Trooper Todd Riker held the cruiser's speed to the maximum the banked curve would permit. He counter steered to adjust for the slight side skid. The big engine moaned as he accelerated into the long straight that would take him across the river into Jackson County. The electronic siren screamed its warning at the stolid farmhouses and pastoral meadows.
He visualized the twilight road ahead of the Trans Am that he was steadily gaining on. Unless the driver was practiced at pursuit speeds, the trooper would be close enough to read the tag in the next few minutes. He would wait until then to call it in.
Now the two-lane highway swooped low through heavily wooded bottomland. The subdued lighting here magnified the glare of the Pontiac's brake lights as the driver slowed for the next set of curves.
Riker's wife would be looking at the clock above the stove. Supper would be cold--again. By the time he finished with the arrest, she would be worried. He reached for the radio, thinking to have the dispatcher call his home, when he realized he was losing ground. The Trans Am was out of the curves and already across the bridge. Both hands on the wheel now, he coaxed the big Ford on, wondering just who it was that he chased. None of the locals could drive like that.
Nothing mattered now but the driving. Calling on his experience, he concentrated and drove. Precision and safety at high speed demanded that he make the innumerable mental adjustments before the critical physical adjustments were implemented. At such speeds, there was no present--only the immediate future. Gone were the flashing thoughts of home and family. Even duty and purpose were left behind as his efforts funneled to a pinpoint of focused driving.
But still, all he could manage was to maintain the two hundred yard distance. That reality broke through as he screamed into the unforgiving curve that swept too sharply to the right just before the straight stretch that would take him by Anderson's farm and on into the foothills of Colter's Mountain. They were averaging about one hundred ten now--much faster than prudence deemed appropriate. The light was almost gone. Farmers' pickups and tractors would be exiting the fields, headed home. As much as he hated to let the violator go, perhaps he should.
Just then, the Trans Am slowed. The officer gained rapidly--so rapidly that he had to brake hard to avoid a rear-end collision. Now they were down to about forty-five miles per hour. Was he going to pull over?
A slender arm came out the driver's window, and Todd saw the lace at the cuff. A girl? He had been almost out driven by a girl?
Unbelievably, she seemed to be signaling for a left turn. But there was no left turn, unless she planned to take the long driveway to the Anderson place. No, she was accelerating again, pulling away despite the best efforts of the cruiser. She put distance between them faster than seemed possible. Then she was gone, lost somewhere ahead in the serpentine curves of Colter's Mountain.
He called in the description and tag number hoping that perhaps a Jackson deputy might be in position to intercept her. But he saw or heard no more of the Pontiac that night.
Two days later, after having obtained vehicle ownership information from DMV files, Todd Riker pulled into Elmview Mobile Home Park located in Stormville just off Route 60. He scanned the rows of trailers looking for number thirty-eight. The Trans Am was parked out front.
The clean white of the blue-trimmed home had a certain brightness to it that made it seem out of place in a trailer park. The red and yellow of daffodils and tulips greeted him along both sides of the brick sidewalk that led to the front door.
A sad-faced woman past middle age answered his knock. Her greeting was, "He ain't here. What's he done?"
"I'm Trooper Riker. Where is Tommy Carter? I know that's his car."
A dark haired girl about twenty years old stepped into his vision, apparently coming from the kitchen. She carried a diapered, applesauce-smeared infant in the crook of one arm. "What's wrong, Mama? Is Tommy all right?"
"I don't know, Caitlin. He ain't said yet." Then, "I'm Tommy's mother. This is Caitlin, Tommy's wife."
The first thing one noticed about Caitlin Carter was her eyes. They were big, black, round, and glistened under impossibly long lashes. She was too slight of form for such eyes.
Todd looked past the mother to address the wife. "Caitlin, were you driving that Trans Am north out of Grafton on the valley road Tuesday night, about seven?"
"Then who was? I chased somebody driving that car for nearly eight miles."
The older Mrs. Carter interrupted. "Tommy's in jail over in Jackson. And I can vouch for Caitlin. Tommy's car ain't moved since they picked him up last Saturday. You must have seen a car like his."
"I know what I saw. Somebody had better tell me the truth."
"We are telling the truth," Caitlin said. "The car has been right here." The big eyes flared.
He stepped through the doorway toward her, offering his card. At his appraoch, the baby turned its face into Caitlin's black hair. "Call me at the Grafton Highway Patrol office when you've had time to think about it. I strongly suggest you think carefully. One more thing. Do you know Albrt Anderson?"
He had been lied to often enough that he could recognize it when it occurred. This didn't seem to be on of those occasions. As he drove back to Grafton, Todd ran the facts through his mind. Something was missing. The car was registered to Tommy Carter. Caitlin Carter certainly didn't fit his idea of an expert high-speed driver. But the driver had been female, or at least it was a female hand and arm he had seen pointing toward the Anderson home. Maybe Caitlin had been a passenger, and her leaning across the driver's field of view to put her arm out the window had caused the driver to slow. He would check with the Jackson authorities to see if Tommy Carter was indeed being held there Tuesday night.
Todd waited for the light at Main and Fifth. The smell of new-mown grass wafted to him through the open window. The low angle of the evening sun put a glare on his windshield and reminded him of the long night ahead. It seemed that the older he got, the less he liked the evening shift.
The light changed and he started forward, intending to turn south on Main Street. The black Trans Am came from nowhere, ran the light, and nearly struck the front of the police car. This time he saw her--Caitlin Carter was driving and there was no one else in the car. She turned her face toward him and he saw those big black eyes. Oddly, in that split second of eye contact, he saw a calmness in her pale face thad didn't fit the situation. By the time he activated his lights and siren, the Pontiac was two blocks ahead, headed out of town on the valley road.
He kept her in sight as he closed the distance. Again, their speeds exceeded one hundred miles per hour. If not for the danger to her, he could admire her ability.
This time he would stop her. He radioed ahead and learned that the day-shift Jackson trooper was still on duty, as were two deputies. They were dispatched toward their side of Colter's Mountain, just in case he couldn't catch her before she got that far.
Caitlin devoured the miles of sun-warmed blacktop, making not a single error in judgment that might have slowed her progress. Coming out of the deceptive turn approaching Anderson's farm, she slowed, just like before. Todd halfway anticipated the action and was ready. He changed to the left lane, intending to position himself in front of her for an easy stop. As he went around, the hand came out, pointing. He risked a glance toward Anderson's house. He saw nothing--only the little Anderson girl on a tricycle in the drive.
Now he was in front. In his rearview mirror, he saw Caitlin swerving back and forth, trying to pass. He matched her moves, blocking her, simultaneously slowing. He had her this time.
An approaching truck forced him fully into the right lane, but he knew Caitlin would have to also get over to that side. As the truck rumbled by, he checked his mirror. He saw the rear of the truck, its black exhaust, but that was all. The Pontiac had vanished.
In a move learned at the academy and utilized countless times since, he stomped the emergency brake, locking the rear wheels. He cut the steering wheel sharply to the left, effectively swinging the cruiser 180 degrees. Now the rear tires were smoking as he accelerated back toward town. As he passed the Anderson place, his lights and siren still alive, the child on the trike was pedaling away from the highway. Albert shouldn't let her play so close to the road.
The heavier traffic near town slowed him. How Caitlin escaped him, he had not the slightest idea. But this time she would explain. He would stop at the magistrate's office for the warrant, go to Stormville and serve it. Big eyes or not, Caitlin Carter was going to jail.
But not tonight. His plans were changed when he received a call to telephone his office. The sheriff's department needed help with a search warrant on the other end of the county. Caitlin would have to wait.
The next evening after obtaining warrants for reckless driving and failing to stop for a police officer, Todd headed to Stormville. As he pulled into the trailer park, the Trans Am was pulling out. A beareded young man was driving, probably Tommy Carter. Caitlin sat on the front passenger seat. She met his eyes, but she no emotion or conern. He turned.
At first, he thought Tommy was going to pull over. The brake lights came on and the car edged toward the shoulder, but then he apparently changed his mind. White smoke from the screaming tires drifted across the cruiser's windshield. The chase was on again.
It seemed to Todd that he should not push too hard. Although he had probable cause to arrest both occupants, he knew who they were and where to find them. He could always pick them up at home later. But what if they were leaving for good? What if Caitlin and told Tommy about the two previous incidents and they had decided to flee?
So, he put himself fully into the pursuit. Again, he called ahead. This time they would have to pass through Grafton, and the town police would be waiting.
That was not to be. Tommy took a side road to bypass town. Part of the route was unpaved and Todd had to reduce speed to safely penetrate the blinding screen of dust kicked up by the Pontiac. When he came out on the valley road, Tomy and Caitlin were almost a quarter of a mile ahead.
The long straight before the curves gave him time to think. He considered his two previous attempts to stop the Pontiac. He didn't want to be eluded again. There had to be something he was missing--something they knew that he didn't.
A butterfly spent its pale yellow life upon his windshield, and suddenly he knew. He didn't have time to examine how such a thing could occur. He pushed the Ford into the curves harder than he ever had. Colter's Mountain loomed ahead, monstrous in the dying summer light. The Pontiac, rock steady at one hundred ten miles per hour, let him by. He looked at his speedometer. One hundred and thirty. He would barely have time. One more curve.
The Ford skidded slightly sideways in that curve, but he brought it back, caressing the wheel, feeling the radials respond, and sensing the weight shift. Now the brakes. He hit them hard and slid toward the left shoulder. Before the car stopped rocking, he was out and running.
He heard the Pontiac behind him, screeching through the curve. He swept Amy Anderson off her trycycle and leaped for the ditch, rolling heavily over her in the weeds. The trycycle flattened against the front of the Pontiac.
Tommy didn't make the next curve. He slid sideways, passenger side first, off the road and into an oak.
Todd pulled him out through the opening left by the windshield. Tommy groaned. He would live.
Now to Caitlin. The big eyes were open but the black light had faded.
Todd Riker made a sunshade out of his hand as he steered the cruiser into the Anderson driveway. Albert stepped off the porch to greet him. Amy, who had been riding her bicycle up and down the sidewalk, let if fall as she ran toward the police car that was being swallowed by the dust it had disturbed.
He lifted and hugged the child as he had done every week for the past year. He shook hands with her father.
"Growing pretty fast, Albert. She's going to be a beauty."
"She wouldn't be here at all if not for you. Someday I hope you'll tell me how you knew."
"I've told you a dozen times," Todd said. "A ghost pointed me in the right direction."