So what happened next?
Miguel quickly frisked the two of us. Apparently Stan was clean but it only took him two seconds to find my gun. He plucked it off of me with a smile on his face and stuffed it down the back of his pants. He didn't even waste his time with a smart comment or an insult, for his lack of refinement, he sure was a smug asshole at times.
Anyway, he then walked around behind us and told us to get moving. He must have tucked the gun in his pocket or something because we walked through open air for a good three blocks or so. Someone surely would have seen him waving around that hand cannon if he hadn't, even in that neighborhood at that time of night.
So what did you see?
You mean besides my life flashing before my eyes? Just the look on Stan's face. He looked, I don't know, empty, broken you know? I couldn't tell if he was mad at me or mad at himself or what. He just looked deflated. Like someone had taken all of the wind out of him. My heart kind of broke for him though. I realized that the whole thing was my fault and that my stupid fucking decisions were hurting other people, mainly those that cared about me and helped me.
I guess I felt pretty low right then. On the upside though, it stopped my hand from shaking, it's kind of hard to be nervous about dying when you think you deserve it.
Anyway, where did Miguel take you?
He took us to his car that he, like me, parked a good ways from the station. The funny thing was that I was expecting one of those giant tank cars that gangsters usually drive. Instead, he had this beat up sedan looking thing. When Stan and I slid in to the back seat, we felt like we were packed in shoulder to shoulder and, though neither of us are small guys, we're not exactly huge either. It was just pretty comical for Miguel to be driving a sardine can on wheels.
So what happened then?
Sorry, I'm stalling, I know. It's my story though and I want to tell it my way.
I understand, but we don't have a lot of time.
I understand. So anyway. We started driving. He must have gotten a few good blocks or so before he realized that he didn't have a clue where in the Hell he was going. He must have been nervous too.
But while he was stammering around the city in this metal box he called a car, Stan kept looking over at me, making motions with his head and trying to say something with his eyes. It was like he was trying to communicate some kind of plan but I sure as Hell couldn't get any of it. Grunts, eye gestures and head movements don't make much for a conversation to me. I just sat there looking at him while his frustration grew and his movements became more aggressive, like he was speaking English louder in France.
Eventually though, Miguel did figure it out, and he twisted his rear view mirror so he could see the two of us and said, "So where am I going chico? Where's the money at?"
I froze. I didn't know what to do. I just looked at his eyes in the rear view and tried not to throw up.
Somehow though, I began speaking, it was really broken and shaky, but understandable, "If you're going to kill me no matter what, why should I show you where it is?"
Miguel let out a mean growl, he wasn't happy about it, "Because you little shit, you tell me, I'll make it quick. If you don't, I'll get two sick ass homeys to go postal on your ass with knives, bamboo and a car battery. We can make you suffer a long time chico. You believe it."
Must have been a pretty scary moment. Not easy to have that kind of threat hanging over you.
It was. I felt a lump in my throat. I'd gotten used to the idea of dying a while back but this was a new level of fear. It hit me right in the stomach, it felt like I was choking on it. I felt bile come up and I just knew I was going to puke. I bent over to let it fly, if you know what I mean, but the urge subsided.
Miguel let out a chuckle and said, "Aww, little bitch going to be sick?"
It was strange though, when he said that, anger flashed across me and the fear went away. It was like I could only hold one emotion at a time. Immediately my brain went into overdrive and, before I'd formed the thought, I sat up and said, with a stern voice even, "I'm hypoglycemic you asshole, I need to eat something or I will be."
"You can eat when you're dead, tell me where the money is," Miguel shot back.
Stan slid forward and put his hand on the back of Miguel's seat, "You wouldn't deny a man his dying meal now would you? That's fucking cruel. That's not you Miguel, I know that."
"Things change man, things change, but you're right."
Stan leaned back and the car got real quiet. We drove for what seemed like hours and all you could hear was three people breathing and the sound of the tires on the road. It was dead. You wanted to scream, to do something, but everyone just sat there.
You'd think I'd had formulated a plan in that time but no such luck. I was too scared and too amazed to think rationally. All that I could think about was reaching around, grabbing one of Miguel's guns and dueling it out with him there in the car.
However, he was bigger than me, a Hell of a lot calmer and a much better shot, not good odds. Worst of all, if the struggle got out of hand or I shot him in the car, God knows what would have happened, we could have crashed into a telephone poll and all been dead. I couldn't take any chances.
So, instead, you waited?
I know it sounds stupid, but yes. I waited and waited until Miguel finally pulled into a small gas station before I even formed a complete thought, much less took action.
Unfortunately, the first complete thought was kicking myself for not running to the cops after the PI was killed. I knew then I was in over my head, I just didn't know how far. I should have just run to them, did my time and chalked it all up to a big mistake. But I did what I always had done and kept running and now I was finally paying for it, for all of it.
After that, I wished that the cops knew where I was now. They could get me out of this, it may not be pretty, but at least I'd have a decent chance of being alive when it was over. Better to be judged by twelve than carried by six, so the old saying goes.
Then, finally, the thought went somewhere. I wished that I had a way of telling them where the Hell I was. After all, I was sure that they were looking for me, for questioning if nothing else. They had to have pieced together the whole PI thing by now and, even if they hadn't my wife had to be seriously pissed, worried or both. Either way, they had to be looking for me, at least somewhat.
Now, all of that happened in a couple of seconds because, when I was done thinking, I was greeted by Miguel opening the door. I looked up at him from the seat and he just snarled at me, didn't say anything, well, nothing intelligible anyway. I think he muttered, "Get your food gringo" or something to the like, but the way it spilled out it sounded more like a snarling wild animal than English.
I stepped out of the car and made quick note that Miguel stuffed his gun in his front pocket. I don't know how the Hell it fit in that pocket, but it meant he had both his gun and mine and, even if I could get one off of him, I was still as good as dead, not with the kind of shot I was destined to be.
So, instead, I walked into this little Quick-E-Mart, shoulder to shoulder with Stan while Miguel hovered a few feet behind us. I quickly ran through all of my options for the thousandth time and came up empty. Nothing seemed to work, as in, not getting me shot.
But then I had a master stroke, I walked in quickly grabbed a whole bunch of candy, a few sodas and a few odds and ends and threw it down on the counter. Then I made my bold move, I paid for it all myself using my credit card.
Why is that such a bold move?
Think about it, I knew the cops were looking for me and I figured, if they were, they were probably tracking my cards, ATM, credit and otherwise. I just knew that would send up a flare. I just didn't know how long it would take.
So, with that in mind, I did my best to stall. This was one of those gas stations with a little restaurant inside and, though the place itself was closed the booths were still open. I threw my strange assortment of purchases down on the table and started, as slowly as I could, eating.
A few minutes later, Stan sat down next to me, having gotten himself a coffee and some kind of pastry that I couldn't identify, and followed suit. Miguel, being the kind of guy he was, sat down across from us and folded his arms across his chest, watching us like hawks.
I ate painfully slow, looking out the window for any sign of life, but it never came. I ate three candy bars and drank two sodas, all by taking the tiniest of nibbles and sips. I felt like a child almost, but, with Miguel hovering over us, I guess it'd be easy to feel that way.
But, as you might imagine, it wasn't long before Miguel grew impatient. He checked his watch and looked up at us and said, "It's been almost thirty minutes gringos, we gotta go."
I looked over at Stan who, somehow, was still calm not looking too upset over the whole situation. I looked down at my food and saw that I still had a bag of chips and another soda left.
"Now gringo, now!" Miguel said, startling everyone within earshot, including the attendant.
I felt the air leave my body, I knew help wasn't coming. It was over. I said a silent prayer to myself, well, after kicking myself for letting my last meal be cheap junk food, and resolved myself to making my ending quick.
Stan slid out of the booth and I did the same, my body trembling. I straightened my shirt, I guess in a failed attempt to find my dignity, and we started marching out of the gas station.
But then, just as we were about to leave, I heard the door chime sound and in walked, in the most blessed of all sights, a member of Charlotte's finest. I looked up at him, grinning ear to ear and he immediately recognized me.
"Jake Simpson," he called out, still about fifteen feet away, "You're going to have to come with me. We've got some questions we need to ask you."
I didn't care that I was going to jail, it was over, everything was over and, just like that, I was saved. It was the most uplifting feeling in the world, it felt like I was walking on air after months of moving through water. I was free and it was all I could do to restrain a cheer of some kind. But, can you blame me, it was all over.
Or, at least, so I thought.
Miguel, who was behind us, must have pulled out one of his guns and fired it up into the air. Stan and I hit the dirt out of reflex and then he took a second shot, this one right at the cop. When I heard that gun go off that second time, I thought he was dead but somehow, the guy ducked or Miguel missed and the shot struck a display behind him.
The cop pulled out his gun a pointed it at Miguel but before he could squeeze the trigger Miguel called out, "You make one move I'll blow this Gringo's head off. Get your ass outside now!"
Laying face down on the ground, I couldn't see much of what was going on, just flashes and shadows, but it didn't take a genius to figure it out. Miguel was pointing his gun squarely at my head and taunting the cop.
I prayed it wasn't true but the suspicion was confirmed when I saw the shadow of a knee beside me and felt the barrel of a gun pressed against the back of my head. I was too afraid to move. I just listened and, when I heard the door chime and the cop leave, I knew he was gone. Miguel responded in kind, taking the gun away from my head, but replacing it with a boot in my back.
Stan and I were both breathing hard, practically choking on every inhale. I tried not to cry but my breathing became staggered as I stifled sobs. I thought I was ready for death, but I guess I wasn't, or maybe it was the uncertainty that was getting to me, I don't know. But I was losing it.
I think that's understandable though, I mean, those were pretty extreme circumstances.
Yeah but Stan, well, he was cool. he didn't even look deflated anymore and, after a few minutes, I could barely hear him breath at all, it was amazing. I really started to look up to the guy, he was facing death with such a stone face I just couldn't believe it. I mean, he wasn't even mad at me for it, at least not right then. Somehow is seemed like it was just the most natural thing in the world for him.
But he hit the dirt just as hard as you right?
Yeah, but that was self preservation and I don't see self preservation as the same thing as cowardice. At least that's what they taught me in those self defense classes I took.
Anyway, what happened next?
Well, I was expecting him to just get up and walk out with us, or maybe shoot us right there on the gas station floor. But he just hovered over us and, after a few minutes, the entire gas station was flooded with blue lights and, a few minutes after that, I could hear helicopters overhead. There must have been a hundred cops out there not counting the ones in the air.
Actually, those were news copters, the police ones came later.
Heh, my fucking luck there isn't it? You don't realize how bad things are until the news reporters show up do you?
Hey! I resent that, my wife is a newspaper reporter.
Sorry, but it's true. But anyway. It was obvious right then that, like it or not, I was in the middle of a hostage situation and guess who was playing the role of the helpless victim. Me.