Harvey Huddleston

Masters of Time and Distance

Part 1

               100 million years ago during the Early Cretaceous period a shallow sea covered the southeastern portion of North America. Waters from the Gulf of Mexico advanced northward into present-day Arkansas as far as the Ozark Mountains. Here, along the shoreline of this shallow sea, dinosaurs roamed in packs.
               In more recent geological periods an alluvial floodplain stretched from the western shore of the Mississippi River into Arkansas. On the eastern shore of the river and situated upon the southernmost of four bluffs, is the city of Memphis. The Chickasaw Bluffs, rising above the floodplains east of the river, have provided elevation for the aboriginal inhabitants; then the Chickasaws, the French, the English and present-day Memphians. Below Memphis, the floodplain stretches south where it is simply called “The Delta.”
               Surrounded by floodplains creating a semi-tropical climate with summers of intense heat and humidity, Memphians have long sought respite by travelling to the mountain lakes and rivers of the Ozarks.

               It had been tough getting started. There was the Unguentine Rhonda said they had to have and they still had to get beer. John’s friend was supposed to lend them a tent big enough for everyone but then he wasn’t home and when he got back couldn’t remember whether it was in his garage or attic. That took time and then Lewis was almost an hour late.
               As they started across the bridge, Bill sped up to merge with the traffic heading west. They passed the halfway point of the bridge under the “Welcome to Arkansas” sign and Bill breathed some relief that they were finally on their way. Rhonda, on the passenger side, referred to the sign.
               No turning back now.
               John spoke up from the back seat. Was that regret I heard in your voice?
               Not at all. I can’t wait to shit on a log.
               You don’t shit on a log, Rhonda. You sit on the log and shit behind it.
               Well, my butt doesn’t work that way.
               Maybe I should explain some basic anatomy to you.
               Bill jumped in before they could get too far into it. Hey, guys, we’re on our way.
               In case John’s comment had been meant for her, Rhonda answered. Which wasn’t my fault by the way. Supplies are important. Besides, it’s hard to get six people moving in the same direction.
               John was looking out the back window. Especially when that direction is Arkansas. Are we sure they’re back there?
               Bill checked his side view mirror. I think they’re behind that semi.
               Do they know where we’re going?
               I told Lewis. Fifty Five to Walnut Ridge and then left.
               You’re sure about that.
               Good. I was hoping we wouldn’t have to ask anyone. This state is weird.
               Rhonda opened the glove compartment. We need music. She popped in a tape and all three went quiet to listen.
               Hidden behind the semi was Lewis’s car. Gretchen was turned around in the front seat talking to Richard in the back.
               I wish Sarah could’ve come.
               She had an appointment with a murderer today. New guy. Just out of prison after twenty five years. This was his first session so she couldn’t put it off.
               Hope it works out for him. Sarah too.
               Lewis spoke up. She’s done pretty well with Richard.
               Thanks, Lewis.
               Hmmm, I think Richard is still a little ragged around the edges.
               And thanks to you too, Gretchen.
               But we still love you.
               Well I’m definitely not feeling the love back here.
               Do you want up front? I’ll change.
               Is Lewis making you nervous?
               I like the back better. It reminds me of being a kid, mom popping beers for my dad. Pssht. Pssht. How long til we get there, Richard?
               You’ll have to ask Bill.
               But I thought you were the master of time and distance.
               I am but I’ve passed the mantle to him today since he’s the only one who knows where we’re going.
               Here, switch with me.
               Why not wait until the rest-stop?
               Pull up next to them, Lewis. We need coffee anyway.
               At a break in the traffic Lewis passed the semi and caught up alongside the others. Gretchen mouthed “rest stop.” Bill nodded and Lewis dropped back behind him. A few miles farther on, Lewis followed Bill off the interstate.
               They found some places out in the lot where they could park next to each other. Inside, there was some discussion about various fast-foods but they all agreed on Jack in the Box. After snacks and coffee, Rhonda and Gretchen went to the restroom. Gretchen was outside the ladies room when Rhonda came out.
               How’s John today?
               Rhonda rolled her eyes when Gretchen noticed a dollar bill fall from a woman’s purse as she passed.
               Excuse me, ma’am! The woman turned back as Gretchen picked up the dollar. You dropped this.
               That’s not mine.
               I saw you drop it when you walked by.
               Then another woman stopped and said it was hers.
               No, it’s not.
               I’m telling you it’s mine!
               No way! Okay then, I’ll just keep it myself.
               The second woman stared hard at Gretchen and then went on but the first woman was now checking her purse. Oh wait... it was so busy at that counter, I do think it’s mine. At that she plucked the dollar out of Gretchen’s hand and hurried on her way.
               Gretchen looked at Rhonda. Can you believe that bitch?
               Not even a thank you.
               Richard and Bill stood outside the cars helping John with his onion rings. Lewis stood apart from them, watching the traffic barrel up the Interstate.
               John motioned towards him. What’s he doing?
               Richard answered. Pondering his future.
               Driving a semi?
               Or an ice cream truck. What about you, Bill? Any decision yet?
               St. Louis U maybe. Dad’s got that spot at his law firm but then there’s the Geology thing. Maybe teach or something...
               Richard spoke up. I don’t get it. Why would you start over in law after spending the last four years becoming an expert on the Pliocene?
               I’ve got all those law credits. Besides, there’s the whole summer to figure it out. You’re still off to med school, right John?
               The only question now is whether Rhonda goes to Boston with me.
               Speaking of which. Richard motioned across the lot at Rhonda and Gretchen walking towards them arm in arm smiling.
               Bill called out. What’s so funny?
               Crazy people.
               Gretchen told them about the dollar bill and Rhonda finished the story. So Gretchen says, no way bitch!
               I didn’t call her a bitch!
               You should have. Gretchen and Rhonda broke up laughing.
               So who got the dollar?
               The one who dropped it! And then she just walks off. Poof!
               Bill checked his watch. Are we ready?
               They all agreed they were and Gretchen caught up to Richard on his side. We’re switching, remember?
               Oh yeah, sure.
               Rhonda asked why and Richard answered. So Gretchen can relive her childhood.
               Rhonda looked into the back seat at Gretchen. Can you really do that?
               No but I like the back anyway.
               Bill called out. Come on, Rhonda. It’s getting late.
               Everyone shut their doors and the cars pulled out, continuing up I-55.

               It was rush hour in Walnut Ridge and both cars were hemmed in by the Main Street traffic. Gretchen’s head was between the backrests talking to Richard.
               So how far from here?
               Bill said two hours from the rest stop. I think, Louis, you’re supposed to make a left here somewhere.
               Do you see them?
               They’re in front of that silver car. Richard saw Bill’s indicator flashing up ahead. So Lewis, you need to get in the left lane pretty quick.
               Bill made the turn but Lewis was still back in the right lane waiting for a break in traffic. He finally lurched into the left lane but not in time to make the light.
               Bill pulled over and watched for Lewis in his rear view mirror. He saw Lewis turn but then pull over to the side about fifty yards back with a squad car’s blue light flashing behind him.
               A cop approached the driver’s side as Lewis rolled down his window.
               Where’re you folks going?
               The Eleven Point River for some canoeing and camping.
               Can I see your license?
               Lewis handed him his license.
               How old are you?
               Twenty two.
               The cop bent down to look inside at Richard and Gretchen. How ‘bout you two?
               Twenty two.
               Twenty two.
               Uh huh. Can I ask all of you to step out of the car?
               As they got out, Lewis spoke up. Can I ask what I did?
               You were swerving.
               At any particular spot?
               Nope. Just general swerving. Is this your car?
               It is.
               Then you won’t mind popping the trunk for me.
               Lewis took his keys from the ignition and walked to the back, with Richard and Gretchen following. The cop stood to the side as Lewis raised the trunk.
               What’s that?
               A case of beer.
               You know this is a dry county, don’t you?
               I didn’t.
               Well that’s a problem. Whose beer is it?
               Richard spoke up. It’s both of ours.
               Uh huh.
               The cop then walked to the passenger door and opened it. He popped the glove compartment and came back with a small canister.
               Whose is this? Now before you answer, if you say both then I’ll have to charge you both with possession.
               Richard said. It’s only mine.
               Uh huh. Can you drive this car, young lady?
               Then you can follow us to the station. Now I need you two in my squad car.

               From Bill’s car, they watched as Rhonda gave a play-by-play. Now Gretchen’s getting in the driver’s seat. What do we do?
               Follow them… I guess...
               But not too close. There’s beer in our trunk too so we can’t let those cops know we’re with them. They’re making a U-turn. Go, Bill. Go now.
               John had been quiet until then but as Bill pulled out he let out a moan. Awwww man, this SUCKS!
               It does.
               It really does.

               The cop who’d arrested them sat at a desk writing while another stood off to the side putting some body English into a game boy. The door opened and Gretchen stuck her head in as the cop at the desk looked up.
               Come in, young lady. You can sit over there with them.
               Gretchen sat in a row of folding chairs next to Richard and Lewis.
               The cop was still looking at Gretchen. Now you’re not under arrest but these two are.
               Richard asked. What are we charged with?
               Him for the illegal transport of alcohol through a dry county. You for that too along with possession of marijuana.
               So what now?
               You need a bail bondsman to see if he’ll post bond for you. There’s some up here on the wall if you want to look. Just walk on over.
               They went to where some xeroxed fliers were taped to the wall. Four of them said Edward Mason. One had a blacked-out Pillsbury Doughboy running with dollar signs flying out of his head. Another said Paul Revere Bail and Bond.
               They stared until Richard said, looks like Edward Mason has a monopoly on the bail bond business.
               Gretchen said. I say Paul Revere and we bust up that monopoly.
               They all agreed and went back to their seats. The cop looked up.
               Paul Revere.
               The cop then dialed a number and clicked his pen on the desk. Hey, Ed. Yep, sitting here with me now.
               The cop hung up. He’ll be here directly.

               Bill was parked about a block down from the Police Station but still close enough to see the door. None of them said anything until Rhonda spoke up.
               Well we can’t just sit here!
               Help us out, Bill. You took all those law classes.
               The quiet settled back in until Rhonda spoke again. At some point we have to find out what’s happening! I’ll go look. At that Rhonda opened her door and jumped out.
               John then climbed out behind her. Oh man, this sucks so bad! He called out, Rhonda, and took off down the street after her.
               She turned back. What?
               We’ll only make it worse if we go in. Rhonda, look at me. Stop!
               No! You stop! I’m going in!
               He caught up to her again. Okay, give it ten more minutes. Then if they’re not out, we’ll stash our beer and all go in together.
               Rhonda was looking towards the Police Station. Who’s that?
               That guy with the baggy suit who just went in. Come on, I just want to look.

               Inside the police station, the guy in the baggy suit announced himself. Edward Mason at your service.
               Here you go, Ed. Sign this and they’re all yours.
               Mason signed a paper and then turned to them. Now if you’ll just follow me to my office we can get you back on your way. None too soon either I can imagine.
               Gretchen asked. Should I bring our car?
               No need to. I’m right next door.

               Richard sat across from Mason who was filling out more paperwork while Lewis and Gretchen sat off to the side. Mason looked up. So I’ll need a one hundred dollar check for my fee and a nine hundred dollar check as security in case you decide to not deal with the charges.
               It took a few seconds for Richard to answer. Wait. You’re telling me you want one check for a hundred dollars and then another for NINE hundred?
               Yes but I’ll only cash that big one if I have to pay your fine.
               You know, that search and seizure was illegal so I plan on fighting these charges.
               Mason seemed concerned. Well, if that’s what happened then you should. In fact, I know a good lawyer in Paragould. Here, I’ve got his card.
               He shuffled through some cards on his desk and held one out. As Richard reached for it, Mason said. But I still need you to write those checks.
               Richard took the card. ... Yeah.
               And don’t you worry about anyone cashing the big one. Like I said, it’s only security.
               As Richard wrote the checks, Mason sat back. It’s a good thing the Walnut Ridge Police stopped you instead of those ones in Hoxie. Hoxie Police are just plain crazy.
               Is that all?
               That’s it. Pleasure doing business.
               They left and started down the street. Bill had found a spot near Lewis’s car and they all got out as Richard, Lewis and Gretchen approached. Rhonda called. Hey guys.
               Gretchen answered. Fuck Walnut Ridge.
               Richard looked around. Let’s just get out of here. We’ll talk about it down the road.

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