(This is a much edited scene from Black Cat and the Accidental Angel -- due to space on the website.)
The flagman flipped his sign to STOP.
John stomped his brakes. 9:50 A.M. Why hadn’t he left sooner? Work delays along the mountain highway between Nevada City and Reno were not unexpected this time of year.
Reno - 62 miles
John’s throat tightened. He had to get his Emu hatchlings to the airport by 12:30 P.M.! If they missed the flight, what could he say to his buyers? “Yeah! You trusted me, but I didn’t account for delays, so we missed the plane.” If he lost the sales, like dominoes, he could lose everything. His ranch–his business–even lose the custody of his daughter.
Reno - 60 miles
Traffic crept forward. Another flagman. John whacked the steering wheel. “Let’s go!” Perspiration beaded his forehead. They have to fix a landslide today. I have to make the flight in time. Lord, show me the way.
Another road worker stopped traffic. John’s truck inched forward and came to a stop beside a hitch-hiker. What was a hitch-hiker doing on a mountain road so far from Reno?
The hiker caught John’s eye and extended his thumb.
I suppose he wants a ride. What could he say? 'I’m going your way at two miles an hour with an empty passenger seat, but somebody once said hitch-hikers might steal your money or kill you.’ What harm could this kid do? If he was planning to rob someone, he chose the wrong pickup truck full of baby Emus. John rolled down the passenger window. “Ride, Mister?”
The kid’s expression seemed to say, “Life isn’t so good lately. Can you help?”
John unlocked the door. “Get in.” What did he have to lose besides his money or his life?
The hiker dropped his backpack to the floor and slid into the truck “Thanks. I’m Peter.” He needed a haircut and a shave. His jacket was frayed and stained with perspiration. Oddly, his fingernails were clean and trimmed.
“I’m John. Nice to meet you. Where you headed?”
“My uncle’s ranch is right on the main highway, just outside Reno. Could you drop me there?”
The cars crept forward. John checked his watch. “I’ve got a plane to catch at 12:30 P.M. If I miss the flight, I’m cooked.” He jerked his head toward the chicks in the rear.
Peter tapped the dashboard clock. “There’s plenty of time. Once we get past the roadwork, it’s less than an hour to Reno.”
“You don’t understand what’s riding on getting my chicks on that flight.” John waved toward the flagman.
“Couldn’t you ship them tomorrow? What difference would one day make?”
John huffed. “Ever hear of an Emu? They get six-feet-tall. The airlines won’t take them past two weeks old. That’s today and they’re already 30 inches tall. I could lose everything if I…” Whoa! Hold it. He’d just met the guy ten minutes ago and was spilling his guts to him. John shrugged. “Look. I shouldn’t dump on you. Let’s say, I have to make this flight, and leave it at that. Okay?”
Peter leaned back and sighed. “You’re not the only guy in this truck with troubles.”
“You’re too young for troubles. What’s your story?”
Peter nodded toward the floor frowned. “Huh! See this backpack? That’s everything I own. I’ve got the world’s troubles on my shoulders, and that’s the truth.”
John shrugged. “If you say so.” The cars inched forward. 10:22 A.M. Just over an hour to make the flight.
“By the way. Do you know your Bible?” Peter asked.
John cheeks flushed. “I…I…I guess so. Maybe not as well as−”
“What you said about your chicks reminds me... Listen… He is my refuge and my fortress: He shall cover thee with His feathers, and under His wings shalt thou trust: His truth shall be thy shield and buckler.”
John’s shoulders relaxed. “Under His wings shalt thou trust... Say! That’s good.”
Before long, they were in the valley with traffic moving along at normal speed.
Reno - 13 miles
John checked his wristwatch. 10:49 A.M. “I’m going to make it!”
Peter pointed to a red marker on a driveway beside the road. “That’s my uncle’s place.”
John stopped beside the marker. “Should I drive you up to the house?”
“Nah! I don’t want to keep you. You’ve got–”
“Uh-oh! What’s going on up there?” Another long line of cars had stopped a short way ahead. “Must be an accident. I'll never make it now.”
“Don’t worry. See that dirt road?” Peter pointed off to the right. “It goes about a mile and doubles back to the highway, beyond all that traffic.”
“Sounds good. Thanks…and for the encouragement. Means a lot…”
Peter waved and trudged up the driveway.
John’s truck kicked up dust as he turned onto the dirt road. “Wait!” Peter’s backpack lay on the floor! He hit the brakes. Why hadn’t he taken it when he got out of the truck? "There’s just enough time to get to the airport. If I go back, I might miss the flight. But, it’s all he owns… I have to go back.” John turned the truck, raced back down the dirt road and turned into Peter’s uncle’s driveway where he spotted a woman watering flowers.
“Morning.” John hefted the backpack. “Could you give this to Peter?”
“Yeah. He left it in my−”
“I don’t know any Peter.”
John’s eyebrows rose. “I just dropped him at the end of your driveway. Said this was his uncle's place.”
The woman shook her head. “Not in my driveway.” She backed toward the house.
“Sorry. I must be mistaken.” Back at the road, the red marker flapped on the pole. This was the right place. John unzipped Peter’s backpack to look for a phone number or an address…. He pulled out underwear, toothbrush, a notebook. A paper fell from in John’s lap.
Highway 20 - August 31 - 9:50 AM Red pickup truck
There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague
come nigh thy dwelling.
For He shall give His Angels charge over thee…to keep thee
in all thy ways.
Chill bumps careened down John’s neck. Today was August 31. He’d picked up Peter on Highway 20, at exactly 9:50 A.M. “He was waiting for me! How is that possible?”
Lightning slashed overhead. Dark clouds gathered beyond the foothills. There’d be rain by nightfall. John glanced at his watch. 11:15 A.M. .There was just enough time… time to get the chicks to their flight. Maybe he’d even get home before the storm hit.
Faith! For He shall give His Angels charge over thee…
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Black Cat’s Legacy http://tinyurl.com/lrvevgm
Black Cat and the Lethal Lawyer http://tinyurl.com/q3qrgyu
Black Cat and the Accidental Angel http://tinyurl.com/07scsm2
Mrs. Odboddy-Hometown Patriot http://tinyurl.com/hdbvzsv
Mrs. Odboddy – Undercover Courier http://tinyurl.com/jn5bzwb
Mrs. Odboddy – And Then There Was a Tiger http://tinyurl.com/y96qshuv
All Things Cat – (short cat story collection) http://tinyurl.com/y9p9htak