Fiction: By Michael BrackenThe black Mustang had been parked on a dark turn-around facing the Brazos River, and I could see the two occupants grappling amorously as I approached from behind.I tapped on the driver’s window with the muzzle of a .44 magnum. When the dark-haired young man unlocked his lips from the disheveled blonde sitting next to him, I shouted, “Get out of the car! Get out of the fucking car!”The blonde screamed.The driver reached for the ignition.I squeezed the trigger.Powdered safety glass sprayed the driver and bits of the driver’s head splattered across the blonde.Her mouth was open and she wasn’t a swallower. As she spat bits of the young man across the dashboard, I smashed the rest of the window out with the butt of the revolver, reached in, and opened the door. I dragged the driver’s body to the ground, took his wallet, and climbed over him into the driver’s seat.I keyed the ignition, shifted the car into reverse, spun the wheel, and stomped the accelerator. The Mustang spun a half circle backward, the left front tire bouncing over the legs of the dead driver. The seatbelt alarm chimed incessantly as I snapped on the headlights, slammed the car into first gear, and accelerated onto Cameron Park Drive, careening through the twists and turns until we erupted from the park onto University Parks Drive.The blonde huddled mute and wide-eyed against the passenger door, her yellow blouse open, her lacy white bra pushed up to her neck, and one muck-covered breast hanging free. Her laminated high school I.D. hung from a red lanyard around her neck and bounced against her gold belly button ring as she was flung around inside the car. Cold wind blasting through the blown-out window had tightened her nipple and constricted her half-dollar-sized areola. Under different circumstances I might have admired the view, but I didn’t have time. I’d left at least two men dead inside Crater’s house before I’d crashed through the woods and found the Mustang.As we blew past the Hilton, past Waco’s two-block-long entertainment district, and over the railroad tracks that bisected downtown, the blonde struggled to fasten her seatbelt. Three blocks later, just after passing Jack in the Box, I hit the brakes, downshifted, and spun the steering wheel hard to the right. I fought the Mustang through the turn and accelerated up the Interstate 35 on-ramp, running the shifter through the gears and merging onto the highway at a speed somewhere in excess of 90 mph.Traffic was light enough that I didn’t hit anyone or run anyone off the road, but busy enough that I had to dodge and weave through grannies in grocery getters to maintain my speed until I was certain we weren’t being followed. I tucked the Mustang between two semis pushing the upper end of the posted speed limit and matched their pace with barely a car length separating us from the ass end of the trailer in front and the grill of the Peterbilt behind.I reached over my left shoulder and grabbed the seatbelt buckle. After snapping it into place and silencing the alarm, I flipped open the wallet in my lap. Among the other detritus, I found a condom, forty-three dollars in small bills, two credit cards, and a driver’s license with the dead guy’s name and picture on it.I glanced at my unwanted passenger. I should have shot her in the park, but I’d used my last bullet on Manuel Sanchez. “What’s your name?”“Amber.”“How old are you?”“Eighteen,” she said. “Just turned.”“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph,” I said under my breath. “How old was your boyfriend?”“Twenty-one,” she said. “He’s not my boyfriend.”I glanced at her again. “Then what were you doing with him in the park?”“He promised me some doja.”“You were going to fuck him for a couple of joints?”“I wasn’t planning to go all the way.”I pulled the condom out of Sanchez’s wallet and tossed it in her lap. “He was.”She looked at it. “He’s an ass.”“Was an ass,” I corrected.“Yeah.” Amber smiled. “Was.”She put the condom in one of the cup holders and peeled off her blouse. After she used it to wipe away Sanchez’s remains, she tossed her blouse in the back seat. Then she pulled down her push-up bra and settled her breasts inside the lacy white cups so that the upper edges of her areolas peeked through the lace. “Where are we headed?”“We’re not headed anywhere,” I told her. “I’m kicking your ass out the first chance I get.”“You’re going to kill me, aren’t you?”She didn’t need to know that the revolver contained nothing but spent shells and that I’d lost track of it in the rush to get out of Waco. “If I wanted to kill you, you’d be dead already.”Amber stared at me for a moment as if considering my words. “You going to fuck me?”“I wasn’t planning on it.”“Too bad,” she said. “I would have let you.”Before I could respond, Amber turned away and opened the glove box. She rooted through the contents and pulled out rolling papers and a baggie containing enough weed for half a dozen joints. She rolled one, lit it with a disposable Bic she fumbled out of her purse, took a deep drag, and held her breath. With the joint trapped between her thumb and forefinger, she leaned over, pressed one firm breast against my arm, and offered me a hit.I shook my head.Amber exhaled as she leaned back in the passenger seat. “Have it your way.”She took another drag from the joint and left it hanging from her lips as she dug through her purse. She came up with a pink cellphone and started thumbtyping.“What the fuck are you doing?”“Duh,” she said. “Texting my friends.”I snatched the phone from her hand and threw it out the open window. It bounced once on the asphalt and was obliterated by the Peterbilt behind us.Amber glared at me for a moment before turning away. She took another hit. When she exhaled, smoke swirled around her head and was dispersed by the wind coming through the blown-out driver’s window. While my half-naked passenger smoked herself into a stupor, I tried to figure out why my life had gone to shit.I was a money mule, transporting large sums of cash around the state for an organized group of Texas entrepreneurs who did much of their business off the books, a low-level job with no hope for advancement, no vacation time, and no health insurance, and I hadn’t had a good day. Over coffee that morning I’d been dumped by my girlfriend, a manatee of a woman I hadn’t fucked in more than a year; after lunch my oncologist told me that my biopsy and other tests had come back positive and that I had an inoperable Stage IV cancer and would likely spend the rest of my life shuttling between chemotherapy and radiation; and while eating dinner at Health Camp had learned that my delivery the previous day had been fifty grand short–fifty grand that had been there when the money left my hands.Later that evening I went to Roger Crater’s house to straighten things out and thought I would be meeting with the boss. Ed Ransom, a pug-face fireplug and the man to whom I had delivered the money, met me at the door. He patted me down, confirmed that I was unarmed, and escorted me through the sprawling ranch to the library in the rear. The French doors leading onto the rear patio were open, letting a thin evening breeze into the room and providing an unobstructed view of the woods behind Crater’s property.“You fucked up big time,” Ransom said with a smirk.I had never liked Ransom and I wasn’t in the mood for his shit. I spun around. “You the stupid fuck with sticky fingers?”Ransom’s face turned red. He was the kind of insecure dick who compensated with a big gun and drew the matte-black S&W .44 magnum from his shoulder rig. I reacted without thinking and drove my shoulder into him, grabbed and twisted his arm as we slammed against the wall, and knocked Crater’s humanitarian awards to the floor. The first shot drilled a hole through Ransom’s foot. As I wrested Ransom’s .44 magnum from his hand, Antonio Garcia, another of Crater’s muscle men, came rushing into the room. I blew Garcia’s face into the back of his head. Then I turned and fired point-blank into Ransom’s chest.My F-150 was parked out front, leaking oil on the street and bringing down property values just by its presence, but Crater was somewhere between the front door and me and I couldn’t go back through the house to get to my truck. So I ran through the open French doors. I’d made it halfway across the yard before Crater and an unfamiliar man burst into the library and followed me out the back. Crater was unarmed but the other guy drew a semi-auto and fired at me. I snapped off two shots in their direction before I crashed into the woods behind Crater’s yard, making a trail through Cameron Park where there hadn’t been one before, and I would still be running if I hadn’t found the Mustang there for the taking.My only thought when I shot Sanchez had been to get away from Crater, but having done that I needed a destination. My grandfather–my mother’s father–had a piece of property in far west Texas, in the Beach Mountains near Van Horn, and I could hold up there until things blew over.If I could get there.As we passed through Temple, Amber roused herself and was rooting through her purse when I swerved around road debris. She didn’t have a good grip on her purse and the contents spilled out. She dug around on the floorboard until she came up with a package of Tic Tacs and popped several of them in her mouth. Then she bent over again and filled her purse with whatever she found lying on the darkened floor.South of Belton we left the Interstate and traveled west on U.S. 190 through Harker Heights, Killeen, the Foot Hood Military Reservation, and Copperas Cove. The highway grew smaller and so did the towns we passed through.Somewhere between Kempner and Lampasas, Amber said, “Pull over. I have to piss.”“Here?”“Do you see any place better?”We hadn’t passed a house or seen another car for several minutes. I saw an unlit, gravel crossroad ahead and turned onto it, traveling a hundred yards or so before easing the Mustang to the shoulder and shifting into neutral. Amber grabbed her purse from the floor, unthreaded herself from the seatbelt, and opened her door.She turned back to face me. “You won’t leave me out here, will you?”I’d been thinking about it but I shook my head. I killed the engine and the lights.Amber rose up on her knees, leaned over and covered my mouth with hers. My eyes widened in surprise as she shoved her tongue between my teeth and her right hand into my lap. She tasted of weed and breath mints and something else that I quickly realized was the lingering residue of dead Sanchez.As I started to gag, she pulled away, grabbed the car keys and jerked them from the ignition. Her purse made an odd sound as it bounced off the door on her way out of the Mustang, as if it held something heavy, and she hurried toward a stand of trees, her red slingback pumps making her wobble on the uneven ground.After I grabbed the condom from the cup holder, I untangled my half-erect cock from my BVDs, climbed out of the car, and followed the little tease into the trees. Amber hadn’t lied about her need to void her bladder and I found her by following the sound.My cock was still half-erect from her crotch grope and the sight of her squatting behind a tree, her low-slung jeans and red thong pushed to her knees and her stiff nipples dimpling the lacy cups of her flimsy bra, only inflamed it further. She’d left her purse and the keys less than a foot away, and they were in danger of a soaking if she shifted position.Amber looked up when she finished and saw the bulge in my pants. “You want to fuck me now?”I did.She stood. Her jeans and her thong slid to her ankles and she stepped out of them. She reached behind her back and unfastened her bra, peeled the straps off her shoulders, and let it slide down her arms. Before it hit the ground, I grabbed her wrist and pulled her to me. I covered her mouth with mine, thrust my tongue between her teeth and didn’t care that she tasted of dead Sanchez.My hands were everywhere, feeling smooth young flesh so unlike the manatee I’d been with until that morning. Before long Amber was on her back and I was on top of her, her laminated I.D. trapped between us, my pants around my ankles, and the heels of her red slingbacks jabbing my ass as I pounded into her. She was young and tight and I hadn’t had sex in more than a year. I finished almost before I began.I lay on top of her until I caught my breath, trapping her against the ground with my weight. Then I stood, peeled off the condom, and threw it aside. I pulled up my pants, grabbed the car keys from the ground next to Amber’s purse, and turned to walk away.“You’re not going anywhere.”I turned back to look at Amber. She had scrambled to her feet and stood naked save for her red slingback pumps and the red lanyard clipped to her high school I.D. Her left hand was planted on her hip and she had the .44 magnum gripped tightly in her right, the revolver turned sideways in imitation of bad gangsta movies.“If you try to leave me here I’ll shoot you!” she shouted. She couldn’t hold the revolver steady and the muzzle wavered. “I swear I will!”I kept walking and smiled when I heard the revolver’s hammer snap down on a spent shell. The hammer snapped down again and again as she repeatedly jerked the trigger.“You son of a bitch!” Amber shouted just before the revolver hit me in the back of the head and fell to the ground.I touched my scalp where the front sight of the thrown revolver had gouged a divot and my fingers came away bloody. Scalp wounds are like that, even insignificant ones.Amber scooped up her clothes and her purse and rushed to my side. “Are you okay?”“Fuck, no,” I told her. “I’m bleeding.”She looked at the blood gushing from my scalp. “Serves you right. I didn’t even come.”Amber collected the revolver from the ground where it had landed after bouncing off my head and walked to the Mustang. She piled her things on the car’s roof, brushed leaves and twigs off her ass, and pulled on her clothes.While she dressed, I opened the trunk, looking for something to staunch the flow of blood from my scalp wound. I found a black gym bag containing a couple of wife beaters, a blue flannel shirt, several zip-lock plastic bags filled with pills, and a 9mm Glock 17 semi-automatic pistol wrapped in a blue bandana underneath everything else.“What kind of cholo were you dating?”“We weren’t dating.”Amber stepped around the end of the car and stopped beside me. As I lifted out the Glock and checked the 10-round magazine, she grabbed the blue flannel shirt and pulled it on. The Glock smelled of gun oil as if it had been thoroughly cleaned since the last time it had been used and the clip was full. I stuck the pistol in the waistband of my pants and wiped my head with one of the wife beaters.Amber pawed through the plastic bags and pulled one out. I was unable see what was in the zip-lock plastic bag before she shoved the bag in her pocket and stepped around to the passenger side of the car.I finished wiping my head, tossed the bloody wife beater aside, closed the trunk, and found myself staring at the business end of the revolver. Amber still held it gangsta style.“Never hold a gun like that,” I told her as I wrapped my hand around hers and righted the revolver. “You can’t control your shots.”“But it’s heavy.”“Use both hands.”I showed her how. Then I turned her so she was facing the trees and had her squeeze the trigger instead of jerk it. After she’d squeezed it a few dozen times, listening to the hammer snap down on a spent shell each time, she was ready to leave.Once back in the Mustang, she rolled another joint and smoked it. This time I did take a hit.Just one.After we turned south on U.S. 281 and Lampasas was in our rearview mirror, I realized the Mustang was running low on gas. I found an all-night service station with a convenience store and pulled in. I knew it was a bad idea when I did it, but I used one of Sanchez’s credit cards to fill the tank.Amber had the munchies and wanted to clean up so she took some of his cash inside. Because we were the only customers I didn’t pay attention to what Amber was doing. When I finished filling the tank, I pulled the Mustang up to the building, pushed the passenger door open, and let the engine idle.A moment later Amber ran out of the convenience store with two bottles of Mountain Dew, four packages of Raspberry Zingers, and a fistful of cash. She dove into the passenger seat and shouted, “Go! Go! Go!”Without thinking I shoved the car into gear and stomped on the accelerator. The tires spun and caught, causing the passenger door to slam shut as the Mustang bucked over the curb onto the road. I shifted my way up through the gears and we sped away into the darkness.“What did you do?”“I showed him my tits,” she said. “Then I showed him the gun.” She lifted her shirt. She pulled the .44 from the waistband of her jeans and laid it on the center console.“He could have shot you.”“I think he shot a load in his pants. That’s what I think.”“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph,” I said under my breath. Amber was turning out to be more trouble than she was worth.My passenger opened a bottle of Mountain Dew and handed it to me. Then she tore open a package of Zingers and wolfed them down.We’d barely gone ten miles when she said, “God, I’m horny. Can you get it up again?”I could. I already had. “We don’t have any more condoms.”“It doesn’t matter,” she said. “I’m on the pill.”Amber probably had more diseases than a Petri dish at the CDC, but I didn’t care. Nothing I could catch from my teenaged passenger could be worse than the cancer already coursing through my body or what would happen if Crater caught me.I found what I thought was a dark crossroad and pulled the Mustang onto it, finding instead the driveway of an abandoned and collapsing farmhouse. I swung the car around behind the house, killed the engine and the lights, and we scrambled out of the car, the Glock bouncing away in the darkness as my pants fell to my ankles.She’d had all the foreplay she needed robbing the convenience store and she was out of her jeans immediately. I spun Amber around, bent her over the hood of the car, and took her from behind, holding her slim hips so tight I left ten fingertip-sized bruises. I didn’t embarrass myself the second time and she came before I did, her entire body quivering with the climax.Police lights momentarily lit up the night as I thrust into Amber for the last time, approaching from the direction we were facing, momentarily masked by the house slowly collapsing between us and the road, and disappearing behind us as a Texas Highway Patrol vehicle sped back the way we had come.“We need to get out of here.” I withdrew from Amber, pulled up my pants, and retrieved the Glock from the ground where it had fallen earlier. As I shoved it back in my waistband, Amber pulled on her clothes. She didn’t bother buttoning the flannel shirt.We were back on the road a minute later, still headed toward my grandfather’s place in the Beach Mountains near Van Horn. In Burnet, I turned west on West State Highway 29, intending to ride it to Mason, where it merged with U.S. 377 and ride U.S. 377 all the way to Junction, where I could get on Interstate 10 and take it all the way to Van Horn.On the west side of Llano, Amber dug in her pocket and pulled out the zip-lock plastic bag filled with pills. She shook two capsules into her hand and washed them down with a swallow of Mountain Dew.“What are those?”“Dexies.” She shook two more into her hand.“Don’t take those,” I said. “Your heart will explode.”Amber hesitated. “What do you care?”“I care.”“Why?” she asked. “You don’t know me.”“I care,” I repeated. “If I didn’t, you’d be dead.”“How?” She snorted. “Shoot me with a gun that has no bullets?”I took one hand off the steering wheel and grabbed the lanyard still hanging around her neck, wrapped my fist in it and pulled her head toward me as I twisted. She couldn’t breathe, her eyes bugged out, and she released her hold on the two dexies. They fell between the seats. My point made, I released my hold on the lanyard and pushed her away. “That’s how.”“God,” she said as she pulled the lanyard off and threw it on the center console next to the .44 magnum. “You could have just told me.”She shoved the remaining dexies in her pocket. The two she had swallowed had started to take effect. Her pupils were dilating and she shifted nervously in her seat. “So why are you doing this? Why did you kill Manny and take his car?”I told her what had happened at Crater’s house.“So you think this random guy took your money?”“Ransom.”“Whatever. You think he took your money?”“It wasn’t my money,” I said, “but, yeah, I think he took it.”“And now he’s dead?”“Yeah.”“How many guys have you killed?”Three, and all in the same night, but I didn’t tell her that. “Enough.”“Well, I haven’t killed any.”“That’s a good thing,” I said.“You think?” She finished her Mountain Dew and threw the empty bottle out the window. “Maybe I should do something to make us even.”“I’ve never robbed a convenience store,” I told her.“That’s something,” she said. Then she brightened and said, “Let’s rob another one.”“Maybe later,” I suggested. “Next time we’re low on gas.”She grabbed the cups of her bra and pulled them down, exposing her breasts and pointing them at me. “I’ll show him my tits. You show him your gun.”I couldn’t help myself. I was looking at Amber’s breasts when I crested a small hill and blew past a Texas Highway Patrol vehicle parked on the downside.“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph,” I muttered under my breath as its lightbar snapped on and the SUV pulled onto the road behind us.Amber spun around to look through the back window. “Is he after us?”“You see anybody else out here?”“He’s gaining on us,” Amber shouted. Caffeine and amphetamines had amped her up and her adrenalin was surging. “Go! Go! Go!”I’d watched enough Spike TV to know I probably couldn’t outrun the trooper, but I had to try. I had killed three men, had kidnapped the girl sitting beside me, had helped rob a convenience store, had a probably unregistered pistol in my waistband, and was driving a stolen vehicle with a trunk full of drugs. A moving violation was the least of my worries. I pressed the accelerator to the floor.“Turn around!” I shouted. “Sit down and hold on!”A mile down the road I swung wide around a slow-moving Winnebago and the trooper stayed with me. On the other side of the motor home we faced a long, flat straightaway and no traffic. The trooper’s SUV couldn’t maintain our speed.Amber bounced up and down in her seat, shot looks over her shoulder, slapped her hand on the dashboard, and shouted, “You’re losing him! You’re losing him!”A second Highway Patrol vehicle pulled onto the highway from a side road, joining the chase behind the SUV. Five minutes later we picked up a third trooper. I didn’t have the heart to tell Amber that for every trooper behind us there were probably a dozen somewhere ahead of us.We were fast approaching Mason.The road swept right and I took the curve too fast, drifting into the left lane before I straightened it out, and the three Highway Patrol vehicles behind me fell back as I accelerated toward the next curve, a long gradual sweep to the left.I saw why soon enough.Midway through the curve, a spike strip had been stretched across the road. Parked on either shoulder of the road were police vehicles, positioned so that I could not leave the road and drive around the strip.Amber pounded on the dash. “Go! Go! Go!”We hit the spike strip and all four tires blew out. The Mustang ran on the rims, sparks flying, and the back end of the car spun to the right. The three troopers chasing us stopped on the other side of the spike strip. I steered into the spin, overcorrected, and spun the other way. The Mustang came to a stop crosswise on the road, the front half of the car on the right shoulder, the passenger side of the car facing the state patrol cars. The troopers poured from their vehicles, drew their sidearms, and commanded us to exit the Mustang.Amber unfastened her seatbelt, rose up on her knees, and twisted to face me. She covered my mouth with hers and shoved her right hand in my lap. When she pulled away she took the Glock with her.“It’s my turn,” Amber said. “Watch this.”She pushed open the car door and burst out firing the Glock at the state troopers, holding it upright with both hands just like I’d shown her. There was a moment of hesitation where I heard only the Glock and then a barrage of return fire tore through Amber, twisted her in a dance of death and peppered the passenger side of the Mustang.Amber’s I.D. and the .44 magnum remained on the center console and in a moment of clarity I saw her birth date. She had lied about her age. She was seventeen. Just turned.I rolled out the driver’s side of the Mustang with the empty .44 magnum in my fist. I might be able to claim self-defense for killing Ransom and Garcia, but not for killing Sanchez. Even if the state didn’t give me the needle, Crater’s long reach would get me inside prison or I would spend the rest of my days with chemotherapy and radiation painfully postponing the day cancer finally took me.I had no choice. I crossed myself and prayed, “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.”Then I rose and ran around the Mustang’s trunk straight at the troopers, the revolver held at arm’s length in front of me, hoping the troopers wouldn’t hesitate the way they had with Amber and that I wouldn’t feel the shot that killed me.**Michael Bracken, an award-winning writer of fiction, non-fiction, and advertising copy, provides a variety of creative services to organizations and publishers worldwide.