NOTE: This month’s Flash Fiction Draw results were a suspense story set at a border crossing involving a bag of money. This reminded me of the old radio show “Suspense,” which put me in mind of the old “Radio Mystery Theater” from the 70s and 80s. If you never heard it, it was a somewhat old-fashioned revival of radio drama that was nonetheless a big hit with the younger crowd (like me!) So, our mystery drama written especially for the Monthly Flash Fiction Draw Challenge is…
A Traffic In Dollars
By Jeff Baker
They’d been careful, oh so careful. Stuck to the speed limits, turned the truck headlights on a half-hour before dusk, and made certain to signal before changing lanes. Even though this section of old Highway 66 wasn’t the main highway anymore, they had reasons to be careful.
About a million reasons.
“About three hours to Springfield and we’ll be home free,” George said.
“If we stay free,” Betty said. “Just mind your driving. They decommissioned this highway a few years ago but that doesn’t mean they don’t still have police in some of these little towns.”
“Relax, Doll,” George said, doing his best Bogie. “We made it through Oklahoma City and Tulsa okay, didn’t we?”
“That’s only because I was driving,” Betty said. “Look, what’s that signpost up ahead?”
“Trucks use right lane,” George read. “Inspection and weigh station, State of Oklahoma. What’s that?”
“How long have you been driving a truck, anyway?” Betty asked.
“Since we got it at the Texas border,” George said. “Just keep your purse to one side. Maybe they won’t look in it.”
“It’s a weigh station, not customs,” she said. The purse, one of those old, leathery affairs that looked like a bag lay at her feet. It was filled with one-thousand dollar bills, their take from a clever scheme down in Texas. All they had to do was meet up with Charlie in Springfield to have the bills changed into more conventional tender, since regular consumers were not allowed denominations over one hundred. And turn in the rent-a-truck.
George pulled right as the uniformed state trooper finished inspecting an eighteen-wheeler ahead of them. George and Betty had some carefully-forged documents identifying them as part of a non-profit charity. Their drivers’ licenses were likewise forgeries. A few pleasantries and they learned that the troopers were looking for out-of-state drug smugglers. Betty made a reference to only getting high on doing the Lord’s work, and the trooper began his inspection.
The only thing missing from the trooper, Betty thought, was one of those big brimmed hats and maybe Burt Reynolds, bare armed, leaning against the side of the truck making snarky comments. The trooper did have a gun, though she noted as the man bent over and rubbed the tires with a hand and proceeded to walk around in a crouch, carefully eyeing the underside of the truck as he walked from one end to the other, He signaled to George to open the hood and conducted a thorough inspection of the engine, doubtlessly checking for hiding places. He slammed the hood shut and walked over to the passenger side window.
“Okay, I’ll need you both to step out of the cab and…what’s in that bag?”
George eyed Betty for an imperceptible instant, then Betty reached into the bag and pulled out two white, cottony packets.
“Just these,” she said. “I may be a liberated lady but I still have to…”
“That’s okay!” the trooper said. “I have a wife and two teenaged daughters. I understand all about that. But I still have to check your load.”
He led them to the back of the truck and watched George unlock the doors and then the trooper climbed inside. George and Betty had to have a load and the mattresses had fit the bill. They filled the box, standing on their sides, leaning to one side. The trooper edged between the mattresses, examining them carefully.
“We’re taking them to Springfield,” Betty said. “Our church group is setting up there to help homeless kids.”
“Well, I’m satisfied,” the trooper said climbing down to the ground. “Lock it back up and you can get on your way.”
Maybe looking too eager, Betty and George moved to shut the two big doors. And that was when one mattress tipped and Betty saw it. She tried not to scream.
She and George got back into the truck, smiled pleasantly, said “Praise God” a couple of times and drove down the highway. A few miles down they turned into an alleyway.
“It couldn’t have been,” George said as he parked the truck out of sight.
“It was, I recognized that big ring with the fake ruby,” Betty said.
They pulled the back doors open and pushed the mattresses to one side. Sticking out of a hole in one mattress was a hand with a ruby ring. Charlie. He was no longer able to get anywhere under his own power.
“Charlie!” Betty gasped. “Dead! How?”
“The last time we saw him alive was at the trailer park,” George said.
“Wait,” Betty said. “The last time you or I saw him alive was in the trailer park. We weren’t together, remember?”
“Brrr!” George said. “Whoever took out Charlie could have knocked us off one by one! What if they followed us?”
“What if they didn’t have to follow us?” Betty said. “What if the killer…what if it’s one of us?”
They stared at the cab of the truck. They had no choice but to continue driving and maybe find a place to dispose of Charlie.
And hope the killer wouldn’t dispose of his or her remaining partner.