The Woman in the Rear View Mirror
© 2019 CR Britting
From what I could see in the rear-view mirror, she was beautiful: A perfect, oval face, with fluffy, butter-colored hair, and a nice tan. It was hard to tell much about age with those designer sunglasses, but she couldn't be over thirty. Her car was a white BMW convertible, a perfect match for such a lovely lady .As I waited to turn left at the traffic light, I had no idea I would save her life, or that she would change mine.
But let's start at the beginning. I was driving home from a hunting trip when I pulled off the interstate highway to get a bite to eat at the fast-food place. After plowing through the wet underbrush for two days and fighting the heavy Sunday traffic, I was beat. I just wanted to go home and take a long, hot shower, and try to unwind before going back to work tomorrow.
I heard a car horn behind me, and glanced in the mirror. The blonde woman was pointing at the traffic light. I glanced up. The light was red and I was blocking the intersection. I waved a thank you and turned toward the hamburger place down the street.
Every man searches for his perfect woman. I've met many candidates over the years. I even made a bad mistake once, but I'm still looking for the woman of my dreams. Correction: I just found her. And lost her at the traffic light. Maybe I should turn around and go back. Nah. She'll be long gone. Besides, what would a beautiful, blonde yuppie in a new BMW see in a guy like me: A computer nerd on the downhill side of thirty, driving an eight-year-old pickup.
Well, when I got to the golden arches, I made a pit stop, then joined the line at the counter. While I was waiting, I happened to glance out the window and my heart stopped as the white BMW pulled into a parking spot near my truck. I had another chance to meet the woman of my dreams.
"Sir?" A voice broke into my thoughts. "Sir? Can I take your order, please?"
I turned around. The girl behind the counter was looking at me. I grinned, a sheepish expression on my face. "Sorry. I was daydreaming."
She laughed. "That's okay. What can I get for you?"
I tried to pull myself together. "Uh...I'll have a Big Mac, a small fry and a large Coke."
After paying for the meal, I looked out at the BMW. It was empty. Where did she go?
"Here you are, sir." The girl slid my tray across the counter. "You daydream a lot, don't you?" she asked with a smile.
I glanced at her name tag and grinned. "I always daydream when I see a pretty lady like you, Amanda." Okay, kid, let's see what you do with that.
She blushed. "Enjoy your meal, sir."
With a chuckle I turned to head for the dining room and there she was, twenty feet away, talking on the payphone between the inner and outer doors. Did I mention "Dream Girl?" Boy, what an understatement that is. She was beautiful; probably in her early thirties, with curly blonde hair and a trim, athletic figure. She was wearing a T-shirt, tied at the waist, with the blue-jean shorts, and with suede hiking boots. I was so taken with her that I stood there like my feet were nailed to the floor.
When she hung up, she saw me staring at her. A beautiful woman like her must get that all the time, but to my surprise she smiled and came inside. "Hello," she said in a friendly fashion as she came up to me. Brown. Her eyes were a beautiful brown.
"I...like your car," I stammered. She was even more beautiful up close. "What year is it?"
"It's new," she replied with a grin. "It's my first beamer, I've only had it a month. It's great to drive."
"New? Oh, yeah, that's nice." I replied, desperately trying to think of some way to keep the conversation going. This is usually the point where the pretty ones give me the brush-off.
"Did you get anything?" she asked.
"Get anything?" I replied, a puzzled look on my face.
She pointed down at the camouflage outfit I was wearing. "You look like you've been hunting. Did you get anything?"
My opinion of her went up a couple of more notches. I admire any woman willing to rescue a stalled conversation. "No," I replied. "It was a bust. We didn't see a thing the whole weekend."
She nodded. "Happens that way sometimes."
"May I help you, ma'am?" The order taker's voice broke into my private world. I could have wrung her young neck with my bare hands.
"Nice talking to you." My dream girl smiled at me one last time and turned to the counter.
What's your name? Can I have your phone number? Can I take you to a movie? Can we go to dinner? Will you marry me? All of these questions flashed through my mind. But, of course, I didn't ask any of them as I walked sadly to my table near the window. She had been kind to talk to me at all. I guess I should consider myself fortunate for that much.
The food tasted okay, I guess, I don't remember eating any of it. A few minutes later she came into the dining room and I kept my eyes on the table to keep from staring at her. But then, to my astonishment, the pretty jean shorts stopped at my table.
"Better luck on your next hunting trip," she said when I looked up.
"Oh, thanks," I replied, still in shock that she had spoken to me again. For a few seconds neither of us said anything at all. What was she waiting for?
"Well," she said finally. "See you around sometime." The woman turned away, and when I glanced over a few minutes later she was on the other side of the dining room, holding a french fry in one hand and a paperback novel in the other. I couldn't think of another reason to talk to her, so I picked up my tray, dumped my trash, and headed outside into the twilight--feeling like the world's biggest dunce.
I unlocked the door of my truck and noticed a blue van parked nearby. I wouldn't have paid any attention to it, except for the two guys in the front seat. I only had a brief glimpse, but something about them bothered me. I wasn't afraid or anything like that. After all, we were in the McDonald's parking lot, right? Maybe it was the way they stared back at me. Kind of sinister, if you know what I mean.
How does someone look sinister? Well, maybe it was the unsmiling expression on their faces. When you make eye contact with someone you don't know, one or both of you will usually nod or smile. Something like that. These guys were the coldest pair of fish I'd seen in a long time.
Well, I slipped behind the wheel and fired up the engine. Another hour and I'd be back home. I wonder if the cat missed me. Sometimes he'd complain loudly when I came home after several days away. Other times I'd get the cold shoulder treatment. Either way, I'd have to put up with it until he'd forgiven me. Such is life with a cat ruling the apartment.
It was fully dark and I was twenty minutes down the expressway when the white BMW went by me. I didn't recognize it at first, partially because the top was up, and partially because I was thinking about the project I was doing at work. I'd passed the last major exit a mile or two back, and most of the traffic had gotten off there. It was only about fifteen miles to the state line and after that thirty minutes home. She was a few hundred yards ahead when I noticed more headlights coming up behind me. Then I did a double-take. Those lights were coming up fast. Real fast.
For a moment I thought the guy was going to ram me, but at the last second, the headlights swerved and passed me, moving at a high rate of speed. In the glare of my headlights, I could see it was a blue van.
The same blue van? What the heck was he doing out here? The van surged ahead, almost like it was chasing the BMW, and as I watched, the van pulled up alongside it. All at once the brake lights of the BMW came on, and at the same instant, I saw a stab of orange flame from the side of the van. A split second later I heard the rapid bark of an automatic weapon, and the white car weaved crazily back and forth.
Then it swerved to the right, ran off the road and down the embankment. Stunned, I held my breath, expecting it to roll over. For a second I thought she'd get the car back under control. But then the right front wheel went into the drainage ditch and the car jerked to a stop.
Good grief! Why were they shooting at her? Was she okay? I slowed and pulled off onto the shoulder, dousing my headlights. I had to see if she was all right. But then I noticed brake lights on the van. He was stopping too. What the heck for? To make sure she was dead? What kind of people were they, anyway, shooting at a woman on the expressway?
There must be something I could do to help. I turned and unlocked the twelve-gauge shotgun from the rack behind me. The weapon wasn't much against an Uzi or something like that, but it was all I had. As I stuffed solid deer slugs into the weapon, I glanced up. No sign of life from the white car. Maybe she was unconscious or...I didn't want to think about it.
The van started backing up. I piled out of the truck and ran for the ditch, hoping they didn't see me. The van was maybe a hundred yards away, but I was glad I still had the camos on. I was a target myself especially lugging the big shotgun around,
The van stopped and the doors popped open on both sides. Two men got out, and I could see the glint of metal from their guns. Just then the passenger side door on the BMW opened, too, and a slender figure slid out into the ditch. She was still alive. Thank God.
The two men advanced toward the white car, but suddenly I saw bright flashes from the ditch, and then the sound of a large-bore handgun shattered the stillness of the night. The woman was armed and she was shooting back!
One of the bad guys spun and fell to the ground. His companion fired a long burst, and the noise of the machine gun tore at my ears. The woman threw herself flat as the windshield of the BMW shattered. The bad guy snapped a new magazine into his weapon and advanced on the car, firing as he came. Every time she'd try to get up, he'd shoot again.
I dropped on my stomach and nervously worked the pump on the shotgun. Sighting on the shooter, I pulled the trigger. The twelve-gauge kicked me in the shoulder and I was almost deafened by the noise. I'd forgotten my earplugs.
It was too far for good shooting in the dark and I missed. The slug did, however, manage to punch out the rear window of the van right behind the shooter, who stopped and glanced in my direction, surprised by the unexpected interference. I held my breath, still hoping he couldn't see me.
A movement caught my eye; the woman was starting to get up. The shooter swung back in her direction, and I quickly worked the pump, firing another shot in the man's direction, hoping to distract him. Then I rolled to the right as fast as I could. There was a stab of flame from the guy's Uzi, and the ground was torn up where I'd been a few seconds before.
The diversion gave the blonde woman time, and she fired four or five quick shots before dropping back into the ditch. Attacked now from two directions, the bad guy had enough. He turned away, dragged his wounded companion into the van, and drove off.
I made my way down the embankment just as the woman was getting to her feet.
"Are you okay?"
She turned at the sound of my voice and I saw the pistol in her hand. "Yes, thanks to you."
"Why were those men shooting at you? You do something to make 'em mad?"
She took a deep breath. "I'm sorry, but I can't talk about it." Then her eyes widened as she looked down at my camos. "Oh, you're the man from Mickey-D's, aren't you?"
Her car was in no condition to drive, so we gathered her luggage and headed back to my truck.
After putting her stuff in the back, I slid behind the steering wheel and glanced over at her.
She looked pale as she stared out the windshield. "Are you all right?" I asked.
She nodded slowly. "I'm fine." She took another deep breath. "Or rather I will be as soon as my heart slows down."
"Yes, ma'am," I agreed. "Mine, too."
Her face and clothes were dirty and her hair was a wreck. No matter. She was still beautiful. Then I saw the blood on her T-shirt.
"You're hurt! Did you get..."
"No. I think it must've been from the glass."
I grabbed my first-aid kit from behind the seat. I always carry a big first-aid kit when I go hunting. You never know when some fool is gonna shoot himself or someone else. She had a cut on the side of her neck, another on her left shoulder, and two on her left arm. I swabbed the wounds with iodine and stuck a bandage on them. None looked very serious.
"Thank you, sir," she said as I finished putting on the last bandage. "That was gently done."
"Glad to help," I replied as I closed up the first-aid kit. "Another service provided by your friendly freeway Samaritan."
She laughed and I turned the key. The engine of the old truck roared to life. We swung onto the pavement, and a few seconds later we passed the white vehicle in the ditch.
I took a deep breath. My adrenaline rush was starting to wear off, and I found myself in shock as I realized I'd been in a fire-fight. It was a long time since anyone had shot at me, and I found myself gripping the steering wheel with both hands to keep them from shaking.
"Hello?" We were five miles down the road when her voice broke into my thoughts. I glanced over, seeing her sitting with her back to the window.
"Your heart slow down yet?" she asked with smile.
"Gettin' there," I replied. "And maybe my hands will stop shaking at some point."
"Well, here I am driving down the expressway with a man who probably saved my life and I don't even know your name."
I looked back to the road. "I'm sorry, miss," I replied, a somber expression on my face. "But the code of the freeway Samaritans requires that we remain anonymous."
I heard her laugh. "And you won't make an exception, even for me?"
I shook my head. "No, ma'am. We're not allowed to reveal our name or social security number to anyone we don't know."
"Anne," I heard her say. "Anne Henson. Is that good enough, Mister Samaritan?"
I nodded as I swung out to pass a truck. "Very well, Miss Henson. Since I know you, I can divulge that my name is Steve. Steve Dickson."
We talked for a while and I found out that she worked for the federal government, but for some reason, she wouldn't tell me exactly what she did. I told her about my computer job, and she surprised me by asking all kinds of questions about it. I found myself liking this mysterious woman, but it occurred to me to wonder about the 9mm automatic in her oversized handbag, and why she was carrying a gun in the first place.
We came to a rest area and Anne asked me to pull off. She was inside about ten minutes, and when she came out she'd washed her face and changed into jeans and a long sleeve shirt.
"Feelin' better?" I asked as she closed the door.
"Much better, thanks." She swung her legs up on the seat and sat facing me, the same as before. If anything she was more beautiful than ever. I couldn't help myself and glanced down at her left hand. But the gold ring I was afraid of seeing was absent, and somehow that made me feel a lot better.
I pulled out into traffic again. We'd be in the city in about fifteen minutes, but I found myself wishing the journey was longer. Most of the women I'd met were only interested in themselves, and rarely asked questions about me once they learned I was into computers. But Anne was as intelligent as she was beautiful and it made me sad to realize that soon she would be out of my life again.
"Steve?" I glanced over at her. She was still sitting with her back to the window and this time she had a puzzled look on her face. "You're doing it again, you know," she said quietly.
"Doing what?" I asked. "Ignoring me."
"Well, since you won't talk to me, can I ask you a question?
A question? "Sure. Why not."
"It's a personal question. And you have to give me an honest answer, okay?"
"I guess so."
"How come you didn't ask me to sit down and eat with you back there at McDonald's? I would have, you know."
My heart jumped right up in my throat. Sit with me? Eat with me? What is she talking about? "I...I don't understand."
"Steve Dickson, you are really a dunce. You were attracted to me, weren't you?"
"I saw you right away when I hung up the phone. Obviously you were interested. Why didn't you ask me to sit with you?"
I looked back at the road. How do you tell a beautiful woman that she's way outta your league?
"I don't know," I replied, staring at the white lines rushing past the left side of the truck. "Maybe I was afraid you'd say no. It's happened before."
For a moment she was quiet. I glanced at her and she appeared deep in thought. "When was the last time you took a chance, Steve? A risk?"
I smiled. "About thirty minutes ago?"
"I'll give you that," she allowed. "But what else?"
"I flew a helicopter in the service. Got shot at in the desert. Does that qualify?"
"You're a pilot?" she asked, and I could hear the surprise in her voice.
"Yeah," I replied. "I'm a rotorhead. I flew an Apache gunship during Desert Storm. That was a long time ago."
"Did you like flying?"
A big smile came to my face. "Loved it. You can talk about the fast-movers all you want, but there's nothing like skimming the desert at 160 knots."
Again she was quiet for a moment. "So how'd you get into computers if you liked flying so much?"
"I was engaged to a girl. Stacy didn't like worrying about me when I flew. So I got out." I took a deep breath. "Our marriage lasted eighteen months. I knocked around awhile and finally discovered computers. It's interesting and it keeps a roof over my head." I glanced over at her. "But it's nothing that most gals want to talk about."
"Done any flying since you got out?"
"Some. Not enough to really stay current. Rotary-wing time is expensive. But, yeah, I fly once or twice a month. There's a guy with a Jet Ranger who flies express packages to various places. He lets me ride in the left seat and I get some stick time."
"Steve, that's wonderful! I'm happy for you."
I looked over in surprise and she had this big grin on her face. "I think it's great that you get to do something you love. Oh!" she exclaimed as she glanced out the windshield. "You need to get off here."
I swung the truck quickly to the right and down the off-ramp. A couple of turns later we pulled up in front of the federal office building. How about that? She did work for the government. We got out and I carried her stuff over to the glass doors.
"Are you going to be okay?" I asked.
"I've got some phone calls to make about the car and so forth, but the duty officer will get me everything I need."
"What about those men who were tryin' to kill you?"
She shook her head. "I'm sorry, Steve. It's classified. I can't talk about it."
"Oh. Well, uh, could I call you sometime? We could go to dinner or a movie or something?"
She smiled. "I'd love to have dinner with you, Steve. You're my hero, you know. You saved my life."
She dug in her purse and pulled out a business card. "Here's my phone number, but I'm afraid it's an answering service. I'm out of the country a lot. How about I call you next time I'm in town?"
I gave her my number and she picked up her bags. "I guess I better get going. Once I get inside, they'll have me up all night with paperwork over this incident."
We said goodbye and I watched as she pushed her way through the glass doors. Maybe she would actually call me someday.
Well, I went back to work, but somehow it wasn't the same. The project I was designing no longer interested me. I tried to give the boss a good day's work, but my heart really wasn't in it. I kept thinking of Anne Henson and the things she'd said. Like taking a chance. Like doing something you love.
Over the next couple of days, I thought a lot about flying. I called my friend the chopper pilot, and started flying with him as often as I could. Jack was pleased to have someone to talk to on the long cross-country flights, and my old skills came back to me faster than I thought possible. I had a lot of vacation time stacked up and with the boss' permission, I started taking Fridays off so I could fly.
Two months later I passed my flight physical and my FAA certification. The next Friday, when Jack and I walked out to the Jet Ranger, he told me to take the right seat. The pilot's seat in a helicopter.
"You take it today, Steve," he said. "I've got some things to take care of." He walked away without another word, and suddenly it dawned on me that I was a flyer again. All because of a beautiful lady named Anne.
One Monday morning I was deep in the middle of a CAD drawing at work when the phone rang. I reached absentmindedly for the handset. "Engineering, Dickson."
"Hello, my hero."
For a moment I was speechless. "Anne?"
"You haven't rescued any other damsel in distress lately have you?"
"No," I replied. "It's...it's just so great to hear your voice again."
"I've got a bone to pick with you, Mr. Dickson. How come you didn't tell me the whole truth in the car?"
"Truth? What do you mean?"
"You didn't mention anything about being awarded a Silver Star," she said. "Or having a top-secret security clearance."
How did she know about that? "Oh. I guess I didn't think it was important. Most people could care less."
"Listen, Steve. I've only got thirty seconds before my flight leaves. Are you ready to take another chance? A big one?"
I thought about it. "Sure, why not?"
"Great," she replied. "This Saturday drive over to the air force base and show your ID to the guard at the gate. He'll direct you where to go. Be there at ten o'clock and I'll meet you, okay?"
"You're going to be there?" I asked, my heart beating faster at the prospect of seeing her again.
"Yeah. Oh, and Steve, bring clothes for ten days and your bathing suit. I gotta go. Bye."
She hung up and I sat there staring at the phone? Clothes for ten days? At the air force base?
Still unsure what it was all about, I got my affairs quickly in order and on Saturday morning I pulled up to the front gate of the local air force base. A courteous air-policeman directed me to operations, and just as I got out of my truck, a giant C-5 Galaxy came in for a landing.
It always amazes me how something that big can actually fly and I watched in awe as the huge aircraft taxied up and stopped in front of me. A ramp dropped from the rear of the plane and the ground crew started loading palettes of equipment. I heard a car behind me and when I glanced around I saw a red Toyota MR-2 pulling into the parking lot.
But something caught my eye, and I looked up just in time to see four F-15's pass overhead in tight formation. I turned and watched until they were out of sight. Man, oh man. I never get tired of seein' things like that. I can watch it all day long.
"Hello, Captain Dickson," said a voice next to me. I turned automatically at the mention of my old rank and was surprised to find a female naval officer standing next to me. My eyes flicked to the gold oak leaves on her collar, proclaiming her to be a Lieutenant Commander. Above two rows of ribbons were the gold wings. A pilot. Only then did I notice the name tag: Henson. My mouth dropped wide open in surprise as I took in the beautiful face of the woman of my dreams.
"You dirty rotten dog," I started to say, "why didn't you tell me that..."
She held up her hand. "You're not sorry you came, are you?"
"I am a navy pilot, Steve, but right now I'm on detached duty to another government agency."
"You're a pilot? For real?" It was unbelievable.
She grinned. "Yeah. I fly fast-movers. And some other things, too, when the job requires it."
"Is that related to those men who tried to kill you?"
Anne nodded. "It's a long story, but I was flying some drug enforcement people, following a small plane off the coast of Florida. When the smugglers landed unexpectedly, I was ordered to land behind them. It was supposed to be a simple arrest. But the smugglers had friends with guns, and we were hit just as I touched down. Two of our folks were killed and we barely got out before the plane blew up."
She sighed. "There was a battle and the good guys eventually won, but I had testify at the trial and there were some death threats. I've been carrying a gun ever since. They've declassified it or I couldn't tell you about it."
"Wow," I replied. "That's getting up close and personal. Not exactly like shooting a missile at a target you can't see, is it?"
Anne shook her head. "No, and I hope they catch those guys. If I had wanted to get down and play in the weeds, I'd have joined the marine corps."
At that moment a big air force master sergeant came trotting up to us. He saluted.
Anne returned his sharp salute with one of her own. "Yes, Sergeant. And this is Mr. Dickson. He's going with us."
The noncom checked his clipboard. "Yes, ma'am. Thank you. We'll be leaving in a moment. Please get aboard."
He saluted again and I watched as she returned the salute. The sergeant turned away and I heard the sound of a motor as the ramp on the C-5 began to close.
"Get your bag, Steve, our ride awaits." She turned toward the big transport.
"We're going in the C-5? Where to?"
"Hawaii," she called over her shoulder.
"But..." My feet were glued to the concrete.
She turned and came back to me. "Steve Dickson, I told you about taking a chance. This is yours. Grab it with both hands and hang on. When we get to Hawaii, I've got some leave coming, and we'll have time to get to know each other. But while we're over there, a man is going to talk to you about a job. A job flying helicopters for your country."
She grinned. "Now close your mouth, pick up your bag and get aboard."
I did. I got the job, too. And a few months later I asked the woman I saw in the rearview mirror to marry me. It took a while, but the FBI caught the guys in the blue van, and I'm glad that my wife doesn't have to carry a gun anymore.
We've been married for five years and we've been all over the world together. That night on the expressway seems long ago and far away now, but Anne still calls me her hero and when I get up every morning I'm thankful I stopped to help a damsel in distress.
* * * * *
Author's Note: I got the idea for this story driving home from work one night. I stopped at the McDonald's near the highway and I was waiting at the drive-thru window when she pulled up behind me. I think the lady was really pretty...but all I ever saw was the image in the rear view mirror.
Below is a C5A Galaxy, an air force cargo aircraft. It is one of the largest airplanes in the world. Steve and Anne fly to Hawaii in a plane like this.