As the sun painted the passenger window orange, Jack Laramie found himself stuck behind a rickety pick up rigged with wooden planks surrounding the bed. Four white, plastic dishwashers bounced around unsecured. Any time he’d lose his cool and swerve left to pass, a line of cars from the other direction forced him back over. The driver of the truck would step on the gas long enough to convince Jack he’d do the speed limit. He’d relax, the truck would slow, and the drama started again.
Out in the flatlands of central Texas, the roads deteriorated, waiting for someone local to repair them. Jack had to jerk the wheel to avoid sink holes. He kept his eye on the side view mirror, making sure his horse trailer followed his DeSoto’s lead.
The driver of the truck missed a nasty hole. The planks busted. One by one, the appliances hit the pavement and smashed. Sharp chunks of plastic and metal tossed in front of the DeSoto in random, chaotic movements. Jack snaked through the debris until the tires on his trailer blew out. He let up on the gas and brought everything to a halt on the right side of the road.
The truck came to a stop in the middle of the highway. The driver, a stocky fellow in jeans and a plaid shirt, got out to examine the damage. His thin attempt at a beard connected to the curly hair on his head like a chinstrap holding down a helmet. “I’m sure sorry, mister,” he said. He told him his name was Ashley.
“Well,” said Jack, “how’d you miss that crater?”
“Think I might have been dozing.”
“How about giving me a hand with this here trailer?” Jack nodded over his shoulder, pointed at the flat tires.
The driver shook his head. “I’m sure sorry, mister,” he said, “but I got to get to Eldorado, let Mr. Stilson know his women won’t be getting their dishwashers for a few days.” He surveyed the fractured appliances scattered across the road and picked at his curly hair like there might be bugs in it. “I can give you a lift into town. It’s just another five miles or so.”
Jack held his teeth together, took a deep breath. “No thanks, Ashley,” he said. “I’ll see if I can’t fix it on my own.”
He hadn’t finished before the driver marched back to his truck, waving over his shoulder. “I sure appreciate it, mister.” He got in and rumbled away. Jack blamed the kid’s behavior on his youth. Hopefully, the kid would be drafted, sent to the tussle in Korea, and earn himself a generous helping of common sense.
He returned to the trailer. All four tires had blown out. He had two spares in the trunk of the DeSoto. “Dammit,” he said. He kicked at pebbles in the dirt and unhitched the trailer. He patted it on the side and said, “Don’t you worry none.” He got in the DeSoto and weaved through plastic and metal in the road.
After five minutes, he passed a sign informing him Eldorado was another ten miles away. The sun vanished and the lights of the city decorated the night. He pulled into a Sinclair gas station. The garage and pumps were dark. He cussed and drifted onto the main road again. He passed several small streets with identical one-story houses lined up next to each other and a factory with chutes coughing white clouds into the air. Finally, he came to Lidia’s, a tavern on the eastern edge of town.
Before going in, he counted the money he had on him—fifty-one dollars and some change. Not enough for a room and the tires. He decided to throw on his charcoal blazer and Stetson and grab a bite to eat. If necessary, he’d spend the night stretched out in the DeSoto.
Jimmy Dean played on a dented jukebox at the side of the bar. Wobbly stools with crooked legs lined the trough. A tall woman with wild brown hair set loose about her shoulders wiped the countertop with a rag. She’d stuffed herself into a black skirt and a button-down shirt she’d tied at the bottom, revealing her belly button in a manner usually reserved for scandalous pin up models. Men covered in dust occupied most of the tables. They wore matching denim overalls.
Jack sat at the bar, close to the woman. Near him, a slim man in a brown suit and yellow tie worked on a cup of coffee. A briefcase rested against the legs of his stool. Jack nodded. The man ignored him. The woman tilted her head, pretended she was more interested in cleaning the counter than talking to him. Finally, she said, “Evening, cowboy.”
She laughed. “Don’t call me ma’am. Makes me feel old, even if I am.” She couldn’t have been more than thirty-five, thirty-six.