Mookie sat with her hands in a death grip on the wheel, staring straight ahead. Then she keyed the engine, dropped the tranny into gear, and shot into the merge lane, jumping into the fast lane as quickly as possible. To Chet, she said, "We have to catch her. She'll die if we don't."
"Please tell me what's going on, Mookie! Like how you're so damn sure she sabotaged your MG.!"
"A few things. She had motive. It wasn't that she wanted me dead or injured, she wanted me, as in, the legal entity that Melinda 'Mookie' Rockford. comprises. She wanted to become me, in as legal a manner as possible.
"But she's just a kid, she she couldn't pass herself off as you!"
But so what if we're not clones? To all these people, I've just been a name on a screen or a piece of paper. Brianna is five foot nine, I'm five ten. She could do the hair in a few hours in a motel room. Hell, she could cut her own hair, just like I do mine. There, with me in the hospital, she could steal my wallet and bag, and become me, at least for a week or so. Dunno what she'd do after that, because basic knowledge would jam her up."
"All my job listings would be useless to her. You can't bluff your way into being a computer systems monitor. Hell, you can't even do that to be a barrista. Um, only one entry in my resume she might be able to fake would be party stripper, and she's struck me as being a bit reserved for that. But all this is moot right now. She's headed toward a brick wall, she's got nowhere to go."
"What do you mean?"
"She has limited options, to the point of having none.
"Okay, say she heads for Berkeley. She can't get a job with an underage out-of-state I.D.; I think you told me she doesn't even have a driver's license, which may fly in Wyoming, but not in California, The luckiest thing she could have happen would be selling the truck to a chop shop for $400, she'd have a couple weeks worth of money.. After that she has to do anything to earn money.
"Do you think...."
"If she's hungry enough, yes. Plus whatever else her pimp gives her."
Chet looked out the window, then at the speedometer. They were hovering between 85 and 90, breezing smoothly through traffic. "Damn girl, where'd you learn to drive like this?"
"On Atlanta freeways," Mookie replied.
They were well west of Salt Lake City, out in the wastelands east of Bonneville Salt Flats when Mookie would have sworn the truck had been kicked by a giant boot, a giant child abusing his toys. She fought the wheel, easing off the throttle, and kept the truck on pavement and out of the giant sand ditch between the east and westbound lanes. "What the hell....!" screeched Mookie, letting the truck down to match the the common road speed.... Which she hadn't realized was far slower than hers. "What the holy hell just happened...?"
"Wind gust," said Chet. "They're vicious through here. Whatever you do, don't get caught next to a semi, they can land on you, no lie. Fact, don't get caught next next to anything to your side, they'll bounce into you like a friggin' billiard ball. And don't try to outrun it, all you're doing is providing loft for the wind to throw you into the ditch." Chet gestured to the giant gully between the lanes. "The Road Angels come through and pull people out --- they've got plenty of cable --- once it dies down.."
"Could you get out with four-wheel drive?"
"Depend on the vehicles, the tires, skill of the driver...." Chet got where Mookie was coming from and said, " I'll keep an eye on the ditches.
Twenty miles on and they came across a customized Chevy 4x4, lifted and with Dick Cepek's most aggressive treads on the rims. It was getting dark, but there was no mistaking Roger's girl-bait truck: not quite a monster truck, but impressive just the same. She couldn't quite get all the way out of the ditch, making it about twenty yards shy of the top, and bog to the axles.. Then she would roll backwards along the bottom of the gully and try another attempt. The one advantage was the lack of wind. It had remained upright.
Mookie came to a stop on the inside shoulder. "I'm going to go down there and see if I can talk to her. She may listen to me," she said."
"I ought to go down there and put her over my knee," said Chet.
"Worst move to make. She's expecting anger. She also has your pappy's equalizer with her. I've got to chill her out, woman to woman. Remember, if I get her up here, you're nothing but happy to see her, okay? No retribution, let her call the shots in conversation, we'll get to that tomorrow after she's had some rest. We've gotta have some serious talk about her, like whether law enforcement should be involved. Nobody wants that, trust me. Just finding out what's going on through her head is a big thing. Tell me, has there been any history of mental problems in her family?
"Don't stall on me, Chet...."
"Her mama would get.... unbalanced every now and then.. Like delusional. Forget where she was, what she was up to. A neighbor would get her home for us."
"Think it'd carry over?"
"I don't know." There was a lot of evasiveness in his tone.
Mookie skied on her heels down to the bottom of the gully. Brianna hadn't seemed to notice her in one of her countless attempts out of the hole.; she suddenly swerved and locked the brakes.
Mookie trotted up to the driver's side , all smiles. "Hey girl!! What'cha up to?"
Brianna began to smile, then remembered how angry she was. "I was escaping, then I fell in this sand pit. Tell me something, do you believe in God?"
"So do I, and I hate him." She got out of the truck and screamed at the sky, "You hear me, God? I fucking hate you! All the things You made, and you had to make sand! My whole life has been surrounded by sand! Fuck you God, and fuck your sand! And you wanna make sure it's all I'll ever see! I go to my so-called home and I'm surrounded by goddamn sand! I try to escape, you use wind so I end up surrounded by fucking sand! Fuck you! Fuck you!!"
She fell to her knees and looked up at Mookie, a hollow-eyed look. "I hit my dad with a shovel so I could steal his truck and his wallet. They're probably all saying I'm crazy right now."
Mookie knelt in front of her and said, "They're all just worried about you and scared for you."
"How's my dad?"
"Umm.... In the hospital."
"Shit. I am crazy. Normal people don't hurt people they love. I hate being crazy," said Brianna.
Her voice began to quaver. "Nothing seems right, like when i hear things that I know aren't there, and sometimes I feel like the ground isn't there when I walk. But it's the sounds. almost like voices, like people muttering in another room. I look for them late at night because I know I'll catch them but I can't so I sleep in the yard to get away from them and I know I can't tell anyone.."
"Why can't you tell them, Brianna? "
"'Cos if I tell them ---" her voice was taking on a regressive quality "--- they'll lock me up like they did my mom. Everyone said she was crazy too. Maybe if I pretend hard enough I won't be crazy. I just have to.... not be crazy, see? I wanna hide under my bed until I feel good again."
Mookie felt as if she was standing in one of the sub-wings of hell. She could hear the wind screaming over her head, trapped in a sand-pit, her only company a mired truck and a mentally-ill teenage girl who seemed to be becoming more childlike as they talked.
"Brianna, are you hungry? I have some sandwiches and potato salad up in Chet's truck. Does that sound okay?"
"Yes please. I ate.... Sometime this morning, so I should eat, huh? Before I started driving, I know that." She grabbed Mookie's arm. "You're not leaving me, are you? You'll come back and be with me? It's lonely down here."
"I'm not gonna leave you. You're my friend, right? So I won't leave you. I just have to climb that hill over there."
"Mookie? Will you hug me before you go?"
Mookie hugged her tightly. Then she said, "You have to promise me you won't do anything bad while I'm gone. You won't try to hurt yourself. Do you know what I mean?"
"I'll just wait for you in the truck, 'kay? I wish I had something to play with, though."
"Barbies. Barbies are cool, and I can have them play out stories."
"I wish I had a couple Barbies for you, Brianna. You just wait in the truck and I'll be back with sandwiches in a few minutes."
Mookie splayed her feet and began trudging up the hill spending time on her hands and feet in an effort to make any distance at all. When her head cleared the crest she was nearly knocked back down the hill. The timing had been right for her to catch a cyclone-like blast of wind. She literally crawled the last ten feet, then leaned into the wind to get to the truck. She struggled in and reached for the cooler.
Mookie was trying to control her temper. "Chet, how long have you known Brianna has mental illness problems? Just outta curiosity, ya know?"
Chet sank in his seat. He rubbed his face, which suddenly portrayed exhaustion. "Since she was twelve, I guess, " he said quietly. Is she hearing the voices?"
"No, she told me about them, though. And right now I'm talking to a fairly young girl who doesn't want to be taken away. I kind of wish I knew about all this before we started, though. Gosh, maybe someone could have mentioned I'll be dealing with someone who has majorly delusional episodes. Definitely puts a whole new spin on the evening!"
"How the hell was I supposed to tell you!? 'By the way, this is Roger's daughter, and she has episodes of being shithouse crazy'?" Chet stared out the windscreen and said, "If nothing else, this makes getting her home easier. Right now she doesn't know how she got out here, and believe it or not, when she goes into the childlike states, she actually forgets how to drive."
"And how about tomorrow? And next week, and next month?"
"I. Don't. Know. I wish I did. We all do."
Mookie sighed and grabbed a couple sandwiches and a soda for Brianna. She looked behind her and saw one of the Road Angels approaching, its spotlight trained on the Chevy. She jumped out, telling Chet, "I'm sorry for bracing you like that. I'm gonna go bring Brianna her sandwiches. I'll ride up with her. Her and me get along great... I'm not sure what that says about my own personality."
The Road Angel had Chet move forward about fifty feet so he'd have room to move, then began walking the cable down the side of the gully to the truck. After getting it attached, he walked back up --- using the cable to assist himself --- and hit the button, The cable took up slack and the truck began to crawl up the hillside. Brianna had moved to the passenger side and was watching out the window like she was on a Disney ride.
"Where are we going now?" asked Brianna.
"We're gonna head home. I'm tired, aren't you tired?"
"But it's scary at home," said Brianna with a whimper.
"Don't worry," said Mookie. "Nothing scary is gonna be around me. I have my whip, and I can run off anything scary. Do you have anything to get rid of scary things?"
"I took my grampa's gun in case anyone tried to hurt me."
"Cool. Can I carry it? I've spent a lot of time around guns, and I'll be able to use it better. Between the whip and the gun, we're completely safe from anything."
"I swear. Nothing can hurt us or scare us at home, at all. I can totally protect us." Brianna reached in her purse and handed over the revolver as if it was a spare stick of gum. In her current state, it held no meaning to her.
Chet's voice called to them on the CB. "I want to stick my head in and see how my brother is doin'. See if the fluid has gone down at all With me?"
"10-4, we're right behind you."