I walked through the door from the truck stop washroom to the diner, spotting an empty table in the corner. The waitress was there with coffee as soon as I sat down, my kitbag beside me.
I looked around. Just over half the tables were occupied, mostly by lone male truckers like myself. There was a straggly-haired girl with a backpack going around, speaking briefly to each diner and showing them something. I took a gulp of my coffee and stroked my beard as I looked at the menu.
The girl reached the table next to me; her words to the guy sitting there shocked me.
“I’m trying to find Bill Curtin. This is a photo of him. Have you seen him anywhere, please?”
The trucker stared at the picture for a moment, and then shook his head.
“Sorry, miss, I don’t remember ever seeing this guy.”
She thanked him and moved on to me. I took a look at the photo.
“Yeah, that’s Bill Curtin alright. Not a name I’ve heard for a while.”
“You know him?”
“Sure, used to see a lot of him when we were on the Mexican run.”
“Omigod! At last! Do you know where I might find him?”
“I guess that I’ve an idea where he might be. Care to tell me why you’re looking for him?”
“May I sit? It’s a long story.”
“Be my guest. Will you have a coffee?”
“Thank you, I’d love a coffee.”
I gestured to the waitress, who brought it over and poured me a refill while she was there. I looked at the girl. She seemed pale and worn; her hair was tangled and dirty. Her face was smudged and she wore no makeup. It looked like she was travelling, and not looking after herself. She gulped the coffee like it was ambrosia.
“I’m his daughter, Chrissie. I want to find him; he left us five years ago, and now my Mom is dead, my brother is in Afghanistan, and I’m on my own. Mom’s boyfriend was pressuring me to take her place, so I came looking.”
I let out a long breath.
“That sounds bad. Chrissie, I’m Steve Miller. Before we talk any more, when did you last eat?”
She couldn’t meet my eyes.
“I had some lunch.”
“Then it’s time you had some dinner.”
I could tell that she was about to admit that she couldn’t afford to pay for a meal, so I got in there ahead of her.
“Bill would be real pissed at me if I didn’t eat with his daughter and catch up on her news. It’s on me.”
I waved at the waitress, who came over.
“Two specials please.”
“About ten minutes?”
“That would be good.”
She headed for the order counter.
“Chrissie, do you want to wash up before we eat? I’ve just had a shower and a change of clothes; you look like you haven’t stopped all day.”
She got a half-smile on her face.
“Yeah, I could use some hot water and a mirror. I’ve been looking for Dad for a while, and I can’t afford hotel rooms.”
“Okay, you go and get cleaned up. I’ll be here when you come back.”
She grinned and went off. I sat back on the bench and thought.
She looked a whole lot better when she returned. She’d not had time for a shower, but she had washed her face and brushed her hair, and that had raised her spirits. The waitress brought our food, and I checked with Chrissie before I asked her to bring us over two root beers.
I ate my meal slowly; Chrissie started wolfing hers down before she remembered that she had claimed to have had lunch. I normally don’t have pie afterwards; it’s too darn easy to pack on the weight when you sit behind a wheel all day. This time I did; Chrissie ate all of hers before I was half way through mine. We sat back with a fresh coffee.
“Okay, Chrissie, you said that you had a tale to tell.”