Volume 1, Number 4 -- November, 1996
fiction by Richard McKinney
Without having any explanation, I've always believed that country people live in their own world. Most of them are completely unaware of how the rest of us live, or get along with one another. They gather themselves in tiny towns that look like cardboard cutouts perched on hilltops or nestled in wooded valleys. It's always the same, a town square centered around a courthouse with a large clock that never has the right time or doesn't even run. Scattered around the square, there is a collection of old pickup trucks that display their states of terminal rust like honored badges. They line up in front of the various shops, patiently waiting for their masters to take them home. Of course, being in the middle of nowhere, the town diner and a movie theater playing the latest films of fifty years ago provide the only entertainment on a Saturday night, not counting the town drunk. These small towns aren't much more than mule crossings that seem as backwards as their inhabitants. Every time I have to come out here there's a definite feeling that I just fell through Alice's rabbit-hole, waiting to hear "Off with his head."
The amount of time I used to spend driving on these old lonely roads years ago took a toll on my nerves. If it wasn't for our district salesman, Terry, I wouldn't be in this mess. He just up and quit and none of the regular sales staff is willing to take up the slack and drop in on our smaller clients while traveling to the larger ones. So what if their commissions aren't as large. The small business orders are what built this company in the first place. Now, just because no one wants to take the time to visit a few out of the way places, I have to drive around these old back roads and make these sales calls myself. Well, at least one thing has changed, I don't have to bounce myself to pieces in that old truck anymore. It fell apart a few years ago and the boss decided that the sales staff should use rental cars. That old rickety bucket of bolts still gives me nightmares!
After driving for about six hours to my first stop in Dent City, I notice an old familiar sign off to my right.
The home and birthplace of Senator John Dent."
It must have been at least ten years since I've seen that sign. They haven't changed his picture in all that time,...I know he's a lot older than that. In his eighties by now I think and it's amazing that the old reprobate is still in public office. But I guess that's the mentality of backwoods people. "Keep the devil you know, for the devil you don't know, may devour you", as one of my customers used to say. These people can't even get old cliches right.
A few of the other signs along the road also start to get my attention. Since I haven't stopped for lunch my stomach is beginning to revolt and take control of my eyes. The last sign reads,
"Hilltop Cafe, the best food in Trenton County. Only one mile."
As I top the next hill, I can see that the cafe is not one of the best looking places I have ever seen, but it does look clean, a typical small white building with its name across the roof. From the looks of the parking lot, I am in luck. There are only three cars and one belongs to the sheriff's department. Great, I'll be able to get something to eat and be on my way without a lot of hassle. While getting out of the car, I notice two people looking out of the window who disappear as I walk up to the door.
I guess they don't see many strangers around here, and curiosity gets the better of them when they see a car that they don't recognize.
A definite feeling of uneasiness comes over me as everyone in the place stops what they are doing to stare at me as I walk through the door. At the other end of the cafe, a young, redheaded waitress had been talking to one of the sheriff's deputies, but now they are just staring at me like I just came from outer space or have two heads. Not wanting to be rude by staring back, I park myself at a table by the door. Still feeling very uneasy, I pick up a menu hoping the spell that everyone seems to be in will soon break. Several seconds pass in silence and as I look up from a menu the deputy has to nudge the waitress before she realizes she is standing there like a wax dummy. The expression on her face shows that she doesn't like being jabbed, and attempts to swat the deputy with her order pad. Being undaunted by her assault he nods his head in my direction as if telling her to get to work. I can see that I may have made a mistake by coming in here as she calls across the cafe in an overly loud voice, "I'll be with you in just a minute, mister."
My recollections of the this part of the country are all coming back to me now. Everywhere you turn, there is someone who is rude or has a mouth on them that would put a fog horn to shame.
"O.K. mister, what'll it be?"
"Well there's not a whole lot on the menu here that I can eat."
I could tell by the way she taps the pencil on her order pad that she was wanting to get back to her deputy friend. "C-mon mister, I ain't got all day. You on a diet or something?"
"No, I like to stay in shape and watch what I eat. Just give me a ham sandwich on rye and a cup of coffee. If that's not too much trouble, young lady?"
"Sure mister, no trouble at all."
Instead of going back to the kitchen to give my order to the cook, the waitress shows her flair for rudeness again, yelling out, "Hey Charley, scrape up a ham on rye will ya. We got a guy out here that's a health freak and doesn't like what you got on the menu."
I couldn't believe my ears as to how rude some people can be. The urge to get up and walk out disappears as the deputy gives me a long slow look. The last thing I want is for him to follow me outside and hassle me! If there were any justice in my life, this waitress would contract a sudden case of incurable lockjaw. What is it with these people? I haven't been stared at this much since I forgot to zip up my fly coming out of the bathroom back in high school.
It doesn't take the cook long to the ring the bell for the waitress to come and get my order. I look up from some papers I brought in with me, expecting to have my food in front of me in short order, but I notice that she isn't making a move towards the kitchen window. Talking to the deputy seems to be more important to her than serving her customers. If it weren't for the deputy giving her another nudge, she would still be there chatting with him.
Finally getting out of the little house that rude built, I try to relax as I drive to Dent City. Now I understand why there were only a few people in the cafe. I know I am not ever going to stop there again.
About a mile down the road I see what appears to be red flashing lights in my rear view mirror when I hear a loud voice say. "You in the tan car, pull over".
Oh, good grief, now what? I'm not going over the speed limit, didn't run any stop signs, I thought that speed traps where a thing of the past.
"What's the problem officer?"
"I need to see your license sir."
"Sure officer, here , I know that I wasn't going over the speed limit and there hasn't been a stop sign for miles, so what did I do?" Just then I notice that this is the same deputy from the cafe.
"Stay in your car while I call in and check you out."
"But officer, can't you tell me what I did?"
"Just sit tight sir, this won't take long."
From my rear view mirror I watch him walk back to his car, get in and start talking on the police radio. Oh man, this is unreal, he will probably come back and tell me that I was speeding, or something that will cost me a bundle.
Still watching him in the mirror I can see that he is writing something on his clipboard and then looking up at me with a funny grin on his face. This jerk must really enjoys sticking it to people. Well here he comes, I hope they take credit cards.
"Would you get out of the car please?"
"What did I do officer?"
"I stopped you because you were crossing over the double yellow line a few times. Have you been drinking, sir?"
What kind of question is that, he knows I'm not drunk from back at the cafe. "No, I don't drink, officer, I never have."
"Do you use drugs -- or smoke pot?"
God this guy is a real jerk. "No, I don't smoke at all and if I was crossing over the yellow line it's because these old roads are so narrow and I am not used to them."
"Sorry sir, but I still have a few more questions. Are you on any medications such as cold remedies."
"No, officer." With that he looked up at me and it was apparent that he didn't like the way I snapped at him.
"Well sir, there is something wrong here somewhere. I am afraid that you will have to come to the station and go through some tests."
This is crazy, why can't he just give me a ticket and let me be on my way? "Am I under arrest?"
"No, but you will be if you don't come to the station voluntarily. Get back in your car and head into Dent City. You will find the station on your right just as you enter town. I'll be right behind you."
As we drive into town I can't help think that he is going to look so foolish when I test clean. I'm going to love watching him squirm as I charge him with false arrest. I wonder how high this jerk can jump?
The neon sign over the door of the police station isn't at all what I would have expected from a backwater whistle-stop town like Dent City. This is too modern for a city that probably has only one stop sign. After parking in front of the station, the deputy motions for me to follow him inside.
"Hey Bill, what have you got there?" One of the officers behind the desk asks as he looks me over as if I was a common criminal.
Grabbing me by the arm the deputy pulls me over to the sergeant's desk. "Sarge, keep an eye on this guy while I call the doc over to run some tests."
"Sure Bill, I'll put him in the interrogation room for ya. Boy, you are really going after that bounty aren't you. This is the seventh guy you've brought in this week." With that the deputy disappears into a small office behind the sergeants desk. Being confused by what was going on and the statement the sergeant just made, makes me think I am just a victim of some sort of game these guys were playing. Who can get the most points and win a prize. Well there goes my chance to clear myself.
"Sir, would you follow me please? You will have to wait in here until the doctor gets here."
Considering all I just heard, all I can do is stand there in amazement. "Sarge, is this really necessary? I came in on my own and I am not going to cause any trouble."
He just smiles as if he understands my confusion and points to a door on the other side of the room. "That's really very nice of you but I have to follow the rules and that means you have to wait in here."
Time has a way of playing tricks on your mind when you have to wait on someone. The anticipation becomes more and more unbearable until you want to scream. Just when I think I am about to go out of my mind I can hear someone unlocking the door. As the door opens a young man about in his late twenties dressed in a white coat gives me a big smile. "Well it's about time you got here Doc, I have been waiting for over an hour in this hole. Let's get this test over so I can get out of here."
"O.K., O.K., just hold on, here, fill out this questionnaire while I set up the equipment. God I wish the deputies would bring you guys over to the hospital. It would be a lot easier than lugging this equipment around".
"What is all this? Why do you need to know about my childhood diseases? This looks like you want to know my full medical history here. What's going on?"
Still setting up his stuff and not bothering even to turn around, I get a nonsense answer. "It's just for the record, nothing to worry about".
After several minutes of wasted time filling out this dumb paper the I notice the Doctor walking back towards me. "O.K. now I need to get some blood from you. Just hold still and I won't hurt you."
"Is this going to take long, I'm already late for my appointment at the plant. Ouch! I thought you said it wouldn't hurt."
"Sorry, I didn't mean to. Just relax for a few minutes while I find out what's in your blood. You look like you keep in pretty good shape for a man in his forties. You must eat right and exercise a lot"?
"I like to think I keep myself fit, I see so many of my friends get fat and weak from smoking and not taking care of their bodies. I think they are all headed for early graves".
For the next few minutes the young doctor plays with his equipment, pushing this, banging that. I am thinking he will never get done.
"Well this test looks very good, matter of fact it's great. Just one more test and we we'll be through. I need you to take this pill so that you can take a urine test for drugs".
"Oh, good grief, and how long is this going to take"?
"Not long. I'm going to tell the officer that brought you in that he might have made a mistake."
This pill he wants me to take looks as large as a horse pill. What did they do, call in a vet? It would be just like these people not knowing the difference between a real doctor and one that treats horses. Finally getting the damn thing down, the doc asks me to open my mouth to verify I took it. Just then the door opens and the deputy that brought me in comes in.
"How's it going doc We got a live one here"?
"Well Bill, I think you have your bounty this time, he is a perfect match and in great shape. I just gave him a pill that will keep him just barely alive until we get him into the operating room".
"Alright! I'll go call the Senator and tell him that we finally found his heart donor and he needs to get to the hospital right away."
In fright I try to get up from the table so that I can get out the door, but the deputy and the doctor grab me and handcuff me to the chair. "Oh my God. What are you people doing."
"Just relax, it will be over soon. Just think of it, you are going to be a part of one of the greatest anti-crime legislators this country has ever seen. Don't you feel proud?"
Copyrights held by: Richard McKinney
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