The sickening scrape of metal against
metal clutched Paul Grogan's spine with the same effect as a thousand nails
clawing at a chalkboard. Squealing brakes and a half won battle against
inertia by skillfully manipulating the steering wheel marked the next few
seconds that mercilessly stretched to eternity. His heart pounding
in his mouth as he finally skidded to a halt, Paul was momentarily paralyzed
by fear and denial that this was happening. Only the rationalization
that he wasn't hurt made him reach for the seatbelt release and move in
what felt like slow motion to open the car door.
Standing in the cool breeze of a Spring morning next to the busy freeway he had driven every work day for the last ten years, he felt nauseous upon seeing the left side of his car a clashing shade of galvanized steel against the original beige paint that he much preferred. Not that his vehicle was a classic or vessel of unsurpassed value, rather it was a modest import that he nevertheless kept in impeccable mechanical and aesthetic condition.
Paul couldn't believe this. He was the very definition of mild mannered, unassuming, harmless, affable, the poster boy for the milquetoasts of the world. Yet here he was beside swarming freeway traffic, victim of another's mindless rage. He hadn't intended to cut off the young man in the new, ink black BMW and hoped that a smile and wave of apology would have mollified him. That was not to be. Mouthing obscenities through tinted windows, an image hardly in keeping with his impeccable dress and grooming, the young executive type then tailed
Paul as closely as possible without actually touching. Then swinging beside him, the exec swerved into Paul's path. Deftly Paul maneuvered away, avoiding the "Ultimate Driving Machine", but unable to evade the unyielding guard rail at the freeway's edge.
As he surveyed the damage, he barely noticed the nondescript sedan almost silently rolling to a stop behind his wounded car. A good samaritan, he thought. Grateful for any impending act of kindness, the idea that this could be someone intent on taking advantage of his
misery to cause even more harm was dismissed.
Getting out of the car was a slim man who looked to be in his early fifties. Dapper in a vested suit with a thin gold watch chain looping across the vest, he had a reassuring smile that spoke trust. Approaching Paul he stretched out his hand and said, "I witnessed what just happened, and I believe I may be of some assistance." Pumping Paul's hand firmly, the man added, "my name is Mr. Carpenter. I have helped others like you, innocent victims of the wrath of our hurried world, injured in property and often person by those obsessed only by their own concerns. They care nothing except for themselves, and see those such as you and I as mere insects in the way who are to be crushed."
Paul opened his mouth to reply, but couldn't think of a thing to say. A scrap of paper with the license number of the yuppie road warrior responsible for all this would have sufficed. The last thing he expected was what sounded like a rehearsed speech. Mr. Carpenter merely smiled. He never looked at the damage to Paul's car though one would think morbid curiosity would at least obligate that. Ice blue eyes remained fixed on Paul, penetrating yet unthreatening eyes that Paul could not tear himself away from.
Smiling more broadly, Mr. Carpenter continued, "we are not defenseless, my friend. The one who assaulted you is well down the road now, smug in his perceived victory over you. But it is a hollow victory, for you will meet again. And next time, you will be armed with a gift I leave to you. It was given to me by another, a stranger to me as I am to you. Use it wisely, and you will never again have to fear any road and the predators who prowl them."
With this Mr. Carpenter spun on his heel, slipped back into his car, and eased back into the traffic. Paul stood with mouth agape for several minutes. "What in God's name was that all about? Some moron nearly kills me and all I get is a nut case in return." He tried to make some sense out of the strange man, but the shock of the accident pushed aside those thoughts. Angry, confused and feeling totally helpless, he settled numbly back inside his car until a highway patrol
cruiser finally stopped and offered much more practical aid.
A week later Paul was back on the road.
The body shop had done an amazing job although both car and driver drove
as cautiously as if towing a trailer filled with glass sculptures. Tailgaters
were allowed to pass with Paul meekly moving at first opportunity to another
Every vehicle was suspicious. The plodding Continental driven by a grandmotherly type, the mircobus with the graying refugees from the sixties, even the schoolbus could easily become weapons of destruction piloted by homicidal maniacs. Paul hated himself for being so fearful.
"This is no way to live," he kept telling himself, but he knew no way to change, except hope for the healing powers of time.
Two days later the morning traffic was flowing smoothly despite it still being rush hour. Paul was feeling better and his driving, though still cautious, was not as sedate. Keeping a respectful distance from the truck in front of him, he ran a hand through his thick, brown hair,
made a minute adjustment to his glasses, then punched a button to change radio stations. This innocent act was marked by the sudden blasting of a horn to his rear. Glancing at his mirror, he felt icy clamps on his throat as he spied the same black BMW, with the same well dressed, perfectly groomed, and totally maniacal driver.
Glancing to his right, Paul saw a sports coupe with a coffee sipping woman at the wheel. To his left a Cadillac cruised almost majestically. Both paced his speed, leaving him no opportunity to get away. Peeking again at his mirror, Paul could make out the lip positions of words that would make a longshoreman blush. Fear started to give way to panic when he suddenly felt the strange Mr. Carpenter's words floating through his mind, "And next time, you
will be armed with a gift I leave to you."
"What gift," Paul mumbled. "Unless he snuck an antitank missile in my tailpipe, I don't think...."
His hand started to tingle, the same hand Mr. Carpenter had vigorously shook. A warm sensation then flowed up Paul's arm, coursed up his neck, and finally settled in his head as a pleasant rush. Reflexive resistance halted before it could start. In seconds, Paul knew a transformation had taken place. His analytical mind wanted to know just what had happened, but it was subverted by the immediate situation. Paul knew just what he could do, as if this sudden infusion of talent was as familiar as walking. A genuine smile curled his lips as the fear of moments before transformed into a quiet confidence.
Paul felt his mind reaching inside the BMW. This felt perfectly natural, perfectly controllable. Briefly he wondered if his thoughts could coalesce into invisible hands around the exec's throat, but an awareness that his revenge must not be violent shaped what he must do next. His own driving became a subconscious act, deftly weaving around traffic when it finally opened up to keep pace with the BMW that had since zoomed by. Pleased that this part of the gift allowed him to totally concentrate on the offender, Paul felt his awareness surround the car's sound system.
A very impressive one, certainly fitting for such an expensive automobile. At the moment it was set on a talk show whose host was decidedly conservative. Too banal. Paul felt himself scanning the airwaves with the system's seek mode. He mentally ordered a few buttons get punched, then watched the BMW swerve dangerously close to a bus as the driver was suddenly assaulted by a soprano in a high C at maximum volume.
Paul could scarcely keep from laughing as the exec furiously attacked the radio controls to mute the sound that vibrated his car's plush interior and rattled the windows until it felt like they would burst. So distracted he nearly sideswiped a lumbering motor home, the now red faced exec finally reached under the dash and yanked out a handful of wires. To Paul's satisfaction, none were connected to the ignition as he had just perceived a new opportunity for surreptitious
revenge. "Impetuous devil with such a nasty temper," he nearly giggled. "This is going to be fun."
Now Paul sent his thoughts into the engine and steering of the BMW. Briefly he considered sending the offender into the guard rail in fitting revenge, but at that thought he found himself back in aware control of his own car and out of contact with his victim. A slight frown, then silently admitting the instinctive knowledge that his actions must not be violent put Paul back in complete control of the situation. A fiery crash might have provided visceral satisfaction, but more subtle means would bring greater rewards.
Paul felt his hands invisibly gripping the leather padded steering wheel of the BMW and his foot taking charge of the gas pedal that had already suffered under the exec's perpetually heavy footed driving. Paul did not have to see the beads of sweat on the exec's forehead or the bulging veins in his neck as he fought, tugged, and cursed his car to obey only his commands. Paul accelerated the BMW past another car, then slipped it back into its original lane, where it rode the bumper of a mid sixties Chevy.
Metallic purple paint gleamed under fresh wax, while the wheel rims were lined with bright chrome that only accentuated tiny tires that looked like they had been swiped from a baby carriage. Inside, four young men looked impassive in attire of denim, leather, and matching red bandannas. A new smile curled the corners of Paul's mouth. For all he knew these were not troublemakers, but he sensed they did not take kindly to being messed with.
Which was, of course, precisely what he had in mind. Closing behind the Chevy's bumper so that their license plates could be in a fond embrace, the BMW's horn suddenly blared and its headlights flashed in the universal "get out of my way before I run you over" code. One of the men in the rear of the Chevy craned his neck to see who was causing this annoyance. Paul was close enough to see him maintain his impassive, almost bored expression, then reach inside his jacket and pull out a long barreled silver revolver. Holding the gun in the rear window as if it was a prize, the young man frowned as he saw no let up in the acoustic and light assault of the BMW.
The exec's mouth tightened in apparent horror as the young man then started cranking the rear driver's side window down. Paul reacted quickly. Still not wanting the exec injured or worse, he willed the accelerator to let up, and spying a gap in the still flowing traffic, nestled the BMW safely behind a semi. The Chevy went it's way, it's occupants apparently satisfied.
Paul adjusted his own speed so he was again beside the BMW. This time the exec glanced over, and his eyebrows shot up in a look of recognition. "It's about time," Paul muttered, not caring if he was known from the incident that precipitated all this or from the exec's tailgating of a few minutes ago. The exec gestured such that Paul was convinced his middle finger could no longer bend, then swerved dangerously close.
"If you think I'll get out of the way because I don't want another accident or because your car is so expensive that I'll be in mortal fear of what will happen to my insurance rates, you are mistaken my friend." The confidence in his new power made Paul to stay put. The BMW cut back into its own lane, but Paul felt there would be more attempts to force him off the road. Before that could happen, Paul was blessed by even greater luck than the appearance of the Chevy. Almost giddy with joy, he took over the BMW's steering once more, and laid on the horn while gunning the engine. A squeal of rubber, a flick of the wheel, and a collision missed by the barest of margins put the exec in front of a thoroughly unamused highway patrol officer.
Flashing lights filled the BMW's rear view mirror as Paul conceded full control back to the exec. And after seeing his car suddenly develop this mind of its own, there was no doubt the exec would stop. Paul also pulled over and came to a halt behind the patrol cruiser. If nothing else, this was a golden opportunity to report the incident of last week since he now not only had the exec's license number but the perpetrator himself. And hopefully he was so rattled that he wouldn't deny what he had done.
Citation book in hand, the officer approached the BMW. Inside the exec pounded once on the steering wheel in obvious anger, then hit the switch to lower the power window. Nothing. All he heard was a loud groaning as if the mechanism was fighting him. Which it was. Paul's thoughts kept the window mechanism in the up cycle. He wasn't finished yet. Stubbornly the exec rammed his thumb on the down button until the strain finally shorted out the mechanism.
By this time the officer was calling through the window for the exec to step out of the car. He gave the officer a quick glare, then hit the power door lock. A click, then several others, followed by tugging the door handle were to no avail. Paul had overridden the locks as well. The exec then tried the manual locks, but they stubbornly stayed in place, the exec's strength no match for Paul's will.
The officer looked perplexed as he watched the exec frantically try to get out of his own car. Paul knew that there would only be one way, through the exec's temper. The officer backed away as the exec seized a heavy, leather briefcase. Paul could mentally probed inside and noted it's expensive contents of laptop computer, cellular phone, pager, portable fax printer, and the wonderful bonus of a Rolex. Why that was in the case and not on the exec's wrist was anyone's guess, but Paul did not have time to reflect.
In a blur, the exec twisted away from the door, then slammed the briefcase against the window. Paul was able to add his own propulsion behind the case so that the exec lost his grip. Bursting through the window in a shower of granulated glass, the case narrowly missed the officer before sailing into the fast lane, where it was promptly crushed beneath the wheels of a big rig. It's contents were instantaneously transformed to around ten thousand dollars of road grit infested junk.
At this Paul clicked the door locks off. The exec bolted out of the cursed car and into the arms of the officer who promptly spun him around, jerked his arm painfully behind his back, and slapped on a pair of handcuffs. "Must not be everyday an officer is assaulted with a custom made briefcase as a deadly weapon," mused Paul. He smiled while waiting for the officer to read the exec his rights, then hustle him into the waiting cruiser. The exec was nearly wailing his case, that none of this was his fault, he couldn't control his car, it was like some demonic force had taken over. That was enough for him to then suffer the indignity of a sobriety test.
Finally, with the exec safely caged in the back of the cruiser, Paul walked to the officer as he was sitting in front filling out his report. "Excuse me officer," he said most politely, "Last week I was
involved in an incident with the man you just arrested, and since you now have him, I would like to tell you what happened."
"It's all right, baby," Karen said to the hysterical
three year old girl cradled in her arms. Sadly the maternal reassurances
of calm and soothing were missing from Karen's cracking voice. Terrified
and aching from a shoulder belt that had dug into her collarbone and face
still stinging from sudden impact with her car's airbag, her hands shook
so badly she was afraid she would drop her daughter.
Her morning had begun innocently enough. Little Samantha was due for a routine doctor's appointment, an ordeal that would be made palatable by the promise of ice cream afterwards. A five mile jaunt down the freeway would shorten the drive by ten minutes as opposed going through town. Karen was not counting on the man in the pickup truck acting as if she shouldn't have taken this shortcut.
For no reason at all he sped up behind her, flashed his lights and blasted his horn for her to get over, and when she apparently didn't react quickly enough, swerved beside her and cut in so closely that he clipped the right front fender of her car. The impact was just enough to make her spin around and meet a concrete road construction barrier on the shoulder. Neither mother or daughter were hurt, but were still scared out of their wits.
Gently rocking screaming Samantha, Karen barely heard the tapping on her window. Gazing through the fog of shock she saw a middle aged man, casually but still neatly dressed and with a look of genuine concern. Slowly rolling down the window, Karen heard him say as he reached in to take her hand in a gesture of greeting and comfort, "good morning. I saw what just happened, though I regret I was unable to get that jerk's license number."
Karen felt tears welling as this was the last straw. First she was victim of another's nastiness and now he was going to get away with it. But before the first tear could fall the man said, "my name is Paul Grogan. I cannot wait with you but assistance will be here shortly. But before I leave I want you to know that I just left you a gift, something another stranger gave to me that will enable you to deal with these road warriors should you ever encounter one again."