by Jack Bates
He liked sitting in the old canvas
chair on summer evenings. He could watch the sun going down behind the mountains and feel the warmth of the day give way to
the cool of the night. He sat on the porch out back of the filling station. If a car came in, he’d hear the bell as
the tires rolled over the hose by the pumps. If one came from the west, he’d see it. Problem was cars hadn’t been
coming by since the county started its expansion of the highway. He knew that once the project was complete, he’d have
to take on a fella or two to help him but in the meantime the lack of cars was making his life difficult.
It didn’t help that she
was constantly reminding him of the situation.
“There you are,” she
said. She leaned out the window. “Well it doesn’t surprise me. You know what you should do?”
Don’t tell me, he thought.
“Go put the sandwich board
out front. Tell people we’re offering free water like that guy up in South Dakota. He had people lining up for the water
and buying him out of what he had in his filling station.”
“People aren’t going
to stop at a filling station unless they need gas or their engine checked or their tire pressure measured.”
“Well you got to do something,
Henry. It’s a lousy way to start the summer vacation season with no cars coming by. It’s been almost two whole
days since we’ve had a car.”
Henry watched the men of the road
crew pack it up for the day. The last of the machinery to shut down was the steam shovel. It had been scooping up soil and
gravel to make way for the laying of the concrete. Eventually two new lanes would carry travelers east. Once those lanes opened,
the old two-lane would be refurbished and become the new west bound lanes. It was going to take a while and cars that normally
traveled the highway would be rerouted. He knew things would be slow this year, but he would find a way to hang on.
“Are you even listening
to me, Henry?” she asked. “Henry! Are you listening to me?”
“Kind of hard not to,”
Henry said. He took a long inhale off his smoldering cigar.
“Aren’t you even going
to try and do something? This business is dying, and all you can do is sit out back and smoke those stinky little cigars.
I have to keep the window closed so you don’t stink up the house, and in this heat, it’s killing me.”
The road crew got into the bus
that had brought them the work. The bus’s engine coughed before it rolled away full of tired men.
“You know what I think I’ll
do tomorrow, Henry? I’ll make sandwiches. I’ll put out the sandwich board that says ‘open for lunch,’
and I’ll sell those sandwiches to the men who are working on the road. It’s only right we should take the money
they’re being paid to ruin our business. Somebody in this house has got to do something to bring in money. My old daddy
would be spinning in his grave if he were dead the way you took his loan and have made a mess of it. You could have opened
one of his insurance shops but you said filling stations were where the money was, and look what it’s gotten us.”
Henry puffed on his cigar. The
earth the steam shovel cleared would be filled with cement the next morning. He’d been watching the slow advancement
of new infrastructure and the routine never changed. Dig a trench, fill it with cement. A year from now there would be thousands
of cars going either way. In a couple of years, he might even open a second station right across from his current one to catch
traffic going in the opposite direction. He owned the land across the way, a move she had been against when they built the
“Henry! What in the world
are you daydreaming about? I swear on my old mother’s holy book you just don’t listen to me anymore. I asked you
if you finished changing the tire on Eleanor Pulaski’s car. She called a while ago and said she wanted to pick it up
tomorrow morning. Did you finish the job?”
Henry looked down at the tire
iron he’d dropped on the porch. “Haven’t finished it yet,” Henry said “but I’m about to.”
Henry picked up the tire iron
and went into the house. It only took one swing to the back of her head. Helen fell face first onto the tiles. There was a
twitch in her hands, like she was shooing away bees buzzing around her fingertips, and then Helen stilled. He didn’t
want a mess so he just left her.
Out front the bell alerted him
he had a customer. Henry stepped over his dead wife and went out to the station. With the road crew gone for the day, the
road was open for business and so was Henry. He filled the tank, cleaned the windshield, checked the belts, and accepted the
tip from the kind and tired driver. Henry stood next to the pump, smiling and waving at the disappearing car.
The sun was almost down. He didn’t
see any dots of headlights in either direction. He’d wait until the day was done and gone and then he’d go over
to the freshly dug trench and dig a little deeper. He doubted the workmen would even notice after he filled it back
in; the concrete would be poured and smoothed over it so that everything was flat and level.
Beneath it all, Helen would rest
in eternal frustration.
Henry kept the smile on his face.
Every time a car went over that lane, it would be like Helen was dying all over again.
Jack Bates listened to his inner demons and began writing crime fiction three years ago. He
currently pens the Harry Landers, PI, series with mindwingsaudiobooks. His short story Broken Down On The Bonneville Flats
was recently nominated for a Derringer Short Story award after appearing at Beat to a Pulp. Other stories of his have appeared
at Thug Lit (#32), A Twist of Noir, Kings River Life, and the cozier Pine Tree Mysteries. His stories have also been included
in the anthologies Shadows of the Emerald City (Emerald City Confidential), The Killer Wore Cranberry (Ambrosia),
and the highly acclaimed Discount Noir (Bayou Beast: A Reqiuem).