In which the hero Delbert Bonner college age drops out to hitch hike across America with his friend Alexander Carmichael in the 1960s. To Hell with Life on the Mississippi.
Night reveries were interrupted by the explosion of the left front tire.
The driver kept on driving.
“Damn,” he exclaimed. He slowed down, but he kept on going, rumbling on the rubber, pulled over and got out, smoke pouring from the overheated chords and tread. He left the motor running.
“No spare,” he said, getting back into the car. “Got to take a little longer it looks like getting to Memphis tonight.” He stayed on the shoulder and gave the car a nudge into first gear and made about four miles an hour for another mile.
“Beats walking,” is all he said. He’d be on the rim pretty soon and then what?
They drove that way twenty minutes, then passed an unpaved county road. As they cleared the intervening gravel the car flooded with uncanny blue light.
The driver kept driving. The squad car pulled in behind them and kept pace, about forty feet off their bumper. The kid flicked his half finished cigarette out the window as the trooper approached after he came to a halt. He put both hands back on the wheel and waited.
“You got a little trouble going on here?” asked the officer.
“What does it look like I got?” asked the kid.
“Looks like you might have a couple of hitch hikers,” added the trooper.
“These two? No sir. I’ve been knowing them a long time.”
“ID, proof of registration and a little insurance if you got any.”
“Sure do,” said the kid. He handed out the proof of respectability, the only proof he carried.
After a moment or two when the trooper didn’t have to think so much about his gun he said, “There’s a gas station five miles up ahead. I can give you a lift and get this tire fixed.”
“How come you’re so sure I ain’t got no spare?” the kid said.
“Son,” said the trooper, “I don’t have to think too hard about it to know you ain’t got shit.”
Delbert and Alex stayed seated in the car by the side of the road in the middle of the night in the middle of Mississippi. The kid and the trooper returned. The trooper held a flashlight while the kid remounted the tire and told the officer he’d send him a Christmas present.
“Whatever. Just you stay out of trouble. You’ve got a foot in it already.”
“Sure be doing that,” said the kid.
They drove on in to Memphis.
When they got to the address, all the way to the house where Delbert and Alex wanted to go, they tried to give the kid some money.
“Keep it,” he said.
“If I ever see you again,” said Delbert trying to saying something, “I’ll make it up to you.”
Then the kid said this.
He said, “If you ever see anyone out there on the road in need, somebody in need of help, you help them and that’s the way you repay me. You understand?”
“Sure,” said Delbert.
“That’s all that matters,” said the kid.
He drove away.
If you ever see anyone out there in need, you’ve seen the kid. If you’ve ever helped him, you know his name.
Even if you don’t know it.