Furlough Blues, Part Five

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This short story begins with a song and ends with a surprise.


Months passed and the dirty feelings subsided in Jerry Lowndes. It was just another job, just errands he had to run, like going to the post office or shopping for groceries. It paid the bills. The packages had no smell. They were all vacuum-packed in black plastic. It had occurred to Lowndes that black plastic also came in handy for the tossing of grass clipping and shredded paper into furnaces. He’d made some concessions. He’d purchased a pistol, on sale at the grand opening of a Cabela’s store. He’d never come close to having to use it, but one never knew. He started driving to places where once he’d flown. It had been some years since the rag had dismissed its in-house travel agent. Now all the traveling journalists, what few were left, had to make their own arrangements, and who’d have known that would ever come in handy? Lowndes rather enjoyed the lonely sojourns, making sure to drive no more than five miles an hour over the speed limit. As Shingler had told him, there wasn’t much to it. Put the briefcase down. Pick up the other one. Sometimes he had a brief visitor in his motel room, but there was never anything sinister. Usually the contact looked just like any other college kid.

In late September, Lowndes drove to Richmond for a NASCAR race and checked into a Hampton Inn north of town, one that had been suggested by Shingler for the proximity to the contact. The appointment was a bit inconvenient in that, otherwise, Lowndes would have gone to the track. But since being a drug mule paid every bit as much as being a columnist, Lowndes had made arrangements. He’d written a column before he left the apartment and filed it from the motel room. Then he just sat back and waited for his contact to show up at seven. He fiddled with his phone a while, then read an Esquire he’d packed in his suitcase.

It was like being in a fraternity, full of little codes and signals. When he’d make a swap at the front desk, the contact squeezed the top of his right shoulder, and he’d set the briefcase down, turn, and say something like, “Hey, how you doing?” and the other fellow, though not always male, would say, “Oh, about the same.” They’d shake hands, Lowndes would check in, pick up the other briefcase, grab the handle of the rolling suitcase with his other hand, check in his room, and that was that. There was also a code for room exchanges. Most people knocked three times. The contact would knock twice, pause, and knock twice again.

Buh-bump. Buh-bump.

Lowndes put down the magazine, picked up his revolver, made sure the safety was on, and tucked it into the back of his pants. Nothing to it. When he opened the door, he looked at the pretty young woman standing there and was speechless.

Oh, no. This is the end. My life is over.

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They looked at each other for ten seconds. Finally, Lowndes turned toward the table where he’d been reading Esquire and said, “Here. Sit down.”

“Well,” Leona Lowndes said, “I guess now you know why I wanted to transfer to Randolph-Macon.”

She reached in her purse, pulled out her own revolver, held it barrel up, pursed her lips and blew at imaginary smoke.

“Puh-shoo,” she said, started laughing, picked up the briefcase, and left the room.



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