County Road


I pulled my hat lower on my head, gritting my eyes against the dipping sun, watching for the tell tale trail of dust that Jake’s truck would make when it turned onto the unpaved county road. The early spring wind froze my blood inside the vein, and I spit in the dirt, attempting to exorcise the acid that sat tossing in my gut.

The ashen brown hills of northeastern Nebraska spread out low all around me, as if God had one day tired of his work and moved on, leaving only a sky the color of a dead man’s nails as His final touch.

I saw the cloud of Jake’s truck turning onto the road. Above, a bird circled, and the loneliness of the location – once its most alluring attribute – suddenly filled me with a coldness that sat unmoving behind my bloodshot eyes.

Jake pulled his truck up next to mine and killed the engine. I watched him in the cab, packing another grip of chew into the corner of his mouth.

“Gonna keep me standing out here in this goddamn cold?”

He flipped me the bird before climbing out. He looked at me for a long while, taking all of me in; The dusty boots, the frayed Carhartt jacket, the splotchy beard.

The big Indian came at me quickly, crossing the ground between us in two long strides before wrapping me in a bear hug that I could have sworn was designed to induce a hemorrhage.

“Last time you swore you were gonna come up and visit me, and now you can’t even make a pick up on the Rez? I’ve heard of busy, but man, you must me keeping up all night.”

My face was scrunched against the ratty denim of his jean jacket. “Yeah,” I choked out. “Yeah, I’ve been busy.”

He stepped back, eyeing me up and down all over again. “You okay man?”

“I’m fine.”

“Ok, well, you’re right. It’s damn cold out here. Let’s get this done.”

Together, we walked to the back of his truck, where he pulled out a butterfly knife and cut the ties that held down the tarp.

“Look at that,” he said, whistling.

My breath caught. We’d been doing this together a long time, but we’d never seen action like this. In the bed of the truck, wrapped up in bundles tied with twine, were assault rifles and auto shotguns, most, by the look of it, new. A couple of AKs, some Mossbergs, even a bullpup.

“Jesus, you really hit it this time.”

“And you didn’t have to go to the Dakotas to get it. And got service with a smile. How’s that for friendly?”

“Pretty damn friendly,” I allowed.

He reached into the bed of the truck and hefted the load onto his shoulder, carrying it over to mine.

From the cab I got the duffel bag with the cash and threw it to him. “Next time,” I said, “I’ll come to the Rez. You can introduce me to your kids. How are they, anyway?”

“Good man. They’re great,” Jake said, smiling.

I nodded and held out my hand, but, changing my mind, wrapped him in my own hug.

He got in his truck, smiling as I did a three point and pulled away, down the county road.

I knew he couldn’t see them from the dust I was kicking up, but I hoped they’d be smart enough to hang back a bit on the highway. You never can tell with State Cops though. Too edgy, too interested in getting their names in the Omaha paper. Too willing to hold shit over a man who’s just looking to provide.

At the end of the road, before turning onto the highway, I saw them, waiting off the road, their black cars cloaked in tall dead grass.

In the west, the sun was setting, and I sat there in my truck, thinking about the guns in the back, thinking about how they’d best be used on a chickenshit backstabbing coward like myself.

Tears fell from my eyes and I turned on the highway, giving them a thumbs up as I drove away to the east, into the dark.

~ fin ~


Paul J. Garth is a Best American Mystery and Suspense distinguished story author who has been published in Thuglit, Tough, Needle: A Magazine of Noir, Plots with Guns, Crime Factory, Rock and a Hard Place, and several others magazines. He lives and writes in Nebraska with his family, where he eats too many tacos, listens to too much heavy metal, and enjoys just the right amount of bourbon. An editor at Rock and a Hard Place and Shotgun Honey, he is at work on his first novel, and can be found online by following @pauljgarth