Authors: Gar Anthony Haywood
NOWHERE TO GO
AND ALL DAY TO GET THERE
Two Short Mysteries Featuring Joe & Dottie Loudermilk
Gar Anthony Haywood
Other Titles by Gar Anthony Haywood
In the Joe & Dottie Loudermilk Mystery Series
Going Nowhere Fast
Bad News Travels Fast
In the Aaron Gunner Mystery Series
Fear of the Dark
Not Long For This World
You Can Die Trying
It's Not a Pretty Sight
When Last Seen Alive
All the Lucky Ones Are Dead
(* written as Ray Shannon)
Copyright © 2014 by Gar Anthony Haywood
Original copyright © 1994 & 1997
All rights reserved.
Cover art by Gar Anthony Haywood
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the author. The only exception is by a reviewer, who may quote short excerpts in a review.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Gar Anthony Haywood's website: www.garanthonyhaywood.com
Our new lives weren't supposed to be like this.
When my husband Joe and I left Los Angeles for good at 9 AM on a Friday morning, May 22, 1992, having exchanged our family home for a pickup truck and an Airstream trailer, we expected early retirement to be fun. Exciting. And completely devoid of all the aggravations our five grown children—Maureen, Walter, Edward, Delila and Theodore—have shackled us with since they each emerged, kicking, scratching, and demanding money, from my womb.
Instead, life on the road for Big Joe and me has been fun. Exciting. Regularly peppered with all the financial and emotional calamity our kids can torture us with, when they can track us down.
You want examples? Fine.
Here are two of the stories I like to tell people who wonder how magical it must be to be Joe and Dottie Loudermilk, RV-owning vagabonds, runaway parents and accidental crime-stoppers.
If you find the following hard to believe, don't worry about it. I can hardly believe it really happened myself.
A Mother Always Knows
It happened in Amarillo, Texas.
happens in Amarillo, Texas, from what I understand, but leave it to Joe and Dottie Loudermilk to liven up the place. We're trouble magnets, Big Joe and I. Sometimes I think we could roll Lucille, the Airstream trailer home we've lived in ever since we retired and ran screaming from the clutches of our five grown children, out into the middle of the Mojave Desert, not another living soul around for miles, and within fifteen minutes, a full-scale riot would break out. Teenagers chucking Molotov cocktails, National Guardsmen firing tear gas canisters into a hostile crowd—the whole nine yards.
Generally, we have to be traveling with somebody for real disaster to strike—either one of our aforementioned adult children or one of the adorably destructive grandchildren a pair of them have given us (Joe likes to call these little people Pit Bulls in Oshkosh)—but sometimes we can stumble onto a potentially catastrophic situation all by ourselves. As we did in Amarillo. True, we wouldn't have
in Amarillo if we hadn't just come from visiting our son Walter in Albuquerque, where a musical he was backing entitled
Malcolm X and Mister T in the Key of G
, was making its off-off-off-Broadway debut (please don't ask), but that's beside the point. What happened in Amarillo we brought upon ourselves, no familial assistance necessary.
Joe says it happened because I had to go to the bathroom, but the truth is, we would have been in the clear if he could have mustered the willpower to wait until our next food-and-gas stop to buy himself a 3-Musketeers bar. It's a point of debate that we go around and around about every time one of us tells this story, but he really knows it was his fault. He doesn't go inside that Sunoco gas station's mini-mart at two in the morning so he can feed his face, we don't get trapped in there when Lewis Daniel Ryback decides to hold the place up. It's as simple as that.
I came out of the bathroom and there was Joe, standing in a long line in front of the cashier, two candy bars in hand. Had he been outside in the truck where I'd left him, neither one of us would have been around to see Mr. Ryback shove a gun under the horrified cashier's nose and demand every dime in the cash register. But Joe wasn't. So we were. We were about four positions back in the line, but we could see everything perfectly. Joe said later the gun Ryback was waving around was a Smith & Wesson Model 586, a .357 somethingorother, but all I knew was that it was big, and black, and looked like it could put a hole in a bank vault at fifty paces. There were nine people in all inside the mini-mart when Ryback made his move—Ryback himself, a woman and small infant hovering at his elbow, the cashier, myself and Joe, and three others, two men and one woman, I believe it was—and the sight of that gun just seemed to suck the life out of everyone. I mean, our feet froze to the floor like flesh to dry ice.
"Gimme the money," was all Ryback said. No real menace in his voice, just an unmistakable urgency. It was what a man always sounds like when he's reached the end of his rope.
And Lord knows, Ryback looked to be at the end of his. He was a long-haired, rail-thin white man in a sleeveless green T-shirt and well-worn Levi's, with a narrow face in need of a shave and eyes that couldn't sit still in their sockets for longer than two seconds. The gun said he was angry, but everything else about him suggested he was merely tired, maybe as tired as any man who had ever lived.
The cashier didn't move.
"I said give it up," Ryback told her, pushing the barrel of his gun closer to the heavyset woman's nose but not really raising his voice. He didn't seem to have the strength to do the latter.
I felt Big Joe stir beside me, and I put a hand on his arm, having known he'd get around to trying something foolish eventually. Before his retirement, my husband worked for the El Segundo Police Department back in California, and sometimes he forgets that his badge is gone and his authority to fight crime wherever and whenever he sees it is gone with it. I have to constantly remind him that, big and muscle-bound as he is, he can't talk his way out of a gunfight the way he once could. Without the uniform, his intimidation factor just isn't the same.
I looked up at him and shook my head. Don't you even
about it, my eyes said.
"Oh, my God!" the woman standing directly behind us exclaimed, starting to cry hysterically. I'd been wondering when somebody was going to do that.
Her wailing was all the cashier needed to hear. Suddenly energized, she popped the cash drawer open and began emptying it, her hands shaking so bad it pained me to watch them.
Ryback turned to the woman standing beside him, the short, freckle-faced butterbean holding the sleeping baby, and said, "Go get some food. Much as you can carry."
Like the cashier before her, she stood there like she hadn't heard him speak. She didn't look much more than nineteen or twenty years old, and she carried the same pall of melancholy weariness that Ryback himself did. "Honey, please," she said, her baby-girl voice just above a whisper.
"We don't have time to argue, Cee," Ryback said, firmly but without much anger. "Now go on. Get everything you can carry and let's go, we got to hurry."
The woman remained motionless for a second longer, mulling over her options, then she shuffled off to do as she'd been told.
Right about then, a Texas state trooper pulled up in the parking lot outside.
Ryback saw him right away. We all did. The front of the mini-mart was all glass, and our view of the parking lot and gas pumps beyond was almost completely unobstructed.
"Shit!" Ryback said.
"Oh, thank God," the woman behind Joe and me said, wiping her face dry with the palms of both hands. She thought it was okay to stop crying now; the cavalry had arrived. I think she was the only one in the building who didn't expect what happened next.
The trooper got out of his car and headed toward us, too busy adjusting his hat to notice what kind of trouble lay ahead until he'd practically stepped right into it. By the time he looked up to see what was happening, Ryback was already barking orders at him.
"Stop right where you are, mister! You step through that door, boy, I'm gonna start some serious shootin' in here!"
The trooper reached for the gun at his side instinctively, then froze. Just as he had to everyone on our side of the mini-mart's glass facade, Ryback sounded to him like a man who meant every word he said.
"Now, just hold on—" the trooper said, searching desperately for the right thing to say.
hold on! Get the hell away from that door! Right now, goddamnit!"
"Son, you've got to give this up," Big Joe said, talking to Ryback the way I'd heard him talk to his own sons a thousand times before—with quiet calm and aged wisdom. "It's all over. Put that gun down before somebody gets hurt, okay?"
He'd held his tongue for more than ten minutes now and he was all through playing the silent observer. He isn't the stand-back-and-let's-see-what-develops kind of guy, my husband. He takes a hand in things. No matter how close that sometimes brings me to full cardiac arrest. I tell him just because he's insured, that doesn't mean he has the right to make me a widow anytime he pleases.
"Shut your mouth, old man!" Ryback told him, his eyes still on the state trooper outside.
"I second that motion," I said, tugging on Big Joe's arm.
The woman behind us was crying hysterically again.
to get the hell away from that door!" Ryback snapped at the trooper, who was still standing just on the other side of the mini-mart's glass doors, as frozen to the spot as an abandoned mannequin. Ryback actually tapped the cashier on the top of her head with the nose of his gun, just to make her cringe for the trooper's benefit, and said, "You want me to take this girl's head off? That what I gotta do to make you move?"
"All right, all right! I'm goin'!" the trooper said, showing Ryback the palms of his hands as he slowly backpedaled, moving in the general direction of his car. "Take it easy, take it easy!"
Ryback watched him retreat, then spun around when one of the men in line took a hesitant step toward him. "I tell you to move, mister? I don't remember tellin' you to move!" He was pointing his gun directly at the bearded potbellied man's startled face.
The man shook his head and stepped back to his original position in the line.
"Lewis, let's go," Ryback's woman said, sounding so hurt and fearful for him, it almost broke your heart. "You gonna get yourself killed!"
"Ain't nobody gonna get killed. We gonna get what we came here to get an' leave. Right now." He had said it not so much to quiet her but to soothe her nerves. His tone with her was light and gentle, like he was talking to a child who'd just awakened from a bad dream.
It was suddenly hard to tell which of these two people loved each other more.
"Son," Big Joe said, as Ryback snatched the money out of the casher's hand and shoved it into his pants pocket, "your woman there's right. You go on with this, you're gonna get yourself shot. That trooper out there's calling for backup right now. In about thirty seconds, this place is going to be crawling with police. Now, you give yourself up before they get here—"
"I told you to shut up, old man," Ryback said.
"Lewis, please! Listen to him!" Cee pleaded.
"Honey, it's gonna be okay. Trust me. We're gonna take one of these folks along, and we're gonna walk right out of here. I promise."
"Oh, my God!" the crybaby behind Joe and me bawled. Like there was one chance in a million Ryback would take
hostage—the most woeful and annoying woman in the entire state of Texas.
"You. Come over here," Ryback said. He was looking straight at me.
"Yeah, you. Get over here. Hurry up."
I started to comply, but Joe put an arm out to stop me cold and said, "You're gonna take somebody, son, you're gonna take me. Not her. She's not goin' anywhere with you."
Ryback's eyes lit up like a pair of road flares. Up until now, I'd had my doubts he could shoot anybody, but those eyes made me reconsider. Judging by the look on his face now, he was capable of almost anything, if properly provoked.
"Joe, it's okay. I'm going to be all right," I said, lifting my husband's massive arm away from my chest so that I might step around it.
"He's not going to hurt me, we do what he says. But if we don't..."
"If you don't, I'll kill you both right now," Ryback said, trying to divide his attention evenly between us and the trooper outside. It didn't sound like a bluff to me.