Jim walked for four hours. He would have stopped and slept at the side of the road, but the one thin blanket he had with him didn’t do enough to keep him warm. He had to keep walking until he either found a place to stay, or someone took pity on his cold hitchhiker’s thumb.
He almost walked right past the van. Hidden in the trees and fading sunlight, even the pretty paint job didn’t really show. It was the fire where everyone sat that drew his attention.
Surely, on a night like this, anyone would share their fire. Well, maybe not a nice little family of four with the little window decal detailing their blissful unit right down to the number of dogs. But it wasn’t like this was a campground. These people parked in one of the only thickets of trees around. Surely they’d be his kind of people.
Then he recognized the van. It was Rick and his “van family”. Considering those suckers had just kicked him out, this might be worse.
“Did you just hear something?” One of the girls they’d picked up a little while back looked around like her head was on a swivel.
Jim froze with his shoulder lined up with a tree. He wasn’t entirely sure why he felt like hiding. He should probably just walk right up to them. If he could choke down enough crow, they’d at least let him stay the night.
“It isn’t him, is it?” The other new girl sounded disappointed.
Stuff them. It wasn’t like he wanted to be there any more than they wanted him. Except for the warmth of the fire and his total lack of matches.
“No way.” The guy with the hipster glasses laughed. “We left him way behind. It’ll be morning before he catches up with us.”
Jim hated that hipster guy. He was the kind that used words like “parched”, “rotund” or “scandalous”. Like anyone really talked that way.
“He might catch a ride with someone else. Then we’d never see him again.” Rick sounded like he couldn’t decide if that would be a good thing or a bad thing.
“He’ll come. It won’t take him that long.” Bony Bonny didn’t sound like she cared one way or another.
“But why should we wait for him at all? We’ve got plenty of gas.” The new girl’s voice rose sharply. “We don’t really need him for anything. Didn’t we just get rid of him?”
“Big Jim’s not that bad. He just needs to be taught a little lesson,” Rick said with more confidence than Jim had ever heard out of him before. “Besides, if it turns out there really is a bounty on him; I want to be the one to collect it.”
Jim stiffened. Talk about the ultimate in betrayal! That was way worse than anything Jim had ever done. But at the same time it didn’t really surprise him.
So much for the ‘family’ part of Rick’s little party. Well, if someone needed to learn a lesson, maybe it should be Rick. And Jim knew just how to hand it out. While his so called friends talked about what a jerk he was, Jim slipped between the trees to the far side of the Technicolor van.
He opened the driver’s door as quietly as he could, then pitched in his pack. Leaving he door open, he crawled up in the seat and pulled the key out of his pocket. No one looked as he stuffed it in the ignition. Good thing he hadn’t pitched the key out after all. When they drove off leaving him by the side of the road with nothing but his pack and a useless key, he’d been tempted.
Jim didn’t close the driver’s door until he’d already revved the engine. Then everyone came running.
Bonny did a face plant right off. Jim didn’t have a chance to laugh because he was busy getting the van threaded through the trees to the road. He saw Rick. Mr. Van Family stood there and stared all slack jawed like an idiot. The guy with the glasses tried to ride the bumper, but flew off when Jim hit the shoulder of the road hard. They all ate his dust on the highway.
After that it was all smooth driving for about five hours. When he got too tired, he pulled into a store parking lot in Minneapolis. He made sure every door was locked and window rolled before crawling into the comfort of the bedding in the back.
It felt weird to have so much room to himself. Weird, and empowering. Things were going to be different now. The first thing he’d do tomorrow morning is get rid of the paint job. After that…. He’d decide later.
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I am undergoing hip replacement surgery. If I am foolish enough to post a Suzie’s House episode while I’m on powerful narcotics during recovery in February, then please forgive me. I’ll get back to the band members in March.