At a little before 6:00 p.m. Georgia time and about 5:00 p.m. Arkansas time Jay Branch pulled into Fort Smith, Arkansas, a little town before the Oklahoma border, to get gas and more caffeine at one of the three truck stops off a crowded exit. The truck stop looked like every other that he had seen on the way which was usually one of two versions. There were the new and improved versions that usually had at least one or two brand new fast food chain restaurants in them as well as the exact same fake trashy truck stop junk as every other location of the franchise. Then there were the ones that Jay had always preferred like this one that instead of the shiny fast food fronts with uniform clad teenagers and a corporate made sign that had the pictures of all of the combo meals on it, that featured the glass case with hot lamps keeping the sea of tan crusty fried items, that in their own way were all probably equally good, covered in hot sauce and or ketchup and even shockingly probably not as bad for you as the over processed garbage that the average chain restaurant used. Where the truck stop in the middle of nowhere probably went to the local grocery store and bought chicken, fish and potatoes and battered and fried them in house. The average fast food chain now seems to have to add over twenty-five long named chemicals that you couldn’t pronounce and a healthy dose of gluten and some sort of corn product for no apparent reason to everything including salads. Jay would still eat that garbage as well but there was something true about homemade less doctored garbage of a real old fashioned truck stop that just tasted real in a bizarre way. He mentally compared it to how the Glock 19 felt like a bringer of death in his hand; like it was used for killing humans and a shotgun or rifle was for hunting animals. Another benefit of the less commercial truck stop beside the low grade speed at the register was the bizarre off brand high caffeine energy drinks that you could only find in certain spots not governed by corporate policy and today’s awesome find was Spike energy drink; at only 8 oz. it had over 300 milligrams of caffeine and in addition to being the pick me up he would need for the long drive in the middle of the night, it also provided a fond memory of the time he had bought a case of it and put it the bottom of his fridge for those hard to wake up mornings and then woke up one morning to find his bass player balled up in the fetal position and shaking because he had decided to use 3 of them to mix with his vodka when his fruit punch Hi C had run out.
While paying for his gas, Spikes and what he was hoping was chicken tenders and potato wedges, Jay could not help but notice the scummy gentleman sitting in one of the crappy booths in the eat in diner area. He was sitting with his back to the wall making sure that he could see who ever may walk through the door. He wore a black Fox Racing hat that he had on a little to the side like he thought he was a rapper that had greasy long straight hair sticking out from under it and a puffy black goatee? that was almost as ridiculous in the middle of summer as the fact that underneath it he wore a simple white wife beater tank top. There was a basket of fries in front of him and it looked as if he was eating exactly one per minute as a reason to be able to sit in the booth. He reminded Jay of a former employee that he had named Chrispy. The same employee that Sam Dantello had taken the gun from that was now in his Volvo’s trunk. Jay wondered if like Chris this piece of living breathing white trash also sold drugs and if so did he have every dollar he had ever made selling drugs in a giant impressive wad in his pocket so he could show it off to the potential date rape victims or other lower level white trash wanna be drug dealers when needed. More importantly did he have a similarly filed clean gun somewhere on his person and had he ever used it before or was he as unskilled as Chris had been. It didn’t matter; none of it mattered, what was Jay going to do? Rob a scumbag drug dealer in the middle of a truck stop diner? He picked up his bag from the counter and smiled at the rotund old woman behind the register and left the store to go and pump his gas. He removed the nozzle from the pump and inserted it into the tank of the old white Volvo and cracked open a Spike energy drink and poured it over ice in a 22 oz. cup he had purchased from the fountain inside and then poured about three shots worth of the vodka over it. The bizarre combination of heavy caffeine and vodka seemed to be keeping Jay in a calm meditative state. It appeared to be the exact amount to keep his ADHD from flaring up and letting his mind wander as he made his way across the country. He would have probably gone insane if he had thought too hard about what he was driving toward without this magic elixir and the constant stream of loud heavy metal CDs blasting from the car stereo. In some way he also had thought in some sick hidden back area of his mind maybe letting the devil creep into his mind while listening to Slayer, Marilyn Manson and Slipknot would give him the cold indifference necessary to shoot the evil monster in the face that stole his baby. He replaced the nozzle and looked out into the distance already feeling a slight jolt from the drink, thinking to himself that Arkansas didn’t look half as bad as he imagined when he had pictured where Bill Clinton was from. There was green grass and rolling hills like you would picture in an advertisement for the place but when you showed up it would be dirt and trailers. This made him laugh to himself as he sat behind the driver seat and turned the old reliable Volvo on once again.
A church van backed in directly in front of him as he was about to pull out so he instantly threw the car into reverse and made his way in a backward arch around the pumps; as he did so he could see his old friend the scumbag white trash drug dealer walking towards the outside bathrooms. It was an old white building that after years of neglect had turned into a brown and tan mess of cinderblocks that had 2 hollow wood doors that appeared to have been at one time blue, there was only a sign on the Women’s side and on the Men’s side someone had written “Dudes” with a black permanent marker. The drug dealer who by now Jay was referring to as Sonny in his mind was talking on a cell phone and walking towards the side of the building. Jays mind was racing. It was like everything was lining up perfectly for him. The church van had made him reverse. Sonny had walked not only out of the building but to the side of the bathrooms where he could not easily be seen and besides the church van there wasn’t another soul in the parking lot. It was insane, Jay had thought that he may have to do something like this but it was a daydream, not something that was real and in the day dream it was dark and there was nothing and no one for miles from where it would happen. As deserted as the old truck stop was, it was still inhabited by a church van and a fat little old lady behind the counter and who knew who else was maybe working in the dingy old kitchen in the back. At that moment a young girl appeared from behind the side of the bathroom building, she was a little younger than Grace, or at least she appeared to be smaller than Grace but when he saw her face he could no longer assess her age. Her size and body looked like she was fifteen but her face looked closer to that of a thirty-five year old woman, wrinkled and pail with dark lines running through it like the stress of the world lay directly on her back. She took a pack of Kools out of her pocket, placed one between her teeth revealing that she was missing more than a few, then she plucked a cell phone from her pants pocket and dialed a number. He could see that she immediately mouthed the words “Yeah I’ve got it.” to whoever was on the other end of the phone and then like a scared rabbit she darted across the highway and disappeared into the woods on the other side. Sonny on the other hand had not come back from around the side of the building. Without thinking Jay pulled the old Volvo up to the building blocking the side from which the drug dealer had gone. He quickly almost in one fluid motion exited the car opened the trunk slid his hand into the backpack and pulled out the Glock and slid it into the front of his jeans and proceeded to the side of the old building. When he rounded the corner, he saw why Sonny had not come out. Leaned against the side of the building sitting in the grass, Sonny had “fixed” himself up, meaning that he had shot himself up with heroin and then he had politely nodded off behind the old bathroom building of the truck stop. Not only was this piece of garbage a drug dealer, but he was also a monumental idiot of Herculean proportions. Jay walked toward him and leaned forward towards the junkie and saw the small silver pistol he had tucked in the waist band of his four sizes too large jeans and he with no hesitation reached for and removed it.
“Heyyoumuthafucka…….” Sonny mumbled as if talking in a dream. The junkie was aware of the situation but was unable to act quick enough to do anything about it. Like an old pro at robbing passed out drug addicts Jay then without a second thought proceeded to check his pockets, first the front jean pockets then the outside front pockets of the oversized coat and then finally searching for an inside pocket carefully as to make sure he didn’t accidentally stab himself with a disease ridden needle. He found the knot of cash that he was looking for. As he suspected, just like Chris it looked like this moron had every dollar he had ever made rolled up in an impressive knot with a rubber band around it like they do in the movies.
The junkies hand moved up and grabbed Jay’s shirt collar.
“I’m gonna fucking stab you bitch.” The words were clearer now and the grip he had on Jay’s shirt was remarkably tight. Jay pulled back quickly and broke Sonny’s grip then stumbled back a few steps and reached for the Glock in the front of his jeans so he could wave it at the now moving zombie to make him sit back down. But before he could the junkie had grabbed Jay’s belt and was pulling himself up.
“Motherfucker !” The words rang out as the criminal’s battle cry.
Instinctively, Jay kicked forward as hard as he could and struck the junkie right under the chin throwing his head back toward the wall like a kid kicking a football into a garage door for practice. The head made a sickening thud sound against the cinder block wall and Sonny immediately crumpled into a pile of dead weight in the grass. Jay could see a small amount of blood on the wall. He needed to know how bad it was so he took one step forward and checked to see if there was a gusher coming out of the back of the junkie’s head. His hat had been knocked at an even more pimp like slant because of the blow and Jay moved it just a bit so he could see right below the strap a small blood spot that looked as if someone had leaned against a ketchup packet but it didn’t seem to pour from his head so he hadn’t killed the piece of shit. But really who would have cared if he had? Probably the even bigger piece of garbage that had sent a teenage girl across a highway to score for them but no one that actually mattered to the world’s existence, just parasites that sucked the air that belonged to better people, the air that belonged to his daughter Grace and to his dead wife Beth. Then a thought raced through Jay’s mind. This was the kind of piece of shit that killed Beth! It took every fiber of his being to not beginto violently kick the junkie’s head into the cinderblock wall, to end his worthless fucking life before he ended someone else’s, by either shooting someone over owed drug money or even worse killing an innocent kid with a stray bullet from his crappy pawn shop pistol. He couldn’t do it; he knew that if he killed this idiot then the police might come after him. There might be cameras at this shit hole and at this point all he could be charged with was assault and they wouldn’t chase down someone from out of state over that and the drug dealing junkie wasn’t going to call the cops to report the stolen gun and wad of drug money.
Knowing this Jay just stepped back and admired his work. There was near death piece of white trash junkie shit that was his fault and not only had he added a large circle of bills to the ransom money but he had picked up another gun that was small enough to be hidden just about anywhere on him if needed. He stepped out from the side of the bathroom building and headed to his car and was still holding the large wad of bills in his hand when he noticed the fat old cashier standing outside the back door smoking. He hoped she would just peg him as another worthless drug addict and not react strangely. Then for a moment he wondered if maybe the junkie drug dealer and she had some sort of deal worked out since he was obviously working out of her store. But then she smiled at him and nodded her head towards the handful of cash, which Jay now noticed had a big smear of junkie blood across the top of it, which must have happened when he pulled his head forward to check for damages. All that mattered to Jay was that it was obvious that Big Bertha didn’t give a shit about Sonny the drug dealing piece of shit and she wouldn’t be any help to him in figuring out who the random stranger was that had robbed him. Jay daydreamed for a moment that the experience would wake the dumbass up and he would pick a better life path because of what had happened, but he knew better. Once a piece of shit always a piece of shit.
He closed the door to the old Volvo cranked it up and hit seek on the radio to see what kind of traveling music the local radio station was going to provide and was not disappointed. The radio stopped on a country station that was comically playing On the Road Again by Willie Nelson. He took a giant sip of the spiked Spike energy drink, put the car in drive and pulled back out on to the highway. It felt as if the planets had all started a motion that would make them soon align for Jay. He knew everything was going to be fine and he quietly repeated a line from one of his favorite movies Dazed and Confused.
“Alright, alright, alright.”