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Highway Star

by Mark Crimmins

My wife was seeing George Shepard in Manhattan, and with the swift calculating power of the math teacher I was, I decided to drive to the Big Apple and give them a little surprise. I barreled onto the Thruway in my trusty Malibu. A Pony Express with a V6 engine and a high-performance cam. I would catch them early in the morning, when the city that never sleeps was taking a nap. I had learned by hacking into Carol’s Hotmail that they were staying in Suite 701 of the Essex House on Central Park South. They’d probably be cavorting all night long. And I would be there at daybreak to bring the affair to its climax. Eight hours of driving would do the job. I didn’t need food. I had eaten a large pepperoni pizza from Domino’s, and I remembered Napoleon: a soldier marches on his belly.

Around midnight I was north of the Finger Lakes. The times I had spent in this area camping with Carol in the early days of our courtship! Saving her life that one time when we were rock climbing and she slipped. Good Christ! If I had just been a bit weaker man I could have been well into my new life by now. Married to Sue Hoberly, the Phys. Ed. teacher, and producing healthy little babies who would grow up and swim across Lake Ontario in record time.

The Erie Canal glittered on my left. The idea of the canal: a link between two bodies of water. Commerce. Technology. Still water by means of which movement is made. I saw the waterway as an Eerie Canal. A canal up to strange stuff. A means of locomotion with insidious intent.

Five hours in I turned south at Albany. I had grabbed a CD as I tore out of the house: Deep Purple: Made in Japan. Consolation of my Buffalo youth. I pushed the disk between the stereo’s teeth and listened once through. Then I selected “Highway Star,” hit Repeat, and cranked the volume. My pulse leapt forward by twenty beats a minute. Taut as a gyroscope in my tornado of tunes, I swept down I-87 in a trance, white knuckles gripping the wheel. Over on my right, the moon lit up the outlines of the Catskills. Where Carol and I had spent our honeymoon. Rip Van Winkle, I figured, was a lucky man. Fell asleep and woke up to find his wife was nowhere to be found. Boo hoo!

Dawn broke over a broad crescent of the Hudson. A scimitar of light pointing to the pumping heart of Manhattan. For once, I passed into Jersey with a thrill. I could almost see them now. Entwined in the rumpled sheets. On the Hudson Parkway, images of Shepard’s demise flashed before my frontal lobes. A King-Kong-sized Shepard impaled on the Chrysler Building like a gigantic speared trout. Shepard shoved—dismembered by the Love Train’s wheels as it rumbled into Union Square. Floating facedown in the East River after falling from the Roosevelt Island Tram.

On the Palisades Parkway, I turned off the music so I could focus on my mission. Silence and cunning, I remembered. Stealth. In my mind, I saw myself strolling into the hotel lobby and casually making for the elevators. Some story about misplacing my key. Stanislavski. The method. Showing my Starwood Preferred Guest card.

There was no toll agent on the George Washington Bridge. A good omen. Things took their toll but sometimes there was no toll. The sun was rising over Queens. I turned onto the West Side Highway, the fabled skyline silhouetted on my left, Jersey on my right now across the wrinkled Hudson.

I took my exit and crawled towards Broadway. Drove over to First Avenue and turned north. Parked on Sixty-Second Street and walked towards the park. At Fifth I turned south, working on my relaxed vacationer airs, then turned right onto Fifty-Ninth. The Time Warner towers cut into the sky like great silver razorblades. I counted the ninety-eight red dots in the Don’t Walk hand at Seventh Avenue. Then I crossed and continued to the entrance of the hotel. The doorman nodded me in. Inside, the elevator guard listened to my explanation about my key and waved me on. Acting is calculation, is mathematics.

I rose in the elevator. A cell with mirrored walls. The elevator chime. Ask not for whom it pings! I crept down the hallway of the seventh floor. Tapped at the door of 701. Picked up the fat Times lying on the carpet. I heard voices. Rapped again. Carol opened the door in a white bathrobe and recoiled at the sight of me. I had never seen her look so pale. Shepard called from deeper inside, wanting to know what was up.

He learned the answer to that question soon enough.


Mark Crimmins’s first book, travel memoir Sydneyside Reflections, was published by Australia’s Everytime Press in 2020. His stories have been published in Columbia Journal, Confrontation, Fiction Southeast, Eclectica, Tampa Review, Ellipsis, and Chicago Quarterly Review. He is seeking a publisher for his new memoir, Postscript Chiang Mai: Prelude to a Pandemic.

Categories

Fiction, The River

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