“Allen” has just about had it with people using his real name. He’s just about had it with BossMan95, with being the focus of a manhunt and with trying to figure out if he can trust Jenny. To compensate, “Allen” does what many middle-aged men do: He bought a used Caddy and is blasting across America, trying to get home to save his sister.
Things were grim. I had lied to Jenny, then I had sex with her, then I thought she’d abandoned me, then we had sex again. BossMan95 kept calling and I kept sending it to voicemail. My sister’s condition undoubtedly grew worse by the day. I didn’t even want to know. What else? Oh yeah, I was the center of a major manhunt. And, whomever had found the Cyber Weapon in DeKeisha’s computer, if not DeKeisha herself, was taunting the world with it.
Right now, Jenny and I were on the open road.
We had located a used car lot between Dallas and Fort Worth, got cash from six different ATMs and turned that cash into a maroon 1992 Cadillac Brougham with over three hundred thousand miles on it. The gas mileage sucked, the paint was peeling and the leather seats were crumbling. But the AC blew cold, the ride was smooth, and it was fast.
But not too fast. Inconspicuous. I was driving with inconspicuous speed.
Jenny and I stopped to get lunch at a roadside diner. There were no drive throughs in these small towns and apparently this little town, whatever it was, wasn’t shutting down restaurants for the pandemic.
We entered and waited for a seat. I was clean-shaven, wore empty glasses frames Jenny had found at a dollar store, had a new, blank baseball cap pulled low, a black COVID mask and I didn’t look anyone in the eye. There was zero chance anyone would recognize me.
But, I don’t know. There was a vibe in that place. Like, when you enter a room and suddenly everyone stops talking and you know they were talking about you.
We entered the diner and seated ourselves in a booth and ordered burgers. We were having an argument about Styx, the Cyber Weapon and Cyber War in general.
I was saying, “I figure a Cyber Cold War probably would mimic a real life Cold War with ever-escalating weaponry. Nation-states would have to do anything to keep level, or else risk an attack. There would be alliances, intrigue and backstabbing. And, it would all happen online, in the dark, and the public wouldn’t know a thing.”
Jenny said, “You know what bugs me about technology?”
I said, “What bugs you about technology?”
“I just – I just never know if I’m being secure, or if I’m, you know, one of the idiots that is doing all this dumb shit and is pwned and vulnerable.”
I said, “That’s exactly why I got into cyber security. I mean, I’m not a big-time hacker or anything, but I had to know if I was vulnerable. I can’t fathom how people leave that up to someone else.”
Our food arrived. The TV up in the corner was on. Fox News said the CIA was expecting a ransom demand at any time. On another TV, CNN talking heads bickered about how high the ransom would go. The consensus was it could reach the billions.
Good God Almighty, I really should go back to DeKeisha’s and get that SD card.
Focus. I had to Focus. This was about Teresa, not getting rich.
Suddenly, Jenny slid out from her side of the booth, switched to my side and slid in, so we sat side by side. She leaned over as if to kiss me, but instead whispered, “Sean, this place creeps me out. The guy at the counter in the blue shirt. I swear I’ve seen him before.”
The counter was behind me. I didn’t want to look right away and be all suspicious. Instead, I counted to ten. (One) While I did, I felt… (Two…) uneasy. My stomach was full of butterflies. (3) What was it? Something Jenny had just said? (4) What did Jenny just say?
I got to ten, then glanced around casually. I said, “I don’t remember seeing him.”
Jenny said, “You barely looked. I think the people at the counter recognize you from the news. Forget the food. Leave some money, let’s go.”
Two minutes later, we were in the car and on the road. We backtracked for a few miles, but we didn’t notice anyone follow us, so we did another u-turn and continued north and west.
We’d begun to relax again about the time we were interrupted by lights in the mirror and a siren surrounding us.
We were being pulled over. For a moment, I thought about running for it, but – advice from the Dark World Forums – you can’t outrun the police band radio. Cops don’t have to chase, they can just radio ahead.
Besides, how could a cop know it was me in this car? There was no way.
I rolled to a stop on the shoulder.
A strangely-dressed highway patrolman stepped out of the vehicle. I rolled down my window and put my hands on the dashboard. Patrolman walked up, said, ‘License and Registration.’
I said, “Did I do something wrong?”
He didn’t answer. He didn’t say a thing. Patrolman turned and walked to the back of the Caddy, pulled out his baton, smashed the driver’s side tail light, walked back to me and said, “you have a broken taillight.”
I turned to give Jenny a look that I hoped conveyed, “we are in trouble.” But, the look on her face said she already knew that.
Cop man said, “Step out of the vehicle sir.”
I said, “Because you broke my tail light?”
Cop man put his hand on his sidearm and repeated, ‘Step out of the vehicle, sir!‘ His accent was … Strange. Like, a bad actor playing Count Dracula in a B movie. But, this Count Dracula had a gun, so I complied.
Cop Man Count Dracula patted me down, cuffed me, put me in the back of his car.
Now, I realize there was a huge manhunt. I was wanted. I get it. But this particular cop did not seem to be arresting me. He fumbled with the cuffs like they were some sort of post-modern technology, he didn’t read me my rights, didn’t even confirm who I was… didn’t… didn’t (sigh) seem to even be a cop.
Cop Man Dracula put my backpack in the front seat of his car. I couldn’t get to it because of the plexiglass divider. Then he returned to my car, leaned in the passenger window for a long chat with Jenny. I was like, is he going to let her go? They seemed almost friendly. What were they talking about?
Then, Jenny opened the door and got out. Cop Dracula zip-tied her hands together in front of her body, which was weird. He had cuffed me from behind. The cop put her in his car next to me in the back seat.
First thing Jenny said was, “His uniform is way too big for him, and he has a weird accent, like –”
I said, “What were you talking with him about?” I tried to keep suspicion out of my voice, but I don’t know if I succeeded.
She didn’t answer. Instead, Jenny asked, “Why is he searching the car?”
“He must know about the SD cards.”
She said, “How? He hasn’t even asked us who we are. You never showed him your ID.”
She was right. It was like he already knew who I was.
Does this happen to you? Sometimes, random memories pop into your head at weird times? This particular stretch of road, with a curve ascending a hill, reminded me of this road near the town I grew up in. Most days, a patrolman parked just over the hill and lit up anyone who was even a digit over the speed limit. That reminded me of my mom, who was pulled over about once a month by that cop. Mom died two decades ago. That reminded me of Teresa who had promised Mom she’d raise me.
And she did. Teresa would drop me off at middle school and drive herself to class at the university. Or, maybe she’d pick me up from juvy, take me to court, to my probation officer, to counseling. Later, it was high school, before she’d drive herself to work.
For years she spent whatever time not spent dealing with me, working. By the time she was twenty-five, she was managing a small chain of Pacific Northwest assisted living centers, helping people like our Mom. When the married owners of the chain retired, she took out a massive business loan, bought them out and paid for me to go to college.
Teresa did it all. Except, have a life. She only sometimes partied, rarely dated, never complained.
Now it was my turn. When Teresa got sick several months ago, I quit going to work, desperate to help her. I researched everything, hacked to get data I didn’t understand, fell prey to scammers. So many scams.
Finally, I went to the Dark World forums, just to vent, really. I posted, glad to have it off my chest and then… I got a DM.
This guy reached out after seeing my post. He said he could create a COVID vaccine for me, and a cure for Teresa.
If he had the right information. The user called himself BossMan95. He had well-placed sources that told him some mega-giant pharmaceutical company was sitting on a cure. They had all the research data and information. BossMan95 said he knew where the data was stored. He said it was too secure to hack remotely, but someone might be able to physically walk in, steal it, and walk out.
I told him I wanted to be that someone.
And, I had been. I had stolen that information. I looked at my backpack on the front seat of the patrol car. The SD card that could save Teresa was in that bag. I could have Fedexed the damn thing to BossMan95 when he asked.
But, no, I can’t trust anyone.
I jerked at the handcuffs, and punched the seat in frustration. Arrggghhhhh!!!
Jenny was right. It was like the highway patrolman had already known who we were. She was right that he didn’t seem to be a cop. She was right that something was going down. Jenny jabbed me in the side and said, “Sean, he’s going to burn your car.”
I looked, and of course. Jenny was right. She was always fucking right.
The patrolman stepped back from my car, pulled out his revolver, got down on a knee, and shot it under my car. Twice. Shot. My. Car. Bang. Bang. Liquid spilled out from underneath. Gasoline. Of course it is. Cop Dracula pulled out a book of matches, and …
And then, another highway patrol car pulled up behind the one we were in.
We sat in the first patrol car. The radio was on. We could hear the police band. It crackled, “Dispatch, this is Arnold. I’m Northbound on 371. Checking out an out of state patrol car making a stop in my county.”
I looked at Jenny and said, “Out of state patrol car? What state are we in?” She looked toward the ceiling of the patrol car, thinking, and said, “Texas?” I said, “Are you sure we’re not in New Mexico?” She shrugged.
The second patrolman, the one just now on the radio who called himself Arnold, got out of his car just as Cop Dracula lit the book of matches. Arnold started to say something, but Cop Dracula tossed the matches and all anybody heard was “Boom!”
Up went my two thousand dollar Caddy.
Jenny yelled, “Holy shit!” I heard Arnold yell as he dove for cover. Arnold popped back up, and started popping off. Bang, bang, bang-bang. He unloaded a clip. Cop Dracula fired back. Bang-bang.
It was surreal. Two cops in an old-West gunfight right in front of us. My poor old Caddy was engulfed in flames. Jenny and I ducked as bullets riddled the patrol car we were in. Bullets hit our windshield. They shattered the passenger rear window.
There was more shooting, yelling, running. I looked up just in time to see Cop Dracula disappear into the thicket on the side of the road. Then, the cop called Arnold gave chase. My Caddy billowed black smoke and Jenny screamed, “Sean, let’s get out of here!”
And it hit me. She’d called me Sean. Just now, but also back at the diner, and yesterday in bed. Jenny knew my real name was Sean, not Allen. But, how? Gunshots rang out from the thicket on the side of the road. Yeah, let’s worry about that later.
Jenny broke her zip-ties using my shoe-laces, then she kicked out the rest of the shattered window on her side. She reached out and grabbed the outside handle and opened the door. She jumped out, slamming the door behind her. She raced around to the other side, got in the driver’s seat, and we tore the fuck out of there.
I looked back and didn’t see either cop. Jenny found the lights and turned them on. She cranked the siren and we flew down the highway.
It was spectacular.
Jenny was a good driver. We were flying around curves, nearly catching air (pcue) on some of the bumps. We’d done twenty miles in ten minutes and she said, “I can’t find the keys to the cuffs. That patrolman must have them.”
I said, “Forget it. We need to ditch this car!”
A couple of miles later, I spotted a gravel pit by the side of the road. It went by so fast we had to double back. Jenny drove the patrol car around to the back of the pond in the center, got out, let me out, and pushed the car until it started rolling toward the pit of water.
I said, “Oh shit, my backpack!”
Jenny ran with the car, pulled open the front door, and grabbed my backpack just as the car went over the lip and fell into the water ten feet below.
I couldn’t do a thing. My hands were still cuffed behind me. Jenny told me to hide behind a mound of gravel. She rolled up her pant legs, undid a couple of buttons on her shirt, stood in the middle of the road and thumbed down the next passing eighteen wheeler.
The trucker was all smiles… until he saw me, in handcuffs, walk over. Jenny helped me in, and we hit the road.
Written, Produced and Narrated by Hans Anderson
Other Music in this episode: