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Peterbuilt

They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions,

but the road to the Gutter is slick with the blood of suckers.

Peterbuilt by Max Sheridan



She was creeping around my rig at Bull’s Gas off Interstate 57 outside Champaign. It was late Friday night and I always try to be home Saturday morning by eight to make pancakes for the kids. I still had about three hundred and twenty miles to go.
    
I watched her from the payphones. A late summer night swollen with moths and hotter with Bull’s stadium lights blasting down on us. I crept around a Nebraska plate that was lit up dimly and rumbling with low music and a Peterbuilt from Missouri like mine that was shut down for the night.
    
I caught her at my passenger door. She was up on the top step, barefoot, peeping in. Pink hair and white, white skin.    
I’d been driving rigs for twenty-two or my forty-one years. My hair had started to go grey behind my back running reefers from St. Paul to Jacksonville. Fourteen hundred miles each way. I’d seen things on the road I’d never even told my wife. But a pink-haired thief caught like a fly on my door— 
    
I moved a little closer. She stayed put. She turned her head a little.
    
“I lost my purse.”
    
“No, you didn’t.”
    
“I’m looking for something.”
    
“What?”
    
Now she stepped down. Came right up to me, a big fat trucker with a belly that made my twenty-two-inch biceps look small. Sullen eyes and a small mouth. Seventeen, I’d say, and pretty. A girl that ought to have been home with her parents on a Friday night. Not messing with my rig in a halter top and skinny shorts.
    
“My brother.”
*   *   *
I figured she was lying, but I didn’t want any trouble from her either. These days all you have to do is look funny at one of them and they’ll call the law saying you’d tried to dry hump their mother-loving a-holes. Boys or girls, it don’t make a difference.

Of course, she might have been a regular speed freak. I’d heard of drivers getting knifed and rolled for a bottle of Yellow Devils and a quart of Mountain Dew. I moved back.

“I think you’ve got the wrong guy, honey.”
    
“He was on his way to Florida.”
    
Like half the country this time of year.
    
“Listen here, sister. If it’s food you need, I’ll give you some money. If you’re looking for something else, I can’t help you. You live around here?”
    
She said she lived up 57 in Chicago. A two-hour drive. Pity I wasn’t heading in that direction. Worse of a pity she wasn’t either. She was on her way down to Lauderdale, tracing her brother’s route.
    
“Lauderdale?” I said.
    
Those shorts were too tight to be hiding a knife, and she wasn’t packing anywhere else. I looked around us, and opened the door for her.
    
“If you’re heading south, I don’t suppose it would be too much of an inconvenience.”

*   *   *
    
She wasn’t hungry but she had me pull off onto old Route 45 at Effingham because she had the idea her brother had passed through there. I couldn’t really believe I was doing this. Come Friday I missed Dorothy and the kids real bad. But the way she had her face pressed up against the window, I guess I couldn’t help myself.
    
It was an all-night Citgo gas station we ended up at. When she was done asking her questions inside, she said she wanted to take a look around back, at the dumpsters. I lent her my Maglite 3-Cell, about thirty-six ounces of light with the batteries in.
“Don’t you run off with it.”
    
When she got back, she climbed in and didn’t say a word.  
    
I said, “You think you could find a different way to sit where you actually got the benefit of your clothes?”
    
Her legs were bare to the hip. If she’d been sitting in school like that, she’d have gotten detention for a week. And a tanned fanny, if she’d been mine.
    
Now that she’d taken me off my route, there was no sense in driving back north to 57. I’d take 45 down to Cairo, which was as far south as I was going. It was an eighty-mile drive west from there to the house.
    
When I looked again, she’d gotten the skirt material down some and she’d crossed her arms over her chest. I like a cool cabin.
*  *  *  
She’d had me pull over at a closed icehouse in Harrisburg she believed to be open. This was the last leg of my run and I couldn’t stand to make it any longer than it had to be. I got out and said, “None of these places are open past two. What the heck is this about anyway? I thought you said he was in Florida.”
    
She gave me my Maglite back.
    
“He never made it.”
    
And that’s when it all came out.
    
He’d been thumbing his way south from Chicago a month ago, late June. The last call she’d gotten from him was from a truck stop in Effingham. Someone found the phone in back of an IHOP in Paducah, Kentucky, and dialed the last number on the call log. Which was hers.
    
We were locked out of an icehouse in the middle of God’s great black asshole at three in the morning. An early morning chill had shot down like a murder of crows and her flesh was stiff with goose pimples. The way I saw it, she’d brought this upon herself.
    
I said, “Sandy brown hair to here? About five-nine? Got a mole over his lip? Covers it when he stutters? You’re damn right he never made it.”
    
She snapped this look on me—stone-cold fear mixed with a loathing you’d have softened on a bug. I liked the fear.
    
“I should be more careful where I toss those phones. But if it makes you feel any better, you’d never have found him.”    
I’m fat but quick. When the Maglite slammed into her head, she snapped hard to the left and the whites of her eyes rolled up like shutters. She stumbled and fell. She got up and she fell again. And I hit her again and again and again and again and again and again.

Max Sheridan lives and writes in Nicosia, Cyprus. His short stories, about sex, death and midgets, are available online and in print from select, degenerate publishers. His novel DILLO is forthcoming from Double Life Press. If you want to see how far the human imagination can sink, please visit maxsheridanlit.com.