A Pretty Good Day
February 10, 2006
The next morning dawned much like the previous day: cold and gray. I had slept in the car overnight and was very uncomfortable from the stiff driver’s seat. Undoubtedly the police were looking for the purple Neon, so I would have to get rid of it as soon as possible. I felt a rumbling deep in my gut that told me it was time to eat something. I hadn’t had anything to eat since Charlotte bought me dinner at the Dairy Queen in Westerville.
But what to eat? I didn’t have anything with me, and there wasn’t any food stashed in the car’s glove box or in the center console. It looked like it was going to come down to me trying to buy something in town. I sighed, then started the engine and waited for the defroster to thaw the iced-up windshield. Once the glass was clear, I cycled the wipers once and then pulled out of the parking lot and onto Highway 62. Traffic was light, which made sense, given that it was a Saturday morning and most people would be off work. I drove past three car dealerships on my way into town and was sorely tempted to drop in at one of them. My stomach told me otherwise.
As I cruised through town I decided to listen to a little music. I made the mistake of turning on the car’s aftermarket CD player, which immediately began blasting terrible boy band music at high volume. Grimacing at the sudden assault on my sensitive ears, I punched the off button and cracked the plastic display screen in the process. The disturbance almost made me miss a Sunoco gas station that had a sandwich shop next door. I pulled off of Main Street and stopped in the Sunoco’s parking lot, got out of the car and padded over to Chester’s Chicken Sub Express. I patted the wad of cash in my pocket to make sure it was still there. Good, I could still afford breakfast.
I pushed open the door and walked up to the counter. The female employee stared at me as I read the menu board behind her. “Hon, I don’t know what you’re trying to pull,” she said sourly, giving me the evil eye. “I just started my shift. I’m not in the mood to mess around with people playing tricks.”
“I’m not trying to pull anything,” I said coolly. “Do you have any breakfast items?”
“Sir, this is a deli. What you see is what we have,” she said, gesturing at the row of containers filled with various sandwich toppings.
I nodded. “Okay then, I’d like a turkey sandwich on whole wheat ... with everything on it, extra meat.”
“And do you have a way to pay for that sandwich?” the employee said, raising an eyebrow.
I pulled the large wad of cash from my pocket and removed a ten-dollar bill. “Yes, as a matter of fact I do,” I said, relishing the look on the woman’s face when she saw how much money I was carrying.
“I’ll make it right away then,” she said, her face red with embarrassment.
A few minutes later I had my sandwich and a large cup of water. The lady had made it with extra meat, just like I’d asked. It was quite tasty. I left the shop feeling much better, my stomach no longer complaining.
The next order of business was to dispose of that pathetic purple Neon. I decided to head back to one of the car dealerships just outside of town and try to purchase a different vehicle. As I drove west on the highway, my thoughts turned to Diana. How was she doing? It had been only a few days since I emailed her, but I had no way of knowing what kind of stress my absence was causing her. I had to focus on my journey, my mission. The sooner I achieved my goal, the sooner I would see her again.
I pulled up in front of Liberty Chevrolet and parked on the street, making sure that none of the salespeople saw me arrive. Not long after I walked onto the car lot, however, someone came out of the showroom to greet me. The salesman was a stocky, red-faced man of medium height, wearing a thick jacket over his suit to protect against the cold weather. “Hello sir, my name’s Craig,” he said to me in a Midwestern accent.
“Umm...hi,” I said. “My name’s Fox.”
Craig gestured toward the showroom. “Must be real cold for you to be wearin’ a fur coat like that. How’s about we go inside where it’s warmer, eh Fox?”
“Gladly,” I said, trying not to shiver with my bare legs exposed to the biting chill.
Craig and I walked into the showroom. The building was pleasantly warm and I settled down into a comfortable chair almost instantly. Craig took a seat in another chair. “So what brings you to Liberty?”
“I need a decent, reliable car,” I said. “Preferably one that’s fairly fast.”
“Well, we’ve got lots of those,” Craig chuckled.
“And it needs to be under $8,000,” I added.
“Oh,” Craig said, suddenly looking crestfallen when he realized that his commission just might not be as fat as he’d hoped. “That narrows the field some.”
“Do you have any used vehicles under eight grand?” I asked skeptically.
“Well, sure we do,” Craig answered. “We’ve got some of those little foreign cars pretty cheap. They’re not much good in the snow though, if you ask me.”
I knew I had to anticipate any cross-country off-road chases that might occur later. “I would like a car that’s good in the snow, if you have one,” I said.
Craig stared up at the ceiling for a moment, then he looked back at me. “You don’t have any particular model in mind?”
“No,” I said. “Whatever you’ve got.”
Craig nodded. “Okay then, lemme check the inventory. We might have what you’re looking for.”
He got up to go and I wondered what car he might be talking about. Craig came back a few minutes later with a set of keys. “Let’s head out to the back lot, shall we? The car’s out there.”
Craig and I headed back out into the cold and trudged over to the used-car lot. Craig stopped next to a forest green sedan with the number 97 plastered on the windshield in large neon yellow stickers. “Here’s a ‘97 Subaru Legacy 2.5 GT with full-time all-wheel-drive. It’s perfect for driving in the snow and on dirt or gravel. This car is our Manager’s Special this week, on sale for $7,499.” He looked at me and grinned. “Want to take a test drive?”
“Sure,” I said, willing my teeth not to chatter as I spoke.
Craig unlocked the car. “Hop in,” he said, getting in on the passenger side and putting the key in the ignition.
I got in and started the engine. “Don’t you need to see my driver’s license?” I asked.
Craig shook his head. “Nah, I trust you. Besides, it’s too cold to go back inside and make a photocopy of it and all that. Just be careful and we’ll be fine.”
We started the test drive, going a mile or two down the highway and on a few city streets. The car felt solid and capable of doing whatever I asked of it. It seemed like the right car for me. On the way back to the dealership, I told Craig that I was interested in buying the car. He started talking about all the paperwork I’d need to fill out. I quickly pulled over to the roadside and stopped. We were only a few hundred feet from the dealer.
“Hey, don’t stop here,” Craig said, pointing ahead to the lot entrance. “Look, the dealer’s right there.”
I shook my head solemnly. “Craig, I need this car. Now.”
Craig smiled. “Well, pull in the lot and we’ll talk financing. Do you have a trade-in?”
“Craig, you’ve been very helpful. But I need to get out of here, and I need this car more than you know.”
“Wait, wait wait,” Craig said, his smile disappearing. “Do you mean to say that you plan to steal this car?”
“No!” I protested.
“I mean, when I saw you I suspected something was up, but I dismissed your appearance as someone who’d found a funny way of beating the cold. I didn’t think you were going to –”
“Just shut up and listen to me,” I barked. “I don’t want to steal this car, I want to buy it. I have the money right here, in cash. I have no trade-in. I have no credit. I’m from out of state and I don’t have my license with me.” I gestured to myself. “Right now, I have nothing but what you see here.”
I held out eight thousand dollars. “This is my offer. You take care of the paperwork and whatever else needs to be done, and don’t call the police. Your dealership gets eight grand to cover any and all costs for this car. I go away and you forget you ever saw me. Deal?”
I gave Craig a piercing stare to help him make up his mind. “Umm ... uh...” he stammered, “I ... don’t know how I’m going to ... explain this to my supervisor.”
“Like I said,” I told him firmly, “Do the paperwork as if this were a normal sale. Forge my signature if you have to.”
“I can’t do that,” he said weakly.
“Do it!” I shouted, thrusting the dollar bills in his face. “For God’s sake, I’m handing you the easiest sale of your career and you won’t take it?”
I’d hit a nerve. “All right! Yes! I’ll do it,” Craig said sourly, taking the wad of bills. “Give me a copy of your signature and go. Let me out in front of the dealer.”
“Thank you,” I said, pulling back onto the road.
I stopped the car again behind the purple Neon. “End of the road, Craig. Got a pen and some paper?”
Craig handed me a pen from his shirt pocket and his business card. I wrote my name, driver’s license number, and Diana’s cell phone number on it. Craig took the card back and got out of the car. “Congrats, Craig,” I said, giving him a toothy grin. “You’ve just sold a car to a talking fox. Have a nice day!”
Craig stared at me. “Oh, and one more thing,” I added. “You see that Neon there? I borrowed that from a girl named Ophelia Wolfe in Huber Ridge. The Wolfes are probably in the phone book. W-O-L-F-E. Can you please see that it’s returned to her? Thanks.”
I drove off, leaving a rather perplexed Craig behind me. In my rearview mirror I could see him glance down at the business card, shake his head, and walk back toward the showroom.
I headed east for Pennsylvania. The Subaru had a nearly full gas tank, good for more than three hundred miles at highway speeds. I drove for hours, passing many towns and hundreds of snow-covered fields. The weather was holding, with minimal new snowfall. The long drive was a good test for my new purchase. I found that the Subaru didn’t have much power, but its four-cylinder engine was still capable of cruising nicely. The noise it made was easily drowned out by the stereo.
I crossed the state line and entered Pennsylvania around three in the afternoon. The weather soon began to deteriorate and I had to turn up the car’s heater to keep from becoming cold. Snowflakes hit the windshield at frequent intervals, necessitating the use of my wipers. The sky became darker as the weather got worse, so I turned on the headlights. I soon discovered that the Subaru had fog lights, too, so I turned them on as well for added visibility. I tuned the radio in to the traffic report and learned that a large snowstorm was heading up the East Coast and was about to dump a bunch of snow on the eastern half of the state. The western areas, where I was, would also receive several inches over the course of the next day.
Heavy snowfall or not, I still needed a play to stay for the night. I was traveling on Interstate 76, which turned south toward Pittsburgh. It looked to me like Pittsburgh might have a halfway-decent motel. Along the highway I spotted a billboard for the Pittsburgh-Allegheny Holiday Inn in the suburb of Fox Chapel. It looked nice from the advertisement, and was in a promising-sounding area, so I decided to stop there for the night. I got off of I-76 and found myself on highway 79 heading south, which branched off at I-279. Following signs got me onto Pennsylvania Route 28 and I drove along that for a while as it snaked its way through Pittsburgh. At the Gamma Drive exit I spotted the Holiday Inn sign and got off the highway. The hotel was located in the unpronounceable Ridc Industrial Park. I pulled the Subaru into the parking lot and parked under a lamppost.
Darkness had begun to fall and the hotel’s outdoor lights were on. They cast a yellow glow over the covered driveway in front of the office. Quietly I padded past a family unloading their car and made my way to the office to check in. The automatic doors slid open and I walked up to the counter. The clerk was busy with some papers, so I waited until he was finished. He looked up at me to acknowledge my presence, and his eyes widened noticeably behind his glasses. “Hello,” I said conversationally.
“Umm...hi,” he said in a cheerful voice that sounded forced. “Welcome to ... er ... yeah, welcome to Holiday Inn.”
“I’d like to get a room for the night,” I said. “Do you have any space?”
The employee pointed out the window to the red neon VACANCY sign. “Yes ... sir. How many are in your party?”
“Just me,” I answered.
“Okay...” he said slowly, “I’ll need to see your card.”
“Can I just pay cash?” I asked, reaching into my jacket pocket for the wad of money.
“Uh ... certainly, sir.” The employee punched some keys on his computer keyboard. “Name?”
“Tayle. Fox Tayle,” I said, wondering if using my real name might cause trouble later.
The employee, whose name tag read “Brad”, typed some more on the computer, then handed me a white plastic keycard. “Here,” he said, his voice faltering a little when one of my sharp claws touched his fingers, “this is ... your room key. Room 124.”
I shook my head and smiled, careful not to bare my teeth at him. “Brad,” I said, “I can tell you’re scared. Don’t be.”
“I’m not ... scared,” Brad said.
I softened my expression the best I could and spoke as gently as possible. “I can sense your fear, Brad. Trust me on this. I don’t want you to be afraid of me. I’ll be good, okay?”
In the glass of the framed picture behind the desk, I could see the reflection of the family I had passed in the parking lot. They were coming in. “Well, I’ll head off to my room then,” I said hastily. “See you in the morning, Brad.”
I strode down the carpeted hallway to my room and inserted the keycard. The small light on the lock turned green and I opened the door. I was immediately hit with the smell of air freshener and cleaning products. The room was dark, and a little too cold for my liking. The first thing I did before even turning on the lights was set the air conditioner for seventy degrees. I could see just fine in the dark; I was tired of freezing my tail off.
I retrieved what few possessions I had from the Subaru and returned to the hotel. Brad looked at me warily as I padded past the front desk. When I reached my room I turned on the lights and finally saw what my accommodations were. The room had two queen beds with green floral-print bedspreads. The walls were a pleasant off-white with dark green carpet on the floor. In the far corner of the room I saw a white porcelain Jacuzzi tub. There was a small kitchenette off to one side with a microwave and a mini fridge. On top of the coffee maker I found two packets of microwave popcorn. I put one of the packets in the microwave to pop, then I sat down on the bed and picked up the remote to watch TV.
Nothing was good on at the time, so I ignored the TV and began reading a hotel brochure from a corner table. The hotel had a restaurant and a lounge, as well as an indoor pool and spa. The restaurant sounded nice, but I didn’t want to risk exposing myself to dozens of people for the sake of dinner. Well then, why not compromise? I could still order room service.
I went over to the phone and looked up the number for room service, then dialed it. Looking at the paper menu from the table next to the phone, I decided to splurge. I ordered a T-bone steak, rare, with a side of jumbo batter-fried shrimp and some mixed vegetables. Then I wrote a note on some hotel stationery asking the employee to please leave the food on a tray outside the door. I left the note on the floor in front of my room with the bill plus tip paid for in cash underneath it.
The meal came in about half an hour. The bellboy didn’t even have to knock on the door to get my attention; I could smell the luscious steak as it was carried down the hall. I watched through the peephole as he set the tray down and picked up the money, pocketing it and walking away. I waited until he was at least twenty paces down the hall before opening the door to retrieve my food.
The steak was delicious. It was the most heavenly food I think I’d had in my life to date. The shrimp wasn’t bad, either. The vegetables were a bit salty for my liking, but that may have been due partly to the shrimp’s aftertaste. I finished the meal and licked my lips – then licked the plate clean. No one was watching, so there was no reason to feel guilty.
I settled back down in front of the TV and flipped the channel to a Disney movie, which, ironically, was Beauty and the Beast. Ordinarily I don’t like cartoons but, this particular film struck a chord. It was all there: the initial creation of the Beast through unusual circumstances; meeting the lovely lady almost by accident and falling in love as a result; the beast hunt put on by the bad guys and the subsequent fight. I could relate to all of it except the enchanted furniture – and the fairytale ending. In the movie, the Beast was transformed back into a human after Belle confessed her love for him, and the spell was lifted and everybody who was still alive lived happily ever after. But where was my fairytale ending? Obviously I wasn’t going to turn into anything and the “spell” on me wasn’t magical at all. For me, just being allowed to live in peace and be accepted would be good enough.
The movie ended and I checked the digital clock on the nightstand. Nine-thirty. My joints were still a bit sore from the rigors of the last couple of days. The Jacuzzi beckoned. I grabbed a couple of towels from the bathroom and turned on the hot water to fill the tub. After a few minutes, the tub was full of hot, steaming water and ready to use. I turned on the jets, then stripped and sat down in the bubbling tub. The water felt so warm and inviting, it was impossible not to relax as the jets massaged my aching back and shoulders. I sat and enjoyed the Jacuzzi for about an hour, then I got out, wrapped a towel around my dripping self, and went into the bathroom to take a nice hot shower. After the shower, I got ready to turn in for the night and collapsed into the soft queen-size bed. Not long after my head hit the pillow, I fell into a deep, blissful sleep.
It had been a pretty good day by my standards.
story (c) 2006 wannabemustangjockey