I had just driven over 1000 miles to deliver a pickup truck to a water filtration company in Arkansas. Riff had told me that the drop off location was just on the edge of Little Rock, but it was in fact 35 miles out of the city. I had a headache from the drive, because the truck was set with an alarm that went off if you dared to go over 65 mph. Even though I set the Cruise Control on 63 mph, each time I'd go down a hill I'd pick up speed and WOO-WOO-WOO, the screechingly loud alarm would go off and not stop until I lowered my speed to 55 mph. What a complete nightmare this drive had been. And with no radio in the car for distraction.
Riff had made it clear that he wasn't paying for a taxi, and I sure didn't want to pay for one out of pocket. But I had been able to talk the man I was delivering the truck for to get me a ride to the airport. There I would rent a car and go to Dallas, where there was a Ford cargo van just waiting for me to drive it to Maine.
I stood in the parking lot at the water filtration company, having done all the paperwork, and waited for 30 minutes as the employee was starting his day. It had been explained to me that this guy was going through Little Rock on a service call, so he'd drop me at the airport on his way. My inner voice shouted "Hallelujah!" and I was glad to be a darned lucky driving fool.
"You the guy I'm giving a ride to?" I heard the voice behind me, and turned around to see a young man standing a few yards back.
"Yes, hi, I'm Bill Thomas."
"I'm Joe, let's go." We both went to his truck and climbed inside. He started it up and revved the engine a few times.
"You said your name is Joe?" I asked politely.
"Yeah, but my Mom calls me Joey. My friends all call me JoJo." He gave me a long look, as if he were studying me intently. "You can call me JoJo."
"Thanks, I'm honored."
"You shouldn't be." JoJo peeled out and I found myself grabbing the armrest on my door out of pure instinct and survival. JoJo stuck a huge hunk of tobacco into his mouth, and looked at me with a weak smile. "I know what you're thinking. Go ahead, guess."
"What you're thinking."
"I don't follow you."
"You don't have to. Just take a guess."
"What am I guessing?"
"No JoJo, really, I do not know."
"You want to know how old I really am. Go ahead and guess."
I hadn't really thought about it up to then, but as I looked at him I
realized that he looked very young. Like he was 17 or 18 years old. But
I seriously doubted that he'd be a Service Technician driving a company
truck at that age. "You look like you're 18, but--"
He interrupted me with a loud snort of laughter, and slapped his knee. "I knew it, I knew it, everyone always thinks I look young. A lot younger than I am."
I shrugged. "OK, how old are you?"
He turned his head quickly and gave me a hateful look. "Why are you asking? Why do you want to know?"
"Uh, no reason. Sorry."
JoJo continued to stare at me, then said, "I'll tell you this much, I'm older than 18, and that's for damn sure."
I nodded. "OK."
"You bet its OK. All right, then. How was your ride here?"
"It was tiring."
"Did the alarm ever go off on you?"
"Frequently, and it was horrible."
"Then you were driving too damn fast. You need to learn to slow down, you
were breaking the law."
"Uh, well, I had the Cruise Control set on 63, and the speed limit was 70."
"That don't make no sense. The alarm goes off when you hit 65."
"It seems that when you go down a hill, the truck picks up speed. And that would set off
"I'd say it was clear you were going too fast." JoJo held an empty cup up to his mouth and spit in it. "I hate driving into Little Rock. I hate city living."
"Where do you live?"
JoJo snapped at me. "I'm not telling you where I live, that's private."
"Sorry man, no offense."
"Well offense was taken."
"I will tell you this: I live in the country. Way, way out from the city. On a farm all by myself. And that is just the way I like it, too."
"Good for you."
"You betcha. No one bothers me, or else, if you know what I mean."
"What do you mean?"
JoJo turned and stared at me for what felt like a real long time. "You sure are a nosey sumbitch, ain't you?" He spit into the cup.
"I don't mean to be."
"Yeah, but you are just the same. Wanna hear a true story?"
"I have a lot of tools out on the farm. I spend every dollar I earn on my tools, and I only buy the best. And I keep them up good and maintain them. Maintaining your tools is the key. And never ever let another man touch your tools, that's worth killing a man over."
"I doubt you do, but let me continue. Someone started stealing tools out of my barn, and I wasn't too happy about it. After it happened twice, I knew something had to be done. I set a big metal plate upright by the barn door. Then I wrapped myself up in a quilt and sat under the front porch of my house, by the crawlspace. I got my rifle and just waited."
"If you'll hold your horses and give me a minute, I'll tell you." JoJo paused to turn and give me a dirty look, then let out a long sigh. "Anyway, about two in the morning, they come creeping onto my property and headed straight for the barn. Two fellas, stupid as they were ugly."
"Could you see them very well?"
"It was too dark to see their faces, now shut up and let me tell my story. So right when they got to the barn door, I shot that metal plate and it made quite a bang. Scared the bejeezus out of them." JoJo formed a sickly grin on his lips. "Yep, I imagine they'll remember that."
"Then what happened?"
JoJo snarled at me. "Then what happened is none of your damn business, that's what!"
I became very quiet. I did not wish to say the wrong thing again and anger JoJo. He seemed very hot under the collar. We rode along for nearly half an hour in total silence, during which JoJo seemed to cool down again. "Looks like we're getting near the airport," I said.
JoJo stared out the window, distracted. "Maybe we are, yep, just maybe we are. The Sheriff came by my place to ask some questions. You know how it is. But I had nothing to tell him, because absolutely nothing happened." He shot me a quick glance. "You do believe that nothing happened, don't you?" Once more, he spit into the cup.
"Of course I do."
"Good to know, good to know." JoJo had an odd and eerie look in his eyes, and almost seemed to be half in a trance. "A man has a right to protect his property. You can't touch another man's tools. And if someone comes onto your land, that's trespassing. They were taking their lives into their own hands. You can see that, can't you?"
I didn't know what to say. "Guess so."
JoJo became agitated and shouted, "You can see my point, can't you?"
"You bet, sure can, no doubt about it."
JoJo became calm again and scratched his chin. "Listen, I'd appreciate it if you'd keep this between us. No reason to talk about it with anyone else."
"So we're in agreement?"
"Because no crime was committed."
"I'm sure of that."
"What makes you so sure? What gives you the right to be judge, jury
I saw the sign marking the road leading into the airport. "Here's our turn."
JoJo pulled over to the curb and slammed on the brakes. "This is the end of the line
for you, Bill Thomas. You can get out and be on your way."
I grabbed my bag and climbed out of the truck. "I really do appreciate the ride,
"I doubt your sincerity. You need to learn not to pry into another man's business. And so forth." JoJo skidded away before I could even close my door. I began the two mile walk to the Terminal where I'd rent a car. And for the rest of the day, I found myself wondering what may have happened to the Tool Robbers. Also, I pondered how I have the fortune to meet so many... interesting people each and every day.