The Devil Will Find You

Published in Woven Tale Press, April, 2017

           

           The rusted Chevy pickup slid to a halt, as if just stalling out. Benson dropped his thumb, though the pickup wasn't at all what he’d had in mind, with bald tires, rusted panels and doors, and the stink of horse shit and moldy sawdust rising from the bed. Plus the engine was out of tune. The tail pipe spewed out alternating puffs of black and blue exhaust. But he was sick of standing around these four corners, looking at the same crummy old Vermont cornfields and pastures and grazing cows. The old man behind the wheel had been adjusting his rearview mirror, and now crooked a finger at him. The kid stepped to it.

            Before the rusted pickup, a dozen cars had gone by, and Benson had taken these rejections personally, particularly if the car was driven by a woman; he thought of himself as an attractive young man, a lean and mean sort like his father, an outlaw, only his legs and chest and arms had yet to entirely fill out. Spindle-legged, black patches of fuzz where the mustache was supposed to sit, a cap of brown hair like the Dutch Boy’s on the paint can. But a girl in Middle School had told him once that he had a face like a fox, and he believed her. And his mother used to tease him: "Benson Loso, you'll be a terror in blue denim someday!" and damn if it hadn't come true.

            At that lonesome intersection, he'd paced the side of the road for a whole hour, kicking at the road dust with his Frye boots, itching for a mirror; there could be some physical disfigurement he was unaware of that would explain all this rejection: a giant booger up his nose, or a big, juicy, red pimple, like a third eye, sprouted on his forehead. Hell, maybe his hair had gone electric again and frizzed up on him. How could he tell without a mirror?           

           The door squealed in protest, like he was prying open a crypt. A cloud of blue cigarette smoke rushed at him as Benson climbed into the pickup.

            "Howdy," he said.

            "How do," said the old timer who stared at Benson with no pretense of doing otherwise. Jesus H, what is it? thought the kid, is my face crawling with them scabies sores, what? He settled himself gingerly onto the torn black velour seat and slammed the door shut, or tried to. It came out so thin, it made him feel like a weakling. He hated that feeling.

            "You headed toward Wells River?" Benson asked after an interval.

            The old man was by this time in between first and second gear and appeared too distracted by his work to answer. The kid used the opportunity to get his first good look at the old man, which made him feel a lot better. Just an old dairyer sonofabitch gone to seed, was all he was. Benson had grown up around the type, and their sons and daughters, too. His own father was a garage mechanic over in Riverton and he'd told Benson since he was a boy that it was perfectly fine to hate them hicks, who wallowed around in shit all day and didn't know enough to come in out of the barn once in a fucking blue moon. Peasants, his father called them. He sneered at them because they always worked on their own vehicles. Of course, he sneered at anyone who didn't, too.

            Besides, milking cows was women's work, Benson's father would say, his eyes going all narrow, while sucking down a beer after supper in their eight-by-twenty-four mobile home, in Mekkelson's Trailer Park. He’d say: What kind of self-respecting man would squeeze tits for a living, get all that government subsidy and call his workplace a "milking parlor?"

            This old man had a long, tubular nose and wore black horn-rimmed glasses which gave him a sort of scholarly look. Otherwise his head resembled a pile of bread dough, with a ring of closely-cropped white hair topped by a silver and white Massey-Fergusen cap. He wore green work clothes with frayed red suspenders and his hands were swollen and nicotine-stained. His back was bowed and after he'd completed all his shifting, a process that seemed endless to Benson.

    Now he held the steering wheel in a death grip and stared out the sliver of windshield. The kid's eyes slid to the speedometer. They were doing a steady thirty miles an hour in a 50 mile-per-hour zone. Even so, the chassis kept up a steady rumble, on account of the bare tires. Every hitch in the road jarred them. Springs are most likely shot, too, the kid thought.

            The old man had still not answered his question about where he was headed. It was as if he'd forgotten Benson's existence.

            The kid clucked to himself and looked out his side window. The houses and trees and driveways and cornfields went by so slowly it was as if they were passing for his personal review. Every once in a while an odd detail struck him: a bright green mailbox, a group of Holsteins in a muddy barnyard loitering around a salt-lick, a gigantic black Ford Gran Torino with a 4-Sale sign on it, "$400 or B.O.." looking seedy and abandoned even with a new paint job, two crew-cutted boys shooting baskets in a dirt driveway, raising a small cloud of dust with each dribble. He took note of the quality of light, a late afternoon September sun, low in the sky behind them as they headed east, how it cast everything in a temporary, forlorn brightness, like the afterglow from a Polaroid flash at the end of a party.

            Then he remembered he was wearing dark glasses and felt stupid. He looked out cautiously over their rims  and things brightened up out there considerably. Then it hit him. Of course, these goddam shades! All those other cars passing him were thinking I'm like Ted Bundy or the Hillside Strangler. Relief flooded through him; he almost laughed out loud.

            He pushed his glasses back up to the bridge of his nose and slipped his hand into his wind-breaker pocket where the .22 lay. His fingers played along the chrome barrel, as he visualized it in his hand and pointed at somebody. He had bought the gun at a sporting goods store in Barre just the day before, using a forged driver's license. The fellow behind the counter, an elderly man with long bushy white sideburns, had asked him good-naturedly if he was planning on robbing a bank with it.

            "No sir," Benson said, "I'm just buying it for my own self-protection."

            "That's the best reason of all," said the man with a wide smile. "The law says I got to ask the question, though. How much ammo you want?"

            "A box will do her, I guess."

            "You handled one of these babies before?"

            "Beg your pardon?"

            "Ever fired one of these guns, son?" the old man asked in a low, confidential tone, which Benson greatly resented. "Cause if not I can recommend a fine shooting instructor. Best in the business."

            Benson had an urge to load the pistol right there at the counter and pop the guy one. Instead he smiled politely. "No thanks. I was in the Navy. I did all that in basic training."

            "Is that so? Well, that's fine then."

            Sooner or later I will kill somebody, Benson said to himself now, fondling his pistol. The thought made him giddy. It'll be somebody who don't matter a good goddam to me. He and his bunkmate, Rod Chapel, who preferred people calling him Snake on account of his tattoo, talked about it once in a while after sex, up in their room in the reformatory, the Vergennes Home. You can kill anyone until you got that little feeling for him, then you can't kill him no more, Rod said. You could go straight to jail or to hell for it if you did. But kill a stranger, then maybe they couldn't find you, that's including the Devil. He wouldn't know where to look.

            Of course, a lot of good that theory did Rod Chapel. Benson was three weeks out on release from the Home when the Devil caught up with Rod, aka the Snake. Went over a wall, stole some townie's vehicle then got himself cornered. Benson heard about it over his father's little transistor in the trailer. 

            This old farmer man ain't much for conversation, Benson noted. Sometimes Benson had ended up telling a whole made-up life story in the course of a ride of fifty miles or so. Sometimes he'd had life stories told back to him. Sometimes he ended up in the sack that way with someone.

            They'd gone only a few miles when the old man slowed the truck down and stopped at the head of a dirt driveway, across from a mailbox with the name "Farnham" stenciled in red. By the side of the road were two shapely maples, their large leaves pale green and withered, on the verge of turning color, and the remains of an abandoned farm stand, its wooden boards gray and bowed. The driveway led a short ways to a tiny white one-story house with a scarred-shingle roof and a lopsided front porch. Across the yard was a collapsing brown barn with a hole in its side, like the wood had simply rotted out from the ground up. A pair of reddish-brown horses stood in the front meadow one smaller than the other, but otherwise identical, both dipped their heads to crop grass. There was an enormous pile of manure beside the barn, covered by black plastic, anchored by old tires.

            "Welp, this is as fair as I go," the old man announced. His voice seemed squeaky from lack of use.

            Benson pulled out the .22. "See this, old-timer?" he asked a little too loudly.

            The old man turned his head slowly as if it were on a swivel and then turned back to the road, not registering surprise, not registering anything. "Yuh-uh I see it."

            "Good."

            "Whatcha want, fella?" The old man's voice was high-pitched, and quivered slightly, but he sounded more irritated than frightened.

            "You can start by getting back on the road. And get more speed out of this rig. Go the speed limit at least. Then I need money and maybe this truck, I ain't decided yet."

            "I ain't got much money."

            "I guess we'll see about that."

            "You ain't gonna get fair in this truck, neither."

            "I ain't worried about it."

            The old man swiveled his head toward Benson again. His lenses twinkled in the strong sunlight reflected in the rearview mirror. "Whatcha do, fella, escape from the pen?"

            "Dontcha worry about me and the fucking pen. And quit your staring at me, wouldja? Just shut up and drive. I told you to get going."

            The old man pulled the truck back out onto the road, taking his sweet time with all his gear-shifting again. He took one long last look in the mirror as they moved off.

            "That's your farm, huh?" the kid asked.

            "Ay-uh."

            "The Farnham Farm. Don't look too thriving, if you ask me."

            Farnham didn't answer. They rode in silence for a while. The kid's heart was beating fast, but he felt feathery high and in complete command of the situation.

            Then the old man started to chuckled to himself. It was a low, throaty, papery sound. It kind of gave the kid the creeps.  

            "Been in the pen myself once, ay-yuh," the old man began. His voice was high and reedy. "Drunk and disorderly, it twas. On account of a pint of liquor, don't rightly recall the what. I din't deny it, not to the Sheriff who brung me in nor the judge. Jest paid my fine the next day and that was all there was to it."  

            Despite his exalted mood, Benson found himself straining his ears to catch these words and those that might follow. But Farnham just expelled a breath and didn't go on for a full three minutes. It was like he'd fallen into a slumber.

            "Yeah, so what?" the kid said finally.

            "Stayed in the Orange County pen there, up in Chelsea. Farmhouse with bars on the windows was all it twas back then. May be still, I don't know." He paused as if to ponder this last point.

            "Yeah, so? That ain't nothin'. I been in Sing-Sing and Danamora. They wanted to send me to Leavenworth, only I escaped just in time." He looked over at the old man piteously. "I betcha you ain't even been to New York in your whole life."

            "Had a killer in with me," Farnham went on as if he hadn't heard a word the kid said, "Name of Joe LaHoe, local fella, killed his wife and weren't too remorseful about it, I'd say. Leastways, not at first. Bragged the whole tale to me that night. Sobered me up something quick, doncha know. Din't sleep much on account of it."

            He chuckled again, this time as dryly as dead leaves rattling in a rain gutter.

            "Not that I minded the being there. Tell the truth, I was more ascared of my wife than I was of ol' Joe LaHoe. She had the morning milking to do with a baby'ern strapped to her back, and weren't too happy about it, I'd guess."

            He chuckled some more and coughed, a deep, dank smoker's hack that put him out of commission for a mile or more. Then he went on in that weird, husky, high-pitched voice:

            "Heard lately the Sheriff, name of Beaulieau, spelled the way them frogs do, got sent himself to the pen for robbing the County till." He paused, then added: "Guess they don't pay them fellas near enough."

            Benson stared indignantly at the old man after this last. Then he remembered to look back over his shoulder through the fly-smeared rear window. Three vehicles were in line behind them, tailgating each other. The front one was a brown Chevy Nova, with a fat, bearded guy in a white T-Shirt, hunched over the wheel, scowling, impatient to pass.

            "Didn't I tell you to speed up?" Benson blurted out.

            The old man shook his head slowly. ”You can rob me, fella, take my money and my truck, kill me, but I ain't going no faster."

            "Why not?"

            "Bad bearings."

            "Bad bearings?" Benson echoed.

            "Ay-yuh."

            "So what'll happen? The wheels'll fall off or what?"

            "Jest about."

            "Suppose I kill you and then drive this rig myself?"

            "You won't get fair, leastways if you speed."

            "You saying we're stuck doing thirty the whole way?"

            "Depends. How fair ya aiming on going?"

            "I don't know yet. I ain't decided."

            "She won't go more than thirty, 'cept on a downgrade."

            The kid could think of no reply to this. After a minute he said, "Jesus H, then quit your yacking, wouldja? And I had you pegged the quiet type."                      

            The brown Nova passed them during a brief straight stretch, and the fat guy gave them the finger on his way by. He kept his arm out the window, middle finger pointed skyward, until he had motored out of sight around the next bend.

            "I been in Sing-Sing where every damn one's a killer," said the kid in a haughty tone. "Didn't none kill their own wives, either, nothing dumb like that. Most of them were hitmen working for the Mob, bumping off other Mob guys. They was a tough bunch but they took me in like a little brother."  Farnham again made no answer to this, which began to peeve the kid a little. "Better'n that little ol' hick jail you're talking about. They couldn't keep me for long in a place like that. I betcha I woulda sprung that joint in a minute and be off like a pistol shot."

            They drove another five miles in silence. They passed a little town with a white church and a cemetery and two general stores, in grim competition with each other, and both looking the worst for it. On the far edge of town, the cornfields started up again, their stalks swaying with their fat, burdensome sheaves.

            After a while, Benson looked nervously to the rear again. Now a half-dozen vehicles or more stretched behind them. Every minute or so one would pass and the driver would glare inside the pickup cab for a long second. In a panic, the kid scrunched down further into his seat. A tiny moan escaped his lips.

            "Can't you get no more speed out of this rig?" he asked again.

            "Nope."

            "We're trailing a bunch of cars!"

            "Can't help it, fella."

            "But they're seeing me on their way by!"

            "They ain't noticing you, I'd guess. I'm the one they're sore at."

            But the kid was not reassured. "Damn rubberneckers! Might as well be taking a snapshot. What the hell's their damn hurry, anyways?"

            The old man shook his head. "Ain't no reason I can think of why them fellas got to speed. Seems you always get to where you're headed quick enough." They pondered this in silence for another two miles before Farnham spoke again. "Besides, looks like you're the one in the biggest hurry, fella."

            Benson's mouth opened and closed once in protest. "I ain't in no hurry," he said in a wounded tone. "I make my own rules. It ain't like I ever have to be nowheres at no particular time like all them others." He waved his left hand vaguely in front of him, just as a red Saab Turbo 900 zoomed past the truck and up the road ahead of them.

            "If that's so, whatcha holding that gun on me for, fella?" asked Farnham.

            Benson looked down at the pistol in his right hand, as if he were surprised to discover it there. "Cause I figure I got to be out of Vermont by sundown, before they issue one of them APBs. But once I'm out of this damn state I'll be free as a damn bird."

            "You don't need that gun out like that," the old man said, dipping his head beneath the silver cap slightly toward the pistol. "I'll ride you to the Interstate at Wells River for free, leastways if this truck makes it that fair."

             Benson's eyes narrowed. He studied the old man's profile for more than a minute. Then he grumbled, "All right. But don't you forget it. I'm still armed and watching you." He rose slightly from his slumped position and slipped the .22 into his windbreaker pocket.

            The pickup rumbled on for a few miles more until the rhythm of the bald tires on tar passed from being irritating to merely monotonous. They cruised by cornfields and patches of woods and houses and barns and stores of plain or peculiar character until the kid couldn't stand the tedium nor the buildup of silence anymore.

            He let out a sigh and slumped further into his seat. He stared at the blue-black dashboard in front of him and said, "So why did that LaHoe guy kill his wife for, anyways?"

            The old man didn't answer for the longest time, until Benson, infuriated now by a growing feeling that he was no longer in control of events, was about to shout something threatening at him. He sat up abruptly. But before he could open his mouth, the old man's papery soprano voice started up again.         

            "Cause she wouldn't yoke, is the way he put it."

            "Yoke?"

            "Ay-uh.  Yoke.  Said a woman needs a taste of the whip every so often. Said they don't really mind, once they're learned who's lord and master. Only, Joe LaHoe's wife wouldn't get learned right the first time nor the tenth, I'd guess."

            Farnham pulled a crumpled pack of Camels out of his shirt pocket, shook out a cigarette.

            "Oh man, do ya gotta smoke?" said the kid.

            The old man made no reply. He lit up his cigarette with an ancient-looking Zippo lighter. He exhaled his first lungful with a cough, and the cab filled up with smoke.

            "Oh man..." the kid moaned again and opened his window a crack.

            "Funny thing about it," Farnham continued after he was done coughing. "LaHoe was this little fella, jest over five foot, I'd guess. Little fella with a big pot belly, doncha know. Had bulging eyes and hair he kept slicked back like that Elvis fella."         

            Benson ventured a peek outside. The landscape had changed subtly in the past few miles. Gone were any signs of human existence. Now they seemed to be amidst a wilderness of pines. They were in what the kid knew were the Orange Heights, a series of low hills leading gradually back up into a stretch of the Green Mountains. The ascent was long, with many curves in the road, which made passing dangerous, almost impossible for many miles.

            The kid glanced to the rear again. A long serpentine line of cars and trucks was behind them now. Vehicles were making ever more desperate dips into the on-coming lane, looking to pass. It reminded Benson of trout he used to catch sight of as a boy, jumping out of the water in Milo's Pond over in Groton. The sight of them used to make his mouth water. Now his mouth felt all parched and cottony.    

            "The way Joe LaHoe described it," Farnham went on in his high-pitched voice, his head now nearly engulfed in a haze of blue and gray smoke, "his wife was this big-boned gal what wore glasses, with a square face and tiny blue fish-eyes. He says she was always squinting down at him meanly from behind her wingtips and sassing him." 

            Someone yelled from a passing tan pickup. "Get off the road, you old fart!"  A bumper sticker bloomed briefly in the windshield: "Don't Get Caught Dead Without Jesus!" it read.

            The old man just nodded politely, and tipped his cigarette hand in a kind of half-assed salute, as if he were acknowledging a friendly greeting. "She was older than him, says LaHoe," Farnham continued, "Come from a clan of insurance agents in Montpe'er."

            "I know them types, alright," said Benson, shaking his head.

             "Ay-yuh. The way I figure it, she had too much smairts to be marrying the likes of him, and knew it, and prob'ly let him know it." The old man nodded to himself and chuckled again.

            A shiny blue Corvette sailed past them, and a mustachioed young man leaned out of the passenger window. "You fucker!" he shouted, holding up his two middle fingers, like six-shooters, while his partner burned rubber up the hill.

            "Just ignore them, I guess," the kid advised.

            But Farnham gave the back of the departing Corvette his little nod and salute before he went on with his story. "So LaHoe and his wife, they'd have it out every day. Every night, too, prob'ly, shouting and cussing and hitting and, though he din't say it, she prob'ly got the best of him as much as him her. Maybe more so, cause then he got to thinking of all that insurance she come from and ways to be rid of her."

            "You mean she'd beat him up?" the kid asked, aghast.

            "Like I said, that's jest a guess," the old man replied. "Kinda reading between the lines, doncha know."

            "So Lahoe's thinking of killing her now," Benson said. "Can't say as I blame him, exactly, seeing she's whipping up on him like that."  

            They had reached a particularly sharp incline, where the road narrowed and the pines grew thick and tall and cut out the sun. It was like entering a tunnel. Benson watched nervously as the truck's speedometer dropped to 25, then 20, then finally 15. Behind them car horns were starting up. People were flashing their lights and sticking their heads out of the windows, shouting. The line stretched back as far as Benson could see.

            "Ay-uh. Couldn't plain shoot her, though, he says," Farnham continued. "Make too much of a mess and besides, he weren't all too sure a bullet from his thirty-ought-six would stop her, doncha know. Might just stun her, he says. So he took to thinking and planning and worrying it."

            Up ahead a quarter mile was a dirt turnaround, a scenic lookout, with a picnic table and a single rusted trash barrel.

            "I'd pull over there, if I was you," the kid said, "Let some of them malcontents go by."

            But the old man ignored him or didn't hear, the kid couldn't be sure which, and went right on by the turnaround.

            "He thought a strangling her, or chopping her up with his chainsaw, running her over with his pickup, or finding some pretext to push her off a cliff. In the end, though, he jest went for the simple approach, ay-uh. Drugged her with some sleeping powder, then smothered her with a pillow. Then he rolled her up in a Persian rug and burned the house down to the ground. Caught him, though. Like I said, he din't express no remorse so they sent him to the pen for 99 years. Only he never made it out of County. Read about it in the papers. Got a hold of a Coke bottle, broke it off in his cell, then slit his throat ear to ear."

             It was then that Benson noticed the green and yellow state trooper car with the blue bubble light going, slowly leap-frogging up the line of cars in back of them.

            "Shitfire! Fuckfire!" he shouted. "Get a move on. There's a cop back there!"

            The old man appeared unconcerned. "I can't accelerate on this upgrade, fella. See? My foot's all the way to the floor as it tis."

            "Shitfire!" The kid twisted around in his seat. The cruiser was a mere half-dozen cars behind them.

            "Besides, he ain't likely to ticket me fer going too slow," Farnham said.

            "Who cares about that? He'll see me and then I'm a gone goose!"

            The old man swiveled his face toward Benson. "I figured you was wanted. A wanted man! What they gitcha for, anyway, fella? Something real bad, I betcha!" His tone was savage.

            "I ain't so wanted! Not yet, I ain't!"

            "Don't tell me the cops ain't after you, fella!"

            "Hell no, they ain't! I'm just running away from my ol man. Shitfire! Fuckfire! I'm in for it now! They'll send me to jail this time for sure. Plus my Dad said he'd hide me wicked if I ever run off again. He will, too." He looked around wildly. "Pull over. Pull over there. Maybe he'll go on by with the others."

            The old man obeyed, eased the pick-up onto the tiny dirt shoulder. The line of cars began to pass them. But the green and yellow cruiser did not; it pulled up behind the pickup and stopped, the blue light revolving around and around, its beams casting over them like the wings of a huge bird of prey.

            The kid took out his gun, gripped it in his right hand. His hands were shaking violently. The old man looked at him, licked his lips.

            "You ain't gonna pull that on him, are ya fella?"

             "Maybe I'll shoot you instead," the kid replied in a hoarse and trembling voice; his throat had swollen up from fear. "I shoulda shot you, back there, when I had the chance. Stole your truck and lit out." He held the gun with his finger on the trigger, the barrel angled up at the old man's head. Behind them the cruiser door slammed.    

            "I swear I'll fucking do it!" the kid said, his voice rising hysterically.

            "You hush and be calm! Hide that gun, now, fella. You ain't in trouble yet. Maybe he'll give me a warning and that's that."

            The kid swallowed hard and scowled to himself and slipped the gun back into his windbreaker pocket.

            The old man rolled down his window and waited.

            The trooper was tall and young and somewhat pear-shaped. He had a mustache and small, alert brown eyes. He wore his green Smokey the Bear hat tall on his head.

He leaned over with his hands on his hips and looked in the cab.  "Going a little slow up this hill, wouldn't you say, mister?"

            "Ay-yuh."

            He gestured toward the road, where cars were still going by. "Quite a parade you're leading. You had 'em lined up all the way back to Rumney Pond."

            "Ay-yuh. Gonna give me a ticket?" the old man asked.

            "Let's just see your license and registration, to start with."

He looked over to Benson who was sitting perfectly still, staring straight ahead and down, his hands jammed in his jacket pockets. "You, too. Let's see some ID."

            "He's with me," the old man said.

            The cop flicked his eyes back and forth between the old man and the kid a couple times and then nodded.

            Farnham's registration card was expired.

            "That's the old one. The other one's to home."

            "Okay, but I'll need you to step out, sir, and accompany me to my car."

            The old man didn't move, just stared straight ahead with his hands on the wheel.

            "Did you hear me, sir? I said step out of the car. Now, sir!"

            Farnham turned his face toward the kid and caught his eye.  The old man's pupils behind the lenses were large and very somber. He shook his head slightly. Then he turned back to the cop, and began to ease his door open. It groaned and creaked as he climbed out. His movements were extremely slow and laborious, as if he were underwater. Finally he was standing on the tar pavement with the door shut, his back to the kid, his suspenders forming a large red X on the back of his green shirt. He ducked his head slightly and brought both hands up to about ear level, as if he were surrendering.        

            As they walked toward the cruiser, the trooper said to Farnham, chuckling, "You really don't need to do that, sir. You can put your hands down now."

            Benson sat with his eyes closed for a minute and tried to think and feel nothing, his heart was pounding so. There was nothing to think about anyway; he was screwed. What would happen was plain: the old man would tell the cop, the cop would take away his gun and arrest him and he'd be sitting in jail by nightfall. His father would bail him out in the morning and then beat the crap out of him as soon as they got back to the trailer.   

            Maybe he'd even be chained to the toilet for three days and three nights, like that other time, squatting naked, breathing in filth. The nights were bad enough, but the days were even worse because his father went to work and he got hot and thirsty and bored and all he could hear all day long were cars whizzing by out on the Interstate and the German Shepherd locked in the trailer next door to him, barking, barking, barking at whatever moved: insects, shadows, sunbeams, dust motes, or maybe just the ghost rabbits he saw in his head.

             Of course, he could always go out in a blaze of glory, like Rod Chapel tried outside of that convenience store, where the Devil finally caught up with him. 

            Benson snuck a look through the rear window. The old man was in the passenger seat of the cruiser, staring straight ahead, while the cop was talking into his radio mike. Well, that's that, the kid thought. He's calling for reinforcements.

            The cop began writing on his clipboard and Benson used the moment to take hold of his gun and slip out the passenger door. He crept along the side of the truck in a crouch. His heart was hip-hopping wildly in his throat but his hands and legs were surprisingly steady, his senses keenly aware. The sun was low in the sky now, behind and to the left of the cop car, a burning orange ember that seemed to set fire to the wooded hills as it descended. The rocks and dirt crunched crisply beneath his boots. The air smelled of sweet pine pitch and horse manure. A slight breeze cooled the sweat beading up on his brow. 

            Near the end of the pickup, he paused and knelt down. He cocked the hammer of his pistol and then held the gun against his cheek with both hands, waiting for the sounds that would tell him what to do next. He ground his knee into the gravel, felt the sting of a sharp object stabbing through his jeans into his leg. The pain was like a slap to his face, made him hiss and clench his teeth. He looked down at his knee. With a shaking hand he withdrew the protruding tiny sliver of glass, its tip red with blood.  He tossed it away, watched it flash and disappear into nothingness.

            He was startled then by the slam of a car door and  an engine starting up. He peeked over the side of the truck, watched as the cop car pulled out onto the road, scattering some pebbles. The patrol car peeled off up the hill and was gone.

            The old man was shuffling slowly toward Benson, clutching a pink piece of paper in his hand. The light from the dying sun wrapped him in a peculiar glow, as if he had at that very moment materialized by the side of the road, from no known world, for no known reason. The kid stood up from his crouch and just stared. His gun was at his side, pointing downward, forgotten. His arms and legs were trembling.

            When the old man saw Benson, he stopped and rattled the sheet of paper. "Welp, fella, turns out you can so get a ticket for driving too slow. Sonofabitch gonna cost me thirty-dollars."

           

            The old man left Benson off at a truck stop in Wells River with all the cash he had on him, which wasn't much. In return, the kid gave him the gun. It was after dusk when Benson stuck his thumb out on the Interstate on-ramp. The big tractor-trailers had their lights on and were moving around the truck-stop parking lot in the darkness like big predatory animals. The driver of one, a crew-cutted fellow with a large belly, stopped and said he'd give Benson a ride if the kid promised to talk to him to keep him from falling asleep at the wheel. The kid said it was a deal. He guessed he had a few jokes and stories he could think of. He'd talk for as long as he could, for as far as he could. After that, they could always try the radio.