The truck stop at the junction of 64 and 81 was just what Darrel needed. Oil, sun glasses, Red Bull, beef jerky, ammo. The man at the counter had a gruff countenance and an impressive beard. He gave Darrel a plastic bag with a hole in it and K-Mart lettering on the side.
Darrel brought his recycled bag of goodies back to his beat-up station wagon and didn’t waste any time admiring the sunset.
Fuck the po-lice, thought Darrel as he pulled back on to 81 South.
There were plenty of run-ins, back in grade school, but they didn’t amount to much. Still, they would definitely have his fingerprints.
“Fuck the po-lice,” said Darrel.
A giggle erupted from the back of the car, and Darrel slammed on the brakes.
“Aw, shit no, Eleanor.” Darrel screeched across two lanes to pull to the side of the interstate, anger dripping off his forehead in fat beads of sweat.
“Hehe-eeeee,” squealed the stowaway.
The smell of burning rubber wafted about the car as they came to a stop. Darrel put the emergency brake on and turned to face his niece, who was grinning mischievously from behind the backseat.
“You been back there for an hour?” he asked. “You can’t go to the god-damned grocery store without a pee break, and you been hiding for a fucking hour?” He felt his face turning red. Leave it to a five-year-old to ruin his getaway. Leave it to his slutty sister to forget how to play mom.
Eleanor began to cry.
“If you was your mother, I’d drop your sorry ass on the side of the road,” Darrel said. There was no use even trying to calm the girl down. He ought to drag her out of the car for a good spanking, but then some buttoned-up yuppie would call the cops on his way by.
Cops were the last thing Darrel needed. Cops and baby girls.
“How am I supposed to get you home, girl?” he asked.
“Don’t wanna go home!” wailed Eleanor in a high-pitched shriek.
“Won’t.” The tears were gone, replaced by a sturdy pout.
He couldn’t go back to his sister’s, anyway. They’d be questioning her by now. He’d hoped that some misplaced sisterly obligation would keep her quiet, but now… now she’d tell them everything. He wouldn’t stand a chance. A tall, bearded redneck in a scuffed-up suit that didn’t fit and a cranky mixed-race child wearing — were those playboy bunnies on her pajamas?
“Eleanor,” he began.
“Won’t!” she shrieked. “Momma don’t want me anyway. She leave me with Gregory an he don’t even remember dinner.” Tears brewed in her eyes again. “Uncle Darrel, I’m hungry.”
“She drops you off at Gregory’s? The man who used to shoot at Maggie’s dog?”
“Yeah.” Eleanor’s bottom lip quivered.
“And he don’t feed you?”
“No. He only got tunafish inna can.”
“You lying to me?”
Eleanor shook her head. Darrel sighed.
“Climb on up here, girl.”
Eleanor scrambled to the front of the car and sat triumphantly in the passenger seat next to him. He was about to ask her what, exactly, he was supposed to do with her, when the inevitable happened. A highway cop pulled up behind him. No blinking lights, just a chubby police officer who must have gotten bored of Dunkin’ Donuts.
“Here’s how it goes, baby doll,” said Darrel. “You gotta pee, okay?”
Eleanor creased her eyebrows together and scrunched up her button nose.
“No I don’t.”
In the rearview mirror, Darrel watched the police officer get out of his car and shuffle towards them. He estimated that he had less than ten seconds to get Eleanor to play along.
“It’s pretend, see?” he said, forcing a smile. “You pretend I’m your daddy, and you gotta pee, and no matter what I say you just gotta pee worse and worse. It’s funny, right? Because that man back there, he don’t know you’re pretending. It’s just you and me that know.”
“Like a trick?” Eleanor asked, her eyes sparkling with mischief.
“Just like that,” Darrel said as he rolled down the window.
“Do you need any help?” asked the police officer.
“No sir, officer, I just stopped to look at, uh, directions.”
Eleanor began to squirm.
“Yeah, where you headed?” the officer asked.
“Headed to… Charleston. West Virginia, not, uh, South Carolina.” He cleared his throat. “I think we’re all set, though. Called and got directions.” His hands were sweating. Did the cop notice? Darrel could hear the distant squawk of the dispatch radio. Incessant.
“Daddy, I gotta pee!”
“Yep, well, you’re goin in the right direction. Visiting family?” The cop rested his chubby arm on the frame of the car above the window and leaned down.
“Thanks. Yep. Yep. Visiting grandma, right, E-? Right, Emma?”
Eleanor nodded mid-squirm, then pouted. She was doing better than him, with his sweaty palms and his stunted speech.
“Ain’t that sweet. So where you coming from? Up North?”
“Richmond.” Stupid. Stupid, stupidstupid.
“Oh yeah?” The man furrowed his brow, as if looking at Darrel for the first time. In the distance, the dispatch radio squawked away. Every other muffled word sounded like ‘bank’ or ‘robbery.’ But maybe that was his imagination.
“Da-deeeeeee!” It was the same shriek that had pierced Darrel’s ears moments ago, but this time it was almost musical. Darrel masked his grin with a reproachful glance, and winked so only Eleanor could see.
“Darlin, would you give us one moment? This officer is tryin to be helpful.”
“I’m sorry to hold you up,” the cop said. “You best be going before this one has an accident.” With a nod, he departed.
Eleanor exploded in a bout of giggles.
“All right, little lady,” said Darrel, pulling back on to the interstate. “It’s a long drive. Buckle up.”
A trunk full of twenties, a loaded gun, Red Bull, beef jerky, and a baby girl. Just what he needed to get all the way to Mexico.
Amy R. Biddle is a sailor and writer who grew up in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Her debut novel, The Atheist’s Prayer, is a dark comedy about a fairy-worshiping suicide cult. Amy has also written a smattering of poetry and articles both online and in local newsletters, and one of her poems was selected for the 2013 Poetic Republic collection. In addition to writing, she co-runs Underground Book Reviews, a review site for quality independent literature.