Asa buries the tip of a cut-down straw, striped red, into a baggie’s corner and snorts dregs, cracks the driver’s side window and lets the bag drift. Semi in gear, he wheels away from Eudora weigh station. On the highway’s median, mowers work to cut a stripe of green, watered without reason. Asa scans for speed-traps. The CB crackles on in the silent cab. Baby Bear is out there somewhere, writing tickets, making quota.
‘Driving west from chicken coop outside of Bright Lights. What’s the 411 on Baby Bear? Over.’
‘That’s a maybe, Big Asa. Where you headed? Over.’
‘Big Shakey by Tuesday. Baby Bear still out there, or back at den? Over.’
‘Negative on den. Baby is back out on the highway. Repeat. West of Bright Lights, Baby Bear is back out.’
Asa drives hours after Bright Lights, his throat full of cotton and in need. He doesn’t see the Baby Bear, but feels Baby is following.
Outside Denver, on fumes, in a place of unseeded medians, Asa pulls up next to the tanks. Alongside garage bays, rusted husks of Fords and Chevys ooze grease onto red, caked clay. Grass flosses their remains. It is night. A cloud of insects explode their bodies against a blue light outside the station’s door. Asa walks across the parking lot to kill time and maybe to score some remedy. Inside, behind the counter, a biddy gives him the up-and-down. Her bubba enters from the shop, overalls stretched over an eggplant shape, biceps muscled from hammering out dings, concave hoods.
The mud flap display takes up most of a wall. Fluorescent light bounces off busts of chromed ladies; Calvins pissing; Tasmanian devils doing unspeakable things to Tweeties. Asa searches for a remembered flap, the rubber skirting an F-150 on blocks, in childhood. The biddy watches. Asa hovers over but cannot touch and returns to the counter.
‘Where’s your goddamn eagles?’
‘Watch your language.’
Asa snorts. ‘Used to be you didn’t have to work to find the flag.’
‘You mean in the store, or just in Denver?’
Asa swipes at her. She steps back. He paws at air, the counter. Change spills from an upturned bowl. Bubba re-enters with tyre iron and Biddy takes the gauge from under the register. Adrenalin knots Asa’s body into one big twitch and the desire to fist. The biddy slips on the floor, pulls trigger and plugs her bubba. She looks shaken, seems to imagine a bubba-less life on Denver’s outskirts, tucks the gauge under her chin and then spreads herself over the wall. The mist she leaves settles on Asa’s face.
Blue and red, the pinball lights of the cruiser outside. Baby Bear cuffs Asa, who won’t stop screaming, who asks doesn’t he understand freedom, doesn’t he love his country? Baby Bear, back from a second tour, itches in his new uniform, shoves Asa too hard against the wire mesh partition in the cruiser till parts of Asa crack and Asa lies still.