Record of Wrongs: Free sample

9:22 p.m.


He was plenty far from the gas station or anything else out here. Just big old tobacco fields, nobody in the sagging farmhouses anymore, no other traffic. No one to see or hear.

The race-modified Chevy Monte Carlo waited still in the northbound lane of Pine Gallows Road. The straps of an eight-point harness held Jamey Epps snug in its molded seat. His fingers checked the anti-whiplash tether rigged to his carbon-fiber crash helmet, and he felt like his daddy’s hero, Darrell Waltrip, in the Tide car back in ’89.

Jamey twisted uncomfortably to his right to see the screen of a laptop that showed a satellite map of the area. The little blue car icon tagged “Elliott Garrett” was moving again, heading south, just a mile or so away now.

The hatred flared big and warm and powerful in Jamey’s belly. He got the Monte Carlo rolling.

Adrenaline dumped into his blood. He checked the speedometer and held it at 40 exactly, and the racecar seemed to tremble in anticipation on its stiff suspension.

* * *

As Elliott Garrett steered out of the Mobil station, his BMW sensed the darkness, lit its gauges blood red, and flooded the pavement with high-intensity light.

From I-85 in middle-of-nowhere Virginia, he’d taken the exit for Pine Gallows Road, a two-lane highway he used as a shortcut over to U.S. 1. He swore the route saved 10 minutes, but Laura thought it took longer.

He was maybe two hours from Raleigh. He pictured Annabelle sprawled asleep wearing her polka-dot jammies. Laura doz-ing on the couch in front of HGTV. Both of them drooling, probably. A boring but beautiful home life he had placed at great risk. He bit into his cheek.

Elliott thought over his time in Washington, D.C., marking details he could safely share with his wife. He would lie if he had to, but it was easier – safer – just to omit, especially now that she seemed suspicious. How had he made his life this damn complicated?

The first sip of coffee burned his tongue, so he parked the foam cup where he could aim an air conditioning vent at it and turned on the stereo. He called up The Allman Brothers’ “South-bound” because it was about coming home to your woman feeling lonely.

Duane Allman’s guitar riff flowed from the speakers. The dashed center stripe seemed to tick past outside the Beemer’s door in rhythm with the song’s bass line.

Oncoming headlights in the distance drew his gaze from the radio back to the road. The other car gradually drew closer, annoyingly not dimming its brights, making Elliott squint. He gave a quick brights flash of his own, eased off the accelerator.

Finally, the other car dropped its high beams.

Elliott nudged his toe back into the gas.

The other car got nearly even – headlights in Elliott’s lane!

His foot arced toward the brake; hands wanted to yank the wheel, but no time, the epithet in his mind never reaching his throat.

A colossal punch to the head, pain like a spike driven up his nose, the car spinning backward in flat, sickening ovals.

The last sensation: Scorching rain on his right cheek and arm.

* * *

Jamey’s steering wheel flick from noon to 11 chewed the Monte into the yuppie sedan with a gunshot BLAM. The hoods crumpled, blocking his view, the offset angle setting both cars spinning.

Then they separated. He stamped the brakes, tires yowling as the racecar skidded tail first into a ditch with another jolting crunch.

He didn’t know how long he sat there feeling dopey, gazing up through the cracked windshield at the starry country sky, but he didn’t black out. Naw, he was definitely alive and conscious, his bones still vibrating from the impact, which was worse than he’d expected. Could still move everything, though.

He caught himself reaching to turn off the headlights and laughed – that was pretty well took care of already. His hands undid the helmet and unclicked the harness, and he tumbled into the empty metal space that had held the coupe’s backseat. The racin’ boys he’d bought the car from on Craigslist had ripped everything out to install the safety cage. Jamey was able to climb up the metal braces and get out through the passenger window – only to fall down right on his butt.

Rising to a knee, then slowly to his feet, he felt himself shaking. It was like waking up drunk or something, seeing and hearing and remembering everything, but experiencing it through a weird kind of fog. He stepped onto the pavement and made his feet carry him up the edge line toward the gleaming taillights of the BMW a couple of hundred yards away. It was sitting on the wrong shoulder but facing the same way it’d been heading.

The fuzz was clearing out as the adrenaline kicked back in. Near the BMW, he unzipped a pocket of his fire suit, pulled out a digital camera and took pictures from all different angles. He tried the driver’s door handle – locked. So he pulled out a LifeHammer auto escape tool and popped the glass.

When he saw Elliott Garrett, Jamey had a moment of doubt that his plan had worked. To check for a pulse, he put two fingers on the man’s neck.

Yeah, buddy, mission accomplished.

The car smelled mixed up. Strong coffee and some kind of chemical – from the airbag, he guessed. He opened the door and took more photos: Blood streaming from Elliott Garrett’s nose, mouth and left eye; Elliott Garrett’s stone-still face scarlet from the airbag’s punch; Elliott Garrett’s tongue lolling out of his mouth; Elliott Garrett’s legs pinned between the lower dash and the edge of Elliott Garrett’s fancy leather seat.

Five photos. Six photos. Seven, eight, nine.

Enough. He sucked in a lungful of air and slammed the door.

Payback’s a bitch, Elliott.

Damn, he wished he had his partner Eric with him. They had planned this all out, talked about how they’d do it. They were supposed to be doing this together.

But Eric couldn’t do it, so he had to do it for both of them. Just how it was.
New headlights appeared near where Jamey had waited in the racecar, a flatbed tow truck that pulled up near the BMW. It snatched into reverse for a three-point turn and ended up with its metal deck pointing at the front of the mangled car.

Rodney Sproul dropped from the cab to the grassy shoulder. He had on a polyester cop uniform with a Virginia State Police patch and a nameplate that read, “SGT. T.B. MACON.”
Sproul leaned down and ogled Elliott Garrett. “Damn! I mean, s–t, man. Lights out! That was f—ed up. F—ed UP!” And after a few more seconds, “Hey, you okay, Jamey?”

“Yeah. I’m all right.” Jamey walked behind the BMW and reached under the rear bumper. Pulling hard to unstick the adhesive, he came up with a GPS device the size of a cellphone that had cost $399 online and let him track the car on the laptop.

Sproul was just standing there at the broken window with his mouth lolling open, staring at Elliott Garrett. Jamey wondered if the boy had lost his stomach for this.

But now Spoul hooted and smacked the roof of the BMW with his palm. “Buddy, I been wantin’ to bust his nose like that for 10 damn years.” Sproul slammed the bottom of his right shoe into the BMW’s left-rear door, making a dent.

“You’re wastin’ time,” Jamey said, knocking Sproul on the shoulder to get him moving. “Hook it up.”

Jamey reached into the BMW and stabbed the lock switch. The unison clicks around the car made it seem like the system still worked. So he walked around, climbed into the back seat behind Elliott Garrett’s busted body, and pulled the door shut.

Rodney had the truck bed tilted now and was fixing the winch cable to some front part of the BMW that was still strong enough to hold. With a racket of scrapes and squeaks, the cable dragged them up onto the deck, which went level. Rodney gunned the diesel engine to go hook up the totaled racecar and pull it along behind.

After they’d driven just a quarter mile, Jamey saw an oncoming car and smiled – finished just in time. He wiped his forehead as he checked his watch. It had all taken about eight minutes.

Keep reading now. Buy Record of Wrongs in paperback or in Kindle format (readable on your Apple or Android device with the free Kindle app)

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