Page 43

Almost halfway to the car, where the policeman still sat behind the steering wheel, Chyna remembered the files in Vess’s study, and suddenly they meant something far different from what they had meant before, as did the handcuffs.

She stopped.

“Oh, Jesus.”

She knew.

Chyna spun away from the black-and-white and sprinted back to the motor home. In the flashing blue and red light, weighed down by the fat moon, she felt as if she were running slow motion in a dream, through air as thick as custard.

When she reached the open door she glanced toward the patrol car. The cop was getting out.

Gasping, Chyna climbed up into the driver’s seat, pulling the door shut behind her.

The officer had gotten out of the cruiser. Edgler Vess.

Chyna released the emergency brake.

Vess opened fire.


Sheriff Edgler Foreman Vess, youngest sheriff in the county’s history, watches the side mirror as Chyna Shepherd hurries along the shoulder of the highway toward his patrol car, and he wonders if this woman is, after all, his blown tire, the destroyer of his bright future. When she abruptly stops, whips around, and races back through the flashing lights toward the motor home, Mr. Vess’s alarm increases.

At the same time, he is enormously taken with her and is not entirely sorry that they met. He says aloud, “What a clever bitch you are.”

Getting out of the black-and-white, he draws his revolver, intending to put a round in one of her legs. He still has some hope of salvaging the situation. If he can disable her and get her into the motor home before another motorist comes along, all will be well. What fun he will have when he wraps her in chains again. Ariel won’t lift a hand to help this woman, and if she tries, he’ll pistol-whip the little bitch into submission; that will spoil the plans he has for her, but he’s been looking at her beautiful face for a year, wanting to smash it, and the smashing will be enormously satisfying even in these circumstances.

Although Vess is quick getting out of the car, Chyna is faster. By the time he raises the revolver, she is behind the wheel of the motor home, drawing the door shut.

He can’t take any chances now, can’t risk merely wounding her to have fun with her later. She has to be wasted. He pumps six rounds through the windshield.

When Chyna saw the gun coming up, she shouted, “Get down!” She pushed Ariel’s head below the windshield, throwing herself sideways, half out of her seat, across the open console. She covered the girl as best she could, squeezing her eyes tightly shut and shouting at the girl to close hers too.

Gunshots cracked, one right after the other, as fast as Vess could squeeze them off, and the windshield imploded. Sheets of gummy safety glass crashed into the front seats, spilling over Chyna and the girl, and things split and shattered farther back in the motor home as the slugs found stopping points.

She tried to count the shots. She thought she heard six. Maybe only five. She wasn’t sure. Damn. Then she realized that it didn’t matter how many rounds he’d fired, because she hadn’t gotten a good look at the weapon. She didn’t know for sure that it was a revolver. A pistol wouldn’t have just six rounds; it could have ten or more, a lot more if it had an expanded magazine.

Risking a bullet in the face, Chyna sat up, shaking off cascades of gummy-prickly glass, and looked out through the empty windshield frame. She saw Edgler Vess by the patrol car, thirty feet away. He was tipping the expended cartridges out of his piece, so it had to be a revolver.

Already she had released the emergency brake. Now she shifted the motor home out of park.

Standing tall, appearing cool and unhurried but nevertheless nimble-fingered, Vess plucked a speedloader from the dump pouch on his gun belt.

Thanks to her mother’s criminal friends, Chyna knew all about speedloaders. Before Vess could reload, she took her foot off the brake pedal and stomped the accelerator.

Move, move, move.

Slipping the speedloader into the revolver and twisting it, Vess looked up almost casually when he heard the roar of the motor-home engine.

Chyna drove onto the pavement as though she intended to sweep past the patrol car and away, but she was going to run the freak into the ground.

Vess dropped the speedloader, snapped the cylinder shut.

Afraid that Ariel might look up, Chyna shouted, “Stay down, stay down!” She ducked her own head just as a slug smacked off the window frame and ricocheted back through the vehicle.

She raised her head at once, because the motor home was on the move, and she needed to see what she was doing. She swung the wheel to the right, heading for Vess at the open door of the patrol car.

He fired again, and she seemed to be looking straight down the bore of the barrel when the quick flame flared. She heard a strange hissing-throbbing-buzzing, not unlike the lightning-quick passage of a fat bumblebee on a summer afternoon, and she smelled something hot, like singed hair.

Vess dived into the car to get out of her way. The motor home smashed into the open door, ripping it away, maybe taking off one or both of the hateful bastard’s legs as well.

The fragrance of gunfire always reminds Sheriff Vess of the stink of sex, maybe because it smells hot or maybe because there’s a trace of the same ammonia odor in gunpowder that is stronger in semen, but no matter what the reason, gunfire excites him and gives him an instant erection, and when he leaps into the car, he lets out an exuberant whoop. The roar of the motor home is all around him, bearing down on him, the headlights blazing, as much tumult as if he were in the middle of a close encounter of the third kind. As he dives for safety, he yanks his legs in after himself, knowing that this is going to be close, damn close, which is what makes it fun. Something raps hard against his right foot, cold wind rushes in around him, the driver’s door tears off and clatters end over end along the blacktop as the motor home shrieks past.

The sheriff’s right foot is numb, and although he feels no pain yet, he believes that it might have been crushed or even torn off. When he sits up in the driver’s seat, holsters his revolver, and reaches down with one hand to feel for the expected stump and the warm gush of blood, he discovers that he is intact. The heel was torn off his boot. Just that. No worse. The rubber heel.

His foot is numb, and his calf tingles all the way to the knee, but the sheriff laughs. “You’ll pay for the shoe repair, you bitch.”

The motor home is two hundred feet from him, heading south.

Because he never switched off the engine when he pulled onto the shoulder of the highway, he needs only to release the hand brake and shift into drive. The tires kick up a storm of gravel that thunders against the undercarriage. The black-and-white lurches forward. Hot rubber shrieks like babies in pain, bites into the blacktop, and Vess rockets after the motor home.

Too late, distracted by his numb foot and recklessly eager to get his hands on the woman, he realizes that the big vehicle is no longer heading south. It’s reversing toward him at maybe thirty miles an hour, even faster.

He slams his foot down on the brake pedal, but before he can pull the wheel to the left to get out of the way, the motor home crashes into him with a horrendous sound, and it’s like hitting a rock wall. His head snaps back, and then he pitches forward against the steering wheel so hard that all the breath is knocked out of him, while a dizzying darkness swirls at the edges of his vision.

The hood buckles and pops open, and he can’t see a damn thing through the windshield. But he hears his tires spinning and smells burning rubber. The patrol car is being pushed backward, and though the collision dramatically slowed the motor home for a moment, it’s picking up speed again.

He tries to shift the black-and-white into reverse, figuring that he can back away from the motor home even as it’s pushing at him, but the stick first stutters stubbornly in his hand, clunks into neutral, and then freezes. The transmission is shot.

As bad: He suspects that the smashed front end of the car is hung up on the back of the motor home.

She’s going to push him off the highway. In some places the drop-off from the shoulder is eight or ten feet and steep enough virtually to ensure that the patrol car will tumble ass-over-teakettle if it goes over the edge. Worse, if they are hung up on each other, and if the woman doesn’t have full control of the motor home, she’ll most likely roll it off the road on top of the black-and-white, crushing him.

Hell, maybe that’s what she’s trying to do.

She’s a damn singularity, all right, in her own way just like him. He admires her for it.

He smells gasoline. This is not a good place to be.

To the right of the center console and the police radio (which he switched off when he first saw the motor home and realized that it was his own), a pump-action 20-gauge shotgun is mounted barrel-up in spring clips attached to the dashboard. It has a five-shell magazine, which Sheriff Vess always keeps loaded.

He grabs the shotgun, wrenches it out of the clips, holds it in both hands, and slides left from behind the steering wheel. He bails out through the missing door.

They’re reversing at twenty or twenty-five miles an hour, rapidly gaining speed because the car is in neutral and no longer resisting the backward rush. The pavement comes up to meet him as though he’s a parachutist with huge holes in his silks. He hits and rolls, keeping his arms tucked in against his body in the hope that he won’t break any bones, fiercely clutching the shotgun, tumbling diagonally across the blacktop to the shoulder beyond the northbound lane. He tries to keep his head up, but he takes a bad knock, and another. He welcomes the pain, shouting with delight, reveling in the incredible intensity of this adventure.

Chyna was watching the side mirror when Edgler Vess sprang out of the patrol car, slammed into the blacktop, and rolled across the highway.


By the time that Chyna braked to a full stop, crying out at the flash of pain in her bitten foot, Vess was sprawled facedown on the far shoulder of the roadway, three hundred feet to the south. He lay perfectly still. Though she didn’t believe that the tumble had killed him, she was sure that he must be unconscious or at least dazed.

She wasn’t capable of running over him while he lay insensate. But she wasn’t going to wait around to give him a sporting chance either.

She buckled into the combination shoulder and lap belt. She suspected that she was going to need it.

As she shifted into drive and started forward, she became aware of a sharp stinging along the right side of her head, and when she put a hand to her scalp, she discovered that she was bleeding. The passing bumblebee buzz had been a grazing bullet, which had burned a shallow furrow about three inches long and a sixteenth of an inch deep. Any closer, it would have taken off the side of her skull. This also explained the faint smell of burning that she’d briefly detected: hot lead, a few singed hairs.

Ariel was sitting up in a sparkling mantilla and shawl of gummy glass. She gazed out through the missing windshield toward Vess, but she was blank-eyed.

The girl’s hands were bleeding. Chyna’s heart leaped at the sight of the wet blood, but she realized that the wounds were only tiny cuts, nothing serious. The safety glass couldn’t cause mortal injury, but it was prickly enough to nick the skin.

When Chyna looked at Vess again, he was on his hands and knees, two hundred feet away. Beside him lay a shotgun.

She tramped on the accelerator.

A hard clunk at the back of the motor home. The vehicle shook. Another clunk. Then a scraping noise arose, and a hellacious clatter-jangle, but they gained speed.

Glancing at the side mirror, she saw showers of sparks as ragged steel scraped across blacktop.

The damaged patrol car was behind her, rumbling along in her wake. She was dragging it.

Sheriff Vess’s right ear is badly abraded, torn, and the smell of his blood is like January wind rushing across snowfields high on a mountain slope. A brassy ringing in both ears reminds him of the bitter metallic taste of the spider in the Templeton house, and he savors it.

As he gets to his feet, all bones intact, choking down the interestingly sour insistence of vomit, he picks up the shotgun. He’s happy to see that it seems to have come through in fine shape.

The motor home is angling toward him across the two-lane, about a hundred fifty feet away but closing fast, a juggernaut.

Instead of running off the road into the woods and away from the oncoming vehicle, he sprints toward it in a rightward-leading loop that will bring him alongside as it races past. He’s limping — not because he has injured his leg but simply because he is missing the heel on his right boot.

Even with one boot heel too few, Vess is more agile than the lumbering vehicle, and the woman sees that she’s not going to be able to run him down. She also sees the shotgun, no doubt, and she pulls the steering wheel to her right, away from him, ready to settle for escape instead of vengeance.

He has no intention of trying to blast her head off through the already shattered windshield or through the side window, partly because he’s beginning to be spooked by her resilience and doesn’t think he’ll be able to do enough damage to stop her as she sails past like a skeet disk. Also, it’s far easier to halt and shoot from the hip than to raise the gun and aim, and shooting from the hip means shooting low.

The recoil from the first three rounds, fired as quickly as he can work the pump action, nearly pounds the sheriff off his feet, but he takes out the front tire on the driver’s side.

Hardly six feet from him, the motor home starts to slide. Snakes of rubber uncoil into the air from the ruined tire. As the behemoth streaks past, Vess uses his last two rounds to blow out the rear tire on the driver’s side.

Now Ms. Chyna Shepherd, untouched and alive, has big trouble.

The steering wheel spun back and forth in Chyna’s hands, burning her palms as she tried determinedly to hold on to it.

She tapped the brakes, and that seemed to be the absolute wrong thing to do because the vehicle yawed dangerously to the left, but when she let up on the brakes, that also seemed to be wrong because it yawed even more wildly to the right. The trailing black-and-white stuttered against the back bumper, and the motor home shuddered even as it swayed more violently side to side, and Chyna knew that they were going to tip over.

Half drunk on the deliciously complex smell of his own blood and the pure-sex stink of the shotgun fire, Sheriff Vess tosses the 20-gauge aside when the magazine is empty. With shining-eyed glee, he watches as the aged motor home rises inevitably off its starboard tires, tilting along the night highway on its port-side wheel rims. Virtually all of the rubber has shredded away; strips and chunks of it litter both lanes. The steel rims carve into the blacktop with a grinding sound that reminds him of the texture of crinoline crisp with dried blood, which brings to mind the taste of a certain young lady’s mouth in the very moment that she died. Then the vehicle crashes onto its side hard enough for Vess to feel vibrations in the pavement beneath his feet. The flat boom echoes back and forth between the road-flanking trees, like the devil’s own shotgun fire.


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