By Eileen Herbert-Goodall
Perched on the edge of the highway, we sit in the car, the hum of the engine grinding at the silence. Outside, trees sway, their limbs bent and shivering. I like being out here in the bush—it’s peaceful, quiet. But Cindy doesn’t look like she’s enjoying things too much.
Ever stumbled upon a deer out in the wild and peered into its eyes? They look pretty and real scared at the same time. That’s something I’d never kill—a deer. Them animals are sacred, real special. People would probably be surprised to hear someone like me talking that way. Fuck ’em, I say. What would they know? Anyway, that’s what this girl reminds me of—a pretty and real scared deer.
Cindy’s fairly young, around mid-twenties. She’s keeping real quiet, staring through the windscreen, a little fidgety. Can’t say I blame her. She’s got good reason to be shook up. I needed a get-away car after that bag-snatch went pear-shaped, and there she was, parked in a nearby lane way, chatting on her phone, happy as can be. Talk about being in the wrong place at the wrong fucken time. When she seen my gun, she done exactly as I asked: kept quiet, put her phone in her bag, moved into the passenger seat. I drove us out of the city, the gun resting on my lap. We followed the highway inland, sticking to the speed limit. I didn’t plan on drawing unwanted attention. Best to stay under the radar. She stared straight ahead the whole time, wiping her nose on her sleeve. Ever listened to somebody sniffling for hours? It’s enough to do your head in.
I tried making conversation, you know, to put her at ease. She told me her name and said she worked as an accountant. I told her I used to be good at maths, once upon a time, but I don’t think she believed me. In any case, I dropped out of school at fourteen and ran away from home. I don’t remember my mum, who died when I was real small, but I knew my father well enough. He was a drinker—hit the booze all day, every day. No point in hanging around, so I left. Out on the streets, I learnt real quick how to stay alive. I got boundaries though, and there are some things I just won’t do, no matter what.
During our little chat, I found out Cindy had been on lunch when I bailed her up. I also discovered she was single and lived alone in an apartment. Her parents lived a couple of blocks away and she went to their place for dinner every Sunday. I asked if she had any pets and she said she owned a cat called Rosie. When she told me that, about her cat, she started crying real hard. Before long I skidded to a stop on the gravel verge—there’s only so much a man can take.
And here we are in the middle of nowhere, not another vehicle in sight. I figure someone’s bound to come along eventually.
Cindy stares through the windscreen, hardly moving a muscle. I reckon I know what she’s thinking, but she’s got me pegged wrong—that’s not my style.
‘You got phone service?’ I ask.
‘Have you got phone service?’
She takes her phone from her bag and looks at it. ‘Yes.’
‘Okay, here’s the deal…you can call a friend, but not the cops. At least, not until I’m long gone. Got it?’
She looks at me with them Bamby-like eyes. ‘You’re not going to kill me?’
I pull a cigarette from the packet in my shirt pocket, fish out my lighter and run my thumb down its wheel. The end of the cigarette flares alight. ‘Is that what you think? That I’m gonna kill you then ditch you out here?’
‘Bit of a cliché, don’t you think?’
She doesn’t answer.
‘Turns out I’m just your run-of-the-mill thief. Tell you what though, you break our deal and I’ll come find you and make you pay.’ I drag on my cigarette. ‘And if I happen to be in the slammer, I’ll have someone else do the job for me. I got mates—lots of ’em. Understand?’
‘Say “I understand”.’
‘Good.’ I take another drag of my cigarette. ‘Get out.’
I roll my eyes. Some people have no fucken idea. ‘You got a better time in mind?’
‘What about my car?’
‘What about it?’ ‘What are you going to do with it?’
‘I’m gonna drive it.’
I think for a moment, then say, ‘I’m not sure yet.’
‘Well, I’d appreciate it if you could leave it somewhere for me when you’re done, a place where I can find it.’
I laugh in a way I haven’t done in a long time, long and loud. Who would’ve thought she’d have the balls to ask something like that?
She gets the message and steps out of the car, bag in hand. She stares at me, looking like an abandoned fucken fawn.
I open my window and ash the cigarette. ‘You can leave that here.’
She drops it on the seat.
‘Take care, Cindy, and stay out of trouble.’ I say this last part as a joke, but she doesn’t even crack a smile. Fair enough, I guess.
She closes the car door, then watches me through the window. I hit the accelerator and fishtail back onto the highway. As I drive away, I catch sight of her in the rear-view mirror. She stands in the shade of the trees, staring after me, phone pressed to her ear. Could be that she’s not so unlucky after all. S’pose you’d have to ask her.
Eileen Herbert-Goodall is a writer of fiction and non-fiction. She is the author of a cross-over novella titled ‘The Sherbrooke Brothers’. Eileen is Director of Field of Words, the online organisation dedicated to helping writers grow. She holds a Doctorate of Creative Arts.