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Gina Gallo

I t was what they called an occupational hazard. The only reason, he figured, why everything looked the same after awhile, after nineteen long years of pushing a big rig down white-lined highways. It used to be exciting, once - the way the road beckoned. Back then, endless skies and unknown vistas were an addiction. Long distance hauls meant a constant stream of new places, new faces- the best part of the job for a road gypsy like him.

He'd seen it all. Texas bluebonnets, red rock canyons, waving fields of golden wheat that rippled as he roared down the road.. It was new back then, a crash course in red-blooded black-top America in living, smokin', eighteen-wheeling color. Mountains and valleys, dried out river beds and shimmering great lakes - he'd loved all of it. But that was then.

He couldn't remember when things changed. When the heart-slamming dip of those mountain grades stopped being a thrill, or the truck stop waitresses looked more tired than sassy, as worn down and used up as the strips of old Goodyear that littered the road. Roads that now seemed as flat and stale as the yeasty beer he gulped, more for something to do than the pleasure of it. He didn't want another beer just like he didn't want to be nosing his Peterbilt through the rain toward Chicago. It was boring, he was tired and he'd had enough.

Couldn't blame the job completely. He figured it was bound to happen sooner or later, after you'd done everything, bit huge chunks out of life and gobbled it down. A different menu in every town, a parade of faces and bodies that offered warm comfort and cold drinks, not necessarily in that order. A job perk for truckers who never stayed in one place long enough to have the next meal. But after awhile, it all tasted the same.

Rain was hammering down so hard the exit sign was barely visible. Didn't matter. It was a ritual he could've done in his sleep. Turn off the Dan Ryan Expressway, down the ramp, across to Morgan Street and the South Water Market. At just past midnight, there was still plenty of time to park in one of the cinder lots and catch some sleep, or anything else that might relax him. Even in the rain, he could see their shadows moving among the trailers. They were the lot lizards, - working girls who climbed up into the cabs regardless of weather. Another part of the trucker life that never changed. No matter what city, these women were all the same. They were always there, always waiting for the next rig to pull in, the next fistful of cash to be made.

Pathetic, really, when you thought about them. Like the rats that scurried beneath the docks, they hustled from truck to truck, a string of tawdry angels with rainbow hair, crusted makeup, and hopeless eyes. Some were slack mouthed, gap-toothed, sometimes bruised from the last customer. Their bodies were drug-shriveled or wide hipped with flesh as flaccid as he was before he paid the money and they did their dance. It was another ritual of the road, as dull as the face of the woman now peering through his window.

"Ten bucks?" she called, holding up a skinny arm against the rain. Hair plastered like wet straw against pleading black-smudged eyes.

"C'mon, honey. Ten bucks. You won't be sorry." Jesus, not even an umbrella. Like a cowering dog she waited, watching. Knowing that in the rain, at midnight, every dog has its day, especially with a road warrior bone tired and brain weary.

It wasn't something he particularly wanted. And nothing he hadn't done a hundred times, a thousand, over the years. It was just something to do, a way to ease the road jitters and let him sleep, at least an hour or two. And, like everything else, there would be no surprises. It was always the same.

He didn't want to look at her. Didn't want to see that wasted face or think about what she was doing- just shut off his brain and drifted. The best way he'd found to get through it, get his money's worth with minimum effort. You pay the money, you get the dance. So he closed his eyes, tried to ignore the rain that dripped off her matted hair, the skinny hands now tugging at him...

And there it was, the same clenched muscles, the quick spasmed release. And the same spurting blood from the razor she slashed across his neck. For one brief moment, she watched him with a clinical eye. It was always the same, the way their mouths gaped. How the head slumped afterward, eyes flat and lifeless as rotting fish. With a practiced hand, she emptied his wallet, slid off his wristwatch and ring. And noticed that even the spray pattern was the same as the others - a froth of red now oozing down the tempered glass. So predictable. Must be an occupational hazard, something she'd been doing too long. She slid out of the cab and through the shadows, glad for the wash of rain. It was still early, with more trucks expected. She had a job to do. After awhile, they all seemed the same.


After a 16-year career as an undercover Chicago cop, Gina Gallo now writes professionally. Her second book: ARMED AND DANGEROUS: MEMOIRS OF A CHICAGO POLICEWOMAN has been sold as a film option and is currently being developed for a network TV series. Visit Gina's website.

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