24 Hour Record
We were late to the wedding
"Shit!" I yelled as I heard the squeal of brakes, followed by a crunch and clatter behind me. "Shit, Shit, Shit, just what I fucking need!" I looked in the mirror on the drivers side, nothing. The passenger's side mirror didn't reveal anything amiss. The rear view mirror showed nothing either because of the giant box in the bed of the dump truck. I pulled on the emergency brake and hopped out.
Stepping around to the rear of the truck to see what had run up my butt I was first assaulted by the high pitched voice of a very angry female.
"You fucking asshole! Where did you get your driver's license? By mail order?"
She was standing by the side of the road, having exited the small car on that side because that is where the steering wheel was located, on the right. The car, a tiny MG, was partially buried under my truck. Traffic from both directions was whizzing past me so I walked around her car to join her.
She was trembling and visibly shaken but there were no bumps or bruises. "Are you okay?" I asked. The way she looked me up and down before turning in disgust made me think she was okay.
Cars were slowing down to inspect the accident. Some of the drivers wanted to know if we needed an ambulance or the fire department. I waived them on.
"Look at what you've caused," her arms were very animated, flailing wildly in all directions as if she was unable to control them. I looked at the tiny car. The hood was crumpled, the radiator was leaking fluid and the right front tire was already flat. It wasn't pretty.
Having done as she requested, I turned back to her, trying to conceal the comical sight I had just witnessed. Just then I heard a piece of metal hit the road, making me strain to maintain my composure.
"Well, what are you going to do about it?" she screamed at me. I detected a Yankee accent and wondered what a fine looking lady like her was doing down our way... driving that English car with Arkansas plates and the steering wheel on the wrong side.
"Got a phone?" I asked, emphasizing my natural drawl. A hard glare came over her face as she inspected my face for any hint of amusement.
"Are you doing that on purpose?" she yelled to make herself heard over the after-work traffic.
"Doing what?" I inquired, innocently.
"That down-home hayseed accent you're putting on. I've lived in Little Rock for over two years and I know you don't all talk like that, it's just too... ," she stopped in mid sentence as she produced a cell phone from her purse. "Who should I call?" she asked, still yelling but almost civil now.
Before I could tell her to call the police I heard a siren. It sounded like it was on top of us; a passer-by must have already called them. A minute later Barker drove up with the lights on his cruiser flashing. He parked behind the MG, got out of the police car and immediately began ordering inquisitive onlookers to move along.
Barker was about my brother's age, 24 or 25. They had probably been in the same class. He had been on the police force for about 2 years. I tried to remember his first name, 'was it Jim?' no James, he wanted to be called James.
"James, how's it hanging," I said, trying to sound friendly as he approached.
"License and registration," Officer James Barker demanded. The surly bastard acted as if he didn't recognize me. "Fat James," that's what Chuck used to call him when they were in school. Wonder what he would do if I said, 'Fat James, how's it hanging?' But he had lost weight since joining the police force, James looked lean and mean.
We both went to our vehicles and returned with the documents. Officer Barker handed us each an accident report form. "Want me to call a wrecker?" he asked the lady. She nodded, silently, looking as if she was resisting an urge to cry.
"I'll do it," I volunteered, reaching for her cell phone. I knew that our local police department always called Husky's, one of two body shops in town. My friend, Freddy was always complaining about how the police cut him out of getting wrecker business. Just then I heard James on his walkie-talkie, instructing his dispatcher to have Husky's come out as soon as possible. "We got us a traffic snarl here," he added.
While exchanging insurance information I recorded her name and address, Veronica Perkins, Little Rock, Arkansas. Veronica's age was twenty-eight, she was 5'6" and weighed 112 pounds according to her driver's license. In the photo, her dark hair had been shorter than it was now. I also noticed that she was smiling and there was a distinct dimple on her right cheek, a mannerism I had not witnessed in the short time we had spent together.
She leaned over the rear of her little car and seemed to be taking pains to record my name and address, my age, height and weight. She reminded me of one of those cigarette ads you see in magazines, shades riding on her head, sweater loosely tied around the neck, shirt with button down collar. I averted my eyes when she suddenly turned with a question, catching me checking out her ass.
Placing a hand above her eyes to shield them from the sun, she frowned, "Is that the name of your business?" she asked, pointing to the sign on the door of my truck, 'Charlie's Turkeys, ' the sign read, which did not agree with the name on my license, Ernest Tucker.
"Yes ma'am, that's my brother's name, it's a family business," I explained, not revealing that the business had been named for my father who had started the business and operated it until his death just over two years before. My brother was really Charles Tucker Junior but had never gone by Junior; we always called him Chuck.
Husky's Wrecking Service pulled up about the same time another police car arrived. Skip Husky went to work with a winch while Sergeant Griffin made measurements of the skid marks and snapped pictures. The little car reminded me of a piglet and its mother, sucking fuel from my truck's gas tank. He put Officer James to work directing traffic. Then he interviewed Veronica and me separately.
While the sergeant was talking to Veronica, I grabbed a broom from my truck and swept up the glass and stray pieces of metal from the highway.
Skip Husky talked to Veronica while sergeant Griffin spoke to me.
"How did this happen, Ernie?" Grif wanted to know. He was a few years older than me but everyone knew everyone else in our small town. Some you liked others you didn't. Grif was okay, for a cop.
"A school bus stopped suddenly in front of me so I stopped. She ran up my butt," I summed it up for him.
"That's not what she's telling me," he warned me, speaking of Veronica.
"I know, she's pretty upset about the whole thing," I acknowledged.
"Which school bus was it?" he looked at me closely as if he didn't believe my story.
"What would a school bus be doing out here at 5 p.m.?" he said to himself.
"Don't know for sure, she drove off while I was looking in my mirror," I said.
"She?" he asked. "Who was the driver?" Grif wanted to know.
"Don't know for sure," I repeated, trying to recall who was driving school busses this year. Nearly all the drivers were female but I hadn't seen more than the hair. "They all look alike from the back," I shrugged, helplessly.
Grif gave me a disgusted look and took a few steps away. When I followed him he held up his arm, a signal for me to stay where I was.
"Step on your brakes for me, I need to check your tail lights," he ordered.
I pumped the brakes a few times, knowing that the red lights were going on. When I got out of the truck Sergeant Griffin gave me the thumbs up signal and recorded something in his note book. I watched James direct traffic and Veronica talk to Skip Husky. Grif was talking on his cell phone. He made several calls before walking back to me and gave me a slight smile.
But he didn't say anything. We stood there silently, waiting for Veronica to finish her conversation, and then he motioned for her to join us.
"Miss Perkins, I've verified Mr. Tucker's story and it checks out. The school bus driver stopped suddenly to avoid hitting a dog and Mr. Tucker slammed on his brakes to keep from ramming into the bus. You must have been traveling too close or you just didn't see that he was stopping," Sergeant Griffin explained in his professional policeman's tone.
"By the way," he turned to me, "the driver was Sally Combs, she knew it was you behind her but she didn't know there had been an accident, said she didn't hear anything." Sergeant Griffin searched my face for a reaction. He must have remembered the history between Sally and me. Everyone knows everything about everyone else in our town; it's not just the police either.
Veronica was shaking again. "What school bus? Is he making this up? I didn't see any school bus," she stammered, becoming highly agitated.
"I don't see how you could have seen the bus in that car you were driving," said Grif, alluding to the low slung ride and the right-side steering.
Veronica wasn't paying attention. She was watching the wrecker drive off with her car aboard. With a forlorn look on her face she turned to Sergeant Griffin, "I've missed my ride," she exclaimed as if to say, 'what else can go wrong?'
"Can I carry you someplace?" I offered.
She turned to me and after a long disdainful stare, "Carry? Can you carry me someplace? Is that what you said?"
Sergeant Griffin was clearly amused at how Veronica was mocking my use of the colloquial expression but he was all business. He advised both of us to complete the accident reports and turn them in at the station... 'pronto, ' was the word he used.
Just then an announcement came over both officers' walk...