Jumper | #2
I was hobbled, scraped and bruised. Phase two of the plan had some, uh, bumps. Literally. I’d gotten the SD card I needed, I’d gotten out of Gateway’s Supermax-level security, I’d busted a roadblock, and I’d jumped from a moving car.
Yeah. I did that.
Thank God I had read a thread on Dark World Forums about the art of jumping out of a moving vehicle. Dozens of people wrote tips, like:
- wait for the right moment and slow the momentum
- Another posted “slower than 35 matters, faster means broken bones and plaster”
- And, you should land on your back, man, arms in, head up, then roll, or you will be rocked
One guy even posted an infographic. Not kidding. The final tip: ‘Remember the mantra – head, arms and hands totally tucked or you’re totally fucked.’
Hackers are curious people, and, on the Dark World Forums, at least one someone has done at least once everything under the sun, including taking a plunge from a moving car.
I’d done it right, but as one guy posted, ‘you will get hurt, the question is just “how hurt?”‘
I was pretty hurt.
I kept my head down as I limped into a gas station.
Not looking up, the gas station clerk said, “Welcome to Quick and Go!”
I hobbled down an aisle, found a disposable razor, went to the restroom and finished shaving my beard, cutting myself twice. Not that you’d notice. With all the road rash, I looked like I had ten shaving accidents.
Then I pulled out my phone, opened the Dark World Forums app and posted “How to tell if you have a concussion?”
I spent a few minutes dabbing at various cuts and scrapes. My phone notified me that my post had a reply. It was, “If you can think straight enough to wonder if you are concussed, you are not concussed.” Then, another user replied to that, saying, “That’s idiotic.” Then, it descended into a familiar flaming pit of insults. Dark World Forums are a lot like Twitter sometimes.
I thought I might be concussed because thirty minutes before, I had bailed out of a moving car.
I remember opening the door, grabbing my backpack and rolling out. The rest, though, was a blur. So, I had steered toward the left side of the road in order to hit dirt instead of blacktop so I wouldn’t get worked like a bull in a china shop or hurt like being hit by a Mack-truck and flattened like a laptop.
My car continued on about the length of a football field, it left the road at the next curve and it crashed down a small ravine. Moments later, the two pickup trucks chasing me flew past, too fast to notice me lying pancake-flat in the landscape that I landed, in the dirt beside the road.
I lay in that dirt, taking a moment to inventory my body. I wiggled my toes. I tested my back and legs. Unlike my youth, nowadays my back was the only thing stiff in the morning. I pulled out my iPhone and tapped the screen. A picture of Teresa smiled back at me. The time read 0038. Somehow, the screen was still intact. Not a crack. I rolled on to my stomach and gingerly got to my feet. Everything seemed to work. I felt a trickle down my face. Blood, or sweat?
It tasted like blood.
On the road ahead, I saw that the trucks stopped at my car. I could hear shouts. Hidden by the dark, I staggered across the road, favoring my left hip, dragging my left leg like a mummy. I stumbled through the woods toward a solid yellow sky. Which, I hoped were lights from civilization just beyond these trees.
I picked my way through thorns and brambles for ten minutes before I looked around and… Where was I? Trees fenced me in. I couldn’t see the sky. Oh fantastic. I accidentally splashed into some sort of swamp. I’m gonna have a run-in with a snake, or some hairy tarantula, aren’t I? Wonderful.
What choice did I have? I sloshed my way into the –
Wait, did you hear that? It sounded like something big – Was that an echo of me splashing, or did something else just enter the water? Oh crap, do they have alligators in Georgia? I shivered.
Fuck me. This is why I became an engineer. I don’t do dark forests.
I was lucky. I’d made it out of the woods, made into the gas station, into the bathroom. And now, I stared at myself in the bathroom mirror. I was quite the sight.
“God, damn, man. You alright?” A man walked up next to me and started washing his hands.
“Yeah, I uh…” How do you explain that you just jumped out of a moving vehicle on purpose ?
He said, “What happened, you lay down yer motorcycle?”
I started to reply but I realized, oh shit, I need to be inconspicuous. I can’t have memorable run-ins with people like this. Note to self: when making a getaway after committing a string of felonies, blend in.
To the man, I said, “Yeah, right. That’s right. It was a motorcycle.”
The guy turned severe. He said, “wear a helmet next time, dumbass.”
“Yeah. Yeah, I will. A helmet. Yeah. Hey, could you give me a ride?”
“No man, I’m headed out of town. You need an ER.”
He said, “An ER.”
“Oh, E.R. No. No, I’m fine. I’m headed north. How about it?”
“Well, I’m delivering a couple of Uhaul trucks west, to Birmingham, so, sorry.”
He said, “You really should go to the ER.”
“Yeah, good point.”
The man finished up and left. I combed my hair, then went into a stall and changed into the clothes I had saved for my flight from Charlotte to Seattle. I stuffed what was left of my torn Axelrod Security uniform into the trash and covered it with paper towels.
That was one guy I had to worry about. I needed to make sure no one else remembered me.
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I poked my head out the bathroom door, trying to spot any cops or security guards. The Gateway security guys had called the police by now, for sure, but I doubted anyone expected me to be at this particular gas station. I hoped they thought I was laying torn and twisted at the bottom of a pit, thrown from my car when it rolled into the ravine.
I walked out of the bathroom, grabbed a package of Nutter Butters and two ginger ales, paid for everything, including the razor, enduring the stairs of several customers. I wished for a COVID face-covering to hide my cuts and bruises.
The cashier never did look at me.
I exited, deep in thought. Okay, I could Uber to the Atlanta airport, get a rental with one of my burner credit cards… No. The authorities would surely be watching rental car companies. Hmm…
Out of the corner of my eye, right then, I saw a cop car roll up on the gas station.
I looked ’round for a place to run and spotted the man from the bathroom! He was climbing into a Uhaul moving van, towing a Uhaul pickup, atop a Uhaul car carrier. Hmm. “Delivering trucks to Birmingham.” That’s what he’d said. I ran over in a crouch, hopped up on the car carrier and tried to open the pickup passenger door. Locked. Dammit.
On the larger moving van, the tail lights lit bright red. Then, the flash of the white reverse lights. The tail lights dimmed. The van started to move. I trotted along, keeping the truck between me and the cop. I moved in a crouch. Faster, I started jogging. With no time to think, I tossed my backpack in the bed of the pickup. I’d have to stow away in the back. I reached for the tailgate. My plan was to jump in. But, my sore hip crumpled, I slipped and stumbled and tripped and tumbled. I face-planted on the asphalt, ass-over somersault. I looked up in dismay as the Uhaul pulled away.
Nooooo!! I yanked out my phone and snapped a quick picture. Hopefully I got a good shot of the license plates because those SD cards were in that backpack, and that backpack was in that truck and that truck was driving away.
The cop I had spotted had parked his car, waddled into the gas station, grabbed a coffee and a day-old donut. Dammit. He was simply on break, not looking for me at all.
In the distance, the Uhaul entered the on-ramp, heading West with my backpack, with everything I had except my wallet, two phones, a grocery bag with cookies and soda, and the clothes on my back. I had stowed those SD cards in the same locking faraday box where I kept my stash of burner phones and fake IDs. I patted my back pocket and felt the key to the box.
I walked to a dark corner behind the gas station, and sat on a curb. I drank both ginger ales. I ate my cookies. I thought: Okay, no Charlotte. I’m following that Uhaul west. I pulled out my main phone. This phone I used for the Dark World Forums, and for contacting BossMan95. Never to actually, you know, dial a phone number and actually talk to someone.
On this phone, I never made voice calls or sent a regular SMS text. BossMan95 preferred using a variety of difficult-to-trace apps. We had a system. From 0100 to 0300, we used Words With Friends. From three to five, Roblox mobile, and on and on. It was 0115 so I opened Words With Friends. I started a game with a user called “BossMan95”. It was the same handle he used in the Dark World Forums. Bad opsec.
In Words With Friends chat, I typed, “Got the prize. Getaway stymied. Will not make flight. Pivoting. Will keep you posted.” I sent it, time-stamped 0118. I got an immediate reply that said: “Fuck.” Timestamp 0119.
Looking back, I did have a lot of luck that night. I mean, it was a 50/50 operation. Just to successfully stun Barry and get the SD card out of the slot without Kevin, Kumar or Juan noticing was lucky. Making it through the fence, to my second car, and through that roadblock with the two pickups was damn lucky. Outrunning those pickups, bailing out of a moving car with no significant injuries was an I-should-be-in-Las-Vegas-right-now-gambling level of lucky.
I kept my head down as I went back into the gas station to buy a cheap baseball cap. I picked one that was sky blue, mesh, and read Georgia State Panthers. I pulled it low, ordered an Uber, and walked out onto the sidewalk near the road to wait.
Ugh, the exhaust from the traffic was killing me. My coughing fit reminded me of my sister Teresa. Her cough was getting way worse each day. I had to succeed. For her.
After ten minutes, my Uber rolled up. I verified the license plate, opened the door and started to get in. Then I heard, “Hey, Asshat!!”
Barry was behind me. I didn’t even have to look. I climbed in the car, shut the door and yelled at the Uber driver. I said, “Go!”
The driver said, “Hey, brother, here’s the story. Face coverings are mandatory.” Uber driver was going to get me killed.
I looked back. Barry was walk-running across the parking lot. I said, “GO!”
Driver said, “Two bucks, my man.”
Kevin was there, too. I grabbed the mask the driver held up. I said, “Fifty dollar tip if you leave right now.”
The driver wore a mask and all I could see were his surprised eyes. He glanced behind me, noticed Barry and Kevin and, before even looking forward again, floored it.
I looked back. Dbag Barry raised both hands and flipped me off.
Written, Produced and Narrated by Hans Anderson
Other Music in this episode: Ultimate Fighting Sport