When Marines let the sheriff know their driver is a woman, fireworks light up the snow covered road. But when the sheriff is shot and left for dead, who will solve the mystery?
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A romance novel is defined as a story where the two main characters have a love interest and the story has a satisfying ending.
OK, that’s there in this old fashion love story, but the sheriff falls victim to an unexpected assassination attempt. Later as he leaves the hospital, he tells the Candy Striper wheeling him out, that the man who shot him isn’t singing “that song”. He jokingly sings with her…. “I shot the sheriff….but I did not shoot the deputy.”
But he was wrong.
Catch a glimpse of a real female bus driver’s life on the road. Chain controls, transporting Marines, Chinese Nationals and Groupies of another sort, but what about those golfers? Do they really act that way?
Why is the sheriff so down on women? And why does the bundled up woman putting chains on her bus in the snow, shake up his world.
Hicks would have been unrecognizable if a stranger had been looking for him. Only his eyes seemed to be exposed and much of his uniform had a coat of snow that effectively covered his law enforcement identification. He didn’t actually speak to Jan at first, but nodded or shook his head in answer to questions. He seemed surprised when Jan told him of his plans to head to the chain control area rather than heading home.
“Good thinking, I’ll be the rest of the night sorting out paperwork and don’t need any more surprises.” Hicks muffled voice sounded tired, but encouraged that an end might be in sight.
Jan hoped to be a visible deterrent with his presence, letting drivers know to be extra careful. Often just the presence of law enforcement seemed to slow people down. If that’s what it took to prevent another accident tonight, he was willing to be that physical presence.
Parking his cruiser in the middle of the center turn lane with red and blues flashing, he took time to make sure his hat flaps were over his ears, his collar up and coat was zipped closed before he ventured into the nasty night.
The chain control area had a wide flat pull off lane with a solar powered street light. The tall forest ventured closer to the road, creating a wind block. Tonight the trees covered with snow, reflected the meager light produced by the street light and headlights.
Walking among motorists, he gave words of caution. Some wanted to talk and ask questions and that was ok, too. He was glad to give advice and gave out a brief summary to those who asked, about what had happen in the canyon ahead of them, knowing it was the best way to impress the need to be careful and to go slowly.
He moved on to talk to a few truckers and noticed that drivers did seem to be taking extra care after learning about the evening’s fatality, which is what he had hoped for.
The warmth of his cruiser was a distant memory as he rubbed his arms and tried to make an effort to wiggle his toes, becoming aware the he was feeling the chill and needed to find warmth. The snow was coming down in big flakes, but not heavy enough to cause visibility problems.
About to return to his cruiser, he waited for a big truck to pull out and go by, it’s chained tires clicking on the pavement and throwing slushy snow. When the truck cleared the wide chain-up area, Jan spotted a sleek charter bus that had been parked behind the truck. A number of Marines were walking around in front of the bus smoking and stretching. A few were gathering snow to build a small snowman.
Jan stomped his feet and slipped his gloved hands back under his arm pits as he decided to delay his warmth seeking until after he had a word with the Marines. Approaching the bus, he stopped to chat with a few young men who had walked toward him and met him half way. They acknowledged his supposition that they were on their way to the local training facility. Like everyone else, they were curious as to the cause of the hold up, but also wanted to know how much further they had to go before arriving at their base.
“Not much farther, about another twelve miles, but with these conditions and chains on your bus it’ll be another thirty minutes or more.” Jan sympathized and then asked, “Where’s your driver?”
“Oh, she’s back there putting chains on.”
Walking as a group toward the bus, Jan proceeded to raze them for letting a woman do physical labor on their behalf, but they insisted their offer to help had been refused. When they arrived at the entrance door, a few marines went inside. Another cornered a female Marine as she leaned against the bus smoking.
Jan felt it strange to hear female laughter in the midst of the Marines. He had seen the Marine, but had not realized she was female until he heard her laughter.
Moving alone down the edge of the road, he panned his flash light over the bus and ground. A green light darted around under the bus and he became curious as to its source. Sometimes truckers used red lights to be more visible, but he had never seen a green light used for anything.
The big dual tires followed by a single tag axle tire broke into the sleek side of the bus. Pausing to look at the chains, he reached out to grab and tug on them, but the chains didn’t give or move, preventing him from being able to grab hold, which was good.
There was something odd about the area around the tires. There seemed to be too much space and too much of the undercarriage visible. These buses came through his jurisdiction all year, but he didn’t remember being able to see the tops of the tires or the side of the bus so high above them. Hearing a noise that sounded like water sloshing through pipes, he looked up and noticed a light in the frosted window dim, as there seemed to be movement inside the bus. Glancing around, he heard laughter and general talking near the entrance door and saw a few small lights click on inside the bus, but his attention was quickly caught when he saw that green light again, darting around under the bus.
He moved away from the tires to circle around the rear of the bus to the road and noticed yellowish light shining on the road that seemed to be coming from an open baggage compartment.
There was that bright green light darting around under the bus again. Aiming his flashlight toward the duals, he saw chain dangling around the edges of the tire and a heavy boot and thick leg sticking out between the outside dual tire and the tag tire.
The leg reminded him of “the Michelin Man” in the tire commercial, all chunky and shapeless. He panned his flashlight beam up the leg and was amazed as the body attached came snaking out from under the wheel well. He had never seen a driver maneuver into such a tight space like that and was sure he wouldn’t want to attempt it himself. He wasn’t particularly claustrophobic, but if anyone, even accidentally, put the bus in motion…, well he didn’t want to even think about what might happen to the person in the wheel well.
The green light flashed on his boot then blinded him as it darted up and hit him in the face. Bringing up his hand to shield his eyes, he heard a muffled voice apologize as the green light snapped off.
He maneuvered his flashlight to reflect off the driver’s reflective grey jacket and blinked a second time as green eyes looked back at him near his own eye level. At first he thought his eyes were still seeing the green light, but glancing away and back again, the eyes remained green even though little green dots seemed to be swimming around.
A gloved hand reached up and unzipped the jacket collar enough to let a small nose and perfectly formed rosebud lips peek out. “Yes, officer, what can I do for you? Is there a problem I should know about?”
Even though the Marines had told him the driver was a woman, he had not expected such a small nose or delicate lips and somehow felt caught off guard. There were the usual number of female commercial drivers that came through and he often had occasion to speak with them, but none he had seen looked this feminine. He started to answer her but no sound came out and his mouth seemed numb. He rubbed his glove over his face and cleared his throat.
Finally getting his tongue working, he almost stuttered as he spoke, “Uh, just letting drivers know about, about the ice up ahead. We’re still clearing a multiple with a fatality.”
“Duly noted, sorry to hear about the fatality. Thanks for the heads up.” The chunky driver brought her hand up to the bill of her cap tucked under her hood, as she flipped the green light back on and kneeled to continue connecting and tightening the chain around the tire.
The green light bounced up to Jan’s chest and stopped. “Was there something else, officer?”
“No, just watching, you have an interesting technique, well done, though.” He had noticed a change in her voice; it was still low, but not as breathy. He guessed he might sound breathy too, if he was tossing thirty-five to forty pounds of chain around a tire. The chains he had put on his cruiser had been much smaller and lighter weight than the big heavy links draped over the big bus tires, but he had found himself out of breath as he kneeled and bent around to reach and attach the links.
With the last bungee cord in place, the driver picked up a large T shaped tool; her gloved hand came up as if to salute, turning off the green light before moving over to toss the tool inside the baggage compartment and closing the door.
Jan cleared his throat, “Just curious, I was wondering why you didn’t let the Marines help you,” he asked. As the words left his mouth accompanied by a lot of smoke as his breath hit the cold air, he wished he could take them back. It was a stupid thing to say to a professional driver, but he found himself reluctant to see her leave and had said the first thing that came to mind.
Turning to face him she unzipped the coat collar again before speaking, as those green eyes searched his face in the reflecting light. “I’m sure that is not a standard question you would ask other CDL drivers. I’m not sure I should bother even answering.”
She almost turned away, but instead said, “Officer, you know very well that I’m responsible for the equipment and operation of this vehicle, as well as being responsible for the safety of its passengers while on this tour.” Taking a quick breath, as a noisy truck clunked by, she went on, “I have no idea if any of these Marines know squat about chaining a bus, nor do they have proper gear accessible to do so.
“I could lose my job if I asked passengers to do my work or if they assisted me and got hurt or complained to the company. If I’m injured it would be a workman’s comp claim, as I’m sure you know. If a passenger is injured under any circumstances it’s another story entirely.” She seemed to hesitate and studied his serious face as her breath smoked out between them.
“Now, officer, I’ve spent more time here than I’d planned, but I appreciate your information about conditions ahead. Is there anything else or am I clear to continue down the road?”
Jan found himself rocking back on his heels and grinning. He cleared his throat and looked off at a car that had pulled out, cables on their tires making a higher pitched almost buzzing sound as the small car passed them. He reached up and pushed his hat back then pulled it forward again.
With a sigh, he said, “I was out of line, I apologize. It’s been a long night. Be safe, I know you’re taking care of the boys and I appreciate that.”
The driver gave him a quick nod before turning sharply on her heel and proceeding to the front of the bus. Within moments, he heard movement in the bus and saw it rock from side to side as Marines hurried to find their seats. As the movement in the bus settled, he heard released air hissing, as the body of the bus, where he was still standing, lowered to ride closer to the tires, concealing the tops of the tires and under carriage. As the bus body lowered, he realized the raised frame had allowed a bigger space around the tires, allowing the driver to maneuver around the tires as she had.
Shifting into gear, the bus started pulling away, causing him to look forward, where he noticed a gloved hand extend out of the driver window and seemed to give a little wave as the bus pulled onto the road.
Surprised to realize he was still grinning, he wondered what she looked like without all that gear on. Shaking his head and laughing at himself, he headed back to the warmth of his cruiser, deciding it was time to call it a night.