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Fiction Funny

“Maybe I should have ordered an Uber,” Andy Grech says, as the snow begins to fall harder.

The stocky bass player bites his nails as he gets into a white Monte Carlo SS. “I hear these cars are really bad in the snow.”

“Not if you’re an expert driver like me,” Niko Neary replies. The spiffy high school teacher fancies himself an expert on everything, including the oncoming blizzard. Zipping up his Canada Goose parka, he pulls his warm wool cap close to his ears. He views the trip as an adrenaline rush, a way to show his superiority, this time over Mother Nature.

“It’s really starting to come down,” Andy notes.

“Don’t worry. We’ll only get a few inches. It’ll stop in another hour.”

“What forecast have you been listening to?” Andy asks, kicking the snow off his shoes. “We live in New York, not New Mexico. All the stations I listened to said we’re going to get a record-breaking snowfall.”

“Do you want to miss out on the highest-paying gig you’ve ever had?” Niko asks.

“No, but I need to get to L.A. alive in order to get it.”

Niko throws the Monte Carlo into drive. The car starts to slide sideways as its tires fight against the icy covering of snow.

“It’s about an hour to LaGuardia Airport from here,” Niko surmises. “I’ll get you there in enough time for you to have a full-course dinner before you board your plane.”

Niko turns on the radio.

“…The National Weather Service says Westchester County residents can expect up to three and a half feet of snow over the next six hours… The County Executive has declared a snow emergency. If you don’t have to drive, stay home…”

Andy attacks his nails, biting at them like a beaver assaulting a log.

Niko turns the radio off. “They always exaggerate to get gullible people like you worked up… Say, I’m thirsty. How about we stop off at Seven Eleven for a Big Gulp before we hit the highway?”

Niko eases the car into the Seven Eleven’s lot, parking close to the front door.

“No browsing, Niko. And that includes bird-dogging the pretty cashier. We have to get moving.”

Jamison “Jaime” Lagrasse pulls his cousin’s white Monte Carlo SS into the Seven Eleven lot, parking close to the front door. Tall, with plenty of James Dean swagger and male model looks, the Sous Chef for La Affame Invites slams the car into park, leaving the engine running.

Jaime’s best friend, Curtis Coke, La Affame Invites’ affable blonde-haired bartender, bemoans getting out of the car and ruining his old but comfortable loafers. He hears the crunch of the snow and ice under his feet, worrying about the timing of what he and Jaime are doing.

“We should have waited.”

“I’m down to my last fifty bucks. How about you?” Jaime challenges. “There are a dozen reasons we’re among the working poor. Your alimony, my daughter going to Dartmouth, your back taxes, my car, which is in the shop more than it’s on the road. We’re both drowning in debt. We need an infusion of cash, Curtis. We do this and we’ll never want for anything else. We can start that restaurant we’re always talking about.”

“Yeah, if we don’t get caught.”

“Fuller Hightower’s family will pay millions to get him back,” Jaime says.

“Are you sure? I heard that Monique, that Amazon he married, is messing around with Serge.”

“All the women mess with our charming Maitre’d. It’s that French accent.”

“No, it’s serious, like line up your lawyers serious,” Curtis returns. “Maybe she’ll be glad we grabbed him and won’t pay.”

“His kids will. They hate Monique,” Jaime says, grabbing three bottles of water. “They’ll pay up just to spite her.”

Jaime smiles cordially at a well-dressed man in a wool cap and a stocky man with razor stubble who beat him to the cashier.

Jamie gets behind the wheel of the car, noticing that his seat is in a different position. He reaches into his coat pocket for his keys, frantically searching his other pockets when he can’t find them.

Getting out of the car, Jaime sees a baffled Curtis fluffing his hair as he stares at the trunk.

“I’m still waiting for you to open the trunk, Jaime.”

Jaime gives Curtis a bright smile tinged with guilt.

“Did I give you the keys?”

“Why would I have the keys? It’s not my cousin’s car. Quit screwing around and open the trunk. We need to give Hightower some water before he shrivels up.”

Retracing his steps, Jaime mutters, “…I left the keys in the ignition…”

Curtis’ high-pitched tone mirrors Jaime’s distress. “Something’s wrong, isn’t it? I knew we were in over our heads.”

“This isn’t my cousin’s car,” Jaime says. “Those two guys in front of us at the store took our car.”

“So, what you’re saying is they just kidnapped the guy we kidnapped.”

“Stop looking at your watch, and stop biting your nails,” Niko says.

“If I didn’t know you were a teacher, your bossiness would give you away.”

“In situations like this, it pays to have the right man at the wheel.”

“I’m amazed your head fits inside that cap,” Andy returns.

Andy looks out of the passenger window, watching a Jeep Cherokee pass them, splashing the windshield with slush and ice.

“Maniac!” Niko says between grit teeth. “He thinks he owns the road because he’s got four-wheel drive.”

 “It’s better than no-wheel drive,” Andy replies.

Buffeted by a strong gust of wind, Niko struggles to keep the Monte Carlo on the road.

The two men watch the Jeep fishtail, sliding across the highway. Bouncing off a guard rail, it slides back across all three lanes, disappearing over a hill.

“Serves him right for showing off,” Niko says.

“Did you hear that?” Andy asks.

“All I can hear and think about is your gratitude when I get you to LaGaurdia.”

“There it is again. I heard a banging noise. Pull over. It could be something mechanical.”

The two men get out, battered by the strength of the wind.

“A foot an hour,” Andy comments.

“I’m telling you they’re exaggerating,” Niko replies. Heading back to the driver’s side of the car, Niko notices the set of keys dangling from the ignition aren’t his. Pulling them out, he reaches into his coat pocket.

“Please tell me you purposely brought along an extra set of keys,” Andy says.

Niko sticks his key in the trunk.

“It doesn’t work.”

“Wrong key, wrong car,” Andy replies. “Now we’ll have to go back to the Seven Eleven and return the keys. Man, you’ll do anything to see that cashier again.”

The noise in the trunk intensifies. Picking a key on the other ring Niko opens it, revealing a large metal cooler. The two men pull the cooler out, setting it down in the snow.

“It’s locked. Is there a key for it on the mystery man’s ring?” Andy asks.

Niko twists the smallest key in the ring in the lock.

The lid suddenly pops open. A dwarf, clad only in underpants pops his head up, screaming.

His eyes bulging, the dwarf pleads, “DON’T KILL ME! I’M FULLER HIGHTOWER! MY FAMILY WILL PAY! DON’T KILL ME!”

Desperate and consumed by fear, Hightower grits his teeth threateningly, throwing wild punches at the two motionless men.

Pushing Hightower back in the cooler, Niko bounces the lid off his head and keeps repeating the assault until Hightower lapses into unconsciousness.

“Why do you suppose those two guys had a little person in their trunk?” Andy asks.

“For good luck?” Niko responds.

“Well, he’s certainly not having any luck! I have to get to L.A., Niko! I can’t go to jail for kidnapping and murdering a hobbit!”

“He’s not dead, Curtis.”

“He’s not well either. You ever heard of Fuller Hightower?”

“No. But he’s worth something to somebody.”

“And now the million-dollar question. What do we do with him and the car?”

“We leave the car at LaGuardia. It’ll take months for them to find it,” Niko says. “As for Tattoo, we dump him in the nearest emergency room.”

“I didn’t know you had the skills of a second story man,” Jaime says.

“Just because I know how to hotwire a car doesn’t mean I’m Al Capone. Save it for when Hightower’s family calls to tell the police he’s been kidnapped, and they show the cops the ransom note we left behind. It won’t take them long to figure out the two masterminds that didn’t show up for work make great primary suspects, even though we lost Hightower, which makes us only the dumbest criminals ever, but also the most incompetent.”

“Climb down off Everest, will you?” Jaime says. “All we have to do is find the other Monte Carlo. It’s not like there’s thousands of seventeen-year-old white Monte Carlos roaming around in a blizzard.”

“And what do we say to the other two guys? You mind handing over the dwarf?”

“He’s like a baby,” Andy notes as he carries Fuller Hightower into St. Bonaventure’s Emergency Room.

“Yeah, a cranky baby with a receding hairline and a price on his head,” Jaime replies.

Andy props Hightower up against a wall as Jaime battles his way through a throng of cut and bruised patients wandering around the overtaxed emergency room.

Locating the registration desk, Niko approaches Priscilla Paine, the administrator, a harried grey-haired woman with a pair of glasses perched on her head. Frowning, Nurse Paine shuffles through the mound of papers on her desk.

“Can you help us? My friend knocked himself out. I’m afraid he may have a fractured skull.”

“Are you a neurologist?” Nurse Paine asks, looking over at Fuller Hightower.

“No.”

“Then how do you know? Is your child complaining of a headache? Is he bleeding from his nose or his ears?’

“Well, no. And he’s not my child. That man’s too ugly to be my child.”

“Talk like that can scar a child for life.” Nurse Paine says. Turning to the staff milling around behind her she yells, “Has anybody seen my glasses?... Look, mister, I’ll give it to you straight. This blizzard is a real crap storm. Half our doctors are stuck on the road, and we just had sixty people from a bus accident land on our doorstep. Your boy’s gonna have a long wait. I suggest you try Lincoln Hospital. They’ve got the whole assembly line method of treatment down pat.”

Niko turns to Andy, who is too busy talking on his phone to his contact in L.A. to notice Hightower is slowly sliding to the floor.

“At this speed, we may never catch up to them,” Curtis says, biting at what’s left of his nails.

“Remember the Jeep? That guy is going to be trapped inside that thing until the spring thaw. You still want me to speed up?”

“You don’t need to. There they are!”

In front of them, drawing closer in the blanket of snow is the other Monte Carlo.

“What do we do?”

“Ramming speed!” Jaime says, accelerating.

Niko and Andy jerk back in their seats when the other Monte Carlo slams into them.

“I guess that answers the question of whether they’re mad at us for taking their car,” Andy says.

“It’s our friend in the back seat that they really want. Here they come!”

Jaime and Curtis’ car hits seventy, fishtailing as it draws closer to the other car.

Niko stomps on the brakes, stopping the car.

“What are you doing?” Andy asks.

“Playing chicken with a turkey.”

Jaime slams on the brakes, realizing he’s made a mistake when the back of his car becomes the front.

Jaime and Curtis’ car spins in a circle. Jaime yanks on the wheel like a navigator on a ship trying to avoid an iceberg. The two men scream, closing their eyes as the Monte continues to spin in circles. The car twirls off the road, landing in a pile of snow.

A snowplow rumbles by, piling more snow on top of the car.

The windshield wipers work overtime, but the accumulating ice and snow render them almost useless. The car’s engine sputters and the Monte jerks like a washing machine on spin cycle.

“Why is the car shaking?” Andy asks.

“I don’t know. Maybe those guys put regular gas in it instead of premium. Can you see anything?”

“It’s really disconcerting when the driver asks the passenger that question.”

“Maybe I should ask the baby.”

Andy turns to look at Hightower. “He sure sleeps like one, doesn’t he?”

“We have to pull over and clean the ice off the wipers,” Niko says slowing the car down.

Niko pulls the car onto what he hopes is a shoulder.

The two men get out, scraping the ice off the wiper blades.

“Are we still heading in the right direction?” Andy asks.

“I never get lost. Why are you asking?”

“Because aside from the guys who tried to kill us, I haven’t seen anybody else for twenty minutes.”

The car’s engine sputters, then dies.

“NO!”

Niko jumps behind the wheel. Frantically turning the key, he tries to restart the car.

“Please tell me we’re not stranded,” Andy says.

“We’re out of gas. But don’t worry, you still have time to make your flight. Somebody will come along soon to help us.”

Andy looks behind them. A pair of headlights appear through the falling sheet of ice and snow.

“Wow, you nailed that one.”

A state police patrol car cruises into sight, parking next to them.

A red-haired policeman wearing sunglasses rolls down his window.

“You guys need help?”

“We’re out of gas,” Niko says.

“That’s an easy fix. There’s a station off the next exit a quarter mile away.”

“Great! Let’s go!” Niko exclaims, moving toward the patrol car’s passenger door.

“Wait a minute, sir,” the policeman says sternly. “I can’t take you there. I work for the state. The gas station is part of the county’s territory.”

“You mean you can’t drive me less than a mile?”

“The gas station is in a different jurisdiction. I can give you a couple bottles of water, though.”

Holding the bottles of water, Niko watches the state patrol car disappear into the blanket of stinging snow.

“Never trust a guy who wears sunglasses in a blizzard,” he says.

A loud slapping sound catches their attention. Niko and Andy look up into the opaque sky. The ripping wind makes the snow feel like pellets hitting their faces.

A helicopter hovers above them. A man holding a camera leans out of the helicopter’s fuselage, filming them.

Niko and Andy half-heartedly wave at the camera.

Gathering his wits, Niko yells, “HELP! MAYDAY! WE’RE STRANDED!”

The helicopter wobbles against the strong wind as it begins to descend, landing on the parkway.

The cameraman approaches them, still filming their speechless expressions.

“I’m Kevin Couric, News-12. You guys in trouble?”

“Our car died,” Andy says. “And I’ve got to get to LaGuardia. I’ve got the job of a lifetime waiting for me in Los Angeles.”

“They’re about to close the airports,” Couric says.

“Can you take me to LaGuardia before they close?” Andy asks desperately.

“We’re headed that way, but it’s against network policy to carry passengers unless it’s for business or an emergency. I can always say we did it as part of an interview.”

“I’ve seen stuff, man. I’d make a great interview,” Andy replies.

“All right. But what about your buddy, here?”

Niko has to raise his voice above the howling wind. “I can walk to the gas station to get gas. If that fails, I’ve got Triple-A.”

“And what about your other friend?” Couric asks.

“What other friend?” Niko replies, surprised.

“The dwarf that just got out of your car and hightailed it down the road.”

Niko gives Andy a panic-filled glance. “Oh, he’s all right. He lives around here.”

Couric rubs his beard. “All he had on was a pair of BVDs. It’s twenty degrees.”

“He’s a member of the Polar Bear Club,” Andy chimes in. “You know, those folks who dive into lakes when it’s below zero? He thought he would try out something like that during the storm. Can we leave that part out of the interview?”

The snow is coming down so heavily that Curtis has to stick his head out of the passenger window to direct Jaime.

Curtis shakes his head like a wet dog ridding himself of water. “Just follow the tire tracks! Hey, something’s coming toward us!”

“What is it?” Jaime asks.

“I dunno. It’s small and white. STOP THE CAR!”

Curtis bolts from the car, running toward the snow-covered object.

Squinting through the veil of snow, Jaime can see its Fuller Hightower.

Curtis tries to tackle Hightower, who knocks him on the head and pounds his back. Charging out of the car, Jaime jumps on Hightower, knocking him to the ground.

The three men scratch, bite, and punch at each other, unaware a car is approaching them.

Jaime and Curtis pull a still combative Hightower back toward the car.

“C’mon, Hightower, you’re going to make us rich,” Jaime declares as Hightower bites his hand.

The three men pause when they see a state policeman wearing sunglasses standing in their path.

“Let go of the dwarf,” he says.

April 13, 2023 19:37

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