“He hurt me! I can’t believe he hurt me!”
Yeah, well, believe it, Lisa Meyer thought, as Vikki blubbered in the passenger seat of the Dennis family’s brand new Jeep. Vikki was still cradling her arm, which seemed, at various times, to be hurting in different places. Drama queen, Lisa thought. Lisa had no patience for drama, at least not for the manufactured, adolescent kind. This moment was fraught with plenty of drama all by itself. It was all she could do to focus on the task at hand.
She knew it must be David’s car directly behind her, driving erratically. He knew his way around the maze of Bel Air better than she did, and he would have caught up with them by now if Lisa hadn’t ignored every stop sign in Bel Air and sped like a maniac. She also knew, sooner or later, that whether David caught up with them, or whether she rolled the Jeep through careless and reckless driving, both she and Vikki would end up just as dead.
Vikki, on the other hand, didn’t seem to know much of anything beyond her own pain. “Why did he hurt me? Why?” she moaned in anguish for the umpteenth time. That proved to be the final straw for a harried Lisa, who had just skidded over a curb and almost popped a tire in an attempt to avoid a jogger.
“Look, will you shut up?” Lisa yelled. “I’m trying to drive here!”
Vikki recoiled as if she’d been slugged in the stomach. She drew in a sharp breath and then turned her head histrionically, refusing to bear any further indignity.
Fine. The Queen of Sheba can hate me all she wants, Lisa thought. Just as longs as she lets me drive.
David’s car was never quite able to overtake them, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. He got close enough at one point to nudge their bumper, which threw Vikki into a loud paroxysm of panic.
“Shut up, already!” Lisa barked. Now David was trying to pass them on the left, and the road was barely wide enough to accommodate a single car, let alone both. As the road narrowed quickly, David swerved his car hard enough that he would have hit them if Lisa hadn’t punched the gas going into a sharp right turn. She took out a mailbox on the corner, but she was now a car length or two ahead of him. Except the mailbox collision had made Vikki squeal again, and Lisa would have hit her if she hadn’t been clutching the steering wheel for dear life.
There was another car ahead of her, which she managed to pass on the left, barely, and sped on ahead. David’s car came slamming into the other car and sent it fishtailing off to the side of the road. David’s bulky Buick weathered the blow, but it had lost a few seconds, which allowed the Jeep enough time to turn the corner without being seen. Any moment now, he would come bearing down on Lisa, who now faced a terrifying, split second decision.
The Jeep was careening toward the south Bel Air gate, which emptied out directly on to Sunset Boulevard. Sunset, as was to be expected on a Friday night, was a bumper-to-bumper barrier of automobiles, and, at the speed she was going, there was no way she could merge into the traffic without plowing into the side of a solid wall of cars.
I can’t do that, Lisa thought. Even if I could get in somehow, he’d expect it.
What wouldn’t he expect?
Knowing she had no other choice, she made an impossible left, turn, tires screeching, directly into the oncoming traffic, at a tight enough angle that she found herself driving on the grassy shoulder and praying that David wouldn’t be able to follow. She miraculously avoided a head-on collision, but they only made it about half a mile up the embankment before the Jeep rolled over and hit a tree. Thankfully, the front of the car took most of the blow, and, while the girls were now upside down and Vikki was out of her wits, their seat belts had kept them relatively unscathed. Lisa had the presence of mind to look behind them.
David’s Buick was nowhere to be seen.
“Come on!” she urged Vikki, as she fumbled around to release her belt. She didn’t know how much time her little stunt had bought them, but she sure wasn’t about to waste any of it. Vikki was screaming louder than ever, her sobs punctuated by tiny squeaks in between breaths. Lisa was somehow able to block it out as she reached over her shrieking banshee companion to pry open her door, which she had to kick with all her might to get it fully ajar. Then she crawled over Vikki and, fumbling to unbuckle her seat belt, too, managed to release her and pull her out of the car onto the grass.
“My arm!” Vikki’s volume had gone down, but she had lost none of her intensity. She was crying real tears now, Lisa knew. But she didn’t have time to care.
“Can you walk?” Lisa demanded to know.
“I’m not talking about your arm. Can you walk?”
Vikki’s face was a mess of tears, spittle and mucous. She was incoherent. Lisa dragged her to her feet and draped Vikki’s good arm over the back of her shoulders.
She suddenly heard horns honking wildly, and she had a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach that they were signaling the approach of two more headlights plowing up the side of the embankment.
If they stayed here, David would get them.
Lisa and Vikki ran into the slow-moving traffic and managed to cross Sunset between the cars. When they got to the other side, Lisa looked back and expected to see David Chakiris’ eyes blazing with fury in the reflection of the oncoming headlights.
He wasn’t there. But Lisa knew he would be, soon.
With Vikki in tow, she scurried toward the lights of the UCLA campus, running through the landscape and staying off the road. I want to live, she told herself. That’s not what David wants.
That thought kept her focused as she forged ahead.
“So the real question is – what are you going to do now?” Walthius asked. They were marginally closer to the freeway, but Jeff was sure they’d have been there sooner if Walthius hadn’t decided to take a shortcut up to Wilshire Boulevard, which was, if anything, even busier than Santa Monica.
“I’m not going to get home anytime soon, that’s for sure.”
“I’m serious,” Walthius said.
“Yeah. So am I.”
“Ha ha.” Then, in a voice of concern, Walthius asked, “You gonna to tell your parents, then?”
Jeff shrugged. “I don’t know. I haven’t figured it out yet.”
“You’ve got a lot of options, you know,” Walthius offered. “You could sign up for the NBA.”
“What?” said Walthius.
“You don’t just sign up for the NBA.”
“Stop and think for a second,” Walthius countered. “I don’t know basketball, but I’m pretty sure if you show up at a Lakers game and fly the ball down the court without dribbling once, they’ll sign you up pretty quick.”
Jeff considered this and then asked “Why basketball? Why not football? Or baseball? Lots of interest in baseball.” His voice wandered off at the last sentence as he started looking around the back seat. He was starting to get hungry.
“Lot of cash in baseball, too,” Walthius agreed. “And you’d save a lot of money on steroids.”
“Good to know,” Jeff said as he scoured the floor to find any more food. He struck gold, or, at least, green. There were two more Granny Smith apples in a plastic grocery bag.
“You going to eat these?” Jeff asked, apple in hand.
Jeff took a bite of an apple and looked out the window. Baseball. I could be a baseball star. Or football. And I wouldn’t even have to go pro. I could be a Topanga Titan and consign Stallion Cornell to the second string, both on and off the field.
He felt a rush of wild excitement as he dared to name his deepest desire.
I could date Vikki Dennis.
All of a sudden, this was getting good.
“Nah, it’s no good,” Walthius said.
Jeff chuckled and took a bite of his apple. “No good, huh?” he said, not convinced. “And why not?”
“It’s the Peter Parker temptation,” Walthius said simply, and Jeff, like any comic book aficionado, knew exactly what he was talking about. Spider-Man had started out trying to get rich, but after his selfish behavior led to the death of his uncle, he decided that he had to use his powers for the greater good.
“With great power comes great responsibility,” Jeff quoted.
“Look to the classics, my friend.”
Yeah, great, Jeff thought.
Except Peter Parker had never met Vikki Dennis.
David surveyed the wreckage of the Jeep, but he knew even before he looked that the girls had escaped. He thought, for a moment, that they might have tried heading up toward the Sunset Strip, but they would have had too far to travel. That would have made them easy targets. That might have been what Vikki would have done, but the little blonde girl was smarter than that. It had already taken him at least five minutes to figure out that Lisa had made a crazy left turn. Smart girl. He found himself, in the midst of his wrath, filled with admiration for her.
That would make her death even more satisfying.
He looked across the street, which is where he was certain the girls had gone. How long a head start did they have? How soon before they were out of his reach? Best not to take any more chances.
As soon as he decided on his dark purpose, his hand swelled out to meet the task it had been given. Without thinking, he grabbed one of the slow moving cars and flung it out of the way, end over end, as if it had been a Matchbox toy. That got him out on the street, into the first lane. He yanked another car out of the second lane and pitched in into the opposite direction. Four more lanes of Sunset, four more cars. Two flung left, two flung right. He cut through the traffic like a knife through butter, leaving another scene of automotive carnage in his wake.
There, he said to himself as he reached the other side and smelled the smoke rising from the wreckage behind him. He watched his hand shrink again, its task completed.
That ought to make up some lost time.
“Well, then what about your civic duty?” Walthius asked.
Why does he care so much? Jeff thought to himself. He picked a piece of apple out of his front teeth. “I didn’t know I had a civic duty,” was Jeff’s answer. As far as he was concerned, the conversation was essentially over. He wondered if it was typical for teenage boys to plan their own weddings. He didn’t care about the caterer or the guest list – Vikki could pick the colors and everything, but, still, he wanted to have the ceremony outdoors, early summer, maybe late spring…
“Of course you have a civic duty,” Walthius said. “Think about it. Some fanatics got a hold of some hostages? People hijacking planes or blowing things up? You’ll have all the bad guys on the White House lawn in twenty minutes, and you let the Secret Service have a go at them.”
Jeff raised his eyebrows. This made sense. And it was helpful besides. No doubt about it. Maybe he could squeeze some heroing in while Vikki was off working – she’ll be all the more impressed when he got back…
“You like that, huh?” Walthius asked. “And I’ll bet the reward money would be pretty sweet.”
Why does he keep talking about money? Of course Vikki would be impressed by that, too, Jeff thought. Power. Money. Either one alone would be helpful. Together, he’d get the girl for sure.
As a dreamy smile crept over his face, he looked over and saw Walthius shaking his head.
“Don’t even think about it,” Walthius scolded.
“What?” Jeff protested. “You just told me to think about it!”
“You’re not thinking about it the right way.”
“You don’t know what way I’m thinking about it!”
“You think Steve Rogers would do it like that? That he’d be willing to be a government stooge the rest of his life?”
Again with the comic books, Jeff thought, exasperated. Steve Rogers had volunteered for an experimental super soldier serum and became Captain America. At the end of World War II, he was frozen in an iceberg and, after being de-thawed, went on to fight crime freelance, including battles, at times, with his own corrupt government.
Jeff took a leisurely bite of his apple. “Steve Rogers doesn’t exist, Walthius.”
“You know what I mean.”
“Sure,” Jeff said, humoring him, realizing that all this thinking about Vikki Dennis might require him to freeze himself in an iceberg before too long.
Not enough people were on the UCLA campus on a Friday night, Lisa thought. A crowd was the only way to hide. Either that, or a building. Except none of the buildings were open this long after dark.
They were moving much more quickly now since Vikki had picked up the pace and toned down the weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. It was probably because her arm, which had no doubt been at least bruised in the fall back at David’s house, was now seriously broken and misshapen. She was in real pain, and she couldn’t afford the energy to sustain her previous performance.
“Just a little farther,” Lisa implored, even though Vikki’s stride was longer than Lisa’s, and the shorter girl had to scramble to keep up.
Yet Vikki’s eyes were starting to glaze over. I’ve got to keep her moving, Lisa thought. She’s going into shock.
“How… how much farther?” Vikki asked, her voice tiny.
“Just until we can get to the village,” Lisa said. “It’s our best chance.”
“Westwood Village?” There was a note of muted panic in her voice. She thinks it’s too far, Lisa thought. And she’s probably right.
“It’s the only place where we can find a crowd of people,” Lisa reassured her, trying to sound as soothing as possible.
“This sucks,” Vikki sulked.
Lisa nodded. “It sucks big time,” she said, all the while trudging forward.
“I’m warning you. You simply cannot be in this for the money!” Walthius scolded.
Jeff was almost done with the apple. “And why not?” he said languidly, tossing the core to the floor of the car. Vikki wouldn’t tolerate this kind of slovenliness after the wedding. Oh, Vikki, Jeff thought. Don’t try to change me, baby.
He sniffed again.
“I said what!”
“I think you know.”
“Just for the sake of argument,” Jeff said, “pretend that I don’t.”
“Money will destroy you if you go down that road. Peter Parker learned that on his first day.”
“There’s no such thing as – “
“Right. I know. ‘No such thing as Peter Parker.’ But you were the one who quoted him.”
“ ‘Cause you’re the one who seems to think there’s a reason for everything,” Jeff said.
“Well, who gets to decide what the reason is?” Jeff was agitated now. He wasn’t about to let Walthius become the homewrecker of a perfectly good fantasy. “Why do I have to be the role model who fights badness all the time? What if I choose to be a, a – football star, or something? What if that’s how I want it?”
Walthius thought for a moment.
“You are here for a reason,” Walthius said, “and I don’t know what it is, exactly, but I do know this much: it’s not to score touchdowns.”
“Glenn Ford,” Jeff noted, recognizing the reference. “Pa Kent. Superman: The Movie. 1978.”
“Good job,” Walthius said.
Jeff scoffed at him. “I passed again, did I?”
“I didn’t say that,” Walthius said, scowling. “You’ve still got a long way to go.”
The girls passed a handful of people along the way, and none of them volunteered to help them, despite the fact that Vikki clearly needed medical attention. She was starting to weigh heavily on Lisa’s tiny frame, and Lisa wasn’t sure how much longer they could maintain forward motion. They were passing rows of well-lit apartments, which was not, in Lisa’s mind, a good thing. It made them more visible then when they had walked past the dimly lit running track. Lisa would have stopped to rest, except she knew that Vikki was being propelled by pure inertia now. If they stopped, she would pass out, and this would all be over.
Lisa kept scanning behind her, praying not to catch a glimpse of David, or, at the very least, to see him before he saw her. She did her best to stick to the shadows. Part of her brain was telling her that surely they were safe, that David had lost their trail and given up.
Her gut told her otherwise, so they kept moving forward toward Westwood Village.
“He hurt me,” Vikki muttered to no one in particular, no inflection in her voice. She was on autopilot now.
“I know, honey,” Lisa said, sympathetic for the first time. “He hurt a lot of people.” And he’s far from being done.