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In the last three hours, Neil had pulled off the interstate for gas, fast food, a farmer’s market, and Indiana’s largest plaster snowman. He was desperate for distractions. When he saw the woman standing on the side of the road, he didn’t even think twice. No one who had suffered through Frosty the Hoosier and come away with a souvenir fridge magnet could afford to pass up a redhead with a gun.
She had, he was guessing, corkscrew curls, but somewhere between the snowman and her broken-down car, he had hit a downpour, and her hair was plastered to her head. There were two defiant loops hanging on for dear life just below her chin. It was nice hair. He didn’t know enough about guns one way or the other to have an opinion on it, besides that it was an almighty big one and she didn’t look like she knew how to use it.
She jogged over to his passenger side once he came to a stop. He rolled down the window about an inch, because there was a difference between being intrigued and being the eleven o’clock news.
She said, “I thought you’d be a cop.”
“You’re a few miles north of the last speed trap.”
“I took this out of the trunk twenty minutes ago,” she said, looking almost forlornly at the gun, as if it had disappointed her. “I thought if someone wouldn’t call for a stalled car, they’d call for a possible homicidal maniac.”
It was too hard to hear her through the window, so he climbed out. She smiled at him and came around the front of the car. The rain still sheeted between them so that she was gauzed over even when she was close and the soft focus look of her gave him ideas he didn’t want to be having on the side of the road. He looked somewhere over her shoulder.
He said, “Your cell died?”
“Just terrible signal.” She pulled her wet hair back from her face like she wanted a better look at him. “Nobody else stopped. I didn’t even think anybody would stop, I just thought they’d call the police and I could get a ride from them. Or just get them to shoot Darryl for me. Why did you stop, anyway? Are you suicidal? I was waving a gun around and you, one, stopped, and two, got out of the car, and now I’m talking about shooting people and you’re just Captain Non-Reaction. Are you a sociopath?”
“No,” Neil said. He thought he sounded pretty convincing for someone who technically had a dead body in his trunk. “You just don’t seem like the killing-people type.”
“Neither did Ted Bundy.”
“I’m confused. Are you trying to ask me for a ride or trying to convince me you’re going to kill me?”
“I’m not going to get in the car with you if you’re this confusing. I was thinking you could just call a tow truck for me.” She looked at her car, which Neil had to admit looked like the vehicular equivalent of one of those small, perpetually-shivering dogs. “It’s going to fall apart, isn’t it? Shit. Fucking Darryl.” She bit down suddenly on her lower lip and squinted, hard, and it was such an unlovely expression, so squished and pug-like, that it took him a minute to realize she was trying to cry.
“I stopped because I’m on my way to scatter my dad’s ashes,” Neil said. “And the moment I get to where I’m going, and do that, he’s—” Gone, he had meant to say, but the word closed his throat up. “That’s why I stopped. You looked like a really good excuse.”