The wind was starting to kick up, he noticed. Even though the old car provided a cocoon, protecting him from the elements, he was aware of the dip in temperature. It was colder than usual for so early in October. Trees surrounding the big plant where he worked were bending in the breeze, disappearing from sight when shreds of fog shifted across the woods. He hunched down further in the seat, pulling his wool jacket tighter around him.
“She’s going to be late,” he said aloud to himself, squinting at the clock on the dashboard. It was too dark to make out the digits. He knew he could turn on the dome light, but if someone happened to be looking out any of the windows in the three story building, they might see him and wonder what he was doing in the parking lot when he should be reporting for duty.
He squirmed around enough to glance out the rear window. The longer he lingered, the more furious his mother would be with him. He knew she hated for him to be late to work. After all—as she reminded him day in and day out—it was her recommendation that got him on at McKeery Electronics in the first place. It looked bad for her when he screwed up. Even though Eric Haynes was keenly aware of all that, he hunkered down even further in the seat. He was determined not to move until he saw Leigh’s car turn into the lot.
That thought sent a warm wave of happy anticipation washing over him. He could picture her seven year-old Ford angling off of Highway 50, onto the nearly deserted 7. Eric closed his eyes, savoring the image. The road she was traveling would be very dark now. There were no street lamps along that stretch. Leigh would be concentrating on the spray of illumination from her headlights, alert for animals that might dart from the forest that stretched several acres on either side. She would then pass the Lake Lotawana 8 miles sign. A quarter of a mile further, she would begin to slow, watching for the turn onto McKeery Road. It was easy to miss if you didn’t know where to look. The narrow asphalt drive cut through sycamore and pine, ending where McKeery Electronics, a sprawling complex outfitted against the night like a box of shadows, began. Here and there a light spilled from a square window, but mostly it was dark at this hour.
Eric smiled to himself as he continued to watch a kind of movie in his mind. The teal-colored Ford would brake at the gate. Leigh would reach out to slip her pass-card into a security slot. The wooden arm would lift, the Ford would pass through. Leigh would turn left, past a sign bolted to a chain link fence: Authorized Vehicles Only.
There were only a handful of cars in an employee parking lot that, during the day, was filled with nearly three hundred automobiles. Management was too cheap to provide more than a few—less than six, actually—old-fashioned, three-globe street lamps for the nighttime skeleton crew. The ones that were there arched down to peer into the well of darkness, dropping yellow-white globs of light onto gravel.
Eric was getting nervous. Time ticked away. His stomach tightened at the thought of what would be waiting for him when he went inside. His mother’s face, heavy with lines and thick with layers of fat she attributed to her German peasant stock, would be contorted in anger. When she spoke, her jowls would shake in fury. German heritage or not, Eric attributed her excess weight to the mounds of boiled potatoes she piled on her dinner plate, beside slabs of pork smothered in applesauce. And a lunch pail crammed with Little Debbie cakes she claimed kept her strength up during long nights spent scrubbing an acre of factory floors.
Eric shivered and tugged his jacket closer. He had to shut pictures of his mother out of his mind. He’d been working up the nerve for tonight ever since Leigh Maxwell came to work at the factory. He would not allow his mother’s wrath to deprive him of this night.
His heart pounded in anticipation.
Crickets clicked their heels in the stillness. Frogs made barrupp sounds. It was almost as if an unseen crowd was cheering him on. Confidence, they were shouting. Don’t lose your confidence. Not now. Not when it’s so close to happening.
Suddenly, there was another sound. The one he had been waiting for. A car was approaching. His heart beat faster. His hands were damp as he gripped the steering wheel and pulled himself to an upright position. As he looked over his shoulder, headlights cut through the darkness.