The gas station was still just a small matchbox in the distance.
The sign just outside of Merkittsville warned her that it was the “last stop for 80 miles for gas” but she figured she had more than enough to get through. She looked down and saw the little red gauge was still above “E.” Besides, she did not like the look of Merkittsville or especially the men in the diner that kept staring at her. She knew those kinds of looks. She grew up with them. They always started as nothing more than stares that lasted a little too long and then it was a walk over and some dumb flirty comment about her red hair and then it was her outside by her car pushing some hands away.
It was best to stay on the road.
She thought she had enough in the tank to make it 80 miles. But it was close. The gas station was getting nearer but she could almost imagine running out of gas and having to walk the last half mile in the dark with a gas can in hand.
She did not want to find herself alone on the road at night with only an empty gas can for protection.
She pulled into the yellowish light of the station and stopped at the first pump. She turned off the engine and waited for the attendant. She honked her horn softly to get some attention.
The first thing she noticed about the station was the Jaguar. It was parked alongside the station with about twenty other cars. It was an older model and still had the ornament with the large cat leaping from the front hood. The silver plating of the ornament shined in the station’s yellowed light. Next to the Jaguar was a Mercedes. It was an older model too and just as shined as the Jaguar. She looked at the entire row of cars. She did not recognize many of them but they all looked expensive. And each was in perfect condition.
The attendant was still nowhere in sight. She pushed at her horn a little harder and started to get out of her car when the door of the station suddenly opened.
A man in spotless white overalls walked over to her car.
“I’m sorry, mam.” He yelled over to her.
“Please don’t tell me you’re closed.” She yelled back from her window.
“No, no, we never close, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year.”
The attendant stood at the front of her hood looking at her car.
“This is what, “ the attendant bent down and looked at the grille a little closer, “ a ’73, ’74 Barracuda?”
“A ‘74”, she called out.
“And you got the V8 in it?
“360 V8. You know your cars.” She was impressed.
“Well,” the attendant said pointing to the Jaguar and other cars, “I been building me a collection.”
“What about the Jaguar, is it for sale? Or maybe trade?”
“Oh, no, mam, none of them are for sale. I couldn’t rightfully do that.”
The man walked over to the pumps and pulled out a pair of gloves from a box on the ground. They were the thin white plastic type that doctors seemed to use.
“Fill her up for you?”
“Please, and could you check the fluids.”
She thought it best she have him check everything. She did not want to break down in the middle of wherever this was.
She watched the man handle the pump and then rip off the gloves and put on a new pair to check the oil. He took out the dipstick and backed up a step to check the oil against the overhead light of the station.
“You’re fine on oil.” He yelled over to her.
The man ripped off the gloves and again bent down and put on a new pair as he went over to the pump and finished filling her up. He pumped at the handle to even off the sale.
“That’s forty-six even, mam.”
She reached into her purse for her credit card as the man stood just outside of her window. He smiled at her and then looked into the back seat of her car. She looked up in time to see his smile fade for a moment but then it was back again.
“I’ll have to run the card inside mam, I won’t be but a minute.”
She watched him walk over to the box and get out another pair of disposable gloves. He was an odd little man she thought to herself. He changed gloves in between every service he provided. Efficient and very clean, but odd.
The man came out of the station carrying a clipboard with her credit card attached to the top and handed it to her through her window. As she went to review the sale she noticed in neat little block letters a message written on the bottom of the credit card slip:
DO NOT TURN AROUND OR YELL.
THERE IS A MAN IN THE BACK SEAT
OF YOUR CAR.
She read the message twice and started to instinctively turn around and yell when the station attendant suddenly reached down and opened her door.
“You can take care of this inside mam, my machine’s been printing funny.”
She did not even bother responding to him but rather ran as fast as she could from her car and into the station. The man ran right behind her and closed the door as soon as they were both inside.
“What did you see? What did he look like? What are we going to do? What are we going to do?”
She knew she was talking too fast and her words were spilling from her like blood from a wound. She kept repeating the same questions over and over. She kept thinking it must be one of the men from the diner back at Merkittsville.
“What are we going to do?
“Don’t worry, settle down, just settle it down a little.” The man grabbed her by both arms and held her until she stopped talking and shaking.
“Look, I know what to do, okay? Just relax, relax. I’ve taken care of this sort of thing many times before.”
And with that the man let her go and walked out of the station and towards her car. She ran to the window and watched as he slowly made his way to the driver’s side. What did he mean “taken care of this sort of thing many times before?” How many times could a thing like this happen, she thought to herself.
The man stood for a moment watching her and then he turned to face the car. He seemed to take a measured breath and nodded at her as she watched from inside the station. The attendant opened the door and sat in the front seat.
“No,…”, She yelled and banged at the glass of the station’s window.
He closed the door and started the engine and drove the car forward a few feet. He parked in-between the Mercedes and some fancy car she did not recognize.
The man in the back seat never moved.
The attendant got out of the car and locked the door behind him. He rubbed at the roof of the car with his gloves and told himself how it would all need a good wash and waxing in the morning. At least two coats.
He walked over to an old rusted Ford parked by the gas sign and reached into the back hold of the truck. He pulled out a large axe and walked over to the front of the station.
“Come out mam, please.” He yelled over to her. “I promise, I’ll make it nice and clean.”