Shell Knob

He didn't have any business at all in Shell Knob, Missouri. But he thought it was as good a place as any to run out of money. It was a bit lonely, sipping the complimentary cup of coffee at Dave's Beans ‘n’ Eats, but it wasn't until he had wiped his lips on Dave's shirt front that Milo noticed the terror in the man's eyes.

"Th... that be all, stranger?"

Dave barely managed to vibrate the words from between chattering teeth.

"Phone," Milo said, holding out his palm nonchalantly for the quarter Dave was already hastily digging from his pants pocket. He wanted to call Alphonse again and let him know he was coming. Alphonse hated surprises.

The telephone at the other end of the wire rang eight times. A woman's low, husky, sexy voice broke the ninth ring in half.

"May I... help you?" she breathed.

"Alphonse there?"

"Well... that just depends on what you want him for..."

There was the seashell sound of a hand being imperfectly cupped over the mouthpiece.

"Alphie, I think those wierdos found your phone number again! Will you talk to them?"

The tap of handmade shoes on a hardwood floor. Milo counted the steps: "Seventy eight, seventy nine, eighty..."

"Alright, assholes! I paid you once and that's all you're gonna get. I don't give a shit what you do with those photographs, so you can just..."

"No! Hey, Alf, it's me, Milo!"

Silence. "Milo?"

"Pavlov. The Jello lab, remember?"

"Jeezuz. I thought you were dead."

Milo took a brief stock of himself. He concluded that he seemed still to be alive and said so.

"What do you want? Where are you?"

"In the States again. I’m coming back in."

The beginning of a short, muffled shriek was guillotined by the dull hum of a dial tone. Milo checked the coin return to find his luck still on hold. He turned without a word and strode through the flimsy screen door of Dave’s Beans ‘n’ Eats, leaving the suddenly-enraged Dave standing just inside, surveying the damage, swearing.

Unwilling to actually follow Milo, but sensing he wasn't going to turn around anyway, Dave worked up his courage and yelled. "You could've opened the damn thing before you stepped out, ya fuckin' creeper!"

Milo set out across a back lot toward the highway. When he got to the shoulder, he stuck his thumb out in the direction that would take him to Kimberling City, then Springfield.