by Ray Murray
Bursting through the Detroit Night, on I-96 at precisely 55 per, cars ripping past in the left lane, doing seventy plus, tracking the eased curves past the neon — enormous electric elegy to the big three, curving north, then east, then southeast, fifty-five, cars ripping past on the left, not wanting any trouble, toward the bridge, we drive.
A cross over the border, after a few hours driving, we’re going to take a little boat ride. That’s all. A few hours back, and nobody will ever guess where my friend is.
The pickup rolls up and up, over the arch of the Ambassador. Down the other side, a phalanx of tail lights, glowing red. We slow to a crawling pace. An interminable wait, hundreds of cars creeping one by one through the slots, the gates, Canadian customs.
I check a look at my traveling companion, comfortably arranged in the passenger side of the truck, cowboy hat pulled down over his eyes. He looks believable.
Me, I take off my gloves and hat, my hair all staticky. We’ve been driving with the floor vents open, heater off, even though the temperature has fallen into the lower twenties. I unwind the scarf from around my neck, unzip my coat, just so it won’t be so obvious what we’re doing.
As we get closer, to where I can see the face of the border guard that is dealing with our line of cars, the cold weather chills me, I succumb to a fit of bone-rattling shakes.
I bite my tongue hard, to focus myself. Remember: smooth, steady voice, liquid like an FM radio deejay. I pull my wallet from my back pocket, take the driver’s license out. Stay cool. I can do this.
After all, in the past I’ve made myself disappear, to avoid bill collectors. I mean disappear from the face of the earth. New name, social security number, the whole nine yards.
One more car, then us. The car ahead is a hatchback packed with suitcases, Ontario tag. It pulls away. Showtime.
I roll the truck forward to the guard booth. The guard blinks back the cold wind, or is he trying to disguise his invasive gaze? “Where are you two from?” He asks, an easy enough question.
“Jackson, Michigan,” I say, “U.S.A.”
The guard arches his eyebrows. “How about him?”
“Same,” I say, quickly, casually, and I wasn’t even expecting that question.
“Where you headed?” Now I had planned for that question.
“Toronto,” I say, “to visit some friends.” The guard bends down a little to look over to the passenger side of the cab. I hold up my hand gently, as if to shush him, and say confidentially, “We’re trading off, one of us sleeps while the other drives.” Enough said, I stop myself. Either he buys it or he doesn’t, don’t babble.
The guard straightens up, asking, “How long are you going to be in Canada.”
“Three days,” I say, false as the rest of it, just to be consistent.
“Have a nice day,” the guard says, stepping back. It’s midnight. Was that a code letting me know that he’s on to me? Is he going to radio the Mounties as soon as I pull away?
I pull the truck forward slowly, eyeing the guard in the rearview mirror, to see if he tries to notify anybody. He’s standing, talking to the driver of the next car. I watch as long as I can, he gets smaller and shaky, then disappears as the road curves, and we descend through Windsor’s Highway 3: a gauntlet of bright lights, fast food restaurants, speedy marts, gas stations and strip joints. No time to stop now.
* * *
Once on the expressway, we’re pretty much home free, although it takes some getting used to. The exit numbers are in kilometers, not miles, producing the peculiar feeling that your destination is too impossibly far away, but you are ripping along at 100 per, so it balances out, amazingly.
I stop for fuel at London. Pay for it in American dollars, the guy takes them okay, gives me back some odd change because of the conversion, but he accepted the dollars, nevertheless. The price looks like a good deal, but that’s per liter, so it’s really terribly expensive: took almost thirty to fill it.
But I paid it with my money– and that’s the difference between a loser in jail and a scammer out free: I’m patient and not too greedy. I could have jumped in and used the credit card, but I don’t want to leave a paper trail, not yet.
I know what you’re thinking, but you’re wrong. I didn’t start this. I just found him that way, lying there on his kitchen floor, when I went over to clean out the gutters on his house. It’s not my fault. He was going to pay me forty bucks for the job. And so what if I’m going to make him disappear– he doesn’t mind. So what if I called and raised the limits on all his credit cards? They’re mine now.
And the three or four thousand I’ll net from this is just what I need to get back on my feet.
Besides, what’s it to you, anyway?
Copyright © Ray Murray.