The old truck bounced along the road, twelve hundred gallons of water in the tank on the back. The cord on the CB mike swayed back and forth and Wendell shifted the Ale-8 bottle in his grasp to keep from spilling it. It was a typical road for this part of the county; narrow, poorly paved and hilly. Wasn’t even big enough to have a line down the middle. Wendell’s buddy had one hand on the wheel and one on the gear shift, dropping down a gear to climb up the hill. As they hit the top of the hill, he flipped it over into neutral, coasting down. A car came speeding down the opposite side of the road and he steered the water truck to the edge, not willing to give up more then that. The car swerved over at the last minute, driver yelling out his window.
“Stupid fuckers. Think because I’m in a truck I should go off the edge of the road. Fuck em,” Paul said.
Wendell chuckled and drained his bottle and dug in his pocket for his tobacco plug. “So what happened to your grandfather? Figured he’d be buried in this truck.”
“They’ve gone to Florida. Got a little condo down there. Health’s not been so good last few years. Don’t know if it’ll help but they seem to like it better.”
Grunting, Wendell slipped a piece of the plug of tobacco into his mouth and shoved it back in his pocket. Knife went in the sheath on his belt. He worked it against his cheek as Paul turned onto a gravel road that wound between tobacco fields, a cloud of dust marked their path.
Paul backed the truck up to the cistern between the two trailers and they dropped out of the cab. Wendell grabbed a hose from his side and connected it to the back while Paul did the same thing on his side. The door swung open on one of the trailers and a Mexican walked out. “Agua hombre,” he called out, a big grin on his face. “We just started eating. Why don’t you join us?” Around Paul, there was barely an accent to his voice. Around others, well, it could vary.
“Sure, why not.” He opened the valves so the water started running into the cistern and turned to Paul. “Let’s go grab some food. You’ll never want to eat at Taco Bell again.”
Wendell shrugged and followed Paul inside the trailer. Three more Mexicans sat around a table loaded with food. A case of Budweiser was in a cooler of ice on the floor. They pushed out chairs for the newcomers and Wendell sat down beside Paul, looking around the place. There were certain rules that farmers who brought migrant workers up had to follow with regards to housing and a lot of the time the easiest thing was to drop a trailer down on a patch of land. It was funny how often someone went on and on about needing a job yet there were more and more Mexicans in the county, working the tobacco and horse farms.
Paul was digging into the food, eating heartily and laughing with the guys. But then he’d always been that way. He was the outgoing type who never met a stranger, comfortable in whatever surroundings he found himself in. Fishing out the wad of tobacco Wendell sat it on an empty beer can and filled a tortilla with some meat and cheese. Spooning salsa over it he rolled it up and dug in. He ate silently, letting Paul do the talking. He was a stranger here, after all. After a couple tacos he drained a Bud and slipped the tobacco back in his mouth. It sat cold against his jaw as he leaned back.
“Wendell, the trucks probably empty so why don’t you go put the hoses away. I gotta talk a little business here,” Paul said.
Wendell nodded and wandered outside. The truck was done all right so he shut the valves and disconnected the hoses, rolling them back up and stowing them beside the tank. Leaning back, he just looked around, arms across his chest. He didn’t mind being kicked out. While he knew from the old man some of what was going on to the Mexicans he was a stranger. He grunted, spatting an amber stream at a bumble bee buzzing near the edge of the driveway. God, he hated fucking bees.
Paul came back out, tucking his wallet into his back pocket, a reusable shopping bag hanging from the other hand. He tossed it in on the truck seat. “Everything ok?”
“Yep,” Wendell said, climbing in on the passenger side.
“One more load and we’re done. Johnny Hopkins wants his swimmin pool filled up.
They bounced and rattled back down the gravel toward the road where they would head back into Sharpsburg and fill the truck again. The shopping bag sat beside them, neither one paying any attention to it. Paul looked over at Wendell occasionally, who sat quietly, arm on the window frame.
“I hear there were some meth cookers in a hollar on the old Smith place.”
“One got shot. Maybe a huntin accident.”
“It happens,” Wendell said.
“Yeah.” He glanced at the bag between them and at Paul before he had to look back at the road. “Also heard you’re workin for the old man. Is that why you’re here?”
“You got nothing to worry about, Paul. I’m just here to hang out with a friend. The old man has no concerns with you.”
Paul let out a breath. “And if he did?”
“You don’t think I’d shoot the only friend I have, do you Paul?”
He slowed the truck and turned onto the road. “You’ve been gone a long time and all I’ve heard is rumours. All I know for sure is that you were in the Marines and that’s because I drove you to the fuckin recruiters office. And since then, well, word is you do whatever job you been given. Whether or not us bein friends would interfere with that, I’m ain’t real sure.”
“Shit, you paranoid fucker. I’m not here to watch you or anything. Yeah, the old man told me what you do when I mentioned I was coming by to see you. But that’s because there’s been no response from Lexington yet. Wanted me to be alert.”
“So you did hit some fucking cooker.”
“You mean that hunting accident,” Wendell said with a cold smile. “They were told we didn’t want that shit down here.”
“Right. So, um, is there a missus?”
Wendell chuckled. “Me? No. Never even close.”
“Beth will be interested to hear you are in town.”
“So is Hopkins who this delivery goes to?”
Paul was silent a few minutes. Yeah, sure Wendell was working for the old man but what if someone offered him more money? “Yeah. Primo weed. I don’t know if they bring it up from Mexico or they grow it back on the farm. Don’t really care. I pass it on to Hopkins and he takes it from there. Probably breaks it down and passes it on to the street dealers. But again, I don’t know and don’t care. Less I know the better.”
“Guess so.” He lapsed back into silence, watching the tobacco and corn fields go past as they headed back into the small town to fill the tank up again. They hooked up the water tank and leaned back against the wall of the firehouse as it filled. Twenty five hundred gallons takes some time.
“Thought you were done with this town, Wendell.”
“You and me both. Guess it ain’t done with me.”
Wendell nodded. “Yeah. Let em wait and think they’ve gotten away with it. It’ll come around eventually.”
“Well, if I can do anything give me a hollar.”
“I appreciate that but you don’t want to get involved. You know how the cops around here carry a grudge.”
“Shit, ain’t that the truth. So how’d you get in with the old man?”
“That’s something else you don’t want to know. Let’s just say there is no statute of limitations on murder.”
Paul studied his friend and nodded. Water started running out of the tank so he quickly flipped it off. “Everybody changes I guess. Get the truck ready and I’ll go pay.” Wendell climbed up, disconnecting the hoses and closing the tank. He dropped down and reached into the truck, pulling out his leather jacket. The days were warm but it got a lot cooler as the sun went down. He stood with his hands in his pockets while he waited for Paul. Probably talking to the guy minding the firehouse. The man would talk your ears off given half a chance.
He watched the few cars passing through the crossroads as he waited, not that he expected to recognize anyone. He hadn’t known that many people even when he had lived here. They were the typical mix of vehicles you’d expect to see in a wide spot in the road in a rural county, which oddly enough was about the same vehicles you saw in the city. In the country they just had more mud splattered on them and the trucks were actually hauled shit. He turned as he heard wheels crunching over the gravel and a dark sedan pulled in behind the water truck. He slipped his hands free of the pockets and waited as two men got out of the car and started his way.
One of them, a young blonde, checked something on his phone, looking at the back of the truck then at Wendell. “This is the truck but he ain’t Barker,” he said to the older greying man.
“Who are you? Where’s Barker?”
“What’s it to you?”
“We’re looking for him. Got a message.”
“Ah I see. You boys from Lexington?”
“That’s right. And we got a message for Barker. And we’ll be taking his delivery.”
“What are you going to do with twelve hundred gallons of water?”
“Barker is probably inside,” the older man said. “Get rid of this punk, Sam and we’ll go find him.”
Sam grinned and smacked one fist into the other. Big and bulky, he looked like a football player or a pro wrestler. Most people probably didn’t take long to back down when he tried looking all threatening. It isn’t hard for a big guy to do damage to another person even without any actual training. Wendell, however, stepped forward to meet him. His foot lashed out, the sharp toe of the cowboy boot crashing into the man’s crotch. Doubling over with a loud screech, Sam started to fall over when Wendell gripped his head and turned, slamming it into the bed of the truck. Letting him fall to the ground, Wendell faced the other man, who was backing up, hand starting to reach inside his jacket.
“I wouldn’t if I was you,” he told the man.
“Fuck you,” he snarled. He actually managed to pull the gun halfway free before Paul smacked him over the head with a shovel. The man crumpled to the gravel, breathing or not Wendell wasn’t sure. Paul leaned on the shovel, eyeing the two men.
“Friends of yours?”
“Here for you actually.” Wendell squatted down, rolling the big guy over and searching through his pockets. No gun and only a couple twenties in his wallet. He shoved them in his pocket and left the wallet laying on the mans chest. The older man had the gun of course, a Glock 17, and there was a switchblade in his pants pocket. Wendell flicked it open and studied the blade. No edge but the point was like a needle. He pocketed that and the Glock. There was another hundred in the man’s wallet.
“Said they had a message and were going to take over your delivery. And I don’t think they wanted in on the water business.”
“Payback for that meth cooker?”
Wendell nodded. “Whether or not you make this delivery is up to you. They knew your name and even the fucking license plate so its possible they all ready got to Hopkins and he gave you up. I’ll let the old man know. Business might be put off for a while.”
“I were you I’d toss that weed in the ditch and go home.” He walked to the sedan and opened the door, leaning down to push the seat back.
“What about these guys?”
“Let em lay. State police or deputy sheriff will be by sooner or later.” He slipped into the car and started it up. Paul shut the door and leaned down.
“And where the hell are you going?”
“Got to talk to some guys in Lexington.”