The Link

byDreamCloud©

It's not like I had much future in transporting pot. Colorado was the first state to fall, and I was sure others would follow in time. Once it was a business, uneducated slobs like me were out of a job. Bussing tables or washing dishes was all I was qualified for. That would have to change.

The lady said I would be hunted, that they would use Stinky. The thoughts didn't sound as ridiculous as when I had first heard them. I didn't know who 'they' were, but I knew how to hide. I had been practicing running under the radar for my whole adult life. A child was just another package. I could move her from point A to point B without being noticed. Stinky was my destiny. My ultimate run. I looked down at the sleeping baby. Hope had an amazing effect.

The shadows were long when I finally heard an engine. A small box truck was coming down the road. I lifted stinky in my arms, waking her. I didn't like how warm she was. Her head fell to my shoulder sluggishly. I needed the vehicle to stop. I couldn't imagine it wouldn't. Her legs were using my arm like a seat causing the tingle to grow. Clarity surged through me. The desert lost its dullness, its beauty exploding in my eyes. I saw the slight increase in the speed of the truck and sensed the driver's desire to pass us by. It was as clear as if I were sitting next to him. I was inside him. I knew his conscience was digging into his mind, fighting against a desire to avoid other's problems. I stepped onto the road with confidence. The brakes engaged, the back of the truck sliding sideways, the driver compensating as I knew he would. The truck skid to a halt. I had five feet to spare. Not really a challenge.

"Shit!" the driver screamed as he exited the truck. He slammed the door. "Are you stupid? I almost killed you." He was a stocky man in overalls.

"I needed you to stop," I said, walking quickly to passenger side of the cab. He wasn't the violent type. I don't know how I knew, I just did. He was scared, socially inept. Unconfident in a crisis but generally a good man. Hope told me so.

"Where the hell do you think you're going?' the man yelled, hurrying after me.

"My baby needs to cool down," I replied, "she's overheated. We've been out here all day." I wasn't stopping. He did.

"A baby?" He said with sorrow. I could feel his heart drop. He almost left a child on the side of the road. Guilt filled him, then a strength swelled in his mind. He committed. "Let me start up the truck, get the air going again." He moved quickly to the driver side. I found the passenger side locked. The man climbed into the driver seat and unhesitantly popped the lock. It felt significantly cooler in the cab.

I laid Stinky on the bench seat, climbed in and closed the door. The man closed his door and started up the engine and adjusted the air to full. He put both hands on the wheel, bowed his head and sighed.

"I'm sorry," he said quietly. Stinky's power had receded and left me with a slight headache. I couldn't feel him any longer, and the memory of the oncoming truck sent a shiver through me. I had to take a deep breath to quell the latent fear.

"You stopped," I said with half a smile, "we're grateful." I hoped it would be enough. I needed him to trust me. I closed my eyes and tried to forget the image of the oncoming truck. The damn thing almost hit me. I ran my hand along Stinky's back. It was uncomfortably warm.

"Let me pull off to the side," he said, putting the truck into gear. I nodded as we maneuvered off the road. I could have told him it was unnecessary. He was the first vehicle in nearly four hours.

"I'm Jack," I said, holding out my hand. Not my real name, but I felt he needed some frame of reference.

"Charlie," he responded, shaking my hand.

"This is my daughter, Mary," I said, continuing the lies. He smiled at Stinky.

"What happened?" He asked, looking at the overturned car.

"Best guess," I said with confidence, "the lady in that car fell asleep behind the wheel." I pointed to the overturned vehicle.

"Where...is she?" Charlie was at a loss for words. Like me, I could tell he wasn't comfortable with death.

"I don't think she was wearing her seat belt," I answered, "she didn't make it. I don't even know her name." I didn't have to fake my sorrow. She loved me and entrusted me with Stinky.

"Oh, hell," Charlie sighed, looking down at his feet. "Anyone else hurt?"

"No, Mary and I were lucky," I responded. Stinky's skin was cooling. I lifted my hand as the tingling started. For some reason, I felt it best not to live in it. It was special and probably shouldn't be used as a crutch. I certainly didn't want to extend my headache or jump in front of another oncoming truck.

"I can get you to Winslow," Charlie said, "phone coverage will be spotty for awhile."

"Anywhere but here," I said in a grateful tone.

"What about the lady in the car?" Charlie asked. He didn't look like he wanted to touch a dead body. Nor did I.

"Do you have room in the back?" I asked, tilting my head toward the rear.

"I don't have the key," Charlie said, "I'm helping my brother move. He's got the key to the padlock." I disliked leaving the nameless woman alone in the desert. There was no way she could ride up front and I wasn't going to insult the body by strapping it to the roof. The police were going to have to handle it.

"It's probably best if we just call the police as soon as we can," I said, "anything else seems disrespectful." Charlie gave me a relieved nod of agreement. "I covered her with a blanket. It's the best we can do for now."

"Gather what you need, I'll watch your daughter." I left the cab and gathered Stinky's diaper bag, car seat, and my overnight bag. It took a few minutes to get the car seat set up. I had to guess how the seat belts fed through the frame. It seemed secure when I buckled Stinky, still sound asleep, into it. I was relieved to find her skin physically cooler. It was tight, but I squeezed in with the bags and we headed off.

"I'm glad you happened by." I tried to bolster Charlie. I needed his trust. "I think we were pretty close to being in real trouble."

"I'm sorry I wasn't here sooner," Charlie said, ignoring his initial misgivings, "must have been pretty bad by the looks of the cars."

"Yeah, my side is killing me," I said, lifting the edge of my shirt. The blood was all dry. Nothing new was leaking out.

"Those car seats must really work," Charlie continued, his eyes traveling to Stinky for a quick look.

"I don't think she even knew it happened," I said, giving Stinky's feet a quick squeeze, "the heat bothered her more."

"Bet her mother will be relieved," Charlie said with a grin.

"I'm all Mary's got Charlie," I said sadly, "Cancer." That one word explained a lot. It also guaranteed he wouldn't dig any further. It was shitty of me to invent a dead wife, but I needed to keep the story simple. Some shared grief goes a long way to building trust.

"I'm so sorry." Charlie's grin faded quickly. "It must be hard, raising her by yourself."

"It's been hard, but she's a good kid," I said, my eyes on Stinky, "she doesn't complain much and she's a wonderful listener." I added the last to lighten the talk up. No need to concentrate on death.

"She sure is a pretty girl." Charlie's smile returned. I joined him. She was certainly the best looking baby I had ever seen.

"Got her looks from her mother," I added.

"Hopefully, all girls do," Charlie joked. We shared a small chuckle. Bonding complete.

"You live in Winslow?" I asked.

"Nope, I live in Albuquerque," Charlie replied, his posture more relaxed, "my brother is moving to Flagstaff. Following his new wife who has a better job than he does." He pointed down the road. "I took a wrong turn and found myself on this long cut." I smiled as if it could happen to anyone. I was more than pleased he didn't know the locals. It would make things easier for the both of us.

Stinky started, her arms jerking as she woke. Her eyes found mine and she smiled. She trusted me. I wasn't sure I was worthy of the trust. My words to Charlie were bold faced lies. I lied as much as I told the truth in my life. I did the only thing I could do in midst of such faith. I tickled her toes and smiled back. Her temperature seemed to have returned to normal.

"She sure loves you," Charlie stated, his eyes moving between the road and Stinky. The thought was entirely too pleasant. Love does not manifest in the space of a few hours. I hadn't felt it since I was a child. Love was for other people. She merely trusts me. Normally I would think the trusting person a fool. In this case, her trust was not unfounded.

We had driven for 15 minutes before Charlie's turned onto a real road with other cars and his phone dinged. I pulled mine out and saw two bars. I made a show of sliding my finger and pushing the screen and then sighed loudly as I turned it off.

"Out of juice," I lied, waving my phone in disgust.

"Here, use mine," Charlie offered. I thanked him and dialed 911. Much better that it be his phone. I had no idea who might want Stinky. There was no reason to leave a trail of breadcrumbs for them. I would have avoided the phone call altogether if the lady wasn't lying dead in the desert. She deserved more than to be forgotten.

"I need to report an accident," I said once the operator answered. I went through an explanation that Charlie wouldn't discount. I explained the reason I had to leave the scene and the unfortunate death. I had some trouble explaining its location. There weren't many landmarks, and the turnoffs were unmarked, most likely very long driveways. Between Charlie and I, they had enough information to find the spot. I promised I would go directly to the police station in Winslow as soon as my daughter was taken care of. I trusted them to care of the lady's remains. Their trust in me was unfounded.

We approached Winslow as the sun set. It was a smaller city than I hoped. The problem with small towns is that everyone knows everyone else. A stranger and his daughter would have difficulty blending in. It would also be more difficult to find transportation. I had to remain near the highway, blend with the travelers and head out as quickly as possible. I had to find someway to get rid of Charlie as well.

"The Motel 6 sounds good," I said, pointing at the billboard that forecasted it a mile ahead. "Can you drop us off there?"

"Sure," Charlie replied, "or I can get you to Flagstaff. It might be a little easier to get some transportation from there." He gave me a knowing smile. I swallowed hard.

Chapter 3 - Sam

"I'm supposed to see the police in Winslow," I said, keeping my falsehoods straight. Maybe Charlie forgot. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly.

"Mary, or whatever her name is ... special," Charlie straightened his arms, pushing his back into the seat and flexing his shoulders. "I don't know how, but she showed me things when you were getting your bags." He turned to me, "She trusts you, so I trust you. I even trust that your lies are necessary." His eyes returned to the road. I watched him for a moment. I wasn't the only one Stinky affected. Jealousy flashed for a moment, but I let it go.

"You felt her?" I verified.

"If you can call it that," he answered, "one second I was rubbing her back and the next I was perfectly there." Perfect was a good word. Supreme clarity. "I know you cared for the woman in that car. I know you care for Mary. I also sensed your need to stay under the radar."

"I call her Stinky," I said. Stinky lit up and smiled at my words. "I don't know her real name either." Charlie smiled as well. "My real name is Samuel. My friends call me Sam."

"Why Stinky, Sam?" he asked.

"Let's stop at a grocery store and I'll show you," I said with humor, "I didn't know when she ate last, but I do know when she pooped last." Charlie laughed. It was a good healthy laugh that brought out a breathy one from Stinky.

"Food is a good idea," Charlie agreed. I confided in him, telling him the truth as I knew it, knowing he had felt a lot of it through Stinky. I left out the ten pounds of pot since I didn't know where he drew his moral line. We pulled into a grocery store off Interstate 40, inside of Winslow proper. I fished out pants and a shirt for Stinky so she would be more presentable.

"She sure is a calm child," Charlie observed, "my brothers kids can't go thirty minutes without complaining about something." He was right, not that I had much experience. When I paid attention to her, she smiled. When I didn't, she just watched me. I suspect she was as hungry as I was, but not a single cry to let me know.

"Special," was all I said. Charlie nodded. I added some socks which seemed to please Stinky or maybe she thought I was playing with her feet. No matter. Her smile owned me.

Two men with a baby pushing a cart through a grocery attracted attention. I hadn't thought it would, but we were getting looks. Mostly from the women. A glance at us, one at Stinky and a strange knowing smile. I think they thought we were a gay couple with a child. I started smiling back. I was the type of person who didn't get second looks. Stinky got me those looks, even if it was for the wrong reason. I straightened, trying to look like a good father.

We hit the diaper aisle and stocked up. I grabbed a few more boxes of wipes. I had to figure out a way to not use half a box per poop. We moved to the baby food aisle and were immediately lost. Neither of us had any idea of what to get. There were choices galore and advertising that seemed specific to age and development. I wasn't sure how old Stinky was. Charlie gave me a funny look and a shrug when I asked him. So, I asked Stinky.

I wrapped my hand around Stinky's and let the tingle turn to wonder. Wonder to clear thought. Memories from bits of conversation and blurbs from words I had forgotten I'd read came flooding back. I stuck my little finger in Stinky's mouth. A couple of sharp little razors bit down. New teeth, somewhere around six months. Not crawling yet, less than ten months. I moved along the aisle till I found the proper solid food choices. Nothing dramatic, some carrots and green beans, well pureed. I picked up some Cheerios for her to gnaw on. Water and some yogurt for a cool treat. I opted for formula instead of milk. I remembered hearing some TV doctor say that cow's milk should be introduced slowly, at around eight months. I was in the third grade when I watched that with my mother.

I felt apprehension and fear. Not mine, someone else's. I looked at Charlie and saw indifference. It came from the aisle on the other side of the baby food. I walked around the endcap tasting fear mixed with an oppressive need. A young man with dusty brown hair and an unshaven face that had yet to fully mature. He stared at a bag of dog food. His jeans were baggy, and he wore an untucked long sleeve shirt. I could see the sweat on his temples and could feel him trying to build courage. He needed money desperately. Debt and shame were piled on his shoulders. I could sense the gun he hid in his pants. I looked at Stinky, and she smiled. I smiled back and walked toward the up and coming criminal.

"I'll buy your gun for a thousand," I offered quietly. He jumped. Stinky and I smiled.

"What?" he said, his eyes darting up and down the aisle. He thought I was setting him up.

"I'll give you a thousand for your gun," I repeated. It was so logical. He needed money, and I had extra. No one would get hurt. He wouldn't end up in jail, and the gun would leave circulation. I saw his hand moving slowly to his back. "You'll never make it," I warned. My reflexes, even holding Stinky, would be far beyond his. My confidence was unwavering.

"It's not my gun," He said, letting his arm drop back down to his side. I shrugged my shoulders. It was his choice. I just smiled. "Okay," he capitulated. I dropped my hand from Stinky and reached into my pocket for the roll of bills. My confidence and perfect presence fled. The fear was incredible. There is no such thing as extra money. This nutcase was going to rob the place, and I was about to pull out a wad of bills. I was doing it with a baby in my arms. I was a complete idiot.

I shifted my hand that was holding Stinky and slid my thumb under her top and let it lay against her back. Brilliance returned a moment too late. The boy had seen my hesitation and went for the gun. It came from his back, the barrel moving from the floor toward me. Time moved slowly for him, too slow. In the time it took him to raise the barrel, my hand shot from my pocket and diagrams of a Colt 45, original model 1911, flashed through my mind. My hand covered his; one finger engaged the safety another depressed the magazine release and still another tucked under his thumb disallowing the additional grip safety to be depressed. His eyes widened as the magazine hit the floor with a metallic clatter.

My foot moved quickly, topping the magazine, sliding it behind me and out of his reach. I twisted the weapon and the barrel away from us while moving Stinky farther from his reach. My weight went to my left foot. My right foot was ready. I had no doubt I could hit his head with it if I so wished. The boy's muscles slackened, his eyes moving from mine to Stinky's. He visibly calmed, then smiled.

"I have made a mistake," He said as his finger left the trigger. The words didn't fit his age or demeanor. He made no move to release the weapon. He wished me to hold him. Stinky's gift was traveling through me.

"How much do you need?" I asked.

"$480," He replied, "It's my grandfather's gun. I need to return it." I let go of him and the Colt. Reality returned to him. He stared for a moment, then replaced the gun under his shirt and into his pants. "I'm sorry," he offered. I pulled my thumb from Stinky's back. I let my breath out as real life took hold again. My right foot was no longer a weapon.

"You saw your potential," I said as I fished back into my pocket pulling out the roll of twenties. He was no longer highly concerned with the amount. I handed him the roll. "Take what you need."

"Who is she?" He asked as he slid the rubber band off the bills.

"Someone very special," I replied. He counted off exactly $480, replaced the rubber band and handed the rest of bills to me. I put them back in my pocket.

"An angel," he suggested while he pocketed the money. Charlie came around the corner and stopped in front of the magazine that was still on the floor.

"I miss something?' Charlie asked.

"A future rewritten," I said with an aplomb I didn't deserve to portray. It was Stinky's doing after all. The young man chuckled under his breath. "Are you going to be alright?" I asked him.

"I think so," he said with a smile. Charlie reached down and retrieved the magazine. "She changes things. How does she do it?"

"Ahh, you've been in her world," Charlie said, holding out the magazine. The young man took it and deposited it his front pocket.

"We have no idea," I answered, "faith seems to be part of it." The words felt strange coming from my mouth. I was always faithless. Maybe she was an angel. A stinky angel. Stinky leaned away from my chest trying to grab a colorful can off the shelf next to us. It was too big for her hand, so she just pushed it around trying to get a grip. Her face was tight with concentration. All baby at that moment.

"I have some apologies to make," the young man continued, "I've been pretty much an asshole for the last couple of years." He shook his head, "she washed out a lot of stupid. What's her name?"

"Stinky," Charlie answered with a grin. Stinky turned and smiled at Charlie. She knew we were talking about her.

"Thank you, Stinky," the man said with humor. Her eyes moved to the young man. He nodded, turned and walked away. I watched him walk without the swagger I would expect from a young hoodlum.

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