Cannon Johns was soaking wet when he pulled into the motel. The VACANCY light was on, but the neon light was out on the first “A” and the “C”. He was bone weary, out of options, and hungry, which was why his attention was drawn to the vending machine sitting under the overhang, barely out of the driving rain.
It was way too late to find food anywhere else in the tiny panhandle town of Barburnett, Texas. He’d passed a Sonic and a convenience store, but both had been put to bed hours before. There was only one option. Three rundown machines. Two selling drinks. One vending the usual assortment of candy, crackers, pretzels and other unsatisfying stuff guaranteed to hasten demise. Which would be okay with him.
He unlocked the door marked with a number 16 and rolled his Harley inside. He hadn’t gotten permission, but didn’t expect the guy at the front desk would object. The man’s Indian accent was so thick Can had been forced to ask him to repeat himself several times. The night manager, who was probably also the owner, gave every indication of a man who wouldn’t be presenting much of an obstacle to anything that came his way. Especially not when cash was involved.
Kickstand set in place, he promised himself that he’d towel her off as soon as he’d put on dry clothes and stuffed some empty calories into his stomach. He was never so glad that he’d taken the time to put his clothes in a plastic bag before stowing them the side containers affectionately called saddle bags. Even the tightest, newest, best made bike could leak in a hard enough rain.
First order of business, vending machines.
Stepping back out into the hundred percent humidity air, he stayed toward the half of the walkway under the overhang that was dry. Out of habit, he looked around before starting toward the lighted food and drink dispensers. He was almost there when he saw movement next to one of the machines. Somebody was crouched behind the one furthest from the rain, with the most darkness for cover.
In addition to being tired, hungry, and out of options, he was also out of sorts, a combination that could play out very badly for a would-be mugger. Weary as he was, he wouldn’t mind a good excuse for administering some bare knuckle punishment to the wicked.
When he was eight feet away from the Mountain Dew column, he said, “Come on out of there and state your business.” He had to raise his voice to a near-shout to be heard over the pounding rain.
After a slight hesitation, a small figure emerged in a yellow plastic poncho, the kind you can get at the grocery store for a couple of bucks. As soon as she reached up to pull the hood back he knew it was a woman by the delicate size of her hands and the way she moved.
The light was dim, but he saw her clearly as if it was noon on a bright sunny day. His late wife had once told him that he had to change out the light fixture in the kitchen because “nobody looks good in fluorescent light”. The girl standing in front of him was proof it just ain’t so.
Her eyes were violet blue. And wide. He wasn’t sure if that was because of fear or misery. Like him, she soaking wet. Unlike him, she was shivering. Whether that was from fear or cold he couldn’t tell for sure.
“What the hell you doing out here, girl?” He looked around. “Something got you spooked.”
She licked her bottom lip. “No, ah, I’m just a little down on luck. I don’t want any trouble.”
“Don’t want no trouble, huh.”
It wasn’t a question. He said it as if it was a provable fact. She shook her head to both punctuate his assessment and agree with it.
“Yeah. Me, neither. At least not tonight.”