Photo by Rahul Chowdhury on Unsplash
Alex’s words made my stomach knot. I stopped several yards away and was momentarily speechless. What am I going to tell him? As little as possible. Finally, I said, “I don’t have your backpack. You look like you need a doctor.”
His jaw tightened as he balled up a fist. “No. I need my backpack. I left it in your vehicle for safe keeping. I told the BWCA security I didn’t need anything from from. Now, I need it back. Where is it?”
“I don’t know where it is. I can give you some clothes or a toothbrush if you need them.”
Alex’s face reddened. Through a snarl he said, “There’s something very important in it. It’s a matter of life and death – mine.”
The knot in my gut turned icy. I stayed rooted in place. “I told you. I don’t have it.”
“Did you throw it away?” asked Alex.
I swallowed hard. He’s calling my bluff. Don’t take the bait. “Are you sure you don’t need a doctor? Your eye looks bad. Maybe you have a concussion.”
He turned to look get a better look at the truck. “Why are you driving this old thing?” Alex motioned over his shoulder at Betsy.
“Mine is having some work done,” I said.
“Then let’s go so I can get my pack.” Alex rolled to his knees. He paused for a moment before stumbling to his feet, pawing the truck to keep his balance. He swayed a bit before steadying. The places he touched were left smudged with dirt and blood.
“What happened to you?”
Alex grunted and then laughed. It quickly became a stifled whimper as he curled with an arm pressed against his belly. “Unless I get my backpack, they’ll do this to you, too.”
Alex straightened slightly, stumbled in front of the truck, and then landed on his hands and knees. He emitted a guttural growl as he curled his fingers into the grill and pulled himself to his feet.
Damn, two hours wasn’t enough to see what was on that SD card. What’s safe to talk about? I can’t let it slip that I know about it.
I wrapped an arm around his waist, giving support so he could limp to the passenger door. I expected the odor of alcohol, but instead he smelled of antiseptic. After he was settled into his seat, I stashed the laptop behind the driver’s seat and got in.
“Who did this to you?” I asked. Alex wrapped his arms around his midsection and looked out the passenger window.
“Did this happen at the hospital?” More stonewalling from Alex. “You smell like you came straight out from the hospital.”
“Shh! What have I told you about this?” He held out his hand.
“I’m not giving my cellphone to you.”
“Then shut up and take me to your SUV.” Alex rolled the window down and spit. When he pulled his head back in, he groaned and held his stomach tighter.
“You need a doctor.”
He roared and smashed his fist into the dashboard, leaving a smudge mark. I glanced over to see his wild-eyed expression. “You talk too much.”
“And you’re tearing up a courtesy vehicle. Betsy isn’t mine. Knock it off or you can walk to Jansen’s.”
Alex sneered. “A courtesy vehicle named after an old cow? I can walk faster than this thing.”
I slowed the truck down and pulled over. Anger had replaced my fear and worry. “Would you rather walk? I’d be happy to oblige. Now, do you want to tell me what is so important about that backpack?”
Alex looked out the window and brought his hand to his face. His shoulders heaved several times before he sniffed and wiped his eyes. “There’s information in the backpack that I promised to deliver. I didn’t deliver it on time. Now, before things become more complicated, I have to get it to them.
My grip on the steering wheel had become so tight my knuckles were colorless. It has to be the SD card. How am I going to explain why it’s in my pocket? “Do you want to walk or are you going to control yourself?” I asked.
“Go.” His voice shook.
There was tense silence rest of the way to Jansen’s. Alex kept his face turned away. I ran scenarios through my head as to how I could inconspicuously get the SD card out of my pocket and into the SUV.
At Jansen’s, I helped Alex out of the truck much the way I would Mom. JJ waved at us and quickly disappeared back into the garage. Before we made it to the service desk, JJ jogged back out holding a brick. Alex flinched and shoved us back a step. He grunted and doubled over.
“Whoa! I didn’t mean to scare you. Are you okay, fella? Do you need a ride to the emergency room?” asked JJ.
I shook my head. “This is my friend, Alex, and he insists he’s fine.”
JJ gave Alex a long side eye, shook his head, and then shrugged. “I assigned your baby to Bear. He found this partially tucked under the passenger seat. The storm was strong, but it wasn’t that bad.” Good. Maybe Alex will think someone stole it.
“We’ve documented the damage, but didn’t start any work in case you need to file a stolen property report.”
JJ’s statement must have finally registered with Alex. “My backpack. Where is Mike’s vehicle?”
JJ pointed to the side of the building. Alex rallied enough strength to tug me in that direction. “Yeah, go check it out and let me know if you need to make a report. We won’t touch it until you give the approval.”
Alex pushed away from me and began hobbling towards the SUV. I slipped my hand in my pocket and palmed the SD card. This is my opportunity to put it back.
By the time I reached the vehicle, Alex was kneeling by the passenger door. His hand was shoved deep between the passenger seat and the console. “I thought you needed your backpack. What are you digging for?” I asked.
Alex didn’t respond. His search became more aggressive. He yelped as he yanked the back passenger door open and crammed his hand under the front seat. I flicked the SD card into the passenger floorboard. He suddenly stopped and came back to the front seat. “What was that sound?” He frantically patted under the seat from the front before spotting the SD card.
He grabbed it, kissed it, and then slid to the ground in a heap. By the time I got to him, he was alternating between crying and laughing. “I get to live.”