Racing to the Bright Unknown

fiction by M.E. Purfield

Pace Dustin slung the bag full of cash over his shoulder and ran from his busted car into the woods. The crescent moon hung bright in the black, star-dotted sky over the barren NJ Parkway. After jumping and weaving a few yards through shrubs, roots, and trees, he entered the back yard of a two-level house. All the lights were off. He rushed to the front and found himself on a residential street. Crickets chirped. The wind was calm. So was he. Smiling, he slipped his other arm through the bag and walked down the street.

The Wawa was empty except for the two bald guys in their early twenties growing moss on their chin, the middle-aged guy who could have worked for Wall Street before the recession behind the counter, and the two cops assembling chili dogs at the side counter. Pace double-checked that his automatic handgun was secure behind his back, tucked into his pants under his shirt and jacket, and entered the store. All but the two twenty-year-olds deciding on chips turned to him.

“Evening, sir,” the clerk said from behind the counter.

Pace smiled hello and walked to the refrigerators.

The two cops went back to their chilidogs.

For the last few months, some psycho had been leaving pretty dead girls lying around state parks. A few days ago a picture of the suspect had been posted everywhere. It was fairly generic. White, five-ten, 160 pounds, glasses, brown hair, scruffy, narrow nose, and strong chin. Pace smiled the first time he saw it. If his hair was shorter and he had glasses, he could pass for the psycho. Between that and the fact that the Jimmy’s Chicken House was closed on Wednesday nights, he knew no one would know he robbed it until the morning.

He grabbed a bottle of water from the fridge and brought it to the counter. The clerk rang him up and the cops waited behind him. Smiling, Pace took his water and left the Wawa.

Pace held his cell close to his ear as he walked down a dark farm road.

“I told you not to use that piece of shit car,” Eddie said. “I’m shocked it didn’t blow up.”

“How are you holding up?”

“Just fine. I got our place all nice and cozy. That cash is going to brighten it up more,” Eddie said. “You sure they won’t find us? They can’t be so stupid not to suspect the bartender who quit last month and the manager who quit a few days ago.”

“You used our fake IDs on the lease and bills right?”

“Of course.”

“Then we’re gold.”

“Get here soon, baby. I miss you.”

“I love you,” Pace said. “See you in Philly.”

Three more hours until sunrise. While walking down a wooded road, he noticed a pair of taillights up ahead. He lightened his steps. The man hunched over and worked on a flat tire to the late-model Ford. Pace removed his gun and pressed it to the man’s baseball cap-covered head.

“Don’t move,” Pace said.

“I don’t plan to.”

“That a new tire you just put on?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Finish it.”

The man tightened the bolts and then raised his hands. With his free hand, Pace closed the dark trunk.

“Move slowly to the other side of the street,” Pace said.

“Please mister, you don’t want to take this car.”

The gun cracked the back of the man’s head. He fell to the ground and his glasses landed in the grass.

Pace steered the man’s car onto the Parkway and gunned it to 80 miles per hour. One hand held the steering wheel and the other the cell phone.

“I should be in Philly in two hours, baby,” Pace said.

“Better hurry,” Eddie said. “I’m trying my best to keep it warm but I’m running out of ideas.”

Pace smiled and turned it up to a hundred.

He screamed out and pounded the wheel when he noticed the lights flashing behind him. The Philly Expressway was two exits away. No way could they be after him for the Chicken House robbery. It had to be for speeding. Easing on the gas, he reached into the glove compartment and found the registration and insurance card for Danica Morris. Maybe he could lie his way out of it.

Pace stashed his gun in the bag of cash and pulled over to the side of the road.

The trooper stood with Pace at the rear of the stolen car with his hands on his belt. Pace sweated and smiled.

“I told you I’m bringing this car to Danica in Cape May. The rental she was using broke down,” Pace said.

“And I asked you to open the trunk, sir,” the trooper said.

Pace shook his head and found the key on the key ring. The quicker he can shake him off the quicker he can feel Eddie’s strong arms around him. The trunk opened and released a putrid smell. A naked woman in her twenties with multiple stab wounds lay inside.

He thought of mentioning that it wasn’t his car, but he’d already said that. Danica Morris was probably in the trunk. He could say he stole it from someone, but he didn’t think the guy would believe him.

The trooper slammed Pace to the ground, cuffed him, and read him his rites. He then called for back up and said, “I found that missing Morris girl. Possibly the State Park Killer too.”

Pace tightened his eyes and banged his head on the asphalt. Nope, Pace doubted anyone was going to believe what he had to say.

M.E. Purfield is the author of the Miki Radicci urban noir psychic fantasy series and various young adult novels. He’s had fiction in Broken Pencil, Literary Hatchet, and Akashic Books’ Mondays are Murder. You can find him at mepurfield.com.

This article originally appeared in the Feb. 24, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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