The rain pelted the windshield of Elvin’s car like a gushing waterfall. The oldies station played the Motown version of “My Girl,” and Elvin sang along with every word. “Hear that, Vanna?” He sang about sunshine on a rainy day. “Used to be talking about my Cherie. Yeah.” The Airedale blinked and stared at him with expectancy in her keen dark eyes, as if Cherie might appear any second. “No, gal. Don’t get your hopes up.  My little lady ain’t coming back no more.” Elvin laughed. “Didn’t mean to get you all riled.”


The rain eased a bit, though the radio announcer said a tornado touched down in Sikeston. “Maybe we should get a burger, Vanna. Yeah, I bet you’d like that idea.” His eyes drifted to the side of the road. “Hey look, there’s a car just like this one.” He tried to shield his eyes from the driving rain with his hands. “Even got itself some Tennessee plates.” He pulled over to the shoulder on the highway and stopped the car. “Looks like a lady’s done broke down in the rain, shore ‘nuf. You stay here, Vanna. No use getting you all wet, too.”


She spotted him through sheets of rain. The mound of a man plodded through the deep puddles as if they didn’t exist. For a moment, Shelby figured he was a cop, and she prepared to run. Then, she saw that Tennessee smile, broad and friendly. He was from around here. Oh yeah, he was. She’d bet her life on it. Hey, she’d done enough of that to recognize the feeling.


“Hey,” she said.


“Hey, yourself.” He extended his hand. “Name’s Elvin. Elvin Suggs.”


Shelby shook his wet hand. It felt warm. “Well, which is it?”




“Is it Elvin or Elvin Suggs?”


The man grinned. “Kinda wet out here to be so particular, ain’t it? I answer to either one, ma’am. You can just call me Elvin. That’ll be fine. This your car?”


“Yeah. It is. Was, I mean. It died a few minutes ago, and I was fixing to call my mama.”


“Your mama? Where’s your mama’s house? I could give you a ride, if it isn’t too far from here.”


Shelby knew he was going to say that. Of course he was going to say that. All men offered to take her someplace sooner or later. But, this one seemed different from the rest.  She had a different feeling about him. “All right, then.”


“Okay. Where we headed?”


“You know the El Dorado Trailer Court in Wisdom?”


“No ma’am.”


“Just outside of Memphis. By the Dog Tracks.”


“Shore ‘nuf know those parts. Ma’am, I don’t mean to be forward or nothing, but if you don’t mind, what’s your name?”


“Shelby.” She smiled and looked away.


He opened the passenger side door to the Caddy. “Okay then, Shelby, now you get to meet the best part of this ride.”


“We got company?”


“Oh, yeah. I forgot to tell you about Vanna.”


“Another girl?”


“Well, she looks like a dog, but I guess you could call her a girl.”


“Why, Elvin, no matter what she looks like, you shouldn’t call a lady a dog.”


Elvin grinned at the fuzzy Airedale lounging in the corner of the backseat. “This is gonna work out just great, isn’t it Vanna? Come on girl, slide on in!”


“So, Shelby is it?” Elvin smiled a bit and glanced sideways at his passenger. The faint scent of Shelby’s spicy perfume filled the air. “Vanna and me were going to grab a burger. How does that sound to you?”


Shelby turned to stare at the large terrier, sitting on the seat behind Elvin. “So, this is Vanna?”


“How’d you guess?”


“This car isn’t that large, Mr. Suggs.”


“Call me Elvin. Or Suggs. Just don’t call me Mister anything.”


“Fine. You know, I am a little hungry. It’s been a while since I ate.”


“How long you been on the road, Shelby?”


The blonde turned her head and Elvin sensed a stony silence. “Shelby? I said…”


“You asked me how long I’ve been on the road.” Shelby stared out the window. “And, I’m thinking.” A few moments lapsed before she spoke. “I heard you, Elvin.”


“Shore ‘nuf.” Elvin stared straight ahead and said nothing. What did he say to offend this gal? Di would know, he felt certain. Di always knew what he did wrong. Never thought he would miss that part of having Di around, but then, a man never could tell what he might miss about a woman. He learned that the day he lost Cherie. “Burger Barn okay by you?”


“I’m not picky.”


Elvin grinned. “Well, we sure aren’t, are we, Vanna?” The silver Caddy cruised onto the ramp and the terrier began to drool on Shelby’s arm. The signature red structure with BURGER BARN in large white letters awaited them on the rolling hill. 


“Does Vicki eat hamburgers?” Shelby frowned and glanced at Vanna.


“Shore ‘nuf. Mostly, we eat the same, see. I buy her dog food, sure, but Vanna likes what looks good. I can’t say that I blame her. Besides that, she eats the dog food, too. Tell you what, her favorite is the Barn Buster – maybe you would like that too, you being a girl and all.”


Shelby stared at Elvin for a second and then burst into laughter. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”


“Well, it’s a lot to eat. Maybe you’re on a diet.”


“No, that’s not what I mean.”


“You don’t like mayo on your burger?”


“No, that’s not what I mean.”


“Well, then let’s hear it, because I’m ready to order.”


“I’ve never met anyone quite like you, Elvin Suggs.”


Elvin shrugged. “The woman I live with says that all the time.”


Shelby’s expression changed, in a way that Elvin didn’t quite understand. He wasn’t certain, but he could have sworn she looked disappointed. That was crazy, he told


himself. She didn’t know him. He imagined it, that’s what it was – his imagination. He would ignore it.


No, he wouldn’t.


“Di’s just a friend, now, Shelby. Don’t misunderstand.”


“You live with a woman who’s ‘just a friend?’ C’mon Suggs, I was born at night – just not last night.”


“Don’t read you there, Shelby. Di’s my friend. Cain’t never be nothin’ more than that.”


“Why not?”


Elvin opened the car door and came around to the passenger side to help Shelby out of the Caddy. “Lots of reasons. Vanna, for one. Her husband’s another.”


“You live with a married woman?”


Elvin looked shocked. “No, ma’am. Di was married to Don, but he ain’t with us no more. He was my best friend in ‘Nam.”


“So Di’s a widow?”


“Shore ‘nuf.”


“So, she’s available?”


“I guess she is. To somebody. She tried that a while back. Didn’t work out, though.”


“Why not?”


“Guy was crazy. Wanted to experiment on animals, do stuff with electric shock treatments and popcorn. He even wanted to experiment on Vanna.”


“Maybe that’s what your Di liked about him.”


Elvin stopped walking and paused. “You know something, Shelby? You might be on to something there. I never thought about that. He seemed crazy, but maybe he wasn’t.” He paused again. “He sure acted crazy.”


“What happened to him?”


“Cobra shot him.”


“Who’s Cobra?”




“Cobra? Is that a person – or a snake?”


“Oh.” Elvin chuckled. “He’s a person, alright. Nervous kind of guy, but he gets by. He just feels a whole lot better with a gun in his hand. That might be hard for a lady like you to understand.” Elvin sensed her hesitation, but he restrained his urge to deluge her with nosy questions. Di would have been proud. This habit required extraordinary “Suggs” effort.


“Your friend Cobra is a good shot, is he?” Elvin noticed that Shelby didn’t even flinch at the mention of Cobra’s gun. In fact, she seemed intrigued at his skill, a fact that intrigued Elvin.


“Yes ma’am, he is. Cobra was a sniper in ‘Nam, Marine–brand kind of guy. Wishes he was back there, I do believe. He would tell you otherwise, but the man doesn’t know what else to do with himself. Every chance he gets, he shoots something or somebody, I should say. But, that’s a good thing, since we run a detective agency. Or did I already tell you that part?”


Shelby’s eyes widened at the mention of his detective business. Elvin noticed that part. He also noticed her big blue eyes, and that wavy blonde hair with the curls on the end. Pretty lady this Shelby Swain. Looked a lot like Cherie…


“No, you didn’t.”


“I didn’t?” Elvin’s reverie faded, and he found himself standing at the counter of Burger Barn.


“Your detective agency. You didn’t say anything about it.”


“Oh,” Elvin said. He glanced down at the empty leash in his hand and panic pulsed through his veins. “Vanna! Where did she go?”


Shelby giggled. “You left Vicki in the car, remember? You said they don’t allow dogs in here.”


“I said that?” Elvin felt confused. He didn’t recall saying that, or for that matter, anything else, even the way that Shelby called his dog “Vicki.” This Shelby Swain made him forget mostly everything about the past and even the present. For the first time in a helluva long time, he felt a kind of magic he thought died a long time ago. He noticed other men in the Burger Barn staring at him with envy at his good fortune in earning a place at Shelby’s side.


He couldn’t believe he said anything about leaving Vanna in the car. Had he really said that? Well, a fresh, hot Barn Buster bought a lot of forgiveness. Vanna could tackle two all by herself, and Vicki, whoever she was, probably could too. The way he was going, he would flub up a lot more before they hit Wisdom, Tennessee. It was going to be one wild ride.


Better order half a dozen of those critters.


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