Human Man
Chapter 18

Copyright© 2013 by Refusenik

Scott chose Texas highway 208 north of Snyder for the trip back to Levall. The highway was an undulating two-lane road that ran through the low hills. Small scrub trees and the ever-present pump jacks dotted the land. He was in a good mood. Lunch with the group from client services had been a light, but informative affair.

The employees had great insight into the function of client services and the Western Group. Scott was still the firm's youngest client by at least two decades. If circumstances were different, he could have seen himself working in such an office. Client services dealt with spouses, children, and even a few assistants. The tasks they handled were as diverse as the clientele was. The Western Group justified the expense by the absolute loyalty of their clients and a proven bottom line.

Scott particularly appreciated that the Western Group employees knew he had money, but weren't impressed. Perhaps the better way of putting it, he realized, was that they weren't intimidated by his wealth.

People reacted in different ways to wealth. Some, like Simone, saw money--or the person who had it--as a means to an end. Others were jealous, or became hostile. Experience had taught Scott that it wasn't unreasonable to worry about how his friends would react when they learned the truth.

His fingers tapped the steering wheel in beat with the radio. He found himself glancing at the watch on his arm. For all his money, the watch was the one thing he valued most, and it had been a gift.

He glanced at the flat-screen display to see who was singing about 'California Dreaming.' When he looked up, he spotted a car on the shoulder of the road with blinking lights and a raised hood.

He braked to disengage the cruise control and signaled that he was pulling over. He stopped short of the old Chevy hatchback and turned his hazard lights on.

The driver, a middle-aged woman with frizzy hair greeted him. "Thanks for stopping, there's been nobody since we broke down."

"What's wrong?" he asked.

"I think it overheated."

"You call for a tow?"

"I don't have a cell phone."

Who didn't have a cell phone, he wondered. A young preteen girl sat in the brown grass beside the car staring at him. Both the mother and daughter had the same harried look, as if life had given them its worst.

"Let me take a look," he said. A quick glance at the tired engine and he knew it was terminal. He could see a dark puddle of oil under the block. "I'm going to grab my phone. Is there somebody you want to call?"

"My boyfriend," the woman said.

"Mom, I'm thirsty," the girl said.

"I know, baby," her mother replied.

"I've got bottled water."

The girl stood and folded her arms, adopting the look that all young people perfected.

A tractor-trailer crested the rise and bore down on them. Scott looked, but he'd pulled far enough off the road. He collected his phone and reached over the front seat to extract two bottles of water from the little cooler he'd stashed there.

Through the rear glass of the Jeep, he saw the running lights of the eighteen-wheeler headed straight for him. For a second, he panicked. Time shifted into slow motion as his reflexes and muscles strained. He threw himself from the vehicle and hit the ground in a tumble.

Thirty tons of screaming metal slammed into the parked Grand Cherokee. A tremendous blast of noise and wind hit his face and a violent roar swept the roadside clear. The SUV and the hatchback were gone. The noise continued down the road in a cloud of dust.

He turned, dazed, and was flooded with relief to see the woman and her daughter standing, faces white with shock. Urine trickled down the girl's legs.

Beyond them, the rig jackknifed and the trailer split, cargo erupting like a fireless volcano. The rolling ball of destruction ground to a halt, and at last there was silence.

The girl began to cry.

Scott tore his eyes from the incredible scene and looked to the girl. Her mother smothered her in a hug.

Scott regained his feet, his legs were wobbly and his muscles protested the abuse they'd taken to clear the vehicle. He was still holding the phone and bottled water. His heart started to beat again. How all three of them had survived he had no idea.

His brain kicked in. The truck driver, he thought. Scott thrust the water and the phone at the woman. "I'm going to check on the driver. Call 911."

Her hands were shaking too badly to take the phone from him so he pushed it into her daughter's hands.

"Mom, sit down," the girl said.

Scott ran, looking for the cab of the truck. The trailer had come apart and great bundles of recycled cardboard were everywhere. The road was completely blocked by the wreckage.

The cab was on its side in the drainage ditch on the opposite side of the road from where it had started. He recognized what would have been the front of the Chevy hatchback, the back half was crumpled to the B pillar. The wreckage was confusing and he couldn't identify the remains of his SUV.

The frontend of the big rig was a destroyed mangle. He carefully picked his way around. The smell of radiator fluid and diesel was strong. A kick removed the last of the windshield glass and he crawled into the cab to check on the driver. The man was hanging from his safety belt, and there were a couple of large cuts on his face, but they hadn't bled. Vomit dotted the corners of the driver's mouth and Scott realized that the man was dead. He checked for a pulse anyway, but there was none.

He backed out of the cab. Something was burning. A small grass fire had started. Scott looked around at the cardboard cargo. If that went up, they were going to have a conflagration on their hands.

He walked back to the women, amazed they had survived. The girl ran toward him, tears in her eyes. "I can't tell the lady where we are because I don't know, and my mom's acting weird."

"She's in shock," Scott said. "Get her to sit and drink some water. You too." He took the phone from the girl's hand.

"Hello?" the 911 operator called over the phone. "Can you tell me where you are?"

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