James awoke with his butt squeezed in the urinal of a one-holer bathroom. He was butt-naked with only a white janitor’s rag covering his midsection. A severely-weathered dark Hispanic man sat on the toilet–jeans to porcelain. He was reading a glossy brochure.
James could feel a desert seizing the back of his parched throat.
“Tengo sed. Necesito Agua por favor,” James said straining to speak in his finest Hispanic accent.
“Excuse me?” the man said, flipping his shiny black ponytail off his dark shoulder and looking at James as if he had cursed his mom out in a discount grocery store.
“Oh, sorry. I thought–I mean, I was thinking–”
“Ooohhh, ya thought I could speak Spanish, eh? Cause I’m one of them there Mexicans?” The deeply-wrinkled warrior snapped back with a fabulous Minnesotan accent. “Hey, you don’t know me! I could be from Scandinavia!”
James attempted to lift his toasted rear out of the sticky pee basin. His legs radiated their grief. His arms groaned. The muscles in his stomach contracted, giving birth to terrible sorrow. His butt was crispy bacon.
The Minnesotan/Hispanic/possibly Scandinavian man rose from the toilet seat with a smoker’s cough. As he turned towards the James, his face revealed a long scar through his eyebrow and down his cheek, parallel to his cartoonishly-perfect fu manchu. He limped towards James with a case of sitting-too-long-on-the-toilet legs. He lifted his hand towards James and rested it behind James’ shoulder. He said in a voice severely scarred from cigarettes and an accent heavily abused by Minnesota, “This should help you with your butt-hurt,” He flushed the urinal. The man-toilet rained beautiful relief across James’ well-done behind. “You know, you’re sure dang lucky to be alive, dude.” His speech began to accelerate with excitement. “Ohhh, those cheeks of yours lit up like icicle lights on a single-wide trailer. You were just lying there, screaming that Tom Hanks should have done more to stop it. Markus was yelling at us about vacuuming up that puddle of tears, because ‘crying makes him angry’. Eddie was trying to find the kill switch for the butt shocker machine. And Craig started talking aboot not wanting to go to state pen for using that there kill switch. And I was trying to dry you off, but kept getting shocked my own dang self. The only sane one in the room was you, and you were getting zapped on your backside.” He rubbed his ponytail like he was married to it and said, “It was for sure a frickin’ mess. By the time we got that chair to let go of you, your hiney looked like it’d been staring at the sun. So then we dragged ya in here and we’ve been taking turns flushing child water on your tush. Oh yeah, by the way, I’m Jorge.”
Someone’s knuckles tapped on the door.
Jorge groaned, “Listen, I’ve done told yous guys, you’re gonna have to go somewheres else. I’ve been downing tamales and white castles all week. And now I got things crawling outta me that look like they belong in one of them there Stephen King novels. I’m gonna be in here a while, and somebody’s gonna have to scrub these walls…ugh (phrph!). And from the looks of things, they’ll probably want to repaint the floor, too. So go find somewheres else to spank your kids and check your phone!”
A voice came from the other side of the door. “Hey man! I thought it was my freakin’ turn to take watch. We already used up all the air freshener, too. C’mon, why are you pooping in there, dude?”
Jorge opened the door. “Gees, would you stop all that whining? I didn’t want anybody coming in here.”
Eddie pulled the door away from Jorge, “Oh sorry, I can wait outside if you need a minute.”
Jorge swung the door open, grabbed Eddie’s shirt collar, yanked him into the bathroom, and locked the door.
Eddie smiled. “He’s awake? Good thing, I thought we’d really smoked him down to the butt. You know what I mean, like a cigarette?”
“Would you be quiet? Somebody’s gonna hear you, and then, for durn sure, we’ll be headed back to state pen” Jorge reverently dipped his head while performing a beautiful Hail Mary and ending with, “Thank you Muhammed Ali, and God bless Gandhi.
Eddie stretched his arms upwards and pressed his sweaty palms against the obscenely graffitied wall. “Boss wants some answers. Needs to know if the spy’s gonna do it.”
James looked at both of the men and slipped into a petite moment of concentration. After 2 and 3/17ths of a second, “Of course! Count me in guys.”
Eddie and Jorge connected with a chest bump and quickly evolved into a tap dance number.
“Hey guys, I hate to interrupt the dinner show, but I’ve got a question. What am I going to be doing, exactly?”
The men stopped their dance routine, which had further adapted into a poorly choreographed Irish riverdance.
Jorge said in his raspy voice, “We need your help with solving a riddle.”
Chapter [ ]
Mrs Habersham and WCC Background
James had obtained his CDL license the summer before launching his trucking adventure. Historically, James earned low C’s. In elementary school, he had been relentlessly disciplined for offenses such as: reading everything other than his textbook, missing too much class, and obsessing over random extracurricular subjects, instead of doing his homework. One time, when he was eight years old, he religiously studied an article on lockpicking, and began practicing his new found hobby on locked doors around the school.
One evening, James snuck into the school after-hours and used his this skill to open a locked storage closet in the library. Unfortunately, the principal and school librarian never heard him coming through the door, not through all the kissy sounds.
This adulterous discovery was the catalyst for an immediate remodeling of the school library with new thumbprint access doors and other high-level security devices; luckily, no one important asked why the librarian needed to barricade herself into her office with an anti-siege bar. Also, James received a complimentary set of used encyclopedias, a year’s supply of ice cream vouchers, and the prestigious title of Secluded Hall Monitor for the remainder of the school year, which was horrible for his social life but did give him more time to read. These bribes encouraged his silence concerning the extracurricular activities he had barged in on. (Of course, leave it to a librarian to shush somebody).
James had dabbled in a plethora of hobbies over the years, some he’d maintained, but most, he found no lasting interest in or couldn’t find a practical use for and had decided to move on.
Driving a truck for long distances also gifted James with more time to listen to educational audio cassettes. He had been learning Spanish since the first day he bought the truck. It had come in handy for more than one incident. He had used Spanish to assist a couple needing gas, to order his food at Mexican restaurants, and to avoid homeless people looking for spare change. “No tengo dinero o alcohol”. James told the slightly well dressed beggar.
James also used the cassette player to study various religious recordings. It didn’t take James long to discover that many churches, like the homeless beggar, also wanted to take your spare change and alcohol.
A flush across his keister awoke him from his nostalgic daydream, “What do you know about the Wisconsin Cheese Corporation?” Jorge asked.
James stretch up in the urinal and groaned his reply, “Well–I’ve actually read the Wikipedia before because I was interested in trying to get a job with those guys. I believe they formed around 1909 under Samerson Willoughfly. They have a plant in Calhoun, one near Helen, and a dozen other factories throughout the state.”
“Ok, but did you know they were closing one of those cheesemaking facilities?” Eddie asked.
“And how did you know about that?”
“Because you just told me.”
“Oh–Do you know why?”
“No, but I’m all ears.”
Jorge burst into laughter, “I can’t believe–I was so gonna say that, but I thought it would offend ya. I mean look at those things, your ears, they look like–oh wait…you meant that as an idiom… Sorry. Someone has sabotaged the factory’s primary dairy supplier,” Jorge replied. His face suddenly turned down, “It was terrible. I’ve never seen anything like it. I’m still having nightmares, you know. Some nights I still wake up screaming, sweating, covered in urine, with the mental image of those poor cows burned in my brain.” Jorge buried his scarred face into his rough hands and sighed, “When we got there, the cows were rolling around in the dead grass with their big fat udders, and in the air, milk curdling screams were all aboot. It looked, and sounded…”
“And smelled,” added Eddie.
“And smelled like…” Jorge gagged and fought to regain his ability to create words. “I remember, I opened the car door, took one whiff, and was like, “Nope,” and I quickly got back in the car. But, one of the cows, a real dirty brown heifer, drug herself through the green, sticky mud all the way to the side of the car,” Jorge said, while tears gained volume on the edge of his eyelids.
“It was horrible,” Eddie said. “She crawled up on the car and stuck her calloused, swollen udders on the driver’s side window and howled, practically begging me for a squeeze.”
Eddie had rolling sadness down his cheeks and said, “I reached over, carefully rolled down the window, and her nasty freaking udders flopped over the top of the glass. I raised my hand, wrapped my fingers around one super bloated nub, and pulled that sucker…”
“We should have known!” Jorge wailed, slamming his hand against the already broken sink. Some water splashed from his hand and landed in James’ eye. James imagined he would most likely go blind.
“Known what? What happened?”
“When I pulled on it, the freaking tet exploded, and rotten milk blasted through the window.”
“How’d it taste?” James asked.
“What? I tell you a cow’s super bloated milk jug blows up in my car and you wanna know, ‘How’d it taste?’ What kind of guy do you think I am?” Eddie asked.
“Ooooh. It was tangy. Tasted like a long-lost orange in the bottom of my fridge.” said Jorge.
“That’s because the first squeeze of milk from a cow is what’s left over from the last milking. So it might’ve been… really old.” James gaggedly informed them. “But guys, what about the farmers? Were they inside binge watching Andy Griffith or something?”
“No. We couldn’t find any ’em. Gone. They vanished. All we found was a note with the letters ‘MMM’.” Eddie answered.
“MMM? Like the sound you make when you eat something tasty? Or like the tape company?” Asked James.
“I’m a Barbie Girl, in a Barbie world. Made of plastic…” Music poured in from outside the bathroom door.
The phone continued. “You can cut my hair undress me everywhere–”
The men pressed their ears to the slimy door.
“Mike, is that you buddy?” Eddie whispered.
“That’s an odd assumption, right?” Whispered James.
“That’s Mike’s phone. He’s got the strangest taste in music…and clothes…and friends. For God’s sake, open the door, Jorge.” Eddie said.
Knowledge can be a man’s greatest gift or his worst enemy; but an educated man can rely too much on his information and forget common sense. An uneducated man may rely on his intuition or his “gut” and in the end, they may still meet the same fate.
Jorge swung the door open and said, “Where have you been? Get in here and help us pry this guy’s butt outta the–” he shivered. Before him he saw the large burly woman who works at the truck stop. She was suspending Mike by the back of his shirt collar. His phone rambled about the atrocities of living as a small plastic woman.
She looked down at the men. She had the shoulders of a bison, was over 6’4, and looked like she could have wrestled a grizzly bear in a mid pit. She raised a ghost-faced Mike to her eye level and said in a boisterous Scottish accent, “I don’t care to hear about what your friends have been doing in this here netty. Your excuses are only gonna make me more upset wit’ cha. I got a right ‘n mind to call the o’ police and let them sort it all out.” She pushed her voice to an even higher cinematic climax. “You’ve been in here for over two hours, during which we’ve had three kids pee in the floor, a whole mess of men and women going wee in the bushes, and one old fart dropped a load on the candy aisle.”
She peered over Jorge’s quivering shoulder, and saw James squeezed into the urinal with nothing but a hand towel.
“Jamesy!? What in the world are ya doing with your backside shoved in the pee bowl?”
James, not wanting to get the guys arrested said, “Oh. Ms. Habersham, I’m only showing these guys how to best use this here urination device.”
“By sticking your fanny into it? I thought you were supposed to stand up front and go wee. ” Ms. Habersham said with a chuckle which shook mustache hairs.
“Sure you can, but this way is better on the knees,” James said, patting the side of the urinal.
“Now Jamesy, get out of that pee toilet and let’s get you solve skimmies or at least something a little more agreeable to yer fine character.”
“Missus Habersham, that’s a splendid idea; and can I say your new kilt brings out the color of your smile!”
She blushed redder than her frizzy, grease-covered hair, she flung back her large hairy leg and batted her eyes towards the ceiling.
At that moment, James realized whom he needed to talk to about “MMM”. He decided to pursue the people who saw the truckers more than the truckers saw their own families.