The stretch of I-95 was long and it felt even longer with the rain coming down.
Josh had been on the road several hours. He was borrowing this car from one of his party buddies in the Miami area. Borrowing for several hundred bucks he’d given Murray. It was a Jeep Wrangler but it wasn’t one of those decked-out, customized jobs that he saw driving around. This one was vintage only in terms of the years and the mileage and the rust. Murray had told him it wasn’t in the best condition, but also said he thought it could make it to Asheville.
Murray had also asked about the blood on Josh’s pants and shirt. Josh had told him not to ask that again.
The guys taking him last night hadn’t bothered to take his wallet or phone. Maybe that had been deliberate. Maybe they weren’t going to shoot him or cut his throat. Maybe somehow they would have made it seem like it was his own fault. Then again, maybe it was the middle of the night and the guys were tired and stupid.
Josh hadn’t used either his phone or any credit cards yet. He knew enough to know those sorts of things could be traced and tracked down very easily. The directions to get to the city of Asheville weren’t difficult. Once there, he could try to figure out what “grove” might be referring to.
Even with the music playing in the background, quite loud in fact, Josh still couldn’t force the thoughts out of his mind. If he was someone who believed in God, he’d be continuing to thank him now for the mess he got out of last night. But Josh didn’t believe in God or a higher power or anything like that.
I believe in corkscrews that can do a lot of damage to someone’s throat.
The images and moments replayed in his mind. He couldn’t get rid of them. He couldn’t stop hearing that sickly gagging, coughing sound. Couldn’t stop feeling the tumbling of the car, feeling weightless and fearing he was about to die. Couldn’t stop thinking of Carmella.
Am I just wanting her more because she’s suddenly out of reach?
It would have been very typical of Josh. He couldn’t count how many times someone had called him selfish in the past five years. Well, selfish was the sweet term. There were lots worse ones, mainly from some of the women he’d met and photographed and slept with and said goodbye to. Many didn’t care. Many treated it simply as part of life. It was something fun, some kind of fantasy they could indulge in. But a few got a little too emotional and into all of it.
Carmella . . . Was she different?
He didn’t know. At least Josh could drive North to find out. He could simply pat himself on the back and try to forget about the whole corkscrew thing.
“I would be thanking your maker.”
Josh slowed down a bit and turned around to see the backseat. Nobody was there, but the voice sure sounded like it had been spoken in his ear. It was like he could feel the warm breath of his grandfather. He could still smell the wine on his breath. The ailing man had believed in God and prayed to him all the time but also knew the healing power of merlot. Josh didn’t find it hypocritical. No, he thought of it as more comical. The old soldier dying of Emphysema sitting in a wheelchair and trying to walk on two crutches: a Bible and a big bottle of red wine.
Why he saw Papa last night, Josh didn’t know. He hadn’t thought of him in a long time. He hadn’t thought of many of his family, to be honest.
It was easy to escape the memories of yesterday when you’re so busy you forget what city you’ll be waking up in tomorrow.
It’s no cliché to people living this kind of life.
The rain fell on the straight road with cars going ten miles an hour slower than they might. The storm had come out of nowhere. Josh looked at his phone on the seat next to him but believed it had no power. He wasn’t going to check, but there were no signs of life on the device.
What if he lied?
Morales might have lied. That’s true. But at least he’s far away from him.
He’s going to know this is where you’re going.
That might be true again, but Josh would be looking out for anybody. This time he wouldn’t be so stupid, so gullible.
Maybe she was in on it.
There’s no way. Josh knew Carmella might be a lot of things but she didn’t want him gone. Not that way. She loathed the man she was attached to. The man who had her handcuffed to his life. Only occasionally did Morales actually open the door and see Carmella. But she was his prisoner regardless.
Nobody’s going to imprison me.
The rain on the glass seemed to tap all around like the zombies on The Walking Dead trying to get to the hero stranded in the car. Josh wasn’t going to let them bite him. He’d get out of this storm and he’d find Carmella and then . . .
That’s the question.
He never thought too far ahead in the future and he wasn’t going to start now. It was about today. It was about driving and getting to Asheville and then figuring out where she might be.
“You’ll never learn. You need to take mistakes and make them right.”
This time Josh refused to look in the backseat. He could see turning around and seeing his grandfather in that gray suit holding a bottle of wine in one hand and then a corkscrew in the other. Laughing. Laughing because it’s the same bloody, grisly corkscrew Josh had just used.
He turned up the music on the radio. It was a classics station playing a song he’d heard over and over again in his life. But for some reason he suddenly didn’t really like hearing it.
“Who are you? Who who who who?”
Josh still didn’t know for sure. One day down the road, down that part of the road he couldn’t see and didn’t think about, he might find out. But right now Josh didn’t need to know. He didn’t want to know.
He knew he wouldn’t like the answer.