Read an Excerpt
By J.F. Gonzalez
Copyright © 2006
All right reserved.
They noticed the van shortly after they pulled out of the rest
They had pulled over at the rest stop just inside the Ventura
County limits for bathroom breaks and a quick rest before
heading on the road again. The hour and a half drive from
North Hollywood where they had met up with Alicia and her
infant daughter, Mandy, had been spent mostly in silence.
The radio station they were listening to, alternative rock
station KROQ, was now fizzling in static, so five minutes into
arriving at the rest stop Lisa had put in a Blondie CD. Brad
had thought about Alicia for about thirty minutes after
leaving her and the baby, and for the last forty minutes or so
had been thinking about the long weekend ahead of them. The
bathroom breaks were a long time coming, and upon meeting
outside the lavatories, they meandered over to a picnic area
with tables and benches. They shot a couple of photos of each
other for posterity, including one photograph of Lisa posing
by a sign warning of the dangers of rattlesnakes, which were
plentiful in the area. Then they got back in the Lexus and
continued on toward their destination.
Brad switched lanes to pass a slow-moving car towing a trailer
in the slow lane. Lisa was consulting the map. "Looks like
we've got another two hours."
"Piece ofcake," Brad said, as they climbed the hill.
"It's so nice up here. I wonder if-"
"What the hell is this sonofabitch doing?"
Lisa looked over her shoulder. The entire rear window of their
Lexus was filled with the metallic grill of a red van. Brad's
grip on the steering wheel tightened. "What the fuck is wrong
with people? I'm already doing seventy and this guy has the
whole fucking road to pass me!"
"Let him pass us if he wants to get around."
"That's exactly what I'm going to do. I'm not speeding up for
They reached the crest of the hill and Brad took his foot off
the accelerator as they wound down Interstate 5. They picked
up speed, creeping to eighty. Some cars continued whizzing
past at ninety or faster. Brad checked his rear view mirror,
saw that it was clear, and moved back into the slow lane, his
foot tapping the brake to slow down a little. The van stayed
on his tail, moving to the slow lane right on his back bumper.
"You motherfucker." Brad's foot was riding the brake. His
heart was pounding rapidly as his eyes darted from the
rearview mirror to the road ahead of him. Their speed dropped
gradually to seventy, then sixty. The van receded slightly,
then sped up and tailgated them again. It was hard to see the
driver through the tinted glass of his windshield, but Brad
already had a mental image of him: judging by the vehicle he
was probably another repressed, thirty-something hot head with
an axe to grind because Brad wasn't going fast enough to suit
his needs. He can fuck off as far as I'm concerned, Brad
"What is this guy's problem?" Lisa wondered, craning her neck
to look out the rear window.
"I don't know. You have the cell phone with us?"
"Yeah. Think we should call the police?"
"I don't know. Let's see what he does first."
"Maybe we should pull over."
"Why? So he can pull up behind us and shoot us or something?"
Lisa opened her mouth, then closed it. She looked scared. Brad
was scared himself. His mind retraced the last few minutes
frantically, trying to reconnect with something that might
explain why this guy was dogging their every step. Had he cut
anybody off? No. When he had passed the slow moving car a few
miles back, there hadn't been anybody in the lane next to him
at all, otherwise he wouldn't have made the move. But then the
guy had almost seemed to materialize out of nowhere right
after he made the lane change. He must have been flying along
at a hundred miles per hour, which would explain why Brad
wouldn't have seen him when he checked his rear and side view
mirrors. The guy had been coming up so fast that he hadn't
been in the mirrors when Brad checked, then he was there the
minute Brad made the lane change. Which means now the fuckhead
behind the wheel was pissed off.
"Christ," Brad muttered, his knuckles white as his hands
gripped the steering wheel. "Just what I need is some enraged
asshole on my tail because he feels slighted over some stupid
"He's pulling back," Lisa said.
Brad glanced in his rearview mirror. Sure enough, the van had
pulled back to a more respectable distance. The afternoon sun
glinted in the sky, reflecting off the van's windshield. Brad
released a long sigh and he felt better. "As long as he stays
back there," he said.
They were silent for a moment as they reached the bottom of
the hill and continued on, Interstate 5 stretching out before
them like a long, black snake. It was a three-lane highway,
bisected by a median strip of grass that separated the north
and south bound lanes. Traffic was moderate. Brad kept the
Lexus at a safe and legal sixty-five and stayed in his lane.
No sense trying to play speed racer now. As long as they
reached the hotel in one piece, that was all that mattered.
Lisa slid the Blondie CD back in. Debbie Harry began singing
about being an X Offender.
They were relaxed enough now to make small talk. Lisa started
talking about a transgression that had occurred at the office.
Brad listened, wondering silently how his wife put up with
those incompetent assholes at the law office. "So all they
want to do is complain about all the work they have-like
nobody else does?-and then they sit around and file their
nails and gossip all day, and then complain about all the work
they have and how they can never get anything done. George
Brooks doesn't even notice what's going on. He spends all day
in his office. And meanwhile I'm trying to hold the department
together, and Amy won't do anything to pare the dead weight
Brad was listening, but he was monitoring the traffic behind
him. The van was still behind them at a good distance. They
were drawing close to another slow-moving vehicle-an old Ford
piloted by a little old lady with blue hair and thick
spectacles, barely tall enough to peer over the dashboard.
Brad signaled for a lane change, checked his mirrors, and
swung into the next lane to pass the Ford. The van changed
lanes also, still a safe distance behind them.
He's changing lanes because he sees the Ford is crawling at a
snail's pace, Brad thought. He tried to reassure himself with
this thought, but a small part of him suggested that wasn't
so. That part suggested that the faceless driver of the van
still had a burr up his ass and was trying to be discreet
about following them.
When Brad saw that he was at a comfortable distance past the
Ford, he signaled for another lane change and merged back into
the slow lane. The van did likewise, still a respectable
distance behind him.
"So I just don't know what to do anymore," Lisa was saying,
looking out at the road ahead of them. "Sometimes I wonder if
I should just go directly to Debbie and-"
He listened. And he nodded and responded at the appropriate
times. And he watched the road ahead of him and monitored the
van behind them. It stayed a good distance back, never
retreating nor accelerating to catch up.
And every time Brad changed lanes to pass a slower vehicle,
the van did likewise. After three times of this Brad began to
get an eerie feeling that the driver of the van hadn't
forgotten the minor transgression fifteen minutes back. It was
a feeling that gnawed at him, creating a pit of unease in his
Lisa appeared not to notice what was going on. And I won't say
anything, Brad thought. It'll just freak her out. Besides,
it's probably just my imagination. I mean, why would-
The van suddenly sped up, closing the gap between them. Brad
expected it to tailgate him again, but it didn't. It crept up
to one car length away and then eased up, widening the gap
between them. Lisa, who had been talking about work, noticed
the change of expression on Brad's face as the van
accelerated, and glanced in her side view mirror. "What the
hell is he doing now?"
"I don't know. But he's been following us the whole way."
"Are you serious?" Lisa watched the van out of her side view
"Yeah. Every time we change lanes, he does the same thing. I
almost get the feeling he's ... well ... stalking us."
"Why don't we pull over?" Lisa said, turning to Brad now with
a scared expression. "Let's just get off at the next exit,
pull into a gas station or something and call the police."
"What for? The guy hasn't actually done anything."
Lisa looked like she was at a loss for words. "Well, at least
we could see if he pulls off the road, too. It's better than
Brad nodded, eyes on the road, glancing back at the van behind
them. For the past twenty minutes or so the van had kept a
safe distance behind them, never out of their sight even when
other cars were in front of it. That was what worried him.
"I don't know. It's probably nothing. I mean it's not like I-"
"There's a cop up ahead."
Brad looked. Parked in the grassy median between the north and
south lanes was a California Highway Patrol car, as if the
officer was laying a speed trap. Brad self-consciously checked
his speed-he was well within the speed limit-and then they
were zooming past the police car. His eyes darted to the
rearview mirror just in time to see the patrol car pull into
the highway behind them. It's just a coincidence, Brad
thought. Surely he can't be lying in wait for us-
Flashing blue and red lights danced along the dome on top of
the patrol car as it tailed them, the twin beams of its
headlights flashing. The officer activated the siren briefly.
Brad felt a stab of fear in the pit of his belly. Why is he
pulling me over? I'm not speeding, I'm-
"I don't believe this," Lisa said, glancing back behind her
"I don't either," Brad said, as he signaled and merged to the
right hand shoulder and stopped.
He looked in the rearview mirror and saw that the patrol car
had moved in behind him and was now parked, its lights still
flashing. But that wasn't what made the pit of ice in his
belly stab into him harder.
It was the van that pulled up behind the patrol car and parked
behind it that sent his nerves twitching.
"Oh my God," Lisa said, her voice hollow. She looked at Brad
and her blue eyes were wide and scared looking. "What the hell
is going on?"
"I don't know," Brad said, keeping his hands on the steering
wheel. He watched in the rearview mirror as the officer
approached the passenger side of the car. Lisa rolled down the
The patrol officer was thin, in his mid-thirties, with thin,
angular features, brown hair and a mustache. Dark sunglasses
hid his eyes. He leaned down and looked at Brad. "Can I see
your license and registration, please?"
"Yeah, sure." Brad fumbled for his wallet, got the
identification out and handed them over. The officer glanced
at them, then looked back at him. "Got a call that you were
doing some reckless driving back there. Speeding up real fast
then braking suddenly, swerving all over the road, trying to
Lisa looked over at Brad, confused, then back at the officer.
"You must be mistaken, officer. We weren't doing anything like
"I didn't say you, ma'am. I meant him." He motioned to Brad,
his voice taking on a tone of condescending.
"I haven't been doing anything like that," Brad said. He could
feel his hands shaking. His voice, when he spoke, was thick
and guttural. He had never felt so nervous in his life.
"I don't really care what you say," the officer said. "The
person that called it in saw it and requested a citizen's
Lisa's features went pale. Brad couldn't believe what was
happening. "There's some mistake," he heard himself saying. "I
wasn't driving the way you said I was. I was going the speed
limit, I was-"
"Save it," the cop said. "The person that reported it saw it
and wants to make a citizen's arrest. I'm going to run your
ID, then I'm going to go back to the person that made the
complaint to confirm that you're the person he saw committing
the violation. When he called it in he sped up to get your
license plate number, so I'm sure identification won't be a
problem. When that's done I'll place you in custody-"
Place me in custody? Brad's heartbeat slammed harder.
"... then, depending on what time it is, we'll see if we can
get you before the judge to arrange bail and then ..." The
cop looked at his wristwatch and shook his head. "Nope. It's a
little after four o'clock. Courthouse is already closed.
Anyway, it looks like you'll be in custody till Monday morning
when the courthouse opens again and bail can be arranged."
"This is bullshit!" Lisa's voice took on a high-pitched
shrill. "We weren't doing anything! That guy-"
"Shut up," the cop said casually. "I don't really care one way
or the other. It's your word against his, and he witnessed it.
Wait here while I call this in and have a talk with him."
Without another word, the officer walked back to his car.
Brad watched him go, feeling light-headed and dazed. He had
never been in trouble with the law before, had never been
guilty of anything except a parking ticket. For a moment he
forgot his knowledge of California criminal law from Law
School. He was in private practice in family law, and hadn't
been keeping up on criminal law much since getting his law
degree. Surely this had to be some kind of mistake. His heart
hammered in his chest as he watched the cop go back to his
squad car and slide behind the wheel.
Lisa turned to Brad as he watched the cop type his information
on the computer in his car. "This is fucking bullshit! That
asshole is just trying to fuck with us. We should be the one
calling the cops on his ass to make a citizen's arrest!" Lisa
had turned from a confused, scared woman, to a woman with
seething, righteous anger. When Lisa got angry, she got
explosive and cursed like a sailor. And when she got explosive
you didn't want to be around her.
"I didn't do anything," Brad said, still in a daze. "I-I-." He
didn't know what to say.
"No shit, we didn't do anything." Lisa fumed. "And when that
asshole cop comes back, I'm going to demand a citizen's arrest
on that asshole in the van."
Hearing the venom in Lisa's voice injected some in Brad's own
system, although now that he was thinking about it he realized
that Lisa wouldn't be able to do that. It was all coming to
him now: to assist in a citizen's arrest, the officer had to
confirm that the violation in question was a felony punishable
by at least a year in jail. If the guy was claiming speeding
and reckless driving with intent to cause bodily injury, that
would be enough for the officer to place him in custody. Lisa
couldn't do a damn thing except represent him in court Monday.
His stomach still churned, but he felt a sudden burst of
adrenaline. "Let's see what that guy tells him," he said,
watching the cop in his rearview mirror and the van parked
behind it, its windshield a solid black screen.
"You're not going to jail," Lisa said, watching the scene from
her side mirror. "I'm going to tell him I want to place a
citizen's arrest myself. The guy in the van was stalking us
and tailgating us. If that asshole wants to play at this game,
that's just fine with me."
Brad's mind was racing. Worst case scenario, maybe Lisa could
contact a local judge over the weekend, get him to look at the
case. Maybe we can get this dismissed by tonight. Yeah, that's
"He's going to talk to the guy in the van now," Lisa said,
watching from the side view mirror. Brad watched from the rear
view mirror. The cop stood at the passenger side of the van as
he talked to the guy, who was still hard to make out due to
the dark windshield. They were silent as they watched the
conversation take place. What is he telling him? Brad
wondered. What are they discussing? The few minutes that the
cop spent talking to the faceless driver in the van felt like
Finally the cop headed back to their car. Brad felt his gut
tighten as the cop drew abreast of the Lexus, placing the
driver's license in his breast pocket. His right hand went
down to the grip of his firearm. "Would you please step out of
the car, ma'am?"
Lisa cast a fearful, wide-eyed glance back at Brad. The cop
leaned forward, looking directly at Brad. "And would you
please place your hands on the steering wheel so I can see
them, Mr. Miller?"
Excerpted from Survivor
by J.F. Gonzalez
Copyright © 2006 by J.F. Gonzalez.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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