RUSSIAN ROULETTE ON WHEELS
By Suzanne M. Kelly
The tattered voice of the man in the back seat of Marie’s car had been a continuous babble since his tailbone had found the seat cushion. He kept going on and on about the dangers of making eye contact with passers-by while driving anywhere in the City of Angles. According to him, this was a game of Russian roulette on wheels. As the image of gun shaped cars and bullet headed drivers passed through Marie’s mind she noticed out of the corner of her eye a large black sedan pulling along side. Sherry, who was riding shotgun, says to Marie, well those guys don’t look so bad, new car, suits, don’t see a problem there do you? They both smiled and sighed at the same time, nooo problem. Armed with a flirting face Marie glanced to her left just in time to see the driver of the black sedan turn deliberately into her lane. Was he was actually attempting to run her into the bridge abutment directly ahead?
Holy shit, Marie said, as she turned sharp enough to miss the concrete column of the bridge and went careening down the grassy slope. Fortunately beneath the overpass that almost became her hood ornament, was another road. The endless babble in the back seat had ceased. The stranger Marie and Sherry had agreed to give a ride home, now seemed a little pale in the face and mute.
Jesus, Sherry said aloud as Marie regained control of the sliding car. That was too close. The relief was brief however, for now they saw the large black sedan turn from the other side of the overpass and torpedo down the opposite side of the grassy slope that led to the road. What the hell was going on? If this was Russian roulette, the chamber was undeniably loaded. What had she done to deserve this Marie wondered.
As she attempted to push the gas pedal through the floorboard the last 2 hours of her life passed in slow motion through her mind. She and Sherry had stopped at Biffs in Westwood. It was a snug little neighborhood bar. They always did well at those kinds of places. Especially if there were a couple of seats at the bar. Bartenders always went for Marie, she had that “I own the place” aire about her, no doubt due to her childhood as an Army brat. Never in one place too long and always the new person she had learned one had to develop a certain self-confidence to be accepted by strangers. Her beautiful red hair, green eyes and alabaster skin without a freckle, penetrated every ethnic barrier.
Biffs was a little smoky but somewhat upscale as neighborhood digs go. The bar itself was one large piece of redwood with a natural twist of trunk. It had a clear two-inch thick polyurethane coating over it. The bark was frozen in its living state beneath giving it a woodsy appeal. Brass fans sent the rising smoke of the cord of burning cigarettes swirling around the hanging ferns and out of the open window. There it enveloped the motionless palm trees like a rolling fog in the sunset. They had stopped for an after work cocktail to let the unusually heavy rush hour traffic defibrillate. Descending into the nouveau they spied three empty stools at the far side of the bar. They decisively penetrated their way through the manicured stalks of up-scale beach society clumped in clicks of who’s who thickets. At the end of the bar sat this non-descriptive looking person. The kind of face you can never remember. He had hair, eyes, nice hands though, really nice hands, almost pretty. A pianist maybe, thought Marie, not your usual hitter. Even though they’d ignored several of his attempted intros he persisted in Sherry’s pursuit.
Sherry had long straight auburn hair. Looked full blood Cherokee except for those striking light blue eyes. She wasn’t sure of her lineage, never knew her grandparents and her father refused to talk about them. She thought they were German though; she’d overheard her mom tell her older sister once they may have died at Auschwitz.
So, you guys sound like you’re from the south, must be Texas. Yeah, Sherry replied and turned her back to him. I was in Texas once, sure was hot. Must not have been in January Sherry said without turning around. Maybe you ought to go back Marie said, maybe now. They laughed aloud. So, have you been here long the hitter said? Sheesh this guy wasn’t going to quit.
After about 10 minutes of his gnawing persistence, Sherry looked at Marie with that “listen to this one” look, turned seductively to him and said, I’m sorry, but can’t you see I’m already on a date. Marie was totally flushed and trying desperately not to laugh as Sherry put her hand on top of hers and turned back slowly rolling her eyes. Oh! I get it said the hitter, who’d of thought. Well can I bum a cigarette and a light? Marie reached manly across the bar and handed ham a Marlboro 100 then stepped between them offering him a light. The hitter looked her up and down and said wryly, thank you buddy and sat back down.
Marie, recognizing the Robert Redford look-a-like bartender was now perched on the edge of their conversation definitely looking for a confirmation of her sexual preference, for personal reasons, was more than they could stand. Exploding with laughter Marie sent a polarized glance in the bartenders direction and Sherry said to the hitter, since you couldn’t take a hint I thought I’d try elimination.
Oh! Well it worked, laughed the hitter as he brushed the long pull of sandy hair from his face, again calling attention to his neatly manicured flawless hands. To tell you the truth I really wasn’t looking for a date or anything, all I want is a ride home. The bartender now smiled at Marie with his 6'2" muscle-stretched t-shirt screaming to be removed grin, winked and set a complimentary drink on the bar in front of her. Things were looking up at that point. The conversation lightened and the four of them began to discuss bad pick up lines. After a couple of hours, three more complimentary drinks and the bartenders phone number, Marie was feeling more cordial toward the hitter, and offered to drop him off on their way home. The hitter hesitatingly rushed the departure and threw a fifty on the bar.
Marie and Sherry didn’t think much of it at the time but as they turned toward the front door the hitter said quickly, where’d you park? Oh two blocks back that way Marie said pointing to a large fern swaying at the back of the bar. Well let’s take the stairs up the back then, its closer. Ok said Marie motioning to Sherry and they left the back way. The hitter had trailed behind them a few steps as they crossed zigzag through the on-coming cars to the shiny blue firebird with the Texas plates on the far side of the street. No sooner had Marie unlocked the door than he jumped in the back seat and sort of slumped down. Marie started the car and pulled cautiously into the traffic. That’s when the babble began...ya know people here in LA are real strange you need to be real careful when you are driving what ever you do don’t be looking around at other people while you’re driving -yada yada yada... non-stop.
All of a sudden the reality of the here and now slapped her hard as Marie saw the sparks from the underside of the black sedan fly as it jumped the median into her lane. These guys were after her! And they didn’t want her phone number either.
Where were the police when you needed them, she thought as she checked the speedometer and realized they were traveling about 100 mph. The row of individual buildings had melded into one long stripe. There were several streets leading off the main road to the right and Marie managed to navigate a turn down one of them just as she landed over a slight rise. The approaching headlights of the black sedan had disappeared behind it momentarily. Hopefully he’d keep going and wouldn’t know which one she turned down. Sherry’s knuckles were white and her grip had indented the hardened foam of the dashboard into a permanent handprint. The hitter was laying down in the back seat now and his incessant babbling had taken on the form of reverent prayer.
They were in the warehouse district now and there were dead ends and cul-de-sacs everywhere running off of the main street she’d maneuvered on to. There were a few street lights here and there revealing several tractor-trailers lined up like abandoned freight trains. The street to her left had no lights to cast shadows on the road like the skyline of the blackened buildings against the night. They seemed to say come this way we’d protect you. Marie turned sharply to the left and began to skid sideways out of control. The parked trailers were rushing closer and closer with their arms open, Marie closed her eyes and slammed on the brakes. She careened into the curb and stopped abruptly between the deep grips of two stationary trailers. Marie instinctively slapped off the headlights and they all embraced the floorboard.
Straining to hear over the pounding of her heartbeat Marie thought she heard a car pass by on the street in front of them. She rose up slightly and looked in the side view mirror. Within minutes the headlights passed behind them as it zigzagged searching for its prey down every street.
After what seemed like an eternity Marie slowly reached her arm through the open console and grabbed the shirt of the stranger couched in the back seat. They were after you weren’t they? Who the hell are you and why am I gonna die for you. Tell me before I kill you first!
Uh well, Uh, you see I hustle a little pool now and then, and well uh, you see I guess I hustled the wrong person. How was I to know who this guy was - if I’d known they were gonna kill me.... GET OUT Marie said - get out and get as far away from me as possible. If I were you I’d move to Alaska NOW! Sherry roll down your window and let the asshole outa here!
The stranger climbed through the open window into the night shadows and disappeared into the black.
Jesus, Sherry said what are we gonna do now? We’re gonna wait right here till the sun comes up said Marie. The angels put us here and here were gonna stay.
As the morning sky blinked from black to gray Marie started the car and cautiously worked her way out of the protective glove of trailers. The morning hustle was beginning and the safety of humanity camouflaged their exit.
Taking the long way home they checked behind them at every turn. Finally they found the haven of their own street and parked a block down on the other side to be safe. Marie had to be at work at 9:00 so she showered ate a little breakfast, told Sherry she’d see her later and headed out. As she turned on to the main thoroughfare the hair on the back of her neck stood out and her heart jumped into her throat. From the corner of her eye pulling up along side her was a large black sedan. With the courage of Hercules and the savoir-faire of the President, Marie turned slowly toward the sedan armed only with her flirting face; she lowered her sunglasses and smiled. The suit in the front seat powered the window on the passenger side down and calmly said to Marie “So Red, do all the ladies in Texas handle a car like you?” Nah, but they wish they could, said Marie trying desperately to sound cool calm and collected. Thought so, said the suit, you’re good - real good. And I bet you’re a little smarter today than you were last night too. Marie stared quizzically at the suit, the light turned green and he smiled “don’t pick up any more strangers and you’ll do ok in the city of lost angels.” As he turned to the left the cars behind Marie began to honk. You got a problem lady? Don’t you Texas hicks know how to drive, screamed the voice behind her. Noooo problem, sighed Marie, nooo problem here.
Copyright © 1992-2023 Suzanne M Kelly