By Dale Alexander
My friend convinced me to park in the space labeled “for restaurant customers only,” even though we were going to the bar next door. It was the last space available in the area. I occasionally found good things to write about on Saturday nights, so I went with it.
After a few drinks, I decided to leave, and he, to stay. In the parking lot, I found an empty stall where my car had been parked: in fact, the whole lot was empty. I panicked, of course. That car was all I had.
Behind me a voice called my name. I turned to see my buddy jogging toward me. He probably still wanted a ride home.
At the same time, I also noticed three men in blue overalls standing around in an alley just past the lot where my black Chevy still wasn’t. They were laughing, talking, and drinking canned beers. I decided they might know something about my situation.
“Did you tow any cars tonight?” I asked the group’s clear leader, sure he would have an answer for me, despite the decided lack of tow trucks in evidence. “I really need my car back.”
He stood taller than me, though stooped, and his blue coveralls yawned halfway down his considerable belly, exposing a dingy white t-shirt. At least 72 hours’ stubble clung to his face and neck, having migrated from his balding head. His tribe joined my friend and I in a small circle.
“I know what this is about,” he said kindly, and calmly reached into an inside pocket of his coveralls.
The man who interrupted us at that exact moment with his Walther PPK wore a charcoal Armani, a skinny tie to match, and black Wayfarers. He pointed the gun at my coveralled acquaintances and said “move,” in a tone that suggested questions weren’t required.
When I stayed put, he glanced at me like a high school guidance counsellor on an off day. I followed along and dragged my flabbergasted friend. Charcoal Armani brought up the rear, and we all marched to a waiting black Suburban. All four doors opened, and we piled in.
This was not the plot I wanted.
The gunman’s identical twin sat in the driver’s seat and started the engine immediately. Once we were on a main street, the windows tinted to midnight and nothing was visible through them. The original gunman – seated next to the driver – smiled at us, a hesitant grin designed to convey something other than happiness.
I sweated involuntarily.
“Ok,” I said after a long silence. “Where are we going?”
As I asked, I studied our two hosts. Except for a charcoal suit and a blue one, I couldn’t have told them apart: two action figures cast from the same mold, painted differently.
The original gunman straightened in his seat, and when no answer was forthcoming from any source, I turned to the suspected tow truck driver. He had been looking at me, waiting for me to turn. His eyes wide, he raised a grubby index finger to his lips and silently, but unmistakably told me to “shh.”
He then finished what he had started back in the alley and after fishing around for a minute in his coveralls, he delicately opened his hand, palm up in front of me. Right there in front of my eyes, in his grease-stained hand, he held a replica of my black Chevy. Identical down to the “26.2” sticker in the rear window, it was no more than an inch long. I raised my gaze from the car to him, then back to the car. Then back to him.
He nodded and replaced the car in his pocket. Sensing my storm of questions, he held up both hands palms out, and saucered his eyes. “Wait,” he said without saying it. “All will be explained, and you’ll get your car back.”
Somehow, I knew it wasn’t a replica. It was the actual car my father gave me the day before he died.
For another 10 minutes we sat silently as the Suburban rolled, and my mind chewed on the fact that this man had my car in his pocket.
When we stopped, the twins opened our doors, ushering us into a warehouse big enough to be an airplane hangar. And as it turned out, that’s exactly what it was.
Their spaceship looked nothing like what I expected. Blocky and indeterminate, matte-ish black with darker spots at irregular intervals, it defied description and forced my eyes to slide off somehow. More importantly, how did they get it into a warehouse in the Chicago suburbs without being noticed? Rednecks claim to see flying saucers daily and it always ends up being someone’s mylar birthday balloon. But a real one lands in one the country’s biggest cities and no one notices?
Truth is stranger than fiction, I guess. Dad would have agreed.
Since I never finished my Astro Engineering degree, I shelved those thoughts and concentrated on the current situation.
“Hey, what’s going on here?” My friend snarked, apparently inconvenienced by the trip.
For the first time, blue suit acknowledged us.
“One of us is rogue,” he said, his voice iron over granite.
I must have looked as confused as I felt, because the tow truck driver looked at me and shrugged his guilt. And then I knew the story.
Someone once told me “follow the money,” when looking for the answers. I used to attribute that to Raymond Chandler. Turns out It came from “All the President’s Men,” though it’s been used a lot. Raymond Chandler DID advise writers that to move a story forward, introduce a man with a gun. That always seemed contrived to me, though, so I never used it.
The money quote clicked just then. I decided it was time to speak up.
“Wait, wait,” I said. “All I want is my car. I’m not interested in what technology made it small, or whatever else you’re hiding. I just want to be able to drive it home.”
The Matrix refugees faced me. Charcoal suit slotted his sunglasses into his pocket. He considered me for a year and a half before speaking.
“How do you know this?”
My friend’s face echoed the question.
“Look,” I said. “I’m a writer. I do plots. There’s always a ‘why.’ You guys are clearly from some advanced civilization. You came here to enslave us, or sell technology to our governments in hopes you could profit from our resources because your planet is dying, or to harvest our bodies to feed your young. You’ll strongarm us if necessary, but you’re counting on our greed, or our government’s tendency to weaponize everything. Your technology is either compromised, malfunctioning, or has been stolen or misused by someone here, or most likely, by one of your own for some unclear reason that, if uncovered, would necessitate a sub-plot, and change this situation from a short story into a novel.” I threw the tow truck driver a look.
He shrugged again.
I turned back to Tweedledee and the other one.
“Most likely it’s some combination. I don’t care,” I told them. “And if you give me back my car and let us go, I guarantee no one will ever know about any of this.”
He stared at me, considering my sincerity, maybe.
Maybe he was reading my mind: sometimes it’s hard to tell, with alien intelligences in these situations.
When he finished, he looked at the tow truck driver, who reached into his pocket, pulled out the car, and placed it on the ground.
Telepathy. Without a doubt.
We all backed up several steps. Charcoal suit produced a device that resembled a car’s key fob and pushed a button.
The car was instantly full-sized. There was no lightning, no cartoonish ballooning effect, no gradient growth. One instant it was a Matchbox car, the next, the genuine article. I reeled.
“You appear disoriented.” Blue suit spoke.
I gaped at him. “I mean,” I fumbled, “I was about 72% sure I was right, but. . .” I looked around.
“I guess seeing it WORK or whatever, you know?” Lame dialogue.
I fished in my pocket and pulled out car keys. Unlocking the door, I nodded for my friend to hop in.
The aliens continued not moving. I felt like thanking them, but what for? I decided to cut my losses and just go home. Outside the warehouse windows, the sky began to lighten.
As I sat down, the aliens approached me.
“We believe you will keep our secret,” charcoal suit said.
“But we are not sure how you will accomplish this,” finished his partner. “Your mind is sincere, but cloudy and unfocused.”
I grinned. Yep, these were definitely aliens.
“I told you,” I said. “I’m a writer. This is science fiction. I’ll do the one thing that will assure people would never believe it. I’ll write about it.”