OF MICE AND MEN
Two gangs—the townies and the farmers—sat on either side of the classroom. Except Nancy, who sat in the back so nobody could hit her with spit balls. The kids should have been too old for the book, but work/study curriculum was intentionally unchallenging. Some kids were illiterate; they’d been socially advanced not by proficiency. Mr. Jones tried to get them discussing why Lenny and George stuck together, but kids gave him crap about the guys being queer. Nancy enjoyed reading, especially Steinbeck, and writing essays. Jones never saw her again and had little to tell the cops.
The store was empty. Most people drove twenty-five miles to shop now. Nancy wondered why the boss kept them both on.
“You got two choices after high school,” Katelyn said. “Either you work or get married. I have to decide, because we only have a year to go.”
Nancy didn’t understand where Katelyn got this idea. Every married woman worked, even if they had three or four kids.
“So which do you think you’ll do?”
“I’ll tell you one thing. Whatever I do, it’ll be a long way from here and I’ll have a good boyfriend who treats me right.”
Nancy played hookey from work/study, stole thirty-three dollars from her mom’s tip money coffee can, and hotwired Joe’s Ford. She eased from the lot before he came to.
*Shit, eighth of a tank.*
She filled it to a half outside town and ate at the drive-through.
Four hours later Joe’s F-150 jerked, slowed, stopped. Now broke, she thumbed a ride with a cowboy 150 miles before checking in. He was snoring when she closed the motel door with eighty-four bucks.
Nancy hitched with a lady who drove her to a diner. She asked for work, but got bitter coffee instead.
She shrugged, staring at her coffee.
“Hey, this ain’t the first time I fronted somebody a meal.”
She’d heard this one plenty of times. He wore greasy coveralls—had a full beard and a kind enough voice.
“I’d like a short stack and bacon,” she said.
He waved the waitress over with his head. When her order arrived, the young girl wolfed it down. He didn’t hit on her or ask a bunch of stupid questions, which she appreciated. He left without saying goodbye.
Twenty minutes later she stood on the state highway, her thumb out.
HITCHING AT NIGHT
After thirty minutes, a faded dually pickup stopped fifty yards up the shoulder. Nancy ran toward it, hoping he wouldn’t be creepy.
She stood on the running board, leaned in the passenger side window to appraise him while he asked where she was headed. Maybe forty, a ratty fu-manchu, and deep voiced, he wore a broken straw hat and ripped, stained denim jacket. The cab smelled of beer. She climbed in, hiding her open buck knife by her right thigh.
“I’m going to Denton,” Nancy said
No reply, he just looked at her.
Nancy’s hand tightened on the knife handle.
A young couple found her a mile from town—a Jane Doe, empty pockets, no purse, jeans pulled down.
June, the diner waitress, served her pancakes and coffee an hour before. “Rode hard, put away wet, even at her age.”
Denton’s Sherriff was pissed. State cops on the way—jurisdictional crap.
The Medical Examiner, Denton’s only doc, said the dead girl was about 20, no recent dental care, eyes swollen shut and cut up, probably with the buck knife lying under her—two sets of prints and on it.
“Inconclusive. She put up a hell of a fight.”
The Sheriff and the doc had their noses out of joint.
“Okay,” the trooper said, state ME finished his preliminary report; both sets of prints from the knife are in the system. Girl’s got someone’s skin under her nails.
The trooper snorted. “Justin Shipley’s a bad boy; five years in Chino most recently and a lot of rough stuff in his priors. We’ll reel him soon, especially if he’s still driving that dually and hasn’t left Wyoming. He’s no rocket scientist.”
“Nancy Martin, eighteen, single pot bust. Died with a full stomach. Contacted the mother, no interest there.”
PERSON OF INTEREST
The EMT taped Justin’s cuts. They should have been sutured; no one cared.
“So why’d you do it?”
Justin’s tats crawled up his neck. “You’re the cops; you tell me.”
The lawyer appeared. “Gents, discussion ends right here. Justin is it? From now on say nothing to these officers without my sayso, got that?”
“Look, counselor, we. . .”
“You’ve informed Mr. Shipley of his rights? Hmm, I thought not.”
“You know we’ll find your client’s skin under that girl’s nails.”
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, officers.”
Five days later they learned someone else’s skin was under Nancy’s nails.
Denton’s six-man high school football team flew down the empty state highway in Rusty’s
F-250 Super Duty. They hooted when they spotted the girl waving her arms. Rusty stopped before reaching her and jumped onto the blacktop. When Nancy saw the other heads in the dome light she panicked. Before speaking, she cut Rusty through the sleeve of his letter jacket, dropping the knife. She raked her nails over his face, but Rusty cold-cocked her and dragged her to the shoulder. They peeled out before anyone came. Nancy died of exposure. None of the guys ever talked or bragged.