A simple premise; a bold promise
To present one story per day, every day—
providing exceptional authors with exposure
and avid readers with first-rate fiction.

Today's Story by St. John Campbell

Accidents, acts of God ... the man who can arrange them can name his price.

Crossing Lines

They wouldn’t let me smoke in the restaurant.  They wouldn’t let me smoke on the sidewalk.  It’s only here, in my car, that I can light a cigar.  Driving around the block, waiting, it feels good to have the smoke, good to have the heat, good to have the thin rolled paper and thick tobacco between my fingers.  As strong a weapon as the gun underneath my arm.

They told me not to take the gun for this one:  it could get complicated.  But I am a man of few habits, and I like the ones I have.

I drive slowly, defensively … there’s no rush.  The GPS tracker on my phone has a map of the area, and my target’s nowhere near.  There will be plenty of time to arrange to be near him when he comes by, stay in the adjacent lane, merge on the freeway just as he does.  Once I had the GPS on his car and knew he’d be downtown tonight, once I knew where he’d go from here and how he’d try to get there … getting that intelligence was the hard part.  Getting to know how he moves was difficult. It is always difficult to put yourself into another man’s habits.  Killing him is much, much easier.

Unless it needs to look like an accident, which is a skill.

I hate smoking bans.  I hate New York, and California, with their self-righteous Puritanism that now extends to everything but sex.  They’ll fuck until they bleed, but tell me I can’t enjoy a cigarette while I try to avoid looking at their public displays of affection.  Whores.  I should put a bullet in the next person who tells me my smoking offends them.

The target is on the move.  I imagine … probably correctly … that he lingered for an extra five minutes with his mistress, and that they were unsatisfying.  I know that he tries too hard.  He has put his business on hold for this rendezvous, he will be in a hurry to make it up.  Based on traffic conditions, he’ll be at the exit in 12 – 17 minutes, and I must match him exactly.

My cigars are hand-rolled by a Cuban family who farms their own tobacco on a small plot of what should be government land in Pinar del Rio:  my understanding is that one of their cousins played ball with Castro, and so he looks the other way.  We don’t talk about tobacco the way we talk about scotch, but we should:  this is a fine single malt, steeped in history and heritage.  The blood of mothers is in  this tobacco, and the dirty fingers of children.  The prudes try to tell me it is a foul and dangerous thing, but they forget that it was a sacred plant to the natives, and anything sacred is dangerous.

I’m going to take the long way around the five corners intersection, and swing around into the lane that becomes the on-ramp.  It’s a risky move, but my instincts are telling me the timing is right.  He’s trying too hard.  He’s trying too hard.

We’re all self-destructive.  Death is a living urge within us, we all do something that brings us face-to-face with the holy ineffable and its temptations.  The question is not “will we kill ourselves,” but how.  Only the ignorant do it unknowingly.  Like my target tonight:  he has no idea how much he had to court death to get here.

Stop sign.  First gear.  Second gear.  Traffic is moving too fast too soon.  Third gear.

It’s easy to court death in this by forgetting it exists at all:  the boundary between life and death is clearly demarcated, yet the culture we live in spares no effort to blur it until it is indistinguishable from the wallpaper.  The smoke I breathe makes the line clear again:  inhale, dead … warm and beautifully dead.  Exhale, alive … cold and gasping for air.  I do not know why the native peoples considered tobacco to be sacred, I will not pretend to know more about these ancient religions than I do, but I suspect that this basic truth is a manifestation of its holy nature.  Other luxuries are deceitful:  too much food and too much drink put the world in the wrong light.  Sex is nothing but distortions.  In the smoke, I see clearly.

Cars honk around me and struggle to pass, but I must slow down.  My car is rigged:  a sharp right turn in fifth gear will take the wheels off … and after a collision it will be impossible to tell it wasn’t a mechanical failure.  I get one shot.  I must be in exactly the right place, and he isn’t here yet:  he’s not as good a driving as he is at adultery.  He’s bad at business, too.  So many reasons it would be convenient to have a man like this out of the picture.  Killers are cheap, but traceable.  They endanger everyone involved.  But accidents, acts of God … the man who can arrange them can name his price.

Slowly, slowly.  According to the GPS he’s finally beginning to catch up with me.  If he reaches me before the bottleneck on to the on ramp, we’ll be back on schedule.

I would like to say it is the stupid ones who lose sight of consequences, who forget that every moment is lived on a knife’s edge – but the truth is that many brilliant people forget it too.  Their failure is to think that struggling hard is a way out.  Struggling too hard is also, in the end, self-destructive.

I take a long drag of my cigar.  It’s complicated.  His BMW is now at the same level as mine, but two lanes over.  I see my opportunity, only a small opening, and turn hard to fill it.  There’s honking and shouting and someone in an F-150 screams he wants to kill me, but there’s so much anger on the road already that even a move like this looks like an ordinary guy just trying to get ahead.  I am just to his left, the on-ramp is two lanes, and we get on it together.  I savor one last breath of my Cuban, and then put it down in the ash tray.  Upon impact, it’s a choking hazard.  As the exit ramp curves a little to the right I shift into fifth and turn the wheel hard.


It’s hard to keep track of what happens, in that moment.  But my front passenger side corner goes directly through his driver’s door.  The job’s finished.  Now I just have to get out.  Traffic veers and swerves around us, no one stopping to see if we’re all right.  People are monsters.  But someone will call 911.  Hundreds of people probably will.

Time for the … damn!  My wrist!  My left wrist is sprained or broken.  This is good and bad:  people are more likely to believe it was an accident if I’m injured, but it means at least a brief hospital stay on top of a police interview and an insurance investigation.  My identity is solid, everything will check out, but the more time I spend around officials asking questions the better a chance there is something will go wrong.  Dammit, it hurts like hell.

Well, the show must go on.

I get out of the car, it’s easy to make sure people passing by can see I’m injured, and run over to his car.  Because of the angle of impact I can’t possible get to his driver’s side window, so I run around to his front passenger door.

“Are you all right!” I scream.  “Are you all right!”

I try to open up the door with my right hand.  It’s locked.  That’s good:  it gives me an excuse to look like I’m trying to open it, to get close, to slip down and reach under the car and remove the GPS tracker.  Can’t have anyone finding that.  It’ll be easy to get rid of along the way.  In the distance I hear sirens.  That was quick.

My gun.  Dammit.  Why did I even bring that?  What good could it possibly have been?  I’ll have to ditch it surreptitiously at the hospital.  It will probably be found while I’m still there, and while it won’t be linked to me – with no prints and a filed off serial number, why would it? – but it will mean a lockdown of the hospital and more chances to screw up.  Stupid, stupid, stupid.  Self-destructive.  We are all self-destructive, the trick is to know how.

Ten minutes later I’ve given the police my ID and wept over the tragedy while an EMS team looks over my wrist.  This will be a very long night.  I’m about to be taken to county general when one of the cops steps over to the ambulance bay.

“Eduardo,” he says, to get my attention.  He shouldn’t do that.  I’m supposed to be “Mr. Torrez.”  Racist bastard.

“Yes sir?” I ask.

“We were looking through your car,” he says, “and we noticed there was a cigar in the ash tray.  Were you smoking?”

I blink.  “Yes.”

He gives me a disgusted look.  “You know, that’s very distracting while you drive.  Like eating or drinking or using a cell phone.”  He thinks for a moment, and I can see in his eyes that he doesn’t think I’m penitent enough.  “I’m going to have to put that in my report.”

“You smoke?” asks the EMS worker tending to my wrist.  “You know that’s terrible for your health, you’ve heard that, right?”

“Yes, I’ve heard that.”

He reaches out, closes the bay doors, and taps on the driver’s wall.  “If you don’t mind, I want to tell you more about that as we go,” he says.  The ambulance sirens flash and we begin to move.

That’s right, Puritans.  Focus on the least important part of what happened here tonight.

You always do.  That’s how accidents happen.


St. John Campbell is a pseudonym


To comment on this story, visit Fiction365’s Facebook page