As he entered the flow of traffic streaming around Omaha, Dr. Dale Martin was not in a hurry. Soft jazz floated through the beige cabin of his Toyota Camry, and the air through the dashboard vents was cool and clean-smelling. He wore prescription sunglasses, a crisp white business shirt, and casual khaki trousers. His jacket rode behind him on a hanger. The mid-afternoon sun flickered through the trees on his right, and Dale hummed along with a tenor sax on the radio. His tires on the road were a brush-like percussion.
The car ahead of him rolled smoothly into a line of commuter traffic.
Sandy was in that car.
With him. With Ernie the fleabag.
Dale turned up the AC and let his mind drift.
In Meadows Ford, when he was seventeen, and a month or so after Sandy dumped him for the fleabag with his red Mustang, Dale had followed them just like this. He’d been a little obsessed, not with the girl or the guy who took her away, but with finding some sort of closure. Boy loves girl. Boy loses girl. Then what? Boy wins girl back? Boy loses her for good? The story sat uncomfortably with him, open-ended, unfinished.
It’s not like he was crazy.
After tailing Ernie for an hour, Dale had stopped his dad’s Corolla and got a soda at a local quickie mart. When he came out, his rival was waiting, the Mustang perpendicular to Dale’s front bumper, a blue Charger blocking him in from behind. It turned out Ernie had friends, and Sandy was nowhere in sight.
Everybody in school knew you didn’t mess around with the fleabag. He hurt people; he hurt girls just for fun. Dale had been a fool. He’d gone out of his way to ask for an ass-kicking, and now he was going to get it. The bigger boy pushed away from the Corolla and casually plucked the soda bottle from Dale’s hand. A couple thugs got out of the blue muscle car.
“How’d you know I was thirsty?” said Ernie, but instead of taking a drink he turned and emptied the bottle onto the hood of Dale’s car. “Why you following us around, man?”
“It’s about my girlfriend,” said Dale.
Dale told him. And the fleabag laughed and laughed.
“That’s what this is about?” He smiled again. “Give our boy here a beer.”
One of the thugs threw Dale a can of Old Milwaukee.
Boy loves girl. Boy loses girl.
Boy tracks down rival, finds out rival has been dumped in turn, commiserates with rival and rival’s friends during the course of a six pack.
No more loose ends.
Except that the fleabag had lied.
When they drove away, Sandy popped up from the back seat, laughing and giving him the finger.
He hadn’t thought about it for a long time.
Until he hooked up with her on one of the social networking sites. She lived in the city now too, so he started having coffee at a shop in her neighborhood.
Today he’d seen her, but again she was with him. And in the Mustang, refurbished, shining like new, but this time she was driving, and the fleabag was in the passenger seat.
The Mustang pulled off the freeway so abruptly, Dale almost missed the exit. He unbuttoned his collar and caught sight of a scarlet flash darting into a stretch of shady suburbs. He doubted Sandy had seen him.
What would he do if she stopped?
Just drive right on by, he told himself, knowing he would not.
Always keeping the Mustang just in sight, he drove along for miles, the houses becoming sporadic, then non-existent. They were well into farm country when she stopped at an intersection. There wasn’t another car for miles. He pulled in behind her and got out of the car, just in time to see Sandy leap from the Mustang.
“Dale!” she yelled, running to him. “Oh, thank God, Dale, it’s you!” She was crying, hysterical. Was that blood on her arm?
“He’s right behind us. He’s coming.”
“Who? Who is right behind us? What’s wrong?”
“Ernie,” she said, wiping her forehead.
“Isn’t he in the car with you?”
“Take this,” she said, pressing a hot slab of iron into his hand. He looked down at a .45 automatic. “He’s coming. I’ll call for help.” She fiddled with her cell phone and moved back toward Dale’s car.
He could’ve sworn the fleabag was in the Mustang. He turned and examined the unbroken horizon. No dust, no cars for miles.
“I don’t think—”
And then she was in his car, starting it, driving it, aiming it straight down the road past him, laughing and giving him the finger.
Dale walked to the Mustang and looked in the open window.
The fleabag was in the back seat, having taken two through the chest at close range.
Dale looked at the gun in his hand and heard flies buzzing around the bloody mess.
Somewhere Sandy was listening to smooth jazz in his Camry, the air cool and clean-smelling through the dashboard vents. She’d be calling 911 on her cell phone, letting the authorities know where he was.
He didn’t think she’d be in a hurry.