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by Seuzz
Rated: ASR · Short Story · Crime/Gangster · #2234495
Was it only bad luck that the hitchhiker brought with him?
Death—

Albert Patrick Death; "Bert" to his friends.

—shivered inside his coat. A man with a name like "Death" doesn't have much luck, and this coat, lifted at a burger joint two miles back, had turned out to lack both buttons and a lining. He would have been better off stealing a hat, for the night breeze stung his ears and brow. At least, at twenty-three, he still had a full head of hair.

The highway cut along the forested hillside before him; moonlight glazed the damp road like silver. He was aiming to strike an abandoned motor court, where he could bed down in an old cabin. A man should have plans beyond the night, but Bert had learned not to improvise farther than he could see. He would take what he could get.

He would take a ride, for instance, and as headlights swept up behind he put out a thumb.

To his surprise, the Packard stopped. He gaped, then ran up and jumped into the front. "Gee, thanks, mister. It's powerful cold out, and—"

He caught his breath when he saw the driver. She was a blonde, with dark eyes set in a very white face. He felt himself staring as she accelerated back onto the road.

"Um," he said, and swallowed. "Well, like I was saying, thanks, ma'am. It's powerful cold out—"

"You already said that."

Bert thought he detected an East Coast twang in her voice—Boston, maybe.

"Well, it's powerful cold," he muttered helplessly, and he shifted in his seat. The Packard was chilly, but at least there wasn't a wind. "Um, you don't have to take me far. There's a motor court—"

"Can you drive?"

"Ma'am?"

"Can you drive?"

Bert's jaw fell open. "Well ... Sure. I—"

But she was already braking. "Get behind the wheel," she said. "You drive."

Bert didn't move until she had come around and opened his door. A prickling puzzlement was giving way to fear as he shifted over behind the wheel.

"As I was saying, I ain't goin' that far," he murmured. "Just to—"

"You'll go as far as I tell you," she said. "There'll be a sawbuck at the end."

"Oh, you don't have to—" Bert started to yammer before he could stop himself. But the words died when he saw the glint of metal in her hand. He knew nothing about guns, but he did know when one was pointed at his heart.

"Wh— What's the gag?"

"No gag."

"I wouldn't hurt you, lady! Honest, you done me a—"

"Shut up." They drove for half a mile before she added, almost as an afterthought. "You're doing me a swell turn."

"Yeah?"

"That's right. There'll be a sawbuck for you when I tell you to stop. Two of them if we meet a cop, and you tell him we're married. Otherwise—" She gestured with the gun.

"Us? Married?"

"That's right." She covered the gun with her other hand. "Just remember that, and remember what I've got here and where it's pointed."

"Lady, if you want a husband that bad—"

"We're going to meet my husband," she said fiercely, "and some of his friends. I just don't want any complications along the way."

Bert felt his bowels loosen. He pulled first one hand and then the other off the sweat-slick steering wheel, and wiped them on the front of his shirt.

Neither spoke for almost ten miles. Nor did they meet any cops.

Then the woman shouted, "Watch out!" and Bert swerved away from a lumpy black something, like a log, stretched across the middle of the road. The Packard bounced to a stop, and shuddered.

Bert only had time to suck in a sharp breath before the door was wrenched open. A strong arm hauled him out by the collar, and a heavy fist knocked him to the ground. "You love your wife?" a guttural voice demanded.

"My what?"

"Your wife, you damned— Do you love her?"

Bert almost denied being married. It was the truth, and these weren't cops, and he didn't feel he owed his kidnapper anything. But when she cried out, then cried out again, a shabby kind of chivalry overwhelmed him. "Sure, mister, I love her— my wife."

"Then you don't want her getting killed."

A face—inscrutable in the dark, but wide and flat with thick lips—pressed close to Bert's.

"We're taking her with us. A hostage, see? Any cops find you, you tell 'em we took the right-hand fork up ahead. The right fork. Understand? Or we'll croak her. Understand?"

Bert nodded, but the figure slapped him to the ground anyway. When he looked up again, tail lights were just vanishing around a curve.

Bert cinched up his coat again, and limped down the highway.

The police caught up to him twenty minutes later, and asked him about some escaped convicts. He told them what had happened. They asked him which fork the Packard had gone down.

Bert had never had much luck, and his company, he felt in an obscure way, had jinxed the woman who had picked him up. Before answering, he peered with his mind's eye down each fork, to see which, if either, led to a happy ending. But the moon was down, even in his imagination.

"Left," he murmured at last, for that answer had the virtue of truth.

The detectives radioed a warning ahead, and took him down the left fork to the next town, where he flinched at the bullet-riddled Packard that was waiting.

Fortune had not been kind to Ruth Nagle. Her convict husband: shot as he clambered a prison wall. She herself: a stranger to his fellow escapees. All of them, uncomprehending, meeting by accident and with mutual suspicion where they had only meant to keep an appointment.

It was too bad for them all that Death—

Albert Patrick Death; "Bert" to his friends.

—had been at the wheel.

Prompt: "Death Thumbs a Ride." Additionally, it repurposes the plot of Emile C. Tepperman's "Taking No Chances," but with the POV changed to a new protagonist.
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