Let's face it. I was stupid. Let that be a lesson to you. If you ever threaten to leave your parents' home, be prepared to follow through. I wasn't prepared. I came home one day to find my bags packed and sitting on the front porch and the front door lock changed. On top of one of the suitcases was a bus ticket. One way.
My folks had a funny way of proving a point. They wanted me to head out to the big city and get caught in trouble up to my eyeballs. Then, I'd call them on the phone crying my eyes out to come get me. They'd bring me home, and I'd be the perfect little angel from then on. Well, in the words of Robert Burns, "The best-laid schemes of mice and men..." Once I got to the Windy City, I was able to get a job as an assistant in a martial arts dojo. I'm actually not too bad myself, but I've still got a lot to learn. Anyway, because of that, I was able to land an efficiency. It's not exactly in the best neighborhood in Chicago, but then what can you expect for a measly five hundred dollars a month. I was doing okay for myself.
I should have known something was about to happen when I saw that weird news report on a television in an electronics shop. Apparently, the bus driver had suffered a heart attack and lost control of the vehicle. However, before it crashed, it was intercepted by someone. I mean people were saying that this strange guy just walked right out into the street and caught the bus. Stopped it dead in its tracks. Then, he just vanished. I figured the TV station was just trying to drum up ratings. Some sick little stunt to get the attention of the viewers. Yeah, I'm a cynical little minx, ain't I? Of course, I was about to change my whole attitude.
* * *
"So, yer headin' fer the Big City, eh?" chuckled the old man.
"Yes," said the young stranger in the passenger seat. "I'm hoping to find some answers there. I've been told you can find just about anything in a large metropolis."
The old man nodded. "That's pretty much the truth, son. Can I ask what you're looking for?"
"Some information about my past," said the stranger.
"Ah, family history, eh? Well, it's always good to know your roots."
"Yes," agreed the young stranger. The old man had picked him up hitchhiking by the side of the highway. He wasn't very talkative about himself, so the old man kept to nonintrusive topics of conversation. Still, this was the first time he had mentioned why he was traveling to Chicago.
Neither of them were prepared for what happened next. Coming in the opposite direction was a large tanker truck. The driver had just driven most of the night and the previous day without stopping except for bathroom breaks. His eyelids felt leaden, and he kept trying to snap himself awake. Eventually, as was inevitable, sleep won the battle, and the diver's head drooped down to his chest. As his grip on the wheel slackened, it took gradual truns to the left.
"Why is that truck crossing the double yellow line?" asked the young man with some confusion.
"What?" cried the old man in surprise.
The events that followed, the old man was never sure about until his dying day. One moment, he was sitting in his seat watching helplessly as the tanker bore down on his sedan. The next, he found he was riding in a convertible. The roof had been torn clean off. The man reached over and snapped his seat belt apart, and before he knew what to say, he found himself hurtling through the air to the embankment on the far side of the road. It was a bumpy landing, but the old man rolled into it to save himself from any broken bones. He still managed crack his left ulna.
Grimacing in pain, he sat up and watch as his car bearing the young hitchhiker who had just saved his life and the tanker truck collided. The resulting explosion was horrendous. The blast threw the old man back several yards causing him to snap his right fibula. The smoke and flames plumed upwards nearly two hundred feet. Pieces of burning metal began to rain down everywhere. The old man took cover beneath a fir tree.
When the rescue vehicles arrived to put out the flames and clean up the mess, they found the charred and dismembered remains of the truck driver. There was no evidence of any other human remains. The police who had also appeared on the scene were questioning the old man.
"You sure there was someone else in your car, sir?" asked the officer.
"If'n you're askin' me if I was hallucinatin', then no I wasn't," growled the old man. "I tell ya he was in there. I saw him plain as day just as the my car and that tanker hit."
"Who was he? Where did you meet him?" asked another, a plain clothesman gripping a pipe between his teeth.
"He was a drifter," said the old man. "I picked him up hitchhiking back near the state border. Said he was headin' to Chi Town. That was wear I was goin', so's I figger I'd give him a lift. Never said what his name was, poor fella."
"How'd you get out of the car, sir?" asked the younger, uniformed officer.
"The boy tossed me out like I was a rag doll," said the old man. "Snapped my seatbelt like it was made of tissue paper."
"We found the roof back down the road a ways," said the plain clothes cop around the pipe. "No burn marks on it. It wasn't in the crash, was it." He gave the old man a hard look.
"I wasn't sure at first," said the old man hesitantly. "Thought my eyes was playin' tricks on me. But, now that I look back on it, I think he tore the roof off."
"Oh come on," said the junior officer incredulously. "You can't be serious."
"There was an imprint of a fingers twisted into the metal," said the pipe smoker.
"You can't be serious, lieutenant," said the other officer.
Lieutenant Pipe turned to the paramedics. "We're done here, boys. Take him to get patched up."
The paramedics hefted the old man, who had been strapped to a gurney, into the waiting ambulance. In moments, it was speeding off towards the nearest medical facility. The lieutenant puffed industriously at his pipe. He always absentmindedly blew smoke rings when his mind was working furiously.
"So, whaddya think, lieutenant?" asked the uniformed officer.
"I think," said the lieutenant giving off another judicious puff, "that we've found our boy."