Garcia caught up to him on State Road 76, west of Albuquerque. In his rear view mirror, Alphie saw the gang leader’s expression. He didn’t like it. Garcia was big, powerful, a real mean bastard. If he caught Alphie he would hurt him first – a lot – and then he would kill him. He watched Garcia roast a live snake over his cook fire not long ago. He watched the snake writhe helplessly until it didn’t move again. Garcia tossed the smoking remnant into the sage.
Alphie’s only chance, get into the mountains. Garcia had a Jeep, too, but Alphie was a better driver. This he knew. He knew the place he wanted. His tires hummed on the cement road. The sun hung low near the horizon. The road curved ahead. Another minute and he’d roar into its full glare and with luck he might throw Garcia off for a few seconds.
Desperate measures for desperate times, right? He’d read that somewhere a long time ago, before he stopped reading, before he stopped a lot of things, before he got in with Garcia.
Well, life’s a bitch; then you die. Maybe today, but not if he could help it.
There, up ahead, a little used dirt road he’d been on before, once. Alphie deliberately kept his eyes on the left shoulder. He figured Garcia would be watching him. He snatched a glance. He saw Garcia hold his hand to the sun. Good, the glare caught him. Alphie whipped the wheel over.
Garcia shot past.
Alphie’s Jeep hit the sandy dirt running. It slid around like on ice, but Alphie fought it straight. The two Jeeps ran parallel for a few feet while Garcia realized he’d been outfoxed. Then brakes, tire smoke, and the man dropped out of sight. No other place to jump off for half a mile or more, Alphie recalled. Garcia would do a Huey and get behind him again. His quick move stretched his lead to a quarter mile. Then he saw Garcia’s dust cloud behind him.
No cat and mouse. Garcia wasn’t playing. He was pissed and Alphie knew why. Two kilos of marijuana sat in the seat next to him. Lot of money there. Lot of good reef. Alphie figured he owned it; after all, he grew the stuff. Garcia figured he owned his gang and Alphie, too. Alphie didn’t see it that way. They had a little parting.
He started to climb. He had to slow down and Garcia blazed way, taking a lot of chances. Garcia liked to toke, and if he’d had a few, he’d be fearless on road, dirt or any other surface. Something might knock him out of the box, but Alphie didn’t dare count on it.
Going got slower and slower and then the road petered out. This was it, he told himself. Now we’ll find out. He headed cross-country. Being out here once before didn’t make it a real advantage.
Generally he figured on Garcia screwing up somewhere, but so far the somnobitch had managed to stay with him. This was a showdown. One of them wouldn’t be going back to town.
The light would fail in under an hour. He guessed the sun would set in twenty minutes. Alphie didn’t cotton to driving rough terrain in the dark. They were a couple thousand feet above the plateau already and the Jeep was having trouble but he couldn’t go easy because he didn’t feel like dying.
Finally he hit the ridge. Seeing was still good, but shadows created pockets of darkness. Alphie wanted to cross his fingers for luck, but he couldn’t spare them. The ridge went north and south, fairly easy on the east side but serious drop-off on the west. The place he headed for curved into a natural escarpment. Not the time to be looking back, but he glanced and Garcia was a lot closer.
Now the terrain got really rough. The Jeep bucked and wallowed and finally it happened! His left front wheel fell into a deep depression, and Alphie cried out in pain and fear. He shot out of his seat and his head hit the canvas roof. As he came down hard, his butt slammed back into the seat and the wheel twisted out of his hands. The front seemed to stop while the rear kept going.
“No, no, don’t flip,” he screamed.
For a timeless moment he thought it was all over. Garcia was close, way too close. He’d boil out of his Jeep and be on Alphie so fast he wouldn’t have time to ditch the stuff and claim he never had it. Garcia wouldn’t believe him anyway.
Thoughts ripped through his brain. The Jeep seemed to stand on its head for a couple of seconds, and then fell back on the rear wheels. Alphie grabbed wildly at the wheel, wrestled it violently to the right and gunned the engine. The jeep responded by slewing further to the right. He couldn’t see the cliff, but he knew it could be only inches away. A four-foot high boulder sat on his left. He couldn’t see beyond it. Over the hood he saw a straight stretch a few feet wide and then, nothing. Real fear bubbled again. His mind conjured an image, a thousand feet of emptiness with death at the bottom.
In this rocky ground he couldn’t get out of second gear. This time it helped. He drove out onto the edge, whipped the wheel and gunned it again. The big all terrain tires grabbed the smooth surface and tossed loose gravel back at the second Jeep.
Garcia came on. Alphie got an idea. Counting on a relatively smooth windblown area near the top of the ridge just past the big rock, he yanked the wheel to the left and stopped. As he thought, Garcia, unmindful of anything but getting Alphie, plowed through, right up to the edge of the drop-off. Alphie put the Jeep in reverse and gunned it.
The crash echoed across the mountain and into the valley below. Garcia’s right wheels went over. Alphie pulled forward a few feet and reversed it again. Garcia tried to get out of his crushed door. He couldn’t.
Garcia called to him. Alphie heard a little fright in his voice. “Amigo, what you doing?”
Alphie didn’t answer. He hit the accelerator and popped the clutch in reverse and felt Garcia’s Jeep shift. He could smell his clutch burning. It mixed with the stench of burning rubber. He heard a grinding sound and sensed the other Jeep move and tilt. Then, another sound, steel on rock, sliding, sliding! The weight behind him disappeared. The Jeep stalled, rear tires a foot from the precipice. Alphie bailed out quickly and ran to the edge. Perforating a sudden silence he would remember for the rest of his life, thin screams arched and faded.
After what seemed forever, a crashing, rending sound floated up from the chasm. No sparks, no fire. Alphie looked down for a long time.
Before he turned to go, he spat into the night wind that blew up the sheer face of the mountain.