Pulp Fiction style entry for Short Shots contest.
Leon saw the car coming a block away. To him it represented the inevitable destiny of one stuck in a rut so deep, there was simply no hope of ever getting out. The car-splashed puddle covered him with a warm, gritty and oddly reassuring blanket of reality. It was his daily dose of life saying, “This one’s for you, Leon.”
The other bus-people looked at him before turning away in unsuccessful attempts to hide their laughter. He pulled his collar up around his neck and turtled his way deeper into the suit. Leon hated being Leon.
Overcrowded commuter buses and a one-pillow bedroom served as bookends to his daily routine of a dull job and non-existent social life. Weekly, one-hour therapy sessions represented nearly all of his interpersonal interactions. His therapist had been attempting to get him to go out more; try new things. Leon demurred citing his fear of all things new, outdoors or having to do with other people. Today’s session had been more of the same. After hearing several suggestions, Leon agreed that a hobby might do some good. They had settled on creative writing. It would be a way for Leon to create a world he could explore from the safety of his apartment.
Today, as he stood wetly waiting for the bus, he looked down at his plastic bag of “starter” kit. It consisted of a writing pad and a box of pencils. Tonight he was to write a page of something; anything. The plan was to write one full page a day for the next week.
With its predictable disregard for any published schedule, the bus finally arrived. The door opened to a frog-faced driver with a “correct change only” glare. Leon apologetically swiped his monthly pass and made his way down the urine-coated aisle. The only open seat, a sliver of cushion next to a hugely obese man dressed as a woman. He-she appeared to have bountiful breasts, hairy legs and a cheek-mole the size of a quarter. Leon slid in next to the human airbag wishing that he could be as interesting as his seat-mate. No way; his rut was too deep.
Three transfers later found Leon walking down the cracked sidewalk illuminated by the crime-friendly dim streetlights of his rundown neighborhood. He watched his feet as they carried him to his apartment amongst apartments; each differentiated only by the type of mostly dead plant outside each door.
Leon placed his pencils and pad on the dining table and then spent the next hour in the general area doing everything he could find to do that didn’t involve writing. Eventually, he ran out of stalling activities and sat down to do battle, armed with only a number two Ticonderoga.
Writing turned out to be harder than he had anticipated. In under a minute, the “block” gripped him. He stood and walked around the apartment trying to get the creative juices flowing. Instead he re-entered the low orbit around the table. With a conscious effort, he broke away and went to look out his front window. Maybe there was inspiration in the damp darkness of a litter-strewn street. His gaze settled on a car parked a short distance down. It was one of those big cars from the 50’s. Its gleaming black paint job stood out in a neighborhood of rusted sedans and broken hood ornaments. Leaning against a fender was a tall, dark-haired beauty dressed completely in black leather. She was tossing a set of keys up in the air and catching them. Her red lipsticked mouth drew him in. She was dangerous, erotic and completely terrifying. That’s when it happened; Staring directly back at Leon, she mouthed his name!
Leon jumped back as if he had been slapped hard. What the hell just happened? Who was that woman? What was she doing out there? Why was she calling his name?
This was an outside-of-the-envelope event for Leon. He didn’t know how to react. Should he be frightened or flattered? Should he call the police or maybe take another look? In the end, he settled for double checking the locks on his front door before retreating to the imagined safety of sleep. It was slow in coming as he realized what he was feeling.
Leon was excited.
There was no sign of the car the next morning as he headed out to redo another day. Leon began to think of the whole event as just an illusion brought on by his feeble attempt at writing. Maybe there was a car and a woman, but there was no way she was looking up at him. His entire life to date had been a celebration of anonymity. Coworkers he had sat next to for years barely knew his name. Yes, this had definitely been a case of imagination run wild. Leon shuffled invisibly down the street, eventually taking his place in line waiting with the rest of the bus-people.
The Mercury got there first.
Leon stood there too stunned to feel anything. It was the car from the night before. Behind the wheel was the leather clad bad-girl classic, sporting a broad smile and perfectly straight, white teeth framed by glossy red lips. The big black machine rumbled slowly along the line of gawkers, stopping when the front door was alongside Leon.
All eyes were on the big black land-yacht as the passenger side door was flung open. Leaning over towards the door, she looked directly at Leon and said, “Get in.”
Under normal conditions, this was not the type of invitation Leon would look upon as an opportunity. In fact, he was terrified of both the car and its front-seated seductress. His life revolved around flying under the radar. The sudden attention from the behemoth of a car and its driver made Leon feel as if his cloak of invisibility had suddenly been yanked away; leaving him naked for the entire world to see.
His first impulse was to act as if he hadn’t noticed the car or its driver. He casually glanced around at the other passengers hoping that the scene would inexplicably return to mud puddles and late buses. Not likely, he thought noticing that everyone was looking at him.
His world had shrunk to two choices. He could continue to be ogled by the line of bus-people or he could trade it all in for the equivalent of door number three: the unknown that waited inside the gaping mouth of the car’s open door. He piled into the front seat. Still afraid of the woman, he looked back out at those left behind. He could see it in the eyes of the men. At that moment, they wanted to be him. They wanted to be Leon. He settled back in the ample seat as the barely harnessed horsepower rumbled away from the curb.
They cruised along for a couple of blocks in silence. Leon could feel the woman looking over at him from time to time. He tried to sit up a little taller and not shake so openly. Finally, a surprisingly deep and sultry voice said, “Hi Leon. My name is Opal. It’s nice to finally meet you.”
The voice somehow unlocked a part of Leon that he didn’t know existed. She had not made a mistake. He was actually the one she was looking for. That meant Leon was someone. For the first time in his life, he relished the recognition. Something akin to self confidence began to creep into his world.
“How do you know my name?” Leon was mildly surprised by the lack of wavering in his voice.
She looked over at him and smiled. “We don’t have time for that right now. You and I have a job to do.”
His heart jumped at the implication. “A job to do,” sounded dangerous, and she needed him to get it done! His sense of worth took a mighty leap before his old companion, low self esteem, pushed it aside with, “I think you have the wrong guy. Maybe you should just pull over and let me out.”
“No can do, Big Guy. This thing we gotta do is not optional. It needs to get done and you are the one that’s going to help me do it,” she said with a smile aimed right at his heart. Leon could feel himself falling hard.
After a few more blocks, they pulled into a gas station with a small mini-mart. Opal reached over the back of the seat and pulled out a black leather twin to her own jacket. She tossed it to Leon. “Grab us a couple of beers while I fill her up.”
Leon stepped out of the car and casually pulled on the jacket. He could see the eyes of the other customers looking at him with envy. He felt like one of the cool guys from back in his high school days. He reached for the sunglasses he somehow knew were in the coat pocket and slipped them on as he strutted towards the store. At the door, he looked back to see her blow him a kiss. He caught it mid-flight, offering her a wink in return. He hoped it looked as cool as he pictured it.
He didn’t know how or why but for the moment, it felt good to be him. It felt good to be Leon.
In the mini-mart, people actually moved aside as he walked down the aisles. Their eyes were missing the usual contempt he was familiar with. Instead, the looks were cautious; as if he were someone to be wary of.
Leon liked the feeling. He felt himself taking on the persona others thought they saw. Damn right, he thought. You all had better be careful. There is a new sheriff in town and his name is Leon.
He bought the beer and walked back out to the car. She was there waiting, leaning on the fender and tossing the keys up and down. With a flick of her wrist, she sent them Leon’s way. He caught them with unfamiliar cat-like reflexes. Responding to a nod of Opal’s head, he went around and climbed behind the wheel.
He barely had the key in the ignition before the big black beast roared to life, impatient to get going. Through his hands and arms, he could feel the power of the car pumping him up, filling out the leather jacket. He rolled down the window and hung his elbow out as they peeled away from the pumps.
For the first time ever, Leon felt alive; a participating part of his environment. The doormat that had been Leon was long gone. From now on, things were going to be different.
He looked over at Opal. “Tell me about this job you want us to do.”
Opal smiled and said cryptically, “We’re busting a guy out of prison.”
It sounded dangerous. Leon smiled. “Who’s the guy we’re busting out.”
The investigating officer stood next to the dining room table and said, “So the tenant, Mr. Leon Costello, simply disappeared? How long would you say he has been missing?”
“It’s hard to say Officer. He mostly stayed to himself. I wouldn’t even have noticed he was gone but he missed his rent payment last week. He has never done that before. When I came in, everything was just as you see it. It looks as if he just got up one day and left.”
The officer took note of the dirty dishes in the sink; spoiled food on the counter. Walking to the dining table, he looked down at the writing. The entire pad was completely filled. Flipping back to the last page, he read …Opal slid over to Leon, her arm slipping around behind his neck. She leaned over and put her lips to his ear and whispered, “Why baby, you’re the guy we’re busting out. It’s you, Leon.”
Word count 1998