“Allen” learns there is a manhunt closing in, but he has a line on recovering the SD card he stole, then lost. He needs to get it, and get gone. But, how many more people will he cross and creep out before it’s over? I mean, for real.
I was still in Atlanta. Where, at first, my grand plan was a grand slam but God damn, now I was in a massive jam. I’d stolen an SD card full of intellectual property. IP that could save my sister. But, I’d lost it, last I saw it, the card was… in my backpack… and that was… in the back of… a Uhaul truck that… in fact was… heading west to… Birmingham… Uh, Alabama. Not only that. Barry and Kevin were stalking me, BossMan wasn’t talking to me, and my sister was worsening hourly.
My mood was sour. I had given the Uber driver a fake address and he was taking me there. It was a setup. When we got where we were going, I was going to propose a plan.
The driver said, “My name is Terrell. How is your evening going?” Terrell glanced at me in the mirror, saw my bruised and bloodied face and said, “Ooo. Uh, never mind.”
While we were driving, I pulled out my only burner phone. I didn’t want to risk being traced, so I could use it once. I told myself it would be worth it. It was only 2230 in Seattle. I wanted to hear Teresa’s voice. She didn’t know where I was, or what I was doing, but I knew she would be worried if I didn’t call.
She answered on the fourth ring, in the middle of a coughing fit.
I said, “Shit, that sounds bad.”
Teresa said, “I feel like I’m drowning. Where are you? Why are you always calling from a different number?”
I said, “I’m still in Charlotte.”
Terrell gave me a funny look, as though telling me, “You know you’re in Atlanta, right?” I waved him off and told Teresa, “The contract is nearly over. I should be home in a few days. When I get home, we’re going to get you fixed up.”
Teresa asked, “Are you wearing a mask?”
“Of course.” I decided I should put on the mask.
Teresa and I talked for a couple more minutes then hung up. I thoroughly wiped my phone with my shirt. When Terrell hit the freeway off-ramp, I rolled down the window and … hesitated… it was my only burner. But, I couldn’t risk it. I tossed the phone into the grass on the side of the road. Terrell said, “What the fuck did you just do?”
I immediately knew I blew it. I needed to be inconspicuous, not memorable. What’s more memorable than someone throwing a perfectly good phone out the window? Come on, man, think!
I looked at him and lied. I said, “I was upset.”
He shook his head and said, “Shit, man, you could have given it to me!” I didn’t tell Terrell what would have happened to him if he was caught with it.
A few miles later, Terrell stopped in front of my fake destination. He was now between rides, technically off the clock. I leaned forward, stuck my arm out, and waved fifty twenty-dollar bills in front of him.
I said, “Drive me to Birmingham right now, and these are yours. Thousand bucks.”
Terrell wore a mask, so all I could see were his eyes and eyebrows, but it was enough to know the answer was “yes” before he’d said a word.
Two hours later, Terrell and I were on the outskirts of Birmingham, Alabama. Terrell dropped me off at the first Uhaul location I could find via Google. It was 0500. Terrell’s eyes and eyebrows said “I’m thrilled you aren’t a serial-killer!” His mouth said, “Thanks for the money!”
I got out. He drove off. I walked around the dealership in the dark.
I assumed the driver I met a couple hours before in the gas station bathroom was going directly to a Uhaul, probably to drop off trucks someone had reserved for first thing in the morning. He said he was going to Birmingham, but, there were dozens of Uhaul locations all over the region and I didn’t know which one. I was going to have to visit them all. Or, get very lucky.
I again examined the photo I had snapped of the Uhaul truck as it had pulled away.
I could make out the last four digits of the license plate. Nowadays having a description of a vehicle and a partial plate number was often enough. I hoped so.
I quickly searched the lot, found nothing, and ordered another Uber. While I was in that Uber, I downloaded the Lyft app so I could alternate rides and maybe hide my trail a bit.
I went to one location, then another, and another. Went over to that one. Nope, backtracked. At first I’d let the driver go, say “thanks for the ride!” and he’d drive off. But it was often clear right away that some of the dealerships didn’t have the truck I was looking for. “Damn, not again!” Eventually I told my current Lyft driver, ‘I’ll pay you two hundred bucks to just drive me around for two hours? Deal?” She was like: “Fuck yeah that’s a deal.” We’d drive up to one (sfx), maybe drive around a bit. Drive off. Sometimes I’d get out to get a closer look (sfx) Sometimes it was clear there was no reason to even get out. One time we passed a dealership that wasn’t even on a map. Not in a map app. Other’s we didn’t even know how to get to. Like, there were fences and buildings but ahhh… One place the Lyft driver wasn’t willing to take me. Google Maps once sent us to Legion Field, original home of the Iron Bowl Football Game. So, I switched to Apple Maps and it sent us to this statue called the Vulcan. Which, if you’ve ever been to Birmingham, was, so totally not a Uhaul dealership. It was so frustrating.
Doing this, we’d searched more than a dozen Uhaul Neighborhood dealers before they opened at 0830.
And oh yeah, by the way. Did you know that Uhaul doesn’t open until eight thirty? That was fuckin’ unbelievable. I always hated Uhaul.
Each search turned up bupkis. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Crap-ola. So I was like, this is over.
Finally, exhausted and discouraged, I had the Lyft driver drop me off downtown, and I ordered an Uber to a cheap motel near a Greyhound station. I got a room. I showered, dried off and, at 0900, my head hit the pillow and I was out like a prizefighter punching a lightbulb.
(Yawn) I didn’t wake up until noon, when there was a knock on my door.
When I heard the knock at my door, I yelled, “No housekeeping!” I did not need housekeeping, and the fewer people who remembered my face, the better. The banging continued, I yelled again. “No housekeeping! I’m good!” I heard the door unlock. It started to open.
Oh shit, maybe it wasn’t housekeeping.
I jumped up and oh, that hurt. Twelve hours before, I had jumped out of a moving car and I was very stiff. It sucked so much I could barely stand erect. I didn’t make it to the door in time to block it. It swung wide open, fingers banging on the knob.
I’d blown it. There I stood, naked as a jaybird. The door swung wide open and a woman stood there.
We stood like that for a moment, the woman and I. I had hoped no one at this motel would notice me. Now, to avoid looking below my waist, this housekeeper was staring at my face. With effort. Behind her, another motel guest, a woman, glanced in my room as she walked by, stopped, did a double take, lingered, giggled and whacked off. Uh, walked off. Sorry.
Housekeeper took out her earbuds, music playing so loudly I could almost feel the bass. I said, “I don’t require housekeeping at this time.” She nodded and started backing out, fighting to hold eye contact.
I said, “Oh, wait. Actually, I could use extra coffee and creamer. If that’s okay.”
The housekeeper reached behind her, felt around her cart, grabbed a handful of creamer and coffee packets, and reached out to hand then to me.
We were too far apart. We couldn’t reach. She took an awkward step closer at the same time I took step closer did. (Sorry, whoops, didn’t mean-). Yeh. Sorry, uh. Yeah.
We kinda ran into each other.
I apologized ten million times.
She looked thoroughly annoyed. She spun around, shook her head sadly and said, “Second time it’s happened today, honey. Second time today.”
I was supposed to be in Seattle by now, but I was in Alabama. I knew each hour I was late, the worse Teresa’s condition would get. BossMan95 had a bunch of stats that backed up how quickly we needed to get the data on that SD Card. I didn’t even know where it was right now.
If I didn’t get that data to BossMan95, Teresa would die, and it would be my fault.
I turned on the TV and made coffee. No time for sleep. I needed to track my pack and get it back. I picked up my non-burner iPhone to call the Uhaul Customer Service center at the same time that the phone dinged. It was a message from BossMan95. I was afraid to read it, so I didn’t. I had to focus.
I downloaded a caller ID spoofing app and used my iPhone to make a call. I swore I’d never do that. But, I did.
I dialed the Uhaul 1-800 number where I was almost immediately put on hold.
I sat there on hold, thinking about how it had come to this. I crossed a line last night. I committed a felony. Uh, felonies, plural.
In early January, Teresa came home from her job at a nursing home. It was Friday, by Sunday she had a roaring fever, couldn’t taste or smell, and was gasping for breath. Way back then, we didn’t know what she had, and the antibiotics she was given didn’t help at all. She was one of the first coronavirus patients in the United States. She needed a ventilator, but none were available.
In frustration, I posted about it on Dark World Forums and a user with the handle BossMan95 DMed me. He made me an offer.
The gist of the offer was this: BossMan95 had scientists who could create a vaccine and a cure. In exchange, he needed some data that was on an SD card in a locked down secure facility in Georgia. Part of some lab work Johnson & Johnson had created but were sitting on until more people became sick and the demand went up. BossMan95 said the cure should be open source and free for everyone. For Teresa’s sake, I agreed.
Most people get off the ventilator by dying, so Teresa has resisted even though I insisted. She may still need it, but I hoped to find the cure before she did. She’s gotten worse every day, but stubborn refusal is Teresa’s default setting. She refused to give up on me when I was a kid, going the extra mile to raise me after Mom died. Stubborn refusal is also how Teresa came to own a string of Pacific Northwest nursing and assisted living homes. Stubborn refusal to let the elderly waste away without love and life.
Now it was my turn for stubborn refusal. It was up to me. I couldn’t waste another hour.
By 1400, I had wasted another two hours, on hold with Uhaul, air quotes, “customer service”. While I waited I watched cable news… There’s so much… COVID-19, Trump, Black Live Matter protests, economic collapse, Trump, election, social distancing, something about murder hornets and some guy named Joe Exotic… It was almost as if Teresa would be better off dead.
Oh shit, did I just think that? Two hours of sitting on hold fucks you up. I’m telling you.
So far 2020 was like being on a frail ship at sea with massive rogue waves bearing down from every direction. Society was battered, scattered and in tatters in every way that mattered and I –
Calm down. I get this way sometimes. Focus. Breathe. At least I was not in the news. Hopefully, Gateway Underground Secure Storage didn’t want the bad publicity of yet another massive data breach.
Come on Uhaul! You call this customer service? I looked at the time on my phone. I had been waiting for over two hours and fifteen minutes. Crazy.
I peeked out my motel window. There was a Mexican restaurant across the street. My stomach rumbled. Five minutes later, I was still on hold with Uhaul, and in line at Taqueria Jalisco. My stomach gurgled loudly, attracting more attention than I wanted. The woman behind me giggled. I’d heard that giggle before.
Next door to this taqueria was the Greyhound Bus Station. My plan was to find my backpack, come back here and take a Greyhound Bus to anywhere with a small airport with bad security and a flight to Seattle. Something like Jackson, Mississippi or Little Rock, Arkansas.
Was Greyhound safe? I dunno! Major airports were risky, I knew that. Hitchhiking left me too vulnerable. An Amtrak would take a month to travel once around the block.
I was still on hold when I got my Mexican takeout. They wouldn’t let us stay in the restaurant, so I turned around to leave… and nearly ran into the woman who had giggled. She was standing close enough to listen to my thoughts. Hello, social distancing! She and I did that little dance as I tried to get by. She deftly danced left as I awkwardly knockered right, I swore, she was polite; she smiled wide and said “it’s alright.” We stood frozen in line, for a moment in time.
And, her eyes. Blonde hair under a baseball cap, Covid mask, her eyes were the only thing I could see.
I said, “Goblaskjoie.” Or, something like that.
We stood far enough away and she made a point to looking me up and down, and part of the way back up. And, I recognized her. It was the woman walking by my room during the housekeeper incident.
She said, “Your collar is all bent –” then reached out and fixed it. Don’t you think it’s weird when strangers think they can just… touch you. Like, strangers who pat a pregnant lady’s belly. It’s like, boundaries, people. Having said that, she had seen me naked so maybe she no longer considered me a stranger. I dunno.
She fixed my collar. Then, patted my shoulder… her hand lingered. She said, “All fixed” as all the blood rushed to my – Focus. Teresa.
Beneath a mask, her smile went from polite to southern polite. I was gonna need a cold shower.
Through all of that, I was still on hold with Uhaul! I mean, fuuuuucccckkkkk.
I walked to the crosswalk and my phone buzzed. I looked at the screen. An incoming call: BossMan95’s emergency number. Oh. No. The break-glass, the shit-is-hitting-the-fan number. The “do not call this number unless the world has gone completely in the toilet” phone number. Which, I guess, it had. The world in the toilet.
Needless to say, Boss Man had never actually called me before. In fact, I had only ever messaged with BossMan95. No phone calls, no Zoom, no face-to-face. Never met him. No idea what he looked like or sounded like or if he was a little kid punking the biggest prank ever.
But I had to Focus. Priority was getting that SD card back, and that meant talking to UHaul, if they’d ever answer. I also didn’t want to lie to BossMan95 and the truth was I’d lost the SD card he’d sent me to steal.
BossMan95 hung up before it went to voicemail. I was thinking about all that, and I didn’t notice the stoplight change or the crosswalk go from stop to walk to stop again.
I just stood there like a fool. The midday Summer sun beat down on my neck and back. And… BossMan95 called again. He was upset. I could tell by the angry way the phone rang. I hit “decline” and stayed on the phone with Uhaul. Approaching three hours now. I was gonna need to find a charger.
The giggling woman from the taqueria walked up next to me and said, “Long light?”
I just smiled, which was stupid because I was wearing a mask and she probably couldn’t tell. She said, “Hey, you want to eat in my room?”
Did I want to – um, a million times yes I wanted to!! But, focus. I had to focus on Teresa.
I knew if I stood there any longer, I’d cave and go “eat” this woman. Eat with this woman. I had to focus. So, before the woman could say anything else, I found a gap in traffic, and crossed the road.
Except, I didn’t see this one fast-moving car, obscured by another car in a different lane. I got in the middle of the intersection and “hhhhoooonnnkkk” - Fuck! The woman yelled, “Lookout!”
I dropped my phone. The phone case that was supposed to protect it flew off the moment the phone hit the road. Cars flew by, not stopping at all. I Froggered through into traffic, dodged several cars, picked up my phone, dropped my burrito, out came most of the Spanish rice, (no! Not the rice! It’s my favorite part). I picked it up, danced out of the way of a swerving RV and ran back to the curb.
The same curb I started from.
The curb with the once-giggling woman who had been hitting on me.
I looked at my phone. Fuck. The screen was shattered. The call with Uhaul had dropped.
The woman’s eyes were now alarmed. She said, “Are you mental?”
Written, Produced and Narrated by Hans Anderson
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