“The Cleansing,” Kathleen Ryan

It was supposed to be the perfect rendezvous. But you know about best laid plans, right? Or Murphy’s Law? Maybe I should have consulted my horoscope or visited a psychic before I left.

My coworker, Jim, was going to a convention in a casino hotel in Connecticut and my husband, Bill, was attending his high school reunion several states away. Jim invited me to join him for a night. I took the ferry from Port Jefferson. When I bought my ticket, the clerk gave me the evil eye. I felt pangs of guilt already.

After driving onto the ferry, I went upstairs to get a cup of tea. The clerk, an Asian fellow, stared at me.

“You should drink green tea. It’s very cleansing,” he said. I almost dropped the cup of boiling water.

Am I that transparent? Maybe I should rethink this tryst.

I’ve never cheated on my husband before. He hasn’t had time for me lately, and well, Jim’s been a shoulder to cry on.

I stepped outside and the cold sea air stung my face. I brought a book, but I couldn’t concentrate. I saw a man who seemed to be following me, but I chalked it up to the paranoia that was sinking in.

When I drove off the ferry, I turned up the Springsteen channel on the satellite.

“Girl you want it, you take it, you pay the price…”

Even the Boss knows I’m up to no good.

Along the drive to the casino, I passed a sign reminding motorists:

“Correctional Facility Nearby. Do Not Pick Up Hitchhikers.”

As if I needed to be reminded of that danger.

I have a full tank of gas. My car recently passed inspection and had an oil change. I carry pepper spray. I’ve got a cell phone. All my paperwork’s in order: my license, registration and insurance card in case I have an accident. I don’t plan to have one, though. How could I ever explain having an accident miles away from our Long Island home?

Just as Bruce started singing Jungleland, I heard loud popping sounds, and I felt the car wobble. Shit. A flat! I can’t believe this!

I pull over and try not to panic. Easier said than done.

I wondered about changing the tire myself, but wearing heels and a dress aren’t proper tire-changing gear.

I could call the police, but I don’t want any official report listing my whereabouts. I’ll call Jim. He’ll come and get me.

I took out my cell. Damn! No service available.

A van pulled over. Why did it have to be a van? Didn’t Ted Bundy use a van? You can’t see inside them. With any luck, he’ll be a good Samaritan. I’ll get my pepper spray at the ready just in case.

A muscular man emerged from the van.

“Good evening, Miss. I see you’re in a bind.”

“The car started wobbling. I just pulled over.”

“Let me take a peek.” He walked around the passenger side. I rolled down the passenger side window a bit.

He leaned on the passenger door. “Looks like you’ve got two flats. You must have run over something sharp. Would you like a lift?”

I hesitated.

He heard “Born to Run” playing. “You’re a fan of the Boss?”

“Everybody’s out on the run tonight but there’s no place left to hide….”

“Yes,” I said. My thoughts ran a mile a minute trying to weigh the situation. “Could you stop at the next phone booth and call a flatbed wrecker for me? I just checked my cell and there’s no service here.”

“Let me give you a ride. I won’t bite, I promise.” He chuckled softly.

A few beads of sweat formed around my forehead. Please let this be a decent guy, doing the right thing for a damsel in distress.

His brown eyes met mine. “Lock up your car and jump in. We’ll find a service station and get you some new tires.”

Not one car had passed since he stopped. I took a leap of faith. I rolled up the windows, grabbed my purse, cell phone, and locked the car.

“Are you sure you don’t mind?” I asked.

“Not a bit. If my mom or sister needed help, I’d hope someone kind would come along. Besides, you’re a fan of the Boss — that makes us kindred spirits.”

“I appreciate it.” I felt at ease — for the moment.

I opened the passenger door. Before I could step in, a man came out of the woods. He put something sharp to my throat. He barked at us. “Get in — and start driving. If you don’t do as I say, the bitch buys it.”

“Okay,” the good Samaritan said. “No need to hurt the lady.” He remained totally calm.

He pushed me into the back of the van. I saw what he had in his hands. It was a shiv.

Holy shit, he must be an escaped prisoner.

I took a chance. I grabbed my pepper spray and got him right in the eyes. I felt the burn, though, too. I couldn’t help it, being so close to this creep. The driver stopped the car and jumped in the back. I grabbed the handle of the sliding door. The good Samaritan kicked him out as this nut was screaming and clawing at his eyes.

The driver sped off. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine. Should we call the police?”

“No. I don’t think you’re husband would like that. How about a drink before I take you back home?”

“Could we stop at a diner? I want to wash my face and eyes. And maybe order a green tea to go.”

He turned a CD on. My favorite Bruce song — “Racing In the Street.”

“….we’re gonna ride to the sea and wash these sins from our hands…”