The car, a blue Focus, was waiting for me, not inside the rental lot, but out on the street with the key sitting in the ignition. There was a note on the driver’s window with my name on it, but the situation seemed quite odd to me. I took a walk around the vehicle and made sure there wasn’t anything missing off it, snapping several pictures as I went. The plates and tags seemed valid, so I hopped inside and drove to pick up Nathan Webb. I wasn’t honestly sure why he hadn’t just waited for me with the car if he got it out of the lot. His house was several blocks away according to the directions on my phone, but I wouldn’t think he wanted to risk someone damaging a rental. Then again, I wasn’t even sure how one rented a vehicle without a valid license. I pulled up to a rather rundown apartment complex and was about to check the glove compartment for the rental papers when a man walked up to the passenger door, opened it, and got inside.
“Hey, kid. I thought you’d be older. I’m Nathan,” said the man. I shook his hand and said, “James, please. Ready to go?” He nodded, saying, “Sure thing. I hope you don’t mind speeding a little. We’re running a bit late.” I looked at him, feeling surprised. “I’m actually a good ten minutes earlier than you requested.” Nathan shrugged. “I know, but I was going over my schedule again and found that I hadn’t added right earlier. Sorry about that.” Nathan was a rather scruffy man with short-cropped, brown hair and brown eyes. Feeling that something was off, I couldn’t help glancing at him as I drove toward our first stop. He wore a beat-up, red baseball cap that was probably bought within the past month. The red was far too vibrant for an old hat, so I wondered what he possibly could have done to tear parts and get it that dirty. For a man in a hurry, he was quite relaxed, randomly talking about various parts of the neighborhoods we passed, though he never mentioned anyone by name.
Our first stop was a warehouse that looked quite old but still in use. “Pop the trunk and wait here a minute. I’ll be back out shortly.” Nathan stepped out of the car, grabbed a gym bag from the trunk, and headed into the building. I hadn’t thought to check the trunk when I picked up the car, but searching through the belongings of others wasn’t my way. I did, however, look in the glove compartment and found the rental agreement written out to Nathan Webb. Somehow, even a man without a license could apparently rent a car for another to drive. Even now that I was running my own business, I obviously had much to learn still. I put the papers back as I found them and waited several minutes for Nathan to return, still carrying his gym bag. Then we took off to a bank, which was a painful drive during rush hour.
He had me let him out of the car a block away from the bank and told me to park two corners down if he didn’t make it back into the car before I arrived there. With how congested traffic was this close to the interstate, I wouldn’t have been surprised if I didn’t even make it to the bank, assuming his transaction was quick. I listened to the radio and crawled forward through the traffic, thinking I should revise my fees as a driver to include a bonus for rush hour. Just when I was preparing to park, Nathan was tapping on the trunk, which I opened for him. “Where’s your hat,” I asked when he hopped in the vehicle. “The wind caught it halfway, and I didn’t want to chase after it. The thing’s seen better days anyhow. Full speed ahead!” I laughed and preceded up the ramp to the interstate at a snail’s pace as he guided me. We sat in the traffic, listening to the radio, for a time. Eventually traffic started flowing once more, and we took the exit toward his next stop.
Miller’s Place was a gas station and an auto body shop in one. I popped the trunk when we got there, so Nathan could grab his bag and head inside. How much money did he withdraw to need a bag for it? When he returned, he was carrying quite the nice muffler. “Doing a little car repair for when you get your license back?” Nathan shook his head and smiled. “Nah. This is to repay a buddy for a job he did a while back. We’re getting rid of it at the last stop.” I pulled out, got back on the interstate, and headed further away from his home. We eventually came to a general store in a somewhat seedy-looking suburb where Nathan’s friend was waiting in the parking lot. “Hey, Roger! How did the deal go?” Nathan, or possibly Roger, handed the muffler to the man and replied, “Smoother than a baby’s bottom, my friend.” After setting the muffler in his car, the man handed my employer some money. This was quite wrong. The muffler seemed too heavy as the men had passed it in both hands, and it was suppose to be a repayment, not a sale. I took a picture of the men together while pretending to text.
Nathan passed some of the money to me as the rest of my payment for the night, and I thanked him as I tucked it away in my wallet. I also watched his wallet as I acted distracted with my own. There was most definitely a driver’s license in it, and the name read “Roger Donaldson.” I didn’t catch the full address, but I was sure he didn’t live anywhere near where I had picked him up. We listened to the radio the entire way back to where I had picked him up, and then I dropped the car off where he instructed. As I waited for the bus and even as I rode it, I pondered what to do. My client gave a false name, had me transport questionable merchandise, and didn’t give me an honest description of the job he intended. There was a confidentiality agreement in my contract, but there was also clause excluding me from participation in illegal activity. The possibility of someone attempting to lure me into such dealings I had considered before my business started, but I never truly believed it would happen. I didn’t have any sort of hard evidence, but perhaps there was enough for an investigation. Perhaps father would have some good advice on the situation, though I feared that he might see this as a reason to try getting me to stop.
I arrived back home as my parents were heading to bed and decided not to mention the details of the night to them just yet. Instead of going to bed immediately, I started googling through laws in an endeavor to see if I could be held accountable as an accomplice if things transpired as I expected. By the end, I wasn’t remotely certain, but I had a fair feeling that I wouldn’t be in trouble if this did lead to any sort of investigation. I prepared to bed and then laid there long into the night trying to remember every last detail. I really needed to pay more attention, especially while on the job. Too often I allowed myself just to drift around inside my head and ignore my surroundings. If I was more astute earlier, I might have been able to collect real evidence. Then again, this wasn’t some mystery novel or story where the hero always wins. This was my crazy, mixed-up life that had a tendency to get interesting in the most unexpected ways anymore. I still wasn’t over any of the so-called spontaneous combustions that occurred at two of my jobs. As sleep was taking me, I found myself thinking again of Alma. I hadn’t thought of the girl very much in the past week, but hearing her wonderful accent right now would be a comfort. Perhaps I would again one day.