The Short Stories of Edward R. Doughty

The Hitchhiker

As he drove down the nearly deserted highway in New Mexico Tim allowed his mind to wander back to the 50's when he was a young man thumbing his way to college and back and to various colleges where he had girlfriends or dates. Back then, he recalled, hardly anyone was afraid to pick up a hitchhiker --- even women would pick them up. Perhaps it was because the driver felt lucky to have a car and the poor hitchhiker didn't. In addition, there was not much publicity concerning hitchhikers mugging or killing drivers. It just didn't seem to happen much --- if at all. For a college student it was a great and cheap way to travel and college students --- most of them --- didn't have a lot of extra money to spend back then.

On this cloudy Southwest day the highway seemed to stretch forever. There was nothing really to look at except cactus and desert. It wasn't as hot and humid as it was on his last trip this way --- and that was certainly good news. Twenty minutes later, as Tim approached an intersection with a two lane blacktop road, he saw a figure up ahead --- just on the other side of the intersection. As he drew closer the figure appeared to be that of a young man dressed entirely in black --- and he was holding his thumb out. "Geeez", thought Tim, "What the heck is this guy doing way out here in the boondocks?" But remembering the drivers who had given him all those rides many years ago, Tim stepped gently on the brakes of his Mercury Grand Marquis and slowly brought his car to a complete stop just a little past the hitchhiker. With his hand Tim waved the man over as the man approached the car and opened the passenger's door. "Thanks, my friend", said the hitchhiker. "No problem", replied Tim. "How far you going?" "To Route 713" was the reply.

"I'm Tim", said Tim, offering his hand. "Bob here", replied the hitchhiker as he grasped Tim's hand. Tim noticed immediately that this guy had a really strong grip. He also noticed that the guy appeared quite muscular and had a very thick neck. "Man", thought Tim, "I hope I didn't make a mistake picking this guy up". Not that Tim was a pantywaist --- but what the hell --- he was 63 years old and he hadn't had a real fight since high school.

"Bob" appeared to be in his mid-twenties and about six-foot-two. He hadn't appeared to be that big when he was standing next to the highway. Yeah --- there was no doubt about it --- if this guy was a bad guy he could kick Tim's ass! "Geeez", thought Tim, "did I make a big mistake picking this guy up?"

"So --- where do you hail from?" inquired Tim while trying to sound as jovial as possible. "Originally I'm from the Boston area --- but now I'm based in Phoenix. How about you?" Tim said he was originally from the Philadelphia area but he now lived in Ohio. Then "Bob" asked an unusual question, "Do you like wrestling?" "Do you mean watching it or doing it?" "Either." "Well, responded Tim, "I never watch it on TV and I never did participate in it in school. In college I was on the basketball team and the bowling team but I had a friend who was a wrestler. "Oh, yeah? What weight division did he wrestle in?" "Boy --- that's a tough one. He wasn't that big a guy --- maybe he weighed about 125 or 130." "Oh. One of the little fellows. Yeah --- some of those little guys can be pretty scrappy. I wrestled in college in the heavyweight division and was runner-up for state champ."

"You don't say. That's quite impressive."

Yeah, I've taken an interest in wrestling ever since then. The TV stuff is all fake, of course, but I try to get to college matches as often as I can."

"That's nice.", was Tim's awkward reply. It was starting to get dark now. The two of them had said nothing since "Bob" had expressed his interest in wrestling. About 45 minutes later "Bob" suddenly asked, "Would you mind pulling over for a couple minutes?" "Oh, geeez." thought Bob, "what the hell does this big guy want me to pull over for?" "What's the problem, Bob?" "Oh, I just have to pee, that's all." "Oh, okay", said Bob. He slowly pulled the Mercury over to the left shoulder of the highway and as he brought the car to a complete stop, "Bob" got out of the car and walked about twenty feet away from the road. Tim had not seen another car for about 45 minutes, at least. "Bob" had his back to the car and he appeared to be doing what he aid he was going to do. As it got darker Tim was becoming increasingly nervous. "What the hell is the matter with me?", he thought. "Am I just getting old? Am I now afraid of my own shadow?"

Just then "Bob" returned to the car and the journey resumed. "How much do you weigh?", asked Bob. "Oh, around 160 I think", said Tim. "I'm at 235 and I can still do 100 push-ups", said Bob. "That's great" answered Tim while hoping that his nervousness wasn't reflected in his voice.

"Bob" spent the next forty minutes telling Tim about great wrestling matches he had seen over the years. He recounted one match where a white wrestler actually broke the neck of a black wrestler when he had him in a devastating headlock. Tim was slightly perspiring now. Was it getting hotter as it got darker? Or was he just increasingly nervous as this health nut insisted upon talking about violent wrestling matches?

"How far is Route 713 from here?", asked Tim. "Oh, about fifteen minutes I'd say." Tim was actually relieved to hear they were that close. Tim figured he wouldn't be picking up any hitchhikers again anytime soon. Unless, of course, it was a pretty and sexy woman. But even there he recalled about the woman from Texas who murdered four guys while she was hitchhiking. He couldn't recall now whether she had been a looker or not.

Bob's wrestling stories continued until Tim spotted a sign that said Route 713 was just a mile ahead. "Well, we're almost at your destination. Bob", offered Tim. "Not really", was the reply, "My friend is meeting me at that intersection and then we have to drive another 30 miles before we get home." "Oh, man", thought Tim, "Who the hell is this other guy? And what do I do if the two of them jump me or take my car?"

A minute later they approached the Route 713 intersection and sure enough there was a truck parked on the side of the road facing west on 713. Tim slowed his car and pulled the Mercury over to the side of the road. As he brought the car to a stop, "Bob" said "I want to thank you for giving me a lift" and he held out his hand. Tim grasped his hand and said. "My pleasure --- it was good to have company." Again, Tim felt the strong grip on his right hand --- but this time "Bob" did not let go of his hand right away. Then Tim saw another large man approaching his car from the direction of the truck. "Oh, shit --- this could be big trouble", thought Tim. "Just hold on there, Tim, I want you to meet my friend", said "Bob". "Bob" then released Tim's hand, which was now sweating, and opened the passenger door. The "large" friend was now standing next to that door. "Tim, this is Paul. And Paul this is Tim who was kind enough to give me a lift here"

"Nice to meet you Tim", said "Paul". "I appreciate you giving Father O'Grady a lift all the way down here. We better get going, Father, you have the eight o'clock mass tomorrow morning. "That's right --- I do. I almost forgot." "Well, thanks again, Tim" said Father O'Grady, "And may the good Lord keep you safe for the remainder of your journey."

With that, "Bob" closed the door and he and his friend ambled toward the truck. Tim started up his engine again and his Mercury pulled back onto the highway. "Son of a bitch", Tim said out loud. "I'm almost shitting my pants", he thought, "and I'm driving with a goddamn priest!" "Am I just getting old --- or was picking up a hitchhiker a dumb thing to do in the first place?" "I just gotta be more careful!"

It was just seven months later when Tim was relaxing over his morning paper with a good cup of hot coffee, that he read that a Phoenix priest named Robert O'Grady had been arrested for murdering five drivers while he was hitchhiking. It seems he had strangled each one to death with his bare hands. The article also mentioned that this same Father O'Grady had once broken a college student's neck during a college wrestling match some five years earlier. Suddenly Tim had to go to the bathroom in the worst way.

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