The weathered sign swung from rusty hinges in the breeze of a hot, south Kansas morning . . .
LUTHER’S AUTO REPAIR AND SERVICE
I wheeled the limping Plymouth onto the gravel driveway and stopped in front of the double doors marked, “Repairs.”
“Hey, Duke, ya think ya could drop these cuffs and get me a beer?” Snake laughed from the back seat.
My credentials read, “Thomas Benton Taylor, U.S. Marshal,” but after taking Snake into custody in Casper, Wyoming—to him—I was “John Wayne.” Somewhere in Nebraska he’d shortened it to “Duke.”
Another day and I hoped to turn him over to the marshal in Oklahoma City to stand trial for murder.
Gritting my teeth, I unlocked the back door of the unmarked sedan. He swivelled his six-two frame out of the car and awkwardly planted his feet on the ground.
“You’d think the gov’ment could ‘ford cars with handles on both sides of the door,” he snorted at his joke.
Luther met us wiping his hands on a greasy rag. His eyes darted from Snake’s handcuffs, to leg chains, to the badge pinned to my shirt. “What can I do for you, Marshal?”
“She’s running hot, must be the water pump . . . how long to get us back on the road?”
“If that’s the problem, I’ll have you back in business in a couple of hours. Snacks and colas are inside. Help yourself.”
I tossed the ignition key to Luther.
Inside the store, a dusty fan worked as hard to flip the pages of a calendar mounted on the opposite wall as it did to stir the hot air. The calendar had the first eight days of August 1973 crossed off. Spam and cans of Vienna Sausage were stacked on shelves; cookies, crackers and Slim Jims were in a rack next to the cola chest.
I reached into the chest and lifted an RC Cola and Frostie Root Beer from the crushed ice. I popped the caps from the bottles and handed Snake the Frostie. He smirked, took a seat in one of the cane-back chairs and nodded his head toward the cuffs. I ignored him.
Taking a dollar out of my billfold, I placed a corner of the bill under a jar of dill pickles on the counter.
Noise from the back of the store grabbed my attention.
Exiting the restroom was a man so stooped, he appeared to be looking for something on the floor. A dangling overhead light bulb illuminated the top of his head. The wheels of his walker squeaked on the wooden floor as he shuffled toward us. He glanced at me: stopped in front of Snake and peered over his bifocals at the cuffs and chains.
“Sorry for your troubles, Sonny,” he said, lowering himself into the rocker across from Snake.
“Old man, I’m innocent.”
“There was only one Man who was truly innocent.”
Snake slumped deeper into his chair. “Duke, sounds like we’ve got us a preacher-man.”
“I was a minister of the Gospel for 55 years.”
“Fired? Or did ya jus’ get too old?”
“Maybe some of both, Sonny,” he chuckled. “By the way, I’m Theodore Johnston.”
I leaned against the counter. “What are you doing alone in the middle of nowhere?”
“Since my wife went to be with the Lord, I’ve lived alone. I received word the church where we began our ministry is going to be demolished tomorrow. I want to kneel by the altar, one last time, and talk with God.
“When I stopped for gas, the car refused to start. Luther ordered parts, but they won’t be delivered for two days.”
I drained the last of the RC. “Where’s the church?”
“About 40 miles south.”
“Reverend, I can drop you off at the church if you don’t mind riding in the car with Snake. You’d be in front with me.”
“So kind of you, Marshal. There’s a motel across from the church.”
“I’ll get Luther to deliver your car when it’s finished,” I offered.
“No problem, I can delivery the reverend’s car,” Luther said, handing me the key to the Plymouth.
I drove around a dump truck and heavy equipment parked in the church driveway and stopped at the wooden steps. I reached for my door handle.
The old minister shook his head.
“You’ve done enough, Marshal. I can make it from here. And when I talk with God, I’ll remember both of you in prayer.”
From the back seat came a husky voice, “Rev . . . my name’s Carl.”
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