle's heft getting dangerously light. He hoped it would last until they got to Bill Wheeler's Ranch.  

“How much farther?” he asked.

“We're almost there," said Azalia Dawn. "Can I have a shot? Bill doesn't like people drinking on the property. Says it disturbs the karma.”

Milo's eyes narrowed at this unwelcome intelligence. He fought an urge to too-obviously hug the bottle closer, but Azalia Dawn's fresh, dark-eyed beauty caught him slantwise from the side, and he relented. He passed it over. How could he say no? She took sip, chirped in pleasure at what she tasted, then drained off a long hit. When she passed the dark brown bottle back, Milo sat it casually on the dashboard, so he could surreptitiously eyeball its level against the sunlight flooding into the flat windshield.

The girl could knock it back like a trooper. 

“Maybe we should stop at a liquor store or something, soon,” he half-blurted, trying to keep desperation from creeping into his voice.

“Can't stop. I'm carrying supplies for the commune, and Bill's been waiting on me for a couple of days already. Sorry.“

“Oh, jeezuz.  Wh... what am I gonna do?”  Rising desperation squeezed his vocal chords tight.

Milo felt bewildered. The prospect of Kallie's and Furlonger's unceremonious, inevitable reappearance,  if he didn't get more booze - or something - and soon - flooded him with existential nausea.

“Don't worry! They're good people at the ranch. They'll take care of you.”

“You don't understand.”

He knew he sounded like a suck. His voice kept rising in timbre anyway. 

Azalia Dawn smiled benignly back at him, half-aware that a scent of roses was rising in the cab over the usual stifle of sunbaked, dusty old metal, raw gas and burnt oil.

She decided Milo must be either a poor alcoholic or a speed freak on the verge, and felt a tinge of pity. Pity, and a sudden inexplicable horniness. She assumed this was due to Milo's show of vulnerability. She had a thing for vulnerable bad boys. It was a thing that would span numerous bad romances, almost as many bad marriages, and a consuming lifelong interest in numerous forms of psychotherapy.  But she didn't know that yet.

Azalia Dawn let off the gas, slowed and wheeled the truck over to the shoulder of the road.

“You're going to be okay, Milo.” she said, reassuringly.

Milo nursed a careful prophylactic nip from the bottle's dwindling flow, and hoped she was right.

Azalia Dawn's fresh scent crowded in on him from the driver's side.