Twin Beeches -- an Illinois Love Story
Author: paul schoaff

Chapter 19
The New Sheriff Negotiates

 

(Narrator)

The New Sheriff Negotiates

A Charming Negotiation

Q-P trucking is a small company based in Peoria handling freight between the docks at Quincy and the industry in Peoria and vice versa, sending out a truck every hour all night long from Peoria to Quincy and returning with a different trailer.   They also handle the USPS contract with two trucks a day.  Their route is the same, night after day after night -- down US 24 all the way from the terminal in Bartonville, some diverting through Canton to pick up a small trailer to 'double-bottom' over to Quincy, and then returning it to the same small rented space at a bigger terminal in Canton on the way home.  The Canton part of the run joins the 'main route' at Lewistown and sweeps on down through Woodland, Rushville, Mt. Sterling, and on into Quincy. 

 

Repetitious motion is painful motion, even when it involves hundreds of miles six nights a week.  There are no truck stops on this route, and no all night restaurants, either, until you get to one end or the other.  The drivers know the route so well they often say they could drive it with their eyes closed.  Once in awhile, someone tries it, but this story isn't about a big wreck or a lucky escape.  This is about how,for 40 years, it had been a tradition for the drivers to speed into Woodland and to use their Jacobs Brakes to slow down to the 20 mph speed limit.  They had learned Night Watchman Preston always stayed downtown and didn't really have the authority to stop them, anyway.  Their big worry was getting a ticket from a state trooper, and, with CB's and cell phones, the whereabouts of every one the few troopers in 'Forgotonia' -- the part of Illinois without Interstate highways, sometimes called 'Western Illinois', the belly sticking out from Peoria to, you guessed it, Quincy – easily tracked.  The drivers didn't really think they would get a ticket for speeding through Woodland, but it created so much fun to let your big, noisy Jake Brake go!  On the other hand, who knows what goes through a truck driver's head – I'm just guessing.

 

Jacobs “Jake Brakes” are a device used on some trucks to save on wear and tear on the regular brake pads and drums of trucks. Essentially, the exhaust gases are used to hold back the engine rotation, and a great deal of noise is associated with the process, maybe twice as loud as a truck under full acceleration, which is bad enough.

 

Young 'Sheriff' Miller frowned the first time he heard the loud trucks approaching from either direction to pass through town.  He waxed greatly annoyed when two of them happened to meet one another near one end of town and each laid on his air horn for five seconds of fun.  He seethed, really p**sed, when he drove out to the edge of town and saw the signs expressly forbidding the use of Jacobs Brakes within the town limits, an ordinance being completely ignored. He pulled out his private cell phone and hit speed dial 2.

 

On the third night, he waited until he heard the first truck approach town after 10 p.m.. He then pulled his new Challenger into the middle of the road by the town square and turned on the flashing beacons.  Even at a relatively early hour the streets were deserted, since a normal weeknight in Woodland meant that after 8 p.m. nobody had any reason to be on the streets.

 

The beefy trucker, annoyed but frankly curious to meet the new guy they had spotted, ground to a squealing halt two feet from the car and put on a show of noisily setting his spring-loaded air brakes and even chocking his wheels before sauntering over to where Miller waited, relaxed and, incongruously, wearing his dark glasses.  The big driver leaned over and read the name plate "MILLER" on the breast pocket of the officer's shirt.

 

“What!  Is the road closed?  Is there a bridge out?  Did a tree fall across the road?  Are there cattle or sheep in the right of way?  Tell me, Boss, I can take it!”

 

Miller smiled at the driver's artful insolence.  He looked, in an pre-occupied and appreciative way, at the big man's tattooed arms and smiled back at him, “Semper Fi, Marine," he quietly said.

 

The driver did a double take and slowly replied, “I'm at the disadvantage.  How am I expected to reply?  With a salute to rank or an invitation to a brawl?”

 

“’OOH-RAH, Corporal’, would be just fine, Marine."

 

“Then, OOH-RAH, Corporal!” laughed the big man.

 

Miller made a show of examining the driver's 'ink'; “Desert Storm for you, too?”

 

“I was a little bit smaller then, Corporal, and they let me ride the ferry to downtown Kuwait City.”  In other words, amphibious operations.  “Where did you get your ride?”

 

“I did a little Rangering, Marine.  We were out there looking like dust bunnies for awhile and had to wait for the army to come pick us up after all the fun was over.”  He meant he was a spotter, hidden in the hills overlooking the river valley with a telescope, watching troop movements and directing laser-guided bomb attacks.

 

“What brings you here, Corporal?”  The driver pulled out a pack of Winstons and, immediately, so did the Night Sheriff, and they each offered the other one from their pack.  They each pulled out their service-themed Zippo and lit up.

 

Miller sidestepped the question.  “I've been waiting all week to tell you this, Marine.   I'm the new Sheriff in town and things are gonna be different around here from now on!”  After a pause, both men coughed on their smoke and laughed a bit.  “Now, let me tell you what I really want, if you have the time.”

 

The driver grinned and  nodded, and Miller went on, “Enough with the Jake Brakes.  Don't use them around here, you don't need them.  In exchange, all night, I'll expect you to hit the edge of town at 60 and coast on through without braking.  Hit the fuel again when you see the junkyard sign on the far side of town.”

 

The big driver considered it, “Will you save us from the IHOP, if they come around?” -- Illinois Highway Officers Patrol.

 

“Absof**kinglutely.”

 

The big ex-Marine held out his hand, palm up.  Miller, who had never served a day in his life in the military, but whose back story was damned near perfect, slapped it down and the deal was struck.

 

“I'll get on the horn and let everyone know," the driver said as he removed his chocks, released the air brakes and prepared to take off.  “And I'll tell them not to use their bugles in town, neither.  By the way, the name’s Hofstatter.  OOH-RAH!”

 

Miller called after him, “I listen to nine all night in case you have a problem.” 

 

“Since we got cell phones, we don't use the CB much," updated Hofstatter, “but I'll keep it in mind.  Mostly I’ll just call 911.”

 

Miller stood there for awhile after moving his car out of the truck's right of way and considered the power of the well-told story combined with access to one of the biggest and fastest and baddest computers and slickest geeks in the world.  He enjoyed having a positive influence on this cutesy little town, already.  Early the next morning, baby-faced Night Watchman 'Sheriff' Barney Miller, aka ATF Special Agent Darryl Isbell from Linneas, Missouri by way of the Jefferson City Police Department and ATF training in Quantico, VA, laid down his head in his rented trailer by the Church Lake and tried to take a well deserved 10 hour nap.  They told him the hardest part of his assignment would be learning to sleep all day and work all night.  Except, maybe, for the part where he had to figure out why a moonshiner never seemed to have any money and never got caught. His future depended on finding the answers, so he lay awake, plotting, almost all day, until the sun began to set, then he was up again two hours later.

 

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