Exclusive Look Inside: Drop Dead Dangerous

Quick Draw

The Georgia freeway was swallowed up beneath Paul’s tyres, the endless stretch of black up ahead being gobbled down and turned into history behind him. He never looked back, never needed to, never wanted to. Forward was where the excitement was—forward, just about anything could happen. He could be anybody, do whatever he pleased. The things he left behind him in a cloud of dust could only hurt him, but what was up ahead was hedonistic joy, the likes of which he could never even conceive of.

Yet all those coming pleasures paled when compared to the joy of this moment. A car, the open road, freedom. Infinite freedom. No locked doors or barred windows. Nobody barking orders, telling him when he could breathe or when he could shit. All the walls had fallen away, and he was living how he was meant to. Cities had their place, houses too. He didn’t pretend that he never needed them, but he only felt like himself out here in the places between. Out in the grand stretch of nowhere land, not a cloud in the sky to hide the blue, not a car in sight to slow his roll.

From here, he could drive from one coast to the other. Switching from road to road, town to town, state to state, all in the blink of an eye. The world was his oyster, and if that meant he had to stab a knife into it to shuck out the good stuff every so often, he was more than willing.

Since back in Macon, he’d been riding in this new car. Cars came and went almost as quick as a tank of gas. When he needed a new one, there were always plenty of options available for the taking. Should the owner still be around, he was certain that their insurance would take care of it. It wasn’t like he was really hurting anybody. Not by borrowing a car. They got them back, eventually. Or they got a brand new one. He was like the Tooth Fairy, replacing the old and unwanted with something better. Nobody could be mad at the Tooth Fairy.

This car wasn’t his idea of a good time, but it ran and he couldn’t complain too much. It had a full tank of gas when he climbed inside, and he knew that he wasn’t putting anybody out by borrowing it. The guy that owned it wasn’t even going to use it anymore. It would have just sat there, waiting to be sold off at auction to whoever had enough cash to throw around. Paul never had a penny to his name, but he didn’t need it when he sidestepped problems the way that he did. Sure, he had to switch cars a lot, but that was good for him. New experiences were the spice of life.

His life had been very spicy this year.

Rolling down the window, he let the last of the autumn heat wash over him. It was warmer than it should be for Georgia; he must have been heading south all this time. He’d been so zoned out he didn’t even know if he’d crossed the state line. Looking out at the green blur down the sides of the road didn’t tell him much. If he rolled on for long enough, he’d see a road sign, some word or name would jog his memory. It didn’t really matter where he went. Not really. Anywhere was as good as anywhere else. So long as he had a car and the road, he’d be content.

If he were somebody else, he probably would have worked out where he was headed next, but he wasn’t. He was himself, and he would go wherever the road happened to take him. There was no reason to make plans—they were just prisons that people built for themselves. Even when they were free, they’d put themselves in boxes, lock themselves in and throw away the key. Marriage and jobs and houses and all that jazz. He didn’t want it. He didn’t need it. Love wasn’t real. Stability wasn’t real. You’d get fired from the job. You’d get evicted from the house. All it took was somebody saying the wrong thing at the wrong moment, and it would all fall apart. Why would he want to spend his whole life with a cop in his head, telling him what he had to say and do to avoid breaking out? He didn’t need any of that.

A road sign whipped by. White text on more of the endless green. In Florida now. Georgia not far behind. Either was good. Either had its opportunities.

Forget about that nine-to-five life in a box. Kissing the kids and paying the bills on time. This was all that he needed. Everywhere to go and nowhere to be. Empty of people, empty of chatter, just him and the roar of the engine. This was all that he wanted. All that he’d ever wanted. All that he’d ever fought for. His American Dream.

The glint of blue and red flashing lights in his rear-view mirror shattered that dream. The distant call of the siren ripped through the smooth rumble of the engine and set his teeth on edge.

The peaceful meditation of the road gave way to a spike of adrenaline. The car was hot, he’d committed crimes everywhere he went—he had every reason to be ready to fight or flee when he saw those lights flashing. Rational thought was not a common experience for Paul. Thinking back along a chain of events to where he’d been was like jamming his hand in a jar full of broken glass to look for the cookie at the bottom, but he did it all the same. Traced his way back to the last time he’d gotten laid, the last time he’d wrapped his hands around a throat and squeezed. Followed it along until it connected to the car he was driving.

They could track it. The licence plates would mark it as stolen. He was being chased down. They were finally on to him. With his face twisting into a rictus that might have been a grin, he pressed the accelerator to the floor. The engine’s rumble turned into a roar, but Paul couldn’t hear it over the pounding of his heart.

The chase was on.

The blur of green became a smear across the side windows; the windshield gobbled down road and reached for the horizon. Faster. Faster. The lights still flashed in the rear-view mirror but Paul had no time to look at them. He had to keep his eyes forward, anticipate the turns before they showed up—at this speed there couldn’t be mistakes. No dithering, no daydreaming, no hesitation. Brain hardwired to the wheels. No room for fear, no room for guilt, just the road. It had always been his salvation, and he knew that it would be his salvation now. He had made his sacrifices—he had given everything he was to the road. Now it was time for it to pay him back. Justify his devotion. He wasn’t a praying man, but if he had been, his god would have been a line of black tarmac stretching on through eternity. He would have been High Priest of the Highway.

Which would make the policeman still trying to keep pace the Devil—the one who wanted to take the sacrament of the road from him, who wanted to lock him away and throw away the car keys. These patrolmen never knew what they were riding on, they never knew the freedom they were trying to snatch from others, back and forth, back and forth along the same streets and avenues. Never exploring, never expanding—the same, always the same, day after day until they retired or died. As far as Paul was concerned, they were the very worst thing this world had to offer.

The Devil was on his heels, chasing him down.

So that was how he drove, wheels screaming beneath him as he turned off the main road, cutting cross country, blazing through dripping woods, out over open fields. The tyres of this old car were not up to the task, but he did not care how he ruined them. It was temporary—everything was temporary. From here he’d find a new car, a new prize, a new destination. Still, the damned lights were flashing. The distance was closing. The cops were getting nearer.

The Devil was looking over his shoulder.

He swerved at the last moment onto another crossroad, hammering the clutch, the brakes, the accelerator and away again. Dirt went flying when he mounted the verge, tail end brushing vegetation as it zig-zagged out of control. Then off he went again.

The cops had to slow around the corners; they had to drive like they meant to survive it. Paul didn’t. He didn’t need to. He had faith that the road would protect him.

He had faith that when he turned his wheel, the car would take him away to safety. He had faith that though the fuel counter flickered on empty, there was power enough beneath the hood to carry him to freedom.

Back out on the highway, he was able to really open her up again. Clutch up, no tentative pause, just hard on the accelerator and away. The cop car swung out behind him, all too soon, and Paul realised that he wasn’t getting away. This old car had done him fine for cruising around, but it wasn’t built for the chase like he was. The horsepower just wasn’t there. The speed he needed to get free on open straights wasn’t there. He was going to get caught, and he could either do it now or later. He’d never been one to flinch away from doing what he had to, he didn’t get cold feet. If anything, that was the opposite of his problem. He’d always been too headstrong, diving into things too soon, too quick to act. It made folk that were slower uncomfortable. Once upon a time in some jail cell when a fight started up, he’d been the first to move. One of the other prisoners had seen it. They’d said it was something that happened to soldiers, to fighters, to the kids that had been knocked around the block one too many times. That little buffer of time between thought and action got eaten away by the things that they’d seen and experienced. It made them great in a crisis but a mess everywhere else. That’s why his life was a series of leapfrogs from one crisis to the next. Why he didn’t feel alive if he wasn’t on the verge of dying. As he sped down the highway, heading further and further south, with that cop car creeping closer in the mirror, he was more alive than he’d been in all the weeks of cruising around aimlessly. His blood was pumping.

There was no more point in running, but he still ran on, letting the cop close in, letting him feel like he’d earned it. Finally, when it seemed like the engine might burn right through and fall into the road, he put his foot to the brakes and pulled off onto the grassy verge.

It was so abrupt that the cop almost overshot him, slamming on his own brakes and twisting his wheel, skidding in a slow half circle across both lanes. Lights still flashing, siren still blaring.

Paul looked over at the policeman, no sign of fear showing on his face; he didn’t fear the Devil. The devil was his adversary.

By contrast, the cop was flush with sweat, hands shaking as he fumbled with the clasp of his buckle and clambered out to stand, breathing hard, in the middle of the road.

This was the difference between Paul and the adversary. The adversary knew weakness; the adversary had no faith in the road.

He rolled down his window and, with what he considered his most disarming smile, met the Devil’s mirrored stare and gazed at his own reflection. ‘What seems to be the trouble, officer?’

This was the game. As if he hadn’t just run him ragged across the state of Florida, as if it was all convivial and they were on the same side, and this was just a mix-up. Silly him, messing up some paperwork or going a little over the speed limit. What an easy mistake for anybody to make. The fact that the cop was quivering with barely suppressed adrenaline shakes and rage didn’t matter. So long as he played his way through the script like he was meant to, there was a way out of this. There was always a way out.

There was no polite request for a licence and registration, just a barked demand that he get out of the car. Well – there wasn’t much wiggle room there, no way to slide around the edges of it and find some way to turn it around. Maybe he should have pulled over before the chase, back on the highway. He shook that treacherous little voice out of his head as he climbed out and shut the door behind him with exaggerated care. He didn’t want to be out on a main road where damn near anybody might come rolling by. He’d always done better in the back streets—unobserved.

The adversary was speaking, making more demands, shouting and screaming, losing his composure. That was good. That made him weak. Distracted. Paul could use that. He was shouting something now about turning around, putting his hands on the car, spreading his legs. Paul cocked his head to one side as though he couldn’t hear right, like he didn’t understand what was being said to him. He didn’t really. His mind wasn’t on words, it was on action, as it always had been.

It was an amazing thing to Paul that so much of what you could do in life, most people simply didn’t. There were the little commonplace things, like driving along the middle of the road when there was nobody else around, but there were bigger things, too, like ignoring what somebody was saying to you. Taking things without asking. It was the biggest prison of all, that trap inside folks’ heads that made them go along with what they thought they ought to be doing instead of doing whatever they pleased. It was as if there was an infinitely wide field, but everyone went trudging along the same muddy track in a neat queue behind one another instead of running free.

If you wanted something, you could take it. If you needed something, you could have it. Sometimes someone might complain afterwards, but all you had to do then was move along and find somewhere else to be. The road had been the answer to the question of consequences. The road had been the answer to all his troubles.

So, if he were to follow that path lay down for the dull and dreary to trudge along, then how the next few minutes were played out would be obvious. The cop would yell at him until he ran out of breath. He would read him his rights, arrest him, cram him rather unceremoniously into the backseat of his patrol car and shuttle him off to jail. He would stand trial, undoubtedly be convicted, and be locked away in some deep dark hole where the road was but a distant memory and his life would follow a new road that offered no turn-offs. Everyone knew that was what you were meant to do when the cops pulled you over. The cop knew that was what you were meant to do, too. He was running the same script he always had.

He thought his little badge and his little gun meant something. He thought that just because something had never happened before, it never could happen. All of them trapped in their prisons, following their scripts, understanding absolutely nothing. Sometimes Paul couldn’t believe he was the only one who saw through the lie.

Nobody had ever strolled up to the cop all casual when he was telling them off. Nobody had ever ignored the shouted warnings as the cop went for his gun. Nobody had ever reached over, faster than the cop could, and snatched it out of its holster.

The adversary couldn’t seem to comprehend what was happening. They were off script, they were in that vast unknown dangerous territory outside of the things that had happened to him before, and he just couldn’t cope with it. His mind locked up, just like any normal person’s would when it was confronted with a situation it was completely unprepared for. Any normal person, but not Paul. He was built differently. He was wired for life beyond the walls of society’s jail. He was a free man, and that made him powerful. Dancing around the puppets on their strings. Stepping to the side of the rails as the train that was meant to crush him cruised on by.

The train that was Paul rolled right over the adversary. He took the cop back to his car and handcuffed him in the front seat, snagging the keys before he strolled on around to the driver’s side. It was his car now. Unconnected to what he’d done back in Georgia. Another tugging weight of history cut loose from his coattails.

He didn’t believe in the power of the cops. He didn’t follow their scripts and obey their strictures. But that didn’t mean he couldn’t use them. Anyone else out here that saw a cop car rolling up with their lights flashing would pull over like the obedient little sheep that they were. He’d have his pick of any car he saw. It was time to take a ride, and the road would provide.

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