White Knuckle

 

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White Knuckle

The beginning of a romance/crime story.

The hitchhiker leant against her car, waiting by the side of the empty highway for a ride. She’d done this before and, as long a policeman didn’t drive by, she should get away with it. The sun was low in the sky and a slow, warm breeze made the bushland whisper. The woman, with her stylish leather boots, fitted black dress and expensive car, would have fitted in perfectly among a group of business people or lawyers or dentists, but here, among the gum trees and power lines of country Victoria, she looked rather out of place. She was not the kind of person you would expect to be hitchhiking nor was she the kind of person you expected would carry six knives on their person, but there she stood by the side of the highway, knives cleverly concealed, and waiting for a ride.

As the long shadows of the bush grew longer and the warm afternoon was on the verge of becoming a cool evening, a battered silver Ute pulled up beside the hitchhiker. The reflective window wound down slowly and the face of a sharp-jawed, messy-haired, kind-eyed man peered out.

“Need a lift?” he asked.

“Only if you’re headed into town.”

“As it turns out,” he said, “I am.”

“You’re not a serial killer are you?” she joked as she slid into the passenger seat, resting her handbag – which held two thin, sharp knives – between her feet.

“I’m as much a killer as you are,” he smiled.

The woman grinned. If only you knew, she thought. As soon as she clicked the door shut, he sped off down the highway.

“It’s a hundred zone,” she muttered, pressing her foot down to an imaginary brake, watching as the speedometer’s dial spun far past the limit.

“So it is,” he mumbled, slowing the car. “Sorry, what did you say your name was?”

“I didn’t,” she said, calming a little as the car slowed. “It’s Catherine.”

“John,” he said, lifting his hand from the wheel to wave at her for a moment before gripping it tightly.

He’s nervous, she thought as she took the lull in conversation as an opportunity to examine her new companion. John had messy dark hair that was only just short enough not to cover his deep brown eyes. He was clean shaven and was wearing a cologne that was stinking up the car. His baggy t-shirt and jeans looked casual and relaxed, which Catherine thought was odd. If he was dressing for comfort, why the cologne? His knuckles were now white from gripping the steering wheel so tightly. Why is he so nervous? Catherine wondered.

John’s cheeks flushed and Catherine realised suddenly that she’d been staring at him. John focussed hard on the road, obviously embarrassed at the attention and Catherine pretended to be interested in the silhouetted trees outside. After a moment, John cleared his throat.

“So what’re you doing all the way out here?” he asked.

“Visiting my parents,” Catherine lied, still watching out the window. “They’re dairy farmers. Would’ve been a good trip if my car hadn’t broken down.”

“Nice,” he said, still gripping the wheel for dear life.

“You?” she asked, abandoning the dark landscape outside and looking to her only company, trying her hardest to be polite. That’s all she had to do at the moment, be polite.

“I was camping,” he said. Catherine thought this answer made his clean shaven face and cologne all the more strange.

“Nice spot?” she asked.

He nodded. “Pretty decent. Up near the mountains. Cold, but beautiful.”

She smiled and he smiled and there was a silence again. Catherine still wasn’t very good at this bit, the small talk. She could easily get a lift, hitch along for a while and then finally do her job, but the bit between getting in the car and running off into the sunset was difficult. So instead of trying to make conversation with the nervous, strange man sitting next to her, Catherine instead focused on how she would complete her job when the time came. Her mind spinning with witty lines and swift moves to use, she barely noticed the time or distance passing until John pulled over half an hour and nearly sixty kilometres after their last words to each other.

“Nature break,” he said as he clambered out of the car, slamming the door behind him.

Perfect, Catherine thought, trying to suppress her grin. Now was the time. As soon as John was out of sight, Catherine took the two slender blades from her bag and turned them over in her hands. The sun was almost completely set and the knives glinted in the dying light. Catherine’s hands shook with adrenaline as she waited, trying to calm herself. She listened through the open window as the breeze whistled through the bush. She closed her eyes and tried to calm down. If she got over excited, she’d make a mess of the job. She had to be careful for this to work and when she was excited, she was rarely careful.

A stick snapped next to the car and Catherine jumped into position. Her knives poised to strike through the window, her vision was obstructed by the barrel of a handgun. She peered around it, her adrenaline-fuelled imagination expected to see a bushranger or a disgruntled hermit.

“John?”

“Catherine.” He nodded at her then bit his lip, his nerves showing despite his strong stance and long, measured breaths.

She cocked an eyebrow at him. “Didn’t pick you as the type,” she said, lowering her knives. This certainly explained his white-knuckle nerves earlier.

“No one ever tell you not to bring a knife to a gunfight?” he joked, voice as shaky as his hands.

“Honey, I’ve lowered my weapons, you should do the same.” The barrel of the gun was still pointed right at Catherine’s head and even with her experience and sophistication in this kind of situations, it was making her a little uneasy.

He frowned at her. “Why?”

“Because in your state you’re more likely to hit yourself than me.”

He smiled weakly and lowered it, taking a step away from the car, placing the gun on the ground, gesturing to Catherine that it was safe to come out. She climbed out of the car and placed her two thin knives next to the firearm.

“What…happens now? You’re not going to kill me are you?” he asked, big doe eyes pleading with Catherine.

“Darling,” she said, trying her hardest not to laugh at his quivering figure. “You just aimed a gun at the head of one of the best assassins in the country. What do you think is going to happen?”

The tiniest bit of pigment that had been left in John’s face now fled. “What? You are going to kill me? But-”

Catherine held up a delicate hand and shushed him. “No,” she said. “You’re going to take me to dinner.”

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