You see it every now and then; you’re bound to. Especially on those pretty open roads with no stops to speak of. Sometimes, it’s the twisted metal from some terrible occurrence or the newly dead showing unmistakable evidence of prolonged suffering. It puts thoughts in your head that make you miss your own four walls, wherever they may be.
This mess is a little different, though. I’m doing about forty behind a blue pickup truck, and I’m getting irritated. He’s looking for something, and I’m thinking at first it might be the right plot for a homestead or maybe a lost hat. It isn’t. This guy thinks he’s getting away with murder, but you never can do that when it comes to a dog.
I think the pup’s a goner when the blue truck slows and one beefy, plaid pit-stained arm pulls him across the cab and hurls him dead-center into the road. I’m far enough back to slow and give the guy a well-deserved hand gesture while I’m watching the gleaming black projectile hit the road and roll. He’s laying there, head up and struggling to stand so he can chase his master and give him one last chance to keep him. His hips won’t cooperate. It’s broken, maybe.
I’m partial to labs, and I’m too close to say that this scene isn’t meant for my eyes, so I stop. He’s whipping his head back and forth from me to his truck. It’s getting farther and farther away. I approach him with an old blanket.
I know he’ll try to bite me because he’s singing like Sister Irene on the high note that always cleared the choir loft. The blanket is my old wool standard issue, and you can’t run a chain saw through it so I know I’m safe. I lay it flat on the road first and kneel down to have a look. Nothing’s sticking out, and that’s good. He’s not bleeding either. Another plus. I drag the blanket slowly over him. He’s still rubbernecking, but only panting now and looking at me because the truck is well on its way. His eyes ask, “What are we going to do now?”
I’ve got to scoop him up and get. I’m due in Anna at 3:00 tomorrow afternoon, and if I hang here, I’ll be late. So I slide my arms under him, and he’s singing again. He’s about sixty pounds, and I gain more respect for my buddy, Pete, the firefighter, as I try to one-arm it in the Mack with Sister Irene doing the bicycle and trying to take my manhood away. Two scrambling gouges, one from the left and the other from the right painfully inform me that his legs are not broken. I have to squeeze his very bruised middle to keep him from flipping back onto the road. One more step, and we’re in the cab.
And I don’t know what I’m going to do with him.
Left and right brain are working against one another here, and that inner clock’s telling me my load of frozen chickens has to be on time. Always, always, that schedule. No wonder I chain smoke.
First thing he does is head for the side of the bunk and curl up with his tail between his legs, head craning toward me as it did toward the truck. Since my behind is planted firmly in the seat and we’re rolling now, he figures it’s okay to relax and help himself to the second Twinkie from a package I opened earlier. Ten minutes later, he’s snoring, and I start thinking.
The things a guy’ll do when he thinks no one’s looking. My sister, Patty, once married a creep she’s since gotten away from. It seemed every time I saw her – although it wasn’t very often because he never let her out – she had a shiner, and he was trying to play pals with me. Couldn’t hide from himself though. He always looked down. That’s always a big sign. You can’t hide from yourself. It’s impossible.
Then, of all things, I see the guy’s truck. It’s parked outside a common-looking diner with a
Budweiser sign in the front window and a few unkempt trucks parked outside. There’s one wooden chair in the front with nobody in it. The dog doesn’t get up, though. If he knows who’s out there, he’s in no hurry to leave my bunk to meet him.
Animals have that sense about them, though. It’s almost eerie, and for a brief second, I recall the loads of live chickens headed into the processing plant to meet their maker. Too much to think about right now, but plenty of mind work for later. The hum of the reefer is telling me that I don’t have time for this, but I just have to stop and meet Pit Stain in person.
I park right on the road because we’re still in the middle of nowhere. I check my watch, and it’s 2:30 p.m., so whoever’s in there tipping a few is either on vacation or doesn’t earn one. One pale, unshaven face peeks out at us from the darkness, mouths something incoherent and turns back inside. I’ve got to be crazy. Maybe it’s the Texas heat. The dog’s got to come with me, and I know he isn’t going to be happy about the move.
I hoist us down and set him on the road to see if he can stand. He’s wobbly, but manages to relieve himself on my blessed chrome rim. Better that than the blanket, I guess. I pick up the whimpering dog again and head inside.
I see Pit Stain immediately. He’s got a tall one in front of him, and his right arm is around a tired but pretty brunette. She looks up right away, appearing concerned, and then turns back to her boyfriend when she realizes she doesn’t recognize me. Must be a clandestine relationship. Figures.
A few others are seated nearby with boot heels up on their tables. One nods his head to me. I guess I must not be considered a threat. The dog is looking at his master and thumping my shoulder with a thick tail.
The face that peeks outside gestures toward the dog and says, “Say, Earl, ain’t that Larry?” The brunette smiles at me.
Pitt barely glances at the dog, now whimpering because he’s heard his name, and mutters to his brew, “Naw. That’s not Larry.”
The Face breaks into a fluoride-deficient grin and cracks, “Gee, Earl, that sure looks like ‘Not Larry’ to me.”
The honest absurdity of that statement brings an explosion of laughter from all boys present, and Earl slips his arm off the woman to support a flushed cheekbone. He feigns an unconcerned slouch and calmly asks “what’s it to me?” I put the dog down, and he limps to the loser’s side, the muscles of his hindquarters twitching with uncertainty. This makes the laughter stop and brings a jolt to my gut. I’m mad enough to lose my CDL and maybe never see my sister Patty again. I know nobody’s in a hurry to leave, so I amble over to the counter and order a glass of ginger ale. I’m thirsty anyway, and I need to shame this guy, or I’ll never sleep again.
The owner sets my drink down and puts a bowl of water on the floor for Not Larry, scratching him behind the ear before disappearing into the kitchen. I sip the ginger ale and notice that Earl has turned his back to me. The brunette is petting the dog, and he seems to be relaxing.
“Did he tell you he took Not Larry for a ride today? It was hot down the road a bit earlier, and he tried to cool the boy by tossing him out the driver’s side at forty. Ain’t that right, Earl?”
Now I have everyone’s attention.
“That true Earl?” the face asks. “You didn’t thr