[my entry for the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge 2011 – heat 8 round 1]
“Are you sure you know where we are supposed to turn?” I asked Leonard. I suppressed the urge to take out my Beretta and press it to his temple. We had been driving for 9 hours, and Leonard had not stopped talking once. Leonard looked up from the map. I looked at him sideways. His glasses sat so far down his nose, I wondered how they were still on his face at all. He unfolded a portion the map on his lap while I steered the car down the middle of the snow covered dirt road. Black tree trunks hovered in awkward lines that spilled backward into the empty fields behind them. I looked for signs of a side road, a laneway, a gate, anything. All I saw were trees.
“The map says that it’s right here.” Leonard stabbed his finger into the map. I couldn’t see where the hell he was pointing. White, grey landscape flew by us at alarming speeds. I pushed the gas pedal down further. The car vibrated in the effort.
“Is there a reason why you are not using a GPS?” I asked. My guess was Leonard was twenty something, greener than spit and should have some tech sense. Hell even I had a GPS on my phone, not that I could get to it. The damn thing was in the bottom of the bag that I had thrown in the back seat. Something thumped loudly in the trunk. I looked in the rearview. The road behind us was empty. I ignored the barrage of muffled shouting and kicking that was going on in the trunk. Leonard shrugged. His round, peach-fuzz cheeks wrinkled into what I took as a grin. Leonard jerked his head over his shoulder and shrugged again. I thought I heard him giggle.
“Don’t have one Ty. Don’t even have a cell phone.” He said smugly. I knew he was lying about the cell. I had seen him on it when we hit the highway service station. I filled up with gas and saw him through the window stabbing the screen with one finger, sending a text. I wasn’t stupid. Leonard was a turd. Knew it the minute I saw him standing beside the Buick at the warehouse. What could I do? The message from Woodlawn was to take the car and whatever was inside it; including the tag along to navigate. In twenty years, I had never once been asked to take someone along, but it was a big job. I did what I was told. Woodlawn counted on it. Why he had to pick someone so incredibly boring, I didn’t know? I wouldn’t ask it, even though I did regret every second having to listen to the asshole wax poetic about world politics and explain his theory on why the Toronto Maple Leafs would never win another Stanley Cup. I really didn’t give a flying fuck about it. I let him know. Leonard continued to prattle on.
“Can’t rely on those damn electronic gadgets, Ty. Gotta go old school when it’s an important job…” he said. I shrugged. It was probably true. I never bothered with a map or a GPS but I wasn’t going to tell Leonard that. His voice in my ears was like chewing glass.
“Old school? You can’t be more than 23 Leonard. What the hell do you know about old school” I said. Leonard elbowed me knowingly in the ribs. He leaned over like he was going to tell me a secret. If I wasn’t trying not avoid sliding into the ditch, I would have shoved my finger in his eye.
“I once heard of a guy who was told by his GPS to turn right, but get this there was no road, it was a bridge under constructions. ‘Turn right and continue on the motorway’ imagine.” Leonard said with a terrible fake British accent. Before I could tell him to shut up, he kept talking.
“Damn fool drove right off it and into the river; drowned before anyone could get to him. Never trust a machine to do your work for you.” Leonard said. His face drew itself up into a smug smile. He continued to tell me other urban myths he had heard. Bits of useless trivia fell from his mouth like puke. I sincerely wanted to turn the car sharply so he would slide and smash into the door, but I couldn’t risk ending up in a ditch. It didn’t hurt to fantasize a bit. I watched him out of the corner of my eye. I had no idea where Woodlawn had dug him up, but I had no doubt he was with me as a favour to someone else. I concentrated on the road. If Leonard didn’t shut up, I was going to shoot him right in the face for being stupid. The road was like a skating rink. I leaned forward over the dash and looked at the sky. It was heavy. Probably was going to snow. I could feel it. I glanced at my watch. We had been on the road for seven hours. Woodlawn had sent a message, according to Leonard, that we were to meet him on Sparta Line at 10pm. I looked at my watch. 5pm. That was another five hours from now. We could afford to be lost for an hour before the sunset. I didn’t want to be driving around on these goddamn roads in the dark.
“Turn down this road.” He said suddenly. I slowed the Buick and made the turn. The sign said John Wise Line. I pointed it out to Leonard.
“Yeah don’t worry. John Wise seems to meet up with Sparta down here.” He said. I could hear the shifting of paper and a sudden tearing. I gripped the wheel. The road was paved but almost completely covered in snow. The sky was daring us. I could feel it. Leonard groaned.
“Shit, ripped it. It’s ok, just the part with Lake Erie in it. ” Leonard said with a nervous laugh
“We don’t need that!” He balled up the ripped piece and threw it behind him. I said nothing. There was another thump in the trunk. Leonard looked back over his shoulder.
“Do you think we should stop?” he asked. I shook my head. I wasn’t stopping until we got to Woodlawn. That was the deal and then I was done. Leonard eyed me. I gestured to him with my chin.
“Naw it will be fine. Not going anywhere. What does the map say about how far down we go on this road until we hit Sparta Line?” I asked. Leonard shrugged.
“It’s as long as my thumb. We should see it soon.” He said. The muscles in my jaw revolted and screamed into my teeth. I said a hail what the fuck in my head and kept driving. My tongue stood up and fought its way through the silence.
“As long as your thumb? Do you even know how to read a goddamn map?” I snapped. Leonard went red.
“Well, I… sure I do. Look” He pointed again to the map like I could see what he was showing me.” It’s about five miles. Tops ten minutes. We’ll just keep an eye for it. Don’t worry. We’ve got lots of time.” Leonard said quickly.
“Tell me again what Woodlawn said in his message to you. Word for word. We are supposed to meet him at 10pm with whoever the hell it is in the back, at what farm?” I said. Leonard recited the message again verbatim. I glowered at the dashboard. The fuel tank was half empty. The road suddenly gave way to a steep hill.
“Whoa.” I said. The fresh snow made the road slippery. The back of the Buick fishtailed. I corrected quickly and slowed down.
“Hold on.” I said to Leonard. We slid again, this time dangerously close to the ditch at the bottom of the hill. A narrow steel bridge appeared out of nowhere. The road jack knifed straight up on the other side.
“Shit.” We said together. The car skidded onto the steel bridge.
“Leonard, are you sure this is the right way?” I shouted. I didn’t hear him. The Buick bounced off one side rail and the bridge rumbled underneath the tires. My jaw ached from grinding my teeth. I never questioned when a new assignment came to me. Woodlawn always took care of me, whatever the job was. Ten years he made sure it was right. I had proven myself, loyal to him, to the family. Today was the first day, doubt snuck in. This mealy faced sewer rat, Leonard… What I did to deserve him I had no idea. Seven hours in the car with him though, with no radio, and his constant folding and unfolding the map was enough to drive anyone to murder. I seriously considered driving the over the edge of the bridge just to show up Leonard for forgetting to bring his GPS. Leonard unfolded the map again. He held it up close to his face. I wondered briefly if he heard my thoughts. I cleared my throat.
“It’s just up over this hill. I swear it.” Leonard said. His voice quivered.
“Fine.” I said. The Buick protested as we climbed. The tires gripped the gravel and ice. The engine groaned and bitched but several minutes later we reached the crest of the hill. I didn’t let on to Leonard that I had been holding my breath. Leonard pointed excitedly. Trees gave way to black plank fences and open fields.
“Look, there it is. Turn down that one.” He said. Leonard wadded the map up in to a large ball and tossed it into the back seat. He leaned back and stretched his arms in victory. I rolled my eyes.
“Are you sure that’s the right farm?”
“See there, the gate!” Leonard said. His voice bubbled with excitement. I considered my gun again.
“Yeah man, go. Look there are cars at the house, beside the barn. See?” Leonard said. I looked. There were two vehicles. A truck and a van. Looked promising. Leonard clapped me on the shoulder and laughed. I gripped the wheel tighter. I could feel the vein in my forehead start to throb. I tried to keep the tires in the ruts left in the snow, but the Buick had other ideas. I eased off the gas when we hit a patch of ice and the back of the car fish tailed again. There was a loud thump from the trunk. I frowned.
“The kid’s moving around a lot back there. Are you sure you tied him properly?” I asked. Leonard nodded.
“Oh yeah, don’t worry he’s not going anywhere.” Leonard said. His head bounced off his shoulders. It reminded me of that blow up punching clown. I stored that one away in my head for later.
“When we stop I’ll check.” He continued. I nodded. I saw the massive man standing in the middle of the lane at the last moment. I slammed on the brakes. Everything in the car was thrown forward. Snow plumed around the car. Leonard hit his head. Divine Providence. I breathed evenly. The hulking shoulders of the man filled the window beside me. I rolled it down to let him talk.
“What?” he said. I didn’t recognize him. His breath smelled of tuna.
“Hello. We’re looking for Woodlawn.” I said politely. Leonard sniffled beside me. Blood trickled down his nose. He had smashed his face on the dashboard when I stopped the car.
“This ain’t it.” The man said. He let his jacket fall open to show us we were in in the wrong place.
“What you boys doing out here?” he asked again. I casually dropped my hand to the gear shift.
“Looking for Woodlawn.” I repeated. The man leaned in further. I wondered if he would get stuck, which would present a whole different host of problems. He looked around and into the back seat.
“Get lost.” He said finally. Leonard gurgled in agreement.
“Sure thing” I said. I threw the car into reverse and spun the car around. I left the giant standing covered in huge plumes of snow. Leonard bounced around in the seat as the car dug into the ruts again. I punched him sidelong in the jaw.
“You are a fucking idiot.” I said evenly. Leonard cowered on the corner of the passenger seat. I noticed he had lost his glasses. Leonard searched for them on the floor. I felt the car slide to the left.
“Shit.” I said. The thumping in the trunk grew louder. I looked back and saw that no one was following. I pumped the brakes, but the car kept sliding into the ditch. Eventually it stopped and settled into the snow bank. I slammed my hands down on the wheel and swore until I ran out of breath.
“Get out.” I growled at Leonard. He said nothing. He pushed the door open and climbed out. I climbed over the over the passenger side and stood in the knee deep snow.
“You should check the trunk.” Leonard said. His voice was muffled. He was hunched over, holding his face still. I leaned back into the car and popped the trunk. I smashed my elbow trying to get back out. Leonard stood with his back turned. I ignored him. He was probably crying. I marched to the back of the car and heaved on the trunk lid. I looked in. Woodlawn’s bruised and bleeding face stared back at me. The gag on his mouth was dirty and soaked. I could see his wrists and ankles were tied. There was nothing else in the trunk except the spare tire. I noticed the tire iron was missing. It suddenly hit me what was going on, and then so did Leonard.