Simon was a very ordinary man when he packed his towheaded daughter into the back seat of the car, carefully buckling her into the safety belt and arranging her picture books and her plastic baggie of Cheerios on the seat next to her. He told her to watch her fingers, and gently but firmly closed the car door. Then he pushed his round, horn-rimmed glasses up onto the bridge of his nose and opened the door to the driver’s seat. He hadn’t planned on committing any crimes today, but sometimes, he reasoned, certain circumstances warrant unorthodox measures.
Ever the conscientious driver, Simon signaled before pulling out from the parallel parking space. It was a very ordinary car when he had picked it out from the selection on the curb: champagne with a tan interior, four-door sedan, no vanity plates, no bumper stickers. No damage, which was rare for cars in the city. Usually, they at least had a little dent in the side, or an empty square on the license plate where the registration sticker had been clipped off for the purposes of evading registration fees, but this one was as pristine as they come. The only possible identifying features were inside, where a small statue of St. Anthony was mounted on the dashboard and an air freshener that looked like the ace of spades hung from the rearview mirror. Simon studied his daughter in the mirror for a moment before he removed the air freshener. She was still taking in her surroundings in that precious way that children have of understanding the world.
“This is a nice car, Daddy,” she said. “It smells good.”
“It is nice, isn’t it?” he answered, smiling at her in the mirror. The plastic statue came off in his hand with a sharp tug. Simon waited until he rolled up at a stoplight before reaching into the glove compartment to deposit the defunct decorations. When he opened the glove compartment, traces of an illicit green odor that he hadn’t smelled in many, many years wafted up to his nostrils. He slammed the little door shut, hoping that the aroma hadn’t flowed back to his daughter. Looking at her in the mirror, he noticed that she was preoccupied sucking on cereal bits and fingers while she turned the pages of her book. He opened the glove compartment again and was suddenly thankful for the length of this stoplight. Simon’s fingers caressed the tiny St. Anthony and the playing card with the strong-enough scent before coming to rest on a bulgingly full plastic bag of high quality weed, the likes of which Simon had never even seen before. After determining that the bag was closed, he pulled it out of the glove compartment so as to fully revel in the glory of it. Before he could bring it up to his nostrils for a good whiff, the light turned green and he threw the bag back into the glove compartment. He hoped the scent from the playing card would continue to be strong enough to mask that delicious scent, and at the same time, he hoped it wouldn’t.
The onramp approached with an intensity that Simon experienced in that precious way, like a child behind the wheel for the first time, in someone else’s lap, driving but not driving, with no responsibility and all of the heady pleasure. Surely the smell of (admittedly) excellent weed hadn’t affected him so much? But he let the onramp wash over him and relaxed into a cruise-controlled sixty-five miles per hour. At this time of day, the highway was never as crowded as other times: stragglers had already made it to work and school, and lunch and rush hour were still another two solid hours away. This was Simon’s favorite time to be on the road, and he zipped along, bobbing and weaving around the midday drivers who seemed to think that it was their God-given right to cruise down the highway at 45, or worse, at variable speeds between 35 and 80 miles per hour.
“Where are we going, Daddy?” the girl asked.
“Daddy isn’t entirely sure where we’re going, sweetie,” Simon said. He glanced at her in the rearview just in time to see a Cheerio fall off of her cherubic little cheek. She hardly missed a beat.
“Like last time?”
“Yes, just like last time,” Simon smiled. She was just a baby, still in the car seat, the last time this happened. She claimed to remember, but her voice betrayed no hint of doubt or fear or bewilderment: she and Daddy were going on a ride in a car, and the last time they went out for father-daughter time, one of them got ice cream and both of them flirted with some very pretty ladies. She smiled then too, remembering.
“Can we get ice cream again?” she asked.
“Anything you want,” he said, thinking of what he might do with the weed while she was distracted by ice cream. Could he really get away with selling it? Would fast-food restaurant or ice cream parlor workers be better equipped to pay for the really good stuff? If he kept some for himself, he could always make them include some rolling papers in the trade, and he could smoke it after she went to bed, out on the balcony of the hotel room. They could pay for a really nice hotel this time if he sold most of it. Not that he would sell it for the money, of course. He hoped there were empty baggies in the glove compartment.
An hour later, they were 65 miles away from that first ultra-vivid onramp. The rest of the roadway had been enough of a blur that Simon did not know where they were. Perfect. Simon’s cell phone vibrated in his pocket, startling him just enough to make him step on the brake, snapping his cruise-controlled trance back to reality, or at least, the reasonable facsimile of reality that Simon was currently occupying. He answered the phone, tentative.
“Simon, darling, where are you?” said the voice, restrained, measured. He didn’t hear breathing on the other side.
“I’m at work,” he said. “I dropped the kidlet off at day care, too.”
“Oh, good,” the voice sighed audibly, a release of breath and tension.
“See you later,” he lied.
“Ok, darling, I’ll see you later,” the voice said.
“I love you,” he didn’t lie.
“I love you too.” Simon hung up the phone.
“Was that Mommy?” the girl’s voice pierced the silence that followed the phone call.
“Yes, it was,” he said. “She says hi.”
The next hour of the ride was passed in silence, but the chatter wouldn’t stop in Simon’s head. It’s not as though he had to steal a car. He had a perfectly functional one, a nice one, even (an Audi) sitting in front of his house (which his wife would discover in the driveway at the end of the workday, when she arrived home to an empty house). But this car was serving his purposes (the gas tank was even full!), and there was the fringe benefit of the giant bag of quality marijuana in the glove compartment. The owner of this car was probably missing that weed right about now, he thought.
Simon had left the house this morning with every intention of walking his daughter to the daycare, walking back, getting into the Audi with a cup of coffee and a paper he wouldn’t read, and driving to work, where he would while away the time by surfing the Internet and writing erotic fiction that ultimately turned him off. Eight hours of his life he’d never get back. But on the way to the day care, this pristine car called out to him from the curb. “Take me for a ride,” it said. Or was that the crystalline voice of his precious progeny, like little breezes and bells on his spine? “Take me for a ride.”
So he jimmied the lock and packed his daughter into the car. “Am I going to day care?” she had asked.
What he loved about these little sprees was that he could share them with her. If only she had enough exposure, he thought, she would develop a taste for a life of danger, which was something that his wife didn’t have and he felt their relationship suffered for it. He wanted to share this with her, not so that she would put herself into dangerous situations, but rather, so she would know how to enjoy dangerous situations and how to extricate herself from them when necessary. He truly believed that this would be a very useful skill for the contemporary American woman of the future, and he wanted his daughter to be prepared. As of now, she’d only developed a taste for ice cream, as far as he could tell. Perhaps this trip would help her.
These little trips were as much for her as they were for him. What he wanted out of life, even more than a family, a paycheck, and occasionally-successful tax evasion, was for a stranger to approach him when he was out on one of these jaunts and ask, “Excuse me sir, but are you a novelist?” Of course it would be an odd question to ask a man who was not writing at the moment, or for that matter, had never written anything more complicated than a quarterly earnings report. His photo graced missing persons reports and milk cartons; not dust-jackets. But in his mind, Simon glamorized the life of a novelist to the point where he assumed that if anybody had any idea what he was doing away from his usual sphere of influence (that is, taking his daycare-aged daughter on a spree of petit crimes to teach her the value of an adrenaline rush), they would automatically assume that he had a fascinating career, and was not actually a financial analyst.
He assumed incorrectly. Most people just considered him an unfit parent (seeing how much ice cream he let her eat), and irresponsible (especially when she was up late, rubbing her bleary eyes and tugging on his pants leg to alert him to her needs).
This is, in fact, what the employees at the Roy Rogers thought of him when he brought her into the restaurant that night. By this time, they were hundreds of miles away from home, and she was the only child in the entire restaurant (they were putting the chairs up and starting to mop up the bits of lettuce and onion from the fixins bar) but Simon’s daughter did not seem the least bit perturbed by any of it. Simon found the most pothead-looking clerk (who was closing out the registers) and leaned in to him.
“Yes sir?” he said. “Make it quick, we’re about to close.”
“Perhaps I can interest you in a business proposition?”
“Excuse me sir?”
“Would you be interested in…making a little exchange?” He tossed a trial-size baggie of weed in the general direction of the clerk, and it landed on the cash register and fell into the drawer. Just then, Simon’s daughter knocked a couple of stacks of cups from the drinks counter onto the floor. Everyone turned to look at her, and she blushed as though she’d been caught trying to steal a cookie from the jar before dinner. Simon smiled to himself and attempted to retrieve the baggie from the cash drawer, so that he could offer it to the clerk again, for real, but the clerk saw him reaching into the drawer and before Simon could stop him, he hit the silent alarm.
“I’m not trying to…” Simon started, but then he thought better of it. “Since you’ve already called the police on me, I might as well rob you. Hand over the cash.”
“This is the weirdest robbery ever,” the clerk said.
“I was just trying to sell you some weed. I’ll even let you keep the trial size bag for your trouble,” he said. “It’s in the cash drawer, next to the money you’re about to give me. Now hand it over, or I’ll tell them you tried to rape my daughter.”
“All right, all right,” the clerk said, pushing fistfuls of money into a paper bag. Simon saw the little bag of weed tumble into the bag.
“I said, keep the weed,” Simon growled. The clerk fished it out of the bag.
“But I don’t smoke,” he said.
“I’m sure you know someone who does.” Simon took the bag and folded it up. “Thank you very much. Have a wonderful night. Come on honey, we’re going.” She stopped trying to clean up the mess of cups and trotted out of the restaurant behind her father. “And good luck explaining that weed when the cops show up,” Simon muttered, simultaneously angry and elated. Perhaps he would have better luck at a coffee shop or a bar. The only condition was that it had to be across county lines, just in case the police weren’t too busy busting that Roy Rogers clerk for possession of extra special fixins.
“Do you want to get a hot chocolate with me?” Simon asked as he buckled her back into the car.
“Yay!” she smiled.
“You’re not too tired?”
“No,” she said. “I’m too excited from dropping those cups. Everybody looked, Daddy!” She blanketed her pride with humility, but Simon couldn’t find a way to temper his own pride. She was truly his daughter after all!
“All right then,” he said. He could hear sirens in the distance. He pulled out of the parking lot slowly and cautiously, waiting for an opening in traffic like any other satisfied customer on any other night, his bag of cash stuffed firmly under the passenger seat, his bag of weed hidden safely in the glove compartment, and his glowing golden daughter sitting wide-eyed in the back seat.