Monster Bargains

Keisha drove in silence for awhile after that, the white line blinking like a metronome in the corner of the windshield. Just trying to breath, around the hurt that Dan was gone, and this Chinese-looking guy was sitting there in the cab instead, like a solid block on her right, head turned away into the mirror, and the edge of a high cheekbone catching a glint of light as the clouds let the sun through. Scar there on his face, matched on the other side. He twisted in the corner of her gaze, bringing her eyes over, and she had to force herself to watch the road. In the corner of her eye she watched him hunch, roll the massive shoulders, work his thick neck, subside. And again, restlessly. When the truck juddered over rough pavement, his lips pulled back from his teeth in a hiss that she could almost hear over the engine noise. The gun stayed across his knees.

Peach was out of it an hour into the drive, a few rumbling purrs up behind Keisha’s head and then silence. Kiesha drove. She was going to sleep hard when she went down. But not like the dead. Not like Dan. She didn’t know yet if Dan would come back in her dreams like her crew, her boat.

When she did pull off, scraping through pine branches to get as much screen as she could between the truck and the highway, the guy blew out a big sigh, puffing his cheeks.

“Have water?” He passed her one of the bottles out of the cooler. He took one for himself, scrabbled a tablet out of a ziplock baggie, and chugged the bottle in one gulp.

“You can’t drive one of these, can you?” Keisha asked without much hope, and didn’t even feel a twinge when he shook his head.

“I stay watch, you sleeping now. Go more after sleep, right?”

“Right.” She opened the door and pushed her way down the footholds. “Christ,” she groaned, hanging on. How in hell she was going to pee in the woods when she was so stiff… She walked up and down awhile, breathing deep. The cold wind pushed at her back, through her jacket. Her scalp felt like ice, and she scrubbed at the short stiff curls. Missed her dreads. Better get her a hat somewhere. Walking back to the tall red presence of the truck felt like coming home, welcoming  row of little lights outlining the open door.

Her passenger was halfway out of the cab on the ladder, his hands gripping white on the handholds, and his spine arched backward.

She came up on his side, looking at the sweat running down his forehead. “Muscle spasm, huh?”

The guy made a grunt between his teeth.

She waited a moment, but he didn’t move. It wasn’t getting better. Not good. “Okay, I’m gonna grab you off and put you flat on the ground, okay? It’s okay if you lose it and pee all over, but don’t you go kicking or biting none, you got that? No hitting, no grabbing. Just let me put you down. Got that?”

He grunted again.

She put her hand up on his back, about midway between his shoulder blades, and felt a lump bulging out under the jacket, big enough to fill her palm as she cupped it reflexively to brace him. His head flopped backward and he fell away limply into her grip with a little hiss of indrawn breath. She couldn’t hold his weight. She staggered back a dozen steps hit a sapling tree trunk with a jar, and dropped him. He flopped around in a couple of wild arcs, with no sound at all, stilling on his side in a fetal position.

“Oh God, oh God–” Keisha bent over him, went down on one knee. Gingerly, she touched that spot, hardly pressing at all, as his shoulders heaved with his panting breath. The bulge was a lot smaller, hardly as big as her thumb.

The guy opened his eyes and looked at her. “You fix me,” he said.

“No, I didn’t fucking fix anything,” Keisha snapped. “What the fuck is wrong with your back?”

He moved one foot, and gave a sigh. “Better.” He swung around on one hip and sat up smoothly, startling her into shifting her weight away from him. He held up both hands. “Thank you.”

“What is it?” Keisha demanded.

“I don’t know,” he said. His eyes were huge and veined with gold and a darker brown the same color as a beer bottle in the sun.

“You got any ideas?”

He pointed past her. “Lots ideas, no…solid things. Pee now.”

“What the hell–” Keisha stood up. Angry, she offered her hand.

He leaned on it just slightly when he stood up. His hand was hot and dry and hard with callouses. Boxer’s callouses, scars across the knuckles. He looked down at her hand. “You have sailor hand.”

“‘Cause I’m a sailor,” Keisha said.

He cocked his head, peering up at her. “Woman sailor.”

“Yeah, like woman truck driver?”

“Yah,” he said. Then he smiled. “Woman who drop me on my stupid back.”

“Well, fuck, dude, you weigh about a hundred pounds heavier than you look. And you’re welcome. Go pee, I wanna crawl up into bed.”

He turned away, and Keisha turned back to the truck. Her truck, now. She did the routine Dan had taught, walking around checking the tires and the undercarriage, opening the back and checking the load hadn’t shifted, logging in the numbers, for whatever good it might do later on.

The Chinese guy came back and climbed up the ladder, easy now as Peach could. He got another water bottle, chugged that, ate the disgusting leftover fries from Keisha’s bag of food, and chugged a second bottle of water. “Okay, you go sleep now,” he said, wiping off his fingers with as much fuss about getting it all clean as Peach.

“Dude–” Keisha said, surprised.

“Okay now, I pee later,” he said, apparently reading her mind.

“Your problem,” she said. “Wake me up if you gotta leave the cab, okay?”

“Okay,” he said. He flipped one hand upward. “Go, go.”

Keisha climbed into the sleeping compartment, warm from the sun and filled with Peach’s dusty flower scent. Closing her eyes, she felt the New England current under her keel, pulling her south through the keys. Rocking her steady.

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