Fiction Saturday – Chapter 24 – And Pull The Hole – Continued
Fiction Saturday – Chapter 24
“Davis, wake up. I want you to take over. I’m exhausted and I think we’ll be safer with night coming on. We’ll switch again when we stop for gas.”
“You look drained. Laura, we are going to make it, right?”
“We’ll make it, Davis. Things will be fine. Once we get to the border, we’ll be fine.”
“Yeah, beautiful, carefree, Mexico.”
They were both whistling past the graveyard and they knew it.
They had changed their path south to California Route One, the coast road. Just north of Ventura, on the outskirts of LA, Laura pulled the car into a Shell station.
The orange floodlights washed over the concrete and the islands with the self-serve gas pumps. Inside the station a young man with stringy hair and acne sat behind the counter reading a motorcycle magazine.
“I’ll fill it up,” said Davis.
Laura opened her door and got out. She stretched her arms and yawned. She looked around the brightly-lit station.
“I’m going to the bathroom. I’ll be right back.”
She walked into the mini-mart and reemerged seconds later holding a large brass key attached to a miniature baseball bat. She disappeared into the darkness around the side of the building.
Davis used his debit card to fill the tank of his three-year-old, white, four-door Ford Taurus. He made a mental note that it was due for a scheduled maintenance checkup. He topped off the tank and put the nozzle back into the pump. It was then that he realized he was finally hungry.
He really hadn’t eaten anything since he had picked at his lunch back at the Target store in Santa Maria. Now he wished that he had, at least, eaten his churro. Laura had inhaled her food as if lunch was going out of style.
“Maybe she’s more used to this than me,” he thought to himself.
After replacing the gas cap and pocketing his receipt, Davis walked up to the cashier’s counter inside the station.
“Hey, good evening, Mister. Can I help you?” The young clerk put his magazine down on the counter.
“We got a pretty good selection of munchies and the cold sodas and stuff are over there in the cooler. We don’t sell beer or anything hard any more.”
“Thanks. Soft drinks will do.”
Davis walked over to the rack. He studied the collection of foil and paper-wrapped sweet and salty junk foods. He picked up a small bag of chips and headed over toward the beverages.
“Hey, Mister,” the kid called out to him.
“Yes, what?” Davis turned away from his search.
“I think you got some company outside,” said the young man, his head tilted toward the door and the gas pumps beyond.
A California Highway Patrol car had pulled up to the pump opposite Davis’s. One officer was filling the tank of the cruiser and the other was walking a slow circle around Davis’s and Laura’s getaway car. The very serious-looking officer peered into the car’s windows. He then walked to the rear of the car and jotted down the license plate number.
Davis dropped the bag of potato chips on the counter and headed out the door.
“Oh, no,” he said in a whisper. “Stay away, Laura. Stay in the john.”
As he passed through the door, Davis called out to the patrolmen. His stomach was in knots. He forgot that he was hungry.
“Can I help you, officer? Is there something wrong?”
They both nodded a greeting to Davis.
“No. No problem, sir,” said the officer who was gassing up the black and white cruiser. “Your vehicle here matches the description of one used in a crime.”
“Oh, my. Well, I assure you that I’m not your man.” Davis prayed that he wasn’t sweating or shaking. Inside he was a mess.
“I’m sure, sir, but could I see your license and registration? Just to ease my partner’s mind. He’s the suspicious sort.”
Davis looked over at the other officer who was looking through the windshield and noting the Vehicle Identification Number stamped on the small metal plate bolted to the dash.
“Your license and registration, sir,” repeated the patrolman at the pump.
“Oh, yes. Here’s my license,” he said as he pulled out his wallet. “The registration is in the car.”
“Would you get it for us, please, sir?”
Davis walked around to the driver’s door and the other, unsmiling patrolman, opened the door for him. As Davis slid behind the wheel, the officer moved up into the door area beside him. This insured that the door couldn’t be closed, while it also penned Davis inside the vehicle.
Davis fumbled around in the slip-on visor caddy for the registration while the beam from the officer’s flashlight lit up the backseat of the car.
“Here it is,” Davis said, holding up the small white form.
The officer moved away from the door and held out his hand to take the registration. After he examined it he said to Davis, “Give it to the other officer, please, sir.” He spoke in a flat, bored voice. He closed the driver’s side door as Davis moved toward the rear of the car.
From the cover of the shrubs at the side of the station, Laura watched the scene with a growing sense of dread. She fought the voice from deep inside her gut that screamed, “Run!” Silently, she moved back, deeper into the shadows.
“Am I in some kind of trouble, here, officer? I’m just a guy taking a few days off to come down to LA. Just another tourist.”
“No, Mr. Lovejoy. You’re not in any trouble,” said the officer as he looked closely at the registration. “We just have to check everything out.”
“Wow. What did this guy do—the guy you’re looking for?” Davis was trying to appear unconcerned and casual.
“Actually, we’re looking for a man and a woman, a couple. She’s the one they really want,” said the more friendly patrolman.
“They think she killed somebody or something,” said the more serious officer.
“Wow. Well, I hope you catch her,” said Davis.
“Them, sir. They’re both involved.”
“Oh, yeah, of course….Them.” Davis was afraid he was going to vomit.
“Well, everything looks fine, sir. Sorry to have bothered you. You can be on your way now.”
The more friendly Highway Patrol officer handed Davis his license and registration while the sullen and suspicious officer opened the car door for him again.
“No problem, officer. You gotta check it all out, right?”
The officer at the door gestured for Davis to get into the car.
“Actually, officer, I’m not through here yet. I was inside getting something to nibble on when you came in. So, I think I’ll go back in and pay for my chips. We’re done here, right?” Davis took a couple of steps toward the mini-mart.
“Yes. We’re done, sir. You have a good evening and enjoy your visit to Los Angeles and drive safe.” He gave Davis a small salute. Not knowing what else to do, Davis returned it. He felt silly doing it.
He watched the officers move back to their car and then he turned to walk back inside. He could see the cashier gaping out at him with a stupid grin on his face.
As he started to get into the shotgun seat of the black-and-white, high-powered vehicle, the officer who had been making notes tore the page out of his notebook and paused. He looked down at the paper – at Davis’ name, plate number and registration information. He looked up at Davis walking through the station door. With another glance at the paper, he crumpled it up and tossed it into the wire trash container on the concrete island.
Davis heard two doors slam and the car drive away. He forced himself to not turn and watch them go. He opened the door and re-entered the small building. The clerk was grinning and chewing his gum in double-time.
“Whoa, Mister. Those dudes were checkin’ you out, big time. What’d you do, man?”
“What? Oh, nothing – mistaken identity.” Davis was still afraid to turn around and look outside.
The scrawny kid’s Adam’s apple was bobbing up and down. He swallowed his gum.
“Right on, dude.” He looked past Davis. “Lady, your man here just laid a major woof all over some CHiPs dudes.”
Davis turned around. Laura was standing in the doorway, an anxious look on her face.
“You came in here for something. Get it and let’s get going.”
She tossed the restroom key to the grinning boy and nodded, then turned and headed back outside.
Davis grabbed the foil bag up off of the counter and reached for his wallet again. The clerk’s toothy grin widened even more.
“On the house, Mister. Thanks for the entertainment. Rock on, dude.”
Davis managed a shaky thanks and he quickly headed back to the car.
“Drive carefully, Davis,” she called to him, “and don’t speed. My guess is that those cops are somewhere close by, just waiting for us.”
Davis got behind the wheel and turned the ignition key.
“Hold on a second,” she said.
Laura got out of the car and walked over to the wire trash basket. She poked around for a few moments, and plucked a crumpled piece of paper from the pile of debris. She put it into her pocket. She looked up toward the station and saw the cashier grin and give her an enthusiastic “thumbs up” sign. She replied with a more discreet version of the same gesture.
“All right, let’s go,” she said, “not too fast, not too slow.”
She got into the passenger side seat and hunkered down out of sight.
“Remember, slow and easy. Very legal,” she repeated.
Davis turned on the headlights and pulled away from the pumps. He hit the turn signal as he crossed the empty traffic lanes and headed south along the coast road.
Less than a quarter of a mile from the gas station they passed a brightly-lit roadhouse with a large gravel parking lot.
“You’re right,” said Davis. “The highway patrolmen, they’re parked in between two SUVs.”
Davis started to turn his head toward the parked black and white patrol car.
“Don’t look at them. Toss your chips up onto the dashboard,” ordered Laura.
The two officers in the highway patrol car spotted Davis passing by.
“There he goes,” said the officer behind the wheel.
“Something smells bad about him. He was real nervous,” said the other.
“Awww, he’s just some schmoo from San Francisco. Probably down here cheating on his boyfriend.”
“There were two tubes of toothpaste laying on the backseat,” said the ever-suspicious patrolman.
“So,” said the driver, “you want to arrest him for conspiracy to commit good dental hygiene?”
“Two different brands? Who buys two different brands of toothpaste?”
“Oh, just relax, will ya? The guy is harmless. Let’s go check out the massage parlor that just opened by the Safeway. Check out the fresh produce.”
Davis looked in the rearview mirror. “They’re pulling out of the lot.” He could feel his stomach in his throat.
“Stay calm, Sweetie.,” said Laura. “Are they coming this way?”
“No…no! They’re turning left! They’re going the other direction!”
It was getting late when Laura and Davis pulled off the road and into a small motel on the outskirts of Long Beach, on the southern flank of the LA area. They were emotionally and physically spent, but restful sleep wasn’t easy.
Davis rolled over and looked at Laura sleeping beside him. Behind her twitching eyelids, dreams and nightmares raced along the neural pathways in her brain. As she slept, decades melted together into the Now. Possible futures opened up like Chinese fans and people dead and living spoke to her.
Some of them asked her questions. Some gave her orders. Some cajoled. All of them, just below the surface, carried unspoken threats of violence.
In her speeding dreams, Laura changed from a child to an adult and back again. At times, she was both at once. It was like she was an outsider, looking at herself. A witness, seeing—but unable to intervene.
She saw herself and Davis together and apart. She saw them living and she saw them dying. Scenarios of how their odyssey might play out passed by. Some ended in a small country home, all peaceful and content. Most did not. Her brain was showing her a menu of possible grisly ends interspersed with possible hopeful ones.
“Beverly Deltino?” It was a voice from somewhere, someone.
“Yes. Who are you?” She struggled to see where the voice was coming from.
“Put your hands up where I can see them.” It was an order, not a request.
“They are up,” she said.
“I said, put your hands up!” This time there was an implied threat in the command.
“But they are up. Can’t you see?” She felt helpless.
“Laura, listen to him. Put your hands up.” It sounded like Davis, but she couldn’t see him either. He sounded close by.
“Davis, can’t you see? Here are my hands. I give up.”
“Beverly?” It was Dominic’s voice.
Without warning, her dream erupted in a blaze of gunfire. Bullets flew from every angle. Tracer bullets, streaks of light plunged into her body like shining darts. She saw herself, and thought of the Holy Cards that she had seen as a child with the image of St. Sebastian, a martyr who was killed by the pagans, shot through with a hundred arrows.
“No. I’ve done what you wanted!” she screamed in pain. “Don’t kill me! I don’t want to be a martyr!”
No one heard her over the roar of the guns. She could hear Davis. He was calling out her name as someone pulled the trigger again and again.
She spun around as the bullets hit her. Through the smoke, she could see the faces behind the guns. She saw Davis and Dominic, and her mother, and seven-year-old Donna Incaviglia whose father had been murdered during her First Communion party.
She turned and saw the off-duty federal agent from the Target store in Santa Maria. He was yelling and shooting. Beside him were the highway patrolmen from earlier in the evening, guns blazing.
There was her father.
“Daddy, why are you killing me? Why?”
“It’s not just me, baby,” he said softly to her. “Everyone kills you. Don’t you know that? Even yourself, see?” He pointed off to Laura’s left. There, Laura saw herself, dressed in her bridal gown, laughing, as she fired a pump action shotgun repeatedly.
“Laura! Laura!” She felt herself shaking.
She was jarred into consciousness with her head thrust back, her mouth open wide in horror.
“Laura! Wake up. You were screaming.” Davis was shaking her shoulders.
“What? Who are…? What?”
“Laura, it’s me, Davis. You’re safe. It’s me. You were having a nightmare. It’s over now. You’re safe.” He held her shaking body tightly in his arms.
As she became more awake to her surroundings she oriented herself and held onto Davis as if he were the last jutting rock before the waterfall.
“You’re safe,” he repeated. “That was one hell of a bad dream. You were thrashing around and then you started to scream. Your eyes were wide open, but I couldn’t wake you.”
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry…I’m sorry if I scared you.” She was soaked with sweat.
“You did, but it’s over now.” He continued to hold her in his arms. She was still quivering.
“I hope so.” Laura rested her head on Davis’ chest.
“Who is Donna?” he asked.
“You were calling her name and saying you were sorry. What happened with you and this Donna?”
She ran her fingers through her hair. She wasn’t ready to fall asleep again.
“Get me some ice water and I’ll tell you all about it.”