I'm Being Set Up

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September 1995 - Walsenburg, Colorado

Driving a van four-hundred miles a day for Satan sucks bad enough. Add a tailgater in a black pickup for the last few miles, and I'm ready to exit the highway and head for the nearest bar.

Then the van lurches forward. Hit from behind. My dark, slick-back hair falls to my forehead, partially veiling my view of the pavement and sunflowers that dot the dry Colorado landscape. With a shaky grip on the steering wheel, I snap my bulging eyes to the passenger-side mirror. No surprise, the jerk to the rear is closer than he appears.

I floor the gas pedal and swerve into the right lane, jarring awake the demon possessing me. In his whiny voice, he says, I don't bother you when you're sleeping.

Of course he does, but most times I'd rather poke my eyes out than argue with him. "It wasn't my fault," I say. "We were rear-ended."

White warriors? Boss says. Why would they bother us now? We've already unloaded the evil energy cargo in Trinidad.

"It's not God's Army."

Who then, Mister Smartypants?

Again, I glance at the side view mirror. "If you were awake a minute ago, Mister Pain in My Ass, you'd have seen our friend is driving a black vehicle, not the usual heavenly white." A comment I instantly regret when his demon essence, merged in with my spine, sends a shot of hot, sharp discipline up my back. I groan. "I'm trying to drive here."

Hee, hee, hee, hee. Boss' laugh sounds like a dog munching on a squeaky toy.

The pickup's engine revs, and with the next hit the van swerves toward the ditch. "Boss, help me, please," I say while fighting to stay on the road.

Chill out, he says. Probably some moron out for a joyride. Besides, he can't hurt us unless you stop.

"And if the van flips next hit?" I shake my head and call out for Hell's useful level of support. "Margery, you there?"

As our dispatcher and the head demon who protects the evil cargo we haul, normally her voice would pipe in over the AM radio. She barks orders through it anytime, anywhere. So when she doesn't answer, I squirm in my seat and stare skyward for a murder of crows. They're one of Satan's fiercest defenses against attacks. But there's no reprieve in sight. "Where are the birds?"

Clear blue sky, dude. Try Margery again?

I lean toward the radio and say louder, "Hey, I'm in trouble here. How about a little assistance?"

"After what you did," Margery replies in her gruff New York accent, "you've got a lot of nerve, taking one of my vans."

"What do you mean?" I stammer. "I'm driving back to Denver like I do every afternoon."

"Don't act stupid. I know you sabotaged the hellhole."

"What?" I ask. "I haven't been near the hellhole for years."

"Tell it to the mercenary on your ass. I hired him to take off your head." Her deep inhale and crackling cigarette resonate in the background while the shocking news sinks in. Heat rushes up my spine, telling me Boss is equally surprised.

Wow, that's the thanks you get after fifty years of brown-nosing.

Boss, go back into your coma. Then I tell Margery, "I'm your most loyal driver. Why would I turn on you?"

"You tell me." Phlegm gurgles in her throat as she adds, "We were so close to opening the Gates of Hell, and now we have to start over. You have any idea what will happen to me when Satan finds out what you did?"

"C'mon. Please. Call off the mercenary. Give me a chance to prove I didn't do it."

She blows out a long exhale, ending in a hacking cough.

"Margery, listen to me. I would never—"

"Too late. You're on your own." She cackles. "And good luck. There's no protection hex on your van. I give that mercenary less than five minutes before he runs you off the road."

This can't be happening. My hand trembles as I smooth my hair back into place. All I can think is one of my shady co-workers must have set me up. "Margery! I'm innocent!"

No answer.

Dude, we are so fucked.

The van jolts and my gut smashes into the steering wheel. A twenty-ounce cola in the center console flies to the floorboard under my feet, spraying foamy liquid onto my cowboy boots and jeans. "Dammit!" I reach to pick up the bottle.

Leave it, Boss squeals. Give that mercenary half a second, he'll lop off your head and use it as a bowling ball.

"No kidding." I swallow hard around the knot in my throat.

Fifty years ago, Margery granted me immortal life in exchange for a few strokes of a pen on a satanic contract. There's no chance a mercenary will take it away with a stroke of a sword across my neck.

I'm in no hurry to go back to the demon pool to wait for a new host, Boss says, even if you are short, gassy, and afraid of women.

"Cut the insults. We need sanctuary." I push the accelerator to the floor. "Find us an escape route."

Take the next exit, he says. There's a Purgalator coffee shop connected to the Conoco station.

As a haven for otherworldlies, it's our only hope for survival.

I swerve onto the Walsenburg off ramp and descend the hill. The pickup roars along behind me. At the red light, and halfway into a hard left, the van tilts and skids through the intersection, cutting in front of a semi-trailer. From behind, wheels screech and a deep horn blares.

You trying to decapitate yourself and save him the trouble?

"Hey, I bought us some time. Can't believe I did it in an unprotected vehicle."

And surprisingly without soiling yourself, he says.

I race into the gas station lot and park. The black truck's engine amplifies as it closes in. I jump from the van, run past a dumpster, and blast through the Purgalator's door.

You do realize,there's nothing stopping the mercenary from following us inside.

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