I glance down at the icy surface of the road where the passenger door used to be and fend off a bout of dizziness. Up it is. Stiffly, I unfurl my legs. Standing on the frame of the car I push the driver’s side door all the way open, still clutching the Auto-5 through the hole I’d cut for it. Snowflakes rush past, stars against a canvas of black.
Gauging both the spin of the car and the direction of the incoming fire, I hold my breath until the right moment and pull the trigger. The cabin of the Model T reverberates as the sounds of gnarled metal and exploding glass fills the cramped space. The scent of sparking gunpowder wafts through the opening above me. Eventually the spotlight shatters, extinguishing the snowflakes with it. After expending all five shells and spinning slowly to a stop, I gather that all of the company cars have been disabled, but not all the company goons.
It’s dark and no one is shooting, so I climb out the door and onto the side of the car for a better view. Fifty yards on the other side of the blockade, a guard faces away from me. He gestures furiously toward the darkness enshrouding the road while the car I’d assumed was stuck crests the hill at a creep. Failing to climb in reverse, they had tried low and made it, but starved of gas.
After a few more frantic words from the guard the car accelerates slowly but steadily in my direction, the lug nuts intending to push the pile into me. I jump down and try desperately to spin the Model T so that the inevitable collision might rock it back onto its tires. But the water created by the friction of the spin has frozen it in position.
Finally there’s nothing to do but run or jump back inside and pray for the best. While not a praying man, I still choose the latter. The guard, approaching on foot, takes a couple of pot shots in the dark—enough to make my cheeks pucker as I lower myself back into the T and pull the driver-side door shut with a loud clang.
A second later the jumbled roadblock of company cars impacts mine, pushed from the other side. The jolt unsticks me from the ice, but nothing so fortunate as flip me back onto my tires. Swearing, I reach for the glove box, and the .38 caliber pistol I keep there. Soon the functional car will clear the gap and pin me in. Briefly I think of Isabella and Abby waiting for me until sunrise before retuning to Palo Pinto fraught with worry.
I swear again before realizing that I’m still moving. The icy surface of the road visibly picks up speed below the passenger door opening. Tobogganing isn’t driving, but it’s movement, and in the right direction. The slide increases to a slow jogging pace and it strikes me that I’ve got no control—over speed or direction.
Dry-mouthed and clenching my jaw, I fumble around in my britches pocket for a new peppermint Chiclet—the one damn thing I still control. Sliding faster than a healthy man can run, I shove the remainder of the box back in my pocket, and before I can wonder about the first turn in the road, the Model T strikes a rock and starts to tip—tits up.
Off balance, I bellyflop onto the ceiling. Then like a pinball against the flippers, the car strikes the guard rail and spins back into the road, skidding even faster now on nothing but the two Brownings I welded to the roof like skis. At least now I can see out the shattered windshield.
But the limited scenery revealed by the headlights keeps shifting from road to ditch to road to ditch so fast I feel like a kid spinning around a bat. Rattling around on the ceiling, what I think at first is the teeth in my head, turns out to be my pocket watch. Clutching it, I focus on the busted surface, the frozen hands.
It ain’t time yet to die. I shove it in my pocket, close my eyes, clench my jaw and prepare for the impact I know’s gotta be closer than a snake bite. But rather than a sudden jolt, the car slows gradually, the sound of skidding on ice replaced by slick asphalt, then gravel. When the car finally hits, the momentum throws me against the driver-side door before slowly rolling one more time, and with a final crunch lands back on all four tires.
I open the left eye first, then the right. My butt’s back in its seat. My eyes are looking straight out the opening that used to be my windshield, the Model T planted square in the ditch at the bottom of Ranger Hill.