I hit the break a bit too hard and the car lurched forward before and backward before coming to a stop. I rolled down my window to give the man an opportunity to approach. He kept his eyes down as he approached my car. Another hitchhiker I thought, this should be fun.
“Thanks for stopping miss,” he said. “I’m headed to Westwood, the South Avenue area. Can you…?”
“Sure,” I said. I unlocked the car. He swung his khaki colored backpack across the back seat and slid in. As he locked his seatbelt I hit the child lock. He looked like a nice guy, maybe a little down on his luck. The cuffs of his jeans were frayed and the right cuff was almost torn off. His hair looked a bit dingy and I thought it could use a wash. I felt a bit bad.
He looked a bit nervous sitting in the backseat. He kept fidgeting and stared out the window.
“Have you been in this area long?” I asked. His pale eyes met mine in the rearview mirror.
“No. I got another ride this far. The other person just couldn’t take me all the way.”
“I see. Where are you from?”
“From? Here and there. I haven’t been in any one place too long. Most recently I was in Denberville - back the other way.”
“Is anyone expecting you in Westwood?” I adjusted the rearview mirror.
“I don’t suppose so.” I saw him fidget. I nodded to show I heard him. We sat in silence for a bit.
I flicked my turn signal on and made a turn off the main road. I glanced into my rearview mirror to see if my guest noticed. He seemed to be unaware of the deviation from the route.
The asphalt of the highway faded away to a gravel and then a dirt road. The tree coverage changed from a row of neatly planted trees along a main road to more dense coverage. A gentle wind blew through the late summer leaves exposing their silver undersides.
“This is a beautiful drive,” I said, glancing in the rearview mirror. My guest nodded and refocused his eyes somewhere beyond the window.
“I didn’t catch your name.” My guest shifted.
“My name’s Nate,’ he said.
“Hi Nate,” I said cheerily. “Isn’t this such a great time of year?” Nate nodded.
I eased my foot off the gas and let the car slow down before changing my mind and continuing to drive down the road. I pulled into a small clearing. Nate looked up at the rearview mirror, but I avoided meeting his eyes. I could feel the question he wanted to ask.
“I need to check the tire. Can you help me?” He mumbled yes and got out of the car. I watched to see where he’d pause. I opened my door, closing it behind me. I walked a few steps away from the car before dropping to one knee. I gasped. I looked under the car to see which way Nate’s feet were moving.
“Are you okay?” He asked.
He never saw it coming. All three shots hit him. He laid on the ground gasping for breath for what felt like a long time. His pale eyes remained on mine the entire time. When I was sure he was gone, I checked my car. I took a cloth to wipe off the blood spatter that made its way to the green paint. The cloth and my clothes I stashed in a plastic bag in the trunk. I would dump it all later.
I dumped Nate’s backpack out onto my back seat. His clothes I stuffed back into the bag to be discarded. His wallet was disappointingly devoid of cash, but there was one presumably only partially used Starbucks gift card. A leatherbound journal seemed to be his most expensive possession. I slipped it into my own bag before getting back in the car.
I sang along to the radio as I drove the rest of the way to Westwood. I stopped in front of a park next to a quiet development. A middle class to upper middle class place, somewhere I had been many times. This was the sort of place where any crime would elicit the reaction, “that doesn’t happen here.” No one was in sight as I tossed Nate’s backpack into the dumpster. The bag with my clothes and the cloth I could toss at home. No one would be looking. Who would ever consider someone like me to be a suspect?
The likelihood of someone coming upon Nate’s body was moderate to high. Many people around here go for hikes and nature walks. I trusted that the dry soil would hold no tire tracks. By Nate’s own admission, no one was waiting for him and no one would be able to link him with me. The police would undoubtedly put out a call for information about the homicide, but the case would ultimately go cold. A tragedy, but it all would be forgotten before long. Next time I would take care to make it look like an accident.
I felt calm as I drove back to my apartment. My t-shirt with Bee Kind” fit well and the new, light brown moccasins I slipped on were comfortable. Nate’s journal seemed to be mostly filled with his uneven scribble. When I paged through it in the woods I saw pages and pages of words written in black ink. Numerous crossouts dotted the pages. I never expected to find much in a drifter’s possessions, but I did expect to find at least a little cash. Perhaps Nate was a brilliant writer and publishing his journal would bring me millions.I highly doubted that would be the case, but I supposed anything was possible.
I tossed his journal on the couch before going into the area of the studio apartment that made up my kitchen. I poured myself a full glass of dark red wine. Reading about Nate’s life and inner thoughts could be fun, I thought.