'Fuck it,' he thought. There were plenty of other towns in which he could lose himself and this was as good an excuse as any. As he slid back into his jacket, he could still smell the smoke. It reminded him of family reunions during childhood summers, his uncle Larry grilling "brats an' burgers" all afternoon.
Finally behind the wheel, he let his mind roam for the first time since that blazing eve. There were really only two things he could remember from that night: the smell and the sight of his cat, Gummo, bolting out of the hole in the screen in the back door of his apartment. Luke missed the little traitor, but did not blame him for his flight.
After all the insurance questions and the discussion at work, he was ready to be done with the whole mess. Every grueling grind of the tires on pavement brought him further and further away from the mess which his life had somehow conjured.
It wasn't the fire that had bothered him as the last few weeks had droned on, but rather, the realization which had decided to play tagalong. He didn't actually miss any of it much. No, to be honest, he didn't actually miss any of it at all.
Other than Gummo. That stupid little cat.
That's when he saw it; a black Caddy parked sideways across the two-lane highway. He cried out in surprise and skidded to a halt mere feet from the driver's side door. Panting in the heat haze of the noon desert sun, Luke slumped over the steering wheel for a moment to catch his breath.
'What sort of fuck parks like that in the middle of a goddamn highway?' he thought, his fear evolving quickly to anger. Raising his head, he started at the set of smiling, silver teeth that greeted him, blindingly shining in the sunlight.
"Well now," they said with a little hint of a chuckle beneath, "Goin' somewhere, boy?"
"J-jeezus Jack. What the hell?! You could've killed me!" Luke replied.
He raised his head to stare into a face he hadn't wished to see again for some time. It was only slightly craggy and worn, almost genial and inviting. However, beneath it all, lay something sinister Luke couldn't ever quite place. Jack pulled a lit cig from his coat pocket and took a slow drag, the smoke sliding out between his silver-capped teeth as he grinned widely.
"Coulda done that ages ago if I wanted. Now answer my question. Where are you goin'?"
"I don't know Jack, somewhere else is all."
"Good. That means ya' got no plans. Let's go for a ride."
"No. Jack... no. We're paid up. I don't owe you anything anymore!"
"We're paid up when I say we are, you little shit! That wasn't a suggestion, you get your ass in my car."
Luke looked over and considered for a moment how far he would make it before Panther Jack could get out the blade he kept on his hip. Not far enough, he figured.
He sighed, resigned, and slid from his shitty little coupe to Jack's big black caddy, even more unsure of everything than he was before.
The car jerked to a start the minute Luke climbed in, Jack pulling on the wheel to round it the way he had come. He pushed the car lighter into the socket, drumming his fingers on the dash impatiently before it popped out and he lit another cigarette.
Luke shuddered unwittingly for a moment as Jack looked over at him with his gunmetal grey eyes. "So then, there's been a few things about and we've got lots to discuss. What say we do this at a place that's made for it?"
"C'mon Jack, no. Just... just tell me what you want!"
"Quiet. You weren't goin' anywhere anyhow, said so yerself. Now, off to The Pit."
Luke sat back involuntarily as the car sped off, leaving no smoke or marks behind it. Other than Luke's crappy little car, there was no sign that anyone had been there in the stillness of the desert day.
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