There weren't supposed to be any hills in Nebraska. That's why he came this way.
Killian stomped on the gas pedal and the engine revved like a race car, but the power never reached the wheels. Momentum alone kept him moving towards the top of the steep hill while gravity relentlessly dragged at the back bumper. He didn't think old Rosie the Rambler could scale this one.
And just to make certain Killian knew that all the world and God stood against him tonight, lightning flashed almost directly overhead. Thunder rolled through the air, and a wind gust sent dirt and twigs rushing ahead of the car. Everything moved faster than him tonight.
Row upon row of corn stretched out on both sides of the road. Caught in the car's lights, the stalks moved back and forth like demented stick men drawings come to life.
By some miracle, Rosie reached the crest a moment later, but in the next flash of lightning he saw an even higher hill ahead of him -- just before the rain began to fall in torrents. He would never make the top of that one, even with a good run at it.
Maybe he would get struck by lightning and he wouldn't have to go the rest of the way to Chicago and work for KKGO -- The television station on the Go! -- as their third shift news commentator. Maybe fate, God and Rosie the Rambler were all conspiring to keep him from the damned job.
Lightning branched through the sky from east to west in a continuous line across the horizon. His breath caught at the sight. Lightning flashed again over the hill that trapped him here --
Gas station sign.
"Holy shit, Batman! We're saved!"
The glowing neon sign sat just a little off the road between the hill he was on and the taller one ahead. He marked the spot and stomped down on the gas pedal. The car inched forward. He didn't worry about being hit. The last car he'd seen had been a black Corvette heading like a bat out of hell in the opposite direction. Probably an omen and he'd been too stupid to read the signs.
The car crested the top and started down the hill. And damn they were moving fast! He turned on the windshield wipers, for what little good they did in this deluge. At the bottom of the hill he turned the car sharply to the left by a sign that read 'Welcome to something and onto the side road. He could see the gas station on the right, the glowing red Quickshop sign above a doorway looking like the gates to heaven tonight.
Rosie coasted to the edge of the sloped driveway. Knowing he wouldn't make even that small incline at this speed, Killian pulled off to the side, miring the car in mud and weeds. She'd gotten him this far, and he could walk the last half block to the entrance.
Killian leaned over to the backseat, pulling his hooded jacket out of the debris of food wrappers and discarded maps. Then, looking at the upward curve of the driveway, and considering the wind and rain, he wrestled his cane out as well. No use taking any chances.
The cane turned out to be a really good idea. The asphalt from the street to the gas pumps looked like the cratered field in a war zone; potholes nearly put him down three times. Someone hurried out of the building and into a car, driving away in a splash of puddles.
He had feared for a moment that the place was closing, but reaching the pumps he could finally see two people inside -- and hell, one of them was even a cop! He spotted the police car parked beside building next to what might be a an ancient Gremlin.
If not the gates of heaven, he had at least reached help. And it included a coffee dispenser at the wall opposite the door. The thought of even bad hot coffee appealed to him right now. Killian hurried across the last few steps and pushed open the door to a flood of air-conditioned and coffee-scented air.
The tall, lank clerk barely glanced in his direction before turning back to the shorter, dark-haired cop who leaned against the counter.
"No, I can't do that, Tom," the clerk said shaking his head. "I did that with Angela. It has to be unique for George. Strange. Different."
"That's your problem, Don," the cop answered. "Maybe you should try for something less exotic this time."
Killian went past the two, glad to have a chance to reach the coffee first. The cop didn't look likely to go charging off at any moment, at least.
"Oh yeah. That's easy for you to say," the clerk answered, sounding desperate. "You don't have another five people to kill."
Killian, a Styrofoam cup in hand, stopped and looked at the clerk. He must have misheard. Killian purposely turned away and poured the coffee, putting the lid over the top before he started back to the register.
The cop leaned on the counter shaking his head. "You're running out of time."
"I know I'm running out of time! I've managed three unique murders already. They really can't expect more from me!"
"You took the money. You could try giving it back."
"You know I can't. And what would I do if I could? I'd have to change my name and start over, if I could even get a contract like this again. No. I have to come up with a way to kill him!"
Killian took a step backward, but the clerk looked up, suddenly startled as though he hadn't even seen Killian walk in. "Oh! Sorry, I thought you were in a snit when you came in!"
The cop slowly turned around. Killian didn't think he could get past both of them.
"You didn't drive up. Let me guess." The cop shook his head as he looked out at the storm. "Car problems? Always happens on nights like this, doesn't it?"
Words didn't want to slip past Killian's lips. He forced sounds out, trying to calm the wild speculation rushing through his head. At least he had the cane for whatever protection it might be. "Ah. Yeah. Car problems. I coasted as far as the drive."
"You're lucky you made it here. There's nothing else open in this area for another fifty or sixty miles." The cop sounded normal. Killian convinced himself that he must have misheard something. "I'm about to make my midnight run into town, so I can give you a lift to Prince's place. He's our town mechanic. Unless Alicia rousted him, he's probably still working at the garage. If not, we'll figure something out."
"I'd be grateful," Killian said. He felt numb and cold. He put the coffee on the counter and reached for his wallet.
"On me," Don the cleark said, waving him away. "Just go with Tom. He'll take care of you."
Not exactly the words he really wanted to hear just then, but he nodded his thanks.
"I'm Tom Nullin," the cop said, holding out his hand.
"Killian Fox," he answered automatically and shook hands.
"Wow. Great name," Don said. He grabbed a small battered notebook from under the counter and flipped it open. "How do you spell that? Two l's? Two x's?"
"Two l's, one x," he said, wishing the man hadn't gone odd again, and wasn't writing his name in a book.
Tom grabbed his hat from the counter and went to the door. Killian picked up the coffee cup again, holding so tight he felt the to the side start to indent.
"Just relax, Don. You'll figure out how to do it," Tom reassured the man behind the counter as he pushed the door open for Killian.
Don nodded and kept scribbling in the notebook.
"Damn bad night," Tom said as they slipped outside.
Killian, with thoughts about George's murder, looked back at Don. He followed the cop out into the storm, but he couldn't say he had made the better choice.