The entire state was under yet another flash flood alert. Residents were advised to be cautious on the roads or better yet, stay home and watch a season of “The Office” on Netflix. Streams and creeks were swollen. Near Charleston, the Kanawha and Elk rivers were coming up from the banks and submerging nearby trees.
In the city, most of the Schoenbaum Amphitheater at Haddad Riverfront Park was sunk in brown water and the basement of the Union Building overlooking the stage was, once again, filled with water.
The elevator was out, too, but it was hard to say if the two were related. The elevator was always going out.
Downtown, people wondered vaguely if this was going to be the time when the rivers made into the city. It hadn’t happened yet, of course, or if so, it hadn’t happened in generations, but the last decade of progressively stranger weather in the area made flooding of the capital city seem inevitable.
While the rain was coming down, Dre’s grandma was playing poker in the back parlor of the Shopaminit and doing better than usual. She was up about $15. It made her heart beat a little faster, made her feel a little light-headed, like she’d just had a really good cup of coffee.
Dre was out front. He’d eaten his candy bar, made small talk with the clerk behind the counter and now he was flipping through the pages of the automotive magazines on the rack. He didn’t care that much about cars or motorcycles. At least, he didn’t care any more or less about cars and motorcycles than another boy his age.
He liked the idea of them and what those kinds of vehicles represented. He was duly impressed when they were painted and decaled up to look like something out of a comic book, but the specifics of engines, discussions about torque and turning, he could care less.
The automotive magazines just seemed less conspicuous than the body-builder or gun publications and he didn’t want to touch Cosmopolitan, Teen Cosmo or Elle. He just didn’t need to know what was involved with “31 Ways to Please Your Man.”
He’d gone through all the muscle car magazines and was now looking through a motorcycle magazine that his mama wouldn’t approve of because of the women standing next to the bikes. None of them were wearing a whole lot.
Dre wasn’t entirely sure what they had to do with motorcycles, though he supposed that if you were cool enough to own a motorcycle, women like these were supposed to come in the package –at least, as far as he could figure.
At least a couple of times, Dre had gone back to the gambling parlor door and yelled for his grandma to hurry up.
She’d muttered back, “OK, OK. I’ll be there in just a minute.”
Grandma hadn’t come out of the little room. Dre, of course, wasn’t allowed in –and now, he felt like the clerk sort of felt sorry for him.
“Is there anybody you want to call?” She asked him.
There wasn’t. His mother was at work. If he called her, she’d get mad at Grandma for sure, but she wouldn’t come and pick up Dre. She’d wait until she got off work and then come over and start a fight.
Dre loved his grandma. He didn’t want to see his Mama and his grandma at each other’s throats again. If he turned her in, Mama might not bring Dre around again for a while, for months –and Christmas was coming up.
“No, that’s OK,” Dre told the pregnant lady. “She must be having some good luck. I can wait a few more minutes. I’m sure she’s just about finished.”
The woman shrugged but left him alone. She seemed content to let it slide but kept looking out through the glass at the rain.
“It’s really coming down tonight,” she said.
Then there was a loud clatter and series of thumps.
“Hey, did you hear that?” Dre asked.
Skip had been driving around for nearly two hours. He’d driven a lap around the city and then gone to the highway and taken his car as far as the Walmart in Cross Lanes before he’d turned around and decided to get off the main road.
There wasn’t much to see either way through the rain.
As he drove, he listened to big band music on his satellite radio. He’d adjusted the windshield wipers to keep time with Guy Lombardo doing “Red Roses for a Blue Lady.”
He hummed along to the melody, which soothed him more than these backroads that twisted and turned like a balled-up belt.
After a while of diving into residential areas and coming out along roads that seemed to have been built only for decoration, Skip decided maybe he should just pack it in and head back to the hotel.
He looked toward the GPS, but the screen had gone dark.
“Loose cord,” Skip muttered.
The GPS was left over from his last Cadillac. He could have opted for the in-vehicle GPS or used OnStar, except that he didn’t trust OnStar. He’d read that they monitored their clients and that might not be such a good thing, given Skip’s line of work.
Also, a built-in GPS would be difficult to disable or destroy. A standalone device was infinitely more flexible and very easy to get rid of, but the plug that went into the cigarette lighter port was beginning to wear out. It sometimes came loose.
“Not a problem,” he sighed and fumbled for the cord.
It was hanging off to the side of the console. He couldn’t see it but kept fumbling for it with his right hand.
He just couldn’t see.
With his left hand firmly on the wheel, Skip reached up above his head with his right and pressed the dome light.
A spider, about the size of his thumbnail glared at him from the top of the steering wheel. Its glassy black eyes shined in the yellow light.
And then it jumped toward him and Skip screamed. He screamed and jerked the wheel to the left. The car went off the road, up the side of the hill and then flipped and tumbled across the road. Skip, held in place by his seat belt, jumped and bounced like a puppet on a string.
The windows popped and burst, though the coating on the safety glass kept the windshield in one piece. Crystal nuggets, like a scattering of snowflakes in a gust of wind, blew everywhere.
The driver’s side, the passenger’s side and the side airbags all deployed with a loud pop.
Skip felt a familiar pain in the center of his face. His nose had been broken again.
Then the car cleared the pavement and the short, soft shoulder.
The Cadillac tipped over the edge and began sliding down the remainder of the muddy hill, but it felt like he was falling.
Skip, who had been shot at on four continents and nearly strangled by Somali pirates, screamed all the way down, like a little girl.
The car came to a rest, right-side up, in the gravel beside the road. Through the windshield, Skip could see lights on at a gas station.
Breathing heavily, his head humming, his entire body sore, the assassin said, “Thank God.” He unlocked his seat belt and miracle of miracles, the door to the Cadillac opened without much trouble.
He got out of his car and reached into his jacket pocket looking for his phone, but the phone was missing.
“Must’ve fallen out,” he said.
None of the lights were on inside the car. It was raining. He could barely see anything beyond large shapes and the lights on at the gas station.
In the other direction, he thought he could make out another building, but it was farther away –and he was hurt, bleeding from the nose. His head was pounding. He wanted to throw up and he thought he must have wrenched his left arm in his seatbelt.
“Get it later,” he muttered and stumbled forward toward the light of the Shopaminit.