John and Hop at Howard Johnson

John Gibson slouched in a chair in the lobby of a Howard Johnson a half hour’s drive outside Philadelphia. He wore a thick stocking cap and an old wool blazer. The receptionist stared at him, looking for a legitimate reason to call the police.

A chime echoed from the elevator and a short man in a frumpy suit stepped out. He looked around before turning to the front door, and then turned quickly back to look at John.

“You going?” asked John, standing up.

“John,” said the man. “What the hell are you doing here?”

John looked at his watch. “Come on, Hop. If we’re going we’d better go.” John led the way to the exit.

The man followed. “How long you been waiting there?”

Outside the air was cold and clean. It was just after midnight in the winter of 1973.

“Say, wasn’t your car here earlier?” asked John.

“What? Yeah.” Hop looked around. “Maybe I parked out back.”

The two skirted the outside of the building to the back parking lot. John lit a cigarette as they passed an old man in a long coat. “Evening,” said John.

When they got to the back, Hop said, “Shit. Where’s the damn car?”

“It was out front,” said John. “I saw it when I came in.”

“Shit.”

“Suppose we’d better call a cab.”

Hop shook his head and walked to a yellow Plymouth parked nearby. John took in the last drag of his cigarette as he watched Hop break into the car. He flicked aside the butt and circled to the passenger’s side.

Hop got in and worked on starting the car.

John waited for him to reach over and pull up the lock. “Conspicuous choice, Hop,” he said. He shivered a little and pulled down his hat.

The engine came to life and Hop slammed his door closed.

John pulled the handle on the passenger’s side and jumped back as Hop started off.

“Hey!”

The Plymouth rolled out of the parking lot and onto the interstate and John watched for as long as he could make out the taillights.

He shivered again and lit a new cigarette.

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