“Mommy, I need to pee.”

Cindy sighs, kills the headlights of her repo truck and turns to face her eight-year-old son in the backseat. Charlie stares slack-jawed at the glowing tablet in his hands, the kind with the protective blue-rubber case around it. A must-have upgrade for clumsy kids and overworked moms.

“I asked if you had to pee earlier, Char.” She puts the truck into reverse, backup lights toss pale rays onto the hood of a new Camaro parked in a shallow driveway. “You’re gonna have to wait.”

She flicks the ‘down’ switch on the dashboard. Hydraulics whine as the tow lift lowers to the ground. Then she backs slowly toward the car, metal scratches concrete as the lift bumps the front tires.

This is when Cindy feels most guilty. In these high-tension moments, she’s painfully aware of the risk she’s putting Charlie in. Especially on a job in a neighborhood with more ex-cons than welcome mats. But finding regular 9-5 daycare is damn near impossible, let alone a sitter willing to watch a kid in the middle of the night.

Quick footsteps. A flicker of shadow. Cindy’s fingers tighten around the gear shift.

She glances from the rearview mirror to the side mirrors, eyes straining to pick up any trace of movement in the amber glow of the neighbor’s porchlight. She can only make out a gnarled cedar hedge and a pickup with a welding rig parked in the driveway next door.

Glass erupts from the passenger window. Cindy screams and covers her face.

“Get the fuck away from my car!” A man’s voice, rapid and booming.

She yanks the gear shift into drive and glances up at the rearview before hitting the gas. Charlie’s gone. Just an open passenger door and a face-up tablet flickering on the seat.

The air rushes out of Cindy like a slashed tire. She slams the truck into park, shoves her door open and hops out.

“Charlie! Where are you?”

That rapid-fire voice again. “Get the hell out of here!” 

The man rounds the back of the Camaro. He’s tall and lanky and holding a crowbar. But it’s his eyes that bother Cindy the most: their glassy, emptiness visible even in the dirty tungsten porchlight.

“I just want to find my boy!” Cindy yells and scrambles backward to put space between herself and the man, almost stumbling into the porch steps of the neighboring home. 

He follows her. “Get the hell away from my property!”

A spark of movement catches her attention. She can just make out a tiny silhouette crouching behind a nearby shrub.

“Charlie!” She leaps across the lawn and throws her arms around him.

“I’m sorry.” Charlie says and hugs her back. “He scared me so I ran.”

The man points the crowbar at them. “I said get out!”

“Okay, we’re going.” Cindy says, clutching her son. She wills her hands to stop shaking. “You can keep your car.”

The door of the neighboring house pops open. A middle-aged woman in a housecoat steps out holding a shotgun.

“Nah, you ain’t leavin’ yet, honey.” She stands like a linebacker, lit cigarette dangling from her lips. “You got a job to finish, and this peckerhead ain’t gonna stop you.”

“Christ, Maggie!” The man shakes with rage or something worse. “I need that goddamn car!”

She racks the shotgun. “Run her off and they’ll just come back with the cops, dipshit. Ain’t no one gonna let you keep that thing.”

The man gives Cindy a tired look, as if all the dope-fueled energy has finally leaked out of him. Then he turns and silently walks back to his house. Cindy doesn’t look away — or loosen her grip on Charlie — until she sees him go inside.

She turns to thank her savior just as he door slams shut. The porchlight blinks out, leaving the pair in near darkness.

“C’mon Charlie.” Cindy helps her son up. “It’s okay now. Time to go.”

On the way out, they pass the pickup with the welding rig parked in the woman’s driveway. Cindy notices something on the dashboard and stops for a moment. It’s a tablet. The kind with a protective blue-rubber case.

~ fin ~


Dustin Walker has worked as a dishwasher, news reporter and tech marketer. But his passion is writing gritty crime and suspense fiction. His stories have recently appeared in Rock and a Hard PlacePulp Modern, and Mystery Weekly‘s Die Laughing anthology. He lives on Vancouver Island, Canada, with his wife and daughter. Find him on Twitter @dustinjaywalker