“My baby!” The woman ran screaming up Harrom St. The 7-Eleven’s doors blasted open, swunk, swunk, swunk…never closing as a swift moving posse of the curious hurried outside to bug-eye the commotion.
“What in the hell is going on?” drawled out an old-timer to anyone in the vicinity. Johnny, a tall, slender 20-something Apple Store employee who was standing nearby, gave a guess. “I’d say someone stole her baby.” He’d watched enough CSI to comprehend the scene with rapid assessment.
A tattooed young woman with short black hair and big brown eyes came closer. “You don’t say? Didja see it happen?”
“Nice tats.” Johnny said, hormones speaking first. “Uh, no. Just my guess.”
The woman who’d been screaming while running up Harrom St. was now screaming running down Harrom St., accompanied by a distant siren. Two men who looked like they may just live at the gym were running beside her, trying to settle down the hysterical woman. The store clerk slammed his palm into his forehead and ran back into the store to safeguard the unmanned register. It didn’t take long once the sirens were heard for the crowd to disperse. No one wanted their day held up answering questions about something they knew nothing about. Johnny didn’t leave. He felt energized by the scene.
The two men had gotten the woman calm enough to sit. Her knee bobbed up and down and her hands never stopped moving as she chattered out details. The baby was sleeping in her carseat. She just went into the store for a second to grab a coffee. They were traveling from Waynesport, Mississippi, and still had an eight-hour ride to get to her mother’s house, where they were set to have a mini-vacation. She hadn’t seen the baby yet, her ma, cause she’d been doing the chemo treatments and all for the breast cancer. She didn’t want her mother to die before seeing her one and only grandchild.
These were the type of details that were meaningless. Johnny slid between the two men.
“What’s your name,” he asked.
“Okay, Sarah. I need you to tell me exactly what happened.” Oh, yes, Johnny was now in charge. Move over Haratio Caine.
The two hulky men puffed up like roosters and gave Johnny a once over, which he ignored.
“I pulled into the parking lot. There wasn’t no cars around, not really. Little Allie, that’s my baby, was asleep in the backseat. She’d been crying for the past mile and a half, so..”
“Sarah. Stay on task for me.”
“Sarah’s eyes dumped out another bucket of water, which she soaked up with a handful of tissue someone from behind had dropped into her lap. Johnny looked up. The crowd was now down to about five folks, plus the two guys that had deemed themselves the woman’s bodyguards. The sirens were coming in louder, so he had to speed this up.
“So you left the baby sleeping in the backseat. Did you close all the windows? Lock the doors?”
“Well, no. There wasn’t no one around, so I left the car runnin’. I was only gonna be a minute.”
“Then what happened.”
“Then I went into the store, poured some coffee, put the lid on it. I just like it black, so didn’t put no sugar or anything in it.” She closed her eyes, as if walking through the motions in her head. “Then I walked to the cooler and grabbed a water. And then I stood in line. I could see the car. It was right there in front of the door.”
“What kind of car were you driving?”
“It’s a black Kia, a Soul. I got that cause of the gas mileage. It was used, so I got me a good deal. The seats are a bit worn, but it didn’t have much mileage on..”
Johnny interrupted. “So you were in line and you could see your car.”
She started to cry again. This time her words came out in huffs and bursts. “There was a person in front of me in line, so I thought I’d just tinkle real quick like.”
“Who was in front of you?”
“I don’t remember.”
“Man or woman?”
“It was a man, I think.”
“A man. White? Black? Hispanic?”
“Wait. It was a woman. I remember because her roots were in definite need of a touchup. She was not a natural blonde.”
“Okay…a woman. How tall? Fat? Skinny? How old? “
“I never saw her face, just the back of her head.”
Johnny saw her face. In fact, he’d gotten a photo of that outstanding looking face. He didn’t see her get into the car and drive off, but he did see her through the window as he munched down two-fer hotdogs, just standing outside looking oh, so beautiful. He pulled out his phone and hit the photo ap. “Is this her?”
“Yes, I think so.”
One of the burly men grabbed Johnny’s wrist, and removed the phone. He looked at the picture and then showed it to the other man. He grabbed Johnny by the collar, pulling him to standing position. Giving back the phone with one hand, he extended the other.
“Rick, Rick Jackson.”
Johnny put his hand into the man’s and shook. “Johnny.”
“Johnny, this here’s my brother, Pete.”
The police pulled into the parking lot. The woman with the missing child stood ready to assault the officer with her situation.
Johnny had one last question. “What state are your plates from, ma’am?”
Johnny needed to get to work, but he wanted to give the police all the details he’d gotten from the woman first, and show them the photo. They were going to be impressed. He started in the direction of the officers. Rick nodded to Pete.
“Hey, Johnny. Is that your car over there?” Rick asked.
Johnny looked over at the Orange 1966 Pontiac GTO.
“Cause we’d like to take a ride in it…with you.”
Johnny could feel the hair on the back of his neck stand up. He was getting goosies, as J.Lo would say on American Idol, a term he often heard in his head when daydreaming about J.Lo but never imagined would pop up in a situation that made him want to wet himself.
“Sure,” he stammered, “But first I gotta talk to the cops and show them the pic of the woman.”
“Well, here’s the deal, Johnny. We don’t think that would be in anyone’s best interest.”
“Are you insane? This could help that lady get her baby back.”
Rick grabbed Johnny by his triceps and squeezed. “Come on, kid. It’s time for that ride.”
A police officer looked over and saw Johnny turn ashen under the larger man’s grip.
“Hey, you two. Come over here. We’d like to get your statements.” Pete, who was watching at a distance, reached into his truck and pulled out a handgun, tucking it into the back of his pants.
Rick whispered something into Johnny’s ear, which Johnny could not make out. Whatever it was, it made Rick loosen his grip. Johnny took advantage of the freedom and ran toward the police officer. That was when all hell broke loose, and more than anything Johnny for the first time in his short retail career wished to be at work.
Bullets and people started flying in multiple directions. Johnny was sure it was Pete who initiated his trigger finger first. Johnny flattened himself to the ground and started a quick crawl in the direction of his car. Pete was no longer standing anywhere near it but had moved to the side of the 7-Eleven behind the dumpster, where he could aim at protecting his brother. That left only misaimed gunfire to hinder him from reaching his ride. Rick was in a firearm struggle with the police officer who had called them over. Pete was blasting away. Johnny on hands and knees, quickly shifting left and right, got to his car and started it up hunched down. There was no mistaking the sound of the engine firing up, however. The revamped GTO was a graduation gift from his father, the pride and joy of dad’s younger days, his baby as he liked to say, his Ginnie.
“GTO, Johnny, Ginnie Takes Off.” He whispered his father’s words as mantra to give him the courage to floor the gas and get the hell out of harm’s way. It worked, and he did. Johnny sat up, pounded his foot down on the gas, grabbed the wheel with both hands, and the car jerked like a rocket on takeoff. The chaos of the scene was now sucked into the rearview mirror. Except that wasn’t entirely true. A silver F-350 was reversing with wheels squealing and two bulking men in the front seat looking really pissed off, even from a distance.
“Oh, shit.” Johnny cursed under his breath. He was surely going to get fired…no, he was surely going to die.
The truck was behind him, with just inches separating back and front bumpers.
“Hey, kid.” called out Pete, “Where you heading?”
Johnny saw the gun and the way the hulk was eyeing the left side of the back window.
His voice was cracking as he whined to himself. “Work. I just wanna go to work”
“Hey, what the hell, man?” Rick called out from the driver’s window of the truck, which was now side by side with Johnny’s passenger window. He also had a handgun pointed into the GTO.
“You better pull over, boy. We just want that phone. We don’t want to hurt you.”
Johnny knew that was bullshit. He watched unsolved crimes and knew exactly how this was gonna play out if he stopped. And he saw the way they were shooting at anybody and everybody back at the 7-Eleven. Sirens were screaming out behind them. The cavalry was on the way. This gave Johnny some much needed bravery, but all he could come up with was, “You’re gonna be in a heap of trouble.” And he screamed that through the rolled down passenger window. His mouth was dry and the words, which were meaningless anyway, just clung to the back of his throat, refusing to come out except in a garbled blob.
He put the car in overdrive, and it took off, leaving the truck in dust as he headed west, veering onto the highway. The F-350 trailed behind by only a short distance. There were now two cop cars closing in on them. Johnny kept his foot floored. If he was going to die today, it was going to be by crashing, not by being shot. The next exit was a mile further down the road. He’d get off there and mingle into traffic. That would slow the truck up. A bullet whipped in from the back window and lodged into the driver’s seat, causing Johnny to swerve, narrowly missing a car that was to his left.
Two police cars were now pacing the truck, one on each side. The F-350 swerved to the left, smashing into one, slowing it up enough for the truck’s passenger to take aim at a tire, blowing out the driver’s side front. The police car veered and narrowly missed a guardrail. The truck once more hit the police car and sent it rolling off the road, leaving only one in pursuit.
Johnny slowed enough to steer the bend of the off ramp. He didn’t stop at the red signal light at the end, just negotiated himself into traffic, amid beeps and tire squeals. He did a quick u-turn and started heading in the other direction, snug in the flow of the fast movers. The sirens were ear-piercing, which meant close, and the truck wouldn’t be far either. He jerked the wheel right and entered a sea of parked cars at the Best Western. He found shelter squeezed between two SUVs, not so easy to see from the road. Not an easy task trying to hide a bright orange GTO, he was beginning to figure out. Touching himself all over, he made sure there were no added holes, sore spots, blood. Johnny placed his hands together and looked up. “Thank you, God.” That’s when he saw it, the Black Kia. No mistaking the blonde from the store. That was her.
“What the hell is going on here.” He said outloud. She was taking the baby out from the backseat of the stolen car and placing it into a red Mercedes. She threw keys through the open passenger window of the Kia, looked around to see if anyone was watching, and then proceeded to hop into the driver’s seat of the red sport’s car. Johnny took a picture of the license plate. It was at a distance, but he knew the cops would be able to blow it up and get the number.
“Got you, bitch,” he said.
The blonde exited the parking lot and turned right, toward the interstate ramp. Johnny stayed a safe distance behind and punched 9-1-1 on his phone. The dispatcher picked up on the third ring, and Johnny gave her the low down.
“Hey, my name is John (no more of this Johnny stuff) Bellinger. I’m following behind the woman who kidnapped the baby from the 7-Eleven on Harrom St. We are headed to Exit 14 Interstate 54. She’s no longer traveling in the Black Kia but is now in a Mercedes Benz, cherry red. Make and model unknown. I cannot read the license plate from my distance.”
The police sirens were once more getting loud. He couldn’t see the F-350 in his rearview but surmised it to be getting closer.
Johnny was no longer afraid. He was chasing this blonde beauty in the red sports car. He’d save that baby, be the hero. Everyone at work, all his friends, his parents…before he finished the thought, he felt something pinch right behind his left ear. He reached his hand up, and it slumped down red and wet. Johnny found it difficult to comprehend the situation. His eyelids gave a couple of quick curtain calls, and then it was lights out. Johnny felt like the float in a ticker tape parade. He smiled at that, his ticker tape parade, as the GTO glided toward the underpass like the burnt orange of a setting sun.