And Roscoe thought no AC was a problem
By J.M. Robison
Roscoe drummed fingers on the hot exterior of his rust-spotted Geo Metro door along with the rock and roll on the radio. The sweltering, dry heat of a Utah summer pounded agonizing fire through all the windows, a breeze trickling in just enough to cool his sunburned arm resting on his open driver window. A new AC unit ran about $1000, but the 2003 hunk-a-junk only scored a worth of $500 even with a tank full of gas. The best he could do was sell it for a laugh. Or donate it to a charity for the poor. Which means he'd end up back with it when he went looking for his next car.
A car to his right signaled to pull in front of him. Before Roscoe could gun it to prevent him from getting in, the car squeezed into the gap.
Rock and roll ended, and Roscoe twisted the radio off when Whitney Houston began screeching about always and love and you, leaving him like Twenty-One Pilots "now I just sit in silence" where he could fully contemplate his discomfort and irritation and Utah's FUCKING STOP AND GO TRAFFIC BECAUSE EVERY ROAD IN THE WHOLE DAMN STATE DECIDED TO SHUT DOWN FOR CONSTRUCTION --
Blip blip beep! Blip blip beep!
Roscoe scowled at his cracked cellphone screen, the number, 00-0000, glowing on the fluid background. That's...not a number, he thought.
"Not today, ISIS." Roscoe punched the red "hang up" rejection button with his finger. Kids these days will never know the satisfaction of picking up a receiver and slamming it down to hang up. Poking a screen, no matter how earnestly endeavored, lacked heroics.
Looking up to see if during the rejection of his call traffic had moved at all, he found, instead, a large white poster pressed against the inside of the back windshield of the car ahead of him.
ANSWER THE PHONE, the poster read.
The 93 degree heat shot down to 36 inside the car. Cold sweat slathered around his chest and shoulders.
"Ha ha," but he put no energy into the laugh. Freaky coincidence. Poster's probably left over from a...a joke on someone.
Blip blip beep! Blip blip beep!
Hands gripping the steering wheel as if wrestling a bull, his wide eyes dropped down to the cup holder, the number 00-0000 glowing so pretty against the spreading blue and orange graphics in the background.
He looked up again to the car, to the ANSWER THE PHONE poster. But now, a woman's head appeared next to the poster, black hair sticking to a sweaty face, mouth gaping as if screaming. Or crying. And maybe it wasn't sweat on her face. Tears tracked black makeup down both cheeks.
Blip blip beep! Blip blip beep!
Sweaty hands dropped his phone into his lap, thumb print smearing across the screen multiple times until it caught the green button and the call time counter started ticking up from zero.
"Hello?" As soon as he said it, he wanted to laugh. He didn't often fall for spammers asking for his debit card.
"We have your mom," responded a male voice. Roscoe suspected a Middle Eastern accent. Maybe it really was ISIS. "Follow us if you want to see her again."
Roscoe looked back up at the car in front of him. The poster had been taken down but the screaming/crying woman's face remained. As he watched, someone in the backseat with her yanked a bag over her head and pulled her down out of sight.
"That's not my mom," Roscoe whispered into the phone, breath robbed by fear and confusion.
The Middle Eastern man hung up.
Traffic finally spun up and moved, but Roscoe's jello leg couldn't push the accelerator. The car ahead of him -- a red Mitsubishi with Utah plates -- sped up and stopped with the traffic again. Then started forward again at a slow roll, promising rush hour would thin soon and the Mitsubishi would vanish.
He speed dialed his mom.
"Hi Ross," said her bright voice. "I'm glad you called. I was just about-- "
"Phew, Mom, I just had the scariest thing happen to me. I'm glad you're okay."
"Well, of course I'm okay. I'm with your sister. Ruby, say hi to Roscoe."
Mumbles in the background confirmed Ruby's denial to saying anything to Roscoe.
"Anyway, Ross, why were you scared for me?"
"I got this weird call from a number with all zeros. I declined answering it, but when I looked up, the car in front of me had a poster that read, 'Answer the phone.' Freaky, right?"
"Well then the all zero phone number called again. I let it ring, but then a woman's head appeared in the back window. She was crying or screaming and looking right at me as if she needed help. Thinking to help her in some way, I answered the phone. Some Middle Eastern guy said, 'we have your mom. Follow us if you want to see her again.' And then hung up! Wow. I've never been so scared. I'm shaking all over. Ha ha." Roscoe waited to hear his mom's thoughts, but dead silence filled the ear piece. He looked at the phone to make sure the call was still rolling. "Mom?"
"What did you think of what happened to me?"
"Mom! You're freaking me out!"
"Sorry, Ross. It's...Ruby, can you go outside real quick? I need to speak with Ross alone."
Roscoe's heart pounded in his throat while he listened to a door in the background shut. Traffic moved forward again, and he gunned it too hard, still nose-to-butt behind the red Mitsubishi.
"Ross, I...I don't know how to say this."
"Say what, Mom. I'm scared right now, and you're not helping."
"Okay. Are you still with that car with the woman?"
"Ya. But traffic is thinning."
"Stay with it."
"Because...because that's your mother inside."
"This isn't funny, Mom."
"She is also my sister."
"You were born to Alexis Rose Tippets. You know my maiden name is Tippets. My sister worked for the FBI. Thirty-two years ago she fell in love with a soldier during her tour in Pakistan. She gave birth to you. But because she was deep into her FBI mission, she couldn't just quit or pass it on to someone else. She asked me to care for you. I did, but told me never to tell anyone you were from her. I haven't. I haven't had contact with her since. The FBI informed the family she had died. Now I suspect it was faked to keep her identity protected. What did the woman in the car look like?"
Tears blurred Roscoe's eyes, distorting his known past, present, and future. "Uh....curly black hair. Everything else was covered in makeup."
"I could believe that is her. The man on the phone was Middle Eastern?"
"Pakistan, probably. Ross, follow that car, but keep a safe distance. I don't know why they have her, but they are luring you in, too. I don't want you hurt. I also don't want to lose her. Where are you now?"
"I-15 Northbound. Almost to Ogden."
"I'll head out now. If you are able, text me where you finally end up."
Roscoe sobbed, his voice broken and wailing, confused, hurt, scared, and ruined. "Mom, call the police!"
But she'd already hung up.
Roscoe threw his phone back in the sticky cup holder, both hands clenching his sweaty hair. What the fuck! What the fuck! What the fuck! Before he had time to decide if any of this was real, traffic thinned and the red Mitsubishi sped away. He didn't believe any of it was real, but the only way to prove it to himself was to. Follow. The. Car.
He stomped the gas, the car lugging forward from 0 to 5 in about the same amount of seconds. The Mitsubishi slowed, probably realizing what car he was driving. Roscoe stayed with the car. It merged all the way right and took the 12th street exit. It obeyed all the stoplights and speed limits, looking exactly like every other car driving toward Ogden Canyon. Roscoe tore up the skin on his palms from twisting the steering wheel, eyes glued to the back windshield of the Mitsubishi, but the woman's head never appeared.
headed up canyon he texted. He briefly considered putting his phone up to his ear so he'd draw the attention of Ogden police, but there was no telling what the red Mitsubishi would do to that woman in the backseat if cops followed them. Better just to find out what the hell was going on, first. He might die today. His stress-fevered brain couldn't decide if that bothered him yet.
Zooming into the mouth of the canyon, the Mitsubishi traveled up and up and up, finally turning right onto a road. Signs called it Aspen Loop. The trees warned there would be no hope of anyone finding him.
Aspen Loop Roscoe texted, then shoved the phone under the front seat because the Mitsubishi had turned off the road onto a country bumper, and parked.
Roscoe kept his distance and stopped as well. He set his hand on the door handle to get out, and three guns jumped out of the Mitsubishi, pointed at him.
"Get out of the car!" They all shouted, running at him.
"Aaaah!" Roscoe covered his head with his arms as if that would protect him, but it only offered nice grab handles to the men who gripped his arms and yanked him out of the car, dragging him down to the sharp pine needles spread across the ground.
"You've got the wrong guy!"
Roscoe looked up. The woman jumped out of the car, her face pale. A knee-length black skirt and dirty white blouse blended her curves together so she could have been either chunky or skinny. Several runs in her nylons exposed pale skin. "He's not my son. You've got the wrong guy."
Someone yanked Roscoe up. Fisting his hair, a cold barrel stabbed his jugular. "Then we'll shoot him. What do you say?"
A tiny gasp escaped the woman, then she composed herself and hardened her face. "He is not my son. Killing him will do nothing."
"We don't have to kill him to cut him open, but we'll kill him if he isn't your son."
"Cut me open?" Roscoe protested, wriggling his pinned shoulders in a useless attempt to fight. "Why? Who are you?"
Someone pressed a knee into his lower back. Roscoe pounded his feet into the dirt.
Police sirens cut through the dense trees, and everything stopped for just a moment.
"What do we do?" asked one of the men.
"Take him with us!" another shouted.
Roscoe's body left the ground, but since he now had more space to move, he coiled and sprung his body all around, managing to get an arm free and punched one of them in the groin. The woman slammed into another man, and Roscoe hit the dirt. Worried they'd shoot him any second now, he covered his head and ran back to his car to hide behind it.
Police cars screamed into the tight enclosure, right behind Mom's silver Audi.
She jumped out of the car, all five police officers jumping out of theirs, screaming, "Stop running! Get your hands up!"
Mom complied. It looked like she had drawn the cops up here on a high sped chase. Suppose that was quicker than cold-calling 911. But now the police saw the scene ahead of them, of three men with rifles scattering into the trees and a woman in a skirt standing up from the ground, dusting herself off.
Two officers cautiously approached Mom, Roscoe witnessing the whole thing from the hood of his car, rising cautiously from where he'd crouched to hide.
Mom let them handcuff her and escort her back into one of their cars, the other three approaching the woman in the skirt who flashed them an FBI badge.
Roscoe couldn't watch his reality shred anymore. He squatted down, put his back to the tire, and sobbed into both knees, interspersed with manic laughing. To think he was bitching earlier about the heat.
A team of FBI arrived with the setting sun. Roscoe watched with numb detachment as they spoke at length to the woman in the skirt, inventoried the Mitsubishi, and as they were walking over to presumably talk to Roscoe, the skirted woman stopped them and walked over herself.
"Hi, Roscoe," she said, nervous for an FBI agent who bum-rushed a rifle-wielding man without fear. Her smile trembled. "I'm Alexis Tippets. Heidi's sister." Her smile dropped. Tilting her head back, her eyes squinted in guilt. "Can I sit?" she indicated the hood Roscoe leaned against.
When he did nothing to concede or object, she walked over in high-heels, high-heels, and leaned against it, though with plenty of space between them.
She repeated a lot of the same things Mom said over the phone about her fling with a solider, the FBI, and a 32 year long mission to root out American threats in Pakistan.
"What Heidi did not know," she said, sighing heavily, "was the micro chip I inserted in your left butt cheek just a few days after you were born."
Roscoe pressed his lips into a thin, angry line, expecting nothing less than "alien intervention" for her reason for the chip he swore he could feel as he stood there.
Alexis spoke with her hands, the fearless FBI agent not looking at the man she claimed as her son. "This micro-chip contained all the intel I had gathered on Pakistan so far. I felt they were starting to suspect me, despite my crazy-in-love-soon-to-be-mother I portrayed while living there. So when you were born...I inserted the micro chip. It got the intel safely out of Pakistan. I've spread micro chips like that all over the world so when my mission was over, I could collect them all and have all the proof of what Pakistan was doing." She dug a shallow trench in the dirt with her heel, black curly hair swamping her face. "My mission was drawing to a close, so I collected all of them. Except for yours. But Pakistan finally discovered my ruse and captured me, took the chips, and destroyed them, discovering where I'd hid the last chip." She eyed him with pity. "And so, today..." she trailed off.
No more needed to be said, to be explained or justified. But he sure as hell wasn't going to answer anymore 00-0000 numbers, even if Jesus himself lounged in the back seat of the car ahead of him.
"So I guess you'll be wanting the chip back," he said, anger deflating out of him. Now that he was older, finding out he'd been adopted fell far below the shock of what he owed in taxes every year. He couldn't care less who called him son. Both of them could send him Christmas presents. Maybe he could convince his real mom to buy him a new car. You know. To make up for being away his entire life.
"Yes. As soon as possible."
"You know, I think you put that chip in my ass on purpose. So knowing every time I pooped my diaper, I'd be smearing shit all over Pakistan."
Alexis snorted, suppressed it, and burst out laughing. "No, Roscoe. It was the meatiest part of your body so you wouldn't feel it when you got older."
"So what kind of info am I actually carrying in my ass? Top governmental secrets about Uranus?"
Alexis spun around and dropped her arms onto the hood, hiding her face and her laughs in her hands without success. "Roscoe..." She swept tears from her eyes with delicate fingers. "It's going to be a joy getting to know you."
"You better start, because Pakistan intelligence has been very intimate with me the last 32 years. In fact, you're a little behind."