Wednesday, October 13, 2010
Over Lake Tahoe
Carol and Georgia have the case. Everyone wants the case. Even if no one is quite sure what's in it.
Over Lake Tahoe
“Don’t shoot,” Carol said. It came out too soft and too tired. She frowned at the end of the shotgun not able to work up a real panic.
“Give us the case and I won’t have to use this.” The hit man looked tired too. He didn’t even bother the shift his finger off the trigger. He kept it half-depressed leaving no doubt he would use it as soon as the case was in his hands.
She sighed. She still couldn’t figure out how they kept finding her. One after another, after another, at rest stops, gas stations, diners, and motels. As though Avery had a dark suited army deployed at every point between the city and the lake.
“Come on. We know it’s in the car.”
Carol’s spine tensed. She almost turned, almost gave herself away. But they didn’t know which car, they didn’t know about Georgia sleeping peacefully in the passenger seat. “You don’t need the case,” she said, her jaw bunching as she kept her eyes on his face, her attention on the shelf she was standing next to, searching subtly with her fingers. She felt smooth cardboard boxes, bags that shifted under her fingertips, and cool glass.
“Avery needs that engine, so I need it,” he said confidently, shoulders loose, shotgun in plain sight as though the other people in the store didn’t matter, didn’t exist.
Her fingers closed over the glass. "You can’t shoot me before I tell you where it is," she said, watching his eyes.
He smiled like a shark and the end of the shotgun dipped lower, his eyes flicking to her legs. "I won't hit your mouth."
She sidestepped and whipped her arm forward in the same motion. The glass jar crashed into his face at the instant the shotgun went off.
Ears ringing, Carol turned and ran, her sneakers sliding and squealing when they found purchase on the tiles. Bright boxes and jars and bags whipped past on either side and she had to grab at a display to slow herself enough to turn out of the aisle and sprint between the check stands and out through the huge glass doors.
The parking lot was brighter than day, every crack and tar patch on the asphalt visible as she ran for the car. She dug into her pockets with both hands, feeling for the keys, stumbling but not daring to slow down. She was going so fast that she slammed into the car, rocking it on its springs, denting the hollow door with her hip. She held the key with shaking hands and jammed it into the lock on the first try. She slipped into the driver’s seat and closed the door after her, the click of the lock no more than a whisper as she clicked her seatbelt in place and started the engine.
It roared to life and she winced but her sleeping friend didn’t stir. Carol slid the shifter into reverse and flew backward out of the spot, making a wide arc before she put it in first and flew out of the lot.
Floodlights filled the rearview mirror before she reached the onramp. She knew without looking that it was one of Avery’s men, maybe even the hit man with the shotgun and the broken nose.
She squinted against the glare, narrow eyes on the yellow lines whipping past, downshifting to surge forward, ears straining to listen to the growing whine of the engine. Georgia sniffed loudly and Carol swerved, the tires barely gripping the edge of the road as they raced downhill into the tree lined darkness. She put the car back into fifth and dared a glance at Georgia, only really breathing when she saw the long gray face was slack under the hood of her sweatshirt, huge eyes still closed.
Carol was breathing too fast. The SUV was pulling alongside them now, into the empty oncoming lane, the lights lancing into the side of the car, forcing tears from her eyes. Only a few more miles and they could lose them again.
“Hand over the engine!”
The screech of the loudspeaker didn’t make her swerve as badly; she barely clipped one of the snow markers along the side of the road, the long metal pole whipping back and forth in her wake.
“Don’t make us run you off the road.”
She actually laughed, clapping a sweaty hand over her mouth and shooting a worried look at Georgia. Her friend didn’t even shift in her sleep and Carol let out a shuddery breath, smiling faintly and downshifting as they started up the grade, her speed only dipping slightly as the engine groaned. They wouldn’t run her off the road with their precious case in the car. She knew their orders as well as they did. They had to treat the car like it was made of glass until the case was in their hands. Or answer to Avery.
The lights were falling behind again and she smiled more widely. She could see the reflective outline of the Welcome to Nevada sign ahead. They were almost there.
It was just a tap. The SUV hit the rear quarter panel and the whole car shuddered as it began to spin. Carol could smell the rubber smoking as the tires were dragged sideways over the asphalt. For a moment she saw the glittering lake between the trees before the floodlights blinded her.
Eyes streaming she fought to keep her grip on the shaking steering wheel. The slide seemed to last for hours but only seconds passed before she could see the lines on the road again and she rammed the transmission into first, her foot pushing the gas pedal into the floorboard. The car jumped forward and she flew through the gears, heart hammering in her ears, eyes squinted to slits, waiting for light to flood the car again. She coughed in disbelief when she saw the Nevada state line, crossing it with her lips pressed tight to hold in a yell. She reached a shaky hand toward Georgia, who had only slid lower in her seat, the seatbelt pressed into the translucent skin under her chin. Carol stopped just short of touching her shoulder, grabbing the padded edge of the seat instead, fingers digging hard into the upholstery until they stopped shaking.
Every marker they passed made her jaw clench tighter. There were lights behind them but so far behind that they could have been anyone. At two and five tenths miles she took her hand from the gearshift and reached out until she brushed Georgia’s gray arm.
Georgia sniffed, a great inhale that drew in all the air in the car, making the windows creak and Carol's hair whip across her face. “How long have I been asleep?” she asked, letting the air back out as fine mist.
Carol held her breath but the smell was already in her sinuses, burning, making her eyes water and her throat spasm as she fought not to cough. She pointed at the road ahead. They were nearing the top of the rise, the trees gone from the sides of the road, even the lake out of view, just the sky ahead, gray with moonlight.
“Oh, we’re here. Sorry,” Georgia said in her slow way, the sickly sweet mist settling around them, thicker with every word.
Carol’s vision was swimming, both hands tight on the wheel. She was trying so hard not to cough she didn’t realize the wheels had left the ground until Georgia spoke again.
“I do love this place. It’s a shame we couldn’t have come through and seen the lake during the day.”
Carol bit the insides of her lips, letting her breath out slowly through her nose, trying to make the exhale last as long as possible. The mist was so dense she could barely make out her fingers around the steering wheel. She found the gear shift by feel, putting it into second, her foot just barely on the gas, gauging everything by the sound of the engine.
“You’d like the casinos too. And the boat tour around Emerald Bay. That’s worth doing,” Georgia said, her smooth voice becoming slower, the words drifting apart as the mist became thicker.
So thick it seemed like it was inside Carol’s eyes. Her hands shook on the wheel and the gearshift as she heard the weariness in Georgia’s voice.
“The skiing isn’t bad. Have you tried short skis? They’re…” but whatever they were Georgia didn’t say. She was already asleep again.
Carol jammed her knee under the steering wheel to keep it steady and put her fingers over the window controls, the tips just brushing the buttons. Her eyes were streaming now, her throat tight as she fought not to breath, her other hand fisted around the gearshift.
Her heart was pounding so loud in her ears that she didn’t hear the hiss of the tires catching pavement. But she felt it. The car gave a little shimmy and she jammed her fingers on all four buttons, every window whirring down at once, the mist torn apart by the wind rushing in.
Carol coughed hard, eyes streaming as she blinked furiously at the road ahead. There were other cars, going faster, passing her. She wanted to pull over, wipe her eyes, curl up in the other seat, but there was no shoulder, only guardrails and other cars slipping around her. She sped up and took deep breaths, blowing hard to get the smell out of her nose. It felt like miles before she saw a green sign lined in reflective paint. Toronto 63km.
She laughed silently and put the windows back up leaving hers open a crack so the cool air played over her wet face. Two more jumps like that and they’d be at the White Sea, in Russia where no one would see the launch. They'd be off world before Avery figured out the engine he’d tried to steal wasn’t an engine at all. It was a ship.