“Ain’t no coincidence, Henry. Ain’t no coincidence at all,” Rulon Taylor said as he lifted a wooden crate from the dirt floor of the farmhouse barn. He wore a derby, and a brown vest, unbuttoned. 41 with the build of a much younger man, he lifted the crates without much trouble. The bottles inside rattled as he strode across the straw-covered ground and carefully set it inside the back of a milk truck backed up in open barn doors.
Henry Sterne, years Rulon’s junior but with the build of a much more indulgent man, huffed as he lugged his load of bottles into the truck. He pushed it further into the body of the truck, turned around and sat on the steel bumper. He dabbed his brow with a handkerchief, wiping away a layer of sweat formed under the muggy rural Illinois summer sun. “Is that a fact?”
Rulon, already coming toward the truck with another crate, paused and motioned with his head for Henry to move. “Either move or take it, boy. As long as you get off your ass, I don’t care which.” Henry pulled himself up by the truck’s door jamb. He hung onto the side of the door and Rulon slid the last crate into the truck. Rulon clicked the truck’s rear doors shut and motioned with his hand toward the front of the vehicle. “Let’s get moving. We got deliveries to make before nightfall.” Henry nodded, shoved his damp handkerchief into his rear pocket, and the two were off.
“Like I was saying, ain’t no coincidence. The government takes away our right to buy and sell libations,” Rulon said as the truck barreled down the country road, kicking up dust. “Which, is a God-given right, mind you. But then they go and give women-folk the right to vote not even a year later.”
Henry chuckled, putting his head against the inside of the truck’s door in the passenger’s seat and staring through the open window. “Women voting ain’t a bad thing,” he said. “The way I see it, they people just like us.”
Rulon shook his head and then rolled down his window, waving to a young man on a street corner. He turned the wheel and pulled up to a loading door for a small restaurant. The two of them unloaded a pair of crates and climbed back into the truck.
Rulon wagged his finger at Henry between shifts of the transmission. “I never said they wasn’t people, Henry,” he said as they rolled through the sleepy streets. “But they don’t know how the world works.” He shifted again. “They just don’t have the worldly knowledge necessary to make those decisions for the rest of us. Just the way it is.”
The remainder of the ride to the next location was in silence. As Rulon navigated the truck into a small residential neighborhood, Henry raised an eyebrow. “We doing a home delivery?” Rulon pulled the truck up to a modest two-story home and turned the truck off.
“This ain’t a regular home,” Rulon said as he got out of the driver’s door and circled around to the back of the truck. He popped open the door and grabbed a crate. By that time, Henry was at the back as well and Rulon handed the crate to him and pulled out another. Rulon took the lead up the well-groomed flower-flanked cement walkway as Henry huffed and puffed behind him. Rulon placed the crate down on the wooden porch and knocked on the carved wooden door. He pulled the hat from his head and drew his mouth into a well-practiced smile.
A moment passed. Rulon’s smile faded and he shot a nervous look to his new employ. He put forth his hand to knock again, the first rap barely registering before cracking harder on the next two. “Miss Jennie?” he called through the door. Another moment passed. Large sweat beads formed on Rulon’s forehead. He wiped it with his palm and wiped the sweat on his slacks before replacing his hat and lifting the crate. “Something’s wrong.”
Suddenly the door swung open and a beautiful woman stood in the opening. “Well hello, Mr. Taylor! What a pleasant surprise.” Miss Jennie, a tall drink of water, glanced at the boxes but remained in the doorway, hands on her hips. “I won’t be needing anything today, though. A bull seems to have camped out on my property,” she said exchanging a knowing look with Rulon.
“Yes ma’am. Pardon the interruption. We’ll just be on our way then.” And with hat, Rulon turned to leave, crate in hand.
Henry’s brow furrowed. “I can take care of a bull for you, Miss. I used to work on a ranch and…”
“Henry,” Rulon said, “Lady don’t need our product. Now get in the truck.”
Confused, Henry retraced his steps back to the vehicle, but Rulon quickly outpaced him. They sped back down the walkway and opened the rear doors on the truck. “What’s going on?” Henry asked. Rulon put his crate on the ground and yanked the back doors open.
Rulon shoved his car keys at his subordinate and said, “Start the car,” as he took Henry’s crate.
“Shut up and start the damn car, boy!”
Rulon had brought up one of the crates into the truck and was climbing into the back with the second one when another female voice called out to him from down the street.
“Hold on, Mr. Taylor,” she said, her aim trained on his chest. “We need to have a little chat.” She pulled a badge from his jacket pocket and a handful of uniformed officers joined her
Rulon nodded. “Yes ma’am. Just let me secure this box and I’ll be right with you.” He pushed the crate to the front of the vehicle, where Henry sat in the driver’s seat, the trucks engine idling.
“Step on it, son.”
“Oh Jesus, oh Jesus.”
“Leave the prayin’ for later, boy! Go, go, go!”