Chapter 3 Part 3

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The running joke was the speed limit on I-85 is 85, but Joey was well past that. Cutting across two lanes, he floored the BMW. The speedo crept past 120 MPH before he had to let off, hit the brakes, and cut back into the left lane.

"I could use a little help here!" he yelled. But he knew there would be no answer. You're on your own, he remembered. Succeed or fail, it's all on you. "I can't go back," he moaned, wiping at his eyes. "I can't." His vision blurred, and he nearly rear-ended some doofus.

"Get out of the passing lane, asshole!" he screamed, flashing his brights. The asshole tapped his brakes in response, then eased over one lane, taking his sweet time. When the idiot was halfway over, Joey floored the BMW again and veered partway onto the shoulder to get by. They flipped each other off as he passed.

This had been such a sweet gig, too. He was a smooth talker in life, but he had never thought big. He got laid often enough, and could usually get his drinks on someone else's tab, but now? Getting out of Hell was the best part, but having the world at his feet was a close second. Money, cars, women... livin' the lifestyle, as he often put it. Luring easy marks was a small price to pay. They were just like him, after all, willing to do what it took to get to the next level.

Until one of them showed up, for the first time ever. Maybe he was overdue. But for now, he was running for his life—the only decent life he had ever experienced. His car broke a hundred once again. "Yo, phone," he called. "Remind me to hire bodyguards tomorrow morning."

"I've added 'hire bodyguards' to your to-do list," the phone responded.

Brap brap brap went the radar detector.

"Shit!" He yanked the parking brake lever; it was not the fastest way to slow down, but would not give him away with brake lights. If the pig didn't single him out, the hunter would have to slow down as well. He passed the parked cop car, doing seventy-two in a seventy zone. Not even the most quota-hungry pig would bother with that.

A half-mile slipped by, then a mile. Other cars surged forward, confident of being out of radar range. He joined them, and soon passed many. Seventy-five, eighty, ninety...


"Not now!" he yelled at the dashboard. He knew that the low fuel indicator meant he had twenty miles, tops, before he ran out of gas. Should've let the pig pull me over, he thought. The hunter would have had to move on. At least there was an exit coming up. No... ten miles, ten more miles would be safe. He would go five more, then stop at the first exit with a gas station. The BMW roared past the exit.

With an immediate plan in mind, he started thinking ahead. He had grown up in Spartanburg, and maybe that was why he had chosen I-85 for his desperation run. Everyone he had known before knew he was dead, so he would have to avoid that part of town. But there were other places to lay low for a few days, and in any case he knew the place better than his pursuer. There were couple of places where he could swap the Beemer for something else. Maybe a 'Vette. Or maybe something more basic, a Losermobile that would throw the hunter off the scent.

A blue GAS sign loomed, and he decided to take this exit. Fill up, get to Spartanburg, and worry about everything else tomorrow. That's what he told the marks: don't worry about tomorrow today, focus on what's gonna advance you right here and right now. It was good advice.

Checking his rear-view, nobody followed him up the exit. Good. Maybe his pursuer went on by the exit, and he was free and clear. He could just gas up, turn around, and go home. He texted his flak: Had a problem. Give the visitors a voucher for merch. Offer a discount for the next talk.

But as the pump churned, a Civic pulled into the station. He felt that surge of fear once again. The hunter, his brain gibbered. How did he find me?

No time to pull the nozzle and run for it. If he had any chance at all, it was to hide out until the hunter gave up. He walked across the driveway and through the front doors. Looking through the window, he saw the Civic pull up to the front of the store. "Asshole probably doesn't need gas," he muttered. "It's not fair." He pretended to check out the snacks, keeping an eye on the Civic, waiting for whoever it was to come after him.

Finally, the Civic's driver-side door opened. As soon as the hunter turned to shut the door, he made his move. Past the bathrooms, through the small storage area in the back, out the back door. No alarm squalled, but he surprised a store employee on a smoke break. He dashed heedless across the narrow back area and into the scrub, changing his appearance as he went.

A fleeting memory: Come back here. I wanna show you something. A girl, older than him, but not by that much. He had followed her into the scrub out of curiosity, and she...

He pushed the memory away. He could reminisce about good times later, if he got out of this. The Beemer was done filling by now; maybe he could double back. If he got on the road ahead of the hunter, maybe he would be home free—

That surge of fear. The hunter was here, standing right in front of him. "Oh God, please don't send me back, I'll do anything—"

"I'm not God." Ssst. The hunter looked at the empty space, where a soulburn had stood moments before. "Not by a long shot."

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