Dashed yellow lines strobe past in my headlights, rolling to the left under the car, dividing the asphalt into neat little lanes. The trees flash by in the darkness, blurred purgatory grey. I pull the Mustang out of my lane, line up those pulsing yellow dashes dead center in my grille. I edge the wheel to the left, back to the right, taunting, teasing. The beltline around Raleigh, North Carolina is desolate at 3 a.m., free of witnesses. White Zombie roars out of the speakers: " . . . eye for an eye and a tooth for the truth . . ." I nose the Mustang past sixty, past seventy, past eighty. Iím all over the road now.
Flashing blue lights appear behind me and I smile.
I slow down and pull over to the shoulder. As I wait for the highway patrolman behind me to get out of his car, I flip open the small panel next to the clutch with the toe of my boot, exposing the red button. I unlock my seatbelt and roll down the window, inhaling all the smells of the night, brought into crystal clarity by the bitter cold.
I watch in the side mirror as the cop slams his car door and lumbers toward me. He walks with authority, his steps stiff, his arms straight down at his sides. He approaches my window with a scowl on his face, apparently annoyed just to be working at this godforsaken hour. The badge on his jacket tells me that his name is Ken Tyler. I grin up at him.
"Yes, officer?" I say in my most innocent voice. "What can I do for you?"
The outline of a bulletproof vest stretches out the copís thin jacket, but it wonít save him tonight. "Sir, place both your hands on the steering wheel," he says in a rumbling tone. I do so, with a hearty slap of meat on vinyl. "Do you have any idea how fast you were going back there?"
"I had you clocked at eighty-two. Thatís twenty-seven over the speed limit. Where were you going to in such a hurry, sir?"
"Nowhere in particular. Just out for a drive."
The cop fills my window; his breathing steams in the night air, vanishing as it crosses the threshold into my car.
"License and registration please."
When I lean over to open the glove compartment, I stomp the red button on the floorboard. I dive to the floor of the car, bruising my ribcage against the steering wheel, and cover my head with my arms. Thereís a loud pop, and the car rocks to the right. The shaped charges inside the driverís side door force the explosion outward, but I hug the floor mats anyway; shrapnel sometimes has a funny way of going where it wants. I go deaf briefly, then a harsh ringing starts in my ears.
I count to ten, sit up and look outside. The large policeman is lying halfway on the road in a spreading pool of his own blood, his legs mutilated, his chest a large red splotch. I open the car door and walk over to the cop. His gun is still in its holster, forgotten.
The copís wide eyes quiver in their sockets and I can hear him whispering the same word over and over: why? The same question asked by the soldiers in Vietnam and Iraq barely old enough to be considered men, the children of Hiroshima blinded and scarred by the chain-reaction of justice, the Anasazi in New Mexico right before they vanished from the Earth forever.
"You were dead already, Officer Tyler," I whisper. "I was just making the transaction complete."
The cop snuffles loudly as fat tears trail down his cheeks to pool in his ears. They leave streaks through the blood spattered across his face.
"You were supposed to die two months ago, in that tractor trailer explosion, remember? Your partner died instead. It wasnít supposed to happen that way. You skipped work that day so you could have sex with your girlfriend, and Morris had to go on patrol in your place. He wasnít scheduled to die for another ten years. You upset the balance."
"Morris?" the cop mumbles. "Whoís Morris?"
The cop is delirious; he doesnít have much longer. I need to speed things along, make him understand before the crunch comes. "When the universal balance is upset," I say, "I come along to set things right. I canít bring back your partner, but I can send you to join him."
The cop whispers something, blood bubbling through his lips, and I bend down to hear better. "Who are you?"
I smile. "Iím a symmeter, a slave to Fate. I balance the scales, equalize the equation."
Officer Tylerís eyes glaze over and he exhales slowly. He doesnít inhale again.
I shiver as the LifeWeb trembles, adjusts, evens out, balances. The high is ephemeral and fleeting, but stronger than the purest cut heroin. My exhale comes out in a shudder as it passes.
I stand back up and survey the damage done to my car door; the micro-explosion of shrapnel has produced a ragged hole three feet in diameter, revealing bare frame underneath. Itís amazing what you can get in a hardware store.
I get back in the Mustang and head for home.