I am working on an A-Z challenge, this one featuring short pieces of fiction. Today’s letter is S for stuck.
A Lot to Learn
We were stuck. And I’m not talking about being between a rock and a hard place. Unfortunately, there were no rocks to be seen-nothing but a sea of mud. I was with my friend, Will, and we were getting nervous. My name’s Stanley, but folks mostly just call me Lee. The rain which beat down on our unprotected heads, as we stood surveying the scene, was merciless. Why we had ventured out at this particular juncture in time, in the first place, was beyond my comprehension. I guess you might say we were grasping at straws. But straws would do no good, in this sea of mud.
Originally, the idea was to get up to Ricky’s place, take care of the business at hand, and get back to Dodge, and all had proceeded according to plan. But we never realized that the weather could be so extreme. Being new to the region, recently transplanted up from SoCal, I guess we had a lot to learn. We just did not have that much experience with dirt roads, especially ones which turned to mud in a driving rainstorm. Afterwards, we were to learn that the road had been recently graded, leaving the surface susceptible to a muddy quagmire, requiring four-wheel drive to have any expectation of reaching one’s destination. I knew that if we waited long enough, it would all be good, but time was precious, and we had a long road ahead of us.
Unfortunately, the only form of transportation available to us, had been a little Toyota Camry, with worn tires to boot, and it had functioned as well as we might have expected, until it slid into the ditch, leaving us incapable of going either forward or backward. It reminded me of the time we tried driving up to Mt. Baldy, in a similar form of transport, and ended up stuck in the snow, when we pulled off the road and tried to turn around. At least then, we were able to flag down a passing four-wheel drive truck, and get pulled back onto the road, pointed in the right direction. Here, we had not seen another vehicle at any time in the forty-five minutes since we had left Ricky’s, and with darkness settling over us, we were unlikely to encounter any traffic now.
Any effort at getting our little Camry out of the ditch, was met with spinning tires, and a belch of smoke from the tailpipe, indicating the forward progress was going to require some sort of miracle. At this time, I would have settled for reverse progress, or movement of any sort, but evidence indicated I should not hold my breath waiting. Our cell phones provided no service, out in this rural area, so it would probably have to be a land phone. Out of desperation, I had texted Ricky, letting him know of our predicament, hoping that he would get the message and come to our aid.
Just as it got to the point where total darkness was settling over us, approaching headlights gave us a ray of hope. It was the first sign of civilization we had encountered, and at the very least we were hoping to get a ride to a place where there was a functioning phone. The headlights swept past us, stopped, and then backed up, as the three-quarter ton Ford pickup was put in reverse, until it was even with us. The driver and his passenger paused, staring at us, as if we were the most bizarre creatures in on the planet. What was up with that?
“You fellows OK?” The driver had rolled down his window and was peering out at us, grinning like a drunk sailor.
I wondered what he thought was so funny, but beggars can’t be choosers. “Hey, are we glad you stopped! We’re stuck. Can’t go forward-can’t go in reverse. I guess this little Toyota isn’t the best vehicle to drive up here.”
The driver took that in, sneered at us and said, “You think?”
His buddy in the passenger seat guffawed, loudly and added, “You mean because it’s a little runt of a car, with no four-wheel-drive, and tires the size of a bicycle?” He derived a great deal of pleasure out of his witticism.
“You’re probably right about that,” I agreed. “But right now, what we could use is a hand getting out of the mud, and back into the center of the road, where we might at least have a shot at getting back down off this mountain. What do you say?”
“I say, the only reason geeks like you, in a car like this, come up to our neighborhood, is because you’re after some lucrative product, grown locally, and you’ve probably just come from somewhere up the road, and are packing anywhere from five to twenty pounds of the good stuff. How am I doing so far?” The driver had pegged us pretty accurately, except he was off on how much we had. Thirty pounds of Train Wreck were stashed, as carefully as possible, in the surprisingly deep trunk of the little Camry, all seal-a-mealed tightly, and ready for delivery to an acquaintance down in Orange County, who had told us he would pay twenty-eight per pound. Since we had gotten each elbow for eighteen, that meant a cool thirty large. I was not all that anxious to share this information with the two rowdies now parked right in the middle of the muddy road, smirking at us with contempt.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I exclaimed, figuring I would start with a bit of a bluff. “We were up visiting my brother, who’s a teacher down in town. What would I know about any product?” I emphasized that last word, hoping to convince him that I was just a stranger in a strange land.
“Who you trying to kid?” sneered the driver, showing us that smile again, lopsided due to the missing teeth. “Ain’t no teacher live up this road. Only people who live up here are them’s what grow the reefer. Now why don’t you just open up that trunk and give us a gander as to what kind of reward we can expect, if’n we were to actually get you out of that ditch, and on the way again.”
I was starting to sweat, even though the temperature had dropped precipitously, at the outset of the storm, though I doubted that the two cretins staring at me could tell the sweat from the rain. Was it possible I could buy my way out of this mess, without losing it all?
“Look,” I pleaded. “If you get us out of the ditch, and on the road, sure, we’d be more than happy to turn you on to an ounce of the Train Wreck. What do you say?”
Without consulting his partner, the driver responded, “I’d say you thought we were a couple of idiots. Why would I settle for an ounce, when I could just take everything you got, without you being able to do a damn thing?”
I was scrambling now. “Hey, be serious. You’d be in a lot of trouble if you ripped us off for all we have. They put people in jail for that kind of stuff.”
The passenger jumped in now. “And who’s going to call the pigs? You? How do you think they would respond to you having a bunch of reefer? You think the cops care about someone losing his pot, because he wasn’t smart enough to be able to move it himself? You got another thing coming to you, Mac. I think we’re done talking. Open the goddamned trunk. Now.” To make sure that we knew he meant business, he had pulled the rifle off of his Easy-Rider rifle rack, and was holding it nonchalantly in the crook of his arm.
“Whoa! Easy now. Can’t you be reasonable? What did we do to you?” I was stalling for time.
“You fed us a load of crap. That’s what you did. Now you’re gonna to have to pay for it.” The driver had stopped grinning. I wish he hadn’t.
Without warning, the dude holding the shotgun, pointed it up at the torrential rain, and pulled the trigger, scaring what little bravado I still had, right out of me, into the gutter.
“Whatever,” I exclaimed. “You want our reefer, here’s the key. Help yourself.” I wasn’t about to get shot over some lousy money. OK, the money wasn’t lousy, but I knew when I was beaten.
I tossed the set of keys at him, and figured, easy come-easy go. For his part, the dude with the shotgun said, “Now that’s more like it,” and he actually put his rifle back into the rack, as his partner snatched the key from me and scuttled around to the rear of the little Camry, inserting first one key, and then another, trying to pop that trunk lid open. I could tell he was getting frustrated, but was damned if I was going to help him out.
By the time he finally figured out which was the right key, and got the trunk open, I was already regretting my hasty decision. But I was also still alive and kicking, which helped balance the ledger. I stood there in the pouring rain, and watched those two yahoos chortling over my property, knowing I had a snowball’s chance in this rain, of ever being able to regain it.
Therefore, I was flummoxed, when out of nowhere, a voice demanded in no uncertain terms, “OK, you two bozos have had your fun; now put down those bags, get back into your truck, and drive on up the road, or you’ll be on the receiving end of a load of buckshot, with plenty more from where that came from.” There stood Ricky, a sawed-off shotgun pointing right at the mid-section of the gap-toothed driver, his hands steady as the big oak tree, just off to the side of the road. “Kindly take this opportunity to carefully remove that rifle from its perch, and toss it off the road. It will be waiting for you in the morning.”
Turn-about is fair play, and I could see the driver of the pickup and his buddy weighing their options. Ricky advanced several steps threateningly, raised the shotgun to his left shoulder, and sighted down the barrel. “Was there something about what I just said that you didn’t understand?”
They weren’t the sharpest knives in the kitchen drawer, but they were wise enough to see that being on the wrong end of a sawed-off shotgun, had put them in an awkward position, one that spelled out the second chapter that night of “easy come-easy go.”
They went, without so much as a whimper, which was good because no one likes a whiner, and Ricky was already soaking wet, having parked his rig several hundred feet away, behind a stand of oaks, when he had heard the earlier blast of the thug’s rifle. He watched as they climbed back into their truck, jammed it into gear, and headed back up the road.
“Well, let’s get you boys back on the road, so I can get out of these clothes, and into a bottle of Bushmill’s. Sound OK to you?”
Sounded just fine to me. I made a mental note to not come up on this mountain again, unless I was driving a four-wheel-drive, and with a little Train Wreck, I figured I could avoid another road wreck.