fiction by M.E. Purfield
Gussie Dietz drove Pete Carr’s “baby” white Firebird up New Jersey Parkway on their way to Montclair, on the promise she would take good care of it. The young FBI agent coasted at 70 mph through the isolated night as the full moon hung bright. Her new engagement ring gleamed from the dash lights. Pete lounged next to her, eyes closed, humming a tune. She glanced at the architect and smiled at him, no matter how bad he sounded. He still had many good things going for him.
“If you’re not going to sleep then you can drive.”
“I don’t mind,” he said, smiling. “It will help you work off the nervous energy of meeting my parents.”
Ultra-conservative and patriotic parents, she thought.
Gussie laughed. “I’m sure you don’t mind me driving you around.” Her smile faded. “Besides. I’m not nervous about your parents. They’re clean.”
A black Rav4 sped up and cut into their lane. Out of habit, Gussie read the plate over in her mind. KG 494.
“Like me,” Pete asked.
“I wouldn’t have said yes, let alone gotten involved with you, if you weren’t. I love my job too much.”
“You paranoid government officials.” Pete straightened, grabbed a bottle of water, and swigged from it. “How are you doing in the new field office?”
Gussie shrugged and was about to respond when she noticed a red dot from the rear of the Rav4. Before she could scream, a bullet smashed into the windshield and through Pete’s skull. Gussie slammed the brakes and jerked the wheel to the right.
Asphalt burned rubber. Air screamed. Reality spun. The car stopped.
Gussie gripped the steering wheel. Don’t turn! Pete’s dead. He has to be after a shot like that. Blood and feces tainted the air. Her heart and throat tightened, pushing a sob out. No. Not yet. Later, later, oh, fuck. Later! KG 494. They were on the expressway and miles from an exit. Gussie shifted into reverse and screeched onto the asphalt. Lights off, she raced up the parkway.
As she repeatedly swallowed to keep the bile down, her mind scanned through Pete’s mundane life, all that he told and showed her in pictures, all that she observed through his background check. Was there something that she missed?
A pair of red lights appeared. Gussie read the license plate lit by the designer frame. KG 494. High beams exploded. The gas pedal smashed to the floor. The Firebird collided with the Rav4’s bumper. Space grew between them and both cars swerved for control. The Rav4’s rear window slid down and revealed the red laser. Automatic rifle fire spat out and penetrated the Firebird’s front, popping the hood and slamming it over the spiderwebbed windshield. Steam blew out, the engine ground, and the car slowed. Gussie straightened, screamed out, “Fuck!” and pounded the wheel as the Bird stopped on the shoulder.
She grabbed her bag, double-checked the loaded 9mm inside, and rushed out of the car. Not five feet away from it, she turned back, Pete’s name whining from her. After a deep breath, she ran after the Rav4.
Alone on the side of the parkway, the sparse lights and signs breaking the bitter darkness, Gussie, between bouts of sobbing, called her field office. With a steady voice, she requested a trace on the Rav4’s plate. The car was reported stolen earlier that day from Montclair, N.J. Just as the agent asked if Gussie was all right, an 18-wheeler stopped to give her a ride.
Gussie hopped off at the Cheesequake rest stop and thanked the driver. Although few cars were parked around the building serving various fast foods, Gussie favored the ones left on the perimeter. As she hoped, Rav4 KG 494 was there. Gun drawn, she approached and found it unlocked. No weapon, no sign of occupation, no driver.
Slouching in the front seat, Gussie closed her eyes, called her office, and reported Pete’s death.
The sun rose over the Cheesequake rest stop and the crime investigators. Gussie sat in the back of the open ambulance with Assistant Director Kahn, a stout man in a too-tight suit. After he comforted and reprimanded her, they discussed who would want to kill Pete.
Just as they concluded with no leads or ideas, the techs found a foreign print in the back of the stolen Rav4, just on the side of the door by the plastic trim. The name Anton Bergen came up. Bergen was wanted for domestic terrorism, responsible for bombing federal buildings across the country. But why kill Pete Carr? He had never designed a government building or ever worked for the government.
“Can we keep his name out of the press for a while?” Gussie asked Kahn. “At least for 24 hours?”
Through a few central informants and an unpaid parking ticket under a false name, Gussie found Bergen’s latest address by mid-afternoon. Bergen wasn’t in his one-bedroom apartment close to Journal Square in Jersey City, but signs of occupation were obvious, unlike what she found stashed behind the ceiling tiles.
Gussie Dietz rang the bell to Mr. and Mrs. Carr’s huge Montclair house. Kids raced their bikes down the wide streets, butterflies fluttered over the roses along the side of the house, and the lawn still released a fresh-cut scent.
The servant showed her to the living room, where the old couple sat in front of the fireplace. Both sipped whiskey and read classic literature. Mrs. Carr’s face was peaceful, while her husband seemed angry at his large tome. When Gussie entered the room, their expressions flipped to surprise.
“Sorry I’m late,” Gussie said.
Mr. and Mrs. Carr exchanged horrified glances. Mrs. Carr covered a sob and whispered: “No.”
“Don’t you want to know where Peter is?” Gussie asked, fighting to keep her voice steady.
Mr. Carr stood, dropping his book, and searched.
Gussie took out her ID and gun and made her arrest for the murder of Peter Carr, reading them their rights.
“Th-that’s insane,” Mr. Carr said.
Mrs. Carr cried harder, folding in half, and almost fell out of the chair.
“Anton Bergen didn’t trust his clients,” Gussie said. “He recorded all his meetings on digital audio files. Seems he works for you a lot. Two fine upstanding rich Christian patriots who wanted an FBI agent killed for the cause. But you didn’t think your son loved the agent enough to let her drive his beloved Firebird.”
Mrs. Carr finally fell to the floor, like a sack of skin, and sobbed. Mr. Carr moved to her, then stopped, unsure.
Gussie took out her handheld and signaled the agents to come in and finish the arrest. The couple was cuffed and brought outside for the neighbors to gawk at. Gussie sat down in Mrs. Carr’s chair, picked up the drink, and took a sip. The agents moved around her as she stared at a picture of Pete on the wall and tried to hold back the tears just a little bit longer.
M. E. Purfield is the noir fantasy writer of the Miki Radicci series, Blunt Force Kharma series, and currently the Cities That Eat Islands trilogy. He has had fiction in Unwinnable Magazine, Broken Pencil, and Literary Hatchet. This is his second story in The Norwegian American. He lives in Jersey City, N.J., but you can always find him at mepurfield.com.
This article originally appeared in the July 12, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.