This constant pace went on until late June. They were all destroyed, but they kept on. At a meeting at the warehouse toward the end of the month, the impeccably dressed guys with guns—Frankie still didn’t know their names, he didn’t need to, Eddie knew, Frankie got paid cash, that’s all that mattered—the guys with guns said they had to change plans. This trip to the Bronx would be the last for a while. They should go home and wait to hear from Eddie. Apparently things were getting hot. They were moving operations, maybe to Detroit. Not sure; just go home and rest and wait. Frankie was excited. Maybe they’d move to Pittsburgh! Jones laughed out loud and said, “Shut the fuck up about Pittsburgh.”
They all gathered on the loading dock of the produce distribution warehouse. The muffled sound of the idling diesel engines echoed off graying corroded aluminum siding. The heavy stink of diesel in the hot humid air was so thick it could choke a man. Eddie, Jones, and Frankie smoked Marlboros and drank sixteen-ounce beers as they waited for their fake logbooks, paperwork, and last minute updates.
The unnamed, impeccably dressed guys eventually drove up in a Caddy, a massive, 1980 Coupe Deville. Frankie looked at the car and said, “Why not?” It was fitting. The car was black with deeply tinted windows. There was some kind of antenna in the back. Eddie said it was for TV. All Frankie could think was that he wanted to be these guys when he grew up. They handed the three of them bogus business cards, but with legitimate phone numbers. They were given a word to use to identify themselves on the phone and told that after they got to the Bronx, they should lay low and call that number in a week, if they didn’t hear from Eddie first. By then, the new plan would be in place. They rolled out of the huge warehouse and headed north on Route 95 out of Miami. It was 6:15 a.m. and the breakfast beers had everyone in a really good mood.
They joked back-and-forth on the radio about what they were going to do with their big summer vacation. As beat up as they were, no one really talked about just getting some sleep and relaxing. Eddie wanted to head back home and reconnect with family and friends as he hadn’t seen home in six months. Frankie wasn’t so sure he wanted to go anywhere near home. He’d spoken to Alex on the phone a few times and even called the bar and had spoken to Jack, the bartender. Frankie was pretty sure there was no danger of him being arrested. Billy Martin was now completely healed and recuperated.
The biggest thing he didn’t want to deal with was running into Pam, but he did need to get home and see his grandmother and Alex and get drunk at Turf’s. They usually had one hell of a Fourth of July picnic there too, so there was that. A pass-out- somewhere-with-some-stranger party sounded like just what Frankie needed. He grabbed a couple of white crosses out of his bag and the morning rolled on as they headed into Georgia.
This trip felt different. He looked around more. He felt the Georgia heat through the windshield. Hot as hell; hot as Georgia in July. The drone of that huge Cummins engine was such a constant the past few months he realized that he missed it when it stopped. It was the background noise of this life. He loved the idiotic noise on the radio. “The Flying Gonzo Brothers” on the CB radio screwing with everyone. Singing songs and fighting with each other for all the trucking world to hear.
The morning wore on, into the Carolinas and on northward. It was going to be stupid hot all the way up. Frankie would lose his mind a little in the Carolinas where every goddamned radio station for what seemed like a thousand miles played nothing but country music. Then he would take to the CB as Captain Flakeo and proceed to do everything in his power to piss off every other driver who could hear him. Sometimes he’d even join in the hunt for The Captain, picking on some other guy in another truck and getting all the other drivers after the poor bastard. He had to do something to pass the time.
The beautiful late June, early July sunset was still hours away as they rolled into Virginia. Everyone agreed they were making really good time and they needed to stop and eat and get fuel. A diner near Richmond would work. Rolling up route 95 about 75 miles an hour, Eddie was in front, about a half-mile out, followed by Jones and then Frankie.
It all happened in a second. Jones saw it first. A bright light, followed by a huge orange and yellow flame. He screamed into the radio, “There! On the fucking bridge, two guys tearing ass for a car; he’s got a gun or something!” Eddie’s truck was engulfed in flames, the tractor completely consumed and the trailer was quickly burning now, front to back.
Frankie screamed in the radio, “What the fuck? What the flying fuck?” Frankie and Jones pulled up near the flaming wreckage and stopped their trucks, jumped out of the tractors and ran to the cab of what was Eddie’s truck, now his crematory oven. The fire was so intense they couldn’t get within ten feet. The aluminum cab was melting and the fire now engulfed the trailer behind them. They could make out the distinct odor of burning marijuana.
It didn’t seem possible that Eddie was dead. Frankie and Jones stood there for what must have been a full two minutes in total silence. Finally, Frankie said, as cold as if he was ordering a sandwich, “We need to get the fuck out of here” Jones looked at him and turned around to walk away. Their pace quickened. They wanted no encounters with the police, but maybe it was too late. Stay and they might be screwed, take off and they might be screwed. Jones said they should go to the trucks and wait. They would say they don’t know Eddie or anything about anything. There sure as hell was nothing left of Eddie or his truck. The cargo was burned too. Nothing to tie him to them. Everything was completely burned like hellfire had come through. They decided to just stand there and wait for the fire equipment and tow trucks and cops.
The two stood outside the idling trucks on the hot summer night. They could feel the heat of the day radiating up from the dark, oily pavement. It was even hotter standing next to the funeral pyre of their friend. They stood there, hands in pockets, looking at the ground and waiting for the cops; hopefully, they would be overlooked and ignored. Frankie spoke first, “What the fuck was that? A rocket? A bazooka?” Jones couldn’t offer much; he saw a really bright flash from the bridge and then he saw Eddie’s truck explode. Traffic was stopped for miles. They heard sirens approaching quickly. Other trucks had pulled up alongside the road. Many cars were stopped now, sitting, idling. The sun was low in the sky and a west wind blew the smoke from Eddie’s truck over all of them in an ugly gray cloud.
Jones spoke next. “We need to get off 95; we’ll take some back roads through Maryland and PA and into Jersey. We will cross over 80 and across the GWB and into the Bronx. It’s longer, but what the fuck is this, a warning? Who do we trust now? Part of me wants to drop this shit and run, but they will be after us then. Frankie, my friend, we are seriously fucked. Who the fuck did this to Eddie?”
A Virginia state trooper approached the truckers as they smoked cigarettes and talked quietly. Jones was the first to speak. Frankie got that shaking feeling all over him again, the one he felt every time he dealt with a cop. The shaking, the anger, it wasn’t fear. It was a matter of authority. Frankie’s war with the world started with the police. He closed his eyes and smoked his Marlboro and listened to Jones. He lied to the cop. He said traffic was light that night. He was about a half mile behind the burned truck and all he saw was the tractor just explode. Frankie, acting like they had never met before, said he was behind Jones’ truck and saw the fire after he saw the truck in front of him slow down. That seemed to satisfy the cop. Frankie’s anger and nervous shaking were hidden from sight. The cops seemed to be looking for witnesses, nothing more or less.
The fact that each truck was smuggling about $200,000 worth of weed suddenly became very real to Frankie. He had managed, for the past seven or eight months, to put this fact out of his mind. Standing there in the middle of stopped traffic, on route 95 northbound, on a steamy summer night, maybe twenty miles south of Richmond, with the burned carcass of his friend and his friend’s truck smoldering fifty feet away, it became very real. This was a hit. Who did it? He had no idea. The only thing he knew was that there were guys out there looking to kill him and his friend Jones, the guys they were working for had little patience; if they did not deliver and on time, those assholes would probably be looking to kill them, too.
For the first time since he became a smuggler, the job seemed to lose some of its glamour and luster. It took a lot to scare Frankie; it seemed like the events of this night were certainly enough. Frankie climbed back into his cab first and waited for Jones. He watched as Jones’ truck pulled away. Frankie grabbed the CB and said, “Mr. Jones, I think we ought to get the fuck off this interstate, pronto.”
Jones said, “I agree” and the two slowly took off down the highway , looking for the next exit, still not sure if there was a grenade lying in wait for them up ahead.
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