The Fives Run North-South

 

© 2015 Dan Goodin

All rights reserved.

 

ISBN: 1508478724

ISBN 13: 9781508478720

BOOK 1: ADAM

1

T
his is what I was thinking at the time: it’s surprising how divorcing Suze, as an option, seemed less complicated than the alternatives. That’s why I wasn’t really focused on the road in front of me. I barely noticed the
bright
-
red
SUV nosing into the roadway until my car was almost in front of it, but even then I guess I didn’t pay much attention to it. Simply another vehicle waiting for traffic to clear enough so it could turn onto Route 1 southbound. So when it darted out in front of my car, my thoughts snapped back to the moment, and I slammed on the breaks to avoid
rear
-
ending
it. Also, somewhat annoyed, I leaned on the horn and said, as if the other driver could hear me, “Come on, fella!”

I lifted off the brake, but had to slam down on it again. Rather than accelerate into traffic, the SUV braked, almost coming back to a full stop in front of me. The SUV was cockeyed in the road. I could see the driver, a young, unshaven man with a backward ball cap and reflective sunglasses. He was looking in his rearview mirror and angrily shouting back at me. I looked behind my shoulder and saw that the left lane was clear, so I pulled my BMW out to attempt to pass the SUV. As I did, it accelerated to keep pace with me. I looked over and saw the driver still screaming angrily at me. For a second, I wondered if the man was someone I knew. Maybe some sort of joking game. But after looking at the driver’s red, barking face, I concluded that he was a stranger. My heart was slamming against my chest, and I fought against my instinct to shout back, instead refocusing on the road in front of me…
better part of valor, and all that.

I drove like that for a few more blocks, partially as if in a fog, with the SUV keeping pace right beside my car. I hoped that the guy would lose interest and evaporate from the road, but he didn’t. In my peripheral vision, I could see the driver’s rant continuing, growing more agitated as he jerked his gaze from the road in front of him and back over to me.

Sure, my head had been elsewhere when he’d pulled out; it often is while driving. Very early in my career, I’d been a road warrior. As a salesman for my company, I used to spend four, sometimes five nights a week chasing clients and investors from Maine to Ohio, as far south as the Carolinas. I would log over 350 miles a day on average. I had seen it all…out on the road, where I used to say, “Rude Rules.” Back then, I’d had my share of minor road rage incidents. I’d been younger then (about thirty pounds lighter, if I’m to be honest, and a whole lot tougher around the edges), more prone to flipping birds at idiots. Not concerned about the consequences.

Those early days on the road had paid off. My fledgling company rode the wave of the nineties’ economic boom perfectly. Eventually, we were swallowed up by a large competitor, with the core staff getting either a nice payout or a promotion. I had gotten both…all the way to CEO. Today, my driving was simply the daily commute and the occasional
out
-
of
-
town
meeting. Over time I had redeveloped the patience one needs to navigate the increasingly clogged roadways.

Now I taxed my memory for few seconds, trying to recall if maybe I’d cut off the SUV earlier down the road, or if maybe I did know the driver, if there were some
cause
-
effect
equation just outside of my grasp that would explain the situation. That would explain why this guy was…

Ahead, the traffic light at the upcoming intersection turned yellow. It would be red by the time we arrived.

I would have to stop.

As would the SUV in the lane beside me.

For a second I thought, maybe…I hit the accelerator, but backed off. It would be more than running a red light. It would likely put me directly into the cross traffic. Instincts, years of driving experience took over. Better to come to a stop and see what would happen next.

In hindsight, I probably should have taken my chances with plowing through the intersection.

I rolled the BMW to a stop, nosed slightly into the intersection. To my right, I saw the SUV, and for a second thought that he would barrel through the intersection as he was coming in hard. But he slammed his brakes to a hard stop and was stuck out a bit farther into the intersection than I was. I looked up at the traffic lights, trying to see if the cross traffic’s was still on green or if it had gone yellow. Still green. I checked my watch, suddenly realizing I’d promised Suze I’d stop by Shaker’s Deli to pick up some dinner. I tried to recall if I’d just passed Shaker’s or if it was up ahead. Suze would probably want something garlicky. I was in the mood for spicy. Between her breath and my stomach noise, we’d both have something to bitch about after sleeping together, I thought.

Then I realized that the driver of the SUV had been screaming at me from inside his car. I looked over, looked away, then looked back. He was snarling. I couldn’t see his eyes, hidden behind the reflective sunglasses, but I imagined they were wide and fierce. The man was screaming, though on the other side of the
glass

both
my
passenger
-
side
window and his slightly tinted side
window

I
could hear only the faintest of sound, mostly when the man’s yelling reached higher notes. For a second, I nearly rolled down my window in a twisted effort to be polite and hear the other side of the conversation. Instead, I looked ahead again to see if the light was near changing. I really didn’t have the time for this.

Then I heard his driver’s side door open, music from inside pouring out onto the street like smoke. The man was coming out.

I tried to remember if my doors were locked, starting to move my hand toward the button that would activate all the locks. I didn’t want to move too quickly, didn’t want to expose any panic. Then, as I reached for it, I had a lapse. I couldn’t remember if pushing the button forward locked or unlocked the doors. What if they were already locked and I unwittingly unlocked them?

I turned my head in the direction of the SUV.

The driver was standing, slightly crouched, with his face only inches from my
passenger
-
side
window. I could just about see my distorted face within both sides of the man’s sunglasses. The reflection from them mixing with the reflection off my own window made it look like my stunned ghost was trying to peer into the world from behind twisted glass.

The man reached down for my door handle.

I glanced at the traffic light. Still red.

But the light facing the cross traffic had gone yellow.

And when I heard the handle move without opening the door, I realized the doors had been locked. I turned to face the other driver again, feeling anger flushing out my confusion and fear.

“What is your damned problem?” I asked.

The driver stood up, removing his face from my sight.

The light turned green, I saw it from the corner of my eye though I was still facing the other man. Who was…

What the hell…?

The man drew back and I watched as he drove his fist, full force, into my
passenger
-
side
window. The noise was violent, and despite watching him do it, the strike made me jump in my seat. The window held, though in my mind it seemed that couldn’t have been possible. Behind me, I heard a car somewhere behind us sounding its horn.

You don’t want to be beeping a horn in this man’s direction, I thought. Trust me on this one.

I accelerated, and in my rearview mirror saw the other driver still outside his SUV screaming at the back of my BMW as it moved quickly through the intersection. Then the man moved quickly toward his SUV, ripping open the door with enough force that it swung back and bumped him as he tried to get in.

Meanwhile, the line of cars that had built up behind us started to pass him, filling up the void between us. I knew I had to move quickly if I was going to lose that lunatic. I hit the gas.

The road started to curve to the left up ahead. Meanwhile, as often happens on Route 1, voids in the road quickly fill with anxious traffic. Drivers were not accustomed to leaving much breathing room between bumpers, something that often annoyed me, but right now was a good development. The space between me and the SUV grew more and more muddled. While still wary, my heart rate began returning to normal. It slowed even more each time I looked into the rearview mirror and saw nothing but the smooth movement of routine traffic. I considered pulling into a gas station, restaurant, or other type of business to hide my car just in case the whack job was speeding along behind me in hopes of catching up and resuming his chase. Already questioning my bravery, I just couldn’t bring myself to go that far. As much as I wanted to avoid another encounter, I wouldn’t do it by hiding out.

After a few miles, I slipped into the commute groove again. The strange encounter nagged at me, sitting in the back of my mind. It gave me the feeling similar to oversleeping on an important day, as if something critical had slipped out of my grasp and
control

a
wrong turn. I thought of that video game Peter loved so much. In it, characters jumped and ran tirelessly through animated obstacles, collecting coins, gems and diamonds, picking up rewards along the way, with the game’s exciting and rewarding sounds pumping positive reinforcement into the head and hand of my engrossed son. Once I had asked Peter what the coins were for. “They give you strength,” he’d said. I thought: it would be nice if life were like that. But instead, I knew that rather than rewards, the nuggets picked up on the way were built from different things: regrets, shame, and missteps. We wake every day fully intending to do right, help whenever given the opportunity, and build our image toward our ideal. But unlike the character in that video game, we find it harder to roll with the unexpected. Intentions turned sour. All piling on to slump the shoulders a bit more, making it harder to recognize that face in the
mirror

that
sagging, wrinkled mask. Boy, this little adventure had been the cherry on top of a rough day.

I pulled the car into our subdivision. I had fallen into my commute groove again, felt the exhaustion of the day, and lacked the joy of homecoming. My thoughts returned to where they had been before my little adventure: it’s surprising how divorcing Suze, as an option, seemed less complicated than the alternatives.

I sat in the car after turning it off, collecting myself. My necktie was still pulled tight, so I loosened it and unfastened my top button. I usually did this a few miles from home. Rolling my head around to stretch my neck, I tried to take a few deep breaths. Suze had often suggested I try yoga or something with her so that I could regulate my stress.

“Nothing I can’t get from a good, cold beer or vodka tonic,” had always been my response.

Opening the car door, I got out and walked from the garage back out onto the street to check the mail. I did that every night, though it was rare that Suze hadn’t already collected it. To my surprise, today the box was full. My
Sports Illustrated
, though I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been able to read even a small portion. A couple credit card offers. No bills. Cool. I tucked the batch under my arm and turned back to the house.

Then froze.

Was that…?

I turned my head back so that it was facing Stoneybrook Lane, the road that ran parallel to mine in our subdivision. I spotted the back of the vehicle that had caught my eye. It was rounding out of sight. I didn’t get a clear look. But…

I couldn’t be sure. Really, it was in all likelihood a bit of paranoia and
hyped
-
up
imagination. But as I shook my head, I couldn’t ignore the thought. It had looked a bit like a painfully familiar red SUV.

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