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The day he found the handcuffed woman in the road, John O’Leary had been barreling along Highway 94 west of Fargo, North Dakota. He was in his usual zone, a trance induced by a snort of crystal meth and the monotonous thrum of the long-haul rig’s eighteen wheels, his thoughts half in the moment and half in the solitude of his mind. He had delivered his cargo in Minneapolis and was now deadheading back into a gathering snowstorm toward Bismarck and on to Portland. Most of the big long-haul rigs had pulled off the road at truck stops long before now, but John had forged on into the storm knowing he would have the highway to himself, like a lone voyager at sea.

He often thought of himself as a sea captain sailing his iron schooner from port to port, maybe carrying spices from China, India or Ceylon around the southern capes of Africa to European ports. Now, as flurries of snowflakes whirled around the truck, he imagined he was sailing Antarctic waters, carrying supplies to Admiral Byrd. He moved through a world white as cloud, without horizon or form, and as visibility diminished he geared down in much the way a sea captain might reef his sails.

He probably would have missed the woman if not for the black vultures circling and gathering in the snow. He could see the furrow where the car had skidded onto the shoulder and rolled. He pulled to the side, leaped down and moved to where the woman was making a pitiful attempt to crawl away from the wreckage. He dropped to his knees beside her. Her eyes were open. She tried to speak, but no words came. Then she became still. The snow continued to fall.

He picked her up in his arms and carried her to the truck, lifted her into the cab and then moved her to the customized sleeper unit in back. He laid her down on his bunk and it was then he realized she was wearing handcuffs. He sat for a moment, staring, wondering. She was unconscious now, her jeans and sweater were soaked in blood and he could see where the fabric of her jeans had been sliced, probably when she had been thrown from the car. The wound on her leg still seeped blood. He reached for the first aid kit he carried and set it on the side of the bunk. With scissors, he cut away her jeans and began to clean and disinfect the jagged wound. He pressed a gauze bandage onto the cut and when the bleeding stopped, he closed it with adhesive strips. Good enough until he could get her to a hospital. He wondered what other damage had been done. With difficulty, because of the handcuffs, he cut and wrestled away the rest of her wet and blood-stained clothes. She had dirty blond hair, clotted with blood from abrasions on her scalp. She was young, maybe in her late twenties, slim, deeply tanned, as if she had spent many hours in a tanning booth. The many cuts and abrasions on her arms, her breasts and shoulders did not seem too serious. He tried not to stare at her body as he cleaned and disinfected her injuries. When he was done, he draped her in one of his old Navy fatigue shirts. Then covered her with as many blankets as he had. He sat back and looked at the woman he had found, wondering who she was and why she wore the handcuffs. After a while, there was movement behind her eyelids, as if she were dreaming. Then, she opened her eyes. They were blue. She stared at him, trying to focus.

Suddenly, he remembered the wreck. “Were there others?” he asked.

She nodded her head.

“I’ll be right back.” He pulled on his heavy coat and went back into the snow. The wrecked car was a chaos of broken steel and glass. It was a police car. After rolling, it had finally landed upside down with its wheels in the air. More vultures had gathered. The driver was strapped in, the other was sprawled in the back seat. Both were uniformed police officers. Both were dead.

When he returned to his truck, the woman seemed to be coming around. She stared up at him, her eyes still unfocused. He asked her name and, after a long pause, she said her name was Lilly.

“What are you going to do with me?” she asked. Her voice was little more than a whisper, difficult to hear over the idling engine.

“Get you to a hospital.”

“What about these?” she asked, lifting the handcuffs from under the blankets.

“First, tell me what happened.”

“There was a wreck.”

“Before that. Why were you in the police car?”

For a long time, she was silent, her eyes searching his. Then she said, “They stopped me for having a broken taillight.”

“Only that?”

“Small town cops. They wanted me to pay a fine. I had no money. They said they were taking my car. I made a fuss. I may have kicked one of them.”

John moved back behind the wheel. He cleared the windshield. It was still snowing but the wind had blown much of the snow from the surface of the road. The basic outline of the highway was revealed by roadside signs and guardrails extending above the snow. Even though visibility forward was near zero, he decided it was time to go. He sensed the snowplows would be along soon and for some reason he didn’t want to be around when the dead policemen were discovered. He engaged the clutch.

“Where are we going?” she asked. There was a touch of panic in her voice.


“You going to turn me in?”

“I don’t know.”

He popped the transmission into half-low gear and began to creep forward. Soon he was shifting up through the gears. He adjusted the rearview mirror so he could see Lilly laying in his bunk. He remembered how light she had been in his arms and the feel of her as he had taken off her clothes. Her eyes were closed now, her blond hair a tangle. She reminded him of the girl in high school who had been the first he had seen naked. She had screwed him out of pity. He had been unpopular, a loner, a subject of ridicule. Homely was the polite word for what he knew he was. When he had failed miserably, she had rolled off him and said he wasn’t worth the trouble. Even so, the image of that girl occupied an enduring place in the fantasies that played behind his eyes as the long miles rolled by. He looked back at Lilly. She seemed to be sleeping. He drove on.

He thought about her broken taillight story and decided it might be true. Then he thought it might not be. Maybe she had done something much more serious. But what? A robbery? Maybe she had killed someone, her husband, a boyfriend. Maybe she was a prostitute and had been arrested for that. What kind of cops would handcuff a woman for a broken taillight. But, still, he had to decide what to do. There would be a hospital in Bismarck. The cut on her leg needed professional attention. There was always the option of turning her in to the police. But for a broken taillight? It didn’t seem fair. What should he do? Then a third option came creeping into his mind. Maybe he could just keep her. It would be nice to have someone to talk to. Someone he could care for. He glanced back at Lilly asleep in his bed and felt a small, tight tremor of excitement walk across his shoulders.

Near New Salem, they came to a truck stop. It was crowded with big rigs marooned by the storm. A few were beginning to move back onto the Interstate. John pulled in, parked, idled the engine.

“Where are we?” Lilly asked.

“Truck stop.”

“What happens now? What are you going to do?”

“Get us some food.”

Lilly closed her eyes.

John stepped into the snow, walked into the truck stop. It was one of those travel centers that sold nearly everything. He purchased frozen pancakes and Hungry Man frozen dinners they could prepare in his microwave and a package of Baby Ruth candy bars for deserts. He smiled as he thought how pleasant, even exciting, it would be to get to know her better. He found a section displaying women’s merchandise. He picked up a comb and brush, some shampoo, and some toiletries for Lilly. It felt strange, but good, to buy things for a woman.

When he returned to the truck, Lilly was halfway sitting on the bunk against piled pillows. “You okay?” he asked, as he climbed into the cab.

“I think so.” She gestured at her surroundings. “Thanks for all this. My life and all.” She smiled. She had a nice smile.

“You want some hot soup? Coffee?”

“Coffee would be good. But…” She held up her cuffed hands. “Will you be able to get these off?”

“I think so. Let’s have some coffee first. Then I’ll see.”

As he made the coffee, she looked around. “This is some truck. It’s cozy back here. Like a small apartment.”

“The truck is how I make my living. It’s also my home. I wanted it nice.”

“Flat screen TV. A little kitchen. Shower. Everything. And this bed.” She looked at the bookcase behind the bunk. “A truck with a library?”

“I like to read.”

“What kind of things?”

“Sea stories. Joseph Conrad, Homer’s voyages of Odysseus, Melville, Jack London. Ever since I was a child I loved ships and the sea. I joined the Navy at eighteen and stayed for twenty years.”

Is this a Navy shirt you gave me?” She touched the chevrons on the sleeve. “By the way, what did you do with my clothes?”

“Ruined. I’ll get you some more.” He brought her coffee. With two hands, she raised the cup to her lips, the chain of the cuffs hanging heavily between her breasts. He wondered what it would be like if Lilly stayed. He thought of laying with her on his bed, talking with her, playing with her, reading to her, exchanging secrets, being close. After delighting in the fantasy for a while, he reached over and re-covered her with a blanket.

“Tell me who you are, Lilly.”

“I guess I owe you that,” she said. “My last name is Morgan. I’m twenty-seven, divorced.”

“No children?”



“Not to speak of.”

“What do you do?”

After a pause, she said she was a waitress. “Actually, a cocktail waitress. I wanted to be a dancer, but things didn’t work out.”

John glanced at the handcuffs, then into her blue eyes. He thought of her lithe, tanned body and realized she might not have been a waitress, but a dancer in a strip club.

“And, you? I don’t know your name.”

He told her.

“I know what you do, John. Driving across the country for hours, days, at a time. There must be more. Friends. A wife. A girl friend.”

“No. Just the road.”

“Doesn’t it get lonely”

“I guess so. But I don’t mind being alone.” He had been a loner all his life. After the Navy, he had decided to become a long-haul truck driver primarily because it was something he could do alone. He could be independent, accountable to no one. He could be alone with his books, his thoughts and his fantasies.

“I hear truckers pick up women at the truck stops. How about you?”

“I don’t.”

“Don’t you ever want to?”

“Sometimes. But I never do. Anyway, they don’t seem that interested.”

“I don’t know why. You’re a nice man, John. And you have very gentle hands.”

John looked down at his hands and thought again of playing with Lilly, rolling around with her on the bed as with a cherished pet. “What do you want to happen now, Lilly?”

She thought for a while, then said, “I know what I don’t want to happen. I don’t want to be caught by the cops.”

When they had finished their coffee, John left the truck and returned with bolt cutters from the tool chest behind the cab. For a while, he sat next to her on the bunk, the bolt cutters in his lap. He wondered if he should first confront her about his suspicions that she was lying about the taillight story. Maybe she would just lie again. She was looking at him, her blue eyes clear. He wanted to see innocence there, and perhaps he did, but maybe what he saw was merely a reflection of his own desire.

The bolt cutters made short work of the cuffs. Soon, Lilly was free. She rubbed her abraded wrists, then she took one of his hands, raised it to her lips and kissed his fingers. “Thank you, John. Thank you for trusting me.”

They drove on toward Billings. Lilly slept off and on. As they approached the Montana line, John felt her slip into the seat by his side. He glanced at her and she smiled.

“How do you feel?” he asked.

“Not bad, considering.” Then after a while she said, “I like it up here, looking down at the cars that pass, out at the snow. I feel good. High. Did you give me something?”

“I did. For the pain.”

“I thought maybe you had.”

John was acutely aware of Lilly by his side. It felt right. Was it possible that this small, pretty woman could have been a stripper, a prostitute, maybe even a killer? He had heard that exotic dancers were sometimes taken into a VIP lounge where they were forced to give lap dances and hand jobs to customers. Maybe she refused and that started a chain of events ending in the man’s death. He forced his mind from such thoughts and imagined he and Lilly were at the wheel of a windjammer sailing toward the misty isles of the Southern Seas.

For many miles, neither spoke. He was dead tired, exhausted, his eyes burning from staring into the snow. He turned off the road at a truck stop, pulled into a parking space.

“What’s going on?”

“I just have to stop for a minute. Close my eyes.”

Lilly climbed back into the sleeper compartment, moved to the edge of the bed. “Come back here with me, John. Lay down for a while.”

“You rest. I’ll take a short nap up here.”

“Come on, John. Lay here for a while. You’ve been so good to me. I want to do something for you. A massage. Your muscles must be tense.”

“A little. Thank you.” As John climbed onto the bunk, he noticed Lilly’s tattoo for the first time. High on the back of her neck, partially hidden by her hair, was the image of a dancer. He moved her hair aside and touched her there.

“It’s the Greek Goddess of Dance,” she said. “Terpsichore, one of the Nine Muses. Her daughters were the Sirens.”

“The same that lured sailors to their deaths?”

“So they say.”

He lightly traced the outline of the dancer with a finger. “It’s beautiful,” he said. “What happened that you didn’t become a dancer.”

“I was a dancer. In high school. I was very good. I got a scholarship to a ballet school in New York. But I fucked up. I fell in love with my instructor, had an affair. That was the end of ballet. It was a downward spiral from there.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Doesn’t matter. I’m not sure anything matters anymore. Now, take off your shirt and lay on your stomach. Try to relax. Think of something happy.” She straddled him and began to massage the tight muscles and tendons in his shoulders and back.

John closed his eyes and thought about how life with Lilly could be. “Tomorrow I’ll get you some clothes.”

“I’ll go with you.”

“You can’t, Lilly. Someone might recognize you.”

“Sooner or later, I’ll have to go out. I’ll have to leave.”

“But not tomorrow. Not wearing nothing but my old shirt.”

After maybe half an hour, Lilly sat up and relaxed her hands. “How did that feel?”

“Really, really good.”

“Lilly glanced at the shower stall. “Do you think it would be okay to take a shower? I need to wash my hair and everything.”

“Just don’t get the bandage on your leg wet. I’ll keep my eyes closed.”

Lilly smiled. “You’ve already seen all there is of me.”

Lulled by the music of the shower, John fell asleep almost immediately. He dreamed he was sailing the wine dark sea Odysseus had sailed. When he awakened, it was by the gentle pressure of Lilly sitting by his side. He could smell the shampoo he had bought her. After a while, he rolled over. She was sitting on the edge of the bunk, wrapped in towels.

Outside it was dark, inside nearly so. They could hear trucks passing on the Interstate, a sound like giants breathing. “Thank you for the massage,” he said, aware that the towel had fallen from her shoulders. She didn’t seem to mind that he didn’t look away. It occurred to him that a stripper would be accustomed to men gazing at her body. He thought about asking her if she had been an exotic dancer, but again realized he already knew. And he didn’t want to say anything that might drive her away from the intimacy that seemed to be developing between them. John reached into a locker by the bed, found a clean sheet and handed it to Lilly. “Why don’t you wrap up in this,” he said. “It would be more comfortable than towels.”

While Lilly wrapped up in the sheet, John took two Hungry Man frozen dinners from the fridge. He removed the covers and placed them in the microwave. He folded a small table out from the wall and set places for two. It was the first time he had not eaten his dinner alone. When he had served their plates, he sat at the table, she on the edge of his bunk. The white sheet had slipped from one dark shoulder. To John, it seemed she was dressed in the most elegant of gowns. For a while, they ate in silence. Then he asked, “Do you regret what happened in New York?”

“I regret that I lost my scholarship.”

“What about the affair?”

“I was very young. He was beautiful, powerful. It was not difficult to fall in love. And then into his bed. I don’t regret that part. I guess I had to pay the price.”

“Did you go home?”

“No way. I was too ashamed. I never went back. Never looked back.” Lilly gazed out at the snow, then said, “What’s going to happen to me now, John?”

“Is there some place you could go? Where you would be safe?”

“I don’t think so,” she answered.

His heart beating heavily, he asked, “Have you thought about staying with me?”

She looked up, suddenly, her expression unreadable. “How do you mean?”

“I mean as a friend. You could keep me company and I could protect you from the cops.”

“Where would we go?”

“Anywhere the road goes. I’m an independent operator. I can go anywhere there is freight to deliver. I’ll teach you to drive. You can be my relief driver.”

“Sooner or later someone would recognize me. I already feel bad that I got you involved. If I’m caught, you’ll be dragged into it. Aiding and abetting. The two dead policemen will make it certain they’ll never stop looking for me.”

John wondered if Lilly had just admitted her guilt. And she had reminded him of another thought that had troubled him all day. Was it possible she had killed the policemen, as well. After feeling they had no pulse, he had not bothered to find out how they had died. He assumed it was from injuries from the crash. The cop in the back seat, had his trousers undone. Maybe she had managed to lure him into the back seat with the promise of sex. She had somehow taken his gun and shot them both. Maybe that was the cause of the crash. He didn’t remember seeing any bullet wounds, but with all the blood, he couldn’t be sure.

“John, I’d love to stay with you for a while, but one day I’ll have to go.”

“Why, Lilly”

“Because. It’s just too crazy. You saved my life, have been kind to me, and I like you. But…”

“Well, think about it.” John wished he could think of something persuasive to say. Something romantic. But nothing came to mind.

That night they slept together. Lilly in her sheet, John fully clothed, except for his boots. He remained awake for a long time, delighting in the intimacy, wondering if it would be right to turn and hold her, but he was afraid of rejection. And he was also terrified that he might lose her. At last, near midnight, praying that he would not snore, he fell asleep.


In the morning, he was awakened by the aroma of coffee. He watched Lilly moving around the small galley. Her hair was clean and fine as corn silk. Could it be, he wondered, that this was his woman? Eve to his Adam? But what could she possibly see in him? It is true she had kissed his fingers. And she had massaged his shoulders and slept with him, slept against him, one arm across his waist. Now. she turned, smiled, wished him a good morning. She passed him a mug of hot coffee. Hobbling on her hurt leg, she took breakfast from the microwave. She had wrapped one of his belts around her waist to hold the sheet in place.

During breakfast, they talked about the clothes he would buy her. “All I need are jeans and a sweatshirt and maybe some panties. Maybe some comfortable shoes and a warm coat. I’ll pay you back when I can.” She told him what sizes to buy.

She rose, cleared the table and began washing the dishes.

When he returned from Walmart, Lilly was holding his gun, a Beretta. Quickly, she returned it to the drawer where she had found it. “I’m sorry about the gun. I was looking for those cosmetics you bought. I wanted to look pretty for you.”

Disarmed by her smile, John swallowed his shock at seeing Lilly with the pistol. His pulse was racing as he placed his purchases on the bed. Lilly opened the plastic Walmart bags and pulled out the jeans and the sweatshirt. “No underwear?”

“I was too embarrassed.”

“No coat? No shoes?”

“You won’t be going outside for a while.” John saw the look in her eyes. She is wary, he thought.

Then, she pulled out a negligee.

“What’s this? she asked, smiling, holding the see-through garment up against her body.

John wondered if he had gone too far. “I thought you might like it.”

She looked at him with a strange smile and shook her head.

“I’m sorry if you don’t like it.”

“Don’t be sorry. It’s sweet.”

Lilly put the negligee in the drawer with the gun. She put on the jeans and sweatshirt and he gave her a Minnesota Twins baseball cap he had picked up in Minneapolis. Lilly pulled her hair back in a ponytail and threaded it through the back of the cap. John thought she was the cutest thing he had ever seen, about as far from an exotic dancer as she could be. More like the unapproachable girls he had dreamed about in high school. Now she climbed into the seat next to him and they drove on toward Butte and the Continental Divide.

The miles swept by. It had begun to snow again, large, wet flakes. They were on Interstate 90 now, climbing into the mountains. It grew colder and John turned up the heat. Although there was traffic on the road, John felt he and Lilly were alone in the world, wrapped in a womb of mountain and pure white snow. After a long period of silence, Lilly said, “You are very quiet. Where have you gone?”

“I was just thinking. Thinking how happy I am.”

“What makes you so happy?”

I think maybe you are what makes me happy.”

“I hope so.”

“Do you think about me?” he asked, wishing as he asked that he hadn’t.

“I think that you are very kind. But I also worry that you won’t let me go. That you are making me a kind of prisoner.”

John realized that she was right. “No. That’s not true.”

“You know, don’t you?”

“Know what?”

“That I was a dancer in a club. What I did. Why I was arrested.”

He wondered if he should deny what he knew, then heard himself say, “Yes, I put two and two together.”

“And still you didn’t turn me in. I love you for it, John. I will be your woman if you want. But I will not be your prisoner.”

In the afternoon, both lanes of traffic began to slow, inch along, then stop altogether. Ahead they could see red and blue lights blooming in the snow.

“An accident?” Lilly asked, trying to see through the gloom.

“Maybe. Or a road block. Maybe the cops are looking for us. It makes sense they’d think you’d been picked up by a trucker.”

“What should we do?” Lilly asked, looking small and vulnerable in her baseball cap.

“Ahead there’s a small road leading toward Garza Pass.” John was certain no one would believe an 18-wheeler would attempt to cross a little-used 7,000-foot mountain pass in the snow. When they reached the intersection, John wrestled the rig off the Interstate and onto the Garza Pass Road. Soon they were alone again, climbing slowly along, the truck groaning up the inclines.

“Where does this go?”

“Idaho. Then eventually Oregon.”

As the hours passed, they climbed into a wilderness of stone and snow. Swirling mists hid the peaks of the Bitterroot Mountains, but they could feel their presence towering over the world like stone Gods. Little by little the light faded. Often great chasms yawned at the side of the road. Soon visibility diminished and the road became so dangerous John was forced to stop. He shut down the diesel and a profound silence enveloped the truck. The wind-driven mist hid the surrounding mountains. Other than the wind there was only the ticking of the cooling engine. John started the generator that powered the truck’s heater. Soon frost on the windows obscured the world outside. They climbed back into John’s sanctuary in the back of the cab and he lit the lamp he used for reading.

“So here we are,” Lilly said, sinking onto the bunk. “It’s nice.” She took off her cap and shook loose her hair.

“Would you like a drink?” John asked. “All I have is whiskey.”

When she nodded, he poured two fingers of bourbon for each.

“Here’s to tomorrow,” he said, touching her glass with his.

“What will tomorrow bring?”

“When it gets light, I’ll put chains on the drive wheels. Then we’ll cross over the pass.”

“And go where?”

“I don’t know, Lilly.”

“Maybe it doesn’t matter,” she said. “Lay down next to me, John.”

He moved onto the bunk and laid down on his back. She opened his shirt and curled her fingers into the hair on his chest. She loosened his belt and unbuttoned his pants. She swept her long hair over his chest and abdomen. She kissed him and he wasn’t sure if her lips were fire or ice. Then she asked John to close his eyes. Promise you won’t look. I’ll be back in a minute with a surprise. While, I’m gone, take off your clothes.”

John’s heart was hammering. He was not sure if it was from fear or passion. He could hear her opening the drawer to get what? The negligee? The gun? As he pulled off his pants he remembered the cop with his trousers undone and the gun that might or might not be in the drawer. Yet, he was overwhelmed by his need to consume and be consumed by this woman who had been dropped into his life. He was tempted to open his eyes, to know, but he fought the impulse and then realized he didn’t really care.

Then she called. “Open your eyes, John.”

She was standing by the bed, wearing the negligee. Her hair was golden in the lamplight. “You are so beautiful,” he said.

She smiled and sat next to him on the bed. “Touch me, if you want to.” He touched her breasts through the thin fabric, held her there, and he suddenly realized he didn’t know for sure which of them was the prisoner of the other. She raised her negligee, straddled him, and as he began to respond, she asked. “Are you afraid?”

“Yes,” he breathed.

“So am I,” she said, and she began to move on him.

Outside, the snow began to fall again.