Baylor Roman, Desdemona Elspeth Culpepper and Avery Denton had arrived several miles outside of Washington, D.C. in the rig, and were waiting for their car to show up. Each of them was nervous, and quietly sat eating their fast food burgers and fries in the cab of the semi, mostly without words.
Avery felt terrible that he couldn’t take them any further as had been previously arranged. But it was just too risky – in fact, it was risky enough taking them this far. And he still had another rider to pick up near the freeway soon. Also, he worried about Baylor and the pretty girl with him. Everyone in the truck knew that things were finally going to come full circle. It was all getting ready to go down.
Earlier, when they’d parked the rig next to a large warehouse and several other tractor trailer trucks, the air thick with carbon monoxide and smoke and dirt, Des had jumped out to run across the street to the fast food joint.
“Son,” Avery had said, glad for the opportunity to finally have a moment alone with Baylor, “You know that I’ve always liked you.” Avery wasn’t much good at the personal talk, and kept his sunglasses on, staring straight ahead.
“Well, I like you too, Avery.” Baylor gave a curious look. “I think it’s fairly obvious, though, I’m spoken for.”
“Damn, son, shut up.” Avery was fidgety now. “Look. I like you. I like your uncles, too. They – and you – well, you’ve been good to our family.”
“You’ve been good to ours, Avery. What’re you getting at?”
Avery hesitated for a moment.
“You sure this isn't you gettin' sold out?”
Baylor knew how hard that must’ve been for Avery to say. Suggesting that Baylor’s uncles, the Harlan Brothers, were actively trying to have him killed. Which, in a weird way, they kind of were.
“No, it’s not that.” Baylor sighed. “Think of all of this as a test.”
“A test.” Avery looked at Baylor deadpan now. “What’s that mean? A test…”
“A test. Sort of. Didn’t you have to take some kind of driving test before they let you run around in this giant goddam rig?” Baylor looked at Avery now.
“Well, yeah…” it began to dawn on Avery. Of course. A test. Baylor’s uncles were testing him. “Then what’s with the girl?
“If I pass the test,” Baylor said, realizing he was hungry, watching Des cross the street with bags of burgers, “and she doesn’t kill me, I get to keep her.” He smiled widely at Avery, who didn’t quite know what to do with the lousy joke but laugh.
“I wish that car’d get here,” Avery said, changing the subject. “You two need to roll.” Des was climbing back into the truck cab, forcing Baylor to scoot to the middle. They all wordlessly wolfed down their food.
As they each finished, crumpling bags and tossing them to the floor of the cab, a car pulled in to the lot, flashing its lights – the signal.
You’ve got to be fucking kidding me, thought Baylor. Des thought roughly the same thing. Avery just said it out loud.
The car pulled in front of Avery, who flashed his light back. Out of the car jumped a little man, Hispanic, his filthy baseball hat on crooked and his oversized shirt a mess. Nobody could believe the lousy turn of luck, and Baylor had to chuckle at his own carelessness.
The car was a Pontiac Firebird.
“Goddamn, Chaco, don’t you watch the motherfuckin’ news?” Avery was pretty pissed, climbing out of the cab of the truck.
The young man clearly didn’t understand why he was being berated in such a manner.
“Hey, you hasked for de car, main. You din ever say wha kine,” he shrugged his shoulders, crossed his arms and stood by the car.
It was a somewhat newer model than had belonged to the late Jimmy Yakimoto. The color, where it wasn’t rusted out, was a deep blue. Inside, the interior was shot to hell, and yellow foam leaked out of each bucket seat. Many rolls of duct tape had been used in and around the vehicle. The front bumper was literally wired to the frame. As was the muffler. The glass wasn’t tinted like Jimmy ‘the Deal’ Yakimoto’s Firebird, just dirty.
Chaco was exactly right, though – Avery had made the call to his older brother, Q.T. Denton, and asked for a car. The Denton Brothers were notorious for playing cruel hoaxes on one another, and Baylor couldn’t help but wonder if this wasn’t a Q.T. special – a really, really bad joke. Either way, it was time to pay Chaco, who stood with his palm out, as though asking for a tip.
“You know,” Des said as she lit a cigarette, slowly circling the car, “maybe this isn’t so bad. They’ll never expect us to be in another Pontiac Firebird. Right?”
Of course she was right. Brilliant.
Baylor just shrugged. He reached into the bag of money from the bank and counted out fifteen hundred dollars, far more than the car was worth. Just before he put the money in his hand, he said, “It better not fucking break down, comprende?”
Des let out a disapproving cough. This was, after all, the relative charity of the Denton Family at work. No one had to arrange the quickie sale.
“No way, main. Me an’ my brother – we fix it up good,” Chaco smiled as Baylor placed the money in the little chop shop operator’s hand. Chaco didn’t even count it. He stuffed it into the pocket of his dirty pants and walked down the road at a pretty good clip.
Between the bank money and the money from Jimmy Yakimoto, he counted out twenty thousand dollars.
“Avery,” he said, handing the money to the truck driver, “thank you. Couldn’t have done this without you.”
“Baylor, I feel bad taking your money. You been so good to my brothers, and what you’re about to do…”
“Hey,” Baylor cut him off and shoved the bricks of money towards him. “Forget about it. Look out for a postcard.” Baylor offered him a big smile and turned towards the car.
Avery turned towards Des.
“You know that he’ll be good to you, right?”
“You know, it’s funny, Avery, I do,” she leaned forward and gave the older man a kiss on the cheek. “Thank you. I promise we’ll see you soon, okay?”
Avery smiled and watched as the two fugitives climbed into the car. Five minutes later, he was driving back out of town, headed south in his rig. He really did hope the best for them.
# # # #
It took more than five minutes to get the car started, and more than once Baylor considered calling Avery or Q.T. and demanding another car or his money back. But it finally kicked over and rumbled to life. Still, now both Baylor and Des were in pretty foul moods. Nervous, anyway. They remained wordless out of D.C. and headed east on Route 50, driving just around the speed limit and hoping to hell the hard-core Maryland State Troopers wouldn’t pull them over.
Des was cleaning one of the .9mm guns, and Baylor realized he wasn’t shocked to learn that she had a gun cleaning kit in her bag of stuff. Her brow was furrowed, and she seemed deeply involved in the task. It was probably a good task to undertake, lose yourself in the repetitive particulars of it.
Baylor took in the view. It was very fall-like and the trees were a beautiful mix of colors. He cracked the window down and waited for the smell of the ocean. He saw, at times, dark gray clouds coming in from the horizon, and that meant rain from the ocean. Could be a big storm, which, even if things were their best, could either still be good or very bad.
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