Serious As A Hit And Run

by Jeff Archer Black



      A blue service sign advertising a single restaurant flew by in the dark. Sweet Jean's Pancakes. Shane James thought, That's the one.
      Taking the exit, he parked, stretched his mile-worn back and shuffled into the joint shaking a bit from the caffeine pills he'd dropped a half hour back. The whiff of bacon and coffee told him he had made the right decision.
      "You can sit anywhere you want," a aging waitress with an arm full of dishes and a big smile said.
      Shane smiled back and said, "Thanks, I will." The table off to the back right corner looked good. Settling in, he pulled the menu out of it's little stand and stared it down.
      "Coffee?"
      "Yeah, please." He looked up to see a different smiling waitress, younger, smock full of breasts, dirty blond hair and eyes with black pupils that seemed too small for her face.
      "You know what you want yet?" she asked.
      Shane just about said, Hoo, hoo, yeah, you!, but didn't. It just wouldn't be right. He said instead, "It's a toss up between a ham and cheese omelet or biscuits and gravy. Where am I anyway?"
      With an exaggerated southern accent, she said, "Yer in Hatsoff Kansas, home of the famous Hatsoff Baked Bean Company."
      He looked at her with a tilt to his head and a lift of an eyebrow waiting for a pull my finger joke. She put her pen back in her smock then said, "I'll get your coffee and let you decide."
      "That'll work."
      Shane watched her walk to the front counter thinking, Mmmmmmighty fine. . . While trying to remember how long it'd been since he'd been with a woman, she slid around the corner with his coffee. Gently placing the steaming cup on the table, she asked, "Goin' far?"
      "Colorado Springs."
      "I wish I was going to Colorado Springs," she said, taking out her pen and pad.
      "I got some extra room," rolled out of Shane's mouth, "in my truck," without the conscious effort to do so.
      She raised her eyebrows and smiled. "Where ya from, Chicago? You talk like you're from Chicago."
      "No. Indianapolis."
      "Business trip?"
      "Sort of. Kind of. Starting life all over."
      Focused right in on his eyes with a look of some sort of praise, she said, "You got guts."
      "Yeah, and they're hungry ones, too."
      She snapped to and said, "Oh, I'm sorry, what would you like?"
      "I'll go with the biscuits and gravy."
      With a quick scribble on her pad, she said, "Okay, I'll be right back," then shuffled off again.
      In sixty seconds and exactly five seconds after Shane lit a cigarette she returned with the steaming plate of biscuits and gravy and said, "Here ya go."
      Tapping out the tip of his cigarette, he thanked her.
      "If you need anything else, just yell Shelly."
      Taking the silverware from the rolled napkin, he pleasantly replied, "Will do."
      While devouring the plate of food, he caught her looking his way a couple times, smiling. He smiled back and kept on eating.
      Not leaving a speck of gravy or stray sausage, he sipped the last drop of coffee, tossed a five on the bill, waved to Shelly on the way out the door feeling a touch of sadness knowing he'd never see her again. He kind of wished she'd follow him out the door and do him right there in the front seat of his spent '78 suburban.

*

      Back on the road, focusing somewhere between the lines, he reeled in the thought that the next time he stopped, he'd be in Colorado, grabbing the bottom rung, again. He hoped.
      After ten miles of darkness and an absence of other cars, his white line trance was shattered with bright headlights quickly approaching from behind. What's this?, he thought. There were no red or blue lights flashing so he knew it couldn't be the law. Regardless, he backed off the accelerator, settling on sixty-five from the eighty-nine he was doing. The car raced right up behind him with lights maniacally flashing in his eyes through the rear-view and persisted for a good half mile until he pulled over to let them pass. They pulled over and stopped right behind him. He thought, Either it's truly an emergency or I'm about to get whacked. Not willing to take the chance, Shane pushed the clutch down, put it in first and reached under the seat firmly palming his nine millimeter. A figure emerged from the car blurred in the bright headlights. He held the gun over the edge of the seat between his legs so just in case it was the law, he could stash the unregistered thing real quick-like. Before he could turn to get a good look, a female voice, pissed and all loud said, "Get the hell out of the truck, now!"
      Intuition told him it wasn't the law. Just as she leaned toward the truck, Shane spun his head and gun out the window. She saw the gun, peeped a scream, froze and said, "Whoa, don't shoot. It's only me."
      "What are you doing?" Shane asked, stashing the gun and getting out of the truck.
      She stood motionless with her hands over her mouth.
      Again, Shane asked, "What are you doing?"
      Dropping her hands, she said, "I, uh, decided to take you up on your offer."
      "Offer? What offer?"
      "To go to Colorado."
      He leaned against the truck, crossed his arms, looked her in the eyes and asked, "Are you shittin' me?"
      Shelly leaned up next to him and softly said, "No, I hate that place."
      "And what do you plan to do when you get to Colorado?"
      She said, "I'll go my way and start over again. Believe me, I'm used to it."
      He scanned the gravel for who knows what and asked a second time, "Are you shittin' me?"
      She elbowed his arm. "No, I'm not."
      "What about your car?"
      Looking back at it, she said, "It's not mine. I borrowed it. We'll take it to the next stop and I'll call my friend to tell her it's there."
      Shane, hanging fire on his new-found reality asked, "Are you serious?"
      With her exaggerated southern drawl, she blared, "Serious as a hit and run! Just follow me." She turned and went to her car.
      Shane had told himself when he left Indianapolis that it would be an adventure. So far, he hadn't proved himself wrong.
      Shelly got into the car, pulled around and took off. He followed her to the next stop, six miles west up Interstate 70 and parked behind her.
      The smell of diesel exhaust hung heavy in the cool air. He rolled down the window and watched her walk into the truck stop store. Visions of her dripping wet and naked took his mind while watching her bounce up and down the isles.
      The voice of a man talking on the pay-phone across the lot caught Shane's attention. He watched the man's cowboy hat bob back and forth and listened to his, "Ha-ha-ha, yep!" until the truck door opened.
      Shelly plopped in the seat, holding a large brown paper sack. She put the sack on the floor between her legs. Look at those legs, Shane yelled to himself.
      He asked, "What's that?"
      "Just some shit we might need."
      After starting the truck, the fact that she didn't seem to have any intention to use the payphone -where the cowboy hat guy still laughed with a Yep!- to call her friend poked his brain. He right then began believing that she was on the run from something or someone. But, he wanted her and she seemed to be covering her tracks rather well, so he blew it off.
      She said, "I have a question."
      Again, Shane asked, "What's that?"
      "Number one, why do you always ask the same question twice in a row and who are you?"
      He said, "Number one, that's two questions and Shane. Shane James."
      She reached out to shake his hand and said, "Shane James, I'm Shelly-Shelly Oman."
      "Omen? Like the movie?"
      "Sounds the same, only it's spelled with an A, instead of an E."
      "Oh, okay Shelly Oman, you ready?"
      She said, "Yeah, let's do it."
      He thought, Yeah, let's do it right now.
      They raced up the ramp back onto the west bound lanes of I-70, Colorado bound. Fast.
      Shane asked, "How can you manage to just up and leave at such short notice?"
      "I've been doing it a while now, since my folks died, that is."
      "Yours too, huh?"
      She gave him a boo-boo face then a huge smile and said, "Sorta the lady wanderer. I like to meet new people, see what they're all made of . . ."

*

      After two hours of road and small-talk, age finally came into the conversation.
      Shane asked, "You're only twenty?"
      "Yeah, don't I look like it?"
      "It's not looks. You could be seventeen or twenty-seven."
      She asked, "How old are you, thirty-one?"
      His eyes lit up since she hit him right on. He grinned and nodded.
      She said, "Ya ol' fart."
      "Oh, that's nice."
      "Ever been married?"
      He said, "No, you?"
      That question made him sure she was hiding something since it took her an overly sufficient amount of time to get No out. Then she started laughing. A powerful gut chuckle that made her tiny pupils get bigger.
      Shane, laughing along and not knowing why, asked, "What's so funny?"
      "Nothin'. So tell me Shane James, what exactly are you going to Colorado for?"
      "I'm hoping to find better work than I had in Indy."
      "Which is what?"
      He replied, with a straight face, "I'm hoping to be the first man ever to be hurled into space by a giant sub-sonic slingshot."
      She stared blankly at him for a moment, then asked, "What?"
      "I'm kidding. Graphic arts."
      "Do you draw?"
      "Yeah, but mostly," he said, tapping his fingertips on the steering wheel, "I do my work on a computer now."
      "That's neat. I want you to do a picture on me."
      "On ya, huh?"
      She gave a smirk to kill.
      A reddish silence filled the truck until she asked, "Do you know anyone in Colorado Springs?"
      "A friend of mine lives there and I'll probably stay there until I get a job. What are you gonna do is the real question."
      She said, "I'll get a job somewhere and see if I like it."
      "And you said I got guts."
      "Oh, I got lotsa guts all right."
      Taunting her, he asked, "How much?"
      "You wanna know?"
      "Sure." He was hoping she would take her clothes off or something. But instead she rolled the window all the way down and reached on top of the truck.
      She asked, "Is that a luggage rack up there?"
      "Ski rack, same thing, yeah, why, whaddaya gonna do?"
      She said, "Be gutsy," then proceeded to climb right out the window onto the roof of the speeding truck.
      Shane mashed the brakes in shock because she was really on the roof at eighty-six miles an hour and he certainly didn't expect her to do that.
      She thumped and yelled, "Don't slow down! Keep goin'!"
      This is insane, he thought. He yelled out the window, "If you fall off, I gonna keep going!"
      As he reached seventy again, her head and wildly dancing hair popped over the edge of the windshield. He could barely hear her yell, "What a rush!" She kissed the windshield and disappeared.
      A few more thumps came from the roof as he watched a road sign reading, Offton Colorado 61 miles zip by in the deep dark. He looked to her window expecting her to come back in and laugh with him. He yelled, "What are you doing!?" then thought to himself, she couldn't have fallen off. I would have seen her.
      Nothing but the wind slapping the seat-belt against the door.
      Driving over the only hill he'd seen in Kansas, he said, "This is too weird," and slowed down, pulling to the shoulder. The silence expanded the already endless trail of pavement into the lifeless unseeable horizon. Kicking the parking brake down, he opened the door and gingerly slid out of the truck to find an empty roof. Crazed merry-go-rounds with that loud crazy calliope music and Rod Sterling's stony face took his head. He said, "Oh, man, come on, this isn't happening."
      Shane took off running back up the hill in the dark. "Where are you!" he yelled. There were no signs of blood, bones or scattered body parts so he kept running, starting to wheeze from his smoking asthma.
      Once he reached the Offton Colorado sign they passed earlier, he stopped knowing she was still making noise at that point. In his panic, he forgot her name. His voice traveled without an echo. "Hey! Are you there? Are you alive?"
      He turned around and started back toward the truck, calculating speed and distance trying to figure how far off the road she might be.
      No sign of her.
      A flash of seeing his best friend in grade school getting smacked and killed by a car got him running again. Reaching the top of the hill brought the next wave of terror since the truck's tail lights were gone. Darkness.
      "Oh, hell. I killed a girl and now my truck is gone. What the . . ."
      After asking himself twenty times what to do and thirty yards closer, the faint shadow of the truck quietly sitting where he parked it came into view. He wondered why it was shut off, and the lights? Did it run out of gas? No, the lights would still be on. The gun! Oh, shit . . . Shane knew his dick had gotten him into some trouble, but this time it was going to get him popped so he stopped ten feet behind the truck and tried to pant without making any noise. The smell of cigarette smoke froze him and the girl's name came back to him. In a whisper, he asked, "Shelly, is that you?"
      He heard from the driver's seat, "I was starting to wonder if you ran all the way back to Hatsoff."
      Relief and violent anger hit Shane simultaneously. He charged to his side of the truck, slung the door open and yelled, "What the hell's wrong with you? Have you lost your mind? I almost had a goddamn heart-attack back there."
      Shelly quietly laughed.
      He kept yelling, "Where'd you go? Why didn't you say something before I ran all that way? What the fuck's wrong with you?"
      She laughed even louder.
      Shane yelled, "That's it! Get your brown bag of shit and get out of my truck!"
      She instantly stopped laughing and calmly said, "Come on, lighten up Paco. At least take me to the next stop."
      He stopped long enough to reconsider knocking the crap out of her, took a deep breath and said, "Fine. After that, you can find your own way."
      "Fine," she said.
      "Fine. Now get the hell over to your side."
      She grabbed the wheel and said, "I wanna drive."
      "Get over!"
      She grumbled and slid over.
      Just as he started the truck and flipped the headlights on, she said, "Can I ask a question?"
      He responded, "Yeah. And that one was it."
      Somewhere in the blur of his exhaustion and the sixty miles to the Colorado state line she coerced him into letting her stay with him until the next morning. Then, she said, she would be out of his life. For good.
      They pulled into the first motel across the state line and checked in. She insisted on paying half and he gladly let her.
In and settled for the night, she clicked the TV on and flopped on the king-sized bed closing her eyes.
      Shane yanked a pair of Hawaiian shorts out of his suitcase and told Shelly he'd be out in a bit as he went into the bathroom.

*

      The hot water steamed up the translucent glass doors of the shower as he washed his hair. His prominent thought, Colorado, I'm finally here...
      He opened his eyes to see she was there. There on the other side of the glass, apparently naked. His head yelled at him to tell her to go away but didn't have a chance as she opened the stall door and slid into the steam with him, naked indeed. Without a word, she turned her back to him, leaned to the wall, took him inside and screwed him until he unloaded every bit of shaky kneed energy he had left into her. She left with a silent smile. Shane cupped his hands over his face quite grateful his asthma didn't act up. Laying down, he kicked the shower off with his heel, flipped the drain closed with a toe and filled the tub.

*

      Shane had no idea how long he'd been asleep. The water in the tub was cold and the television blared through the bathroom door. He flipped the drain open, grabbed a towel, dried, and walked into the main room. All his things were intact. But Shelly's stuff, other than the brown paper bag from the store was gone, including Shelly. Not quite sure what to think, he sat on the bed and tried to refocus reality still fogged by sleep. He leaned to the chair and grabbed the brown bag to find out just what shit they might need only to find a piece of the motel's stationary with something scribbled on it:


           Dear Shane James,
           It's good to know someone else likes to get their kicks in life.
           If you're ever back in Hatsoff KS, stop and see me.
           You know where I work.
           Sorry about the roof thing. My one bad habit.
           Shits and giggles, Shelly

*

      A noisy commercial prompted him to get up and turn the volume down some. The analyzing of her whole existence was getting him nowhere so he pulled a couple of pillows together, packed them behind his head and zoned in on the TV. A face was telling him all the newsworthy things taking place in the world. He reached for his watch and felt surprised to see the six a.m. news was on:


      "...The viewpoint expressed by the Governor is that the recession is over, but no recovery is taking place. And now Tom Simon with the latest on a mysterious death on the highway."
      "Thanks Jerry. Police officials are calling it a hit and run accident resulting in the death of a twenty-year old Kansas woman. The woman's name is being withheld until family members are notified. Her body was found thirty-five miles east of the Colorado/Kansas state line in the east-bound lanes of Interstate 70. A family on vacation to Florida discovered the body just before sunrise. Officials estimate she'd only been dead an hour from the time she was found. The coroner's report questions if it actually was a hit and run due to the minimal amount of injury to the body. They believe she was ejected from a moving vehicle. . .
      If you or someone you know has any information concerning this woman, please contact the Brighton Police Department at 401-545-2323. We'll have more on this story as it develops. This is Tom Simon, reporting for Four Eyewitness News . . ."



Copyright 2006 Jeff Archer Black

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