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“That was my friend in dispatch. She confirmed there was no Marci Dickerson checked in for this trip or the next one between Vegas and L.A. Ticket is still open.”
“So, she could still change it for another day?” Bette asked.
“That’s always a possibility Ma’am. The flexible fares allow it, but right now she’s a no-show. I’m sorry ladies. I wish I could do more.”
“You’ve done so much more than we could have asked Ernie. I hope you don’t get into any trouble.” Tina touched his arm affectionately. Bette turned slightly to get a tissue from her purse to wipe the remnants of her tears. Not having a trash can nearby, she put the used tissue back in her purse and returned to the conversation.
“The only trouble I’m liable to get into is from my wife for being late. My shift ended thirty minutes ago, and she’ll be expecting me home soon.”
“We didn’t mean to keep you Ernie. Thank you for your compassion. Not many people would have cared enough to do what you did for us.” He shook Bette’s outstretched hand and was surprised when she slipped a folded bill into his palm. Tina thanked him as well and handed him the flowers. “Give these to your wife with our apologies for making you late.”
“That’s mighty kind of you ladies. I hope you hear from Ms. Dickerson. Good luck.” He grinned and tipped his cap as he placed it back on his head. He pocketed the money without looking at the denomination and cradled the bouquet of flowers in his arms as if carrying a newborn baby.
He walked to the back of the bus station and entered through the employees only door to turn in the bus keys and paperwork. He went into the locker room to freshen up then stopped at the office to check the schedule. He was happy to see that he had a few days off before his next trip.
Being a long-haul driver was something Ernie enjoyed. He’d made a life-long career of it. He drove 18-wheelers carrying cargo cross country and into Canada and Mexico for twenty years. After taking early retirement with a nice pension from the trucking company, he hired on as a passenger bus driver with Trailways. He much more preferred interacting with people and he’d met a lot of good ones along the way but after a week on the road, spending nights in cheap motels, and eating meals at diners he was ready to get home to his family. Mabel, his wife of thirty years usually had a hot homecooked meal waiting for him, and his daughter would drop off the kids so they could spend time with their grandpa.
Reaching into his pant pocket to retrieve his car keys as he approached the midnight blue Ford F-150 parked in the employee lot, Ernie fingered the bill Bette had given him and pulled it out. He was shocked at the amount. He usually received generous tips but never had he gotten a $100, especially from someone that didn’t even ride on his bus. He slipped the bill back into his pocket and sniffed the fragrant flowers thinking about the two beautiful women that had so generously rewarded his kindness.
Even though the news wasn’t what they had hoped at least they had one question answered. Marci hadn’t used the ticket Bette purchased for her to get on a bus to Los Angeles that day. “Maybe she’ll be on the bus tomorrow” Ernie whispered wistfully as he adjusted the rear-view mirror before starting the engine and headed home.