Hello friends and fellow bloggers! I hope this post finds you well and prospering. It’s been 4 months since my last bit of original short fiction, and I’ve been eager to get this story down and share it with you. This is the fourth short story set in my Copperhead County series. I hope you enjoy it, but no matter what you think or feel about it, don’t hesitate to let me know. I am always willing to accept thoughtful constructive criticism. This story contains links to 2 of its predecessors below in the first appearances of the names Kortnee and Jeriko.
Word count: 1,422 / Reading time: 5 & 1/2 to 6 minutes
A Casual Encounter
From their perch on Privacy Point, a large, triangular, concrete slab overlooking the Cumberland River just behind Loner’s Gas & Grab, Jeriko and Kortnee watched the early-morning steam rise off the water while they smoked their home-rolled cigarettes in relative peace. On the days they could, this was where they met before walking together to school. Screened from the worn footpath along the near bank of the Cumberland by scrub oak, prolific blackberry thickets, and lovely copious mounds of Virginia creeper and from the busy Serpentine Highway at their backs by exhaust-stunted pines, it was often the most peaceful moment of their day. It was only a broken remnant of an ancient and long-ago crumbled concrete bridge, but at that hour, it was theirs alone.
Jeriko heard a rustling in the bushes and saw them quiver. She blew out a stream of blue smoke and clutched Kortnee’s left bicep. “Look right there!” she whispered. Kortnee swiveled her head in time to see an explosion of cardinals burst into the air and three squirrels scurry toward the pines from beneath the blackberries. She smiled, said “That was pretty,” but then saw what had put the critters to flight. Her body tensed, and she grabbed Jeriko’s hand then spat out a few flecks of tobacco. A tall, lanky, disheveled man in dirty blue jeans, a grease-stained leather jacket, and battered work boots stumbled out of the thicket, cursing and staggering. His hands were scratched and bleeding, and he appeared not to have showered for a week.
Kortnee’s voice trembled. “That’s Kevin Lantz. He delivers the smokes me and Mom roll. I mighta shorted him a few last weekend. He’ll be pissed if he noticed.” Jeriko rubbed her friend’s back and giggled quietly. “I don’t think he’s in shape to notice anything but staying on his feet right now, look.” Kevin fell to his knees, scrambled toward a nearby rock, and struggled to haul himself upright. Halfway up, he braced himself, palms on his knees, and groaned, “Ooohh, gawd,” before staggering in the girls’ general direction. Kortnee and Jeriko leaned against each other and laughed before crushing out their cigarettes.
“That scuzz dates my Momma from time to time,” Jeriko said. “He’s an asshole, too. Wanna have some fun?” She took her iPhone out of her purse. Kortnee raised an eyebrow. “What’re you gonna do?” Jeriko grinned and dialed the police dispatch number. “Yes, help, there’s a scary drunk man out behind Loner’s. He just tried to grab me and my girlfriend. I’m sorry, we gotta run, he’s still trying to grab us. Hey, stop! Stop!” She hung up and returned the iPhone to her purse, and the two girls ran past Kevin, who by then had fallen flat and was wriggling around on the ground, trying once again to regain his feet. The echoes of their laughter trailed behind them as they headed down the riverbank footpath on their way to school.
* * * * * * * * * *
Kevin found a broken branch within reach and with it for support managed to stand up again. After a few wobbling steps, he fished a dented metal flask from the inner pocket of his jacket, removed the cap, and turned it up, Adam’s apple bobbing. He screwed the cap back on and returned it to his pocket before taking a few tentative steps. He was still unsteady on his feet, but with the aid of his walking stick was able to get through the front door of Loner’s and eventually to the coffee island. Hands shaking, he filled an extra-large cup to overflowing. “Goddammit, shit! Y’all shouldn’t make that shit so hot!” With considerable effort and some additional spillage, he managed to squeeze a plastic lid onto the cup before shuffling over to the pastry case.
The clerk, whose name tag declared him to be Robbie, watched all this warily, ready to pick up the phone if necessary. While Kevin tried to decide what he wanted to eat, Robbie rolled a mop bucket over to the coffee island and quickly cleaned up Kevin’s mess. With his free hand full of his coffee cup and sticky, crumbling Bear Claws and one sticking out of his mouth, Kevin mumbled what might’ve been “Sorry,” or maybe “Sucker,” then began stumping toward the cash register. Shaking his head, Robbie quickly swapped the mop bucket for a broom and dustpan and swept up behind Kevin before resuming his post behind the counter.
While continuing to cram his first Bear Claw, Kevin set the rest of his merchandise on the counter and removed his antique leather wallet from his hip pocket. Its heavy stainless steel chain rattled as he opened it and began fishing in it for the right bill. Robbie rang up his total and said, “That’ll be $7.85, sir.” and noticed that the customer’s eyes kept crossing. Not wanting to agitate the man further, Robbie tried not to recoil at the customer’s rank aroma of body odor and whiskey fumes. The customer continued fishing in his thick wallet. “Ahh,” he smiled, “there’sh a ten for ya. Keep the change! Shorry for the mesh!” Robbie accepted the bill. “Uhh, sir,” he said, “this isn’t a ten, it’s a hundred.” He held it out for the customer to take. Kevin grabbed the bill and held it close to his nose, squinted at it, held it farther away, and opened his eyes wide before guffawing and handing it back. “You’re a kidder, Robbie. Sherioushly, keep it, you earned it!”
Kevin slid his wallet back into his hip pocket, picked up his walking stick, and turned to leave. He left his coffee and the remaining Bear Claws on the counter and began shuffling toward the door. “Sir,” Robbie called, “You’re leaving your purchase behind!” Kevin didn’t pause but raised his free hand and flapped it around as if to wave off an annoying horsefly as he stumbled out the door. Robbie called police dispatch. “Hello, yes, no, I’m not in danger. No, this isn’t an emergency. This is Robbie at Loner’s Gas & Grab. I’m concerned for a customer who just left. He was very drunk and having a hard time walking. He overpaid and left his merchandise even after I told him what he’d done.” He listened to the dispatcher for a few moments while putting the overpaid money into an envelope and dumping the abandoned coffee and pastries in the trash. “Oh, someone else already called in? Oh, yes, I see the officer arriving now. Thank you, you have a good day!” Robbie hung up and walked to the front door.
* * * * * * * * * *
Officer Bo Munday exited his cruiser and approached Kevin, towering over him. Arms crossed, he peered at the drunk man over the top of his mirrored shades and asked, “What’s up, Mr. Lantz? Tie one on last night, did we?” Kevin drooled and squinted at Munday’s name tag. Recognition dawning, he beamed and stumbled forward to hug the giant officer. “Off’sher Mundy! How’re ya doin? What can I do fer ya today?” As Robbie looked on in mute amazement from the open doorway, Officer Munday gently but firmly pushed Kevin away, biceps and pecs rippling beneath his Dri-FIT uniform shirt. “I’m citing you for Public Intox, Mr. Lantz, and I’m taking you home to sober up before you hurt yourself or—.” Kevin swung his walking stick at Officer Munday, screaming, “Oh no I ain’t getting’ locked up today!” Officer Munday took two swift steps back and ducked out of the way of the wild swing. With the hood of his cruiser at his back, he warned, “That’s enough now, Mr. Lantz, if you swing at me again I’ll have to arrest you for Assault on an Officer, and you will go to jail.”
Deaf to the officer’s warning, Kevin backed up several steps then charged, swinging the stick with all his might. In one fluid motion, with an elegance Robbie wouldn’t have believed if he hadn’t seen it himself, Officer Munday intercepted the stick, twisted it free of Kevin’s grasp, then swept him up and pivoted, slamming Kevin’s forehead into the crusiser’s hood. He quickly handcuffed Kevin’s hands behind him then eased him to a sitting position leaning against the front fender. Kevin was bleeding profusely from a large gash on his forehead and from both nostrils. Officer Munday called for an ambulance then retrieved his laptop and started typing his report. Robbie returned to the desk and began dialing his boss’s number. He began to think of how he would ask for a raise.