I picked up a car in Chicago that was headed to Laredo, Texas. Way down at the bottom of Texas next to the Mexican border. I was traveling down I-55 when my cell phone rang. It was good old Mrs. Sherman again, who seemed to like to call me from time to time.
"Hello, is this Bill?" she asked.
"Hi, Mrs. Sherman."
"Bill, is that you?"
"Yes ma'am, how can I help you?"
"I just baked a yellow cake with chocolate frosting, and I thought you might enjoy a slice."
"Thanks for offering, but I'm in Illinois right now."
"OK, what time will you be here?"
"Uh, no, I won't be there. I am headed south to Texas."
"Oh that's a real shame. I'm sorry to hear that. But I do have some good news for you."
"I am going back down to Florida soon, and you'll be driving my car for me."
I smiled to myself. "Yes, I believe you mentioned that last time you called."
"Did I? You'd think I'd remember something like that. That's two weeks away, should I save you a piece of cake?"
"No thank you, I'm trying really hard to diet. I better let you go, see you soon."
"Oh yes you will, yes you will."
I had passed through Springfield about 40 miles back, and saw a sign telling me I was nearing a town called Litchfield. Up ahead, I saw a Volkswagen off on the shoulder of the road and a woman pacing back and forth next to it. It was cold outside, and I felt for her and whatever distress she was in. I thought I better pull over and offer to help her.
I parked behind the VW and got out. She barely acknowledged my presence. "Do you need any help?" I asked.
"People. Damn people," she mumbled, continuing to pace. "You can never depend on them. Damn them all."
"Is everything OK?"
She stopped suddenly, then walked up and got nose to nose with me. "No, everything is not OK. Not by a longshot."
I noticed that her face and hairstyle was a dead ringer for Morticia from THE ADDAMS FAMILY. Only she was much chunkier, more Rubenesque. There was a fire in her eyes, but a confused and lost quality to the fire. "Are you having car troubles?"
"You could say that. Oh yes, you surely could say that," she retorted.
"What seems to be the problem?"
"Alice. Dumb, stupid Alice. You think you know someone, you think they are your friend, and then they turn on you."
I was completely lost. "I don't think I understand."
"Of course you don't. Because just like me, you put your trust in someone you love, and then when they betray you..." She slammed her hand on the roof of the car.
"How can I help?"
"Alice has been stealing from me, is there some way you can help with that?"
"I pulled over because I thought you might be in trouble."
"I am in trouble. I'm in crisis, for God's sake! Alice has lied to me, betrayed me, and taken money from me. And this isn't the first time."
"OK, well... What is wrong with your car?"
"Haven't you been listening? Alice is a thief!"
"Yes. This is Alice, the sneaky bitch." She pointed at the VW.
"Oh, Alice. Gotcha."
"She can't be trusted. I'm at the end of my rope, I don't know what to do about her."
"You say she steals from you?"
"That's exactly what I said, and that is exactly what she does."
"How did she steal from you? I mean, what has she taken?"
"Where do I begin? She stole a watch from me, she stole cash numerous times, and now she has stolen my favorite ring."
I shook my head. "I'm trying to follow you."
"It's very simple, I put my valuables into the glove box, and the next day they are gone."
"Do you lock the glove box?"
She smiled winningly and stuck her hand out. "By the way, my name is Mary. Very nice of you to stop and check on me."
I gently shook her hand. "The pleasure is mine, Mary. I'm Bill Thomas."
"Now what was your question? Oh, do I lock the glove box. Of course not, why would I?"
"Alice is supposed to be my security. When an item is in her possession, she is responsible for taking care of it. I never lock my doors, and always leave the windows open. I'm a bohemian."
"Do you live in a good neighborhood?"
"I live in St. Louis, and it's a pretty rough area. I have to park on the street two blocks from my apartment building. But I know everything will be fine, because Alice takes care of herself quite well. If you know what I mean, and I think you do."
"Hmm. Mary, have you ever considered that some bad people might come during the night and take your things out of the glove box?"
Mary began laughing uproariously. "What? Are you serious? That is the most absurd thing I have ever heard in my life! You are too funny. Do you know what Alice would do if someone tried to steal from her?" Very suddenly, Mary went from laughter to sullen seriousness. "Although she seems to have no problem at all stealing from me." She turned and pointed a finger at the VW. "Traitor! Betrayer! Benedict Alice!"
"I really do wish there was something I could do to help."
"The truth is, you've been no help at all, Mr. Bill."
"Can I at least help you get your car started?"
She stared at me like I was a lunatic. "There's nothing wrong with Alice, she runs fine. But when I opened my glove box 30 minutes ago and found my favorite ring gone, I had to pull over and have a long talk with her. But she doesn't have anything to say, which only proves her guilt." Mary went and climbed into the car. "I wish you luck on your journey. But can I tell you that you're lousy at helping people in need." She started the VW and pulled out onto the highway, nearly causing a truck to hit her. The truck swerved wildly, and Mary drove down the Interstate at a cautious 45 mph.
I shook my head and climbed into my car. I thought about it, and decided not to be dissuaded from trying to help people in need. I looked around the interior of the car, then started the engine. "Listen to me, car, I don't know your name, but you better never steal anything from me." I grinned and pulled out onto the highway, ready to continue my travels.