This one sat off to the side for a while, mainly because I was working against a deadline with “High, Wild and Handsome.” This one also required some reacquaintance. Reorientation. I had to get my head back in it. You can “page down” a while and find the first three parts.
Jerry Lennart set off for Memphis and Little Rock a little the worse for wear. He’d had too much to drink, a little to smoke, he’d come reasonably close to getting laid, and, in a long shot, he could’ve been shot, so all things considered, it was best that all he had this bright Thursday morning was a mild hangover. He said a little prayer, offering the Almighty the usual request for forgiveness along with the dubious intention to do better. He smiled, thinking that the woman in question – what was her name? – was really no more than a Facebook friend.
He had plenty of them. He needed real friends. He felt isolated and trapped in a world growing ever more superficial. He turned up the radio and kept on going. It’s what he did. It’s who he was.
After he heard a couple songs on Sirius that he didn’t like, or didn’t have the attention span to follow, Jerry switched to a news channel for a while. Some columnist had gone off to Colorado, eaten more edible-marijuana candy than was wise, tripped out, and written about it.
Gee, whiz. Why not a song?
Somehow, Nashville had cost Jerry his adventurous spirit. He didn’t want to bide his time anymore. He wanted to get there and relax. The only time he felt like stopping was when he passed the minor-league ballpark in Jackson, Tennessee, but it was the middle of the afternoon, and no game was going on, and he didn’t need gas and didn’t have to piss.
They were the Generals. He read it on the wall.
Back when he’d been driving through the Smokies, Jerry had wanted to hang out on Beale Street and enjoy that Memphis barbecue, the kind with the dry rub. Now he wanted to roll right on through and drive the blues out of his mind, not listen to more of it. He and Siri got together again, and he breezed through another bookstore in ten minutes. Just left a book and business card this time. So abortive, he admitted to himself, it couldn’t possibly do any good. Then he was across the flats of Arkansas, driving into the glare, visor down, sunglasses on, and left arm burned from three days resting through a window from the same sun now targeting his eyeballs.
Somewhere between Memphis and Little Rock, he flashed by a man stumbling along the road. He wasn’t even sure of what he saw in the glare, but he caught a clear view in the mirror of a young man, nasty and unkempt, staggering along the breakdown lane. As he grew smaller and smaller in the distance, it seemed to Jerry that the boy was at the point of collapse.
Jerry knew he was going to do something stupid. That boy wasn’t his. He wasn’t his business. Someone would pick him up, some trucker, maybe. It might be an act. That boy might come right out of his stupor, pull a pistol on him, take his money, steal his truck, and leave Jerry staggering along the side of Interstate Forty. While adding up all the reasons why he ought to just keep on getting it, Jerry pulled off the next exit, drove over the bridge, turned left down the ramp, and headed back east. It was probably going to be a waste. Someone had probably already picked him up. It might even have been the Highway Patrol. That’s why Jerry needed to swing back by, just in case. He’d driven three miles to an exit, five miles back to another, and now he was heading back to where he’d seen the stricken boy. He hadn’t seen him from the other side of interstate, but then again, it was getting dark. Jerry reached in the center console and pulled his Thirty-Eight out, made sure it was loaded, and stuck it in his left pants pocket. He was wearing khakis. It wouldn’t be that hard to slip out if need be.
Why risk it? Obviously, because I’m a damned idiot.
The boy was still staggering along, down to the one-foot-in-front-of-another stage. Jerry pulled over, remembered to push the button that unlocked the passenger-side door, and said the only possible thing to say when the boy climbed in.
“Where you headed, kid?”
The boy tried to reply but only croaked. He may or may not have said Texas.
“Hang on,” Jerry said. He got out and walked to the back of the truck, opened the tailgate, reached beneath the bed cover and dragged out the square vinyl where he had some soft drinks. He grabbed two Diet Doctor Peppers.
Well, he ain’t opened fire.
TO BE CONTINUED