Carl drove in silence, north through Connor, further away from Musk. Millie only glanced at him as if she were afraid of looking at him directly as she leaned into the passenger door, the cool window against her face. Her hands trembled. She felt disoriented as if she’d been hit on the head. She couldn’t think straight. Carl? Carl…
A freight truck blew past them going in the opposite direction shuddering the silence in the cab. Carl stayed focused on the road ahead and remained silent. He looked rigid like a stone statue forever frozen in its pose. Millie sniffed providing the only break in the monotonous drone of the truck’s engine. She rubbed the spot on her arm where he had grabbed her and dragged her to his truck.
“Where are you taking me?” she asked finally. Her voice sounded wounded and foreign to her. Carl didn’t respond.
“Carl, why are you doing this?” she pleaded. When he didn’t respond, she mustered up the courage to be more forceful. “Carl, answer me!”
She could feel the truck barrel forward. Her throat hurt; her insides felt like they would spill out of her at any moment. She glanced at the speedometer and became more concerned, but before she could say another word, Carl finally responded to her.
“You don’t get it do you?” Carl sounded remarkably calm, like the father-figure she thought he had been at one time.
“Get what? What do you mean?” She felt a panic surge in her chest. He seemed detached from the terrible reality between them.
He took one hand off the wheel and rubbed the side of his face as if he too were trying to wipe away that reality. “I was nice to you. I defended you when the men at the mine were catcalling you and saying disrespectful things to you. I helped you, and you didn’t notice.”
She didn’t understand what he was saying. She heard the words, but they seemed juxtaposed with the way she remembered things. “What are you talking about? I thanked you,” she said, her voice shaking. “Is that what this is about?”
“Those men would have eaten you alive if it wasn’t for me,” he continued. “And what do I have to show for it? Nothing. You treated me like some throwaway. You probably do that a lot to men, don’t you? I bet you use and discard men all the time. That’s the thing with beautiful women. You can’t trust them. They’re used to getting their way and leaving you behind.” He frowned and shook his head without taking his eyes off the road.
Confusion ran rampant in Millie’s brain. She couldn’t make sense of what Carl was saying. He sounded like a scorned boyfriend. “Carl…you’re…you’re my boss,” she said, the words stuttering from her lips.
“That’s all I am to you.” He shook his head again. “You used me.”
She felt dizzy, disoriented. “I…trusted you…as an authority figure. I was thankful for all you did. I didn’t mean to disrespect you in anyway. I’m sorry you feel that way.”
“Are you really sorry? Are you, Millie? Because I don’t think you are. I think you’re used to taking advantage of people and using them in anyway you can. That’s what beautiful women like yourself do. I know. I’ve seen it many times.”
The world around her started to spin. She felt like she was having an out-of-body experience or that she was walking through a nightmare where nothing made sense or the rules of logic had been suspended for the sake of the terror.
“Carl, I don’t understand…”
“Of course, you don’t. Women like you never do.”
“Why do you keep saying that? What did I do to disrespect you? Whatever it was, it was just a misunderstanding. I never meant to do it.” She could feel the panic rising in her chest.
“You just don’t get it. I protected you. I did something for you, and I wanted you to do something for me. That’s how it works.”
“What do you want me to do?”
Carl finally broke his trance-like focus from the road and turned his head toward her briefly. He had a half smile on his face. “I want us to be together.”
It took her a moment to process the words like she had to turn over each one and decipher it in her brain before she could string them together in a sentence that made sense.
“Be together? Carl, you’re married.”
“No, I’m not.”
She felt further confused, if that was possible. “Who is the woman in the picture on your desk? And the kids?”
He laughed abruptly. “That’s my sister and her kids. I’ve never been married.”
Millie felt like she had imagined everything that had happened since she started working at the mine, like it was some elaborate play that was coming to an end. Like all actors, Carl was something completely different than his character in this imagined world.
“But I remember someone referring to the pictures as your wife and kids. You didn’t correct them.”
He turned to her with a slight grin on his face. “I didn’t want anyone to think I was pathetic. Do you know how hard it is to be a man my age who has never been married or even been in a serious relationship? Do you?”
She didn’t answer his question as he turned his attention back to the road.
“Of course you don’t. Women like you don’t have a clue. You just use people your entire life and you get away with it. Not anymore.”
“Whatever I did to you, I am so sorry. I never meant to hurt you or disrespect you. You have to believe that.”
He didn’t respond or even acknowledge what she said. He just stared out onto the highway as if he were trying to make sense of the straight road ahead of them.
“It’s too late for apologies, Millie. It’s too late.”
Tears began to stream down her cheeks again as she looked at him. He refused to acknowledge her. She leaned back onto the window and took a deep breath. She kept her head still but scanned the floor beneath her and the little compartment in the door. It had been cleaned out. She had been in Carl’s truck before, and he usually had stuff scattered about, nothing that could be used to defend herself, but his truck had never been this clean. He had made an effort to clean it up before he came for her.
Thoughts clicked through her brain as if she were flipping through pages in a book. She tried to remember everything she had in her bag. It sat in the back of his pickup, well beyond her reach, but it had nothing but clothes, some toiletries, and her dead phone minus the charger. She strained to think of something, but she was truly defenseless. Until a memory floated into her mind.
One morning during the previous winter, she had rode with Carl up to the edge of the mine to investigate a sample site. Although they had only been at the office for a couple of hours, a layer of ice had formed on his windshield when they got into his truck. She remembered him rambling about how he always kept an ice scraper in his glove compartment. This isn’t one of those cheap plastic ones. It’s heavy duty because the ice here in the winter can be thick. You should get yourself one.
Millie eyed the door to the glove compartment. Is it still in there?
“Where are we going?” she asked.
“There’s a place I want to take you there. It’s beautiful. You’ll love it.”
She considered this for a moment. “I have to use the bathroom,” she said.
Carl looked at her briefly before turning back to the highway. “You’ll have to wait. In case you haven’t noticed, we’re in the middle of nowhere.”
“I have to go really bad.”
“Can’t you wait until there’s a gas station or something?”
“You just want to go on the side of the road?”
She looked at the blur of bushes along the side of the highway. “I can go behind these bushes.”
He eyed her suspiciously. “Don’t get any ideas. There’s nowhere to go. We’re miles from anywhere. People die out here all the time from dehydration and exposure every summer.”
“I’m not going to run. I just need to pee. Please.”
At first she thought he would ignore her, but then, she felt the truck start to decelerate. He slowed more forcefully and pulled over to the side of the road. She looked ahead and then back. She hadn’t seen another car for a long time, and none looked to be headed in their direction. The blacktop gleamed for miles in either direction.
Millie opened the door and climbed down from the truck. Carl got out as well and walked around to her side. She stood by the door for a moment until Carl nodded toward the bushes. “Come on,” he chided. “We don’t have all day.”
She felt his eyes on her as she climbed down the dusty embankment near the road and stepped through the shortest of the bushes. The scraggly leaves snagged her jeans as she made her way toward a more private spot. She looked back at him before she squatted down behind the bigger bushes and pretended to relieve herself. She didn’t stand up until she had thought everything through one more time.
“Let’s go!” Carl yelled from the side of the truck. His voice carried well in the stagnant air.
She kept the charade going from behind the bush, taking time to button her pants and rubbing her palms on the thighs of her jeans. He seemed convinced, but he stayed put by the side of the truck as she climbed up the embankment. He even smiled at her as she came up to the truck.
“Good, because that’s the last stop until Wyoming.”
She stared at him for a moment, which seemed to freeze him in his tracks for just a few seconds, precious time for her. As he took his first step around the truck, she pulled open the door and swung into the passenger seat. She popped open the glove compartment and almost felt elated when she saw the ice scraper. She grabbed it’s rubbery handle and quickly put the weapon at her side as she slapped the door of the glove compartment shut.
Carl opened the driver’s door. He seemed out of breath from the walk around the truck. In an instant, Millie looked at the keys dangling from the ignition, and as he lumbered up into the driver’s seat, she slid toward him and struck him on the face with the ice scraper.
At first, she thought her blow did nothing to stop him. She recoiled and struck him again in quick succession. He howled and stumbled back from the door but remained halfway in the truck. She swung her legs up onto the seat and kicked with all of her might. He grunted and tried to fight back, grabbing her ankle and twisting hard. He howled again and cursed her, but she kept fighting. He pulled her closer and she swung the ice scraper at him again, stabbing the air with its metallic blade. It made contact, but it felt insignificant until she saw the blood, lots of it, gushing from his forehead.
She kept kicking and swinging. She heard a loud feral scream that she didn’t realize was her own voice until Carl stumbled and fell out of the truck. He almost pulled her out with him until she gave him another kick. Her ankle ached as she pulled it back from the edge of the door. She quickly grabbed the door and yanked it shut, but something blocked it. She tried to slam it again until she noticed Carl’s hand still wedged into the door jamb. She kicked it away and slammed the door shut.
Her whole body shook. Her heart felt like it would pump through her chest. She could barely turn the ignition because her fingers wouldn’t cooperate, but once the engine roared to life, she gunned it. The truck ran over something, and she felt sick as she looked in the rear view mirror and saw Carl lying on the side of the road like road kill.
She didn’t stop, and he didn’t appear to move as she sped away. She pumped the gas harder until she could no longer see him lying there. Only then did she start crying. Only then did she wail into space of the cabin like a wounded animal. One day, she’d make sense of all of this, but today, she was just glad to be alive.
She drove well above the speed limit. The truck’s tires chewed up the blacktop until she came upon a small town that appeared seemingly out of nowhere. Her hands still trembled when she pulled into a gas station. She sat there for a moment looking around at the few people at the pumps. Every man she saw looked like Carl. She took a deep breath and stepped out of the truck. Her wobbly legs carried her into the gas station where she asked the attendant to call the police. After she shrugged off the attendant’s concern, she returned to the truck and sat there with the doors locked until she saw the flashing lights pull into the station.