We both spotted it at the same time—a slate gray Acura rolling down Silsby Road, a thirty-something woman with black bangs and big sunglasses behind the wheel. We let her go through the intersection at the bottom of the hill and then drove up behind her. We knew this was it. This had to be it. There were no other cars in sight, no other witnesses. We had to do this now. We might not get another chance.
Derek pumped the gas, and we slid into the Acura’s rear bumper. The woman stopped the car, put on her emergencies, and got out. I saw that she was small, which relieved me. When I pushed her out of the way, she probably wouldn’t try to fight back. I wouldn’t have to hurt her. I wasn’t out to hurt anybody. I just wanted to get this car to the chop shop as quickly as possible, get my money, and get home to my daughter. She was the only reason I was out here doing this in the first place. To make sure she had clothes to wear and food to eat. I wasn’t like Derek, stealing cars to pay for booze and smack.
“Go get it, man,” said Derek. “Bitch gives you trouble, hit her in the face.”
I got out of the car and walked toward the woman with my hands in the pockets of my sweatshirt. She was approaching with her cell phone in one hand and a white card in the other. “I’ll call the police,” she said. “Do you have insurance?”
I gave her a light shove and made a dash for her car. The next thing I knew, I was in the driver’s seat, tearing down the road. I was so hopped up on adrenaline I didn’t even notice the kid screaming in the backseat for the first minute I was in the car.
I swiveled in the seat to get a good look. It was a little girl strapped into a booster seat. She looked about my daughter’s age—four or five. Her face reminded me of an overripe heirloom tomato, bright red and full of creases. Her chubby hands were balled into blotchy fists. “Mommy!” she shrieked, swinging her arms wildly. “Mommy!”
“Shut up!” I yelled at the girl, and she did. I whipped back around and tightened my grip on the steering wheel. This fucked everything up. What the hell was I going to do with this kid? Derek hadn’t prepared me for this. He’d done this a dozen times, and he’d never mentioned anything like this happening to him. This was the first time I’d done anything like this, and here I was with a goddam kid in the backseat. Suddenly, I was a car thief and a kidnapper.
The girl started crying, a low moan interrupted every few seconds by hiccupping sobs. I didn’t blame her for crying. My daughter would be doing the same thing. I tilted my rearview mirror so I could see her.
“Calm down,” I said. “You’re going to be okay.”
I came to an intersection and glanced up at the street sign. I was at Briarwood. I’d missed my turn. That was okay. I wasn’t going to the chop shop anymore anyway. I had to take care of this kid first, make sure she was safe. But where could I take her? I couldn’t just leave her on a street corner. She was five years old. She wouldn’t be able to find her way home. I could take her to a restaurant or a gas station, tell the staff to call 911, and get the hell out of there. But that was risky. The cops were probably already looking for me, looking for this car. I had to get off the road as soon as possible, get the car out of sight. I was only two blocks from my house. I could just take the car home, park it in the garage, and then put the girl in my own car and drive to a public phone. The cops wouldn’t be looking for a beat-up 1991 Pontiac Grand Am. Clarence could come over and get everything he needed from the Acura right in my garage.
Two minutes later, I was pulling into my driveway. Mia was by the garage, doing donuts on her pink scooter. She wasn’t wearing a coat like I’d told her to, but that was all right. It was warm for early March.
Mia saw the car coming, picked up her scooter, and moved to the grass. I parked the Acura in the garage and got the girl out of the back seat.
“Who’s car is that?” Mia asked.
“Don’t worry about it,” I said.
“Who’s she?” she asked, pointing to the sniffling girl.
“She lost her mommy,” I said.
Mia followed us into the house. I sat the girl down at the dining room table, pulled out my phone, and called Clarence. While I was waiting for him to pick up, Mia asked the girl if she would like to see her room. The girl nodded vaguely, and Mia led her off.
It took me ten minutes to explain the whole situation to Clarence and convince him to come over. He’d never done a job outside his own garage before, and he didn’t like the idea.
After I hung up, I went back to Mia’s room. The girls were sitting side-by-side on Mia’s bed. Mia was reading her favorite book to the girl—this book about a boy who rides a flying polar bear to the North Pole. Mia couldn’t actually read, but she knew the story by heart.
The girl was dry-eyed, tranquil, focused on the book. Maybe she’d forgotten where she was, what had happened. Neither child noticed me, and I didn’t say anything. I just stood there, enjoying the illusion, however brief, that the world really was as good as two little girls sitting together, sharing a story.