Jack remained frozen in place, sprawled across the fallen boxes and bags at the back of the Des Moines Register delivery truck. The man who had introduced himself as John Karras spoke again, just loudly enough to be heard by Jack, but not loudly enough to be heard beyond the rear of the truck. “I was wondering when they would catch you. I’m just surprised to see you on a delivery truck out here in the middle of Colorado.” And then, after a pause, he continued, “You are Jack Piper, aren’t you?”
Jack was speechless with surprise, and against his better judgment, he nodded.
“Well then,” said Mr. Karras with a puzzled look on his face. “I would think you’d be under heavy guard, complete with a ball-and-chain. Why aren’t you in hand cuffs or tied up?” Then Mr. Karras chuckled, “Are you supposed to just sit here politely and not try to escape while I unload my gear?”
Jack found his voice and answered timidly, “They don’t know I’m here, sir.”
“What?” Now it was Mr. Karras’ turn to be surprised.
“Please sir,” said Jack, “I snuck onto the truck trying to get a copy of the paper and I got trapped here.”
“What in the world?” exclaimed Mr. Karras, more to himself than to Jack. Then, with a sudden seriousness he said, “Look, kid, we need to get you off of this truck as quickly as we can without anyone seeing you.”
Mr. Karras glanced left and right at the contents of the truck and then issued orders. “Here’s what you do, kid. I’ll start unloading my bike and my tent. You stay right here and empty my duffle bag into these.” Mr. Karras had pulled two black Hefty trash bags from a side pocket of a huge canvas Army-surplus duffle bag, and he shoved them at Jack. The duffle bag had Karras’ name spelled out along both sides in yellow tape. A Ragbrai baggage tag was looped through one of the handles, and the entire thing smelled very musty.
“I’ll get my wife to help me unload the bags. It will take two of us to lift you down from the truck in the duffle bag, but no one else will know the difference. The truck is backed right up to our garage, and we won’t have to move you very far.”
“Uh, I don’t know if…” Jack trailed off.
“Would you rather stay on this truck and head back to Des Moines?” snapped Mr. Karras. Without another word, Mr. Karras picked up the bicycle and wheeled it toward the tailgate of the truck, where he hopped down, lifted the bicycle down to the driveway, and wheeled it into the open garage. Jack thought for just a moment about making a run for it. If he jumped out of the back of the truck, he risked being spotted from the cab of the truck. The duffle bag was the only escape route.
Mr. Karras came back for the tent, and Jack began transferring the contents of the big duffle bag into the Hefty bags. All the clothing was musty, like it had been packed while it was still damp and then left in storage for months. As soon as it was empty, Jack moved the duffle bag to the edge of the tailgate, took one last breath of fresh air, and climbed inside. He zipped the bag shut as far as he could from the inside and waited.
It didn’t take long for Jack to feel hands tugging on the straps and dragging him off of the edge of the tailgate. For one sickening second, Jack seemed to plunge helplessly down toward the driveway below, but then the bag pulled tightly around him and slowed Jack’s fall. He still hit the driveway harder than he would have liked, but no bones were broken.
Jack took a breath, his first since zipping himself up inside the duffle bag. The air was so foul that it nearly set Jack into a coughing fit. He stifled all but one cough, which came out as a muffled snort. Outside the bag he could hear Mr. Karras cover for him by saying, “Bless you, dear.”
Then Jack felt himself being dragged across cement and over a large bump that he guessed was the dividing crack between the driveway and the garage floor. The hands let go of the duffle bag’s straps and footsteps went back to the truck to unload the Hefty bags. The bags made loud smacks as they landed on the floor of the garage next to his head.
The rear door of the truck made a rattling sound as it was rolled back down and latched firmly shut. Jack could hear Mr. Karras walk around toward the front of the truck and shout gruffly, “I’m all done. See you next year.”
The idling truck engine shifted into gear and to Jack’s great relief, it rumbled away. He heard more footsteps through the thick duffle bag and another rumbling sound from the garage door, closing like a guillotine right next to his head.
For better or worse, Jack had traded being trapped inside the back of a Des Moines Register newspaper delivery truck for being trapped inside a musty duffle bag in the garage of one of the Register newspaper’s senior writers.
to be continued...
[a serial by little orphan dbax]