We're proud to present “Fix Me” by S.W. Lauden, the first crime fiction selection for The M.O.!
This submission received the most votes from our fantastic shortlist, and while the theme was Long Gone, we're sure you'll enjoy this very-short story here and now!
I can't stop pedaling. That's the thing about fixed gear bikes. If the fixie is moving, my legs are moving. Which is a good thing right now, because this muscle car has been chasing me for miles. He's belching smoke and kicking up dirt just like a charging bull.
Somebody has murder on their mind.
I can feel the heat rising up from his engine every time he gains on me. It's a chilling reminder that I'm totally exposed except for a helmet, hoodie, bike bag and shorts. One wrong move away from becoming another stain on the sun-bleached streets of L.A.
And for what? I pass by that bar almost every night. It's full of day drinkers until sunset when the hipsters arrive, drawn like moths to the cheap poetry of its shabby interior. Tonight, this guy sped from the parking lot without even looking. I had to swerve wide and slalom through oncoming traffic to avoid getting killed.
He was squinting to make sense of the road when I caught up to him at the red light. My legs were pumping as I blew by, kicking his passenger door without slowing down. The loud bang snapped him from his stupor, and he swiveled his head in shock. His engine sputtered and growled when the light turned green. We were off to the races.
My best friend Sam died this way, run down by an angry drunk.
So I keep pedaling until my wheels become a neon blur. I can feel his rage as I flicker in and out of view under the glaring yellow streetlights. The wind stings my eyes, making it hard to see the deathtraps all around.
Thank god I'm in familiar territory. I just have to get across this curving bridge and I'll be in my old neighborhood. I can feel him closing in, but I'm too focused to venture another peek over my shoulder. My body is forward over the handlebars, head low and ass in the air as I hug the sweeping arc of the rail. Speed is my only salvation.
A glowing gas station sign comes into view. Beyond that is a darkened grid of barrio streets that I know like the back of my hand. I can shave a few seconds by cutting through the pumps while he tries to negotiate a snarl of industrial traffic. I just have to put a couple of blocks between us.
I shoot out of the driveway on the other side of the gas station, and my wheels hit an oil slick. Talk about irony. The bike almost slides out from under me, but I squeeze the brakes and skid to correct my course.
My legs are starting to cramp up as I try to make up for lost time. The apartment buildings that line the boulevard are receding now, slowly replaced by razor-wired warehouses. I can hear his car revving in the distance, the guttural roar reflecting off the brick walls all around.
I go right at the next block. The muscle car screeches around the corner and accelerates. One more sharp turn, and the house comes into view, easy to spot because it's alone on the block. This is where Sam and I lived when we first moved to L.A. after college. We could only afford it because the train tracks practically ran through the backyard. There is a tow yard on one side and a mechanic's garage on the other. It isn't Beverly Hills.
With nobody around to call the police, we would have friends over every night of the week. The music blared through our open windows for days on end. It almost seemed like we might never have to grow up. And then Sam never did. She's long gone.
The house is darkened as I roll up, a 'For Rent' sign gently swaying in the yard. I glide into the driveway, dropping the bike and sprinting for the back. The muscle car squeals to a stop out front as I push the gate open. The engine is still running as his footsteps come pounding along the side of the house.
I'm in the farthest corner of the backyard, yanking at the zipper on my bag. The helmet slides from my head and I pull the band from my ponytail. My hair falls across my shoulders and I imagine it twirling like a cape as I spin. He realizes that I'm a girl only seconds before he sees the gun.
“Jesus Christ! Take it easy.”
I want to scream at him, gouge his eyeballs from his bloated face. But I decide that a shy little smile is much more unnerving.
“Just put the gun down and let's figure this out. Like adults.”
He sees that he's made a big mistake and wants to negotiate his way out of it. You know, turn on the fading boyish charm and smooth things over. I'm discovering that this is normal for men of his age.
“You tried to kill me with your car.”
“I wasn't trying to kill anybody. I just wanted to teach you a lesson.”
“Okay. Go ahead.”
“Teach me a lesson. Impress me with your infinite wisdom.”
He tries to laugh, but I know he's only buying time. His hand comes up and he is rubbing at the back of his neck while he strains to think. That last cocktail probably seems like a pretty bad idea right about now.
The thing is, I know what his next move is before he does. I can almost count down the seconds until he tries to act fatherly with me. It pisses me off even more, because he would never try it if I was a guy. Three, two, one…
“Listen, you seem like a nice kid. Nobody has to get hurt. We both made mistakes tonight so let's just forget this whole thing.”
“I didn't make any mistakes.”
“You kicked my car!”
He's spitting the words out through gritted teeth. His patience is wearing thin. This will all be over soon.
“You're lucky I didn't shatter your windshield.”
“Okay. You know what? If you're really gonna shoot me, go ahead.”
His hands are on his hips and he's puffing out his chest, practically daring me.
I squeeze the trigger and watch the bullet tear through his neck. He falls to his knees, confused shock in his eyes. Blood is spraying through his fingers as his pulse quickens. The suppressor on the end of the barrel kept the noise down, but I'm afraid to fire again. The last thing I need is for a police helicopter to show up and ruin my night. I'll just have to let him bleed.
He falls to the grass with a soft thud. A faint gurgling sound is coming from his throat as I step over him. I walk out to his car and jump in. There's an open parking spot on the block up ahead.
The sickly scent of the car's leather seat is clinging to my clothes. I feel as if I have been unfaithful when I return to move him. It takes several minutes, but I finally manage to drag the fat fuck behind the garage. His body fits neatly next to the other two that are already laying there among the leaves and dirt. I've decided there's room for one more.
My legs quickly settle into their familiar rhythm. It'll be after eight when I make it back to the bar. Just in time for the happy hour crowd to stumble out to their cars. They probably won't notice the bike that's doing slow circles in the street out front. Waiting for them to make the right choice, but knowing that most of them won't.
If you spend enough time on the streets of this city, you start to see patterns forming. I am reminded of it with every traffic jam I pedal by and every lungful of toxic air I breathe. It is time for our culture to evolve, no matter how many people have to die.
Until then, I'll be out here keeping you honest.
I won't stop pedaling.
I can't stop pedaling.
Copyright © 2015 S.W. Lauden
Cover art: Andy J. Hunter
S.W. Lauden is a writer and drummer living in L.A. His short fiction has been published by Out of the Gutter, Akashic Books and Crimespree Magazine. Check out weekly author Q&As on his blog, and say “Sup, bro?” on Twitter and Facebook.