Throughout my life there have been real incidents or situations that have only served to fortify and feed my already suspicious nature. Dark gut-feelings that became realities, accidentally exposed plots, and occasionally bizarre events my paranoia uses as guides for my remaining time in this world. The following is the latter – a true tale of a situation I lived through due to my special brand of paranoid thinking.
In my late teens and early twenties I made at least one drive a year from Texas to Florida, usually with a pal or two, but once or twice I did the drive solo. I believe this particular trip was closer to the end of those runs back and forth to visit a girl, and even though I’d not hit twenty-one I made the trip by myself in my father’s gold Fiero. From Austin it was roughly an eighteen hour drive and I decided to leave late in the day, which would put me in Jacksonville before noon. That decision would also have me driving through the Deep South in the witching hours of the night.
As was common for me on these caffeine-fueled straight shots from point A to point B, I had some AM news/talk radio blaring to keep my mind active – typically blaring rock music only served the sandman’s objective. While entering Mississippi, a bulletin came over the air announcing that three or four prisoners had escaped from a relatively high-security lockup somewhere in those parts. My brain registered the words that made up the story, but as I’d not fully developed that lobe of the brain that measures consequences, just a short time after hearing the announcement I pulled off of the interstate for gas.
The pumps at this station were a good distance from the structure housing a cashier and goodies for snacking. I pulled the Fiero in front of the pump nearest to the store, jumped out, and began to fill the tank. This was before Pay-At-The-Pump was everywhere, and I doubt I had a credit card at the time regardless. All I know is the pump turned on, and I proceeded with the task at hand.
Just seconds into it, I heard two voices calling to me from in front of the store. It was two fellows sitting on the sidewalk, legs stretched out, with their backs against the anterior of the building. They called to me – asked me if I wouldn’t mind putting on the radio while I filled up – I told them I didn’t think running the car while pumping was a good idea.
They laughed and reminded me, “You don’t need run the car to work the radio son.” They were right about that of course.
It was late, I was tired, and frankly not as smart I’d like to think I am. I turned on the radio, turned it up at their request, and might have even changed channels once or twice as the fuel worked its way into the tank of my two-seater. They were pleased, thanked me, and never moved from their seated position some thirty feet away.
When I was done, I pulled the keys from the car quickly and locked it in preparation to make my way to the cashier to pay. The men protested my action aggressively, and practically demanded I turn the radio back on while making payment. I refused despite their harsh overtones.
I walked past them and into the store as they tried in vain to change my mind about the tunes with all manner of barbs, good-natured and otherwise. But they never moved. When I got inside there wasn’t a soul in sight. No one behind the counter, no one mopping up, and no one pacing the few aisles that existed for midnight munchies either.
I stood patiently in front of the cashier’s corner with one eye on the store and the other on my car, with open ears working feverishly to hear what the two fellas outside might be saying.
Not more than a minute had passed when finally a man came into the store from a backroom door, he’d been in a stock room or office I suppose.
He walked toward me, toward the cash register, while buttoning up the last two top buttons on his station-issued Dickie’s style shirt. He took a look a long look outside the window at my car, then asked me how much I’d pumped. I told him the amount, to the penny, gave him just enough in bills to cover it, and politely said, “I don’t need the change.”
I turned to leave as he struggled with the register. I opened the door, keys in hand, and looked to my right to see if the two music lovers were still there. They were gone. I bee-lined to the car, jabbed at the lock with my key, opened it, threw myself inside and got the hell out of there and back onto the highway.
About five minutes later I saw six or seven police cars, stopped near a bridge, and all manner of flash light beams working the woods to the left and the right of it. It was only then that it occurred to me: those two gents who had so adamantly demanded to hear the radio had been wearing the exact same outfits – a solid color from head to toe. I sped on, said nothing, and told myself I was just being paranoid.
To this day I think had I borrowed my mother’s Pontiac Bonneville instead, I might have joined the gas station attendant they’d tied up, possibly killed, in the back room of that station. Fortunately for me, my father had a soft spot for tiny sports cars, albeit one of Pontiac’s most prolific lemons. In fact, I might be the only one left singing the praises of that particular vehicle.