For Dad

Jerry Doyle wiped the sweat from his brow and sighed, silently cursing the overpowering Nevada heat. He glanced at the clock on his cassette player, which read 9:24 p.m. in green digital numbers. “Jesus Christ,” Jerry muttered to himself. “Almost 9:30 at night and it’s still over a hundred degrees outside.” The radio was off, and Jerry drove in silence down Interstate 15, lost in the sound of his tires scraping along the highway. He reached into the breast pocket of his blue collared shirt and pulled a cigarette from the open soft pack inside. He put the grit to his lips, then thought against it. “It’s too fucking hot to smoke,” he said, barely noticing he was thinking out loud. He set the unlit cigarette on the empty passenger seat and wiped his brow again. As he stared at the dark, empty road ahead of him, he was taken by the seclusion of this place. There was no landscape around him, at least nothing that he could see through the thick

blackness of the Nevada night, and no signs of life at all, save for a few scattered dots of light in the distance. “You could be dead and not even know it is a place like this,” he thought out loud, then laughed at himself, finally noticing his vocalized thinking. He was still about 50 miles from Las Vegas, and could not yet see the beacon of lights that the city sent off. It was truly a magnificent sight to see on a road like this, where the vibrant colors of the Vegas lights clashed against the pitch blackness. The city almost looked like it was floating in the sky once it came into view, and no matter how many times Jerry saw it, the illusion still held its magic. Jerry wiped his brow again and glanced over at the seat next to him. The cigarette swayed slightly on the leather interior as the car rumbled forward. Finally, Jerry’s boredom got the better of him and he grabbed the cigarette off the seat and put it to his lips. He pushed the car cigarette lighter in and tapped his fingers on the steering wheel absent-mindedly as he waited for the device to heat. The lighter ejected itself with a loud click, and Jerry pulled it out of his console and lit his cigarette. As he inhaled, he reached to his left and rolled the window halfway down. The air was thick and sticky, and the breeze seeping into the car offered no relief from the stifling heat. He smoked his cigarette in silence, as if mesmerized by the whistling of the air through his window. Jerry wished to himself that he had gotten a car with air conditioning, then discarded the thought so as not to torture himself with the thought of cool, refreshing air in his face. He took another drag from his cigarette and exhaled with a loud sigh, growing increasingly restless as he drove. He felt as if he had been in the car for days, even though it had been less than a half hour, and he longed for anything to distract him from the darkness and the heat. He glanced at the cassette deck clock again -it was 9:26- and decided he could live with the radio, even though there was only one station that came in out here: a mediocre talk radio

channel with mediocre announcers and uninteresting topics of conversation. Still, anything was better than the dreadful silence he sat in, Jerry decided. He reached for the radio dial to turn it on, when something caught his attention in the distance. There was something moving on the side of the road about 100 yards ahead. Jerry slowed his vehicle down, squinting in the dark to make out what the figure was. However, he could not make the form out, and feared that it might be an animal that would run in front of his car. He slowed down even more, trying not to rattle whatever it was. As he approached, he could see a little better and realized that it was a person walking along the edge of the narrow road. His headlights illuminated the figure as he drew closer, and Jerry could see that it was a man with a large blue backpack slung over his shoulders. As Jerry deciphered the form, the man stopped walking and turned around, noticing Jerry’s car. The man put his thumb in the air and stared into Jerry’s headlights, asking for a ride. As he continued to slow the vehicle, Jerry debated whether or not to pick up the hitchhiker. What would anyone be doing out here this time of night? Jerry wondered. Although he found the situation strange, he felt sorry for the man, and knew that if he didn’t give him a lift, he could be stuck out here for a very long time. As Jerry drew closer, he drifted off the side of the road toward the man, who smiled at the prospect of being picked up. Jerry pulled the car to a stop about ten feet away from the hitchhiker and reached across the passenger seat to unlock the door. The man slung the backpack from his shoulders and gripped it tight as he approached the stopped vehicle. Jerry looked the stranger over carefully, studying his face. He appeared to be about five years younger than Jerry, putting him in his mid-20s. The man had a thin black goatee and a warm smile that lit up his brown eyes. Jerry didn’t sense any hint of danger in the hitchhiker, and wrote him off as a fellow travel-

er whose car had broken down. As the man opened the passenger door, Jerry hit his cigarette again, eagerly anticipating the company. The stranger climbed into the seat, and Jerry turned to greet him. “Hey, guy, where ya headed?” Jerry inquired warmly. The stranger was soft spoken in his response, almost shy. “I should be fine if you can get me to Vegas. You passing through that way?” “Yeah, no problem,” Jerry replied, releasing his foot from the brake and putting the car into motion. “I was Vegasbound myself,” he offered, opening up the conversation. But, the stranger still remained quiet, offering only a simple “good” before turning his head the other way and gazing vacantly out the passenger window. Jerry thought the stranger’s attitude was somewhat rude, but he shrugged it off. Figures, he thought to himself, I’m sick of the silence, and I pick myself up a mute. Still, he was desperate for some communication, so he tried to initiate conversation once again. “You got a name, friend?” he asked. “Mine’s Jerry.” The stranger didn’t even look at Jerry as he replied dryly, “my friends call me D.C. That’ll do.” “All right then, D.C.,” Jerry continued, dragging from his cigarette. “Can I offer you a smoke?” Still, the passenger did not look Jerry’s direction, and his response was unemotional. “No, those things kill you.” Jerry offered a half-hearted, insincere chuckle. “Yeah, I guess you’re right.” He took another drag. “But we all die sometime, right?” With this, the stranger finally looked at Jerry. His expression was cold. “Yes, you’re absolutely right.” He smiled slightly, then turned away again, focusing on the blackness outside his window. Jerry felt uneasy after the man’s response, and it was silent for a moment. Finally, the tension became too thick, and Jerry struggled to regain his composure.

“Mind if I turn on the radio?” he asked warmly. “It’s your car,” was the emotionless response from the passenger, who did not turn his head away from the window. Jerry reached down and switched on the radio. It was already tuned to the talk radio station, and the announcer was having a rather heated discussion with a caller. Jerry did not pay much attention to their conversation, but it was a relief to have some sort of noise in the car. He glanced at his passenger, who still stared out the side window. The man did not make a sound, and barely stirred, as if his mind was completely focused on the blackness outside of the vehicle. Jerry wiped his brow again, then let his cigarette fall from his fingers out the window, where it was swallowed by the dense night. He left the window cracked open, then focused his attention on the road again. The radio droned on in the otherwise silent vehicle. “....thanks for your call,” the announcer said as he hung up on the caller. “Seriously, some people just don’t get it, you know?” he continued. “All right, then, moving on to more important things....You’re listening to KKBS, that’s 94.5 on your FM dial. My name is Rick Carpenter, and I’ll be your voice until about 12 o’clock tonight. Right now, unless your clock is wrong, you should know that it’s twenty to ten, which means it’s time for news at 9:40.” Jerry glanced down at the clock, which read 9:37, then looked over at his passenger again. The man still had not moved his gaze away from the window. “Our top story tonight,” the announcer continued, “is the discovery of a badly mutilated body on the side of the road in Julgas County. A highway patrol unit made the discovery at about 7:30 tonight, and police suspect that the body is connected with twelve other homicides that have occurred in the last three weeks. In a press conference tonight, Sgt. Lance David revealed that one of the victim’s fingers had been severed at the knuckle, a now familiar

trademark of the man authorities had dubbed ‘The Digit Collector’.” Jerry had been listening to the bulletin closely. He was so focused that he did not see his passenger move, and was quite startled to glance over and see the stranger staring at him. The man said nothing, but he wore a broad smile on his face, revealing a set of clean, straight teeth. The radio’s digital clock put an eerie green pallor on the man’s face, and he looked positively frightening in the car’s dim interior light. He opened his mouth and spoke very slowly, but his words were very clear. “They’re talking about me again.” Jerry was stunned by the stranger’s words, and he struggled for a response. “Excuse me?” he finally managed. “Listen,” hissed the stranger, as Rick Carpenter continued his broadcast. “Police believe that one man is responsible for the crimes, which have gripped highway travelers with fear in past weeks. The killer apparently hitches a ride with the victim, then dumps the body on the side of the road and takes their car, which is discarded further up the road. Currently, police admit that they have very few leads, and they are baffled by the senselessness of the crimes. The identity of the victim has yet to be disclosed, but we’ll keep you updated on this story as we learn more.” Jerry glanced over at the stranger, who was still staring at him with the same twisted grin on his face. “See? They were talking about me,” the passenger said. Jerry shook his head in disbelief. “You’re not him,” he said, his face expressionless, “you can’t be.” “Oh?” sneered the stranger, never losing his smile, “And why is that?” “You just don’t look like the type, that’s all,” Jerry retorted. “What did you expect me to look like?” inquired the passenger, his sneer still remaining. “Look, man,” protested Jerry, “I don’t know what you’re trying to pull here, but I think you’d better get out

now.” He began to slow the vehicle, and pulled off to the side of the road. “You’re better off finding another ride tonight, all right, fella?” The stranger still looked at Jerry coldly, and he made no effort to get out of the vehicle. “Thank you,” the man said, sounding sincere. “It’s a lot easier when the car isn’t moving.” Jerry was becoming increasingly agitated. “Look, man, cut this shit out and get the fuck out of my car. This isn’t funny anymore, all right? Do yourself a favor and get your shit and start walking, pal.” Still, the man made no motion to get out, but continued in his soft voice. “You can beg if you want to. I enjoy that.” “That’s it, man....” Jerry threatened. Then he was cut off. It all happened so quickly that Jerry had no chance to react. The stranger had the thin, jagged knife out of his pocket already, but it had been concealed in the darkness. With Jerry’s threat, the stranger lunged across the vehicle and thrust the blade into the side of Jerry’s neck. Jerry froze in the middle of his sentence as his throat began to fill with blood. The crimson fluid began to pour from the wound, which the knife was still embedded in. Jerry began to choke on the blood, his words replaced by grisly gurgling sounds, and he twitched violently. The stranger watched all of this, the smile never leaving his face. Blood began to flood from Jerry’s mouth as if he were vomiting, and the fluid ran down his chin and mixed with the steady stream coming from the knife protruding from his throat. His gurgling got louder as he struggled for air, and his hands began to shake spastically. As Jerry twitched in the driver’s seat, his vision began to blur, and soon, all he could see was white. He continued to struggle for breath, but it was a losing battle. It took less than a minute for his final gasp to leave his body. He shuddered once, then he was still, his eyes still gaping open in disbelief.

The stranger stared at the corpse for a moment, then, satisfied, he reached across the seat and pulled the knife out of what was left of Jerry’s throat. There was a final wave of flowing blood as the man withdrew the blade, and the stream ran onto his hand. He could feel the warm wetness of Jerry’s blood on the knife handle, and he held the weapon in front of his face, studying the fluid that covered both the blade and its grip. He smiled with satisfaction and turned to appraise the corpse next to him. “It was nice to meet you, Jerry,” the man said coldly, the wicked smile returning to his face. ••• He had done it. For weeks, Thomas had been studying the press accounts of “The Digit Collector’s” exploits. He didn’t know what it was that had drawn him to the case, but he had been enthralled with the murderer from the start, obsessively gathering every piece of information he could on the grisly crimes. It was yesterday that he had decided to pay tribute to this unknown man that he admired by committing a copycat crime. He had spent the day planning it to perfection, and now, as he drove down Interstate 15 in Jerry Doyle’s former car, it was done. He smiled at the thought of the killer hearing about the crime, and knowing they weren’t responsible for it. Thomas wondered if the “Collector” would be pleased that he had committed a crime using his M.O. What an honor that must be, to be such a proficient killer that others copy your work. And Thomas had done it perfectly. He had left Jerry’s body on the side of the road, but not before he used his knife to disfigure the face, stalling the police in their efforts to identify the victim. He had taken the right index finger, as “The Digit Collector” had done with his thirteen victims. And now he was driving the stolen car down the Interstate, looking for a

place to leave it behind. He had done well, and he was very pleased with himself. Thomas wondered what it would be like to meet the “Collector,” to talk with him, to tell him what he had inspired Thomas to do. No, Thomas shook his head, that would probably never happen. But, he could still pay homage to his hero; after all, he had done so well tonight. So, as Thomas tolled down I-15, he began to think about the next time he would make a tribute, giddy with excitement. His concentration was broken when he became aware of a pain in his back. He was too crowded in the driver ’s seat, and he reached down beneath the chair to adjust the distance from the steering wheel. As he fumbled around blindly for the lever, his fingers brushed something else underneath the seat. Thomas felt around in the dark, and quickly realized that the object was a small, rectangular box. He struggled for a grip on it, and finally pulled the box from underneath the seat. Thomas reached above his head and flicked on the switch for the interior light, struggling for a better look at the box. It almost looked like a cigar box, but much smaller. He turned the prize in his hand, wondering what old Jerry had hidden inside. Thomas’s curiosity was running rampant, and he decided to pull over for a moment to examine his discovery more completely. The box was of a nicely polished wood, and was very pleasantly decorated. There were bright gold hinges holding the lid in place, and an equally bright gold lock sealing it shut. Thomas tried the lock, but could not get it free. He turned off the car and pulled the keys out of the ignition, studying the ring for a key that might fit the box. Finally, after trying a few unsuccessfully, Thomas found the small key that fit the box lock, which unfastened with a quick click. He was grinning like a child on Christmas morning as he opened the strange box, his anticipation growing by the second. He lifted

the lid slowly. The box was lined quite elegantly with magenta fabric, giving it an almost regal appearance. It looked like something that a businessman would have in his office as a show of class. But, it was not the appearance of the box that caused Thomas to drop it on the seat next to him. His face was pale as he struggled to comprehend it, and he shot a glance to the passenger seat to verify if his mind was playing tricks on him. The box had stayed open when Thomas dropped it, and its contents were scattered across the passenger seat. As he put the car back into gear, he looked over once more. Jerry Doyle’s car rumbled down the Interstate with Thomas at the wheel, its driver still shaking in disbelief. As the car vibrated with motion, thirteen severed fingers lolled about across the leather interior of the passenger seat.