Lowell rolled by in washed-out grays and creeping, litter strewn lawns. The houses were marked with swoops of graffiti and narrow alleyways that Luke subconsciously kept an eye on. Luke’s hands shook mildly on the stirring wheel and he worked a fine layer of sweat into the cracked leather that encircled the wheel. His wrist hurt, but he didn’t want to say anything to the old man riding next to him. The day hadn’t been exactly normal, but it had gotten a whole lot more weird since Luke had met Perkins. Now, he was driving down back roads in the old man’s truck; keeping one eye out for the police who would stop him for having a smashed in tail light and keeping the other one open for the young man who Luke had to knock stupid with a frying pan.
Perkins kept quiet in the passenger seat; his head bowed and his hands splayed open in his lap. Luke had the thought that he was driving around with a crazy, old man but that crazy, old man had nearly been killed helping Luke. There was something going on and Luke thought his best chance of figuring it all out was that old man. Perkins was muttering softly to himself and occasionally he’d make a sudden jerk in one direction or the other. Periodically, he would breathe hard and hotly, sounding more like a wolf’s snarl. Luke didn’t know what Perkins was doing but it had something to do with the dog. Perkins would snarl and jerk in his seat and then Cesar would whine and yelp from the backseat. Beads of sweat rolled down Perkins’s temples and Luke thought he saw flashes of something from the corner of his eye.
Luke couldn’t have been sure, but he thought he might have seen the old man’s gun-metal gray eyes turn a fiery yellow. Luke thought he saw the old man’s hands hook into claws. He thought he saw the old man’s jaw jut out, showing little white fangs. Honestly, Luke didn’t know what he saw, but he didn’t quite believe Perkins was a crazy, old man. Cesar’s yelping grew softer in the backseat and after long, the German Shepherd fell asleep on the bench of the old Ford.
When Cesar’s breaths were long and deep, Perkins stopped his muttering, suddenly grasped his side and winced. His breathing grew irregular and he leaned forward, pressing his head up against the dashboard. Luke pulled to the side of the road and stared at the old man.
“Where do you want me to go?” Luke asked after allowing Perkins’s ragged breath to fill the cabin.
“You got a cell phone?” Perkins asked, sounding tired and raw. Luke did have one, which he had left hooked to its charger back at his house.
“No.” Luke said, turning his head back to the road.
“What type of teenager are you? Find a pay phone or a gas station or something. I got to make a call.” Perkins said.
“What did you just do?” Luke asked after another long pause.
“Something stupid. It’s sort of a specialty of mine. Just drive, damn it.” Perkins said and Luke pulled back onto the road.
Luke had experience driving a truck because he had learned on his father’s Chevy, but the Ford was still unwieldy. The wheel would buck and jerk in Luke’s grasp and the it’d shutter and gasp like wound animal seizing before death. Even still, Luke kept it on the road, driving slow down the narrow car-lined streets. Luke had a convenience store in mind. The aptly named On the Run. There’d be a yellow and red pay phone out front. Typically, the receiver would be dangling from its chord rather than properly hung up. The average users of said phone commonly had a temper and on more than one occasion the pay phone had to be replaced due to ripping out the receiver or the entire works and spilling it all out into the parking lot. Luke pulled into the sparsely occupied parking lot of the On The Run and put the truck into park.
There was more graffiti etched in permanent marker to the left of the pay phone and the entrance to the store and the likely other of the graffiti stood to the far right of the door with one hand in his pocket and another holding a cigarette. He was a tall, thin, scarecrow-like man in his thirties or forties, but he wore tight blue jeans and a black hoodie with the hood drawn up over a Boston Red Sox cap. In short, he was dressed to look a few decades year younger than he actually was. The man eyed the truck as it puttered to a stop.
“There’s a phone right there.” Luke said, pointing a finger out the window.
“Yeah and I’m going to need you to go over there and make a call. You might’ve gathered that I’m a little banged up.” Perkins said, sounding annoyed. Perkins opened up the truck’s glove compartment which housed random fast food napkins and pieces of paper. He rooted through the paper until he found a red-inked plastic pen. He then selected a crumpled, yellow napkin and jotted down a phone number.
“Take this. You’ll probably get a girl on the line. Her name’s Sadie. Tell her to tell Sheila that I’m coming and I’ve got somebody with me. Got it?” Perkins said, handing the napkin to Luke.
“Yeah. Tell Sadie to let Sheila know you’re coming and that I’m with you.” Luke said, popping the driver’s side door open.
“Good. You’re not as simple as you look. Hurry on, Pecker-wood.” Perkins said. Luke stepped across the parking lot, digging his hands into his pockets, searching for loose change. He’d failed to clean out his pockets more often than not and that proved fortunate. He found fourteen dollar bills and eight-six cents in change. He deposited two quarters into the pay phone and stole a glance at the man standing to the far right of the door. He’d been staring at Luke, bouncing his heel off the storefront’s wall. Luke punched in the phone number and put the receiver to his ear.
The man in the hoodie flicked the cigarette out into the parking lot and then stepped toward Luke, shoving both his hands into his jean pockets. Luke could see the man had a pencil thin, blonde mustache and had greasy blonde hair creeping out form underneath his baseball cap.
“Yeah?” A girl’s voice said from the other side of the line. She sounded tired and raspy, but also young like she might have been his age or maybe a year younger.
“Sadie?” Luke asked.
“Uh…Yeah.” Sadie said.
“Excuse me, man. You got a dollar?” The man had asked Luke.
“No.” Luke said to the man.
“No what?” Sadie asked Luke.
“Nothing. Let Sheila know that Perkins is coming and I’m coming with him.” Luke said to Sadie.
“How about fifty cents?” Then man asked Luke. The man had yellowed fingertips and he stank of nicotine.
“I don’t” Luke said, lying to the man.
“You don’t what?” Sadie asked, sounding mildly amazed.
“Nothing. Can you tell her that we’re coming?” Luke asked Sadie.
“Yeah. How’s Perkins? How’s Cesar? I haven’t seen that old dog in so long.” Sadie asked.
“Uh…Perkins is…I think he’s hurt. Something happened, but it probably can wait until we get there.” Luke said to Sadie.
“A quarter. You got to have a quarter. I’m just trying to get some money together to get something to eat.” The man said to Luke. Luke decided to ignore the man in favor of the girl on the line.
“Sure. How long until you’re here?” Sadie asked.
“I don’t know. I’m just driving. Perkins will know. I should be going. We’ll get there soon.” Luke hung up the phone.
“Come on. A quarter? Got a quarter.” The man asked.
“I really don’t.” Luke lied, starting back towards the truck.
“I can tell you your future.” The man said.
“No, thank you.” Luke said.
“Luke, it’s something you’ll want to hear.” Luke stopped and turned. His morning was only getting weirder it seemed. This man knew his name.
“How do you know my name?” Luke asked.
“Got your attention.” The man said. He cracked a yellow toothed smile and took his hands out of his pockets, placing them on his narrow hips.
“How do you know my name?” Luke asked again.
“Calm. Calm. I have my ways. You wanna hear the future or not?” The man asked, beginning to rock on his heels.
“What are you talking about?” Luke asked.
“That Perkins, he told you that you’d cause more damage dead than alive. That sound weird?” The man asked.
“Luke, you’re smart. Think about who you’re with and what’s happening around you. You might just survive this.”
“What do you mean? Are you saying that Perkins is a danger to me?” Luke asked.
“That’s some thing for you to decide. The future is nothing, if not uncertain.” The man said.
“Then, why did you offer to tell it to me?” Luke asked.
“Well. The future could’ve been made more certain for somebody with a dollar. Too late now. Keep your eyes open, Luke.” The man smirked and cocked his head. With that, the man swaggered away, turning the corner of the On The Run.
“Luke. How’s your stomach feeling?” The man yelled as he disappeared around a corner and he was gone. Luke touched his stomach, remembering how Perkins had struck him there. Luke considered following him, but something told him that the man wouldn’t be around the corner when Luke turned it. The man would be gone like a puff of smoke. He started towards the truck, spying Perkins leaning his head up against the dashboard. Luke opened the driver’s side door and climbed inside.
“You talk to Sadie or Sheila?” Perkins asked.
“Yeah.” Luke said.
“What took you so long?” Perkins asked.
“You didn’t see the man?” Luke asked.
“What man?” Perkins asked.
“There was…” Luke started. Are you saying that Perkins is a danger to me? Suddenly, Luke wasn’t sure if he should say anything about the random, greasy man.
“There was a bum hassling me for change.” Luke said. Luke started up the truck and moved it back onto the street, rolling on toward the rising sun.