The Hitch-Hiker (short story)
|"The Hitch Hiker"|
|Series||The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More Roald Dahl's Ten Short Stories|
|Publication type||Print (Paperback)|
|Published in English||1977|
|Preceded by||"The Boy Who Talked With Animals"|
|Followed by||"The Mildenhall Treasure"|
The Hitch-Hiker is a short story by Welsh author Roald Dahl that was originally published in the July 1977 issue of the Atlantic Monthly, and later included in Dahl's short story collection The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More. The story features a man who picks up a hitch-hiker whilst driving to London. The pick-pocketing of a policeman's notebook during a traffic stop closely follows "Hitch-Hike", a 1960 episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents based on a short story by Ed Lacy.
The narrator is driving a brand new BMW car, when he picks up a hitch-hiker. The hitch-hiker says that he is going to Epsom for the races because it is Derby Day. The hitch-hiker does not reveal why he was going there but says that he is not going to bet on horses as he thinks that is a very silly business. The author poses numerous queries, which remind the hitch-hiker that he used to get very irritated in his earlier hitch-hiking days, when the drivers used to ask him too many questions. The narrator settles the matter by stating that he is a writer, and all writers are terrible nosey parkers.
The writer talks about the skills of his own trade, and then the hitch-hiker shares that he is in a very skilled trade. He also asks the author what the top speed of the car is, to which the author replies: 129 mph. The hitch-hiker thinks he is lying, and challenges the author to drive his car at its full speed and prove it.
They reach a stretch of flat even road, and the driver opens up the throttle. He reaches 120 mph just as a police officer pulls him over. The officer threatens the driver with a lengthy prison sentence, and gives him a fine. The officer asks the hitch-hiker for his address and occupation, at which time the hitch-hiker explains that he himself is a hod-carrier. The police officer says he will be checking up on them both, and tells them to go on their way.
After this meeting, the author is very worried because of what the policeman's threat. The author then asks the hitch-hiker why he lied to the policeman about being a hod-carrier, when he told the author that he was a skilled tradesman. The hitch-hiker doesn't reply, and within five seconds rolls a cigarette and puts it into his mouth.
The author notices the speed at which the hitch-hiker completed the task and asks him how he does it. The hitch-hiker credits his long, slim, fantastic fingers. They seemed to be able to do anything, according to the author.
Then, the pickpocket takes out many things from his pocket which belonged to the author. He had stolen all these items without detection by the author; ah, the author thinks, he's a pickpocket.
The hitch-hiker replies that a pickpocket is a very coarse and vulgar word and they only do amateur jobs such as stealing things from the blind or old ladies. He, on the other hand, is a fingersmith. He calls himself that because a goldsmith and a silversmith are so called because they are experts with gold and silver. He is an expert with his fingers.
The hitch-hiker also brags that he never gets caught. He tells the author that he has stolen the policeman's diary, so they do not have to worry about being checked up by the officer at the station.
This impresses the author, which makes the latter feel great about being appreciated. They then decide to stop on the side of the road and make a bonfire with the policeman's stolen diaries.