“Didn’t anyone ever tell you about the dangers of hitchhiking?” the driver said. “You never know who’s going to pick you up.”
Donaldson wiped sweat from his brow and eyed the driver through the half-open passenger side window of the Lincoln Continental. The driver was average-looking, roughly Donaldson’s age, dressed in a dark suit that matched the car’s paint job.
“I’m roasting out here, man,” Donaldson said. And it wasn’t far from the truth. He’d been walking down this desolate highway for damn near three hours in the abusive, summer sun. “My car died. If you want to rob or kill me, that’s fine, as long as you have air conditioning.”
Donaldson forced a bright smile, hoping he looked both pathetic and non-threatening. It must have worked, because the man hit a switch on his armrest, and the door unlocked.
“Thanks,” he said.
The car was cooler than outside, but not by much. Donaldson wondered if the man’s air worked. He placed his hand against the vent, felt a trickle of cold leaking out.
“Happy to help a fellow traveler. I’m Mr. K.”
Neither made a move to shake hands. Mr. K checked his mirror, then gunned the 8-cylinder engine, spraying gravel as the luxury car fishtailed back onto the asphalt.
Donaldson adjusted his bulk, shifting the .38 he’d crammed into the front pocket of his jeans. The pants were loose enough, and Donaldson portly enough, that he doubted Mr. K noticed.
“You’re sunburned,” Mr. K said.
“Sun’ll do that to you.”
Donaldson touched his bare forearm, lobster red, and winced. Then he flipped down the visor mirror, saw how bad his face was. It looked like his old man had slapped the shit out of him, and hurt almost as much.
“Your car a Pinto?” Mr. K asked.
“A Pinto. Saw one about five miles back.”
Donaldson contemplated the harm in admitting it. He supposed it didn’t matter. Before he’d abandoned the car, he’d wiped it clean of fingerprints.
“Yeah. Blew a rod, I think.”
“Why didn’t you wait for the police?”
Again, Donaldson deliberated before answering. “I don’t like pigs,” he finally said.
Mr. K nodded. Donaldson doubted the man shared his sentiment. His hair was short, he was well-dressed, and he owned a fancy car. Cops wouldn’t hassle him. They were too busy hassling people with long hair and beards and ripped jeans.
The highway stretched onward, wiggly heat waves rising off the tarmac. There wasn’t much traffic. Only about twenty cars had passed Donaldson during his long walk, and not one had so much as slowed down. Bastards. Whatever happened to human compassion?
“Did you kill the car’s owner before you stole it?” Mr. K asked.
Alarm bells sounded in Donaldson’s head. He frantically pawed at his .38, but Mr. K slammed on the brakes.
Donaldson bounced off the dashboard, smacking his sunburned nose hard. During the momentary disorientation, he was aware of Mr. K throwing the car into park, unbuckling his seatbelt, and pressing a thin-bladed knife under Donaldson’s double chin with one hand, while digging the .38 from Donaldson’s front pocket with the other.
“You should buckle up,” Mr. K said. “Seatbelts save lives.”
Mr. K stuck the knife into his breast pocket, belted himself back in, then hit the gas. The tires screamed and the Continental shot forward.
“I’m bleeding,” Donaldson said, his hands cupped around his nose. He knew it was a stupid, obvious thing to say, but he was still dazed and trying to buy some time.
“Tissues in the glove compartment.”
Donaldson dug them out, feeling more ashamed than hurt. This guy had gotten the better of him much too easily. As he mopped the blood from his face, Mr. K pressed a button to open the passenger side window.
“Throw the used ones outside, please.”
Donaldson went through ten tissues, tossing each one onto the road whizzing by. Then he ripped one more into pieces, balled them up, and shoved them into each nostril, staunching the trickle. He kept an eye on Mr. K the entire time, alternating between watching the man’s eyes, and watching the .38 pointed at him.
Donaldson knew he was screwed, but he didn’t want to get himself even more screwed.
“You a cop?” he asked, not sure if that would be a good thing or a bad thing.
The barest flash of mirth crossed Mr. K’s face. “No. But your biggest worry right now shouldn’t be getting arrested. Your biggest worry should be the hole I’m going to put in your head if you don’t answer me.”
The gears began to turn in Donaldson’s head.
“You’d ruin your car.”
Again, a faint hint of a smile. “It’s not my car. And you still haven’t answered my question.”
Mr. K thumbed back the hammer on the pistol.
Donaldson contemplated his own death—the first time in his life he ever had—and decided dying would be a very bad thing.
“I killed him,” Donaldson said quickly.