Page 5 of Beta (Alpha 2)

I’d never disconnected the call, and apparently neither had Harris, because I heard him cursing. “What was that? Are you okay?”

“Yeah, yeah. He’s still right behind me, and he’s shooting at me.” I checked the rearview mirror. “He’s catching up, Harris.”

“Keep going. Don’t let him catch you. Ram him off the road if you have to.”

I had the gas pedal floored, and I was inching back up to over a hundred miles per hour, the countryside and other traffic flying by in a blur. Several drivers were honking and gesticulating wildly at me. I approached another car from behind, this one a little Peugeot or something, puttering along without a care in the world. The road began to curve, the grade falling away to one side, vineyards arching into the distance in endless rows. I eased off the gas, letting the needle sink back down, but the Peugeot was still ahead of me, and I knew I’d have to pass him. I waited until the last second, trying to peer as far around the curve as I could, which wasn’t far. I slid out into the opposing lane, gunned the engine, and began to accelerate past the tiny vehicle. My heart was in my throat, my stomach revolting in terror as I saw a line of heavily laden flatbed semis approaching, lights flashing, horns blaring. The driver of the Peugeot was pissed that I was trying to pass him, and he attempted to accelerate and block me.

“Let me the fuck over, asshole!” I screamed.

Harris’s voice filled the car. “Do what you have to do, Kyrie. Don’t think. Just do it.”

I was nearly past the Peugeot, the tail end of my Rover just barely overlapping his front quarter panel. I shoved down my emotions, gripped the steering wheel in two shaking hands, twisting the leather and taking deep breaths. Milliseconds were passing like hours. The semis were less than a hundred yards away and closing quickly. The Peugeot was still trying to outpace me. I wanted to close my eyes, but I couldn’t. I didn’t have the luxury of another breath, or of even thinking about it. There was no time for hesitation. I pulled the wheel to the right and felt the crunch of metal on metal. I heard the squeal of tires and the frantic blare of the horn.

Crackcrackcrack. Gunshots echoed, three of them, and the passenger seat of the Rover exploded in a burst of cloth and stuffing, the windshield spider-webbing low near the dashboard, and then I heard another squeal of tires, glanced in my rear view mirror to see the Peugeot spinning, fishtailing, and then the front right tire caught and it went flying, launched toward me. The semis were beside me now, horns going as if honking would stop the unfolding horror. The Peugeot somersaulted through the air and slammed into a passing semi with a deafening crash and a fiery explosion.

“Ohshitohshitohshit….” I was hyperventilating, screaming. “I killed him, I killedhimikilledhim—ohmygod what did I do?”

“Enough!” Harris’s voice cut through, loud and sharp, silencing me. “You’re staying alive. That is your only concern. Keep driving. Don’t stop.”

“I—I—Harris, people are—are dead because of me!”

“Better them than you,” he said, his voice cold and emotionless. “Besides, you’d be surprised at what people can survive.”

“But the Peugeot exploded!”

“Is the Audi still behind you?”

I glanced in the rearview mirror, seeing only billowing black smoke and yellow-orange flames. “I don’t—I don’t think—” I never got to finish. A low black shape emerged from the smoke and the wreckage, weaving onto the shoulder and back onto the main road, and then gunning the engine. “Shit! He’s still back there.”

I risked another backward glance, saw a hand extend out of the driver-side window, a silver pistol clutched in the fist. I watched the pistol jerk, a brief bark of flame, and then heard the thunk of a bullet hitting the body of the Rover.

“I see the smoke ahead. I’m almost there,” I heard Harris say. “Honk your horn and flash your brights.”

I laid on the horn and tugged the brights lever, keeping the pedal floored, trying to stay ahead of the Audi. The gun cracked again, and I heard another thunk. Looking ahead, I saw a silver BMW approaching, lights flashing.

“That’s me,” Harris said. “Silver Beamer. Now, here’s what’s gonna happen. When I count to three, you’re gonna hit your brakes. Ease off the gas right now. Keep the wheel straight. When I say ‘three,’ you stand on those brakes. Let him rear-end you. As soon as he does, you hit the gas and take off. Got it?”

“Got it.” It was all I could say.



“Too bad. One. Two…THREE!” He shouted the last word.

I’d eased off the gas when he told me to, bringing my speed down to below seventy…sixty…fifty, and the Audi was right behind me, black grille and silver rings growing larger in my rear view mirror. On “THREE!” I put both feet on the brakes and leaned all my weight on the pedal. The wheel jerked and shuddered, the back tires fishtailed, and I fought to keep the Rover straight. I felt a sickening crunch, and the Rover was thrown forward. I glanced in the rearview mirror, and I could see the driver, the man from the chateau, hooked nose, deep-set black eyes, lip curling in a sneer, showing white teeth. It was a fractional image, seen in a split-second glance in the mirror, but it was burned indelibly on my brain.

And then I heard a secondary squeal of tires from somewhere ahead and to the left. I threw my weight onto the gas pedal and felt the Rover bolt forward, throwing me back in my seat. I caught a glimpse of Harris in the window of the BMW, arcing in a sliding curve as he slammed on his brakes and threw the wheel over. Another momentary tableau, a panic-burned Polaroid image flashing into my skull: Harris, spinning his steering wheel hand over hand, face calm and emotionless. And then…crunchCRASH.

BMW met Audi, and the black vehicle went tumbling sideways, roof-tires-roof-tires, metal crumpling, and glass flying. Harris’s car stuttered and rocked to a stop, and I was stopped too somehow, fifty feet away, and watched as smoke, thick and black, curled and coiled up from the overturned Audi. Harris stepped calmly from the driver’s side of the BMW, leaving the door open. I watched, my hand over my mouth, as he reached into his suit coat with a gloved hand and withdrew a huge black pistol, then moved to kneel by the smashed-open window of the Audi. I shook my head, whether in denial or horror, I wasn’t sure. Harris twisted low, peering into the front passenger side of the Audi. He shoved the pistol through, and I saw a flash, heard the bark, and saw a red mist spatter through the shattered driver’s window.