Waiting for the Man, fiction by Don Jennings

He didn't flinch when the met­al roof popped on the far side of the trail­er. Just kept look­ing out­side, eyes lev­el, gaze steady. Fin­ger­tips rest­ing light­ly on the windowsill.

 Cops has been watch­ing Lester from the pine for­est out back for days. Maybe weeks. It was hard to remem­ber how long. Seemed like a cen­tu­ry he had crouched at this win­dow, watch­ing and wait­ing. He wouldn't give the bas­tards the sat­is­fac­tion of mak­ing the first move. Besides, he had one more cook to finish.

The floor of the trail­er sagged and creaked as he tip­toed, bare­foot, into the hall­way. He paused by the only door that lead out­side and checked the shells in his twelve gauge again. It was still loaded.

A chem­i­cal vapor per­me­at­ed the mobile home, and grew stronger as he approached the cen­ter. Where the hall­way opened into the kitchen, the stench became over­pow­er­ing. Lester pulled his tee shirt over his nose. He approached the stove and adjust­ed the flame on a gas burn­er beneath a stain­less steel pot. After a moment, he returned the knob to its orig­i­nal set­ting and left the room.

Inside the bath­room, an errant eye­brow cap­tured his atten­tion. He stepped clos­er to the mir­ror and exam­ined it. Took a pair of tweez­ers from a shelf and plucked. Anoth­er over­long hair appeared above the oppo­site eye, sym­met­ri­cal­ly locat­ed. He plucked it, too. Now the longest strand was back on the orig­i­nal side, as if they were grow­ing while he watched. He plucked anoth­er, and another.

A half hour later–maybe the fol­low­ing day, or with­in the next few seconds–he found him­self star­ing above the image of his own bare shoul­der, lost in the depths of the bath­room behind him. Imper­fec­tions in the reflec­tive glass became ocean swells. He leaned to one side, right­ed, then list­ed to the oth­er. The motion felt grace­ful, com­fort­ing, a mother's pen­du­lous solace to a col­icky child. Again he swayed to and fro, inten­tion­al­ly this time. But, as he leaned right a third time, his move­ment stopped abrupt­ly. His eyes shot wide. His teeth clenched, and the mus­cles in his neck snapped tight like a tow chain engag­ing a bro­ken down pick­up truck.

Both eye­brows were plucked clean.


 Lester laid the torch aside and raised his hood. With the hem of his shirt he pushed sweat off his fore­head, onto the con­crete floor. A tiny mud pud­dle formed in the dirt beside his boot. The weight of the hel­met made his neck hurt, but he hat­ed to take it off. Folks had stared at his eye­brows all morn­ing, and the hood pro­vid­ed a mea­sure of camouflage.

No one had said any­thing at first. Then the straw boss had wan­dered by, shoot­ing the shit and pick­ing up time tick­ets. “Got damn, Lester, who you sup­posed to be? Alice fuckin' Coop­er? ” The name had stuck. By mid morn­ing, when­ev­er he'd encounter anoth­er iron­work­er at the water cool­er or the bath­room, they'd just cut him a side­long glance, slap leather gloves against den­im pants to release a cloud of dust, and mut­ter, “Alice Coop­er. I be damn.” He'd pre­pared a sto­ry about singe­ing his eye­brows over a camp­fire, but no one had both­ered to come right out and ask.

Damn this bunch, any­way, he decid­ed. Maybe it was time to scram­ble again. Stay­ing put too long nev­er worked out, any­way. Mus­cle Shoals had been cool, but then things went south with Amy. She'd start­ed talk­ing about mar­riage, and babies, and he hadn't been able to cook dope fast enough to keep her hap­py. So he'd lit out for Huntsville. That was okay for a while, too, until he'd sensed the cold, steel-mesh grip of a police net encir­cling. So he'd run out on his apartment's deposit under cov­er of a mid­night thunderstorm.

Now he was perched atop Sand Moun­tain in the north­east­ern cor­ner of the state. One week he drove to Tren­ton for cold tablets from the phar­ma­cy, then up to Chat­tanooga for toluene from an indus­tri­al sup­ply house, and final­ly back home to Bryant for a bot­tle of Red Dev­il lye and a cook. A few weeks lat­er he would reverse the order, always zigzag­ging across state lines, scor­ing dif­fer­ent items in dif­fer­ent com­mu­ni­ties in a des­per­ate effort to mask his trail. Try­ing to con­fuse the data­base in each locale that tracked sales of key ingre­di­ents. Yeah, the tri-state area had advan­tages. But maybe it was time to move on from here, too.

Lester want­ed to run, to fight, to kill and be killed. To end it all, and take some­body with him. That could only mean he was over­due. He removed his hood and laid it, lens up, on the gear train he'd been attach­ing to a J box. Wiped his hands on his pants pock­ets and stalked off to the bathroom.

Locked in a stall, he fished some pow­der onto the tip of his razor knife. There wasn't enough left for anoth­er good bump, so he dipped again and did it all. What the hell. Licked the bag­gie clean, laid it on the toi­let paper dis­penser, and began to piss. He heard the bath­room door open behind him. His nose burned and itched, but he fought the urge to honk it on up. That would be too obvi­ous to who­ev­er had just entered. He'd fin­ish snort­ing behind his hood.

He zipped his pants, opened the stall door, and left.

Back at his work sta­tion, he real­ized he'd left the bag­gie lay­ing in plain view on the dis­penser in the bath­room. Licked clean, but still, god a mighty, how care­less. Maybe this was his last day at work, any­how. A com­fort­able ball, like fuzzy cot­ton muffs in win­ter, began to form around his ears. Sweat streamed down the back of his neck. Yeah, it was get­ting time to cut a trail.

He placed his hood upright on his head with his left hand. Jerked his neck to drop it into place, and pulled the trig­ger on the MIG. He would hide behind his mask for a while. Life was good, inside the cocoon. He'd weld some parts, safe and pro­tect­ed, in the glow of the arc behind which no one else could see. Lester was invisible.


 The woods were silent, but he knew they were out there. Knew by the occa­sion­al tell­tale glint of moon­light off a badge, a pis­tol bar­rel, the fat bald head of a sheriff's deputy. Besides, he could sense their pres­ence. Feel their men­ace. Bring it on, cow­boys, he whis­pered like a prayer. Bring it on.

He stood upright and stretched his back, lost for a moment in the swirls of plas­ter on the bed­room ceil­ing. Aban­don­ing his sta­tion at the win­dowsill, he drift­ed into the hall­way and idly checked the shotgun's load once more. Wan­dered into the kitchen, not both­er­ing to cov­er his face, breath­ing deep of the pun­gent odor till his eyes watered and he felt dizzy. Until he felt some­thing more than dizzy.

A crack like a bull whip sound­ed from the woods behind the trail­er. Once, twice, then silence again. There was no win­dow near­by to peer out of. The sound had been fire­crack­ers, car doors. Match­ing shots from a .22 rifle. Lester was out the front door and bound­ing down the steps with­in sec­onds, bare­hand­ed and wear­ing only cut­offs. The time was now. Wait­ing was full.

He tore across the dark back yard, dodg­ing obsta­cles by mem­o­ry, duck­ing beneath an emp­ty clothes­line, around the well's encase­ment, and into the black­ness of the mid­night bri­ar patch. A famil­iar flash of light shone in the dis­tance, moon­light on a bil­ly club, at the far side of the black­ber­ries. Then dark­ness again, and silence. Bram­bles tore at bare legs as Lester dove into the thicket.

As he charged out the far side of the bri­ar patch, eyes wide and head swing­ing like a gun on a tur­ret, he stepped into a hol­low in the earth and turned his ankle. He col­lapsed and lay still on the damp earth, eyes sky­ward, chest heav­ing. When he touched his leg, the fin­gers came away bloody.

The police were no near­er nor fur­ther than they had been before his charge. Come get me, you chick­en shit bas­tards, he screamed, voice­less­ly. There was only black­ness in every direc­tion. The only sound was the pit­ter pat­ter of the sneak­er-clad feet of the agents as they beat a strate­gic retreat into the dis­tance, where they would regroup and plan their next move.


Don Jen­nings lives alone in a tiny apart­ment stuffed with books in Rich­mond, Ken­tucky. He apol­o­gizes for being a stereo­type. His sto­ries have been fea­tured in Wrong Tree Review, A‑Minor, Dew on the Kudzu and else­where. A com­plete list of his pub­lished sto­ries may be found at:


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One Response to Waiting for the Man, fiction by Don Jennings

  1. albert says:

    sto­ry of our lives in active addiction.

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