Thursday, September 12, 2013

River (Pt. XII)

Most anyone would say Driftwood got lucky.

How else could one describe his present circumstances? What brought Driftwood and the car together in the early morning hours at that freeway rest stop out in the middle of nowhere in California? A car that would never be listed as stolen on any police reports? A car delivered to him by two lost and hapless souls that no one would ever miss? In the very moment of his need?

But Driftwood did not believe in luck.

He sat on a box by a dumpster, chewing the burrito Flo had left in the car, and eying the pickup truck parked across the alley. The rubber hose and the empty gas can, his siphoning kit, were tucked behind him in a filthy recess between dark brick walls.

The little nook in which he lurked, part of the city's stinking underside, had seen use. The close-set walls and the on-ramp to the Hawthorne Bridge overhead afforded shelter from sun and rain. Rotted cardboard covered the concrete at his feet. Vagrants had used the place as a temporary resting place. Somewhere to sleep when the homeless current stalled. It suited Driftwood's purposes perfectly. He could remain there, unnoticed, until dusk approached. Then he could make his move. But that was hours away. All there was for him to do at the moment was to wait.

The truck was parked nose-in to a graffiti-spattered brick wall. Near the truck's front bumper, a shabby door opened into a brick wall, a cut-to-fit plywood sheet blanking out a square of window. Windows peaked out from the floors above, revealing dirty white walls and bare light bulbs. An apartment building. But there was no movement nor signs of activity in any of them. It was as good a setting as Driftwood might hope to find. More false evidence of luck.

His one worry was that someone might come for the truck before Driftwood was ready. In that case, he would have to act quickly. But he didn't think that would happen. He had a feel for these things.

His hand dropped to his shin and he felt the knife in its sheathe. The hardness of the finger guard reassured and brought to mind how it had been with Nanna. He recalled how the grip felt when he thrust the blade up and into her, when he saw her eyes widen with realization. That had always been her problem. She never had any idea what was coming.

His plan was to follow the river north. The state line with Washington was not far, but he had no real destination. Just north. In his mind, he saw long stretches of empty highway. A frozen landscape where everything was held in stasis. Seclusion.

The girl would come with him, he knew. Having her along would help avoid suspicion. When the time was right, he could cast her off.

The boy would be a problem. Eddie was lonely and desperate and that made him dangerous. But, like Driftwood, Eddie was running, too. Driftwood had no fear that the boy would speak with anyone who might interfere. As he mused on it a vision came to him: blood leaking into murky water.

 "Whacha lookin' for?"

A voice injected itself into Driftwood's reverie. He snapped his mind to the here and now. Someone had stepped around the dumpster. A young woman. She wore a loose-fitting, sheer blouse and tight shorts, cut high on her thighs. Her hair, dyed an impossible red, was tucked behind ears peppered with piercings. A sleeve of vivid tattoo flowed from wrist to elbow on one arm. Her hip was slung to the side, a hand with painted nails resting on it. She looked at Driftwood with amused disdain.

"I'm waiting for someone," he said.

She sneered. "That's what they all say," she said.

"Get lost," he said.

She shrugged. "Okay, fine," she said. "But if you work up some courage, I'm in that room up there." She pointed to a window on the second floor of the apartment building. "When the music is playing, it means I'm busy. No music means you can come on up." She turned around with an exaggerated swing of her hips and sauntered across the alley. She paused at the door and cast a look back at him. He stared her down without moving a muscle. She turned away with a shrug of her shoulder and disappeared behind the door.

Driftwood thought it over. That was the problem with staying in one place. Still water became stagnant. He thought again about Eddie. If something happened to the boy, how long would it be before someone made the connection between him and Driftwood? How many people had seen Driftwood? How many would see Eddie? How many would see the two of them together?

Even as his mind churned on these thoughts, the woman appeared in the second floor window above. Her shoulders were bare and she stood in the exact center of the window frame, staring down at Driftwood with apparent disinterest. After a moment she bent down out of sight, then rose up again, holding a boom box stereo. She placed it on the sill, speakers facing out into the alley. Then she turned away. The boom box sat on the edge of the sill, mute.

Driftwood shifted further back in the shadows. Besides gas, he would need money. Not much. Just enough keep him in fuel and road food. And damn Nanna for not having the money! If the old cow had been even half of what everyone said about her, Driftwood would be well on his way to Alaska. But he couldn't afford to waste his energy raging about that now. He peeked from behind the dumpster at the pickup again. How much gas was in the tank?

As he watched, a middle-aged man, dressed in slacks and a polo shirt stole down the alley from up the way. His movements suggested he was trying to be discreet, but the bright, clean clothes he wore stood out amid the darkness and drab of the alley.

Driftwood watched as the man, apparently unaware of Driftwood's presence, stopped near the pickup and glanced about carefully. He looked up toward the window where Driftwood had seen the young woman and stood still, listening. Then he opened the door and disappeared into the building.

Driftwood waited.

After a minute, the woman on the upper floor reappeared at the window. She hit the switch on the boom box. Music blared out into the alley; a local radio station. She turned and was swallowed by the vacancy beyond the window.

Music will at least help pass the time, Driftwood thought. He raised an imaginary glass to the window. Here's to business. He settled back and continued to wait.

To be continued...

Read Part I here.Read Part II here
Read Part III here
Read Part IV here.
Read Part V here
Read Part VI here
Read Part VII here
Read Part VIII here
Read Part IX here.  
Read Part X here
Read Part XI here
Read Part XII here.  
Read Part XIII here
Read Part XIV here
Read Part XV here.  
Read Part XVI here
Read Part XVII here
Read Part XVIII here.

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