Meeting a Ghost
Pike Evans eyes blinked open aware of the noise, but quickly squeezing shut again. He was now fully aware and conscious his fourth dimension is over. Peacefulness from sleeping terminated by the sounds continued from his phone to start a new day. Jackie hitting his side. He reached silencing the alarm. Unfortunately, it is the only alarm tone that made him get up to face his nowhere life and consider it really wasn’t so bad in the Army.
Pike now awake. No turning back. Maybe Jackie would get up and make him coffee like she used to when she first moved in. Her coffee always tasted bitter. She never measured, just poured the bag until she though there was enough. That’s okay, it was one more thing he didn’t have to do for himself while it lasted.
No movement from her as he reached placing the phone back down on his nightstand then reached a little further up, pressing for the light toggle to illuminate the bedroom, lifting his old army blanket and maneuvering his body up to touch his feet on the ground. He stretched sitting in the upright position. She did move this time blowing out a huff, protesting his disruption of her sleep with over exaggerating moves to cover the pillow over her head.
Pike’s head turned half around watching her tantrum as he scrubbed his head chasing away the urge to lie back down and started thinking the bills need to be paid, he has to get up. Hands on the bed, using the mattress for leverage, he forced himself to move. He stood up eyes scanning the floor searching around for work pants.
The first ones he saw were dirty from yesterday, he dropped them down looking for the others. Glancing over to the laundry baskets near the door, he spotted what looked like a pair of navy-blue cargos and proceeded digging them to the surface. One whiff made him drop them instantly. He could not wear these. They must have been from last week. He turned to Jackie, “You couldn’t do a load of laundry in six days?”
She shot up sitting quick to retaliate, judgmental eyes glaring back at him. “What and leave you nothing to complain about? I ran out of detergent. You didn’t leave me money.”
Last thing he wanted to do is argue right now, but no clean uniform pants nudged at him. “You could get a job you know.”
“I have a disability.”
“I didn’t realize laziness qualified.”
“I do enough here.”
“Well you could use some of that money you get from the government to buy laundry detergent.”
“I buy the food. That was your deal.”
“Your food stamps buy food.”
“It’s still mine. It comes from me.”
“Since all you get is junk food, and you are the only one who eats it, I suppose you are right.”
She leaned over to her nightstand grabbing her vape pipe, turning back toward him. She wasn’t finished with this conversation.
He looked around at the piles of clothes on the floor, the dirty dishes on the bureau, then at the empty cartridges on her nightstand. There she sat upright blowing out the smoke glaring hard at him, waiting for another comment with her unkept long ash blonde morning hair, eyeliner smeared eyes, wearing his old Kidd Rock T-shirt. “I need money if you want me to wash those. I don’t have it.”
He walked around looking for a clean shirt pushing clothes aside, disgusted with living like this. His mother never liked her anyway. Accused her of stealing money from her wallet when he brought her over for dinner one night. She wasn’t allowed there now. He opened his drawer finding a clean navy-blue T-shirt, folded. He remembered doing laundry not too long ago. This is how they taught them to fold a T-shirt in the military. This would do.
He scanned the floor picking the less dirty pants off the ground. “You know Jackie, maybe you should look for another place.”
“Yeah, you don’t even do that anymore.”
“You are a fucking jerk Pike. No one is going to put up with your shit.” She snuffed out her cigarette. “You’re cheap, and your dick is small. You can’t even get me off.”
He finished dressing slipping on his black sneakers
“Maybe that’s because you’re too loose. Be out by the time I get back.” He swiped his phone off the nightstand, closing the door on her string of profanities, he found his keys and wallet, pulling the house door hard behind him.
“You’re late, again.” Mr. Rizzio tapped his watch in Pike’s face.
“Sorry about that Sir.”
Rizzio followed closely behind reprimanding that he is running out of reasons to keep him. He followed Pike all the way to the waiting pallet of boxes. The rear truck door was stuck shut, giving Pike a reason to be rough with it instead of taking it out on Rizzio. Tomorrow is payday, he can decide what will happen after he cashes his check. His father would understand. Most likely be happy that Jackie is gone. Freeloader he called her.
He picked up his clipboard. Fifteen stops today. Everyone hated Wednesdays. Longest day of the work week. All the produce boxes were marked and ready. Jerry walked from around the corner removing his apron, glancing at Rizzio, smiling wide to Pike as he knew what is happening, he mocked Pike. “Late again brotha’ got a big load today. Holiday weekend, you better get moving homes.” He grinned lips stretching with amusement, slapping Pike’s shoulder. “What do you say we shoot some hoops later. I should be awake by the time you get back.”
“Good luck man.”
“Get some sleep buddy.” Jerry clocked out whistling as he left.
He loaded this box truck with Mr. Rizzio continually checking on him. “Evans, you gotta get moving. Speed it up.” All the other trucks were leaving the docks.
He glanced up nearly done. “Yes Sir.”
He finally pulled out on the road at five, only fifteen minutes later than normal time. Still dark out. The only ones on the highways this time of morning were long distance commuters, truckers and Kojaks. He’s about an hour from his first stop looking at the time displayed on his phone then tossing it on the dashboard in front of him. They left him with the loudest truck for being late. This radio doesn’t even work anymore as Pike fiddled in hopes of something other than static, only to finally give up hitting the damn thing in frustration.
In this particular box truck, the driver must have the window partially down. They still haven’t fixed the exhaust problem and he didn’t need a headache or to die this morning. Pike shivered, chilled by the morning air, hoping the heater would work better. He drove along with one hand on the wheel and his left elbow resting on the window frame. At least the air would freshen his clothes some.
It’s dark as the overhead lights on the highway reflected his hood, then windshield in a pattern that looked as if he was in a tunnel. He supposed with no radio, this time of day driving is good for thinking.
Jackie came to mind first. He nodded in silence agreeing kicking her out is right. He was done, sick of being the nice guy. She was on her phone all night, talking trash about everyone. She even referred to Pike not living up to his potential as she ate the pizza, he brought home for them. She said she felt so confined staying in the bedroom in his father’s house. She repeated this was no way to live and they should be in their own apartment and he should have a better job. She wanted her own apartment not living in his dad’s house. Yes, that was the final breaking point for him. The dirty laundry this morning made him realize she doesn’t do anything.
It also reminding him of his Army days driving transport. Early morning was best for beating all the public commuters. Maybe he should reenlist.
He glanced in the side mirror. Semi behind him couldn’t decide what lane to be in. Must be texting.
Pike bumped over to the passing lane. He didn’t want anything further screwing up his day. The semi hauling with a hell of a lot of rubber on the road. Pike watched in the right-side mirror trying to count how many tires. The guys traveling fast, caught right up to Pike, started passing. Pike registered twenty tires on the pavement. That is a hell of a load. Big rig started to weave in the middle lane again. Pike assumed the load might be shifting inside, that’s the reason he used both lanes. He started coming too close to his produce truck, backed off his speed to get this semi past. The guy nearly clipped Pike as he slammed on his brakes with the tail end moving a few feet in his lane. “Fuck! Come on dude!”
The semi cleared him. “Where are the Kojaks when I need them?” The semi swerved again up ahead. Pike signaled into the middle lane as he watched the semi struggling to stay in one lane. Finally, he seen the semi pull over to the breakdown lane. Maybe the guys in trouble. He remembered his father having an allergic reaction once. If Pike wasn’t in the cab he probably would have died.
Pike’s thoughts got the better of him pulling behind the trailer with his hazards flashing. No one on the road as he walked noticing government plates. He glanced at his phone and sped up his pace because if this guy is in trouble every second counts. He was glancing at all the tires. No writing on the side of the trailer and when he reached the cab it is just as bare as the trailer. He reached up calling out, to look inside. “Hey Buddy? You okay? Want me to call someone?” The fella opened the door. “What do you have for a license? Quickly!”
Pike looked at the dash full of electronics. “I can drive anything Sir. Transported in the service.”
“Get in. This is a national emergency. These wheels have to keep moving.”
“I need my medication. It fell on the floor. Get in.” The guy unbuckled holding his chest.
“I should call 911.”
He grabbed Pike’s shirt. “National emergency kid. I’ve never called in the birds my whole career, and I am not about to this morning. I can drop you at my scheduled stop. Right now, we have to move.”
Pike started to protest. “I have deliveries. I can’t…”
“I will make sure you are compensated. You don’t want to be standing here in fifteen seconds if this truck doesn’t get moving right now.”
Pike served eight years in the military. He knew the word National Emergency. No one throws out that phrase unless it’s legit. Explains why no letters on the cab or trailer. Pike watched the guy grab for his meds. He seen a timer with a yellow light blinking. Seven seconds it counted down. He hopped in the seat. Watching the man place a nitro tab under his tongue. This guy looked in need of help. Two seconds it flashed as Pike shifted into low pulling away. The light turned red but the wheels were moving. Call came over the radio. “Agent 49637 this is Vogel, Apache ready and in position, are you in need of assistance?”
He grabbed the handle. “Agent 49637. Personal bag tipped on passenger side floor. Rolling now, all clear.”
Pike watched him hang the talkie back on the arm. “Are you sure I should be here? Am I going to be in trouble?”
“Yes, but I will get you out of it. Been driving twenty-nine years. Not one god damn blemish on my record. They give you extra money for that.” He sat back holding his chest and controlled his breathing. “They tried forcing me into retirement beginning of the year. This is what they do now. Cut you at twenty-nine years so they don’t have to give you the eighty-five percent. I have three more months. I want my fucking eight-five percent and bonus.”
Pike was feeling through the gears. “How much weight? She’s heavy.”
“Too much. Keep her slow and steady.”
“Where are you dropping?”
Pike turned to look at 49. “You’re not expecting me to drive nine hours? Eleven with traffic and weigh stations.”
“We don’t get weighed.”
“What else don’t ‘we’ do?”
“We don’t stop. For anyone.”
“What about Kojak’s?”
“How is that possible?”
“Because you are going to drive slow and steady. Blend.”
“As I blow by all the weigh stations? How is that blending?”
“It’s not. We have a special pass.”
Pike looked in the mirrors. He was going to be fired for leaving the produce truck. Mr. Rizzio’s face would turn red. It did that when he was really mad. Pike looked over at 49. His hand just touching his chest now. Not pressed against it like before. He quickly looked over the dashboard lite like a Christmas tree.
He asked. “Motion lotion?”
“Plenty to get to North Carolina.”
“You said to your scheduled stop?”
“That is my scheduled stop.”
“I’m gonna lose my job.”
“I will find you a new one. I have a lot of connections.”
“Wait. How much trouble am I in again?”
“Shit load kid. What’s your name?”
He grinned. “Unusual name?”
“Mom gave birth to me on the Mass Pike. Name stuck being from a trucking family.”
“I can see you are pretty at ease with her. You are a natural.”
“Been driving since I was four.”
49 cracked a half grin with a snicker. “It shows. Mind if I catch a few winks?”
“Oh sure. No problem while I blow by the weigh stations. I’ve got it. Any chance of you dropping me at a rest stop?”
“Sorry kid. I’ve got to explain why you’re here. I can’t stop her now. Wheels need to keep moving. It will be better if we reach the destination. Follow the GPS.” He pointed to which electronic was the GPS. “Don’t worry, government will fly you back in style.”
“I know the military. Don’t start lying to me now.”
49 chuckled again. “Good to know. That will help your case.”
“Relax kid. Thanks for helping me out. You are doing a great service to your country.”
“Paying it forward. My dad wouldn’t be here today if someone didn’t stop and help us.”
“Your dad still driving?”
Pike sarcastically grinned. “Yeah, a boat down in Florida.”
“Good to hear. Now look kid, don’t touch anything and don’t stop. Follow the GPS. If this light here turns red again, we will have more gunships on us quicker than you can imagine. If they see you in the driver’s seat count on them shooting first and asking questions later. Got it?”
“No worries Pike. Everything will be fine when we reach Bragg’s.” 49 sat back pulling his cap down covering his eyes. “I’m right here kid. Just drive.”
A hundred miles up there is a weigh station. Pike knew all these roads. Knew where every weigh station is, truck stop, which state was looking for revenue to give out tickets. The next weigh station would be a test to see if 49 was really telling the truth. He had about fifty minutes to sleep if traffic cooperated. Traffic? What if the traffic stops? “Hey 49? What happens if traffic stops?”
“Do what the GPS tells you to do, if nessecery keep traveling in the breakdown lane.”
“That’s illegal! They will pull us over and then we will be stopped.”
“Not illegal for us. Follow the route. It’s sorting out all that crap. Any more questions kid?”
Pike watched the GPS. “I hope you are right. What about the talkie? Can I use that?”
Pike muttered a little, watching the road. It was quiet in here. He tried to see if there was music or something but all the gadgets looked confusing. He focused on the traffic and listened to 49 lightly snoring.
Perhaps his morning wasn’t so bad. Jackie would stay if he asked. Although he bet, he lost his job his phone finally stopped buzzing. Looks like he had plenty of time to do the laundry now. He would call his dad later. He’s been wanting Pike to move down to Florida with him, sell the house up north and work down there. Yes, this could be the chance to do this.
The GPS showed which lane to be in and when. 49 was out cold approaching the first weigh station. There is a line of trucks waiting, showing it’s open and active. Fighting his conscious to pull in, Pike followed the GPS marking him to switch to the middle travel lane, driving right past the weigh in. He kept checking the mirrors for any cops. No one seemed to follow.
Another ten miles down no sign of cops. His phone vibrated telling him he is fired for the fifth time now. No going back. Perhaps he could find a job in North Carolina or Virginia. He liked Virginia. He thought about that. He would be closer to his dad; he already knew the area. It was him being done with the military and his mother wanting him back home that drove him Northeast. Pike had nothing now but a few buddies back there. He would at least text Jerry, later on, that he was out for today.