Curbside Fiction: The Next Passenger

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(This has become a serial; the first episode can be found here.)

Louis Broderick stopped the black 1987 Chrysler Fifth Avenue when he encountered a red light at the interchange of I-44 and Route 13 in Springfield, Missouri.  It had been a long haul down from Kansas City, and his weariness was nipping at him.  He kept telling himself he only had to endure another forty-five minutes to arrive at his destination.

Sitting here shuttling this dude named Phillip wasn’t what Louis had in mind for today.  Yesterday had been highly stressful with his circuitous high-speed route around downtown Kansas City, being chased by a C-body Plymouth Fury.  Louis’s plans for today were to sleep, get drunk, and find a warm piece of flesh – and not necessarily in that order.  Such was not to be.

Waiting for a seemingly long time for the light to turn green, Louis kept darting glances at the blue Mercury in his rearview mirror.  It had been following him from a distance since they had left Kansas City and Louis rather doubted this was a coincidence; the well-dressed gentleman had warned him he may be followed to his destination.  Phillip was apparently a hot commodity and people had traveled a great distance to have him delivered to a seemingly bizarre location.

Louis kept telling himself he was only doing this to expunge his criminal record.  The well-dressed gentleman had promised that his continued driving services could go toward eradicating all of the various and dubious achievements throughout Louis’s twenty-eight years.  Louis had simply not realized that his misadventure the day before had catapulted him into a much different era of his life, but at this moment he was feeling like an indentured servant to this nameless well-dressed gentleman who had to be a part of some classified, clandestine governmental entity.

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In a perverted way, Louis was feeling like a rider on the Pony Express, that long ago failed business enterprise that had been quickly made obsolete by the telegraph.  The riders and the organization had a grand moment of glory, a moment that faded faster than a comet in a cloudy evening sky.  Yet here Louis was, instead of ferrying letters and packages he was ferrying people.  Yesterday he was hauling a mobster’s mistress and today he was carting this guy who had some juicy morsel of information about a family in England named Noonan.  How long could he last doing this?  Despite the international element, Louis wasn’t thinking he was any sort of James Bond; rather, he was feeling more like Hoke, the chauffeur from the movie Driving Miss Daisy.

The blast of the car horn and Phillip’s simultaneously hitting him on the arm startled Louis out of his dozing, filling him with a large shot of adrenaline.  Looking at the Mercury, Louis thought okay, dude; it’s time to test your seriousness.

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Turning left onto the ramp for I-44 east, Louis put his foot half-way to the floor.  The Chrysler, with its original 318 cubic inch V8 long gone and replaced by an engine of unknown displacement whose distributor was up front, enthusiastically lunged forward with a firm, confident shift into each higher gear.  Louis had quickly discovered the Fifth Avenue would merrily smoke its rear tires at any more aggressive application of the throttle.

Merging onto I-44, Louis immediately took to the left lane, passing a line of eighteen-wheelers.  Looking in his mirror, Louis could see the blue Cougar trying to catch up.  He was determined to lose them before their final destination could be determined.

Squeezing between two eighteen-wheelers, Louis snaked his way to the Glenstone Avenue interchange.  At the end of the ramp, Louis turned left and scurried to the ramp for I-44 westbound.  As he was merging back onto the interstate, he saw the blue Cougar exit I-44 eastbound at Glenstone.

Louis stayed on I-44 westbound back to Route 13.  Figuring he could elude the persons in the Cougar, Louis went south on Route 13 and turned left on East Kearney Street, one of the alignments of old US 66.  Going east on Kearney, Louis decided to head toward US 65, crossing Glenstone at one of the largest intersections in the city.  Continuing east on Kearney, Louis pulled into the driveway that served Troop D of the Missouri State Highway Patrol.  Louis figured this would be a safe sanctuary for about ten minutes, allowing more distance between him and the Cougar.

Shutting off the Chrysler, Phillip looked annoyed.

“Just when are we going to meet these people from Scotland Yard?  I don’t have all day.”

Louis was rather cranky from being tired.  “No shit.  I don’t care to take all day, either.  We’ll get there when we get there.  I suppose you do want to arrive in one piece?”

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After another eleven minutes of a profound silence, Louis hit the starter.  With an unusually deep and meaningful Na-Rayre-Rayre-Rayre the Chrysler came to life, with a reverberating exhaust note that made several of the highway patrol’s mechanics in the nearby garage stop and take notice.

Easing out of the parking lot, Louis turned left and went the quarter-mile to the US 65 interchange.  Louis turned south onto US 65 for the last leg of his anticipated trip.

The billboards on US 65 were as plentiful and frequent as slats on a picket fence.  Phillip was highly curious with all the billboards for Shoji Tabuchi, Yakov Smirnoff, and Roy Clark.  His bewilderment only heightened when he saw a billboard touting the always mentioned town of Branson as having more theatre seats than New York City.

“What is this Branson?  Why are all these performers out…out here?”  His tone reeked of amusement, condescension, and confusion.

Louis was trying his best to ignore Phillip but didn’t have the willpower.  “Branson happened.  From what I know….”  Louis’s voice was suddenly quite serious.  “Wait a second.  This isn’t good.”

Rapidly approaching from behind was the blue Mercury Cougar.  How did this happen?, Louis wondered.  Thinking about his alternatives, Louis realized his options were rather limited.  He was on a four-lane highway in hilly terrain with a moderate amount of traffic.  There was no good way to elude them, so only one real option existed:  He had to outrun them.

Seeing the Cougar continue its pounce toward them, Louis jammed his foot to the firewall of the Chrysler.  The secondaries on the carburetor were open instantly, welcoming their sudden awakening.  The Fifth Avenue squatted down in the rear, picking up speed from the sixty miles-per-hour Louis had been driving.  Phillip could feel the torque of the Chrysler V8 push his head back into the red velour seats.

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The speed of the Chrysler kept climbing, accelerating with the urgency and seamlessness of a jet about to take flight.  Louis was soon topping 100 miles per hour with no signs of the Mopar V8 even starting to breathe hard.  As the skips of the centerline, with their ten foot length and thirty foot gap, become a solid line Louis was at the height of his game.  As the surroundings kept coming toward them quicker and quicker, Phillip gasped for breath.  Louis was not savoring another Renee type distraction when he had work to do.

At 125 mph, Louis suddenly backed off the throttle when he heard a loud and repetitive click-click-click that was growing in intensity.  Louis soon realized, much to his relief, it was the wires in the wheel covers rattling in their mounts.

Despite this, the Cougar was staying infuriatingly close to them.  At 127 miles per hour, Louis jammed his foot the rest of the way to the floor.  The Chrysler continued its relentless climb in velocity, with the secondaries joining the chorus of wind, tire, and wheel cover noise.

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The Chrysler was the ultimate in high speed composure, with Louis realizing the comfort of its pillow-topped seating surfaces throughly masqueraded his velocity.  Despite the length and steepness of the hills, Louis appreciated how the long grades weren’t scrubbing very much speed off the Chrysler; he concluded whomever had prepped the Chrysler had done a better job with it than the Oldsmobile Delta 88 from yesterday.  He just hoped tomorrow would be much more calm.

Climbing yet another hill in the left lane, a tan Toyota Camry jerked into the right lane in an effort to avoid the Chrysler.  Immediately in front of the Toyota was a rather new Ford pickup pulling a jon-boat on a trailer, its 300 cubic inch straight six yelping for mercy from its load and the grade.  Cars were to the right, the Ford was in front of him, and he was about to run them over…

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Slamming on the brakes, the Chrysler dropped speed like an Olympic powerlifter drops a dumbbell.  Still approaching the Ford too quickly, Louis cut to the left, hitting the grassy median of US 65 at just under eighty miles per hour.  Going around the beleaguered Ford like the rabbit around the hare, the uneven terrain of the median overwhelmed the wire wheel covers on the Chrysler, with them scattering like a sack of marbles dropped on a tile floor.  The Cougar, which had been within pouncing distance of the Fifth Avenue, had one of the freed wheel covers shatter its windshield with a powerful crash as Louis aimed the Fifth Avenue back onto US 65.

Undeterred, Louis kept the hammer down and the Cougar kept charging.  Entering the outskirts of Branson, Louis formulated a new idea on how to end this ordeal.  Blasting into the city limits of Branson at 138 miles per hour, with the Fifth Avenue’s exhaust note roaring off the retaining walls along US 65, Louis was on the lookout for Route 76.  Looking into the distance, the interchange was within eyeshot and rapidly approaching.  Weaving over to the right lane at the last moment, Louis slammed on the Chrysler’s brakes and took the right shoulder of the ramp onto Route 76 westbound, violently shooting past other cars and emerging from his cloud of brake and tire smoke like a phoenix rising from the ashes.  Blasting down the middle turn lane of the three lane Route 76, cars queued at the various signals were honking at Louis with increasing fury and fervor.

Louis still had not succeeded in shaking the Cougar.

A little over a mile down Route 76, Louis had his destination in sight and knew he would need to partake in a huge Hail Mary pass to be successful in his mission.  Cutting the wheel to the right and nailing the throttle, connecting with and ripping off the front bumper of a Subaru Legacy, Louis smoked his white-walled tires through the parking lot, avoiding the parked cars and barely keeping ahead of the relentless Cougar.  Going behind the building, Louis aimed for his target and grimaced mightily.  He knew it would all end in just a moment.

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The wooden walls splintered with a deafening tone and the horses were mightily scared.  Careening into the arena, the Cougar followed.  Cranking the Fifth Avenue’s steering wheel to the right and slamming on the brakes, Louis cut a 180 degree turn at the end of the arena while the Cougar slammed into the chuckwagon.  The roar of disapproval from the 1,500 royally pissed off persons in the audience was accompanied by a barrage of chicken bones and bread rolls being hurled at them.

Louis had plowed into Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede at the height of the mid-day show.  He at least got Phillip to their appointed meeting place.

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As Louis and Phillip, along with the hitmen in the Cougar, were being hauled off by the Taney County Sheriff, accompanied by two representatives from Scotland Yard, Phillip finally calmed down and congratulated Louis on a job well done.

“Young man, I must say you are quite the driver.  I haven’t had a ride quite like that since high school when my best friend owned that old Dodge estate.”

Louis looked a bit confused, but was appreciative of the compliment.

To be continued…

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