The truck stop was about the same as we left it. My Jeep had remained intact and at first glance I didn’t see anything missing letting me breathe easier for a few minutes. I unslung the .338 and tried to hand it off to one of the truckers. “Well now, that’s fine Finn, and nice of you, but I can’t just let you give this up especially considering how you helped us out.” He told me to wait a second and took the rifle back to his rig. I turned to John and prepared to make my goodbyes.
“Well, ” was as far as I got before John cut me off. “Look, Finn–uh, I’m sort of S.O.L. here now that my truck is done . . .” he looked at me as if expecting I would know what to fill in here. I obliged with “Yeah?” Somewhat uncharacteristically for John he looked down at the ground, embarrassed as if he’d been caught stealing apples off the neighbors tree. “Well, I don’t have anything keeping me here and I was kind of hoping I could, you know . . .” I didn’t. Mentally I was trying to cut to the chase so I could see what he was after, but the closest thing I could figure is he was getting ready to pitch me a time-share in Florida. It had been a kind of long day. “Shit. Look man, I want to go to Canada, okay? I don’t have a truck anymore and I could use a ride!” Ah, there’s the chase I told myself.
“John, it’s not that I’m against offering a hand in help, but . . .” I tried to think of a nice way to say ‘I’m done here’ but kept coming up blank. ” My Jeep is packed full. I really don’t have room for a passenger and, well. . .” John looked at me inquiringly “I’m kind of done here . . .” Even in my time as a social worker and all the hard luck stories I’d heard I’d never actually seen a grown man give me the puppy dog eyes. Damn it. I love dogs.
I was grateful to be interrupted by the trucker to whom I’d given the rifle coming back with a gift for me. He held out the little black rectangle along with a whip antenna and a 12v power cord. “This little CB won’t let you hear us on our sideband models, but you may at least be able to get some news from folks out there.” I don’t really know what it means to feel happiness, but relief and gratitude seemed to be good substitutes that most people translated that way. “Thank you. I hope this won’t leave you short?” The trucker just laughed “Naw, man. You gave me that rifle so I can reach out and touch someone just as easily. Fair trade!” We both had a laugh at that and shook hands before parting company.
I had almost forgotten John was waiting for me. I turned around and saw the same heartsick look a dog gives when you scold it for chewing on the linoleum. “Fuck me runnin…yeah okay. Let me go see if I can move stuff around. But I’m not going to Canada. You can ride along with me as far as my gas holds out.” John dropped his salvaged belongings he had carried back from the truck and shook my hand pumping it vigorously. I was worried if he kept this up my arm might literally be ripped off and no way was he driving my Jeep. I took my hand back, somewhat forcefully. “You need to go talk to your buddies here and see if they have any gear they can spare you. See if anyone’s got some shoes you can use” I lifted my pant leg to show my Cadillac’s, a pair of leather jump boots, my only other souvenir from my time in the Corps. I pointed at John’s thin soled shoes that the other truckers seemed to favor as well. “We have to hoof it and those aren’t going to last for more than five miles.” John disappeared and I went to sort out the Jeep, shaking my head as I went.
I had finished sorting out the Jeep, mainly by pushing stuff over the back seat into the cargo area when John returned. He gave me a very detailed map of Michigan and for himself a few spare cans of food and a couple of bottles of water. No one had any shoes to spare for him.
I got in the Jeep and reached back to open the rear passenger door. John, puppy like stood at the front passenger door looking at me expectantly. I returned his look, waiting for him to get the not too thinly veiled hint. I pointed at the back door and told him to get in. “Why do I have to sit in the back?” he was whining.
“Because I keep the gear I need next to me so I can get at it in a hurry. And because if we meet any unfriendly types, I expect you to take my shotgun and send them off to meet their gods.” I was getting pissed. “Suck it up, Nancy. It’s this or get out and you take your chances here.” When it was clear I wasn’t going to give in, he shut the door and took my shotgun wedging it between his foot and the floorboard.
I let out the clutch on the Cherokee and swung around sticking my hand out the window to wave goodbye to the few truckers that came out to see us off. I didn’t really like the idea, but I got on I-196 to head north. I knew there was a big state park up that way, but it was far enough away that I hadn’t bothered to look at the map just yet. I figured at best if the roads stayed clear and I didn’t have to stop I could make about 200 miles with the gas I had on hand. I hoped that would be enough since I planned to get off the interstate as soon as possible and push my luck with state and county roads.
John caught a case of the ‘Chatty Cathy’s’ as I drove and began telling me his life story. For the most part I ignored him and kept scanning the road for signs of trouble. I was half listening to John, waiting for an interruption in the stream of verbal diarrhea that was flowing out of him when I noticed something he had kept repeating. “John?” He stopped and tilted his head at the sound of my voice. Guy had to be part beagle, I swear it. “You keep saying partner. Are you gay?” He laughed and slapped the back of my seat “You’re pretty quick there! I think I only said my ex-boyfriend’s name about 100 times!” I looked at him in the rear view “Given the fact I killed several men today and am still a free man, I don’t think I need to tell you things have changed.” His head tilted to the other side and I wished for a rolled up newspaper.
“Of all the things I could possibly spend time caring about, your sexual preference is near the bottom of that list, but I’m not everyone else. Get me?” He looked puzzled for a moment “What do you mean?” he asked. “John, there are no more police as far as I can tell, no courts, no lawyers, nobody is going to come to your defense and make others treat you as an equal. Dig?” the puppy dog look was replaced with one of indignation. I stopped him before he could get on his verbal bike and start in on me “I don’t care. Who you screw is your business as far as I’m concerned. But also as far as I’m concerned who I kill is my business; I’m guessing there are a whole bunch of folks out there think the same now. Mommy isn’t going to come around and make everyone play nice. I’m not saying don’t be who you are, but maybe dim the light a little, yeah?” John sat back against the seat and stared out the window in silence. Apparently I had gotten through to him.
I took the map and began looking for a place to get off the interstate and find my way to a side road. I knew a fight was coming. Now, hopefully, John knew as well. People weren’t going to be “accepting” like they had been when they had the possibility of legal sanctions facing them. “John?” Silence. I pulled out my hammer from beneath my shirt. “You see this?” He looked at it and nodded. “This is Mjolnir, John. The hammer of Thor.” I pressed on. “I’m a Heathen, as in not Christian.” Huffily “And?”
“I don’t advertise it, John. I’m still going to be a Heathen and worship the gods and my ancestors, but I don’t go around telling people–usually– because they grew up with things being a certain way.” He nodded slightly so I continued “Remember how Jews and Muslims were treated here? Well, how do you think people are going to react to this? People want homogeneity. Everything needs to be the same or the thing that’s different needs to be removed. Last thing I want now is to get my ass burned at the stake or beheaded or whatever people are going to do to those who are different. There’s a fight coming. If there’s a fight, let’s win.”
I couldn’t tell if I had reached him. I put the hammer back under my shirt and John sat back and returned to staring out the window.
A short time later I heard him say mostly to himself “Let’s win.”