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 lifted black pickup for the last few miles, and I'm ready to exit the highway and head for the nearest bar.

Then my vehicle lurches forward from a sudden hit from behind. My slick dark hair falls to my forehead, partially veiling my view of the pavement, dead grass, and sunflowers that dot the dry Colorado landscape. I tighten my shaky grip on the steering wheel and 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, Do I bother you when you're sleeping?

Of course he does, but most times I'd rather poke my eyes out than argue with him. "Not my fault," I say. "It was quiet since we left Trinidad, then out of nowhere, the guy on our ass shows up."

There's no evil energy in the back, Boss says. White warriors don't care about return trips to Denver.

"It's not God's Army."

You sure, 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 that black vehicle, not the usual heavenly white." A comment I instantly regret when his demon essence, merged in with my spine, sends a hot, sharp pain up my back. "I'm trying to drive here."

Hee, hee, hee, hee. Boss' laugh makes a squeaky toy sound pleasant.

The pickup's engine revs, and with the next hit the van swerves. "Boss, help me, please."

Chill out, he says. Bet he's a redneck out for a joyride. Besides, he can't hurt us unless you stop.

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

As the dispatcher and the 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, one of Satan's fiercest defenses against anything attacking our vans. But there's no reprieve in sight. "Where are the birds?"

Why do you need me to mix the clear blue sky with the yellow coward behind the wheel, and give the green light to call on Margery again?

"Huh?" Typical Boss. 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 city 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 day."

"That's not a white warrior on your ass, Pete. He's a mercenary for Purgatory." A deep inhale and crackling cigarette resonate in the background. "I hired him to take off your head."

Well, that's a game changer. Heat rushes up my spine, telling me Boss is equally shocked.

"What?" I ask. "Why?"

"Don't act stupid. I know you sabotaged the hellhole." Phlegm gurgles in her throat as she adds, "We were only a few months away from 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?"

"I've hauled your cargo for fifty years, why would I turn on you?"

And of all her drivers, your nose is the brownest.

Boss, do me a favor. Go back to your coma.

"Well, Pete, you tell me why you'd do such a thing." Margery blows out a long exhale, ending in a hacking cough.

"C'mon. Please. Call off the mercenary. Give me a chance to prove I didn't do it." Then I think how this whole situation has to be a set up by one of my shady co-workers.

Good luck convincing her.

"Margery, listen to me!"

"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."

My hand trembles as I smooth back my hair. This can't be happening. After a deep breath, I try again. "Margery!"

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. "Fuck!" I reach to pick up the bottle.

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

"No shit." As I swallow hard, a knot forms 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."

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

"Oh, yeah." 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 follows. At the red traffic light, and halfway into a hard left, the van tilts and screeches through the intersection, cutting in front of a semi-trailer. From behind, wheels skid and horns blare.

You trying to decapitate yourself for the mercenary?

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

And surprisingly without soiling yourself, he says.

Even I laugh at his corny joke.

Seconds later, 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 trash dumpster, and blast through the Purgalator door.

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

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