The sun had gone down and even though it had been a bright, warm day the evening air was chilly. October was half over. It wouldn’t be long before snow covered the drab countryside. The far off ridge lines were shifting from blue to purple. Lights were starting to twinkle on at ranches scattered across the lonely landscape.
She had left Buffalo a week ago. Now, she might be late getting into Boise. She wanted to make Portland the next day then decide what to do next. Every night along the way, she had stayed in a fine hotel, ate a wonderful meal. Except that night in the middle of Iowa when she came up short, she cringed at the memory of the crappy Rodeway Inn and the smell of the half – eaten crap from Taco Bell. Now she faced the prospect of sleeping in her car. Only God knew what could happen to a woman alone out here. She checked her cell again- just like before - there was still no signal.
A slight flicker caught her attention. Headlights. A distance away yet but coming toward her. She turned on the emergency flashers and waited. The lights were getting closer in her rear view. She sensed the approaching vehicle starting to slow as it neared.
It wasn’t quite dark although the first stars were starting to appear. A pick-up, looked like a newer Ford with a double cab pulled in behind her.
She watched in the mirror as the driver’s door opened. He was alone. The man wore a short brimmed Stetson and a denim jacket. Must be a rancher she thought. She heard his boots crunch in the gravel on the side of the road. Then, he was at the window.
“Howdy, Mam. You Lost?”
He was tall, well built and maybe sixty.
“Not really,” she replied,”Thank you for stopping.”
“I got tired of the traffic on the Interstate and wanted to see some scenery. I pulled over to check my map and the car died and won’t start.”
“Well,” he said, "This road goes another two miles or so, far as my ranch. Then it runs into government land and the pavement ends. So you couldn’t have gotten much further. Good thing I came by,” he continued, “It’s gonna get cold tonight.”
Already she could see little wisps of steam as he spoke.
“Let’s see if we can get you back on your way. Why don’t you pop the hood while I grab a flashlight and take a look?”
He leaned into the engine well, a round circle of light illuminating it. She stood behind him and just to the right. The chrome plated little derringer came out of her back pocket of her jeans. The rancher was fiddling with spark plug wires when she placed the gun near a spot just inside of his right ear and pulled both triggers. He fell, draped across the engine, his hat bouncing toward the ditch on the side of the road.
The thin noise made by the .22 rolled off across the emptiness. With a hankie, she extracted his wallet from his hip pocket. Eight nearly new hundred dollar bills, a twenty and four singles.
Grabbing his legs, she pulled him free of the car, shut the hood then made a U-turn. Minutes later, she is back on the interstate headed west. Her travel book says The Grove in Boise is a grand hotel. She begins to think about a big steak with a baked potato, after all, it is Idaho. Oh, and maybe a good bottle of Oregon Pinot Noir.
It has been three years since she came west. That trip, it was hitchhikers on the way out and long haul truckers on the way back. She starts thinking about her options for the trip home. Maybe gas station attendants or cyclists. She liked thinking about the steak better.
There would be plenty of time to consider the possibilities tomorrow on the way to Portland.
Bill Baber’s fiction and poetry have appeared in “The Source,” “Literary Harvest,” “The Flash Fiction Offensive” and the online edition of “The High Desert Journal.” His stories have also appeared on “Powder Burn Flash” and “Darkest before the Dawn.” A book featuring his poetry will be published by Berberis Press this spring. He lives in Bend, Or. with his wife Robin and a very spoiled dog.