“Is there a problem, Officer?” I said in my well-rehearsed innocent voice. I was not sure why I had been stopped. I had been driving under the speed limit, as I always did when I had a body in the trunk.
The officer shone his flashlight in my face. “License and registration,” he said.
I reached over to the glove compartment and got out the envelope with the registration. The gun was safely out of sight in the back of the compartment. I fished out my wallet and handed him my license. The trooper took the registration and the license and disappeared to his cruiser to check me out with headquarters. I was not worried. If you are a professional hitman, you don't do your business in a stolen car or with an expired driver's license.
The trooper came back and handed me my license and registration. Then he said, “How do you like driving this Bugatti?”
That was a pretty weird question. What the hell did that mean? “I like it just fine,” I said.
“The reason I asked is that I own an identical year and model. Great car, except for a couple of minor problems.”
“Minor problems?” I said. I was not sure where this was going, but a little alarm bell had started ringing in the back of my head.
“Yup. The reason I pulled you over was that one of your taillights is out. I won't even give you a warning, seeing as I've had the same thing happen to me a couple of times. That is, before I figured out how to fix the problem.”
“Fix the problem?” I said. Now the alarm bell in my head was getting disturbingly louder.
“Come on back and I'll show you,” he said.
What could I do but comply? I got out and followed him to the rear of the car, well illuminated by the cruiser's headlights.
“There,” he said, pointing at the left taillight that was unlit.
“I'll stop at the next gas station and get it fixed,” I said. “Thanks for letting me know about it.”
“No need for that,” the trooper said. “Just pop the trunk, and I'll show you how to fix it yourself. There's this wire that comes loose sometimes, particularly if you put something heavy in the trunk.”
I thought of my loaded Beretta, sitting in the back of the glove compartment, and said, “I'll go pop the trunk latch.”
I turned and walked slowly back toward the front of the car, working out every move ahead of time. Open the car door. Lean over as if trying to find the latch lever. Reach over, pop open the glove compartment. Grab the gun. Flip the safety. And come up with it pointed at the trooper. What I did next, I could work out once I had his gun in my other hand.
I was almost to the driver-side door when I heard the trunk pop open. Almost instantly, I heard the trooper's voice. It was no longer friendly and helpful. “Stop right there! Place your hands on the top of the car. Take one step back. Any false move and I'll fire.”
I did as he ordered. I had no choice. I listened as he called for backup. This trooper may have been Mr. Helpful, but he was no rookie. No way was he going to take the chance of handcuffing me by himself.
I turned my head and could see him there, silhouetted in the cruiser headlights, a deadly statue with a revolver held steadily in both hands, and pointed at my body.
“I should tell you about the other problem with this Bugatti,” he said in a voice cold as dry ice. “If you push the trunk lid to the right and press down hard on it, it pops the lid.”
As I stood there with my arms starting to ache, I had time for thinking tradeoffs. If I made a break for it, I would definitely absorb a few pieces of lead. If I stayed put, it looked like big time in the slammer. No jury was going to be sympathetic, considering the age and sex of my latest target. My only bargaining chip was the name of the man who had hired me. But if I turned him in, he had connections enough to guarantee I came out of prison feet first.
Suddenly the night was full of flashing blue lights. Doors slammed. The crunch of footsteps came nearer. And voices.
“What’s this all about?”
“Take a look in the trunk.”
“Jesus Christ, she can’t have been more than eighteen.”
“Did he try and make a break for it?”
“Unfortunately, no. Cuff him up. By the book.”
Two men grabbed me, forced my hands behind my back, and put on the cuffs. They were not gentle.
Sitting in the back seat of the cruiser on the long ride to hopeless, I had time for some remembering. Over a year ago, I had received two letters from Bugatti requesting I come in to my dealer to have minor problems fixed. One had to do with taillights, the other with the trunk latch. I had read the letters and thrown them in the trash. Why waste time over such trivialities?
The last half of each of these letters had been a typical PR effort to turn a manufacturing fuck-up into something positive. It went on and on about how much Bugatti cared about the safety of its customers. I could recall the final sentence almost verbatim.
If you bring your vehicle in to have every outstanding recall repaired, we can guarantee you a trouble-free driving experience.
About the Author
Stan Dryer is the pen name for an author who lives in southern New Hampshire. He has been writing fiction for over 60 years. Prior to 1990, he published 17 short stories in magazines that included Playboy, Cosmopolitan, and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. He has now returned to fiction writing after a gap of 30 years recently had seven stories accepted for publication in such magazines as Mystery Weekly Magazine and Adelaide Literary Magazine. He has just completed a humorous mainstream mystery novel. For more information on his writing, visit www.standryer.com.