CHAPTER THREE – Business Managers Are Indestructible
from THE ROCKY ROAD TO THE END OF THE WORLD
Copyright © 2013 by Sandra Bell Kirchman
Not sure how long I dozed, but I awoke to the sound of angry voices. Still woozy from sleep, I rubbed my eyes and looked around. Mark was sitting in the driver’s seat, dark circles under his eyes. Outside, in front of the Jeep, a young woman stood off to the side, while two men waved their fists and shouted at each other.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
Mark shook his head. “Who knows?” he said. “I deliberated for a while cuz I really didn’t want to take a chance on stopping. I’ll probably regret it, but I decided make a quick side trip into this town to check the air in the driver’s side front tire and to fill up with gas while we were here.
“I slowed down to turn left into that gas station,” …I noticed an Esso on the left… “and these three idiots appeared from nowhere and started arguing. They’re too close for me to turn left, and if I back up they follow me.” He snorted with disgust.
“Did you get out and ask them what they are doing?” I said.
Mark didn’t say anything. I gathered he hadn’t.
I undid my seat belt, tucked Tilly firmly under my arm and stepped out of the car.
“Alex, get back in here!” Mark roared. “You can’t trust anyone.”
Ignoring him, I walked to the front of the vehicle. “Excuse me, but would you mind moving so that we can drive into the gas station? We have a tire that needs looking at.”
The two men paid no attention to me and continued their shouting match.
The girl came up behind me. “They’re arguing about who gets the Jeep,” she said in disgust.
“Pardon me…they’re what?” I suppose the honest confusion showed on my face. The girl put a hand on my shoulder.
“I know it sounds pretty terrible, when you say it like that. If it’s any consolation, I’ve been trying to talk ’em out of it. Being the bozos they are, they’re not listening to anyone right now.”
I nodded and bit my lip as I turned back to the shouters.
“Over my dead body,” the youngish, short man yelled.
“That can be arranged,” the taller, older man shouted.
The young guy swung his fist, but the older man saw it coming and ducked. This threw the young guy off-balance and the older guy kicked him when he was down, producing a roar of rage from the young guy.
“The owners locked the pumps and left, so you won’t be able to get gas. If you hurry, you can probably back up and fill your tire with air,” the girl said.
“Thanks, we’ll do that,” I told her.
“You have such a cute dog,” she said. “By the way, my name’s Patty.”
“Alex,” I said over my shoulder and hopped into the car. Mark had seen the turn of events and backed up before I said anything. I told him the conversation while he gunned the Jeep into the gas station driveway, stopping at the air pump.
While Mark worked with the tire, I took Tilly out on a small patch of lawn and let her do her thing. The other two would use a pee pad, as we had trained them, but Tilly was set in her ways and only the great outdoors would do for her. I scooped her up just as Patty came scrambling down the hill.
“Look, you seem like nice folk,” she said. “Let me unlock the pump and turn the pump mechanism on for you to get gas.”
I didn’t ask any questions. “Wonderful, Patty. I’ll tell Mark.” She hurried over to the far pump, fishing out a set of keys from her jeans pocket.
Just as we were filled and ready to go, a shot rang out from the direction of the crowd at the top of the hill. It wasn’t a car backfiring, either. I just knew it was one of the fighters. I looked at Patty and she looked at me. Without a word, I opened the back door and shoved her in beside Justin, then hastily took my seat in the front.
Mark had jumped in and gunned the car. “What are you doing with her?” he growled.
“Never mind. The guy who wants our Jeep apparently has a gun. Let’s get out of here.”
We sped out of the gas station and onto the small ribbon of asphalt heading north.
“Where do you want dropped off, miss?” Mark called to the back of the Jeep.
There was a small pause, then, “Would you have room for me? Mom and Dad left this morning, but I refused to go. Jeff was still here, but…” Patty’s voice trailed off.
“We sure as shooting don’t have room for Jeff,” Mark growled. “Non-negotiable.”
“That’s not a problem.” Patty’s voice was trembling. “He won’t be coming.”
I felt so sorry for the girl. “You sure, sweetie? I bet we could make room if we tried.”
“No, ma’am. One of those two was the shooter and the other was the victim. They’ve both turned into monsters that I don’t know anymore. My folks were right.”
I turned to catch a tear rolling down her cheek and felt the surge of her sorrow. How terrible was it to know that your lover was either a potential murderer or possibly a murder victim…and not know which one it was, to boot?
I looked back at the gas station. A sizable crowd had gathered up on the road, people were shouting, and I noticed two or three guns being brandished. O Canada! When had we turned into a rabble? We were lucky to get out of there.
Just as I cleared my throat to start talking, to help Patty adjust to the terrible shock she must be feeling, a moan that sounded like a ghost speaking through a tunnel emanated from Justin Patty jumped and edged away from him. The two dogs in the carriers in the back started barking, and Justin groaned again. He reached up to touch the back of his head, winced, and let his arm drop.
“What happened? Where am I? Who is this?” he demanded.
“Easy, Justin, ” Mark said, checking him out in the rear view mirror. “Two rednecks tried to steal my truck and thought you were a threat. One guy beaned you with a rock. We couldn’t leave you there so we brought you with us.”
“Sorry about that, Justin, but we can’t take you back. We can let you off if you want.” I turned to Mark. “How far north of Spiritvale do you think we are, Mark?”
He paused for a moment, then said, “Probably a couple of hundred miles.”
“A couple of hundred…” Justin turned pale. “I left Monster in the house. I have to go back. There’s no real reason to be running north. Australia could be just having an electric blackout for some reason. There’s no new news. I…” He brushed his hand over his face.
“Let’s see if there’s more news,” Mark said and switched the radio on.
The announcer didn’t sound happy.
The last word out of New Zealand was less than an hour ago. All New Zealand broadcasting has ceased. No communications of any kind are being sent from or received by that country. This is the second country in two hours to be involuntarily removed from global communication systems. There has been no response from Australia since this morning, nor has Papua New Guinea responded to any transmissions.
The jet pilots sent by the Indonesian Air Force to reconnoiter the area have reported that the countries are still there, visible from the air at 20,000 feet, but that no activity is seen on radar or by the naked eye. The planes can only approach within two miles before encountering some kind of blockade that prevents forward progress.
Scientists around the globe are are working non-stop to try to decipher the readings that the planes captured with their in-flight cameras and plotting instruments. So far, nothing that could explain these phenomena has been discovered. Station CJSK will continue to update this general broadcast as news comes in.
You could only hear the humming of the engine and the sound of the tires crunching through the gravel. Only an occasional ping sounded as the gravel bounced off the side of the Jeep. Finally, Justin spoke.
“That’s for real, then?”
“I’m afraid so, Justin,” Mark replied. He looked as shaken as I’d ever seen him. He pulled over to the shoulder and turned to look at Justin “So, what’s it to be? Drive on or get out here?”
“I-I don’t know. I might not even get back to Spiritvale. I bet there are more grotty characters roaming around like those two back in town.”
Patty narrowed her eyes as she spoke up for the first time. “You weren’t even conscious in Breckenridge. How did you know about that?”
“No, Patty,” I answered here, as Justin frowned and looked at Patty. “Justin is talking about two looters back in Spiritvale, where we come from.” I patted her on the shoulder. “Justin is our neighbour. Justin, meet Patty, daughter of the Esso station owners in Breckenridge. Patty, meet Justin, a worker at the potash mine south of Spiritvale.”
“Business manager,” Justin corrected and held out his hand to Patty. “Pleased to meet you.”
They murmured pleasantries as if everything were all right in a sane world, then fell silent. Nobody seemed to know what to say next.