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They Always Took Longer
About the Author: Andrew Welsh-Huggins is the Shamus, Derringer, and ITW-award-nominated author of the Andy Hayes Private Eye series, including the eighth Hayes adventure, "Sick To Death," coming in September 2024. He is also the editor of the "Columbus Noir" anthology and author of the standalone crime novel, "The End of The Road," which Kirkus called, “A crackerjack crime yarn chockablock with miscreants and a supersonic pace.” His stories have appeared in many magazines and anthologies.

Carter didn’t mind long-distance driving. Sure, he disliked bad weather—rain more than snow—as much as the next guy. But there was something about the rhythm of the road, the passage of miles, the morphing of landscapes from rural to suburban to urban to whatever, that calmed him. This was true before the shot that changed everything, the one that passed through his right frontal lobe, just missing brain tissue and major blood vessels on its way in and out. Even more so, afterward. His neurologist’s studied opinion—“Sometimes weird shit happens after TBI”—was good enough for Carter. Also, highway monotony tended to mitigate the headaches. So there was that.

Even so, he was looking forward to pulling over for the night. Richmond to St. Louis was a certified schlepp, and it wasn’t like the second half of the trip the next day, onto Boulder, was going to drive itself.

“Twenty minutes,” he said over his shoulder.

“Thank God,” the reply came.

Carter rolled his eyes. He didn’t care how annoyed Heiser was, though he sympathized—a bit—with his situation. Carter had a strict rule prohibiting the use of electronic devices when he transported people, which came as a shock to most. Because he wasn’t talking airplane mode. He was talking batteries pulled and everything stored in a lead-lined container in the Suburban’s trunk. It was too easy to track the darn things otherwise.

“How is that fair?” Heiser argued at the trip’s outset. “You’ve got a modem or whatever this is by the window.” He tapped at the black plastic container the size and shape of a Corn Flakes box. “Don’t tell me that can’t be detected.”

“It’s not a modem.”

“Sure looks like one.”

Carter said, “I’m wondering, with everything going on, if this is the conversation you want to have right now.”

Heiser sighed but dropped it.

Mind you, Carter wasn’t a monster. He recommended that passengers bring reading materials along for the ride—printed materials—since he also wasn’t one for using the DVD player, at least for entertainment purposes. For situations like today, when passengers didn’t think he was serious and showed up at the meet empty-handed, Carter stocked a supply of books and magazines. Mostly old issues of Baseball Digest, along with dog-eared copies of The Natural, The Art of Fielding, and a couple of his favorite Willie Mays biographies. Turns out, most passengers—especially this one—did not share Carter’s interest in baseball.

To be fair, he told Heiser upfront about the phone rule.

“Boredom’s better than being followed,” Carter said thirty minutes into the trip after Heiser flipped through the magazines with disinterest, picked the books up and set them down, and harped once more on the rule. He once again brought up the device that looked like, but wasn’t, a modem.

“Aren’t we paying you to keep me from being followed?”

“You are,” Carter said. “That’s why I don’t allow phones.”

“Is that a freelance courier thing, or what?”

“I don’t know.”

“Isn’t that what you are?”

“I am a freelance courier, yes. I don’t know if others do it. I don’t even know if there are others.”


Carter shrugged the comment off. Though on reflection, it was an oddly dismissive reaction from a man wanted by at least six federal agencies and three foreign governments.

The set-up was perfect, Williamson thought.

The motel sat at the top of a narrow road, a good quarter mile from the nearest business. That place, a McDonald’s, shut down at ten thanks to the franchise owner’s refusal to pay more than minimum wage, which complicated hiring but helped Williamson. A hill thick with hackberry and eastern redbuds rose behind the motel, preventing an upward escape. In addition to being narrow, the road leading in and out—there was only one—was curvy and steep. Importantly, from midnight to eight a.m. there was a single clerk on duty.

At 10:30 that night, the clerk in question sat in Williamson’s pickup at the bottom of the hill and across the highway in the McDonald’s parking lot jiggling his foot up and down while he eyed the bottle of pills in Williamson’s right hand.

“You’re sure this is going to work?”

Possard, the clerk, his voice raspy and dry, as though he’d had sawdust for dinner.

This story appears in our JUN 2024 Issue
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