She was there. Instantly.
There had been nothing. As I crested the hill on one of our back roads, the road had been empty.
It’s a long road, eight or nine miles with no turns and no stop signs. Lots of hills and a good speed can give the sensation of a roller coaster.
I was patrolling. Listening to tunes, windows open, fresh air, my arm hanging out the window.
On those back roads, I tend to stay all the way right. I assume, especially during this time of year, there will be some farmer’s big-ass tractor coming up the other side. I’ve worked too many wrecks and the car always loses.
(It’s the Lug Nut Rule: the driver with the most lug nuts always win the smash up.)
Then, as I crested, suddenly, explosively, there she was.
I yanked the wheel right, my throat suddenly as dry as my beloved west Texas desert. I jerked my left hand back inside, convinced I was going to lose it.
My squad went into the grass while the other car somehow slid past me without taking my mirror or grabbing bumper.
I don’t know, even now, how fast they were going. At the time, the machine was more bullet than car. A smear of dark metal that growled and winked as it passed.
It laughed, too.
Yeah, it might have been tires on hot asphalt or the wind, but it damn sure sounded like a laugh.
And it kept laughing. The car disappeared over the hill, down the far side, into the distance, and still it fucking laughed.
It still laughs sometimes. Late at night sometimes. Sometimes when I’m coming over another hill.
Even dreamed about it once.
Laughing and laughing and all I want to do is shoot that fucking car until it’s not just dead but completely dead.
I cranked my ass over that hill and I was so angry. I yelled and screamed in my squad car. It drowned out my tunes – and that’s going some volume, let me tell you – because the driver had scared me so badly.
I’ve discovered, in this job, I don’t do well when I get scared. Maybe it’s my need to be in control. Maybe it’s my need to feel in control if not actually be in control. But when something scares me, and it happens less and less the more experience I get under my Bat Belt, I get angry.
My reaction is to lash out.
Not violently. Not even verbally too often. But in my head and heart. In my soul.
In the reactions I want to give, rather than the reactions I do give.
So I came over the hill, ready to yank a traffic stop and write her some tickets.
But the road – for at least the mile I could see – was completely, utterly empty.
“Son of a bitch.”
Either the car was going much faster than I’d realized or it had ducked into a driveway to hide.
But what about those skid marks?
The road was a riot of skid marks.
They traveled from deep in the right side ditch, across the road with four distinct marks visible (means the car was yawing sideways in a broad slide) and into the ditch on the left.
And through the ditch into the tress and bushes.
Which were torn to pieces.
My heart sank. I’ve worked those kinds of wrecks before and if they don’t end by calling the coroner, they damn sure end with gouts of blood and ambulances flying to the nearest hospital and ashen-faced doctors.
The car was deep off the road.
And upside down.
I slid to a stop and jumped on the radio.
“Dispatch, I was almost head-on’d. The car’s in the ditch. Roll-over, dispatch, roll over. Send me everything.”
“BU 30, repeat your traffic?”
“I got a roll-over, dispatch. Send me everything. Ambo and fire. Now!”
I had no idea what was what, who was dead or not, who was injured or not.
Except these kids were getting out of the car.
I was stunned.
One kid. Two kids. Walking around, obviously freaked out. But walking away from that mangled car.
I jumped out of my squad and ran to them, yelling at them to get out. The day before I’d had a teen-ager kit a utility pole and her car exploded. She’d barely gotten out before it was an inferno. I was scared I’d see another car fire and it wouldn’t end as well.
“Out out,” I yelled at the fifth kid. She was crawling around inside the car.
“I’m getting my cell phone,” she said.
“The hell you are. Get out. Right now.”
Then I grabbed her and half-dragged her out. When I got her standing, she was covered in blood. Her entire face, hairline to neck. Blood everywhere.
Blood that smelled like…strawberries.
“Where are you hurt?” I started checking her for injuries.
“It’s soda,” her boyfriend said, a hysterical laugh bubbling out of his throat. “She was drinking soda.”
None of them, five kids, were hurt. Three ambulances showed up and all the kids – or their parents – refused treatment. Other than one minor cut, there were no injuries at all.
None? That might have freaked me out even more than the near accident itself. I had expected, if not five bodies, then certainly five transports to hospitals.
By this time, I was getting myself under control. It was like I’d compartmentalized the two incidents. One was the near-miss involving me. The second was their accident. Didn’t matter that their accident was because of their near-miss.
The accident happened because they were going too fast and were so inexperienced that they overcorrected and went too far right, then overcorrected against and slid across the road into the trees, which then flipped the car over.
Ultimately, I called a supervisor, who came out and then called the accident reconstructionist. I didn’t handle the accident (duh…conflict of interest, anyone?) but I did look at the skid marks and the hot tar we’d both driven through.
That soft tar laid it all out. She was nearly a foot over centerline, though the tar hadn’t a clue how fast she’d been going. The sheer amount of skid marks proved to the driver’s mother she’d been going entirely too fast.
But I’d have done the same thing. Being 17, a car full of friends, listening to tunes, talking and laughing, I’d have been driving too fast, too. And I’d probably have been too far over the center line.
How neither of us ended up dead or in a coma is still beyond me.
And though I’m over it now, there are still days when I hear that car’s fucking laugh.