Probable Cause

12/21/23

Christmas Eve was never a good day for Jamie. Right now her rearview mirror was filled with flashing blue lights from the police cruiser sitting behind her. She was wishing more than anything that she was a six-foot-tall man with a mean streak. Wishing that she had a fist of stone like her daddy’s and could’ve cracked that state boy’s noggin open and left him lying there on the shoulder of the road where the gray night sky could close up around him.

But she wasn’t. And she didn’t. And she knew she probably wouldn’t have even if she could. This was just her life. Trouble was never too far off, especially around the holidays.

In seventh grade, she spent Christmas Eve at her best friend Cassie’s house. It was supposed to be the best Christmas ever, but they got busted stealing Cassie’s daddy’s liquor and everyone got sent home early. From then on she was just following her parents’ footsteps. During high school, Jamie spent every Christmas Eve listening to her father get drunk and cuss at her mom who herself was so high she probably just thought he was yelling at Jamie.

Now here she was again on December 24th. Pulled over on the shoulder of the new bypass by this pressed gray suit with a crew cut and a hard-on. The entire back seat was level with Pampers and Huggies, only the good stuff. She’d been walking a couple of items at a time through the self-checkout line over the past few days. Now she was taking them up to the next county’s Walmart for a hefty refund. They never asked too many questions if you said you’d take the gift card. And the dealer took gift cards. Why wouldn’t he? Jamie figured. They were as good as cash nowadays. If the kid working the customer service center ever asked for a license Jamie just fake cried and sobbed about how they were baby shower gifts, but she lost the baby. It had worked so far.

Now the state boy was swaggering back up the rumble strip with Jamie’s expired license in hand. Her heart dropped as he pecked against the blue stained glass. She rolled down the driver’s window, let the cold air touch her cheeks, and cried real tears at the sheer revelation of Christmas morning in the county jail.

“Ma’am, would you please step out of the car?”

“Please, sir. I just want to go home. I got babies to take care of.” She said.

“You ain’t under arrest, I just need you to step out of the car.”

“We both know what stepping out of the car means.”

“Ma’am it don’t mean nothing yet, but if you refuse it’s got to go another way.”

“Please, please.” Jamie wiped at her tears with the palm of her hand before her fingers moved to the door handle and popped it open. The officer stepped back as the sky began to shed the first flakes of what would be a Christmas snow between them. He led her to the back of her dinged-up little Honda that shimmied every few seconds with a miss in the engine.

“Sir, I just can’t win for losing. Please don’t take me to jail tonight, it’s Christmas.” Jamie’s pleads seemed to shatter like thin ice as each word left her lips. The officer shined his flashlight into the backseat across the stolen diapers and baby wipes.

“You know a lot of this same stuff has been getting lifted from the Walmart?” He walked around the fender to face her at the back of the car and shined his torch off into the distance so that only snowflakes appeared in its beam.

“I ain’t stole anything,” she said. “Like I told you I got babies to take care of and it’s Christmas. I’m just trying to get home, sir.”

The man flipped the light off and dropped it into his belt. The two figures stood alone against the dark winter night.

“Go home to your babies. The next time you need some wipes find a church or something. They’re supposed to help with that sort of thing. Merry Christmas.”

The officer turned and walked back to his cruiser without another word. Jamie hugged herself in the wind as she watched him cut the blue lights out and make a U-turn. She watched until his brake lights vanished then hopped back into the warmth of the Honda. She cranked the heater up to high and looked at the digital clock on the car’s dashboard. It was only 10:57 PM and Walmart didn’t close for Christmas until midnight. She still had plenty of time.

~ fin ~

Rick Childers

Rick Childers is a fiction writer whose work has appeared in Limestone Journal, Pine Mountain Sand and Gravel, Still: the Journal, Heartwood Literary Magazine, and the San Joaquin Review. Rick is from Eastern Kentucky where he lives with his wife Sydni and their two children. He also enjoys watching wrestling, reading paperbacks, and hunting ginseng. His novel TURKEYFOOT is forthcoming from Shotgun Honey in 2024.