Beyond The Grave – Four
Jeff’s master’s degree in Computer Science seemed to be working out for him. He’d gotten a call from the company he was hoping to work for.
The young woman’s voice on the other end of the phone asked, “Am I speaking with Jeff Johnson?”
“This is he.”
“Mr. Warner asked me to give you a call. He would like to email an acceptance letter of employment.”
“Are you saying I got the job?”
“Only if you sign the letter.” The young woman chuckled.
“Absolutely!” Jeff exclaimed.
Jeff hung up. Logging onto his computer, he opened his email. Jeff was looking for the one thing that would entice him to move their lives to the largest Silicon Valley city in California. Bingo. There it was, the six-figure salary he’d been promised along with bonuses, vacation, and paid sick time. A 401K match from the company would start after six months of employment.
“Hey, honey, look what I just got!”
Andrea was on the treadmill with her earbuds in. She saw Jeff head over to her. Turning off the machine, she jumped off to the side. Pulling her buds out, she breathlessly said, “What’s up?”
Jeff waved the paper in front of her face. “I got it, honey! Everything I asked for.”
“That’s terrific, babe. I knew you would. You’re the smartest guy I know. When do you start?”
“Two weeks. I’ll reserve the U-Haul, and we can go over to the Big Box store for everything else.”
“Whoa, wait a sec. I can’t get everything done in a week. I need to give notice, find us a house, and pack everything up. Why don’t you drive out first, and I’ll follow after I have everything in order? You can stay at one of those Residence Inns in the meantime. I won’t be far behind you.”
Jeff was silent for a minute. He didn’t like being away from Andrea for long periods. “You sure about this?”
“Absolutely. I’ll see if Karen will drive out with me, so I’m not driving alone. Why don’t you ask Bruce to drive out with you?”
“Nah. It’s different for a guy. We’re safer than a woman driving alone.”
Andrea raised her eyebrows. “Uh, okay, Mr. Sexiest. I’ll have you know I was a black belt in my day.”
“Yeah, okay, and how long ago was that?”
“It’s like riding a bike; you never forget your training.”
“Whatever. I would never forgive myself if something happened to you.” Hugging her sweaty body, he kissed her neck and tasted the saltiness of her. “Mmm, wanna celebrate? Let’s fool around?” He locked his hands behind her back and gyrated his hips into hers.
“Later. I’ve got too much on my mind right now. Sorry, honey.”
“I’m gonna go for a run and get rid of some of this sexual energy.”
“Don’t get rid of too much, I did say later.” Jeff let her go, and as he turned to walk into their bedroom, she slapped his ass.
* * * * *
The following weeks flew by. Andrea, busy packing up their house, was looking forward to moving to a warmer climate. She found a realtor to work with who sent her listings daily. Andrea couldn’t believe how expensive an 800 square foot house would cost them. She showed Jeff the run-down listings, both becoming disheartened.
“Maybe this isn’t a good idea, Jeff,” she said one night over dinner. “The cost of living is going to eat up your paycheck. I’ll definitely have to work. I thought if we started a family, I could stay home. Living in California won’t afford us that luxury, I’m afraid.”
“I’m sure the longer I stay with this company, my pay will increase. I’ll tell you what? Why don’t we rent until we decide where we want to settle down and raise a family?”
“I like that idea.” She smiled at him. “Thank you.” Andrea leaned over kissed Jeff on the cheek.
* * * * *
It was decided Jeff would drive the 1995 Camaro out to California, and Andrea would take the 2000 Ford Explorer. She’d hook up the mid-size U-Haul trailer to the back hitch, with the help of Karen. They’d only be a few days behind Jeff.
Andrea packed a small box of kitchen items for Jeff to use at the Inn. He’d burned some CD’s with his favorite road music, including an old Dionne Warwick song, “Do You Know the Way to San Jose,” and put his dress shirts, still on the hangers, in a garbage bag and hung them in the back window. His computer on the back seat; the coffee thermos and lunch box sat on the front seat. Jeff was all set for the long trip to California. He mapped it out from West Virginia to the San Jose Airport, where the nearest Residence Inn was located.
The next morning, as the sun came up from behind the trees, they said their goodbyes.
“It will be the longest we’ve been away from each other. It’s a defining moment in our relationship,” Jeff joked.
“Get outta here. Call me whenever you stop. Watch out for all the other idiot drivers, and don’t talk to strangers. I love you.” Andrea kissed him passionately.
There was an eight-minute difference between taking Interstate 40 or Interstate 70. He chose Interstate 70. Twenty-seven hundred miles would take approximately 38 hours without any stops. He planned to drive until he got tired. He’d be pushing the old Camaro, but his mechanic said, “Chevy makes a good product, son, especially this one.”
He planned to stop in St. Louis, MO, the first night. He could do twelve hours in one day. When he got into St. Louis, though, Jeff decided he’d push it a little further. He had just passed the Blue Springs exit when the Camaro’s alternator light popped on. “What the hell?”
Pulling off to the side of the highway, Jeff checked his cell phone. “Damn, no signal? Where the hell am I?” It was late, and even though Interstate 70 is a major thoroughfare, only two truckers had passed by him. He knew there wasn’t a chance in hell they’d pull over and offer help; they were trying to stay ahead of their own schedules.
Getting out of his vehicle, he walked west in hopes of picking up a cell signal. He turned back and walked past his car. Two-bars appeared. He called Triple-A and asked for a tow to the nearest mechanic shop. He’d sleep in his car tonight and wait till they opened.
“You’re looking at an hour or two, sir. Only got one guy on tonight.”
“No worries. Tell the driver to knock on my window, gonna get some shut-eye. Been driving a good thirteen hours already.”
Jeff walked back to his car. He grabbed his sweatshirt and rolled it up in a ball. Damn, I forgot to call Andrea. Oh well, I’ll call her from the mechanic shop. He placed his head on the sweatshirt and fell into a twilight sleep.
Thirty minutes later, a knock on the window woke him up. Confused, he looked out and saw an older man with a long, gray beard and unruly mustache peering at him—a tow truck parked in front of his Camaro.
“Oh, hey man, that was quick. Your dispatch told me an hour or two,” he said to the old guy.
“Yeah, well, I finished up earlier than I thought. Never been good at giving time estimates. When they send a survey, be sure to write something good about me.” The man chuckled.
“Anything you want, I just gotta get back on the road as soon as possible.”
“What’s the problem?”
“Could be the alternator. The light went on before I pulled over. Lost power steering too and brakes.”
“I’ll drive you to my shop so I can give a once over.”
“You have a shop?”
“That’s convenient. Are you near a hotel or motel?”
“Nope. Got a big house, though.”
“I wouldn’t want to put you out. I’ll sleep in my car if that’s okay with you.”
The driver hooked up Jeff’s car. “Hop in,” he told Jeff when he was ready to leave.
They drove back on a frontage road. It was a new moon night—pitch black. Jeff tried to make small talk, but the old guy emitted a bad smell. He rolled down his window. Jeff was afraid of losing the Micky D’s Quarter Pounder in mid-sentence if he tried to converse with the guy. He sat back, letting the fresh air hit his face.
They turned left onto a gravel driveway. Four security lights automatically came on as they got closer to the three-door garage.
“Home sweet home.” The driver turned off the ignition. A humming could be heard. “Just dropping your car down so you can sleep. I’ll look at her in the morning.”
“Thank you, sir. I don’t know your name. I’m Jeff. Jeff Johnson.”
“People ‘round here call me Old Hank. Well, the kids do ’cause of the beard.”
Jeff laughed. “Must have taken you a while to grow it.”
“Hmm…you like cigars? How ‘bout a beer? Got some in the fridge, help you relax.”
“Umm, sure, why not? As long as you got plenty to spare.”
“Have a seat on the porch; I’ll bring everything out.”
Both men walked over to the porch. Hank went inside, and Jeff sat on one of the rocking chairs. Jeff saw old car parts scattered around the property. Looks more like a junkyard than a mechanic shop. Jeff then noticed the steel drums sitting three high surrounding the house as if it were a fence.
Hank came out with two beers and two cigars.
“I was noticing all the steel drums surrounding your property. My dad worked for a drum manufacturer in Virginia back in the day. He’s dead now, but he wanted to do this same thing when he bought his land up in the Blue Ridge.”
“My dad started it. I’m continuing with the tradition.” Hank reached over, handing Jeff a lighter for his cigar.
“Virginia, you say?” Hank took a deep drag off his cigar.
“Yeah, moving out to Cali with my bride. Gotta really good job out in San Jose. She’s driving out separately.” There was a long silence between the men. “Actually, I talked with her while you were hooking up my car, told her you were towing me to your place.”
“Is that so?”
“Yep. Said the packing was done, and she and her friend will leave in the morning. Told me if you couldn’t get the car fixed by tomorrow night; she’d come to pick me up. It’s only a twelve-hour drive.”
“I’ll have you up and running in no time tomorrow. Trust me.”
Hank sat back, puffing on his cigar and drinking his beer.
Jeff hadn’t spoken with Andrea, but the weird feeling he had about this place and the old guy, made him cautious. No one knew where he was, and from his self-defense class, he needed to tell this little lie, just in case.
Jeff slept fitfully in his car. The next morning, Hank had his car purring again. Jeff paid his bill in cash and shook Hank’s hand. “Thanks, man, you’re a lifesaver.” As he got back on the road, he sighed a sigh of relief.
* * * * *
Special Agent Daniella Keezar was surprised when Jeff Johnson answered his cell phone.
“Jeff Johnson?” she asked.
“Speaking. Who is this?”
“FBI, I’m working on a case of missing people. I found your name and number on an old work order.”
“Blue Springs, Missouri. A tow company.”
There was silence on the other end of the phone as Jeff remembered his cross-country trip a few years back.
It was a defining moment for both the agent and Jeff.
Featured Image by Free Photos at Pixabays