Hoping for some windshield therapy and peace of mind behind the wheel of his new rig, Mack gets neither after God nudges him to pick up a hitchhiker near the Jordan State Prison outside Mack’s childhood home of Pampa, Texas.
When his world is ripped apart, he seeks to run away from it all, going as far as to cut off communication with all but a handful of people. But he is pursued by God, who will not let him go. Unbeknownst to Mack, God is equipping His servant with tools to handle events his past education and experience could never have prepared him for.
The story unfolds as the hitchhiker enters Mack’s Peterbilt. The man reminds Mack of his father, a hard living, hard drinking oilfield roughneck who died in prison. God begins to do a work in Mack’s heart while Mack seeks to minister to his new passenger. But Mack soon rues the day he let the hitchhiker into his truck.
His old life in ruins now, Mack learns he has angered a new enemy who threatens to destroy his life on the road as well. Mack suspects he is being followed and is in the sights of a killer who plots a revenge no one could have seen coming.
God works His mysterious way in Mack’s life steamroller-style all the way to an ending that will leave the reader thinking about it long after reading The End at the bottom of the last page.
Rough Way to the High Way is the first of a series of novels about Mack’s adventures on the road as lives are transformed through his new ministry. The first life to be transformed as Rough Way to the High Way develops appears to be that of the hitchhiker. But God is working in Mack’s life all along, preparing him for a new ministry that will transform lives across the country.
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Friday, 9:00 a.m.
Mack's eyes locked onto the sight in his mirror as his rig's eighteen wheels rolled away from his boyhood home of Pampa, Texas. The do not pick up hitchhikers sign above where a man once stood now topped a bare metal post. The man was gone but the memories his image evoked seared into his soul like a branding iron.
He indulged in the perverse pleasure of wallowing in the memories until his stomach twisted into the same old knots he could never seem to untangle. The memories brought comfort to him in a strange kind of way — as in the way a man hangs onto a grudge because it feels familiar and is easier to hang onto than let go.
When the sign faded from sight Mack eased back onto his seat. He shook the memories off with humor, like he always did, driving them back into a forgotten graveyard in his mind.
Maybe that was the ghost of dear old Dad leaning against that post, he thought, though dear old Dad died long ago in the Huntsville state prison. He chuckled to himself and glanced at his watch before turning his thoughts to Chicago, where he would unload his first load in decades. Almost three full days to make it there. Guess I can take the scenic route.
But his peace of mind vanished like a vapor as he eyed the solitary figure of a man walking toward a midmorning Texas sun that brought the promise of another blistering day to the Panhandle Plains. Even with the man's back to him, Mack recognized the hitchhiker as the same one he passed on the way to the slaughterhouse.
He steered his new Peterbilt onto the shoulder and watched in his mirror as the man jogged to his truck. The hitchhiker flung the passenger door open and tossed his bag onto the floor before plopping himself onto the seat and turning to face Mack.
"Where're you headed, son?" Mack asked.
"Away from this God-forsaken place," replied the hitchhiker.
Mack turned his eyes to the highway and floated through ten gears before casting those eyes toward his new passenger. "Good luck with that. Unless you have somewhere to go your mind will stay locked up in that prison back there as long as you live."
The hitchhiker fixed his eyes on Mack and smiled. It was a one sided, tough guy kind of smile. "How'd you know I just got outta prison?"
"You may as well have it stamped on your forehead." Mack glanced left and then right at his West Coast mirrors. He shrugged and attempted to suppress a grin but failed. "Besides, I saw you on my way to the slaughterhouse to load. You were leaning on a signpost beneath a 'Do Not Pick Up Hitchhikers' sign just down the road from the Jordan Unit."
The hitchhiker laughed. "I just set my bag down to rest. I never read the sign. A cop came along an' told me if I didn't wanna go back to the joint I better hightail it out of his territory." He snatched up his bag and rested it on his lap for a long moment before tossing it onto the floor by the sleeper. "So why'd you pick me up?"
"You wouldn't believe me if I told you." Mack studied the hitchhiker's eyes before focusing once again on the painted lines darting past his Pete. "Let's just say you remind me of someone I once knew."
He watched his speedometer needle rise until it reached the speed limit, set the cruise control, and placed an arm on the armrest. "I'm taking a load of swinging meat to Chicago. So buckle up. I haven't driven a big rig in a month of Sundays. Should be an interesting ride."
The hitchhiker settled onto his seat and folded his arms before cocking his head in Mack's direction. "Swingin' meat?"
"Yeah. Swinging meat." Mack thrust a thumb over his shoulder. "Picture a bunch of cows hanging from their tails back there in the trailer. That's about how unstable the load is. Actually it's sides of beef hanging from hooks. Anytime I make a sudden move, you'll feel those babies get to swinging around. And if I jerk the wheel too hard, we could end up with the truck shiny side down."
"Shiny side down?"
"Yeah. You know, upside down, dirty side up. Whatever you want to call it. This rig could easily end up that way." Mack scanned his mirrors before facing his passenger once more. "Like I said, it's been awhile since I've driven one of these things, and I've forgotten some of the lingo." He inclined his head toward the hitchhiker and grinned. "You may be dead when that happens, so I don't think the terminology will really matter at that point."
"It can't be that dangerous." The man turned to face the highway and laughed. "Listen, I just spent the last four years of my life thinkin' I might get the shiny side of a shank to my jugular vein any day — just 'cause maybe I hung around with the wrong people or somethin'." He flopped his head around to face Mack and smiled his one-sided smile. "I ain't scared of no swingin' meat."
"Whoa!" Mack yanked his steering wheel hard left, dodging a slow-moving combine before jerking the wheel back to the right and returning to his lane. The shifting carcasses in the trailer sent it reeling left before tilting back to the right as the rig swerved across both lanes.
After slamming on his brakes, he watched as his trailer skidded across the highway and slid around toward his Pete. Mack spun the wheel right and back to the left, but his trailer just loomed ever larger in his mirror.
Attempting to reign in the out-of-control rig Mack wrested his wheel back hard to the right, sending his truck careening off the highway. He veered off to the edge of the shoulder as his rig hit a soft spot. A chill shot up his spine upon hearing a whump when the carcasses shifted as the trailer leaned toward the embankment.
"Hang on!" Mack hit the brakes once more, easy this time. His truck continued rolling along the shoulder until the big rig's wheels wound down and rolled to a stop. He gripped his steering wheel with arms locked forward and listened to his rig creak like an old rusted door as his trailer tilted inch by inch farther to the right.
"Whewww ..." Easing air from his lungs as if too much at once might unbalance the rig and send it crashing over the side of the highway, Mack considered his options. His best option at this point seemed to be to abandon ship by hopping out of his truck. But after glancing at his passenger, he decided against it.
"Hey! You crazy, man?" the hitchhiker shouted as he fumbled around for the door handle. "I'm gettin' outa here!"
His door flew open, sending him sliding out of the cab. He grasped for the grab handle and peeked over his shoulder at the jagged concrete and steel left by a highway construction crew. Clutching the handle with both hands now, he tightened his grip and glared at Mack.
"Okay." Mack eased his hands away from the wheel before holding them up "Look, Ma" style. "Hopefully the truck won't fall over on you when you get out."
The hitchhiker punched a foot hard against the side panel and pushed himself onto his seat before releasing a hand from his grab handle. He leaned in toward Mack. "Okay. So what're you gonna do?"
"Well, if we just sit here the truck will turn over for sure. And if we drive off, the rig still may flip over. But there's a chance it won't." Mack positioned his hands onto the top of his steering wheel before sliding his moist palms into place and facing his passenger. "So I say we drive forward and pray."
The hitchhiker clicked his seatbelt into place with his free hand. "I'm with you man," he said before digging his fingers into his armrests. The man stared lock-jawed at the highway ahead. "Let's do it."CHAPTER 2
Divine Occurrence — Turning Back
Friday, 10:00 a.m.
Mack guided his Pete along the shoulder, leaning left in unison with the hitchhiker as the truck leaned right. The rig groaned in protest as he attempted to pull his truck back onto the roadway. Third gear, fourth gear, fifth gear ...
He popped it into high range and eased back onto the highway. The rig righted itself as the cargo shifted. Mack eased his viselike grip from the wheel upon reaching highway speed once more. There was blessed silence in the cab now, save for the click-click, click-click sound of the eighty-thousand-pound tractor trailer rolling over highway expansion joints.
The hitchhiker slammed his door shut, crossed his arms, and stared dead ahead at the highway.
Mack settled onto his seat, and emptied lungs filled from the deep breath he took before pulling the truck forward. "Thank God."
"Did you do that on purpose?" The hitchhiker cast ice-cold eyes Mack's way.
After turning to stare into the young man's eyes for a moment, Mack returned his attention to the highway. "What?"
"Jerk the wheel around like that." The hitchhiker thrust his fists forward and mimicked his motions with the steering wheel. 'Make the truck rock back and forth."
"I'm not that crazy." Mack plopped an arm on his armrest and inclined toward his passenger. "Didn't you see that combine?"
Still glaring at Mack, the passenger blinked. "That what?"
"That farm machinery. The farm machinery we almost ran over back there."
"I didn't see no farm machinery. I was lookin' back at you. Last thing I remember you was tellin' me how scary it was to haul swingin' meat." The man jabbed an accusing finger in Mack's direction. "Then you started drivin' crazy to prove it."
"Oh yeah. Now I remember." Mack lifted an index finger and motioned it toward his passenger. "You were saying, 'I ain't scared of no swingin' meat.'"
"Then you tried to make me scared." Still pointing his finger, the hitchhiker gave it a firm shake. "That wasn't no coincidence."
Mack looked at the young man's finger and then back up at his spitting-mad face. He shrugged and turned his gaze back to the highway. "No, you're right. I don't believe in coincidences." He glanced at his passenger and smiled. "I call things like that divine occurrences."
"Huh?" The hitchhiker lowered his finger-pointing hand and gripped his armrest. "What?"
"Divine occurrences. You know, things people call coincidences. Happenstance. Strokes of luck ... or bad luck. Fate maybe." He turned and looked the hitchhiker dead in the eye. "But those things happen by design."
As his Pete lumbered along down the highway now, he enjoyed the rocking rhythm of the road for that moment in time. Facing the highway in silence, Mack smiled once more, this time to himself. He turned his gaze toward his mirror and watched his hometown fade away in the distance. He glanced at his passenger and nodded. "It's a God thing."
The hitchhiker turned to his window and watched the monotonous landscape pass by like a passenger on a train bound for nowhere. After sitting in silence for some time, he rolled his head to face Mack. "You are crazy."
"Maybe. But like they say, 'Just because I'm paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get me.'"
"An' what's that suppose' to mean?"
"I may be crazy," Mack said matter-of-factly, "but that doesn't change the fact that God often uses events in our lives to get our attention. He just did that to you."
"Oh yeah?" The hitchhiker scoffed. "An' just how did He do that?"
Mack placed a hand atop his steering wheel and spread his fingers to make sure all the little red needles on the truck's gauges were pointed in the right direction. All systems go, he thought, using a phrase Uncle Jake used when Mack stood barefooted behind him, feeling the rumbling floor beneath his feet. Mack would lean over his uncle's shoulder, point to the gauges, and confirm the assessment. "All systems go."
"What's your name, son?" Mack turned to face his passenger and smiled.
"Ricky. My name is Ricky. People call me Rocky."
"Rocky? You don't look like a Rocky to me. Where did you get that nickname?"
The hitchhiker tapped a finger to his head. "Some dude in the joint said I had rocks for brains. So I got stuck with that name ever since. You know ... Ricky ... Rocky? I tried to just go by Rick after that. But they called me Rock then, so I gave up."
"Uh-huh. Well, I'll think I'll call you Ricky if you don't mind." Mack extended a hand across the space separating the two men. "I'm Robert. Robert McClain. People call me Mack."
The hitchhiker wiped his palm on his jeans before shaking Mack's hand, but remained silent.
"Pleased to meet you." Still grasping the young man's hand, Mack inquired, "How much time did you spend in prison, Ricky? Four years?"
"Yeah." The man withdrew his hand and shrugged. "Somethin' like that. I was suppose' to anyways. They let me out early for good behavior."
"Ever been locked up before?"
The hitchhiker turned to his window and laughed. "Ever'body back there has at leas' been in county jail before."
"So you ignored the people and signs that told you what would happen when you violated the rules." Mack focused his eyes on his unresponsive passenger. "Violating those rules got you into trouble before, but you didn't stop doing things you knew would get you in trouble."
The hitchhiker shook his head. "What's all this got to do with you drivin' crazy?"
"I told you how unstable the load we're hauling is. But you were so cocky about the danger involved ..." Mack stretched out his shoulder strap and snapped it to his chest. "You didn't even buckle your seatbelt until the truck almost flipped over."
"Well, now I know, man. You didn't have to almost kill us both to prove your point."
"Maybe. But sometimes it takes a dramatic event like that for God to get our attention. Things happen for a reason, Ricky. He may have used that little adventure we had to get the attention of both of us. Thank God for combines." He lifted an index finger from the wheel and pointed to an old, closed down weigh station.
"I'm going to pull off here to get turned around and head back into town. I wasn't going to stop anywhere else in Pampa, but there's a truck stop I'd like to visit that I haven't been to in years. I don't plan on coming back here anytime soon if I don't have to, so it may be the last chance I get for a very long time."
Mack paused for a long moment before continuing. "I think I might change my route anyway and go the way my uncle did when he was dodging scales back in the day. We'll have a cup at that old truck stop if it's still there and check things out before we hit the road again. I need to make sure we didn't lose anything back there other than a year or two off our lives."CHAPTER 3
Friday, 10:45 a.m.
After parking his rig at the antiquated truck stop Mack stepped down from his Pete. As he viewed the scene around him, he took in a deep breath and savored the smell of diesel from some of the old rigs parked nearby. Grinning like a kid with his first car he popped open his side compartment and grabbed his hammer. Still smiling, he raised it to bump his tires.
The hitchhiker eyed an object which glistened in the light flooding the cab when Mack opened the door. After slipping it into his pocket, he hopped down from the truck, bag in hand, and hurried around from the passenger side. But the man skidded to a dead stop upon eying Mack as he turned toward him, raised hammer in hand.
"Hey, man! I was just kiddin' 'bout that crazy stuff." The hitchhiker's bag slid across the truck stop parking lot as he thrust out his hands and shook them side to side. "I don't want no trouble. Just let me grab my bag and get outta here."
Mack eased back against his trailer, dropped the hammer to his side, and chuckled.
"What's so funny, man?"
"I was just about to bump my tires, Ricky." Mack raised his hammer and waved it about like a finger-wagging schoolmarm. "This is my tire thumper."
"See these big ol' tires?" Mack smacked one of the driver tandems with the palm of his hand. "There are eighteen of them." One by one he whacked the tractor tires with the hammer — thump-thump, thump-thump. He used the hammer as a pointer and poked its head to the side of a tire. "One of them can go flat without you ever knowing about it. If you don't check them periodically, a lot of bad things can happen."
He counted them off with his free hand, thrusting his fingers out as he spoke. "You can ruin a tire, it could come apart, get caught on something and catch fire, or it can just overheat and cause another tire to blow.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Rough Way to the High Way"
Copyright © 2018 Kelly Mack McCoy.
Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 The Hitchhiker, 1,
Chapter 2 Divine Occurrence — Turning Back, 5,
Chapter 3 Past Episode, 9,
Chapter 4 Going Back to the Future, 15,
Chapter 5 Killing Time, 20,
Chapter 6 Crime and Bunglement, 24,
Chapter 7 Returning to the Scene of the Crime, 28,
Chapter 8 Changing Her Tune, 35,
Chapter 9 Getting Their Man, 38,
Chapter 10 On the Road Again, 46,
Chapter 11 The Call, 56,
Chapter 12 Parting Shot, 63,
Chapter 13 On the Road Again, Again, 68,
Chapter 14 The Traveler and the Trooper, 73,
Chapter 15 Sin of Omission, 78,
Chapter 16 Sin of Commission, 83,
Chapter 17 Stealing Home, 86,
Chapter 18 Dying Time Again, 89,
Chapter 19 Inside the Joint, 94,
Chapter 20 Comic Book Caper, 99,
Chapter 21 Crazy Like Me, 103,
Chapter 22 Storytelling, 108,
Chapter 23 Stung by a Scorpion, 116,
Chapter 24 Rudely Interrupted, 119,
Chapter 25 Time and Eternity — the Rough Way, 122,
Chapter 26 Eternity — the High Way, 126,
Chapter 27 Back in Time, 130,
Chapter 28 Saying Good-bye, 138,
Chapter 29 Soul Journer and the Co-Journer, 142,
Chapter 30 The Source, 150,
Chapter 31 Sharing Notes, 156,
Chapter 32 Fix-It Man, 163,
Chapter 33 Déjà Vu Rendezvous, 168,
Chapter 34 Fame and Fortune, 173,
Chapter 35 Romeo and Who Done It, 179,
Chapter 36 Garza and McClain, 182,
Chapter 37 Black and White, 186,
Chapter 38 The Message, 191,
Chapter 39 Face-to-Face with the Fed, 194,
Chapter 40 Darkness and Light, 200,
Chapter 41 It Is Well, 203,
Chapter 42 Special Delivery, 209,
Chapter 43 Chatterbox, 214,
Chapter 44 Hitting the Pavement, 221,
Chapter 45 To-Go Box, 225,
Chapter 46 Doctored Device, 229,
Chapter 47 Bonnie and Clyde Clue the Captain, 233,
Chapter 48 The Code, 241,
Chapter 49 In the Nick of Time (and Eternity), 244,
Chapter 50 Cleaning Up, 247,
Chapter 51 Good-bye for Good, 250,