I got to my car and opened the passenger side door to give Gracie a little attention and stall for time. I hovered there a few minutes while she soaked up my ear-scratchings, then got in the backseat. I grabbed a bunch of shirts from one of my duffel bags and jammed them in the corner of the rear window, facing the Taurus, making a show of nestling my head against the pile to take a nap. I wedged the shirts in as best I could, so when I removed my head most of the shirts stayed intact and blocked--I hoped--their view of the driver's seat. I contorted myself feet first between the front bucket seats, nearly sodomizing myself on the parking brake, until I had my feet on the pedals and my hands on the wheel, my body a rag doll slouched to the right, my face planted in the passenger side, where Gracie stood over me, wondering what sort of game this was.
"Hold on, honey," I said, and rehearsed in my brain the exact physical sequence of events that would start the car, send me backwards, get the car into gear and headed at full tilt to the freeway. The freeway hadn't been that crowded before and hopefully wouldn't be now; I didn't need an accident on my conscience or on my spinal column, although a convalescent home didn't sound like that bad of a way out of this mess.
I let my rehearsed limbs go into action: I started the car, backed up with a lurch, then threw the car into gear and slammed on the gas pedal. I have to admit, I was hoping for a squeal and a G-force equivalent burst of speed, but my four cylinders were not well equipped for this sort of driving, and it took me the length of the parking area to reach highway speed, but I kept the pedal down and the speed kept climbing. I glanced in the rearview just as I was angling away from the lot and saw the Taurus already in motion. "Shit!" I hollered at Gracie, who was in no mood for this and had already planted herself underneath the passenger seat.
The lightweight car got its wind around sixty, and I was going almost a hundred miles an hour when I made it over to the far-left lane on the interstate, and I scanned the mirror and the road ahead. Given my divided attention and the overcast day, it was hard to make out such the Taurus but then I caught sight of it, narrowing the gap. They had horsepower. I guess criminals think ahead about these things.
I hadn't lost them but I had the lead. I almost forgot to count exits, which would have made my ruse not only foolish but short-lived. I knew when I embarked upon losing whoever was on my tail that if I failed to do so, they would either put someone else on me, and I would have to start my paranoia afresh, or they would move to Plan B, and I didn't want to know what that entailed. Six exits down. They were moving in closer. I had to almost slam on the brakes once to get around someone who was going all of thirty miles an hour in the passing lane; okay, they were probably going the speed limit, but when you're traveling at around triple digits, everything else on the road seems like a congregation of blue-hairs out for a Sunday drive. I tried to keep an eye out for police, but I knew that if one had shown up the party would have been over, and the fact that I would have nominal protection from my followers didn't ease my worry.
Two exits to go, and a ganglion of traffic appeared ahead of me. The Taurus was pulling in closer, and I could see two figures in the front seat. They must have realized I was on to them and figured there was no sense in playing coy. I darted to the shoulder to pass a car who was taking its sweet time moving over only to realize that keeping control of a car going at a high speed on gravel seems much easier in movies than it is in real life. In real life it's like the steering wheel and the front of the car sever any ostensible relationship they had, and you simply aim the wheel in some random direction and hope the car agrees with you.
Fortunately, the car did, and the tires shunted me back up onto the freeway next to a parade of semis in the right lane. I had listened to that song "Convoy" as a kid, but the connection wouldn't come to me until later, after a few shots, some valium, and the better part of a joint. But that's what it was, seven semi trucks rattling along at (to me) a leisurely pace, and I saw my exit sign two trucks ahead of me.
There are moments in life, I believe, where you decide to either commit to a thing even when it has not gone as planned, or you give up and accept defeat. My typical approach had been the former, from my marriage to my education to a dispute with the phone company. But things had changed. I don't think it was fear that made me punch the gas pedal at that moment. I don't think it was from any idea of what might happen if they continued to follow me, if they caught me, if the police caught me, if I died in a tangled wreck. It was more from stubbornness. Sometimes you just get sick of things not going the way you want, and you decide that a last-ditch effort, even if it involves your almost certain death, is still going to be preferable to realizing that, once again, your decisions have been for shit.
So I punched it, and I was alongside the first truck in the line when I saw the exit ramp. Perhaps I should have fallen in behind the semi, and perhaps that would have worked with far less distress to the car, to Gracie and to my thinning hair, but I kept on, the speedometer reading just over a hundred and ten when I crested the front bumper of the lead truck, cut hard to the right, and passed in front of the truck, the wind shear from its grill pushing me in front of it with a cataclysmic shudder, until I made it to the shoulder on the truck's starboard side and slammed on the brakes while throwing the car in low gear. The engine whined, the tires shrieked, and I could just barely make out the horn blast from the pissed-off truck driver. The car, carried by momentum and the damp gravel, slid just shy of the guardrail into the ditch, sinking down a low slope, and I arrived on the pavement of the offramp (which was free of cars, thankfully, or the joy ride would have ended right there). When the tires gripped the pavement again they shuddered and propelled me forward.
I looked back at the freeway. The convoy rolled on, and as the final truck pulled away to the north I could see the Taurus still passing the long line of trucks. They would move their way up the line and then see I wasn't there. They'd either think I meshed with other cars and continue on for a while, or perhaps they would get to the next exit a couple of miles up and turn around. I would make sure I was driving another car by then.
I'd made up enough time that when I pulled into a gravel patch next to the offramp intersection, my new friend Cliff had just arrived thirty seconds before me. He was even friendlier after I pushed another five hundred dollars into his hand, and he was happy to recommend a mechanic in nearby Centralia who could fix his piece of shit for only the small referral fee of a hundred dollars. I asked him where he was headed, and he told me Tacoma, where he had some work lined up. He told me about it, but I didn't pay much attention; the blood in my ears was pushing past with tidal force at each heartbeat.
Gracie didn't like the new truck as much, because there wasn't room for her to squeeze in under the bench seat, but I promised we'd get a hotel room soon where she could hang out, eating and crapping to her heart's content. All the excitement seemed to have made her nervous, but considering I'd only met her shortly after the murder of her owners, I probably didn't have the best bead on her workaday personality. Her life was more exciting than most, though, and I told her this. Her only response was a mournful yowl which crumpled to a purr when I got my fingernails down under her collar.
A gap-toothed, affable mechanic in Centralia had not a single good word to say about Cliff but was happy to accept his reference, and he fixed the belt tensioner for about three times what the job likely cost, taking me for an easy mark and desperate to be on my way. What can I say? He was right. I paid the money happily and set out again for Seattle. I tuned the AM radio to the far ends of the dial and listened to Christians preaching salvation via lowered taxes and denying health care to homosexuals. That entertained me for a while until it eventually made me angry and ill, and I tuned to an oldies station and hollered along with The Four Tops singing "Don't Walk Away, Renee," telling myself that any rundown hotel in Seattle would do so long as it had a fairly clean tub where I could soak the adrenaline out of my muscles and plan my next move.