Thursday, July 2, 2009

Winkle's Finest

Dietrich Kalteis

Pinetop stood at the back of our old Ford pick-up, facing the tall grass of the ditch. I glanced through the side-view mirror; he wasn’t peeing on the grass, he was was peeing into a whiskey jar. Peeing into the latest batch of his own shine, being careful of his aim.

After giving himself a good shake, he capped the very full jar and set it back in the empty slot in the crate, then he pulled the tarp down and tied off the load. He looked pleased with himself as he got back in on the passenger seat, making me slide over. He dangling the keys in the air.

“Why did you do that?” I asked.

“To teach you,” was all he said.

“You want me to …”

He just jingled the keys.

Getting behind the wheel, I put the key in the ignition and started her up. Nothing more was said as I negotiated the twisting stretch of Tennessee back road. When I turned onto the obscure mining road, I drove easy so no jars would break. That took us over to the county two-lane where I put my foot down and let the Ford eat up the highway. God, that old truck sure could move with all the modifications Pinetop had made to her.

The sheriff’s patrol car charged from behind the Nehi Soda billboard, the siren wailing, a single red light flashing on the hood. It scared hell out of me; I didn’t know what to do, but Pinetop just grinned and looked unconcerned.

Glancing over my shoulder, I gunned the engine and started to pull away from the screaming patrol car.

“What should I do?”

“What feels right,” Pinetop said like he hadn’t a care in the world.

“I can outrun him.” My palms felt like they were greased on the wheel.

Pinetop just grinned and put his hand out the window and held it flat, letting the rushing air lift it up, then turning it and letting the wind push it down.

I tried to make run for it, but I couldn’t shake the patrol car. I looked to Pinetop for help, but none was coming, so I pulled onto the gravel shoulder and turned the engine off.

Pinetop stepped out and waited for the patrol car to pull in behind us.
I figured he’d been sampling again, although I hadn’t seen him touch a drop all morning.

I watched the deputy through the sideview mirror as he stepped out and adjusted his hat, the brim pulled low over his eyes. The man was all business behind the dark state-issue sunglasses. He scared the hell out of me.

“What you haulin’ today, Pinetop Winkle?”

“Well sir, Deputy Peewee. This be marple syrple – come all the way down from, uh, Canada,” Pinetop said.

“What in tarnation’s syrple?” Deputy Peewee looked the truck up and down. He saw me behind the wheel, but didn’t pay me any mind.

“Folks up Canada way put it on grits and such,” Pinetop told him.

“You don’t say?” The deputy walked to the other side of the truck, still checking her out. “Better lemme see your declaration.”

Pinetop considered for a moment, then pursed his lips. “Decla … oh, yeah, got it here somewheres.” He pulled out a roll of dollar bills and unfurled it. The deputy’s eyes were hungry behind the tinted lenses.

“Here we be.” Pinetop peeled off the bills as he said the word. “De-cla-ra-tion.”

Deputy Peewee took the bills and counted as Pinetop stuffed the rest back into his pocket.

“Seems your papers ain’t quite right, Pinetopbetter have another looksee.”

Pinetop frowned and pulled the bills back out and laid five more dollars into the outstretched hand.

“Yuh, seems to be in order now,” Deputy Peewee said, watching Pinetop stuff the money away. “You have your boy drive careful now, you hear,” Deputy Peewee advised, ”and mind the speed. Oh, uh, and if you could see your way clear, I’d sure like a taste of that there maple syrple.”

“Havin’ grits, are you?” Pinetop joked, untying the rope and yanking back the tarp.

Peewee whistled, impressed with the full load of jingling jars.

Pinetop took one and presented it like a sommelier with a fancy merlot. “This be Winkle’s finestaged a full two months and made from the sweetest corn, then filtered through charcoal and mellowed in white oak barrels.”

Deputy Peewee accepted the jar and thanked him; the eyes of a child on Christmas morning. He uncapped it as Pinetop climbed back into the truck, and I cranked the engine over and pulled onto the two lane.

© 2009 D Kalteis