The Uber driver didn’t respond when I buckled up, and said, “Hi.” As he pulled away I saw his eyes in the rearview. They were red and crazed. An anonymous GPS voice said: “Go to Albion Street, then turn left…” He switched it off.

“You okay?” I said.

“I killed the fucker,” he said. He was driving fast and was beginning to sob intermittently. “I’m pretty fucking far from okay!”

“What are you talking about? Hey, slow down.” He didn’t.

“I caught them doing it. In the middle of it. In our bed! I put a knife in his neck and then—I don’t know—everywhere.”

“Pull over,” I said. “We’ll talk.” I was planning on leaping out the minute he stopped.

“Screw that,” he said, and the eyes in the rearview were wet and angry.

“Is she…?”

“No, she was screaming her head off when I ran out of there.”

My mind was like one of those friction cars spinning out against a wall. Not going anywhere, just making a lot of noise in there. “Why the hell did you pick me up?”

He turned then, as he went through a crosswalk, and a woman with a bag of groceries stopped suddenly. He had a gun pointed at me. “You’re my hostage,” he said, then turned back. He put the gun beside him on the seat and both hands back on the wheel.

It’s hard to know how you’ll react in a crisis. In a life and death situation. My heart was going so fast I could hear it. I wanted to be calm, at least act calm—to talk calmly, see if I could reach him in some way, but what happened was, I screamed “Fuck!”–released my seatbelt and tried to open the door. Not sure if I’d jump out at that speed or not, but all reason had left me, and all I knew was the outside seemed better than inside.

“It’s locked,” he said.

That’s when I sat back, realized I was in the jaws of some crazy animal trap, and if I couldn’t chew my leg off to escape, I had to reach him somehow.

“I’ve got kids,” I said. “I’ve got nothing to do with all this.”

“I know,” he said. “But you’re in it now.”

I knew they’d catch up with him as we entered the freeway. I knew how this worked. They’d have a police helicopter and Highway Patrol checking makes of cars and license plates. There’d be spike strips. He’d be cornered at some point, surrounded. There’d be a shootout. Probably what he wanted anyway on some level. Suicide by cop, only bullets go every which way. Weren’t fussy about where they wound up.

“If I’m a hostage, then you’ll want to call someone, let them know you want to negotiate. It was a crime of passion,” I heard myself say. “They can cut you some slack with a thing like that. People do all kinds of things in a situation like that. That counts. You can make a deal.”

He began to laugh. It wasn’t the laugh of a madman on the brink. “That’s a good one,” he said, slowing down and getting in the exit lane. “Let’s Make a Deal. My mom used to watch that show on TV.” His demeanor was completely changed. His eyes in the rearview were bright and dry. “That was good, right?” he said. “Come on, you know I aced it.”

And in an instant he went from desperate killer to wiseass. And I went from soon-to-be-deceased innocent victim to near-murderous passenger. “You fucking what?”

“Aced it,” he said. Held up the gun. “Fake,” he said. “You think this is what I’m gonna be doing for the rest of my life? I got star quality.”

My heart was still going pretty good. My jaw was swung open, but nothing came out.

“I’m heading for L.A. next week. I got an agent and everything.” Exiting the highway, he turned the wheel with one hand down a street I recognized. We were only minutes from my destination.

“Are you fucking kidding me? This was all some kind of joke?”

“Hell no,” he said. “That was some serious business, my friend. My real business. That was some top-notch acting, right? Come on, give me that.”

“What I ought to give you is a punch in the mouth.”

“I wouldn’t try that,” he said, and those eyes in the rearview were dangerous again. “I’m a black belt. Before you could get a hand up, I’d push your nose through your brain.”

At a stop sign he glared at me for a long moment. Then that rubbery face changed yet again. “Only shittin'” he said. “I’m a wimp. But I will sue the shit out of you in a heartbeat. Come on,” he said. “Lighten up. Consider it a sacrifice for the arts. I’ll thank you at the Oscars one day.” He nodded like a bobble doll, and I believed he believed that.

“Here ya go,” he said, as he glided over in front of my dentist’s office.

I looked at him, dumbfounded, stunned, nearly numb. He pressed a button and I was able to open the door and get out. He waved. In my stupor I nearly waved back. Then I realized I had completely forgotten about my tooth hurting as it started up again, and I climbed the stairs, oddly grateful for the small matter it was.

 

***

 

Robert Scotellaro has published widely in national and international books, journals and anthologies, including W.W. Norton’s Flash Fiction International NANO FictionGargoyleNew Flash Fiction ReviewMatter Press, and many others.  Two of his stories were Best Small Fictions winners (2016 and 2017). He is the author of seven literary chapbooks, several books for children, and three story collections: Measuring the DistanceWhat We Know So Far, (winner of The 2015 Blue Light Book Award), and Bad Motel.  He was the recipient of Zone 3’s Rainmaker Award in Poetry.  He has, along with James Thomas, edited New Micro: Exceptionally Short Fiction, by W.W. Norton & Company (2018).  Robert lives with his wife in San Francisco. Visit him at www.rsflashfiction.com.