Adventure Suspense Drama

This story contains sensitive content

His Sign Read ‘WEST’

Warning: Characters in conflict. Mentions of violence.

In the pre-dawn light, Mason threw his duffel bag into the pickup truck bed. Muttering under his breath, he slammed the driver’s door and the engine roared to life. Jamming it into gear and barely tapping the brakes, Mason squealed into the street.

He gunned the engine into the entrance ramp. This was no joy ride. About to merge, he spotted a hitchhiker standing in the gloom. His sign read ‘West.’


Mason pulled over and honked. The hitchhiker ran. He opened the passenger door, threw his backpack in and hopped onto the passenger seat.

He said, “Thanks!”

Mason hit the gas before the door had shut.

“I’m Tad.”

“Mason…” He grunted and hit cruising speed.

Tad settled and said, “Nice truck. Where you goin?”


Tad nodded. “Me too. What’s out there?”

Mason’s look betrayed some doubts.

“Got a job for you. Need backup. After someone.”

“You a bounty hunter?”

“Not exactly. A woman… Lavender… My girlfriend.”

“She lost?”

“Ran off. A few hours head start. Gotta find her. Doesn’t expect me to be tracking her.”

“She ran away?”

“She’s a thievin’ skank of a...” Mason added many expletive enhanced details.

Tad didn’t expect his question to trigger Mason’s tirade. He could only think, ‘TMI.’

“She looks like a wimbo. You know, a wannabe bimbo. Get it?”

Tad nodded.

He couldn’t help but provoke. “Sounds like you hate her. Why waste your time?”           

Mason gave Tad a hard look. “She stole my money.”

An avalanche of words followed, describing Lavender’s inferior mind and substandard character.

Though agreeing with Mason in principle, Tad felt less anger and more hopeless about women. Newly single, his girlfriend left him heartsick. But revenge wasn’t his default emotion.

Mainly, Tad wanted to get lost. He hit the road like the ‘Beats’ did after World War II. Jack Kerouac, Ginsberg and the others led carefree lives, unrestricted by outdated morality. He was working through his version of romantic sensibilities crashing on the rocks of existential angst.

Having nothing to live for, Tad reckoned any fate would be better than his current funk. Nothing like a little self-destructiveness to gain perspective.

Tad also harbored a growing curiosity about Lavender’s side of the story. Mason didn’t strike him as the victim type.

The sun had risen and shone on dusty fields awaiting planting. Tad never realized how featureless the countryside was. Great for growing crops but lacking any interesting view. Even the hills were flat.

Mason never let up on the gas. They made good time, wherever they were going. He fiddled with a cigarette pack and lit one. He inhaled and sighed with pleasure. The cabin filled with smoke.

Tad squirmed. “Mason, sorry. Do you mind not smoking?”

“My truck. I’ll smoke if I want.”

“Can you open your window then?”

“Crawl out of yours, for all I care. You want out? You can walk…”

“Never mind…”

Tad opened his window. The smoke drifted out. They drove on.

He dreaded Mason’s answer to his next question. “You like music?”

Mason switched the radio on. The static hash filled the cab.

“Reception sucks. Play anything as long as it’s not rap or country crap.”

Tad played with the tuner but soon gave up. He stared out the window feeling bleak as the landscape.

He looked at Mason. “This job. What’s it pay?”

Mason stifled a laugh. “Don’t worry. You’ll get what you’re worth.”

“Wait… Every job I’ve had, they told me the pay up front. Hourly… daily…”

Mason rolled his eyes. “How ‘bout this? Help me catch her and I won’t kill you.”

Tad’s mouth dropped open.

“Just kidding… we get along, I’ll scale up from that… Free transportation too…”

Tad’s survival instinct kicked up a notch.

“I don’t want to get caught in the middle…”

“You’re already in, kid. Hopping into my truck locked you in.”

Mason punctuated his statement by hitting the door locks. Tad’s discomfort meter pegged.

Mason said, “You get into a car with a stranger… looks like you’ll take whatever I give you. Anyone even know where you are?”

The conversation dwindled. The miles and endless corn fields rolled by.

Tad admitted to himself Mason had a point. After the breakup, thoughts of uselessness took over. He knew the world would survive without him.

“What kind of car she drive?”

“2020 white Corolla. Unless she swapped it out.”

“I need to pee.”

Mason sighed. “I told you to go easy on the soda.”

They’d rolled through several truck stops in low gear. Mason pulled into the next one and idled to a stop outside the restrooms.

Tad got out and Mason said, “Two minutes…”

When Tad returned, Mason handed him two twenties.  

“Stock up. No junk. We’ll eat on the road.” Mason circled around to fill his tank.

Inside, Tad practically ran through the aisles. He didn’t want Mason to come looking. Figuring they’d taste alright cold. He bought several readymade burritos.

‘Did the checkout guy look at me weird?’

They drove all day. Tad couldn’t wait to get to California. At least they have mountains there – something to look at. The only break was the occasional tour of a truck stop parking lot.

‘So many cars… Where’s everyone going?’      

Boredom set in. Tad fought against drowsiness.

“You know what’s weird?” Mason’s disinterested glance was all he needed. “I’ll bet every sign post we pass has a date or a name scrawled into it by some hitchhiker.” Silence. “Some posts have so much scratching, you have to search for space to leave your own. Outside Wichita, some guy filled the whole post with his story. He must have been there a week…”

Mason didn’t respond. But then Tad got him talking about his business. Two years ago, Mason hired Lavender as his bookkeeper. They started dating. She moved in. Then she skedaddled with his savings. She’d hustled him.

They idled through several more truck stops. Mason hated wasting time but had to check each one.

Day melted into night.  

The next electrified oasis lit the sky from miles away. It looked like a small city. Semis had their own lot, segregated from private vehicles. There was a motel with an Olympic sized pool and a gym, a nightclub, restaurants, and a bowling alley.

They idled up and down long rows of cars.

“There it is…” Mason pointed to Lavender’s car. The rear fender had a dent with a Band-Aid sticker over it. “…Never could drive worth a damn…”

Mason flipped his wallet open and showed her picture to Tad.

“That’s her?” Mason nodded and slipped his wallet into his jacket.

Tad didn’t get it. She was beautiful. He thought, ‘If she’s a bimbo, where can I meet one?’

“I’ll watch her car. You find her. Don’t talk. You’re my sheep dog. Herd her back here. I’ll take it from there.”

This was it. The next few minutes were crucial. ‘Will he kill her? Me? Will he go to jail? Will I?’

Mason slapped Tad’s shoulder. “Listen up… No heroics. This ain’t the movies. Send the cops? I’m just resting my eyes after a long day’s drive. You’ll be the crazy hitchhiker. Now go.”

Tad started at the public rest rooms. He knocked each door but came up dry. He strolled through the bar and the café. Lots of nighthawks but no Lavender. ‘Must be exhausted. Would she have taken a room…?

In the bowling alley, Tad spotted her in the far lane alone. Wearing a backpack while bowling seemed odd. He sat and watched. Her tall coffee ‘to go’ told Tad she planned driving through the night. ‘Where to?

She finished her game, gathered her things and returned her rented shoes. Tad strolled toward the exit and let her pass him.

“Miss? Did you drop this?” He held up a twenty-dollar bill.

She hesitated and then turned away. “No. I don’t think so.”

He came up behind her and whispered, “Mason is waiting at your car. How can I help?” She bolted. “Wait! Do you have a plan?”

She pulled away. “No! I have to go.”

“You know what he’ll do? Don’t get hurt. Let me distract him.”

He walked to some empty chairs in the lobby. She followed. Trust is one thing, but she needed information. They sat.

Tad said, “Go to the police.”

“I can’t.” She offered her keys. “Take my car. Get away. I’ll fend.”

“Then you’ll be stuck. We’ll leave together.”

“What you think will happen when he finds us?”


Leaning against the hood of Lavender’s car, Mason saw her approaching from across the lot. He drew his pistol from his belt. Tad followed at a distance. She stopped about twenty yards from him.

She nodded. “Hi Mace.”

Gesturing with the gun, he said, “Put the backpack on the ground. Nice and easy. And back off.” He pointed at Tad with his free hand. “Open it, kid.”

Tad approached the pack and crouched. He zipped back the flap, revealing about a dozen packets of hundred-dollar bills.

Both said, “It’s mine…”

Tad stood holding the open pack. He said, “Don’t do this, guys. Split it. You can do better…”

He dropped the pack. Some of the packets spilled out. Distracted, Mason flinched. Hearing a gun cock, he saw Lavender now held a pistol aimed at him. Tad backed away, giving her a clear shot.

Mason nodded at Tad. “You bet on the wrong horse, kid. Stay put.”

Tad looked at each in turn. “Guys, this isn’t happening. One shot and Security will be all over you.”

Mason said, “Guess you’ll never know…” He aimed at Tad.

“Drop your weapons! Now!” yelled a guard. Half a dozen Security guards swarmed them. Lavender crouched and placed her gun on the ground. She stood with her hands up.

Mason turned. But being outnumbered, he gave up without a fight.

As they cuffed him, he said, “Self-defense, guys. You’ll see…”

Lavender nodded at Tad as guards led them away.

‘Hope she can strike a deal.’


The sun had risen by the time police got Tad’s statement and released him.

He ate a big breakfast washed down with about a gallon of coffee. He walked to the entrance ramp and stood in the morning breeze.

Written in bright red block letters, his sign read ‘WEST.’

August 03, 2023 18:06

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Amanda Lieser
17:49 Aug 11, 2023

Hi John, Oh this one was utterly thrilling. I loved that these characters felt fascinating and frightening. I also appreciate that our protagonist was able to make the right decision in his own way. To be trapped in a moving vehicle can be utterly frightening, but I can’t imagine what it’s like if you’re with a stranger. I’d love to see a sequel to this piece, one from lavender’s POV maybe. Nice work!!


John K Adams
20:22 Aug 11, 2023

Thank you, Amanda for the kind words and the thoughtful comments. It is such a pleasure to get such responses to a story. Makes it all so much fun.


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Francis Daisy
14:41 Aug 04, 2023

I love the pacing, dialogue, suspense, and just enough description to create an image in our heads


John K Adams
14:59 Aug 04, 2023

I love comments like this! Sounds like I hit all the bases. Glad you liked it. Thanks for reading and commenting.


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Mary Bendickson
23:12 Aug 03, 2023

He didn't learn his lesson. Sorry if I forgot to hit like. I liked it. Would like to know how the money issue was settled.


John K Adams
23:21 Aug 03, 2023

LOL! Often said about hitchhikers. Some things take time to sink in. I hope you aren't too disappointed, Mary. Thanks for reading and commenting.


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John K Adams
23:28 Aug 03, 2023

The immediate issue as far as the police were concerned, was the firearms in the parking lot. I think Mason had some underhanded business dealings. Lavender probably got a plea deal for her testimony. Since no one was hurt, probation and a fine would be the worst anyone suffered. Thanks again.


Mary Bendickson
23:51 Aug 03, 2023

Hey, John thanks for the update. You are an established writer so I was wondering if I might ask your advice. Only if you have the time and thanks in advance. The first 50 pages of my unpublished manuscript has been named finalist in western category of Killer Nashville The Claymore Award. I believe this to be a very high honor. As a senior citizen I am struggling to decide on whether or not to attend whole convention in two weeks. I have signed up for the dinner, a night at the hotel and a breakout session the following day at a cost of 600...


John K Adams
02:28 Aug 04, 2023

I am honored that you ask for my input. That said, congratulations on this great honor acknowledging your writing. I have mainly written short stories. The Reedsy editorial arm estimated (if I'm remembering correctly) $2-3K for editing a collection of stories. I passed. Not because I thought it unrealistic, but because I'm not prepared for that kind of commitment right now. You must know, there is a certain amount of salesmanship involved in these things. They want you to attend with stars in your eyes and 'wow!' and 'look at the tall bu...


Mary Bendickson
04:19 Aug 04, 2023

Thank you for your time. Your thoughts on them just wanting to sell me is exactly why I didn't immediately start gushing stars in my eyes. I haven't even set a budget because I am still self editing as much as possible and really have no idea where to start. Yes, I entered their contest and they say mine was chosen from hundreds but for real? My category only has six finalist whereas fourteen categories have ten. The non-fiction only has two. Were there only six westerns or only six worthy westerns? One title looks like it is already a book....


John K Adams
13:32 Aug 04, 2023

Just a note to remind you that the fact you have reached a finalist position in a contest puts you ahead of my hitherto amateur status as a writer. What I say is largely speculation as I have little practical experience in the publishing industry. I'm happy to share what I know, or suspect. That said, yes, they are selling a service. But you are well aware you have something to sell which they want. Some questions to consider... It sounds like there may be a variety of publishers and or agents vying for your rights? Does the cost of edito...


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