On Wednesday, my wife left town for a business trip. OWIF is what she left in her wake.
Link to Part 1.
The Oldsmobile Aurora squealed out in front of a pair of minivans as the POP POP of handguns erupted and faded behind us. I stole a glance at the rearview mirror in time to see chaos, mass confusion, and people scattering in all directions. A mass of police lights converged on the spot where the tall man and the cops had been standing, a fast convergence of red and blue and sirens, like the big bang played backwards through a movie reel.
I took my eyes off the mirror and put them back on the road. My hands tightened over the steering wheel when I saw the mass of police lights in front of me; in my haze I wasn’t sure if it was the scene we had just left behind. Had I circled around already?
It wasn’t; these police cars were parked and empty. The cops that drove them there were gathered around a car on the shoulder, broken glass strewn all over the road and barricades. The drivers side window was missing, but the driver wasn’t. He was sitting in the front seat, slumped over the steering wheel. I don’t know exactly what happened to him but the spray of blood all over the interior of the vehicle and the spider-shaped bullet holes on the windshield gave me a good guess. The car was a dark green Oldsmobile Aurora, the identical twin of the car I was driving except that our car still had all its windows and I wasn’t carrying a pair of slugs in my head.
We cruised by, trying not to attract attention from the cops. I don’t know why I ducked the cops; the proper thing to do would have been to pull over. I didn’t know this kid, and I sure as hell didn’t want to be accused of kidnapping or being a part of whatever happened back there.
The girl was staring at my face, intent. She watched my grimace as I stared at the police and emergency vehicles and must have picked up on my vibe. “Don’t stop here, I can’t stop here.” Her voice was unsteady, but her stare wasn’t.
“We should stop, kid; these guys can help you. They can take you back to your parents and keep you safe from that man with the gun.”
“No, they can’t. No one can, anymore.”
I didn’t stop. I drove for a couple of miles, brow as furrowed as could me. I can’t stand silences, so I broke it.
“What do you want me to do, then? Leave you at the CTA stop? I don’t have a gun and I don’t have a badge, kid. You’re not safe with me.”
She had been looking out the window at the cold Chicago fall, and kept right on looking as she spoke. “I’m not safe anywhere.”
I felt drunk, which is odd because normally I’d feel scared or nervous, what with the gun fight and all. “How old are you? Nine? Where should I take you?”
She sniffed, wiped her nose, and said, “I’m ten. And my dad said that you’d take me to the meeting place.”
I turned the radio down, asked her to repeat what she said. After she had, I said, “Dude, I don’t know your dad, and I don’t know what the meeting place is.”
She looked at me, startled. “But. But. Why did you pick me up?”
“I didn’t, you jumped in and then the bullets told me I should probably hit the gas.”
Tears started to well up under her eyes, but never quite formed fully. “I don’t understand, I don’t understand, I was supposed to go to the green Oldsmobile…”
“Yeah, probably,” I said, my hands fumbling for a cigarette I didn’t own for a smoke I’ve never had. “And I’m guessing that the dude doing his best swiss cheese impression in the Oldsmobile we passed on the way out here was your ride.”
Now the tears started for real, great heaving sobs as we coasted down I-90 past the tire factories and industrial bakeries. She shuddered under her great oversized coat, and I I could do was offer her some napkins from a fast food joint I keep in the glove box. She took them and blew her nose. Damnation. If my wife was here she’s know what to say; comforting the afflicted was always her thing. I tried to dial her, but it went straight to voicemail. She was still on the plane.
“Listen, kid,” I was going to say, “I’ll take you to the police station. They’ll figure out what’s going on, and they’ll help you find you dad.” I was going to say that, but I didn’t. Out of the corner of my eye I saw, in the side mirror, a flash of light. Not the insistent authority of a police car, but the light of a semi with its brights on, going way too fast.
“Oh crap,” was what actually came out of my mouth, as the red-and-rust Mack truck barreled down the right lane of the highway, past the surprised SUVs and sedans, and right into my car.
[end of part 2]