The damned old truck broke down a few miles off Interstate 10 half way between Austin and Booth, literally in the middle of fucking nowhere.
For the most part, the trip home had been quite amusing. After desperately trying to get the AM radio to work, I had quickly given up on that and had spent most of the trip singing to myself. I never had a singing voice, not one of my strong suits, but it kept my mind off the seemingly endless drive and gave me something to do.
I had toyed with the idea of picking up the random hitchhiker, but again, couldn’t be bothered much, and didn’t feel like making small talk. Besides, I was still a little too close to Austin for comfort, and didn’t feel like explaining myself to anyone who might recognize me. Which was why I waited until I was several hours out of Austin before I stopped for a burger and beer.
I should have known something was wrong when a man at the rest stop pointed out that there was black smoke coming out of the truck’s exhaust, but I was too distracted to give it any more thought. The only thing on my mind was getting home quickly so I could start what Alice called the “healing process”.
Which was why I was ready to shoot myself in the head as I stood by the side of the road, kicking at the pile of shit truck I should have known wouldn’t make it all the way back to Booth. I could almost hear my father laughing from whatever pit of hell he had been thrown into.
I turned and looked into the weathered face of a portly farmer, leaning his head out the passenger side window to look at me, the sheer size of him taking up the entirety of the truck’s front. He was chewing on something, like a cow chewing cud. He spat tobacco juice out the window and flashed me what I could only hope was his best attempt at a smile.
“Broke down,” I said, gesturing to the Chevy.
“Mm hmm, looks like,” the farmer nodded, wiping spittle from his chin with the back of his hand. “I can drive you into Ludwig where you can get a tow, if you want.”
I hesitated for a second, wondering if maybe I should just call Alice and have her send someone. Then I remembered that the whole point of the drive home was to forget all about my life in Austin for a few weeks. No, I wouldn’t call Alice. I’d take my chances with the fat farmer who looked like he had just swallowed a hog and was chewing on the last bite.
“That would be great, thanks,” I finally said.
“Hop on in, fella,” the man said, reaching across to open the passenger door. “This here’s your lucky day.”
Ludwig was a strange little town. It looked like something out of an old TV western; just one narrow main street, a few random shops here and there, and enough smiles going around to make anyone uneasy. Still, it made finding a tow easy, and it had only taken an hour to get my truck back to what I surmised was the only repair shop in town.
“It’s the head gasket.” The owner, and only employee, a giant of a man with the name Hank sewn on his greasy shirt, rubbed a dirty rag between his big hands and diagnosed the issue without even looking under the hood once he had the truck towed back to his shop.
“How do you know that?” I asked.
“Damn old Chevy trucks were bad about blowing the head gasket.” He raised the hood and leaned in for a closer look. He had a long screwdriver in his hand. He tapped it around the engine compartment like a drunken one-armed drummer.
I was skeptical, and I think the tinkering he was doing around the engine was mainly for my benefit. He closed the hood, spat on the ground between his boots, and stared long and hard at the truck.
“Definitely the head gasket,” he said. “This girl ain’t gonna take you anywhere like this.”
“How long is it going to take to get this girl fixed?”
“You in any kinda hurry?”
“I was hoping to be in Booth today,” I replied.
Hank chuckled, shook his head and spat again. “No, sir, this thing ain’t goin’ anywhere today,” he said. “It’s gonna take me a few days to get the gasket in. Unless you’re willing to tow it all the way to Booth.”
I cursed under my breath. My plans for relaxation had not included being stranded in the middle of nowhere for a few days.
“You might wanna grab a ride to Booth and come back for it in a few days if you don’t wanna wait,” Hank said. “Probably cost you a few hundred dollars. You don’t look like you’re made of money, though, so…”
I smiled at the impression I had given him, just a broke cowboy in an old piece of shit truck on the way home. I probably had ten-grand in cash in my pocket and a wallet full of credit cards. Money wasn’t an issue. My health was.
“If ya don’t mind me askin’, what’s a man like you doin’ goin’ to Booth anyway?” Hank asked.
The question took me by surprise. I suddenly got the feeling that I had been wrong. My broken cowboy disguise had not worked as well as I’d hoped.
Hank gestured to my jeans and boots. “That getup doesn’t look like its ever had a coat of dust on it,” he said. “And I ain’t ever known a billionaire to be drivin’ one of these old Chevy’s.”