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There was a young man in Maria’s usual spot. 

“Where’s Maria?,” Lou, the trucker, asked him, pulling his 10-wheeler up beside the young, thin man. 

The young man, Patrick, looked up warily at the truck cabin. 

“Who are you?” he asked, between puffs on his cigarette, squinting up into the fading, dusky sunlight. 

“I’m a friend of Maria’s,” Lou called down. 

Patrick Murphy was 25 years old, half Lou’s age, and, it seemed, about half Lou’s weight. Thin, and handsome, like a character actor in a 1950’s Hollywood western. 

Lou looked like a 50-year old who had spent much of his adult life driving a truck, eating too many slices of pizza and too many cheeseburgers. 

“Maria had to go home,” Patrick yelled up at the trucker. “Her mother died.”

Lou Mascaro, the trucker, knew Maria’s mother. At the news of her passing that autumn night in a truck stop outside of Cape Girardeau, Missouri, he just shook his head, closed his eyes, and buried his face in his hands. 

“You want to buy me a beer?” Patrick yelled up at Lou. 

And that was how Lou Mascaro, truck driver, divorced man of 50, met Patrick Murphy, guitarist, free soul, and sometime truck stop prostitute, in southeast Missouri, in September of 2013. 

Lou had been making this run from Kansas City to Louisville every two weeks for years, delivering inexpensive bread to grocery stores and warehouses, always stopping at this truck stop for dinner. 

One cold January night, back in 2004, when his wife and he had just split, he saw Maria there, standing outside the restaurant’s front door, in her tight black jeans and Indian beads. 

For years afterward, he looked forward every two weeks to seeing her there, her beautiful face and body. 

She gave him comfort, and he paid the rent on the apartment she shared with her mother. And then, in September of 2013, he met Patrick. 


It was early September that night they first met, just a week or so after Labor Day. The summer feeling was easing off. Dusk was starting to come earlier. At night now, kids and families were at home. Family vacations were done. 

The truck stop restaurant had a subdued energy: mostly long-haul truckers now who just wanted a final meal before they curled up in the beds inside their massive vehicles. 

As Lou and Patrick strolled through the restaurant on their way to a table, they passed a large table covered with dirty dishes that had not been cleared and cleaned yet. 

Lots of cash was stuffed under one of these plates, to pay the bill and the tip. Patrick very smoothly swiped a few of the bigger bills as he passed the table. 

At their table, Lou noticed that several of the waitresses in the place stopped by to flirt with Patrick.

“How are you doing, Patrick?” one stunning brunette said as the two men were just starting their meal. 

“All right, Pam,” Patrick replied. “How’s your pretty face doing tonight?” 

“Oh, y’know,” she smirked. “Livin’ the dream.” 

“Pamela, this is my friend Lou, who’s been on the road with a truckful of bread all day.” 

“Nice to meet you, Lou,” Pam said, running a quick hand over Lou’s shoulder, and letting it rest there. 

Lou smiled up at his new friend.. 

“You take care of our guest, Mr. Murphy,” Pam said, with a hint of the South in her warm, golden voice. 

“Yes, ma’am,” Patrick replied. 

And the night rolled on. 

When Patrick was on his third or fourth Heineken, a news story appeared on the always-on televisions in the restaurant about a drug bust in the area. 

“Damn,” Patrick said, shaking his head, his eyes riveted to one of the screens. 

“With all the problems in the world, why do they need to bother someone just trying to make a buck?” 

“Sure,” Lou replied. 

“The Man just won’t leave the average Joe alone. Always pushing his nose in where it doesn’t belong.” 


After their meal, the two went to Patrick’s nearby motel room. The bed and desk and chairs were covered with clothes, fast food wrappers, and empty or near-empty bourbon and vodka bottles. 

“Welcome to paradise,” Patrick said as they walked through the door of Room 15 at the Flamingo Motel, a place that looked like it had had its heyday when Dwight Eisenhower was president. A gigantic pink sculpture of its namesake bird welcomed motorists from Interstate 55, which runs south from St. Louis, 100 or so miles away, along the Mississippi River.

“Can I get you a nightcap?” Patrick asked his guest. 

“No, thanks,” Lou said, though he had only had one beer back at the restaurant. 

“Well, suit yourself,” Patrick said, as fished out a whiskey glass from a half-full laundry basket and filled it half full of bourbon, 

Lou noticed a guitar propped up in a corner, an acoustic six-string. 

“You play?” he asked. 

Patrick said nothing, but a large smile appeared on his face. He walked up to Lou, sitting there on the side of the bed, kissed him squarely on the mouth, then went and got his guitar. 

He began to play and sing, with a style in his playing and a sweetness and warmth in his voice. 

“A … ma … zing Grace, How sweet … the sound … That saved … a wretch … like me ...I once … was lost … But now … am found … Was blind … But now … I see.” 

He played and sang several songs there on the side of the bed beside Lou, with a focus and energy that belied the fact that he’d been drinking most of the evening. 

After playing and singing a few standards, Patrick played a few of his own songs. Plaintive, sad tunes about searching for meaning, searching for a home. 

When he was done, he returned the guitar to its place in the corner of his disheveled motel room. 

“What are you doing here in southeast Missouri?” Lou asked him. “With a voice like that, and a talent like that, you should be in Nashville. Or L.A.” 

Patrick was at his sink, making himself a bourbon and water. 

“Well, I’ve been out to La-La land,” he replied. “Buddy, too much. Too much of everything--sex, drugs, sunshine. You name it, too much. I came back to the Midwest with my talented tail between my legs.” 

Then he took a long drink, turned off the lights, and earned his money in bed. ****

Over the next few months, Lou saw Patrick every two weeks or so, and looked forward to the visits. Sometimes, they would not even have sex, but just hold each other in bed. 

Once, they went into Cape Girardeau, and went to the Mississippi River. 

“It’s a mysterious thing, this river,” Patrick said as they sat on the cobblestone banks of the river in town on that chilly November afternoon.. 

“I guess so,” Lou agreed. 

“Can you write a song about it?” he asked his musical friend. 

Patrick just looked at him and smiled. And then walked over to Lou’s truck and got his guitar out. 

Sitting back beside Lou on the cobblestone banks, looking out at the slow-moving mass of grey and green water, he played a few chords, tuned up his six-string, and then started improvising. 

“Take me away, Mystery River,” he sang over lonesome-sounding minor chords, “Take me, away, Mystery River, from my pain. Wash me, away, Mystery River, in your muddy rain.” 


As the early fall moved into the wintertime, Patrick began losing even more weight. Watching even more stupid TV. And drinking more all the time. 

In addition to his work at the truck stop, he did get a part-time job doing market research in town over the telephone. He even did some substitute-teaching for the Cape Girardeau public schools, since he had enough college credits to qualify. 

But he was struggling. He had to ask his mother, back in Arnold, Missouri, a hardscrabble St. Louis suburb, for financial help, which he hated to do, since she was barely getting by herself. 

And he lost use of his car. After his Buick broke down on Highway 55 one night, and the repairman wanted $700 to fix it, he just shook his head and told the mechanic that the Buick was his, and walked home. 

He was taking the bus around town, to the grocery store, and on his various errands, and he hated that, too. Cape Girardeau, a small city, had meager public transportation. No news there. 

Things weren’t great for Lou, either. His trucking company was cutting back on his miles. His ex-wife, Elizabeth, always wanted more money to raise their 10-year old daughter, Amy.

And besides his time with Patrick, he was spending way too much time alone. 

Nevertheless, when Lou saw Patrick every two weeks, there was an ease and a comfort between these two men. 

Of course, there was a service provided, and paid for. 

But above that, there seemed to be something more. 

They began to feel almost like family around one another. 

They enjoyed each other’s company. 

At least, sometimes. 


“Can I drive your truck?” Patrick asked Lou one night in a hotel bar they stopped in. “What do you mean?” Lou asked. 

“I MEAN, Louis, when you’re in town, can I use your truck to go to the store to get food and booze, to go to the post office, the library, or whatever. Whatever NEEDS to be done.” 

“That’s not a good idea, Patrick,” Lou replied. 

“I KNEW you were gonna say that!” Patrick said, slamming both of his fists down on the table, knocking over both his and Lou’s drinks in the process. “You’re always so goddamned negative. I”m just asking you as a friend.” 

Patrick righted his glass, and polished off what was left of the bourbon and soda. 

“Those trucks are hard to drive, Patrick,” Lou said. “They are expensive, difficult-to-drive vehicles, and if anything happened…” 

“Forget it, man. Forget it,” Patrick said. 

“Screw you,” as he went up to the bar to get another drink. 


It was mid-December. There had been snow on the final 100 miles or so of Lou’s trip into the Cape Girardeau area. The truck had slid all over the highway, and he felt lucky to have gotten to Patrick’s motel room in one piece. 

When Patrick opened the door, to the falling snow, and Lou covered with the white flakes, the two men just embraced. 

“It’s hell out there on the road,” Lou said. 

“Come in and get dry,” Patrick said. “We can order a pizza. I’ve got plenty of booze.” 

Over an 18-inch pepperoni thin crust, the two brought each other up-to-date on the details of their lives over the past two weeks. 

Then they started going back further in their personal histories. 

Raised in Arnold, Missouri, Patrick had studied music for a year at the state university in Cape Girardeau. 

And thoroughly enjoyed his time in the dorm, he said, meeting new people, studying and playing music. 

But after those first two semesters, he began to feel the limits of a small city like Cape Girardeau. 

Lou was not the first person to tell Patrick he should set his sights higher. Patrick’s wanderlust took him to Los Angeles. 

Who knows?, he thought to himself. Maybe I’ll become rich and famous in southern California as a songwriter and singer. 

It’s happened to other people. Why not me? 

But after less than a year in L.A., after his drinking and drugging had gotten the best of him, he left the West Coast, and tried living in Denver. 

He couldn’t get it together in Denver, either. 

Eventually, he ended up back in Missouri, this time living in the city of St. Louis. None of these places worked out. He was always searching for something, but never finding it. “I feel like the answer to my life is in the next town,” Patrick said.

Lou shook his head to show he understood. 

“I get it,” he said. “In a way, that’s why I went into trucking. I want to see new places. Of course,the cities. But also the small things. I want to see new hills, new flowers, new trees. I want to see new lakes and rivers.” 

The snow turned into freezing rain about 10 o’clock that night. They could hear the ping of the hail hitting the window pane and the pavement outside the front door. 

“Sounds rough out there,” Lou said. 

“Yea,” Patrick replied, finishing the beer bottle in his hand. 

“Good night to get drunk inside.”. 


In the middle of the night, Lou woke up. He wanted a glass of water, and got up out of bed to go to the sink to get one. 

That’s when he noticed. 

Patrick was gone from the room. 

Maybe he’s out on the pavement in front of the room getting some air, or a smoke, Lou thought. He opened the front door. 

A mixture of light freezing rain and snow was now falling on the halogen-lit parking lot. But no Patrick in sight. 

Also, no bread truck in sight. 

His truck was gone. 

He went back in the motel room, sat on the bed. 

All of Patrick’s hanging clothes were gone from the closet. 

And Patrick’s suitcase was gone. 

The reality of the situation wrapped around Lou like a fierce winter snowstorm.

Lou was immobile, sitting there on the bed, gazing out on the freezing rain and snow. Unbelievable, he thought. 

Unbelievable where fate has brought me. 

At that moment, Patrick was about four miles east of the motel room, in the city of Cape Girardeau, driving Lou’s huge truck onto an old two-lane bridge spanning the Mississippi river, connecting southeast Missouri to southwest Illinois. 

The drive from the motel to the bridge had been tricky. In this nasty weather, the truck seemed to have a mind of its own. And the gears were difficult, to put it mildly. 

But he had made it this far. 

And he felt assured he could make it all the way to Nashville, and a new life. 

A rap song came on the radio that he liked, and he reached over to turn up the volume, and take a swig from his Heineken. 

The wheels of the truck hit a patch of ice, and locked, and skated across the highway asphalt like a hockey puck in an arena. 

Patrick lost control of the truck. He tried steering the heavy, massive vehicle away from the edge of the bridge, but it was too late. 

The truck plunged off the bridge and sank into the mighty Mississippi river, the cold, wet burial grounds for Patrick Murphy and his dreams. 



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