An excerpt from Lost in Austin

A Novel by Charles Alverson

I don't know why I picked up the hitchhiker. I'm not usually the benevolent type. Nor, even driving across the endless length of Texas, did I feel the need to talk to anyone. I was quite happy talking to myself. But when I saw him looming up against the scrub and cactus between the Perdenales and Johnson City, it was a bit of surprise. In early 21st century America, the hitchhiker had become an endangered species, nearly as rare as the buffalo. I believe I would have stopped for a buffalo, too.
Sliding to a stop in a small dust storm, I cracked the passenger door and said: 'Hop in.'
He did, with a grunt that could have meant: 'Thanks', 'About time' or 'Go to hell.' I didn't really mind which, but I immediately marked him down as the less than effusive sort. I didn't think there would be any emotional scenes when I let him out.
'Where you headed?' I asked. Not that I cared, just to let him know that ours was a geographically limited partnership.
He looked at me as if I'd asked him whether his mother gave good head. I was getting personal. After a considerable gap in the conversation, he muttered: 'College Station.'
My first reaction was: Not with me, you're not. The second was that he didn't look like a student. In fact, the didn't look like much of anything. The contrast between his beautifully tooled leather boots and the rest of his clothes was stark. Out of the corner of my eye I could see that the boots-brown calfskin tooled with an elaborate design in ivory-couldn't have cost less than five thousand bucks. The rest of his wardrobe was Salvation Army seconds. I could see that he was proud of the boots by the way he admired the right one thrown up over his left knee and dangerously near my stick shift. He took out a snot rag and rubbed at a tiny blemish on its square-cut toe.
Nice, huh?' he demanded, catching the direction of my gaze.
The discussion lagged a bit after that. I don't know what he was thinking, but I was listening to k.d. lang on the stereo. In the middle of a song-'Miss Chatelaine', one of my favorites--he reached over and snapped off the CD. In the loud silence that followed, he demanded: 'What was that shit?'
Now, this verged on rude behavior. I had a feeling that my passenger was trying to test me just a little bit. And so far I was flunking. But I just said: 'k.d. lang'.
'That faggoty bitch,' he spat. 'I'd like to put one right between her fucking eyes.'
Now, this came close to criticizing my taste in music, but I let it slide. It had been some years since I'd got into a fight over a girl, and I wanted to see where this poor example of social interaction was going.
My failure to spring to k.d.'s defense seemed to irritate him nearly as much as my musical taste. 'You a faggot yourself, are you?' he sneered.
I didn't mind the question so much as the fact that the middle button of his rawhide jacket was undone, and he kept sliding the fingers of his right hand into the gap as if reassuring himself that something was still there. Each time, his hand seemed to go a bit deeper into the jacket.
I didn't respond, and we rode along for a couple of minutes in an uneasy silence. That part of central Texas, before Austin rises up in the distance, features a whole lot of nothing surrounded by empty space. Not the sort of place you'd want to experience a breakdown or a psychopathic hitchhiker. Just as I let my left hand drop down between the driver's seat and the door, he ordered: 'Pull on over here,' and his hand came out of his jacket again. It wasn't empty.
Without taking my attention from the road, I swung my left hand up across my body. It wasn't empty, either. I pulled the trigger of my short-barreled Colt twice. Two black holes appeared in his jacket just about where his badge would have been if he'd been a sheriff. Without a sound, my ungrateful hitchhiker slumped in the passenger seat, and a Saturday night special bounced into the well in front of those fancy boots. Then I pulled off the road.

2002 Charles Alverson

Author: Charles Alverson chas@eunet.yu
Agent: Lora Fountain