For most unfortunates, it’s not easy to make a living in southern Missouri in 1959. But not for me; I am a bootlegger. I make my living distilling, selling and delivering illegal whiskey. I share these dusty roads with everyday folk — truck drivers, farmers, firemen and Sheriff Johnny Mack Brown. Day in and day out, on the desolate country roads north of Joplin, we breathe the same dust and kick up the same gravel; the dogs that chase my old truck run down his patrol car. The Sheriff wants me in jail almost as much as I don’t want to be there.
It really is quite ironic. Johnny Mack and me went to the same school. It seemed we were always chasing the same girl or competing for the same position on the football team. It was a competition only in the sense that there were two of us vying for a position that Johnny Mack never won. He was always coming in second. In June of 1944, I commanded a company of Paratroopers who dropped into Normandy and took them all the way to Paris for the liberation of France. Johnny Mack took a bullet in his buttocks on Omaha Beach. Six weeks later he was back on the farm nursing his backside.
So here we are, fifteen years later, and Johnny Mack still keeps coming in second.
This part of the state is crisscrossed with dusty farm roads and telephone poles that stretch as far as the eye can see. I was on my weekly run to Joplin with 50 gallons of whiskey in the tank and my partner, Pete Lawson, tailing about a half mile back. Out of nowhere, Johnny Mack whipped in behind me, sirens blaring, red lights flashing, and that big black Dodge throwing off pebbles like an Ozark Mountain landslide. Suddenly he did something he’s never done before. He shot at me and actually hit something important.
My left rear tire exploded and the old Ford pick-up flipped over once and landed with the tires pointing straight up like a dying cockroach. I took quick inventory of body parts and was relieved to find myself mostly intact and, other than a few scrapes and bruises, unhurt.
The smell of whiskey filled my nostrils as the product poured out around me. Johnny Mack walked over from his patrol car, leaned over, peeked in the driver side window, and through a big smile said, “Well, Mister High and Mighty, you’re in a predicament now, aintcha!”
I didn’t want to give the asshole the satisfaction of knowing he had me, but it’s not like I had much of a choice considering my upside down situation, so I just shouted, “Okay, Mack, you got me, now help me out.”
“I don’t think so,” he said, stood up and kicked gravel into my face. “It ends right here, right now. I’m tired of chasin’ your ass all over south Missouri.”
I watched as he pulled a fat cigar out of his shirt pocket and survey the road north and south. “Someone will come by later, find you right here, overturned and burnt to a crisp.” The extent of his smile betrayed the level of his pleasure. “The Joplin headlines will read — Pineville war hero dies in fiery highway accident.”
He was getting ready to light that cigar when a sniper’s bullet silenced Sheriff Johnny Mack forever and he collapsed in a heap of dead lawman.
I pulled myself out of the overturned truck, plucked Mack’s unlit cigar from his lifeless fingers and dug around in my jacket pocket for a lighter. A minute later, Pete’s Buick screeched to a stop right beside the dead Sheriff. He shouted out the open window, “Sorry about that, Captain, but from where I sat, it looked like the Sheriff was about two seconds away from lighting a bootlegger barbeque.”
During the war Sergeant Lawson had been the best sniper in the battalion. He had my back from the day we landed, to the morning we rolled into Paris. So, when I needed a partner for the whiskey business, someone to handle security, he was the first person I called.
“You saved my bacon one more time, Pete.” I took a moment to light Mack’s cigar and looked down at the sheriff, his blood spilling out on the Missouri back road. I took another puff and added, “You know, if Johnny Mack had to come in first at something, I’m glad it was dying.”
Mickey Mills has been writing over twenty years as a motor-sports freelancer. His recently completed first novel, HAUNTING INJUSTICE, a paranormal suspense/ghost story, is being prepped for publication at CreateSpace and will be available early in 2010. Currently, he is elbow deep in the second book of the series. He hosts a writer’s group at Multiply.com. When not writing, Mickey can be found exploring the country on PEARL, his Harley Davidson Electra-glide, or researching his next project. He is an engineer by education — a writer by passion.