This story was originally around two thousand words, so this has been more an exercise in editing. I never did get it down to a thousand, but here is is anyway.
So we’re sitting in this parking lot drinking beer, and the game is that we see somebody coming out of the mall and we have to guess which vehicle they’re going to get in.
We see this guy walking and Marty says, “The red Mustang.” The guy’s bad looking, maybe forty, decent clothes, not like thrift store, too short for his gut, bleach-faded crap clothes. Regular clothes. Last years Sears. He heads for the line of four cars. “The black Volvo,” I say. “Not the red Mustang type.”
But he keeps on walking, past the cars and through the parking lot to the little Plexiglas and steel cubicle with the SMART bus logo printed on it. He leans against the corner of the building and lights a cigarette.
“I’ll be damned,” says Marty. “We both ought to lose points on that one. He’s waiting for the five-sixty. Who would have thought?”
Not me. And sure as hell not the five-sixty. The five-sixty bus runs a long route between New Baltimore and downtown Detroit and the SMART stop we were looking at was on the Detroit bound side.
“Damn,” I say, “if we were that wrong about the car, I wonder what else this guy’s up to? What do you think? He lost his license or something and he works at the mall and he’s just going home now?”
“How much gas we got?” I ask and Marty checks the gauge and says, “More than a quarter tank. Why?”
And I say, “Beer?”
“These ones and another six pack in the cooler. Why?”
“I’ll bet you that this guy is going somewhere that’s not home and it’s not work. You win if he winds up at a house or a business. I win if it’s anything else.”
“You want to follow him?”
“You want to bet?”
“Yeah, I guess. What are we betting?”
“The next six pack?” I offer.
“Sure, what the hell,” says Marty.
Marty starts the car just as the five-sixty heaves into sight and we idle over to the parking lot exit, timing it just so we are ready to pull out as soon as the bus picks the guy up. We follow close enough so as not to lose the bus, but far enough back to miss most of the fumes that blow black from a pipe near the bus roof. It still stinks.
We’re getting farther south, and now we’re past Mount Clements and past Roseville and we pass Eight Mile Road and go another mile or so. Then the guy gets out of the bus and starts walking. We pull over to the curb and watch and I make real sure that the doors are locked.
The guy keeps walking. He’s the only white guy in sight except for us. But he’s not looking around or acting fidgety or anything. As he gets farther ahead we pull out and drive a bit and then park again. He crosses the street where there’s this big Shell station and he walks past the one car that’s getting gas and he goes into the station.
“You don’t figure he works here, do you?” asks Marty.
“Not real likely.
“Let’s just see what happens here.”
Sure enough the guy talks to the man at the gas station counter for a few minutes and then he steps outside and uses the pay phone.
“I bet it’s a girlfriend,” says Marty. I don’t answer him right away, but I’m thinking. Then I say, “I bet not.”
A ratty black ten year old Lincoln Town Car with sparkling thousand dollar wheel covers pulls up at one of the pumps at the Shell station and the guy steps over to it and talks to the driver for a minute and then the guy pumps his gas for him and some money changes hands and the guy takes the money in to the man at the counter. This transaction takes a while and pretty soon the Lincoln driver gets out and goes into the station.
"What?" says Marty.
“Drugs, you dumb ass. This isn’t like when we buy grass from Melvin. This is hard stuff. Coke. Crack maybe. Heroin. Nasty.”
Just then the guy comes out of the station and the Lincoln driver comes out behind him and there’s a lot of shouting, but we can’t quite hear what’s being said because we’re still across the street. Then there’s some pushing and shoving and the guy pushes the Lincoln guy back against his car and then turns and trots behind the station where it’s real dark.
The Lincoln guy cusses and brushes some imaginary dirt from his clothes and yells after the guy but the guy is out of sight. The Lincoln guy gets behind the wheel and starts the car and guns the engine. The fan belt makes a whiny scream and then settles down. He guns the engine again.
“Let’s get out of here,” I say, and Marty says,”Yeah,” and he puts the car in Drive. We start to pull out from the curb but the Lincoln guy squeals his tires and almost cuts us off as he rockets around the Shell station parking lot and turns right into the back alley.
“This is something bad,” I say and Marty doesn’t say anything but he’s turning down the alley right after the Lincoln. “What the hell,” I holler. Marty doesn’t talk. He has jabbed at the gas and we’re bouncing over ruts in the alley and we can’t see a damn thing because he hasn’t turned our lights back on yet. Then ahead of us the alley widens and there’s our guy bent over by a fence and he’s got his sleeve rolled up and he all of a sudden has looked up to see the Lincoln charging down on him. He’s froze.
The Lincoln, throwing gravel turns left and our guy is centered in his lights. Marty guns it and comes up on the Lincoln real fast and whang, we slam him square in the side. He skids sideways and slams his other side up against a dumpster. The driver is pinned in…dumpster on one side and us up against his doors on the other.
Marty yells, “Get in,” and the guy runs over and gets in the back seat and slams the door and Marty finds Reverse and gets us out of that alley faster than he got us in.
Five minutes later and we’re going north on Gratiot Avenue and nobody’s said a word. I take a quick look over my shoulder and see the guy starting to roll up his sleeve and I see the blood on the inside of his elbow and I kind of shudder a little.
“Kind of messed you up a little, huh.”
He nods and says, “Yeah. But I dropped all my stuff before I could finish. Shit.”
We drive another mile.
Then the guy says, “Hey, I really hate to put you guys in this situation.”
“No, man,” says Marty. “No problem. I mean we happened to be there and we couldn’t just let that guy…”
“No,” says the guy, “I don’t mean that situation. I mean this one.” Marty can’t see the knife at the back of his neck so he just says, “Huh?” and I say, “Knife, Marty. Real easy, you better pull over right in this parking lot.” Marty can’t even see the knife in his rearview mirror, but now he can see the guy’s arm extended to just above his head rest and so he pulls over.
“Just give me all your money,” says the guy, and we give him all our money. He opens the rear door and gets out and walks behind an abandoned doughnut shop where he disappears in the shadows.
We sit for a minute and then pull back onto Gratiot, heading north.
I say, “We probably just should have stayed out of that alley.”
Marty says, “I didn’t even really think about it. I figured he needed help. It wasn’t my fault. Just my nature.” And I thought for a few minutes about that and then decided not to be too upset about the thirty dollars the guy stole from me. It wasn’t his fault either. Just his nature.