ACCIDENTS WAITING TO HAPPEN
Josh Michaels took liberties with the speed limit on the quiet two-lane highway. And why shouldn’t he? He
was celebrating. His meeting with the supplier had proved worth the overnight stay in Bakersfield. He was looking forward to his performance bonus when the drinking water plant came online.
He rewarded himself by taking the winding highways instead of 1-5 back to Sacramento. He enjoyed
the challenge of the sharper bends and shorter straights that he couldn’t experience outside of a racetrack. The lack of patrolling police cars on the back roads gave him the opportunity to bend the law as much as he wanted. And goddamn it, the reason he used the highways and not the freeways was because it was fun.
One hand on the wheel, Josh removed his cell phone from his shirt pocket. He selected a speed dial number and the phone chirped in his ear as it dialed.
“Hello, the Michaels’s residence,” a young girl’s voice said.
“Hi, can I speak to the lady of the house, please?”
Josh said pleasantly.
“My darling wife, how are you? It’s good to hear
your voice. I’ve missed you so much. How is everything?
Have you sent the adoption papers off so we will
be free of our troublesome daughter?”
“Is that you, Daddy?”
“Oh no! You found me out,” Josh said smiling.
“I knew it was you when you started speaking.” His daughter sounded unimpressed with Josh’s poor attempt at deception.
“I wouldn’t make a very good superhero, would I?”
Josh said, now grinning.
“No,” she said disapprovingly.
Josh heard his wife speaking to his daughter in the background.
“Yes, it’s Daddy and he’s talking about giving me away again,” she said to her mother before returning her attention to Josh. “Here’s Mommy.”
“I wish you wouldn’t say that stuff to her,” Kate said. “She’ll believe you one day.”
“Abby knows I’m playing.”
“I hope she does, because if she doesn’t, you can pay for her therapy. Anyway, where are you?”
“I’m about thirty minutes away.”
“Are you going back to the office?”
“No, I’ll give them a call in a minute, but I’ll go in tomorrow.”
“Okay then, see you later.”
“See you at about four.”
Josh hung up and punched in his office’s number. He filled in the project manager on the site visit, the quality assessment and the new contract price. Josh promised to give him a full update in the morning. He hung up and put the phone on the seat next to him.
The calls out of the way, he settled into the final part of his drive. He slowed for another of the small towns that littered the seldom used highway. These once vibrant townships were now forgotten, squeezed out by
all-powerful cities. These tiny places with forgettable names and a few hundred residents relied on passing trade for survival and barely received it. Storefronts displayed the names of the proprietors who ran them.
No national chains here. There weren’t enough consumers to warrant franchises. Leaving the town, he accelerated up to seventy-five. The road unraveled before
him, snaking across the land like an asphalt carpet.
Cresting the hill, the road fell away toward the
Sacramento River some two miles ahead. The Ford
gathered speed on the descent. Josh glanced over at the rearview mirror and spotted a black SUV in the distance.
The vehicle not only barreled along at the same
speed as Josh, but exceeded it. It was reeling in Josh’s Ford in short order. He checked his speedometer. The needle nudged seventy.
“Someone’s in a bigger hurry than I am,” he murmured to himself.
. Over the next quarter mile, Josh watched in his mirror as the SUV closed in on his tail, until its large chrome radiator grill blotted out his view. Instead of passing, the black sports utility clung to the Contour’s bumper.
“Pass me, damn it,” Josh shouted at the tailgater.
;. As if answering Josh’s request, the SUV darted out ;from behind him onto the left-hand side of the road. | Side by side, both vehicles charged toward the steel bridge spanning the Sacramento River like it was
bush line. The SUV’s chunky tires whined on the road and their sound droned in Josh’s ears. The vehicle ed past Josh without effort, but Josh backed off the speed to help the tailgater on his way. The SUV’s rear was just ahead of the Ford’s hood when without warning it swerved back into his lane.
Josh stamped on the brakes and yanked on the steering wheel. The power steering exaggerated his intentions, jerking the car violently to the right. The vehicles missed each other by a distance that couldn’t be measured in inches. Josh’s car left the road for the dirt
shoulder. The Ford slithered on the slippery surface, fishtailing and kicking up plumes of dust as the tires fought for traction. Cursing, Josh struggled to get the car under control, his actions as frantic as the vehicle’s motions.
The bridge was ahead and the river loomed. Josh’s Ford raced past the guardrail—there was no getting back on the road. There was no stopping the car in time.
“Jesus Christ!” he screamed. Did the tailgater know what he’d done?
He pushed the brake pedal even harder. Man and
machine working in perfect harmony failed to stop the car in time.
The Ford leapt off the riverbank, trimming the tops of the scrub bushes as it went. Airborne, the car’s nose pitched forward and it arced downward. The dark waters rushing up toward Josh filled his vision. Fear
grabbed him when he saw his fate. His hands gripped tightly onto the wheel and his fingernails cut grooves into his palms. He continued to jam his foot on the brake pedal in the vain hope it would prevent the car from ever hitting water. The weightless feeling in his stomach made him nauseated. He wanted to slam his eyes shut, but morbid curiosity kept them open.
The purr of the car’s engine died in time with the slowing wheel revolutions. The Contour sounded as if it were sighing, resigned to its impending fate.
The Ford struck the water like a sledgehammer. Inside the car a dull thud reverberated in conjunction
with the roar of a thousand gallons of water being displaced around the vehicle. Water hissed on the hot exhaust and engine blocks.
The shock-resistant bumper, unable to resist the
shock, was ripped off and dragged under the car as the hood buckled in sympathy. The side panels splayed and the trunk popped open, casting its contents into the river like a fisherman casting live bait. Clutter of the modern car owner—pens, CDs, gas receipts, cell phone and other diverse junk—clattered against the back of Josh’s