DUEL 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 (and 8)

6

The exit dropped down a good fifty feet to an unmarked blacktop lane that paralleled the interstate. One way was marked with a sign proclaiming the merits of Elk River Lodge. I went the other, and rapidly found an unmarked gravel lane winding into the woods and up the side of the mountain. An overgrown track crossed it, and I saw a fresh tire spin mark going to the right. Michelle was waiting, sitting on the hood of the wagon, doing a crossword.

The pistol under the magazine stayed fixed on me until I got out of the car.

"What happened?"

I told her of the chase scene.

"Who the fuck are these guys?"

"I have no idea, but I think they may have saved our asses. This cop was gonna take us off. I think it's not unlikely that we might have ended up buried in a gravel pit somewhere."

"So why shoot at you?"

"I think they didn't want him to get their prize. Either they are after what we've got, or they're after us."

"What the hell did we do to them?"

"Beats me. Maybe they think we know something we don't, or maybe they're just psycho." The latter theory was growing more appealing by the minute, but we could not afford to make any assumptions yet. I drove the cruiser off the dirt track until it got stuck. We spent ten minutes wiping anywhere we thought might have prints. I debated taking the shotgun, but the burning pain in my swollen shoulder told me it wasn’t going to do any good anyway.

“Michelle, you’re going to have to drive for a while. I think I tore my rotator cuff.” She didn’t make the face I expected.

There was a storm below us, lightning in the valleys. Michelle spoke first. “Do you think car man’s out of action?”

“I doubt it. Odds are he’s got a little glass in his hair. That car’s going to be pretty conspicuous, though. Unless he’s riding pillion.” The interstate narrowed to one lane each way, with plastic posts between the lanes. The eastbound lanes were being torn up and resurfaced. Every time a semi passed us going the other way, Michelle flinched. She’s not a coward, but there is something about tons of metal on eighteen wheels that sets off all the alarm bells in her hindbrain. I don’t care for them much myself. Especially at seventy miles an hour, in the dark, on top of a mountain, with nothing between me and them but fifty cents worth of orange plastic.

Sinclair, Wyoming, as near as I can tell, is a refinery covered with tiny blue lights and irregular spurting flames. That’s all I could see of it. Michelle had slowed down to sixty, and there was a line of semis behind us, impatient. The one directly behind us was no more than ten feet back, and his lights were on a level with the back of my head. Coming the other way was a line equally long, and brighter.

The sign was dull orange, with only two words. Road Damage. The surface of the road itself simply wasn’t there anymore. Michelle gasped and tapped the brakes. The semi behind us blatted his air horn, and she whipped the wheel to the left, into the oncoming lane of traffic.

She took out two plastic poles, and missed the axle-eating hole to the right. The road was still there, but zagged to the left. She overcorrected, and for two eternal seconds the tires caught in the gravel on the narrow shoulder, trying to yank us off and down the side of the mountain.

She narrowly missed the End Construction sign, punched the gas, and held a steady seventy while the line of trucks passed us. One of the vehicles was a county sheriff. He drove past with only a glance.

By the time we reached Rawlins my shoulder was screaming and we were out of cigarettes. We found a Taco Bell. She walked across the street to a convenience store while I bought cheap imitations of decent food and phoned home. We sat outside while I waited for the phone to ring.

I answered with the last four digits of the phone number.

“You should go visit Aunt Bette in Brigham City. Have you ever eaten at the Bit ‘O Honey?”

“I can find it.”

“Be there at two. She’ll be expecting you.” Click. I hung up and returned to my nachos. “Let’s crash.”

Just west of downtown was Motel Row. We went to the no name at the end. The office was empty. The woman who came to the desk, eventually, was clearly the owner. No clerk could be that stoned and keep their job. She sent us to an upper floor.

The sheets were clean. That’s the best thing I can say about it.

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