I've Thumbed My Last Ride
1.I stood in the cold rain near Oklahoma City, trying to thumb a ride home for the weekend. Cars kept speeding by. Without knowing it, I was playing a dangerous game. And the car that finally stopped was just the same as a loaded gun.
2.The guy in the Buick opened the door.“ Crawl in-you'll get wet out there."
3.He had a two or three days' growth of beard. I guess that was the first thing I saw. He was driving a nice car. I expected him to look better. He glanced at me as he pulled back on the road.
4."Where you headed?"
6.He drove on without saying anything for a while, a slight frown on his face as if he were thinking.
7."How far is that from Clinton?"
8.I didn't know, I told him. It was quite a ways, since Clinton is west of Oklahoma City and Frederick is about 150 miles southwest. He mentioned Clinton another time or two as we drove along. It didn't make too much sense to me. If he was interested in going to Clinton, he was certainly taking an odd way.But it was none of my business. As long as he was headed in the direction I wanted to go, I was willing to ride.
9.When we came to the next highway, though, he turned west, onto 37. That wasn't the way I usually went. I didn't say anything. There were several routes. Then we passed through Tuttle, and still he kept heading west.
10.The route was getting a little too roundabout for me. I wanted to make time on the trip home. I made plans to stop at the next town. He was going somewhere at a pretty good clip. Something about his manner made me hesitate to ask where. He hadn't said anything for a while. Suddenly he glanced my way.
11."You know the back roads into Clinton?" my stomach felt funny. I found myself staring at that beard again. "No," I said. "I'm not going in that direction. I've got to go south, through Chickasha."
12.He didn't answer, and I made a note of where the door handle was. At the next town I thought I might make a hurried departure.
13.Instead of going on to next town, though, he turned south on the first road we came to leading to Chickasha. That was the way I wanted to go. It was the way I had to go to get home. But somehow that didn't help much. His turning south toward Chickasha, right after I'd said that was the way I wanted to go, struck me as more than a little odd. I moved closer to the door on my side.
14.I guess he sensed that, because he started to talk. I was beginning to think maybe he had a screw loose, but he sounded all right now, and I began to relax. You don't have to know a guy's life history just to thumb a ride with him. We talked about one thing and another, and then he asked me what kind of work I did.
15."I'm studying bookkeeping," I told him.
16."That's an awfully boring life, isn't it?"
17.That burned me plenty. I'd just finished a four year hitch in the Navy, and now I was studying hard. But I'd asked for the ride, and there was no point in getting hot under the collar because I didn't think the way he did. I made some answer or other and let it go, but the stopped after that.
18.The next time he spoke we were going toward Chickasha. The rain was coming down good and strong now and he was trying to see over the steering wheel. "I guess you'll have to stay in Chickasha tonight."
19.That wasn't the first thing he'd said that didn't make full sense to me. Maybe he meant he was turning in another direction now. "I'll make it on in" I told him.
20.Suddenly I heard a siren behind us. He glanced in the rear mirror and gave the Buick the gas. The traffic light at the next corner turned red, but he whipped right at the corner without slowing. I grabbed the dashboard to brace myself and I watched the speedometer climb. He hit sixty coming out of the business district with that siren coming closer behind us. With a sudden turn we left the pavement and roared up a rain-soaked gravel street. The Buick took it somehow, flying over the wet gravel like a drunken rocket.
21.We hit a low stretch at top speed, and water swept over the car as he blasted through. The car skidded as he came out and I heard him cursing and saying something about the windshield wipers. They weren't working any more. It was still pouring down rain. He fought for control of the car. I hoped he would stop now. I figured the cops were after him for speeding, and I thought he was stupid to try to outrun them.
22."No sense in you getting us both killed!" I yelled at him.
23.I heard the siren again, closer. About the same time, I heard a pistol. I whirled around, and he jerked a gun from his coat, driving with one land.
24."Shut up and sit tight!"
25.A cold knot came to my middle, right where that gun was pointed. I knew now he wasn't running from any speeding ticket. From the sound of that siren, the police car was right on our tail. The guns started barking again, and I heard slugs slamming into the Buick body. My throat felt like brass. I ducked down as low as I could, knowing one of those slugs could connect at any minute. The guy had his head half out of the window, trying to see where he was going. I had a white handkerchief in my pocket, and I jerked it out and started waving it out the window on my side. Then my breath choked off. I saw the sharp, hairpin turn, and I knew he was going too fast to make it.
26.The car went into an awful turn and then we crashed into a deep ditch with a bone-twisting smash. The Buick slammed to a stop against some railroad tracks, and this guy kicked the door open and started running.
27."Stop!" I heard somebody yell. "Drop your gun!"
28.I sat right where I was, weak, half-sick with relief that he'd wrecked the car before we'd stopped some of those bullets. I didn't hear any more shots. I guessed he'd decided against running. I felt a hand dig into my shoulder and then I was jerked from the car. My arms were yanked forward. Handcuffs were snapped around my wrists.
29.We were taken to the Chickasha jail, over my repeated protests that I was just a hitchhiker. About dark four detectives from Oklahoma City arrived, and they took us to the Oklahoma City jail. Finger-printing, lineups, then back to the cell. Next morning my door opened.
30."We want to get you out of here, fella," one of the cops said, and I told him I was ready.
31.I learned that the Buick driver, one Kenneth Paul "Lucky" Aycock, a former convict, had been released from the Oklahoma county jail in Oklahoma City only a week before on $5,000 bond on a narcotics charge. In the line-up, he'd admitted robbing Dick Colbert at a used car lot in Oklahoma City. He had taken the car. That was about fifteen minutes before he picked me up. Joe Sisson, Chickasha police chief, and Officer Harold Kuku had heard the statewide alarm for the Buick and were waiting for it.
32.Aycock later said that he'd never have been caught if he hadn't thought that my waving that handkerchief out the window during the shooting was funny. I've taken some kidding about that, but it's fine with me. It was the only thing I knew to do try to show the cops shooting at us that I wasn't part of the deal. And if Aycock is right, maybe it kept me or both of us from getting killed.
33.That night I left again for home. This time I went by bus. I don't hitchhike anymore.