Pete stood in the driveway outside of his small apartment complex. He tried to steady his breathing, but knew he couldn’t do anything to prevent the oncoming panic attack. His vision blurred as he looked down at the cracked driveway, and back up at the thick pine trees that surrounded the property line. On these familiar days, he felt smothered by the dead-end town he lived in, and it seemed to Pete that no one ever left.
He turned and went back inside the garage he shared with his neighbor. Pete pulled open his shopping bag and took out the flame decals that he had spent his last few dollars on, and carefully measured the driver side of his truck. He needed the decals on either side to be even. Holding his breath, he pressed the decal on and smoothed it flat against the side of the black Chevy pickup.
“Perfect,” he said aloud.
He smiled as the fluorescent lights in the garage beamed on his masterpiece. Pete ran his hands over the hood of the truck; the metal was smooth under his callused hands. He pulled his hands back and stared at them; they were beginning to shake, and he felt the familiar nauseous feeling as he remembered the day he got the truck.
“C’mon man,” his friend Mike had said.
Pete looked into his friend’s bloodshot eyes and sunburned face; his dark hair was a frizzy mess around his head. “I don’t know about this,” Pete mumbled.
“Dude you said you wanted a truck, and I found you a truck, but if you want it, you have to be the one to do it.”
Mike had already gotten the driver side door open for him, and pulled off the panel covering the wires beneath the steering wheel. Pete just copied what he had witnessed Mike do several times before, although he had never done it himself. He spliced the two red wires with his dirty fingernails, wrapped the frayed ends together, and then he connected the starting wire. The truck came to life with a deep growl that echoed through the nearly empty lot outside the construction site. Mike laughed and slapped Pete hard on the back.
It hadn’t taken long for Mike and his friends to replace the license plates and repaint the truck from deep red to the black that Pete wanted. Soon it looked like an entirely new truck.
“Don’t worry buddy,” Mike had said to him, “I’ve never gotten caught, and I never will. And if I’ve never been caught, neither will you!”
When Pete got home that night after stealing the truck, he looked in the mirror and glared at his reflection.
“You’re changing buddy, and I’m not sure I like it,” he had said to himself. He had spent the next few nights tossing and turning.
Pete’s phone rang, Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” echoed through the garage, pulling him from the memory. Pete didn’t even have to check to see who was calling.
“Hey Mike, what’s up,” Pete asked.
“What’s up? Honestly man, you know Sammie’s going to kill you.”
Pete smacked his palm to his forehead. “I totally forgot I had work today, I was working on my truck.”
“Alright man, but you’d better come up with a more creative excuse for Sammie.”
Pete got out of his truck in the parking lot of the town’s only diner and jogged to the entrance. He rolled down the sleeves of his uniform shirt over the tribal tattoos covering his forearms. Pete walked quietly into the employee bathroom and adjusted his hoop nose ring in the mirror. After splashing some water on his face, he smoothed his dark hair back. He stared at himself, criticizing the dark circles under his eyes that never went away.
In the kitchen Pete set up his cooking station and grinned at the sound of sizzling hot grease. The scent of the burnt burgers and oily french-fries made the air thick in the kitchen. Pete’s smile fell when he heard the familiar ground-shaking stomping coming towards him. He shuddered as he looked down at the floor and saw Sammie’s mud stained cowboy boots next to his broken sneakers. He slowly looked up and met her angry gaze; her red hair was in a messy nest around her head. She towered over Pete’s small frame. Pete shut his eyes tightly, waiting for the yelling to start.
“Pete,” Sammie bellowed. All the other employees in the kitchen turned to stare, and Pete felt his face burning as his cheeks went red.
“Is it just me or do you really not give a crap,” Sammie continued.
Pete held his breath as the burning scent of Sammie’s vodka breath entered his nostrils.
“You’re lucky you’re a damn good cook or else I would’ve fired your lazy ass a long time ago. When I say to show up to work on time, it means on time, not whenever you feel like strolling in half an hour after you’re supposed to be here.”
“I’m sorry Sammie,” Pete mumbled. “It won’t happen again.”
“That’s what you say every damn day Pete. Look I’m sure you’re a good kid, but I got a restaurant to run, so you’d better get your head out of the clouds and focus on what the hell you’re supposed to be doing.”
Pete opened his eyes and took a deep breath.
“Damn,” Mike said as he patted Pete on the back, his dark brown hair was half hanging over his bloodshot eyes. “She really hates you today, doesn’t she?”
“She hates me every day. I’m so sick of being stuck in this town, in this dead-end job. I’m never going to get anywhere. I was born here and I’m going to die here.”
“Well hey man, if you’re really serious about getting out, I think I might know a way to get us both really far away from here.”
“What do you mean,” asked Pete.
Mike’s voice lowered, “I’ve been talking to these guys, they’re not from around here.”
“Mike, this isn’t one of your stupid get rich quick schemes is it? I’m sorry but they never work.”
“No dude this is for real. They need someone to help them with this job they’re doing in the city. If we both go, we can split the money between the two of us.”
“I don’t know man, the last thing I need is to risk jail time,” Pete said.
“Remember what I always used to say: I’ve never gotten caught, and I never will. And if I’ve never been caught, neither will you. I still mean that man. Are you my bro or not?”
Pete hesitated for a moment and looked around the diner at the filthy linoleum floor, the peeling paint and flickering florescent lights. He heard Sammie’s shrill voice screaming at another one of her employees and he winced. “Alright yeah, I’ll do it.”
“Alright then, I’ll let you know the details within the next couple of days.”
For the next two days Pete showed up to work on time, but Sammie didn’t say anything to him, and neither did Mike. Pete wondered what this “job” could be, and thought back again to the day he stole the truck. Maybe Mike was right; maybe they wouldn’t get caught, just like last time.
As soon as Pete got home, his cell phone went off and the familiar tune of “Crazy Train” that had once made Pete happy, now made him feel like he had bricks inside his stomach.
“Hi Mike,” Pete tried to pretend his voice wasn’t shaking.
“Hey, I’ll be at your place in fifteen minutes.”
The line went dead. A few minutes later, Mike pulled up in his old black Bronco and got out, slamming the door behind him.
“Listen,” Pete began, “this just isn’t worth it Mike. I don’t want to go to prison, and this just isn’t right. You need to do this on your own.”
Mike charged towards Pete and grabbed him by his shirt collar. Pete felt his feet lift off the ground. “Look around dumb ass. You said you wanted a way out and I found us a way out. Do you want to be stuck here till you die?”
As Mike put Pete back on the ground, Pete looked over at the cracked steps that led down into his basement apartment, and at the overgrown grass that covered the yard.
“No,” Pete finally answered, “I want out, more than anything, I want to get out of here.”
“Alright then help me load half of this stuff into your truck.”
Pete felt his eyes grow wide as Mike opened the back of his truck to reveal over half a million dollars worth of electronics. Shining flat screens, laptops, videogame consoles, mp3 players and cell phones were stacked in the truck. With shaking hands, Pete loaded half of the stolen goods into the back of his stolen truck.
“Listen, here’s the map, it’s a few hours drive from here, just stay on course and when we deliver, we get our money,” Mike explained.
He got into his truck and followed Mike down the road. He looked at himself in the rearview mirror and scowled, but he kept driving.
They drove through the town and passed Sammie’s Diner on the way out of it. “Poor Sammie, I put her through hell,” Pete mumbled. Once he was out on the highway, all the tension seemed to leave his shoulders, he took a deep breath, and it felt like the first deep breath he had taken in years. Pete looked out on the open road in front of him and smiled as he increased his speed. “Mike is right,” Pete said to himself. “We’ve never been caught, and we never will be.”