It's never fazed me that much, jumping in the car and bopping randomly all over the country. Something in the way I'm wired is just okay with it, and I never feel fatigued or rushed or jet-lagged, as long as I drive. Well, okay, there's fatigue--one can only stay conscious for so long, after all--but it's not the bone-weary, Bataan Death March kind of exhaustion that so many other people complain about after having drive for oh my God twelve hours straight. Maybe I was just bred for it or something. When I was a teenager, I secretly longed for the day that someone would walk up to me and say, in a quiet, conversational voice, "Gumball." And then I'd drop whatever I was doing and jump into my rusty little Subaru and be gone, off to hit the road in the wake of a Ferrari Daytona and a Shelby Cobra.
Of course, this never happened, the Gumball Rally only being a movie and all. But something about leaving home just at dawn for a long drive still gives me that same illicit-activity rush. I must say, there's nothing quite like it.
I am packed and snacked and ready to go, and Spellbound's got a full tank of gas, so within twenty minutes of waking up, I am gone gone gone. Phone messages tell me that the Road Associates are getting Dr. Teeth taken care of, and Nikki left me an email with reservation information for my room the Main Street Station, because she knows that I like the noise and swirl of Las Vegas but hate staying on the Strip. My extended family is working like a well-oiled machine this day. It's a good feeling, and a comfortable contrast to the chaos of the past few days. Not that I can't deal with the chaos, mind you, it's just nice when things aren't the same all of the time.
Spellbound rolls the miles and the early morning away, and I sing along with the radio and listen to the CB. I don't sing along with the CB, however. I dropped emails to Molly and Cygnet before I left, so that people know where I've disappeared to, and of course I'll give Molly a ring later this afternoon regardless of what else goes down. Western Michigan and Indiana are blink-and-you'll miss-it scenery, and I surf through Chicago at what would, in any other city, be just before rush hour. Unfortunately, Chicago is in a state of perpetual rush hour, so there's no avoiding it.
Normal people would say, "But Lexi, you could detour around Chicago and skip the whole mess entirely." No no! say I. Chicago is an important part of the American road trip experience, and it's bad luck to avoid it. I always punch straight through, and wrestle with the congestion and it's gratifying to be out the other side. Sometimes I'll even detour onto Lake Shore, just because it's fun. Yes, you heard me right, fun.
So much fun, in fact, that it doesn't occur to me until I'm west of the Blues Brothers' hometown before I realize that there's a Chrysler 300 that's been following me since at least Kalamazoo. I-94 is a big road, an interstate highway in fact, so it's not uncommon for someone to be going the same way that you are, even for a hundred miles or so. And since I like to set my own pace, and that pace is a lot more fun than the speed limit, it's not uncommon for other drivers who would like to go fast but don't want to set their own pace to follow me for as long as they're able. So to be fair, I realized that the Chrysler was back there quite some time ago, I just haven't paid it too much attention until now. Spy-paranoia just doesn't come naturally to me.
The car's going to need a feeding before too long anyway, so I coast into the first available truck stop. If the Chrysler goes past, I've got nothing to worry about and I'm just being paranoid.
It pulls into the truck stop as well. The odds that I am being shrewd just got better. Or is it worse? I've never bet on things, I can never remember how that odds thing works. In any case, the Chrysler is painted that rather unpleasant shade of metallic red that Chrysler and Chevrolet are really fond of right now, and it pulls up to the pumps on the other side of me. The driver is a middle-aged woman and the smile she gives me as she stops means that I don't even have to ask if she's really following me, because she definitely is.
Since she knows that I know, there's no point in pretending. She gets out of her car after I start fueling Spellbound, and begins putting gas in her own tank. She's shorter than me, stockier with middle-age spread, but she moves very solidly, the sort of person who was in the military or a biker gang before settling down and becoming a strict yet loving third-grade teacher. "Let me guess," I say, "you've been following me since I left home."
"Just about," she replies, nodding.
"So are you tailing me to see where I go, or waiting for an opportunity to 'bring me in,' or some other euphemism for kidnapping."
Her smile turns enigmatic. "Which works better for you?"
"Aw, I've got shit to do, and I'm getting pretty sick of being 'brought in.' So I guess you'd be better off following me. I had to shoot the last bounty hunter."
She arches an eyebrow. "Did you, now?"
"He's still walking with a limp, in fact. What's your name?"
"You can call me callous," she says.
I can't possibly have heard that right. Not a huge surprise. Truck stops are noisy. "Did you say 'callous?'"
"Calla," she repeats, with a hint of irritation. I guess she's used to people messing up her name.
"Oh, Calla. That's a nice name. I'm Lexi."
"Everybody always does." Spellbound's gas pump thunks; tank's full. "Well, it was nice meeting you, Calla. See you in Salt Lake City." While she's scrambling to hang up her pump, I'm jumping back into the car. If she wants to chase me all the way across the country, that's fine. I doubt she'll fall for the Salt Lake City thing, since she seems to know what she's doing, but that's fine too. I might be able to lose her, I might not. Spellbound's fast, but not really capable of any kind of speed that a Chrysler 300 can't also do, at least not on a long, mostly straight freeway. If we were racing around Watkins Glen, I'd kick her ass, but really we'll probably get to Las Vegas at about the same time.
I don't tear ass back onto the freeway, because I'm thinking. Spelly's got decent economy, better than the Chrysler's to be sure, but the downside is that my gas tank's smaller, so it's unlikely that I'll be able to lose Calla to a fuel stop. When we hit another big city I may be able to drive like an idiot and lose her, but that's not something I can do anything about until later, and anyway Nebraska is one big max-speed pancake, she'll eventually catch up. For the now, there's no point in wearing myself out trying to run away from her. Within a couple of minutes she's settled right back in where she was, six or eight car lengths behind me, and what remains of Illinois is unfolding beneath us.
I skip my usual half-tank stretch and drive until I can't possibly go any farther without a violent pee, somewhere into Iowa. When I swing into a rest area, she's right behind me. "So how long have you been on my tail?" I ask her when I'm done.
"Just since this morning," Calla says.
"Wow, did my name go out on some bounty hunter network, or something? Is my life going to turn into Smokin' Aces? Because if someone sent those neo-nazi punks after me, I'm getting a bulletproof vest right now."
"I think you'll be fine. It was just a Craigslist posting."
I blink a couple of times. "Wait. You got hired to catch me through a Craigslist ad?"
"Happens more than you'd think."
"Somehow, I feel kind of insulted. I'm actually kind of upset with Mr. Ascher now. That's who it was, wasn't it? He seemed kind of half-assed."
Calla just angles her head. I didn't expect her to tell me who hired her, but I bet it was Ascher. I can ask him when I get to his house. I'm going to do a lot of asking of questions, in fact.
Being irritated, I drive a bit faster than usual once we're back on the road. Calla keeps up, of course, and the folks we're passing probably don't see anything amiss, just a couple of fast drivers pacing each other across the Midwest, not a cat toying with a mouse, which is how I'm starting to feel. It is not one of my favorite ways to feel, either. I know she's just doing her job, but Calla is also taking the fun out of my road trip. And if I'm not having fun, then the whole endeavor feels kind of like a waste of gas.
This is probably why I make the decision that it's time to punt her off of the road. This is not normally something I'd condone, and Calla seems like a nice person, for a bounty hunter anyway, so I'd feel bad if she got hurt. But fuck it, I can't have random people knowing where I am and what I'm doing if I didn't give them permission to know. That's just not now I'm wired, and it's not how I'm comfortable living.
I wait till we've found a particularly desolate stretch of I-80, headed into Des Moines. The road's reasonably empty, nobody just ahead and, more importantly, nobody close behind. I suddenly cut into the breakdown lane and floorboard the brake pedal, I mean I absolutely stand on it. Spellbound's got discs at all four corners courtesy of a Mustang Cobra that someone threw into a tree and doesn't weigh much more than a Miata, so my little station wagon rips itself to a very authoritative halt in no time. Calla hits her brakes a bit too late when she sees what I'm doing, and goes whipping past, slowing down, but I don't stay stopped, I cut back into the road and start speeding up to 70 again, making sure I stay behind her. If we were close to an exit, she'd probably be more assiduous about getting her ass back behind me, but there hasn't been one for miles and there aren't any signs indicating that one's coming up, so she's content to settle in a short distance in front of me. She waves at me in her rearview mirror, and I flash Spellbound's brights at her in reply.
When I drop into fourth gear and accelerate to pass her, she doesn't react. After all, if she's supposed to be following me, it's easier to do that from behind than in front. That's what common sense would tell you. Common sense unfortunately doesn't know a damn thing about road racing, so when I suddenly turn at a diagonal and stuff Spelly's right front corner into the Chrysler's left rear wheel well and accelerate, Calla's taken completely by surprise, at least judging by her reaction.
The Chrysler is sideways before her brakelights even flash, and by the time she does nail the brakes it's too late to do any good. Quite the opposite, in fact; the spin she's in gets worse, the tires chatter as the stability control tries to figure out what in God's name is going on, and then she's spun around fully backwards and is in the process of pirouetting into the grassy median. As Spellbound and I go past, the Chrysler finds a large uneven spot on the ground and launches over it, vaulting majestically before slamming back down to terra firma in a shower of dirt and shredded weeds.
By this time, the scene is retreating quickly, and I can see brakelights on the other side of the freeway as the two or three cars that were within sight of the accident slow down to help or gawk, whichever seems more appropriate. I'm guessing by the violence of the impact that Calla's Chrysler is not going to be whipping back onto the freeway to continue pursuit, and if it does, it's not going to be in the mood to keep up with me at 95 in any case.
I listen carefully to the CB for a few miles, and when the truckers mention the Chrysler that spun into the median, nobody says anything about a Pinto that ran into it. This is good; the only concern left at this point is if Calla made note of my license plate number and decides to tell the police that I rammed her.
Hm, is that something she'd do? It might help her to catch up to me, but then it might not. It would make sense to drive cautiously until I'm out of the state, so as not to attract attention. It makes more sense to drive like a bat out of hell and get out of Iowa and into Nebraska where the cops won't be looking for me. Or maybe I just like having an excuse to drive fast.
In any case, there's a lot of Iowa left, and I cover it at a fantastic rate of speed that probably makes a lot of my fellow drivers say, "Holy God, was that a fucking Pinto?" and then I slow down and stop in Omaha for gas and a bathroom. It'll be a bit of a time-waste, but a great big puppy-sized burrito from Chipotle is what I need to improve my mood. I take the GPS in with me as well, and pose to it the question of getting to Las Vegas without using I-80. It thinks that this is hilarious, but contains its amusement long enough to introduce me to US-6 and US-34. Two-lanes it is. I can go just as fast on them as I can on the interstates, generally, not counting the slowdowns for small towns and the occasional cocker spaniel that doesn't have the sense to stay out of the goddamn road.
Sticking to the B-roads should keep me off of Calla's radar, though I don't know about any other folks who might be chasing after me, since they'll certainly be able to track my debit card gas payments (I'm not paranoid enough to deal solely in cash, and anyway on long trips I sometimes don't want to talk to cashiers and would rather pay at the pump.). But I can deal with that. As long as all of my enemies are kept on the reactive rather than the proactive with regards to me, I'm good.
About thirteen hours after running Calla off the road, I'm in Las Vegas, with no complications other than a broken speedometer cable and a wibble from Spelly's front end that's probably a tie rod going off. They were due for redoing anyhow.