I should never have gotten stuck on the team with Jerry, Race, and Donnybrook. We didn’t know any of the same people, never saw eye to eye. Jerry was an oily creep. Race carried a photographer’s gray scale in his back pocket, pulled it out constantly to judge human worth. Donnybrook was expert at nothing but self-promotion. And breaking promises. He had what we used to call the necessary skills for modern business. In fortune-cookie, the guy’s word was “shit of dog”. He was such a whining loser no house would pledge him. Papa Brook pulled strings. Next thing you know, Donny Brook’s president of his frat chapter. His brothers fragged his fat ass every chance they got. Called him Donnybrook, both names, like Charlie Brown. Donny? Who the fuck is that?
I was supposed to ride with Rod and Tim, who actually knew a thing or two about overland travel, off-roading. The night before the race someone slashed their tires, poured sugar in their tank. Beet sugar. You know what I mean?
A lot of people thought Donnybrook would drive better than Rod, precisely because he had no experience. Jerry only wanted the victory cup. Race kept scheming how to fuck over the other teams. Did I mention Race and Jerry hated each others’ guts? I should have backed out, but once I’m in I like to see things through. Call it honor.
The day of the race dawned clear and sunny. Fresh asphalt road, bright white lane markings. As Americans, naturally we were top-seeded. The Chinese were after us, then the EU. The Russians had been hanging around the vehicles a lot, but didn’t field an entry.
By mid-morning our Humvee was speeding across a wide, grassy plain under a brilliant sky dotted with cumulus. Snow-capped mountains shimmered in the distance. We could see no signs of pursuit.
Donnybrook had this annoying habit of driving with his right arm draped over the seat back, face in a dumb smirk. Race rode shotgun. Jerry sat behind Race, eyes glued to the road, mewling when the tires drifted off the inner shoulder. I kept eying Race, wondering what would happen if we made a hard left. Would he be thrown from the vehicle? I wanted to find out.
The day grew hot. By early afternoon, the grass thinned, gave way to sagebrush. Donnybrook hung a right onto a dirt track. “Short cut. Believe me!” He veered crazily, jolted through potholes at full speed. “Slam ’em and scam ’em.” He raised his palm at Race for a high five. Race just scowled.
We bounced along dry ruts deeper than our clearance. Donnybrook floored the gas, sped over a low rise. A sharp rock lay right in our path. Jerry yelped. Our heads knocked the roof. We careened to a stop, wheels miraculously on the level, dust swirling. Race chuckled. “What the fuck, Donny?” It took me half an hour to replace the tire, check the suspension for damage. No way I’d trust Race. All week he’d been muttering crazy shit to himself. “Burn this fucking thing to the ground.” Guy like Race would wire the gas tank to blow for amusement.
Donnybrook made Race switch seats with Jerry. We set off, straddling a wash wide enough for a man to fall into, at least ten feet deep. Donnybrook’s gaze wandered everywhere but the road. I could hear him whispering. “Tremendous victory. Historic. Unpresidented.” Jerry clutched the dashboard, pale, lips issuing a stream of prayer. Race smiled, a rack of ugly teeth. “Be a real shame if you had to back out of here.”
The sun sank behind the mountains, casting long purple shadows. The moon rose, nearly full. It should have been gorgeous. We sped along, Donnybrook lost in his reverie, making the sound of a cheering throng, tossing salutes at each passing cactus. With night falling, I weighed my options. Maybe I could bludgeon Race. What with …? In the headlights, the crevasse below us yawned open, bottom lost in the dusk. Jerry shrieked. We skidded to a stop. Race snorted. “Punch it, girly-boy.” In response, fluid squirted from the washer nozzles. I grabbed a flashlight and hopped out. Our wheels straddled the chasm, barely. There wasn’t much time. “Cut it left. Easy, easy! Okay, keep it straight.” I heard the telltale rustle of falling sand, small stones clattering into the depths. “Go! Go!” The Hummer lurched to safety just as the edge gave way. Donnybrook rolled down his window, thrust out his frog face. “We good back there?” Race said “Leave him here, you pussy.”
Off to our left, a set of headlights came speeding along the main road, not a hundred feet away. With excited whoops of Mandarin, the vehicle sped past. Race and Jerry found their unified front. “Get ’em!”. Donnybrook floored it. I leaped clear. The tires spat gravel. The Hummer vanished with a screech of rock on metal. The engine revved, cut off. I could hear Race bellowing. Stomping, breaking glass. Someone tumbling painfully down a dirt cliff like a large sack of meat. Jerry pleading, “Oh God, help me!”
I peered over the edge to see what could be saved. The Hummer had come to rest lodged between earth walls, nose down, wheels spinning free, impotent. The right turn signal winked amber into the depths. The windshield was broken out. Jerry hung from the frame, one shoe missing, kicking wildly at the air. “Somebody, please!” Donnybrook still strapped in tight. “It’ll be fantastic … real biggly.”
The brake lights flashed once, twice. The starter turned, didn’t catch.
No way Jerry could hold on much longer. I turned, set off for the road to wait for the Europeans.
Andrew D. Hwang is a mathematician by profession and an optimistic pessimist by inclination. He lives with his wife in New England, where they ignore B. Kliban’s advice: “Always hide in a place where there are a lot of the same things.” This is his first published work of fiction.