Driving home from work a few mornings back, my chief goal was to get cleaned up, eat a quick breakfast, and go straight to bed. The main reason I felt an urgency to get my daily routine done quickly was because it had been steadily raining since midnight and the weather report was giving every indication it would stay that way for several more hours. Nothing helps a weary night-shift worker get to sleep like dark clouds and steady rain in the morning. The only problem was the clever little gas gauge on my car's dashboard was flashing a warning light saying I was getting dangerously low on fuel. The last thing I wanted to do was stop and get gas, but at that very moment I was approaching one of the better convenience stores in the area and decided to get the chore out of the way.
By better convenience store, I mean one that is clean, has well maintained gas pumps, and more importantly is on the opposite side of town from where I live. Few things bother me more in the morning than having to carry on socially-obligated small talk with one of the locals who really doesn't like me but knows my wife or one of my kids. Being that the normal people were heading out to work at that time, past experience has taught me that on my side of town there was a better than average chance of encountering one of those creatures.
So, I turn off the highway and pull under the shelter providing cover for the gas pumps. I go through the motions of navigating the touch screen on the gas pump choosing my method of payment along with declining both to have my car washed at the on-site automated facility and the offer on a new zero-interest credit card. After getting those slightly irritating issues out of the way, I insert the nozzle in the tank and lean against the side of my car waiting for it to fill.
There were four or five other customers under the shelter with me doing the same, all obviously preoccupied with their own morning agendas. Like I wrote, bone-weary people such as myself are not looking for conversations so I was enjoying quiet anonymity and the sound of the rain. At some point though I began hearing a low roar off in the distance, one whose intensity grew so quickly it overwhelmed the sound of the steady rain. It was easy to discern the direction of the noise, it was coming from the western side of the highway.
Frankly, the noise sort of reminded me of a low flying jet fighter. Back during my air defense days in the army, we'd have training sessions where we tracked aircraft flying extremely low to the ground. Those training sessions happened in the deserts of New Mexico, such a thing occurring down a usually well traveled highway in South Carolina was ridiculous. Whatever the case, I began looking in the direction the noise was coming from figuring it would pass my location soon enough.
Except that the noise, only grew louder with no source in sight. As the seconds ticked by my curiosity grew as well, so much I began to feel an illogical trepidation. This noise was now officially weird and on the way to slightly bizarre. Just when I began to believe the source of the noise would never appear that's when it came into view.
It was one of those new Dodge Challenger sports cars and while my days of interest in such vehicles are long past, it was blindingly obvious that the driver had the engine red lined. In fact, it wouldn't have surprised me to see the engine explode in the couple of seconds it was in my view. I'm terrible at guessing the speed of moving cars but that Challenger was easily pushing over one-hundred miles an hour, probably far more. Whatever its true speed, that car was going so fast down the highway it had a long misty tail produced from the rain flowing around the body. Once out of view, while the pitch of the Challenger's engine change as it passed my location, the driver hadn't eased off on pushing the car to its extreme limits.
“An unmarked cop car?” The person at the pump in front of me asked aloud.
“Probably,” I responded, “but I didn't see any flashing lights.”
South Carolina cops love unmarked police cars, so much that once while driving near Charleston, I saw the Highway Patrol had turned a nondescript, certified mom-type Chevrolet minivan into such a cop car. I was traveling west on I-26 and saw these thin, horizontal flashing blue lights on the lower left and right side of the van's back window, which was stopped on the side of the road. The strange part came with the, “My son is an honor student” bumper sticker stuck between the two flashing lights.
Traffic was backed up, so everyone was going slow allowing me to see the gray uniform of a Highway Patrolman exit the vehicle and almost goosestep to the driver side window of the car he pulled over. As I passed the driver's side of the van, it was then that I noticed it lacked all identifying decals. All things considered, if a minivan pulled up behind me flashing blue light from behind its grill, I'm not sure I would believe it was a real cop car.
Whatever the case, given the safe assumption the Dodge Challenger was an unmarked cop car responding silently to some pretty bad shit, I expected to see other law enforcement types follow in its wake. Which was sort of what happened, not thirty seconds after the mysterious speeder burned pass us, a deputy sheriff vehicle lazily pulled into the convenience store parking. The one problem though was this law enforcement vehicle came from the opposite direction the Challenger was traveling. It goes without saying there was simply no way that deputy could have missed seeing, and hearing, the speedster as it continued down the highway.
The deputy sheriff, a guy so young I would have bet money he was only a few years out of high school, casually strolled into the convenience store seemingly oblivious to the world around him. Looking through the store's huge windows, I watched this young Barney Fife walk to the Krispy Kreme donuts display and stare longingly at the offerings. If a cop's future career success can be discerned by his profession's stereotypical worship of donuts, this kid would make county sheriff before his thirtieth birthday. Despite it all, it was a safe assumption that the Dodge Challenger was a law enforcement vehicle on its way to something dangerous. For whatever reason though, the powers that be saw fit not to invite young Barney to the party.
This posed a huge question, on the off chance the driver of the Challenger was just another of the many deluded A-holes of this area pushing his expensive toy to it limits, why hadn't young Barney done his public safety duty and gone after him? It was a question that I wouldn't ever get an answer. With my gas tank finally filled, I drove off for home with my ultimate destination being my warm bed.