It’s been a while, since April 2nd to be precise. Things got a bit nuts through March, April, and May with the “Fifi” plus North Carolina plus Washington DC plus NASA thing. Something had to give, and unfortunately it was Chuck Wendig’s weekly Flash Fiction Challenge. This week, let’s dive back in, shall we? The Challenge is to write “2,000 words or so” featuring a car chase.
As always, comments and constructive criticisms are appreciated.
You know why they call it the “405” freeway? Because it takes “four o’ five” hours to get anywhere at all. I had been thinking that for at least the last half hour while I and about thirty thousand of my close, personal friends had crept along to cover almost two whole miles.
According to the traffic reports on the radio, some clown down around Wilshire had pulled out into the carpool lane right in front of a bus. He had been crawling along in traffic, while the carpool lane was tooling along at about sixty, and those double-double, yellow lines might have been there to prevent just this sort of thing.
The good news was that the folks on the bus would probably all live, as would the fine citizens in the twenty-plus cars that got collected by the flying wreckage. The clown? Not so lucky. Not that I and my thirty thousand close, personal friends were feeling sorry for him. We were already in the Sepulveda Pass with nowhere to exit and no alternate routes, so now we just sat and crawled along.
Which is why no one was more surprised than I was to hear there was a police chase coming up behind us.
Really? If there were cops behind someone in this mess, they had plenty of time to simply park and walk up to catch him. Which would have been true, except this new and improved moron was not playing with the same fifty-two as the rest of us.
There isn’t much of a center divider along that part of the freeway. Ever since they spent ten years doing a two-year improvement project to add the carpool lane I was stuck in, the center divider had been more of a suggestion than an actual place to park in case of an accident. With all of the K-rails there, it wasn’t like you could cheat much without a tank.
Nonetheless, they were reporting he was coming toward us, driving in the center divider lane past all of the stopped traffic. The car he had stolen was some kind of sub-subcompact and so far he was getting away with it. The CHP couldn’t possibly follow him with their patrol cars, so they had a couple of motorcycle cops following way back and multiple helicopters overhead.
Sure enough, looking in my mirrors, I could see the helicopters crossing over the 101 and heading up the hill. I started looking in my side mirror to see the guy coming past me, sort of wishing I had a handful of large ball bearings to toss in front of his windshield as he came by.
As he came around the curve and toward me he really wasn’t going that fast. As police chases went, this was somewhere between the one hundred miles per hour doozies we get and OJ’s low-speed chase in the white Bronco. He was moving pretty well, but only compared to all of the cars at a dead stop.
Imagine my surprise when the lady a couple cars behind me decided to be a superhero and pull out in front of him at the last second! The collision wasn’t anything from GTA or “Mad Max,” but there was an awful lot of noise. Not to mention all of the smoke and bits of metal flying about.
You’re never quite prepared for the amount of adrenaline that gets squeezed into your system in response to that noise. If any of us had been falling asleep in our special traffic nightmare before, we were all wide awake and alert now.
It probably only took about fifteen seconds for the smoke to clear, but it felt like much longer. Our heroine had managed to jam her front end in front of the getaway car so the bad guys had nowhere to go. Their car, her car, and the car in between her and me were all pretty well bent and combined into one interlocked mass that wouldn’t be going anywhere soon.
Amazingly, even though all the wreckage had been pushed into the car behind me, nothing seemed to have touched me or my car. I was just starting to have my, “Holy shit, I’ve got to be the luckiest guy in the city” moment when things went south.
One of the bad guys crawled out of the passenger side window and quickly took stock of the scene. His partner, the driver, was wedged in with the door up against the K-rail, so he wasn’t going anywhere fast. The motorcycle cops were making their move and coming up fast. He scrambled forward across the hood of the heroine’s car, back into the center divider, looking for options and not being too picky.
He grabbed at the handle on the driver’s side rear door, but it was of course locked. I hadn’t even seen the gun until I was staring down the barrel at close range.
“Open the car, NOW!”
Your brain does funny things in that situation. At least, mine does. I thought for a millisecond about trying to act like I didn’t speak English. I wondered if the glass was actually strong enough to stop the bullet. I wondered where in hell those motorcycle cops were. I wondered if this guy was high on something and if that would affect his aim.
“NOW!” he screamed.
The barrel of the gun was wavering a bit, but not enough to make him miss me at point blank range. A quick glance in the side mirror showed the cops way too far away. I hit the button to unlock the door. He jerked the door open and slid in, slamming the door behind him as he put the gun at the back of my neck.
“Drive! Move it, now! Go!”
But he hadn’t buckled his seat belt yet. And where was I supposed to go? Had he not noticed the massive traffic jam as he was cruising by it?
“Drive. Now. Or you die and I drive.” In an instant he had gotten really cold and calm. That scared me a lot more than when he was panicked and screaming.
It didn’t matter there wasn’t anywhere to go. Those rules didn’t apply to this situation. Logic and common sense had been suspended. I had no doubt that he would shoot me any second if I didn’t start driving.
So I drove.
There wasn’t quite enough room ahead for me to turn out into the center divider, but obviously that was going to be the least of the problems with this guy’s plan. A couple of quick taps on the bumper of the guy in front of me got him to creep forward the couple of inches I needed and we were out between the carpool lane and the center divider.
Not that we were in the clear. My mid-sized sedan was bigger than the subcompact he and his pal had been driving and it wasn’t at all obvious we had much of a route ahead of us. I started to accelerate as best I could, but in just seconds I had taken the mirrors off both sides of my car, as well as a couple of other cars’ in the carpool lane.
After we got over the top of the hill at Mulholland and started down the other side the center divider opened up a little and soon we were doing about forty-five past all of the stopped cars. I kept glancing in the rear-view mirror to see what my passenger was doing and hoping for the cavalry to show up in the form of those motorcycle cops.
They weren’t anywhere in sight, which had something of a calming effect on the guy with the gun. He kept looking for them, leaning forward on the edge of his seat, splitting his attention between the road ahead and possible pursuit behind. That kept him from noticing what I had noticed. Suddenly there were no cars coming northbound on the opposite side of the freeway.
Good or bad, something was happening.
We came around the last little left-hand curve near the Getty and I had a clear picture of what lay ahead. I hadn’t quite forgotten about the huge accident with the bus and the clown, but I now knew exactly where it was. A half mile ahead of me the center divider, carpool lane, and three lanes of traffic were all blocked by debris, fire trucks, ambulances. And police cars. Lots of police cars.
I could also see where the CHP had blocked all northbound lanes, which was now allowing several black & whites to come screaming up behind us, going southbound in the now empty northbound lanes. They were on the other side of the center divider, but it was as good as they could do.
My friendly neighborhood carjacker figured it all out at the same time I did, but he came to a different conclusion about what to do.
“Floor it! Faster! They’ll move. Go! Go! Go!”
Well, maybe, maybe not. If we hit that bus and debris at seventy or eighty miles an hour, I was going to die. If this lunatic shot me in the head, I was going to die. If the shooting started from the cops on the other side of the freeway, or the cops dead ahead of us, or for all I knew the cops above in the helicopters, I was going to die.
This seemed to be as good of a time as any to panic. Instead, I took what little shred of a plan I had and figured it was better than nothing.
I hit the gas, giving it everything my little Honda had. That was enough to rock my passenger back in his seat a bit, which in turn caused the gun to come off the back of my neck and point up toward the ceiling.
I immediately hit the brakes, hard, standing on the pedal with both feet. Simultaneously I dove to the right as best I could, trying to lay down across the front seats. That turned out to be a great move when the cops on the other side of the freeway pulled up next to us a half-second later. They cut loose with several quick shotgun blasts into the back seat of my car.
Needless to say, the car was a little bit out of control at this point. However, there wasn’t really anywhere for it to go except more or less straight ahead, caught in a slot between the center divider and the stranded cars in the carpool lane. We banged back and forth between them a few times and caused lots of damage to everyone’s side panels, but we didn’t flip or roll.
I just kept my feet on the brakes and hoped for the best. There was glass flying everywhere and the sounds were again really impressive. I didn’t know if the dude in the back seat was going to shoot me or if we would crash into the bus or if the cops were going to keep shooting or if the archangel Michael was going to appear to escort me away.
When the car shuddered to a stop I decided not to sit up quite yet. I had rolled the dice, let the next action come to me. It did, in the form of my door being yanked open and my beat up body being dragged away by two very large CHP cops. Meanwhile, all around were many others, all with their guns out, screaming at the back seat of my car.
They needn’t have bothered. The first shots across the center divider had worked quite well.
There were already lots of paramedics at the original crash scene so I didn’t have to wait long to see someone. In the end, I got away pretty lightly with just a broken wrist and an impressive collection of cuts and bruises.
I also found myself to be a local celebrity, getting more than my fifteen minutes of fame. I was on all of the local morning news shows, Jimmy Kimmel, and two weeks later I also got to throw out the first pitch at a Dodger’s game.
Los Angeles. You’ve gotta love this town!