by Dan Swanson
Aleny Huong planned to take US 30 West to Ames, Iowa, then catch US 69 South to Kansas City, where she’d pick up US 40 West. US 40 would take her all the way to Salt Lake City, where she’d find US 50 South, then switch over to US 91 South, and finally to Las Vegas. Her maps said it was around eighteen-hundred miles; she figured it would probably take close to fifty hours of driving. She wasn’t in any hurry, and she didn’t have to worry about money; in fact, she expected to arrive with significantly more cash than when she started, leaving a string of unsolved thefts across the country. She would make this a nice, leisurely vacation drive, taking detours as her fancy dictated.
One might think that Zing the Queen of Quick could safely drive much faster than the speed limit, and so she did when she started off on the trip. When she got behind the wheel, she concentrated and sped up her reflexes until the car going at sixty miles per hour felt like twenty to her, and then started weaving though traffic. Five minutes later, she was sitting in the median, white-faced and shaking. Speeding up her reflexes didn’t do anything for the other drivers, and her car didn’t react any faster, just because she did.
She’d changed lanes to pass a slower driver on the left, but he’d already seen the empty space to his left, and she was in that empty space before he realized it was no longer empty, so he just kept coming. She tried speeding up even more to avoid him, but the Commander’s response time wasn’t accelerated like hers was, and she wasn’t going to be able to get ahead of him. Instead, she’d had to shoot out into the center median. She’d then slammed on the brakes, and the car had started to spin, tearing up the dirt and grass, and all the super-speed tricks she could think of behind the wheel weren’t doing her a bit of good. She prepared to vibrate out of the car to safety if it started to roll, but mercifully it spun to a halt after only about two rotations. It was facing the wrong way, about halfway across the median. It was a few minutes before she was ready to roll again, and she drove at the speed of traffic the rest of the night.
Just before midnight, she was pulling into the Lincoln Highway Auto Camp south of Des Moines. She had to pound on the door of the office to wake up the crotchety old man who was the desk clerk. The $1.25 rate convinced her it wouldn’t be worth the effort to empty the camp’s register later, even if she was annoyed at the old man’s manner. But the cabin was clean, and the bed was reasonably comfortable. Check out time was 10:30 AM, so she slept in, had breakfast, then ran downtown, vibrated into the vault of the Wells Fargo Bank, and picked up a couple of days’ worth of travel money in five- and ten-dollar bills before she checked out.
She really enjoyed the drive. She stopped to see the Pacific Union Railroad Museum in Ames, as she’d always loved railroads. The museum offered a three-day, two-night ride in a train drawn by a steam locomotive, so she got a ticket for a luxury compartment in a lovingly rebuilt Pullman coach. It was the next thing to heaven — porters waiting on her hand and foot, exquisite meals in the elegantly furnished dining car, the lovely scenery along the Des Moines river, and the surprisingly comfortable bed in her private stateroom. She hadn’t slept so well since she’d come to this world. She was starting to get a taste for the luxury her newfound riches could buy.
Before she hit the road, she made an undocumented withdrawal from the Bank of the West in Ames, as the railroad excursion had been expensive. As she was getting on US 69 South, she spotted a hitchhiker — a man who looked like he was in his mid-twenties, with stubble on his face and his hair mussed, who was carrying a valise the size of a bowling bag. He was also carrying a sign that said Dallas or Bust, and he looked drawn and tired. Probably been on the road for a couple of days, she mused sympathetically. I could use some company. So she slowed to a stop and rolled down the passenger-side window.
“I can take you to Kansas City, if you’re interested,” she offered.
“That’d be right nice of you, ma’am.” His voice sounded tired, and he had a drawl.
“Hop in.” He did, and they were off again.
“What’s your name?” she asked.
“Ah’m Rio, lahk the rivah,” he replied. She waited a second, but no last name was forthcoming.
“Well, I’m Debbie, like Reynolds,” she offered, amused. She wasn’t going to give anything away, either. “Nice to meet you, Rio.”
“Nevah seen a car lahk this ‘un,” he continued. “What’s it called?”
“Fifty-four Studebaker Commander. I just got it, but I really like it, too.”
“Ah guess y’all just gonna need ta buy anotha one, thahn,” he said.
“What?” She looked over and saw a gun in his hand, pointed at her, and for just an instant, she was close to panic — but she quickly realized that she really had nothing to fear. In fact, her experience of the night before inspired her, and she realized that he was the one who should be worried. This should make the drive a lot more fun, and she was going to take great glee in showing him that he’d made a mistake. She concentrated for an instant, and when the car felt like it was barely moving, she reached over and switched the gun’s safety to the safe position, then slowed her reactions back to about fifteen percent faster than normal.
“You don’t waste much time, do you, ‘Rio’?” she asked calmly. “Do this a lot?”
This wasn’t the reaction he’d been expecting, and it made him nervous. Still, he was the one with the weapon. “Shut up! Pull over ta the breakdown lane and stop the car! Don’t gimme no trouble, and ya won’t get hurt!” She noted that his drawl had vanished. Instead, she stepped on the gas, hard.
“I’m not foolin’, witch! Pull over now, or I’ll shoot.” She jerked the wheel hard right, then left again, and he smashed into the passenger side door.
“Are you certain you really want to shoot me? We’re doing almost ninety. Would you live through a wreck?”
Now he was sweating. “You can’t keep going this fast forever. I’ll kill you when you slow down.”
She smiled sweetly. “I’ll bet we pass a state trooper before I run out of gas, and when I don’t slow down for him, he’ll call for some other cars to join the chase. I won’t stop until there are five or six cars right on our tail.”
She swerved left again, this time to avoid a slower car, who blared the horn at them as they passed. The left tires went off the pavement with a jerk, and she yanked the wheel back to the right, and they bounced and flew across both lanes and onto the breakdown lane on the other side before she straightened out again. Aleny was prepared to vibrate out of the car instantly if she was sure she’d lost control. Rio was starting to look green in the face, and scared to death.
“Or just maybe,” she continued calmly, “I’ll wreck the car, and we’ll both get killed before then.” She did some slight zigzags with the car, and it rocked precariously in response. “This is a lot of fun!” she exulted gleefully. “It’s why I bought a sports car in the first place.”
She looked at him and reached her right hand out. “Give me the gun,” she commanded. The car drifted to the right, and they were approaching an overpass.
“Watch the road, damn you!” he screamed. She jerked her eyes forward, yanked the wheel left, and got them back to the center of their lane, then right, and again the car rocked. Rio sagged in his seat, but she only laughed. She knew that she, at least, had never been in any danger, though she would have hated losing the car, and maybe the money.
She laughed. “Sorry, dude, I’m not very good at doin’ two things at once. Why don’t you give me the gun now, while the road is pretty much empty? When we catch up with traffic again, I might be pretty busy.”
Rio was too scared to talk. Silently, he reversed the gun and carefully handed it to her. She took it and glanced at it, then laughed again. “You were gonna shoot me with the safety on? You are a real foul-up, you know that?” She flipped off the safety and pointed the pistol at him. “Take off your clothes.”
“You a pervert or something? You must be nuts!” he said. She pulled the trigger, and a bullet flew by his head out the still-open window. He started squirming, and in a minute he was down to his underwear.
“Everything!” she commanded. When he didn’t respond immediately, she fired again. He was finished undressing in seconds. “Now, everything out the window. Your bag, too!” she ordered, waving the gun again. This time he obeyed immediately.
About ten miles farther on, she slowed to the breakdown lane, stopped the car, and ordered him out. By now, he was desperate, and he lunged toward her — or, to her enhanced reflexes, he started a slow movement in her direction. She gently tapped him in the forehead with the barrel of the pistol and then repeated her command. “Out, buster!” He dejectedly climbed out, trying to cover himself with his hands. She reached over, pulled the door closed, and roared away.
“Have a wonderful day!” He could hear her laughing voice drift back to him from the car as he dived into the ditch.
A couple miles farther on, she came to a service station and stopped for a fill-up. As she was paying the attendant, she told him the story and handed him the now-unloaded pistol, from which she’d carefully wiped any fingerprints. “Can you call the highway patrol? I left him back by marker 25, and he probably hasn’t gone far.”
She really enjoyed the rest of her leisurely drive to Kansas City.
Kansas City must have the best steaks in the world! Aleny Huong thought as she pulled back onto the highway. She’d had steak and eggs for breakfast, steak and fries for lunch, and steak and baked potato for dinner. She’d have been stuffed and pretty much unable to move if she’d been anyone else, but with her adjustable metabolism, she’d run it all off easily. She would definitely be returning here someday soon.
Yesterday she’d noticed a slight shimmy in the steering wheel; something was wrong with the front-end suspension. She figured it had something to do with the spin she’d taken a couple of days ago, but it didn’t feel like anything major; she’d have it looked at the next time she found herself near a Studebaker dealer, likely in Denver. But she didn’t get that far. She’d reached the Rockies, and the road was starting to climb. She was driving through a deep pass, when suddenly a rock crashed down the cliff beside her and into the road in front of her. With her heightened reflexes, she was able to yank the wheel to the left to avoid it, but the left front wheel smashed into another rock that had fallen earlier, and whatever had been wobbling now broke. She had already slammed on the brakes, and she gutted it out until the car spun to a halt — again.
Aleny got out and started swearing; the front end of the car listed toward the left, and the front left wheel was leaning at a crazy angle. She couldn’t leave the car in the middle of the fast lane, so she started it again and inched it off the road, wincing in sympathetic pain as the left front tire wheel shredded against the fender. She was growing attached to this car, and it hurt her to see and hear this new damage.
“Another disaster. What am I, Wile E. Coyote? Or maybe I’m on Candid Camera!” she yelled at the top of her voice, and listened angrily as the echoes died away. She screamed out her entire vocabulary of curse words for the next five minutes, pausing occasionally to listen to the echoes. I’m starting to repeat myself, she finally thought with a laugh. She’d never cut loose like that before. Won’t do any good to stand around screaming any longer. There’s things I’ve got to do, she reminded herself. Though it did feel good!
She had seen enough highway patrol cars on this leg of the drive to be sure one would come past sooner or later, so she would have help soon if she just waited. But she couldn’t take the chance that they’d find two million dollars in the trunk. A little super-friction heating, and she was able to pry the trunk open again, but the latch was now mangled beyond repair. She carried the cash bags down the bank of the river that ran to the left of the highway. She found a large pile of brush washed up against the bank near a sharp bend, and she buried the cases in the pile. It was a decent temporary hiding place. She returned to the car and settled back to wait.
About forty-five minutes later, a highway patrol cruiser pulled up behind her car. The cops were sympathetic and promised to take her to someone who could help her, but they were vague and secretive about who it would be. She sensed some kind of private joke, but she went along with it. A few minutes later, they passed the city limits sign for the small city of Benington, Colorado, and instead of heading for a service station as she’d expected, the patrol car pulled up to the shop of a blacksmith.