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Crimson Highway

By David Wickenhauser

Cover art: Sarah Wickenhauser

Copyright © 2021 by David Wickenhauser

All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

Available as an Amazon Kindle eBook.

Contact the author: [email protected]

Follow the author's trucking news writing at:


This first novel in the Hugh Mann truck driver series is dedicated to James, my truck-driving trainer, mentor and friend.

It takes an incredibly large amount of patience, tolerance and trust for a veteran truck driver to take a rookie—who is not really a truck driver yet—into his truck for several weeks. Trainer and rookie share a space together that’s about the size of a medium-sized walk-in closet. And they do that 24/7, night and day, sharing their lives—dirty laundry, obnoxious habits, and sometimes less-than-great personal hygiene.

Also, and this is not a minor consideration, the trainer puts his life on the line trusting his 75-foot-long, 80,000-pound big rig to a complete stranger. Accidents do happen.

That a trainer and trainee can stand each other long enough to remain together until completion of the rookie’s training period is not a foregone conclusion. That the trainer and trainee remain friends long after the new guy has gotten off the trainer’s truck and gone solo is rare and almost a miracle when it happens.

It’s to James’ credit, then, that he tolerated me and my driving for the length of my training period, became my willing mentor when I went solo, and remains my friend to this day. As a trainer, and a great person overall, he definitely exemplifies the best that the truck-driving industry has to offer.

Thank you James.

Chapter One

Twenty miles out of Tonopah, Nevada, just as Highway 6 was beginning its eastward climb into a series of desert canyons, big-rig truck driver Hugh Mann spotted a lone figure standing beside the road. The person had his thumb suspended over the fog line in the classic hitchhiker’s pose.

Hugh drove past the hopeful fellow. He wasn't stopping, so the guy was on his own.

But the hitchhiker’s deflating posture as he saw the truck pass by tugged at Hugh’s conscience. The isolation of this desert highway, where passing vehicles are few and far between, prompted Hugh to soften his attitude.

At that particular time when two lives, strangers unknown to each other just a moment before, were about to come together on a lonely stretch of highway Hugh couldn’t have guessed that this sympathetic impulse would change his life forever—and almost end it.

“Dammit,” he said out loud, smacking the steering wheel in frustration as his conscience got the better of his reason. He slowed the truck, and pulled over half-way off the pavement coming to rest onto the dusty shoulder about a hundred yards beyond the pathetic-looking figure.

Hugh yanked the red knob on the dash to set the parking brake on his big-rig truck. The sudden release of pent-up, compressed air underneath the tractor blew up a cloud of road-shoulder dust that billowed almost to window level.

Hugh leaned partway out his driver’s side window, and thrust his arm out, impatiently beckoning the hitchhiker to hurry over. The hitchhiker had about a minute to drag his butt over to his rig or Hugh was leaving. He didn't want to wait there all day, half on and half off of the road.

Hugh examined the hitchhiker in his rear view mirror as he approached the truck. He was slightly built, although it was difficult to be sure of that, given that he was fully engulfed in several layers of mismatched clothing. Hugh could see that the hitchhiker wore too many shirts, pants and jackets in the style of homeless people who dug their clothes out of trash bins, and who wore everything they owned, regardless of the weather.

The hitchhiker got closer.

The hitchhiker appeared to be about five-seven, or maybe five-eight, and had dirty, shaggy, unkempt hair haphazardly poking out from underneath a large, knit cap. Hair and the cap covered most of his face. His age was indeterminate—no way to tell underneath the layers of clothes, the shaggy hair and big knit cap.

He had no backpack or luggage of any kind.

The hitchhiker finally caught up with the idling truck. He went directly to the other side of the truck from Hugh, opened the door, and climbed up into the passenger seat. He kept his face turned toward the passenger window, saying nothing.

Friendly cuss. This hitchhiker wasn't being very friendly or grateful, given that he had just been lucky enough to snag a ride on this empty highway.

He decided to give this rider the benefit of the doubt, remembering his own experience so many years ago when he had first climbed up into the cab of a truck as a hitchhiker.

It had been different then, Hugh rerecalled, because he had been fresh out of the Marines at the time. He had been confident that he could take care of himself. This guy looked like a strong breeze could blow him over.

His rider continued to stare quietly out his passenger-side window as Hugh pushed in the parking brake knob, and turned the steering wheel to put the truck back onto the highway.

Once the big rig was rolling again through the monotonous Nevada landscape, Hugh considered his new passenger. Where did he come from? Where on earth could this guy be going? Where was he planning to spend the night? He didn’t relish the thought of bunking with this ... what? ... unsociable creature.

Hugh voiced the question that he had been thinking. “Where are you headed?”


“You got a name?”


“Can you talk? What's your problem?”

“Screw you,” the hitchhiker grunted, still not looking at Hugh, who was beginning to think this was going to

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