Arlo Craddock was in a good mood, and nothing could change that.
He smiled as he drove a grey Toyota sedan along the highways and byways of Alabama. The windows were down so Arlo could smell fresh air, and Skynyrd was on the radio. Ironically, the song currently playing was “Freebird.”
Fortune hadn’t been kind to Mr. Craddock in recent days. He’d been in county because of some pictures he took of women. They weren’t even dirty pictures. All Arlo did was take out his camera phone, zoom in on the lady parts, and hit the picture button.
A few bitches got upset about it and all of a sudden, Arlo was behind bars. Then some hotshot lawyer from Mobile named Andy Forrester came calling about getting Arlo an appeal pro bono. Not only did Arlo get the appeal, but all three of the judges agreed that in a day where everyone’s phone had a camera and surveillance was prevalent, no one had an expectation of privacy in public spaces.
There was a catch, Forrester told him. Arlo had to be back in court in thirty days for a “resentencing hearing.” Fuck that, Arlo thought. In a month I’ll be far away from Alabama.
Normally in a year like 2020, you couldn’t just skip town and start a new life. Computers made things like this difficult. But times were strange right now. Everyone was running scared over some Chinese virus, so Arlo figured he could put a couple states in between himself and Alabama by the time court came around. He would get a job at one of those distribution centers or meat packing plants where all they cared about was a name and a place to send a check and let all this blow over.
He stopped around two at a gas station, refilling the Toyota and grabbing some smokes. Consulting an atlas, Arlo found a Motel 6 he thought was in a suitable driving distance. As the sky darkened, he passed a bar called “The Grassy Knoll Pub.” The Irish doorman wouldn’t let him inside, but offered to bring curbside any drinks Arlo desired. After some negotiations, the pale doorman emerged with a six pack of Stella Artois.
“Pleasure doing business with ye,” the Irishman said as Arlo sped away. Odd, Arlo thought. I’m not good enough to drink in the bar, but the mick will let me leave with a six-pack? At least there would be something cold and alcoholic to sip when he reached the Motel 6.
As the night grew muggy, Arlo fished a cigarette from his breast pocket and lit up. He turned the radio to a rap station where some guy named “D Smoke” was singing about a “last supper.” Rap wasn’t Arlo’s normal taste, but at least he had the freedom to listen now.
The blissful reverie of the road ended when red and blue lights appeared in the Toyota’s rear view mirror.
Shit, shit, Arlo thought. The last thing he wanted was a run-in with law enforcement. What did I do? I haven’t seen a speed limit sign in a minute. The car is in good shape, and…
All racing thoughts came to a halt when one realization crystalized in Arlo’s mind. Alabama was full of rural areas and backwoods roads, but there was one place where locals valued being left alone so much road names were memorized by locals.
And if Arlo Craddock was where he thought he might be, his day just turned exponentially worse.
He finally pulled the Toyota over where a lone street light illuminated a stretch of road, praying to whatever god cared to listen.
The cop tapping Arlo’s windshield wore a tan uniform. His badge glistened in the light. As he leaned into the driver’s side window, Arlo noticed the cop wore a peculiar facemask. Half the mask was houndstooth fabric. The other half was crimson with a stylish white A embroidered in the fabric.
“Evening, Arlo,” Sheriff Roy Templeton said cordially. “You know the drill. License, registration, and proof of insurance. And move slowly, please. I’m feeling twitchy tonight.”
“Do us a solid, Mr. Craddock,” the Sheriff continued. “Kill the engine and put the keys on the passenger seat. I’d hate it to see you do something stupid like peel out while I check all your documents.”
Once again, Arlo complied. After what seemed like an eternity, Sheriff Roy returned and handed Arlo his documents, then tossed two packets labeled “Isopropyl Alcohol Wipes” in Arlo’s lap.
“We got a donation of those at the Department last week.” rumbled Sheriff Roy. “Most folks use them to clean their cell phone screens, but I thought you might want to use them to wipe down your stuff. Now that we’re past pleasantries, what is the “iPhone Pervert” doing in my town?
“Honest to God, Sheriff, I didn’t know I was here! I’m on my way to a Motel 6 and if I hadn’t gotten crossed up, I never would’ve come near Driftwood County!”
Sheriff Roy clicked his teeth from behind the mask. “See, I wish I could believe you. We heard you got out and I’ve had my people keeping an eye out for you in the event your dumb ass showed. When Cassidy at the Knoll said you tried to come in, I knew I had to find you myself.”
“Just let me go, Sheriff! I’ll never be back again, I swear!”
“Again, I wish I could believe you. You strike me like the kind of person who I could order to do something and I’d catch them doing the opposite the moment I was out of eyesight. My son acted that way when he was five. Does that describe your behavior, Arlo?”
“Just let me go, Sheriff, and I won’t be back.”
“Let’s make one thing clear,” Sheriff Roy growled. “Apart from your court date, I don’t want to see or hear you in Driftwood County. Understand? If I even hear your name mentioned it’s not going to be a good day for you, son.”
“Got it. Crystal.” Arlo stammered.
“Fortunately for you, I have someone on a ride-along with me tonight who is exceptional at conveying messages to people who don’t comprehend proper English.”
Arlo suddenly heard tapping noises from the passenger window. He nearly jumped out of his skin when he eyed the name tag on the other cop uniform: “T. Wentzel.”
“Evening, fuckface!” barked Deputy Tyrone Wentzel.
“Now Deputy, remember we are civilized folks in Mud Lick. We show courtesy to others even when they do not return it.”
“Got it, Sheriff!”
“Does he have a gun?” Arlo whispered in a raspy voice.
“Settle down, Arlo,” Sheriff Roy replied. “I didn’t come with a death sentence. Just a clear message that you’re not welcome in this area.”
The Sheriff looked at Deputy Tyrone. “Make sure he gets the point. And make sure he doesn’t need medical attention. Our first responders are needed elsewhere.”
“You got it, Sheriff.” replied the deputy. To Arlo’s horror, Deputy Tyrone produced a cattle prod. As electricity arced through the prod, making audible clicks, Tyrone said, “Daddy said sell, piggy!”
Sheriff Roy made his way back to the police cruiser, ignoring the screams. His mind was on some book the Dilbert guy’s friends had written.
Several realizations hit Arlo Craddock when he regained consciousness.
First, it was daylight. Second, he was cold. Third, he was hog-tied, but the bonds were loose enough he could free himself with little difficulty.
Once free from the ropes, Arlo inspected his person. His clothes were gone, save for his Tommy Bahama boxer briefs. His arms and legs were covered in red paint. The grey Toyota was next to him, trunk slightly open.
Inside were Arlo’s clothes, neatly folded and in a bundle tied with twine. A note sat on the bundle, which Arlo read immediately.
If you’re reading this, you’re finally awake. I apologize if Deputy Tyrone was rough with you, but let’s be honest—the women you took pictures of, including the Deputy’s nana, consented to those pictures about as much as you consented to that cattle prod.
The deputy wanted to torch your clothes. I thought you could use them when you checked into that Motel you mentioned. The plastic bag next to your clothes has a bottle of hand sanitizer and a bar of soap. Maybe you can get yourself cleaned up before you check in.
Finally, last night I noticed you weren’t wearing a face covering during our interaction. Fortunately, Nana Wentzel’s been making masks overtime for our department. You might have noticed the one she made for me last night. One’s in the plastic bag for you.
Make your court date and stay out of Mud Lick.
Arlo took a hobo shower with the hand sanitizer and the bar of soap at the nearest rest stop. The desk clerk at the Motel 6 chuckled quietly as she took his cash and got his room key ready. Arlo was too tired to find out what was so damn funny, so he went to his room.
If he’d bothered to ask, the clerk would’ve gladly shown him the picture Deputy Tyrone snapped of Arlo Craddock, half naked, face covered with a face mask reading “SODOMITE,” and “I EAT DICK” in red paint on Arlo’s stomach. The photo, which went viral on Facebook and Instagram, was captioned “Have You Seen This “Man?”
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Arlo’s latest would be the source of a thousand laughs in Driftwood County for years to come.