The fear was palpable. It hung thick as gun smoke in the afternoon air. There were moments when I lost all hope of surviving the encounter. I became resigned to my own sad end. I made my peace with it.
But let me start at the beginning.
The woman was perhaps 78 years old, and she came hobbling up my driveway in obvious pain. She was a stout woman with a face that was both sad and resolute.
“I was trying to walk home,” she told me, trembling some. “But there’s no way I’ll make it. Not with this sciatica.”
She gripped her purse with both hands and held it close. I helped her down the driveway and with the slow pain of age, she eased herself into the passenger seat.
That’s when the horror began.
Actually, wait. No, the horror began later. It’s all a blur.
As I headed toward her home in Auburn, the woman and I chatted. She was out walking in the baking August sun, she said, because she’d had an argument with her sister.
“She kicked me out of the house,” the woman told me. “So, I just started walking.”
Curious about what sisters of near octogenarian age would argue so viciously about, I probed her for details.
“She treats me like I’m stupid,” the woman said, gazing out the window at the beehive buzz of downtown Lewiston. “She says demeaning things.”
As her sad tale progressed, it occurred to me that the woman could have been 16 years old and talking about a bratty kid sister. There was absolutely nothing in the details of this spat — or in the bitter venom with which the woman told her story — to distinguish between an older pair of sisters or a young one.
I mused over the enduring nature of sibling rivalries a moment before a funny idea bloomed inside my twisted little mind. Maybe this tired woman wasn’t feuding with her sister at all. Maybe it was all an elaborate cover story crafted to distract me from the fact that the woman planned to rob me blind.
It would begin as a small request during the short ride to Auburn. Maybe she’d ask if I could stop along the way to pick up her dear, sweet son. Or perhaps she’d request a stop at an ATM so she could withdraw money for food and crossword puzzle books.
That’s how they get you.
I mean, let’s be honest. Older folks are nice and all, but that doesn’t mean they’re incapable of criminal schemes and sudden violence. They lull you into a sense of comfort with photos of their grandchildren and offers of Werthers Originals. Then BAM! Next thing you know, you’re bound and gagged in the trunk of a 1985 Buick Regal and headed for the Canadian border.
Call me crazy, but history bears this out. Who can forget that trio of pensioners who kidnapped and hogtied the financial adviser who had mishandled their life savings?
Or that 73-year-old granny in Oklahoma who reigned as kingpin of a marijuana empire?
Or the threesome of septuagenarians who plotted to knock over an armored car in an “Oceans Eleven”-level heist at a Chicago bank.
It ain’t all about the bingo, you know.
So, as my passenger continued with complaints about back pain and mean kid sisters, I lapsed into a fantasy about a story I could milk into eternity.
“SUN JOURNAL CRIME REPORTER PUMMELED, KIDNAPPED, ROBBED BY SCIATIC SENIOR CITIZEN!” is how the headline would go. With a smaller subhead advising: “REPORTER TRAPPED IN BUICK REGAL EATS OWN FOOT!”
I got so excited over this lurid fantasy, each moment that the woman DIDN’T pull a Ladysmith out of her overstuffed handbag was a moment of great disappointment.
“You know what would be a great way to get back at your sister?” I considered telling her. “Rob me blind and take me to Canada.”
Alas, there was no robbery. There was no Ladysmith, no pistol-whipping, no banditry whatsoever. At the end of the ride, she thanked me profusely. We wished each other well, said goodbye and that was that.
The would-be thug was just a feisty older lady with passion enough left to duke it out with her baby sister from time to time. A real nice lady. Downright delightful.
It would have been an honor to be robbed by her.
Mark LaFlamme is a Sun Journal staff writer.