My heart pounded as I stared into the unfamiliar darkness as two strange men in hooded sweatshirts headed our way. I nervously stayed from sight as they approached him from behind. With my courage wrapped in trembling hands I tightened the grip and prayed.
I’m a country girl, a native, raised in Central Oregon. Growing up in Bend, surrounded by lakes and forests with abundant wildlife, the only place my family ever vacationed was hunting and fishing, and then it was practically right in our own backyard. After I married Dennis, we traveled a little but never ventured far. Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought 10 years later, life would bring us here, to this unfamiliar, foreign place where I now stood on a bridge in the Bronx in fear, clutching a .357 revolver as if my life depended on it, and at that moment, I believed it did.
The hum of the diesel engine filled the cab as Dennis and I bounced down the dark Interstate without talking. It had been a long day and it was getting late. We wanted to park for the night but we had to get through the city before we stopped to avoid morning rush hour traffic. The horses we hauled had all been fed and watered hours earlier but they too were likely ready for us to stop, allowing them to relax and sleep before reaching their delivery destination the following afternoon. The large custom eleven-horse trailer had ample room for each horse to comfortably sleep without laying down which horses only need to do every few days. I glanced at the road atlas to see what our options were.
“Once we get past the city we should be able to stop. There has to be a shopping mall or a truck stop we can park in for the night,” I said as I checked the map and found a nearby place to shoot for.
“Uh oh, that isn’t good.” Dennis said with concern in his voice as he glanced down at his foot on the throttle, tapping it to the floor.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“Something’s wrong with the throttle, I think the throttle cable just broke,” he said.
As the truck began to slow, Dennis steered for the shoulder.
“Oh no, what are we gonna do?” I said with concern.
“Maybe I can jury rig it to get us by. I can probably fix it temporarily with some wire.” Dennis assured me.
After a few minutes under the hood Dennis climbed back in and started the truck. He pressed on the gas pedal and the engine accelerated. “I think that’ll work.” But we quickly learned that the problem wasn’t solved. We couldn’t gain any speed, but we were moving along slowly. Thankfully there was little traffic due to the late hour.
“What now?” I asked.
“Once we get across the bridge there should be a safe place to pull over so I can try and fix it, hopefully at a service area that has some lights,” he said.
We crossed over the George Washington Bridge that expands across the Hudson River and separates the state of New Jersey from New York. Soon after we entered the Bronx we rolled into a service area. Not a service station like we were used to out west but a wide spot in the road with a small building that contained public restrooms, a gas pump and a pay phone. Everything was shut down for the night and the lights in the pullout area were dim. There was no one around.
“I don’t like this one bit,” I told Dennis as he hopped out of the tall semi-truck’s cab.
“Oh it’ll be alright. It’s well lit and it shouldn’t take me long to fix it. Wire will hold until tomorrow then we can replace the part.” As Dennis shut the door behind him, I climbed through the crawl-through window into the large sleeper so he could tip the cab of the truck forward to access the engine. The truck was a UD cab-over made by Nissan, we always joked that UD stood for ugly diesel and right now it was living up to the name. I handed him a flashlight so he could see as he worked under the dark hood. I glanced at my watch, 12:03 am. Oh my, it’s late.
“Do you need me to hold that?” I asked, referring to the flashlight.
“No it’s good lying here, I can see.” I was relieved he didn’t need my help, out there. I wanted to stay out of sight in the dark living quarters and keep watch. I reached in the drawer and pulled out the handgun and laid it on the counter. Then I sat down on the edge of the bed next to our sleeping baby daughter, and nervously watched out the window as Dennis worked bent over under the hood. A car slowly pulled into the lot up next to the closed service building. My heart fluttered as two men dressed in dark clothing stepped out of the car and began to walk towards our truck. I quickly stuck my head out the crawl-through and quietly told Dennis, “Two guys are coming this way.” He looked up and saw they held a small gas can in their hand. I reached down and picked up the pistol and removed it from the leather holster. My heart pounded with fear as I anxiously watched them approach in the darkness. As the two men moved toward Dennis, they split up, each approaching him from a different side. Oh my God, I thought. Why are they doing that? What are they gonna do? They probably saw our Oregon license plates and this big fancy horse trailer and think we’re carrying cash. They were right; however most of the money we carried was personal checks from clients, payment for delivering their horses on this trip.
As the two men moved towards Dennis in the dark, one on each side of the truck, I stepped up to the crawl-through with the revolver firmly in my grip. Making my presence known; I stuck the barrel of the .357 magnum through the opening. The guys mumbled something to Dennis that I couldn’t quite make out their words.
“No, we don’t, sorry,” Dennis replied. “There is a small town up ahead not to far though,” Dennis added as he pointed in the direction we were headed. Then the two dark figures walked back to their car and got in. With great relief, but still holding the Smith and Wesson, I asked, “What did they ask you?”
“They said they were out of gas, and asked if I had any.”
“It’s a diesel truck, why would we have gas?” I said as I watched them pull away.
“They just went back the way they came from! The nearest town is in front of us. I don’t think they needed any gas.” I said, with relief they were gone.
“Are you almost finished?”
“Yep, I fixed it, with a piece of baling wire. It should hold until we can locate a UD dealer and buy a new cable,” Dennis said as he lowered the cab and latched it shut.
“Let’s get out of here. I don’t like this place.” I said as I crawled headfirst through the hole, over the infant car seat, back into the cab.
“Me neither,” Dennis agreed as he settled into the driver’s seat and started up the noisy diesel engine. “Thank you Jesus,” we both said as the truck accelerated and we gained speed, and safely headed on our way.
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This was one of the top 10 winning entries to the CO Writers Guild 2012 Literary Harvest Contest.
Sherrie Gant is a writer, photographer, and