Travis Klebs sat down at one of the picnic tables scattered about in a grassy area behind the truckstop where he had just scaled out. The Louisiana summer night’s heat and humidity pressed on his body but not as hard as the scale ticket, which read 84,322 pounds, pressed on his mind.
Dressing the tabletop with a boxed chicken dinner, Klebs paused, snatched his handerkerchief from his back pocket and mopped the perspiration from his face that had percolated up through his skin. Because of his particularities, Travis arranged his victuals in a neat, orderly fashion. Eight-piece spicy mix in the center, slaw to the left, fried corn on the top and okra to the right, like a three-point halo. He let out a slight sigh as a look of consternation spread across his face in small ripples.
“Dagnabit, left the Tabasco in the truck,” he said audibly to himself. He pressed on the tabletop as if to get up but stopped and repositioned his hindquarters on the wooden bench. “Nah, by the time I get back, some thievin’ magpie will have made off with my dinner to his roost.” As he shoveled up a forkful of slaw to spread out on the fried skin of a breast, a low-pitched voice, smooth like thick molasses, sounded out from the thicket of reeds, cattails and swamp brush that bordered the grassy area.
“Need sum peppa sauce, mister?”
Travis twisted a bit to his left, looked back toward the thicket and the voice.
“Save it, man. I ain’t got no money.”
The vague silhouette of a man emerged from the thicket and paced out a wide arch about the table. “I don’t need any money, mister, but what good is fried chicken without peppa sauce?”
the man said, standing a good 10 feet from the table.
Travis looked up and saw that the man was no threat. “Whatcha need, man?”
“I need nothin’,” the man replied.
“You want a piece of chicken, don’t ya?” Travis said with the muffled sound of a full mouth of food.
“I don’t want or need anything, mister, but if there’s an extra piece clucking around in that bucket, my internals would certainly be obliged to your generosity,” the man said.
Travis gulped a swallow of food and motioned with his hand for the man to come over. Travis studied the man as he made his way to the table and sat down. He was hovering somewhere in his 50s or early 60s. His skin was the darkest that Travis had ever seen. The light from the parking lot’s mercury vapor bulbs reflected an indigo hue off his face, which glistened from a thin sheen of perspiration. Mostly bald on top, the shocks of white hair that arched atop his ears ran down and crafted a beard that reminded Travis of cornstalks in winter.
Haphazard, unkempt and disheveled, awaiting the fresh comb of spring.
The man was carrying a bottle not bigger than a Tennessee miniature in his hand. Travis picked up the bucket of chicken and held it for him to select a piece. He returned the offer with the bottle of clear liquid. Travis was about to take it when he stopped and said, “You first.”
Nodding his head, the man removed the cap, tapped a few drops onto a thigh and promptly took a bite, stuffing it into his mouth with the help of his index finger. Travis followed his lead but maintained a cautious expression on his face.
“Yoooooweeeee!” Travis yelped. Grabbing his drink, he sucked on the straw until his cheeks collapsed. “What in tarnation is