Constance 'Dusty' Miller
It was ten below zero and the snow was going sideways. The sun was down, and while the glow in the west was spectacular, all purple and orange and salmon-pink, the rest of the sky was metallic blue and darkening.
Tammy’s pickup truck had made it exactly one mile from the Circle-J (as Rick had always called it) where she waited tables and slung corned-beef hash five shifts a week, days or nights or afternoons.
She had twenty minutes to pick up the piglet or staff, Mrs. Stumpf for sure, were going to have all the usual things to say.
Something had broken, and smoke or steam billowed out around the rim of the hood, whipped away by half a gale. Something was burning up under there. The smell wasn’t good. Throwing off her seat-belt, worried about fire, she got out of passenger side as quickly as she could, struggling to push the door against the power of the wind. Traffic on the I-59 slipped and slithered past, throwing slush.
Tires hissed on wet black pavement and the wind howled in her ears.
A small, upscale black coupe pulled in just past the nose of the battered 1997 Ford three-quarter ton four-by-four, a work-truck. It was the only tangible legacy of her late husband Richard.
Connor hit the passenger-side window button and leaned over as the lady came up beside his car.
She looked to be about twenty-two.
“Hi. Looks like you’re having some problems there. I was wondering if I could help.”
He lowered the hood with a bang, nipping back to the Beemer, shaking like a leaf.
Connor dropped into the seat, grateful for the warmth. The windows were already steaming up as her wet coat dried slowly.
“Yeah. It’s just the radiator, it’s not on fire. It’s nothing electrical.”
He ignored traces of tears on her face and the sniffling, which could easily be put down to a cold.
“Okay, we’d better get into town and get your daughter and then I’ll drive you home.” He cleared his throat. “I’ve got the Auto Club, and I get three free emergency tows a year…”
He looked into those eyes.
“I’ll just say you’re a family member, right? Uh…if that’s all right with you.” Too upset to think, she didn’t question it, or the need for the sticker on the rear bumper.
She nodded, fumbling around in her voluminous purse. Connor opened up the centre console, pulling out a handy-pack of tissues.
“Connor.” He reached for the gear lever, resisting the urge to pat her leg.
“Thank you, Connor.” The voice was low, a bit husky, but calm.
Anyone could see she was having a bad day.
He kept his foot on the brake, studying the mirror. There was a long line of traffic coming up from behind and in the slop, it took a while to get moving. People drove insanely fast in bad weather, in fact he did it himself. If he pooched this, there was going to be one hell of a pile-up.
The wipers were barely keeping up and visibility was getting down near zero.
She blew her nose and crumpled the tissue. He proffered a hand, still watching the mirror, and she reluctantly gave it up.
Connor had a small yellow trash bag, a freebie from the DMV, stuffed into the leather pocket on the back of the passenger seat. He disposed of the moist thing, resisting the urge to wipe his hand on his pant-leg or something…
“Tammy. Tammy Larsson. Two esses.”
“So. Might as well get moving.”
She took a breath and with a quick gulp, told him where she lived, which he already knew.
Depth perception was gone under these conditions, but he thought he could do it and so he went.
The rear wheels spun and then caught. They were coming up fast from behind…someone put on a signal and pulled into the other lane. That one was about as close as he cared to make it.
Even after a long day on her feet, she smelled like a woman.
There was always going to be that little rush in the guts.
Her daughter’s name was Riley, which Connor thought was a great name for a kid, but Tammy called her piglet as often as not.
The day-care centre was in the centre of Fergus Falls, Minnesota. The town survived as a market and supply centre for the surrounding farm area. It was also a bit of a retirement and bedroom community for larger centres just a few miles down the road. Other than that, there wasn’t much going on if you didn’t own a business, a farm, or work for the government.
He watched her, head down, going up the front steps into the front doors of the daycare.
Predictably, his phone was buzzing. It was Reb, his wingman.
“Hey, buddy. Nice work.” Reb’s cheerful voice came in over the ether.
“Yeah. She’s inside getting the kid.”
“So how do you think we’re doing so far?”
“Yeah. We’re doing all right.”
“I’m just around the corner.”
Reb’s face was invisible when the old wrecker, long out of service but lovingly restored to working condition, cruised past in the darkening night.
A few minutes had gone by and the light had completely gone. Connor watched the front lobby, the place apparently deserted although all the lights were still on.
The staff couldn’t really leave until the last parent-kid combo had gone.
(End of excerpt.)
Editor's note: this is a work in progress and all content is subject to change and revision.