THE STRUGGLE BUGGY
When the phone rang, Winston “Bubba” Lovejoy was sitting with his feet propped up on the dashboard of the old yellow school bus that housed the home office of L&S Hauling, LLC. He answered it on the second ring.
“L&S, Bubba speaking.”
“Bubba, this is Lucy Lee. Let me talk to Marion.”
“He’s down by the creek feeding the dawgs. Want me to tell him to call you?”
“I wish he’d pay me half as much mind as he does them damn dawgs.”
“Learn to track a whitetail and he might just do that.”
“Screw you Bubba Lovejoy, and the horse you rode in on. Tell that white trash husband of mine he better call me, or he’ll be having to sleep with the damn dawgs.”
“Lucy Lee, I’ll pass it on, but I still think you oughta consider running deer. It’d help yore marriage, and you’d see a lot more of Junior.”
Lucy Lee Strickland slammed the phone down, and left Bubba thinking,
I love it every time Lucy Lee calls; it reminds me why I ain’t ever gonna get married.
Marion Harte Swafford II, better known as Junior by all but Lucy Lee, was Bubba’s best friend and business partner. They’d known each other since the first grade. Junior had been going with Lucy Lee since the sixth grade, and had been convinced by her daddy to marry her in the ninth. They lived in a double wide at Starwood Mobile Estates, with a trailer full of rug rats.
As far as Bubba could see, the only good thing that came out of Junior’s marriage was that it taught a strong lesson about birth control. Taught Bubba at least; Junior never got the hang of it. Bubba was considering the insanity of marriage, when Junior climbed into the bus.
“Lucy Lee called. Wants you to call her back,” Bubba said,
“What’d she want?”
“Not sure, something about you sleeping with the beagles,’ best I could tell.”
“Did you tell her I was sleeping at the dog pen?”
“No Junior, and I didn’t mention any of the other places you’re sleeping at, including with half the married women in Barksdale County.”
“Now that ain’t so, not anywhere near half of them. Besides, I can’t help it if women find me irresistible.”
“No, Junior, you can’t help it. Just every time they cross your mind, it reduces the blood flow to your brain, and you do something stupid—like marry Lucy Lee. Better call her before she drops another young’un just out of spite.”
“Junior went to the phone and put it on speaker, then dialed his home number. Bubba shook his head as he asked,
“Now why in the hell are you putting that damn thing on speaker?”
“So I don’t have to repeat the conversation when you start asking, ‘what’d she say, what’d she say?’ You might as well get it first-hand.”
Lucy Lee picked up and blurted,
“Bubba, where in hell did you put the damn car keys?”
“Honey babe, as far as I know they’re hanging on the hook by the kitchen door.”
“Well, they sure ain’t there; I’m looking right at it. Did you put them back after you moved the car to get that piece of junk truck out of the drive?
“C’mon Honey Babe, no need to dis my truck. You know how I feel about it.”
“Don’t honey babe me you idiot! Check yore pockets and see if you took my keys.”
Junior reached into his jean pocket and felt a ring of keys. He pulled them out, Lucy Lee heard the rattle and shouted,
“Damn you Marion! You could screw up a two car funeral. Bring me my damn car keys.”
“How soon you need em?”
“I needed them thirty minutes ago. Now I’m gonna be late getting’ William to the doctor. Just get in that rattle trap truck and bring ‘em to me,” Lucy Lee shouted, slamming down the phone.
Bubba shrugged his shoulders and said,
“Guess you’re gonna be heading to the house.”
“You wanna ride with me?”
“Oh hell no! I don’t need yore wife chewing my ass out. Thanks anyway.”
The phone on the dashboard rang, and Bubba picked it up.
“L&S, this is Bubba.”
“Hey, Bubba. This is Larry out at the Shell station on 45. Do y’all still have that big tank recovery thing y’all bought at the auction?”
“Yeah, we still got it.”
“Do you think it’d pull Billy Joe’s tractor trailer out of Wilson’s bayou?”
“Don’t see why not. If it’ll lift a damn Patton Tank, it ought to handle a Peterbilt.”
“What’d you charge to get it out?”
“Who’s gonna pay, Billy Joe, or the trucking company?”
“That’s the problem. Billy Joe don’t want to let the company know it’s in the creek to start with, so it’ll be on him.”
“Let me put the phone down and check with Junior,” Bubba replied looking over at Junior.
“Billy Joe Larson’s done run his company truck into the bayou and wants us to pull it out with the struggle buggy. What we gonna charge him?”
“What do we usually charge?”
“Damn Junior, we had that damn thing for three years and we ain’t ever used it. Still don’t know why you wanted to buy it.”
“For situations just like this! Ain’t another one in a hundred miles, so like I told you, we got a monopoly.”
“If I recall, we paid $4500 for it at the auction, so I guess we need to charge Billy Joe at least that much, since we got a monopoly and all.”
“Damn, Bubba, that seems a little steep to me. I bet Larry wouldn’t charge anything near that to use the Shell station’s wrecker.”
“And that would be true, but the wrecker can’t do the job, so what the hell difference does it make what Larry would charge?”
“Nothing I guess, but $4500 still seems steep to me.”
Bubba shook his head and picked up the phone and said,
“Larry, our regular price for dong this would be close to $2000, but we’ll give Billy Joe a 50% friend and family discount.”
“C’mon Bubba, you know Billy Joe can’t pay that much. Can you cut him some slack?”
“Larry, is Billy Joe standing there?”
“Well put him on the damn phone and let’s cut out the middle man.”
“I’m the middle man, and it was me that remembered you had the tank thing. I oughta get something for that.”
“Okay, we’ll give you a 5% finder’s fee; now put Billy Joe on the phone.”
Billy Joe took the phone and said,
“Hey, Bubba, it’s me.”
“Billy Joe, how much can you come up with to get that damn truck outta the bayou?”
“Bubba, all I got is $250 in my emergency fund. You know Babs comes to the terminal and picks up my check each week and gives me an allowance.”
Another reason not to ever get married, but said,
“All right, $250 it is, but you still owe us some favors. We’ll be there as soon as we can crank the rig up. You know it runs on tracks, so it’ll take a while.”
After Bubba hung up with Billy Joe, he and Junior walked to the back of their lot and stood looking at an olive drab M578 tank wrecker. Junior climbed onto armored cab behind the crane boom and opened the driver’s hatch, slipping into the operator’s seat. Moments later, the 345 HP GM diesel engine sputtered smoke for a bit, then began to idle smoothly.
Bubba climbed on and sat in the boom operator’s seat.
“Junior, how much gas we got?”
“I don’t see a gauge; probably whatever it had when we bought it.”
“Pull over to the diesel pump and I’ll top it off. Damn sure don’t want to have to call AAA because we ran out.”
While Bubba filled the tank, Junior asked,
“Which way you want to go, straight through town or the long way over by Sibley?”
“Junior, we can’t take this mother through town. It’d tear up the streets with these steel treads. We’ll have to stay off the main roads and stick to gravel and dirt. I say we head toward Sibley and take the short cut through the National Forest.”
“Damn, Bubba, suppose we get in there and get stuck?”
“Junior how in the hell can you get a 25 ton tracked vehicle with a 15,000 lb. crane stuck on a logging road?”
“I guess you’re right. It’d be tough to do.”
Bubba and Junior cleared the National Forest without a problem, and reached the gravel road that ran parallel to Wilson’s Bayou. They could see pickup trucks lining both sides of the road about a mile away.
Bubba stuck his head into the cab and asked,
“Junior, this thing got a speedometer?”
“Yeah, we’re tooling along at 12 MPH.”
“We got a mile of open gravel road. See what this big baby can do. Put the pedal to the metal.”
Junior pressed the accelerator, and the diesel responded with a surge of speed. Soon Junior was shouting,
“Dad burn Bubba! She’s doing over 35MPH! We could keep up with a four wheeler in the mud!”
Bubba was thinking about how much fun the M578 would be in the next mud derby, when Junior let off the gas and slowed to a crawl. They could see Billy Joe’s rig nosed into the bayou, with the tractor half submerged.
Bubba looked at the Peterbilt and realized he had no idea what to do next. He found Billy Joe and asked,
“Can you disconnect the tractor from the trailer?”
“Sure,” Billy Joe replied. “No problem, once you get it back on the road.”
“Well, now that’s the problem, ain’t it? We need to get it back on the road. How in the hell did you manage to run it into the bayou to start with?”
“I was texting Bab’s, and took my eye off the road for just a second.”
“Texting or sexting?” Bubba asked.
“With Babs it’d be six of one and a half dozen of the other. That gal is still hot.”
“Well, she was hot enough for you to drive a brand new Peterbilt tractor and a 55’ Great Dane into the bayou. I suppose we’ll have to pull out the trailer first. Don’t have any idea if we can do it or not.”
“C’mon Bubba, y’all gotta do this. I’m due at the terminal by 6:00, and I still got to get it washed.”
Bubba and Junior parked the M578 directly behind the trailer and lowered the crane as low as it would go. They hooked the heavy duty cable on the crane to the rear axle of the trailer and began to pull in the cable. The trailer began to move as if by magic, and soon they had both tractor and trailer sitting on the gravel road. The M578 had not even struggled with it.
Junior was unhooking the cable, while Billy Joe counted out the $250 to Bubba. Bubba asked him,
“Billy Joe, you got enough money to get this big mother washed?”
“No, I done gave you all I had. I’ll have to go home and use my garden hose.”
Bubba handed fifty dollars back to Billy Joe and said,
“Just go to the truck stop over on 45 and get them to run it through.”
Billy Joe broke into a wide grin and said,
“Damn, Bubba. That was mighty nice. Y’all will be gettin’ all of my towing business.”
“Yeah, you be careful driving and texting, and maybe you won’t need any more towing. Tell Bab’s hi, and you take it easy.”
Billy Joe climbed into the Peterbilt and roared down the gravel, and all of the rubberneckers left in a flurry of dust and gravel. Bubba and Junior were standing beside the M578 admiring their handiwork. Finally Bubba said,
“You know, I think we made a good deal when we bought this big baby. It pulled that rig out without a strain. Bet we get some more business when word spreads. We ended up with $187.50, which ain’t all bad.”
“Yeah, we probably oughta stop at Claude’s on the way back and have a beer or two,” Junior replied.
“You want to go to Claude’s before or after you take Lucy Lee those keys?”
Tank photo is licensed under CC By 4.0 — linked to commons.wikimedia.org
Categories: Flash Fiction