Adam glanced at the bright spot behind the clouds. It was too close to the horizon. After sunset, the roads would be slicker, the shoulders less visible and he should be almost to Monarch Pass. He shuddered. The narrow road was as crooked as a snake’s back and steep.
His boot slipped on a patch of ice. I should stay here at the truckstop, he thought. The plows will run early, and it’s supposed to warm up to the 40s by midmorning.
Still, he inspected his tires, lights and air lines. Large flakes drifted on to his hat and parka. He rubbed his chapped, red hands together and stared down at the highway.
He climbed into the 379 Peterbilt that he affectionately called RePete. He peered into the bunk. His partner, Grumpy, was still hibernating. Adam turned the defroster on high, the wipers on low and then bowed his head. If only he could talk to Sam.
They’d been married for almost three years. Financially, things were harder than they’d anticipated. They’d estimated repairs, maintenance, fuel and insurance and added extra to be safe. Seven months ago, Sam had announced that she was pregnant. A month later, RePete dropped a piston. It cost them a week, plus towing and repairs. The company threatened to take them off that run if they were late again.
“At least she’s fixed for now,” they consoled each other. But their sighs of relief seemed to blow fuel prices even higher.
Now, Sam was on family leave. Her second-graders would finish the year with a substitute, and Sam would be without a paycheck.
Adam tried not to look at the shiny 2-year-old Peterbilt at Frank’s shop. She was cobalt blue with only 150,000 miles. It was too much to dream.
Adam gripped the wheel, his knuckles white. Grumpy’s head poked through the heavy curtain behind him.
“Getting a little snow, huh?” Where are we?” Grumpy asked.
“We’re just about to the top of the pass. We almost stayed at the truckstop.”
“What changed your mind? Still couldn’t get ahold of Sam?”
“Yeah. No answer.”
When they’d talked last night, Sam said she’d had some contractions.
“Are you in labor?” Adam had asked. He’d felt a contraction, but it was in his chest.
“Just be here in two weeks,” she’d replied. “Early contractions are normal. We’re okay.”
Adam was afraid to take off any more time than he had to. Still, Sam wanted him to be there so badly for the birth. And what if something happened?
He’d tried to call her first thing this morning, then all day. He cursed himself for not spending money on a cell phone.
“You okay?” Grumpy asked. He fastened his seat belt.
The trailer tires slipped around a tight curve. Adam sucked in his breath and downshifted.
Adam remembered the day he’d met Grumpy. While he waited for a load, he’d spent all afternoon at a truckstop talking with Grumpy and several other drivers over cheap chili and coffee.
“Don’t believe his handle,” a driver told Adam.
“Yeah. It should be Softy,” another agreed.
“Don’t believe ’em,” Grumpy growled. “They’re just trying to ruin my reputation.”
“Like your reputation for leaving the biggest tips.”
“Or for stopping for every stray or breakdown.”
“What about the time he spent his food allowance and more buying a bus ticket home for that runaway teen?”
“You guys are full of it.” Grumpy tried to glare, but a little grin lifted his mustache.
Grumpy wasn’t hurting for money. He could have retired, but he loved to drive. It wasn’t hard for Adam to convince Grumpy to team up with him when he got the dedicated auto parts run.
Adam downshifted again at the grade sign. A Blazer whizzed past then pulled in, nearly grazing their grill. It fishtailed a couple of times, then sped away.
“I’d do better without turkeys like that on the road,” Adam said.
“If he’s not careful he won’t be gobbling come Thanksgiving.” They stared at the snow-packed road. There were eight miles to Gunnison, then just 12 more miles home.
Adam squinted ahead and asked, “What’s that?”
“I believe that’s your turkey in the ditch.”
Adam groaned. “I don’t want to stop for that jerk. What if Sam’s in trouble?”
“It’s your call,” said Grumpy.
Adam banged his hand on the wheel, then eased onto the shoulder, blinkers flashing. “You’ve been a bad influence,” he muttered.
A young woman in a down parka slid out of the Blazer. Her knit cap barely reached the top of her vehicle.
Grumpy tried the CB while Adam trudged ahead.
“Do you think we could push it out?” she asked. “My phone isn’t working, and I’m in a hurry.”
“Sorry.” She wore earrings shaped like big birds. What a turkey!
“My partner’s calling for help on the CB, but it could take awhile. We’ll try.”
She steered while he strained at the back bumper. Grumpy joined him. They pushed, grunted, slipped, fell and tried again.
“No luck with the CB?”
“We can’t just leave her here.”
They took big breaths. “One, two, three, push!”
After 20 minutes of pushing, pulling, prying and shoveling, Grumpy was crimson-faced and panting.
“We’ll just have to take you,” Adam said, rolling up a nylon strap. “Where are you going?”
“To the hospital.”
Adam didn’t pry. “Let’s go, then. Coming, Grumpy?”
Grumpy leaned against the bumper. His face was pale and glistened with sweat.
“My chest hurts like the dickens,” he gasped.
They half-dragged Grumpy to the truck and got him in the bunk.
“Do you have any aspirin?” asked the woman.
“He’s probably having a heart attack, and you want aspirin?”
“Yes. It helps