Lonnie was so far down on the food chain, a catfish would spit him out. In three short years he’d gone from being a platinum driver with a spotless record to an unemployed lumper.
It was that woman’s fault. That damn woman. Every time he thought about her, his blood boiled. What he wouldn’t give to see her just one more time, preferably pinned under the wheels of a truck. Visions of her squirming beneath 18 wheels gave him more reason to smile than he’d had in days.
The grin faded as soon as he picked up his mail. Eviction notice, overdue power bill, collection letters and one small unidentified envelope with the address carefully handwritten in old fashioned script. Momentarily forgetting the harlot from hell, he chucked the bills and opened the weird little letter.
It has come to our attention that you are currently seeking employment as a driver. We have loads available, and are paying a premium rate for professionals interested in a unique opportunity to haul for one of the world’s largest brokers. We are aware of your past troubles and would like to offer a second chance for you to be successful. Your truck will be waiting and ready, should you decide to accept our offer. Please be aware that, as time is of the essence, a prompt response is necessary.
L. Ruefic, Owner
Perishable Goods, Inc.
18 Shade Street
Lonnie had never heard of Perishable Goods, and he didn’t give a damn. A second chance was all he needed to climb back on top. He quickly packed his bag with everything he intended to keep and left the rest for the apartment complex handy man to sort through. Screw it. He’d be evicted before his first paycheck, and as long as he had a truck waiting, he had a home.
Helena was easy enough to find, but Shade Street was another story. He circled the tiny town until his old pick-up ran out of gas. Every place he stopped to ask directions was closed or abandoned, homes and businesses shuttered and left for the ghosts that seemed to inhabit them. The only sign of life was a big black dog that seemed to appear out of nowhere. He wasn’t crazy about dogs, but this one looked pretty friendly, and for some strange Lonnie reason had the urge to follow it wherever it was going.
He lost sight of the dog about the same time he saw the sign for Shade Street. Parked in front of a building bearing the Perishable Goods sign was the most beautiful red Kenworth W-900L he had ever seen. The brand-new Duraplate trailer was sparkling like a holiday. Chromed and twinkle-lighted to the hilt, Lonnie knew immediately this was the truck they had waiting for him.
Lonnie had been so wrapped up in worshiping the truck he didn’t notice anyone walking up behind him.
“Holy moley, ya’ nearly scared me to death!”
“I apologize for startling you. She’s a beauty, isn’t she?”
“You bet. I’ve wanted to drive one of these babies since the first time I saw one.”
“Is that so? Well then it just so happens today is your lucky day because you will indeed be driving this truck, should you accept my offer.”
“Consider the offer accepted.”
“Are you not curious as to the details of our arrangement?”
“Hey man, as long as you’re paying mileage and I’m driving this truck, I accept.”
“Excellent. Let’s board, shall we?”
“I’ll be riding with you on your first venture out. We’ll call it a training session.”
“You ridin’ shotgun?”
“To use your own words, Mr. Carthage, you bet. I like bets. For all intents and purposes, I am a purveyor of bets.”
“Yeah, I don’t know what that means, but whatever. Let’s roll.”
The smell of brand new leather seats was like perfume to Lonnie’s nose. He’d never driven a truck this nice. He spent the first few minutes stroking the dash and familiarizing himself with the gauges and knobs. He was in trucker heaven.
“Hey, there’s no Qualcomm. We running paper logs?”
“There’s no need for gadgetry, Mr. Carthage. I find ink and paper quite sufficient to cover our work.”
“You don’t talk like a trucker. You ever drive before?”
“Oh Mr. Carthage, I’ve driven everything from chariots to Corvettes. Let’s begin our journey, shall we?”
The dusk settled to dark as they were heading away from the tiny town, and within a few minutes Lonnie had fallen completely in love with his new truck. He didn’t give a damn what he had to do, he was going to roll this baby as long as he possibly could. And with paper logs he could cheat and roll some more. Dollar signs and good times filled every inch of his brain with happiness. Life was good.
“We’ll be making our first pickup here momentarily, Mr. Carthage, speed up.”
“Speed up? Don’t you mean slow down?”
“No Mr. Carthage, I mean speed up. Now!”
Confused, but still not caring what he had to do to keep this truck and this job, Lonnie hammered down. About the time the speedometer hit 75, he saw the man standing in the middle of the road. He tried to pull the wheel, but it was too late. The sick thud of flesh against chrome went off like a bomb in the cab.
“Oh shit oh shit oh shit oh shit!!”
Lonnie nearly jackknifed the truck coming to a stop. He was still screaming ‘Ohshitohshit’ and didn’t even realize it.
“Calm down, Mr. Carthage, profanity isn’t necessary.”
“What the hell do you mean?!! I just killed a guy!! We gotta call the cops, oh shit, I’m going to jail forever – they ALWAYS blame the trucker. You’ll tell them the guy was standing in the road, won’t you? You will won’t you?”
“Mr. Carthage, hysterics aren’t necessary and neither is calling the law. You’ve just made your first pickup.”
“What? What the hell? What the hell are you talking about?”
“Funny you should mention my home town, Mr. Carthage. I find it quite appropriate.”
“You’re not making any sense, dude. We gotta call the cops.”
“There will be no cops. As I said, you just made your first pickup. You’ll be hauling souls, Mr. Carthage, souls that were promised to me and not given freely when the time came to give them. If you make a deal with the devil, Mr. Carthage, the devil will come get his due.”
“I want no part of this. I don’t want to haul souls or anything else for you. I want to go back to my apartment and forget I ever opened that crappy little envelope.”
“I’m afraid it’s too late for that, Mr. Carthage. You agreed to our arrangement without asking for details. You made a deal with the devil and now you will give the devil his due.”
“That ain’t fair! You tricked me with the truck! I don’t want it no more, I don’t! Please let me go, I’ll never tell anyone, I swear it!”
“Mr. Carthage, you can be the driver or the guy in the middle of the road, it’s your choice. A soul is easily forgotten when worldly temptations are presented. Unfortunately, you’ve learned that little life lesson too late in the game. Now drive, Mr. Carthage. Drive these souls on into hell.”