Short Story — “Tailgater”

There are many occasions in The Eye-Dancers where one of the main characters feels bad after doing or saying something.  Joe is impetuous, and too often acts without first thinking things through.  Mitchell, with his penchant for lying and storytelling, sometimes feels a pang of guilt after one of his tall tales.  Ryan second-guesses himself with regularity, always wanting to please people, never wanting to anger or provoke them.  And Marc too often puts people down, without even intending to.  He is, in a nutshell, a know-it-all, and sometimes, as Mitchell himself reminds him at one point in the novel, his horse gets pretty high sometimes.

The main character in the short story “Tailgater,” which I wrote just as I was beginning the first draft of The Eye-Dancers, also experiences a crisis of conscience, an onslaught of guilt . . .

I hope you will read the story and see how he deals with his predicament.

tailgater

 

thruway

 

ring

 

headlights

 

restaurant

 

“Tailgater”

copyright 2013 by Michael S. Fedison

********************

As Paul gripped the steering wheel, cruising down the Thruway at seventy miles per hour, he wondered if he should have gift-wrapped the stolen ring.  But in his haste, his eagerness, his second-guessing, he had simply pocketed it, hoping his co-workers and customers would not find guilt etched on his face like a brand.  Besides, who had the time?  His shift had ended at eight thirty, and he wanted to reach Tammie by eleven, at the latest.  That thought prompted him to push down harder on the gas pedal—and the car sped up to seventy-five.

It still didn’t feel fast enough.  He’d jack it up to a hundred if he thought he could get away with it.  It was tempting, too.  There weren’t many motorists out tonight, and he hadn’t spotted a trooper since getting on the Thruway a half hour ago.

 “Go for it,” he said over the radio.  Someone on NPR was talking about the effects of global warming.  Paul chuckled over that.  It had been well below freezing for two weeks now, since before Thanksgiving.

 He glanced in his rearview mirror, checking for a rogue state trooper.

 “Hey.  What the . . . ?”

 A pair of blue, halogen headlights were reflected there, and he had to look away.  Where had that car come from?  Just a moment ago, no one had been anywhere near him, and yet, suddenly, out of thin air, it seemed, he was being tailgated.  And the creep had his lights set on high beam, too.

 Paul gritted his teeth.  Few things annoyed him more than tailgaters.

 “What are you waiting for, you idiot?” he yelled to the driver behind him.  “Why don’t you just pass me?”

 As far as Paul could tell, no other cars were around.  Why on earth was he being tailgated, then?  All the guy had to do was move over into the other lane and speed ahead.  He seemed intent on deliberately giving Paul a hard time.

 “You asked for it,” Paul said, and gently braked.  He slowed down to seventy, sixty-five, sixty, fifty-five . . .  Still the vehicle behind him stuck, as if the driver wanted to touch license plates.  Beads of perspiration formed on his forehead, and his temples started to throb.  He didn’t need this.  Not now.  Not tonight.  Not after what he’d done.

 Suddenly, he gunned it, and he zoomed ahead, leaving the tailgater far behind.  He was going ninety now, but how could he be blamed for that?  The jerk behind him had forced his hand—or foot, as the case may be.

 Glancing in the rearview mirror, he spotted the blue headlights, at least a hundred yards back.  Still no other traffic in sight.

 Good riddance. 

 He took his right hand off the steering wheel and reached into his pocket, feeling for the ring, checking that it was still there.  It was—of course it was—and it felt hot to the touch, though the band was cold.

 Looking around, at the dead cornfields illuminated by the moon-glow, at the scattered farmhouses with their trusty porch lights on, at the grain silos that loomed in the darkness like sleeping monoliths, he felt small and alone.  The events at the restaurant seemed almost dreamlike, and he wondered if perhaps he might wake up in a moment, his bedsheets wrapped tightly around him, the drone of the clock ticking off the slow seconds of the night.

 But no.  This was no dream.  It was real.  All too real.

 He had never stolen anything before . . . at least not anything of value.  He had swiped a few stray pens and pencils—even a five dollar bill once—but nothing remotely like this.  It hadn’t been premeditated.  He didn’t even know the ring existed until just a few short hours ago, when he saw the woman at his table fiddling with it.  She was eating alone, which was peculiar in itself . . . she was young, attractive, and very clearly affluent.  Her outfit—black Piazza Sempione jacket, red silk blouse, black velvet trousers—probably cost more than his entire wardrobe put together.  And she had ordered the most expensive bottle of wine to go with her meal.

 At first, Paul was merely hoping for a generous tip.  She seemed like the kind of woman who might reward good service.  But as he repeatedly made the rounds to her table, asking her how she was enjoying her food (“It’s very good, thanks,” she said more than once), he couldn’t help but notice the way she absently played with her ring.

 It wasn’t an engagement ring, at least he didn’t think it was.  It had a white gold band, with a black pearl set on top, wrapped in a swirl of diamonds that glittered in the lighting of the restaurant.  He had no idea what the price of the ring might be, though it was clear it hadn’t come cheap.  A thousand dollars, perhaps?  Two thousand?  Three?  Way too much, in any event, to be fiddling around with it—taking it off and twirling it between thumb and forefinger—as this woman was doing.

 It made him think of Tammie—beautiful, kind, big-hearted Tammie who lived paycheck to paycheck, working overtime at the factory every other week just to make ends meet.  She was the best thing that had ever happened to him.  He’d met her six months ago.  She was visiting old friends in Rochester, and they had come into the restaurant.  He waited their table.

 He hadn’t openly flirted with Tammie that evening, nor she with him.  But there was something between them, something so charged he thought he’d be electrocuted if he could reach out and touch it.  He had never believed in love at first sight, but how else to explain it?  He could tell she wasn’t at home in the restaurant . . . where the food was pricey and the clientele white-collar, bordering on snobbish.  Later, she told him her friends insisted on taking her there, though she would have preferred a local diner or pizzeria.  Paul chuckled at the memory.  But only for a moment.  It made him sad, bitter even, that she didn’t own anything special, no diamond ring or gold necklace.  It wasn’t fair.  She deserved it.  She deserved so much more. . . .

 He went up to the woman’s table.  The remains of her meal were heaped on the dinner plate, her glass of wine nearly empty.

 “Are you all set, ma’am?” he asked.

 She smiled, nodded; he took her plate and left the bill with her.  He noticed she wasn’t wearing the pearl ring.  What had she done with it?  Put it in her mouth, just for kicks?

 A moment later, he had his answer.  Amid the uneaten morsels of food, he spotted it.  Just lying there.  He laughed, picked it out of the leftovers, and prepared to return it.

 Then he hesitated.  He again thought of Tammie.  Christmas was in two weeks, and he had only bought her a cheap book he’d found on sale, a scarf, and a pair of red mittens.  It made him ill that he couldn’t buy her something nice, but his landlord had raised the rent last month, and Paul was scrimping as much as possible.  He’d been planning to move to Syracuse sometime next year, anyway, to live closer to Tammie.  The increased rent served only as an incentive to get out sooner rather than later.

 His head was suddenly full of scenarios, justifications, rebukes, pros and cons.  Should he give the ring back to the woman?  Yes.  Of course.  What other path was there, really?

 Well . . .

 Maybe he could keep the ring.  Just sort of slip it into his pocket, while no one was looking.  Who would ever know?  And then he could give it to Tammie.  Surprise her with it tonight, after his shift.  Why wait until Christmas?  He wanted to see her face when she beheld the ring—the shine in her eyes, the exuberance of her smile.  All because of him, his gift that would make her feel special and adored.  He couldn’t wait two weeks.

 Besides, if he waited, he might chicken out and give the ring back to its owner.  And why should he do a thing like that?  She didn’t even care about it.  She probably had dozens just like it back at the mansion or townhouse or lakeside bungalow she called home.  What was it to her?

 He returned to her table, the ring in his pants pocket, his cheeks feeling hot.

 “Excuse me,” the woman said, “you didn’t happen to see my ring anyplace, did you?  A black pearl ring?  With a white band?  I seem to have misplaced it.”

 Before he answered, he wondered if she had stuck the ring in her leftovers on purpose, to see what he would do, to test him.  Would he try to steal it?  Or be a good, honest waiter and give it back to her?  Was this all a setup?

 Behind him, he felt a rush of air.  Nicole, a new waitress they had just hired yesterday, hurried past, balancing three plates and smiling as she approached her customers.  He overheard her telling them to flag her down if they needed anything.  Striving for the tip.  That’s what it was all about.  Just like Tammie, working those sixty-hour weeks at the plant.  Trying to stay afloat, hoping to get by.

 Thinking of Tammie gave him a fresh injection of courage.  He took a breath, and a chance.  “I’m sorry to hear that, ma’am.  I’m afraid I haven’t seen it.  I’ll go back and tell all the staff you lost it, though.  It’s bound to turn up somewhere.”

 A shadow fell over the woman’s face, and he almost caved in then.  Maybe he had it all wrong.  Maybe she did care about the ring.  Maybe it had been a gift, from a boyfriend or a relative.  Maybe she was just upset tonight about something, her mind elsewhere, and that was why she had been so careless with it.

 Maybe.  Or maybe he was just conjuring up abstract potentialities that likely didn’t exist.

 “Well,” the woman said, “I don’t know what could’ve happened.  I just had it.  And how could anyone have taken it?  I was here the whole time.”  She looked on her seat, under the table, checked her pockets.  “I don’t understand!  Am I going crazy?  I just had it!”

 “I’m sure it’ll turn up, ma’am,” he said.  “Like I said, I’ll ask around.  And I’ll keep looking in this area, too.  It’s got to be here.”

 She sighed, swore under her breath, shook her head.  “Well, if you do see it, please give my cell a call, okay?”  She jotted down her number on a napkin, and handed it to him.

 “Sure thing,” he said, smiling.

 She gave him a long, hard look.  It felt like she was searching his conscience, attempting to decode his lies.  He wondered if his heartbeat, which sounded like a sledgehammer in his ears, was audible to her, right through his chest.

 “Well, I hope to hear from you later.”

 He didn’t like the way she said that, and he was certain that she suspected what he’d done.  Or was it merely his own guilt, in an effort to prod him into returning her ring?  Whatever it was, he stood his ground.

 When she finally left, he let out a deep breath.  Now he just wished the next couple of hours would fly by and his shift be over.  Then he could get out of here and drive the ninety miles to Tammie’s place, knock on her door, and surprise her.

 He picked up the folder on the tabletop and let out a snort.  He’d had it coming, he supposed.

 She hadn’t left him a tip.

 NPR was beginning to annoy him.  He needed something soothing, comforting.  Turning the dial, he settled on a station playing a piano rendition of “Away in a Manger.”  Perfect.  Just the sort of melody he was looking for.

 He hummed along with the mellow music, trying to forget about the nagging in his head, the doubts that wouldn’t go away.  He could still turn back, call the woman on her cell, tell her he had the ring . . .

 “Can it,” he said, and forced himself to concentrate on the song.

 An SUV passed him on the left, and by instinct, he checked his rearview mirror, to see if anyone else might be close behind.

 Blue, high-beam headlights glared at him, blinding him temporarily.  He turned away from the mirror, rubbed his eyes, and picked up speed.  How had that pest caught up with him again?  No one had been there a second ago.

 “Who cares?” he said.  He’d leave the jerk in the dust again, just like the last time.

 He sped up to eighty, but the car behind him did not fade back.  It stuck to him like a stubborn cold.  He slowed down, sped up again.  Still he couldn’t shake the tailgater.

 That’s when he wondered.  Was the person following him the woman from the restaurant?  Or a boyfriend of hers?  Could that be?

 Don’t be an idiot.  She doesn’t even know what car I drive.

 Yeah, but she might have waited outside and followed you when your shift ended.

 Shut up.  Why would she do that?

 To run you off the road, maybe?  Get her ring back?

 He violently shook his head, and snapped off the radio, as if that might also turn down the volume in his mind.  The Christmas music, calming at first, had turned grating, incongruous.

 “Why are you doing this to me?” he shouted in his mirror.  But his only answer was the flash of blue halogen lights.  “Who are you?”

 He floored it, reaching a hundred miles an hour.  Still, the lights remained just behind him.  The woman, or guy, or whoever it was, would not let him get away.

 Suddenly, he spotted a white Neon directly in his path.  He’d been so focused on losing his pursuer that he hadn’t been paying attention to what lay ahead.  Swerving, slamming on the break, he jerked the car into the passing lane.  The driver of the Neon beeped the horn at him and he could see her gesture angrily even in the dark.

 He passed the Neon, then glanced in his mirror again, hoping nothing would be there.  No such luck.

 The blue headlights still tailed him.

 “All right,” he said.  “If that’s how you want to play . . .”

 He swung back in to the slow lane, then, just as abruptly, changed lanes again, into the passing lane.  He continued to do this—back and forth, back and forth.  Finally, he checked his mirror again, hoping the nutcase behind him had had enough.

 “Well, whaddaya know,” he said, and a smile crossed his lips.  He checked his reflection, and an odd glint was in his eyes now.  The thrill of the chase, he guessed.  It had made him euphoric, half-crazed, even.  The headlights were gone.  Not simply further back.  But gone.

 Odd.  Why would that be?

 From inside his breast pocket, there was a piercing chirp.  His cell.  Someone was texting him.  Was it the woman?  Dropping the game and demanding her ring back?  Don’t be stupid.  She didn’t know his number.  He hadn’t given it to her.

 He took the phone out, his eyes on the road.  He had it mostly to himself.  He passed a pickup truck.  No one else was ahead of him, as far as he could see.  Checking the mirror, there was still no sign of the blue headlights anywhere.  In the distance, another hulking grain silo brooded over the frost-strewn earth.

 He glanced at his cell, read the message.

 Hey, where r u?  Tried calling ur place but no answer.  Thought u’d b home by now.  R u ok?

It was Tammie.  He didn’t want to tell her he was on his way to see her.  But he knew he needed to respond immediately, or else she might worry.  Ahead, he spotted a sign.  The next travel plaza was coming up in two miles.  Good.  He could pull in, text her, then be on his way again.

 With the cell in his hand, he again considered calling the woman from the restaurant.  He hadn’t yet crossed a point of no return.  And, he realized, with each mile he drove, the closer he came to Tammie’s exit, the more uneasy he felt.  He still had an out, a chance to set things right.  Once he saw Tammie, once he gave her the ring and kissed her, there was no way he could then take it back from her.  If he was going to reconsider, it would have to be soon.  Time was running out.

 He’d think about it more when he stopped at the travel plaza.

 No, there’s nothing to think about.  Tammie will love this ring.  That other lady lost it.  Too bad for her.  She shouldn’t have played with it like that.  She—

 In his rearview mirror, there was a sudden flash of blue light.

 “Hey!  No way, not again!  It can’t be.”

 But it was.  His pursuer was back.  He forced himself to look in the mirror again, trying to ignore the burst of light and get a good look at the driver.  But the beams were too bright—they made him think of that light the optometrist shone in his eyes during examinations, so strong that tears cascaded down his cheeks and little black dots floated in the field of his vision for minutes afterward—and the vehicle’s windshield was dark.  For all he knew, the car was driving itself.

 But at least he could pull into the travel plaza this time.  And if the tailgater followed him, he’d confront the jerk once and for all.

 He signaled, slowed down, turned onto the entrance ramp, and coasted into the plaza’s parking lot.  When he checked his mirror, he fully expected to see his nemesis right behind him.  But there was nothing.  For the second time, the car seemed to have vanished, as though it hadn’t been there to begin with.

 “How the . . . ? He was just here!  He was just here.  Wasn’t he?”

 He parked his car, turned off the engine.  Then he looked at his reflection again.

 “Hey, you’re okay, aren’t you, Paul?” he said.  “All the circuits are fully juiced, screws tight, nothing floating loose up in there.  Right?”  He took several deep, calming breaths, trying to rid his mind of tension.  But it was no good.  He was way too edgy, his nerve endings like live wires.

 He texted a quick reply to Tammie, telling her he was fine, just out Christmas shopping.  He figured he’d go out after his shift, late, and avoid the crowds.  He hated to lie, but how could he tell her the truth?.

 Call her.  Call that woman and tell her you have her ring.

 No.  He wouldn’t do that.

 “I need some air,” he said.

 He got out of the car, inhaled deeply, and scanned the lot for the tailgater.  A half-dozen other vehicles were scattered about—any one of them might belong to the guy who’d been tormenting him.  He didn’t even know what his car looked like—only that it had two exceptionally bright high-beam blue halogen headlights.

 “Just forget about it,” he muttered, and strode toward the travel plaza building.  He hadn’t eaten a thing since lunchtime, and the place had a McDonald’s inside.

 But as soon as he passed through the doorway, he realized that he couldn’t just forget about it.  He didn’t know for sure if his tailgater had followed him into the parking lot, but he highly suspected it.  What had seemed like a mystery, an improbability, seconds ago now made perfect sense.  The guy had switched off his headlights as soon as he turned on to the entrance ramp.  Why?  To give the illusion that he’d vanished.  And then, as quick as a subconscious thought, he must have driven to a remote corner of the lot—before Paul could see him.  Yes.  That was it.  He was sure of it.

 But couldn’t he have just continued on the Thruway, and not pulled in here with me?

 “No.”  Paul didn’t believe that.  Somehow he knew, intuitively, that he was still being followed.

 He placed his hand on his forehead.  He could feel the beginning of a nasty headache coming on.

 “Just get some food,” he said.  “Eat.  Calm down.”

 He walked passed an artificial Christmas tree, bedecked with tinsel and cheap-looking gold and silver bulbs.  Above the tree, a placard hung from the ceiling, with the words “Happy Holidays” written in a bold, bright red.

 He looked around.  Three of the plaza’s restaurants were closed for the evening.  Only the McDonald’s was open.  A couple of customers were sitting in booths, enjoying a late-night meal.  Other than that, the place was deserted, save for an old man who was occupied inspecting a scale just outside the men’s room.  This struck him as suspicious.  Wouldn’t that be just what his pursuer might do?  Pretend to be absorbed in some innocuous contraption but in reality, out of the corner of his eye, watching Paul?  Monitoring him?  Sizing him up?

 “Shut up.”

 He ordered a double cheeseburger and a large fries, and sat at one of the booths, by the window, looking through the glass and at himself.  His shadowy reflection glared back at him, frazzled, shaken up.

 He took a bite of the burger—but, though he was hungry, it didn’t go down easily.  His throat seemed to constrict.

 C’mon.  Relax.  What’s your problem?

 Other than stealing an expensive ring?  Being tailgated by a maniac?  Stalked by a person who could very well be dangerous?  Sure.  What could possibly be wrong?

 He took half-a-dozen fries and stuffed them in his mouth.  Good and salty, just the way he liked them, but, again, his throat did not want to cooperate.  “Get out of here,” it seemed to be saying to him.  “Don’t waste time.  He’s here.  He’ll jump you if you let him.”

 He glanced at the two other McDonald’s patrons.

 There was a middle-aged blonde woman seated three booths down.  She was sipping a medium-sized soft drink and picking at a chicken salad.  She looked tired, frumpy.  Her hair was stringy, and she wore a pair of wire-frame glasses that continually fell down her nose.  She would push them up, then they’d fall right back down again.  As she played with her food, pushing it around with her black plastic fork more than actually eating it, she muttered to herself.  Her eyes were droopy, as if she had been on the road all day.

 The other customer was a fiftyish guy in a long gray coat.  He sat on the other side of the restaurant, but he was in clear view and Paul was able to get a good look at him.  He was eating what appeared to be a filet-o-fish sandwich along with two large orders of fries, and he must have been hungry, because he was wolfing the food down.  He was burly, with salt-and-pepper hair and a long, hawklike nose.  As he ate, his shoulders would rise and fall, rise and fall—like a nervous twitch.  Was he the rich woman’s boyfriend, perhaps?  Paul doubted it  Too old.  And too ugly.  But how could he be sure?  You never could tell who a person might fall for.

 He took another bite of his cheeseburger, and this time he nearly spewed it back up.

 “This is impossible,” he said, getting up.  He tossed his food in the waste bin.  Money down the drain, but he couldn’t eat.  As far as he could tell, neither the blonde woman nor the guy with the nervous shoulders had even glanced his way.  And yet, he couldn’t shake the feeling that he was being watched.

 He walked out of the McDonald’s, past the tacky artificial tree.  He noticed the old man, still standing by the entrance to the men’s room, studying the scale.

 “Care to weigh yourself, fella?” the man said.  “I weighed myself.  One hundred and fifty-three pounds.  Not a pound lighter, or heavier.  One fifty-three.  I’ve weighed that same amount since the Eisenhower administration, don’tcha know.  Wanna give ‘er a try?”

 He shook his head, picked up his pace, and bolted through the doors.  He needed to get out of this place, see Tammie.  Give her the ring.

 Walking to his car, he felt exposed.  The tailgater could pick him off so easily out here—maybe turn on those blue headlights, shine them in his eyes, and race toward him, slamming into him before he could dodge out of the way.

 He began to run.  If anyone saw him, they would think he’d lost his mind.  But he didn’t care.  He needed to reach the security of his car, before it was too late.

 When he got there, ducked in, slammed and locked the door, he let out a long, tortured breath.

 “What’s the matter with me?  Jumping at shadows.”

 He started the engine, looked around the lot—still nothing out of the ordinary—and drove off.  When he passed the front of the travel plaza, he saw one of the customers coming out.  The big guy, with the beak nose!  So he was the one!

 He pressed down hard on the gas.  If he got on the highway ahead of him, maybe he could pull far enough away and lose him.

 The exit ramp was straight ahead now, and he continued to accelerate, passing an island of self-serve gas pumps charging exorbitant fuel prices.  Still no one behind him.

 “You’re gonna make it, Paul,” he said.  “You’re gonna make it!”

 He took a quick, cursory glance in his rearview mirror, sure that nothing would be there except the glow of the travel plaza’s lights, the pumps, and the black emptiness of the December night.

 A blinding explosion of blue beams made him close his eyes and slam on the brake.  He pulled over to the side, hoping his pursuer would take the hint and zoom past, onto the interstate, out of his life forever.  But the vehicle just slipped in behind him, the blue halogen lights still shining in at him like an accusation.

 That’s when Paul understood.  There was no escape from this madman.  He was like a killer in a grade-B horror movie.  Always one step ahead of his prey.  Always right there behind you, no matter what you did.

 He was through running.  He couldn’t do it anymore.  The confrontation could not be avoided any longer.

 That guy is huge.  He’d probably break you in half.  Probably has a gun, too.

 He sighed.  He didn’t know for sure that the driver behind him was the guy in the gray coat, the ugly man who looked like he’d been an NFL linebacker, or a heavyweight boxer, in his prime.  But he hadn’t seen anyone pass him on the exit ramp, either.

 That doesn’t mean he’s the one behind you now.  Maybe he’s still in his car back in the parking lot.  Listening to the radio.  Making a call. 

 “Just give it up,” he said.  He was through speculating.  It was time to get out of the car, and see what the guy wanted.

 He wants the ring.  You know that.

 Yes, he did.  He was sure of it.

 Reaching into his jacket pocket, he pulled out the napkin on which the woman at the restaurant had scrawled her cell number.  The guy behind him was likely dangerous, maniacal.  He had shown that already, tailgating and harassing Paul the way he had.  What if he killed him?  Simply shot him or strangled him, then deposited his body in the frigid waters of the lake?

 He had an urge to speed away then.  He didn’t want this, didn’t want to face this unknown danger on some exit ramp in the middle of nowhere surrounded by nothing but old farmhouses and dead fields and cold, hard blacktop.  But where would that get him?  To the next travel plaza?  The exit booths, taking him off the Thruway?  What good would that do?  His adversary would be right there behind him, ready to strike.  It would merely serve to postpone the inevitable.

 He looked at the number on the napkin again.  His tailgater’s headlights, reflecting off the rearview mirror, bathed the napkin in a blue, alien-like glow.  The guy still hadn’t turned off his engine, or gotten out of the car.  He just idled there, waiting, waiting.

 “I don’t want to go out like this,” he said.  “I can’t go out like this.”

 Closing his eyes, he visualized Tammie.  He pictured the ring on her finger, how beautiful it would look, how right.  But thinking of that only made things worse.

 He picked up his cell phone.

 “It’s your lucky night, lady,” he said to the interior of his car, and then dialed her number.

 One ring.  Two.  Three.  Four.  He thought maybe she wouldn’t answer, that he’d get her recording.  It was late, after all.  Should he leave a message?  Or call back later?  Would there even be a later, after he’d dealt with his unrelenting pursuer?

 But on the fifth ring, she answered.  He wondered if she was still wearing her expensive jacket, or if she’d since returned home and had changed into something more casual.

 “Hello?” she said.

 He introduced himself, told her he’d found her ring.  Would she like to come by the restaurant to pick it up tomorrow morning, or should he drive to her place tonight and give it back to her?  Morbidly, he thought, Or maybe you could find the guy who’s behind me now after he kills me, and get it from him. 

 “Oh, thank goodness!” she said.  “You are a lifesaver!  I was sick all evening, thinking of how I’d lost it and wouldn’t ever see it again.  Thank you!  You are so awesome.”

 He swallowed.  Yeah.  Real awesome.  All I tried to do was rip you off tonight.

 “I’ll pick it up tomorrow morning,” she said.  “I suppose I can trust you with it for one night, right?”  She laughed.

 “Right,” he said, and laughed back.  Or tried to.  He doubted it sounded sincere.

 “Well, thanks again,” she said.  “This means so much to me.  See you tomorrow.”

 She said bye, and hung up.  He rubbed his eyes.  It felt like a tremendous weight had been lifted from him.  The albatross was gone.

 But now the real trouble was at hand.

 He turned off the engine, and, without hesitation, got out of the car.  It was better to get this over with quickly.

 “Okay, mister, I—”

 There was nobody there.  No car idling with blue high-beam lights glaring at him.  No hulking man in a gray coat with a long, twisted nose and murder in his eyes.  Nothing.

 “But . . .”

 He walked to the rear of his car, and even peeked underneath, as if the vehicle that had been trailing him had somehow become miniaturized and was now attached to his undercarriage.  Was it possible that his tailgater had grown weary of the chase and had driven off while he was on the phone?  No.  He was sure no one had passed him.

 Then what?

 He didn’t know, and was too tired to think about it.  He just knew he felt like himself again.  That’s all that really mattered.

 He felt for the ring in his pocket.  It was there, safe and secure.  He smiled.

 Maybe the woman would give him a belated tip when she saw him in the morning.

****************

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

39 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. cindy knoke
    Sep 06, 2013 @ 18:34:20

    Love this~

    Reply

  2. John W. Howell
    Sep 06, 2013 @ 19:22:06

    Good story. I am so glad he finally wised up to his guilt

    Reply

  3. Freda Moya
    Sep 06, 2013 @ 21:05:51

    That had me gripped Michael! Very Dual – esque but brilliant and clever metaphor for guilt! Loved it. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    Reply

  4. renxkyoko
    Sep 06, 2013 @ 21:18:25

    He did the right thing. But for a while there, it reminded me of Jeepers Creepers ! !

    Reply

  5. Joanna
    Sep 06, 2013 @ 23:16:16

    Had me glued to the end!

    Reply

  6. mjdresselbooks
    Sep 07, 2013 @ 01:06:34

    Loved it, Michael. Kept my attention all the way through. Great ending.

    Reply

  7. FreeUrCloset
    Sep 07, 2013 @ 03:05:30

    A great read. I enjoyed it!

    Reply

  8. The Other Side of Ugly - Letters to Humanity
    Sep 07, 2013 @ 06:41:02

    Excellent Michael! A great read.

    Reply

  9. WordsFallFromMyEyes
    Sep 07, 2013 @ 08:28:59

    Michael, you’re a prolific writer!!! So many words! Would take me ages to get that much down. Well done.

    A great story, and though I don’t drive around with a ring in my pocket yes, I can relate to the tailgating part. I agree with above – good ending.

    Reply

  10. jenniferkmarsh
    Sep 07, 2013 @ 12:04:37

    Love the guilty conscience metaphor running through this 🙂 – great writing!

    Reply

  11. Sherri
    Sep 07, 2013 @ 12:33:17

    Very gripping story Mike, you had me until the very end wondering what Paul was going to with the ring…oh the power of a guilty conscience 😉

    Reply

  12. Janice Spina
    Sep 07, 2013 @ 12:45:18

    Fantastic story in the genre of the Twilight Zone! You are an incrediblely talented writer. Keep these stories coming. Who knows they could be part of a TV series one day, Mike’s Time Zone!

    Reply

  13. Francina
    Sep 09, 2013 @ 17:24:45

    very well written story!

    Reply

  14. Charlene Woodley
    Sep 09, 2013 @ 21:45:12

    That was all kinds of cool, thanks! 🙂

    Reply

  15. honeydidyouseethat?
    Sep 11, 2013 @ 01:09:51

    Hmmmm a touch of “Tell Tale Heart” and “The Twilight Zone.”

    Reply

  16. honeydidyouseethat?
    Sep 11, 2013 @ 01:10:10

    Whoops loved it.

    Reply

  17. likeitiz
    Sep 15, 2013 @ 02:23:40

    Nice!

    Reply

  18. stockdalewolfe
    Sep 19, 2013 @ 03:41:05

    Wow, this is a great story. You got the guilty paranoia down to a “T” and I was feeling nervous all the way through. Was glad he gave the ring back because he would have gone bonkers. Nice touch not knowing if the high beam car was real or not! Really enjoyed this!

    Reply

  19. readinpleasure
    Sep 19, 2013 @ 17:23:56

    I was glued to the end. Great! 🙂

    Reply

  20. kingdom777
    Sep 29, 2013 @ 06:49:34

    I love your stories. I’m glad he gave the ring back.

    Reply

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