By Elizabeth Ruth
She would never have let Jeff go to the post office while she closed up the shop if she had known that just before she would have locked the door for the evening a complete stranger would enter. At first glance he looked harmless enough—pale and thin and not a lot taller than she was—but he was someone she had never seen before and in the small town where her little convenience store was located, that in itself was unusual. The stranger didn’t say a word—another unusual thing, but she could deal with that.
“How can I help you?” she asked cheerfully.
The stranger stepped closer looking to right and left and then over his shoulder as he approached.
Jen stepped backward, but only a couple of steps as her back hit the shelves against the wall behind the counter. The stranger reached inside the zipper of his lightweight jacket. When his hand came out, it was gripping a flat snub-nosed revolver.
Jen’s heart rose in her chest and then began a rapid erratic beat. She knew she was afraid, but something told her she shouldn’t show it.
Trying to be casual, she did not budge from where she stood but asked, “Do you want the money from the cash register? I don’t have a lot, but you’re welcome to it.”
The stranger came around the end of the counter and gestured toward the cash register with the gun. “Open it,” he said.
Jen opened the drawer and the stranger reached in and stacked the bills with one hand. He then stuffed them somewhere inside the jacket. Before Jen could say or do anything else, he grabbed her arm and twisted it behind her back. He was far stronger than she would have guessed.
“Come along, Lady,” he said. “I need a car and you might as well drive. Get your keys.”
Jen reached under the counter for her purse just before he pushed her out into the common area of the store. “Turn out the lights you normally turn off at night,” he said, letting go of her arm but keeping the gun in sight.
After Jen flicked a few switches, he pushed her out the door. “Lock up,” he said.
After she locked the door, he jiggled the handle and then put his arm around her shoulder as if they were best friends and half led, half shoved her around the side of the building where her old blue VW was parked.
“I know this is your car,” he said. “It’s the only one left and it’s been here for the last hour. Get in, and don’t forget I have this handy.” He gestured with the gun then slammed the door on her side and was almost instantly inside the car on the opposite side.
“Go to the highway,” he said. “I’ll tell you where to go next.” It was the beginning of a long ride.
After the first half hour, the stranger looked at the gas gauge and grunted with satisfaction. “Good. We won’t have to stop.” The needle indicated the tank was nearly full.
The stranger held the gun on his knee and watched as she drove, giving her an occasional direction. Sometimes he looked backward searchingly. She surmised he was expecting someone to come looking for them, but she was sure nobody would. Jeff would go straight home to his young bride. Nobody would know she hadn’t gone home to her own little house where she lived alone.
After driving more than two hours, the edge of Jen’s fear was lessened and surprisingly, she became sleepy.
“Can you talk to me?” she asked him. “I’m sleepy.” He switched on the radio. She drove on.
After a long while, he twisted the radio off again and spoke. “Were going to see my mom,” he said. “She’s dying.”
Jen was startled by the despair in his voice. “I’m so sorry,” she said without forethought. “What’s wrong with her?”
“She has cancer. I was going to go by bus, but I didn’t have the money or the time.”
Maybe this fellow is not really so bad after all, Jen thought.
“Where’s your mom live?” she asked. The answer told her they were still a couple of hours away.
“Put the gun away,” she told him. “Under the circumstances, I’ll be happy to take you.”
He didn’t put the gun away, but he did allow it to droop.
Jen continued the conversation. “Is you mom at home or in a hospital?
“She’s home. My sis called me yesterday. They took mom home yesterday to die. I hope I make it on time.” Jen heard a sob in his voice; and she inadvertently pressed her foot down a little, willing the car to move toward their destination more quickly.
They were nearing her passenger’s hometown and he was telling her where the turnoff was when Jen heard the siren. She looked at the speedometer. 15 miles over the limit! She looked at the desperate man beside her.
“Don’t worry,” she said. It will be okay.”
Jen pulled the car over and noted out of the corner of her eye that her guest shoved the gun under the front seat. She reached for her purse and dug inside for her license as the officer approached.
“You in a particular hurry?” he asked.
“Yes, Officer,” she answered. “My friend’s mother is dying and I guess I was so eager to get him to her that I forgot to watch my speed.”
“Where are you headed?”
Jen’s passenger gave him an address.
“What’s your mom’s name?”
The man told him.
In the rearview mirror, Jen saw the officer talking on his radio. Then he was back.
“Follow me,” he said. “I’ll lead you right to the front door.”
Jen followed the officer as he led her through the streets. At their destination she parked the car. “I’m going in with you,” she told her passenger. “You may need a friend.”
Once inside the house, Jen waited in the living room for the next hour, using the time to call Jeff and tell him that due to an emergency he would have to open the store the next day.
When she left the next morning, the old woman had passed away but her wayward son was reunited with his family.
Jen stopped at a fast food restaurant and ate a large breakfast. Then she left town feeling very content. The End