Things Heat Up
February 9, 2006
I was getting worried. Where was that idiot Tarpon? I was sure he’d show. Usually when I had a hunch I was right. But maybe this time I was wrong. Still, it would be best to keep my guard up at all times. I couldn’t risk getting Charlotte Beauregarde hurt.
I peeked through the floral-print curtains on the kitchen window. All I saw were my black pickup and Charlotte’s gray Pontiac parked out by the shed in the side yard – that, and lots of snow. A set of tracks led from my truck to the house. Those were obviously mine; they were unmistakably paw prints. I squinted against the glare of the blue-white snow and saw a second pair of footprints leading to the truck. Those were definitely not mine! Who had been snooping around my truck while I was in Charlotte’s house? For all I knew, it could have been the police. I suspected someone far worse, far more irritating. I had a bad feeling it was Blake Tarpon.
It was time to leave. I’d been found out. I closed the curtains and turned to see Charlotte staring at me. The elderly lady gave me a strange look. “See something special?” she said.
“Charlotte,” I said quickly, “I have to leave.”
“So soon? I was hoping you’d stay for supper,” she said, sounding somewhat disappointed.
“Believe me, I’d love to take you up on that offer,” I replied. “But I think it’s putting you in more danger the longer I stay here. I don’t want you getting hurt.”
“Now don’t be silly,” Charlotte said, putting her hands on her hips. “Who’d want to hurt me?”
“That’s not the point!” I blurted out, temporarily losing my cool. “They don’t want you, they want me. I told you earlier that I have enemies. They’ll stop at nothing to get me, and you could get hurt in the process. I have to leave now!”
I hurriedly grabbed the small bundle of things that Charlotte had laid out on a table for me. I put on her late husband’s leather jacket and slipped on the shoulder holster underneath it. My gun was lying on a small end table in the corner of the room. I waited until Charlotte turned her attention toward something in the kitchen, then I picked it up and tucked it into the holster hidden inside the jacket.
I pulled my truck keys out of my pants pocket and padded toward the screen door. “I’m leaving now, Charlotte,” I called. “Thank you so much for all your help.”
Charlotte came over and gave me another grandmotherly hug. “Thank you for all your help, too,” she said. “Good luck, wherever you’re going.”
I turned and walked out toward the truck. Charlotte waited on the doorstep, watching me. I had nearly reached the truck when I suddenly heard a small click, then a muffled voice on the other side of the yard muttered “Damn!”
I stopped. That was most unusual. I scanned back and forth across the yard and saw nothing out of the ordinary. Maybe one of the neighbors had just broken something and was cranky. I unlocked the truck and got in. I put the key in the ignition and was just starting to turn it to start the truck, when I looked down and saw a red glow blinking faintly under the dash, lighting up my knees. That red light wasn’t there before. I heard that same click sound again, louder this time. It was coming from under the dash where the red light was. That’s when I put two and two together. “Aw shit,” I said to myself.
I grabbed for the door handle and threw myself out of the truck cab into the snow. I covered my head as the click sounded again, followed instantaneously afterward by a blinding flash and deafening roar. I never saw my truck explode, because I lay face down with my head buried under my paws for safety. Pieces of hot metal rained down on me and hissed as they landed in the cold snow. I rolled over on my back and saw the shattered remains of the formerly-new pickup, now burning brightly above me. This couldn’t have been the work of the FBI. It had to have been that dumbass bounty hunter, Tarpon.
My survival instinct kicked in. “Charlotte!” I cried out. “Where are your keys? I need to borrow your car!”
Charlotte was still standing on the doorstep, apparently in shock. I called out “Charlotte!” again and she snapped to attention.
“Ohhh no, Sonny,” she said. “Nobody drives that car but me. Get in.”
Great, I thought to myself, Just great. I’m trying to escape from someone who just nearly killed me, and I have Granny as my getaway driver!
Charlotte rushed to her faded old Parisienne as quickly as her 75-year-old legs could carry her. She jammed the key in the ignition and revved up the tired engine. I jumped in on the passenger side, sliding across the vinyl bench seat. Charlotte threw the full-size sedan into reverse and gave it full throttle. One rear tire spun in the snow before the car found traction and lurched backward. As we reversed down the driveway toward the road, I spotted a man in a black parka jumping out of the bushes. He ran toward a car parked in the neighbor’s yard and I briefly saw his face. Just as I had suspected, it was Tarpon.
Charlotte backed the car out onto the road, the iced-up tires sliding on the slick asphalt. I began to feel a little uneasy, but Charlotte recovered from the skid as though she’d done it before, and rammed the column shifter into Drive. We sped down the narrow two-lane road at about 50 mph. Tarpon met us in his car at the next intersection and was soon in hot pursuit. He was driving a different car from the dark blue Mercury he’d had the day before. This time he had a garden-variety white Chevy Impala that looked very much like a rental car.
“That’s him!” I said to Charlotte, pointing to the white Impala behind us. “That’s the guy who’s after me!”
“Well, hell, kiddo,” she said, “what’d you do to him?”
“I beat him senseless, smashed his car, stole his car keys, stole his gun, and stole $10 grand from him,” I said with a weak grin.
“You did WHAT?” Charlotte cried.
“I can explain,” I said quickly, as Charlotte passed a truck over a double yellow line. “That guy’s a bounty hunter, hired by a nasty corporation. Yesterday he tried to apprehend me. That’s what it took to get away from him.”
“Sweet holy Moses,” Charlotte gasped. I don’t know if she was shocked by what I said, or if it was the near miss we had at that same moment with an oncoming car.
Tarpon continued to tail us. Charlotte turned onto the highway and sped up. The slate gray sky opened up and it began to snow. Her speedometer fluctuated around 80 mph; Tarpon matched our pace. These were unsafe speeds in such wet conditions. I began to worry that we’d soon find ourselves skidding out of control. Maybe I was just worried about that fact that I wasn’t driving. Don’t get me wrong, that lady could drive. But who wouldn’t be scared riding with a senior citizen driving an old boulevard cruiser that fast?
Tarpon stayed a few carlengths behind us as we barreled down the highway. The Parisienne’s right front wheel bearing squealed in protest under the stress of near-triple-digit speeds. I could hear Tarpon’s car’s wimpy V-6 whining out behind us as it struggled to keep up. We blew past a sheriff’s deputy parked in a speed trap, and the sound of a wailing police siren soon added to the cacophony. Tarpon sped up and bumped the Parisienne’s rear end. “What the Sam Hill is he doing?” Charlotte said, taking her foot off the accelerator.
I took advantage of the car’s bench seat and reached my left footpaw over, stomping the gas pedal into the floorboards. “We can’t slow down,” I said. “If the police catch me, or if Tarpon catches me, there’s no telling what could happen.”
“Pull over!” I heard the cop shout over his loudspeaker. “You in the gray Pontiac! Pull over now!”
“Charlotte, I need you to trust me,” I said. “I think I should drive from here.”
“What? You’re crazy!” she cried. “We can’t switch drivers here, not now.”
“So we’ll do it quickly,” I said. “Move over, I’ll slide across in front of you.”
Charlotte scooted across the slippery vinyl bench seat to the passenger side. I kept one paw on the wheel and one footpaw firmly planted on the gas as I moved across to the driver’s side in front of Charlotte, then plunked myself down in the driver’s seat. “Buckle up,” I said. “This could get bumpy.”
Tarpon passed the police cruiser and began to close the gap between himself and us. “White Impala!” the cop commanded over his loudspeaker, “you pull over, too! What the hell are you doing, racing?”
I buried the Parisienne’s speedometer needle. It stopped at the 85-mph limit line but the car kept accelerating. A road sign up ahead warned of black ice. A pack of slow-moving cars with their brake lights on half a mile down the road was a good clue that there was some today. At the speed we were going, half a mile evaporated very quickly, and I saw the patch of black ice just in time. The Parisienne’s rear end swung out and the tires broke loose. I steered into the skid and drifted the car a couple hundred feet around a gentle curve in the roadway. Tarpon swerved into the emergency lane and missed the ice altogether. The deputy did the same. Now I had traffic to deal with in addition to my two pursuers. There was a big rig in the right lane and a slow-moving minivan in the left lane. There was no traffic in the oncoming lanes; however, there was an overpass ahead. The road narrowed approaching the bridge, so I couldn’t safely pass either of the vehicles. Instead, I cut across the center median of the divided highway and into the northbound lanes, flying across the bridge doing 80-plus in the wrong direction.
Soon after we crossed the bridge, northbound traffic appeared. I wasn’t about to play chicken with innocent motorists. I swerved back across the frozen median and back into the southbound lanes. Tarpon and the cop had been held up for a moment by the two slow drivers, but the van eventually moved over to let them by, and they began to catch up. The weather got worse, snowing harder. I turned on the wipers and headlights so that I could see the road better. My eyes went wide when I looked in my rearview mirror and spotted the barrel of the deputy’s shotgun poking out of his window. It was aimed at one of the Parisienne’s rear tires. I hit the brakes hard and the cop had to swerve to avoid rear-ending us. Tarpon flew past in the left lane, braking sharply to cut us off. I punched the gas again and threaded the needle between the cruiser and Tarpon’s Impala. Charlotte was quiet the whole time; I think she was too terrified to speak.
We came to a long straight stretch relatively free of traffic and I opened the throttle some more. The cop car accelerated and assumed the familiar PIT position right next to the Parisienne’s quarter panel, preparing to spin me out. I slammed on the brakes again as the cop made his move. He clipped the Parisienne’s left-front corner but failed to knock us off course. He skidded briefly on the wet pavement, then corrected and rejoined the pursuit. Tarpon pulled up alongside and attempted the same maneuver. This time the PIT worked; the Parisienne spun like a top. I fought to recover from the high-speed spin-out, unexpectedly helped by a glancing blow off the guard rail which knocked me back onto the road. Tarpon wasn’t so lucky. He over-committed when he performed the PIT, accidentally launching his car off to the roadside. The Impala plowed through a snowbank and smashed a row of mailboxes, then careened into a ditch, rolling over twice. It came to rest right-side up, the roof crushed in and one wheel ripped completely off. Steam billowed out from under the mangled hood.
“Hot damn!” Charlotte exclaimed, looking back at the crash. “He just took himself out!”
The cop pulled over at the accident scene. I continued driving. Up ahead was a railroad crossing. I knew I should slow down, or the car would surely get damaged further going over the uneven surface at high speed. I was just about to slow down when the red flashing lights came on and the bells sounded. The crossing gates started to drop down and I heard a train horn in the distance. “Oh, hell no,” I said.
The Parisienne was running at full throttle. It was now a race between us and the train, and getting there second was not an option. The gates were down; the train’s horn sounded louder as it came closer. Charlotte’s face was as white as a sheet. I gripped the steering wheel tightly, the gas pedal flat to the floor. The Parisienne shot up the short rise, crashed through the crossing gates, and went airborne. We cleared the train so narrowly that I could read the registration number on the front of the huge yellow and blue locomotive: CSX #746.
The Parisienne landed hard, bottoming out with a screech of scraping metal and a shower of sparks. Charlotte and I looked at each other and we both breathed a deep sigh of relief. What a rush! The poor old car couldn’t take much more abuse. I pulled the battered Pontiac over to the side of the road and we waited until the freight train passed. Once it was clear, I looked back down the road to the place where Tarpon crashed. The sheriff’s deputy had dragged the apparently unconscious bounty hunter out of the wreckage and I heard the siren of an approaching ambulance. I shifted back into Drive and we took it easy until we reached the parking lot of a Dairy Queen restaurant in the town of Westerville.
I pulled the rattling car into a parking space and shut the engine off. I looked over at Charlotte, who looked back. “I think I’d better get out of your life now,” I said quietly, reaching for the door handle.
“Oh, no you don’t,” she admonished, “not yet.”
“Why not?” I asked, unsure why an elderly woman would want me hanging around, especially after what had just happened.
“Because we still have one thing to do,” Charlotte said. “You are going to get that supper I promised.”
I shook my head. “I can’t go back to your house, it’s too dangerous.”
Charlotte laughed. “No, no, Sonny. I’m going to treat you to something at Dairy Queen. Come on, surely you’re hungry after the day you’ve had.”
I had to admit, I was hungry. The snow was still falling, and the sky was darkening more by the minute. It would be night soon. If I didn’t get some food soon, there was no telling what could happen if I had to stay out overnight without shelter. Reluctantly, I agreed to let Charlotte buy me some food. Initially I refused to go inside the restaurant with her, but she insisted, claiming that no one inside was going to worry about me.
The Dairy Queen instantly became silent when I pushed open the door and padded up to the order counter with Charlotte beside me. The only sound I heard was a fryer sizzling in the back. The cashier, a girl who looked to be about eighteen, looked up at me with a timid expression. “Can I – er – help you?”
“Yes,” I said confidently, and ordered a double bacon cheeseburger with all the fixings, a milkshake, and a large side of seasoned fries. I felt I had earned a decent meal. And besides ... Charlotte was paying.
We were surrounded by an uncomfortable silence for several minutes, but eventually people started whispering excitedly to each other. I ignored their gossip and focused instead on enjoying my burger. Roughly half an hour later, Charlotte and I finished our dinner. By that time it was dark outside. My plan had been to part company with Charlotte and again set out on my own. I had hoped that I could make tracks during the waning daylight hours and find a place to stay for the night, but Tarpon’s pursuit had messed everything up. Now I would have to find my way through the darkness, and to top it all off, I was going to freeze my tail off!
Charlotte and I again said our goodbyes, and she drove off into the night. I trudged through the snow, heading south along Highway 710. Cars sailed past, flinging up mud and grimy snow. I stayed on the shoulder, away from the traffic lanes, to avoid being seen. The thick leather jacket kept my upper body warm enough, but the cold snow stung my paws and my khaki shorts offered less-than-adequate protection from the chilly wind. I forced myself to keep moving forward, knowing that if I stopped for an extended period I would probably freeze to death. Thirty minutes later I made a painful dash across the slick highway and continued east along Interstate 270. I soon found myself in the town of Huber Ridge. The clock tower showed 9:00 pm.
There were few businesses open in Huber Ridge, at least that I could see. I saw a sign for the Blendon Hall Motel, but it had no vacancy. With very little else in town to choose from, I sat gloomily on the curb, pondering what to do next. Every couple of minutes a car drove past on the slushy road. Well, duh ... that was my ticket to a warm place to stay. I’d try to hitchhike to someplace warm and safe. I stood up and put my thumb out. A few cars passed. Eventually an old purple Plymouth Neon pulled up and a teenage girl rolled down the window on the passenger side. “Hey there, bud,” the girl said. “Need a ride?”
I looked inside the car. There were three girls, all about the same age. “Uhh ... yeah,” I said. “Can you take me to a motel east of here, one that has rooms available?”
“Oh, we can take you anywhere you want,” said the driver, flashing me a smile.
I should have taken that as a red flag right there, but I was too cold and too tired to know or care. I walked stiffly to the car and got in.
I must have blacked out while in the car because I woke up on a soft bed in a room somewhere else. The room looked like a teenage girl’s bedroom. A lava pink lamp cast a soft glow from the corner of the room. Where was I? Wait ... girl’s bedroom? Oh, no...
All doubts were erased when the door opened and three girls stepped into the room. In my groggy state I could barely make out their faces. I could, however, smell the stench of alcohol on them. “Who ... who are you?” I said.
One of the girls spoke. “I’m Ophelia Wolfe,” she said. “These are my sisters, Amelia and Cecilia.”
Most human men would be thrilled to be in a room with young triplets such as the Wolfe sisters, but I was not. I wanted to get out of there, and fast. “What time is it?” I asked.
“Time for a little fun,” Ophelia said, smiling mischievously. “We want you.”
“How old are you?” I said indignantly.
“Old enough!” they all said, and made a grab for me.
I tried to wriggle out of their grasp but found it difficult. Cecilia was trying to remove my pants. “Hey!” I cried, “get the hell away from me!”
I kicked wildly with my clawed paws and she backed off. Amelia and Ophelia were busy tearing at my shirt. I brushed Amelia off but Ophelia planted a wet kiss on my muzzle. “You’re hot,” she said. “I wanna get some Fox-Wolfe action going.”
I bared my teeth at her. “You little whore, leave me alone or I will hurt you!”
“Oh yeah, I’m like a wild animal!” Ophelia said loudly. “We’re gonna party ALL night long!”
I was on my back. She jumped on top of me and made her own attempt to unbutton my shorts. I rolled over onto the floor and threw her off. Ophelia slammed into the nightstand next to the bed but quickly recovered. I made a break for the door but soon was met by Amelia and Cecilia. I could easily have beat the crap out of all of them, but I was still searching for a way out that didn’t involve seriously injuring anyone. I couldn’t figure out why the girls were trying to get me in bed with them. They didn’t seriously find me attractive, did they? The whole thing had taken me completely by surprise, since for nearly a year I had been lucky to find people willing to even talk to me. And now three drunk teenage girls who didn’t look a day over eighteen were after me!
All three girls tackled me just before I reached the door. My jacket was bundled up on a table next to the door, and chances were good that my gun was still wrapped up inside it. If I could just reach it...
Ophelia still wanted me, and she wanted me bad. She grabbed for my shirt and ripped it around the hem as I lunged for the table. The table legs collapsed with a crash and I dropped to the floor with my paws around the jacket. I reached inside it and just got my fingers around the cold steel handle when I felt a sudden jerking sensation down south. That stupid Ophelia was yanking my pants again, but they were stuck on my tail and wouldn’t come off. I swatted at her with my tail, then whirled around quickly and pointed the gun at her head. “Ooh, a squirt gun!” she squealed. “CeCe, come here! Wet T-shirt contest!”
They were more intoxicated than I thought! I decided that a show of force was in order. I aimed the gun at the pink lava lamp in the corner and fired. The room went dark with a shattering of glass and the splat of liquid hitting the carpet. I used the darkness to my advantage and ducked out of the room, picking up my belongings on the way out. That was all fine and dandy, but what next? I still had to get clear of the house. Easy enough. The girls’ car keys were sitting on the kitchen counter. I grabbed them and ran out of the house.
It was still dark outside. I estimated that it was maybe two or three in the morning. The purple Neon was sitting in the driveway. I made my way toward it and got in. The starter ground for a second or two, then the car started. The girls were just coming out through the front door when I threw the Neon into reverse and launched backwards into the street, bottoming out the muffler and front bumper as I bounced over the curb. The tires chirped when I shifted into Drive and sped forward into the night. I had just committed Grand Theft Auto for the second time in two days, but I was free from one of the worst nightmares of my life.
I pulled the purple Plymouth into a parking lot just west of Johnstown on Highway 161 and parked. I reached into my jacket pocket to make sure that my wad of cash was still there. Thankfully it was. In the morning I could try to procure a car and ditch the Neon, but for the time being I was just glad to be rid of those horrible girls. I put on the jacket and reclined the driver’s seat, then settled down to get whatever rest I could before daybreak. I had a feeling that I had another long day ahead.
[ story by wannabemustangjockey, (c) 2006 ]