Out of Gas
by Ron Capshaw
was my own fault.
just taking a dirt road shortcut to my sister’s house. It
wasn’t just not paying attention to the gas gauge.
It was expecting the cops to be different.
Look at him, I thought, as he got out of his police cruiser, and strutted
over. Macho with a badge. Cowboy
hat, sunglasses hanging on the outside of the front pocket of his highway patrol uniform. Enormous gun that seemed to slap against his
It was my past walking toward
me. It could be the 1970s all over again,
when the cops ran the town of Mullin, Texas; where they could search your car without a
warrant (one of my friends was arrested on the spot for stating the cop was violating his
civil rights); plant evidence, and arresting people for what we called DWB—- “Driving
By now, the
cop had arrived at the driver’s side
door of the car. I couldn’t make him
out because he was shining his flashlight into my eyes even though the sun had yet to go
I got the sense of enormous
bulk. Not fat. Just dense. Like a brick.
He rapped a knuckle on the window.
“Roll the fucking window down.”
I was 17 again.
complied. I wasn’t about to get into
an argument with a cop on a lonely dirt road at sundown.
flashlight was still in my eyes.
the nearness of his voice I could detect that he was leaning into the car, examining me.
He had seen my California plates.
“So, Mr. Hollywood. What
seems to be the problem?”
his bulk, his voice sounded solid. Like
you would hurt your hand if you tried to punch through it.
tried for a self-deprecating smile.
ran out of gas.”
The cop grunted,
sounding like a bull ape.
I heard him
reaching into his back pocket.
fucker was writing me out a ticket.
should pay better attention.”
give tickets for running out of gas?” I
black-gloved hand came near my face holding the ticket.
took it, and resisted the urge to crumple it into a ball and bounce it off his chest.
But this was Mullin, where men were men and cops were above the
“Have a good day.”
I should have kept silent, but I needed to show I still had some
guts left. That life away from Mullin had
given me a spine.
not even going to help me?”
flashlight was turned off.
With the last
rays of sunlight, I saw that he was bigger than I thought.
His hat obscured his features like the Shadow’s, that 30’s era avenger
This guy didn’t avenge
anything. He didn’t have to. Because everyone was so scared of him or had him in their pocket that
no one dared to give him anything to be vengeful about.
He merely tipped his hat and went whistling back to his police cruiser.
He drove off, leaving me with my anger and self-loathing.
I should have at least talked back.
I should have flashed him my ACLU membership card and told him what
a fascist he was, and how this incident would be gone over with a fine tooth comb
by my lawyer.
I looked down at the ticket. He had actually written on it, “Driver negligently ran out of gas.”
Oddly, he didn’t write
his name or badge number on the ticket.
leaned back. The sun was down by now, and
the crickets began chirping, and there was a gentle breeze I felt when I got out of my
“Fuck,” I screamed
My voice echoed. A wolf howled.
hit my hazard lights, hoping some kinder soul would help me.
I thought about the body my friends and I found in the woods so long ago, before I wrote
my way out of Mullin; getting a scholarship to UCLA (“fag country” my father
called it, but still made sure I could go); graduating; and then writing my way into the
The body had
half his face shot off. We learned, not
through the three sheet local paper, who didn’t report it (we suspected they thought
deep down the cops did it) but through the highly-developed rumor mill of Mullin that it
was a drug deal gone wrong.
That was credible. Because the only thing “big city”
about Mullin (population, 2500 and rigorously segregated) was its drug culture. It wasn’t just rednecks smoking pot. We had heroin, even cocaine that anyone could get if they ventured
into the black section of town.
deal or not, trigger happy cops or not, I was not going to remain in my car and lose half
of my face.
At least on foot, I could
hide in the woods.
I went to the
back of my rental car and opened the trunk.
The rental company gave
me a radio that could detect sound waves on Venus and plush car seats you could sink into. But they didn’t give me a gas can.
I heard tires crunching gravel.
parked in front of me, and turned off his headlights.
got out, the police cruiser buckling under his weight.
left my hazard lights on, and as he approached they made him look like he was on the dance
floor of a disco.
Hell had just
frozen over. He was carrying a gas can.
He stood in front of me.
Easily three inches taller than me and outweighing me by 50 lbs. Built like a linebacker.
put the gas can down in front of me and stepped away from it.
for my rudeness,” he said. “I
had to dump the body. Now let’s take
care of you.”
to like him. Even when you knew what
a huckster he was. There was something endearing about someone who was up front about
being in it strictly for the money.
provided the one amusing moment in the horror that was D-Day. While we were waiting to
get off the landing boat at Omaha Beach to try our luck against Nazi machine gun nests,
he was still selling rabbits’ feet and “good luck” coins.
His “customers” died clutching them.
I miraculously made it to the beach and through the
frozen hell of the Battle of the Bulge and into Berlin without a scratch.
William was not so
lucky. A Nazi sniper shot off his hand just as he hit Omaha Beach. He was looking for it
in the surf when that buck sergeant grabbed him by his backpack and drug William to what
passed for cover on the beach.
the medic came over, the buck sergeant’s head exploded.
But the medic had seen it all
and without missing a beat, bullets pinging off his helmet, was able to save William’s
life, even with the blood jetting out of the stump where his hand used to be.
“Are you ready?”
William said, zipping up the Bigfoot suit with the hand that stayed attached to his body.
He then covered the brass zippers with fur so the camera wouldn’t pick it up.
“Hurry up, will ya? This thing is hotter
than hell,” I said.
think about how rich we will be when we sell this to NBC,” he said, picking up the
handheld camera he brought to lend the “sighting” some authenticity. The idea
was that he would make the camera lens go all over the place because he was chasing the
“creature” across the rough terrain of the California mountains.
“Remember to swing your arms
like a gorilla. Then look over your shoulder at me, and then race into the woods.”
He grinned and said,
I was good.
We got it in one take.
then, the sun was starting to go down.
We made camp.
Of course, we swapped war stories.
Of course, we got shit-faced.
the Bigfoot suit that lay neatly folded by the tent.
Williams was out of shape in
the drinking department. He passed out first.
off my glass of apricot brandy and did likewise.
As usual, I dreamed about the
When the landing craft door opened, I dove over the side of the
boat just as my comrades in front of me exploded in cloth and blood and brain matter.
the others who floated underwater past me, I was able to get my 20-pound backpack off and
I swam/crawled to the beach, Nazi bullets miraculously not hitting
Right when I found some cover—courtesy of-two corpses I stacked
up in front of me—-I smelled a rank, sweaty smell.
That’s not how corpses smell.
I came awake, looking
into the lifeless eyes of William. He died with the same expression on his face as I saw
on those who had their life shot out of them on that horrid day in 1944. Confusion more
The rest of
his body was several feet away.
Pieces of the Bigfoot costume were
flying into the air.
stopped, and turned to me.
invaded its feeding grounds and now we were its food.
Or maybe it was mad because we
pretended to be it.
Reds Under Beds
Stalin was going to have me killed.
In my country. On my
I felt it.
I had a full body shudder that
I intuitively knew occurred the very moment he ordered my death an ocean away.
It must have been a novelty for
him to sign an execution order for an American; a break from his
late hour routine of ferociously signing those for his countrymen; even his truest believers;
pausing only to take a swig from a vodka bottle and making sure some enemy had not snuck
in and emptied his pistol of bullets.
It could have
resulted from a careless comment I made to another agent questioning the wisdom of Stalin
executing his military high command.
In my subconscious
I think I was being deliberate. That I really
wanted out. Bad. And that
was the first of several fatal moves.
like to say I came out of the shadow world of what we did in Stalin’s name because
of patriotism; because I wanted to write the wrongs of how I betrayed my country
for over a decade.
But in the wee
hours of the night, when every creak of every board in that rented Long Island beach house
had me sliding my hand under the pillow for my pistol, I couldn’t fool myself with
such lofty reasons.
I simply wanted to
save my skin.
The government boys who gave us
top secret governments were the only ones untouchable. But
we who had them microfilmed and sent to the Soviet Union weren’t.
Within 8 months,
three in my original cell had “disappeared.”
I know for a fact that two of them were en route to their midnight meeting with
Karkov on that DC park bench when they went missing.
hard to piece together what happened. We
heard the rumors. The absence of their corpses
meant they were kidnapped onto a ship bound for Russia where they would soon be screaming
and begging their captors to tell them what they wanted them to say to make the pain stop
in basements where stood beefy men in undershirts holding truncheons.
The third, who I knew only as “Julian,”
codenamed “The Poet,” was the victim of a nighttime hit-and-run. No witnesses.
Conclusion: Stalin’s paranoia was not satisfied by Russian blood. He needed fresh foreign blood and he was reaching across the ocean
to get it.
I defected quietly
and intended to re-emerge publicly. I stopped
meeting Karkov and as “David Gregory,” codenamed “Writer,” forever left
my Washington DC apartment with the radio transmitter and the code book underneath a loose
I needed to be
“known.” I wanted to have a lot of light
on me to discourage Stalin from having me suspiciously killed. If he did, at
least there would be questions asked. Leads
Through a journalist friend from
Columbia University days who knew what I was but hopefully didn’t know the sickening
things I did, I let Congress know
I would appear in open session and expose communist moles in the State Department
in exchange for immunity from prosecution and a new identity.
That was why I was now on the
DC streets on foot and en route to testify on a cool Spring day.
was when I saw him.
He was dressed as a hep-cat. Shirt open at the neck, pointed collar. Dingy double-breasted suit.
Unfashionably long hair in that year of our Lord 1938 that almost reached his collar.
The last person you would think of as a Communist assassin.
Which meant he was.
But he himself was followed. I may have a friend.
follower was FBI to the core. Sedate dark-colored suit.
Shoes shined to another dimension; things all demanded by J. Edgar of his agents. That was why we were able to get away with what
we did. Because the FBI was too busy shining
their shoes to notice what we were funneling to Stalin.
I stopped at a store window, and briefly glanced
at Hep Cat. He stared at me and then nodded
to someone ahead of me.
was carrying an umbrella even though it was a clear spring day in DC.
The umbrella had a
poison tip on it and its owner would casually tap me on the leg with it as he passed by
me… And when I fell to the ground in
a seizure, he would bend down and yell for
a “doctor.” Even if a doctor
was within shouting range, I would be dead in seconds.
I had misjudged Stalin. He didn’t care how it looked that I had a heart attack—I’m
sure the poison was untraceable—on the way to exposing him.
He’d kill me no matter where I was. He would just as readily do it at high noon in
Washington on a busy street as he would in a dark alley.
I hurriedly turned away from the Umbrella Man and hailed a taxi to take me back to the hotel
room paid for by Congress.
Then I would
fade away, using the tricks Moscow taught me.
we drove away, I looked out the back windshield of the
taxi and didn’t see Umbrella Man or Hepcat or even the FBI guy.
I gave the cabbie a generous tip when we arrived
at the hotel.
I didn’t see Hep
Cat or Umbrella Man hiding behind a newspaper in the lobby.
I took the stairs to my room.
I went in,
scanned the room, looked in the bathroom shower stall, and got my suitcase out and
I took the pistol
out of it, opened it and bullets spilled out onto the carpeted floor.
I reached down to retrieve them I happened to look under my bed.
Hep Cat and the FBI guy were under it.
They both fired.
Ron Capshaw is a
writer based in Florida. His novel, The Stage Mother's Club, came out in
June from Dark Edge Press.