This story is by Robert Dyer and was part of our 2022 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“Whatever you do, don’t leave me.”
It was the most selfish thing I have ever said, but the man chasing us made it a necessity. I could only gasp out that plea as Mike and I tried to outrun our pursuer. Only adrenaline kept me going. Mike reached back and grabbed me by the arm. “I’ll drag you if I have to, Ted, but you gotta keep going!” Being a natural athlete made sprinting from danger an easy prospect for Mike. Being a certified bookworm made it almost impossible for me.
We had a good head start, but the pounding feet kept coming behind us. “I’ll kick your asses if I catch up to you sons of bitches!” The stabbing pain in my side grew with each step. When we first discussed this idea, we told ourselves it was harmless. Sure, it was a crime, but it was a crime countless teens had committed ever since the first hubcap adorned a tire. Our plan didn’t include getting caught.
As we ran, I regretted ever letting Mike talk me into this scheme. After all, the hubcaps were for his car. What would I say to my parents if I got arrested? I could already see the look of disappointment on my mother’s face. I was the “good son.” My older brothers had all been involved in some sort of trouble, none of it serious, but I would be the first to be arrested. “The first to go to college and the first to be arrested,” I thought. “How did I let him drag me into this?”
In later years, it would be a point of contention as to whose idea it was to steal hubcaps for that car. Mike would always claim innocence when I laid the blame squarely at his feet. Truthfully, it didn’t matter. There was never a scheme of Mike’s that I could turn down. Inside, I admired Mike’s daring. There was no way I ever wanted to be left out.
This escapade began a few weeks earlier. Mike showed up at my parents’ house with his new pride and joy: his 1970 Plymouth Valiant. That five-year-old car was a square, boxy looking sedan with no distinctive flair to it at all. It was not what I expected for a former homecoming king, but I guess it wasn’t a bad first car for a recent high school graduate. His grandfather bought it for him at a city auction.
“Nice,” I said as I walked around it. “I particularly like the red circles on the front doors.”
“That’s where the city seals used to be,” he shrugged. “My dad is going to have it painted next week so they’ll be gone soon.”
“Naturally,” I said with a touch of jealousy. I started college two years ago with a loaner car from my brother. After scrimping for a year, I scraped together $300 to buy my first car. I loved my ‘68 Barracuda, even though the horn didn’t work and the driver’s seat upholstery was held together with electrical tape. The small dent in the back fender might detract from its looks, but it was mine and at least I paid for it.
“Yep,” he said. “Lancelot is going to be looking sharp pretty soon.”
I shook my head. “Lancelot? Really?”
“You know it! My favorite character from my favorite musical.” I could only smile. It fit since both Lancelot and Mike were the epitome of confidence.
A week later, I got to see the completed paint job. It wasn’t flashy, but it looked better. I gave my approval after walking around it. “Not too bad at all,” I said. “Just one problem. Your Lancelot is lacking armor.”
“What are you talking about?”
It may have been at that moment when he hatched the plot (I swear, not me) that we liberate some hubcaps from an unsuspecting car to complete Lancelot.
That decision led to us running through a neighborhood that neither of us knew. In our planning, we wanted a street where all the houses were dark. Our victim fit the bill because every house showed nothing but blackened windows. We had been to a late movie, and it was well after midnight so we assumed we would be undetected. Mike parked Lancelot several blocks away and we walked until we found a suitable “donor.” We thought we had planned well except for the knowledge that a hubcap does not always come off quietly.
Mike knelt on one side of the car and I was on the other. Using our crowbars, we pried off two hubcaps with a sound that seemed to split the quiet of the night wide open. Within seconds, a porch light flashed on and, to my horror, I saw a man racing out the door. In a surprisingly calm voice brought on, I’m sure, by shock, I said, “He’s coming.”
That’s when the race began. We dropped the hubcaps and sprinted through the darkened streets of an unfamiliar neighborhood with curses and threats echoing in our ears. It was amazing no other lights came on despite the commotion. With Mike pulling me along, we went in the opposite direction of Lancelot as a way of distracting our hunter.
After what seemed like a marathon, there was silence behind us. Mike stopped running and said, “I think we’ve lost him.”
There wasn’t enough air to fill my lungs. In between gulps, I said, “That was way too close! We could have been killed!”
Mike gave me a shove and laughed. “But we weren’t. Let’s find another target.”
“Are you crazy? No way. My life of crime ends right now.”
Mike continued to smirk. “Okay. I’ll get the car and be right back.”
I was stunned. “Again, you’re crazy! I’m not standing out here in the dark waiting for you to come back. What if that guy is still looking for us?”
“Look, Buddy,” Mike explained like it was the most natural thing in the world, “he knows his hubcaps are safe since we dropped them. He made his point by scaring one of us.”
I snorted. “Are you trying to tell me you weren’t scared, too?”
“Not in the slightest. Even if I had to carry you, there was no way that guy could catch me.” Spoken like a true Lancelot.
“Why can’t I come with you to get the car? It makes no sense to just leave me here.”
“You’re too winded. I can jog there faster by myself. I promise I’ll be right back. Wait three minutes and you can start walking in that direction. Just stay on this street and I’ll be back before you know it.”
Despite my protests, Mike sprinted into the darkness. For some inexplicable reason, I did as he said. I kept my eyes focused on the face of my watch as I counted the seconds. The moment time was up, I started walking as rapidly as I could in the same direction. All the houses remained dark and silent, which should have been a comfort, but it wasn’t. My heart pounded both from the exertion of our dash and from nerves. “How could he do this to me?” I thought. “I would never leave him behind.” I slipped my crowbar up the sleeve of my jacket. That way, it would be partially concealed in case someone came along.
After an eternity, headlights turned down the street. I prayed it was Mike in Lancelot as I tried to maintain a casual stroll. In case it wasn’t him, my eyes were constantly darting about, looking for my escape should it be danger instead. Suddenly, the car accelerated towards me. My heart stopped, and before I could react, I saw the familiar shape of Lancelot. Mike slowed the car, threw open the passenger door, and I leapt inside.
Mike laughed at my clumsy attempt to get into the moving vehicle. “You’re no action hero, that’s for sure.”
“What took you so long? You should have been back quicker than that. I had a nervous breakdown because of you.”
“Look in the back.”
I turned, and lined up like stolen treasure, were four hubcaps. “I saw another car and this time I went slower so there wasn’t hardly a sound.” The pride was evident in his voice.
“You left me out there while you grabbed four more hubcaps? Didn’t you learn your lesson from the first time?”
“Of course, I did. That’s why I did it slowly. I learned how to keep the noise down.”
I slumped in the seat. “You’re just unbelievable. My lesson is not to get dragged into one of your schemes.”
Mike punched me in the arm. “What? I got the hubcaps, we had a great adventure, and it ends happily ever after.”
Said like someone with the confidence of Lancelot.