I Might As Well Because I Have No Choice, page 1
I Might As Well Because I Have No Choice
I Might As Well Because I Have No Choice by Travis Ford
Copyright © 2016 Travis Ford.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination, or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
This book is dedicated to Wardell James for his kindness. He is remarkable. His selflessness will always be remembered.
I Might As Well Because I Have No Choice
It was drizzling by the time we reached the railroad bridge. Evening was coming on, and the air was death.
We tied our shoe laces tighter and slid down the embankment to get under the bridge where there was some kind of shelter of a sort. We built a fire then huddled over it wondering what had become of our summer wages.
Three of use were there. Strangers until a few hours ago. Now joined in the idea of going east, being rootless as a tumbleweed, blowing on, resting here and there against this fence or that, but staying nowhere long. As for the others, I had no idea.
The black skeletal frame of the bridge danced in the wavering light from the fire. And from time to time, the flames guttered and hissed as the wind blew down the bridge, spattering us with cold drops from off the bridge.
Hustling around for firewood reminded me of a winter I spent in Vermont at the Harpoon Cottage. No snow on the ground all winter long, only ice grass from time to time, but cold. The grass froze rock hard on the ground that year and never warmed until late spring.
Thinking about it now all in all, that had been a good winter. The cabin was snug against the wind, the pot bellied stove gave off almost too much heat, and there were old magazines and a couple of books lying around.
When not in mind to read, I’d sit and ponder. Whilst only a young adult, I had taken to rebuilding places in my mind. Places I’d lived in or seen. And when nothing else to do, I would put a place together, every single thing in place, then bit by bit I‘d recall people I’d known there and what was said, talked about and the like.
When a man sets out to recall in detail as I did, he sets more to working than he’s figured on, for he never looks at anything after that without thinking how he’ll recall it in time to come. It also sets a man to thinking about himself and when a man stands himself up to ponder at, he can’t always be pleased at what he sees.
No man is going to get very far unless he’s a hand to notice. Hustling takes you over a lot of rough terrain, and pretty soon you get to know every draw, everybody, hill, lump of shrubbery, dirt maneuver, scheme, contender, and ally there is. And you get to learn the police and their tactics. You notice the game trails and springs, and where the homeless go for shelter and a lot more besides that.
Back there at the Harpoon Cottage, there’d always been a pot of baked beans. And I’ve never had my fill of beans. Sitting there beside that warm blazing fire under the trestle with night coming on, I kept thinking back to that place and those pots of beans. They would be tasty right fucking now.
That big nigga, he looked at me and he said, "You look like you been in a fight."
"Here and there," I said.
"You fight with the gloves?"
"Nobody ever showed me how. I just fight the best way I know how."
"I’ve boxed," he said.
He was a nigga, maybe a year or two older than my twenty six years, standing around six feet, and built strong. And he had good hands.
That was the first thing he said about me, ‘You have good hands.’ He doubled up my fist. "Flat across my knuckles. Stands shock better. You could punch, I think."
Puttering around, I fetched back a few more sticks. A branch or two, a few old sticks and such the like, anything to keep the fire going with.
"When did you say the freight was due?" Karl Kellen asked.
"Ten twelve if it’s on time."
Karl Kellen was a nigga, a big black man, raw boned and with an uncurried look, shaggy hair and with a broad, tough face, yet not bad looking. He had small, ice hazel eyes, no more warmth in them than in the head of a nail.
Twelve hours before, not one of us had known the other. Before then, we were complete strangers. We’d come together in jail, in the holding tank. Only I’d been pulled in for fighting, and it wasn’t the first time. Seemed like I was always being arrested for fighting, either something violent.
The wind blew cold. Rain spattered over us and I pulled the collar of my cloth suit coat higher around my ears and stretched my hands toward the flames.
We were sheltered in part by a bank of drift sand. On our left ran a small stream. The rain was falling harder now. The gusts of wind were more frequent.
"You got a place," Jaquan Vessey, the nigga asked. "I mean, do you got a place to go?"
"I got no place and never had a place except east." With a jester, I indicated my sacked back pack. "My home’s been in the middle of that," I said pointing at the back pack.
"You got to have a ride."
"You think so, do you? Sometimes I figure I’ve packed that back pack damn near as far as a hitchhiker."
"I’d be damned if I’d pack it," Karl Kellen said. "I’d steal a ride before I’d do that."
"It’s been done," I admitted, not wanting to argue principle with a stranger over a friendly fire.
We listened to the rain and hopefully listened for a train whistle, but it was a long while until train time and I was hungry as a springtime bear fresh out of hibernation.
"Maybe I could get a big rig job," Jaquan suggested.
"There was a nigga who rode for a firm I worked for down in New Mexico. He was a good hand. Can you drive?"
"I never drove any eighteen wheelers, but I drove a sixteen wheeler." He grinned at me. "I was a licensed CDL."
"You aren’t the first," I said. And then added, "They tell me you really got to drive for Ciant."
"I can drive. But I never drove for any farm service."
"A man who can’t live without working," Karl Kellen scoffed, "is a fool. I’d see myself in hell before I’d eat dust behind a bunch of hypocritical government know it all buffoons."
Well, I sat quiet feeling the Old Ned coming up on me. All my life I’ve driven rigs, hustling a few items from the hauls on the market, either worked hard for what much I’d had, and I didn’t take to this stranger making me out to be a fool. Come to think of it, he didn’t seem to be doing so well either.
Jaquan Vessey, he sat quiet too, and never said a’ight, yes, or no. And that seemed to be a good idea. This black guy was a whole lot bigger than me and my ribs and jaw was still sore from the last fight.
"You do what you’re a mind to," I said after a minute. "I’ll drive rigs."
"For $4000 a month?" He sneered. "You guys come along with me and you’ll be wearing silk shirts and versache and suit clothes. I could use two men like you."
Back up the stream I heard a footstep splash in the water. "Somebody’s coming," I said and turned my head to look. When I looked back, Karl Kellen was gone.
"Sit close," Jaquan warned. "It’s the law."
It sure was. There were four of them. Four big men wearing uniforms an armed with shotguns. They had spread outward as they came up to the fire and they looked from one to the other at us.
"You," The man I knew as the sheriff said with his shotgun, "stand up." He came up to me. "You armed?"
"No," I said.
He went over me with as smooth and knowing a frisk as ever I got, then did the same for Jaquan.
"You haven’t even got a knife or
Jaquan lifted his big hands. "Nothing but these," he said, meaning his own two fists.
The sheriff looked around at a narrow faced, red haired man. "Didn’t you say there were three of them? You had three of them, you said."
"That’s right. They didn’t come together, but they left together. The black man there, he was straight vag. Loafing around, no visible means of support. We gave him an overnight stay in jail and a floater."
"The one in the bread hat, he got into a fight with Quri Zainuddin over at Club Exotica. They busted up the place."
The sheriff looked at me with respect. "With Quri? I saw him. I figured it had to be a bigger man than you. What do you weigh?"
"A hundred and seventy," I said. "I never seen size made any much difference." Then kind of grudgingly, I had to say, "Although that there Quri, I’d say he was a fair hand."
The sheriff chuckled, "Yes, I’d say that also. Nobody ever whipped him before."
He kicked the sack containing my gear. "What’s in that?"
"Clothes. Essentials. I’m headed east."
"How’d you get here? A trainload of cattle?"
The quiet man with the gray eyes had said nothing up to then, but he had been looking around. "Where’s the other one?" He asked. "The big black man?"
"I haven’t seen him," I said. "Only once since we left jail. He was heading for Club Exotica an a drink." I grinned at them. I figured I’d no business going back there."
They just looked at me, and then the quiet man said, "Don’t cover for him guys. He isn’t worth it. He’s a murderer."
"I wouldn’t know but you had him in jail, why didn’t you keep him?"
The sheriff spoke, "Because we didn’t know who he were. And like damn fools we let him go. Then Hilmore here," he looked in Hilmore’s direction and grinned, and got to thinking about an old reward poster. "There’s a reward on that man, dead or alive. He’s wanted for murder."
Jaquan, he never even looked at me the whole time.
"How much is the reward?" I questioned, wanting to know.
You don’t see much working for $4,000 a month and I found it was a lucky thing when I put forty five thousand dollars into a bank.
Hilmore looked at me. "What’s your name?"
"Mussolini, I said. "Barns Mussolini. In some places they call me Pacino."
Me, I grinned at him. "Maybe because I swing too quick. I got a dangerous temper when I’m riled, but it isn’t always that. I never had much fun, except for fighting."
"I can believe it," the sheriff said, "and I saw Quri Zainuddin afterwards."
They poked around a little, and started off down toward the stream bed. Only Hilmore, lingered behind. He kicked at the ground were Karl Kellen had sat.
"One hundred thousand dollars reward, is a lot of money," Hilmore said.
"Mister, I seen that guy in jail and I didn’t like him, but I never sold anybody out, an I am not about to start."
"I kind of thought you’d be that way," Hilmore said quietly. And added, "But don’t tangle with that man. You leave him to us, he’s bad news."
"You been east?" I asked.
"A time or two," he said. "And maybe again."
Then he walked on off after the others and we said nothing, Jaquan Vessey and me, watching them go.
Finally Jaquan picked up sticks an added them to the fire.
"Murder. That’s bad. I wonder who he murdered?" Jaquan asked.
"He’s full of vengeance and rage. I could see it in him." Then I looked at Jaquan. "Are you going any place in particular? If you’re not, come with me. Two can starve as free as one. And if I get a driving job, I’ll speak for you."
"I thank you kindly," he said.