Patti’s Story by Julian Grant
Editor’s Note: You can read a previous story from author Julian Grant featuring the character Ned Miller titled ‘Miller’s Junction’ by clicking here. The following story titled ‘Patti’s Story’ has another adventure of Ned.
Patti’s Story by Julian Grant
She slept the whole ride back to Gary. He wasn’t surprised given what he had seen of her life with her ‘daddy’.
Ned had long ago been hardened to the horrors that humans had been capable of inflicting upon each other. His Pat had always encouraged him to talk about his work, to get it off his chest, so it didn’t fester inside. But once she got sick and began the slow agonizing descent into her cancer, how could Ned add to her pain? His twenty-five years as a cop had taught him enough about what people mean when they say they want to share your burden. Ned had found that those who ask you to relieve yourself of the horrors of the day are too often looking for grim details and stories of virtue vanquishing evil. Not that his wife had been like that — she truly wished for nothing other than to provide a comforting shoulder for her husband to lean on.
Right about now, he needed one.
His new foray into over-the-road trucking, post his wife’s death, had been a healthy respite to the constant ugly that too-soon filled his day. Working out of Traffic in Englewood had introduced him to thousands of bad actors, as the press dubbed the thieves and constant con-artists that populated his ‘Shop’ every single day. Yet despite the cruel and often stupid behavior that populated his radio-car, he’d never once had to fire his service weapon in the execution of his duties.
Six months after his trucking mentor and partner bequeathed him his own tractor cab with one dry and another insulated trailer as his new retirement stake, he’d found himself on the wrong side of a weapon and had acted instinctually.
The result was one dead recidivist lying dead on the side of a lonely rest stop and one teenage girl now sleeping soundly in the back of his tractor cab.
Ned was thankful that his habit of wearing latex gloves when cleaning and assembling his weapon was ingrained behavior. He’d become duly accustomed to working with latex gloves on when Pat had complained about the smell of gun oil and cleaning fluid when he worked on his Colt pistol. Old habits die hard so it was just part of his regular routine to glove up when working on his weapon. Ned had a permit now for concealed carry and had hoped that his gun would never have to be used in his cross-country solo circuits now that he was working the loads himself.
“A deterrent,” Ned muttered to himself, the thin dawn light already a glow on the horizon as he hard-balled it down US90 away from the crime scene. “That was all it was supposed to be…”
He’d left the monster that had bought the girl in an attempt to rob him of his load back at the rest stop dead, picked up his brass and had decided to not call in the crime.
All because the girl — Pat — shared the same first name as his wife, who now sat watching over him from her urn on the mantelpiece back home and maybe somewhere from beyond. He’d killed the man before he could kill Ned and offered the girl a chance to escape the life she’d known all because she shared the same name as his beloved.
“Oh Pat, what have I done?” Ned whispered to himself, his hands clenched on the wheel as the miles ran beneath his wheels, every minute another misstep, adding to his flight from the law.
Ned was a criminal now and he was torn apart by the knowledge that he’d just thrown everything all away.
“We’re here,” Ned called back, sliding the parking brakes on for trailer and cab as he shut down the heavy tractor’s engine. Glancing back into the small sleeping compartment, he could just make out the girl’s dirty blond hair and big boots covered up by his wife’s one-and-only attempt at a macrame blanket. She’d picked up wool cast-offs from Michaels, excess stock that she’d used to knit and tie the throw that Ned used as his OTR truck blanket since he’d started riding with Gus, his former mentor.
The girl snorted, rolled over and continued to snore as Ned debated reaching back and shaking her awake.
Figuring that he couldn’t let her sleep forever in his truck, Ned took a deep breath, grabbed the bottom of her black boot and shook her.
The girl bolted up, a makeshift shiv in her hand, eyes pony wild at Ned’s touch.
“Getcha hands off me, you bastard!”
Ned pulled his hand back pushing himself into the door, his right fist raised in instinct.
What do I even know about her. What have I done?
Realizing where she was, Young Pat dropped the blade, as she glanced about herself, doing the math in a heartbeat as she took in everything. Ned felt foolish with his fist up, threatened by a teenage girl, so he lowered his raised fist cautiously, watching the girl realize that she was no longer the property of the man Ned had killed.
“I’m sorry, I thought…,” Pat stammered as her face flushed in shame.
“S’alright, I’m going in. You hungry?” Ned asked, opening the cab door, looking out into the yard that was his second home. Besides the truck and trailers, Gus had also bequeathed him the double-wide and garage he’d paid for outright over the years as part of his final gift to Ned.
“Always,” Pat said, plucking the sharpened plastic spike she’d threatened Ned with up from the bed, stashing it in her dirty Panda backpack.
Ned clambered out of the truck, leaving the door open, figuring that the girl would follow at her own pace. The last thing he wanted to do was upset her any further. He knew nothing about her and, outside of the moment where she pressed the Colt M19-11 into Ned’s hands back at the rest stop when things went sideways, he didn’t even know if he could trust her.
But he could at least feed her while he figured out his next steps.
The doublewide was a throwback to the late 80’s when Gus and his wife Netty had lived here, all fake wood paneling and appliances that had never been replaced. As Ned fired up the ancient Mr. Coffee machine, he kept his ears open, listening for the girl’s feet on the metal stairs leading up to the trailer.
He’d learned that listening was a core skill that most of the cops he’d taught over the years had neglected in their training. Listening carefully paid off, an off-hand remark by a motorist pulled over, the sound of a hidden gun being ratcheted inside a vehicle, even the rusted and tape-wrapped muffler of a junker car could provide a much needed insight or clue to the owner’s intention.
He wasn’t surprised when the sound of the girl’s crying reached him from all the way outside.
“How old are you, Pat?”
The girl was still concentrating on the meal that Ned had whipped up from the essentials he kept here at the trailer. Home was four miles away, the split level house he and his Pat had bought just a few years after Gus had probably purchased the very trailer they were in now. He’d never even visited this part of the community they’d called home for the last fifteen years after moving out of the city. Chicagoland, outside the city proper, was a much better bet for real estate value compared to the city and Ned had made the daily commute easily preferring the woodlands of the national park nearby to the noise and clamor of the city. He spent enough time in Englewood, Chicago’s Southside as part of his cop career so the peace and quiet of the bedroom community was a much-needed respite to the job.
“I’m fourteen, gonna be fifteen in September,” the girl answered, shoveling in the last of the double portion of hash browns Ned had pan-fried. He’d gone old school traditional for them both with bacon, eggs and the pan potatoes with milk for her and endless cups of coffee for himself. It had been a long while since he’d actually eaten with another person, he realized, as he watched the young girl inhale the food.
“How’d you end up with that guy?” Ned asked, probing carefully for answers. He remembered vividly the man telling Ned that he’d bought her in Cincinnati — but Ned needed to know. As he told his Boots, the academy-fresh kids in his Shop, knowledge was power. Not that he needed to overwhelm the girl. Outside of the shiv she carried, she weighed maybe a hundred pounds and was rail-thin, no meat on the bone.
Pat flushed in either anger or profound embarrassment as she concentrated on her plate, moping up the egg yolk from the half-stack of bread Ned had piled on a plate.
Ned watched carefully, looking for the lie. That was the other thing he’d learned on the job.
Even his Pat. When she was first diagnosed with cancer, she’d kept the prognosis a secret from Ned, looking for alternate treatment options and figuring out the cost for cancer care in her recipe-book she thought he didn’t know about.
In any marriage there are little secrets, personal papers and thoughts that don’t bare a deeper dive if you’re smart. Nothing inherently wrong, like an addiction or infidelity or a crippling financial crisis — just little corners of the heart, worries, affirmations and pipe dreams that one keeps quiet about before perhaps asking one’s love to consider with them.
He’d found her figures for the medical costs in with her recipe for brownies that he was going to surprise her with one Sunday afternoon as she took a nap. Ned had hoped to gift his wife with a pan of the chocolate hard-crusted treats they both enjoyed and had ended up finding out that his wife was dying.
Not such a little secret after all.
It took the edge of the brownies and ended up with Pat telling Ned everything.
Including how long she had left.
So Ned waited for the girl’s story and sipped his coffee waiting for her to tell him in her own time.
He was a patient man.
“I never knew my Pa. I had always just been my grandparents and Rhonda, my Mom.”
Ned nodded, watching Pat fidget with the now-empty milk glass. “We’d bounced about a lot when I was real little before Rhonda dropped me with her folks. I’d grown up with them back in Wilder, across the river in Kentucky. My grandpa worked the stockyard all his life and I’d done all my schooling right there with them.”
As he let Pat tell him her story, Ned started to clear the dishes, refreshing his coffee as he filled the sink with water and soap. He’d always done the dishes back at home and the work helped him to think over anything that was bothering him.
Before it was how to afford the high cost of dying for his wife.
Cancer treatment wasn’t cheap, and even with his police association insurance, the out-of-pocket medical costs and the deductibles had been substantial. He’d taken a second mortgage on their home, one of the ‘little secrets’ he hadn’t bothered to tell Pat, to pay for her Meds. Their monthly hit was $16,000, about halfway up the scale of what folks were now shelling out for the privilege of dying. He’d told her a white lie, of course, about how the benevolent association had a special police relief fund for families dealing with cancer.
“They died when I was twelve, car crash on US275, head on with a truck like yours. They said the driver was drunk.,..”
“Uh huh,” Ned responded, filling the hot water and bubbles with their plates as he started to scrub the dishes. “I don’t drink myself.”
“You an Alkie?” Pat asked, her back stiffening as she glanced about the trailer looking for telltale bottles of liquor.
“Nope, just saw too much of that stuff making lives hell on the job.”
The girl traced her long fingers on the kitchen tabletop, drawing lazy circles in the milk she’d spilled over the edge of her glass, eyes cast down.
“My mom was. She drank all the time…”
Ned sighed. Knowing how this story was going to pan out. Clearly not well.
“Once she got the insurance money from her folks getting smushed, she sold their place and moved me back with her to Cincy. You ever been?”
Ned shook his head. “Not really, driven through it on ’75 heading down to Kentucky. Never had a real reason to stop.”
“We lived over in East Price Hill. Lotsa bars there. Lotta crime. Three square miles of boozing and gambling and shit. Rhonda plowed through her inheritance and basically pissed it all away.”
Ned concentrated on the dishes, letting Pat tell him her story.
“I did whatever I wanted, drinking and stuff, some weed and stopped going to school. Wasn’t learning nothing anyway.”
“Anything. You weren’t learning anything,” Ned corrected, looking back at Pat over his shoulder, smiling at her to show he didn’t mean any harm.
Pat ignored Ned as she continued on, her hands now clasped in her lap, tears already raccoon-streaking her face, mascara running.
“Bitch sold me for ten grand cash.”
Ned stopped washing as Pat dissolved into tears again, her body shaking on the ancient kitchen chair.
He let her have a good cry.
What else could he do?
He’d already killed for her.
“Where do you want me?” Pat asked once she stopped crying.
She pushed away from the kitchen table, shrugging off her dirty jacket as she cocked a hip out. “In here or do you have a bedroom in this place?”
Pat felt his heart break, the dull knife he’d ignored since his wife had passed twisting fresh inside.
“I didn’t bring you here to have sex with you,” Pat said, unable to look at the young girl wobbling before him.
“What’s wrong with me?” Pat asked, her lower lip trembling as storm clouds of tears threatened to break. “Am I too old for you?”
Ned felt the blade again, his guts rubber as he moved slowly to the kitchen table, carefully sitting down, making sure that the girl could see he offered no threat.
“I’m not a monster. I used to be a cop,” Ned explained as he concentrated on his coffee as he tried not to scare the skittish child. She’s just a kid, goddammit.
Seeing that Ned proved to be maybe trustworthy, Pat slumped down into her chair, looking at her ragged nails as she picked at the errant flakes of black polish.
“I did it with lots of cops. They didn’t care how old I was.”
Ned, knew that some cops used their badge to troll for sex, nodded in agreement. He’d distanced himself on the job from those officers – knowing that sex for a stay-out-of-jail card was a common enough occurrence in a lot of districts. It was one of the other reasons why he’d been an outsider in his own division, too clean, too quiet, not willing to take advantage of his position.
“I became a cop to make a difference. Not to take advantage of people, Pat. I never took any money and I never took advantage of anybody.”
Pat scoffed, her street-tough bravado a mask for her new respect for the man across from her. She’d clearly never met anyone like Ned.
“Are you like a God guy? Like, super religious or something? Like, I have to join your church and get saved?”
Ned laughed. “No, I don’t believe in God. He’s never done jack for me.”
And Ned meant it too.
He’d prayed endlessly for his wife to beat the disease that killed her, making tithes to local churches, writing our prayers and even recited them offering up his eternal soul if the man upstairs would give his Pat a pass.
He didn’t do anything that Ned could see.
“Why don’t you help yourself to a shower and crash in the back. I’m going to head out home and give you some privacy and come back later. We can talk a bit more about what happened and what we’re going to do.”
“You killed him,” Pat said, lifting her bruised face to peer at Pat through the rough cut bangs that framed her too-thin face. “You killed him and set me free. What’s to talk about. You’re a hero.”
Ned shrugged. He may have saved the girl from her predator – but he’d also put himself in a world of trouble if this came back on him.
“I’ll see you in a little while.”
Ned spent a long time at his home, washing up and grabbing four hours sleep as he mulled over what to do next. One part of him, a little part, hoped that when he got back, the girl would be gone and that he’d just push the whole thing out of mind. He’d left no prints on site, there were no security cameras at the rest stop – and by now, the crime had probably been reported and the scene processed.
When he woke up, Ned fired up his wife’s computer, nervous at using her machine. He’d never been a big tech guy and had marveled at how she’d run her online sales business, posting pictures, writing ads and flipping her estate and garage sale finds for maximum cash value. He navigated to the online search engine, typing in ‘rest stop shooting + Allegheny National Forest + PA’ and let the machine do the rest. It had been a seven hour plus drive back to his depot plus the added five hours for eating and sleeping so a half-day had passed already. More than enough time for a concerned civilian to call it in.
Sure enough, a news item in the Marienville PA Register splashed the shooting on their front page. There was the ugly van he’d first seen when he woke up there forever ago along with a collection of State cops and the Park Rangers gathered around a crime scene perimeter. They’d set up a privacy screen to hide the body of the man Ned had put three rounds into. The actual details were pretty sparse listing the shooting with no name of the victim revealed. The van apparently had been stolen using fake license plates with drug paraphernalia found inside the vehicle. An unnamed ‘inside source’ had stated that the shooting appeared to be gangland related possibly connected over drugs. Apparently, the picturesque spot had a history of body dumps and other illegal activity due to the isolated nature of the park. Ned had unwittingly ended up, at least, in the best possible place to kill someone.
He thought he’d feel more.
He’d never killed anyone before and was remarkably unaffected by the death of the man. He’d had no choice, with the skel armed himself, waving the gun at him, and both his and the girl’s life in jeopardy. Ned had dropped him and hadn’t looked back since. Is there something wrong with me?
Ned signed off after finishing the article hoping that he’d seen the last of it. The report said there were no witnesses and Ned knew that, based on his own ex-cop assessment, the DB was not going to be a high priority look-for. The man he’d shot had obviously been a career criminal and cops usually gave jack shit about gang-on-gang violence, even if it wasn’t.
The big question though was what to do about the girl?
He couldn’t just bring her home. He and his Pat had been friendly with the local neighbors, passing the usual pleasantries and watching out for each others properties – but they’d notice if he moved a teenage girl into his place.
If that was what he was even thinking of doing?
Once again, Ned wondered if she’d be there when he got back to Gus’ place.
“Hello, you in there, kid? It’s me. I’m coming in,” Ned called from the front door, unsure of himself and the rules of interacting with a teenage girl. He figured he owed her at least the benefit of privacy as he listened carefully to see if she was still there.
“C’mon in,” Pat called from the back bedroom. “I’m just getting dressed.”
Ned stepped in, scanning the room to check the visible contents of the trailer. It wasn’t that he didn’t trust the girl, it was just an old cop habit. Situational awareness had saved his life more than once and he prided himself on his memory. The place looked just as he’d left it, with the exception of the soapy dishes and coffee pot now clean and stacked by the sink.
Gus’s laptop computer, what he’d used to book the truck loads for their runs, was open on the coffee table now playing what he called ‘girly music’. Sweet twangy kinda-country playing from the tinny speaker as Ned glanced at the screen.
An incomprehensible scroll of messages and picture icons massed on the computer with photographs and cryptic anagrams and symbols floating on the screen.
Ned didn’t have a clue what any of it meant.
“Hey, mister. You know, I don’t even know your name,” Pat called from bedroom doorway.
She’d dressed differently today, worn blue jeans and a sweatshirt instead of the trashy skirt she’d been in when he found her. She’d scrubbed all of the makeup of her face, her hair whisper-fine and clean.
“Ned, my name is Ned.”
“Pat. Patti, to my friends.”
“What is all this?” Ned said, pointing to the computer screen.
Patti dashed to the computer, jumping onto the couch as she folded her long legs under her. She was all elbows and knees, like a young colt, Ned noted as he carefully stepped behind her, not wanting to spook her sitting next to the girl on the couch.
Pat looked over her shoulder briefly, checking to see where Ned stood, as she pointed out the scrolling text messages and pictures.
“This is BACKROOM dot com, the place that a-hole would use for hookups and meetups. He’d troll the board and we’d drive to places for other a-holes to do it with me.”
Ned didn’t know what to say.
“Why are you looking at this? Do you want…”
Pat shook her head, glancing back at Ned, patting the cushion next to her. “Sit next to me, you make me nervous looking over my shoulder. I need to see where you are.”
Ned nodded. “Let me get the coffee started. I need a cup.”
“Here, I’ll do it. You sit down and I’ll talk you through it while I make the coffee.”
“Talk me through what?”
“Did you know there’s a whole world of pervs out there looking to hook up with kids? Like a total underground thing?”
Ned nodded. Being a cop, he’d heard all kinds of rumors, of course – but if it didn’t cross his car’s bumper, it was outside of his frame of reference. The EC, the electronic crime division, had dealt with this kind of stuff back in the day.
“I got an idea when you were gone,” Pat smiled, pulling the coffee filters out of the cupboard, dumping out the old and refilling the pot.
Ned looked back at the electronic communiques on the computer flashing nationwide.
“There, right there. The shit box RV.”
Ned looked at the old school Winnie that Patti pointed out to him, circling round back of the truck rest stop area. As usual, the big wheelers were all lined up, catching some down time, pushed into the back of the large parking lot. They’d taken Ned’s personal vehicle, an old Kia Optima, indistinguishable from the thousands of them on the road as they threaded through the cars towards the back area. He didn’t want to take a chance that anyone would remember his truck tractor if he drove that over.
“You sure, kid. They look just like old timers, you know?”
“Watch what they do, you’ll see.”
Ned had parked on the farthest edge of the lot, close enough to see the dirty wagon, wondering how he’d let Patti talk him into the surveillance detail he now found himself on.
The RV was coated in road grime, the green-brown mold of years caked on the side of the rig, definitely dropping it into the shit box category, just like the kid had said.
The RV sidled in next to a host of rigs with the drivers plopped in deck chairs around a folding table playing cards. A couple of them, big-bellied long haulers if Ned wasn’t mistaken, glanced at each other and leaned in to have a private chat as the motorhome landed.
“Right on time,” Patti said, glancing at the Kia’s clock on the dashboard.
They’d spent the morning with Pat taking Ned through the intricacies of the online bulletin board she’d brought up on Gus’s old computer. Like the load management tool Ned used on his mobile phone, once you understood the anagrams and pictographs used, it was easy to decipher.
Eggplant, peach, baby cartoon pictures, with a ‘minus fourteen’ tag meant an underage prostitute, Ned quickly figured out. The GPS coordinates next to the string of pictures and text and the 2400 military time next to the message was all a sick customer needed to find the next spot that underage sex would be for sale.
“This happens all the time?” Ned asked, his guts greasy as he scrolled through hundreds of listings on the site.
“Uh, huh,” Patti nodded, “the asshole who bought me had me do the text updates and stuff because he was dumb as shit and couldn’t work the phone properly. We’d hit these truck stops, rest areas and crappy flea markets and then,…. Well, you know. He’d make me work.”
Ned was dumbfounded. How could this kind of trafficking exist? Surely the state police would be all over this. Especially if it was happening on or near the interstates?
“They’re getting out, see?” Patti whispered as Ned peered through the front window, expecting to see the equivalent of the monster that had sold Patti to other men.
The woman was in her early 60’s, a grandmother type complete with baseball cap and fanny pack, the telltale bulge of a concealed weapon visible even at this distance to Ned’s trained eye. The man, looking every inch her beloved husband, had the big wraparound sunglasses seniors wore when driving, dressed in Florida-issue Bermuda shorts and a matching shirt top. If you didn’t know better, you’d write them off as just another pair of old-timers heading South for a vacation or extended family gathering.
“Let’s do something to wake these people up,” Patti seethed.
“What do you expect me to do? This is horrible, but I’m already in way deep with you, Patti. We gotta figure out your next steps. Do you have anybody else you can go to?”
Patti crossed her arms across her pigeon chest as a scowl crossed her face. “I told you. There’s nobody. All I got to look forward to is a shitty foster home. If I’m lucky. Or a life as a teenage hooker, I guess. It’s not like I’ve got a lot of options.”
Ned sat back on Gus’ worn couch watching the ticker tape of sex ads and comments update on the computer. Patti had explained how the advertisements self-deleted after twenty-five minutes and that the members of the bulletin board all hid behind some web gobbledegook he barely understood.
What he did get was that there was a widespread sex-trafficking conspiracy operating across the US that was using the highways and the trucking industry as its prime market.
“I want to shut these assholes down. I want to mess their shit up, get them busted and stop them doing to other kids what happened to me,” Patti whispered, tears once again starting to leak as she shivered in memory. Ned couldn’t imagine the pain and suffering she’d been through — he didn’t have to. He knew that kids like Patti ended up in the life as young as thirteen and boys started getting abused as early as twelve. The CPD had provided all of them with the latest stats so they knew to keep an eye out for the kids and the pimps that worked them on the street. It was worse for black and brown kids. They started even sooner.
“I want to make a difference. Get help for them, you know. These kids don’t have a choice like the lot lizards do. Those old hookers made a choice, they do sex work because they decided to. They weren’t forced into it. I didn’t pick servicing sick old men on my, like, career option checklist.”
Ned wasn’t sure what to do.
He knew in Europe, violence and sex-trafficking was much lower in countries that had legal prostitution and handled it like any other business – with medical checkups and mandatory age limits strictly enforced. Here in the US, it was a mess with only Nevada having regulated brothels preying on the Vegas horndogs looking for some action. Everywhere else, it was the Wild West.
“So, you want to, what? Call the cops? Have them arrested?”
Patti shook her head. “No, I don’t want to have them arrested. I want to make them pay. I want to mess their shit up so bad they never, ever think about selling a kid to rapists ever again. I want to save these kids that can’t save themselves because they got nowhere to go. Just like me.”
Ned looked at the young girl, so vulnerable, literally shaking in anger as tears rolled down her face.
He sighed. What Patti was suggesting was probably illegal, completely irresponsible for him to consider and without a doubt, the most dangerous thing he had even heard.
Ned sighed. “Where do we start?”
“I can’t call them,” Ned said as he saw the older couple approach the table full of truckers. “If I identify myself, they’ll want to ask all kind of questions and have me make a statement about how I knew about this? And that won’t be good for you. Or me.”
Patti snorted in frustration, slapping the car dashboard. “Just dime them out as a concerned citizen. Say you saw some guys messing around with an underage girl in the RV and you wanted to report it.”
Ned knew the odds of the cops taking a call like this seriously was fifty-fifty depending on the day. He could use the payphone by the pumps, hiding his identity easily but without a name or some kind of ID offered, who knew if dispatch would even send someone? It was a gamble.
“We don’t have long,” Patti hissed, “Look…”
Ned slid his eyes over to the filthy RV, the screen door now hanging open to reveal a skinny girl, about the same age as Patti, dressed in a thin old-school slip and garish face-paint makeup. Black and brown bruises dotted her arms and legs as she waved to the table of men. The older dude, standing nearby the door had her turn around, lifting up the yellowed flimsy covering to reveal her flat bottom as she slid back into the dark shadows of the rig.
Towards the bedroom area.
“They’ll be selling a train… the group of them one after another. You really gonna let this happen?” Patti grabbed the door handle of the Kia, eyeballing the service station phone bank. “Because if you don’t call it in, I will.”
“Don’t do that. I’ll go. They’ll believe me before they believe a kid.”
“Hurry up,” Pat growled. “We don’t have much time.”
Ned glanced towards the table, watching the woman haggle with the men as they discussed payment. She’s right. I have to do something. This is so wrong.
Ned stashed his weapon beneath his seat figuring the less attention he drew to himself the better. Nothing draws the eye faster than a guy with a gun. Even if it is legal carry.
Nowadays, the only place you’re likely to find an actual payphone is at truck rest stops. They’d all but disappeared in the city but there was still a need for them on the busy interstates and highway. People forgot their chargers or their phone died and they needed to call ahead or figure out directions. But nobody used them much anymore so the trio of call-boxes were deserted.
Ned fast-punched in the 911 code, breathing slowly to steady himself as he waited for the operator. He knew already that he would use the police call Code 1521– keeping a place of juvenile prostitution and drop an all units respond callout with a Code 1562 – aggravated criminal sexual assault – to get the wheels turning. He had contemplated making up an off-duty badge number to sell everything – but that would be more trouble than it was worth. He just wouldn’t say who he was. Or how he knew the Codes. The Codes would make them pay attention.
“911. What’s the nature of your emergency?”
The first pop-pop-pop of Ned’s Colt M19-11 echoed through the lot, snapping him sideways as he tracked Patti staggering under the recoil of his large semi-auto handgun.
Heading directly towards the RV.
“Shots fired. Code 1521— 1562— 10-19. Shots fired. This location!”
Ned dropped the phone and started running back through the parking lot as he watched the scared truckers outside the RV scatter to their rigs as Patti jumped inside the winnebago.
Inside, the sound of returning fire boomed in the enclosed space as the big rigs fired up and raced off.
“Keep your head down, Patti,” Ned screamed as he grabbed the large gun from the girl cowering in the wheel well of the RV. “What were you thinking?!”
Another closely-spaced series of shots bit into the faux-wood paneling above their head as Ned tried to steady his breath. His heart was hammering in his chest as he tried to get his breathing back under control.
“I just wanted to scare them off. They were getting started and you weren’t back,” Pat cried, her face wild in shock. “I figured it would get them back on the road.”
“Who the hell are you people?,” a fear-charged voice croaked from the front. “We ain’t done nothing wrong?”
“That’s bull!” Patti cried out, sticking her head up to yell at the old couple crouched down in the front seat area.
Ned pulled her down as two more rounds slipped by the young woman, exploding the microwave just by the door. Glass shards cascaded down onto Ned and Patti as the telltale sound of the woman’s gun clacking open echoed through the space.
Real gunfights last seconds, not minutes like they do on TV. Cops knew that, at best, within seven seconds, the fight was usually over with one or both shooters out flat on their backs bleeding. Even with his head stuffed with the sound of gunfire in such a tight space, Ned could not mistake the ratchet-clank of the woman’s gun breeched open.
She’d out of shots. Time to shut this down.
Ned popped up, taking in the huddled oldsters behind the ripped and stained Captain’s chairs in the front galley. As he had guessed, she was fumbling in her fanny pack for another magazine as Ned brought his full cop voice to bear.
“PUT DOWN THE WEAPON NOW!”
Ned’s voice alone had shut down any number of past offenders and drunk ass civilians determine to test his patience. It had been one of the actual weapons he had used throughout his run and it had never failed to work.
While the woman dropped the weapon, her hands clawing in the air, the Bermuda short guy, swung out with a scattergun, the barrel sawn-off, that he’d pulled out from the magazine holder on the side of his chair.
Ned just had time to duck as both barrels emptied, a hailstorm of pellets tearing through the cabin and into the back bedroom.
As the woman dove for her weapon, the new magazine in her hand, Ned popped up and tagged both of them with a chest pop just like he’d practiced time and time again on the range. He may not have drawn his weapon in the field – but with the three Patti had fired outside, he had four left in the magazine and knew that he had no choice but to shut this down hard.
Both of the predators hammered back against the large cabin window, the high-calibre rounds punching threw them as the large wraparound glass spiderwebbed and burst.
“The girl,” Patti gasped, racing back to the now-shredded bedroom area as Ned stepped forward swiftly covering the traffickers.
Neither one of them were breathing.
Outside, the howl of sirens could be heard over the fading echo of Ned’s kill shots.
They had to change the way they looked, of course. Patti turned out to have a fair hand with both scissors and dye changing Ned’s salt and pepper hair to a solid grey and her own blond a new, bright red.
They’d watched the local TV coverage on the news that night, the truck stop shut down still as the State crime scene investigators did their diligence. Even the bigger Chicago news outlets sent out stringers to cover the bloody aftermath of what was being called the ‘Gary Truckstop Massacre’.
Shootings at truck stops happen all the time, of course. Over-amped drivers meet bandits in the backlot, lot-lizards try to take a poke off a sleeping driver — neither one of these incident should have merited anything other than perhaps a quick mention on the news if the day was slow.
But two dead seniors and a fatally wounded young women currently fighting for her life at Gary Methodist was a big item.
“You think she’ll make it?” Patti asked as she continued to trim Ned’s new hair into a shorter, military-style cut. She’d found Gus’s old clippers he used for his afro and had already trimmed the excess hair from Ned’s neck trying to even things up and make him look different.
“I don’t know. 50/50.”
Ned tried not to think about the girl who’d been hit in the shotgun blast that had taken out the RV’s back wall and bathroom area. It wasn’t so much the buckshot as it was the shrapnel that they’d found imbedded in the neck and face of the young woman Patti had been so intent on saving.
As soon as Ned cleared the dead pensioners up front, he raced back as Patti screamed to him.
“She’s dying, HELP ME! Do something!”
Ned stuck his head in, dropping down to check on the young girl, a large section of the bathroom door rail now imbedded in her neck, blood fountaining out as Patti jammed a pillow onto the laceration.
The girl’s mouth, her eyes wild in shock, opened and closed in silent horror as Patti wrestled the bloody cushion into place, stemming the blood flow.
“Hold onto this. Hold it!” Patti cried as the girl pressed deep into the already wet pillow securing it in place.
“We have to go. NOW!” Ned yelled, grabbing Patti and pulling her up and out of the bedroom.
Patti slapped at Ned, her bloodied hands coating him in the poor girl’s blood as he backpedaled them both to the door and down the steps.
“She’s going to die!” Patti screamed as Ned pulled her outside. Both of them were blood splashed, terrified and frantic as the howl of cop sirens filled the air. They’re close.
“Go, Go, Go,” Ned yelled as the carpark started to fill with onlookers, all of them hauling to their faces the ‘Cop Kryptonite’ every officer hates – the cellphone that seemed to show up at every crime scene.
Pat, torn between helping the girl bleeding out in the RV and her own safety, span back and forth by the Kia.
Ned tore open the door, “Get in, now. Or stay behind and deal with everything yourself. We have to go!”
Pat knew, if she stayed it wouldn’t take long for the cops to connect her with the murder of the man who’d been selling here. And Ned’s been nothing but great to me.
Ned fired up the Kia, pushing off fast into the front lot, racing out the in-ramp to the service station as his tires smoked, hanging right down to HWY20 as the first of the State and local cruisers bumped over the hill, going the other way. Both of them ducked as the cops screamed past.
“You think they got your license plate?” Patti asked, checking the length of Ned’s new brush-cut from side to side. She’d tucked up her own new red hair in a towel knowing that she’d be cutting it down to a fashionable girl version of the same bristled look soon enough.
“If they did, they’d be at my place. Not here. This place is still under Gus’ name for taxes. I was going to take care of it at City Hall, I just never got round to it.”
The TV had nothing on the pair seen on screen racing across the backlot shot from a waitress who was a hunting enthusiast inside the diner at the pumps. Ned listened as the woman told how she recognized the sound of the loud pump action shotgun, having discounted the earlier smaller gunfire as engine misfires or kids with firecrackers. Indiana has a liberal fireworks policy, Ned knew, having arrested and confiscated boxes of illegal Chinese ordinance smuggled back to Chicago every weekend.
The only video footage they had was from inside the restaurant that CBS’s local affiliate was touting as an on-air exclusive. But Ned knew there would be lot cameras that would track his not so inconspicuous retreat. Not to mention all the cellphone footage the looky-loo’s had shot as they hauled out. Who knows what they’ve got?
He’d have to get rid of the Kia if he and Patti were going to stay ahead of the law. He felt bad for the kid in intensive care and his heart ached for Patti who blamed herself for the whole shitshow, but what was done was done. And Ned had to figure out what their next steps were going to be.
Other than turning themselves in.
Copyright Julian Grant 2021
About the Author: Julian Grant is a filmmaker, educator, and author of strange short stories plus full-length novels, non-fiction texts and comics. A tenured Associate Professor at Columbia College Chicago, his work has been published widely. Learn more about him at www.juliangrant.com