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Bad Traffic
A short story from Cheeseburger Brown
CHAPTERS 1|2|3|4|5
Bad Traffic, a free story from Cheeseburger Brown, illustration by Matthew Hemming

PLEASE NOTE: This story contains some profanity. Reader discretion is advised.


Yves LeRoche captained a big truck.

His truck was a cell in the circulatory system of the nation, his cargo a dollop of the economy's lifeblood. Throughout his decades of service Yves prided himself on being as reliable a cell as he could be -- punctual, accountable, steady -- a bastion of competence and care that slipped along the highways without resistance like a pat of warm butter on a skillet.

"We're all in it together," he used to say when chatting up folks at diners or gas stations or when helping out with a breakdown at the side of the road. "Traffic is a social affair."

As a driver he was cautious and constant, and he thought of himself as a kind of father to the lesser vehicles of the road who rode in his long shadow, content to follow and be guided by his stalwart and considered progress. His truck was a buffer against the frenetic danger of snarled metropolitan traffic, an island of certainty and safety to whom others could magnetize to find their way through the flow.

Most of his fellow truckers called Yves "Papa Rock" although some of the old timers called him "Frenchy" because he had been born in Baton Rouge. His grandmother used to speak French to him as a boy but Yves could never make heads or tails of it. "It's all Greek to me," he liked to joke.

He could smell an accident from miles downroad, something in the air that troubled him several minutes before the first compression waves signalled by bursts of red braking lights began to ripple toward him from the horizon. His sensitivity to the patterns of locomotion seemed at times to border on precognition.

But the big accident -- his final accident -- Yves did not see coming.

* * *


Papa Rock LeRoche picked up the hitchhiker on the west side of the Oregon line.

A late afternoon thunderstorm was blowing out to the east leaving in its wake shiny roads and wet fields, and standing at the border of an example of each was a round-shouldered youth soaked to the bone, huddled against the spring breeze. By his feet was a sign that must have once advertised his destintion but had now been reduced to an asymmetrical Rorschach.

"Where you headed?" called Yves.

"New York City," said the damp hitchhiker.

"Come on up," nodded Yves, leaning over to release the passenger door.

The boy climbed up onto the cab and slipped inside after shaking a flurry of spume from his jacket and knapsack. He looked startled when he saw Yves fixing him with a hard look. "You don't want to be leaving that sign there," said Yves. "It's a shame to litter America. We all have to live here together, right?"

Once that was taken care of Yves moved the rig into gear and nosed back out onto the freeway. As they jostled along he asked the boy's name.

"Joe," he said, his accent thick and sharp edged.

"Bullsquat," said Yves not unkindly. "You don't look like a Joe."

"It is my American name."

"What's your real name, son?"

"It is Alishaer, sir."

"Good to meet ya, Al. They call me Papa Rock but my name's Yves."

"Thank you very much for stopping, Mr. Yves."

They drove in silence a while until Yves noticed the youth shivering and pulled a rough woolen blanket out of the back of the cab with a grunt. Alishaer was grateful. He used it to dry his short black hair before wrapping it around his shoulders like a cocoon. He looked so skinny and small.

Yves sighed to himself. It wasn't the first time he'd picked up a hard luck case. In fact he was unlikely to stop for a hitchhiker who looked like they were on solid footing -- Yves specialized in the downtrodden and lost. He was of the opinion that if he could supply them with an earful of common sense they just might find the gumption to pull themselves out of whatever pickle they were in, like the black fellow on the lam from North Carolina he'd convinced to turn himself in for his crimes, the street tough from New Jersey he'd turned on to Jesus, or the teenage girl from Alberta he'd found pitifully used and discarded by a motorcycle gang.

He remembered each of their names: Sammy Brown, Knife Gill, Daria Something. Sometimes he even looked them up years after the fact, to see whether or not they had straightened out. That was another reason they called him Papa Rock: because he cared.

This kid was maybe twenty-five. He had one bushy black eyebrow that ran across the bridge of his nose, like Burt on Sesame Street. Around his right wrist was a simple silver chain bearing a token inscribed with wiggly worm-writing.

"So, where're you coming from?" asked Yves.

"Portland, sir," said Alishaer.

"No, I mean originally. You got that funny writing on your bracelet there, like from Iraq or something."

"This is a medical notice," explained Alishaer. "It says I am an epileptic. I have the seizures once in a sometime."

"That's too bad."

"It does not trouble me much."

"So you're from Iraq, huh?"

"No sir, I am coming from Turkmenistan."


"No sir, Turkmenistan. In Asia."

"You don't look Chinese to me."

"No sir," agreed Alishaer with a little smile.

Yves grunted, checked his mirrors, changed lanes. "I can tell from your way of talking you haven't been here long, is that right?"

"I have been in this country for one week, sir."

"Fresh off the boat, huh? Heading to New York to find fame and fortune, are ya?"

Alishaer smiled self-effacingly. "I am hoping to find my cousin there. He is running a restaurant, where perhaps I can find an opportunity for working."

Yves nodded. "Good for you. Hard work is what makes America great."

"Yes sir," agreed Alishaer.

"I'm only going as far as Michigan, but that's a fair way along for you. Should shorten your trip a bit, huh?"

"I am grateful, Mr. Yves. I will be no trouble to you, I swear it."

Yves nodded. Perhaps the young man wasn't as wayward as he'd first appeared, rainsoaked and forlorn at the side of the road. He seemed to have a pretty good head on his shoulders, and had manners like his mother had raised him right. And helping a man on his way to an honest wage was something Yves could feel proud of -- in his little way again contributing to the health of the economy, the free-flowing currents of people and money, sharing in making somebody's American dream come true.

"It's no trouble to me," said Yves amicably. But he was wrong.

* * *


Yves drove the night away, his companion twisting and sighing in the passenger seat under the thinnest veil of sleep. Yves turned up the Johnny Cash to drown out the troubled muttering, then carefully counted the hours ahead and methodically took the correct combination of pills to get him there.

In moments he felt sharp as a knife.

The road was empty. The truck felt still, the country moving around it. The album repeated. Yves had been letting it repeat for decades. His mind sank away into a driving place until the first blush of dawn coloured the way ahead.

"Where are we?" asked Alishaer groggily.

"Wyoming," said Yves. "Sleep okay?"

Alishaer shrugged. "I have some nightmare."

"Yeah, I figured," agreed Yves. "We're gonna stop for some chow in Cheyenne, then I'm going to catch a few zees and after that we'll get back on the road. Sound good?"

Alishaer nodded, rubbing his eyes. "This chow is food, yes?"

"Food yes," confirmed Yves.

Yves pulled off at a signless joint he knew well on South Parsley, drawing the truck to shuddering but majestic halt in a row of similar rigs. The sudden cessation of motion caused Alishaer to feel as if he were drifting backward. With rubbery legs he descended from the cab and met Yves at the nose. He blinked at the wide expanse of sky, cloudless and deep blue even at the horizon.

The diner was quaint, with a chrome and flecked formica style that looked half a century old. There were just a few other customers, lone truckers reading the paper as they put away their food. A tinny radio discussed the weather. A bald man with a series of light scars criss-crossing his features stood in the open kitchen, hands on his hips, staring into space. He smiled distantly when he saw Yves, the sad lines around his eyes unmoving.

"Ed Hulver!" called Yves. "How the hell are ya?"

Ed wiped his fingers on his white undershirt and then shook Yves's beefy hand. "Hey, Frenchy. How's the road?"

"It's flowing," reported Yves. "This is Al."

"Goodmorning, sir," said Alishaer.


They ate runny eggs floating in a pool of grease that tasted suspiciously like corned beef hash, washed down with bitter coffee whose cream was slightly curdled. Alishaer left his bacon, so Yves ate it, mopping up the flaky debris with an edge of yolk-soggy toast.

Yves lit up a Camel and brought out his billfold. Alishaer took his cue, bending down to his ankle and coming back up with a handful of crumpled, badly distressed low bills. "That's all you got, isn't it, partner?" said Yves.

Alishaer looked embarrassed. "It will not be enough?"

Yves tucked the cigarette into the far corner of his mouth and grunted. "It's enough, but forget it. You go on and keep your pocket money, Al. Breakfast is on me."

"You do not have to do this..." replied Alishaer awkwardly, smoothing out a couple of dollars carefully as if they were fine art.

Yves pushed the kid's hand back. "Don't make me offer twice, boy."

They held each other's eyes for a moment. Then Alishaer nodded and started putting away his cash. "Thank you very much, Mr. Yves."


While he smoked Yves pulled a plastic pill organizer out of his jacket pocket and flipped open one of the little compartments. He checked his watch and then swallowed two small pills chased by a swig of coffee. He noticed Alishaer watching him. "You have a medical condition?" asked Alishaer.

"No Al, these here are my sleepers. Gotta crash for a bit before we hit the road again. You understand?"

"Yes sir."

On the way out Yves asked Ed who was awake in the Chicken Ranch and Ed told him Cheyenne was probably around. Yves and Alishaer walked around the back of the diner and Yves rapped on the door of a cream-coloured trailer sitting on cinderblocks. The hatch cracked and a girl with purple bags under her eyes stuck her head out. "Papa Rock!" she smiled.

"How the hell are ya, Chey?"

"Just gimmie a sec to get my shit on. Be right out."

Yves crushed the end of his smoke under his boot and jammed his hands into his pockets, rocking on his heels nonchalantly as he scanned the cloudless sky. A moment later the girl called Chey stepped out of the trailer, her tired face painted and her unruly hair pulled into a loose ponytail. Her dress was short and either intricately patterned or dirty. "Who's your friend?" she asked.

"This is Al. He's riding with me today."

"Goodmorning, Miss," said Alishaer with a small bow.

"Al, this is Cheyenne."

"She is named Cheyenne and living in Cheyenne?" asked Alishaer, furrowing his brow.

"Are you making fun of me?" Chey wanted to know.

Alishaer looked stricken. "No, no no!" he stammered.

Chey frowned. "He's like foreign or something, huh?"

"Yeah. But he's okay."

"Does he want?"

Yves shrugged. "You want a date after I'm done, buddy?"

Alishaer looked puzzled, then blushed and shook his head. He loitered around the parking lot while Yves and Chey spent some time in the cab of the truck, whose suspension creaked rhythmically to broadcast their sin. Afterward they smoked a couple of Camels together and then Chey went back to her trailer. Yves sat in the open door and smoked, barefoot. "What do you say, Al?"

"I am wondering a thing," said Alishaer.

"What's that?"

Alishaer gestured along the row of parked rigs -- Wonderbread, Old South, McDonald's, Oscar Meyer. "Why is it each of these trucks have the big letters on their sides, but your truck is only white?"

"Not everything needs advertising, Al."

"So what is it that is carried inside, Mr. Yves?"

Yves scanned the sky again. "Doesn't matter what's inside. Doesn't have anything to do with my job. Whether it's Corn Flakes or mattresses or house paint, I just get it there." He tossed his cigarette butt away carelessly and stretched. "Forget about it. I'm gonna lay down a while. You good by yourself?"

"Do not worry about me, sir."

* * *


Alishaer was making rounds of the parking lot stepping on his own shadow when Yves waved for his attention, hanging off the side of his truck. Alishaer jogged over as Yves pulled on his jacket and turned on the motor. The truck chortled happily, brown rings of warm, greasy soot chuffing from its pipes.

"We are going now, Mr. Yves?"

Yves nodded. "We are going now."

There was patchy rain across Nebraska, the highway crossed by parades of fat clouds trailing veils of mist with lakes of sunshine in between. Traffic was light but restless, speed vipers struggling through parades of more cautious cars and then blazing on ahead once free. The impatient opportunists irritated Yves, who did his best to open up the way so they could sail past him right into the radar traps. He chuckled to himself moments later as they passed the speeders pulled over at the side of the highway, hemmed in by braces of patrol cars with winking bubble lights.

Yves also noticed the way Alishaer tensed and perspired whenever police vehicles were in view. He said, "Don't have your papers, huh?"

"I'm sorry?"

"You're an illegal. Don't bother to deny it. I wasn't born yesterday, pal."

Alishaer looked sheepish and nodded. "I will get my papers," he promised earnestly. "My cousin in New York will help me."

Yves shrugged. "Can't say as I blame you, Al. Everybody in the world wants to come to America. You know that song? On the boats and on the planes, they're comin' to America; never looking back again, they're comin' to America -- today?"

"No sir."

"Well, Neil Diamond is crud anyway. No big loss." Yves paused and assumed a more serious look as his eyes remained pinned to the road. "Was it a tough time for you, getting over here?"

Alishaer's lips twitched. "There were some hardships for me."

"Like what?"

The boy said nothing for a moment. "It must suffice to say that...some people will do anything for hope of better life."

"Sure, but I mean like in general," persisted Yves. "Did you stow away on a ship or what?"

Alishaer squirmed. "Please sir. It is not a subject I like to open, Mr. Yves -- with the respect that is due." He took a deep breath. "It is behind me now. You can understand this?"

Yves glanced over at his passenger. "I can respect that. Gotta keep your eye on the prize, huh?"

Alishaer nodded nervously. Yves turned back to the road. Alishaer's discomfort give him the willies. He badly wanted to change the subject because the silence was too thick. After a few minutes he wondered aloud awkwardly whether Alishaer would like to listen to something other than Johnny Cash.

"You're probably not up on our music, but we got a lot of it. I have some CDs. Anything you want, really: country, western, bluegrass..."

"In Turkmenistan we get often the music of Cherry Nuk-Nuk."

"What the hell is that? Like Turkish folk music?"

"No sir, she is the world's most spectacular Inuit pop singer."

"From Alaska?"

"No sir, from Canada."

"Canada, huh? Well." Yves frowned. "I don't really hold with foreign music."

They listened to more Johnny Cash. The sun set behind them. Yves sank into driving space. After passing through the pulsing turnpikes of Omaha the traffic changed, a new melange with a diminished western influence and a bewildering aftertaste of Jersey-style lane defense; at the core a steady thread of clockwork shipping fleets, lines of vessels manned by men Yves could give a friendly nod to.

The citizen band was quiet. Mumbles and squelches.

He glanced over at his passenger who was again sleeping fitfully, hugging himself tightly and rolling his head back and forth. Poor kid.

Before Des Moines Yves pulled into a Texaco to fuel up and grab some chow. Alishaer was preoccupied, quiet, eating mechanically. Yves felt bad. He knew he'd stirred up some mud by asking the kid about his ordeals. He wanted to make it up to him somehow. "Listen," said Yves as he lit up a Camel; "you want to see something cool?"

Alishaer looked up. "Something that is cool?"

Yves nodded and paid the bill, then waved Alishaer after him as he strode out to the lot, glistening under the harsh fluorescents from the recent rain. Under such light everybody looked exhausted and jaundiced, a little bit like ghouls. Yves paused at the rear door of his rig's long white trailer.

"Now," he announced, "I've signed non-disclosures up the wazoo about this stuff, so you got to promise me this is just between us. Right?"

"Right," said Alishaer, eyes glued to the steel doors.

"You know what gives America an edge over everybody else in the world?" he asked leadingly.

"Hard work?" guessed Alishaer.

"Well yeah," admitted Yves, "but what does all that hard work lead to? I'll tell ya: technology. America's got the greatest technology anywhere. And, you know: the rest of the world don't know the half of it." He allowed himself a little smile. "I guarantee you ain't never seen anything like this."

Yves stepped up on the bumper and unlocked a small panel. It swung open to reveal a tiny keypad upon which he tapped a long code. From inside the trailer came the quadruple snap of heavy locks disengaging. "I'm only supposed to open her up for inspections, but I'll fudge the log and say I had to check something."

"Okay," said Alishaer breathlessly.

Yves swung open one of the twin doors, then leaned down and offered his hand to help Alishaer up. The kid was surprisingly light. Alishaer blinked in the somber blue glow of the inspection lights, attempting to focus on the hazy forms arrayed beyond a taut wall of plastic sheeting.

Alishaer's eyes went wide. "Are they...?"

Yves nodded with a satisfied grunt. "That's right, Al," he said. "Robots."

Alishaer was transfixed by the rows of motionless shadows, his brow knitted. Upon those closest to the sheet the feeble blue inspection light revealed braided hair, tranquil faces, closed eyes, limp hands, legs locked like horses. "They are all women," he whispered.

Yves looked at his boots and cleared his throat. "Well, yeah son, these here speak to exactly what I was talking about. In America we got men so rich and so smart they don't have time for girls. But they're still men, and they've got needs. Needs nothing inflatable can fill, right?"

Alishaer smiled uncertainly, baffled but fascinated.

"They need something that really looks like a woman," said Yves, thumbs in his belt, "but something you can switch off when there's work needing doing."

"They are like dolls?"

Yves frowned. "Well, maybe. Dolls that dress themselves, and walk around, and even talk to you a little. Dolls with the AI in them. Dolls that'll run you about a quarter billion a piece."

"Amazing," admitted Alishaer.

The trucker grinned, then wiped it away with his knuckle. He unzipped a slit in the plastic and waved Alishaer closer. The air smelled like flowers. Each female form stood in a narrow cylinder with a modest collection of accessories bundled in plastic at their feet. "This batch looks all Asian," said Yves. He snorted. "Asians are real popular." He fished a keycard out of his jacket and flashed it through a slot on the base of the closest container.

A pink light winked on from above, and the woman opened her eyes.

Alishaer gasped. Yves chuckled. "No shit, huh?" he said, elbowing the boy in the ribs in a friendly way. "Pardon my language," he added.

"She is...not real?"

Yves shook his head. "Hell no, Al. That's what I'm saying. This is technology." He rapped suddenly on the side of the container, making Alishaer jump but causing no response in the woman. "See that, Al? She doesn't even flinch."

Alishaer touched his face nervously and backed against the plastic wall. "She blinks!" he whispered.

"Well of course she blinks," chortled Yves. "Like I said, they're supposed to look real. Realer than real. It's really something, huh?"

Alishaer was sweating. "I am needing some air, Mr. Yves, sir." He began to pat the sheet wall in search of the zippered opening. "I am dizzy, sir." He found the slit and fell over himself on the way out.

Yves shut everything up and then hopped to the pavement and swung closed the doors. Alishaer sat on a concrete parking buttress, hugging himself and staring at the stars forlornly. "I am sorry, Mr. Yves," he said quietly. "I did not mean to spoil the cool thing."

The trucker kicked a couple of stones around. "Forget about it. Some guys it freaks out. I thought it was kind of creepy myself the first time I saw them, honestly. You know?"

Alishaer nodded.

"Like I said, forget about it. Don't let it get to you. Eye on the prize, right?"

Alishaer nodded again.

"We should get back on the road," said Yves.

* * *


Things went bad in Illinois.

The day was overcast. There wasn't a lot of glare. The freeway was thick but constant, moving with purpose. The horizon was tinged with the rustier grey of Chicago's roof of smog. They were passing through the outlying threads of the megalopolis.

State patrol cars herded the clots like sheep, quietening the fleeters. A long caterpillar of conservatives paraded behind "Papa Rock" Yves LeRoche's trailer, sheltered from the automotive spume by his constancy.

Lightning flashed in the north.

Yves couldn't figure out why he felt so groggy. He knuckled his eyes and frowned, pinched the bridge of his nose and bit the inside of his lip. It had been over an hour since he'd last dropped an upper, and he couldn't explain why it hadn't kicked in yet.

The Johnny Cash disc spun. Yves turned it up.

Alishaer, for his part, looked miserable. He was curled up in a ball against the passenger door, his face pressed into the glass, his eyes unfocused and dancing. His arms quivered and his teeth chattered but he was covered in an even glaze of perspiration.

"You want a blanket or something?" grunted Yves.

Alishaer shook his head without turning. Yves sneered and accelerated a bit, opening up a gulf with his tail. He found himself sceptical that Alishaer had endured much in the way of hardship getting to America if he was fragile enough to go to pieces over seeing a load of sex robots. Yves' contempt for the kid's inability to shake it off was starting to get to him.

"Why don't you take one of my sleepers?" prompted Yves. "It might take the edge off, right?"

"I do not think these pills work for me," said Alishaer hollowly.

"Bullsquat," sniffed Yves. "I don't know what kind of crud you've got in Turkey, but American pills do what they say they do. These aren't street drugs, Al -- these are from a pharmacy. Trust me."

Yves held out his pill organizer and pointed to the right compartment with his thumb while he kept his eyes on the road. Alishaer hesitated and then picked out a pill and swallowed it with a grimace.

"Besides," added Yves dangerously, "these robots don't hurt anybody. They don't go crazy or anything, if that's what you're worried about. I know that's what always happens in the movies. But they got top scientists making these things. They're safer than safe."

"I do not think of them as threatening," said Alishaer.

"You're thinking about what kind of a man would use such a thing, right? I'm not free to tell you specifics, but I happen to know some of the names of the guys who these things are going to. And, like I said, I can't name names but these are top guys. Important people, you know? People who don't have time to dick around with a relationship."

"I do not know what I think of such men."

"You get over the creeps," explained Yves. "I remember just about pissing myself one time when one of the techs at the load-up dialed in some code that made them all come at once -- pardon my language. You know what I mean? Like all moaning and screaming with their lady orgasms, right? Like a kitty concert. It was too funny."

Alishaer swallowed, running his shaking hands over one another. "But how do you know for sure?"

Yves knitted his brow. "What do you mean?"

"How do you know they are robots?"

"This again?" Yves snorted, rubbing his eyes. "Get over it, Al. I've seen those little dollies opened up for servicing -- there's nothing in there but plastic and metal doohickeys and wires and tubes. Believe you me." He chuckled and shook his head.

Suddenly Alishaer tensed. "Cinnamon!" he gasped.

Yves yawned, his eyes burning. "I just can't reckon why I'm so bagged," he muttered.

"Cinnamon!" repeated Alishaer, staring at the trucker intensely.

Yves frowned. "What?"

"I smell cinnamon," he said, grabbing at the silver medical bracelet around his slender wrist. "It is a sign: an attack! Your pills are bringing me an attack!"

Traffic was buckling ahead, deforming around a fender bender in the inside lane. Yves switched smoothly into the outside and geared down as his tired eyes flickered over the mirrors.

"Oh shit," he said. "You're gonna have a seizure, Al? Oh shit. Okay, just calm down, right?"

"I should not have taken another pill," moaned Alishaer.

"Another pill?" echoed Yves. "What are you talking about?"

"I took one of your pills, in the night, to help me sleep," gushed Alishaer, holding his head and breathing quickly. "It made me feel crazy, like my blood is electricity."

"Oh shit."

The windshield speckled with rain. Brake lights fluttered on and off up and down the line.

With a sinking sensation Yves pulled out his plastic pill organizer and blindly pushed every compartment open with his thumb. He glanced away from the road, looked up again, and then returned to staring at the array of pills -- mixed up, a random sampling of each kind inside every slot. "Everything's all mixed up!" he bellowed. "What the fuck did you do, Al?"

"My hands are shaking when I take it," moaned Alishaer.

"Oh shit, oh shit," said Yves, rubbing his eyes hard and biting his lip. He realized that not only had the epileptic Alishaer taken uppers, but he himself was sitting in a soup of downers. "Oh shit."

The world seemed to be moving in slow motion.

Alishaer stretched himself into a taut arc, his stomach thrust up off the seat, straining against the belt. His arms and legs pinwheeled and jerked violently, swatting through the air of the cabin viciously as his head reeled back, the veins on his neck pulsing.

Yves swung his view back to the road, his head feeling damp and heavy with an afterwave of ghosted motion. The outside lane ended due to construction. The flashing orange lights of the construction barrier were like spikes in his eyes, throbs of pain. He checked the mirrors for a hole into the next lane, swift as the current was.

He cried out in surprise as one of Alishaer's errant limbs struck him in the shoulder, his racing heart skipping a beat and making his chest feel cold.

Yves began switching lanes, easing the rig over. A red Honda roared up out of nowhere and took his hole. Yves rocked the truck back away from the lane and engaged the engine brakes, the booming complaint echoing across the freeway.

Alishaer cried out in agony, foam flying from his lips.

"Jesus Christ, Al! Are you gonna make it?" he yelled, attempting to manoeuvre the truck with hands that felt numb, arms that felt like lead weights.

A curtain of rain washed over the road. Yves tried to check his mirrors but his head spun when he jerked his eyes. He wanted to scream. His body felt far away. With detached interest he saw the fingers of Chicago's tallest buildings crest the grey horizon between the windshield wipers' sweeps, and thereby recognized that he had somehow turned the wipers on.

He risked a glance over at Alishaer. He had dropped into his seat, his limbs making only tiny flutters of movement. His eyes were open, and he appeared to have wet his pants.

"Are you alive, kid?" Yves tried to cry.

Alishaer looked at him listlessly.

"You had me scared, Al."

Alishaer was looked toward the road. Yves traced his gaze. The concrete abutment was almost at his nose. With a grunt he willed his clumsy arms to wrench the wheel left, flinging the rig blindly into the middle lane. He immediately heard the bang as a car collided with the trailer, felt the rebellious shudder touch him through the wheel. "Oh shit!" said Yves, struggling to keep control.

"I hate cinnamon," murmured Alishaer.

Yves struck a green van from behind. The impact swung the trailer out like a whip, sending a silver sedan spinning into the rails. Yves tried to anticipate the whip of inertia and counter-steer, but he could not get his body to obey. His hands slipped on the wheel, weak and full of pins and needles. His vision faded at the edges.

Frenchy got butterflies in his tummy.

The truck turned over. The wheels left the ground. The engine raced loudly, a plaintive groan. Some of the windows went out and Yves watched the rooster-tailed clouds of cubed glass sparkle through the cabin. Yves and Alishaer thumped around back and forth like ragdolls, held fast to their chairs.

They hit passenger side down and skidded across the pavement, pebbles from the road bouncing against their faces. Yves had just enough together to realize it was a good crash: the cabin was uncompressed, they hadn't jumped the median. They would live.

The rig ground to a halt, and in the moment of comparative silence that followed Yves detected the whine of strained metal that told him the trailer had not yet stopped moving. He saw it swing into view in front before it spun the cabin around, and then felt the crash as it was bisected by a speeding SUV skating sideways across the rain-slick asphalt.

Metal tore, tires screeched.

And the forms of four dozen nude women tumbled out of the eviscerated trailer with all the momentum of several tons of speeding truck. They struck the pavement and bounced, skittered, rolled. Yves waited to see them splinter apart into cogs and tubes and shattered circuit boards, and it took him a long moment to appreciate how this was not, in fact, what was happening.

Their screams were not at all like the kitty concert.

"My God," he said, bile rising in his suddenly constricted throat. "Jesus Christ my God -- they're women."

Alishaer nodded, lazily wiping a rivulet of blood from his temple. "I told you, Mr. Yves," he breathed raggedly; "some people will do anything for hope of better life."


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