Lucky Albright had been driving all day and she still wasn’t out of Texas. Worse, she had no idea where she was. With her gas gauge on empty, her stomach gnawing a hole clean through to her backside, and her wallet bone dry of remedying either of her first two issues, she pulled into the parking lot of the only building she’d seen since the last small town of Hole in the Wall. Maybe, just maybe, someone inside could point her to the nearest homeless shelter.
Because that was what she was.
She reached up to swipe at the ready tears, cursing herself for shedding even one when the people of Comfort, Texas had been anything but a comfort to her. Hell, they’d run her out of town like an unwanted, stray dog. All she’d been looking for was a quiet place to call her home. And they’d kicked her out after a series of unfortunate events that hadn’t been her fault at all.
She could still picture the mayor of Comfort along with over half the town loading her meager belongings into her truck.
“Get out of town and stay out of town,” the mayor had said. “In fact, get the hell out of Texas. Your kind is not wanted anywhere near the great Lone Star State.”
With townsfolk lined up along the street, blocking her return to city limits, she had felt like she was part of a cartoon or a reality show about being punked. Surely this wasn’t happening to her. She had every right to be in that town. Never in her life had she committed a crime, she followed rules, she was an upstanding citizen.
So she’d had a run of bad luck. It wasn’t her fault Mitsy Grumbal’s dog tangled with a skunk, Joe Sarli wrecked into the side of one of their precious historic buildings, Raymond Rausch’s cow had gotten loose and trampled the flowers around the town square, or the public library had burned down. But somehow, she’d been the one closest to the incidents and she’d taken the blame. Taken wasn’t exactly the term she’d use. Assigned was closer to reality.
As she drove through the parking lot packed with a Saturday night crowd, the tears blurred her eyes, but she refused to shed even one more. Before she could find a place to pull in, her engine sputtered and died. Her beat up pickup drifted to a stop behind four large, shiny new trucks.
Lucky leaned her head on the steering wheel, fighting back more tears. “Fuck this!” she yelled, slamming her palm against the dash. “I’m an Albright. Albright’s don’t give up and they sure as shootin’ don’t cry.” She unbuckled her seatbelt, climbed down from the truck, tucked her hair up into her cowboy hat and strode for the front door of the building, glancing up at the crooked sign hanging overhead.
Ugly Stick Saloon.
Figured. She could use a beer about now, but she didn’t have the money to buy one, much less a gallon of gas to get her into the next town. All she could hope for was to find work washing dishes, scrubbing toilets or, if her luck changed, landing a job with a rancher who needed a ranch hand. One who would give her a lift to the ranch until she could afford to put gas in her truck and bring it with her.
Music pulsed through the corrugated tin walls of the building. As Lucky stepped through the front entrance, she could hear the excited screams of the women inside.
A large gender-ambiguous person stood guard just inside the door, blocking her entrance. “Sorry, mister, it’s Ladies Night. No men allowed.”
Lucky didn’t mind when people mistook her for a man. She was taller than most women and slender, more athletic than curvy. And she liked to wear men’s jeans, chambray shirts and cowboy boots. The horses and cows she preferred to work with didn’t care what she wore or how she wore it.
But right at that moment, she needed to get inside and find help. Either that or stay the night in her truck, blocking the four larger trucks in their parking spaces.
“Suits me just fine.” She swept off the cowboy hat and let her long sandy-blond hair fall down about her shoulders. That too would have been cut short, but she hadn’t had time or the spare cash to get it cut in the past couple months and it grew like hay in a warm summer rain.
The bouncer’s eyes narrowed and gave her a swift appraising once-over before nodding. “There’s a five-dollar cover charge to get in tonight.” A meaty hand came out, palm up.
Crap. If she’d had five bucks, she wouldn’t be out of gas at this point. She’d have bought a gallon in Hole in the Wall instead of risking another fifteen miles to Temptation. “Look, my truck…stalled out in the parking lot. I need to speak with the owner.”
“Sorry, Audrey Anderson is busy.”
Feeling more desperate by the second, Lucky put on her best poker face and insisted, “I need to speak with Ms. Anderson.”
The bouncer crossed beefy arms over a broad chest. “Unless you pay the cover charge, you ain’t gettin’ in.”
Defeated, Lucky trudged back to her truck. She couldn’t leave it in the middle of the parking lot, blocking other vehicles from getting out. She put it in neutral and, standing in the open door, leaned into the frame. The heavy vehicle barely moved an inch.
Throwing all the anger and frustration she’d lived with over the past two years into her next push, she got the truck rolling. Grunting and pushing, she plowed her feet into the gravel and the vehicle moved faster.
Until that moment, Lucky hadn’t noticed the slight slope leading to the far end of the parking lot, the line of trucks and the drainage ditch beyond.
Once the truck was in motion, she glanced up and froze momentarily.
The truck was now rolling at a good clip and headed straight for a bright red pickup, with a shiny paint job and a license plate that read USS1.
Lucky dug her heels into the gravel and leaned back, holding onto the door, but it did little slow the momentum, her worn boot heels kicking up lines of dust behind her. Finally forced to let go, she spun away to keep from being run over by the back tires.
“No,” she said out loud, visions of the charred remains of the Comfort Public Library flooding her head. “Not again.” She grabbed the tailgate of the truck, willed the strength of a bulldozer into her back and tried again to slow the vehicle.
It rolled faster, until it slammed into the back of the pretty red truck, forcing its front wheels over the edge of the embankment, where it teetered for a moment. Gravity and the weight of Lucky’s truck gave it an added oomph, and it slid down into the drainage ditch below.
Her own truck followed the red truck into the ditch, metal crunching metal.
Catching herself before she too pitched over the edge, Lucky teetered on the embankment, staring down at the wreckage, her heart sinking into her boots.
Why was it when she thought things were really bad they got worse? The phrase it only goes up from here never entered her realm of possibilities.
I hope you enjoyed the beginning of BOOTS AND TWISTERS! Happy Reading!