The driver of the cream-colored Lincoln Continental has been cruising several hours when he finds what he wants. He pulls to the side of Central Expressway, and the hitchhiker climbs into the roomy front seat.
Tall, with bedraggled shoulder-length brown hair, the young woman says she’s heading to East Dallas to get drugs. It is past 2 a.m. on a cool May night.
He offers to share some methamphetamine, but she shakes her head. She wants cocaine. He agrees to take her wherever she’s going, and she directs him to an apartment building at Fitzhugh and Live Oak.
Amiably, the driver agrees to give her a ride to a bowling alley on Northwest Highway, where a girlfriend is supposed to meet her. She gets back in the car, and as they drive north, she sizes up her new friend: frizzy hair, about 50, wearing glasses, nice-looking enough. He introduces himself as Bill.
Her name, she says, is Wendy. She’s not pretty in a classic sense; at 22, her broad shoulders and body language give her a tough, masculine air. But Wendy’s smile is electric, her brown eyes lively, curious.
At the bowling alley, Wendy looks for her friend. No luck. She steps into a bathroom, takes out a syringe and, after dissolving one cap in water, injects the mixture into her arm. She walks back outside. Odd. The Lincoln is still there. Bill suggests they go bowling, but Wendy says no. She asks him to take her back to the apartment in East Dallas.
After her second buy, Wendy wraps three caps in cellophane from her pack of Marlboro reds and slips the cocaine in her mouth. She’s been busted many times for drugs; now she knows to swallow the evidence at the first sign of a police officer. Wendy climbs back in the car, slips the syringe in the space between the seat and the door, and asks Bill to take her to her boyfriend’s house.
Bill suddenly pulls a gun. “I’m the Dallas police,” he shouts as he points the gun at Wendy’s head. “You’re under arrest!”
He’s made his decision. Wendy is The One. It is the morning of May 19, 1991. The time, the girl, everything is right.
He already has probed a little, asking questions about her background. Is she married? Where does she live? What do her parents think about her hitchhiking at 2 a.m.?
Smoking a cigarette, Wendy has answered tersely. She lives—well, everywhere and nowhere. A friend’s house for a day, a condemned apartment for a week. Her parents? They split up when she was bom. Her mother is a drug addict, her dad an alcoholic. She rarely sees them. She’s been on her own since she left high school at 14. Wendy’s supported herself by slinging fast food, driving an 18-wheeler, dealing drugs.
He doesn’t say so, but their pasts couldn’t be more different. A pampered only child, he has two master’s degrees and a doctorate. Bill spends his days teaching college students about literature, drama, and writing, earning accolades from society’s brightest. He owns a house, three cars, and a motorcycle.
Wendy has spent time in prison for drug possession and car theft. She’s a junkie, possessing only the clothes on her back and six tattoos.
She is uneducated. He is smart, smarter than anybody he knows.
At some point Bill realizes that nobody will miss her. Nobody will ever connect the two of them. They have absolutely nothing in common. And, if it comes down to her word against his, who are the authorities more likely to believe?
But the people who know and admire Dr. Bill Cathey will later ponder whether the professor and Wendy Kay McKee are more alike than anyone could ever imagine. They—and the police—will wonder: Who is telling the truth about this bizarre encounter in late spring of 1991?
It’s as if the English professor has stepped into a piece of fiction. Is it John Fowles’ book The Collector? A perverse version of George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion? Or is it a screenplay for a lurid made-for-TV movie, a script Bill Cathey has been polishing—and living—for years?
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