Monday, October 10, 2016

The White Rig

They both knew the white truck was way too heavily overloaded. Raymond knew the load wasn't highway legal, which is the big reason the two men stood next to the truck on this particular early Sunday morning. Raymond desperately needed a cash draw against the next job. He damned well hoped he could get one, because he was damned sure gonna be in big trouble if he couldn't. It was imperative to get this load of gear over to the town of Torwood so he could claim the new job was started. Taking the load over early on a Sunday morning was Sammy's idea. Sammy stood next to Raymond as they looked over the load.
Good thing he could count on a loyal guy like Sammy to help out too. It was Sammy who came up with the bright idea to load the rig this way. Sammy said the could avoid the troopers by making their trip early on a Sunday morning and sticking to the back roads off the interstate. Sometimes Sammy came up with genius notions, and this was one of them. Sammy had come through big time with a way to snatch Raymond's cookies out of the fire. Raymond owed Sammy a lot besides money for sure.
Already Raymond was three weeks behind in paying his men and could not hold them off much longer. Two or three guys were starting to make some pretty ugly noises about pay and voicing dire threats under their breath. Didn't they know he was doing his goddamned best and would pay them just as damned soon as he got his hands on some money anyway? As it was right now he barely had enough in his pocket to buy fuel for the freaking truck for shit's sake!
Good thing Sammy was around to calm things down. That damned guy was absolute gold at times and this was turning out to be one of them. 
"Make sure them binders are good and tight." Raymond told Sammy. "We can't have nothing rolling off this rig before we reach Torwood."
"You got it Boss. Damned right!"
Raymond had not shaved for a couple days so he looked a little on the scruffy side, not that it mattered to him right now. His belly bulged out over his belt in front a little and his clothing was soiled and rumpled. If you saw him on the street you could easily believe he was homeless, especially with his blurry eyes and spastic movements. He was fairly tall, but with his flab and sloped shoulders he seemed shorter than he actually was. He looked like he was a little hung over this morning too. Sammy on the other hand was shorter, wiry looking and much neater. He carried himself well, and with his cobalt blue eyes he might even be considered handsome but for the hard and tired look his face showed this morning. There were heavy wrinkles at the corners of Sammy's eyes, but his eyes were bright and alert. Sammy had worked for Ray over five years now and they were social friends too. 
For two months Raymond had been robbing Peter to pay Paul as the saying went, ever since they got chased off that one job for 'poor performance'. The general contractor called him in and told him his work was sub-standard and unacceptable. That cheap bastard told him to get his goddamned gear off the job that very day. Then, the son of a bitch hadn't paid him a frigging dime except for his first money draw. Raymond and his crew put three week's work into that frigging job too, and he would bet his last dollar the general contractor damned sure had billed his own client for that work too. But, what the hell could you do? Water over the dam now anyway and best not to worry about it.
Ever since being fired from that job though, it was just one damned thing after another. It seemed like everything he touched just went to hell. Getting chased off the job put him behind the eight ball big time on money, and when the next guy went bust on him before he even got good and started, that really put the icing on the cake. He made only one pissy little draw on that one before the contractor went belly up and informed him there was no more money coming. Zippo. Nada. He lost all the pay for three weeks' work in that one if you didn't count the initial money draw he got, which Raymond never did. It damned sure hadn't left him anything to pay his guys with.
Hell, now he barely had enough money to buy weed for Christ's sake, and hadn't had a drink in over a two weeks before last night. Then Melodie up and took off with the kids and went to stay with her mother. That was over a month ago and now she was talking about divorce and child support too. And here Raymond was living in his frigging truck for Christ's sakes! Sometimes you just couldn't catch a break no matter how hard you tried. Yep, he was pretty damned desperate to get his equipment on the new job over in Torwood so he could make a quick money draw on it. You might say it was a critical situation.
"How's she looking, Boss? Sammy spoke up, breaking Raymond's reverie.
"Guess it'll have to do. Let's hit the road while we can, Sam. We damned sure don't want no troopers snooping around this load."
"You got that right, Boss, 'specially with that bag of weed you got stashed behind the seat in the load. Don't want no frigging sniffer dogs getting near that stuff, no sir!" Sammy laughed.
Over the past couple of years,Raymond had supplemented his income selling pot. It was no big deal since he went real low profile by quietly peddling a little weed to his own employees only. Raymond was damned careful about that because he sure didn't need any drug felonies on his record. His own supplier suggested he do it that way and Raymond figured this was a safe and easy way to make a little money on the side and pay for his own personal weed too. Trouble was lately, nobody had been paid for so long, he was down to selling weed to his guys on credit. A problematic thing for Raymond, since he knew if he did not provide weed to them while owing them money, they might easily turn on him and it would make things pretty damned iffy for him if they did. No, he would continue letting them have all they wanted on credit as long as his supplies lasted. Raymond figured he really had no real choice until he got everyone caught up on what he owed them. How the hell did he ever let it get to this point anyway?
Already some of his boys owed him a week's worth of their pay or more on their weed accounts. Raymond did not like to think about what might happen if his weed supply ran out before everyone got paid. His own supplier did not do business on credit for damned sure. But, that was a worry for another day, and Raymond figured he would get things back on track on this next job. Hell, that was really why Raymond was in this business to begin with; the chance to make a quick buck. When you got behind the eight ball on money, you could always hope the next job would bail you out. Sometimes it was a very near thing too, but Raymond had done it too many times to count over his years in business.
The two men, employee and boss, climbed into the truck and Raymond fired up the engine. The truck was the biggest heavy-duty pickup they make. On the back were loaded two gas-powered cement mixers, and more than dozen left over 80 pound bags of mortar mix from the last job. Coupled to the heavy duty towing hitch at the rear, was a double-axle trailer which Raymond took on trade for money owed on a job last year. Loaded on that trailer was yet another heavy-duty white pickup truck, also loaded with many more sacks of mortar mix. The aggregate of the load made a very heavy and unwieldy load indeed, which was the reason Raymond was certain it was not highway legal. The main reason the second white truck was loaded on the trailer instead of being driven on its own, was because Raymond right now simply did not have the money to buy fuel for two rigs. Things would be cut pretty closely just to have enough fuel as it was. It was Sammy's idea to load the extra truck on the trailer this way, and to Raymond it seemed brilliant. 
Turns out Ol' Sammy was one helluva good ace to have in your hole at times - like now.
Problem was, there was no real choice except the interstate for the first twenty miles. That was the riskiest section, so they planned to start just before dawn. There was less chance to encounter troopers on the prowl then was the idea. Raymond knew through experience the state troopers on the interstate were much fewer in number in early morning hours, although there was still a chance of seeing one. The hope was even if they did meet with one, the trooper would not notice their illegal load in the darkness. They had about ninety miles altogether to travel, but Sammy knew about a nice and lonely secondary road along the boundary of a big swamp. Sammy claimed they could depend on almost no traffic for over sixty miles of this two-lane. The main risks were the few miles at either end of it, and they would just have to trust to their luck on those. That was a risk Raymond had no choice but to take now if he expected to get his gear on the new job.
It was on the on ramp onto the interstate that Raymond felt just how heavily they were loaded. 
"Christ's sakes, Sammy!" he exclaimed. "I can't get any damned acceleration out of this rig at all!"
Sammy only grunted, and after the truck entered the more level travel lanes Raymond found he was able to slowly accelerate to a higher speed. But, the heavily overloaded truck combination took over two miles to get their speed up to around sixty. Sixty miles per hour was still not close to the speed of the other traffic flying by them at seventy and more. Raymond kept to the far right slow lane and let all the other traffic go on by. Keeping the accelerator to the floor, Raymond struggled to maintain a miserable sixty miles per hour as the engine roared and both men watched nervously for troopers. 
"Hellfire, Sammy," Raymond complained. "I can't get any more than sixty out of this rig flat out on the level. That's as much as she's got, and not a damned bit more. I don't think we can make it on the hills. Trooper is gonna stop us for damned sure."
"Just keep the hammer down, Ray, and don't look back. We ain't got that far to go, and there ain't much in the way of hills where we're going."
"Yeah, and I'm scared shitless." replied Raymond. "But, you're right. We ain't got no choice and maybe our luck will hold."
Their luck did hold, and the plan worked. Thirty minutes later Raymond coasted down the off ramp, braking very carefully with no troopers at all having been seen. Within five more minutes they finally turned onto their lonely secondary road, each one breathing his own simultaneous sigh of relief.   
"Hot damn! That frigging interstate's behind us!" crowed Raymond. "I'm going to let her romp and give 'er all she's got now."
"Speed limit's fifty-five." observed Sammy dryly.
"Oh Hell, I know that! But, we got to get on down the road. The sooner we get to the other end, the sooner we get off this frigging road. I'm gonna keep the hammer down and let 'er do whatever she can. You said there ain't no patrol on this road anyway."
"Well, I ain't never seen one yet, and it's your rig." Said Sammy.
About a mile ahead of them, old man Wally McFadden was headed in the same direction in his ten-year-old fishing car. Ever since he retired Wally didn't give much of a hoot for anything. Wally went where he wanted and did what he wanted to do, and did it when he wanted to do it. He was 'in it for the minute' as he liked to brag sometimes, and today Wally was headed for his favorite fishing hole on the river about thirty miles ahead. Wally's wife Martha was OK with things too and had never complained about his fishing. Wally figured she was just glad to get him out of her way and out from under her feet.  Martha was a good old girl all right, but 'Familiarity breeds contempt' was one philosophy Wally agreed with.
Wally liked to keep himself busy doing something interesting too. He knew too many people who went sedentary after retirement, and mostly they didn't live very long after that. He wanted to stay busy with something, and at seventy years old Wally thought himself pretty damned lucky to feel as good as he did. He generally watched what he ate, had never messed with cigarettes, and only took a drink of the hard stuff now and again. He allowed himself one six-pack of beer a week, and sure, maybe he could stand to lose a few pounds, but how many old farts can balance on one leg to put on their pants at seventy, anyway? Hell, Wally figured he could probably balance on one leg all damned day long if he felt like it.
This particular morning, Wally got up at five AM, made coffee and a couple sandwiches which he put in a bag. Gathering everything he needed, he left his wife a note.
"Gone fishing. Be back around supper. Don't forget to feed the dog." the note read. He knew she wouldn't forget to feed the dog - it was just his way of giving Martha a good poke. Keeps her honest, he figured.
Wally tooled along in his car minding his own business. He was lazily thinking of the fishing day ahead of him when he saw the white rig in his rear view mirror.  A flash of white from the rising sun first caught his eye and it took a moment or two to realize it was a truck slowly overhauling his car from behind. The road here is very flat, bordering as it does on a swamp, and straight as an arrow in places for some miles.  You can see a long way in each direction. In the entire stretch of over sixty miles you will seldom meet more than half a dozen cars and you might be passed from behind by only one or two the whole way. There is very little traffic on this road, especially at this time of day. 
Wally thought little of the rig behind him. He was in no hurry and driving just under the speed limit as the truck neared. Soon he could see some sort of bright reddish orange equipment over the cab's roof on the truck's back. Wally expected the truck to pass, since there was no oncoming traffic at all, and miles of room for it to pass. But, the truck did not pass, and instead it hugged Wally's rear bumper as if impatient for Wally to either speed up or move over out of his way.
"What in Hell's wrong with that guy?" Wally said softly to himself as he watched the truck in his mirror. "Why doesn't he just go ahead and pass?"
"What's wrong with that son of a bitch?" exploded Raymond in the cab of his truck behind Wally. "Why don't he speed up and get out of my goddamned way?"
"Probably some old farmer." Sammy commented.
"He ain't no damned farmer! There ain't no damned farm around here for at least fifty miles! That's a goddamned swamp out there, in case you ain't noticed!"
"Well, just some old fart then." said Sammy reasonably.
"Yeah, and that old fart's right in my goddamned way! I'm gonna ram him right in the ass!"
"Yeah, better not do that." Sammy commented as he glanced at Raymond.
"Oh, I ain't. But he's just really pissing me off." said Raymond as he laid on his horn.
The horn blowing really ticked Wally off too. No one likes someone on their rear bumper to begin with, and to rudely blow their horn like that was way over the top in Wally's opinion. His usual way of dealing with tailgaters was simply to keep slowing down until they passed, which they almost always did. But, this time was different. This guy was really, really irritating. Maybe it was because of that contrary nature his wife always accused him off - Wally begged to differ, but he decided he wasn't going to slow down for this damned fool. Instead he reached under his car seat to make sure 'Old Mr. Pew Pew', his .38 revolver was still there in its leather holster where he always kept it. Satisfied, Wally maintained his steady speed just under the limit, no more, no less by God. He resolved no damned impatient idiot was gonna bully Wally McFadden, nosiree. If that idiot wanted to get by, why didn't he just go ahead and pass then? He had miles of open road ahead of him as far as he could see, so why didn't he just get on down the damned road?
Radio reception is poor along this stretch, but Wally had found a station without too much static he could listen to, so he just relaxed as best as he could, listening to the music. Driving along at his sedate pace, he glanced in his rear view mirror now and then, just keeping a wary eye on that damned fool idiot behind him in the white rig. Wally was not going to worry about the bastard if he could help it.
Following in the truck behind and seeing his horn had no effect on the driver in front of him, Raymond gave up blowing it but stayed right on the bumper of the car ahead.
"Can't you get on by him then Ray?" Sammy asked.
"Oh Hell no!" replied Raymond. "I got 'er floored, but she won't do any more'n maybe another three or four more miles an hour flat out. I don't think we can get by that son of a bitch!"
"We was going faster than that on the big highway." said Sammy.
"Yeah, I know. But this road has more humps in it. We could maybe lose our load or something." said Raymond. "But, I damned sure wish that bastard would pull over and let us by. We need to make a little better time if we can. I'm worried about the other end, and don't want to get there so late the cops can spot us."
"If I had a damned gun I'd shoot the bastard." 
"Yeah well, it's your rig." replied Sammy, apropos of nothing..
Raymond tried to keep his truck right on Wally's rear bumper for the next twenty miles as Wally did his best to ignore him. That's pretty hard to do when someone is on your bumper like that, but to Wally's mild surprise he found he could, and after a while even began to have a little fun with the situation. He tried slowing down slightly, causing the truck behind him to slow down too. When the car ahead of him slowed, Raymond pulled out to pass, but then Wally speeded back up to fifty-five and Raymond was left hanging in the left lane with not enough juice to pass.
Watching in his rear view mirror, Wally could see the white rig lagging behind him as it struggled to catch up. It dawned on Wally then, the reason the other guy did not pass was simply because he did not have enough power to do it. And, a mere few seconds after realizing that, and thinking about the horn blowing, a nasty little devil came to perch on Wally's shoulder and whispered in his ear. The devil on his shoulder made Wally do the same thing over again. And then again, and then yet again. Each time the white rig behind him would be forced to slow down, and when he pulled out to try to pass, Wally would leave him far behind once again. It was kinda fun and Wally smiled a little each time.
Maybe his wife was right about that contrary thing after all, Wally thought, but he figured it was only payback to the other guy for all that tailgating and horn blowing. The idiot ought to know better than that, and it was pretty damned rude of him to hang on his ass that way.
"That old son of a bitch is screwing with me!" screamed Raymond to Sammy furiously, spittle flying from the corner of his mouth the third time he tried to pass and got left in the lurch. "This time I really am going to run that goddamned bastard over!"
This time Sammy simply nodded his head saying nothing, and Raymond did not ram Wally's car either, although he did get within two or three feet of him for a little while. But a small stab of guilt started working on Wally then, and he began to realize maybe he should quit antagonizing the other driver, and behave himself before things took a bad turn. He went back then to his steady just-under-the-limit speed, but he was still resolved he was not going to let some idiot in an overloaded truck push him around. Nosiree, not Mr. Wally McFadden and not while he had Old Mr. Pew Pew under his car seat!
There is a hard right turn in the road where it crosses Wally's river, and that's where Wally finally slowed down almost to a stop. He deliberately forced the white rig behind him come to a complete stop before he finally pulled all the way off the travel lane to allow it to pass. And, as the white rig snorted and bucked struggling to accelerate away, Wally saw Sammy leaning far out of the passenger window waving his middle digit vigorously at the end of his extended arm and shouting something. Wally couldn't exactly make out the words, but to his perverse delight, it seemed pretty obvious the words were not complimentary. Wally saw Raymond too, on his own side of the truck, doing exactly the same thing sticking his own arm up over the cab of the truck, with his middle digit extended, arm pumping up and down madly. 
None of that surprised Wally at all. He was not particularly offended either as he watched the white rig slowly gaining speed as it roared away leaving a blue stream of exhaust smoke behind. Wally figured he probably would have done the same thing himself, and he grinned wryly to himself as he got out of his fishing car and gathered his gear. If he didn't forget, maybe he would tell Martha about this little adventure tonight when he got home and they could laugh about it together. Then again, maybe he wouldn't mention it either. But all in all, it turned out to be a pretty damned satisfying start to his day.
At that same moment, fifteen miles further ahead State Trooper Stanley Smith is finishing his breakfast and coffee. In a few more minutes he will kiss his wife goodbye before heading out for today's patrol shift on the interstate highway a few miles further on. Newly married, Trooper Smith and his new wife enjoy living out in the country on this lonely country road, even if Sally did have reservations at first. Now she loves living here, and especially her lovely flower garden which Stanley dug up for her and helped her plant. It will soon be time for Stanley to don his straight-brimmed trooper hat, get in his patrol car and head to work. It is merely another day for Trooper Smith and life is good.
And, if you were following ten minutes or so behind Raymond and Sammy in their white rig, when you came up on the last two miles of this sixty-some-odd mile long stretch of lonely highway that morning, you would notice the blue lights flashing ahead. And, as you got closer you would see the state trooper's patrol car itself, something you very seldom see stopping anyone on this road. You would also see a dangerously overloaded heavy-duty white truck rig pulling a trailer with another truck loaded on it, pulled onto the shoulder of the road. And as you pass on by you would see the two angry looking men in handcuffs standing next to the white rig. You would see too, a very neatly attired young state trooper standing in front of the two angry men reading them their rights from a card.
As Mary Chapin Carpenter used to sing, "Sometimes you are the windshield; Sometimes you are the bug."  And, someone else has observed, "Sometimes you are the dog; Sometimes you are the hydrant." 
And if you are lucky, there may be times when you get to see karma kicking somebody's butt, even if you don't realize it when you see it happening. It's almost always very satisfying anyway!

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