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The long and dusty highway disappeared into the distance, flanked by farmers fields with small woodlots breaking up the overall flatness of the local geography. The Dakotas were as hauntingly beautiful as they were desolate.
The bus began to slow down.
John checked his phone. The gps showed their location superimposed on top of the destination marker.
Here? Thought John as looked around again. He located his belongings and grabbed the paper bag that was filled with wrappers and an empty coffee cup. Residue from their breakfast stop ealier that morning.
Twitch had moved across the aisle to get a better view. Up ahead there was a small two storey house like a block on the horizon. A stream went behind and ostensibly fed the few sadly beautiful willow trees that surrounded an unkempt acreage, long grasses flowing.
Parked near the entryway to the property sat a small sedan, a driver, if any, invisible behind the glare of tinted windows.
Twitch looked at the dog who made a “Yaam yaam” sound as he worked his jaws over a soft growl.
Obviously this was the meeting place.
The driver had taken the bus out of gear and allowed the natural deceleration of the coach to bring them to their ‘stop’, a small marker on one of the endless row of hydro poles that ran along the rural highway.
John appeared bracing one hand on the pole beside Twitch’s seat. Wow, thought Twitch, is this dude ever quiet when he moves. Surprising given Johns size.
The whistle of a final braking and the slam of the door opening cut through the ambient sounds of the bus and John waited for the dog to amble down.
Twitch stood, turned and in his soft voice said, “Thank you folks for letting us ride with you. I hope y'all get safely to your final destination."
One older lady smiled and waved bye as Twitch nodded to the group and then followed Skook out the door.
The driver leaned out his seat and shouted down to Twitch, “Young man, it was a pleasure being your driver. Now you take care son. I hope it all works out for you. You strike me as quite a man.”
“Thank you sir” Twitch said with sincerity.
John politely waited for the driver to sit back and then headed down the stairs.
“And thank you for your service sir,” the driver said behind him “soldier to soldier.”
John, surprised looked back into the bus at the older man and gave a token salute.
“Same to you sir” he said. The driver smiled and nodded knowingly at him as the door slammed shut.
With a roar from the big engine and smelly blue smoke of unburnt diesel the bus drove off in a rising cloud of dust and fumes that rose then faded in the gentle breeze.
“Da Nang sixty seven,” said Twitch.
It took a moment for that to register.
“You know that guy?” said John.
“No.” Said Twitch as turned away, “Dog does.”
John stood there for a moment then shaking his head, caught up to the other two.
Twitch said "OK to talk now?", he referred to earlier that morning when he went to approach John during the coffee stop but was turned away by a shake of the head.
"Yeah, name's John", he held out his hand.
"Twitch", he gripped the big mans hand.
The bus had disappeared over the horizon before the men and the dog sidled up to the sedan.
A few meters before they got the vehicle John saw the door open and unconsciously slid his hand up to his waist in case he had to draw.
The long legs that swiveled out from the seat were striking and the cloud of accumulated cigarette smoke exiting the door seemed appropriate as a woman with model-good looks stood, bright highlights sparkling on her chic sunglasses.
She looked directly at them and leaned against the frame, right arm holding the door open as her left rested casually on her thigh.
“You here for the party?” She smiled a wicked smile.
“Yes” Twitch responded in a normal voice as he went around the door and kept heading up the road.
Eyebrows raised she watched him and the dog walk towards the house.
“What’s his story?” She said as John stopped at a respectable distance beside her.
“It the fucking dog I wanna know about” said John.
She looked at him, one eyebrow raised this time and so she missed the backward glance that dog gave to John.
John stared back at Skook, his head slightly tilted, then his eyes snapped back to the woman, “It’s a long story” he smiled at her. “Name's John.”
“Dana.” She held out her hand.
Instinctively she liked the strength of his hands but she kept her eyes on his face, searching; force of habit. So far, no red flags.
She would definitely have tried to nail this guy if she met him in a bar. There was a subtle intensity in his relaxed stance, like it took effort for him to NOT be doing something. He was dangerous and she liked it but not enough to be stupid about it.
“Shall we?” He said.
She nodded and they began to walk towards the house. John suddenly raised his hand palm front and stopped. She heard it too.
Far down the highway there was a flare off a vehicle speeding towards them. A short time later they could make out the high pitched engine of a motorbike, it’s rapid approach indicating the driver had no fear of high speed.
It decelerated rapidly the front suspension depressing appreciably as it slowed to a stop at the head of the laneway. It was a glistening crotch rocket.