An incorrigible trucker discovers he’s hauling a nuclear bomb, but when trying to get help, he’s mistaken for a terrorist. With the aid from a vagabond and a hooker, he must drive the bomb cross-country before it explodes, and rescue his family, while being hunted by foreign and domestic terrorists, police, FBI, and the military.
The trucker’s creed:
If you got it, a truck brought it!
A ham-size fist connected squarely with Jerod Jones’s face, landing him on his back, skidding down the polished floor in front of the bar, patrons’ feet hopping out of the way. The huge trucker stood firmly, feet planted shoulder-width apart, fists curled into tight, vibrating balls. He leaned forward as if against a powerful headwind to deliver his snarling condemnation. “You fuckin’ rag-head sympathizer! Maybe you think those assholes who flew our planes into buildings should get frequent flyer miles!”
Without a lick of embarrassment, Jones managed a wry smile as he climbed to shaky feet, spewing apologies to those silent, staring customers pressed back against the bar. “Sorry, Sorry. Didn’t mean to scuff your shoes—did I tear your nylons, dear—sorry—nice legs.”
Jones stretched his six foot frame upright, rotating the kinks out of his muscular shoulders as he rubbed his jaw. As if an afterthought, his flecked brown eyes, slid up to his attacker. This piercing look wasn’t hostile, but for the receiver, deeply unsettling, and caused the much bigger man to flinch.
Jones peered at the trucker, but his speech seemed to be for everyone.
“It’s damn true. I am a son-of-a-bitch. Least most see me that way. Be that as it may, all I’m sayin’ is, if someone fucks with someone else long enough, there’s gonna be a reaction. You know, cause-and-effect.”
The trucker pulled his eyes away from Jones to garner some support from the crowd.
“Cause they’re fuckin’ dick-wads, and we’re the effect of god’s hand that’s gonna stamp them assholes out.”
Plenty of supporting guffaws from some good-ol-boys standing about. Jones nodded in seeming appreciation while rubbing life back into his thirty-three year old limbs.
“Well, ya see bubba, that’s not the cause-and-effect I had in mind. I was thinkin’ a little closer to home. Somethin’ like this: I give my opinion, which is a cause; then you knock me on my ass; that’s an effect. Cause and effect.”
Several people laughed, their darting eyes searching for support. Jones continued his instructive commentary as if a secondary school teacher in front of a rowdy group of pupils.
“But listen, ya gotta stay with me now, because this is where an effect turns into a cause.”
The trucker glared across at Jones, his fist rising with his temper.
“What the fuck are you talking about?”
Jones’s eyes drilled into the trucker’s
“Your effect; knocking me on my ass, has become my cause.”
“Cause for what, you babblin’ dipshit?”
“Cause for me to help some paramedics earn their pay.”
Jones leapt forward with a barrage of punches, finishing with a powerful uppercut, arcing the towering trucker onto his back with a heavy thud, jumping the beer bottles on the bar. The whole saloon yelped in unison, but froze as they stared in awe. The silence was short-lived; a few trucker friends from behind their fallen comrade began their advance. Jones whisked a beer bottle off the bar. He tapped the end of it into his open palm as he eyed the approaching threat.
“Ya know, I like beer. I can drink this or bash it across somebody’s head.” The glint in his eyes went out. “What’s it gonna be?”
A roomful of eyes shifted to the three stout truckers. As if following their initial intention all along, the boys diverted their path to their fallen friend to lend helping hands. The bruised trucker shrugged them off.
“Get the fuck off me!”
The big man wavered on his feet, glowering at Jones. Jones returned a look, but not the hostility. The sparkle came back into his eyes as he glanced around the static room.
“Well, I guess a good show like that deserves free drinks for everybody!”
Sudden, thankful cheers erupted from everyone as a roomful of casual observers crowded the bar, filling in the space between the combatants. Blurs of smiles and numerous pats on the back for Jones. Jones grinned back at all his new-found friends.
“All that excitement makes a man want to pee. Hold my place, will ya?”
Jones smiled his way through the mass of happy bodies, out of the bar, past the bathrooms, and into the brisk autumn night air. Chuckling to himself, he scurried to his 1999 Kenworth W900L eighteen-wheeler and climbed aboard without a look back. As he pulled out of the parking lot, he gave a salute to the spotlit Gracie’s Truck Stop sign.
The radiant glow of the dashboard lights accented Jones’s rugged face and devious smile.
“Partir, c’est mourir un peu. To leave is to die a little.” A wry, sad laugh escaped. “Or, in my case, it’s to live a bit longer.”
Jones’s semi turned off the empty country road and followed his lights up a long gravel drive through over-hanging trees. The yellow beams swung past a two-story clapboard country house, an old rusted Ford that had grown into the landscape, and an overgrown pile of cut wood waiting for a winter night. At the end of the driveway, a small white prefab warehouse loomed bright in the headlamps. Jones circled his truck and pulled to a gentle stop in front.
A middle-aged man in coveralls limped from the house and hobbled down the drive, a scurvy smile twisting his lips, suckin’ on a pipe, and spittin’ tobacco. Jones climbed down from the truck and stopped in the drive, shaking his head in incomprehensible wonder.
“Jesus, Lenny. Ya gotta smoke and chaw at the same time? Why ya rushin’ to your maker so fast?”
Lenny squinted at Jones as he shuffled to a stop not a foot away. He looked up at Jones’s shit-eating smirking face as if peering into the mysterious countenance of the Sphinx. His rebuttal came out as a statement of fact.
“You’ve seen my wife and kids.”
“Fuckin’ hell, Lenny. You don’t have a wife and kids.”
“And no nagging mother, neither. In fact, the closest thing I have to a nosey busybody would be you, Jones.”
Jones’s eyebrows shot up in wonder.
“My god, Lenny! I do believe you gave me a compliment.”
Lenny eyed Jones sideway, but couldn’t help from grinning. He turned away and headed for the warehouse.
“It’s a good thing I only see your bony ass twice a month. Back your rig inside. We got one heavy sucker and a bunch of throw-ons.”
Jones did as commanded and eased the rear of his big rig into the tight opening of the sheet metal warehouse. Floor to ceiling, boxes and crates were stacked about, almost filling the enclosure, but sitting on a forklift like a prized possession from Raiders of the Lost Ark, was a wooden crate about four feet in two directions and eight feet long.
Jones eyed the crate suspiciously. “What the hell’s in there?”
Lenny snapped back a response to a stupid question. “How the fuck should I know? They ain’t paying us a grand and five for 20 questions. It’s machine parts, whatdaya think?”
Jones rubbed his chin as his eyes flicked between the crate and Lenny.
“Good thing I got a light load. I guess we can pile the other stuff on top.”
Lenny barked a quick dismissal. “That’s a no-can-do, no sir. Nothing on top. Jam it in around, okay?”
Jones squinted at Lenny.
“You got somethin’ live in there, Lenny. I’m not transportin’ any illegals or Mafia hits. Nope. I saw that movie where the guy finds this Chinese girl in his trunk and—”
“Jones, there’s no people in the goddamn crate. Nor animals, or aliens from outer space. It’s just heavy stuff.”
Jones’s eyes went back to the crate.
“Oh, okay, then. Just heavy, not alive, stuff…and no drugs, right?”
Inside twenty, Jones was behind the wheel of his rig, and leaning out the driver’s window to Lenny, standing in the drive.
“I’ll call ya at the first drop.”
“Remember, this has a timeframe, Jones. Six days. No more. We all know you’re one of the world’s better examples of a fuck-up, but your saving grace is that you’re always on time.”
Jones gave Lenny a shit-eating grin.
“We all have our talents.
Lenny adroitly ignored him.
“On your flip side, we’ll catch-up on lies about our past over a couple bottles of Jack.”
Jones hesitated, as if he should say something more, but didn’t.
“Wouldn’t miss it.”
Lenny flicked Jones a fleeting look, and turned away with a wave as he gimped across the drive. Jones’s big truck crept down the long drive, turned onto the country road, and disappeared over a hill.
The interior light came on in a sedan parked near Lenny’s driveway, illuminating two suited men, one on a cell phone.
“Yeah, it’s Burton. We have an old Kenworth eighteen-wheeler with a freight box, Oregon plates, DB-669-1549. One large crate, numerous small boxes. Headed somewhere east. Lag time six days, so could be anywhere along the eastern shore. Yes, sir, we have the tracker on him.”
Special Agent In Charge Antonio Echeverria hung up the phone in his office at the Chicago FBI field office, and leaned back in his chair to stare at the perforated ceiling tiles. He’d been taking the ceiling tile journey too many times lately. He never gazed anymore into the photos around the room of open ocean or deep forests where he often thought his heart had longed to be. Nope, it was ceiling tiles where his eyes went to get lost in a mental wasteland that had no claims to any real desires. It was as if those tiny holes in the tiles, meant for trapping sound waves in these confining pillbox rooms, had somehow sucked the dreams and ambition out of him along with the wayward echoes.
He never knew how many seconds or minutes he had been lost in oblivion, and he really didn’t care. Rocking his chair back forward, Agent Echeverria gazed around the room at the various achievement certificates, memorabilia snapshots, and of course, the ocean and forest photos he’d taken when potential futures did matter to him. Desires no longer flamed up in him. His life and his job were on autopilot.
Everything was going well for him. He was physically fit, had all his hair, and was extremely young-looking for his mid forties. And he was moving up the corporate ladder, so to speak, at a pretty good clip. Time invested paid off with job promotion. His co-workers were all fine people. He worked for one of the most prestigious agencies in the United States, in the world for that matter. He should have no complaints.
Anyone would tell him, and many often did, that he was a lucky man to be part of such a world-famous institution. The FBI. People would say those three letters as if they were citing some holy scripture or invoking Yahweh. And admittedly, he had come into the organization with those very feelings.
But that blush of awe and success had died away years ago. Special Agent Antonio Echeverria was about as enthusiastic about his job as if he were a regional bank branch manager. For that was what he thought himself to be.
He organized, he assigned, he managed. Sure, the projects that littered his desk were important, but they were boring. For too long he had thought of himself akin to a night manager at a supermarket, assigning eager young souls to stack the shelves.
Wishing himself back in the field, Echeverria knew, wasn’t the answer for him. In the twelve years he was a field agent, not a lick of adventure passed his way. All the glory he’d dreamt about on becoming an FBI Special Agent, he found, was tied up in Hollywood movies and TV shows. Although, in the beginning, just out of the academy, when he and all his classmates thought themselves as being king and queen shit of law enforcement, that cute little badge in its leather wallet did manage to get him laid more than once.
But it was his steady paycheck that landed him a devoted wife, two great kids, and vacations in the Florida Keys every winter.
Echeverria glanced again into the ceiling tiles, subconsciously hoping to see past them to that elusive place that was missing in his life. He let out a sigh, and brought his concentration back to the high adventure of catching truckers in their attempts to supplement their incomes in these trying times by hauling heavily taxed goods across state lines without paying Uncle Sam his share.
The whole scheme looked to Echeverria to be the work of just one man, a Mister Lenny Milstone Grey. This guy didn’t seem to have any connection to the world at large other then knowing a lot of truckers from his years on the road before some accident crippled him. He didn’t appear to have any sympathies or allegiances to or for anyone. He was just in it for the money, which paradoxically, he never seemed to do anything with. Everything that came in, didn’t appear to go out. He didn’t buy anything, he didn’t have any offshore accounts, and he certainly didn’t have any big-spending girlfriends.
What he did have was a damn good system of making contact with his cadre of truckers that the finest FBI cryptologists couldn’t figure out. He CB chatted with truckers most of the day and halfway through the night, never once asking anyone to swing on by. It all just seemed like idle chit-chat by someone who missed being on the road. Echeverria envied that about him. That he could actually miss something he once had. Echeverria was still waiting to have an experience that he would miss.
The only way the glorious FBI had caught on to Mister Lenny was by coincidence when two truckers they were following happened to both end up at his little farmhouse in the middle of nowhere Oregon. Now, after a year of low-tech investigative work, they were going to bust this “big time” conspiracy of maybe twenty low-rent truckers moving untaxed electronics, games, booze, and vegetables, and give the lot of them slaps on the wrist or short-term jail time.
Echeverria would sign off on all the paperwork, he and his staff would move on to the next low profile assignment, and the truckers, maybe with the exception of Mister Lenny, would be right back at it in six months to a year. Never mind, though, it would look good on his resume and all these good marks only helped increase his pension because his pay grade would continue to rise.
Echeverria closed Lenny’s folder, locked it away in his desk drawer along with his notebook computer, and left his office. It was nearing midnight and Sharon and the kids would already be asleep. The only emotion he got out of this particular assignment was that he was highly peeved at Lenny for keeping him away from his family.
Jones’s truck barreled across a vast American desert highway. The asphalt seemed to unfurl before Jones as if painted across the endless stretch of rocky wasteland just for him. The varying hues of purple shadows growing in the craggy mountain crevices as the sun eased into the sky always gave Jones pause, as if the world was being created anew right before his eyes. He loved this eerie time of day, out here in these desolate corners, away from an over-crowded world where the air was still fresh, the terrain still untouched by human hands, and silence as vast as the plateaus he drove across.
Many times he would pull off the highway, down some forgotten trail, and cut his engine, then walk away as if never to return. He’d find a cozy spot among some errant boulders or a level clearing to lay out on, and become as still as his surrounding, allowing the whisper of morning breeze to lull him into a peace he knew no other time.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t one of those times he could afford to linger. His timetable had been set and his gas gauge needle riding empty perfectly coincided with the sight of the towering petrol station sign looming high into the brightening sky.
Arms crossed, Jones leaned against the side of the tractor by the passenger side fuel tank, listening to the diesel pumping through the hose, and stared into the distance at nothing. When the chill, high-desert breeze was right, he could get a whiff of the sweet air without the tang of gasoline.
A tall, lanky teenage boy, small backpack slung over his shoulder, sauntered up.
“Hey, how’s it going?”
Jones refocused from his oblivion.
“It’s all goin’ to hell, in my estimation.”
“You got that right, that’s for damn sure.” The boy’s compliant grin didn’t elicit anything more from Jones. After a few dead seconds, the boy continued. “Which way you headed?”
Jones didn’t look at the boy.
“No way you’re headed.”
“How do you know that?”
“Cause I don’t give rides to nobody, that’s why. If I’d wanted company on the road, I’d of been a cab driver.”
The boy studied Jones as he shifted from one foot to the other.
“Listen, Mister. It’s cold as shit out here. I’m going east. Trying to get home for my mom’s birthday. You going east? What if I give you twenty bucks for your trouble?”
Jones slid his eyes over to the eager young face.
“If you have twenty bucks, you shoulda taken a bus.”
“Twenty bucks gets you nowhere. When’s the last time you rode a bus, mister?”
“It’d be about the last time I gave a ride to a hitchhiker. Never.”
The boy scowled. “What goes around, comes around…you prick.”
Jones straightened, his face growing dark.
“Anger is only one letter short of danger, bub.”
The boy backed away as fear grew up his spine. Jones followed his retreat until his eyes caught on a tight jeans-wearing, red-haired woman, mid-twenties, climbing down from the passenger side of a big rig. She strode across the parking lot with a confident gait and natural sexiness that drew every eye in her direction. She disappeared into the diner with Jones’s stare glued to her.
He muttered under his breath. “The pain now is part of the happiness then.” He turned away and pulled the petrol nozzle from the gas tank. “But, hell. I’m always in some kind of pain.”
Jones didn’t have to press his memory back that far to relive that happiness. It had only been just shy of a year since he drove away from the Las Vegas hotel, leaving Sheryl with his winnings and her ultimatum. Jones didn’t fare well under emotional pressure, and she, of all people should have known that. But never mind, he didn’t need to think about the ending, because whenever she did wander into his mind, it was similar to how she wandered into his life. And that was three years before.
Jones had been lured into attending a trucker party, by of all people, gimpy Lenny. Until that night, Jones’s entire five year relationship with Lenny had been countless half hours of picking up illegal freight on the way out, and four hours of getting drunk with the recalcitrant hater of humanity on his flipsides. Nothing in their histories alluded to Lenny knowing or even having the desire to know anyone.
When Lenny had caught him on the radio and invited him by using his ridiculous secret code, he assumed it was for just another pickup. But when his headlights flared into the clearing of Lenny’s front yard, it was swarming the luminaries of the illegal trucking world. There must have been over a hundred undesirables roaming the grounds, swaying under the influence or the music of the live rock band set up under festive colored lights strung from the tree branches.
One of the things Jones had been certain of was Lenny’s and his own penchant for aloneness. Lenny had been a trucker for years until something happened to his leg, which even in a total alcoholic haze, he wouldn’t talk about. Jones could definitely relate to that because there were plenty of things he didn’t talk about.
Lenny, as far as Jones could recall, never had a kind word or thought about the general state of humanity or any individual in it. Jones wasn’t quite sure where he stood with Lenny other than as a sounding board for drunken complaints that they shared with each other, but never really listened to.
Jones’s first inclination was to hightail it away from the backwater festivities, but there was no room to turn his rig around and backing out of the mile-long driveway was not an option. Being greeted by some drunken road jockey with a beer and whisky upon his climb down from his cab went a long way to alter his initial misgivings.
In his meandering stroll amongst the inebriated mass of happy faces, Jones never came across Lenny. Although he saw people he knew or recognized, Jones would avert his eyes or quickly turn away to avoid any direct contact where he might actually be required to talk. By his own volition, Jones felt more alone in this rowdy assemblage than when cruising a deserted highway by himself. Even here, he was wandering blind through life’s participants.
He turned away to head back to his truck and ride out the unwanted celebration in his sleeper, when his collision with Sheryl doused them both with the remainder of his third beer and whisky. The first thing Jones saw was a line of liquid running down her neck, into her shirt, and between her breasts. When he lifted his eyes to hers, he expected to see rage, but instead, she was laughing, eyes radiantly bright.
Her red hair, framing her face in long natural ringlets, seemed luminous. The sprinkle of freckles over the bridge of her nose gave an accent to her pale skin that made his heart race.
“Sorry, sorry,” she said laughing. “My bad.”
Somehow, Jones caught his breath and managed to reciprocate. “No, I’m just pretty much a clumsy oaf in large gathering.” His grin came unsolicited. “Small ones too.”
She reached up with her sleeve and wiped some liquid off his face. “No, it really is my fault. I bumped into you on purpose. Of course, the beer explosion is all on you.”
Jones found himself laughing, a reaction he hadn’t had in a long time.
“Well, I guess I should be thankful we weren’t driving.”
Sheryl joined him in laughter, musically throaty. She took him by the arm and led him through the oblivious crowd. He allowed himself to be led as if he were water that had found an alternative path on its meandering way down the mountainside.
“The least I can do is clean you up and buy you another beer.”
She escorted him into Lenny’s house and directly to the only bathroom alongside the kitchen. Jones didn’t want to know how she happened to be privy to that knowledge.
“Ah, here we go.” Sheryl turned on him and began unbuttoning his shirt as if he were her child and it was the most natural thing to do. “Just about all these old farmhouses have their bathrooms off the kitchen,” she commented for no apparent reason.
She slid the shirt down off his shoulders, stopping momentarily at sight of his toned muscles and shrapnel scars.
“Oh my,” was all she had said, then pulled the shirt the rest of the way off.
She stoppered the pedestal sink, dropped the shirt into it, and started the water. Without a second thought, she slipped her own wet shirt off over her head.
Jones’s head began to swim when Sheryl’s naked breasts gently bounced into view. She turned away and plunged her shirt into the rising water.
“I’ll just rinse the beer out of these and Lenny’s drier behind you will make them nice and toasty in about fifteen minutes.”
Jones watched the muscles flex across her bare shoulders and down her back. The curve of her slim waist flared at her hips before being lost in her tight jeans. As she kneaded the beer from the shirts, her breasts swayed slightly with every forward motion.
She completed the task and turned back to Jones, holding out the dripping wad of material.
“Here, wring these, will ya.”
Jones took the sopping shirts and held them over the claw-foot tub as he wrung a stream of water from them. Sheryl retrieved the twisted roll from him and, like a cartoon effect, shook them out to their natural shape. She tossed the rumpled fabric into the mini dryer stacked above the mini washer and turned, with hands on hips, to face Jones. A naughty smile spread across her face.
“Got any ideas on how to spend the next fifteen minutes?”
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