Ronnie Chalmers had a mouth full of pecans when the Caprice passed her at twenty over. The deputy hit the lights and wheeled her patrol car out onto SR-14, the only traffic on the highway tractor trailers freighted with beer, on their way from the bottling plant to places like Tallahassee or Tuscaloosa. She sighted the Caprice, getting an eyeful from the rear view before the driver signaled, pulled into a breakdown lane and cut the engine.
Chalmers cantered her cruiser, shielding herself from the front and behind. Some dirt road deputies were lazier than an uncooked hamburger patty but not Ronnie. She worked out, ate right, didn’t smoke and stayed sharp even on the most boring days in the pothole they called a town.
Her only flaw, at least according to her mother, was that she wasn’t married.
And Ronnie always had to remind momma the state didn’t let her kind marry yet.
(Besides, what she really wanted was a hobby, no a vocation, not a wife.)
Law enforcement paid the bills, sure, and she’d seen it all patrolling the county’s main thoroughfare. Man cooking meth in the console of his Honda. Propane tanks falling from the bed of a pickup like runaway rolling pins. Mexicans stacked like saltines in the back of a U-Haul. Even a car seat riding on the roof of a sport utility…with the baby still strapped to it.
(Everything changed after today.)
The plates on the Caprice came back clean.
She adjusted her campaign hat, aware of the eyes watching her in the side view mirror. Chalmers approached the driver’s seven o’clock, her duty pistol half-way out its holster. Closing the distance she bladed herself, stopping about where the back seat of the Caprice began.
The man was huge. Must’ve weighed three-hundred pounds.
And he was naked.
Everywhere. His chest and arms and legs scissored with cuts, like he’d spent the morning dry humping a briar patch.
“You’re not having a very good day, are you, sir?” Chalmers said, watching the driver closely, then adding, “Got a license on you?”
The man obliged, offering an insurance card and license with a deliberate turn of his hand.
“Know why I pulled you over?”
The man pursed his lips and nodded.
“Do you need an ambulance?”
He shook his head.
Chalmers studied the ID, then spoke into her rover, leading with the license number and issue date. She glanced at the back seat. Couldn’t smell alcohol or any other controlled substance but assumed he was on something. PCP or hallucinogens the deputy’s first guess. Gnats were collecting on his arms, the man just a blob of abrasions and stretch marks. He smelled gamey, too. Probably fit to grow grass on.
That’s when she noticed the paperback on the passenger seat.
(Raymond Chandler. The Simple Art of Murder.)
Her radio crackled.
“Go ahead, dispatch.”
“Valid, no wants,” came the reply.
Ninety degrees by nine-thirty and she had a naked man the size of a fork lift in her presence.
And he technically hadn’t done anything wrong besides speeding. Cleaner than a baby in a baptismal font. Figuratively speaking.
Reminded her of something the Sheriff would say. About those calls straight from The Outer Limits.
You can beat the rap but you can’t beat the ride.
Chalmers was gonna have to get creative. Mister Nude & Wounded was going to jail.
(She just loved to read.)
“Mind telling me what happened to your clothes?” she said, her attention drifting to that paperback again.
The driver cocked an eye but said nothing. A tractor trailer whizzed by, the trucker sitting high on his throne inside the cab, a wave for ol’ Smokey and her customer.
It gave Chalmers an idea.
(Always getting ideas. Always making up stuff.)
“What we got?” the other deputy asked.
“A big bad bio risk with a taste for the classics,” Chalmers said.
“What’s the charge?”
They looked up as a church van crested the hill.
“Public nudity. Let’s hurry now.”
They gloved up. The naked man didn’t need to be told. He swung his bulk out of the Caprice and put his hands behind his back.
But it was too late.
The man’s pecker swelled and saluted the church van as it passed.
Chalmers counted eight female passengers. Seven shocked faces.
(One old lady had smiled.)
And all of ‘em got their money’s worth.
(You got a book in you an ex-girlfriend once told her.)
After a full search and inventory the wrecker arrived.
Chalmers pocketed the Chandler, certain of one thing after the traffic stop.
She wanted to be a writer.