"Lowboy #22"

First in a new series of book-length, trucker-P.I. mystery & hard-boiled crime.


     Chapter 24      A Greyhound Bus Station at Night

     With the Airstream still chained to the lowboy trailer, Bull's back was to the direction of travel as the RV swayed and the tires of the lowboy slapped against the interstate pavement. They were sitting across from each other in the dinette, and the old lady was staring at him through her spectacles. The curtains were still drawn but Bull could see lights from other vehicles through them, and he figured Denver was driving at a legal speed.
    Janey called from the back. "I have to pee!"
    "We all have to pee," Pierretta Z screeched. She turned back to Bull. "The camera is empty, if you are thinking something stupid. Officer Beaufort has the film, and I can switch his lights back on any time.
    Bull's mind was racing. He could use some kind of ruse to get them both standing up, then nail her with a kick. Shit, he could nail her with a fist right now across the table, well, no, with her right hand holding a gun in her lap, probably cocked, she could shoot him in the gut under the table before he could do anything. Well, how tired could she be? She looked beat. Not much of a chance she's had any sleep. How long did it take her to figure out where Kate or the terminal was, and then actually go there, and then go to Uncle Ralph's, plus finding Mom and Dad and going there, too!
    She must be twins herself!
    Does she have a private plane? Christ!
    This is my chance. Right now.
    I'd have her big .45 and Denver will be easy.
    Beaufort.... What about Beaufort?
    Wait. Think.

    "So what do you want from me?"
    "I need to hide the Airstream and the twins for a time."
    "You want to tell me what's going on?"
    "You want to know? Your Mister Denver knows too much and now we have to do something about him."

*   *   *

    The big rig was scrunching on gravel and slowing to a stop but Denver set the parking brakes prematurely, and in the hiss of released air Bull and Pierretta Z nearly lurched out of their seats.
    "Fucker drives like a kid," Bull mumbled. "He nearly jerked this thing off the chains. Where are we?"
    Denver was already at the Airstream door—round on top and cute as a Hobbit- house door—and he snatched it open. "We're outside a very small town." He grinned through his silver, handlebar mustache, his head of silver hair glowing in the only yard-lamp that wasn't shot or burned out. A Greyhound bus sign adorned a shabby building set way back. "This place has a bathroom, and I have to take a dump."
    Pierretta Z said, "I'm making the decisions here."
    "Besides, I want to put Lolita and Clyde on a bus home. To Valdosta."
    "We know where your stupid little brick house is." Bull said.
    "I have to pee, too!" Janey yelled from the back.
    "Me, too," Lolita said, "and Clyde's out of diapers, and we forgot to bring the punch to punch the holes for his tail, and..."
    "Shut up, all of you!" Pierretta Z slammed the big .45 U.S. government automatic down on the table with the muzzle inches from Bull's chest, the hammer cocked. Bull winced, and the sight of her bony, blue-veined little hand gripping it for a big kick was no comfort. He knew what one of those 45's kicked like and she looked ready to fire and hang onto it.
    "Okay, okay, you're the boss!"
    Nobody moved except Bull and he moved slowly, turning his head just enough to get a good look at Denver, frozen in the open doorway.
    "Ummmm," Bull said. He locked eyes with the old lady and was surprised at the grim ferocity. "What do you want us to do?"
    "I'm thinking!"
    Now he knew she was at the end of her rope. He whispered, "You only need one driver."
    "Denver, you said you had to take a dump!"
    Bull watched him hesitate, then turn and take off toward the building. "What if he goes for the pay-phone," Bull said.
    "To do what?"
    "Call Dopey? I mean that guy in Miami. Ahearn."
    "Get him."
    "He's got my guns."
    The old lady's face shipped a momentary look of disgust and disappointment. "Go!"

*   *   *

    Janey had watched Denver, moving with a kind of bowlegged sailor-walk, head for the tiny Greyhound office. But now, when she pulled the curtain aside again at the rear window to watch her brother, a light rain was streaking the glass. Bull was walking slowly but looking confident. He had been so nerdy when they were both growing up, but now, hell...
    "Let me look!" Lolita whispered, but Janey elbowed her back.
    "That black girl in there is fly," Janey muttered. "She came out to empty trash or something but she ducked back in when she saw Denver. She's all figged out, too, for a dumb bus station job." Janey watched Bull hesitate at the door. "He loves those jungle bunnies. Hope he can concentrate in there."

*   *   *

    The girl had just made it around to the other side of the dingy, dark wooden counter when Denver banged open the door. The bell above the door clattered to the floor, and Denver kicked it aside. "Sorry Honey, but the pakies you work for will use a nail instead of a screw every time."
    "Paks. Indians. Afghans. The rag-heads who run all the motels and bus stations in America. Glad to see you ain't one." Denver moved up to the counter and leaned over as the girl adjusted herself on the seat at the keyboard. "Oh, mama, you are a little hottie aren't you."
    "May I help you?"
    "May you, can you.... I need to use your phone."
    "There's a pay-phone outside, sir. We're not allowed...
    "There's a dumpster outside, too, if you get my drift." Denver moved down to the end of the counter so he could go around.
    "Please, I'll hand it over the counter."
    "No, no, see there's people in that big rig out there, bad people, and they're watching me, so I'll just duck down here where they can't see me, good, oh my how the legs get creaky when you get old, put that phone down on the floor here for me, thank you, but I'm not too old to get it up for a babe like you."
    Denver, down on the floor with the desk phone between his legs, didn't see or hear the front door ease open, but he had already worked loose a .32 automatic before hunkering down, and the gun butt was half out of a front pocket and ready to grab. He unbuttoned a shirt pocket and pulled out a slip of paper, then winced at the loud tones when he punched in Ahearn's number.
    "Pick up, asshole."
    Bull left the door ajar and was sneaking across the room, heading for the hallway with the restrooms sign, when he saw that the girl sitting behind the counter was blinking her eyes frantically. He raised his eyebrows and caught her slight nod toward the floor to her right. Bull returned the nod, and froze.
    "Come on, Ahearn, dammit."
    Bull slowly dropped to a crouch. The light rain had only dampened his head and shoulders, and he wiped his hands against his pantlegs. He could feel his body revving up, his heart pumping, the muscles tensing, his mind rushing through the familiar catalog of his life: no money, kids missing him, sexy young Dianna abandoned at home.... His body was charged with the feeling he often got when it was time to act, much stronger than when he nailed the J.B. Hunt driver who kicked the little puppy—he would have punished that dude if he were twice the size—no, now his blood was rushing with the possibility he could lose.
    Bull heard the phone slam down, saw the girl turn to the side and look down, her mouth in shock. Bull figured she was looking at the barrel of a gun, and he could almost see Denver's position, near the floor and just behind the counter beyond some papers held down by one of those glass globes filled with water and a snowman, you turn it over and this pretty snow falls peacefully down.
    He could end-run the counter and kick Denver in the head from behind but that would give the man time to twist around and shoot. Or he could grab the paper-weight and hurl it over the counter at Denver's head. If he missed he could duck back behind and then.... Then what!?
    Denver's voice: "I got to pee and you're coming into the bathroom with me."
    Bull dug in for a dash for the paper-weight. Before he launched he could see it, the grab, his belly slamming him to a stop as his upper body arched over as he hurled the heavy glass at Denver's small, silver head. But he didn't count on the girl moving first, rising up out of her chair and kicking back and Denver suddenly shooting—POP POP POP—Bull knowing the sound of a .32 auto but not really registering it as his body slammed into the counter with his grab for the glass ball and—POP POP—Denver swinging toward him now as the ball crashed into his nose.
    Denver went down, the gun still in his hand as Bull leapt over the counter and stomped on his head. The auto had a few more rounds in it but Denver was stunned.
    "Motherfucker!" A stomp on Denver's gun hand and a kick to the man's head and Bull was looking at the girl, on her knees facing him, spurts of bright red blood pulsing between the fingers she was holding over her chest, her mouth open, eyes wide, staring at Bull, her lips moving but nothing coming out, and Bull dropped down beside her and held her, and lowered her all the way down.

*   *   *

    Janey said, "Now is it time to call the law?" She was squatting and pissing beside the tractor tandems, with Lolita beside her. Bull ordered Janey back inside the Airstream as soon as she stood up.
    "No panties as usual I ..."
    "BullPerry!" Janey turned to Lolita who was still squatting and drilling a hole into the ground. "Jeez, Lolita, when was the last time you went to the bathroom?!"
     Bull saw two sets of headlights coming down the highway, one from each direction, the headlights dazzling in the cool, rainy mist—sounded and looked like cars—and he hoped the drivers would be paying more attention to passing each other than noting what kind of rig was parked in front of the Greyhound station, so easy to remember with the shiny Airstream on a trailer. Neither vehicle slowed, and they sounded old and shitty, one of them with a tire slapping hard on each revolution. "Janey, you keep a look-out while we drag her father into the truck.
    "Clyde hain't peed yet," Lolita said, standing now with her back to Bull and tugging her jeans up over her young ass. Bull turned to the monkey, tethered to a lowboy tie-down ring, standing upright and holding his diaper in one paw. He was glaring at Bull, and Bull thought his little dick looked like a bright-red, pencil eraser.
    "It gets bigger," Lolita said.
    "You would know."
    "You could leave Clyde here with Daddy."
    "And you?"
    "I want to go with you." She followed Bull into the station, but when she saw Denver lying there she said, "Daddy needs to go to the hospital."
    "Get over there and grab his feet. Two things. One, he'd talk, and two he wouldn't want to be left behind. He just killed this nice girl here."
    "Daddy would never. You did that."
    "That his gun?"
    "You shot her with Daddy's gun." Lolita reached for it, the hammer still cocked and ready for the next shot, but Bull beat her to it and jammed it into a back pocket. "Your father killed her for no good reason. Get used to it."
    "You should've called the ambulance for her!"
    "You see all that blood? You see her eyes? You know what dilated eyes means?"
    "Not your call."
    "Okay, don't grab his feet. Just hold the front door open when I get there. Check nobody's around first."
    While Janey and Lolita helped pack Denver into the cab and onto the sleeper floor, all of them wet now, Denver pulled in a deep breath and moaned. Janey whispered, "You got his gun, right?" She looked at Bull and saw that he was staring into space. "Bull, what are you doing?!"
    Bull jerked. "I was—I was thinking about Mom. She always had dry clothes laid out for us if we came in wet, remember?"

     <end Chapter-24>
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