Wagon Master
Part one in a three part series

As he topped the next hill the flashing sign at Injun Joe's Truck Stop beckoned a cool welcome for Shorty Denman. It was mid July and ungodly hot inside the cab. Even with all the windows down the air was stifling. His beard itched from the heat, his red western shirt was soaked with sweat under the armpits, his butt ached from bouncing on the Bostrom seat, and his stomach growled from hunger. He glanced at his fuel gauge and decided that this would be a good time to fuel up and fill his stomach at the same time. Grabbing a handful of gears, he slowed the mighty Mack down and pulled into the fuel lanes. While he topped off his tanks he took the opportunity to check out all the other rigs in the lot to see if anyone he knew had pulled in ahead of him.

Shorty screwed the caps back on the tanks, went to the desk and paid for the fuel, then climbed back into the cab, revved the 440 Mack engine and with her thirteen-speed tranny, jammed her down into coffee gear and headed to the back lot. Her double stacks belched out two clouds of black smoke as he pulled away from the pumps.

He decided to park as far back as he could away from the refer trailers that chugged away constantly, making enough noise to wake the dead. He needed a little quiet to update his logs just in case he ran into D.O.T. down the road. He lined her up with a spot next to another pretty Mack near the end the last row and backed into it. She turned and followed his lead “slick as a whistle” on the first try. Shorty shut her down and pulled out his logs and went to work. (He kept three sets of logs, one for D.O.T., one for himself, and one for the company.)

After a few minutes he put them back into his briefcase, grabbed his smokes and his hat, and jumped down out of the truck. He paused just long enough to pick up a rag from under the seat and wiped down the side of his pride and joy. His fire engine red Mack glinted brightly in the morning sun. Standing back to admire his handy-work, he pulled out a cigarette from the pack and bent away from the wind to light it with his favorite “Zippo” lighter the one with the Mack dog insignia on one side. He held the lighter out front of himself trying to remember which one of his girlfriends had given it to him as a gift. Was it Shirley, or maybe Gloria? No matter, he liked it anyway. Shorty gave a hard pull on the Camel and sucked it into his lungs and blew out with a sigh of relief. He’d probably remember which one gave him the lighter later when he wasn’t thinking about it.

The ground felt good under his size ten boots. He’d been on the road since yesterday and needed the break. Shorty turned and headed for the door of the restaurant. The well-worn heels of his boots clumped as he walked across the asphalt. His jeans had wrinkles where his legs bent from sitting and the wide band of his hat brim showed a dark stain from all the miles in the heat he and the hat had traveled together.

I just need a shower and some food then I’ll get back on the road, he thought. He reached for the door and walked into the restaurant. Shorty scanned the room to see if there was anyone there that he could sit and jaw with and exchange the latest news. Just then a shout came booming across the din of the noisy room. Shorty looked toward the sound and saw his friend Larry sitting in a booth with Eddie and he walked toward them.
“Hi ya fellas, how’s things with you two?” Shorty asked with a big wide grin as he sat down next to them in the booth. He tossed his hat at a hook next to the booth and it spun around till it finally settled into place.

‘We’ve been sitting here holding down this booth and sucking up Java. Larry’s waiting to pick up a load in the morning. As for me, I haven’t got a load yet,” said Eddie as he took a gulp from his coffee mug.

“You just get in?” asked Larry who was lounging half-sitting and chewing on a toothpick.

“Yep, I had to fuel up, and I’m so hungry, ‘my stomach thinks my throat’s been cut’. I need a shower too. I figured you fellas would be here sooner or later and I could get some info on a load to pick up on the way back. So here I am killing two birds with one stone,” said Shorty, as he stretched his legs out under the table and rubbed his thighs trying to get the kinks out.

Just then the waitress appeared at their table. Her short blue and white cotton uniform was stiff from being heavily starched. She wore an equally starched white half apron around her tiny waist. The apron had two deep pockets that held her order pad and pencil in one and her tips in the other. Her golden blonde hair was piled up on top of her head in a sort of beehive. A waitress’s cap that matched her apron lay snuggled in the middle of the hive and held in place with bobby pins. Pinned on her left shoulder she wore a tri-fold hanky with a badge that bore the name of Stella in bold letters. The V of the neckline showed just enough cleavage to tantalize any trucker.

“What’ll you have Shorty?’ said Stella with a pretty smile as she pulled a pencil and her order pad from her pocket.

“The California Gold Rush breakfast, Stella, a large orange juice with ice, and I’ll have my coffee as soon as you can get it here,” grinned Shorty.

“Do you want your eggs over easy, Shorty?”

“You bet honey,” said Shorty with a teasing smile.

She scribbled the order on her pad then walked away toward the kitchen. Stella stopped at the coffee station just behind their booth to start a fresh pot of coffee so that she could bring a cup to Shorty on her way back from placing his order.

“Boy would I like to get in her pants!” remarked Larry in an audibly soft tone to his buddies. Then he snickered behind his hand.

Larry was unaware that she had heard his remark. She thought to herself, guys like him need to learn a lesson. She finished starting the coffee maker, headed to the kitchen to drop off Shorty’s order, then made a visit to her locker in the employee lounge. Then Stella returned to the guy’s booth bringing Shorty his juice and coffee.

“Here you go, Shorty.” And by the way, Larry, these are for you,” Stella said with a smirk as she pulled a pair of panties from her pocket and dropped them in front of him onto his plate.

Larry’s mouth dropped full open as he stared up at her with a puzzled look on his face.

“Well, you said you wanted to get into my pants, so here they are, Larry!” Stella said. She held her hand out toward the plate in front of him then turned on her heel and walked quickly away from the table.

Next issue, part two of Wagon Master. Read the exciting adventure of Shorty and his Mack.

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