She had real charm, and the appearance of innocence she managed to hang on to never ceased to amaze me.
I’ve seen a lot of prostitutes in my years on the road. Ebony was the only one I ever really knew. I think she was in her late teens when I met her. She wouldn’t tell me her exact age. She worked a truckstop near the Twin Cities, along with her partner, Ivory, whom I never got to know.
She pranced up to my truck one winter evening, as tiny and nimble as a ballet dancer and strangely lighthearted for someone in her line of work. I rolled the window down and preempted her question with, “No, I don’t want a date.”
“I didn’t ask you if you wanted a date,” she responded, with a chortle that belonged in a cheerleading squad.
“You were fixin’ to.”
“Yeah, I was,” she admitted. We both laughed.
“So, do you mind if I use your radio?”
“I can’t help you find tricks,” I said.
“OK, but I need to check on my partner. We kind of look out for each other, y’know?”
Something about her intrigued me, so I reached across and unlocked the passenger door. She climbed in, and before I turned on the CB I said, “What’s your name?” She told me it was Ebony.
“You by the channel, Ivory?” she said into the mike, her voice taking on a sultry tone as she entered her netherworld – a place I knew little about – her cinnamon skin ethereal in the dimness.
Her partner came back, and the two girls exchanged some words that sounded cryptic to me. I supposed that the driver Ivory was with might not appreciate her revealing where she was. Ivory sounded as young and innocent as Ebony.
“I guess your partner is white, huh?”
“You got it. We’re just like piano keys.” She reached over and caressed my arm through the sleeve. “You sure you don’t want a date?” It was difficult, but I made myself like stone.
“Hmm, no response,” she said, sounding despondent.
“I’m married, Ebony,” I said. It was only half a lie – I had been and would be again. “Besides, I don’t think love should be bought or sold.”
“Sex and love ain’t the same thing.” She rolled her eyes and smiled as if my naiveté amused her.
“Aren’t you awfully young to be doing this?”
“I was too young to have a baby, too, but I did. You can’t make enough to send a kid to college working at K-Mart, and my little Bradley is going to college.”
“How old is Bradley?” I asked.
“Never mind, Tin Man. By the time he’s ready, I’ll have plenty of money for tuition. I take home a couple hundred some nights.”
“Tin Man isn’t my handle,” I said.
“It is now. You’re as hard to warm up as any tin man.”
Ebony tuned my FM radio to her favorite station and found a Michael Jackson song she liked, “Billy Jean.” “I’m his biggest fan, Tin Man,” she said as she swayed and jerked to the music. Ordinarily, someone taking charge in my private space like that would have annoyed me, but I felt comfortable with her and didn’t mind.
When she left my truck, she moonwalked backwards a few strides, waving and smiling. It became her trademark way of saying goodbye.
So began a friendship that lasted until the next year. I was on a dedicated run then and spent two nights each week at that truckstop. Whenever I was there, Ebony would come and spend some time sitting in the cab talking with me. I was torn between a feeling that I was partly supporting her unhealthy lifestyle and the knowledge that if she weren’t with me, she would be with someone who would only use her.
She stopped trying to get me for a customer. We both knew that would mess up what we had. I learned that she lived with her mother, who apparently knew about her evening activities. Her father was a trucker who had stopped coming home when she was small.
One weekend I bought Michael Jackson’s Thriller album so that she could listen to it whenever she visited me. “Oh, Tin Man, you’re so sweet,” she said when I showed it to her. I got the impression that she had few luxuries in her life, despite her income. I guess she saved most of the cash she made for Bradley’s future.
She avoided telling me anything I could use to identify her, fearing I would go to the police. Now I wish I had. She trusted me, and maybe things would have turned out differently if I had cared more about her well being than our friendship.
I had this noble idea that one day she would want to get away from hooking and she might need a friend to help her. She had real charm, and the appearance of innocence she managed to hang on to never ceased to amaze me. I would ask her questions about being a “working girl.” She was always evasive and would say, “You just don’t know, Tin Man. You just don’t know.” Or she might say, “It’s just easy money,” the lilt in her voice suggesting that she considered me lovable but dumb.
Once I asked her if she liked what she did. When she responded, “Yeah, Tin Man, most of the time,” she couldn’t hide the sadness in her eyes. But anytime I tried to talk her out of her
About the Author: Howard Glass
I have been a trucker for 19 years. I drive for American Wood Fibers out of Circleville, Ohio. I write for a hobby and have had four stories published in Truckers News, as well as other magazine and newspaper articles. I have written one novel and am hoping to find a publisher. I have two kids, a son who drives truck and a daughter who is married to a trucker.
lifestyle, she would get restless and go back on the lot. I learned to just let her be herself. She needed someone to care about her and accept what she did. I didn’t know how to do the one and not the other.
The last time I saw Ebony, Ivory called her on the radio saying they should meet “you know who” at his truck. I could tell by the sound of her voice when she responded that she wasn’t eager to go. “What’s wrong, Ebony?” I asked. “You always say it’s easy money.”
“Ah, this guy gives me the creeps. Calls himself ‘Mr. Coffee.’ Ivory don’t like him
either, but he wants both of us together, and he pays gooooood. After him we can go home for the night. Ivory gives me extra, too, ’cause I do the part she don’t like.”
“What part is that?” I queried.
“You just don’t know, Tin Man. You just don’t know.” That time she didn’t laugh. I asked her what kind of truck it was, and she told me the company name but nothing more. I held her hand and prayed for her before she left that night, the way I always had. She liked to remind me that Jesus was a friend of prostitutes and sinners. I always countered with how he would tell them to “go and sin no more.”
The next week I did not see Ebony at all. I assumed the two girls had some good reason for not being at the truckstop. I wondered if the police had busted them or if the truckstop’s manager had run them off. I resigned myself to the possibility that I might never see Ebony again or even know what became of her.
The week after that I was eating dinner in the restaurant at the truckstop, hoping Ebony might show up later on, when I overheard some waitresses saying something about murder and hookers. My throat got tight, and I felt sick. When I asked, they showed me a recent newspaper with Ebony and Ivory’s photos on the front page.
Their bodies had been found together, naked, in the weeds below the embankment of an on-ramp in rural Iowa. They had both been beaten and strangled. I staggered to the restroom and vomited up the house-special meatloaf. I even neglected to pay for my meal as I went out to the lot and hid in my truck. I don’t think I had ever cried myself to sleep before, even when I was a child.
My heart was in shock, my mind a swirl of anger, regret and grief. All I could think was, “Why hadn’t I done something?”
In the days that followed, her lithe shadow moonwalked in the corners of my mind, mocking my feeble efforts to justify my inaction. It was no consolation, but the newspaper identified her as Ebony Williams, the first I had ever seen her last name. And I had always assumed “Ebony” was just a handle she used.
In the months that went by my sadness slowly turned into a quiet rage and a measure of resolve to seek some kind of justice. I bought a revolver from another driver and picked up some handcuffs at a pawnshop in Dubuque.
I began seeking opportunities to talk with drivers from the company Mr. Coffee drove for. That was the kind of truck Ebony had gone to when she left mine that night, and I found out from asking around that it was the last night anyone had seen either of the girls. Eventually, I met one whose demeanor seemed awfully coldhearted. It wasn’t hard to find out what his handle was.
Rapping on the door of his truck, I woke Mr. Coffee from a sound sleep at 3 a.m. and told him I’d just chased off someone who had been tampering with his trailer. When he dressed and came out of the cab to look things over, I stuck my .38 in his back and suggested he be cooperative. I duct taped his mouth and handcuffed him to the landing gear on his trailer.
Then I climbed into his sleeper and searched. I don’t know if he kept women’s clothes as trophies or what, but among a rumpled assortment of ladies’ garments I found in the overhead shelf – mostly panties and bras – were a pair of size 6 jeans with the unmistakable E embroidered on the back pocket. Ebony’s mama did it on all of her clothes. There was enough child pornography, some of it sado-masochistic garbage, to satisfy me that Mr. Coffee was a dirt bag.
If I had told the police what I knew about where the girls went that night, perhaps it would have led to the same driver. On the other hand, I wouldn’t have felt safe in pursuing him myself then.
I know it’s wrong to take the law into your own hands – maybe I’ll answer for it when I stand before the throne – but I was afraid the police wouldn’t care a whole lot about the deaths of a couple of lot lizards. Like I said, I felt like I owed Ebony something. Or maybe I’ve just watched too many violent movies.
When he knew it was hopeless – deep in the woods, my resolve unswerving – he confessed. I guess contrition seems fitting when you know you are getting what you deserve. Ebony and Ivory were only the latest in his long string of rape and murder.
I intended to kill him. When it came right down to it, I couldn’t. I called the cops and left him handcuffed to a chain-link fence in St. Paul, with a cassette tape I made informing the police of everything I knew, including where he said he’d left some other victims. It was risky; I feared he would go free, and I would end up behind bars. Thank God, it seems to have worked out for me. Mr. Coffee died last fall in an institution for the criminally insane.
Mr. Coffee wore a money belt containing 19 $100 bills.
I invested that, along with some of my own money. Soon, I will make a quiet search for Bradley Williams. Hopefully, there will be enough for tuition to a good school, and I have some Michael Jackson CDs I’m saving for him.