Crazy Hal’s trip had been fairly monotonous since he picked up his load outside Sacramento...until he saw her. The trucker had gassed up his eighteen-wheeler and stopped at the weigh station near Laramie a few minutes before and was back on the interstate. He and his rig, which he named The Blue Lady, had been on the road for more than thirty six hours with twelve to go. Definitely time for another pick-me-up, Crazy decided. He grinned to himself at what he liked to call his ‘daily treat’ – a couple of snorts of meth. Just ahead he spied one of his favorite spots, an abandoned two-lane highway that was virtually unused since the completion of the interstate and where a long-forgotten roadside picnic area waited around the second bend. It was a place forgotten by most everyone, except Hal. His rig sighed to a stop at the top of the exit ramp. As he turned right and the eighteen-wheeler struggled to gain speed up the ascending grade, he saw a small red convertible sports car that seemed to appear from nowhere. In his side mirror, he could tell it was a woman, watching as the wind whipped about her long brown hair. For the first few minutes, Crazy was puzzled by her actions. She stayed dangerously tight to his rear bumper as their lone vehicles climbed the mountain road. No one was coming in the opposite direction and she certainly had the power to pass, Crazy thought. Why the hell is she on my ass? Once The Blue Lady crested the hill, the car finally emerged and entered the opposite lane. She passed him fast. He didn’t get a good look at her face, but Crazy managed to catch a glimpse of a bronze thigh, a tight skirt as red as the car and a billowing sheer white blouse. Her horn gave a few high-pitched flirty beeps as she pulled ahead and back into the southbound lane. The woman gave a playful wave and gunned her engine. The car sped out of sight over the top of the next hill. His primal thoughts were aroused. The brief encounter left Crazy with several full blown fantasies to play out in his mind. Even though nothing might come of his imaginings, Crazy would keep an eye out for the red sports car, and the little hottie behind the wheel, for the rest of the afternoon. The trucker’s vivid thoughts about the woman stayed with him until he came upon a short taper of road. He slowed and pulled in where the familiar sign depicted a white picnic table on a background of blue. As always, the area was deserted. With the brakes engaged, Crazy pulled his duffle bag from the back bunk to the passenger seat. He reached in and retrieved the vial of methamphetamine, along with the miniature metal spoon he kept inside it. Crazy grimaced as he took two snorts of the powder in each nostril. There were the random drug tests required by the federal transportation department, but Crazy didn’t worry much about them or his habit. He kept a fresh bottle of a putrid-tasting drink hidden away under the sleeping berth at all times. The mix of herbs and other drug-masking chemicals, which he bought from a paraphernalia shop back home, had always proven effective in the past. Also, the random tests were typically administered in truck-stop restrooms. Crazy had become a semi-expert in doping, using soap, air fresheners and other chemical ‘helpers’ hidden beneath his fingernails to mix with his urine to hide his occasional recreation from inspectors. Sufficiently braced, Crazy got his rig back on the state road and in twenty minutes he was merging onto the eastbound lanes of Interstate 70. Once well outside the congested highways of downtown Denver, the mountains fell away and the driving became faster. He owned his rig, a Kenworth powered by a Caterpillar engine equipped with thirteen-speed overdrive. Crazy removed the governing mechanism from the engine when he bought it. Without the inhibitor, he could push it well over one-hundred miles per hour when necessary. The extra speed came in handy for certain jobs, especially when he was competing against company-owned vehicles for routes. But he kept both his exhilaration from the meth and his urge to accelerate in check. Crazy maintained the speedometer around ninety as long as the radar detector was quiet. About ten miles from the Kansas border, Crazy spotted the red sports car again. It was ahead of him in the left lane. The Blue Lady was gaining on it. As long as the highway stays flat, I’ve got the chance to get alongside her, Crazy thought. Maybe she’ll want to hook up. His imagination raged with possibilities. He floored the gas pedal. The car was getting closer, almost as if she was slowing down so he could catch up. At a distance of three car lengths, Crazy started to roll down the window. The glass was halfway down when the red car suddenly exploded with speed. While most of her face was obscured by her blowing brown hair, he caught her reflection in the car’s rearview mirror as the ragtop sped away. Crazy saw her laughing. “Damn woman’s teasing me,” he said aloud. He relaxed his leg on the accelerator and fumed about her until he crossed the Kansas state line and, finally off the interstate for the day, decided to focus his attention on the night ahead. He was ready for a meal, as much beer as he could consume and, if he was lucky, a roll in the sack. And he knew just the bar where he might find that opportunity. He leaned toward the window to look himself over in the side mirror. A slightly sinister grin glared back at him. His blue eyes were lightly etched with bloodshot from lack of sleep and methamphetamine, but Hal saw none of that in his reflection. “You good looking som’bitch,” he said aloud. “Tonight’s your night!” The smell of cow manure started to permeate the inside of the cab. The air conditioner had succumbed to the odor generated by the miles of cattle ranches that bordered the highway as he approached the outskirts of Dodge City. Crazy flexed his arm above the shifter to shake the usual ache in his forearm. He slowed to await two passing cars then turned into the entrance of the motel lodge. The hydraulics hissed and moaned as he maneuvered to bring the truck to rest at the far end of the parking lot, carefully lining his rig up alongside five others.
Crazy gathered his lighter and pack of cigarettes from the passenger seat. After a quick side-to-side glance out the windows to ensure he wasn’t watched, Crazy slipped the vial of meth into his front pocket. He felt for his wallet, grabbed his fatigue-green duffle bag and extricated his six-foot frame from the sticky leather seat. He climbed down from his cab to the gravel lot and locked up The Blue Lady for the night. Crazy pulled up on the loops of his blue jeans as he stood beside his rig, which made his slight beer belly even more pronounced. He surveyed the other rigs and the flat terrain of Kansas then took to a swagger as he crossed the lot toward the manager’s office at the motor lodge. He checked in and paid his forty dollars for the night. Once in the motel room, Crazy took a quick shower and shaved again to erase his five o’clock shadow. Afterward, he wet his head and slid the razor carefully to ensure the stubble was gone from his ‘dome.’ Satisfied with the man in the bathroom mirror, he carefully tapped out a thin line of white powder from his vial onto the sink counter and inhaled it with precision. “That’ll do it,” he said aloud. “A good bump to keep me going for the night.” The sun was ebbing behind the mountains when Crazy left his room. The majesty of the western sky, painted with brilliant strokes of orange and pink above faint purple mountain peaks, was lost on the trucker as he made his way across the main street toward Witchburner’s Bar. When he was lucky, and his broker had the right truck routes available, Crazy jumped at the opportunity to make a stop-over at the honky-tonk. And, like previous trips, Crazy tried to schedule his stop on either Thursday or Friday, hitting the nights he had scored with ladies in the past. He discovered Witchburner’s by accident years before, when he was twenty-six and working his first trucking job for a seafood distributor. Although nearly a decade had passed, Witchburner’s hadn’t changed much. Resurrected by a Massachusetts transplant who had run a bar of the same name near Boston, it still had the same worn dollar bills stapled to the walls that Crazy remembered from his very first visit. The dark wooden floors showed the scuff marks from a million pairs of two-stepping boots. As before, the familiar stench of spilled beer was in the air, though Crazy knew it would soon be replaced by the smell of cigarettes and cigars as the evening progressed. A hamburger plate with greasy fries came and went, along with the six-pack of bottled beer in a bucket. Crazy consumed it over two hours as he watched the honky-tonk fill with truckers, bikers, farmers and other locals. By the look of the crowd, it would be a good night. Thursday was ladies night, when the ‘back-country’ young women came down from the even smaller towns and surrounding farms to have a good night of two-for-ones, live music and dancing past midnight. The draw was much the same on Fridays, too – only the drinks were full price. Tonight’s band was The Dueling Crypts, its name air- brushed on a cloth banner draped above a cramped stage in the corner. After Crazy watched enough from the table, he left a two- dollar tip and shifted to the bar. He ordered a shot of Jack Daniel’s and another beer. The first round went quickly. Crazy ordered another and began an hour of trading small talk with farmers, cowboys and cowgirls as he held court from a barstool. It was just after ten o’clock when Witchburner’s entered the typical Thursday night frenzy Crazy remembered so well. Cigarette and cigar smoke floated and hung at the ceiling like a toxic fog. The band started its second set. The bass line, drums and lead guitar pulsed as the Dueling Crypts drew two- steppers and younger grinders to the dance floor, along with the occasional older couple that joined in to rekindle the disco magic from their youth. The music, conversation and yelping from the pool tables in the game room clashed in crescendo of sound that converged at the bar. Added to the overriding speed high, the beer and shots were beginning to take hold. Crazy was buzzed, but oblivious that he was starting to leer at the dancing couples and those who came and went from the bar. Most ignored his stare as they ordered their drinks, while some were vaguely aware that the stranger at the bar was close to becoming a belligerent drunk if a diversion didn’t soon come his way. So far, each woman Crazy hit on during his hour ‘on patrol’ begged off, opting for their boyfriends or other locals they knew better, and certainly not the strange, talkative trucker with the wild eyes. The agitation showed on Crazy’s face. He rubbed his hand over his freshly shaved head. This sucks, he thought to himself. Those bitches. “Give me another one and tab me out,” Crazy said abruptly to the bartender. He nodded with a smile, hiding his relief that his DWI-in-the-making would soon be on his way. But Crazy’s irritation was forgotten when he looked into the long, horizontal mirror behind the bar and noticed a woman looking directly at him from across the room. She was seated at a table near the entrance. Dark eyes with a nice sparkle. Cute face. That was all he could see through the crowd that stood behind him at the bar. Crazy looked away, took a short pull on his beer and then swiveled on the bar stool. He craned his head to peer around the pockets of people to get a better look. She was gone. The table was empty. Then, he spotted her in the crowd. Was she walking his way? As she approached, he noted she was younger than he, maybe late twenties, and had a dark complexion. She smiled at him. Crazy was confused. There was a look of recognition in her eyes. He looked over her face, then down to her short, black skirt and her smooth light-chocolate legs, amply exposed from mid-thigh to the black straps of her Espadrilles. “You don’t remember me, do you?” she said in a firm, controlled voice with a slight trace of a foreign accent. “Honey, I don’t think I’d forget a girl as pretty as you,” Crazy replied with a grin. “You drive a truck with a blue cab, don’t you?” “Yes...yes, I do. But I don’t think we’ve met before.” “We haven’t actually met. I passed you earlier today...tooted my horn and waved...back before the interstate. Saw you a couple of times.” “That was you! In the red car, right?” “That was me,” she replied. She looked sheepishly down at her feet then back at Crazy. “I’m sorry I blew you off the second time...when you came up on me. I was just having some fun, you know, playing around. Hope it didn’t make you angry.” “Oh, I figured I just scared you,” Crazy lied. “Anyway, I should be thanking you. Seeing you was the only interesting thing that’s happened since I left out of California. It’s a pretty boring trip. I just decided to take a break from the wheel a few minutes ago. The road’ll still be there in the morning!” She laughed. “I’m glad you came over to say hello,” Crazy continued. “I’d never known it was you. I could only see your brown hair,” he lied again, remembering the dancing nylon skirt flitting high on her thigh. “My name’s Hal. My friends call me Crazy.” “My name’s Deena. That’s an interesting nickname...Crazy. How did you get it?” “I really don’t remember when I got hung with it. I just do some crazy things from time to time, I guess.” “What about tonight?” she asked quizzically. “Well, not anything to go to jail over, but I’m always out for a little fun. Can’t always be out walking the dog.” “Walking the dog?” “That’s what we call driving a big rig, honey. Dragging the wagon, tanker hanker, carrying a reefer…there’s a lot of ways to say it, depending on what you’re carryin’.” “That’s cute.” Crazy noticed the man had left the barstool behind her while they spoke. He leaned across, put his hand on the empty stool and pulled it over for her to take a seat. “Sit down and I’ll give you the low-down on trucker lingo,” he said. “I’ve got a million of ‘em.” The young woman settled atop the barstool beside him. As she did, Crazy realized she definitely wasn’t white. She’s an Indian or something, he thought, and she definitely doesn’t fit with the typical Witchburner’s crowd. She wiggled on the stool until her body faced slightly toward him. Crazy saw something in her deep brown eyes. She leaned over. Her mouth drew close to Crazy’s ear. She cupped it with her hand to block the loud music of the band. The move offered him a fleeting view of cleavage as her thin, beige blouse fell forward. “I’ve got a secret,” she said. “I like a little fun, too. That’s why I’m here.” She sat back and giggled, looked toward the dance floor and back at Crazy. “When I heard the music, I had to come over and check it out,” she said. “The people here aren’t so plastic, so superficial, like they are at home in L.A. Quite different out west, isn’t it?” Crazy, now encouraged with his prospects for the night, came alive with conversation. He launched into a dissertation on the different cities he had visited and delved into his observations on traveling the country as a trucker. Deena listened intently, smiling and laughing at his stories as the trucker poured on the charm. The two exchanged small talk for about twenty minutes, making observations about the people on the dance floor, the price of the drinks (which she thought a bit pricey for the location) and the quality of the band. A lull finally fell in their conversation. Crazy was enjoying the band’s rendition of Sweet Home Alabama when Deena unexpectedly leaned over again. “This place is getting too noisy,” she whispered in his ear. “Let’s take a break for a few minutes. Is there another place where we can go to party in town?” Crazy was taken aback, but his expression didn’t show it. “Darlin’ Deena, you're readin’ my mind,” he said conspiratorially. “How about I buy you and me another round and we can take a walk. There’s another pub down the street and we can check it out before it closes.” “Sounds good. But I’ve got some wine and beer in a cooler back at the motel. Why don’t we get out of here for a few minutes, have a drink there where it’s quiet, then we can check out the other bar? They’re all open until one o’clock, right?” “They are and that sounds like a plan. Hot damn, I like you more every minute,” Crazy exclaimed with a grin. “I think I’ll start calling you ‘Crazy,’ too.” With that, the trucker quickly flagged down the bartender, paid the bill and the two made their way toward the exit. They dodged flailing arms and butts as Crazy cut a path along the edge of the dance floor until they reached an open area near the bouncer’s station and were out the door. Crazy held her hand as they crossed the parking lot and the two-lane highway. He noticed her palm was more calloused than he expected given her feminine looks. As the couple walked beneath the humming orange neon motel sign, the young woman moved slightly in front of Crazy to lead the way. The sound of the band faded as they rounded the corner of the outside corridor and stood at the door of her motel room. As she looked into her purse for the key, Crazy had a fleeting worry. Maybe she and some ‘friends’ are planning to roll me, he thought. It’s happened before. She doesn’t know me at all...seems a bit too trusting...and to bring me to her room so quickly after meeting up. It doesn’t make much sense. Crazy looked over the parking area. There was no one loitering around. That reassurance, along with the drugs and alcohol, swept away his momentary caution. And when she opened the door and they entered the empty room, he was satisfied there was nothing to fear. The sparse amenities were similar to those in his room on the opposite end of the motel – a chest of drawers and wall mirror, queen bed with a nightstand and reading lamp, and a television bolted to the wall. It had the same putrid green carpet on the floor, with a narrow remnant on the aisle that led to the bathroom. The door shut behind them with a loud click. “Let’s get those drinks,” she said. She opened a plastic cooler to reveal a six pack of beer and several twist-top bottles of red wine. “The beer may be a little warm. Do me a favor, will you run and get some ice for us?” “No problem, darlin’. Just don’t forget to open the door when I get back.” Crazy left with the plastic ice bucket and returned a moment later. The door was slightly ajar. He stepped inside the doorway to see she had taken a seat on the bedside, her shoes off, with a glass of wine in one hand and extending him a beer with the other. “Now that’s a wonderful sight,” said Crazy, dumping the ice in the cooler and taking the wet can of beer from her hand. “A beautiful woman with a brew for her man. I love America.” “I think it’s still cool enough to drink. The others can get cold while we wait. “I’m sure it’s fine.” He sat beside her, toasted her glass and threw his head back to take several gulps of beer. He put his hand on her knee, stroking the soft, bare skin above her knee before he put his arm around her shoulder and pulled her close. “You’re so warm,” she purred, nuzzling her head against his chest. “Warm? You’re making me hot.” She laughed and took another sip of wine. Then, as she leaned toward him again, her blouse fell forward as if she was taunting him with her breasts. “You’re sweet,” she said and cut her eyes at him. “You’re kind of sexy, yourself.” Crazy suddenly felt faint. The room began to blur. He shook his head qui. y side to side to right his vision. “What’s wrong?” she said. She shifted away from him. “Are you okay?” “I think I’ve just caught a major buzz from all the beer,” Crazy said. “Give me a second...I think I just need to put my head down for…,” his voice trailed off as he started to fall backward on the bed. The woman was ready. She grabbed his beer can and held it upright as he collapsed, ensuring no residue spilled on the sheets. The drug worked well...much more quickly than she anticipated. She looked at Crazy for a moment then calmly placed their unfinished beverages on the nightstand. She stood, nonchalantly straightened out her sheer black skirt and retrieved a cell phone from her purse. “Now,” she said simply into the phone. She moved expertly to the nightstand, took the beer can and glass into the restroom and emptied both into the sink. She cleaned them thoroughly. She took a washcloth and sprayed it with a perfume atomizer that sat on the counter. She vigorously rubbed the sides of the can and the glass with the cloth to remove any fingerprints and tossed both into the trash can. She looked over the bathroom intently, then turned off the light switch with the bottom of the perfume bottle and returned it to her purse. She busily cleaned up what little there was in the room, since she had arrived only a few minutes after the truck driver. The young woman picked up an empty black suitcase and sat it next to the cooler and her purse. She walked over and stood over Crazy’s body, then suddenly pulled her hand back and slapped him hard across the face several times. “Fat, stupid dog,” she spat out in Arabic. She dug into the trucker’s front pocket to retrieve his keys, then bent slightly and pushed hard with both arms to roll his large body over on the bed. Pulling out a portion of the bed sheet, she covered her hands and wrestled Crazy’s bulging wallet out of his tight back pocket. She thumbed through the contents, removed the cash, rubbed the black leather briskly several times with the sheet and threw it on the bed. The young woman tucked her shoulder-length dark hair behind her ears. Her brown eyes narrowed to slits. She methodically studied the room once more for any traces she could have missed. Satisfied, she thoroughly went through the ritual she had planned. To the dresser. Purse into the suitcase. Sit the suitcase and cooler by the door. To the bathroom. Retrieve the atomizer and a tissue. Spray and wipe down the counter, faucets and doorknob. Finished in the lavatory, she repeated the same rubdown on the knob and deadbolt lock on the entry doors. The interior was complete. She sprayed the tissue once more, put the atomizer in the cooler and slowly opened the door. She peeked out and scanned the walkway and parking lot. Still deserted. She slid the briefcase and cooler out into the corridor and carefully wiped the outside knob. She put the used tissue in the cooler, shut it tight, then picked it up along with the suitcase and walked casually down the corridor toward the rear of the motel. The faint music of the band came back into earshot as she crossed the back parking lot. As she reached her car, a pick-up truck pulled up beside her. There were two men inside. The passenger window came down. With no emotion on her face, she passed the cooler to the bearded passenger, who opened it and retrieved Crazy’s keys from atop the ice. The woman nodded and unlocked her car. She threw her suitcase inside and slid into the seat quickly. She started the red coupe and drove toward the front of the motel. Her car spit gravel as she accelerated west on the two-lane highway, reversing the route she followed to track the trucker. As the coupe disappeared from sight, the passenger in the pick-up truck was already inside the cab of the eighteen- wheeler. The Blue Lady cranked to life and inched slowly out of the parking lot. The truck followed as the rig turned east and maintained a quarter-mile distance behind it. The illumination of the streetlights diminished as the two vehicles traveled into the desolate farmland of Kansas. About ten minutes from town, with no other vehicles in sight, the red and white lights on the rig went dark and it veered carefully onto the shoulder to turn onto an unmarked dirt road. The pick-up truck followed suit; its headlights doused as it trailed The Blue Lady. The cloud cover extenuated the darkness. The vehicles kicked up very little dust as the drivers patiently traveled the bumpy, pot-holed trail. They slowed to follow a gentle slope and slight turn before they reached a dead end. The two vehicles circled to park behind an abandoned farmhouse. There, four twenty-foot U-Haul Trailers were waiting. Their hoods faced flush against the dilapidated wooden structure and their back doors were open. Each trailer was filled with large white boxes. Four men stood in the darkness, watching as the rig hissed to a stop. The pick-up truck pulled in alongside The Blue Lady and its driver stepped out and approached the men. “We have four hours until daybreak,” he said with authority. “Let’s go!” The other driver was already out of the cab and at the back door of the trailer. He tried several of Crazy’s keys on the padlock until it unlocked. He popped the metal lever loose and slowly pushed the accordion-like steel door up its double tracks. Inside, hundreds of white cardboard boxes were stacked to the ceiling and packed tight to the interior walls of the rig. The boxes were identical to those in the travel trailers. All six men set to work. After removing the first row of boxes inside the truck, three of the men stepped up into the truck bay. The other three men formed a chain, stacking the boxes alongside the wall at the front of the U-Hauls. The sounds of the night, interrupted only by the occasional howl of a coyote or hoot owl, provided a serene backdrop to the grunts of the sweaty men as they hustled to complete their work before sunrise. It was three hours after dawn when the sunlight beamed through the vertical break in the dark green curtains to fall on Crazy Hal’s face. The brightness, along with the mounting sound of highway traffic, stirred him from his stupor. Crazy forced his eyes open to stare at the dingy white ceiling. He rolled over tentatively and winced as his key-ring caught him in the ribs. He let out a curse, fumbled for the keys and gathered them into his hand as he lay lengthwise on the bed and stared at the curtains. Where am I? What happened? The questions came in waves in his half-wakened state before memories of the night before flooded his mind with a vengeance. “That bitch,” he said to the empty room. “That lying little bitch.” Crazy felt for his wallet. It wasn’t in his back pocket. He pulled himself up and groped around the cheap polyester bed covers. He panicked momentarily before he saw the square of black leather on the floor at the foot of the bed. As he reached down the room began to spin. He caught himself on the bed, and then slid along the sheets to sit on the floor and thumb through his wallet. Credit cards gone. CDL still there…and the medical card, thank God. But no cash. “She rolled me, dammit,” he shouted, just as angry at himself for being such an easy mark. “Dammit! I’m such a dumbass!” Crazy’s first thought was to call the police. But although he was holding speed, it was the embarrassment that she had taken advantage of his stupidity that led him to nix the idea. I’ve got a twenty dollar bill stashed in the truck, he thought, so at least I have some cash ‘til I make Nashville. I’ll get my old lady on the phone. Tell her my wallet got lifted at the bar. Found it this morning. Just have her cancel the cards. At least I left my cell phone in the cab. Gas? About 800 miles left to go. Should have enough to make it. He looked at the clock on the nightstand. It was a few minutes after nine. I can still make the scheduled drop, he thought. I’ve just got to fight through the nausea and get back on the road. I can be there by eight tonight if I get moving. Crazy stood slowly and steadied himself. He checked his pockets once more to ensure nothing else was missing. A cursory look around the room revealed no trace that Deena, or whatever her real name was, had ever been there. He left the motel room and walked gingerly down the corridor. He stepped out from the sidewalk as he rounded the corner, reassured to see The Blue Lady in the same spot where he parked her. He repeatedly cursed the girl and his grogginess as he made his way back to his room. After a quick cold shower, Crazy put on the same clothes. They reeked of booze and smoke. Oblivious to the smell, he grabbed his duffle bag and headed to the front office. The trucker was surprised to find the same manager on duty, seated behind the counter as if he hadn’t moved since Crazy checked in at the motor lodge. “Hey, buddy,” Crazy said softly. “I met a lady last night...picked her up at Witchburner’s. She left something personal in my room.” The manager gave him an incredulous look. “Really, I’m serious.” Crazy winked and flashed a knowing smile. “She was in room 103. We spent some time together. Her name is Deena. Did she leave a phone number on the registration?” “Alright, let me see,” said the manager with a slightly disgusted look. He flipped through the registration cards in the Rolodex. “Well, there’s a phone number here, but you said the name was Deena?” “Yeah…that’s what she told me.” “Well, looks like she was lying to one of us ‘because she registered under another name. I’ll write down the number for you, though.” As the manager scribbled the number on a slip of paper and passed it across the desk, Crazy already knew no one would be at the other end of that phone call. Crazy thanked the manager, shoved the note into his front pocket and walked out of the office with a dejected look until he reached his rig. Its metallic royal-blue hood still glistened from the morning dew. Another worry struck him as he approached the cab. Crazy walked to the doors of the trailer. The padlock was there. He tried it twice. It was bolted tight. “Well, at least she didn’t get into my rig,” he said aloud as he climbed into the cab. The engine coughed to life and The Blue Lady lumbered through the lot behind the motor lodge and back out onto the highway. Crazy never noticed the odometer. It registered twenty three more miles than it did when he pulled in for another unforgettable night at Witchburner’s Bar.
Chapter One Constant Reminders October 7, 2001
Parker Glynn felt dead inside and he damn sure wanted to keep it that way. The corporate board rooms and luxury hotel suites he knew from before seemed a lifetime away at Ginger’s Place. The bar was a holdover from forty years ago, back in the days when Florida had hundreds of drive-thru liquor stores attached to small, dark pubs where drivers once drank and drove with impunity. The drive-thru windows had been torn down long ago, but Ginger’s remained. Outside, black silhouettes of seductive women were displayed in fake windows on the second floor to entice customers off A1A. Their images reminded Glynn of the legendary sirens of the sea who beckoned to sailors of old. With Ginger’s, these dark witches called out to lost souls on the highway. I certainly fall into that category, Glynn reflected. Glynn looked into his drink then glanced at the exposed silver ductwork above the bar. His eyes followed it around the corner of the ceiling as it drooped along the tops of the liquor bottles to disappear behind a gaping hole in the wall. Certainly they could improve the joint, he thought. But the ambiance is fitting. Mirrored beer and liquor ads on the walls disguised the aging pine paneling. A few bikers, beachcombers and rednecks yelped occasionally as they hovered around a single pool table in the rear of the bar. Sunday night at Ginger’s...a great dive for losers, Glynn thought. Losers like me. The woman behind the bar brought him his third Maker’s Mark and water. She wasn’t into making conversation either, which suited him fine. It had been two weeks since he left New York City, and all the while Glynn had held to his self-imposed exile from human interaction. The last week was spent in Jacksonville Beach, holed up in his RV most of the time except for an occasional
stroll around Beach Marine to look over the boats along the docks around the marina. His excursion to Ginger’s marked the first day Glynn ventured far from the solitude of his motor home. Earlier that afternoon, Glynn had finally consumed the last of the shrimp he purchased from a roadside vendor in Mayport when he arrived on the coast. Mayport was located a few miles north on A1A, an odd place where old and new Florida seemed to clash – a fishing village juxtaposed with Coast Guard cutters, large transport ships and mega barges and all competing for space as they traversed the mouth of the St. Johns River. While he didn’t find a suitable campsite in Mayport, the image of the waning fishing village stayed with him. In some ways Ginger’s Place was very similar, Glynn reflected. Mayport, with its shrimpers clinging to an industry their ancestors forged on the sea while commercial development slowly encroached on their way of life, and Ginger’s Place, a bar with a décor frozen in the sixties trying to hold on to its heyday while its clientele was slowly siphoned away by the restaurant chains and newer, hipper entrants to the bar scene. Glynn felt melancholy at the thought. He also felt a sense of pity for both. Whatever glory they had was long past. Progress. Technology. Time. Each had a hand in their slow demise. Was it the innocence of the era they represented, or perhaps his youthful naiveté he longed for again? The days when life seemed fresh. All the simple pleasures. What happened to that young, vibrant man who was so full of wonder, so empowered by life, that person who looked at every job, every challenge, as an adventure, not as an ordeal? Glynn dipped his index finger into his drink and absentmindedly stirred the ice cubes. There was a time when he would have been in awe of a thousand dollar dinner at the top of Chicago’s Hancock Building, a play on Broadway, or a week vacationing at the Atlantis on Paradise Island. But as the money came and his client list became more prestigious, Glynn lost that wide-eyed innocence. The seduction of success is slow and insidious, he thought. I lost focus on what was important – my family – not my
business. I didn’t have to fulfill every want. I thought I was invincible. What was I thinking? His wife, Teresa, and their child, Amy. Both gone forever. It should have been me, he thought. I deserved to die, not them. Not the innocents. And Taliah, my big mistake, he thought. If anyone should be dead, it should be her...and me along with her. She might as well be dead now, he reflected. She vanished without a trace. Glynn swallowed the rest of his drink and motioned the barkeep to bring another. He wasn’t the kind of man to run from a problem, but that was before 9/11. Too much to handle. The loss of his family, the guilt of the affair and the nagging suspicion he was somehow complicit in the attack. Only the liquor helped deaden his mind to the memories. Escape from the city was the only option. He cared nothing for the job anymore. It was the only course that made sense. Drop out for a while. Find his center. Search for some way to cope. After he bought the motor home in New Jersey, Glynn journeyed down the eastern seaboard. Quantico. Cherrystone. Charleston. Savannah. One-night stays at the private campgrounds where few tourists were around, then back to the blessed solitude of the road. Glynn had never heard of Jacksonville until the day he crossed the Georgia-Florida border and saw signs for the city along the interstate. After he drove past the city’s downtown skyline, he saw the exit for Beach Boulevard. The words sounded serene and safe. The image it provoked called to him. The boulevard led him to State Highway A1A, then on to Mayport where Glynn discovered there were no RV parks to be found. Faced with the Blackbeard ferry that crossed the river and led back into Georgia, Glynn turned back toward Jacksonville Beach and the marina. The RV hadn’t attracted any curiosity since he arrived at Beach Marine. The marina parking lot was busy by day. At night, Glynn left only a small reading light on inside, which made the motor home appear dark and uninhabited from the
outside and, so far, ignored by police who patrolled there after midnight. Glynn’s frequent ‘night terrors’ still brought him out of sleep in a cold sweat, but he found the view of the quiet marina calmed his nerves. A canopy covered the wooden boardwalk that surrounded the retail shops of Beach Marine. The Yacht Sales store. Last Flight Out, with its novelties and sports tee- shirts in the window, chocked full of plane and boat memorabilia. The bait shop. All closed for the night. The darkened storefront, with boats pitching lightly in the background, made for a tranquil scene. “Hey, Suzy, turn on the TV!” shouted one of the men at the pool table, interrupting Glynn’s thoughts. “Put it on the news somewhere.” “Since when did you start watching the news Billy,” the bartender asked sarcastically as she searched for the remote control. “Which station?” “Don’t care. One of the news ones. Ya’ know we started bombing today?” “Bombing who?” “Those Towelhead Bastards that did the Twin Towers.” The bartender found Fox News and adjusted the volume. The anchor gave sparse details about the U.S. assault as he voiced over a map of Afghanistan that identified the area of attack. “Dammit,” Glynn whispered to himself. “Can’t get away from it...even at this dive.” He took the last pull from his drink, called for the check and paid his bill. The sea breeze was cool under a clear night sky as he crossed the street to the RV. Even though the bourbon didn’t seem to faze his driving ability, he traveled along the side streets as much as possible to lessen the odds of being pulled over by the police. At first, Glynn planned to head back to the marina and crash, but he realized he was out of bourbon and the liquor stores were closed for the night. He would need more alcohol to sleep without the nightmares. He returned to A1A and headed a few blocks south to the other bar he spotted earlier in the day.
The Monkey’s Uncle was situated in the interior corner of a strip shopping center. Glynn remembered there was a theatre in the same shopping center and it had a huge parking lot, at least for the beach. With a wide expanse of open space in the center, Glynn easily navigated the RV into two empty parking slots. From the look of the place during daylight, Glynn expected it would be relatively dead on a Sunday night. So, he was surprised to open the front door to a wall of noise and a bar full of people. A dee-jay worked from the front corner near a dance floor while a twentyish crowd congregated around the rectangular bar and milled about the pool tables and video games in an adjoining room. Glynn edged up to an open spot at the bar, flagged down one of the frazzled barmaids and ordered a bourbon and water. Being one of the oldest people there, he felt invisible. At least there are no signs of 9/11 here, he thought. Young people talked and laughed among themselves. Smiles. Couples flirting, kissing, dancing, laughing with friends, smoking and driving with impunity, and all seemingly oblivious to the recent attack – as he wished he could be. The happiness and energy of the crowd reminded him of his wedding reception. The location had been very different, outside the town square of Jackson, Wyoming, but the party atmosphere was nearly the same. Glynn winced at the memory. As he surveyed the crowd, Glynn loathed their happiness. Glynn leaned on the bar and watched the spectacle for a few more minutes. He ordered one more drink and paid his tab. He had seen enough. As he maneuvered through the crowd and made it outside, Glynn shook his head in disgust. His anger dissipated to sorrow as he crossed the parking lot. He began to cry softly. The streetlights blurred and shimmered. He wiped his eyes as he reached the RV. Once inside and safely away from the human race again, he went to the restroom and flipped on the light. He looked back at the weeping man in the mirror. “What am I going to do,” he cried aloud in an anguished plea. He sat down on the closed toilet seat and buried his head in his hands.
“I can’t bear it anymore. Everything reminds me. Everything...,” his voice trailed off in a whimper.