“OH MY GOD, OH MY GOD-THIS CAN’T BE HAPPENING,” I said out loud, as if it would make any difference. I took my foot off the accelerator again, and again the car didn’t slow at all. I tried the brake, but the car just made an angry noise and kept roaring down the road. What was wrong with Adele’s Honda?
A picture flashed through my mind-a retreating figure in a hooded sweatshirt as I approached the car. I hadn’t paid enough attention to know if it was a man or a woman. Had that mysterious person done something to the car? I felt the pit of my stomach squeeze and started saying “Oh my God” again over and over out loud. I needed time to figure out what to do. Time I didn’t have at the moment. I was closing in on a yellow Ford Focus in front of me. I was going to hit it if I didn’t do something fast. I tend to be a cautious driver, not changing lanes unless there’s lots and lots of room. I glanced to my left, hoping for a big open space. No such luck: a black Cadillac was barreling along, catching up to me. Hoping for the best, I pulled in front of the fast-moving dark car.
I made it, but just barely. I heard the driver honking behind me and could only imagine what he was doing with his middle finger. The Ford became a yellow blur as I zoomed past it. I felt giddy at my momentary success.
The road sloped upward, but that barely slowed the car. Both sides of the road were bordered by giant Monterey pines, though I saw them as more of a green blur as I put all my attention on the road ahead. Someone must have heard me talking about getting the picture of the doll altered and figured out what it meant. So, I had been on the right track. A lot of good that was going to do me. I got it. Whoever had overheard me didn’t want me to make it back.
And unless I could figure out what to do, whoever was going to get his or her wish. The realization of what that meant hit me like a thud. Was this going to be the end for me?
Barry would blame himself. He’d think if only he hadn’t listened to me and had come anyway, nothing would have happened. Would he be the one to break the news to my sons? I felt my eyes fill with tears. I knew Peter would be okay, but I worried about my younger son, Samuel. And what about Mason? He’d blame himself, too.
I thought about my late husband. Would Charlie be waiting for me? I felt a momentary comfort. I knew he would. He’d hold out his hand and help me through the tunnel all the people who’d been dead and come back talked about. Charlie would help me to the light. But that wouldn’t help those I’d left behind.
Dinah would be heartbroken. Sheila would be sad. And Adele-the jury was still out. She’d probably inherit my job at the bookstore. My death would be chalked up as an accident. Sergeant French would give up and accept that Izabelle was alone on the beach. And her killer and mine would get away with it.
I didn’t want to die. Not now, not yet.
I put more effort into working my foot against the accelerator, trying to get it unstuck, not that it helped. My cell phone was in my purse on the floor, out of reach. Who would I call, anyway? I looked toward either side of the road, hoping there would be an open field to steer into, but I saw only trees.
Another stoplight was coming up. It was green, and I hoped it would stay that way. It was still green as I got closer. I let out my breath, thinking I would make it through. But it went to yellow. Thankfully, the car in front of me didn’t consider stopping, and sped through the intersection. The light was red when I got to it. I choked on my breath as the silver Honda zoomed through the intersection. In the rearview mirror I caught sight of the cross traffic surging into the spot I had barely vacated. I caught sight of something else, too. A cop car pulled onto the road from behind a tree and, lights flashing, came up behind me.
My breath poured out in a gush. Someone was coming to help. Or not. I heard a disembodied voice over a loudspeaker order me to pull over. He didn’t want to help. He wanted to give me a ticket.
I opened the window-who cared now if it stuck?-and tried waving my hand out of it, hoping they’d realize I was in trouble. I don’t think they got the message. The cruiser stayed on my tail, and the voice over the loudspeaker kept ordering me to pull over. I saw more flashing lights in my rearview mirror. Three cruisers were after me now. It was like those car chases I’d seen on TV.
I was so occupied with what was going on behind me, I momentarily lost track of what was in front of me. When I refocused, I saw that I was closing in on a blue Neon. Worse, there was a white minivan in the lane next to it, matching its speed. It seemed like I had no way out. It got worse as I saw the Neon’s brake lights go on. I pulled hard on the wheel and drove onto the shoulder just in time. As soon as I got ahead of the two cars, I steered back onto the road. The cop cars did the same.
The road was empty ahead. Had the cops cleared it? I hoped so. All I had to do was steer now-and figure out how to stop. In my peripheral vision I saw one of the police cars had pulled alongside and was driving next to me. A voice barked through the loudspeaker, commanding me to pull over. I yelled back, with all the voice that I could find, that the accelerator was stuck.
I roared past stores and businesses in Pacific Grove. The turnoff to Asilomar went by in a flash, and then the street turned and ran along the beach. There were dunes on one side and a rocky beach on the other. I thought of those piles of sand I’d seen on the sides of highways to stop runaway trucks and tried to aim the car toward a sand hill, but all my years of trying to avoid hitting things kicked in and I couldn’t do it. I just grazed the sand and was back on the road. I looked toward the beach side and was relieved to see the rocky area give way to plants and sand. Much as I hated to damage the fragile plants, as soon as I saw an area that looked level, I pulled the wheel hard to the left. The car went off the road, and I bumped through the low fence and over the plants, finally hitting the soft sand. The wheels got stuck and the engine stalled out as the car finally stopped. For a moment I just sat there stunned. Then I opened the door and got out. As soon as I stood, my legs gave out.