I’m finally alone. I rest my hands on the cool, metal surface of the table and quickly take inventory of all the old scars and fresh wounds that mar my once nimble hands. Band saw, tig welder, claw-hammer, drilling, milling, lathe, tapping and the list goes on. Three of my fingernails are black, most have dents, and all are grooved with little vertical lines that I feel as I scratch my thumbnail across them. I feel strangely detached, like my life is not my own, but rather a movie I’m caught up in. My hands flip over palm-side up, like a couple dying fish kept out of the water too long, and the callouses and the dirt and grime that never seemed to come out reminds me of a wasted life. These hands once flitted about the keys of a word processor, composing sonnets and short stories. There used to be so much potential in these hands. Clenched tightly, a scabbed cut on one of the knuckles breaks open and begins to trickle.
The detective enters the room, places a tape recorder on the table, slides a pack of smokes across the table and takes his seat. He clears his throat.
“Okay, from the top,” and the record button is pressed.
I still hadn’t gotten used to third shift hours and the 45 minute ride home was treacherous, but I was thankful to have a job; college loans were coming due, even if I didn’t get a diploma. I felt the heaviness of my eyelids and a moment later the baradadadada of the rumble strips snapped me to—they were my newfound guardian angels. Rubbing my eye with a hooked index finger and the immediate sting of salty tears penetrating a gouge was felt. I glanced up and noticed a pair of headlights following closely behind. The headlight housings looked square and my stomach sank as I imagined red and blue lights strobing on the roof. My car was four months late on the inspection.
I could immediately feel my pulse throbbing in my carotid, my breathing became shallow and my eyes had better focus than they did in months. Razor-like attention was placed on keeping the car between the lines long enough to make it to the next turn-off. My hands gripped the wheel and the headlights in the rearview seemed to get even closer. There was a turn-off in about an eighth mile.
“Jeez-jeez-jeez, come on…I got this. Jeez-um,” I muttered.
The turn-off was just ahead, so I put on the signal, slowed to make a comfortable turn and a moment before turning the wheel the car behind put their signal on to go in the same direction. My chest went tight and I involuntarily tapped the accelerator, causing the Monte to lurch forward, but just as quickly I let off. I couldn’t afford a ticket for no inspection AND a speeding ticket. I had to make another turn, but this was a road that I’d never taken and so was unfamiliar. A resume the state limit of 55 miles per hour sign became visible. At that speed it would be even more difficult to make a turn on a strange road. I slowly eased the accelerator down, but before hitting 45, I saw the green reflective glow of a street sign on the left and immediately put on the turn signal. The car behind was so close now, that the headlights couldn’t be seen…just a glow from behind the bumper. Slowing to make the turn I squinted to see if the tail was going to follow me further, but the proximity made it too difficult to tell. I held my breath and made the turn. They kept straight and roared off into the darkness.
I breathed a sigh of relief and after going a safe distance pulled over onto the shoulder. I laughed at the situation and at my reaction to it, swung the door open and puked all over the blacktop. I wiped my mouth with my sleeve and clicked on the radio. Tom Petty was belting out American Girl and I was immediately reminded of The Silence of the Lambs. I shivered.
There was no problem staying awake the rest of the ride home and the adrenaline dump coincided with my head hitting the pillow, so I was asleep within seconds. I slept better that night than I could remember ever sleeping.
My record was four and that night I’d nearly came in my pants. Four turns and the car was still behind me! Now I’m no idiot, I’d figured out a while ago that they were all different cars by the shapes of their headlights, but this was The Game. I quickly graduated from a police officer needing to fill a quota following me, to a hitman sent by some jilted ex-girlfriend—to ramp it up. Four…darn…turns! I bet I wouldn’t ever be able to top it.
I hadn’t gotten better than a two in weeks. Sleeping sucked ass and I felt like a zombie all the time. Color was draining from my world. Sleepwalking…that’s what life had become. I found myself getting lippy with co-workers, like even getting my ass beat by some fucker with hands the size of canned hams would be better than this. Wake up!
The back roads were becoming my friends—every curve, straight-away, and hill had become intimately familiar, like the landscape of a mistress’ skin. I’d painted the Monte with flat, black primer two weeks earlier and on nights like this I would turn the headlights off and cruise like a ghost, disturbing only the freshly fallen leaves along the roadside. The waxing moon gave just enough illumination to keep my nerves steady. I spotted what looked like an old man walking a small terrier along the ditch. I let off the gas to come in silent and cloaked in darkness…close enough to blow the old man’s baseball cap off and then hit the accelerator to continue on the hunt.
When being followed stopped getting the job done, I began to imagine myself as the hitman…paid by some loan shark looking for the ultimate settle-up. I was the tail and followed for as many turns as I could. The smell of their fear drifted into my open window and filled my nose like a lover’s perfume. I imagined the panic in their eyes, the panic that was once mine, and my muscles flexed in anticipation of the envisioned wet-work ahead. Unfortunately, four had become a curse. Inevitably the car would turn into a driveway after the fourth turn-off, usually sooner, and so four was quickly losing its luster. Sometimes, like tonight, I would come upon a car while my headlights were still off and I would get really close before turning them on and watch with a smile as the car in front of me would swerve as if startled by my sudden existence. Then The Game was on.
The red of the tail light’s glow, like those ahead, had become my favorite color. My right hand slid into a cardboard box that sat in the passenger seat. I felt the stickiness of the side of the roll of duct tape, the cool hardness of the crowbar, the ridges of the blade release on the box cutter and the roundness of the recently purchased ball gag. Had I gone too far in picking up the ball gag? The day I went into Adult World to pick one out I felt like a sexual deviant, as if I wasn’t careful I’d find myself buying a rubber suit and nipple-clips…that’s how these things progressed and I was no sideshow freak. The multiple-pierced, checkout girl gave me a knowing smile. She was cute even with all the hardware. But it was the untraceable .357 tucked in my belt that had me feeling the wonderfully familiar on-edge sensation. Ramping up. Turn two.
Turn three and my cock was straining against the inside of my jeans. Turn four, throbbing, I knew it was just a matter of time before a driveway would swallow the prey in safety; safety…what a weird concept. I let off…four car-lengths ought to do it. The car turned into its driveway. I slowed to see the number on the mailbox and hit the accelerator. Around the next bend I double-backed, headlights off. I let off the gas and coasted to a stop. The mailbox. I cupped my hands around a cigarette, lit it and drew in deep. A smile crept across my face.
I put the cigarette out in the little round, glass ashtray in the center of the cool, metal table and exhaled, “…the Game,” and I think how if I hadn’t throat-punched that asshole in the quad, treating his girlfriend like trash, I would’ve never came up with The Game. Maybe these hands weren’t so useless afterall.
The detective shut off the tape recorder and began sorting through his paperwork. I looked down at the length of chain tethering me to this bolted down chair and judged just how deep I could get my thumb into his right eye. My cell might be six by eight, but I’m gonna sleep like a baby.