Edwin’s stomach flopped as the cab, lacking a trailer, hit the curb that separated the parking lot from the road with a little too much speed.
“Hey G! Easy on the gas! Thing’s going to bail over.”
Guillermo smiled. “Nah. Tractors are super powerful and high, but the center of gravity is down near the transmission, between the wheels. If it wasn’t. the whole thing would drive all screwy when the trailer is attached, because that is higher. We’re actually less likely to have problems without a load.”
“Not with you driving.”
“Relax. We’re here.”
Up ahead, the two men could see a crew of four men getting out of a similar truck to theirs hauling a plain white trailer. The only interesting thing about the trailer was two orange contraptions, stuck underneath that looked like two bundles of spare tires, but with a clamp that extended around to the sides of the trailer. Those men were on the left side of another truck in the parking lot and Guillermo was coming in to park on that truck’s right.
“This is the one. So remember, we got eyes on all corners except yours. From your 12 to your 5-ish is pretty much blind to everyone working on the jacks. You see anything, use the channel. You’ll hear us working on the trailer but if anything turns south, the first you’ll hear of it is when I come up and get in the truck to haul ass. But hey, that’s not happening. Just keep looking out and relax.”
“I’m always relaxed.”
“didn’t you just say doing Loveless’s jobs creeped you out.”
“Well they do, but I’m relaxed about it. Just… hurry up.”
A minute after Guillermo disappeared, Edwin could hear the Hydro’s lifting the trailer, the squeak of it coming free from its attachment on the other truck and the whine of the lift’s electric motors. Nothing came into the field of view even though the road ran right through it. A cop could have easily come by in the few minutes it took the guys working as a big-rig pit crew to do their thing, but none did. A bystander, a hitch hiker, a family wagon lost on its way to vacation in Orlando, anyone could come by. But they didn’t. All completely clear. Nothing but trash trees and humidity as far as the eye could see.
“And how is this not creepy?” Edwin said to himself as he felt the trailer thunk into place behind him. His heart skipped a beat as Guillermo opened the other door and climbed into the cab.
“Ok, now we wait.”
“We’re covering the right side while they transfer the trailer.”
“Well what about the other side. Won’t they see this from the diner?”
“Nah. You didn’t see it, but we parked another truck on the other side. This bit was the hard part. And anyway, someone would have to be super observant to even notice us out here doing anything. You worry too much.”
“Yeah. Jerry wouldn’t have us doing this. He’d have us smashing faces. I really miss that.”
“You aren’t thinking of quitting, are you? Because if you want to be on shit duty for Loveless, that’s how you get it.”
“And that’s freaking creepy. How does he know what I’m thinking?” Edwin talked with his hands while continuing to comb his area of responsibility. “But no. I’m not disloyal. I just wish this made sense to me. A punch in the face, that makes sense even if the face is mine. The fact that Loveless knew no one would be on these roads? That shit makes no sense. And it’s creepy.” He sighed. “You know, I almost wish someone would notice this, so I’d have someone to punch.”
“Yeah. Hey, what are those guys doing out there?” From inside the diner, the young Chronicler eyed the scene in the parking lot. Agreed, it looked from here like just four generic-looking trucks lined up in a corner of the lot with only three boxes among them, but he knew that the trucker with the bad stomach had come out of one of them. Now he saw some people hanging about the back of it.
“Hm… don’t know… Looks like they are transferring that trailer.”
“Doesn’t that seem… Odd? I mean, like … I don’t know … it almost looks like they are stealing it.”
“It’s the south, lots of things are odd. This isn’t Miami, Junior, it’s more like Georgia here. And it’s not something of the wind though so fuck it.”
He took a last look at the collection of trucks as the one farthest from them started to pull away. “Consider it fucked. And on the topic of wind, any sign of Weathermen?”
“Not a damned word. I always had my doubts and I’m horrified to be proven right. I fear they could not stand and mount a defense for so long. Not without something to stand against.”
“Well, it’s not like they were ever needed before. Lots of history before the thirties. People got by.”
“Yeah, but not without losses. The plague, the flood, the war. When this stuff gets going and the wind becomes a hurricane the world ends and a new one is born. It’s never quite the same. And this time, we’ve got nuclear weapons and super science!”
The younger man grimaced, his blandly handsome face creased in worry. “You really think it will be that bad?”
“That pulse was a doozie. Like a Riley-sized doozie.” The older man blew out, scratching his head. “If that gets going, it will be a race to the finish. Some idiot will crack the planet and all those who thought we were too stupid to live will be proven right.”
“And you need me to write it down?”
“Well… That and try to figure out how to keep shit under control.” He waved his hand to dismiss protest. “No. Don’t think you’re saving the world, but look, there is always a group. Some group. There are always groups. People group together. But there will be one that is important. Find them. Help them. Befriend them if they aren’t assholes because lord knows you need to socialize more.”
“I socialize plenty”
“Grinder is not socializing. You are young enough for that shit not to turn sour yet, but it will. Just because you can one night stand it doesn’t mean you are having relationships.”
“I know that. I … just fuck you. ”
He smiled. “Whatever, Romeo. Anyway, they will be flailing around. Find those guys. That’s the story anyway so do that. Be part of the story.”
“And that’s what you did? When Kesey and Owsley poked a hole in the world?”
His eyes drifted and a grin snuck into the corners of his mouth. “You bet. Lots of fun too. Girls like you’d never seen. But that was a different sort of incursion. This isn’t the id poking out, this is power. More like the 30’s than the late 60’s. That was just a blip.”
“And the other was a war.”
“End of the fucking world. Gone was the Edwardian gentlemen and in came the mechanized cold warriors. God only knows what’s coming next.”
The young man stared at the back of the truck trailer, slowly moving sideways in-between too other trailers. The silence settled into the table as the older man nursed his coffee.
“Ok. I’ll take it,” the young Chronicler said. “And I’ll take ownership of your books.”
“Good because they are already in your van”
“Yeah. I’m giving you the bus. It’s parked right outside.”
The young man had, seen and heard the old, pale-blue-and rust colored VW Van when it parked and hadn’t given it much thought. He thought about it now. “The… That relic. What the fuck am I supposed to do with a bus?”
“Drive it.” He slammed the keys down on the table with a flourish. “Look, it’s a functional vehicle and even someone as … effete as you could rebuild that thing out of a book… which, by the way, is one of the books that is in the back of the thing, along with all my stuff.”
“Well, what am I supposed to do with the rented shitbox I used to get here?”
“What do you care. Follow the story.” The key chain sat in the middle of the table. A single key with a long cord and a little book charm on the end of it.
“Can I give you a lift? I mean…”
“Don’t bother… I’m just going to stay a while. Eat some pie.” The two sat in silence for a time which seemed to annoy the older man. “The story doesn’t end here. There is always someone else who carries it on, expands it. Follow the story.”
“I’m making my own fucking choices as an adult and an old man so just fucking get out here, Chronicler. The wind is coming. The change of the strange is happening. Now get out of here and do your job.”
The Chronicler thought a moment, looking at the man who would no longer meet his eyes. He snatched the keys. “Ok.”
“Good. And be careful going into third. It’s a little sticky. You know how to drive a manual, right?”
“Just grind it till you find it.”
He looked down at the man he’d known since he’d been a lonely, confused child. The weird uncle he knew he’d never see again, but also knew would just be upset at sentimentality.
“Yeah. I’ll do just that. Hope there is something in that book about how to replace a clutch.”
As he left he heard the man say, “There never is a true replacement. It’s always a different thing. There is only going on. Be well. Find the story.”
The Chronicler looked down at the keychain in his hand and looked up at the powder blue VW bus rusting in the parking lot. He opened the door to burst out of the diner and into the heat and light. “Adventure awaits, apparently.” He said to himself. Donning his sunglasses and twirling the keys, he added a mocking, “Tally-ho! By Crom!”
The truck lurched to life and Edwin was never so relieved to be hauling stolen goods. “Feels different with the trailer.”
“Yep. You can really feel the weight distribution when it turns. It kinda pulls on you, the weight, but it feels right. Makes the truck less twitchy.”
“Anything that helps keep the wheels down is good.”
The truck slid past the blue hippie van that was also making for the exit. Guillermo was a much more determined driver, cowing the blue van into yielding.
“So… Still freaked Edwin?”
The big man shrugged. “Just glad the weird part is over. I mean, it’s like Loveless sees the future or some shit. Spooky.”
“And again, we’re on the winning side of it.”
“Yeah, I guess. Just glad I’ll be home when the bus comes.”
“I told you, man… Nothing to worry about.” The truck pulled out onto the two-lane state road. In the rear view, Edwin could see the diner and the blue bus struggling to get out of the parking lot. As that scene disappeared once again behind a stand of trash trees, Guillermo added, “Stick with Loveless, man, believe in his plan and we will rob the world blind and get away every time. Nobody fucks with Loveless.”