Contemporary Fiction Crime

Pulling into the gas station, he wondered how far behind the police were.

The man was thirty-two years old. Medium height, slim, compact frame packed tight with muscle. Dark brown skin, like roasted espresso beans. A wide face with dark, intelligent eyes--almond shaped with a touch of epicanthic fold; pleasantly full lips; and a light, black scruff to match his close cropped hair.

He walked into the gas station with fifty dollars to his name. He had withdrawn the money before the bank could freeze his account. It was a Sheetz gas station, native to the green hills of Pennsylvania, with all the food and amenities an overweight American could ask for. He would've gotten something to eat from the grill, but money was short and he was still in dangerous territory.

He wove through the crowded isles, past the scruffy, sullen blue-collar workers and stressed-out moms, and took a card and an envelope from a rotating rack at the opposite end of the building.

He placed his items on the counter and produced the fifty-dollar bill from his wallet. "Tirty dollas on pump five, please.” The cashier scanned the card and the envelope, took the money, input something on the register and the cash drawer banged open.

Even with a bank account, he still would've paid for everything in cash. Using a card was a fool's game. Either you spent all of your savings, or spent money that you didn't have. Most people were fools to him. Some may have labeled him cynical, callous, cold. But he saw through things. His eight years in America had taught him a lot about human nature. Enough to dampen the spirits of even the most dedicated optimist. 

“Alright, fourteen dollars and twenty-five cents is your change.” The cashier dumped a ten dollar bill, four ones, and a quarter in his waiting palm. “Would you like a receipt?”

“No tanks.” 

The man walked back out to his car, flat features unperturbed as ever. He stashed his purchase in the center console and stuck the gas pump into the fuel hole, shaking his head at the wild indie pop music playing on the loudspeakers. Carefully, he shook the nozzle dry and replaced the pump in its little cubby hole before resettling himself in the driver’s seat and starting the car, a faded white 2006 Toyota Camry. He placed his phone on the magnetic holder and and typed his destination into the GPS: Chicopee, Massachusetts.

The man guided the car easily over the rolling hills and around the sudden bends in the road, his left arm sitting in his lap and his right foot glued to the gas pedal. To slow down, he eased up on the accelerator; the brakes were a last resort. An unconscious habit he had developed during his five years as an Uber driver. He listened to sermons when he drove, or anime, anything to provide some background noise to the endless farmland, speckled with barns and silos and the occasional strip mall. He passed the Fort Indiantown Gap Reserve Center, a sprawling military base nestled in the fertile lap of some wooded hills. A Black Hawk helicopter lifted into the air, sending out gusts of wind that made the trees beneath it dance and shed their leaves. They were always doing maneuvers. At one point he thought he might enter the service, put his hard-packed muscles to work in a job with some pride in it. Instead he went to the Bible school a few miles south of the base. There he learned that everything he had pursued over the past eight years was false; a copy of the true thing, God himself. 

He felt that God was with him now, even as he drove away from the place he had called home for two years.

At the Bible school, he became a sort of sage among his college-age peers, dispensing relationship advice and practical wisdom that could only come from a Nigerian national who had pursued the American dream--the nice job, the big house, the girl--and had emerged, six years later, bitterly disappointed--a financially strapped divorce--still as much of a foreigner as when he first arrived. He had the insight of a psychologist and the meandering, schizophrenic delivery of an African storyteller, regaling his listeners with a spicy bit of tradition they had never heard before, if tradition was gossip-turned-cautionary tale. Sometimes he would speak in a low, earnest tone as he did his best to enunciate a deeply-felt truth, never quite looking you in the eye, always caught up in the train of his thoughts. If you weren’t careful, you could spend hours listening to him, all your senses subsumed by the need to hear everything he said; his accent deepened in proportion to the intensity of the conversation. Other times, especially in the boy’s dorm, he was a comedian, eyes wide and white teeth glistening in an expression of happy incredulity. It said: wow, you really did that. 

The man jumped on the first exit and shot out onto the highway. After a few minutes, the gray monolith of an Amazon warehouse filled his driver’s side window, slowly passing out of view like a cumulonimbus cloud outside an airplane window. His workplace before coming to the Bible school. A smirk pulled at the corner of his mouth. Things would never get that bad, at least. 

He switched to the fast lane. 

Just a day ago he had been working in the administrative office of the Bible school, scanning financial documents and filling excel spreadsheets with the names of incoming students. It was monotonous, tedious work, but not overly tiring. His day ended at four, giving him plenty of time to roam the campus and call his old classmates. Just as he walked out of the office into the humid midsummer day, his phone rang. 

It was his mother. 

Frantically, in rapid-fire, high-pitched pigeon English, she began telling him about something he already knew, something he had done back in Nigeria.

It was the summer of 2007. Him and a couple of friends from the neighborhood, plagued by bourgeois boredom and high on a smoking blunt they had found in the street, stumbled on a little convenience store--a hole in the wall really, selling everything from snacks to cheap plastic soccer balls to hard liquor--and raided it for all it was worth. Two days later a story appeared in the paper, but no suspect. Just a monochrome picture of the interior of the store as they had left it: shelves overturned, chip bags and candy bars swimming in a puddle of soft drinks, their glass bottles shattered and scattered like icebergs in the mess.

There was another picture, too. The store owner, sprawled out on the floor, head drenched in blood as slick and as black as oil. He hadn't shot the man. It was one of his friends. There was a tussle for a gun. The store owner had pulled it out the second they had started ransacking the shelves, fired one shot, and missed. In the following moments his friend had wrested the gun from him and pointed it at his head. 

The man tensed his jaw. The memory made him clench the wheel a little tighter. He remembered it, but in snapshots. The shiny plastic of the wall-mounted phone. His friends' eyes--big and wild. The cashier’s hand, gnarled and wrinkled with age, reaching for the phone. Then the bang. 

For years, his ears would ring. 

Standing in the thrumming summer heat, he had forced the image out of his mind. “Mama I alredi know all dese tings, I nor know why you worry yourself with plenty story.” 

That’s when she started crying. Through sobs, she said that his friend, the shooter, had accidentally left a small bag of cocaine on his workstation and now faced a twenty year jail sentence. The cops told him to either help them solve a case or eat the charge. So he snitched.

“My pikin, your matta don cast. Dele fall your hand, he don tell everybody your matta.”

He was now an accomplice in a crime that he was sure would always remain a cold case, as cold as the body they had left lying on the concrete floor of the convenience store. Even now, as the speedometer hit 80 miles per hour, his knuckles went white with rage as he gripped the wheel with a crushing grip. How could Dele do him like that? The constant nightmares, the yearlong depression immediately following the shooting, the unshakeable fear of blood, the anguish that tore through his heart as he knelt at the altar--was that not punishment enough?

After the call, he played it off cool. 

He crossed the one-lane road bisecting the campus to the boy’s dorm. Shut the door of his room and locked it. Opened his laptop and googled the words “extradition process.” He learned just what he had expected: a quick arrest, followed by months or even years of appeals and court hearings until his home nation finally decided to move him from an American jail to a Nigerian jail. He would only have a matter of days before they got to him--if that. He knew what he would do; his next course of action presented itself like a blinding beam of light that shot through the hitherto mellow cavern of his mind. It would not be easy. 

Folding his laptop closed, he reached for the Bible sitting on the corner of his desk and brought it to his lips. He closed his eyes. Tears streamed down his cheeks. 

Still in the fast lane, his eyes snapped open in a rush of awareness. His car was almost against the concrete divider but he righted it and took his foot off the gas pedal. A police cruiser, crouching in a maintenance road that cut through the grassy median, flashed by his window. For the first time, his heart throbbed with the realization. He was a fugitive. This was real. 

He darted a glance at the side mirror. The police cruiser, growing small and shiny with distance, had not moved. He breathed a shuddering sigh of relief. "Oh God. Help me God."

He had a vision of himself turning the car around, driving down South, or West, anywhere but where he was going.

Without thinking, he tapped the Bible App on his phone, navigated to an audiobook of the Psalms, and hit play. The speaker's voice--deep and rich and softly vibrating with hidden range--was like the very voice of God as he traveled down the highway. 

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside the still waters.

He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

Slowly, as the voice went on, like a blind man tracing the contours of someone’s face, he began to grasp what those words meant, words he had only studied in Bible school. The green pastures. The still waters. The peace that surpasses all understanding. 

He saw his life stretched out, a speck on the plane of eternity. What was that speck, that it should disobey what it knew to be right for some small, temporal gain? Melting into the underworld, him against the law, taking in pleasure like an alcoholic takes in beer. No. His heart stiffened with resolve.

Then something strange happened.

A love that he had never felt before. 

Such great, boundless love.

He kept his trembling hands on the wheel and released the shout building up in his throat. 


The world was closing in on him, the hopes and dreams he had so presumptuously entertained vanishing like mists in the heat, and yet…

A smile broke out across his face, and he wiped his eyes with the back of his hands. The sun gleamed with new warmth, and the forest flanking the highway seemed to be a moving picture that gained depth and beauty with every passing second. 


He pulled up to her house-her family’s house. A small rectangle ranch with white vinyl siding and a one-car garage. A mildly scruffy yard populated by weeds, plastic flamingos, gnomes, and other paraphernalia of family life. The black asphalt of the driveway was painted with a green three-leaf clover. It was nondescript, the complete opposite of the person who lived there. The man, safely tucked away in his car, finished writing the note on the white cardstock. Both sides of the card were filled with small, neat script.

She would be away on vacation. Just as well; he didn’t want to ruin her day. 

The much older sister of his best friend at the Bible school, he was sure that he would marry her one day, forge a relationship that would shun the crude, selfish whims of the transactional modern marriage... his last marriage. It would be an exercise of sacrificial love, and in the sacrifice, he would grow to love her more. Her face swam before his vision as he reread the card. Dark hair, smooth white skin, luminous brown eyes and a snub nose that burned bright red when she was embarrassed. Her little Rudolf nose. 

Finally, he folded the card and slid it into the envelope, careful to not cut his tongue as he licked and folded the seal. He emerged from his car into the fading daylight, what the girls at the Bible school called “golden hour.” He just called it beautiful. Everything was awash in a soft honey glow, transforming the summer foliage into yellow-green flame and coloring the grass a brilliant, warm green that reminded him of springtime. Even the faded white paint of the house seemed as fresh as the day it was applied. 

The man left the card at the foot of the door, which was still covered by an ornate Christmas wreath. He laughed to himself and shook his head. Dese people, he thought. 

He returned to the car; he had almost forgotten. For the four hours of driving that followed his revelation, he had thought of nothing but how to spend the last of his money. He fished the box out of the center console and checked inside to make sure the gift was undamaged. It was an antique--the only way he could get something so nice for so cheap. Having sat behind glass for years, the store owner had no problem giving it to him for a scandalously low price. The gilt-edged face of the delicate little watch gleamed in the sun. 

He laid his gift next to the envelope, which he had marked, simply, “Mr. T.”

It was done.

He walked back to his car and let himself fall into the driver’s seat. The car keys seemed heavy in his hand. Mechanically, he stuck them into the ignition and the engine purred to life. He set a new destination on his phone’s GPS and pulled away from the curb. The only African man in the neighborhood had ended his conspicuous stay there. 

The destination was two minutes away. One minute. 

He pulled into the parking lot of a squat, one-story building with thick eaves that jutted out over square concrete pillars--brutalist architecture meets RMV service center. Except this wasn’t the RMV. Situated between the two pillars on either side of the glass double doors was a navy blue sign. On the navy blue sign were painted blocky white letters that formed the words “Police Dept. Headquarters.”

He was here. 

He left everything in his car. Except his Bible. That he carried with him.

August 04, 2023 22:06

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Kevin Logue
08:58 Aug 05, 2023

This tale has a lot to it, a man questioning this life, relationships, the ramifications of past decisions on his future, and his spiritual well-being. It comes to a satisfactory conclusion but I am wondering what the relevance of the antique and the envelope which give this story its title actually are. Perhaps I missed something? On a formatting note, the broken English doesn't make sense when he is speaking to his mother. This sentence is hard to read and breaks the flow -“My pikin, ur matta don cast. Dele fall your hand, he don tell eve...


Ben LeBlanc
18:02 Aug 05, 2023

Thanks for the honest and reflective comment, Kevin. The man is actually speaking in pigeon English which is a combo of Nigerian/English. I think that sometimes realism comes at a cost of understanding but I see what you're saying. And your critique about opening the story with a description was well said--for some reason describing the man was my first instinct. I probably should have worked in the description later. The note and the watch are parting gifts, since he is turning himself in to the police. I wish I could've made it more mean...


Kevin Logue
18:48 Aug 05, 2023

Ahrite, I never heard of pigeon English until today, every day is a school day. 😊 No wonder the character shone through if he is based on a real person. Walking that line of realism versus narrative is a difficult path. So be proud of what you done here. Writing is subjective so never take one person critique as definitive. Although, I just seen your edit, I think that flows better. Adds a bit of tension immediately. Getting honest feedback is the best use of this platform I believe....so, I'll be back. Ha


Ben LeBlanc
18:52 Aug 05, 2023

Yea, this was one of those case where I knew the critique was dead-on. Thanks for the help :).


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04:31 Aug 05, 2023

I read your story and enjoyed it. The style of writing is developed and capable of tackling serious themes. Your strengths as a writer are the depth of your characters and the realness of their struggle. It feels like we are in the room with them. This story covers a lot of events in the protagonist’s life. It is tricky to pull off multiple timelines in the span of a short story. I would suggest narrowing the plot to a single track of tension and climax. Good job and I hope you continue to write and submit! -H.M.Pierce


Ben LeBlanc
18:05 Aug 05, 2023

Thanks for the comment :). I definitely bit a lot off and maybe it would work better as a novella haha. The short story form may have gotten in the way of content. But glad you enjoyed.


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