He barely sees the girl standing by the side of the road. She tentatively sticks out a thumb as soon as his lights shine on her, and he pulls up to the side of the road. The pouring rain has soaked her dress.
He rolls down the window. "Need a ride?" he asks.
She leans down to look at him, trembling in the cold. "I want to go home." she says.
"I can do that. Where do you live?" Turning around, he unlocks the door behind him.
"Poplar Street." she says. She looks away, apparently distracted by something. He follows her gaze but can't see anything. He looks back at her and haunted eyes lock with his. "I want to go home." she says again.
"I'll take you." He tries to sound reassuring, "Climb in." She turns to the back door and he sees her shawl dragging in the mud behind her. A sudden rush of cold air makes him shiver. He reaches down and turns the heat up as far as it will go. Then he turns the wheel and pulls back on the road. "You said Poplar Street?" he asks.
"Poplar." she echoes.
"Any particular address? What's the house number?" He glances at her in the rear-view mirror. She is curled up in the corner of the seat, with her feet tucked under the full skirt of her dress. Strange, he thought the girls didn't wear such big skirts anymore. "A slim silhouette." Wasn't that what all the secretaries at the office talked about? She stares out the window and doesn't answer.
He makes another attempt: "Bad night to be out."
Big eyes meet his in the mirror. "I want to go home." she says.
He sighs, giving up on further conversation. Driving in silence he follows the road to the bottom of the hill, slows, and turns right on to Poplar Street. The car is getting uncomfortably warm. "Just tell me which house is yours." he says, nudging the knob down again. She says nothing.
"...home." he barely hears the whispered sigh from the back seat.
He stops in front of the driveway of the house. A light comes on inside. "Is this it?" he asks. She says nothing. He turns around to ask her again.
The seat is empty. Not even a wet spot or a smear of mud to show where she was sitting. He looks outside. The rain falls on a car in the driveway. There is no sign of her.
How did she...? She couldn't have gotten out that fast. I never heard the door open. Curious, he turns off the engine, gets out, marches up the walk, and knocks on the door. He looks around the yard, half expecting Allen Funt to pop out from behind a tree and tell him to smile. After a moment he realizes no one has answered. He knocks again, harder. He hears movement inside. Minutes pass before a man opens the door.
"Please go away." he says.
"What?" He asks, taken aback.
"Please leave, sir. You're upsetting my wife."
"I know she lead you here." the man interrupts. "She does it all the time. We can't take it anymore. It was hard enough losing her. But people like you keep picking her up and bringing her back. We..." his voice shakes and he pauses a moment to gather himself, "My wife can't take it anymore." He takes a deep breath and lets out a heavy sigh. "Please. Just leave. Go home." Stepping back inside, he closes the door. A woman inside sobs.
He lifts his hand again to knock, to demand an answer, then thinks better of it. He walks back to his car, climbs in and starts the engine. A thousand unanswered questions clamor in his head as he drives away.