They were back on the highway in fifteen minutes, with some breakfast from a diner on the reservation. Alyson ate burritos while driving.
“I want to make Texas by nightfall,” said Earl.
“I think we can do that.”
Jim was playing the license plate game and texting on his phone. They got into New Mexico and kept heading east.
It was about a half hour after Earl and Alyson switched driving, with Alyson napping in the back, when Jim checked his license plate game. “That Ryder truck’s been following us since Arizona.”
“I don’t know, I just noticed the license plate.”
“We’ll get off here, see if they follow. Aly, wake up!”
Alyson came out of her sleep and grabbed under the seat, a hand on the shotgun. “What?”
“We’re being followed again.”
She turned to look through the back seat window. “What car?”
“The Ryder truck.”
“I’m going to right now.” He took the exit, and the Ryder truck got into their lane, but kept on going.
“I think it’s time for dinner,” said Jim.
“Not right now, Jim,” said Alyson, watching as the Ryder truck kept going. The exit dipped down. “Jim, do you see the truck?”
“I don’t see it - oh, you mean do I see it?” He smiled. “Yes, I do.”
“What is it doing?”
“See if you can follow it for as long as you can, Jim.” The exit ended, and they could either continue straight on a parallel route, or take a route that lead to a Route 2, or another that led into desert.
“Straight,” said Alyson.
“Was thinking just that.” Earl concentrated on driving.
“Are they still ahead?”
“It’s a little foggy, but I think so.”
“Let’s get back onto the highway then, see what hap--”
“They’re clearer now. They stopped.” Jim was staring intently out the window, but Alyson and Earl knew that he wasn’t looking at what was in front of him.
“What’re they doing, Jim?”
“The passenger, he’s got a laptop open.”
“Can you see what’s on the screen?”
He shook his head. “He’s typing on the laptop, using the trackpad. He’s talking to the driver.”
“Can you hear them?”
Earl said quietly, “That would be too much to ask.”
“What do they look like?”
Jim sat back, as if looking at something from further away. “Oriental. There’s three men in the truck, and - one of them has a gun--” He made a motion over his chest, crossing from shoulder to waist.
“Great,” said Earl.
“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”
“First some Pakistanis, now some Chinese. You’re really wanted, aren’t you?”
Jim sat back again, blinking, and focusing on Earl. “I didn’t ask for this.”
“We know. We didn’t expect this, either.”
“What do we do now?”
“We go on ahead, see if they follow us.”
Earl started the car. “I have to get gas.”
“We’ll stop at the next station, see what they do.”
It just so happened that the next gas station they came upon was right at an entrance-exit to the highway. Earl asked, “Is the truck still parked?”
“No, it’s moving.”
“They’ll probably catch up to us. I need some Ring Dings.”
The clerk started to ring Earl out. “From California? Where ya headed?”
“Texas,” said Earl.
“Good weather to be travelin’ in.”
“Yeah, thanks.” He got some Swedish Fish for Alyson. He had no idea what Jim would want, so he got him a basic Hershey’s bar.
“I’ll need it, thanks.”
He went back out to the car, and just as he did, he saw a Ryder truck pull out from the highway. “Shit,” he hissed, and ran back to the SUV.
Alyson was at the driver’s side, while Jim was at the passenger’s side. Earl ran past yelling, “Go, go!”
Jim looked for a moment like a deer in headlights, while Alyson, without question, jumped into the driver’s seat. Earl pulled open the back of the SUV and almost literally threw Jim in the back. “Stay down!”
“Just stay down!”
The Ryder truck started picking up speed, turning into the gas station and heading straight for them, not stopping. Alyson had the SUV running, and as soon as Earl was in the car, she slammed on the gas and took off.
Earl buckled up while Jim started to sit up. “What was all--”
The back window exploded in shards of glass. Jim shrieked like a little girl and ducked. Alyson took a sharp left and kept on going. The Ryder truck went through the gas lane and followed.
Alyson bounced onto the main drag and then headed up the ramp for the highway. The Ryder truck took the same way, taking out a no-parking sign at the same time. “Not the high--”
“I know what I’m doing!”
“Hide in a pack!”
“You can’t hide here, they’re in a truck for Chrissake!”
“I’ll find a semi to get in front of.”
“This isn’t Smokey and the Bandit!”
“Guys!” Jim was on the floor, holding onto the carpet with his nails. “They’re coming up the highway!”
“As long as they don’t have backup.”
“Don’t curse us, Aly.”
She turned left, wove between the lanes, and went into the right hand lane at one point. She found a semi and started gunning for it, then slid right in front of it and kept going at its speed.
“Aly, this is dangerous,”
“They’re coming up fast!” called Jim.
“We’ll wait right here.”
“Aly, this is nuts.”
Jim looked up and could see they were close enough to the truck behind them to see its grille. He ducked back down and whimpered.
Alyson got into the left-hand lane and stayed there, backing off, falling next to the truck. Another car came up to her and laid on the horn but she ignored it. “Where is he now--”
“Right hand lane. Parallel.”
Then they saw the sign, Left lane ends. “Oh, shit,” she whispered.
Alyson slowed down even more, letting the truck pull up next to her. “We’re going to have to get behind this guy.”
“Don’t I know it,” she said, and slowed down so that she could dart into the lane behind the semi. The Ryder truck was ahead in the right-hand lane, and could not stop to come around. Then they lost sight of it.
“What’re they doing, Jim? Jim?”
He was still on the floor, hanging on for dear life. Earl said, “Jim, concentrate, we need you.”
He looked up at them, his glasses skewed. “I don’t know.”
“Concentrate,” said Earl. “Sit up, we’ve got your back, Jim.”
Jim sat up on the floor of the SUV. He looked up at Alyson, then at Earl. “They’re...I think they’re - they’re getting out of the truck.”
“All of them?”
“The man with the gun.”
Alyson looked to her left. There were barrels, no guard rails, which led to a construction site. There was a small area of dirt and the rest was a yawning chasm of an empty bridge. Alyson put the SUV in four-wheel drive, and turned the wheel all the way to the left. As soon as the semi moved in front of her a foot, she made the SUV lurch forward, turning into the construction lane. A barrel was in front of her but she didn’t care.
Shots from an automatic rifle were fired in their direction. Earl ducked and went for his pistols while Alyson made the wheels squeal, turning tightly to the left. One wheel hung precariously off the bridge but the other three wheels gained purchase on the dirt and pushed her into the construction area.
Now she was in the direction of the shots, and she could see the man coming at them, gun blazing. She didn’t have time to register what he looked like, only that she straightened out her wheels and pulled into the construction zone. She drove about half a mile before she met up with more barrels and a Jersey barrier that guided them back onto the highway they just left. The man was running after them.
“Out of range.” He was looking down his pistol as the man came running, his gun pointed right at them. “Amateur.”
The man paused, and Earl waited, not wasting a shot on a long range chance. “Real amateur,” said Alyson, and turned the vehicle left again, so the vehicle faced the man.
Jim said, “You’re not going to--”
She gunned the engine.
“You’re seriously not going to run him over?”
She threw the SUV into drive and jumped forward. The man panicked and started to run. She caught up with him first and ran him right over. Then she stopped, backed up over him again.
Earl got out of the SUV and kicked the body over. He claimed the Uzi and the magazines, ruffled in the man’s pockets and took out a wallet, a passport, and other papers. He got back into the SUV.
The barrels on the highway leading away from what happened were wider, so Alyson turned the SUV in that direction and got into the left-hand lane that was moving slowly, but steadily, away from the accident.
Earl checked out the gun. “You squashed it,” he said, tossing it in the back.
“Was that man dead?”
“Yes,” said Earl.
Jim slowly sat up. “My God, you guys are - “
“It was him or us,” said Alyson without any emotion whatsoever. “The sooner you understand that, the easier it gets.”
Earl was pawing through the license and the wallet. “He was Chinese-American. License here from Texas.”
“All roads lead to Texas,” said Alyson.
“As soon as we can, use the GPS to get us to Texarkana by an alternate route.”
“Take care of that, I’m driving.”
Earl grunted, pulling out the cash from the wallet, and tossing the wallet and the passport out the window. He started fixing the GPS to give them an alternate route. “There’s a route 54 that runs north and will get us to Texas.” He programmed the route into the GPS.
“Let’s stay off highways,” said Alyson.
“See if we can pick up Route 66.”
“I’m not about to take the scenic route.”
“We’re going to have to drive in shifts.”
“I’ll take this shift.”
“Nonsense, I dozed off a little while ago. I’ll take it until we get to a quarter of a tank.”
“I’m wide awake now.”
“You’re going to crash from the adrenaline.”
“I have to go to the bathroom,” said Jim from the back seat.
“Pull over,” said Earl. “And we’ll switch.”
“I’m fine, I said.”
“Goddammit, Alyson, quit trying to prove that you’re better than me!”
Alyson pursed her lips but kept her eyes on the road. “I’m not proving anything.” She pulled over to the side of the road. Earl got out, and so did Jim, and they went to the nearest copse of trees. Alyson stared out at the road.
Was she really trying to prove she was better than him? He had gotten what she always wanted, but he never shoved it down her throat. Jim came out of the trees first, and she watched him. He trudged up the side of the road, then looked up at the SUV. He had a look of shock on his face. Alyson got out and walked around to the passenger side of the car.
There were a series of holes, right in the back door and along the rear fender. None hit the front door. “Man, he was a bad shot,” Alyson said.
Jim whirled around to her, “He could have killed me!”
“You were on the floor. I don’t think he was aiming for you.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“Earl was in the back seat until we got to the truck stop. They didn’t notice he switched to the front. They’re not after you, they’re after Earl and me.” That didn’t make her feel any better.
“Think we can make it to Amarillo?” asked Earl, as he assessed the damage and Alyson went to relieve herself in the copse of trees as well.
“I thought we were going to Texarkana.”