NOBODY DROVE THIS isolated section of the old highway unless the truck was overloaded. The Dunn Sisters Audio truck was always overloaded. The sisters always avoided the weigh stations on the Interstate and used this road on their way to or from some concert or convention that they had supported. There was only one town between where they left the Interstate to avoid the weigh station and where they returned to it. Team driving and sleeping in the truck’s cab were a way of life.
Freshly harvested fields lined the road as far as could be seen in the moonlight. Ten days ago, on the drive in the other direction, these fields had been deep green holding the promise of a bumper crop and a profitable harvest. The promise appeared to have been fulfilled if the deep ruts on the dirt access roads from the fields to the highway were any indication. Farm wagons, tractors, combines, and other harvesting equipment bearing the logo of a local farm equipment rental company sat silently in the moonlight, casting long shadows, waiting to be picked up in the morning and redeployed to another field needing harvesting.
It had been a long day for the Dunn Sisters. Only two hours of driving time remained to the Dunn Audio warehouse. Those were two very long hours. The sisters could be at the apartment ten minutes after securing the truck at the warehouse. Unloading the equipment would wait for the morning. Perhaps a stop at the town’s all-night diner and lone remaining food service establishment for coffee and some sugar-laden pastry might be a good idea. There was nothing to be gained by falling asleep at the wheel, and the delay would be insignificant.
The village was no longer large enough to be considered a town. It boasted two bill-boards dating from the days before the Interstate Highway passed it by. Other than an occasional truck headed in the other direction, also avoiding the weigh station, there was no traffic at this hour of the night. The glare of oncoming headlights could be painful on these old, well-traveled two-lane roads. Dusty residue from the farm trucks formed a cloud behind the Dunn Audio truck, testifying that the road had been busy carrying the harvest to market only a few hours earlier.
It would have been easy to speed along this open road, but the old truck was so overloaded that merely maintaining cruising speed on the rolling hills was challenging. With a half-million miles on the odometer and long overdue for service, the truck crested the last hill before the town with billowing thick black diesel fumes dissipating into the darkness as it labored to travel fast enough to approach the speed limit. The little engine that could had nothing on this truck.
The billboard marking the town’s boundary, announcing the town’s annual harvest festival scheduled for the following weekend, rolled into view as the Dunn sisters crested the last hill before the village. A competitor had provided the audio services for the festival last year and did a horrible job with it if the rumors were to be believed. The Dunn Sisters had not been asked to bid on this year’s festival. As things worked out, they did have the weekend off and could have taken the gig.
In what could easily have been a scene from Smokey and the Bandit, a patrol car with its lights flashing pulled out from behind the billboard advertising the harvest festival as the Dunn Sisters Audio truck approached. The good news was that they were not speeding. The bad news was that they were overloaded enough that the fine could be significant. A speeding ticket could mean loss of driving privileges. In this business, you can’t work if you can’t drive.
Charlotte Dunn pulled the truck off the road into an abandoned gas station parking lot. The pavement had deteriorated, but the gas station’s lot was safer than the road’s shoulder. Denise Dunn, sleeping against the window, was instantly awake.
The sisters had survived a long week. The week had started ten days ago with a frantic phone call in the middle of the night from the agent who handled all their bookings. A neophyte concert promoter had booked an entertainer into a venue that could not support the performer’s audio requirements. The promoter had intended to use the venue’s audio system after being convinced by the clueless sales manager that they could handle anything. The performer’s advance team had taken one look at the place the day before the show and threatened to cancel the show if a professional audio system was not brought in.
The sisters frantically loaded their truck and raced to the venue. Running legally and being on time after moving from one job site to the following job site was frequently a mutually exclusive undertaking. Had the sisters purchased a new truck equipped with all the GPS monitoring equipment currently mandated by the transportation department instead of the dinosaur of a used truck they could afford, they would have been late. As it was, they pulled up to the loading dock with only a few minutes to spare. As would be expected, the show was a disaster. The promoter had booked inadequate labor, both backstage and front-of-house. The sales manager who had convinced the promoter that she did not need all that “esoteric” equipment was fired before the intermission.
The sisters stayed with the performer for three more shows. They left to execute a previously scheduled software developers’ conference general session and final night awards banquet for an established client. That client was well known for inadequate planning and performed as incompetently as usual. “Are you sure this isn’t your first rodeo?” You know what I’m talking about. The ‘no-tell-motels’ arranged for the staff’s lodging were so dis-reputable that the sisters only used them to shower and do laundry, preferring to sleep in the truck’s big cargo box on the canvas equipment covers.
The Sheriff who stepped out of the patrol car bore no resemblance to Jackie Gleason, but neither of the Dunn sisters looked like Burt Reynolds. The Sheriff was a large Black man who looked like he had once played on the defensive line of an NFL football team.
“Good morning. Is one of you the owner of this truck?
“Yes, sir, we both are, sir. We are sisters, sir.”
The Sheriff nodded. “Okay, well, you don’t need me to tell you that you are overloaded. You know it as well as I do. If you weren’t, you wouldn’t drive twenty miles out of your way to avoid the weigh station. My deputy watched you cross the bridge just on this side of the county line, and she could see that you were overloaded by the way you didn’t bounce when you hit the expansion joint. May I see your logbook?”
Charlotte handed him the logbook.
The Sheriff shook his head. “You’re over the time limit even with two drivers. That’s not safe.”
“We can switch drivers,” Charlotte offered.
The Sheriff shook his head. “You’re overloaded. You’re overtime. I could give you a ticket for your violations and send you on your way, but at least one of the tires on your rear axle is bad. I would hate to call the rescue folks in the middle of the night to pull your butts out of a ditch after a blowout. I noticed the tire when you came through here in the other direction.”
Charlotte Dunn said, “Yes, sir. We’ll be careful.”