Once they were in the old pickup and headed for the trailer court, Jimmy asked, “So how does April Dawn figure into your equation?”
There was silence.
Jimmy was sorry he’d asked, and he was trying to think of some plausible means of changing the subject, when Molly finally responded.
“She’s the reason I never finished high school,” she said.
Not knowing what to say, Jimmy just drove.
“I was in my junior year,” she finally went on, “popular, a cheer leader, in the glee club… I was even on the honor role, when I ran into this guy at a party.”
Jimmy remained silent and, coming to a corner, he double-clutched the old pickup down into third.
“He was an iron peddler,” she went on. “He sold heavy equipment, a lot like Matt—the guy you hoodwinked into dancing on the lead shot from Woody’s blackjack—but he was taller, and better looking. He told me he wanted to marry me. ‘We can have a life together,’ he continued to say…”
She trailed off at that point, and Jimmy knew better than to push it. He figured it wasn’t his business anyway.
But she’d apparently decided it was all right for him to know, because she went on. “But then I got pregnant, and once I told him about it, I never saw him again. Wondering what had happened, I tried to find him. I got a friend to drive me to the place where he worked in Medford, and when I walked in the front door of the building, I saw him dash out a side door and drive away.
“I asked the receptionist if she knew anything about him. She told me he was the founder’s son-in-law. It turned out he already had a wife and family. The receptionist told me other things, like maybe she’d been smitten herself, and abused.
“After I made that trip to Medford, he skedaddled,” Molly said. “He took a position in the Eugene office; I suppose so his wife wouldn’t find out about me.”
Jimmy and Molly drove in silence for a while. He took a wrong turn on purpose so it would take longer to get back, and Molly began to speak again. “I went down to stay with family in Hoopa,” she said, “to have the baby.”
Jimmy felt rage and heartbreak in equal proportions. “And you’ve never heard from him since?”
She shook her head. “Not a word, probably me and a dozen other girls.”
“Does this Casanova fella have a name?” Jimmy asked.
“Jerry,” she said, “Gerald Wexford.”
“And he sells Caterpillar equipment?”
“International Harvester,” she said.
Jimmy turned into the trailer park and pulled up beside Molly’s mobile. He wanted to ask her how she’d found her way back up here from Hoopa, and on into Curly Jack’s, but he figured he’d pried too much already.
She sat, and allowed him to be gallant and come around to open the passenger’s side door. She stepped down from the old rig and said, “Thank you, Whistle Punk, that’s the best outing I’ve had in a long time.”
He didn’t believe her, but it made him feel good to hear her say it. He pulled her to him and kissed her on the forehead, which was on about the same elevation as his lips.
“It was my pleasure,” he said. Then he added, “I’d better be getting back to the camp.”
She hugged him and scampered for the front door of the trailer. Under the dim porch light, he watched her sexy rear end bounce up the steps and disappear inside. It wasn’t until he was back in the driver’s seat of the pickup that he realized how dark it had gotten.
Before leaving town, Jimmy pulled up under a street light and checked his oil. He was only down half a quart, so he decided to ignore it and continue on his way. As he drove, he went over the details of Molly’s story. He couldn’t believe what an asshole that iron peddler had been. He knew guys like that from school though, and he knew them to be jerks.
He had to concentrate to drive with the dim power of the pickup’s old six volt head lights. He’d just pulled off the spur that ran along Indian Creek to camp when the old rig began to sputter. He pumped the accelerator and managed to get things going again, but after two hundred yards it sputtered again. After three more fits of refusal and restarts, the old GMC went into a convulsion and quit altogether. He got out and pushed his old steed onto a turnout, knowing there was no point in trying to start it again.
He didn’t have anything of value in the rig—two quarts of oil and a few tools—so he put them in the cab, locked the doors, and began the walk to camp. He figured he had four or five miles to cover. That wouldn’t have been a problem in the daylight, but this night was dark and moonless. Aside from the constant gurgling of the creek, there were a lot of distracting night noises in the woods.
He wished he’d brought a flashlight.
Each time an owl hooted, Jimmy would jump. At one point, where the road went over a culvert, he heard the grunting and growling noise of a bear down by the water. He ran a few steps, but tripped over a rock in the road, which made a lot of noise, so he slowed down. Another time, he heard the ear piercing scream of a cougar. It was a ways behind him, but that didn’t prevent him from wetting his finger and sticking it into the air to see which way the wind blew. Finding it traveled from him back towards the cougar, he attempted to run again, but stumbled once more, and then simply quickened his walking pace.
He came to understand why the fellas on the crew all carried rifles when they went into the woods. He thought they were hoping to see a deer to shoot, or something to kill in order to brag about it. Now he came to realize—a rifle in the woods was a matter of survival.
He began to wonder about wolves, were they really extinct around here? An unarmed man in a wilderness like this would have no chance at all against a pack of wolves. And of course, having just finished The Call of the Wild, the extinction of wolves made him think about Sasquatch.
He was about a half a mile from camp—though he didn’t know it—when a family of raccoons scurried across the road in front of him. His heart nearly jumped out of his chest. Normally, coons wouldn’t bother him, but all he could see were unblinking eyes staring up at him, and the coons made him think of other things that might pass close to the ground, skunks, porcupines, snakes, coyotes—and maybe a rabid fox.
Finally, as he plodded around an outside corner he thought he could detect some artificial light through the trees. But the road veered away from the creek at that point, so he lost sight of it. Coming to a place where the road went straight, he saw the light again. And after staring at it for a few minutes, he was able to recognize the late burning lamp in the boss’s cabin. Clyde was trying to get on top of his paper work.
It gave Jimmy a target to walk to. He made his way methodically to the drive that turned into camp and then walked silently along the old bleached logs to the porch of his cabin.
He tried to be quiet; he could hear Andy breathing, deeply, lost in sleep. So he pulled off his shoes and dove into a deep sleep of his own, with his clothes clinging to his still frightened body.