Five miles outside Hereford, Texas, on Farm Road 1259, Big John Tucker slowed his semi and cut short a phone call to his boss as a wall of dirt rolled across the horizon and turned the bright afternoon to midnight. Worse than a blizzard, the haboob blasted the paint on his new $160,000 Peterbilt rig and would shortly clog the air filter with a pound of dirt.
There was no way to turn around on the two-
God, don’t let the reefer stop working.
Big John was a believer. He came from a long line of bible thumping women and carried a New Testament in his back pocket like most men carried a tobacco tin. He was a hard worker and there was a time he played just as hard but when Sheryl became his wife the party changed from strip joints and alcohol to prayer meetings and potlucks. It wasn’t a hard transition. He wouldn’t admit it, but he would do anything for her because of the way she looked at him, like he was stronger and smarter than he really was. His nightly prayers held a standing request that she never realize he was just an ordinary man who never finished his education but whose blessings included seeing himself through her eyes.
His phone chirped and Sheryl’s voice came through the Bluetooth, filling the cab.
“What’s going on?”
Somehow she always knew when he was in a tight spot. “Dirt storm,” he said and shifted down. “I’m on farm road 1259 and will be in Hereford in a few. I’ll call you back.”
“Okay. Love you.”
“Love you more,” he said and ended the call knowing full well until he called back she would have her cell phone gripped tightly in her small hand.
Dirt piled up on the windshield. He turned on the wipers but could only get them to clear a small hole of visibility and even then the road faded to a mirage. He shifted down again and slowed to a crawl until he could find the edge of the pavement. Taillights flashed ahead of him and disappeared. The fact that another driver was on the road was small comfort because he could be on top of the car in a matter of seconds.
A blast of wind rocked the trailer, threatening to shift the load. If the pallets migrated to one side the rig could go over. Big John Tucker had never lost a load in ten years of driving long haul and a little wind was not going to break his record. He ran his hand across the inside of the windshield as if the motion could clean the outside and grinned.
I am losing it.
A rest stop appeared alongside the road about one hundred feet ahead as another blast caught the tail end of the trailer and seemed to pick it up. He gripped the steering wheel hoping the roller coaster ride would end and felt his confidence drain and fear take its place. He pulled in on the semicircle of asphalt and parked. Out the passenger window he could barely make out a concrete picnic table and benches under a metal awning, its tin roof heaving in the wind and pulling at the bolts holding it on, caught up in the wind’s tantrum.
I can wait it out. It’ll be over in ten minutes, tops.
Big John picked up his phone to ease Sheryl’s mind and got nothing. “No service,” it said. And then the engine died, the great beast succumbing to the virus of dust. In the quiet, with only the ticking of gravel against the window his humanness began to sink in because without the growl of the Kenworth 500 horse power engine rumbling through his legs into his chest, he was as powerless against the elements as any other man.
The Peterbilt shuddered with each blast of panhandle wind and weakened his resolve to sit it out. The sound of clods scraping the passenger side door stiffened his neck and flushed his cheeks. He turned the key. The engine started. But before he put it in gear the haboob made another run at the side of his trailer and lifted wheels. The rig slammed back down and rocked. He sat, white knuckled, gripping the steering wheel. Now the load would have to be checked.
Big John grabbed his cap, pulled it down tightly on his head and tied a bandana over his nose and mouth. He left the engine running and stepped out, a firm grip on the door to keep the wind from ripping it out of his hand. The first casualty was his cap which was lifted from his head and swallowed by a brown mouth that opened and seemed to flash a toothless grin. He wiped his eyes with the palms of his hands, looked back and saw nothing but the swirl of dirt and debris.
Now I’m seeing things.
He held onto the side of the truck and worked his way back, the wind sandblasting the shaved head his wife said was sexy but now the protection of hair would have been welcome. The bolts slid easily enough but it took every ounce of strength to pull the doors open. He wedged his back against the right door and put his knee against the left. With the flashlight app on his cell phone all he could see were empty eye sockets and frozen snouts. The top pallet had fallen and cartons had broken open. Thawing heads looked back at him, mouths gapping, moisture beading on bloodless skin. Although he would never admit it, he shivered more from the sight than the cold from the reefer.
If he was going to drive out of the storm the rest of the load would have to be tied down. As he stepped inside to pick up his straps, the door slammed behind him like a rifle shot. He turned in a circle wanting to check his escape route but not completely comfortable with his back to the vacant eyes.
Get some cojones. It’s just hog heads.
Wishing he had his gloves and Mag light, which were safely in the cab, he held his phone under his chin and turned the cartons upright, lifted the heads by their ears and loaded them back up. Dead frozen flesh gave his stomach a turn, but he swallowed and kicked the boxes out of the way. After securing the rest he wiped his hands on his jeans and pushed on the door. It stuck as if welded. A moment of panic traveled up his spine.
Freezing to death in the back of his rig would be humiliating not to mention inconvenient. Life with Sheryl was just getting started. They wanted kids. They wanted a farm. He couldn’t stay on the road forever. Big John planted his size thirteen boot on the door with as much force as he could muster. It came open enough to slide through before slamming shut. He breathed a sigh of relief and sent the bolts home.
A burst of wind pulled the bandana off and sent it in the same direction as his cap. It disappeared as if vaporized. He shielded his eyes, followed the side of the trailer to the cab, and climbed in. A haze of dust floated in the air as dirt settled into the folds of his clothes, coated the inside of his mouth and put gravel in his eyes.
The rumble in the cab stopped as the engine died. He wanted to curse but had promised Sheryl. Wanted to fight but there was no one to fight. He hit the key. The Peterbilt tried, but the enemy was too strong and silence prevailed. He checked his phone and got nothing. All he needed was to call his wife, to hear her voice, to touch base with his anchor. Big John leaned back in the seat and looked out the window, tapping his foot and drumming his fingers on the steering wheel, patience an elusive quality.
Didn’t get that gene.
A strobe of neon flashed in the distance and then disappeared. He sat up and strained to see it again. There it was, beckoning like a pool in the desert. Not too many farm houses with neon. Had to be a business but there were no businesses on Farm Road 1259. Maybe a new one opened up since his last run. Common sense told him to stay in the truck but a business would have a pay phone and he needed a restroom because taking a leak on the side of the road in a dirt storm had its consequences. Grit in his shorts on a long haul wasn’t an experience he needed.
Big John grabbed his wallet and phone and stepped out of the cab, every nerve focused on the pin dot of flashing neon. He fought his way across the road, the wind tearing at his clothes and momentarily blinding him. The outline of a one story building, low with a flat roof, faded in and out with each gust. The skeletal form of a broken tree marked the entrance to the gravel drive. It was the kind of place he told Sheryl he would never go in again but sand was taking the hide off his face and breathing was becoming a problem. All he wanted was a cold one, just one, needed one so badly his skin felt like it was turned inside out.
The neon mug flashed, “Hello,” in shades of gold topped with white foam. Beside a glass door that someone had painted black from the inside, an open sign flickered and buzzed and cast a green glow over the dirty haze. He hesitated in the empty parking lot, a small voice in the back of his mind screaming at him to go back to his truck, screaming that nothing good could come from ignoring Sheryl and God.
I’ll just use the phone.
He grabbed the handle and pulled the door open. Everything stood out in familiar clarity, the chipped linoleum, the mirrored bar, the vinyl booths against the wall and the stool waiting for his butt. The bartender set a frosty mug of ambrosia on the bar and pushed it toward him.
“It’s nasty out there. Have a seat and wait it out with us,” the man said.
Big John looked around to see who the ‘us’ was and flinched. Across drifts of dirty haze and cigarette smoke, in a booth was the ugliest group of people he had ever encountered. They all looked related, like out of the same litter, with their piglet eyes and smashed up noses. He looked back at the bar keep. From the man’s slick black hair to his pockmarked face and nicotine stained fingers John felt to the center of his chest that he’d been here before, in the exact same bar staring into the same face and it turned his blood solid in his veins.
“Your name’s Joe?” he asked.
The man grinned. “Aren’t all bartenders named Joe?”
Big John didn’t know what to say to that and didn’t want to pursue the conversation so he picked up the beer and took a long pull, downing it all. Sheryl faded and disappeared into the best lager he had ever tasted. When he came up for air, two of the litter had joined him at the bar, one on either side, Piglet Eyes and Hog Face.
“Have another. I’m buying,” said Piglet.
It was crazy and would be a good story to share at the next truck stop but the man’s face had an uncanny resemblance to the load in the back of his truck. Another beer was tempting but Joe had slapped a hunk of mystery meat on the bar and produced a knife long enough to be a machete. Steam and an odor he couldn’t place gathered and rose with each slab the knife sawed off.
“Now you’re in for a treat,” Hog Face said and wrapped an arm around John’s shoulders. “Joe makes the best barbeque this side of Amarillo.”
The smell of the meat suddenly turned the beer sour in his stomach. Big John slid off the stool and regained his personal space. “Thanks friend, but I just need a phone and a trip to the head.”
The bartender pointed at the rear of the bar with the tip of the knife, sauce dripping on the counter. John headed for a short hall with a wall phone at the end. He dropped his coin in the slot but didn’t hear a dial tone then placed the receiver back into the cradle. Somehow he knew it would be dead and began to feel like he’d walked into a Twilight Zone rerun.
Sheryl doesn’t need to know about this.
The whole litter stood between him and the front door. He stared at the counter laden with red meat and began to pray there was a back door because if there wasn’t he might have to make one.
Laughter broke out as Hog Face said, “Yeah, they taste like chicken.”
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Taste Like Chicken (Inside the Lines Series Book 2)
A thriller with a diverse appeal.
'Tastes Like Chicken' is an entertaining thriller full of mysteries, enigmas and puzzles to solve which spins around a handicapped detective-
Author Sid Hamer truly proves her creativeness as a gifted writer by weaving a story that is at once complex, surprising, full of well paced action, colorful descriptions and engaging story line that serves to fully intrigue readers and keep them at the edge of their seats. With impressive strong narrative and lots to discover between covers,
Tastes Like Chicken