52 • Patsy
Will sat up in bed, turning his head to hear a light bass thumping through the wall between his room and Joe’s.
He tossed his pillow to the side and threw off the blankets, padding to the hall in his stocking feet and listening at Joe’s door. He rapped on the wood lightly with his knuckles at the same time as he turned the knob and opened the door to find Joe with one arm extended, the other wrapped around his imaginary dance partner. Joe’s eyes were closed as he soft-shoed into a twirl with Simone crooning, “Don’t smoke in bed.”
Apt, Will thought, and pulled the door closed.
“Will? Is that you?”
The door opened and Will stood face to face with a grinning Joe Murphy. “I had no idea Pearl would have this room so well appointed. Have you seen the old phonograph in here?”
“Uh, before you came along I’d never been in the room.”
“I see. Come look.” Joe waved Will into the room. “It’s a Grundig Majestic. Suitably named, really. Look at the smooth mahogany finish.” Joe lowered the cover over the turntable where Nina Simone’s “Little Girl Blue” LP was spinning, the diamond needle scratching out her sultry voice. He ran his hand over the top of the lowboy chest and then pulled open the front to reveal a radio console.
“AM/FM. This has to be vintage 1958, if I’m not mistaken. Model 7028.” Joe folded his hands over his middle. “Perfect. That’s when the album came out.”
“I don’t remember packing any records for you, Joe. “
“No need. Pearl has the place stocked with all the best.” He pointed to a rack of records on a small table next to the Majestic console. “Absolute treasures here.” He flipped through the jackets. “Ah, yes. Here we go.” Joe slid out a black record and stopped the turntable. He set the record on the spindle and cued up the arm, handing the red cardboard sleeve to Will.
Will turned it over to see a smiling black haired woman in a white blouse and bright red scarf and slacks, with sparkly gold ankle-high boots.
“Sure. I Fall to Pieces?”
Will looked up and scowled at the implication. “Oh, nice.”
“You’re telling me. It was one of her number one hits. Woman was a powerhouse. Don’t tell me you’ve never heard.”
“Of course I’ve heard. I remember she was a big part of that Loretta Lynn movie when I was a kid. Coal Miner’s Daughter. Hated that movie because of Sissy Spacek but it was the early days of HBO and sometimes it was the only thing on TV so I watched it probably 25 times. The scenes with Patsy Cline made it watchable. Drop dead gorgeous, that woman. Sang that song, Crazy.” Will whistled and turned the jacket over.
Just then, his phone buzzed. He held up a finger to Joe and put his phone to his ear. “Phillips.”
Will rolled his eyes.
“Yes, Mike. I still work here. Had some personal things to take care of today. He smiled at Joe, who had turned back to flipping through Pearl’s record collection.
“Yeah. That’s fine. I can take it. Just send the details and I’ll head right out.”
Will pocketed his phone. “Hey, listen. I’ve got to out. Nasty accident on Highway 26. Insurance company wants someone on-scene.”
“Oh, sorry to hear it, Will. Anybody hurt?”
“I think so. Overturned tractor trailer. And a ditch full of cargo.”
Joe sat on the bed, Patsy Cline resting on his lap. “Well, Emily and I will find something to amuse ourselves for the rest of the afternoon, I imagine. Won’t we, Emily?” Joe scratched behind the cat’s ears.
“Thanks, Joe. Don’t forget Pearl said she’d play Checkers. I’ll check in with you as soon as I get back into town.”
Will hurried back to his room and grabbed his bag. He turned back just before he took to the stairs to see Joe still sitting on the bed. He hadn’t moved. Letting out a sigh, he looked at the ceiling. “You’ll regret this, ” he said softly to himself. Then, to Joe, he said aloud, “Think you can stay put in the truck?”
Joe’s face lit up. “I can do anything you tell me to.”
“Put your shoes on. Let’s go.”
Joe was still zipping up a beige Harrington jacket, collar turned up at his ears, as he climbed into Will’s truck parked behind Pearl’s house.
“What are we going to do, Will?” he asked as he pulled his door shut. “This is all quite exciting.”
“I don’t know about exciting. But we are going to the scene and then the I part of we is going to get out and do my job and the you part of we is going to sit in the cab and wait. You should be able to get NPR on the radio.” Will turned around to check the rear window and backed into the alley. “Maybe they’ll be playing your buddy Rebroff.”
“You got his name right.” Joe beamed.
“Of course I did. Just wouldn’t want anybody else to know I paid enough attention.”
“What a remarkably structured illusion you live.” Joe’s expression hung suspended somewhere between wonder and pity. “I imagine you think it’s working, too.”
“It does work. It works just fine, thank you very much.”
“Of course.” Joe folded his hands on his lap, and Will drove in silence to eight miles north of town on Highway 26—an old, winding, two-lane stretch of road that still served as the primary connection for haulers between Dennison and its next largest neighbor, Simmons. As they approached the scene, the southbound lane was closed off with orange cones just before Flick’s Twist, a sharp S-curve named for the notorious dairy farmer who took it a little too fast and rolled his truck back in 1954. The town lost old Malcomb Flick and a whole load of milk that day.
Deputy Roundleg stood as flagman in the lane, holding off traffic to allow the line of southbound cars to pass. Will lowered his window. “Hey Jeremy. How’s it looking?”
“It’s a mess, Will. You here to work?”
“Yep. Tractor trailer is mine.”
“You can drive up a little ways, and park on the approach. You’ll have to walk the rest of the way in.”
The deputy looked up and stepped back from the truck, waving through the ambulance coming toward him in the northbound lane, lights flashing but siren off.
After it passed, Will asked, “Is that my guy?”
“I think so. Other guy didn’t appear to be hurt.” Jeremy took off his hat and wiped his forearm over his close cropped hair. “Nothing serious though. He should be alright.”
“What are we hauling?”
“I don’t want to spoil it for you. Go on up and check it out.” Roundleg grinned. “You’ll know before you get there.”
“Shit.” Will put the truck back into drive.
“Oh, no. Nothing like that fertilizer spill.” The deputy laughed. “You might even like it.” He slapped his hand on top of the cab to send them on their way. Will gave him a short wave and drove ahead.
“Did you read about that ship that lost a load of rubber ducks on the ocean?”
Will looked at Joe. “Is there a punchline?”
“No joke. That was the actual cargo. Ship on its way from China to the U.S. lost a few hundred containers during a typhoon. Set almost 30, 000 little yellow ducks adrift. There’s a book about it: Moby Duck.”
“None. You can’t make this stuff up, Will. Those ducks went everywhere. The guy that wrote the book found one in Alaska.”
“Huh. And I usually just get to deal with corn or the occasional misfortune of a rendering truck overturn.”
“There aren’t enough showers in the world after dealing with a pumper truck full of liquid waste from some Rocket Burger franchise.” Will shuddered involuntarily at the memory of a highway and a half dozen sedans coated with thick, greasy sludge like they’d been freshly stuccoed.
“So what do you think this one is?” Joe unbuckled his seatbelt and leaned forward to see around the curve as Will pulled off onto the approach and parked.
“You’re staying here, remember?”
Joe put his hands back in his lap. “Of course. Of course. I’m just getting comfortable.”
“I’ll tell you all about it when I get back.”
“Yes. I’ll be sitting right here.”
“Turn on the radio. Don’t make me regret bringing you any more than I already do.”
“No regrets. I don’t have them. I don’t cause them.”
Will pulled his bag from the back seat and straightened his cap. “Right.” He slammed the cab door and started up the highway, leaving Joe to play with the radio dial.
(to be continued)