The story so far:
I hadn’t noticed so many cracks in the pavement since I was eight and concerned about breaking my mother’s back. My pusher kept our momentum as I rattled over driveways and whiteknuckled curbs, only slowing to make sure he wouldn’t get plastered by a moving car.
“You trying to kill me?” I tried to shout without drawing attention.
“Just doing my job.”
Three blocks later, he steered me through a parking lot, stopped me between two SUVs and directed me to wait.
“For what? Shooter?”
Before I tried, my pusher disappeared behind the Tahoe to my left. I stood and stretched, kneading the soreness from my lower back when tires screeched behind me and a voice instructed, “Julie Mulherin? Get in!”
Mulherin was my father’s name, but he and mom split when I was in third grade. She remarried, Joe signed the legal paperwork for adoption, and my name changed to Shearer. Who the hell were these people?
I couldn’t see through the open sliver above the tinted glass, but going for a ride beat scouring McDonalds wastebaskets for leftovers, so I complied. The sedan’s back door opened and my pusher slid across the bench seat to offer me room. I studied his face now that I could actually see it. Probably mid-thirties, though time supposedly ages people faster. Dark red hair, high cheekbones, crooked nose and teeth. His eyes were hidden behind mirrored lenses, the kind secret security always wears in the movies. The driver’s eyes never left the road; best I could tell, he was an overweight Korean with a buzz cut.
“So where are you taking me?”
“That’s not important,” the pusher said.
I conceded that I wouldn’t get much information from the backseat, so I tapped the driver’s shoulder. “What’s this all about?”
“Just doing my job,” he commented, his eyes never meeting mine in the rear-view. Apparently, that was the company line.
We crossed a bridge and hopped on the interstate bypass, heading west. I removed my wig and pusher objected, “Put that on.”
“Tell me your name.”
“It’s not important.”
“It is to me.”
“You can call me Ted.”
I pressed my luck and pointed at the driver, “And him?”
Bill and Ted? Fantastic. Though I would’ve given almost anything to travel back two weeks in time and find a different job somewhere that didn’t involve Senator Hughes, I feared this was more like a bogus journey.
“Okay, Ted. Recognizing the answer isn’t important, why did I deck the Goodwill clerk?”
“Oh, I can tell you that. That was a bet. Bill didn’t think you’d do it.”
“You cost me five bucks!” Bill said.
We progressed through a business district before reaching the outskirts of the city. I routinely checked the back window, but detected no vehicle consistently behind us. “So who’s following me?”
I blinked. A lot. Still couldn’t process that answer.
“Men to make sure news stories like you stay out of the headlines and, if necessary, in the obituaries.”
“What? Why me?”
“Senator Hughes is a dangerous man, Julie. You should have never gotten involved.”
I grabbed Ted’s collar with both hands and gritted, “I never did. Now take me to Shooter.”
Acres of cornfields lined the road; Bill slowed and cut into a driveway that ran directly off the highway. I assumed this was one of those state route addresses I’d heard about but never spent any time at since my entire family grew up in the city.
We traversed over two lines of dead grass for what felt like miles of yellow-dotted stalks. Had we suddenly teleported to Iowa? Ahead, I spotted a small house through the windshield. One story, red brick, black shutters, timeless in it’s blandness, except that the chain link fence surrounding it was topped with razor wire.
“Careful, Julie. Shooter’s kind of jumpy.”
With that, Ted reached across, opened my door, and shoved me out. The car kicked up a cloud of dust on me as Bill spun a hard one-eighty and zoomed toward the highway.
“Just doing your job?” I yelled at the taillights.
“You try working for $1.85 a day!” shouted Ted.