“I’m sorry, dear.” Evelyn was shaking.
“It’s not your fault. I’m the one who couldn’t live without the antiques.” Annemarie could barely hear her own voice over the rattling of their cargo. Just to be safe, she pushed the speedometer to ninety.
“As long as we keep moving, I think we’ll be okay. We got a head start. Their truck is old. It can’t be that fast.” Annemarie doubted her own logic but couldn’t stop talking. “We’ll find a place where there’s a lot of people and we’ll wait them out.”
“If we live that long.” Evelyn looked in the side mirror. Behind them, the Bronco turned onto the highway.
Annemarie realized that she made a mistake heading south. Why hadn’t she turned north and fled back toward Cheyenne? They might have made it to a mini-mart or gas station by now. I’m an idiot. I deserve to die, and I’ll go to hell for getting Evelyn killed.
She checked the rearview mirror. The Bronco was gaining. Of course it would be fast. They probably did this for a living. Annemarie pressed down on the accelerator, trying to keep the van steady on the narrow road. Luckily she had a tailwind, but so did they. Behind her the Bronco closed, its massive grille a metallic snarl.
“Get my phone out of my purse,” she shouted. “Dial 911.”
Evelyn tried. “No reception.”
Annemarie could not allow them to catch up. If the men forced the van to the shoulder, she and Evelyn would become their toys. She cursed herself for not bringing some kind of weapon along. Even bear spray would have been better than nothing. Evelyn had found Annemarie’s rosary, and now she fingered the beads, her lips moving.
The Bronco was coming up fast. If only there had been traffic in the other lane, Annemarie would at least be able to maintain her lead, but the road ahead was deserted. Suddenly the Bronco jerked into the other lane and began moving up as if to pass. A meaty arm waved a pistol out the side window.
Could she slam on the brakes and surprise the driver, maybe turn around and head back to Cheyenne before he could recover? No. If she could get away with such a cockeyed television maneuver, they could too, and probably better. The Bronco was much more nimble than the van. As overloaded as it was, it would probably roll.
The Bronco swerved, nearly sideswiping the van.
Annemarie kept going, her arms rigid. When the Bronco pulled even, she glanced over. Inside the truck, four bald and bolted young men brandished guns and obscenities. One made a “v” with his fingers and waggled his tongue between them. A whiskey bottle sailed through the air and smashed against Annemarie’s window. She flinched, nearly losing control of the van. The men whooped and hollered with joy. They hung out of the windows shouting obscenities.
Annemarie saw it at the same time: a couple of miles south, an eighteen-wheeler had crested a hill and now bore down on them at high speed.
The driver of the Bronco, seeing this, honked his horn and laughed. He eased the Bronco closer to the RV.
Even from that distance, Annemarie could hear the blaring horn of the eighteen-wheeler and saw the headlights flashing frantically. Forty tons of cargo would not slow quickly. The Bronco raced alongside, inching forward but not able to pass.
“We have to let him in,” Evelyn cried.
“Holy shit.” As the eighteen-wheeler drew closer Annemarie saw that it wasn’t just one truck. It was the lead truck in a speeding convoy.
Yet she had to keep the Bronco at bay. If it pulled in front of her, the men would be in control of what happened next. She couldn’t slow down; neither could she speed up. The van was floored. As if to dare her, the driver of the Bronco refused to back off, to retreat from danger.
You could die, she told herself, trying to raise a sense that this was an important fact, and that some emotion should rise from it, yet she felt nothing but curiosity at the level to which her life had devolved in the service of anger.
The problem at the moment was that she didn’t fear death. She nearly died years ago, at seventeen, on the last day of high school. With Fran, her best friend, driving, they had talked of final exams and boys and summer jobs and vacations, drinking coffee and heading east into the rising sun, jabbering away. Then Fran turned directly into the oncoming rush of commuters, two lanes worth, dozens of cars rushing at them. Right into the pack. Annemarie never screamed – there was no time before the first car hit them.
Back when seat belts covered only a lap, and nobody wore them anyway, and head restraints hadn’t yet been invented, the impact spun the little Chevy around in a circle three times, pushed the motor up through the floor, and flung the girls out onto the pavement. Annemarie felt nothing as her body barreled down the highway like a human bobsled, blind but for the kaleidoscope of orange-red triangular shapes churning in front of her eyes.
She could have died then. They could die now.
Annemarie mashed the pedal to the floor and kept it there.
What does it mean, she wondered, as the sound of Evelyn’s begging receded, and the lights and the horns faded, and she drifted into the silence within, when you’ve been good all your life, and you’ve done everything right and played by the rules, and you lose everything anyway?
I was good. I was always a good kid. That’s what Mom used to tell me, when Dad got in one of his moods. “Try to be good,” she pleaded, as if that would stop him from beating the shit out of both of us.
And then when I got older I was a good wife and a good employee, keeping my mouth shut and working long hours, and taking care of everybody but myself.
Where did it get me, being good? Suddenly an epitaph, her own, appeared in her mind: “She was a good girl.”
Her elbows locked, Annemarie held the wheel steady as the convoy roared down on them, the men jumping around inside the Bronco like scalded chimps. At the last second the Bronco braked and swerved hard to the left, careening off the shoulder and out of control, the convoy splitting the space between them. As the eighteen-wheelers roared past, Annemarie glimpsed the Bronco cartwheeling across the prairie, spewing a roostertail of dirt and carving a swath through the sagebrush.
Evelyn, her face white, clawed at the seat and twisted around to see the wreckage behind them. The smoking Bronco lay upside down in the scarred landscape a hundred yards from the highway, its wheels spinning, roof crushed. The last eighteen-wheeler had pulled to the shoulder and the driver was running toward the wreckage.
“Aren’t you going to stop?” Evelyn’s voice, thready and high-pitched, barely reached her.
Annemarie, arms straight, muscled the speeding RV into a sweeping curve. The tires screamed in protest.
“Dear, I think they’re hurt.”
The van slowed slightly.
“Good.” The silence expanded between them.
“But in the eyes of God – ” Evelyn pleaded with her eyes, her fingers clutching the rosary.
“It was us or them.”
Evelyn looked back at the road ahead, deserted once more.
“But guess what? This time, it was them. And don’t worry about God. It was my decision.” Annemarie began to shake. Her elbows seemed to float away from her body, and her hands felt numb on the hard plastic of the steering wheel. She rolled down her window, gulped the cold air, and kept driving.