ONE MILLION | #9
Jenny and I were in an eighteen wheeler with Trucker Dan. Dan was not a fan. Oh, he liked Jenny alright, with her tight jeans and half-buttoned shirt. Her charm – you know, “oh shucks aren’t you just a sweetheart for giving us a ride”.
But Trucker Dan was not a fan of me. Not so much.
I know why, right? I can see it from Dan’s perspective. He stopped to pick up a young woman in distress. Then, I appeared, out from hiding, wearing handcuffs and looking like I’d been in a fight with a lawn-mower.
I couldn’t do much about the cuts and bruises on my face, but Jenny got me out of the cuffs.
She asked Dan for a ball point pen. Dan handed her one from his left breast pocket. She took it apart, flattened the ink tube, then shoved it down the locking mechanism on the cuffs, creating a shim. Then, she pulled on the cuffs and they reversed right open. It was so easy. I was floo red.
For about ten seconds. Then, while I was rubbing my wrists, Dan noticed the red and blue flashing lights behind us.
It was the fuzz. Smokey. Oh, Fantastic. Trucker Dan was being pulled over.
Anyway, after Dan sees the cop, he says, “Well, what in tarnation, I ain’t been pulled over in three years.” See what I’m saying about how he sounds?
Jenny looked at me and then started to speak but Dan cut her off. He said, “Get in the bed in my sleeper, draw the curtain, cover yourself with my pillows and blankets. I’ll get rid of this cop.”
We hadn’t told Dan anything about our predicament, so I didn’t know why he was making us hide. But Jenny smiled and kissed Dan on the cheek. Dan grinned sheepishly. He said, “Don’t worry, I got this.”
We did as Dan said, a few minutes later, we were covered in smelly blankets and pillows, Jenny laying side by side with me. We held hands.
I’m not gonna lie, it was tense. It felt like one of those movies where they’re smuggling someone across the border or something.
The cop asked Dan to step down from the cab. We couldn’t hear their conversation well, but we could peek out the darkened sleeper window. The cop was young, barely more than a kid. We could hear bits and pieces of their conversation. They laughed a couple of times. Kid Cop was saying the usual stuff, like “have you seen these two?” “They stole something dangerous.” “Call me if you have anything to report.” “It’s a matter of national security.”
It took twenty tense minutes, but then we were on the road again. Jenny was showering Dan with praise, treating him as a hero. Dan was loving it.
I was about to be sick. Because, five miles later….
We entered the Million Dollar Highway, part of Dan’s shortcut to Salt Lake City, where he was hauling some sort of urgent cargo, which he would not divulge. Ever been on the Million Dollar Highway, aka, The Most Fucked Up Road in America? Oh, you’d remember if you had. I couldn’t even look at the road, if you can even call it a road. It was like a parable for how my life was going. Sheer cliff on the right, going straight up. Sheer cliff on the left, going straight down. Windy, with blind curves and rock slides. And not a guardrail in sight.
Jenny was like, “Oh, this is so awesome!” The woman is nuts, I’m telling you. I mean, one side of the painted white line was the road, the other side of the line, where you usually have the shoulder, was a 1000 foot drop.
I wouldn’t want to walk down this road.
We were in a big rig.
How had all this happened? Late last week, it had begun so well… for the first hour. I’d stolen the data I wanted and gotten away, but I got sidetracked after leaping from a perfectly good moving car, losing my backpack in the back of a Uhaul, diverting to Birmingham where I recovered my backpack and first met Jenny. Days ago, Jenny appeared out of nowhere behind me in line for a burrito, across from my motel. Then she was on the bus I was on, saying that she was going to visit a boyfriend she now suddenly no longer cared about. She was techy enough to jailbreak her own phone to run a specialized app. Oh, and she knew how to break out of handcuffs.
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Jenny was now emphasizing Allen every time she spoke to me. Allen, look at that view, Allen, isn’t Dan a sweetheart, Allen… Eh. Look, I told her my name was “Allen” but she had called me by my real name, “Sean.” She wasn’t supposed to know my real name. So… How did she?
I looked toward the front of the cab where Jenny sat with Dan. She was enamoured with the view. And… so was Dan. Several times, Jenny leaned across Dan, trying to get a look at the mountains on the driver’s side, or a rock slide, or a car full of people that died when they had gone over the edge. She kept doing it, leaning across him… look at the waterfall, or ‘oh, wow, I just saw a car wrecked on the valley floor’.
Dan kept sneaking peeks. Not at the mountain peaks, but down Jenny’s sagging shirt.
It was going to get us killed. Dan would be looking down her shirt and driving off a cliff.
That’s what I thought, but, Trucker Dan just kept trucking along, apparently plenty experienced in the art of driving while peeping. While Dan was peeping, I was sleeping.
I woke up about the time we stopped at a Blue Jay’s truck stop in Grand Junction, Colorado. Jenny and Dan were speaking in hushed whispers(?). I guess so they wouldn’t wake me?
The law said Dan could drive eleven of every fourteen hours. He was sitting at ten, while pushing to get to Salt Lake before noon tomorrow. He said he had to take a mandatory break.
Jenny said, “Hey, the sign says they have showers.”
Dan said, “Yup members only. But if you want one, you can take my Blue Jay’s member card to get in.”
Jenny said, “Do you mind?”
Dan said, “Not tall.”
He handed her his member card and told her where to go to get a clean towel. She went to get her bag from the truck, then came back and kissed him on the cheek again, smiled at me, then walked away.
Jenny was just out of ear-shot when Dan turned to me and said, “Hand over that computer weapon.”
I said, “What?”
“The CIA computer weapon you stole. I want it.”
I chuckled and said, “Sorry, man you got the wrong guy.”
Dan reached into his pocket and pulled out… his phone and showed me a picture of me. He flicked the screen, showing a picture of Jenny. He flicked it again, and there was a picture of Jenny and I together on the bus. A passenger must have taken it.
“Highway patrol back there Airdropped me these. I showed them to Jenny. These pictures are all over the news. Cop who stopped me also said a patrolman in New Mexico’s been shot. About twenty miles from where I picked you up.”
I said, “That wasn’t me. It was some other – “
“Some other guy. I know. News is saying that the New Mexico patrolman killed the guy that shot him. They fingerprinted the dead guy. Swedish national. Wearing the uniform of a dead patrolman who was found in Texas. Swedish guy is some sort of notorious hacker. He was after that CIA computer weapon. News said it could be worth billions. News is saying every country on earth wants that weapon.
“News says you have it.”
I thought about what I’d read on the Dark World Forums. Rumors that spies and hackers were all flying to the US to hunt for the Cyber Weapon. It was a game-changer. Whoever controlled the weapon – nicknamed Styx – would have more power than almost any other single person on earth. I looked at Dan and realized he had one hand extended in front of him, palm up. On the other hand,,, he held an adorable little Beretta A21 Bobcat.
He said, “Go ahead and hand it over.”
I glanced around.
Dan said, “No one can see you. And, no one would care if they could. No one gives a shit about a turd like you… in the whole wide world, I bet there are five billion people who your average other person would care about ahead of you…”
Dan rambled on about what a piece of shit I was for a bit, and I started thinking… what the fuck kind of can of worms had I opened? I mean, I was supposed to get hired on as security at Gateway Underground Secure Storage, then during a planned outage and upgrade, I was to steal the SD card that I stole, and steal a few extra cards to confuse the cops. I was to drive to Charlotte, fly to Seattle, hand the card to BossMan95, and be done with this stuff. Days ago. We’d cure Teresa, open-source the drug and a vaccine, and go back to our normal lives.
Instead I felt like a bruised orange. I’d been chased down, locked up, handcuffed, freed, brought down to zero, pulled out, and put back there. Had sex with the girl with the black hair.
My point is, it was supposed to go down smoothly. At no point was I supposed to have a gun pointed at my forehead.
But here I was.
I said, “Dan, what I stole is not a weapon, it’s a cure for my sister, she has –”
Dan said, “A cure? Well now, that sounds like sumtim’ else people will pay big money for. Hand it over.”
I thought, If I can get up in his truck and to my bag, maybe I can grab it and go out the other door and run away.
I said, “Alright, let me get it out of my backpack. It’s up in the truck. You can turn it in to police, get your stupid reward.”
Dan said, “Police? No way, man. I’m selling this motherfucker. Top bid. Iran, China. North Korea. Don’t make no difference. I’m gonna be rich, bitch. Never have to drive another mile.”
I said, “Jesus, Dan. North Korea?”
Dan spat on the ground and said, “Don’t make no difference. America’ll be fine.”
I said, “Dan, listen. America will be fine. We agree there. But, my sister. She’s really sick. I need –”
Dan interrupted. He said, “You need to walk, motherfucker. That way.” He jabbed his gun toward the field.
I tried to act disappointed, but I leapt for joy inside. It had worked! The SD card was in my wallet, not the backpack. I mean, Dumbass Dan can have the other four cards, full of illegal porn. Yeah… maybe I’ll just call in a little tip to the police on Dan’s behalf.
I said, “Okay, I’m walking. I’m walking.” I turned to leave. I admit, I was a little concerned with Dan shooting me in the back. But, the gun looked like it was already getting heavy in his hands, so his accuracy would suck.
I was two steps – TWO steps away, on my way to ditching Dan, finding Jenny and getting the hell outta there, when…
When I heard a voice behind me.
“It’s not in the backpack.”
Jenny? I turned. She was leaning out the window of Dan’s truck.
Jenny. She must have circled around.
She said, “I checked the backpack, it’s not there. He must have it in his wallet.”
I thought, “Backstabbing traitor!”
Dan jabbed the gun and said, “Hand over the wallet, or I will shoot you.”
I handed it to him, then I had an internal dialogue.
The devil on my right shoulder said, “You idiot! No wonder your sister is about to die, she has a worthless asshole for a brother!”
My shoulder angel said, “Sean, just stay alive, if he shoots you, no one can help Teresa. You must stay in the game!”
Devil: “Sure, stay in the game. But, oh yeah, you SUCK at the game. You might as well get shot. Natural selection at it’s finest.”
I sat down. I am a Loser. I mean, what have I done with my life. Nothing. No kids, no house, no legacy. I was kidding myself. All I wanted to do was help Teresa, but look how much of a mess I’d made from that! Not only was she going to die anyway, I’d thrown America into chaos trying to help.
The angel turned on the devil. She said, “You know if he dies, you cease to exist, right?”
My shoulder devil said, “Oh, shit.”
The angel leaned down, put her arm around my neck and whispered in my ear. She said, “Hey, fuck that guy.”
The Devil said, “Hey, are you allowed to cuss?”
The Angel ignored him. She continued, “You love your sister, that’s success. Success is marked by the journey, not the destination. You are enough as you are.”
I slumped down, right there next to Dan’s truck on the edge of the truckstop, blocked from view of the other truckers.
I am enough as I am. I wasn’t going to save Teresa, but I tried. But, was it enough?
I was tired. Was I giving up? I don’t know. I’m sure it looked that way.
Jenny said, “No. No. Don’t do this. Don’t.”
I started to sob.
Jenny yelled, “No, no, no.”
Dan said, “Is he crying? Ohh, is the man-baby…”
Jenny said, “Shutup, Dan. Shut. Up. His sister is sick. She has COVID-19.”
Dan stumbled backwards. He said, “Whoa, shit, and I was in the truck with him for hours!”
Jenny said, “Relax, he hasn’t been around her for weeks.”
Dan said, “Well then, let’s go. Get up, motherfucker. Walk, or I will shoot you.”
Jenny walked over to Dan. She said, “Give me the gun, go get the truck ready.”
Dan eyed her skeptically. Jenny said, “Well, I’ll do it, but I’ve never gassed up an eighteen wheeler. Is that what you want?”
Dan stood still, the wheels turning. Then, he nodded slowly, then faster. He said, “Okay.” He handed her the gun.
Jenny took it and immediately turned on Dan. She said, “Hand me the wallet.”
Dan said, “Oh, come on!”
Dan handed it to her, seething.
Jenny walked over to me. Keeping the gun trained on Dan, she grabbed my left arm and helped me up.
She handed me back my wallet and said, “I’m sorry. I’ve been in contact with BossMan95 on the Dark World Forums, too. He’s upset with me. I panicked.”
I looked at her and said, “You what?”
“It’s a long story. We can talk later, but right now, we need to go.”
We tied Dan up in his sleeper cab. Might still be there, actually.
Eleven hours later, we’d talked it out and I had slept, off and on. Jenny got us on another truck going East on 70 to Denver, then another north on 25 and two different trucks heading north and west on I-90. If we were being followed, hopefully it was enough to throw them off.
We were in Billings, Montana. And there, on the sandstone cliffs overlooking the city and the Yellowstone River, we walked into the small-town, single terminal airport.
Jenny used her phone to buy us tickets while we rode up on I-25. I had a fake ID. Billings to Seattle was barely a two hour flight. If I got past the paltry security, we were home free, and before nightfall, I would finally see my sister.
Written, Produced and Narrated by Hans Anderson
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