American Gothic X

American Gothic X


Trixie’s Truckers Home

Interstate 55

McLean, Illinois

November 23, 2006

4:15 am

I was still pretty groggy when Dan called me and said I could take Lisa’s shift if I hurried my ass up. Oh joy. But at least working the early bird shift meant I could be home eating turkey with Mom and Martin by 12 o’clock, maybe even catch a little of the Macy’s parade on the DVR.

I don’t mind working the early shift. It’s quiet, just the OTR guys coming in, mostly. Since I got this job when I was in high school, I’ve become familiar with a lot of the guys in the rigs. People think truckers are always strangers, but that’s not true at all. Truckers are nomads, most of them have set territories so you get to know them and more often than not, all their heartaches. One thing for certain, once you know them, you are one of them and they don’t take to any one else causing you any trouble.

I grabbed the decaf that had just finished spitting and hustled over to Jake, sitting at the counter. “Fill ‘er?” I asked, holding up the carafe.

“Josey! Girl, where you been? Ain’t seen you in a couple ‘o moons!”

“School started again,” I smiled as he nods toward his cup. “I’m a junior now.”

“You’re up at ISU, ain’t ya?” he asked before taking another swig of coffee. Jake likes his coffee HOT. He’s told me on more occasions than I care to count that he likes his coffee like he likes his women and that’s as far as I want to remember the rest of his analogy. “What ‘er you studying fer now?”

“Same thing — Psychology. Gonna get my degree, get a masters and a Ph.D and then I’m gonna open up an office back where we used to have the smokers lounge. Charge all you guys out the butt to come in and tell me all about your women troubles.” I gave him a wink and he knew I was kidding.

“You’ll be a millionaire, sweetheart. A friggin’ millionaire!”

I went back to the kitchen to get another load of cups when I heard the door chime. Peeking around the corner, I saw a woman in a fur trimmed parka sitting down at one of the window booths. She pulled off her gloves and blew into her hands — a sure sign she needed a cup of coffee. I hurried out with a cup and pot.

“Regular?” I asked, holding up the carafe.

“Yes, thank you,” she sighed. She picked up the menu card and glanced over both sides. “I’ll have an order of raisin toast, butter on the side, please.”

“There’s a special today, eggs, an order of hash browns and toast or english muffin for 2.99,” I suggested.

She smiled and shook her head. “Just the toast. And a glass of water, please.”

Diets — why bother when you can just run a few miles? But I jotted down her ‘order’ and headed to the pass through to call it back. Henry was working the grill and he and I go way back — back when I was just a little girl in pigtails and Dad would bring me in with him when he was off the road. Henry grinned at me as I tacked up the order.

“So, tell me about this young man you’re seeing,” Henry said casually as he pulled the raisin bread out and popped it in the toaster.

“I hardly call it ‘seeing’, Henry. We have a lot of classes together and he gave me a ride home. Saved Martin a trip into Bloomington to pick me up. No big deal.”

“He helped you with your bag,” Henry countered.

“Who told you? Oh, wait, Mrs. Dubois was sweeping her porch when we got in. The old busy-body.”

“Seems to me, a nice girl like you oughta be thinking about settlin’ down, startin’ a family.”

“Henry, despite what everyone in McLean has decided, I’m hoping to go to graduate school — in Chicago.”

Henry shook his head. “You don’t belong in a place like the Windy City, child. You’ll get your fool head blowed off — and that’s if your’n lucky!”

I rolled my eyes. Sometimes it felt like this town was just too tiny — everybody elbowing their way into everyone else’s business. The door chimed again and this time it was a guy — an older guy but still really cute. He had on a leather jacket and no hat. His ears were red from the cold of the parking lot. He sat down at the counter three seats over from Jake.

“Coffee?” I asked, but I’d already plunked down a cup in front of him.

“Yes, please. And I’ll have the steak and eggs special, eggs over easy.”

“American fries or hash browns?” I queried.

“There’s a difference?” he asked back, an amused look on his face.

“American fries are sliced fried potatoes. Hash browns are the shredded kind,” I explained. Not from around here — at least wise not from around Illinois.

“Hash browns. And raisin toast, please.”

I couldn’t help it, I looked over to the woman by the window. It was just too much of a coincidence. But the guy in front of me just kept looking at me.

“Oh, and could I have a side of biscuits and gravy with that?” he asked.

“Sure,” I said with a smile and jotted it all down. I only had to turn to tack it up for Henry. By this time, the lady’s toast was up.

I picked up the plate and was taking it over to her table when he came in. He looked like he’d been driving a flat bed — jeans were torn and dirty, shirt hadn’t been changed in a week and his beard was right at the really seedy looking stage. Now, that’s not saying anything bad about flatbed drivers. They just never seem to have enough time between loads to take showers and change. My Dad drove flat beds for a while before he went Haz mat. He’d probably still be alive today if he’d stayed with them.

I nodded to the guy but he kept his head down and took a table in the center of the room. He was huddled down in his jacket, an old fatigue jacket, the kind hunters used to wear before everything had to be blaze orange. I took him a cup of coffee but he pushed it away.

“Just water,” he growled.

I looked over at Henry, but he was busy fixing the counter guy’s eggs. “You have to buy something to sit at the tables,” I told him.

He lifted his head to look at me and my guts froze. He had the strangest eyes. They were blue, but pale blue, like a lake in January. And when he glared at me I thought I might just turn into a giant popsicle standing there.

“What’s the cheapest thing on the menu in this dive?” he spat out.

“Coffee. Eighty-nine cents a cup, free refills,” I answered. My voice just barely made it out of my mouth, my throat was dry as dust.

He nodded and I put the cup back in front of him, filling it. As I turned to walk back behind the counter, he grabbed my wrist. His hand was like a vice.

“I want cream. Not that half and half shit. Real cream.”

I was trying not to cry. I knew I was shaking like a leaf. I glanced over to Henry but he was still busy. Fortunately, Jake had taken notice of what was happening and he stood up, coming over to where I was standing.

“Is there a problem here?” Jake asked. Now, Jake wasn’t a spring chicken, he’d turned 60 just last spring. But he still stood 6’3″ without his special order cowboy boots and he was built like — well, like a long haul trucker, minus the beer belly. He reached over and wrapped his big bear claw hand around the sleazy guy’s wrist, right above where he was clamped down on mine. “I think it’s time for you to pay your bill and leave,” Jake said and he was using the voice that said he meant it.

“Let go, old man,” the slimeball snarled.

“When you let go of the lady here,” Jake returned. It was the first time in my life I’d ever been called a ‘lady’ by someone as old as Jake. At least without that permanent ‘young’ in front of it. It made me want to cry again, but I was trying hard not to.

“Well, why don’t you just go straight to hell!”

Everything from that point on happened way too fast. The bastard held out his hand and all of a sudden, Jake flew through the air and landed in a heap, knocking over a table and two chairs in the process. I flew through the air in the opposite direction and landed on the floor, too stunned to move. The woman by the window jumped a chair to get over to me, dragging me behind the counter. The guy at the counter pulled out a gun from I don’t know where, but the asshole was faster and the gun flew out of the guy’s hand and crashed into the window, going off in the process and one of the ceiling lights crashed to the floor. Then he ‘pushed’ the guy up against the wall so hard he hit his head and slumped to the bench seat below him.

Sparks were flying from the ceiling light, but other than Jake groaning, there were no other sounds.

The woman and me were huddled behind the counter when I heard what must have been a hundred sirens pulling into the parking lot. Lights were flashing across the white and black tile behind the counter. I looked up to see if Henry was still in the kitchen. I couldn’t hear him back there and I prayed he didn’t try to do anything heroic, like Jake.

“It’s over, Wilson. Just give yourself up,” the woman called out and I covered my ears, afraid of what would happen next.

“I got your boyfriend out here, Agent Scully. I suggest you come up with a way for me to get out of here. Wouldn’t want anything bad to happen to him,” the asshole shouted back.

The woman, who I just found out was an ‘agent’, didn’t look very happy at that comment. She shook her head and chewed on her lip. “Mulder?” she called out. There was no answer.

“Hey, Agent Scully, is it a bad thing when there’s blood comin’ outta yer ear?” asshole Wilson crowed.

That was when Agent Scully started looking real angry. “If you hurt him in any way, Wilson, I will personally rip your balls right off your — ”


“C’mon, Agent Scully. You know I can take all of you with me. You don’t want that, do you?” Wilson yelled back to us. Suddenly, all the ceiling lights started popping and crackling and crashing to the ground. “Scully, you have to the count of three to get your ass out from behind that counter!” Wilson shouted. “One . . . two . . . ”

Agent Scully grabbed her weapon, which I could now see was holstered at her hip and shoved it in my hands. “Do you know how — ”

I nodded an emphatic yes. Dad had taught me to hunt, I could use a gun.

“Just don’t let him get it,” she hissed as she stood up, hand raised, and walked around the counter.

“Where’s the little filly? I want everyone where I can see ’em,” Wilson said with a smart ass chuckle as if he was the funniest guy on the planet. I wanted to plant a bullet right between his eyes, but after seeing what he could do, I was afraid I’d miss and he’d kill us all.

“Leave her out of this, Wilson. You’re trapped in here. You’re in charge. This doesn’t have to end badly.”

From the crack in the front of the counter that Dan never had fixed I could see her eyeing the other guy — Mulder — on the floor. But she was talking directly to Mr. Incredible, or whatever the hell he was.

“Nice, nice. I know what you’re doin’ Agent Scully. Talking me down off the ledge. Real nice. But you see, I’m not gonna be taken again. I’m not gonna let them bastards shoot me full of drugs so I can’t out of that looney bin. No sir, not this time. This time, I’m goin’ out with a bang!”

I heard the wind starting to howl, and then I realized it was coming from inside the diner! The walls were shaking, the pots back in the kitchen were rattling and the hair on my head was whipping around my face. I took that gun Agent Scully had given me and released the safety. The wind was so strong I had a hard time cocking the damn thing. I peered through the crack, looking for a good shot. Finally the asshole was in range. His back was turned to me, his arms raised up and his hands waving with the wind. He was a conductor and he was orchestrating the whole diner. I squinted my eyes, lined up the sight and gently squeezed the trigger . . .

Bang, Bang, Bang – Bang!

I looked down at the gun in my hands — I hadn’t finished pulling the trigger! Where had the shots come from? I looked through the crack and saw that Wilson was lying across one of the tables. There was a lot of blood. Agent Scully was feeling his neck.

“He’s dead, Mulder,” she said and sighed. That was my cue to get up and come around the counter.

“Nice shot. For a minute there, I was afraid you were really out,” Agent Scully said as she helped the other agent off the floor. He had a little gun in his hand and I could now see the holster at his ankle peeking out from under his pants leg.

“For a second there, I was out. Then I just sort of played possum,” he said with a grin on his face and a twinkle in his eyes. Man, he was even cuter than he’d been when he walked in the door!

“Played possum? Mulder, we have been on this assignment way too long,” Agent Scully said, and tried hard to hide her matching grin.

“Think we can get home in time for leftover’s at your Mom’s?”

I lost the rest of the conversation because the entire Illinois State Police District Six out of Pontiac came busting through our doors. Before long I was explaining what happened. Apparently, Henry had snuck out the back door, called in the troops and then went over to Mom’s house to get her. Mom and Martin both hugged me to pieces before I had a chance to tell them I was fine.

Poor Jake ended up with a concussion and a cracked rib, so he was spending Thanksgiving at Bloomington Memorial. He got to ride in the back of an ambulance. Henry assured him we’d watch over his rig.

In all the ruckus, I was afraid they’d get away. I found them standing at the back of a second ambulance, arguing.

“It’s a scratch. Not even a real scratch, look, a band-aid covers it,” Agent Mulder was saying, forcefully, and showing the little bandage just behind his ear.

“You were unconscious. I’m not taking you on an airplane for the next 24 hours and that’s final,” Agent Scully was telling him, in no uncertain terms.

I cleared my throat and that caught their attention. Agent Mulder stepped forward, extending his hand toward me. “Fox Mulder, with the FBI. Thanks for your help in there,” he said. He looked back and smiled. “This is Dana Scully, my partner.” She stepped forward and shook my hand, too.

“My name’s Josey, Josey Hanner and I didn’t help,” I told him. “I wanted to — I was meaning to, but by the time I had him in my sights — you had him already.”

“That’s how we wanted it,” Agent Scully said. “I just wanted to make sure he didn’t get control of the gun, I didn’t expect you to take him down. That was our job.”

I nodded, understanding. “Well, um, I was wondering — ”

“How he managed to do all that with the wind and all?” Agent Mulder offered.

“Yeah! I mean, he looked completely like a — ”

“Normal person?” Agent Scully suggested.

“No, like a complete and total loser,” I finally found the right words.

Agent Mulder nodded. “From what we know of him, he had a . . . power, for lack of a better word. He could control air currents. He had been in a psychiatric hospital until a week ago. When he escaped, everyone assumed he died of the elements. He’d fooled them all into thinking he was incapable of taking care of himself. But it was just an act, a means to get them to let their guard down so he could sneak past them without being detected.”

“So he was smart?” I asked.

“Too smart. He’d killed several people, but was always found unfit to stand trial. He’d wrap the psychiatrists around his little finger,” Agent Mulder added with a disgusted look.

“So if one of them had seen through his act — ”

“He would have been on death row, more than likely,” Agent Scully said.

“Thanks,” I told her. That paper I had due in Deviant Behavior was looking more important by the minute. “Are you gonna be here for a little bit? I’ll be right back.”

“We aren’t going anywhere except a very close by motel,” Agent Scully said, crossing her arms.

I ran over to where Mom and Martin were talking to one of the state troopers. Mom was more than agreeable to my plan. I ran back as the ambulance pulled away, leaving the two agents standing in the cold wind.

“We’d like you to come to Thanksgiving at our house,” I said, chewing my lip. “It’s just me, my older brother and my mom, but Mom can’t figure out how to cook for just three people and we have enough to feed an army.”

Scully was shaking her head. “That’s very kind of you, but we don’t want to intrude.”

I just laughed. “Look, my Mom wants to give you guys a medal or something for saving my sorry life, so you better keep her down to just a plate of turkey and dressing. Besides, the diner’s the only place around that serves dinner, unless you want fries with your chicken nuggets.” I nodded my head toward the McDonald’s in the gas station across the road.

“Scully, a home cooked meal sounds awful nice, and it is Thanksgiving,” Agent Mulder reminded her. “I don’t suppose your family watches football on Thanksgiving, do they Ms Hanner?”

I laughed again and nodded. “Are you kidding? Martin played defensive lineman at ISU. He’ll be glued to the set.”

Agent Scully rolled her eyes. “Who am I to stand between you and a turkey dinner _with_ football?”

I pulled out my order pad and scribbled directions to our place. “The Motel 8 over there is brand new and if you explain the circumstances, I’m betting they’ll let you in early. Mom said the turkey will be ready to come out of the oven at noon.”

Agent Mulder looked at his watch. “That means we have 3 hours.”

“Which you will spend taking a nap,” Agent Scully said and she had the same tone to her voice Mom gets that warns me not to try and argue with her. Agent Mulder rolled his eyes and sighed, but finally nodded.

“We’ll see you in a few hours. Thanks again, Ms. Hanner.”

“The name’s Josey,” I reminded him. “And believe me, it’s our pleasure.”

I watched them get in their car and Agent Scully drove across the road to the Motel 8. Mom was calling my name; something about the turkey would need basting. I hustled over to our car and got in the backseat. I closed my eyes. A nap didn’t sound at all bad, I decided. But first, I had to call Dan. I wanted him to make sure I didn’t have to work any shift on Christmas. One holiday a year was enough, in my book.

The end

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