It was cold that night. The air was damp enough to suggest rain, but the rain never came. It was quiet, with hardly a car on the road.
Victor Penry drove through the night after a quick run to the grocery store. His wife had one of her rarely indulged sugar cravings, and tonight she decided to cave and make a run to the market for some ice cream. Victor volunteered to go instead, and even to take their restless three-year-old Baker with him, hoping the trip would wear him out enough for bedtime once they got back. After a quick kiss (and a slight hint of romance for later as a thank you), Victor lugged Baker out to the car. He excitedly leapt into his car seat and even tried to buckle himself, grateful to be getting out of the house. After a brief hand tussle trying to buckle him (Baker barely letting Victor help), the two were off into the misty evening to grab a frozen treat.
The ride to the market wasn’t long, but further than a regular quick run. While not isolated, Victor and his family lived a few miles outside of town. The closest supermarket required a good ten-minute drive. Victor didn’t mind in all honesty, even if his lovely bride hadn’t hinted at getting lucky after Baker went down. Cold as it was, ice cream sounded good, and after having had such a good day he figured: What the hell?
Almost halfway home, father and son came to a stop at a lonely intersection. The red light seemed a bit odd since he and Baker occupied the only car on the road, but Victor wasn’t surprised. This part of town didn’t get much traffic as it was and it wasn’t the first time he’d sat at an unnecessarily long red light at this particular junction. Baker was quiet in the back and it was cold enough that there wasn’t much chance of the ice cream melting. He was content to wait.
Distracted by observing his rarely quiet boy in the back, a sound from the passenger side of the car jolted Victor alert. The door had been opened, and getting into the car was a young man
wearing a dark green hoodie, his face obscured partially, only his mouth and
thick goatee visible. The thing that Victor noticed more than anything was the
Glock trained on him.
“Okay Pops,” the green hoodie said immediately. “Here’s how this is going to go: The second that light turns green you’re just gonna drive. Don’t think I need to go into what’ll happen if there’s any funny business.”
Victor eyed the creep, then took another glance at the weapon, held in a surprisingly competent fashion in the punk’s right hand. He looked back up at the hoodie, his jaw tightening. His eyes conveyed nothing that the punk could read. He kept his hands tight on the steering wheel, not even willing to flinch should his unwanted passenger have an itchy trigger finger. As if reading his mind, the hoodie cocked the hammer back on the Glock.
“Not gonna have a problem now, are we?”
Before Victor could respond, a voice softly chirped from the backseat. “Daddy, who dis?”
The hoodie snapped his head around, gun still trained on Victor. Oddly enough, Victor took a mild amount of comfort in this. At least the hoodie didn’t set the sights of the Glock on his toddler. The stony young man in the passenger seat regarded Baker for a moment or two, then swore, clearly not realizing there was a child in the car. Victor wondered if he would reconsider and tried to see if he could push things in that direction.
“Light’s still red son—you could get out now if you…”
The hoodie didn’t even let him finish. “Shut up and drive Pops.”
As if on cue, the light turned green, Victor noticing in his peripheral vision. His jaw clenched once again as he released the brake and hit the gas. He only turned his eyes back to the road once he was sure the hoodie was keeping his attention on him and not his son.
The tension in the car grew thicker by the millisecond, Victor unsure as to where he was supposed to take this young man, concluding that he would be given directions on the fly. His mind raced with the various outcomes that might take place should he do what the hoodie asked. None of the conclusions were to his liking in particular. A shift in the pecking order was what he needed, although he couldn’t say with one hundred percent confidence he could manipulate events exactly the way he wanted. However, concern for his precious boy in the backseat compelled Victor to at least try.
“Ain’t too late to reconsider kid—nothin’s happened yet that can’t be easily forgiven.”
The green hoodie stared ahead at the road, his weapon still steady. “What part of ‘shut up and drive’ didn’t come across as clear Pops?”
“Oh you couldn’t have been clearer my friend,” Victor responded, trying and almost failing to not antagonize him. “But I may have a solution for you that could benefit everyone here.”
The hoodie continued to stare ahead, a sneer threatening to form on his upper lip. He didn’t respond or reject the idea, silently watching the road as the car advanced. Victor took the young man’s silence as an open window to continue.
“See, this car is dependable enough—gets me from A to B. But all in all? I could do without it if need be. Could even do without my phone if necessary—hell, even my wallet if it came down to it.”
The hoodie gave a narrowed glance out of the corner of his eye, then back to the road. “You gettin’ to a point sometime soon?”
“The car, my phone and my wallet,” Victor replied, “all yours if you let me and my boy out, right here, right now. You get a free carton of ice cream as a bonus.”
Green hoodie took his eyes off the road, eyes incredulous, gun still steadily aimed at Victor. He glanced back at the quiet child in the back whose eyes were becoming increasingly curious. Looking momentarily back at Victor and then the road, the hoodie scoffed. “Just drive, alright?”
Victor’s eyes narrowed, then returned back to the road. In all honesty he expected that might fail, although he couldn’t comprehend why this foolish boy wouldn’t take a deal as sweet as what he was offering. Before he could pitch it again, someone piped up.
“Daddy, wha happening?”
Victor looked into his rearview, his eyes meeting those of his curious child. The muscles in his arms tensed as Baker looked almost pleadingly at him, yet Victor knew that his boy likely wasn’t afraid—he just wanted an answer.
Again Baker chimed: “Daddy, wha happening?”
“You want to tell that little maggot of yours to shut up?”
Victor felt his pulse spike, forcing him to silently draw a deep breath that kept him from doing something stupid. He looked back over at the hoodie who, at first glance, seemed calm. However, Victor observed a slight tremor in the hand holding the gun, no longer as steady or confident as before. Another glance saw the hoodie’s breath quickening for a moment, as if nervous or getting impatient. Baker asked the same question again making the hoodie twitch—if the tension was high before, it was skyrocketing now.
Ignoring the vulgarity of the question, Victor answered: “I could, but he’s three—you’d be hard pressed to keep him quiet for longer than a few minutes.”
The hoodie shifted, agitated. Victor still had no idea where this punk wanted him to go, but wherever it was he knew that any open window of opportunity that included him and Baker walking away unharmed was rapidly closing. He decided to pitch his offer one last time.
“You can lose this baggage right now—my original offer still stands.”
The perp continued to fidget, and Baker continued to repeatedly ask the same question, along with voicing whatever else he happened to be thinking. Victor could sense the escalation, and knew that he only had moments. Before he could extend the offer one last time, the hoodie growled, “Make him shut up or I will do it for you!”
Now Victor was beyond his limit—he could tolerate being threatened and held at gunpoint, but threatening his son? The status quo was beginning to shift, and Victor knew the time to act would be very soon—he could almost hear the seconds ticking in his head.
By now the hoodie was visibly agitated, hand holding the gun a shaking mess, finger quivering around the trigger. Baker continued to talk and wouldn’t stop, and as much as Victor wanted to shush him and insist that he be quiet, his attention was focused on the hoodie as the punk’s calm and confidence deteriorated fast, eroded by the innocent inquiries of a toddler. Victor filed through the possible scenarios once again, rapid fire, ready for anything but hoping for just one opportunity to diffuse the situation fast.
Baker made one more inquiry: “Daddy, wha happening?!”
The hoodie finally had it—the final question from the boy was the straw that broke the camel’s back. He spun to face the boy only this time, the gun was no longer remaining trained on Victor. His arm extended, the weapon pointed at a new target. The action unfolded in slow motion and at the speed of light simultaneously, time having no meaning or depth. The flash and bang were sudden, without warning. Even the hoodie was in awe of how quickly it all happened.
Only the flash wasn’t a muzzle flare, nor the bang from the bullet exiting the chamber.
The hoodie stared into a blinding white, his eyes unable to see or perceive anything around him; his breath came in choked, and he couldn’t breathe at all. When the thug’s eyes adjusted, Victor was still driving, calm and holding his weapon with his left hand while driving with the right. A click and thud sounded as the clip was quickly ejected, past Victor’s leg and onto the floor.
It had all happened in a fraction of a second. Once the hoodie’s arm was extended, Victor quickly grabbed his wrist with his left hand. His right hand quickly tucked into his torso then flying into the hoodie’s throat in a swift chopping motion, all while keeping the wheel balanced with his knee. Even though the perp couldn’t breathe he appeared shocked that his captive could have possibly accomplished such a feat. It was then that he saw it. Peeking out from under the sleeve of Victor’s t-shirt the criminal’s eyes read the tattoo on Victor’s arm clearly:
The hoodie’s eyes widened big as saucers, from shock as well as still being unable to choke in adequate amounts of air after what Victor had done to him. Victor wondered if the boy was cursing himself for just happening to pick the car of a United States Marine and then threatening his child.
“Don’t worry,” Victor said, slowly pulling the car to the side of the road. “You’ll be able to breathe again momentarily. Until then…” Victor reached across the young man, opening the passenger side door. “…you can think about how you should have taken my deal. That, and how stupid—and dangerous—it is to threaten a child when his daddy is within earshot.”
With that, Victor grabbed the hoodie by the shirt, shoving him hard out the passenger door. He tumbled hard onto the gravel and then rolling onto the dirt shoulder. Victor closed the door, then quickly drove away into the night. The hoodie lay there sputtering and coughing as his airway finally opened up. He cursed and screamed at the Marine with all he was worth then collapsed back onto the pavement, resigned to his predicament.
Victor looked over his shoulder once more to make sure the hoodie remained on the side of the road. Satisfied, he pulled out his phone and dialed 911, knowing the hoodie wouldn’t be on his feet for at least a few minutes which would give the police enough time to respond. Baker asked a final time, “Daddy, wha happened?”
Holding the phone to his ear as he drove, Victor looked in the rearview at his curious boy. He smiled. “Nothin’ bubba,” he replied. “Just a foolish boy that got in the wrong car.”