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"Over The Edge"Excerpt:  Over The Edge

Chapter Two

Ten miles from the Texaco station, Matthew checked his rearview mirror.  Nothing except a gathering storm to the west, chasing him across the plains.  And a growing, frightening awareness.  He had again overreacted, bringing him close, too close, to murder and a new set of nightmares.  Over what?  Two rude country bumpkins pumping gas in the middle of nowhere? 

An uncontrollable and unwelcome tide of anxiety swept through him.  No rhythm, just the erratic gravitational pull from an irrational, evil Asian moon.

Murder in Viet Nam had been part of the job description.  No accountability in war, no penalty.  Hell, killing had become an acceptable and expected response, mandatory for survival, rewarded with continued life.  He swallowed an acid taste, the burning sensation sinking to his gut. 

If he didn’t get his act together soon, he’d end up in jail.  He had to leave the haunting images behind.  That goddamn shrink had warned him, “If I see your ass again, it’s over.”  The other Army doctors had told him time would heal his wounds, diminish his dreams.  Well, how much time?  And what had just happened was no dream.  Jesus, he was shaking now, big time.

Towns named Dunn’s Glen, Mote, and Deeth did little to fill the welcome absence of humanity.  Neither did the barely perceptible climb over the 5,100-foot Galgonda Summit or the drop into the Pumpernickel Valley leading to Elko.  Who the hell had named these places?  Drugs or alcohol must have played a part.  Still, the empty highway and open spaces calmed Matthew.

Downtown Elko.  He slowed.  Available hookers not more than two blocks from the main drag.  Could he still perform?  A whore would have to overlook his embarrassing scars.  Perhaps even pretend he was normal.  Or would even she recoil from his ugly body?  Laugh at his possible impotence?  He accelerated out of town, loving the freedom of driving. 

Imprisoned in a hospital bed, submerged in agony, he had often wondered if he would ever again experience the freedom and ecstasy of high speed.  Choices.  Control.  And here he was.  Too nervous and superstitious to allow complete acceptance of his realized dream.

He hoped he was headed towards something better.  A simplistic ideal.  He wanted to be a whole man again, to look in the mirror without flinching.  Not a man who traded honor and integrity for survival. Who had only questions.  Despite the sensual pleasure of speed, the calming Nevada badlands, and crystal-clean air, he knew self-respect lay at the end of a long and possibly infinite journey.

Matthew felt like a fugitive in his own country.  He had been trapped, forced to fight, engulfed in a disintegration of moral standards by stupid, self-serving politicians and chicken-shit generals.  He no longer asked himself, Why me? 

But was he a danger to society?  Evidently.  He understood his anger, sadness, and loss of self-respect.  They could be internalized.  But the rage and his hard-earned ability to wreak havoc even in his weakened and damaged condition was what frightened him.  How easily he had failed the simplest of tests back at the gas station.  What would happen at the next test?

A Nevada Highway Patrol sedan, heading west, flew past.  Apprehension swept through him as he watched the car shrink towards Elko.  No reason to be concerned, speeding not a problem.  But had Mutt and Jeff made a call to the state police?  If so, the passing cop would have little trouble identifying his silver-blue rocket ship. 

Matthew glued his eyes to the rearview mirror.  Did he see the flash of a red light?  The Corvette jumped to 125.  The demand of high speed cleansed his mind for a moment.  Matthew now had to focus on staying on the blacktop.

The hamlet of Wells, Nevada, rushed into view.  Decision time.  Fly straight down U.S. 40 to Salt Lake or turn north to Twin Falls as planned.  His heart pounded.  Adrenaline flowed from an inexhaustible pool.  He may be flawed and dangerous, but he’d paid too high a price to end up in a cowboy jail this soon.  And the horror of a return to Letterman loomed as great as any nightmare from Viet Nam.  

Easy choice.  Ninety percent of the traffic would head on to Utah.  Matthew braked as hard as he could without screeching.  He didn’t see a soul in Wells.  He made a semicivilized left turn at the deserted crossroad and blasted towards Idaho.  Matthew kept his eyes on the road. 

Wells disappeared as he clung tight to a sweeping curve on the narrow road.  Maybe he had slipped his sports car unnoticed through town.  He glanced as often as possible for the telltale red flash of a pursuing patrol car.  Didn’t matter.  He was now committed to a rapid advance north.

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