Ginger was backed up against the counter taking a long drag off of her cigarette and surreptitiously rubbing her posterior against the counter’s metal edge. One more hour was left on her second shift of the day, her third double this week. All of her tables were filled with truckers and other assorted miscreants who seemed to be grazing happily, except maybe for Fat Boy at number six who was probably out of coffee by now. Yep, there he was lifting his cup and trying to catch her eye. She would attend to him in a minute.
Ginger’s feet hurt, her back ached, and her butt itched the way it always did when Leonard the Love Muscle was about to make an appearance. Sixteen straight hours of slinging grub and making nice to over-sexed halfwits was more than any self-respecting tip-slave should have to endure. Tonight she was headed home to a hot bubble bath and at least two shifts of sleep – and God help the poor soul who tried to get in her way! Leonard would have to find somewhere else to exercise his muscle on this trip.
There were two people at table six, a rotund man of forty or so and a teenage girl wearing sweats who could easily pass for a rather rough young male. Carmen sat picking at her fruit plate and watching as her father heaped several soft-cooked eggs onto a stack of pancakes, broke the centers with his fork, and then covered the steaming mess with a thick coat of blueberry syrup. “That’s disgusting!” she snarled.
“No, that’s delicious.” Henry smiled across the table at his problem child. They seldom got to see each other any more, and in a way Henry regretted that fact. Ellen had passed away when the girl was seven, and Henry had never tried to delude himself into believing that he could parent. His role in her life had been to provide opportunities, but Carmen had parried each “opportunity” with contempt, insolence, and now violence. He knew that her mother’s death was a large part of Carmen’s continuing rage, but other kids lost parents without turning into what the Braden Academy had termed a “a budding young terrorist.”
“What are we doing here?”
“You can’t beat a truck stop for good food, Cow Pie.” Henry Gaston belched at his angry daughter. “These are the places that keep America moving.”
“Yeah, straight to the crapper.” She continued, “What are we doing here? What’s the point of this daddy-daughter road trip? Where are you taking me this time?”
“Home.” Henry replied simply.
“Home! I’ve got a home? Since when?” Carmen laughed bitterly and a little too loudly. “I’ve been living in dormitories since I was nine and now I’m going home! Well, you can just take that idea and cram it right up your fat…”
“So, you would rather go to another academy? I’m not sure there are any left that haven’t heard about you.”
“Emancipate me! I can take care of myself a hell of a lot better than you can or any of those adolescent prisons that call themselves schools can. I’m not going to be locked away again.”
Henry belched and smiled.
Carmen resumed picking at her fruit as she scanned the restaurant taking in the sideshows. The purpose of truck stops, she surmised, was so mutants like these would know where to find each other. This was like seeing the zoo from inside one of the cages, the one reserved for inbred baboons! One nearby tattooed primate was entertaining himself by flipping a spoon in the air and trying to get it to land in his coffee cup. Hopefully, Carmen thought, he was better at driving than he was at spoon-flipping. Another cretin at the same table was busy making art on his empty dinner plate with salt, pepper, mustard, and ketchup. From Carmen’s vantage point the emerging painting appeared to be a tiger with bloody fangs, or maybe some painted rocker from the eighties.
As Carmen’s gaze continued to take in the panoply of weirdness, she suddenly spied something with potential. A road-hardened specimen of a Big Rig Mama was sitting a couple of booths away enjoying an after dinner smoke and staring at Carmen. When their eyes locked, the trucker winked.
“More coffee, Sweetie?” Ginger leaned across the teenager and filled Henry’s cup without waiting for a reply. “How’s the grub?”
“Wonderful!” the fat man gushed.
“A sure cure for constipation,” his daughter interjected.
“That will do!” Henry banged the handle of the butter knife on the table to emphasize his sudden command of the situation.
“Don’t get riled up, Sugar. I’ve got a smart-mouthed kid at home just like him.”
“Stupid bitch!” Carmen snapped.
The tip be damned! Ginger had been through one hell of a hard day and she wasn’t going to take that kind of mouth off of anybody! Hands on hips, she assumed a power position by leaning in over Carmen. “What the hell did you just call me?”
The girl jumped to her feet without warning, a maneuver that caused their heads to collide and sent Ginger reeling backward into, and then over, a cart of dirty dishes.
It was now Carmen’s turn to assume the power position above the waitress who was flailing about on the floor amid the broken plates and table scraps. “I said that you are a stupid bitch. And while you’re wallowing in the garbage, remember this.” Carmen lifted her sweatshirt to reveal a pair of unbridled, hefty boobs. “It wasn’t a boy who put you there!”
The more reserved patrons began applauding, while their less couth road cousins were whistling and yelling for more. It wasn’t often that they were treated to a floorshow for the price of a burger and fries! Ginger was struggling to get up off the floor and screaming about stomping a hole in the smart-assed little dyke, but a wayward pat of butter sent her back into the mess, this time face first.
Carmen considered giving an encore by jumping onto the waitress and riding her around the restaurant like the rodeo cow that she obviously was, but that plan derailed when Big Rig Mama john-wayned her way into the fracas and began ushering the girl toward the door. An unlucky busboy pushing a mop bucket toward the calamity de jour got in their way, and the lady trucker deftly pushed him aside and into a table of six. The boy fell across his mop handle as he crashed into the table, a move that caused the bucket of sudsy water to pour out across the floor amid the carnage of the upended table. The mess was expanding exponentially, and fists and dishes were beginning to fly. Carmen and her escort managed somehow to navigate the mayhem and made it safely outside into the parking lot. A coffee cup crashed into the glass door as it closed behind them.
“I can take care of myself.” Carmen declared, trying to break free of the trucker and return to the melee.
The trucker let her go. “I know that. I brought you outside so you wouldn’t hurt anyone.”
“Well color me stupid. I figured you just wanted to get in my pants.”
The trucker laughed. “All in good time, Sweetness, all in good time. By the way,” she said, extending her hand, “I’m June.”
“Carmen.” Her name was punctuated by the shattering of the front window as it stopped the flight of a dinner plate that had been used as a frisbee.
“Come on,” June said, turning to walk away. “Let them peckerwoods percolate for awhile. We can climb back in there later and bust up the leftovers – if some pussy hasn’t gone and called the cops by then.”
Carmen hurried to keep up. “Where are we going?” she asked as they neared the far end of the building.
“I’m going to show you my rig. You’re up for some fun, aren’t you?”
“You bet.” Carmen was up for anything: drugs, sex with a stranger, canasta. She knew that no matter what the current level of violence was inside of the truck stop, Fat Henry would still be focused on his food. Anything would be better than watching her father as he struggled to test the limits of cholesterol tolerance and flatulence control.
When June led her around the corner of the building, Carmen found herself nose-to-fender with the largest truck cab that she had ever seen. “Holy shit!” she stammered. “You could live in that thing!”
“I do, as a matter of fact. That’s why the cab and sleeper are too junked up for company.” June led the girl past the cab and down the length of the extra-long trailer to its terminus which was planted firmly in the darkest part of the parking lot. Carmen stood aside while her new friend opened the right panel at the back of the truck. June lifted herself into the truck with the ease and grace of one who has performed the act innumerable times. She turned back and offered a helping hand to Carmen who allowed herself to be hoisted into the pitch-black chamber. “Follow me.” June directed. “Just two steps.”
The second step brought Carmen up against the back wall of the chamber, a wall that logically should not have been there. “Where is the rest of it?” she asked.
June had situated herself on the floor at Carmen’s feet and was leaning against the wall. “Hermetic seal,” she explained. “I’m picking up a load that I don’t want the dogs finding, if you get my drift.”
Carmen slid down beside June and assured her that she had caught her drift. She commented wistfully to the trucker that she wished she had already picked up her load so they could check the quality.
“It’s always primo.” June reached into her flannel shirt pocket and pulled out a nicely rolled, fat joint. “Here is a sampler from the last batch. I never leave home without a healthy supply.” She fired it up, took a long hit, and then passed it to Carmen. As Carmen took a couple of grateful pulls on the weed, June continued describing her transport business. “The real merchandize goes behind the wall, and this section is crammed to the rafters with bales of chicken feet.”
“Yep, chicken feet. The Chinese grind them into an aphrodisiac. Just what they need – more sex!”
Carmen was giggling as she passed the joint back to June. This was beginning to be one of the best times that she had had lately. Henry would just have to amuse himself with his pancakes until this scene in the truck played itself out.
“Seriously, I haven’t found a County Mountie yet who was willing to help off-load a truck full of chicken feet just to satisfy his idle curiosity.”
Somewhere toward the end of the second joint, June was lying on her back with her head in Carmen’s lap. A grope here, a squeeze there; it really was turning into a beautiful night. It was with a considerable reluctance that she finally disengaged and walked to the door. If Carmen would stay there (an easy option since she couldn’t move), June would go to the cab and retrieve her massage oils. The best part was yet to come.
Carmen thought it was hysterical when June jumped from the trailer and yelled “Geronimo!” like an airborne ranger. She was still laughing as June closed the trailer door and dropped the latch into place.
* * *
Never one to let good food go to waste, Henry Gaston had finished his meal in the midst of the riot that his daughter had precipitated. He folded a hundred-dollar bill and placed it under the coffee saucer, then rose and managed to dodge and weave his way out of the eatery with surprising agility for a man of his rotund stature. Minutes later he watched comfortably from his glossy black Hummer as an oversized tractor-trailer rig emblazoned with the words “Hendershot Collections” turned east onto the service road fronting the truck stop. Henry headed west.