Rocky Road | Under the Hood Excerpt

Today is Jonathan Knox’s food shopping day.

He didn’t pick up much from the ol’ Stop to Shop, but even if he had he’d have been able to cover it. Jonathan Knox has plenty of money from the old gig, see, Jonathan Knox can take care of himself. Jonathan Knox could’ve bought out that whole store if he wanted to, but he didn’t. The only thing he bought was a tub of ice cream, Rocky Road flavor, because his life has been a rocky road, but mostly because Rocky Road is Jonathan Knox’s favorite flavor of ice cream. He won’t eat ice cream for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, though. What is he, a Feller? No. For breakfast, lunch, and dinner Jonathan Knox eats canned soup. Jonathan Knox has an insatiable craving for piping hot canned soup today, has ever since he woke up, and he has no idea why. He suspects it’ll last for a few weeks at least, which is perfect, because he has months’ worth of canned soup stored in the pantry at home. So, he only bought a tub of Rocky Road ice cream at the store, exactly according to plan.

Shopping for his Rocky Road ice cream isn’t the only plan for today. No – oh no – Jonathan Knox has a tertiary plan in the works for today. For later on tonight, that is.

Jonathan Knox tightens down on the steering wheel. His foot gets heavier on the gas pedal, his back leaves the supporting comfort of the seat. None of this goes noticed by the brain theoretically behind it all.

Later tonight when most of sleepy Wuester’s sleepy residents are deeply asleep in their warm comfy beds, Jonathan Knox won’t be sleeping. Jonathan Knox has plans for tonight, oh yes, Jonathan Knox has big plans indeed, Jonathan Knox will be out roaming in the cold darkness of the night while everyone else is sleeping in the warm darkness of their cozy homes. Jonathan Knox is going back to the church tonight, but he’s not bringing a gas can and a box of matches this time around. This time around he’s bringing only one thing: his eyeglass case. Sure, there are going to be bugs in the eyeglass case, so technically he’s bringing more than just one thing, and technically his whole life hasn’t been a rocky road like his favorite flavor of ice cream, and technically all those police officers didn’t pull that dingy silver minivan over because the innocent driver has skin of Earthen tone, no, they probably pulled the silver minivan over because the driver was speeding, and those cruisers surrounding the minivan? Well… uh… well… Jonathan Knox doesn’t know anything about those cruisers. And he didn’t even see the cops pull the minivan over. He didn’t see the cop pull his gun out, nope, he didn’t hear the explosions of two slugs leaving the gun’s barrel either, he didn’t notice anything, he’s an innocent man just driving home from the store with a tub of Rocky Road ice cream and he didn’t see a single thing, and even if he did he wouldn’t tell anyone. He won’t remember, he won’t even be able to tell anyone about it! He’s a good boy, Jonathan Knox is, there’s no reason to pull him over! He’s not speeding, he didn’t see anything, he’s just traveling down this rocky road doing his best to get to where he needs to go and he didn’t see anything but now he sees a police cruiser trailing behind him and now the red’n’blues are flashing and Jonathan Knox didn’t see anything, Jonathan Knox is a good boy, a blind boy, a blind deaf mute boy, he didn’t see the damn dirty police officer murder the defenseless Earthen folks behind the wheel of the silver minivan he didn’t he didn’t he did

Jonathan Knox flips on his blinker, just to be safe, and pulls over to the side of Cannonball Road. The police cruiser, red’n’blues flashing without the siren, pulls over behind him. Pellets of cold sweat spill out of his pores, they feel like boulders rolling down his back, down his chest, into his belly button. He’s having trouble keeping his hands on the steering wheel, they’re so slippery. So slimy, just like the preacherman. This is all his fault, all Neil Cam

Three patient knocks on his driver’s side window. Jonathan Knox is too worked up to look away from his windshield, utterly work’ed, for he knows he’ll see the cold darkness of a gun barrel aimed right at his head. So he doesn’t. One hand leaves the steering wheel, holds the window button down for exactly two and a half seconds, then promptly returns to the steering wheel.

“Good afternoon, sir,” says the police officer. “Mind turning your head to face me?”

Yes, Jonathan Knox does mind, he does mind turning his head to face the police officer, he minds it very much, but what choice does he really have? The Earthen man probably got asked the same question before the damn dirty cop blew his brains out back there. He was probably looking right at the cop when the cop asked the question. Jonathan Knox is only being given this courtesy because he’s white, because he’s a child of the stars, that much is painfully obvious to our Jonathan Knox in this moment, what may be his last moment on this Earth. His muscles tense and strain’d, Jonathan Knox slowly turns his head to face the officer.

The officer is a young man, lean in build yet muscular with a kind enough face. It’s a youthful face that used to be more youthful before his line of work began to take its toll, and that toll is still a far drive from being all the way taken. Jonathan Knox can tell as much from the man’s facial hair – it looks like a shadow is cast on his face, but only a light shadow. He’s sure it’ll get darker before too long. The officer’s hair is only a tiny bit longer than his stubble. His eyes are a rich brown which would probably look a lot nicer if the officer was smiling. But, the officer is not smiling. The officer wears a dead straight poker face, and Jonathan Knox supposes he knows why. The nametag, it’s all in the nametag, why didn’t he just look at the nametag first? Had Jonathan Knox looked at the nametag pinned above the Wuester Police badge instead of the officer’s face and the boyish charm it flaunts so effortlessly he could’ve stomped on the gas and escaped, but it’s too late now. The officer is here, and he’s seen Jonathan Knox’s face.

The nametag says Officer Vern VanDunk. He’s one of the cops who were at Chief Maxwell’s house last night. The rest of ‘em are probably back with the silver minivan, taking care of the bodies. But soon they’ll all be up here. Soon they’ll be taking care of Jonathan Knox’s body.

“You feeling all right, sir?” Officer VanDunk asks.

He’s bending over now, to look Jonathan Knox in the eye. His thumbs are hooked into his belt. Like a cowboy, like an outlaw, like a gunman waiting to pull out his five-shooter without the serial number and bury slung led in Jonathan Knox’s brain… but wait, Maxwell had the five-shooter, not VanDunk. Officer VanDunk seemed to be the sensible one of the crew. Officer VanDunk is only asking if Jonathan Knox is okay. Maybe Jonathan Knox should be more like Vern VanDunk and be sensible.

I’didn’t’feel’anything,” Jonathan Knox blurts, his voice shrill. He sneers as if he was spat upon, then, “I mean, I didn’t mean, I-I, I mean… yes, Officer, I’m feeling all right. Can I–… how can I help you on this fine sunny day?”

Officer VanDunk looks up at the overcast sky, then back down at Jonathan Knox. “Do you know why I pulled you over, sir?”

‘Because you want to kill me because someone else got to pull the trigger on the Earthen folks down the road and you were jealous, you were so envious of them you damn dirty cop, your trigger finger is all itchin’ and only Jonathan Knox can relieve that terrible craving.’ As he’s thinking this, Jonathan Knox says, “No, Officer VanDunk, Sir. I do not.”

“You were speeding,” VanDunk says. He stands up straight and looks down the road for a few seconds, his lips tightening up a bit as though his brain was turning something over. Then, without leaning down or even so much as looking at Jonathan Knox again, VanDunk says, “You, uh… you said you didn’t feel anything… yeah, bud?”

“I didn’t, Sir!” Jonathan Knox bleats. His glasses are beginning to fog up, he’s breathing so hard air is coming out of his eyes. “I didn’t feel a single tiny little thing, I’m just coming back from the Stop to Shop! I bought some Rocky Road ice cream, it’s my favorite and I don’t want it to melt!”

“Rocky Road, huh?” VanDunk says distractedly, still staring down the road. He looks to Jonathan Knox, then, “A’ight. I ask because you seem jumpy, pal. A little, eh…”

His finger begins to twirl. He wants to hurry this up, Jonathan Knox can tell. Jonathan Knox wants him to hurry this up, too.

“A little uncomfortable in your own skin, is all.”

It takes everything Jonathan Knox has to not scream at the top of his lungs.

“Listen – I’m not gonna give you a ticket, a’ight? You weren’t goin’ too fast over the limit, and uh… like you said. You didn’t feel anything back there, before, uh… before I pulled you over.” VanDunk leans back down. “Right?

I’didn’t’feel’a’thing,” Jonathan Knox sportscars with a quivering bottom lip. Both of his hands are still gripping the wheel. He’s pretty sure there’ll be dents when he lets go. “Not’one’thing’not’one’single’little’thing.

“Good,” says VanDunk. He straightens up and pats the roof of Jonathan Knox’s smart car. “You can go on home now, sir. Don’t want your ice cream to melt’r nothin’.”

“No,” Jonathan Knox says, sweating. “No, don’t want my Rocky Road to melt. Thank you, Sir, Officer VanDunk. Have a good day, Officer VanDunk, Sir.”

“Yeah, you too, guy,” VanDunk says, walking back to his cruiser. As he’s reaching for the door he stops and whirls around, saying, “Wait, I didn’t get your–” but the guy is gone, smart car and all. Zipped off right on down the road as silent as a trout in a brook. “I didn’t even hear the damn thing go… well Rockdamn…”

Vern VanDunk gets back into his cruiser and turns her around, heads back to the other Fellers.

“Well Rockdamn…”

The Jonathan Knox books are… well, they’re the Jonathan Knox books. One time, I was asked, “Who is Jonathan Knox?” Uh… he’s Jonathan Knox. His favorite ice cream flavor is Rocky Road. He’s absolutely out of his goddamn mind, too, but that just comes with the territory.

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