Tom edged one eye beyond the brick wall of the alley. He could see his car down a little more than 100 metres from where he was. Flames engulfed the vehicle. The fire was licking up the lamppost planted in the front grill and sooner or later, he imagined, the wood would burn through and the pole would fall over and crush the roof.
Tom sighed. Damn, he had really liked that car. He had gone into a bar where some renegade jerk with the over-the-top name of Killer Jack had taken an instant disliking to him and swore he was going to kick his butt. Even though Tom had left peaceably enough, he couldn’t resist flipping Jack the bird and from there, the race was on.
Tom had pulled out onto the main thoroughfare and started down the street nice and easy when he heard the squealing of tires behind him. A glance in the rear-view mirror revealed that Killer Jack must have seen the bird and decided Thomas needed to be taught a lesson. That lesson, Tom had hazarded to guess, would be the permanent kind. He shook his head in disbelief at how some people with whatever personality defect took great delight in running around picking fights with people as if this was their way of proving their self-worth. Geesh, give it a rest. Okay, you’re a big bad scary guy, but with the minimal equipment. Don’t blame me if Mother Nature pulled a cosmic joke on you and your manliness.
Tom put his foot to the mat and felt his car leap forward in an explosion of acceleration. He let each gear touch red before shifting. The motor screamed between gears and when he popped the clutch, he laid down rubber before the power pushed him back in the seat. Tom looked in the mirror and thought he was staying ahead of Killer Jack. At least the two of them seemed to have cars of equal power. From here on in, it would be a contest of skill. This might even turn out to be fun.
At this point, Tom heard a thunk in the back of his car. He furrowed his brow, wondering if he had run over something and it had bounced up underneath the car. Tom looked in the rear-view window again. He was maintaining his distance ahead of Jack.
But then he heard the telltale sound of breaking glass. Tom looked in the mirror again and saw that the right-hand side of his rear window had a smashed area the size of his fist with break lines radiating out in all directions. Jack had shot at him. The thunk Tom had heard had been a bullet hitting the back of his car. Jack had upped the ante by turning their little cat-and-mouse car race into an armed conflict.
Tom looked up ahead, judging the next side street. Thank goodness it was late at night and there was little or no traffic. This at least meant he could pull out all the stops and use his best driving moves. He approached the intersection, geared down, and then half slid to the corner. He waited for the length of the car to turn toward the street, then let out the clutch and powered the motor. The tires spun briefly, then held the asphalt and the car jumped forward.
Killer Jack came to the intersection too fast and had to slam on his brakes hard to slow his car. The automobile spun and did a one-eighty. Tom watched behind him as the car came to a full stop before the tires spun trying the grip the pavement. Jack turned his car and followed down the street but Tom had given himself a lead.
Tom shifted and increased his speed but the street was only two lanes as opposed to the main thoroughfare. He would have to be more careful. If any traffic cropped up, there would be less room to maneuver and Tom didn’t want to find himself trapped with Killer Jack screaming up on his tail.
At the end of the next block, Tom saw a traffic light. It had turned yellow. He was never going to make it. He could go screaming through; what were the odds at this time of night somebody would be coming the other way? But what if there was and he crashed? Killer Jack may not have to kill Tom, Tom may kill himself. Let’s not make it too easy on him.
Tom took his foot off the gas and pulled up on the emergency brake. He turned the wheel and let the car spin sideways and drift up to the light. Checking all the mirrors, Tom saw that nothing was coming up behind him and a glance out the front showed everything to be all clear. He pushed down on the brake handle, then gunned the gas and sped off down the street.
Killer Jack was better prepared this time and easily took the corner. Tom glanced in his rear-view mirror and saw
Jack once again stick a gun out his window and fire off some shots. With all the movement, Killer Jack couldn’t aim and shot wildly. Fat chance he would hit anything.
Tom looked ahead and saw a flash of something off to one side. He didn’t have time to register it as a person or an animal but only knew something was coming out between two parked cars into the street. Tom jerked the wheel to one side to avoid hitting whatever it was, then tried to steer back. He was going too fast and something gave. The tail end of his car slid and, as Tom had feared, a narrow street gave little room to maneuver and he could feel himself losing control of his vehicle. He compensated with the wheel but knew he would be lucky if he didn’t scrape the side of his car or slam into something.
There was a bang from the back. The bumper had hit something, probably a parked car. Tom felt his car come around and straighten itself out. He was going to make it.
Tom heard a couple of pops and the sound of breaking glass from behind him. Killer Jack had shot his rear window again. With all the cracks in the glass, it was nearly impossible to see anything out the back. Tom looked out his side mirror and realized Jack had gotten a lot closer to him; too close, in fact. Tom floored it when Jack’s front bumper smashed into his car. Tom’s head bobbed around before he turned and checked all the mirrors. Damn, Jack had caught up. He had swerved and moved into the left-hand lane. A look in the right-hand mirror showed Jack gaining on him. In a moment he was going to be pulling alongside. What to do?
Tom slammed on his brakes and skidded to a stop. He threw his car in reverse and backed up to the last alley. He turned the wheel and gunned it straight into the narrow passageway. Several times he hit various trash cans and boxes and stuff but it seemed to be clear sailing to the next street. So far, Jack wasn’t appearing in his rear-view mirror.
Tom drove up to the next street and skidded almost to a full stop. A quick check in both directions showed another empty street, so Tom turned right and headed back from where he had come. Two corners up there was a stoplight at a major avenue. Tom looked both ways, then turned left and gunned it. He looked around and checked all the mirrors. Still no Killer Jack. He couldn’t have given up so easily.
As Tom went through the green light at the next intersection, the back window behind his head burst. Tom twisted his head to see a bullet hole square in the middle of the window. The glass had shattered, but the pieces remained fixed to the intermediate layer of transparent plastic. There was the roar of a souped-up engine and Tom saw Killer Jack’s car turn onto the street behind him. The chase was back on.
Tom put his foot down on the accelerator and felt himself pushed back in his seat. He knew he couldn’t escape by speed as the two cars seemed to be matched, so he had to try to out-drive Jack. He looked around for a side route.
A few traffic cones lit up in his headlights. There was road maintenance going on. Tom braked and went around what seemed to be a pothole. Tom heard and felt the crash as Jack rammed his rear end again. He fought with the wheel to make sure he didn’t spin out of control. Glancing in the side mirror, Tom could see Jack once again trying to pull up beside him. Tom moved to the right and hit the front of Jack’s car. He was hoping to push him to one side. Maybe Jack would connect with a parked car or even a lamppost.
Tom looked ahead and cursed. There were several more cones marking maintenance areas on the street. Was this pothole central? He had to slam on the brakes several times to negotiate fast turns around what was turning out to be an obstacle course. Geesh, nobody has any money for road repairs anymore?
Around the last turn it seemed as if the road stretched ahead unimpeded. As Tom was about to put his foot down on the accelerator, Jack slammed into the rear of his car and made him swerve. He corrected for the skid and heard several pops which could only mean Jack was shooting at him. The front of the car pulled to the right. Tom tried to compensate but was going too fast. He realized Jack had shot out the right front tire.
The car skidded but Tom’s efforts with the wheel couldn’t bring it back. Tom slammed his foot onto the brake and gritted his teeth. It all happened in slow motion: the unrelenting slide toward the lamppost, which kept getting bigger and bigger. He held firmly onto the steering wheel and pushed his head as hard back as he could against the headrest.
There was a tremendous crash as the front of the car buckled against the lamppost. The airbag exploded out of the center of the steering wheel as Tom felt himself fall forward in the sudden deceleration. His head and upper body pushed into the plastic bag and Tom momentarily lost track of what was going on.
He brought his head back out of the inflated plastic bag and shook it. He heard a squealing of tires and looked to his left out his window. That must be Jack turning around for the kill. Tom tried to open his door, but it was stuck. He slipped around the airbag and slid across the seat. He tried the passenger-side door and it too wouldn’t open. Tom raised his foot and kicked the door open. He got out of the car and ran down the sidewalk to a parked car and crouched down. He raised his head and stared over the hood toward his crashed car.
Killer Jack’s car came up the street and stopped beside the damaged lamppost. Jack got out of his car and walked over to the wreck. He peeked in the driver’s window, then stood up and looked around. His quarry had gotten away but where was he?
Jack took a step back toward his car and stopped. He turned and looked down. He stepped to the end of Tom’s car, leaned over, and sniffed. The smell of gasoline was in the air. Something was leaking. Jack reached in a pocket and pulled out matches. He struck one and threw it to the ground under the car. Nothing. He struck a second one and threw it. This time something caught and he could see flames under the car. Jack went back to his car and drove up the street.
Tom saw the flames. Damn. If the car was salvageable after the crash, it certainly wasn’t going to be salvageable after a fire. Tom turned around and, still crouching, moved down a couple of parked cars and entered an alley. He stuck his head out to see where Jack had gone. His car was at the next intersection turning around. Jack hadn’t yet given up looking for him.
Tom heard a whoosh and turned to see flames engulf his car. He figured the gas tank had ruptured in the crash and was spilling its contents onto the street. Time to get out of here but now he had to do it on foot. He looked behind him and realized the alley was a shallow dead end. There were trash cans and various things scattered in it but the alley did not lead out to the far end of the buildings. Tom was looking down the alley at a brick wall. Now what?
He turned back and peeked down the street. Killer Jack’s car was coming back. Tom assumed Jack was scanning everywhere, trying to locate him. Why didn’t he think Tom was long gone? Did he know the area? Did he know that Tom was stuck in a dead-end alley?
Tom looked around. He needed a weapon of some sort. Jack had a gun but Tom doubted he’d find anything to return fire. He’d have to be satisfied with something which could serve as a club. Over to one side, Tom noticed items which seemed to be for construction. He took a step closer and saw a metal stake. It was pointed. It wasn’t a knife but it could be an offensive weapon. Then Tom saw a long metal pole on the ground. He puzzled as to its purpose, then realized it was used for putting up temporary fences. The pole would be anchored in the ground with metal fencing fixed to various notches along it. Tom had an idea.
He stepped back to the mouth of the alley and looked out. Jack’s car was idling down the street not far off. Tom ran back and picked up the pointed stake and slid it in a back pocket. He then picked up the metal pole, holding it somewhat in the middle with his left hand and holding the far end with his right hand. Tom felt the harshness of the metal at the end of the pole and wrapped the edge of his jacket over it. This way he was less likely to cut himself on the sharp edges.
Tom could hear the motor of Jack’s car. He readied himself by holding the pole up even with the ground. He waited. The front of the car came into view and the quarter panel moved across the gap. When the passenger door appeared, Tom ran forward. He held the metal pole like a jousting lance. He crossed the sidewalk as the passenger window moved directly in front of the mouth of the alley. Tom aimed the pole at the window’s glass and pushed forward with his weight. The end of the pole crashed through the glass and Tom tilted the pole down aiming for Killer Jack’s legs.
Tom heard a scream come from inside the car. He let go of the metal pole and pulled out the stake in his back pocket. He went to the back tire and used both hands to jam the stake into the rubber. Tom heard air escaping. He stabbed two more times.
Now what? The car continued to idle up the street. Tom could hear swearing coming from inside the car. The brake lights lit up and the car stopped. Tom ducked down. The driver’s door opened and Jack took a step out onto the street. He stood up, pointing the gun back behind the car. He waved it around and tried to see where Tom was. “You goddamn bastard!”
Jack went to take a step, lost his balance, and fell forward. Tom heard the gun clatter on the asphalt. Jack’s voice sounded softer. “Oh my God, does that hurt.”
Tom stood up and went around to the other side of the car. He saw the gun and picked it up. Tom turned and looked at Jack sprawled out on the road. Jack was holding his right leg. It was bloody. Tom’s lance had done the trick.
Jack said, “You bastard. I’m going to get you for this.”
Tom took a step closer. Jack’s face was lit up by a streetlight. “Okay, Mr. Tough Guy, you had to pick a fight, didn’t you?”
“Nobody gives me the finger.”
“You were spoiling for a fight, weren’t you? You had to prove yourself in front of your friends.”
“Nobody makes a fool of Killer Jack.”
Tom gave a smirk. “I think you’ve done that all on your own. Look who’s out of commission and look who’s holding the gun.”
“Go to hell.”
Tom sighed and looked around. Where did he go from here? Where could either of them go? It seemed something of a dead-end in the story line. Good guy prevails over the bad guy. Good guy shoots bad guy?
A far-away voice yelled, “Tommy!”
Jack was studying Tom’s face. “What’s the matter, little boy, ain’t got the guts?”
Tom looked down at Jack and said, “Just a sec.” He remained transfixed. He stopped moving. He stopped breathing.
Jack looked at him then turned to stare at his leg. If Tom decided to shoot him, there wasn’t anything he could do. He could only hope the good guy would see himself above shooting the bad guy in cold blood and walk away. He could straighten out his leg but getting killed, he couldn’t straighten that one out.
Tom came back to life. He blinked and looked around. “Sorry, I have to go to dinner.”
“What? You can’t quit now. We have to finish this.”
Tom shrugged. “Sorry, man. When you get called for dinner, you get called for dinner. Besides, Mom made my favorite tonight, beef stroganoff.”
Jack rubbed his chin. “Okay. But only because it’s beef stroganoff. That stuff sure is good.”
“Yeah,” said Tom. He held up the gun and cocked it.
Jack rolled his eyes. “What do you think you’re doing?”
Tom chuckled. “Shouldn’t I blow your brains out before I go?”
“Go ahead. But if you do, you can forget about busting Marty’s record of eight thousand.”
Tom lowered the gun. “Yeah, you’re right. I still have to get another thousand points to beat oh-mister-high-and-mighty Marty. I’m kind of sick of hearing about his lucky once-in-a-lifetime game. He’s not that skilled.” Tom uncocked the gun and tossed it aside.
“Okay, I’m off. Good game.”
“Yeah,” said Jack. “Gonna be on tonight? We can pick it up later.”
“Maybe. I have homework to finish up so if I am, it won’t be until after nine. See ya.”
Tom waved. Jack became a cloud of pixels and faded from view.
Bonnie adjusted her headset and moved the mouthpiece into place. “Have a good time, Tommy?” She leaned over the wheelchair, disconnected the interface panel, and put it back on the table.
“Yes, Mom,” he said. “I almost beat Jack.”
Bonnie used an index finger on the ear slider to increase the volume of the synthesized voice. She chuckled. “You two are always at it. You are determined to get the highest score.” She undid the head strap and held her son’s head with one hand as she removed the cerebral connector. She put it on the computer desk and reattached the head strap.
“Never mind Jack, I’m going to beat Marvin,” Tommy said.
Bonnie undid the supporting clamps and removed the tray. She arranged Tommy’s arms in his lap and put one curled hand on top of the other. She leaned over and smiled directly at him. Bonnie pulled out a tissue and wiped away some drool from one side of his half-open mouth. “You must be starving. Getting the bad guy is hard work.”
Tommy’s head flopped forward slightly, held in place by the head strap crossing his forehead. His eyes followed his mother.
Bonnie reached on either side of wheelchair and took off the brakes. She grabbed a hold of the handles and steered the chair to the door. “Let’s get to the table and serve it up. I’m hungry too.”
“Beef stroganoff! All right!”
Bonnie smiled at the sound of her son’s voice. It was artificial, but there was no mistaking his enthusiasm for his favourite supper.
William Quincy Belle is just a guy. Nobody famous; nobody rich; just some guy who likes to periodically add his two cents worth with the hope, accounting for inflation, that $0.02 is not over-evaluating his contribution. He claims that at the heart of the writing process is some sort of (psychotic) urge to put it down on paper and likes to recite the following which so far he hasn’t been able to attribute to anyone: “A writer is an egomaniac with low self-esteem.” You will find Mr. Belle’s unbridled stream of consciousness here (http://wqebelle.blogspot.ca) or @here (https://twitter.com/wqbelle).