Who’s in the Trunk, by Wakefield Mahon
Earl stood behind his ancient Chevy Impala. A distant street light barely illuminated his frustrated face in the darkness before dawn. He shoved his hands in the pockets of overalls nearly as old and worn as the car as a stream of obscenities flowed from his mouth.
“Oh Lord, Earl, what wrong with you now?”
Earl jumped at the sound of Gil’s voice. He glanced nervously at the trunk before turning around. “You scared me Gil. You can’t go around sneaking up on folks like that. You nearly gave me a heart attack.”
“I swear you been a scaredy-cat since we was in grade school. What’s got you all riled up anyway?”
Earl angled himself between Gil and the car, keeping an eye on him as if he expected Gil to stab him in the back. “It looks like I managed to lock my keys in the trunk.”
“Well, you got a spare set, ain’t you? Where do you keep them?”
“I sure don’t keep them in my car. Do you think I’m an idiot! Some kid might find them and go joyriding with old Bessie without giving it a second thought.”
Gil glanced at the car and raised an eyebrow. Faded green paint had peeled away revealing a dull gray primer. Even in the dark, Gil could identify where the rust had started to manifest.
“Alright now, I know she ain’t pretty, but she’s paid for. Still runs like a top too!”
Gil shrugged. “I reckon we grabbed our share of jalopies when we were that age.”
The two men stared in silence at the trunk the same way men stare at an overheated engine on the side of the highway when they don’t know the first thing about repairing a car. Gil noticed a drop of dark liquid fall from a swath of plastic protruding from the trunk.
“What’s that you got there, Earl?”
“Where? What’re you talking about Gil?”
“There’s is a big old piece of plastic sticking out of your trunk. It looks an awful lot like that movie we watched last month. I know how you get ideas sometimes. You didn’t go and do something crazy, did you Earl?”
“Oh, that ain’t nothing, just a tarp is all.”
Gil pulled a cigarette from a pack of unfiltered Camels and lit it. He took a drag before he spoke. “You know I’m your best friend; you can tell me if you’re in trouble. Haven’t I always been there for you? Do you remember Miss Ann’s class? She caught you with them cigarettes and I acted like they were mine, ’cause I knew your pa would skin you alive. I even smoked them to prove it.”
Earl frowned. “I wish you’d never started smoking.”
Gil continued, “Remember the time you swiped your old man’s whiskey and almost got caught? I ain’t never ratted you out. I’m your best friend; don’t you trust me, Earl?”
Earl pulled off his cap and used his sleeve to wipe his brow. The colors of the predawn sky had barely started to warm but sweat poured from his pudgy face. He glanced in Gil’s direction, but not really at him, more over his shoulder at the faintly glowing horizon.
“Carol and I got to fighting again last night. She come in about midnight stinking to high heaven of alcohol and cigarettes. On top of I heard she’s been running around on me again. Of course, when I confronted her, she denied it ’til she was blue in the face, said she’d been out with Sue and just lost track of time was all. I wasn’t hearing it, though. She must have forgotten Sue’s been in hospital for a week now with that broken leg. I swear I’ve had my last fight with that woman.”
“You can’t go believing all the rumors you hear, man. You know how Nadine likes to run her mouth. Why just last week, she swore up and down that she saw Pastor James at the bar talking up some out of town girl. You know perfectly well the only reason he was in the bar was to collect that drunk, Elroy.” Gil’s pupils narrowed. “Wait a minute, Earl. Please tell me you didn’t go and beat your wife and lock her in the trunk.”
The tension drained out of Earl’s face and he chuckled. “Course not, that wouldn’t be no way to treat a lady. Can’t say I didn’t contemplate it though.”
“Alright then, who’s in the trunk?”
“Why do got to assume it’s a somebody?”
Gil took a puff of his cigarette without breaking eye contact. Earl had always hated that look. He never could lie to his friend for more than a minute, even when he was mad as hell at him.
“Well you see Gil, I was right ready to knock Carol upside her head with anything in reach, so I went outside and took me a walk to cool my head in the night air. I followed Miller’s Run on down to the creek. I listened to them bullfrogs and crickets for a good hour. I tried deep breathing like Doc Baker always told me too. But, no matter what I did, I couldn’t shake the anger inside of me. Finally, it occurred to me that maybe Nadine was the one telling stories.”
“Well that’s a relief. I’m glad you came to your senses.”
Earl shrugged. “If it were daylight you know the beauty shop is the first place I would’ve looked. You know, as much time as she spends in that place she ought to come out looking like Aphrodite. I don’t mean no offense, but she ain’t the best looking filly in town.
Gil just grinned. “Papa always said Mama must’ve lost her mind and took up with the milk man, Jim Bob, else wise Doc Baker must’ve hit her upside the head with an ugly stick when he delivered her. Course that would be about the time Mama hit HIM upside the head with anything she had handy. Anyway, as you were saying?”
“Seeing as Miss Mabel closes a good while before the bar, I headed over to Red’s. I marched in and grabbed Nadine. Now, don’t look at me like that, Gil, I didn’t hurt her none. I just dragged her outside and asked her why she’d been telling stories. She swore up and down she wasn’t. I asked her what time my Carol got to the bar and she said didn’t see her at the bar. Which didn’t make no sense since Carol smelled like the bar when she came home. So, I asked her outright who my wife was running with and where she saw them, but that Nadine shut up her mouth tighter than a pair of handcuffs on a drunk. After all the ruckus she caused, she had some nerve deciding to hold her tongue, shrugging her shoulders like she didn’t remember. I swear I was angrier than I don’t know what.”
“Earl, you know I love you like my own kin, but if you put my sister in your trunk, I swear I’ll…”
“Take it easy, Gil. I told you I didn’t hurt her none. I figured her amnesia proved she’d been telling tales the whole time.”
While he was talking, Earl remembered he’d left the crowbar by the side of the road. He wiped off the mud and the reddish brown mess and tried to pry open the trunk.
“Anyway, I figured I’d head back home and apologize to my wife for flying off the handle like that. I know I have a serious temper and I need to be careful where I point my anger. Gentlewoman that she is, she forgave me right away. She kissed me and promised said she’d make me feel all better. I’m sure I had a grin two miles wide when she went into the bathroom and said she was going to change into something more comfortable. She remembered she’d forgot something so she asked me to bring her jacket. That’s when the box of unfiltered camels fell out of her pocket. Nadine had been telling the truth the whole time.”
Gil’s face fell. “Oh no Earl! Tell me you didn’t hurt Carol. They might have been her cigarettes.”
Earl laughed uneasily. “Oh, I wanted to. Believe me. Here’s the thing. Carol ain’t smoked in seven years and she ain’t never smoked Camels much less unfiltered, hated them with a passion. But you already knew that didn’t you?”
Tears, of equal parts anger and sadness, filled Earl’s eyes as he tried to look at Gil.
“I only know one person who smokes them nasty cigarettes. Likes them so much he goes all the way across the county line just to buy them. I knew what I had to do, Gil. I had to come here and set things right.”
The trunk opened with a pop. Gil looked across the lawn at his home then at the body in the car. “Oh Earl no…”
Like the morning sun finally breaking over the horizon, the realization dawned on Gil and he slowly faded away.
Wakefield Mahon writes fiction in nearly every genre. His favorite stories lean toward the Rod Serling flavor of horror. As an avid reader and supporter of authors, he hosts a weekly flash fiction challenge, Motivation Monday, on his website, WakefieldMahon.com where he also posts music, video, poetry and whatever nonsense his muse insists on dragging from him.
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Tags: accidents, affairs, murder, Wakefield Mahon