Jessica fights back anxiety as she drives. One of the few rural areas left in Xetrov, this road is dark and winding. Unlike the flat shopping mall-filled streets of the city, it contains trees and hills with a slight glimpse of mountains to peek in and out of the skyline. John is on his mind.
She flexes her hands, frozen at the ten and two position. Never before has she been this focused. This is the end of Xetrov for her and John, off to greener and freer pastures. Her mind changes gears as she sees a reflector light of a dump truck crossing the street.
But the truck has no wheels and she can’t see windows. Her eyes refocus. Then Suddenly realizing it’s not a truck in front her, but a ten-point buck.
With no time to react, she slams on her brakes and cuts the wheel to the left. The back end of her car jolts away from the front causing the car to move sideways. Feet turn to inches, as the animal becomes closer and closer. The tires burn the road.
Her eyes widen as she sees the ten points staring back at her. She cuts the wheel back realizing the buck smashed the back window and sliding her car down an embankment. She feels the steering wheel crushing her chest; seatbelt choking her and her head smashes against the corner of the door. Hot blood pours down her face as she slips into unconsciousness.
The buck staggers to the side of the road and collapses.
Silence settles over the darkened street. Only the beam of halogen headlights shine through the trees of the forest. Even the bugs and frogs turn mute.
Miles away John drives frantically down the back roads to meet Jessica. But fails to realize Arnie is trailing him by a few miles. Peppered with visions of the future and past, both will meet when he turns the corner.
With his hands clamped to the steering wheel. Never wanting to let up until he reaches his destination, he has driven this road many times before. Rarely does he see oncoming cars or anyone behind him, only his share of road kill and when he sees a dead buck slumped in the breakdown lane of the road he thinks nothing of it. But headlights aiming out into the forest are unusual.
He realizes a car has crashed into a tree below and debates mentally for second whether to stop or go. His better self wins.
With the car idling he hops out of his car and jogs towards the embankment. Suddenly the enormity of the situation becomes clear. The color, make, and model of the car registers in his head. His heart flutters and beats faster when he realizes Jessica is still inside the car. He grabs the door handle but it’s locked. Without thinking, he reaches back through the shattered back window and unlocks the front door. Carefully opening the door and unclipping her seatbelt and he her sliding, limp body. Blood smears his chest as he pulls her body close to his.
With his left arm he tries to grab her leg but he slips. Again he tries, and succeeds. In one swoop he pulls her from the car and rests her up against he chest.
Exhaling loudly as he attempts to hold back tears, he turns and ascends the hill. His body is dripping with sweat and blood, face filling with tears as he carries his girlfriend’s motionless body to safety sadly failing to see a spotlight land on his back, followed by blue lights.
Jessica’s draping legs swing as John turns to face the cop car. This has to be a violent nightmare.
Arnie steps from behind the spotlight, “John I can’t let you go.” He reaches for his gun first unclipping the holster, “I’ve called for an ambulance.”
Staring back at Arnie, John tightens his grip on Jessica hugging her to press his face to hers.
Arnie relents and begins walking towards them. “John,” his voice rising up, “John!”
Finally they make eye contact and Arnie sees John’s crushed spirit.
“John, I’ve called an ambulance. She’ll be safe.”
Stoically John does not release his grip.
“I can’t let you both go. You go now and I’ve never seen you. But if you take her with you, she’ll die.”
“Leaving her is like dying.”
“John, let me do you this favor, go now. When the other cops show up, they will shoot you.”
The grip loosens slightly and John’s knees bend as he rests her body on the side of the road. One last time he holds her hand and slides his other hand over her cheek. His tears evaporate and heart thumps.
“I will never forget you,” he whispers in her ear.
Slowly standing up, he backs away from her body and towards his car. Arnie is correct; the doctors can save her, but he can’t. The tough decision was made. To save her was to leave her.
John jogs back to his car and immediately drives away.
Four years later.
Frantically staring at his watch, Mike stares back to the window. He feels deja vu from four years earlier that night was this hectic too. He rubs his fingers through his hair and whispers to Jen, “History repeats itself, right?”
“Keep asking me these questions” begins Jen, “And you’ll make me nervous.”
“You said Chris found him.”
“He did. He said he’d be here after the game.”
“It’s way past the game,” says Mike watching the others becoming restless. Whispering to Jen, “It has to be tonight, he leaves tomorrow.”
Never once does he stop and reflect the gravity William losing his father. Absent-minded and self absorbed he is blind to notice the crowd convening around someone.
William channels Moses while walking and locking eyes with Mike.
Methodically, Mike slides open a side door and guides William in. “What did I say, Mike?” Asks William.
“We are going to lose the election, “ says Mike. His patience abates as he searches for a reaction.
“Mike, this is a death warrant.”
“I need your help.”
“I’m giving it to you. End all this now and everybody lives. Mike, if they catch you, they will shoot you.”
“Not you, you made it.”
“Yeah, and so did you.”
“Luck was on our side that night” says Mike with a slight grin.
“You call what happened to me luck?” William is flabbergasted. The revolt shall vanquish before the onset.
“So just like that, you are going to walk away.”
“Like that?” He stops walking firing back, “My life ended four years ago, I can’t go back, but if I had a chance and choice to go further and do better,” he pauses for gravitas hoping to exude a response from Mike. At this juncture nothing will change the fortitude of Mike’s plethora of excuses. William motions for the door.
“Wait,” Mike follows him to the nave where the members have gathered. “Tell us how you escaped.”
The crowd hears Mike’s comment and turns towards William’s blank face manifesting into a defensive plight. Beginning a professorial sermon that is heavy in didactic adages, his words rest heavy on the exquisitely innocent lambs readying for slaughter. Their fate is not afoot but William’s axioms could sway their ideas.
Four years earlier.
John pulls into the rest stop where he and Jessica intended to meet. He disrobes and throws his shirt in a trash bin, then peels off his pants, kicks off his shoes sliding the blood soaked shirt to the bottom of barrel followed by his pants pushing it further.
He adorns himself with clean clothes and refastens his shoes before sitting back in his car and driving away.
His brain swells with visions of Jessica’s motionless body. Never before has he felt so helpless; having to leave her with Arnie; a stalwart flatfoot bent on advancement no matter the haphazard and immorality of it. It pains William to think he has failed to deliver his followers the good, free life he foresaw and promised.
In the distance, he can see the sparkle of the airport runway conceiving it will be a moment until Xetrov is behind him.
Further beyond the open land and plane aprons he sees two large police trucks. In a flash he wonders if they are the same trucks that stormed the earlier meeting. Is he the only one to have escaped? Mike’s look, the fitting handshake and him saying “A bientÔt” the doors broke open, it has been a blur.
Suddenly he sees a white flash of light, then another, and another. It takes the utmost focus to locate the lights origin. Behind the police trucks a body falls into a hole, the flash happens again, another body falls. It becomes axiomatic that they are executing the revolutionaries one by one and dropping their bodies in mass graves. Theories swirl his mind; did the cops know, and how long did they know? Were they on his trail for weeks, months? Are they following him now?
He sees no cars behind him as he pulls into the overnight parking lot. After exiting the vehicle he slides his keys into an envelope and places it under the windshield, a reads “Rob”.
The late night hours cause desolate check in lines. He passes only a few passengers and a couple of security personnel on the way to the terminal.
A few more minutes and he’ll be airborne. The nauseating feeling overcomes him, as he is engrossed in thoughts about Jessica and her health. She is a fighter and has the will to survive; maybe she’ll live and meet him on the other side in Canada.
The black night offers no answers. Before the plane departs, he goes to the restroom.
Once inside the small compartment, he closes it and leans against the sink. He can’t bear to look at himself only curling up and crying is a paroxysm of loss and heartache washes over him as realizing the life he had is over. Whimpering, his hands push away the tears. One last time he thinks of her touch and soft her cheek whispering, “I will never forget you.”
Four years later
Arnie stands with his arms folded boiling in anger at the police station lobby. Sgt. Smith opens the door, “Okay, Arnie, let’s go.”
The two step into a room where a television is set up with video wires attached and a patrolman manning the controls.
“You ready?” Asks Smith to the man.
Arnie is stoic with building frustration hiding his combative and belligerent disposition.
The video plays on the television, showing a closed-circuit camera angle shows on an empty hallway.
The video shows a door bursts open suddenly and in walks William with Tanya behind him. Arnie’s eyes dilate with rage alerting Smith.
“Tell us when you’ve had enough,” He says to Arnie.
Arnie folds his arms and watches his wife embrace and kiss William. Anger builds puckering his lips in disgust, “That’s enough.”
Both men look at him.
“So,” begins Arnie, “He’s come back for her.” Turning his back in frustration, “Why haven’t we arrested him?”
Smith is the first to answer him, “He has broken no laws.”
“What about the rallies, he is to not have contact with certain people.”
“That’s right, and he has not had any illegal contact with them.”
“She’s one of them!”
Playing advocate to him, Smith calmly says, “Technically she is not, with the name change and marriage, and they are two different people.” He throws up his arms in frustration, “We’re surprised he even found her.”
“Of course he did, did you think he came back for his dying father?”
“We have surveillance on the church now. It is wired and bugged. He hasn’t made any illegal moves.”
“Fine” says Arnie unplugging the TV. “We break up the meeting now, take him in, question him and deport him tonight.”
“But he’s leaving tomorrow on his own,” says Smith.
“Tonight, we get him tonight!”
They have a momentary stare-down. The tension is thick. Seconds later Smith relents, “Arnie-“
“-Serge let me have this, please. That was my wife.”
Again with the stare down, “Okay, but no funny stuff. Take him in and contain him for the night.”
Mike’s followers have become William’s admirers as his story engrosses them. Even Mike, as distant and impatient as he has been, seems disturbed.
“So. For you, staying here is a death wish, both emotionally and physically,” began William hoping to prevent followers from being disciples in complicit behavior.
“Sorry we had to bring that story out of you,” says Mike.
“Kind of a cleanser, it has been four years to recover-“
“-Have you?” asks Jen.
There is a brief moment of silence before Mike sticks his hand out for a shake, “Well, it’s been different.”
“Yes,” says William with a smile.
“As they say in French, A bientÔt.”
William turns cold racing his heart races with a sudden feeling of déjà vu. He looks at Mike and finds him staring oddly back. Before interpreting the French term doors burst open. Instantly the room fills with police and a S.W.A.T. team. William tries to pull his hand away, but Mike is still gripping his arm. It is too late. William knows it when at Mike. “Now I know how you got away.”
“Sometimes it’s better to save yourself than others,” says Mike, releasing William.
William stumbles towards Arnie who expertly handcuffs him. “You are not getting away this time John,” Kicking him to the ground.
“John?” One of the members calls collapsing to the ground. “You told me your name is William.”
“He tells everybody that!” Arnie pushes William’s face to the floor. “Including my wife.”
“She’s not you wife!” William yells, “She belongs to me!”
“Wrong! You left her to die on the side of the road four years ago!” Arnie pulls him to his feet; “We are taking you in first!” Arnie and Mike make eye contact, “Thanks again, Mike.”
As William shuffles towards the door his eyes land on Jen’s saddened face, “Tell her, Jen!” Pleading, “Tell Tanya who she really is!”
She is anchored and offers nothing.
Arnie forces him down the stairs and into the back of his cruiser.
Nothing registers for William. Only blocks of images rain over him; Arnie is driving him away, yelling, and screaming, it is too much.
Feeling the engine roar with speed William nervously asks, “I thought the speed limit was thirty?”
William stares out the window into the darkness. Occasionally they drive by a business or gas station then he sees a sign for the airport. It is only a matter of time before his time at Xetrov is over.
“Tell me, Arnie,” begins William, “At what point in your police ‘career’, and I use that term lightly, did you become corrupt?”
Arnie ignores him.
“If I remember correctly, you made your own decisions. Now you’re bent on a promotion. You will do anything, cut anybody’s throat. How do you go from law-abiding person, protecting citizens, to corrupting the law?” William sees the open road leading to the airport and emitting spots of light in the nightscape.
Hoping to silence him Arnie replies, “It all changed when you left your dying girlfriend on the side of the road. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”
“When did you change her name, after you told her parents she was dead, or before you began giving her Lipitor?”
Arnie stars back at him in the rearview mirror.
“It was tough to recognize her at first, with the blonde hair and scar. Even her eyes seemed distant.” William sees the airport lights grow closer anxiously feeling his time running out, “But it made sense when I was visiting my father and I asked the nurse the side effects of the drug. She says it rots the hippocampus and referred me to a book called, ’Lipitor, Thief of Memory’.” William glares at him in the mirror. “You know she would never go for a guy like you, so you molded her into what you wanted.”
Arnie pulls the cruiser to the side of the road and shuts it off. “Normally I would care, but I know how this night ends.”
The airport is still a couple of miles ahead, thinks William, as Arnie opens the back door. Remembering the road from four years earlier, the police trucks on the side of the road, flashing light, is this the same spot? His feet step off the pavement and onto some dirt. Same road, towards the airport, and saw those same flashes of light. Suddenly Arnie stops him in his tracks. William looks ahead and sees a small ditch and shovel next to it. For him it truly is the end of the road. In his time of dying there is relief and completeness. He smiles, “Hey Arnie, next time you screw your wife, it’s me she’ll be thinking of.”
A flash of light appears over his shoulder and beyond the grass in front of him. Then hot metal enters the back of his head before his vision turns to black and his body falls prostate into the ditch below designating him a martyr.
Arnie puts the gun back into his holster and picks up the shovel. One scoop at a time he begins to bury William.
Tanya finishes serving two businessmen coffee but unable to sell them on the pie. It is not often such pleasantly well-dressed men come in so late at night.
Despite William’s departure, she’s in good spirits and wipes down tables in the back. Coincidentally it is the table where she and William met every night for the past couple of weeks. She can see his smile, feel his touch, and smell his scent and see the ripple in the seat where he once sat. Accidentally she hits the napkin dispenser with the wet rag. It falls over triggering William’s words “check under the napkin dispenser”. There is nothing there but two words “Look further”. She still has hope encouraging her to look under the table.
Taped to the bottom of the table, lies a large envelope. She pulls it from the tape and walks away.
She enters the ladies room and locks the door behind her. With each step her heart beats louder and her breathing quickens. Ripping open the large manila envelope, she reaches inside and finds a stack of paper.
First up was a photo of her and William. Strangely, they were both younger and her hair was a different color. Shocked, her eyes remain dry and mouth opens.
She pulls out a handwritten letter with another newspaper clipping. The headline reads, “Cop Saves Injured Woman from Car Wreck.” She recognizes the man in the picture as her husband, Arnie. However, the note was not from him, it was from William.
“Tanya, I am writing this because I have run out of time. I was hoping to talk to you in person of how we came to be, who we are. Our closeness is not fate, but more like déjà vu. We were once a couple, four years ago, before your accident. We were on our way out of Xetrov when you crashed into that moose. I found you and pulled you from the wreck. The police were after me and to bring you to the hospital would mean death for us both. Arnie, who had been pursuing me, told me I would be captured and killed if I attempted to save you. He offered to bring you to the hospital if I left Xetrov. In order to save you, I had to leave you. I wouldn’t wish that upon anyone. Once again your now husband is after me, and once again to free you from any harm, I must leave. I will always remember you, John.”
Words that once energized her now deaden her. Along with the note is another picture of them, but his time Rob is included. Her eyes squint, believing she recognizes him. The next picture is her college graduation with who she assumes are her parents. Strangely, they too look familiar.
On the back of that picture is another note. “Tell your parents you are okay,” below is a phone number.
It is too much for her and she puts the items back in the envelope. Without dropping the envelope, she walks back into the dining area where the two men in suits sit. The image of the man in the picture captures her interest. Before she could speak to one of them, the front door opens and there stands Arnie. Smiling and happy to see her, nothing unusual for him but for her, it is the opposite.
“Hi, Tanya,” Approaching her. Noticing dirt on his fingernail tips and on the bottom of his boots her mind swirls forcing her to back up behind the counter. A headache slithers its way into her frontal lobe causing her to squint and vertigo kicks in. John is William, she is Jessica, her parents are alive, and Arnie is the enemy. It’s too much.
“Tanya?” Arnie walks closer.
“Arnie,” a deep voice calls out.
Both Tanya and Arnie look over and see the two men in suits stand up. A flash of familiarity mists over her.
“Arnie, my name is Chief Blame. I’m with internal affairs, this my partner, Rob.”
Rob, thinks Tanya. She has seen him before, but where? The envelope, the picture in the envelope, finally it registers in her head and her memory clicks into place.
Rob appears, “Tanya,” he gently rests his hand under her elbow. A cool hand to a warm head, his voice even sounds like William’s. “My name is Rob, do you know a man named William?”
Before Arnie can intervene, Chief Blame escorts him out of the diner.
Being pulled away, “What’s going on here?” Asks Arnie.
Without hesitation, “You’re under investigation for the disappearance of John, or as he is now known William. Along with identity theft, forging prescriptions, kidnapping, and fraud...” His voice trails off in the distance
“Identity theft? Who?”
“Your wife’s parents called the office last week and had reason to believe their daughter is still alive. It seems that they received a tip from her old boyfriend that he ran into her at a diner.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Their daughter served orange juice and pie to them. Thing is, their daughter had no idea who they were. They believe she may be drugged. At that point we tracked your prescription to a Dr. Benny. Turns out you have her on a Statin drug known as Lipitor.”
“I’d like to contact my lawyer.”
Blame smiles opening the back door of the unmarked cruiser.
Rob and Tanya sit at the table in silence. There is stillness to them as they stare out the window.
“I’m sorry about your father” she says and finally looks over at him.
“Did we ever meet?” She asks, “Your father and I?”
Her confusion takes hold of her, “Why did he call himself William?”
“That was going to be the name of the first boy you two would have had together.”
Tanya watches Blame drive out of the parking lot and down the street. The red taillights become smaller and smaller. Metaphorically telling the tale of her relationship with Arnie and opening another.
“He’s gone, isn’t he?” Asks Tanya.
“No.” Turning to face Rob, “William.”
Rob stares back at her briefly before nodding his head sorrowfully.