The Mystery Machine
It's taken years to track down – he's paid a dozen men or more to find this thing, and he recognizes it even now, less than a hundred yards away. Rust coats the old van, the tires are flat, the windows shattered and scraped, and there are only hints of the blue and lime paint that used to decorate the antique automobile. He runs his hand along the windshield, and his palm is coated in dust and flecks of orange-red rust. He brushes his hands vaguely on the seat of his pants, not interested in the quality of the van, but more in the sentimental value.
He grips the handle and tugs – the driver's side door doesn't open. He pulls harder but succeeds only in pulling off the tarnished lever. He smiles, some kind of morbid satisfaction playing in the corners of his mouth, and climbs over a pile of old tires and barbed wire to see if the passenger's side door will open. His dress pants get caught in the barbed wire, ripping open and tearing at the skin on his legs, but he doesn't care; his only focus is to get inside that van.
He trips over a twisted knot of metal and rubber, a weather-worn bicycle. He glances around the junkyard briefly, clear and cloudy eyes studying a mess of rust and metal and rubber and plastic and wood. A large flower decorating this side of the Machine catches his attention. He touches it lightly, almost lovingly, fingers lingering on the orange paint, and an icy breeze sends a chill down his spine. He grabs the door handle to the front passenger's side door and grins as it swings open relatively easily, though a loud creak echoes through the junkyard. He moves to touch the faded fabric of the seat, but stops himself before he does and instead breathes deeply through his nostrils, letting the foul aroma fill him – yet he smiles at the familiar stench of vegetables and dog food. Without another thought, he has hoisted himself into the seat and is climbing over to the driver's side.
He sits comfortably in the seat, expecting a flood of memories to flow into his mind. He waits for that tidal wave of the past, waits and waits, but nothing comes. His left hand moves to yank the seatbelt, to fasten it in place, but he finds that the fabric has torn and is greeted only with a loose buckle. A small, dark smirk spreads, and he lets the clasp fall loose to the floor of the old Machine.
As though without the assistance of his mind, his hands climb up the sides of that all-too-familiar steering wheel. He grips the wheel tightly, turning it slightly left, then slightly right; then, without thinking, he punches a fist into the horn. The blaring sound he expects is missing, and he is met rather with a wheezing sound from the front of the car.
He pets the steering wheel lovingly, as though it was a small child. He realizes he is still expecting that overflow of memories, but knows at the same time that it isn't coming. He wants it to come, he wants to sit back and enjoy, without any effort, the recollections of solving mysteries with his three best friends. But he knows memories take that effort, he knows that if he wants to remember he will have to work at it. He is no longer the chipper, sixteen-year-old he used to be.
She had always said it was mainly his fault that they split up. She had always scolded him, reprimanded him, told him he was always putting others down and sucking up all the glory for himself. He had denied it, of course. What was he supposed to do, let her win all the time? But he should have. He should have listened to her – he should have listened to all of them.
Everything had changed, starting when the group split up. Everything that was signature about him was lost – he stopped wearing those old blue jeans and his wife had begged him to stop wearing that collared blue shirt and white cardigan. She had also insisted that the ascots had to go too, but he had stubbornly refused – yet he had stopped wearing ascots as well, shortly after the divorce. Everything feels so awkward now, sitting here dressed in torn dress pants and a messy button-up shirt, a stuffy tie, a dark blazer, sitting in the old van, spots and stains from his friends. He smiles to himself now, thinking back on the events that had created those spots and stains.
And he suddenly realizes he was hit, however briefly, with a small wave of memories.
But that wave is gone now. He sits, quiet and cold and alone.
Rain begins to fall, splattering in through the broken driver's window. He shifts to the middle of the bench that makes up the front seat, avoiding the window. He had never particularly liked getting wet – he only used to go swimming for the sake of watching girls splash around in the water. He has not escaped the rain entirely, however, and he pulls off his blazer to put over his head as a shield from the rain.
He looks up, startled at the sudden voice. A woman stands just outside the broken window, dressed oddly similar to himself. The woman's hair is brown and red both, a rich auburn color, and could be very pretty if it was not cut so short. A pair of glasses are perched on the woman's button nose and she wears a blazer similar to his own – while his is black, however, hers is brown tweed. Dress shirt, striped tie – he cannot see her legs, but he knows by instinct that she wears a short, pleated skirt. She smiles, a kind and mature smile, but goofy and childish at the same time. He admits mentally to himself that had she not kept the same thick glasses and the same short hair cut, he probably would not have recognized this former childhood friend.
He scoots over as she pulls at the door handle – the driver's door is still stuck though. He lifts his leg and kicks right as she attempts at pulling again and the door swings open and right off its hinges. She lets out a little yelp and jumps away, letting the door crash to the ground. She gazes at it for a moment, then shrugs it off and climbs into the driver's seat.
"What are you doing here?" she demands.
He does not respond to the question, only stares at her. He knows she is struggling to avoid eye contact, directing her dark, intelligent eyes to the windshield, pretending to examine the long scrapes and cracks. He reaches out to touch her and her eyes are suddenly watching his hand – her lower lip is clamped firmly between her teeth – but he does not make contact. He realizes now that he is avoiding contact on purpose – first with the painted hippie flower, then with her – becaise it will make everything real. It will make that fight real, it will make that marriage and that divorce real, it will make the last twenty years without his friends so very, very real.
He tries to say her first name, but his tongue and his lips seem to have forgotten how to form such an ancient term. "Dinkley," he says instead.
"Are we only on a last-name basis, then?" She has found loose thread in the fabric of the seats and is focusing all of her attention on picking it out. "Jones."
"No, I… I mean, yes, I… I've missed you."
And at last eye contact is reached. "I've missed you too," she says. "All of you."
Silence falls. A long, heavy silence. The rain grows thicker and heavier and louder and Jones considers for a moment climbing into the backseat. There seems to be less leaking in the backseat than the front; but he finds that he feels this completely inappropriate, for no one ever traveled in the backseat. Four teenagers and a dog and they always managed to cram themselves into the front of the small bus.
She speaks again: "Why are you here?"
"I don't know," he says, examining his hands. "I've had men looking through junkyards for four years looking for this van… I just needed to be here. Needed to sit in these seats again, needed to remember – you know?"
"Yeah," she says, her voice soft and meek. "Yeah, I do know."
He doesn't ask her why she is here or how she found it because he finds he doesn't care. She's here, and he's here, and the Machine is here, and right now that's all that matters.
"You know," she says. "Sometimes I completely forget why we four split up in the first place."
"Sometimes?" he repeats, grinning. "I've forgotten entirely."
The conversation is awkward and they both feel it – small talk, then silence, then a bit more small talk, then a lot more silence, then a little bit more small talk, and then a year more of silence. The rain is pouring now and they watch it flood down the broken windshield and seep secretly through the cracks, dripping onto the dusty dashboard.
"Where is she?" she asks suddenly.
"Who?" He plays ignorant, though he knows exactly who she speaks of.
"I know you know, Freddie."
"Daph–" He chokes halfway through the name, falling into a fit of coughs.
"Gone soft?" she says gently. "You never were that tough, Freddie. I saw that. Not even Daphne saw that. You tried to be the macho one, you put on that façade of a boisterous teenage jock, that mask of bravery –"
"Well somebody had to!" he protests. "You were the smart one, she was the diva, Shags was the coward – I was the only one left. I had to be brave."
"We were all brave, Freddie," she says. "We never could have done all that we did if we weren't brave."
"If we were so brave, how come we split up?" he cries, attempting to stand up in the van and succeeding only in hitting his head. "That sounds like an ugly bunch of cowardice to me!"
"You're right," she says. "But no one's perfect."
The rain is lightening now, but the sky is still dark gray.
"Where have you been? All these years, where have you been?"
"I went to Harvard," she says, smiling. "And I've been working at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration since I graduated."
"NASA," he whispers. "I knew it would be something like that."
"What about you?" she asks.
"Different things, here and there," he says. "Department stores for a little while, then I tried my hand at writing a book based on all of our little escapades – it was a big success actually, haven't you heard of it?"
"Yeah, I've heard of it. I haven't had a chance to read it."
"It's not that good," he admits. He laughs. "It's actually really bad. I just reread it last week and I forgot how we all… well… I guess I just have no idea why it was such a big success – maybe just because we were such a big success and no one was eager to see us go."
"That, or they all wanted to know why we split."
"No… I didn't cover that in the book."
The back door to the van slides open and they both jump, whirling around to watch as a strange-looking man climbs in. He is bone thin and unshaven with long, dirty, brown hair and dressed only in a pair of bellbottom blue jeans. He has a bottle-green box that looks uncannily familiar to both Jones and Dinkley, but they both find they have trouble recognizing this man. He does not seem to notice them at first and sits facing away from them, cross-legged on the floor of the van. He tosses a few of the smelly cookies from the box into his mouth and lights up a cigarette. The pair in the front seat exchange a look as the man reaches around to scratch down the back of his pants and Jones clears his throat loudly.
"Zoinks!" The hobo jumps, dropping his cigarette and the box of cookies. He hurriedly stamps out the cigarette before twisting around to look at them. "Sorry, I didn't realize anyone else was here…"
Jones can see by the light in Dinkley's eyes that she recognizes the odd hobo, but his mind has not yet made the connection. "It's all right," he says. "It's your home, I suppose, not ours… It used to be ours, but not now… I guess – I guess we'll be leaving."
"Shaggy," says the woman gently. "Don't you recognize us?"
"Like, no way, man!" He's thrown himself into the front seat, squeezed between them, before they can protest. "Freddie! Velma!" His bare arms are stretched out behind them both, and he's suddenly squeezing their heads tight against his ribcage. "I never thought I'd see you two again! Where's Daph?" He releases them and looks eagerly at Jones for the answer to this last question.
"She's – I don't know," answers Jones. "We divorced… nearly eight years ago."
"Oh," says Rogers. He pulls back the lanky arms and folds his hands in his lap.
"What've you been up to, Shaggy?" asks Dinkley, trying earnestly to be polite.
"Oh, you know," says Rogers. "Just kind of hanging out… I took the Machine after we split and Scoobs and I traveled across the country… but we ran out of money for gas soon enough, so we ended up here. There's a tiny drug store up the road, so I've been working there to get enough money for food, but I still can't afford to eat and travel… and I don't think I could stand living in any car but the Machine and obviously now it's too broken-down to do anything with… So I'm just kind of living barely and hoping that I wake up the next day."
"Where's Scooby?" asks Fred Jones.
"He's gone," says Rogers, quieter than he has ever been before. Jones opens his mouth to ask further, but Dinkley gives him a stern look and shakes her head.
The passenger door suddenly opens. "I knew you'd all be here. I just knew it."
Dinkley, Rogers, and Jones all shift to make room for the new stranger. This one is recognizable almost immediately, for Daphne Blake has hardly changed since their teenaged days. Blake is still petite, still redhead, and still wearing her lime green scarf. It was a bit hypocritical, in Jones's opinion, that she made him get rid of his ascots but felt it was all right to keep her own scarf. Her clothing is otherwise undetectable, for she wears a black car coat that disguises any fashion choice she has made. She does, however, wear a pair of black velvet pumps, for Daphne Blake is a stylish woman and has always made sure everyone knew it.
"Well, I don't know why I'm here," she says, climbing up into the seat. "I just… Well, Jenkins said his brother was here not long ago looking for a spare something-or-other and recognized the Machine. And he told Jenkins – Jenkins is my butler, you know – and Jenkins told me and I knew that one way or another I needed to be here… and here I am, and here you all are, and it's all rather appropriate, isn't it?"
Everything Blake has said so far has been said with a cold bite and a distant air, as though she is bitter about having to see them again. Yet there is a spark in her eyes that sends a message to Dinkley – she has missed her. They were always dear friends and that bond began to break even long before the group split up. Freddie and Blake were getting closer than before, and it put a damper on the relationship between Blake and Dinkley.
Greetings are exchanged, but they are curt hellos and how-are-yous. The rain falls again, and the four sit there and watch it.
"Norville," says Daphne suddenly and Rogers, Dinkley, and Jones all give her a strange look. Shaggy Rogers hasn't been called Norville since age thirteen. He doesn't protest, however, and Daphne continues: "I saw you on television not long ago. They were doing a special on tracking down has-been stars. I wondered why they tracked down you when it was clear you would be hardest to find… After all, I'm a world-wide famous fashion designer now" – she lightly flips her hair as she says this – "and Freddie is easy enough to track, what with his book, right Freddie? And I'm sure you're doing something big, Dinkley?"
"NASA," answers Dinkley.
"Yes, precisely," says Blake. "Have you any idea why they chose you, then, Norville?" The tension seems to increase each time she says Shaggy Rogers' birth name.
"Maybe that's why," says Norville. "Because everyone knows what happened to you guys."
Silence. A long silence that rings angrily through Jones' ears.
"I remember now why we split," says Daphne Blake thoughtfully. The other three look at her with curiosity. "We've run out of things to talk about."
"That could be it," agrees Velma. "And now we simply have so much to talk about that we don't know where to start, so we never do start."
"Maybe we're best off separate then," says Fred. "Although it could make a grand news story, couldn't it? An author, a scientist, a hobo, and a fashion designer, childhood friends, all abandon their dreams to work together once more at keeping the world safe."
The passenger door swings open and Daphne steps out. "I can't do that, Freddie," she says, stepping slowly away. "I know you might not be serious, but that's what's been holding me from coming back here sooner – I knew that someone would suggest getting back together. I can't do that. I've worked too hard to get where I am and I love it." She held up her hand – a ring glittered, taunting all three of them. "I'm engaged – again. My fiancée didn't want me coming here, but I came… and I'm glad I did. Because I see now that we are best separate. Our lives were one once – four in one and one in four. But not anymore. We're through. It was all fun and good while it lasted, but it ended for a reason, even if we can't remember what that reason was. I'm sorry, and I want all three of you to know that I love you all a lot… But this is just the way it is. This is just the way things have to be."
She slams the door and the window shatters. She starts to walk away, but turns around to speak once more and for the final time, with tears straining her voice: "We're never going to be together, the four of us, again. And I'm never going to see any of you again, unless it's on television or something. This is just the way things have to be."
And with that, Daphne Blake hurries away.
There is a long silence that follows. Velma Dinkley, Freddie Jones, and Shaggy Rogers listen as Blake makes her way through the junkyard. They hear her bark orders to a valet, a car door slam, and the limousine starts up and drives away. When Jones looks at Dinkley again, her eyes are glittering with tears, but her voice is strong and clear.
"I knew that would happen," she says. "I just knew it. It had to happen, didn't it?"
Freddie looks away quickly, at the windshield, the broken door, Shaggy's bare feet, anywhere but Velma's eyes. He nods, slow and sad. "Yeah. It did."
"Can we still go on?" she asks. Her voice is choked, pleading with him, begging. "Three out of four isn't so bad." But Jones won't look at her. He can't look at her. She reaches across Shaggy to take Freddie's hand, and takes Shaggy's hand, and looks at them each. She brings Freddie's hand to her cheek, kisses it softly, slides out of the van, following in Daphne's footsteps.
"Velma, wait!" calls Shaggy. But Velma's footsteps only quicken and the rain begins to fall again. He looks up. "Freddie?"
"Sorry, Shagster." Jones sticks out his right hand and Shaggy gawks at it for a moment, like it's some foreign toy he has never seen before. Then he places his own hand in Freddie's and they shake. And tears run down Shaggy's dirty cheeks and he starts coughing terribly, squeezing Freddie's hand tighter and tighter still, and then he is wailing hysterically, throwing his arms around Freddie's neck and weeping like a child. And Freddie Jones smiles sadly and puts an arm around his old friend's shoulders.
When Shaggy has slowed down to a gentle pattern of hiccups, Jones slips out of the van. He looks again at the peeling paint, the gathering rust. "Shaggy," he calls, "if you ever need anything, look me up."
"Yeah," says Shaggy between hiccups. "I'll do that."
And as Freddie Jones quietly walks away from his childhood, he knows he will never speak to Norville Rogers again.