Copyright 2015 Dusty Miller and Long Cool One Books
Design: J. Thornton
The following is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to any person living or deceased, or to any places or events, is purely coincidental. Names, places, settings, characters and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination.
Table of Contents
It was ten below zero and the snow was going sideways. The sun was down. The glow in the west was spectacular, all purple and orange and salmon-pink, the rest of the sky metallic blue and darkening.
Tammy’s pickup truck had made it exactly one mile from the Circle-J (as Rick had always called it) where she waited tables and slung corned-beef hash five shifts a week, days or nights or afternoons. She had twenty minutes to pick up the piglet or staff, Mrs. Stumpf for sure, were going to have all the usual things to say.
Something had broken, and smoke or steam billowed out around the rim of the hood, whipped away by half a gale. Something was burning up under there. The smell wasn’t good. Throwing off her seatbelt, worried about fire, she got out of the passenger side, struggling to push the door against the power of the wind. Traffic on the I-59 slipped and slithered past, throwing slush.
Tires hissed on wet black pavement and the wind howled in her ears.
A small, upscale black coupe pulled in just past the nose of the battered 1997 Ford three-quarter ton four-by-four, a work-truck. It was the only tangible legacy of her late husband Richard.
Connor hit the passenger-side window button and leaned over as the lady came up beside his car.
She looked to be about twenty-two.
“Hi. Looks like you’re having some problems there. I was wondering if I could help.”
He lowered the hood with a bang, nipping back to the Beemer. Two minutes and he was shaking like a leaf.
Connor dropped into the seat, grateful for the warmth. The windows were already steaming up as her wet coat dried slowly. The song on the radio was Keep On Running, by the Spencer Davis Group. When in Otter Tail County, Connor preferred the oldies station over the prevalent country and Gospel music stations. Local radio, what could one do about it.
“Yeah. It’s just the radiator. It’s not on fire. It’s nothing electrical.”
He ignored traces of tears on her face and the sniffling, which could easily be put down to a cold.
“Okay, we’d better get into town and get your daughter and then I’ll drive you home.” He cleared his throat. “I’ve got the Auto Club, and I get three free emergency tows a year…”
He looked into those eyes.
“I’ll just say you’re a family member, right? Uh…if that’s all right with you.” Too upset to think, she didn’t question it, or the need for having the proper sticker on her rear bumper.
She nodded, fumbling around in her voluminous purse. Connor opened up the centre console, pulling out a handy-pack of tissues.
“Connor.” He reached for the gear lever, resisting the urge to pat her leg.
“Thank you, Connor.” The voice was low, a bit husky, but calm.
Anyone could see she was having a bad day.
He kept his foot on the brake, studying the mirror. There was a long line of traffic coming up from behind and in the slop, it took a while to get moving. People drove insanely fast in bad weather, in fact he did it himself. If he pooched this, there was going to be one hell of a pile-up.
The wipers were barely keeping up and visibility was getting down near zero.
She blew her nose and crumpled the tissue. He proffered a hand, still watching the mirror, and she reluctantly gave it up.
Connor had a small yellow trash bag, a freebie from the DMV, stuffed into the leather pocket on the back of the passenger seat. He disposed of the moist thing, resisting the urge to wipe his hand on his pant-leg or something…
“Tammy. Tammy Larsson. Two esses.”
“So. Might as well get moving.”
She took a breath and with a quick gulp, told him where she lived, which he already knew.
Depth perception was gone under these conditions, but he thought he could do it and so he went.
The rear wheels spun and then caught. They were coming up fast from behind…someone put on a signal and pulled into the other lane. That one was about as close as he cared to make it.
There were more where that one came from.
Even after a long day on her feet, she smelled like a woman.
There was always going to be that little rush in the guts.
Her daughter’s name was Riley, which Connor thought was a great name for a kid, but Tammy called her piglet as often as not.
The day-care centre was in the centre of Fergus Falls, Minnesota. The town survived as a market and supply hub for the surrounding farm area. It was also a bit of a retirement and bedroom community for larger centres just a few miles down the road. Other than that, there wasn’t much going on if you didn’t own a business, a farm, or work for the government.
He watched her, head down, going up the front steps into the front doors of the daycare.
Predictably, his phone was buzzing. It was Reb, his wingman.
“Hey, buddy. Nice work.” Reb’s cheerful voice came in over the ether.
“Yeah. She’s inside getting the kid.”
“So. How do you think we’re doing so far?”
“Yeah. We’re doing all right.”
“I’m just around the corner.”
Reb’s face was invisible when the old wrecker, long out of service but lovingly restored to working condition, cruised past in the blackness of the night.
A few minutes had gone by and the light had completely gone. Connor watched the front lobby, apparently deserted although all the lights were still on.
The staff couldn’t really leave until the last parent-kid combo had gone.
Connor’s heart leapt strangely when the two figures, one big, one small, appeared in the lobby, silhouetted against the lights and the cheerful yellow walls of the interior. He’d been wondering if she would think to try calling someone else. She had her purse with her, although there were a few small packages on the rear seat that she didn’t want to leave in the Ford.
“Okay, Reb. I got to go.”
The car rocked in the wind, and he waited another minute, until they were almost there, before getting out to help with the doors.
Riley looked up at the tall stranger in thumb-sucking wonder and he smiled down at the kid.
“Hi, Riley. I’m Connor. Do you like the snow?”
All wide-eyed and grumpy as the hour was late and she was probably hungry and tired, the little girl nodded. Not much to say on that score. Her mother put her in the back seat, belting her in as securely as possible without an approved car seat. Riley couldn’t take her eyes off this new and mysterious figure.
They were in.
“Okay. Where to now?”
In a low but firm voice, staring straight ahead, seeming to see the town for the first time, Tammy gave him directions.
Connor carefully navigated the streets between here and there. Half a mile back up the main street. A left, a right and then another left. The highway was downright good compared to this.
The front wheels struggled to stay in what were rapidly hardening and fairly deep ruts, but the town must have had fifty or a hundred streets. There were parked cars and just as many pickup trucks. They were lined up on both sides of the road. There was the drifting from buildings and trees and other structural elements.
Out in the real hinterland, the county had fifty plows, a good budget and long, straight stretches of road. Out there the wind would also blow you sideways, when you were going along at seventy miles an hour, coming out from under an overpass or where the trees gave way to open fields. There was always going to be some kind of trade-off.
They were coming to the end of her street. He didn’t want to drive too confidently, right up to the end of her driveway. He had to remember that he hadn’t been there before, and therefore, couldn’t possibly know where it was. Connor had scoped her out pretty thoroughly, and Reb had taken a look too.
The wipers beat out their tempo, barely keeping up. The anti-lock brakes were buzzing under his feet. In spite of that, the wheels intermittently locked up on black ice. Connor sawed at the wheel, easing off on the brakes. It was like driving in hot oil sometimes. He was lucky to be going very slowly. He’d once slid into a curb at ten miles an hour with the wheels turned. Connor had busted the driver’s side suspension of his old man’s Volvo turbo station wagon. That one cost him a few hundred, and the old man was pretty sore about it too.
I told you so was a common refrain around the house, back in his teenage years.
She didn’t seem to notice, no doubt wondering what was wrong with the truck and how much all of this might cost. They weren’t a hundred percent sure of her days off, but the odds were she was going back in at five-thirty in the morning. She was working twelve-hour days at minimum wage, trying to support herself and her daughter. They figured the house payments must be pretty low or she never would have been able to do it.
Not for long, anyways.
Riley was dead quiet in the back seat. Turning, he had a look, and the little girl was fast asleep, secure in the company of her mommy. Tammy turned as well, and then their eyes met for the first time in what seemed like hours.
It was a shared moment, a little awkward but nice too.
He nodded, smiling, and went firmly back to his driving.
It was a nice, warm feeling.
That was one cute little kid.
His heart trembled in its mounts.
He had to hold the door wide, bracing his legs on lumpy sidewalk ice, or the wind would have slammed it back again.
She picked up the child, and Connor leaned in and grabbed her plastic bags. She must have made a quick stop after work. She was lucky it wasn’t frozen solid and he wondered how long it had been in the truck. They had been very lucky to make the intercept. He saw the livid green tops of a bunch of celery sticking out and there were some onions in there too. It was possible she might have stolen it from work…in which case; good for her. More power to you, Tammy Larsson.
One of the onions got away and he had to recover it from a foot of snow.
They’d been sticking to her known schedule, but people would surprise you.
Her purse was slung over her shoulder. Tammy was so tired, when she got to the top of the steps, standing on the porch, she was at a loss. Connor hastily put the bags down and beckoned, and with a second of hesitation she handed over Riley. The weight was shocking, although he had sort of been expecting it. He was braced, with knees slightly bent. They were standing in fresh snow, which was a lot less slippery than the sidewalks. The porch light was on, but she cussed and fussed, peering down and shoving things around inside of the purse until she finally came up with the keys.
Snick, snick, clunkity-clunk.
The door was open and this was a good time to start talking. She was dead on her feet by the look of things.
“Thank you.” Tammy took Riley and Connor picked up the bags, lightly dusted snow off the bottom and slung them into her front hallway.
For the moment, it was better not to push. He was still outside.
“Let me call the tow-truck for you.”
Tammy flashed him a grateful smile, but she was still occupied with Riley, down on her haunches and stripping off the slightly-grubby pink snowsuit.
“Oh…” She was still thinking about that one. “I don’t know—you’ve been too kind already…”
Riley toddled off into the living room.
He extended a hand and helped her back up again. Tammy hung up the snowsuit, and was busy taking off her own coat. He was standing on the porch, still holding the door, still hesitant.
Still polite…still uncertain, still unsure of himself.
“Come on. Please. It’s the least I could do.” Connor pulled out his phone, it lit up and he swiped the screen.
Her back was turned and so he hit Reb’s number. It was always right at the top of his list, for this operation and a few more besides. The wind moaned and big fluffy snowflakes eddied around his head in the amber light of the front porch.
“Please. Connor. Ah. Come in for a minute—”
Shut the door, in other words.
It’s cold out there…
That was all the encouragement he needed.
That was the rule.
“Oh, thank you.” He stepped in, carefully closing the screen door behind him.
Slowly, deliberately, he closed the inner, wooden slab door.
The howl of the wind dropped to a low moan.
“Um…a buddy of mine owns a garage. His dad owns it, actually. Reb runs it now. You know Reb, right? His old man’s already in Florida. He won’t be back until spring. I only just thought of it. But he’s a real good mechanic and I know he won’t try and jack you the way some guys will. Some of them guys are just terrible with women—we all know that. I’ll tell him you’re a friend of mine.”
Her late hubby had, in fact, bought tires and gas and anti-freeze from Reb’s garage. He knew that—but she didn’t know he knew that, which was key.
Those big violet eyes looked up at him soberly, before turning around and taking a quick look at the state of the living room. She’d dusted recently, he could smell the furniture polish.
The rug was a bit worn but clean-looking. A few small toys scattered around were nothing to be ashamed of. Riley was sitting on the rug in front of the TV, having perked up since coming in the door although she seemed a bit cranky. She knew how to use the remote, though.
Tammy heaved a deep sigh.
It really wasn’t all that hard to read—and here was this strange man in her home. More than anything, she would be wondering how to get rid of him—politely, and yet there still had to be that emptiness. The truck was still stuck by the side of the road, five or ten miles out of town.
“It’s okay. I’d love to help, ah, I really would.” He held up the phone, and there was Reb, looking the part in a plaid bush jacket, a watch-cap and the lanky beard and mustache.
The man could act, that was for sure.
“Can I help you?”
“Hold on please.”
He raised an eyebrow.
“Thank you, Connor.” She smiled tiredly, finally bending to pull off her boots.
He put the phone up to his face and explained the situation as best he could.
Tammy trusted him that far, anyways.
Connor really was a bastard.
He knew that very well.
The trick, was simple enough.
He and Reb had Tammy’s truck inside Honest Abe’s, a gas station and repair shop that had been around for about forty years.
All they had to do—while Tammy was working inside the restaurant, and with that big old work truck parked out back, was to pop the hood and loosen the radiator cap. The back door of the kitchen was open on the inside, and Reb could see them through the screen door. No worries. The release latch was inside the cab, but the door was easily jimmied. Reb was good at that sort of thing. When people locked the keys inside of the vehicle, it really wasn’t worth calling a locksmith. Not when you could just bend up a thin strip of steel, or a coat hanger, and there were other ways to pick a lock. There was no alarm, as they had believed—too many men, too many construction guys using it before the husband got himself killed like that. Alarms cost money and were a pain in the ass in certain circumstances.
Reb had done the job, while Connor, suave and debonair, a traveling salesman working out of Minneapolis-St. Paul, sat inside the truck stop. He sat there, all eyes and ears, eating his club sandwich, his fries and gravy, watching the girl, the lady, and the rest of the staff as best he could. The phone provided a link in real-time to his trusty accomplice.
They had already observed that the lady would nip out and fire up the truck a few minutes before shift change—the truck stop and its restaurant operated twenty-four hours a day. Surely the thing had to boil over well before hitting town. It was six or seven miles up the road. They were lucky, as she might have gone into town and got groceries on her lunch hour—real lucky. Connor had underground parking in the building where he lived, but she obviously had plenty of experience driving in shit conditions. She was pretty quick on the uptake. A person’s driving said a lot about them. Once he’d started studying her, that matter-of-fact, practical side of her stood out in stark contrast to pretty much all of the twenty-something club girls they’d been focusing on—until then. She worked her ass off and made it stick, while some of them were still living at home and getting an allowance of five hundred or even a thousand a month. Some of them were real spoiled little rich kids.
This one was a real hard-working girl.
Their plan had worked like a charm.
The truck dripped quietly in the warmth of Reb’s two-bay service area. The engine was cold now, and Reb dribbled coolant into the top of the radiator overflow tank.
He screwed the cap on and set the jug of anti-freeze aside on the bench.
“Okay, fire it up.” Reb went looking for the corrugated rubber tail-pipe outlet hose, as with the storm going full blast, there was no way he was going to open the door.
He clamped that on there and stuck the nozzle in the hole in the door.
It would only have to run a couple of minutes, pumping it through the system, and then they would top it up again. Carbon monoxide was a silent killer and Reb was professional enough to hook up the outlet every time.
In the background, the radio played softly. Reb had speakers all over the place, the light was exceptional for a private garage, and it was a good place to work. He had a beer fridge and a bathroom that was pretty clean.
Connor shut it down again and Reb opened up the radiator cap this time, adding a bit of fluid in there. He’d warm it up fully and let it cool down again, before checking the level one last time.
“So. What’s the score?”
“Yeah. I said you’d call her and let her know what the damage is.”
“Okay. So what do I tell her?”
“Tell her the rad cap came off, or got loose for some reason—and that Connor got the free tow. Tell her I bought her a jug of antifreeze.” Tammy’s house was only six or eight blocks away.
“I’ll tell her the spring is bad. It happens often enough.” The pressure, combined with a weak spring, would cause the fluid to leak out nice and slow.
She could probably walk this far, (not with the kid though), and it might be best if Reb simply drove the truck to her place. It was all part of the strategy, Connor explained. She’d be getting to see Reb, sitting beside him, and familiarity bred contempt—which meant they would be less of a threat to her little world. It was all psychological.
They were looking at a real long cold snap, according to the weather people.
Shuttle service, she could drop him off at the garage or the coffee place across the street.
“Make sure you make up a bill. Ten or twenty bucks, no more. Mark it paid, and tell her it’s nothing to worry about.”
He reached for his wallet and pulled out a fifty. That would cover pretty much everything so far. They were partners in this as in other things…
“Okay. I sure hope you know what you’re doing.”
So did he—so did he.
“Make sure you put my name, address and phone number on there. Just like a real bill. If she asks about me, keep it simple—and stick to the truth.” She would know he was from out of town—an interesting psychological twist. “It has to look good, right?”
Reb had learned to accept certain things from Connor. Foremost among them, was that meticulous attention to detail. Connor could play poker too, and he also knew when to quit, which was unusual.
Reb nodded in sage appreciation. It was a good plan, if you could just stick to it—
That was the thing about being a pickup artist. The skills worked equally well when you really, really wanted somebody.
His buddy had a real bad case of it.
Connor hadn’t really believed in love, not since that first and worst really big crush in high school, although he had always preferred to sleep with people he liked. Otherwise it just wasn’t worth it, and then one day the unthinkable had happened. Looking back, his instincts had been pretty good. Joanne had let him down, very nicely and while it hurt like hell, he’d also accepted that he was an eighteen year-old virgin and her a twenty-three year-old looking for a husband—or even just someone a little more masterful. That was fourteen years ago. Hell, maybe more.
Like the little prick he was, he’d decided never to lose again.
(Not that he hadn’t.)
He’d also gotten tired of the game, when it became a little too predictable. After a time it had gotten a little too easy, and for whatever reason, he had started looking a little deeper. Not so much into them, as into himself.
Tammy had had that strange and disturbing effect on him, which was not unusual. That’s what had admittedly caught his interest.
He was sitting there at a table in the truck-stop and she had come on shift, taking over his table from a gum-chewing redhead who had only nominally attracted him. His route as a sales and service rep took him far out into the boonies. He did the more populated southern leg, and then returned through the northern part of the state. Once a month, regular as clockwork. The rest of the time he worked the showroom or even the service counter, jacket off, sleeves rolled up and his tie tucked in between the second and third shirt buttons. Connor had put in his time in the trenches. He had never believed in luck, but he thanked his lucky stars the day when he first saw her. There were a million beautiful young women in this part of the world, seemingly all of them corn-fed, rose-cheeked Scandinavian beauties.
Those were the ones he noticed immediately, although there were some nice brunettes, a few redheads and those spooky beauties with the long, straight black hair going down to their asses and a dead-serious gaze. Smoky blue eyes were a bonus with those ones.
There were some tall, slender black girls too. There was a smorgasbord of sheer, physical beauty, and at one time it had sufficed. Some of them even had brains in their heads.
It had sufficed.
Interested immediately, it was only after watching her for a while when he realized there really was something different about this one.
Wasn’t that what they always told them—there’s something different about you.
It’s what they all wanted to hear.
Never get involved—rule one for the pickup artist. Connor had found himself thinking about her, even after leaving the greasy-spoon, even after his usual stops at the local farm equipment dealers, and the hardware stores, repair shops, and one or two other regular customers.
His mind kept going back to her.
It was just that she could have been beautiful—and wasn’t. She could have boofed up her hair—combed it up into that 1980s teeny-bopper after-school television show kind of radar dish, in that direction-finding style, and she hadn’t. The look was all too prevalent, even as they edged into their forties and fifties. Some of them never did get over it.
There was also this hunted look, possibly even a haunted look. She had a face that should have been classically beautiful, but it was merely sad. There was a little puffiness around the eyes, her cheekbones were high and she had the Cupid’s bow of a mouth and a dimple in her chin. With a little time and effort, she would clean up very well.
He was always looking for new talent—and for whatever reason, this one had grabbed him right by the nuts.
She was everything he’d ever asked for, and had never found. It was also still entirely physical, mostly based on that face—he didn’t know a damned thing about her.
She wasn’t overweight, and, even at her age, that was unusual…
He’d cracked a joke, which he couldn’t even remember now, and her face had lit up, transformed her for a moment and then that look of guilt and despair had returned. That’s when something inside of Connor had snapped and he’d had just about enough of being an asshole.
Okay, he’d been thinking a lot lately. He’d been thinking for a long time.
Connor had always been a bit of a predator—an Alpha male in every sense of the word, from the time he was valedictorian, (and realized he was smarter than everyone else) to the day he turned out for football practice and realized he was the best thing there. Fuck, at least he could throw a ball. Some of them guys couldn’t even read, and they still couldn’t throw a ball. Good luck with that. Big, fat and stupid, unable to jump or throw a ball, was no way to go through life.
There was more to it though.
A man gets lonely after a few years, and for the first time ever, maybe this one wasn’t just about sex.
He never would have believed that it could come to this.
Even the kid was an asset.
Riley, another man’s child, was about three and a half years old. She had long, curly blonde hair, blue eyes, and that little baby freaking mouth. She was a definite throwback to her mother.
You could just see what she would grow up into…
Connor had seen the father around once or twice in his travels, not being particularly impressed with the guy. Larsson was all blue in the cheeks and with those tired, bloodshot eyes to boot.
Then the guy gets himself killed, seventeen thousand volts or whatever, and now she was a widow.
She was a hard-working person and she loved that kid to death. She kept herself out of trouble and didn’t seem to have too many bad habits.
She’d be a cheap date.
What’s not to like about that? The funny thing was, he’d seen it all before. One or two of his buddies, gamers one and all, had fallen and fallen hard. The boys had all laughed, gotten drunk at the wedding—hugged the bride and kissed her on the cheek, shaken the hand of the groom, swore solemn oaths as best men and such, often to lose track after a while and never to see them again. And he didn’t care. Some of them guys were just assholes anyway, when you got right down to it.
In another ten or fifteen years, that Riley would really be something—and that knowledge, that very singular thought, said an awful lot about Connor Davidson. What it said wasn’t very nice, in some ways.
He’d always been a connoisseur of fine women.
It was a sick little plan and it would probably work.
He grinned at the thought of what he was attempting to achieve.
Hopefully it would be worth it.
Howard Johnson’s, home away from home. He had an expense account, within reason. It didn’t pay to go too nuts, and he was a rational man.
The game was on, with the volume turned down low. He had the lights mostly off, and a cold beer. The remains of a deluxe pizza, everything on there but anchovies or the kitchen sink, sat on the table, still sending out that smell. It was warm, and he had a roof over his head.
He lay on the bed, hands up behind his head, propped up on the pillows.
The score was two-one, with the Wild uncharacteristically leading the Bruins.
What with the modern highway system and a fast, reliable car, Connor rarely had to stay in a motel for more than one or two nights. It wasn’t so bad once in a while. With the big Colorado Clipper still roaring outside his windows, it looked like he wouldn’t be home for a while. This sort of enforced idleness was a rare and welcome relief from a life that had become increasingly fast-paced and stressful. Success, at first not easily-built, had accumulated and then snowballed.
They were calling for him up at head office—maybe even vice-president in charge of sales. If he wanted it—and maybe he did. It’s not like he had anything better to do.
At one time, he would have had a quick shower, changed into something a little more casual, and gone out for a prowl. It’s not like he had any real hobbies, although he owned a set of golf clubs. He went out religiously, three or four times a year, early in the season. Inevitably, it always fell by the wayside as the weather heated up, both weather-wise and work-wise. That was the thing with the agricultural industry.
It was all about them solar heating units.
He might have made a pretty good golfer.
The trouble was, he just didn’t care.
The money he spent on a luxury, executive suite in downtown Minneapolis would have bought a pretty fair house, and covered the taxes at least. Admittedly, there would still be heat, hydro, water and insurance. It would make a ding in his lifestyle, and yet at the same time he’d been thinking of it—possibly, as he saw now, for all the wrong reasons. Buying a house just so you could have a pool, or a garage or a deck, a freaking lawn for Christ’s sakes, didn’t make much sense for a single man who was rarely at home.
His sister was single. She had a place and she worked full-time, retail hours. Her days off were taken up with chores, yard-work, and cleaning the eaves-troughs. She’d just laid out four or five grand for a roof. The basement leaked and it smelled bad down there. No, having a house didn’t make much sense unless you planned on making it a home. That sort of implied a wife and a kid, maybe even more than one.
He was only thirty-two.
It wasn’t too late for him. It might be too late for some other guys, but not for him…nothing’s for free.
That was for sure.
Sometimes he prayed that it wasn’t too late, and that he wasn’t too set in his ways.
The phone buzzed on its charger beside his bed.
It was Reb. He touched the screen and accepted the call.
“Hey, buddy. Mission accomplished.”
“So. How did it go?”
“Yeah. Anyways. I drove the truck over—the thing’s a real pig, I don’t know how she puts up with it. Anyways, she drove me back and I reckon she’ll be going to work in it. She works tomorrow, she told me that.”
“Are you all right?”
The line went quiet for a while.
“Whatcha doing?” The weather was bad, and there weren’t too many places to go anyways.
Reb didn’t get too many calls, but sooner or later, someone would need a tow or a boost and he had to stay by the phone. Connor was fifty miles up the road, trying to keep to some kind of schedule, so drinking or a game of pool, all of that was of out of the question.
“Just watching the game.”
“Yeah. Me, too, likewise…even.”
Connor chuckled, taking a look at the clock. He planned on being out of there by seven or seven thirty a.m. at the latest. A good night’s sleep would be nice. In the meantime he had time to kill.
The other thing was to call his mother.
At some point. All part of the narrative.
“Did she ask about me?”
“Not really, but I told her you and I have been friends for a long time…since college. What if I see her around?” Reb had been known to eat at the Circle-J himself from time to time.
They made a pretty good roast-beef sandwich. There were one or two little boutique eateries downtown, and then some family-oriented places. The choices were limited for bachelors and Reb wasn’t much for cooking. Sooner or later, she had to shop for groceries, or go to the dentist, and there were only so many places in town.
“Don’t make too big a thing about it.” Connor’s plan required a bit of time, in fact it relied upon it.
There was some risk—she could meet somebody else in the meantime, but for whatever reason, he didn’t think so. She worked full time. She wasn’t rich, she didn’t get out much, and she had the kid.
The ghost of that Richard guy would always be hovering there in the background.
“So tell me again, what’s the next part of the plan?”
Reb snorted softly.
“Yeah, that’s what I thought you said.”
Left unsaid, on your own head be it.
And I sure hope you know what you’re doing.
Waiting broke with all classic theory, which said to strike while the iron was hot, and that to hesitate was fatal…on the other hand, this was no ordinary bar-fly pickup.
Even Reb’s own mother didn’t understand him—or maybe she did.
What an awful thought that was.
Connor would be back in town in about a month, although Reb might go up to the Big Top as they called it on a weekend between now and then.
In the meantime, it was winter in Minnesota.
Reb got on with the business of living. The truck stops out on the highway, the 1-94, I-59 and other really big roads, had taken some of his business over the years. For the most part, they didn’t fix cars or trucks. They sold a lot of gasoline, coffee and cheeseburgers. They sold maps and candy and Slurpees, but as long as he didn’t ask for too much, he could stay in business indefinitely. The thing was to compete on ground of your own choosing.
There was always someone needing a brake job, a water-pump, a battery or a set of tires. Cars were so complex these days. Even the simplest job was beyond the ability of the average driver. People would pay, rather than roll around in the snow and the shit, down on the ground, and in the dirt, trying to fix an unfamiliar problem with cheap tools and a bad manual—then there were all the modern electronics in the average vehicle. They were all alike, in that sense, and Red was constantly training, following along, reading up on it.
While he hadn’t really forgotten about Connor’s plan, he had other things on his mind. Tonight was no exception. He had gone out, north on I-59, and picked up an easy hundred-dollar bill from old man MacPherson, whose seventeen year-old Caddy had gotten a flat.
The old piss-tank, eighty years old if a day, was probably incapable of changing it himself. With everything from a dairy farm, hundreds of acres under soybeans, a Christmas-tree plantation, and half a dozen small income-generating buildings in town, Caleb MacPherson was about as rich and unsophisticated as they came around here. Coming from Reb, that was really saying something. That’s not to say they didn’t have their good points. Guys like that learned to work at a young age, and maybe that was the key. That and a being the only child of some prosperous (and lucky) immigrants going back three or four generations. It always paid to inherit well. Reb himself had never had to look for work—not once, not in his entire life. Let’s face it, if you didn’t lose the farm, it had sure as hell appreciated in value over the last hundred years. It was capable of generating an income, (any income). It was all paid off, the land anyways, and you could get one hell of a mortgage on it. The rates were pretty low these days. If you were willing to take the risk and had even the slightest business sense. Real estate was a good bet—in the long term.
That and just being sensible—the car wasn’t a Maserati, and on balance, keeping the old thing going was more of a hobby, a labour of love rather than any sort of rational transportation. The old guy seemed able enough, once the flat was fixed, roughly half-drunk and experienced in such things—
Reb had given it a quick eyeball, and there was a screw embedded in the tread that was easy enough to patch with a simple sticky-plug and T-handle. With his portable compressor, he had the thing fixed in about twenty minutes, right there by the side of the road.
Reb loved hawgs himself, Harley-Davidsons, and owned about ten of them if you counted frames and complete, disassembled engines in boxes. Sooner or later he would do something with them. He had a good rider and a spare, and a show bike half-built. Such things really didn’t have to make sense to the male mind.
It was after one a.m. and the heat inside the Circle-J had him sweating inside the grease-stained insulated coveralls. He sat there waiting and then she came out of the kitchen, carrying plates for another table and her eye caught his.
Reb’s heart began to beat a little faster.
It wasn’t the kill, so much, as the thrill of the chase.
Shit, Connor, what in the hell have you gotten us into.
Tammy saw the familiar figure sitting alone in a corner booth, recognizing him immediately.
Serving her customers with her usual cheerfulness, her heart feeling its usual heaviness and faking it all the way, she went over to Reb’s booth. On the way, Tammy noted another lonesome trucker, an aging man about sixty, ready for a refill on the coffee. That was Dave, the only name she would ever know him by, unless he used a credit card for once and she took a look at the thing. No one ever did, did they, and she went to the counter and got a menu.
“Hey, Reb. What can I get you?”
Reb nodded, thoroughly familiar with the menu and not even bothering to open it—although the boss probably would have given her shit if she didn’t bring it. In that sense, it was like ice-water.
She would be hoping that it wouldn’t be awkward, but Reb had been paid for his time. The thing was to have forgotten all about it. It was all in a day’s work. He wouldn’t bring it up if she didn’t.
“Ah. Good question. I’ll have the special.” Thursday night, it would be the steak, fourteen ounces of half-decent meat, a T-bone, and there was the usual soup-or-salad, bun, over-boiled vegetables. “See if you can get the cook to throw an extra scoop of mashed potatoes on there for me.”
She scribbled on her pad. Although it wasn’t busy and she could hardly forget, the little yellow sheets were still a requirement.
“And what would you like to drink?”
“Yeah, just coffee.” The one thing you could never get them to do—two things, actually. “I really don’t need ice water. I could live without the parsley.”
Biting her lip, she grinned slightly. That was Reb all right.
“Good luck with that one.”
He laughed outright.
“Yeah, I hear you.” He’d only tried eating it once—once was enough.
If it was inedible, why put it on the plate at all? And if you weren’t going to drink it, why put it there? Some things in life just didn’t make sense.
He watched her turn and head for the kitchen. There was something vaguely nurse-like about the starchy white uniform, the flat shoes and the little white cap the owner, a man everyone called Jimmy the Greek although his name was Stan and he always claimed he was Macedonian, insisted-on for his female employees. Her hips were on gimbals, another argument for low shoes.
Women walked so much more as nature intended.
She had a movement like a Swiss watch and he could see why Connor was so interested. Reb had seen her around, who hadn’t—it was a small town after all. The lady was also quite a bit younger than him. He would have been out of high school long before she started grade nine.
That had never stopped him before, in fact those drunken, barely-legal babes and their nubile young bodies, drinking, dancing and gyrating in clubs and bars were the bait for the pickup artists’ hook. It was a bad analogy, but he knew what he meant.
It was that momentary stab of jealousy that bothered Reb, in that moment.
When he’d agreed to help, he hadn’t quite realized what they were dealing with. Seeing her in the high boots, bulky coat, hat and gloves the last time, well. It really hadn’t done her justice.
She seemed to be paying a little more attention to the hair and the makeup, or maybe she’d just been having a bad day last time.
This one was definitely dangerous.
Tammy had been using a few different spells to attract some love into her life. The simplest spell involved putting a few aromatic herbs in a square of tinfoil and then folding it up and placing it among some of her clothing. She couldn’t quite bring herself to put bits of food in her underwear drawer. To put it in with her naughty-wear seemed like a betrayal. She’d been meaning to throw all of that out.
If nothing else, her woolly winter-sock drawer now smelled rather interestingly of rosemary, thyme, mint and marjoram. Every time she went in there, looking for socks to go inside the boots she wore while shoveling the driveway, it made her hungry. The moment of romantic imagination had quickly been over, leaving her feeling slightly foolish and terribly desperate.
Over time the smell lessened and it wasn’t quite so bad now.
The second spell involved soaking a candle in oil of rose. It certainly smelled very nice. It threw a warm and intimate light, by which she had written down all or most of the attributes and the attitudes even, of the man of her dreams—who (or whom, and which) was surprisingly hard to pin down.
The man of her dreams was a faceless but rather nice man, (with hairy legs and chest), with a deep rich voice, who occasionally showed up, usually one brief and exciting moment before waking up for another long and lonely day. Just once, it would be nice if that dream was consummated. His attitude was that of a passionate and considerate lover, a father…a good man, someone who could wear clothes. The perfect man was indescribable, as it turned out.
Life could be bitter, and all she had was Riley. She had a shit job, a shit truck and a home of her own with eighteen years to go on the mortgage. After that, illness, senility and death.
Her third spell, as passed down from her crazy aunt, Lois, was an extension or variation of the second spell. Taking another candle, a big red one, again soaked with oil of rose, she had scratched the words into the candle, bottom to top, just as instructed. It had to be done, not so much neatly, as legibly. Anointing it with her vaginal juices was a bit much, but she had sort of bit her tongue, chuckled self-consciously and then done it. No one else had to know—that she had masturbated, dreaming of that hard, lean man with the wavy brown hair. Which was the best she could do under the circumstances.
“Light of dawn,
light of thine,
bring my lover’s heart to mine,
may this day send him to me,
to come in willing harmony,
my heart to thine,
Bring my true love back to me.
She’d just done it a week, or a week and a half previously. It was best done late on a Saturday night, during the full moon. For full effect, she’d done it at midnight. The candle was lit, and a moonstone placed beside it, with her sitting and waiting for it to burn low in a darkened room. With the big, mullioned kitchen windows allowing a brilliant moon to enter, she’d let it burn down to almost nothing. Tammy used the last flames of the guttering candle to burn her paper, torn to shreds, the description of the man she wanted, or hoped for, or desired. In her case need would be a better word—this was no love-struck schoolgirl, crushing madly on the football captain. She was a grown woman. She had a daughter. She had a home, and a job, and a life to live—and it was inconceivable that she must now live it alone.
Seeing Reb again, a couple of weeks later, had sort of brought that home to her. Connor and his help with the truck, Reb dropping it off in time for her to go to work. There were men, nice men in the world if one only cared to see them—to acknowledge that fact. They weren’t all truckers a thousand miles from home, looking for a cheeseburger deluxe and some real strong coffee. They weren’t all pricks, incompetents and misogynists, either.
Working as a waitress in a truck stop had taught her a few things. One of which was not to take it too seriously, another was not to take it too personal—for surely a small percentage would, (and had) propositioned her over the years. Some of them were nicer about it than others, but a quick grin and a wisecrack was usually enough to deal with the problem. The fact they didn’t serve alcohol was a big help. Most of them were just hard-working guys, some of them fairly nice-looking. They were a long ways from home, not even all that serious about it.
They were just passing the time, and oddly enough, gentlemen under their gruff exteriors—
Some of them were actually pretty good for a little mild flirting of an almost symbolic nature. The older ones, they would never make a move, not if their lives depended on it. It was all talk, all show and no go. Most of them had pudgy little wives sitting back home, the lucky ones anyway. In some weird sense it was an exchange, and a real one—they needed to have that hope just as much as she did. They needed to keep that interest kindled. Those men, she never resented them until and unless they got really rude, really graphic or didn’t know when to quit. There were always going to be a few of those.
It was an exchange of some kind of kindness, some odd-ball kind of un-personal love.
Everyone needs love. And everybody knew it, too. You got to know something about the regulars after a while, a brief snippet of their personal stories.
Hell, even the worst of them needed love.
Connor now, that one had everything. It was hard to believe that a magic spell could actually work. That would have to be some mighty strong magic. It didn’t seem very likely.
This might be a long shift.
It was sure looking that way. Her hips ached a bit, but would hopefully loosen up. All that time spent on her feet. She tried not to think about it.
As she had a minute, she cleaned up a few tables, pushing the stainless-steel cart into the kitchen for disposal and washing-up.
Lanny, their kitchen boy, took it from her with that hot and breathy little grunt.
Her hand naturally stole into her side pocket where the moonstone resided.
Its feel was warm, and smooth. The milky white stone had been believed by the ancients to be actual beams of moonlight, beams that had somehow been captured and then solidified. Hers had a faint blue tint in the light. According to Lois, that meant that it had come all the way from Sri Lanka, where the people believed the stone gave the owner beautiful dreams and visions.
It was a romantic notion.
Stan, the owner, was staring at her.
“Order’s up. One toasted turkey club, fries, no gravy, and one hot-hamburger sandwich mashed and slaw, one spaghetti and meatballs, (don’t forget the grated cheese), one veal cutlets and gravy…”
Ah, yes, good old jaegerschnitzel, as she always thought of it.
It showed the sort of mood she was in.
She closed her mouth, nodded firmly and went back out and around to the serving hatch. The men were waiting and the food was good and hot. No sense in keeping them waiting.
Life went on, but it was interesting to see Reb again. College buddies, eh?
She wondered what a guy like Reb had found to study in a proper university—Connor too, for that matter, although it wasn’t so much a stretch of the imagination to visualize him there.
bright with fire
summon the spirits
_to bring my desire.” _]
It was all nonsense, really. There was no such thing as magic…
let your magic bind
please let him be mine.]
[_May it be.” _]
It’s all in your head, lady.
A couple of more weeks had gone by. Winter had set in for the long haul, after that early part of the season, where one day it was bright and sunny, fifty degrees at mid-afternoon, and then the next day it was snow, sleet and cold again. No, now it was grim all the time, the days getting about as short as they could get, and the nights about as long.
Back on day shift, Tammy was just bringing out a slew of breakfast specials, bacon and eggs and toast and coffee for three bucks a pop.
Connor had grabbed one of the smaller tables, being alone.
He sat there grinning at her as she stopped, dead in her tracks, and then she put her head down and finished with her table and her customers.
Coming back, she had her order pad out.
That old pen was just as eager as a beaver.
Those big, innocent brown eyes weren’t all that hard to look into. At least that’s what she was finding.
“Hi, Connor. What can I get you?” That seemed to come out well.
“Ah, let’s see.” Connor had been driving since about six-thirty a.m. “Shoot the works.”
The Works was Stan’s flagship breakfast. It was advertised on the radio. During promotions, people could phone in and win gift certificates, worth twenty bucks. That would buy about two and half of them. On the front of the plasticized menu there was a glitzy photo-montage by an actual food stylist, the big breakfast prominently displayed. Patrons got, for five ninety-nine, bacon, sausage, ham, pancakes, eggs, toast, coffee, milk, juice, and a muffin for the road. It was a hell of a lot of food and she wondered where he was going to pack it all in—Connor was lithe, tiger-like, rather than the human barrel (or human bears) that so many of her regulars were.
Walmarters (or Walmartyrs) all the way.
With his thick, short and very neat haircut, hair black and even moussed up in a spiky fashion, in his extremely well-cut black suit, he was a standout for the morning crowd. That was for sure.
They got all kinds of commercial travelers of course, and some people were naturally snappy dressers. It took all kinds to make a world.
“Of course.” Smiling, he turned away and opened up the newspaper, heavy with pulpy three-colour flyers and glossy coupon-supplements.
And of course Tammy was thinking of that spell—all of them.
There was this quick little squirt of something hot deep inside of her. Unfortunately, it was all imagination.
Was that fear—or anticipation? It might even be a little excitement.
Whatever it was, it wasn’t entirely welcome.
I have never masturbated while thinking of you.
Just try and remember that.
Richard had only been gone a little over a year. She could still see his face like it was yesterday.
He got up one morning, went to work and never came back.
The phone rings.
“Sorry Ma’am, your husband is dead.”
That might be the defining moment of Tammy’s life, even if she eventually did find someone.
She would never forget her first love.
No one ever did.
Connor was a completely different sort from Richard. Rick had been stamped with a kind of boyish naiveté in everything he did. Richard was a big, frisky puppy.
Connor seemed more calculated. Richard wasn’t stupid, but Connor was intelligent.
Richard had loved his job, and she wort of wondered if Connor did—or perhaps he was merely good at it and made a lot of money and saw no reason to quit just yet…
Richard’s work crews were like sons, brothers, buddies or even mascots in the case of one or two really dumb ones. One or two had been his cousins. The thoughts of Riley growing up without a father were very hard.
Shoot the works, or so he said.
With most of the items pre-cooked, Stan and Lanny going full blast, the big breakfast that was The Works didn’t take all that long to prepare. About four minutes from order to plate, after that it was up to her. She served other tables as Connor read the first couple of pages of the local paper and then began flipping through in a bored manner.
“Here you go.” She put the plate down in front of him, coffee pot in the other hand and fresh creamers in the pockets of her apron. “Is there anything else I can get you?”
He tore himself away from a small item well back in the paper. He’d made it to the want ads and the entertainment listings, display ads for local bars, restaurants and other venues of various sizes and complexities.
Connor’s jaw dropped a little at the sight of all the food he’d ordered—Stan tended to go way overboard on the home fries. He used two or three fairly good-sized potatoes, all cut in wedges and lightly spiced. Golden brown and red-hot. Normally, Connor wasn’t such a big breakfast person.
His eyes came up and he met hers.
A weird grin passed over his face.
“Wow. That, is a lot to take in.” He shook his head. “Ah, no—not really.”
There were a lot of engines suddenly outside, small four-strokes and un-muffled. He looked over his shoulder and out the window as several snow-machines lurched and stuttered to a halt. The engines died. People in ones and twos stood up and got off.
Smiling in return, she poured more coffee and gave him a couple of creamers.
“I’ll be back to check up on you in minute. In the meantime, uh, please enjoy your meal.”
He nodded, biting his lip.
Or half of it, anyways.
“Thank you.” Slowly, the hand traveled to the fork, which then proceeded to take up a portion of eggs, nicely done and over easy or was that easy over?
He never had been quite sure.
The door blew open and another gaggle of folks came in, swishing, swishing in the heavy nylon suits, their bulky helmets under their arms. He was still looking at the ad in the paper. Tammy turned away to grab a handful of menus, to greet the newcomers, members of a snowmobile club by the look of them, and to serve another table.
The morning crowd ebbed and flowed, all of them hungry, and all of them (arguably) equally in a hurry to eat and get back out on the road (or trail) again. Tammy didn’t get much of a chance to talk with Connor, on those one or two occasions when she got back to his table. A quick splash of coffee, a smile, a nod, some fresh creamers and she was off again.
Next thing she knew, he was standing in front of the cash register with the bill in one hand and the paper, the Daily Journal, carefully folded under his left arm. He had an expense account when out on the road and a company credit card.
She ran it through their old-fashioned reader. He’d laid the paper on the counter, needing two hands for the wallet and plastic.
His aftershave, which she’d noticed earlier, was intriguing and not overpowering. Around these parts, either a little too much or not enough (or none at all for some of the real slobs) were (or was) more the norm.
Connor had lingered over breakfast, taking his time and thoroughly demolishing what was a big meal for this early in the day. He had some concerns, but he knew every restroom between here and there by now. If that didn’t get things going, nothing would.
He’d left her a good tip, on the table so as not to make an obvious thing out of giving her money.
Dealing with the wallet, he picked up the paper, holding it up as if to show her something.
“Say. I hope you don’t mind me asking, ah—Tammy.”
It was the first time he’d used her name. She was sort of impressed that he’d even remembered it, but of course traveling salesmen were good at that sort of thing—
Once again, he marveled at those eyes. Surely they were the windows into her soul, and a beautiful soul it was, (not too many doubts there), but there was also this feeling that she knew what he was thinking. There was this feeling that she could see right through him, and that maybe, on some deep and fundamental level, it might not be very good. Those eyes really were violet, and not just dark blue.
It wasn’t a figment of his imagination.
Once again, his heart beat a little faster.
Poor old Reb—
“Well, I…it’s just that there’s this play—and I was wondering—well, I don’t know. I guess I was wondering, ah, if maybe you would like to go see it. Ah, with me.”
There was the faint hint of a blush on his cheeks, something that she hadn’t suspected he was capable of.
He proffered the folded pages.
“Ah—” It was a long drive, but she had in fact seen the ad.
They jammed the paper for free in the mailbox whether you really wanted it or not.
It was a repertoire company, and quite well regarded in the regional sense—whatever that meant. The critics always said things like that. It was something she’d always wanted to see. It was one of those things, of a sort you never got around to, the theatre, the plays they put on there. Still grieving and essentially having no one to go with, she’d always put it off. She and Richard had talked of going, someday-maybe, sooner or later…when they had the time. Richard’s time had run out, but she still had a life to live…
Tammy really ought to look up one or two old friends, but had been sort of afraid of what she might find. Divorcees were different from widows.
Hopefully it wouldn’t remind her of all the wrong things—as of course it would. And had, and did.
You can only stall for so long…
“Oh. When is it? I mean, when were you thinking of going?”
He nodded, all seriousness now.
“Yeah. Well, it’s on until, ah, well into the New Year. We could go whenever you want. I’d be happy to pay for a babysitter—my treat and all of that.”
It was called Comings and Goings, by some guy she’d never heard of. All about some wacky dysfunctional family and how they coped with the tragic loss of a rich uncle none of them had really liked until they inherited a big whack of money.
What the hell.
You ain’t getting any younger, girl.
There was still that biological imperative…
“Okay, sure. Why not.”
There were other people rising from their tables, and Connor stepped aside for a moment so that old man Cribbin could pay his bill and go.
The old gomer, a fixture in these here parts, couldn’t hide his interest in the silently-expressive little tableau. Connor smiled indulgently, giving the gentleman a bit of a nod.
Two people, both good looking, making a date. It was timeless, and forever fresh, and not to be taken lightly by the most casual or even rancid observer.
Shaking his head lightly, Max turned and headed for the door. If only he was young again.
He’d show her a thing or two. As for the male, he looked like a real greaser.
Max Cribbin might have shown him a thing or two as well—in his younger days, he would have given a guy like that a good sound thrashing, just on general principles.
It was just something atavistic within him, probably going all the way back to the primordial ooze when he thought about it.
The temperature was near freezing and the sun was well up by the time Connor got outside and on the road again. A grin tugged at the corners of his cruel yet sensual mouth—he almost laughed at the thought, but women were women and they could be read if you were sensitive to their needs and emotions.
They were, in fact, an interesting study.
He was blushing, and he knew it. What the hell, it didn’t pay to be too cynical.
Tammy was really something, never mind how he knew that. Men could be intuitive too.
That, and the X-ray vision, had caused an awful lot of trouble in the world over the millennia.
Under the pressure of the workday, with more customers coming up behind Connor, they’d quickly made arrangements.
She had weekends off because of Riley, who would be out of school. Her mother-in-law was always offering to look after her, always insisting that Tammy needed to get out more, but Tammy rarely took her up on it. Now might be a good time.
“Hmn. Phase one is complete. Phase two is upon us.” Other than that, the Beemer was caked in dirt and road-salt, and it would be nice to give it a wash.
There was the day ahead of him in the Fergus Falls area, a couple of more days on the road after that, and he had some thinking to do. The song on the radio was Crimson and Clover. Tommy James and the Shondells.
His thoughts turned to Reb, who would no doubt be wondering.
Over and over, Reb would be wondering.
The days flew by readily enough and then it was the day.
Connor had hit a bit of a snag.
“What?” Reb was appalled.
There were times when it really didn’t pay to answer the phone.
“I said, and I know this is short notice, but my car broke down. I’m sorry, Reb, but she’s a real nice lady, as I’m sure you might have noticed.” Connor was eighty miles away, and there was no way he could get his car fixed and make his date with Tammy.
“You’ve got to be kidding me.”
According to Connor, he’d hit something in the darkness and the snow. The sump was cracked. They couldn’t get the parts for a car like that in anything less than about twelve hours. It was a five or six-hour job once they did have the parts, and it was Saturday. Long story short: Connor wasn’t going anywhere.
He would be stuck in a motel room for the entire weekend. Surely Reb could see that it was better that way. This way, it didn’t look like the typical pickup operation. All the heavy lifting had been done, although Connor didn’t put it exactly in those terms.
“Look, Reb, this isn’t that hard. I email the tickets. You print them off. There’s a serial number and a bar-code and they just scan them in at the door. You’ve got great seats.”
“Aw, for crying out loud.” A play—a fucking play—in Minneapolis, and on a Saturday night, and with the hockey season in full swing.
“Shit, Dude. I’ve already had a couple of beers—”
“So. Big deal. You’ve driven home after ten. Look. You can look forward to taking the lady out for a drink afterwards. Go online and find a nice little steakhouse up there. Know your ground, Kemo Sabe. Grab yourself a coffee and a couple of burritos and do the right thing. Look, why don’t I call her. We’ll see what she says, but Dude. Reb. If I’m really going to sell her on this, I want to know if it’s what you really want—because if you’re all frickin’ surly and, ah, rude, or not enjoying yourself, she’s sure as hell going to know it. Look, I just need you to pinch-hit for me. That’s all—I don’t know what the hell you’re so worried about. Rule one. Be on time—and we don’t have much time to spare.”
Put a bag over your head and do it for me—truth was, Connor might have had a couple of drinks as well.
They had other options.
Connor could simply apologize and ask her to take a rain-check, which, most likely, meant it would probably never happen.
There were only so many chances in the world, some of them were here one minute and gone the next, never to arise again.
You had to strike while the iron was hot.
“It’s a date, Reb.”
A date. Nothing more and nothing less.
A freaking date.
Thoughts spun through Reb’s head in quick succession. Burritos, no—gas, big farts, no, that might not be such a good idea. There was nothing more distracting than sitting beside a real nice lady and your guts are waiting to explode. A quick cheeseburger, large fries maybe.
“All right, all right.” Damn.
“Okay. I’ll call her—and you’d better hop in the shower. I’ll call back as quick as I can. Thanks, buddy. I really appreciate this.”
“Oh, Connor. I don’t know.”
“You know Reb. Better than you know me, quite frankly. He’s a real good guy. He said he’d be thrilled to take you—”
“He did?” She sounded doubtful.
She knew he had the gas station and repair shop, of course. No one had anything real bad to say about him—
“Look. Why don’t you go along. I’m terribly sorry about all of this. You guys go, and have a good time, and don’t worry too much about me—any town that has a bar is a home away from home for a fool like me…”
She grinned slightly, still listening, still making up her mind. Reb’s cousin Sheila had been in her class at high school. They were good people, the whole bunch. He wasn’t bad looking, in spite of all the tattoos and that shaven head and the heavy-metal goatee. Reb had legs like small tree trunks and arms and shoulders to match.
Other than that, he was just some guy. She’d seen him around without ever thinking about it.
“Ah…all right. Okay.”
“I’m really sorry, Tammy. And thanks, you know. Reb really likes you—he’s a bit shy, but he’s a really nice guy and I know that he likes you—” Now would be a good time to shut up.
“I’ll give him a quick call-back and tell him to pick you up. About five o’clock. It’s a good drive but the roads are clear. And don’t worry about paying the babysitter. I’ll have to owe Reb until I see him again, but that’s no problem. I never break a promise. Is that okay, Tammy?”
There was a silence, with the suggestion of a sigh in her voice.
“Yes, all right. I guess so.” That didn’t sound too positive. “I’ll be ready.”
She’d never seen Reb in a suit before, but his mother had died two or three years ago. It seemed to fit very well. Obituaries were about the only thing the Daily was good for anymore, not after they’d sacked ninety percent of the workforce.
Tammy wondered if he’d worn it since, but he looked surprisingly good. It was interesting to sit in the passenger seat and have a man beside her again…
The roads were good, just as Connor said. It was a starry cold night, the moon was out and Reb had the music turned down low on the radio. She still remembered one date, years before, with a person who had the hip-hop music cranked, really cranked, the whole time they were in the vehicle. She had wondered at the time what people like that ever found to talk about. To her surprise, the guy wasn’t deaf already—and he really hadn’t been much for conversation.
She couldn’t even remember his name, now, although it would probably come to her if she pushed. She didn’t push. This was the here and now and she’d better pay attention.
Reb was surprisingly intelligent—a different impression from the big, hearty fellow in the tow truck, grease under the fingernails, and wearing those stained coveralls with his name on the pocket; a white rectangle and with red lettering.
Reb was short for Augustine junior, he explained with a smile. His old man was always called Augie, but Red wasn’t going to let that happen to him. She’d been wondering, and thought that was the case without quite knowing how she knew it.
They made pleasant small talk, and it really wasn’t all that far. Not to a mid-westerner. Reb didn’t cruise the parking lot, looking for the closest spot. He took a spot, quick and with no hesitation. The man was willing to walk fifty yards. The air was good, and he even told her that. He nipped around and held the door for her, took the outside on the sidewalk like a gentleman. Reb held the door for her, took her coat and checked it, and ushered her into the seat like he knew what he was doing. Reb was making good eye contact and all that sort of thing. Reb was a smoker, but he’d only had one, after getting out a ways on the highway. He’d cracked the sunroof on his Honda and it wasn’t unbearable. Although Richard hadn’t been a smoker, some of the other men had.
Sitting down, her hands were in her lap. She took a look around. Reb opened up the program while the house lights were still up.
“Well. Isn’t this nice.”
She giggled in spite of herself, but the theatre was all Greek-rococo or whatever, in what they called the classic Pantages style. He’d made her laugh a couple of times already and things were going well enough in a nice, easy and casual way. They were both adults, doing something a bit different, but oh, well.
Reb was fun to talk to. It had been a very long time since she’d talked to someone that wasn’t work-related, or else something to do with shopping, household accounts, the people at the daycare. Bills to pay and problems to solve—
He gave her a long look and she grinned.
“Yeah—it is kind of nice, isn’t it?” The heat coming off that big right leg was…interesting.
She could feel it distinctly, all along the outside of her left leg, in her sheer black nylons with the line up the back. Her dress was a clingy red knit, but thin enough for all of that. In a panic, she’d pulled it out and found it not too bad. She only had so many options, and there was no way she could afford a new dress.
Too bad, Connor, looks like you miss out…
The audience was about as full as it was going to get, with the usual low murmur and the inevitable someone in the audience coughing…
There would always be somebody coughing.
It was the way of all things.
The lights slowly came down and things got quiet for a moment.
From his seat, high up in the rear left corner, Connor was disguised well enough by thick, round and very dark tinted glasses. They had thin wire frames. Connor wore a beard that was so obviously fake he was surprised no one had called its bluff. His cream leisure suit, a big red hanky fluffed up in the pocket, had come off the rack in a second-hand store. Connor beamed down benevolently. There they were, front and centre. They made a nice couple. That was the really great thing about reserved seating, your ticket had a number—and that was all there was to it.
You either sat there and endured it, or waited until the play started and grabbed some unoccupied seats more to your liking—praying the seats were unsold and not just someone coming in late.
Online, it was as easy to buy three tickets as two. His own presence wasn’t that essential, but he did have some curiosity. Connor would leave in a moment.
This was a very strange moment for him, very poignant. Pregnant with meaning or something. He loved Reb in that moment. Tammy wasn’t so bad either.
He writhed in his seat, cracking up as silently as possible.
Tammy kept stealing glances at the hulking figure beside her, and it was hard not to laugh at her obvious thought processes.
How did this happen, anyways?
Now all they had to do was to sit back and let nature takes its course.
Things looked to be going very well indeed as Reb took another quick look of his own. She had very nice knees.
Tammy stared straight ahead, listening carefully to the action onstage.
At the same time, she would be hyper-aware of that big hot hunk of masculinity in the seat beside her.
Connor might have been too busy to call. It was plausible enough, what with the broken car, falling behind just when the winter season was getting real busy. He would have been playing catch-up, with all the people buying new equipment and refurbishing older machinery, getting ready for another year.
Still, Reb was wondering why Connor was ignoring his calls.
At first, Reb had been waiting to hear from Connor, and then, when enough time went by, he had no choice but to call Tammy back. That was part of the training, in the art of the pickup. After trying to get through to the guy for a week straight, he’d sort of given it up. His old buddy would call when he was ready. All he could do was to continue the game. Once started, you couldn’t stop. After a while, he started having thoughts of his own, sort of knowing it was wrong…his best friend, stabbing a buddy in the back. All that sort of thing.
He and Tammy had seen each other a half a dozen times, and he’d finally brought himself to kiss her. She had responded, which was better than a slap in the face or a kick in the nuts. A whole new world had opened up, or so it seemed.
“Huh—hey!” Reb was speechless.
The man himself had risen from a table at the White Stag, arms wide open, beaming paternally at them.
It was like being caught or something, trying to steal your best friend’s girl. Reb was borderline angry, but if it was okay with Connor, and he was pretty sure it was okay with Tammy…
“So.” Connor, damn his eyes, stood there beaming at them.
Reb’s guts kind of sank—he knows.
And that fucking crazy bastard didn’t seem to mind at all.
Tammy’s warm hand let go of Reb’s and he watched in silent amazement, a kind of sullen objectivity as the charmer that was Connor—what a perfect name that was, took hers briefly before seating her at a table.
A table set for three. The White Stag was the nicest full-service pub in the area…Connor wasn’t exactly stupid, either.
“Please, Reb, sit down. Have a drink.”
Reb’s jaw dropped. They’d just been to see the latest science-fiction blockbuster, and they were both hungry and in no hurry to go home.
Almost anything was better than popcorn and Milk Duds.
They were seated, but Connor didn’t let it get too awkward. Turning, he pulled a bottle of champagne out of an ice bucket on a wrought-iron Art Nouveau stand.
“Krug.” Turning, he lifted an eyebrow at Tammy. “My lady?”
With the wisp of a smile, and a quick glance at a reddening Reb, she nodded.
Words failed one, sometimes.
That shit was expensive.
Connor poured for Reb and then himself, eyes slightly down, the perfect host. Urbane. Sophisticated—with money enough to make it stick. Looking up, Reb and he were eye to eye.
Connor raised his glass.
“I have a little announcement to make. It’s one of those good-news, bad-news things, I’m afraid.”
Oh, yeah, what, you’re dying of cancer or something—
Glaring, Reb swallowed his glass in a gulp, just then a waiter arrived.
He had these little bread and butter plates and a mound of fresh buttered toast. Tammy’s eyebrows were climbing as the fellow lifted the lid on a pot surrounded by ice in larger china bowl, very impressive in a black, Japanese sort of motif.
Connor nodded as Reb choked up briefly.
“So. Uh, Connor—what’s going on.”
Their shoulders shifted, and Connor knew they had taken each other’s hands under the table. They were a little confused, circling the wagons, ready to defend each other.
He sat there with a smile, biting his lip and taking them in carefully, one at a time.
Reb blushed to the roots of his hair.
“All right, Connor.” Reb was becoming angry, very, very angry. “Maybe we have a little announcement too—”
Connor’s hoot, the ringing slap of a palm on his leg stopping Reb dead.
“…anyways, Reb, Tammy, congratulations. I love you guys, I really do. Reb, remember how I told you I was up for promotion?”
Reb’s mouth opened and his features went slack.
“You got your promotion.” He sat back, slumping a bit, and giving Tammy a significant look.
“That’s right. I’ve been promoted—”
“So you’re going to Chicago?”
“No. Not exactly. I’m going to Brussels.”
Tammy sipped champagne, and tentatively took up a slice of toast. Connor waved his hands.
“Come on, come on—eat up.” Sitting up and bending forwards, he grabbed a slice of toast, a heavy and extremely well-polished butter knife and began plastering the caviar onto it.
“Mmn. That’s good.” He swallowed. “Yeah. They’re sending me to Brussels as the European service rep. Five years and I make vice-president. You know I can do it, too. The money is outrageous, and making a sale is the one thing I can do—gosh darn it, people like me for some reason I have never been able to understand…”
“Son of a bitch.” Someone get me a drink—the thought was clear enough.
You set me up.
Connor handed over the bottle promptly. Reb’s hand shook, but only slightly as he poured.
He was still angry, but coming around. His eyes slid over to the lady, and a beautiful one, at his side.
Tammy was still watching, still listening, but at the same time, she’d never even had caviar before.
It was all right. Interesting—salty little fish eggs, and the toast was good. Just like in books.
Reb was thinking of Riley, and how she had captured his heart in a completely different way.
I’m going to be a step-daddy, maybe even a father—holy, shit.
His eyes found Connor’s.
That look said everything.
I will kill you, you son of a bitch—
“All those languages.”
Connor cracked a grin.
“Hah. Yep. I just want you guys to know that I’m very, very pleased. And I guess my life is going to see some changes…”
Which was putting it mildly, thought Reb.
But then, so is mine. He reached over and gave Tammy’s hand a squeeze, and she was interested to see a bit of excess moisture in his eyes.
We’re all going through some changes.
She pulled her hand away on some impulse, and then reached into her pocket.
“Here, Connor—I want you to have this—and thank you.” Now Tammy was blinking back tears.
It was the moonstone, still warm from her touch.
Connor nodded, taking a long and careful look at it before putting it away in an inner pocket.
“Thank you. I will be careful not to lose that.”
There wasn’t much else you could say.
I love it when a good plan comes together.
About Constance ‘Dusty’ Miller
Constance ‘Dusty’ Miller has written fiction, non-fiction and worked for newspapers and magazines. She did a brief stint as sports editor of a small-town weekly. She likes to make people laugh as well as think. Her erotica has a strong sense of the dramatic. Out of work and recovering from a life-threatening illness, someone suggested writing erotica which she initially rejected for lack of confidence. But love makes the world go around, and Dusty can no longer deny its pull. Dusty squeezes a little writing time in between raising a daughter and building a home-based business.
At thirty-two, pickup artist Connor Davidson has been asking himself some tough questions. If all you want is a lawn, you can buy a house. All it takes is money. A house would never be a home, not without a wife and kid. Twenty-two year-old Tammy and her little daughter Riley would fit the bill very nicely. It would also make a major ding in his lifestyle. Then thereâ€™s Reb, his good friend and wingman all these years. Thereâ€™s also the possibility of a major promotion looming on the horizon. One thing is certain. Connorâ€™s life is about to undergo some big changes. A short and surprising story of romance.