It was 7:00 a.m. on May 30, 1955, Decoration Day— or Memorial Day as the federal holiday was becoming known—in honor of soldiers who had died while serving in the nation’s armed forces. Recently mustered-out Korean War veteran Captain Silas A. McGuiness was smartly crossing through the parking area of his campsite alongside Oak Creek in the Coconino National Forest of central Arizona. His large officer command tent, which was set up at the back of the site and under the shade of tall oak trees, was proudly decorated with a U.S. flag hanging from the left flap of the tent’s entrance. His olive-drab U.S. Army M35 two-and-a-half-ton 6x6 cargo truck—with a big white star on either of the cab doors—was parked to the right of the tent.
Dressed in the army utility uniform he had worn in Korea, Silas was admiring the gutted, beheaded and ready- to-fry trout that he was carrying in a small water-filled pail. He was on his way to the campsite’s fire pit, where the fire had burned down to red-hot coals. Next to the fire pit, laid out in orderly fashion on the picnic table, was the rest of what he needed for preparing his breakfast. Rain showers during the night had made everything green and cool along the tree-canopied canyon and creek.
“I love my fresh breakfast trout,” he had just said to himself, when he heard the sputtering of a car running out of gas. He stopped, turned and watched, while an unusual vehicle rolled off two-lane US/SR A89—the scenic national- forest alternate to the faster direct route from Prescott to Flagstaff. The car slowly trundled across his site’s wide parking area, with the motor completely dying as it halted directly in front of Silas.
The unusual vehicle was a 1932 Ford V-8 Roadster in classic condition. It was a two-seat convertible, dark marine in color, with black fenders, yellow wire-wheels, white side- wall tires, leather interior, and a tan canvas top, which was in raised position.
“What in the world is this roadster doing in this canyon?” Silas asked out loud to himself in surprise. “It belongs in a museum or a car collection. It’s not meant for a fishing trip in these mountains and canyons south of Flagstaff.” He was so preoccupied with admiring the automobile that he paid no attention to the driver who had gotten out—until she spoke.
“Sir, I’m Miss Beth Dalton. I see gas cans on the side of your army truck. Is it possible for you to sell me five gallons of gas—or at least enough to get me to Sedona, which must be only a few miles further north?” the flustered young lady entreated.
Twenty-six-year-old Scotch-Irish Silas was military hand- some: five-nine, one-hundred sixty pounds, not an ounce of fat, with the build of a football half-back, which he had been in high school. His brown hair was military short. He was clean-shaven despite camping in the wilderness, having used his razor before he went fishing early that morning. His narrow face featured fair and unblemished skin, blue eyes, and the forced, tight-lipped smile of an officer reviewing his troops.
Eighteen-year-old German-Irish Beth was farmer’s- daughter beautiful. She was five-seven, one-hundred twenty pounds and obviously used to being outside. Her fair skin was tanned from the wheat-field sun of West Texas where she had grown up. Her eyes were blue-green. Her sandy-colored hair was wavy and shoulder-length. And the winning, pretty- please-I-need-gas smile on her oval face would be impossible to say no to—or so she thought.
Someone watching from the other side of the highway would assume that they were a couple—not perfect strangers—especially because she was dressed in rumpled cotton pajamas and bedroom slippers, wore no make-up and had hair that was tousled and un-brushed, while he appeared to be getting ready to prepare their fresh-fish breakfast. What would confirm the reasonable assumption that they were together was the fact that they were heatedly arguing like a husband and wife who had gotten out of bed too early and were both in an ill state of humor.
“Miss Dalton, I hope you’re not planning on filling your gas tank and then immediately continuing on to wherever you’re going,” Silas reprimanded the young lady. “You look like you’ve been driving all night. You’re in no condition to get back on the road.
“So no, I most certainly will not give you any gas, until you’ve rested. You’re dangerous to yourself and to others, especially on this narrow and winding canyon road in holiday traffic. ... I am Captain Silas McGuiness, U.S. Army, Active Reserves, and I hereby order you to lay yourself down in my command tent that’s behind you, and rest a while. ... I repeat, I won’t give you one drop of gas until you’ve rested.”
“But I can’t stop!” Beth protested vehemently. “They’ll find me and take me back to the church in Albuquerque.” “Miss, you just drove all the way from Albuquerque?! From the direction in which you’re heading—north towards
Flagstaff—you must have come by way of Phoenix. Coming that way, Albuquerque is over 500 miles from here. What time did you start out?” “I left at nine-thirty last night, after I told my mother I was going to bed early. ... They’re looking for me by now. Please, Sir, I’m begging you, sell me some gas.”
“Miss, it’s seven in the morning. ...You’ve been driving almost ten hours, and like a fool, I’m sure. Sixty to seventy miles per hour! That car you’re driving must be in really good condition or you would have burned the motor up. ... I’m guessing that this ’32 roadster is not yours. Is that why they’re looking for you? You stole it?”
“Sir, it belongs to the old man my father is forcing me to marry—Tom Maclean. In Albuquerque where I’m supposed to get married today, he had it there for an auto show. I’m from Mackenzie, Texas, which is in the Texas Panhandle.”
“Miss Dalton, that roadster would certainly have taken first prize in the show—if you hadn’t stolen it. ... I’m from Mackenzie, too. Small world.”
“Me! I’m the first prize,” sputtered the young lady. “Mr. Maclean is paying off my father’s bank loans and mortgages so we won’t lose our spread of land south of Mackenzie. My father is selling me. I’m the prize.”
“I myself certainly would pay a lot for you,” replied the Captain McGuiness sarcastically. “You’re definitely first-prize material—even as worn-out as you look, in flimsy pajamas, no make-up and hair in a mess. ... In the meantime, join me for breakfast—fresh trout I just pulled out of the creek. And then get some rest.”
[TO BE CONTINUED]