For a state trooper, he’s not a bad guy. It’s that it’s nighttime, I think. No sunglasses, y’know? That’s the big cop thing, really. They come up to like they’re going to walk right through you, like they’re going to shoulder-bump you and then wait for you to object. The bully thing that cops swagger around with. But the sunglasses are what makes it, ‘cause if you can’t see someone’s eyes, there’s already that tension between you. That they’ve gone out of their way to disguise themselves from you. Like in Cool Hand Luke, that one hardass screw with the mirrored shades that makes your balls crawl up ‘cause all you can see is a grim mouth and your own fear reflected back at you. Sunglasses hide all those facial cues that we need to figure out if we’re dealing with friend or foe. Sunglasses make liars out of people, let’s them make their face a secret from you.

But it’s nighttime, and even the hardest of state cop hardasses isn’t gonna find a reason to be sporting shades after sundown. So instead of just a grim mouth and your own reflected fear, there’s actually a face deal with, a head stuck on top of a uniform and all that secretive bullshit just goes away. So, yeah, there’s the badge and the moustache and the buzzcut flattop to deal with, but he’s got eyes so I’m feeling okay dealing with him.

He still sticks me in the backseat, though, which I don’t quite get. Okay, there’s a shotgun bolted to the dashboard and some kinda minimalist cop laptop mounted on a swingarm over the glove compartment, but c’mon. Do I really look like the kinda guy who would fuck with the ordnance? I’m covered in road grime blasted up by passing semis, sweating from walking through the sticky warm of the evening, still shaking from when our boy here came screeching up behind me and hit the siren. I’m, really, in no shape whatsoever to pull a GTA on Trooper Bob here.

But, whatever, the backseat is okay, I suppose. No cuffs, which surprises me a little. I mean, sure, I haven’t done anything more wrong than pilot a shitty car into the state, but I guess I figured there was some kind of rule about cuffing anyone that got stuck in the backseat. So, yeah, I’m unbound and he’s got both of the back windows open so if worse comes to worse I can always let myself out. But for now, barreling down the highway at 70 mph with a nice cool breeze vortexing around the cabin and the radio babbling to itself, I’m content.

Trooper Bob starts throwing comments over his shoulder, like “You really shouldn’t have been walking out there. Real dangerous.” To which I agree, but then explain, again, that the wagon broke down and my phone wasn’t getting any reception. “Well, it’s always better to wait with your vehicle until a cruiser comes along.” To which, again, I agree, but then explain that in Connecticut, you could wait on the side of the road for hours without seeing a cop. Which is complete shit, of course, as state cops in CT run as thick as molasses, but he seems to buy it, nodding sagely into the rearview. Cop pride, maybe, that PA staties are more on the stick than their brethren in CT. Whatever. He stops talking about it.

Of course, that leads to the next obvious question: “So, what brings you into Pennsylvania in the middle of the night?” So I hold up the package and explain that I’ve got a crazy rush job, super-ultra-priority, blah, blah, blah. Playing up the poor beleaguered working stiff angle. Yeah, they’re paying me crazy money to get this thing there as soon as humanly possible. He asks for the address and I read it off the label on the package. “Huh. Yeah, that’s right downtown. They there now?” I shrug. So far as I know, I tell him. They handed it off at midnight, told me to get it in motion.

“Well, listen, I’ve got a tow truck coming for your car, but the garage it’s getting towed to doesn’t open until seven. If your, uh, addressee is ready for you now, I could drop you off there, give you directions to the garage. S’only about three blocks away.” He tips his head back to look at me in the rearview. “Sound all right?”

Sure, man. Sounds great.

“Good enough.” And then he’s quiet for the couple of miles it takes us to get to the exit, and there’s just the radio burbling and the rush of fast highway air tumbling in through the windows and tall black fir trees rushing by on the side of the road. At the exit he peels off without bothering to use his blinker and I end up sliding along the slick plastic seats until I’m pressed up against the inside of the door. In the rearview, I’m pretty sure I can see him grinning. Dick.

And an easy roll through a few block of shutdown Pennsylvania town, the lights all blinking red and yellow, not a single other car in sight. It’s quiet like I always figured the Midwest would be in the middle of the night, even though, yeah, as I said before, this probably isn’t really the Midwest. Trooper Bob pulls up in front of a kinda biggish brick and steel number. “Here ya go.” Hey, cool, man, thanks, and I’m reaching backwards out the window, trying to find the handle. He watches in the rearview, and I know I can see him grinning. But I find it a little before eventually and get out onto the sidewalk. As I’m shutting the door, he calls out, “Your car’ll be at a place called Wilson’s. It’s three blocks north, okay?” I don’t have the slightest fucking idea which way is north, but I guess it doesn’t matter ‘cause he peels out pretty much as soon as he says it. Thanks, fella. If I bothered to pay taxes, I’d be pretty pissed.

So, yeah, I’m there in front of the address, the biggish brick and steel number, and fuck me if it isn’t the most shut-down, locked-up building I’ve ever seen. The lobby is pitch black, not even the red glow of battery-backup EXIT signs hovering in the background. I toy with the idea of going around back, thinking that if I get called in as a prowler, it’ll probably be Trooper Bob who shows up to arrest me and he and I seem to be pretty square at this point, but since I don’t have the flashlight I keep telling myself I should carry in the car with me, I don’t much feel like screwing around in some dark alley, rattling doors. I figure even little Pennsylvania towns gotta have bums, and bums everywhere like to hang out in alleys. And fuck that noise.

I pull out the phone and as I looking at it, I see one, two, three antenna bars pop up. Nice timing. I speed-dial the office.


“This Jack?”

“Yeah. Who’s this?”

“S’Davey, Jack. How many guys you got out right now, anyway?”

“A few. How’s the run going, Davey?”

“Kinda fucked-up, Jack. My car crapped out on I-80, I got picked up by the cops and I’m at the drop off point and it’s locked up tight.”

“Huh. Lemme check something…”

Tippity-tappity in the background.

“Yeah, okay, they actually called in about an hour ago, said there was gonna be a delay.”

“What kinda delay?”

“Don’t know. I didn’t take the message.”

“You didn’t? How many guys are down there in the middle of the night?”

“There’s a couple us. Look, Davey, just sit tight. Place’ll open up at seven or eight, you can get in, leave the tag with a receptionist or something, get yourself home.”

“Yeah, well, like I said, my car crapped out so, I’m gonna need some help getting home, man.”

“Huh. Not sure what I can do for you, Davey. I doubt we’ll have anybody out there that could pick you up.”

“Okay, fine, what about getting some kind of advance or something? I mean, I making sick money on this job, right? How about getting some of that so I can get my car fixed and get the hell outta here?”

“I’m sorry, Davey, but I’ve got nothing to do with money. I can leave a message for the morning dispatch, but all the checks come out of the main office in Cleveland, so, uh, I’m not sure what to tell you there.”

“You’re kidding me.”

“Mmmmm…nope. Sorry, Davey. I can leave a message, but that’s about it.”


“Still there, Davey?”

“Yeah. Well, fuck. This is just wonderful, man.”

“Sorry, Davey.”

“Sure. All right, gonna go, see if I can find a park bench to sleep on or something.”

“I’m sorry, what was that?”

And I hung up.

Great night, really.


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