By Kellyanne Lynch
* Please e-mail ScullySloan@juno.com with questions, comments, theories, complaints, or words of wisdom.
Thursday, 5:37 P.M.
Jesse sat behind the wheel of his Volkswagen, staring at the back bumper of a dark green Jeep. His eyes focused on a bumper sticker that read, "I do whatever my rice crispies tell me to do."
"I wish they'd tell you to move," Jesse muttered and laid on his horn. Sticking his head out the window, he saw that it wasn't the rice crispies follower who was holding up traffic. All the way up the bridge, cars were at a standstill. Sighing, he leaned back onto the headrest and closed his eyes. He counted to three before turning on the radio.
" That's what friends are for," Gladys Knight sang over the speakers. Wondering who last rode in his car, Jesse reached for the tuning knob, but stopped. The song had already made him think of Steve.
The rice crispies follower moved ahead a few feet, and so did Jesse.
" Keep smiling, keep shining, knowing you can always count on me, for sure. That's what friends are for."
Jesse sighed as the song ended, relieved that he hadn't caught it when it started.
"We're taking your calls tonight," a woman on the radio announced. "So call in at 555-KNLV and dedicate a song to someone special. We have Tanya on the line tonight. Tanya, where are you calling from?"
"And you have a special dedication for your friend?"
"Yes, to my friend Tammy. I haven't seen her for a very long time. She's away in San Francisco, and I haven't been able to contact her. She's my best friend, but I don't think I ever told her that."
Jesse sniffed back a tear.
"And I love her. Can you please play a song for her?"
"Sure thing, Tanya! Hope you hear from Tammy soon. Thanks for calling."
Jesse gripped the wheel until his knuckles turned white, as he endured the silence of the radio's dead air. The Jeep in front of him crept forward, and Jesse released his foot from the brake for a few seconds.
" Somewhere out there, beneath the pale moon light. Someone's thinking of me, and loving me tonight."
Leaning over the wheel, Jesse sobbed onto the dashboard. The tears streaked through the dust that covered the glass over the gauges. Somebody behind him honked. Jesse glanced up and realized that the Jeep was a couple of car lengths ahead of him. Jesse caught up with the inane bumper sticker.
A pair of flashing red lights caught Jesse's attention. At first, he figured that it must be a police car, and that he was seeing the end of the traffic jam. But then he realized that it was just someone's hazard lights. Jesse looked over the car. It was a black sports utility vehicle, like one that he would get if he had more time off from work for road trips. Very nice. He checked out the make and model of the car. It was a GMC Jimmy.
A black Jimmy.
"Black Jim," Jesse whispered as his eyes fell over the California license plate. The first digit was a seven. Cars behind him were honking. This time, instead of moving forward, he pulled off the road, behind a bougainvillea bush.
Jesse shut off his engine. He was about to jump out, when he noticed his Maglite sitting on the floor beside him. He took it with him for light, and protection.
As he approached the Jimmy, Jesse held his breath. He could be wrong. This might just be a nuclear family on a trip to grandma's that just happened to get a flat tire. But what if it wasn't?
Jesse retrieved his cell phone from his coat pocket and switched it on. It gave off a series of beeps. Glancing at the screen, he exclaimed, "Figures the battery's low now!" He slid the useless device back into his pocket.
Cars crept pass Jesse as he crept up the bridge, toward the Jimmy. The hazards still blinked and the interior of the car was dark. Taking a deep breath, Jesse flipped on the Maglite.
"Need any help?" he hollered at the Jimmy. No response. Jesse came closer to the car and shined his flashlight through the rear window. There was nothing in the hatchback. He shined the beam into the back seat. A puddle of blood glistened in the fluorescent light. Jesse's hand went over his nose and mouth. He checked the front seat, but found nothing.
Jesse approached the front of the car and placed his hand over the hood.
"Still warm," he whispered. Gripping his Maglite tighter, Jesse glanced over the guardrail. Two figures were one hundred feet from him and closing the distance as they strode up the embankment. Jesse dove behind the bougainvillea bush. Peeking between the branches, he saw the figures, two men, approach the bush and pass it on the right. Jesse crept around the bougainvillea, moving counterclockwise.
"This is dangerous, Lewis!" one man shouted at the other. "I don't like this!"
The other man, Lewis, faced the first. "Look! This is my plan! Everything will go according to my design! Don't forget who signed your paycheck! When I call and give you the signal, you do your job. I'll have the doctor listening on the phone, so he can hear your progress. But make sure you give the phone to loverboy before you do your stuff. Okay?"
Jesse furrowed his eyebrows. "Loverboy?"
"Yeah," the hired hand replied to Lewis. "I got it. I just think you've made a big mistake. You should have let me work earlier."
"It's not your call!" Lewis hollered. "Just wait for my signal!"
Jesse watched as Lewis jumped behind the wheel of the Jimmy. Lewis flicked off the hazard lights and started the engine. As the Jimmy eased back into the now-flowing traffic, the hired hand turned back to the bridge.
Jesse froze. He stared at the man who descended the rocky embankment toward the ocean, crashing against the shoreline beneath the bridge. With each step, the hired hand further escaped Jesse's reach. With each stride, it was less likely that Jesse would be able to save Steve from the clutches of the henchman. But Jesse just stared, paralysed, breathing heavily and fighting the urge to cough.
"Come on, Jess!" he murmured to himself. Closing his eyes, he breathed a silent prayer in haste. When next he opened his eyes, the hired hand came into focus. Jesse stole away from the shelter of the bush and raced on tiptoe to the henchman. The hired hand heard a rustle behind him and turned to see what it was. Jesse took a deep breath and, in one fluid motion, vaulted into the air and lunged at the henchman. Jesse grabbed him, and both men fell to the ground. Jesse started to roll and tumbled down the embankment. He reached for a twig, a rock, anything sticking out of the ground, but he couldn’t reach them. He felt the rocks and dirt scrape with his back, his knees, his elbows and hands as he rolled. Then a sharp pain pierced his stomach. Jesse cried out in pain. He clutched his middle and scraped his hand on the object embedded there. His back slammed into a tree, and he came to rest there, by the shores of the crashing ocean. For a moment, Jesse lay there, disoriented. He was reeling. He blinked and glanced about, through blurry, failing vision. He spotted a figure lying on his side, blindfolded and bound.
"Steve!" Jesse called to his friend in a strained, raspy voice. Steve raised his head from the ground. Jesse smiled and attempted to stand but fell to his knees.
"Ste…" he coughed. Fighting the stabbing that seized his stomach and the throbbing that wracked his entire body, Jesse began crawling toward his friend.
Steve mumbled incoherently through the gag, and Jesse used the sound to guide his movement. He lost the feeling in his feet. The paralysis quickly enveloped his legs and weakened his knees. He had to propel himself with his upper-arm strength and drag his useless limbs.
Jesse's hand brushed against the shoulder of Steve’s flannel shirt, just as the paralysis shot up his back. In the blackness and still losing vision, Jesse ran his fingers down Steve's back, searching for the rope that bound his friend. His fingers slipped over the coarse threads and glided up the twisted twine until they found a knot and picked at it. Jesse felt prickly pins at the back of his neck and sped up his efforts, knowing that he had only a few moments more. His head floated as his fingers slipped through the double knot. He battled the blackness that blotched his blurry vision.
The darkness won.