February 12, 2008

Chapter 15

"What the hell is that?" Evans said looking down 213.

"It's a wreck," Maggee said leaning forward in his seat.

The squad car advanced on the wreck, the tangle of patrol car and station wagon.

"What and the hell happened?" Evans asked.

"You can see it," Maggee said with a flat gesture. "Station wagon cut right through him, right through the intersection, there."

"Well god damn," Evans said. They stopped the car.

"Ed, called for an ambulance," Maggess said getting out. There was a woman sitting on the road, a blanket around her shoulders, blood dripping over her face. A man stood beside her.

"Are you all right?" Maggee asked. "Is she all right?"

The man looked at Maggee and stuttered. "I don't know what happened, she just came out of no where. And she got out of the car okay. We called an ambulance. Yeah well one guy did and then he went to check on the other fella."

"The officer?"

"No, the fella who wrecked his truck," he said pointing up the road.

Maggee followed the finger to the back end of the truck sticking out from the liquor store.

"There's an ambulance on the way," Maggee said. "We've been looking for that truck all night," he said running back to the car.

The alarm rang, loud and shrill. "Holy hell!" Pepper said, looking into the store. A display of gallon jugs of margarita mix were scattered on the floor, cardboard boxes of discount gin, pieces of a counter and register, coins, bills, glass and wires. The truck had stalled in Pepper's sudden breaking. He turned the key in the ignition, shifted the car to neutral and turned the key again. The engine let out a high-pitched cough, he released the key. He turned it again, the same cough. Pepper made a frustrated scream and punched the steering wheel, the truck's horn blew.

He climbed down from the truck and looked back at the accident. He saw a second set of lights flashing, the squad rolling around the wreck and towards the store. "Oh no way!" he said backing away.

Pepper climbed over the broken glass and metal of the store front into the debris. He looked around the building frantically, ran halfway down an aisle of gin and back to the front of the store. He pulled at drawers behind the still standing register, tape, scissors, paperclips, a supply catalog, take-out menus, a lighter, thumb tacks, markers, receipt tape. He took the lighter and put it in his pocket.

Evans stopped the car in front of the shop. "How are we going to handle this, Sheriff?"

"Well, let's see," Maggee said. He looked into the store, squinting. The lights in the shop were off, though the building was partially lit by the headlights of the truck. "You see him in there, Ed?"

Evans looked. "I don't see him, Sheriff."

"Okay well let's see if he won't just come out of there, then."

"All right."

Maggee turned a dial on the radio and put the receiver to his mouth. "Come on out of there," he said through the loud speaker. "Nice and slow just come out." He turned the dial again. "We're going to need immediate backup to 1412 Columbus Avenue. Man has driven a stolen delivery truck into the front of a liquor store. Possibly armed."

"We going in?" Evans asked.

"I'm fine waiting, Ed."

Pepper crawled along the floor of the shop, moving towards the back. He leaned against a cardboard cutout of a viking hoisting a bottle of mead. A blue light flickered on the ceiling, Pepper watched it, nervously rubbing his fingers in his pocket. He pinched at some loose coins, turned the lighter in his fingers.

"You're coming out or we're coming in with pistols," a voice came over the loudspeaker.

"Goddang," Pepper said, flicking the lighter rapidly. He looked down at the flame, flicking the button still. "Oh, man," he said leaning forward. He scooted toward a shelf, took a bottle of Bourbon Supreme and twisted off the cap. Then taking his sleeve in his mouth tore a piece of fabric from the shirt. He stuffed it into the end of the bottle and lit the lighter at its edge. The cloth took the flame, he picked the bottle up, took a few steps towards the front of the building and hurled it into the parking lot.

"Eat on that, suckers!" he screamed.

The bottle shattered on the asphalt several yards in front of the squad car.

"What in the hell is he doing?" Evans said staring at the bottle. "That rag's on fire."

"Whiskey won't catch," Maggee said.

Another bottle flew into the parking lot, breaking closer to the building than the first.

"This guy's lost it," Evans said.

Pepper tore another piece from his shirt. "Let's see how you like this," he said. There was a bottle of everclear on the floor in front of him. He laid the strip of cloth on the ground and poured the alcohol over it. He took the wet cloth and pushed it into the open mouth of the bottle. He struck his lighter at the end of the cloth, the flame took quickly. The puddle of alcohol on the floor caught fire, Pepper moved the bottle with his foot, making a startled whoop. The leg of his pants took the flame, he began kicking rapidly. He bent down and picked up the lit bottle, ran back to the front of the shop and threw it through the window with everything he had.

The bottle exploded into flames just in front of the squad car.

"Holy shit!" Evans said. The deputy and sheriff scrambled from the car, running towards the road.

"Oh, Christ!" Maggee said. The flame had grown, it billowed under the front end of the car. They ran into the street, across the median and to the other side of the street. They faced the building, their burning car. There was a dull boom as the car exploded, it seemed to leap a few feet into the air as a mass of yellow flame blew out like a cloud of dust.

"My lord!" Evans said, staring. The fire engulfed the car, burning violently.

A figure emerged from the building. From across the street the officers could see his fiery leg.

"Help!" he screamed. "Help!" Pepper ran around the parking lot in little circles, waving his arms. He collapsed to the ground and began rolling around. The fire wrapped around his leg, he yelped as he flopped on the concrete, smothering the flame.

* * *

The room was small, a window along one wall, green paint flaking from the others. Maggee stood, pacing the floor. Pepper was sitting behind a large table, his hands cuffed in his lap. Maggee sighed, dabbing sweat from his forehead.

"And where's that money, now, Mr. Gray," Maggee said.

"You can call me Pepper."

"Is that what your friends call you?"


"I'm not your friend," he said spitting into a trash can. "Where's the money?"

"That guy took it, the one whose truck I took."

"He has the money?"

"Yeah, I guess so."

"You just had it with you?"

"In my wallet."

"In your wallet?"


"How much did he give you?"


"How much money did he give you?"

"Four hundred dollars."

Maggee stared in disbelief. "Four hundred dollars?"

"That's what I said. I couldn't believe it either."

Maggee rubbed the back of his neck.

"Four hundred dollars for sabotage. A murder."


"The car flipped into oncoming traffic!"

"Listen, I didn't mean nothing by that. It was the car, the car just flipped over, I didn't kill anybody! The car did!"

"And you sabotaged the car, causing the accident. This is first degree murder!"

"Oh, man," Pepper said rocking in his seat. "Oh, goddamn."

There was a knock, Maggee opened the door. Evans poked his head in and glanced at Pepper, whispering to the sheriff. Maggee nodded.

"Do you smoke?"

"No sir."

"Well I'll leave this anyhow." Maggee reached into his pocket, he set a crumpled cigarette and a worn matchbook on the table. He left the room, the door clicked behind him.

Pepper bit his lip, still swaying back and forth in the chair. "Oh, mang," he said. He looked down at the cigarette. He opened the matchbook, there was a single match attached to the cardboard. His wrists were heavy in the cuffs, he took the cigarette in his fingers and raised it to his mouth. He tore the match from the package, flipped it and struck the strip. It refused to light. He struck it again, and again, the scent of sulfur filled his nose. He snapped the match over the book once more, it lit and immediately burned out.


February 5, 2008

Chapter 14

Sheriff Maggee wiped his forehead with his pocket rag. "You'd think the heat would break after the sun was gone," he said wringing the rag out on the floor of the car.

"Nah, Sheriff. The whole season's sticky, night and day," Evans said, eyes on the road. He glanced at the sheriff. "Where you think that boy run off to?" he asked.

Maggee looked out the window, a few of his hairs blowing about the others stuck to his forehead. "Might as well ride in the shoulder, Ed. Boy said he left him on the side of the road and he can't have gotten so far out."

"All right," Evans said. The car slowed as it rolled to the shoulder, Evans drove on. "What are we gonna get him for?"

"Well, let's see. He stole that truck. He ran. I guess that's good enough to get him locked up while we figure out the rest."

"You think he's got anything outstanding?"

"Hard to say. If he's been as erratic all summer as he's been today there's no telling."

"Pretty deep, huh?"

"To his eyebrows, Ed."

"Sheriff Maggee?" a voice came from the radio. Maggee grabbed the piece.

"Yes, Sandy."

"Sheriff we just got a call from a dispatcher in county. Said that there's been another truck stolen. From a Stop 'n Fill on Botts Road."

"Off Route 4?"

"That's one way to get there, yes."

Maggee looked ahead as the BOTT RD 1/2 MILE sign came into view.

"Heading what direction?"

"South on 213."

"Description on the truck?"

"Potato chips."


"It's a Tater Thins potato chips truck."

"Okay, Sandy," he said putting the piece back.

"Think this is our guy?" Evans asked.

"Who could be so desperate as to steel a slow, heavy, diesel-driven monster like that?"

Evans hit the siren as the squad car skidded back onto the highway.

* * *

Pepper struggled with the truck, pumping the clutch and working the massive stick shift with his left hand crossed over his body. His right arm was cradled in his lap, his fingers wrapped around the bottom of the steering wheel. Several times the engine jolted, the gears grinding in their engagement. He cursed as he navigated the roads, moving cautiously.

"Come on!" he yelled, leaning forward as he shifted. A large sedan sputtered in front of him, the left turn signal blinking for the past quarter mile. Pepper could see the mocking handicap icon on the license plate in front of him, the chair with its gearless wheels. "Move it!" he screamed, catching sight of a yellow light ahead. The sedan slowed. Pepper yelled as he shifted down and kicked the break.

The intersection was empty. The sedan and the rumbling Tater Thins truck were the only vehicles in sight. The black, open parking lots at either side of the road were empty, the shops in the strip malls were dark. Pepper checked his mirrors for other cars, looked left, right and left again. He shifted the car into gear and began to maneuver the truck around the sedan. A flash came across the side view mirror, a flicker of blue in the distance. "Oh goddamn!" Pepper said. He bit his lips as his eyes welled. He turned the wheel as quickly as he could, his left arm stretched across his stomach, shifting awkwardly. The truck started into the intersection and he shifted again, he could hear the rising wail of the siren. The truck rolled into the intersection gaining speed, Pepper shifting with difficulty.

In the mirror the lights were growing larger, the siren louder. Pepper moved the truck around a mini van, an obstacle in an otherwise empty street. He struggled with the gears again as the truck climbed a small hill. The squad car was closer now, only a few hundred yards behind. The truck reached the peak of the hill and started down its steeper and longer side. Pepper shifted the car into neutral and covered the break.

There was a stoplight at the bottom of the hill, cars were stopped at the intersecting road. The truck accelerated as it pitched down the hill. "Come on," Pepper said steering with both hands. "Come on!" he shouted, the light had turned yellow, the squad car broke over the crest of the hill behind him. He let off the break. Pepper flew through the light screaming as it turned red, the squad car close behind.

Pepper glanced at his mirror, the blue flashing behind as a pair of white lights tore across the length of the glass. A blast of crumpled metal came from behind, in the mirror he could see a mass of blue and white. He let out a joyous, broken laugh. He studied the mirror, neither car moved. Another car approached and slowed, stopped, a figure ran towards the scene, a silhouette in the headlights.

The truck moved on as the scene played in the mirror. Pepper felt a jolt in the cabin and looked through the windshield. The truck crossed over a grassy median, smashed a telephone and before he could slam the breaks had plowed into the front of a liquor store. The neon liquor bottle flashed above as the glass front of the building shattered around the truck.

January 28, 2008

Chapter 13

Deputy Evans and Sheriff Maggee tore down Route 4 heading west.

"How far do you think he's got?" Evans asked.

"Hell if I know, Ed. Might have got turned around again. For all we know." The sheriff spit out of the open window.

"I wish you wouldn't do that Sheriff."

"What's that?"

"It just ends up on the side of the car."

The deputy kept his foot down, the siren wailing.

"What was that?" the Sheriff said, looking towards Evans.

"What's what?"

"When we just passed that break in the median, I saw it, I saw the truck."

"Oh, hell," Evans said, turning the car onto the left shoulder. He quickly turned the car around, now driving against traffic in the median. "I don't like this!" he said.

"We're fine," the Sheriff said.

Evans turned the car onto the AUTHORIZED VEHICLES ONLY road and turned onto the shoulder.

"Come on, let's get on this," Maggee said.

"All right," Evans replied and got the car to speed, merged into the left lane. "Should we leave the siren on?"

"We got to. Only way anyone will clear out."

Moving at 90 miles an hour the squad car made quick progress over traffic.

"I can't believe this guy. Turned around on us again!"

"There it is!" Evans said and up in the center lane by a few hundred yards was the orange truck.

"Okay let's get in there," the Sheriff said.

Evans maneuvered the car in behind the truck.

"Son of a bitch," Maggee said.

The truck slowed, pulled to the right lane and eventually the shoulder.

"I'll get this one," the Sheriff said climbing out of the car. He took his revolver from the holster, pointed at the truck.

"Get out of the car!" he said. "Put your hands where I can see them and get out of the car."

Evans was standing at the passenger's side of the vehicle, his gun drawn.

Denny slowly climbed from the car, keeping his hands high above his head. "Okay, okay!" he said.

"Put your hands behind your head and turn around," the sheriff called. "Now back up towards me. Evans!" Deputy Evans held his gun at Denny, Maggee drew his handcuffs. "Get down on the ground, now put your hands behind your back." The sheriff put the handcuffs on Denny.

"What the hell you doing, boy?" Maggee asked.

"It's my truck," Denny said.

"Like hell," said Maggee. He reached for Denny's wallet. "Your license in here?" he asked.

"Yes, sir. The registration is,"

"Did I ask you where your registration was?" He handed the license to Denny. "Give Sandy a call," he said.

"Now you hold tight," Maggee said walking to the truck. He opened the glove box, found the registration beneath a warm bottle of beer and unfolded it. "Huh," he said.

"You want to tell me how you got your truck back?" Maggee asked.

"We got a call from our friend, he works at the Tops and said he saw someone in my truck. Said he asked for directions to Route 4 west so my brother and I we got on the highway and got him to pull over and took the truck and left him on the side of the road."

"You left him there?"

"Yeah we left him there."

"Why didn't you call us?"

"Didn't want to let him get any further away," Denny said.

"So this guy is just standing on the shoulder of Route 4, walking to the next exit?"

"I don't know," Denny said. "I think he's got a broken collar bone."

* * *

Pepper was walking West along the shoulder of Route 4. He was moving slowly, walking backwards, facing traffic with his thumb held out. The sky was beginning to turn yellow, a few cars were wearing headlights.

"Somebody please just pick my ass up," Pepper said out loud. "Any old body will do." Pepper heard gravel turning behind him, a car had stopped. He walked over and looked into the cabin through the passenger window. The window slid down.

"You need a ride?" a woman's voice called from inside.

"Yes, ma'am!" he said and reached for the handle. He cried out in pain, feeling the fracture of his collar bone, and opened the door with the other hand. He climbed into the car, "Thank you very much," he said shutting the door.

"Where are you heading?" the woman asked. Pepper looked at the woman, his mouth parted. She looked back at Pepper.

"Uh, just to the next exit's all I need," he said.

"All right," she said, putting the car into gear.

They drove in silence, the only sound coming from the engine and shifting gears. "What happened to your shoulder?" she asked.

"Oh, I just got a little beat up, that's all," Pepper said looking out the window.

"What a shame," she said. "What was the fight about?"

"Well I took, I borrowed my friend's car. I guess he needed it or something. So he was pretty mad about it and hit me."

"And made you walk home?"

"Yeah, I guess so."

The woman turned the car for the exit ramp.

"Left or right?" she asked.

"Uh," he said looking at a sign listing gas stations. "To the right, it'd great if you could take me to that Stop n' Fill."

"Okay," she said and turned the wheel.

"I really can't thank you enough," Pepper said. "So thanks a lot."

"No problem. Anything else I can do?"

"No ma'am," he said unbuckling his seat belt. "Well wait. I'm out of money, do you happen to have a few dollars?"

She was reaching for something under the seat. "Sure," she said holding out a five dollar bill. "I hope your night gets a little better," she said.

"Thanks, I'm glad that someone is looking out for old Pepper."


"Yeah, that's me," he said stepping out of the car.

"I'm Monica."

"Well Monica you just about made my night."

"So long," she said and drove off.

There were a few cars parked in front of the Stop n' Fill, a large Tater Thins truck was stopped along the side. A man in a canvas uniform was wheeling crates of potato chips into the store.

Pepper opened the door and looked at the clerk. "You all got any hot dogs?" he asked.

"Yes, sir. Right over there," he said pointing to a case. "Help yourself."

"Thanks," Pepper said walking over. He took a plate and a bun from the counter, opened a rotating rack and picked out two dogs with a pair of tongs. Ketchup, mustard, relish, chopped onions and a few jalapeno peppers. He took a few napkins and walked over to one of the booths along the front window.

"How much do I owe you?" he said, his mouth full.

"Let's see," the clerk said. "That's a be 88 cents."

"Can you break a five?" Pepper asked chewing. He took a large bite of the double stacked hot dog and let out a long sigh. Holding the hot dog in one hand he used the other to pick up some pieces of fallen onions and relish. He put them back onto the hot dog.

Pepper looked outside, over the flattened cigarette packages on the asphalt, a discarded straw. Night had fallen, and the red circular Stop n' Fill sign reflected in a pool of water from a leaking air conditioner. He watched as a car pulled up to the pumps. A man climbed out, so tall that it took more than a moment for him to straighten himself. He was dressed in black, large boots and a belt with shining attachments.

"Oh god dang," Pepper said, onions falling. He quickly stood up, dug the five dollar bill and dropped it on the table. "There's the five dollars," he said to the clerk, quickly. "This place got a back door?"

"Yeah. It's in the back," the clerk said.

"Thanks," Pepper said. He moved quickly down an aisle of magazines, squeezed past the uniformed man as he loaded the shelf with chips. "Sorry, man," Pepper said. The uniformed man grunted as he placed a bag of cheese curls on the shelf.

"Evening, officer," the clerk said as the tall man walked in. The officer nodded and walked over to the coffee counter. He poured himself a cup, leaned against the counter and took a sip.

The potato chip man wheeled his dolly towards the back of the store.

"What do I owe you for the coffee?" the officer asked.

"Ah," the clerk said. "It's on us."

"Why thank you," the officer said. "Slow night?"

"Yeah. I guess you could say that," the clerk said adjusting his apron. "What about on your end?"

"About the same."

"Hey!" a voice came from the back of the store. "HEY!" the voice came again.

The officer jolted up as the potato chip man came scurrying back into the shop.

"That guy's got my truck!" he yelled.

January 22, 2008

Chapter 12

Pepper held tight to the wheel staring down the strip in the afternoon sun. He sang to himself, "I'm gonna run til the runnin's done, I'm gonna run if there ain't no sun, gonna run, Anyway I can, gonna run, man oh man." He spit out the open window. "Now that could have been a hit. Wouldn't need any money after that one. 'Next on the charts it's Peter Gray with Wanted Man. Stay tuned for the Tar Heel Coffee hour, I'm Bill Lindsey, it's Three O'Clock.'"

A large gray pick up truck skidded into the gas station parking lot, it stopped slanted across three parking spaces in front of the shop. The silent man was behind the counter looking to the door. Two young men climbed down from the cab, they were dressed alike in faded jeans and worn flannel shirts, their hair was long and flat. They walked quickly to the door, the driver of the truck flung the door open.

"So what the hell is it?" he said.

The man behind the counter folded his arms. "Hi, Denny. He just came in and asked for directions."

"That's it?" the other man said. "Just stopped in real quick?"

"Yep," said the quiet man.

"Did you call the police?" Denny asked.

"No, Denny. Thought you two could handle it better than they could."

"You're right about that," Denny replied. "Don't want to leave this one for a regular Jonathan Law."

"Well what's this guy look like?"

"Normal, man in his early thirties I guess. He was wearing work clothes."

"That's not much, Chris," the other man said.

"Denny's truck is orange, that'll make it easy."

"What else did he say?" Denny asked.

"He asked for directions to Route 4 west."

"That's where we're going, then," Denny said.

"He's got a twenty minute head start," Chris said.

"Well lucky for us my brother Carl here is a real fine driver," Denny said.

"Sure am. My middle name is Driving Dangerously," Carl said.

"Your middle name is Dean," Denny said.

"Shut up and let's get out of here," Carl said. They climbed into the car, Carl floored it for Route 4.

* * *

Deputy Ed Evans sat at the wheel of his patrol car heading west on Smithson Avenue, Sheriff Maggee sat in the passenger seat.

"Fine way to spend an afternoon, huh Tom?" the deputy asked.

"Yeah, real fine," the sheriff said looking at a stack of papers in his lap. "It doesn't make a bit of sense, Ed. Seems like he was driving around in circles. 11:15 orange truck headed west on Shirley Street, 11:23 orange truck seen headed north on McGinty, 11:30 orange truck spotted heading south on McGinty street, 11:42 orange truck seen on Highway 3 heading north. Twelve o'clock, truck is on Tidewater going East, 12:13 truck is heading south on Rowers."

"Maybe it was two trucks," Ed said.

"No, I don't think so, Ed. Sounds like the bastard was lost."

The radio cracked with static. "Sheriff Maggee?" a young woman's voice came from the speaker. The sheriff took the receiver.

"Yeah, Sandy."

"A man just called from the Getrol station off 209. He said that a man in an orange truck came in and asked for directions at about noon."

"Where'd he ask for directions to?" the sheriff asked.

"He was trying to get to Route 4 heading west."

"Good work, Sandy," the sheriff said placing the receiver down.

Deputy Ed Evans flicked the siren and slammed the gas.

* * *

"Jesus Christ, Carl," Denny said gripping the handle in the truck's door. The truck weaved in an out of traffic, curling over on the shoulder. Denny held tightly to the door, shaking in his seat as the car passed from the shoulder and back into the left lane. He looked out of the window, a car full of vacationing college girls looked up at the truck with fright. The driver of the car, a young girl with large sunglasses, kept her eyes on the road as she began to cry.

"We're gonna get him," Carl said. "We're gonna get this guy!" he screamed.

"Let's try to stay alive, Carl," Denny said. "What's the use of the truck if there's no one left to drive it."

"Calm down, Denny. We're in fine shape. This isn't anything. Barely anyone on the road," Carl said shifting gears.

"How far down do you think he is?"

"He was ahead of us by twenty minutes."

"My guess is that he isn't speeding. Trying to act casual."

"In a truck like that?"

"Maybe he's color blind."

"Maybe he's dumb."

"Bet he's both."

"You're on."

Carl hit the horn of the car in a rapid staccato. "Move it!" he yelled, breaking the truck.

"What are we gonna do when we get him?" Denny asked.

"That's up to you, big brother. We could stomp him good. Real good."

"You still got that extra tire iron?"

"In the back, yep. Some chain, a can of spray paint. Whatever, man."

"Lots of possibilities," Denny said. "What a piece of work. Steals my car in an oil change."

"Why didn't you just change it yourself?"

"I keep asking myself the same thing. I was treating myself, you know?"

"Just shows you," Carl said. "It's a luxury you can live without, paying for something you can do yourself."

"Carl!" Denny shouted. He straightened up in the seat.

Carl jammed the accelerator, ahead on the highway was an orange pick up going steady in the right lane. It disappeared over the crest of a hill.

"Goddamn, goddamn," Carl said. He crossed the truck from the left lane to the right shoulder, taking the car up to 90 miles an hour. When the crossed over the hill they saw the truck again.

"That's it," Denny said. "That's my truck. That's my goddamn truck."

Carl pulled the car over to the left lane, a white two door skidded off to a stop on the shoulder. A horn blared.

Pepper looked into the rearview of the truck. "Oh, man," he said looking up. He could see the gray truck weaving in traffic, the driver pumping the horn. He let up on the gas. "This guy can go on ahead, man." Pepper let the speed down to 50 miles an hour.

Carl was gaining on the truck. "He's slowing down," Carl said. "Making this easy on us." The trucks were side by side. Denny rolled the window down and looked over at Pepper.

"PULL OVER" he screamed over the wind and engines. Pepper gave a confused look. Denny screamed again, motioning to the shoulder with his thumb. "PULL OVER," he screamed again. Pepper slowed the car, it rumbled off the road into the shoulder. The gray truck pulled in behind it, Denny and Carl quickly scrambled out.

"Get out of the car!" Carl screamed. "Get out of there."

Pepper opened the door and climbed out slowly. "Okay, okay, man. Whatever you say."

"Do you know whose truck this is?" Denny asked. Pepper's mouth fell open, stunned. He took as step backward into the open truck door.

"Do you?" Denny asked.

"Yours, sir?"

"Yes. It's mine. This is my goddamn truck!"

"Oh, man. I had no idea. I'm sorry man."

"Yeah, I'll bet. I'll bet you'll be real sorry in a minute here," Carl said. He took an axe handle from the back of his jeans.

"Listen guys, I'm in a bit of trouble myself. I'm just trying to get out of town. You can have your truck back. You can take it. I'm just trying to stay a step ahead."

"What you running from?" Denny asked.

"Screw him, Denny!" Carl said.

"Hold on, hold on. What you running from, man?"

"I'm just in a bit of trouble."

"What kind?" Denny asked.

"Now I don't want to say anything. The less you know the less you'll be responsible. You just get your truck back and I go on walking down this interstate."

"I'm gonna break your arms," Carl said.

Pepper's face went white.

"I'm gonna break your elbow in," Carl said walking towards Pepper.

"Stop, Carl," Denny yelled. "Let's just take the trucks and get the hell out of here. We don't need trouble, we just need to get the hell out of here."

"Give me one good goddamn reason not to break your arms," Carl said.

Pepper stammered. "I don't know, I don't know mang. I just needed the car. I just took it."

Carl advanced on Pepper, raising the axe handle.

"Carl!" Denny yelled.

He swung the handle hard, landing on Pepper's shoulder. Pepper yelled.

"Ah! Ah!" he grabbed it with his hand. Carl raised the handle again.

"You piece," Carl said but stopped as Denny grabbed the wooden club.

"Let's leave it at that, Carl."

Carl stood still, breathing heavily. He looked at Pepper, standing with his hand on his shoulder.

"I'm sorry, guys. I'm real sorry. I didn't mean no offense. Just need the wheels."

"Give me your wallet," Carl said.

"Oh, no, man. No, man," Pepper said leaning against the open door of the truck.

"Give me your damn waller!" Carl screamed. He grabbed Pepper by the shirt and turned him around. He reached into his back pocket and took the wallet.

"Jesus," Carl said unfolding the stuffed wallet. He took the stack of bills and threw the wallet at Pepper. "Thanks for the trouble," he said.

Denny walked to his truck and pushed Pepper out of the way. Carl walked back to his truck and started the engine, revved it. "See you at home," he called from the window. Denny put his hand out the window, giving his brother a thumbs up.

Denny pulled onto the highway. Carl hit his horn at Pepper, who looked up and staggered into the brush off the shoulder. The gray truck passed him, accelerated and turned onto the highway. Pepper fell onto his knees in the tall grass and watched the trucks disappear in the distance.