The Rental Car

By Tipper


The car twisted on the road, arcing into the curve, tires squealing across the asphalt.  The engine shuddered, and the wheel beneath his hands jerked, shook, felt terrifyingly disconnected.   He gripped it tighter, fingers white, arm muscles tensed so rigidly that he couldn't let go even if he wanted to.


The corners of his mouth pressed down; his eyes were narrowed slits, focused only on the edge of the black pavement.  His teeth were gritted, leaving his jaw aching and his head throbbing.


The road straightened, and he pushed harder on the accelerator, forcing the vehicle faster as it plunged down the mountain road. 




Fir trees darkened by the onset of night whipped past the windows, and the lights of houses twinkled between them, bright and innocent in the distance.  Ahead, he could make out the dusky outline of the flat desert landscape, turned purple and blurry under the dissipating haze of day.


He just had to get to Tucson.  If he got to Tucson, it'd be okay.


He didn't look behind him; he didn't need to.  They were following.  Of course they were following.


The dashed white line in the middle of the road had turned solid double yellow, a warning.  The high-beams struggled to make up for the loss of daylight, but the road curved into nothingness up ahead.


Damn it!  He was supposed to be on vacation!


He heard the sharp intake of breath from his right as the man with him tried to press himself deeper into the passenger seat.  He knew without looking that his companion had one hand on the door handle, and the other on the handle over the window—just holding on.


The curve came.  Just before reaching it, he jerked the wheel sharply.  You didn't need much.  Inexperienced drivers always turned it too far, too much, not understanding the physics of momentum, control and arcs.


The car shook again.  It wasn't made for this.  It was a god damned Chevy.  And, worse, it was a rental.  And an automatic.


Fucking Hertz.  Would it have killed them to have one stick shift on the lot?  Just one?


The tires skidded as they hit gravel on the turn, threatening to overturn the car, send it sideways down the hill, barreling through the pine and cactus forest.  He just held on, fighting his instincts.  Don't compensate, don't try to fix it, just hang on....


The man on his right moaned quietly, as if in pain.


The wheels hit tar again, and the car practically lifted up off the road as he gunned the engine forward—almost as if it was growing excited beneath his skilled hands, understanding that it was being pushed past its abilities, and starting to enjoy it. 


"I think I'm going to be ill," the man on the right whispered softly, almost inaudible over the roar of the road, wind and engine.


"It's a rental," he replied tersely. "Do what you have to, just not on me."


He hit another curve, and the car responded better this time, getting the feel for it.


On the far side, there was a long straightaway, and in the distance...the flat, welcoming lights of the city.


The speedometer was reaching the red, the tiny wand shaking inside the dashboard. 


He risked a look at the rearview mirror. 


And saw the two helicopters bearing down on them—black against the indigo sky.


Damn it!  Who the fuck said anything about helicopters?


Why had he helped this man!  Why had he felt sorry for him?  Why hadn't he walked away?


As if he'd said it out loud, he heard a soft, "I'm sorry."


"They've copters!" he hissed, the landscape blurring around him, everywhere except for the sharp edges of the road directly before him.  That was crystal clear.


"I didn't know."


"Like hell!"


"Don't you think I would've told you, if I'd known?" came the strangled, defensive reply.


He had no answer to that.  He could only watch them get closer.


And nowhere to hide.


The tiny wand was hovering around 140.  The car was shaking, excitement finally overruled by sheer terror as it seemed to understand what was really happening.  It was not made for this.  It was made to be driven by tourists, by young mothers, by rednecks, by efficiency experts, by average people who didn't partake in car chases for a living. 


Something exploded on the road up ahead.  He swerved around it.


Another explosion directly ahead.  Tar and rocks slammed into the windshield.  He flew over the hole, begging the tires not to burst, and the undercarriage to stay attached.


"They're shooting at us!"  the passenger shouted.  "They're firing missiles!  They've got missiles!"


"Really?" the driver asked, turning around another near miss, the heat and light burning into his corneas. "I didn't notice."


Another explosion, and it took out one of the headlights, a large chunk of tar leaving a massive crack in the windshield. 


"Oh God..." his passenger whimpered.


He just pushed harder, seeing the open wooden gate.  He frowned.  It shouldn't be open.  He'd expected it to be closed—had expected to be forced to drive through it.


He had no time to question, no time to do anything but fly through the adobe pillars and onto the main road—skidding on two wheels to the right, turning towards the city. 


Ahead, there were flashing lights.  Just yards away. 


Police cars.  Dozens of them.  No way through.  And far too close.


He swore and hit the brakes.  The wheel jerked, this time without his command, the wheels must've hit a hole.  The car twisted...and flipped.


The man on his right screamed.


The world disintegrated into screeching metal, flashes of light, and stomach flipping disorientation as the car turned over and over on its side.


They slammed into something, and then something else, and ended up upside down, propped up on an angle in the culvert on the side of the road. 




Time stopped.


He took in slow, deep breaths.  One after another. 


And then he heard his watch tick, somewhere near his ear.


Glass had shattered, and he became aware of stinging pains in his arms and chest where it had embedded itself in his skin.  His legs felt tight and compressed, immoveable beneath the dashboard.  Something buzzing slowly died, and he watched in a daze as the light inside the car flickered and died.  He moved his arms—he'd thrown them up in front of his face—and now he let them hang, knuckles touching the soft fabric of the ceiling.


He wasn't sure how much time was passing, but it felt like a lot.


And then, from his right, a pain filled groan.  "Holy sweet mother f—" 


His passenger never finished the swear as bright light suddenly filled the interior, the harsh, unrelenting glare of flashlights.


He heard more sounds then—including the harsh staccato of gunfire.  Aimed somewhere else.  Good.


"Mr. Redmond?"  a voice called over the loud background, concerned and filled with worry. "Mr. Redmond?  Mr. Finneran?  Can you hear me?"


He turned his head.  It felt very heavy.  He blinked a few times until he could make out the face peering in through the driver's side window.  It was a woman.  Or perhaps a very clean shaven man...


"What?" he replied.  It was meant to be longer, the sentence, but he somehow couldn't bring himself to remember any other words.


"Mr. Redmond.  I'm Captain Carlton, remember me?  I'm the one whom you talked to on the phone.  We called your boss back in New York, sir.  He verified your background."  She leaned a little, peering into the passenger side. "Mr. Finneran?  Are you all right?"


"No," came the soft, agony-laden reply.  "Car accident!  Upside down!  Ow!"


"We'll get you both out as soon as we can," the woman promised, smiling now as she focused pale blue eyes back on Redmond.  They were startlingly bright in the fading light.  "Just hang on."


He stared a moment, then, with one final worry filled thought, remembered what had been chasing them.


"The heli—"


"Not to worry.  We took care of them.  I take it they were Kreet's men?"


He blinked at her some more. "Who?"


"Kreet?  Walter Kreet?  You rescued Mr. Finneran from him, remember?"




"Oh dear," she said, and he wondered why she seemed to be moving away from him.  He didn't think she was actually moving.  "Mr. Redmond? Oh dear, he's passing out.  No, no...oh, dear...Mr. Redmond?...Mr. Redmond?"


He blacked out, her voice calling his name in his ears.


Next time, he was going on vacation someplace safer.  Like a bomb shelter.