Fraud and the Samaritan

Submitted into Contest #110 in response to: Start your story with a vehicle pulling over for a hitchhiker.... view prompt

3 comments

Fiction Creative Nonfiction Romance

He stank. Late June in Virginia, minutes before an afternoon boomer, and the yellowish veil of humidity made everything damp. Dark, clammy rings hung under his arms. The navy oxford’s shoulders and back were also soaked, under the carry-ons’ straps, and splots of mustard and coffee squawked from his breast pocket. His hand-me-down jeans, six inches too small just seven months ago, clung to his chafing legs. And his heels were bleeding from those goddamned Doc Martin’s – comfortable shoes my ass. At least he’d made time to brush his teeth.

           Fraud blasphemed as he dropped the Samsonites and shrugged two other bags from across his back. As he popped the black suitcase he wondered how he would close it again, alone. But that was the least of his worries just now. No, actually, it was the most of his worries. He had to drag that heavy bastard and its twin to the Interstate, open or closed. 

           First things first, Fraud said aloud. “You really stink.” 

           He scoured his armpits with opposite sides of a KFC wet wipe, then rubbed a crumbling deodorant stick across the moist, curly hair.

           He dried his chest on the button-down then swiped the sweat from his back. He stood and lifted his elbows, so the pre-storm breeze could cool all his skin. Then he closed his eyes, and leaned his head back, and sucked deep some wet Virginia air. 

           Gads what he’d give for four hours of sleep. 

           After slowly stretching his back and every limb twice, Fraud opened his eyes, and pulled a plastic Carrefour bag from the open Samsonite. Blood saturated the heels of both socks, the drier brown edges darkening to sticky, black centers. Fraud really didn’t want to look, but after he wet-wiped the wounds he saw neither blister was bigger than a dime. 

           A dash of peroxide, some antiseptic cream, and a couple of band-aids. Fresh, thick socks. The soft brown moccasins, the ones almost falling apart. A white cotton tee-shirt, quick drying but respectable. Fraud pulled the two carry-ons back across his torso, then he crossed himself. He somehow felt safer when he crossed himself. And when he believed. But believing was much harder to do than the one-handed hoodoo. 

           A half-dozen more blasphemes while he kneeled on the overstuffed black suitcase, and then it latched.

           Even towing eighty kilos, a freshened Fraud made good time up the on-ramp. His heels were still bleeding, but at least the burning pain had stopped. He was still musky, but the top layer of slime and stench was gone. Waves of endorphines and alcohol and sleeplessness and grief and guilt and shame and relief and terror all fouled his thinking. This whole damn business was just too surreal not to smile, and cry, and hustle. 

           Fraud’s heart raced when he heard a car slowing behind him. A great grey bonnet swooped toward him and stopped, right under a “No Stopping” sign.

           “Do you need a lift?”  The accent wasn’t English English, but it was close, and it soothed him. Especially in a lady’s octave. He turned, but could only see one slender arm on the steering wheel. 

           “Beg pardon?”

           “Do you need a lift?” the woman said more brusquely. Fraud stooped enough to see inside the car. 

           Her olive face, like the rest of her, was sleek and shaped. Auburn hair draped barely to her shoulders, leading his eyes across the white cotton shoulder to the blouse’s half-sleeve, and then her toned, tanned bicep. Chivalry – chauvinism – made him deeply concerned for this young woman’s safety.

           “Are you sure?” he asked incredulously. Silence, a slight frown, then half a grin from Lady Saint Christopher.

           “Would I have stopped otherwise?” Fraud smiled at his chivalry – chauvinism – and laid the passenger seat forward. Then he looked at the Samsonites’ wheels, and at the sidewalk puddles he’d pulled them through.

           “These bottom ’er wet...can I still set ‘em in the seat?”

           “Sure,” she said, eyeing the traffic approaching in her rearview. He saw it too, and quickly slung four big bags into the coupe’s tiny backseat. Once he belted into the red cloth bucket seat beside her, Fraud let himself stare as she paced cars over her left shoulder. 

           Her beauty stunned him, and made him terribly self-conscious. He gauged his own biceps, beefed by thousands of sanity push-ups. His belly, once bloated on fast food and high fructose corn syrup, had flattened after eight months of produce markets and a broken-heart appetite. He still wasn’t content with his look, but he looked a lot better than the last time he was here. 

           Besides, right now, he was the King of the Road, and no one here knew any better. 

           Once they were merged into the Friday Metro rush hour, he offered his hand. 

           “My name’s Jim. Thank you for stopping.” Her grip was firm.

           “I’m Sarah. Where are you heading?” Fraud leaned back and looked forward.

           “That’s actually a good question. Maybe you can help me.” Fraud asked how far she was going toward I-81. She lived a little ways down State Route 29, she said. Where is that? A couple of miles from here. Hmmmm, well, thank you for getting me past the rain, and onto the interstate.

           “I know, I’m nosy, but where are you really heading?” Jim pursed his lips and half-smiled, one of his goofiest habitual looks. “You’re just carrying a lot of stuff for this kind of trip. I mean, not to be nosy, but four bags . . .”

           “No, fair question,” he interrupted. “I was studying in France, and now I’m going back to Louisville, Kentucky. But only if Samaritans like you help. So thank you again for stopping under a ‘No Stopping’ sign.” Sarah smiled.

           “Did I?” Fraud grinned and nodded. “Ah, well, no trouble from it.” Where had he heard that accent?

           “Now I don’t mean to be nosy either, but your accent – is it Midlands English?” She smirked and looked back at the road.

           “It’s South African, after many years in Virginia.” Of course! Dr. Moffett, Freshman English. “What were you studying in France?” she countered.

           “Law. Sort of. Actually, I was more just a lazy expatriate. First-year classes were auditoriums full of teenagers. So, I found some journalists and hung with them instead.” She sized up his eyes, then smiled.

           “So you’re going to law school?”

           “No, actually I’ve already passed a bar exam. This was post-JD work.” She nodded.

           “Okay. No offense.  You’re just older than the average undergrad.” Fraud tried to chuckle coyly, but instead snorted some weird effect from the back of his sinuses. Dammit!! Quick, say something . . .

           “I am forever more finished with school, thank you. So, what brings you all the way up here from Route 29?”

           “Trying to correct paperwork, so I can stay in school.” He chuckled.

           “Undergraduate?” She assessed him again before answering.

           “Master’s program.”

           “See, you could pass for an undergrad though.” Lame. She smiled anyway. “A Master’s in what?”

           “English literature.”

           “Ah, a penny-poor lot, the graduate Arts crowd. More fun than business torts, though.”

           “I should hope so. Is that what you’re going to do?”

           “No, I’m a criminal lawyer. But I reckon any job’ll do just now.” 

           “So you don’t have a job in Louisville?”

           “Oh, no. I might have one around here, over in Arlington. I think I do.” Fraud looked forward. “I sure hope I do.” Sarah’s brow furrowed

           “Then why are you going to Louisville?”

           “To return some stuff,” Fraud pointed over his shoulder with a thumb, “and get a divorce.” Sarah focused on the road. Fraud was amazed, and relieved, that the conversation had been so personal. She was sharp, and suave, and so so sexy, and he’d not blown it yet. So far, this hitchhiking thing wasn’t anything like what Bruce had described.

           “I’m sorry,” she said quietly, eyes forward. I didn’t mean to pry.” 

           “No problem. I must admit, I’m a little surprised you even offered me a lift.” Sarah shot him a stern eye.

           “Oh, really. And why is that?” Fraud’s chauvinism – chivalry – was increasingly somewhere between “genteel” and “sexist.” But they had time to kill, and she didn’t seem too radical. Worst case, she would tell him to get out. He’d heard that before. But she wasn’t going all the way anyway. He did want to ride until the storm passed, though.

           “I mean . . well . . . well, hell. You are a young, and pretty, and a smaller . . . I just find it . . . curious . . . that you would stop for a complete stranger. Especially one my size.” Sarah reflected quietly for a moment, then pursed her own lips. Dear god she was beautiful.

           “You don’t seem so strange. There was just something about the luggage . . . I don’t know, there was just too much luggage for you to be dangerous.” Fraud got to see her eyes flicker as she giggled.

           “Well, I assure you that my only present intentions are to stay out of the rain, and to get closer to 81.”  He shifted and stretched his legs. 

           “So what paperwork trouble do you have at school?”

           “Well, I’m having some problems extending my visa. If I don’t get it straight this month, I have to leave the country for a year.” Yikes! 

           “So what will you do if you can’t get the visa?”

           “I’ll go to Europe for a bit, then I’ll stay with an aunt in Cape Town and start my thesis project.”

           “And what will your thesis be?” Sarah glanced at him, then looked back at the rain-slickening road.

           “Oh, you don’t really want to hear.”

           “Of course I do. Tell me.” The right side of his face grinned. “But only if you want to, of course.” 

           She was quiet, then told him about her video testimonials from the quickly passing Biko generation. Yes, interviews in the townships could be dangerous. But she could find assistants who would minimize the risk. Besides, the knowledge made it worth the danger. Ah, duty despite danger – this Air Force brat certainly agreed.

           “So what about you, then? What does a criminal lawyer study in France?” He told her about the International Criminal Court, and about his time with domestic violence prosecutors, and about his idea to live in Europe and send mass murderers away. But for now he was back for a divorce, and another start. Fraud stared at his knees. 

           “But I have to be boring you by now,” he said. “I sometimes talk too much.” Sarah sniggered.

           “You certainly tell a pretty good story.” She glowered at him, coyly distrusting. “So how much of it is true?” He shoots he scores!

           “Tous c’est vrai!” Fraud exclaimed, unsure if that actually meant “all is true!” “Now, when did y’all come to the States?” and he listened how thirteen-year-old Sarah strenuously opposed the family’s immigration, even until years after her resettlement in southern Virginia. 

           “Thirteen couldn’t have been too long ago.”  Sarah’s eyebrows disapproved of the age question. “No, I mean . . . I just mean you don’t look old enough for all that.” She panned backed to the road.

           “Twenty-seven.” Fraud was a little embarrassed, but what the hell. Raindrops were now splattering across the Thunderbird’s windshield, and he figured she’d let him stay in the car at least until they were through it.

           Just stop talking, Fraud thought. 

           “Truth is, I’m smarter sometimes than others,” Sarah smiled and rolled her eyes. 

           “Whatever.” Whew.

           “If you can fix this,” Sarah said, fishing a CD player from between their seats, “we can have something besides the radio. There’s something wrong with the plug.” Fraud took the player from her, desperate to be MacGyver, but almost helpless as a handyman. He looked the machine over thoughtfully, asked more about South Africa, then admitted defeat while she talked about home. 

           They passed signs for Winchester, Sarah’s first marks for Route 29. She made Fraud dizzy. She chose words carefully, and said smart things. And smelled like lavender. She loved teaching little kids, but ultimately wanted to profess at university, and write. Her neck was long and slender, and a vein sometimes pulsed lightly below her earlobe. She knew more immigration law than him (though he didn’t admit it), and her mezzo-soprano accent made his heart pound all the way into his shoulder. They both wanted a house on the water, with mountains out back. There has to be land around it. A tri-level Victorian? Whatever it was, it needed wrap-around porches yards-wide, and slick hardwood floors inside. An office-library for him, and he’d build the bookshelves himself.

           “Of mahogany!” she chirped. 

           “Perfect!” he exclaimed. How hard could it be to build inset bookshelves? Hell, he’d never find out. And he liked mahogany. He imagined her bringing coffee to his cozy office on a cool Saturday morning, her thighs and long legs peeking from under his Capitals sweater . . . 

           Fraud deflated when he saw a sign for Route 29. 

           “I hate to mention this, but we look close. Where’s the easiest spot to drop me?” Sarah looked around a moment before speaking.

           “When was the last time you ate?” she asked, and Fraud was a little embarrassed to answer.

           “Well, I had a BritAir continental breakfast this morning.”

           “Before that?”

           “A muffin at Heathrow.” She concluded correctly that Fraud was hungry.

           “I was going to go home tonight, but I told my parents that I might go to a party with them.  I’ve been promising to see them anyway.” Sarah looked at him nervously. “Anyway, if they’re willing, and you want to . . . would you like to eat dinner with my family?” Jim sat stunned for a moment.

           “Why, yes! . . . absolutely!!” he squeaked. “Yes,” he tried in a deeper, even sillier voice. “I would enjoy that.” Fraud was embarrassed at the the charity case she must believe him to be. Then he caught her eyes, and they stared for seconds as he stopped breathing. Those glinting green eyes were indeed the Samaritan’s most magical feature, right into her brilliant soul . . . 

           Sarah pulled a cell phone from the air and a headset from her door, and rang her folks. Mom sounded reasonable from Sarah’s side of the conversation. Popping in for supper with a friend. He’s someone she met at NOVA, traveling to Kentucky. No, she isn’t going to Kentucky, just him. Just helping with a lift.

           “Do you mind if there’s no meat? It’s so hot, Mom was only going to make salads.” Fraud jumped when he realized she’d asked a question, embarrassed at having a choice.

           “I will gratefully accept whatever’s on my plate, thank you.” Sarah rolled her eyes.

           “That’ll be great. Yes, we’re almost to 81. We’ll be there in a couple of hours. Yes, there will be plenty of time to eat and get to the party. Well, it doesn’t make much sense to come down and not go, does it?” She laughed. “Okay. See you soon.”

           Fraud had no idea why everything was going so right. He braced for the horrifying gaffe undoubtedly to come. The parents . . . he would douse the old man in tea, or insult her mother’s gardening. Something excruciatingly stupid. As always, Fraud would only manage when that anvil fell.

           “Don’t look so worried,” Sarah assured him. “They’re really okay.” She laughed. “I like them!”  He turned to her.

           “Look, this is way out of your way, and I wasn’t trying to weasel a meal.  I really do appreciate all this. It just seems so much, and I don’t want to impose anymore . . .” Sarah blushed this time.

           “I should do it anyway. And you’re a good reason.”

           “Still...”

           “Shush. Tell me, what was your least favorite part of England?

           “Black pudding. Ick.”

           “I thought that was Scottish?”

           “I had it at a Yorkshire breakfast, too, so I figured it was shared.” Sarah laughed.

           “Well you don’t have to eat anything you don’t like at my house,” she said, softly touching the back of his hand as she looked back to his eyes. She turned away, grinning. “Don’t worry, they’re happy and curious, and they love visitors.” 

           But then she talked faster, staring at the road. “But are you hungry now? Because if you’re hungry now, we can stop right now, if you’d rather, and I can drop you off before I go to their house. You don’t have to go . . .” 

           NOOOO!!! 

           “NO . . . no, not at all,” Fraud interrupted. “I’m just a little embarrassed, that’s all,” he said. “Sorry to be so weasely.” Sarah stared at the road. 

           “So what should I tell them?” Fraud asked. “I mean, I like that you told your mah we’re friends, but how long have we known each other? Am I in a class with you?” She laughed.

           “Good heavens, tell them the truth! Why wouldn’t we?” Fraud clenched his teeth, and considered telling the whole truth.

           “Well, I mean, I just didn’t know how they felt about their daughter picking up hitchhikers.” She wrinkled one side of her mouth.

           “Ew . . good point.” She paused. “But you needed a lift. And I was right that you’re harmless. And now we are friends! Anyway, my parents trust my judgment.”

           “And so do you. That’s a gift.” Sarah frowned.

           “It’s not a gift.”

           “Yes, it is. Most people won’t trust their guts, and that’s how they get stuck. But you’ve got a pretty savvy gut.” 

           “Thank you.”  Sarah blushed briefly and gassed eight cylinders, gently pushing Jim into his seat. He turned and leaned slightly against his left shoulder, pretending to watch the Shenandoah foothills through her window.

September 07, 2021 01:51

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3 comments

Del Gibson
20:02 Sep 16, 2021

Hello Jay, welcome to the team of writers. Your story is dripping in description from the start. There is a real sense of movement and momentum as the reader wants to know more! There are so many questions left hanging - this is great for suspense building in a scene. I like the fact you have left this short story interpretation up to the reader to decipher. I love the twist at the end, leaving the reader with a cliffhanger, will they fall in love? Will the dinner go okay with Sarah's folks or are they a bunch of serial killers? A satisfacto...

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12:09 Sep 12, 2021

Hi Jay, it looks like this is your first submission? Nice to have found you, I love your turn of phrase. I really enjoyed this piece, the language is so precise and poetic. It made me want to know more about the characters and their real back stories. In terms of crit, I wouldn't change a single word, but I would suggest you revisit the dialogue and action tags and maybe re-order them a bit to make it clearer who is speaking when. In some places you have one character speaking then another character reacting in the same line and it gets a ...

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Jay Hurst
22:57 Sep 15, 2021

Thank you for your most kind words, and your note. I hadn't noticed that about the dialogue and action, but now I see it. Thanks! This is my first entry, you are correct, and I'm thrilled and nauseated and quite nervous about wading into fiction. Reading some others here (loved the Tin Snail :-) ), it's good for the reminder that I'm but snail on a farm full of amazing talent. I look forward to reading more from you, and everyone. I really appreciate your comments, thank you! Jay

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