Filling up at the Tank N’ Tummy on I-80, a few hours from home with most of his long drive behind him, Dave’s first mistake was leaving the Expedition’s engine run.
While the gas pump clicked off the gallons, he breathed in the smells of hot brakes and diesel exhaust from the half dozen eighteen wheelers sharing the Midwest stop. He turned to the west, enjoying the late afternoon sun on his face. It was almost a week since he’d left the service after twenty years, a week since he’d been PCS’d to Fort Living Room and that’s where he was headed.
The drive from back east had done him good, reminding him what civilian life was like. In general, he liked people. He liked home cooked food. He liked truck stops, and the open range spreading out for miles around this one.
Watching the big rigs make a straight line along a ribbon road stretching west, Dave didn’t notice the vagrant until he crept around the side of the island by the squee-gee bucket from the adjoining, empty stall.
“Spare a couple dollars for a fellow traveler?” he said.
Late forties, early fifties with a patchy growth of whiskers. Bad hygiene, no teeth, with ragged cutoffs exposing white stick legs laced with a map of blue veins. His dirty T-shirt read Semper Fi.
Dave’s second mistake, letting the T-shirt throw him off.
Once the guy got close, a hammerless .38 appeared in his hand. He pointed it right at Dave’s guts.
“Step aside,” said the Traveler.
“Screw you,” said Dave.
The pump handle kicked up and clicked off signaling that the Expedition’s tank was full.
The Traveler’s eyes darted from the pump and back to Dave. “Close the tank.”
This time Dave did what he was told. At some point he’d need to anyway, and it might mean a chance to get the upper hand.
It wouldn’t take much, just a split second to take out the guy. The Traveler didn’t weigh a hundred pounds.
But Dave had been shot before. He didn’t want to get shot again.
More, he didn’t want some innocent trucker going home with a hole in his head.
“Listen, dude. You do not want to do this. Believe me.”
“Don’t tell me what I want.” The .38 wagged back and forth. “Step back, now. I mean it.”
“Fine. You’ll be sorry.”
Dave took two big steps back from the Expedition.
The Traveler’s eyes filled with delight. “Good. Good, you just wait here. Gonna just go for a drive.” He kept his eyes and the gun aimed at Dave’s middle while reaching behind to open the door with his left hand.
“Guess I was wrong about you. Figured a big ol’ boy’d have some concealed protection. Hee-hee,” he cackled with spit dribbling down his chin.
“You got no idea,” said Dave.
The driver’s side door popped open.
Engine noise drowned out the low warning growl Moose gave, and by the time they hit the pavement, the German Shepherd’s fangs were firmly latched on the would be car-jacker’s throat.
The Traveler never had a chance.
Dave shook his head. “Told you so.”
They’d both done their time in the Marines K-9 corps, were both back on the block, but one thing was sure.
Moose still had his back.