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A lone star blazed in the midnight blue sky.
It looked like the Christmas star, which was appropriate seeing that it was four days till the holiday, but with Mitch's luck it was more likely a crashing jet plane headed straight for him.
Yeah, that would be about right. On the bright side, it would spare him driving any more miles down this long, dull stretch of memory lane. Texas looked only minimally better at night than it did in the day. Nothing but rugged, ragged landscape. Igneous hills of limestone and red rock as far as the eye could seewhich wasn't far, given the darkness beyond the sweep of the rental car headlights.
Mitch rubbed his bleary eyes. This was more driving than he'd done in years. He didn't even own a car anymore. New York had decent public transportation, and when Mitch wasn't working he waswell, he was always working, so problem solved.
Prickly pear, yucca, and juniper bushes cast tortured shadows across the faded ribbon of highway. A mighty lonesome stretch of country, as they'd say out here. Cemeteries were more plentiful than towns. He wasn't entirely alone, though. Outside of Fredericksburg a pair of headlights had fallen in behind him and they continued to meander lazily along a few miles back. Some cowboy moseying on home, though not in any hurry to get there.
That made two of them.
It had been six months since Mitch had got the word his old man had keeled over, and he'd have happily waited another six monthsor six yearsbefore dealing with what his father's lawyer euphemistically called "the estate." But after the blowup with Innis, Mitch had desperately needed time and space. And one thing Texas had in plenty was space.
Speaking of space, the star twinkling and beaming up ahead could have fallen right out of the state flag. It was the biggest star in a night field of stars. A beacon burning in the night. Mitch blinked tiredly at it. He hadn't slept on the plane, hadn't slept in nearly forty-eight hours. Not since he'd walked into his dressing room to catch Innis with his pants down. Not a euphemism, unfortunately. Innis's excuse Up ahead Mitch caught movement in the middle of the road. Headlights picked out the gleam of eyes. A deer. A very large deer with a huge rack of antlers. An eighteen pointno, not a deer. Mitch's eyes widened. A caribou. In Texas?
What the hell?
A caribouin Texaswearing a red leather harness with bells?
He was asleep. He had fallen asleep driving.
Mitch wrenched the wheel. The tires skidded off the road onto the rocky shoulder. He tried to correct but oversteered. Instinctively, he slammed on the brakes, the car spun out. It did a wild fouetté across the highway, tipped over the side and rolled once. The air bag exploded from the dashboard. The car landed upside down in the sand and gravel beneath the embankment.
Dust and powder from the air bag filled the interior. The engine died as the car rocked finally to a stop. The passenger door had flown open. Mitch could smell oil and antifreeze and cornstarch and singed juniper. The air bag hissed as it deflated. Or maybe that was the radiator leaking. Or the sound of four tires simultaneously going flat.
"What was that?" He wiped the air bag talc residue from his face. His eyes and skin stung.
It had happened so fast. So fast there hadn't even been time to be afraid. And at the same time it had seemed to occur in slow motion. Like watching a film or seeing it happen to someone else. Really weird. Maybe that out-of-body sensation was shock.