Vincent Sweetwater twisted the Harley’s throttle. The power in the motor thrummed between his legs. The bike seemed heavy, angry; like she wanted to fall flat on her face. Like she yearned to drag him across the gritty asphalt. Vince needed to feel the pavement shred his clothing and bite into his skin. Punishment for being a man who thrived on suffering.
Why can’t I control myself, damn it?
-You’re supposed to be one of the good guys.
-Stop drinking, Sweetwater.
Vince envisioned choking the life out of his conscience. The damn thing made it difficult to be an asshole, yet somehow he didn’t let it stop him. Nothing stopped him from being a dick to his wife. Vince squeezed the throttle. The speed would numb his mind.
The machine growled beneath him, giving her two fucking cents, and he ignored the wanton slut. Vince was too malicious to give her what she craved. If he did, there would be no turning back.
Still, the iron bitch demanded more power. Urged by a quiet whisper from somewhere in the darkness of his mind, Vince let off the throttle long enough to grasp the clutch and toe it into sixth. Then there was nothing but speed, wind, and emptiness. The night enveloped him as he rode beyond the limits of his headlights. The asphalt was a grainy blur.
The ocean whispered to him as the highway snaked along the coast, high up on the bluff. Waves were a distant rush below the edge and he considered leaning to the right; to take the dive he knew he deserved. Instead, he kept his eyes on the road, glancing at the speedometer only out of curiosity. He no longer cared what laws he was breaking.
The bike responded with a throaty purr. No longer angry. She loved him as long as he gave her what she craved. Like a lover, she read his mind and reacted to the slightest twitch of his muscles. In a strange way, she was a part of him. Together they were a fusion of flesh and machine. Vince couldn’t think of a better way to die.
The road rumbled beneath the wheels, relentless and vindictive, waiting for the moment he made his fatal mistake. Vince pushed the Harley’s limits, but the machine had none. She caved to his need. He’d have to rein her in if he didn’t want to die. The machine didn’t care. Neither did Vince. Not anymore. So they both sped into the night, too chickenshit to stop. Mica deserved his blood. God, he owed his wife so much more than his death.
“Christ, I shouldn’t have hurt her,” he whispered. Vince tasted his own bitterness; smelled the tequila on his breath, trapped inside the black full-face helmet.
Is this what my death will taste like—tequila?
The drink made him mean. Just like his dad. Like his grandfather. Vince knew he should have left Mica long ago. If he were a good man, he would’ve saved her from this vicious cycle of drunken abuse.
Memories swirled in his head, buffeted by the events of the evening and the pain he’d inflicted on his wife. Vince wouldn’t allow excuses; yet so many things were beyond his control. Past horrors infected his life—horrors Mica never suspected. Most of them he managed to forget. Only the vague sense of a smudged soul remained as every tragedy he suffered lingered inside his skull.
His world was falling apart; unraveling beneath him, like this endless highway. Vince imagined the road was waiting for him to trip over the edge. A dark maw ready to swallow him whole or snap him into little pieces to grind and chew.
Vince squeezed the throttle. Like his father, he fueled his dark side, and let it run rampant rather than exert any self-control. Spoon-fed on pain, Vince encouraged his dark side to grow strong as an adult, even as his life crumbled around him.
Fine work, Sweetwater, why don’t you just stand in Daddy’s fucking shadow? Sit in prison with the old man? Have some father-son time.
Christ, I’m an idiot! Mica’ll be happier in the morning when they scrape my body off the pavement. She’ll have closure. What a stupid word, closure, it’s a shrink’s word. Fuck, they can’t fix me. I can’t fix me.
The death grip he had on the throttle thrust him headlong into the black. There would be no moment of correction. No saving himself if something went wrong. It was only a matter of time. Vince anticipated the moment. Hell, the thought of it made him half-hard. The mechanism of all his evil twitched to life at the idea of his own pain, tightening his jeans. Why was he so sick? Why’d the pain turn him on?
Vince replayed the events of the evening over again in his mind. His own form of self-flagellation. He was merciless. The agony was in spoiling the woman he loved. Mica was the only person he had left who loved him. The woman he had endured so much to protect over the years was now damaged by his own hand? How could he let this happen?
None of it was her fault. Yet, knowing that never stopped him from being cruel. Even when it killed him inside to be so ruthless. Since their daughter’s death he had become the monster he feared. The monster that haunted his nightmares. Vince knew it was time to put an end to everyone’s suffering.
Will I see my little girl again?
Headlights glittered from around a curve in the highway. Opportunity materialized in those yellow orbs. Vince leaned toward the center line. The bike tried to stand up, but Vince muscled it back onto its horrifying track. The feeling was unnatural. His body wanted to lean away from the oncoming car; to save itself, but his mind fought the urge. The bike drifted into the opposing lane. The Harley cleared the front end of the passing car as it veered to avoid the collision. Vince’s chest burned with sudden relief. His heart stuttered a few anxious beats.
In the darkness, he didn’t see the trailer until it careened wildly in his direction. The Harley clipped the trailer and corkscrewed violently. The impact ripped the handlebars from Vince’s grasp. The bar snapped back to shatter his hand and he clutched his wrist to his chest. He hit the pavement as the bike continued it’s spiral. There was a sickening snap in his lower leg as the slide began.
To Vince it was like watching a movie in slow motion. The sound in his ears seemed hollow and far away. The metal and asphalt snarled at each other like dogs fighting. The bike kicked up to tumble over him once more as his body rag-dolled out of control, wrenching his hip. The only thing he saw was the arc of his headlights, like a sick beacon in the dark, when the bike sailed over his head. Then the rear tire slammed into his helmet.
The room was dark. Silent. Vince held his breath. His hip ached. The sheets were soaked. His fists knotted the fabric as his hand spasmed. Was it the dream that woke him or something else? For a moment, he listened to the silence, straining to hear a sound. When none came, he released his breath and moved disjointedly to sit on the edge of the bed. His T-shirt clung to him. Vince yanked it over his head and tossed it on the floor, adding to the growing pile.
“Damn it! Give me a fucking break.” Vince blew out a shaky breath. When would he stop dreaming about the wreck? It was bad enough he survived. Worse yet, he was restarting his life in the morning, returning to work after way too long.
“Jesus, I need some sleep.”
Nearly two years of hospitalization and rehab repaired his physique, but not his psyche. The shrink talked about survivor’s guilt, grief, and self-deprecation. Terms like self-hatred and self-harm were thrown around so freely he was afraid he wouldn’t be cleared to return to work. Hell, work was all he had left. Vince had to convince his shrink it had been an accident. Not an attempt at suicide. Not a well thought out attempt, anyway.
-You’re so not ready.
Vince squashed the little voice in his head. “Need to fucking piss.”
The bathroom light cast an inviting glow. Vince rubbed his leg. The fracture had healed, but it still ached. Standing stiffly, he crossed the room with his peculiar gait. The side effect of a shattered hip and a broken leg. Not gimpy, just odd.
After flushing the toilet, Vince glanced around the pink bathroom. The bathtub was still full of toys. Barbie dolls with matted hair and Bumblebee in a state of half-transformation. He tried to bend down to pick up the toy, but he was too sore. Vince had overworked himself with the Nautilus earlier in the day. His partner and foster brother, Nick had accused him of reinjuring himself. The bastard was looking for any reason to keep him sidelined.
Vince turned to the sink to splash cool water on his face. Stopped short by the little carved bar of soap in the dish, he heaved a withering sigh. With a shaky finger he traced the delicate dolphin he had carved for his little girl.
“Maybe it was bad idea sleeping in your room, baby girl. For a split second, I thought I’d heard you.”
“Dead voices can’t be good, Sweetwater.” He leaned closer to the mirror, trying to find a semblance of the human being he once knew, instead of the shattered shell he hated.
“Jesus, what’re you doing to yourself, man?”
Vince spoke to the desolate visage in the mirror. The one staring out from under shoulder-length hair the color of dirty straw, unwashed and stringy, with haggard green eyes full of pain. Pale stubble covered his jaw. He had his father’s high Indian cheekbones. Soft, full lips compressed flat in disappointment as he shook his head and pushed from the counter to return to the drenched bed.
“Okay, one more night almost down. Way too many to go. You really should stop talking to yourself, man. Doesn’t help the psych evals any.”
A bottle of vodka said hello from the nightstand. Who the hell was he to deny such a sweet invitation? He snatched up one of his bottles of narcotics. The rattle soothed his soul. Alcohol and pills were such beautiful companions. They were a difficult duo to deny, and even harder to get. The docs were getting stingy.
“Don’t want the vodka to be lonely.”
Not lonely like you.
“Shut the fuck up, Jiminy Cricket.”
Or you’ll do what?
“I hate you.”
There you go with the self-hatred again, what would your shrink say?
“Karen can fuck off, along with you.”
Not counting the pills as they fell into his hand, Vince tossed them back, hoping to kill the voice in his head. He sat for a long, dark moment. Gone somewhere inside his own head. He shivered and took another drink.
Vince grabbed the remote and clicked on the news. He paid little attention as he rubbed his aching hip. When Lola Romero began her news report he glanced up to see an official photo of himself in uniform.
“Jesus, talk about an old fucking picture.”
Despite being only twenty-three in the photo, he hadn’t appeared young and fresh faced. His eyes had held a kind of darkness even then, and his best efforts were unable to hide the pain.
“An L.A.P.D. Information officer confirmed the return to duty of Detective Vincent Sweetwater just one week after a horrifying display of violence toward a man who was reportedly beating his five-year-old son in the parking lot of a Home Depot in Inglewood. Detective Sweetwater was nearly killed last year in a motorcycle accident on the Pacific Coast Highway and is still under scrutiny following alleged misconduct while under deep cover with the narcotics division.”
“Bite me, Lola.” Vince shut off the TV, flopping back on the bed, staring into the darkness.
“Fuck my life. It was more than a year ago. Bitch.”
I hate people.