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Monday, 2 December 2013

"Dragway" (Short fiction)




Frank washed the car’s dashboard with one final ghost of thick smoke and flicked the spent cigarette out of the window. He’d only been driving for about half an hour but the frayed packet of Marlboro on the passenger’s seat told him he’d already inhaled his last five. He used to chain smoke while under pressure but right now he was as cool as the evening breeze sweeping up dust on the crumbling road he burned along. The head of Mt. Cammerer peeked ahead of him from a copse of orange trees and that was the high sign that he was close to his destination.

The exhausted old Plymouth his client had given him had started coughing up fumes as soon as he’d hit the interstate from Cosby and he thought he’d never get to where he was going. He should have smelled the trouble as soon as he’d smelled the funk of whisky on his client’s breath, but there wasn’t much he could do at this point. He never took on a job unless his client gave him a decent amount of bills for his pocket and a car for transport and the sweaty pig had given him both, so he really shouldn’t be complaining. He just wished he’d been given a more trustworthy vehicle as opposed to a rusty old tin with cancer. The service he offered wasn’t exactly risk-free for either party. 
 
A Benjamin Franklin peered out from a wrinkly alligator skin wallet on top of the dash board, one of the five Franklins he’d been paid for the job. An extremely low price for what he was doing but he needed the cash nonetheless, his real job wasn’t exactly well paying. Money was only half of the deal anyway. He was to be given a car that he could dispose of afterwards. He also didn’t want to know any names or see any faces; he wants them loaded into the trunk of the car before he arrives and wrapped up in something to foil the smell. Most of all; he doesn’t want to know how the person ended up in the trunk of the car. He liked to construct their stories by himself on the drive. For the last ten minutes of forest road he’d been coming up with a story for the guy in the trunk. At least he assumed it was a guy. 
 
He turned the nob of the car’s radio and skipped through a few channels of static before finding a decent station. “Black hearted woman” by The Allman Brothers Band did well enough to hush the sound of the body sliding and pounding in the back. Frank took a bottle of Old Milwaukee to his beardy mouth and threw it back with an almost vexed gulp. He knew it was a bad idea to drink on the job but he also knew that it was a bad idea to take the job in the first place. He always needed something to put a little kick in his boots. There was already enough evidence to implicate him in this; if he allows hesitation he’ll be allowing the possibility of copping out. He occupied his mind instead with the story he fabricated for the poor bastard he was transporting. 
 
He figured it was a city boy from the North, maybe Chicago. Only a na├»ve Northern boy would get himself killed by a fat drunk. He was one of those long-haired, hippie, music journalists on his way to Knoxville to cover some rock n’ roll concert in the Tennessee theatre. He was one of those types that had more money than sense. The hippie sped his shiny Camaro down the interstate with a joint hanging out over his goatee and enough pills in his head to numb a horseshoe to the chest. Maybe he took so many pills because he was already afraid of what might happen to him down these parts. Just like Frank, the hippie needed something to take the edge off. 

He was probably a Dylan. Frank always associated anyone with long-hair with his old drinking buddy, Dylan, whose hair damn nearly touched his ass. So this Dylan guy was already a cocktail for disaster. A Chicago boy with a head full of drugs and an irrational fear of dungarees and pitchforks, headed down South for the very first time. The poor bastard was probably pissing himself at the thought of having to turn down one of the dirt roads to find a hotel for the night. The idea of having to mix with us country bumpkins probably shook his core. Dylan’s fear of us probably came from the movies. He was one of those guys who spent too much money down the theatre on those double-features. If you spend enough time watching movies about inbred mutants from the South cutting up and raping more “civilized” folk; you’re going to start thinking it the true way of things.

Frank tugged at the wheel to make a sudden turn down a sharp bend in the road and was instantly greeted by the sight of white and blue aluminium on the other side. There was a cop nursing a shotgun ahead of the car and as soon as he saw Frank coming; he waved him down. Fucking nightmare, Frank thought, slowly taking his foot off the gas. He’d never experienced trouble like this on a job before, he knew where and when they were on patrol. This shouldn’t be happening. As the busted Plymouth rolled towards the squad car, a hearty smile began to form on the cop’s slender face. 

The Plymouth came to a slow halt next to the squad car and that’s when Frank saw the deer. He rolled down the window and the young officer approached, smiling ear to ear. 

“Damn Morgan, am I glad you happened to be rolling on by!” he boomed , leaning in on the window and laughing, “Hey I didn’t know you drove a Plymouth.” 
 
“Hey now, you know I wouldn’t usually be caught dead in one of these crap wagons, Bones.” Frank smiled and shook his head, “My sister-in-law came into town from the city there two day ago. This ain’t no car for these wrinkly roads I tell ya. I told her I’d take it to the yard; see if I couldn’t find some parts off ol’ Dodger, fix her right back up.” 

“Damn boss, at this time?” 
 
“Hey, I didn’t say I weren’t going for a drink too.” 

The two men spat laughter until they were red in the face. Frank was this kid’s superior at the precinct. He should have known it was James Cooper when he first turned the corner. Cooper was the youngest guy at the station and was constantly being ribbed by the senior officers for his twiggy build. They called him “Bones Cooper”. Thankfully for Frank, what Bones didn’t have in body-size; he didn’t make up for in intelligence. 
 
“Anyway, as you can see boss; I got me a problem.” He pointed to the large carcass slumped in the middle of the road, bathed in Frank’s headlights. “Son-of-a-bitch ran right in front of me. I couldn’t swerve or nothing, unless I wanted to fly out the window.” 

“Say no more, son.” Frank stepped out of the Plymouth and the two men approached to inspect the dead deer. Bones laid his shotgun on the hood of the squad car and grabbed the hind legs of the beast while Frank took the front. A cold sensation chilled Frank’s skin as he stared into the one remaining eye of the mutilated animal. He’d seen human bodies before with their eyes open and he always thought they looked as though a part of them was still alive. If Frank was the first cop on the scene at a crash; the first thing he’d do was close their eyes. The eyes are the worst.

Cerebral mush splattered and left a hideous painting on the dry, grey tarmac as they heaved the carcass to the side of the road. They swung it once, then twice and then released it to murky forest upon the third swing. Bones grabbed his chest and took a deep breath, already fatigued, before smiling and shaking Frank’s hand. He thanked Frank and the two men went to return to their vehicles, but before Frank could slam the door shut; Bones called to him. 
 
“Oh, Frank. Have you seen Bill today?” 

“Not today, kid. Why?” 

“Ah it’s prolly nothin’, I came in late today is all. I’ll see you tomorrow Frank!”


*** 

Dylan probably needed to fill up his Camaro and that’s where he met the fat pig. Frank’s gums were bleeding. The pig probably saw the car and instantly thought; here’s a fucking opportunity. The hippie was probably agitated to fragility, he probably made every mistake you could make as a city boy down here. Slurring his words, shaking with the breeze, letting the pig see his fear. He let the pig see a weak spot and the pig knew where to hit. He probably got him while he was fishing a few notes out of his wallet to pay for the gas. It wouldn’t have been a gun; that would have been far too obvious. Probably took him down with a fist, then strangled him. The pig was a big fella, he could easily break a neck like a chicken bone. He broke Dylan’s neck. Not Bill’s. 

He cut the lights of the Plymouth and stared at the opening of the forest where a dirt path began like a vein into its heart. Dusk had stolen the light he had hoped to keep for the journey so he grabbed the torch from the back seat and popped the trunk. He paused for a moment, shining the light on the registration plate. 476-CYK. It’s just Dylan. 

He pulled the trunk open and shone the light on Dylan, mummified in bed sheets, masked by a white pillow case dotted with blood. The pig had to have broken his legs to fit him in the trunk; the guy was tall and lanky. Just like Bill. No, just like Dylan. Frank lifted the legs first and with every bit of strength he had; dragged him out of the trunk, letting him fall to the ground with a terrible thump and a crackle of twigs and leaves.
He had persuaded himself to go to the passenger seat of the car and fish out a cigarette, but he remembered that he was all out. He slapped his forehead. This was not the time to cop out. He was already trying to buy his time; the first sign of a man who is about to cop out. 

The pig probably sobered up later on in the day and realized what he had done. Frank dragged the body along the dirt path, a path that had been dug out from the bodies dragged before. The pig knew that Frank was a cop, so he panicked when he saw him roll into that junkyard, the collection site. He was probably sweating bullets when he saw him come. Probably started having second thoughts, that’s why he was so flustered. It wasn’t because he was a cop-killer.

Poor Dylan’s concert was probably underway right now. There were folks up at Knoxville wondering where he was or why he was so late. His VIP pass has probably been either given away or sold off to a kid on the streets. There’s a photographer in Knoxville right now and he’s wondering “Where the fuck is Dylan?”. There’s definitely not a young woman in Cosby waiting for her husband to come home. No he’s already home. He’s on a sick day. 

Maybe if he just pulled the pillow case back, just to have a peek, even just at the guy’s hair. He’d be able to end all this worried speculation right now, this paranoia which in the last twenty minutes had enveloped him and chewed his brain. He’d be able to say “Yep, that’s a Dylan alright. Hippie son-of-a-bitch”, then collect the rest of his cash and get home in time for his game shows. No, that ain’t gonna happen. It’s not Bill. Bill is at home. 

“I see yuh” 

As usual, the old moonshiner’s eyes found Frank first. At first he stood as a silhouette in front of the dim lights glowing from the cabin’s windows, but as Frank drew closer; he could see the toothy grin wrapped tight in the long, white beard. 
 
“How much?” the old man drawled, slipping his hand into the front of his dungarees. 

“How much you got?” Frank breathed heavily, dropping the legs of the corpse in front of the moonshiner.
The old man shook as he cackled, his fist clenching a sweaty ball of notes. The man’s eyes were always painfully widened, as if he were stunned. His thin fingers on one hand always stretched in spider legs as though he were constantly grasping at something. 
 
“Got exactly what you need, son.” He said, placing the crumpled money in Frank’s hand with a terrible smile. “I hope this one’s easy to cut through. Teeth ain’t what they used to be.” 

Frank shoved the money into the pocket of his dirty leather jacket and turned to leave. He never cared to share a dialogue with this man. He just brought him the bodies and that was that. He didn’t want to know what happened to them, yet the old moonshiner always seemed to want to drop hints as if it excited him.
“Hey boy!” 

Frank shoved his hands in his pockets and kept walking.
“You hungry?” 

That disgusting throaty laugh followed him back to his car. The radio couldn’t silence it. It echoed in his head all the way to the junkyard. It walked with him on his way back home. The laugh bounced off the walls of his bedroom and it rang through the halls of an empty police department.



***

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