A Short Story
by Dane Bowman
“Any reason why I had to empty out my pockets before coming in here?”
“That’s procedure, I’m afraid,” he replied. “It’s more of a formality than anything else. I promise you’ll get everything back when we’re done here.”
“Sure, yeah. It’s jus’ you’re making me feel like I’m the one in trouble here.”
He pressed a button on the tape recorder which sat between the pair of them. “This is just another formality,” he remarked. “In case this develops any further. It’s always nice to have a permanent record of these things, you know?”
There was an uncertain silence between the pair of them.
“Thanks again for coming forward,” he said. “You can start whenever you’re ready.”
More optimistic about all of this than he was, she held her thumb up, and the glass ring thereupon glistened as it caught the sun’s rays. She waved her hand a little, hoping the thing would catch the eye of somebody driving up on them from behind. The universal gesture for ‘I need a ride’, now augmented by whatever sunlight the ring could refract, that was what she was doing. And him? He just shook his head and turned down the corners of his mouth, thought to himself that she’s always been too hopeful when it came to these sorts of things.
“Nobody’s going to stop, Chels.”
“How do you know?” She meandered a little further down the road. “You’re always so pessimistic.”
“You and I both know that there’s a big difference between pessimism and realism.”
A short distance away from the pair, parked off the road, is the vehicle which had failed on them. Unable to get from A to B for whatever reason, all it was capable of now was waiting patiently for some kind of fix.
“Okay, sure, let’s say nobody stops. Cars just pass us by whilst I do this.” She shook her hand as if he was the one whose attention she was after. “How is me doing this a worse idea than you doing nothing? This,” she wiggled her upright thumb at the words, “is our best bet right now.” She started walking slowly.
He couldn’t argue with her because trying to hitch a ride really was all they had currently. It wasn’t as if either of them could figure the car out or why it had stopped in the middle of nowhere. Couple that with the fact that their phones weren’t functioning and it was pretty plain to see why they were stuck. His cellphone couldn’t find anything resembling a signal and hers didn’t have any life left in its battery.
“The power of the mighty ring found upon this beautiful thumb of mine,” she called back, louder now, “will be our salvation!” She wiggled the digit about wildly.
His sigh was an exaggerated one. “You’re always so dramatic.”
She made light of what was going on. In this way she hoped to defuse any sort of frustration or anger on either of their parts. It was what she always did in these types of situations and it was a trait that he had always appreciated. She was the real reason they were able to work through these kinds of stressors with smiles rather than scowls.
“Wait up!” He headed over to the car, closed the door and then locked it, pulling the handle once or twice just to double-check it was secure before he tried to catch up with his other half. “Chelsea, would you slow down a little?”
“At least that’s how I imagine it went. I wasn’t there, you see? I had this part of the story related to me after it happened.”
“Sure.” He nods. “Carry on then.”
Her arm stretched out and, her thumb upright still, she walked. A short distance behind her trailed her boyfriend who occasionally nodded his head slightly so as to avoid the glare which sometimes bounced off his girlfriend’s thumb. “I bet you hadn’t banked on not seeing a single other car,” he said. With his head down it wasn’t long before he found a rock worth kicking.
“Oh, shush,” she called back. “I bet the first car we see stops. They’ll have to because they’ll just know how infrequent traffic on this road is.”
“People are scared of hitchhikers, Chels. You know that, right? You’ve seen movies on the subject. Nine times out of ten when a hitcher gets picked up whoever’s been stupid enough to offer them a lift gets hurt… or worse.”
“You really need to shelve that imagination of yours. I can assure you that I’m not feeling murderous in the slightest.” She laughed. “Don’t know about you though…”
He shook his head. “It’s not my attitude we’re talking about here. It’s whoever’s going to pull over for us. That’s what they’re thinking.” He sped up a little until he was eventually alongside her. “Plus, there’s two of us as well, meaning we’d outnumber a lone driver. There’s a whole bunch of psychological elements to this.”
“Let’s wait and see.” She was resolute. Determined not to hear a single word gainsaid, she kept her hitchhiking arm up.
He sighed. “And we’ll be strangers.”
She nodded. “Sure, yeah, but we’ll be sooooooo nice to them. Besides, a stranger is just a friend we haven’t met yet.”
“You know that’s absolute nonsense, right?”
She laughed. “I know. I thought it might make you smile a little though.”
And it had, so he didn’t complain further and instead tried to keep step with her. He removed his cellphone from his pocket and, after cupping his hand over the screen to beat the glare, realised that he still didn’t have signal.
“We really are in the middle of nowhere.”
“At least we’re here together. Lucky for you because I doubt you’d be able manage this situation by yourself,” she said. “I mean what with your negative attitude towards hitching I’m fairly certain someone would discover you unconscious and emaciated inside your car after a week or two.”
“I would’ve walked to the nearest… whatever. You’re never too far from a station.”
“Feeling pretty far right about now.”
He glanced back over his shoulder and realised just how long the pair of them had been walking. The car wasn’t just a minor blip left somewhere back there. It was now absent completely.
“I left my phone in the car.”
“We left pretty much everything in the car,” he said. “It was dead anyways. No use carrying things that won’t help us.”
“I know that. I was just thinking that maybe whoever picks us up might have a car charger I can use,” she said. “That’d be nice, wouldn’t it?”
“How about we wait for them to appear first before we get our hopes up…”
She sighed. “You know, I really wish my battery lasted longer.”
“It probably would if you didn’t spend all your time on it.”
“Those videos of cats aren’t going to watch themselves, Simon. They just aren’t.”
He laughed and, once she saw that he’d relaxed slightly, she allowed herself to do the same. She took his hand in her own and when he eventually smiled at her, she gave it a squeeze.
“Hold on a second,” he said. “How do you know all of this?”
“I asked ‘em, of course. Can’t really stand wide silences, me, so I asked ‘em and, well, they was pretty forthcoming with the details. She was happy to describe what they’d been through.”
“It always turns out that the hitcher is a dangerous individual. We’re always psychopaths or sociopaths who’re only too happy to do whatever it takes to achieve our goals.”
“So we’d kill the driver and steal their car? Is that what you’re suggesting?”
“That’s the typical MO, yeah.”
She chuckled. “Sure, in a horror movie, Simon. In real life… not so much.”
“You know there’s always a grain of truth in these sorts of stories.”
“Well then, if it’s just the one grain I’m sure we’ll be fine. Hopefully whoever picks us up isn’t as paranoid as you are.”
Somehow still upbeat about all of this she kept her pace up. In her step there appeared to be something which resembled a spring. Her momentum made her seem tireless, as if she wasn’t willing to be fatigued in any way. Thumb stood straight up still, she pressed onwards, and, right there beside her, he tried his best to keep step.
“I don’t really see myself as paranoid,” he muttered.
“Maybe that’s the wrong word. I think you just have… mismatched expectations. Maybe it’s that whole optimism pessimism thing again.”
“Just look on the bright side.” His voice was singsong and his words were meant to insult.
“Is that your best impression of me?” she asked. “Two and a half years together and that’s what you come up with? You need more practice.” She wasn’t baited by it and saw no real reason to fire back at him so instead she pressed the point further. “I’m sure I sound more nasal than that, don’t I?” She pinched her nose and repeated what he had said.
“Are you seriously impersonating yourself right now?”
“I have to. You know I hear my voice differently to you.” With his mind off the issue at hand, she steered the conversation elsewhere. “You’re the only person who hears your voice the way you do. Nobody else but you gets that build-up before it bursts out of your mouth. All that bouncing off of bone and whatnot.”
He shook his head. “I’m sorry about the mimicry.”
“It’s a form of flattery, isn’t it?” She chuckled.
“Do you think we’re close to anything?”
She shrugged. “I don’t know.”
“Maybe we should’ve walked the other way, should’ve gone back where we came from.” She dialled up some melodrama, placing the back of her hand to her head. “But it’s too late for that now, Simon! Too late!” She pretended to swoon and then toppled onto him. Unprepared, he only just managed to catch her, but the pair of them still ended up on the ground. A small cloud of dust whipped up around them. For a moment he frowned at her but then his face split into a smile.
“And all of this went on before you found them obviously?”
“We done rolling about in the dirt?” he asked.
She chuckled. “Sure, I guess.” She dusted herself off after standing up. “What’s the big hurry anyways? You got somewhere you need to be?”
“I wouldn’t mind us getting somewhere a bit less… remote. That’s all.”
“Let’s get going then,” she said, extending a hand so as to help her boyfriend up. “You know what? We just don’t have time to be taking breaks like this, Simon.” She patted off the fine, red sand which covered the majority of his back. Then, with both palms pressed flat against him, she pushed. “Off we go,” she said, as he began walking in front of her.
Eventually, once the pair of them had found their stride, she sidled up next to him.
“Whose bright idea was this, anyways?” he asked.
“Well,” she replied, “with the way you’re asking it, I have a feeling it may’ve been mine. I mean only I could suggest a perfectly pleasant holiday during which your car breaks down on us.”
“Exactly.” He chuckled. “You jinxed us somehow.”
“I always do, don’t I?” she replied. “It’s a nasty habit, I have.”
“At least I’m still good company, right?”
“The best,” he answered.
“That dust’s all over you,” she muttered, looking him up and down. “I’m sorry for getting you all dirty.”
He shrugged. “Doesn’t matter. Anyways, just thinking about it now, that dust’s probably what upset my car so badly. Might’ve been choking on it for all we know…”
“Could be,” she replied. “Do you think if we’d maybe waited around it would’ve come right eventually?”
“Don’t know,” he said. “Don’t think so though. We’ll probably need to run a fair amount of water over the engine before it’ll run again.”
“Or something like that.”
The pair walked on for a while longer, both keeping quiet as they went. A trail of red dust rose up behind them as they went.
“You think we’ll be walking much longer?” she asked.
He noticed then that his other half was starting to flag. “Not too far, I don’t think. How about this? Next patch of shade we see, we stop?”
She looked across at him and smiled.
“I think we deserve a little break,” he said.
“I’m fairly certain that it’ll cool down when night falls.”
“Probably,” he replied. “Though I doubt we’ll be around to feel it because I’m pretty sure your folks’ll put out an APB when the two of us fail to show up at exactly the time you told them we would.”
She laughed. “Yeah, my parents are a bit pedantic about time.”
“As are you,” he said.
“As am I,” she conceded, smiling.
“Hold on, how do you know all of this?”
“I asked, of course. Had to know a little bit more about ‘em, didn’t I? It’s always risky business picking up strangers.”
He shrugged. “Understandable.”
“I guess my parents must just really like me,” she said. “Being an only child makes that sort of thing easy. What with you having all those brothers and sisters it’s plain to see why your folks aren’t too fond of you.”
He laughed. “Shut up, you.”
“Thanks for coming with, by the way,” she said.
“What do you mean?”
“Coming with to visit my folks. I mean it is a bit of a hike.”
“Well, it is now…”
She stuck her tongue out at him. “I meant before the whole car-breaking-down-on-us thing… I really appreciate it.” She closed the gap between the two of them and then pecked him on the cheek.
“It’s a pleasure.”
“It’s just… if we hadn’t come out this way, the car wouldn’t have broken down,” she said. “The two of us wouldn’t be walking now.”
“Cheer up, Chels,” he said. “I mean it’s not exactly the end of the world, is it?”
She shrugged, but didn’t bother replying. Sensing that she was in need of brightening up, Simon skipped ahead of her a few steps and turned to face her. He began taking measured steps backwards.
“Sooner than you know it we’ll be with your folks,” he said. “And later on in the week I’m fairly certain that this’ll just be something for us to laugh about.”
She managed to send a small smile his way before she put her head down and went back to watching his feet as they stepped backwards.
He squeezed the bridge of his noise and, nasal-sounding now, spoke. “I mean, just look on the bright side, Chelsea.”
She chuckled. “Oh yeah, now that sounds exactly like me.”
“It’s uncanny, right?”
The pair laughed, though Chelsea was quick to cut this short. “Ugh… It’s just if this hadn’t happened-”
“Well,” he interrupted, “it has happened. And you and I, we’re going to make it through this!” He grabbed both of her hands with his own. “Do you hear me, damnit?!”
She laughed. “Now who’s the dramatic one?”
“Clearly you’re a bad influence on me,” he said.
Looking over her shoulder, he watched the horizon behind her. Eventually he squeezed her hands and smiled. “There’s a car coming.”
“And that was when you stopped to pick them up?”
“That was when I stopped to pick ‘em up,” he said. “Of course, I had to tend to a few formalities first though.”
“Formalities?” he echoed.
“Yeah. Can’t just go ‘round picking up hitchers willy-nilly, can I?”
“I imagine not.”
“Now I know it’s illegal, officer, but these two was just kids, and they looked a bit worn out from having walked long-like. I felt I had to pick ‘em up.”
She had started waving her thumb about with renewed vigour. There was no doubt that the car was bound to stop for them – they could both see it slowing down as it approached – but she waggled her thumb regardless, grinning at him as she did so.
“Yeah, yeah,” he said. “You win.”
“We all win, Simon,” she replied. “We all win. Nobody’s dying today because of this thumb.” He shook his head. “Mm-hmm.”
“Now, I’m not going to say ‘I told you so’, Simon,” she said. “And that’s because I’m not that kind of person, you see? That just isn’t me. I’m not the sort of gal who goes and says ‘I told you so’ even when she’s got very good reason to.”
The two of them laughed and, as the sounds of their laughter were dying down, the car came to a halt beside them. The dust it had been trailing in its wake eventually caught up and clouded the pair. They both started coughing. It was only when this cloud disappeared that the driver did his window down.
“I’m sorry about all that,” he said. “Damn dust kicks up everywhere. Can’t do nothing about it, I swear.”
“It’s no problem, mister,” Chelsea answered.
“You kids look like you been rolling about in the stuff though.” He gave the two of them a looking over. “Been walking long?”
“A while,” Simon replied. “Our car broke down a while back.”
“Yeah, I seen it. You two’ve come quite a ways.”
Silently, the driver watched both of them for a few moments. He appeared to be deep in thought. The moment, an uncertain seeming one, left Chelsea feeling slightly on edge.
“Thanks for stopping, mister,” she said. “We haven’t seen another car on this road since we broke down.”
“Folks don’t really come out this way much,” he replied. “These roads is none too good what with all the dust flying about… Why’d you kids come here anyways?”
“Well,” Simon began, “before the car broke down we were on our way to visit her parents. We’re going to be staying there a while. Sort of like a holiday,” he said.
“Like a holiday,” the driver repeated. “I see. An’ I s’pose I’ll need to take you two back to fetch your bags and such?”
“Not at all,” Chelsea said. “If you wouldn’t mind terribly lifting us to the nearest service station… or anywhere where there’s signal, really. That’d work too.”
“For my phone,” Simon said. “As soon as I find some signal we can just call for help.”
“Call for help, yeah,” the driver repeated. He sighed. “Signal’s bad ‘round here though. And the next station’s a whiles on still, but I’ll take you.”
Chelsea smiled. “Thank you so much! You have no idea how much this means to us!”
“Well, what kinda person would I be if I just left you two out here?” he said. “I ain’t heartless.” He turned around in his seat and unlocked the door behind him and then, after leaning across the car’s centre console, he unlocked the passenger-side door. “Hop in.”
Chelsea climbed into the backseat of the car, careful to kick what dirt she could off her shoes before doing so.
“No need to worry about that, missy,” he said. “The dust gets everywhere. A little bit in the car never hurt no-one, trust me.”
She smiled and belted herself in.
“Thanks again,” Simon said as he lowered himself into the passenger-side seat. “I really wasn’t expecting anyone to stop for us. You know how it is…”
“How what is?” the driver asked.
Simon hesitated slightly, noticeably. “Well, with hitchhikers, I mean.”
“Don’t start this again, please,” Chelsea said.
The driver looked back at Chelsea before narrowing his eyes at the man seated beside him. “I don’t think I’m following you.”
“I’m talking about those stories where people pick up hitchhikers and that’s the last you see of them.”
“The last you see of who?” he asked. “The hitchhikers?”
“No,” Simon replied. “The people.”
“What happens to ‘em?”
“Because of the hitchhikers?” Simon offered. “Have you seriously never worried about that sort of thing?”
“Before now, no,” he replied. “I don’t pick up hitchhikers all too often. Fair’s fair, you don’t get many of ‘em ‘round here, but when I do give ‘em rides they’re usually nice-enough types.” He kept his eyes fixed on Simon, who could see the uncertainty in them. “I ain’t never heard none of these kinds of stories you’re on about, kid… and I don’t much like ‘em.”
A heavy silence fell over them.
Chelsea, sensing that if something wasn’t done soon they would end up without a ride, interrupted the tension between the two men in the front seat by thrusting her thumb forward between them.
“You stopped ‘cos of this, didn’t you?” she asked. She wiggled her thumb hopefully. The ring on her finger glittered momentarily every time it caught what little light there was hiding out in the car.
He smiled. “Never seen something like that before,” he replied. “But, no, I didn’t see that when you was walking on the side of the road. Don’t even think you had your thumb up, missy.”
“It’s Chelsea,” she said.
“And I’m Simon.”
The driver switched his gaze between the pair of them and then nodded a few times.
“Alright,” he said. “Nice to know.”
“And you are?” Chelsea asked.
“Name’s Lewis,” he replied. He revved the car once or twice, making sure the engine was still turning over. He looked back at Chelsea and then across to Simon. “Seatbelt on, kid,” he ordered.
“And how long after this would you say you dropped the two of them off?”
“Now I never said nothing about dropping ‘em off.”
“I never dropped ‘em off…” He paused. “At least I didn’t drop ‘em off at that service station they wanted. Whilst I was driving we got to talking a bit and – I don’t know – something just didn’t sit right with me it all. They was odd those two.”
“Go on,” he urged.
“Well, first off,” Simon started. “They’re superficial types.” He looked at Lewis who stared ahead resolutely. “Hitchhikers, that is. You pick them up and there’s a chance that things’ll start out smooth enough, they’ll be thankful when you offer them the ride. They’ll be showering you with their gratitude.”
“Can we skip this please, Simon?”
“And maybe the two of you’ll start making conversation. The polite kind, you know? It’ll all be non-specific questions and general topics. Like chit-chat. That sort of thing, you know?”
Simon paused briefly before surging on. “And any questions they don’t want, well, they’ll steer you away from asking. Or,” he said, “if you do get around to asking them, they’ll just end up going unanswered. Eventually you’ll figure out that they’re putting up a front,” he said. “They’re all façade.”
“Fuh-sahd?” Lewis echoed, his voice uncertain-sounding.
“Like… not real?” Simon asked.
Chelsea leaned forward between the two seats. “As in they’re pretending.”
Lewis cautiously eyed the woman now beside him whilst also trying to keep the road somewhere in his sightlines.
“It’s all a big ruse, basically,” Simon explained. “They do their best to fool the driver into thinking that they’re perfectly alright people, and-”
“And?” Lewis asked.
“Well, they end up killing them, usually,” he said.
Lewis furrowed his eyebrows, but kept staring straight ahead. When he spoke again his eyes were still fixed on the road. “Why?” he asked eventually.
“Simon…” Chelsea slid back in her seat, sank back into it really, and her boyfriend watched as she did so. Her slump was a statement – one that he chose to ignore.
“Well, I assume they get some kind of pleasure out of it, you know?” Simon continued.
“No, I can’t say that I do know,” Lewis replied tersely.
“Oh no, he doesn’t mean it like that,” Chelsea said. “You don’t mean it like that. Right, Simon?” She watched Lewis for a few seconds.
“Uh, right, obviously. It’s just a turn of phrase is all. I really didn’t mean anything by it.” Simon shrugged. “I was just making conversation.”
“Well, it’s not the best,” Chelsea muttered.
“What was that?”
“I said ‘it’s not the best’, Simon. There’s better stuff we could be talking about.”
“If he doesn’t want to talk about it, he can just change the topic. Isn’t that right, Lewis?”
Before he could speak up Chelsea did. “He’s just being polite,” she said. “And,” she looked across at Lewis, “he doesn’t have to be.”
“He’ll tell me if something’s the matter, Chels.” Simon shook his head.
Lewis fidgeted with his rear-view mirror before speaking again. “I’m not one for talking much whilst I’m driving. Really, I just get on with it.”
“Speaking of ‘getting on with it’,” Chelsea said. “How far would you say we are from that station?”
“Therearounds we was maybe a half hour out. That’s driving, mind you.”
“You mean from the station?” he asked.
“From the station,” Lewis echoed. “And let me tell you, officer, I was already plenty edgy. The more that kid talked the more I wanted to be rid of him.”
“They’re good storytellers, hitchhikers.”
“Imagine so,” Lewis replied. He had hoped that answering quickly might cut the conversation short, might serve as some kind of hint to this stranger.
“Yeah, storytellers,” Simon continued. “I guess it goes hand-in-hand with the whole ‘lying for a living’ lifestyle that they have going on. If you ask me-”
“Which nobody has,” Chelsea said.
“If you ask me,” he repeated, “that’s what comes from drifting around so much. You start picking up parts of the people you meet, and you develop like this… patchwork persona from all the pieces you have.”
“Please give it a rest, Simon.”
“You mean literal-like?” Lewis asked slowly.
Simon waved the question away. “No, I mean like their personality. They start acting like the people they come into contact with. You know, like impersonating them.” He nodded at Lewis. “They’d start talkin’ like you and then their words’d change. Accent too, maybe.”
After mouthing the word ‘stop’, Chelsea reached forwards and squeezed Simon’s shoulder. When he made eye contact with her she shook her head at him. The pair locked eyes for a few seconds, each staring steadily at their other, before Chelsea, feeling defeated, looked away.
“They ain’t got nothin’ of their own?” Lewis said.
“They ain’t got nothin’ of their own,” Simon echoed.
The car jerked slightly as Lewis brought his foot off the accelerator abruptly. He glared at Simon who, eyes still on Chelsea, was oblivious of this completely.
“So what they do is collect things up,” Simon said. “And it’s not only behaviours. It’s trophies too. You know, like trinkets? A little memento from each of the people they’ve crossed paths with.”
Chelsea shook her head again and slumped back into her seat.
“Like proof?” Lewis asked.
“Yeah, like proof,” he said. “So they end up taking things like hair cuttings or their driver’s licences. If it’s unique to the person that sorta thing gets took.”
“I don’t get it.”
“It’s a compulsion, I guess. That urgent feeling of ‘I have to have it’, maybe? So you take some hair, or a scarf, or some jewellery, or a watch. You know, that sort of thing.”
Lewis didn’t respond, didn’t talk further, didn’t press the conversation, at all.
“So, what’s special to you, Lewis?”
His hands tensed up on the steering wheel.
“Please can we skip this, Simon…”
“I’m just making conversation is all.” He looked backed at his girlfriend who was currently staring out of the window. “You know, passing the time.”
“Well, it isn’t,” she replied. “Trust me, it really isn’t.”
“He don’t mind.” And Lewis not responding immediately was signal enough for Simon to continue. “So you’d take my ID card, probably, or maybe my cellphone or my shirt or something. And from Chels?” He looked her up and down. “Well, probably some hair, or maybe her top.”
“I don’t much like-”
“No!” Simon shouted. “It’d be the ring! That’s what you’d take,” he said. “Just look at it. Give it here, Chels.”
She shook her head. “I don’t want to.”
“Give. It. Here.”
“And that was when I lost my temper with him. I had to be rid of him there and then, needed to get him outta my car.”
“So what?” the officer asked. “You asked nicely and the pair of them just got out?”
“Now look,” he began. “I ain’t one for losing my temper, but I got a bit hot under the collar with those kids. I shouted at ‘em, yeah. That boy, he just kept going on and on about all that stuff. It weren’t right… How’d you feel if a stranger started spouting that kinda thing after you’d offered them a ride?”
“Now I’ve been perfectly hospitable to the pair of you this far,” Lewis said. “But all this talk of yours, kid, well, I don’t much like it. I think I’d be a touch more comfortable if the two of you got out of my car.”
He slowed the car right down, readying to stop.
“Look, I’m sorry,” Simon began. “I didn’t mean anything-”
“Doesn’t matter what you mean or didn’t mean. Still don’t like it. Even after your missus told you to stop – multiple times, mind you – you still kept at it. Now I don’t know if you’re trying to tell me something here or what, but I don’t much like it.”
The car came to a complete stop and, after Lewis pulled the handbrake up, he stared at Simon, icy. “Now look, you two aren’t far from that service station o’ yours. It’s maybe an hour from here, but I’ll tell you one thing’s for sure, it ain’t with me.”
“He didn’t mean it, Lewis,” Chelsea said. She leant forward from the backseat, squeezing herself through the gap between the two seats in front of her. “You didn’t, did you, Simon?”
Simon shook his head.
The word wasn’t a suggestion, it was an order, and, the way Lewis had said it, it was final. Simon unbuckled his seatbelt and opened his door. Once he was out he slammed the door behind himself, padded a short distance away from the car, and then, arms crossed, stood there waiting for Chelsea to join him.
“I’m real sorry about that, missy,” he said. “I ain’t got nothing ‘gainst you but that man o’ yours, well, he just runs his mouth a bit too much.”
“Tell me about it,” she replied. “Anyways, thanks for taking us this far, I suppose.” She opened her door and climbed out.
He smiled. “Good luck rest of the way,” he said. “Just walk straight on and you’ll be there in no time at all.”
“Be seein’ you,” he said.
It was fast becoming the early evening and, as the air around them began cooling down in preparation for nighttime, the two of started walking once more. Him, a few paces behind her, stewing in the guilt of having ruined their one chance at an easy ride and her, walking resolutely, with one arm wrapped around her midsection for warmth and the other cast out into the street. She strode on, thumb up once more, waiting for somebody new to see the two of them, but what with the light dying down there would be no light bouncing off that beautiful ring of hers.
“And that’s when I drove off,” he said. “Whole way into town all I could think about was those kids and how maybe I hadn’t done right by leaving ‘em there. It bothered me something fierce.”
“Then why didn’t you go back?”
“I thought I’d look a damn fool for doing that. Maybe I’m just too proud.”
“Or too stubborn,” the officer replied. “Look, I probably would’ve done the same thing if I was in your position.”
“That’s why I came here, see?” he said. “Thought it’d be sensible if I told someone about it. Went straight here, I did.”
“Look, I’m sure those kids were perfectly alright folk,” he said, “but in that situation things did sound a bit weird. I doubt they’ll be causing anybody any trouble,” he continued, “and, if they do, well then I’ve got some kind of evidence of it.” He tapped the tape recorder. “Anyways, thanks for coming forward… It’s Lewis, right?”
“That’s right,” he replied. “And it weren’t nothing. Happy to help.”
The two of them exited the interrogation room which had served, briefly, as the place for this polite interview.
“You know, chances are those two have already found their way. Probably ran into some cellphone signal not long after you left them.”
His response was a shrug.
“Or something like that, I guess,” the officer said.
“Or something like that,” Lewis echoed.
The pair of them walked towards the imposing double doors which marked the entrance to this quiet police station.
Lewis rested a hand on one of these doors and then flinched suddenly. “My things!” He turned to face the officer. “I nearly forgot ‘em! Ain’t gonna get far without my keys, am I?”
“Of course!” He laughed and crossed towards the reception counter nearest to them. “I guess I did make a promise about giving those back to you, didn’t I?”
The officer seated behind the counter looked up from some paperwork which he had been scrawling on. “Sarge?”
“Corporal, this gentleman’s things, if you wouldn’t mind?”
He put aside his paperwork and riffled through the contents of an open drawer somewhere behind the counter. Producing a transparent bag, he held this up.
“That’s mine, yeah.”
“Thanks, Corporal.” He looked back towards the door. “Excuse the little evidence baggie,” he said. “Not much else around here that we can use.”
“Not a problem.” Lewis took the bag which the officer held out for him and after opening it up he emptied its contents out into his other hand. He scrunched the bag up and handed it back to the officer who took it wordlessly. He fished his car keys out of the jumbled mess of trinkets in his hand and jingled these victoriously. “Be seein’ you,” he said before walking out.
The door swung closed behind him. The corporal returned to whatever form he’d been filling in whilst his sergeant regarded the balled-up bag in his hand.
“There was really no need to ruin a perfectly good baggie like that,” the officer muttered. “Could’ve used that again.”
“Probably not, Sarge. Went and writ all over it. I did,” the corporal said, without looking up from his form-filling.
“Now why’d you go and do a thing like that?” he asked.
The corporal paused his writing and looked up at his sergeant. Eventually he shrugged. “Procedure, I guess. It’s a bad habit of mine. I always list what I’m putting into those bags.”
“Not necessarily a bad habit, corporal.” He stretched the bag out between both of his hands, doing his best to straighten it out and neaten it up.
“Took me an age too,” the corporal said. “Guy had a stupid big collection of things. Man might’ve been a magpie in disguise.”
With the bag smoothed out slightly, the sergeant ran his eyes over the list thereupon. “You really need to neaten your handwriting up, corporal.” He shook his head. “I mean what’s this here? Can’t make it out.” He strode over to the young officer and presented the bag to him, his finger resting on the last item on the list.
The corporal looked up from his paperwork and squinted at his own scrawl.
“Well?” his sergeant asked, growing impatient.
“That says ‘glass ring’, Sarge.”