A Puzzle

March 31, 2008
By Larry Busk, Cahokia, IL

A puzzle. A complete puzzle it was to the Rebel. He could take the car. He could take it easily. It was just sitting there. The owner was right inside the general store. He had gone inside and left his car running outside, he had not locked it. No one else was around. The Rebel knew he could take it, he could just hop in and drive away in it. He was sick of walking. His feet hurt something terrible. A car would be a nice thing to have. But could he get away with it? He just didn’t know. He was weighing the options in his mind.

He needed a car, he couldn’t just walk across the entire country. He felt as though he would collapse if he had to walk another mile. But what if he got caught? He knew the guy would call the police the moment he saw the car leaving the lot. Then the police would have the license number and he would be a fugitive.

It was a true puzzle, there were many pros and cons on both sides, should he take the car or not?

The Rebel sat there, back against the outside wall of the Gold Star General Store, looking at the car. He thought it was a hot day, he thought it might be up to 90. It was really only 78, but he was tired and bothered. A tired mind always exaggerates.

It was just sitting there. Begging him to take it. Besides the legal issues, it was also a moral one. He had never been a thief, did he want to become a criminal? He had read about this sort of thing in books before, teachers called it a “moral dilemma”. Part of his mind said no, but another part, as well as his feet, said yes. He had to make his mind up right now, for all he knew, owner might come out of the store any second and his chance would be gone.

He got up quickly, walked over to the car nonchalantly, opened the door and got in gently. He tried to pretend that he wasn’t trembling, but he was. He wasn’t trying to prove to anyone else that he wasn’t scared, there was no one else around, he was trying to prove it to himself. He shifted the car into reverse and pulled out of the general store parking lot. He shifted it into drive and drove away onto the highway, going north. Trembling with fear and excitement.

He had a car now, his very own bright red ‘65 Chevy Impala. The Rebel smiled with relief and apprehension. He drove down the highway.

He had a crooked smile, not off-putting, but odd. He was tall, thin. He had wavy brown hair and dark, dark brown eyes. He had a bit of stubble growing around his chin, like he was trying to grow a beard. He wore loose-hanging jeans and lumberjack shirt, dressed simply. He was seventeen.

He had no direction, he did not know where he was going. He did however, have $250 in cash in his pocket, and a new set of wheels.

“She aint but fifteen”, said the fat Sheriff.

“I know”, said the skinny Deputy, “But she’s also a shop-lifter”.

The two men stood by the desk talking low, the girl sat on a bench about twelve feet away, handcuffed in front of her waist, watching them. They were in a corridor, the exit door was about nine feet away from the girl’s bench.

“She aint no cold criminal, Junk, she’s a fifa-’teen year ol’ girl” the fat one said.

“I knowit, but she done shoplifted a loafa bread and a donut from Mrs. James’ bakery shop. The law’s the law, Sheriff. And you gotta stop callin me ‘Junk’” the skinny one retorted.

The girl looked out the glass door. The corridor contained only her bench and the “information desk” the two men were arguing over. She was tired of sitting there, listening to the annoying voices.

“Junk, it’s short for Junkson, that’s your name, it’s an affectionate nick-name”

“I don’t like it, Sheriff”

“Anyways, this girl, aint no need to hold’er, just give ‘er a warnin‘”

“Not eben goyn ring her parents er nothin’?”

“Alright, alright”
The skinny Deputy seemed proud of his small victory.

“What’s her name?” The Sheriff asked.

“She wouldn’t tell me”

“She wouldn’t…” The Sheriff seemed aggravated.

“Hey Sweety?” he called to the girl.

She looked over at them.

“What’s your name?”

No answer, she was still looking at them.

“C’mon sweety, you can tell me”

No answer.

“Well, what’s yer momma’s name?”

No answer.

“What bout’ chur daddy?”


The Sheriff looked at his deputy confused.

“See what I mean Sheriff?” said the Deputy.

“Alright, we’ll keep her here, go down to the hall of records, bring back Miss Marianne, maybe she’ll know who our mystery babe is”


The Deputy started to walk out.

“Junk” the Sheriff stopped him.


“Take the handcuffs off her first, aint no need for that”

“If you say so Sheriff”

The Deputy stood over the girl and reached down to pick her hands up. He reached into his pocket and got the key, then he unlocked them and let the girl out. He put the cuffs back on his belt, the key back in his pocket, then walked out. Her face never changed expression.

“Now, we aint gonna go running away from us, is ya babydoll?” The Sheriff asked as he slumped down in the seat behind the desk.

“No sir” the girl said.

“Wellll, you can speak after all.”

The Girl sat on her bench, motionless. The Sheriff leaned back in his chair and put his boots on top of the desk. He let out a big sigh and then a belch.

“Scuse’ me, Miss”

They sat in silence for a good ten minutes before the Sheriff started talking again, the Girl could tell he was getting woozy.

“Wasa nice lookin’ girl like you goin’ and shop-liftin fore’?”, he fidgeted around in his chair.

“Just…downright…senseless” he said right before he let out a big yawn.

A few more minutes and the Sheriff closed his eyes. The Girl wasn’t sure if he was sleeping or not. She looked out the door, the outside world seemed very attractive right now. She looked back at the Sheriff, was he sleeping or not?

The Girl stood up. To see if the Sheriff would notice. He didn’t even move. He was breathing heavy, she was pretty sure he was sleeping. But she had to be sure.

“Hello” she said, audibly.

No reaction. The Girl turned and walked down the corridor to the door, not running, but walking pretty fast. She got to the door and looked back at the Sheriff. He was still slumped in the chair, his feet on the desk, sleeping.

Oh, so very gently she pushed the door open and slipped out. She brought it back to close it as quietly and she possibly could. She turned around. Nothing was there but open country and the highway.

She took off walking down the highway. She knew that the moment the Deputy came back and found her missing, that he would have a few harsh words with the Sheriff and then bolt out looking for her. Maybe he wouldn’t, though. Maybe they would just say something like “eh, forget about that lil’ girl, she aint even worth the search”.

The Girl hoped something like that would happen. She couldn’t count on it, though. She knew she had to rely on her ability to hide.

She was tall for being fifteen, very skinny. Scrawny even. She had a hollow, skinny looking face adorned with long black hair. She had skin as pale as paper, an anomaly considering where she grew up. She wore a plain white, short sleeve t-shirt and a jean-shorts.

She walked down the highway, trying to hitch a ride from the few cars that passed. She had no idea where she wanted to go. She had not a red cent in her possession. Her long hair blew in the wind.

The Rebel drove his new car down the highway. He looked at the countryside. He admired it, the wide open countryside, no signs of man in sight. It felt like freedom.

He drove until It got dark, then he pulled into a town. He looked for the most crowded establishment, which he found was the saloon. He parked in a spot that was secluded, so one could see what he was doing.

He sat in the car in the dark for a minute, then decided to look in the glove compartment. A flashlight, screwdriver, pocket knife, some batteries, registration form, and an insurance card for Kenneth, David. The Rebel hoped David Kenneth’s policy covered theft.

Then guilt struck him. What if it didn’t? What if David Kenneth’s life was now ruined because his car was gone? The Rebel soon put these thoughts out of his mind, he decided he must strictly think about himself and himself only. That’s what vagabonds do.

He got out of the car and looked at the one next to his. It was a ford, it’s license plate expired in December of ‘71, one month from now, but it would do. He unscrewed the license plates from his car and the Ford and swapped them. Something he had seen done in the movies. That wouldn’t get him off free and clear, but it would slow the police down. He got back in his car and drove away.

When morning came, the Rebel’s spirits were lifted. He enjoyed the morning. He thought the countryside looked pretty in the morning. Of course, he would never speak a word like “pretty”.

The Rebel passed the Girl on the highway around noon. He saw her hitchhiking, but he didn’t stop. The Girl was getting restless, annoyed at another car that didn’t stop for her. The Rebel drove on, but caught himself looking back at the girl in the rear-view mirror. After a few moments he pulled over to the side of the road and honked.

The Girl ran up as fast as she could and hopped in the passenger seat.

“Where you headed?”


The Rebel gave her a bit of a cautious, meditating look, then pulled back onto the highway and drove on.

They sat in silence for several minutes. The Rebel looked only at the road, unsure of what to say to his new passenger. The Girl looked all around the car. Except for the police car earlier that day, she had never been in a car in her life.

“This is a nice car” she said

“It’s a 1965 Chevy Impala”, he said, “It’s red.”

She nodded, as if she didn’t already know the color. She waited a few more minutes before asking a question.

“How old are you?”

“I’m 21”

“You aint no 21”

“What chu mean?”

“I mean you don’t look no 21”

“How old you think I look?

“Not a day over 18”

“Well I guess I look young because I’m 21”

They rode on.

“How did you get this car?”

“I bought it.”

“With what?”

“With money”, he glanced at her “you slow or something, Girl?”

“I mean where did you get your money.”

“I’m a cowboy”

“You don’t look like no cowboy”

“Well, you caught me, I’m a vagabond”

“What’s a vagabond?”

“You know, a wanderer, a rebel, a peaceful mediator.”

The Girl looked down at her knees.

“I guess I’m a vagabond too, then”

“Where did you say you were from?”

“I’m from no where’s in particular”

“You’re a runaway, aren’t you? How old are you?”

“I’m fifteen, and I didn’t really run away from nothing”

“I think you did. Your no vagabond, kid, your just a runaway”

“Well what makes you a vagabond but not me?”

“I’m an adventurer, it’s just me and the open road, I’m not running from no one, no one is running from me. I’m at peace with myself. You? You ran away from home, young girl like you”

“You still never told me where you get money to buy this car”

“Vagabonds are lucky”

“Well I don’t believe your 21, I think your 17 or 18 so that makes you a runaway same as me.”

“You want me to stop this car and let you out? Think I won’t do it? I’ll leave your a** on the highway. I never wanted to cuss around little girls but you made me do it”

“17 or 18 year olds can cuss too”

“I will drop you off”

“Okay, I’ll be quiet.”

About 20 minutes passed.

“Your not wearin’ your seatbelt” said The Girl.

“Vagabonds don’t wear seatbelts” replied The Rebel.

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