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Greetings, Bearers!

Here’s a little sneak preview from me, a short story I’m working on and am almost finished with, to be put into my upcoming short story collection.  Enjoy!

J. Dean

***

Austin shut his eyes.  He’d had enough of the police car’s irritating roof-mounted strobe light.  The cop hadn’t approached him yet.  No surprise there; cops seemed to enjoy dragging out traffic stops for as long as possible.  The unseen officer was probably getting a chuckle out of it, cracking a joke with his dispatcher about the make and model of Austin’s car.  Well, no point in watching for his approach anyway; the combination of the strobe along with the patrol car’s blinding headlights in his rearview mirror made it impossible to see anything over than a painful nighttime illumination made up of sharp blues, reds, and whites. 

His ear caught the unlatching of a car door, followed by a slamming of metal against metal.  Heavy boots smashed roadside gravel into the earth with each step.  Austin spied a dancing flashlight beam on the roadside, jittering here and there, moving closer to his car door in rhythm with the falling footsteps.  A broad silhouette obstructed one of the headlights, swaying back and forth in unison with its plodding strides.

Bright flashlight exploded in his eyes.  “Evening, sir,” boomed a deep voice.

“Evening.”  Austin answered, looking downward.  The officer’s free left hand rested upon his hip, just above the angled grip of his firearm.  Austin swallowed, forcing his face to try to retain a nonchalant expression.  Regular Oscar nominee, I am…

“I’d like to see your license and registration, sir.”

“Sure,” Austin began, gesturing toward the glove compartment.  “They’re in there.  Mind if I get them?”

“No, sir.  Move slow and smooth, and there won’t be a problem.”

Austin nodded, turning to reach for the grey panel.  The officer’s light followed his hand, centering on the tip of his index finger as he pressed the release.  There was little doubt in Austin’s mind as to where the cop’s other, weapon-wielding hand was positioned while he did this, and the soft unlatching of a holster’s snap button did not escape his attention.

The panel dropped, revealing a plastic identification card coupled with a folded, white paper.

“That’s them.  We good so far?” Austin asked.  

 “Yes, sir.”

The policeman carried a tone that struck Austin as one of forced civility.  Was the guy looking for a reason to throw his weight around?  Austin decided not to remark about it; any other time and any other situation, he’d whip up some witty joke, but not here.  Not now.

Not if he wanted to get out of this one.

He handed the information over, catching a glimpse of the policeman’s face: square and unhappy.  A thin mustache laced with grey hair traced his frowning upper lip.  Two frozen pupils stuck in a perpetual glare shifted between the license photo and Austin’s impassive face.  Austin wondered whether the man knew how to form a smile.  Or whether he’d ever want to.

“Do you know why I pulled you over, sir?”

“No,” Austin shook his head.  “Actually I don’t, officer.”

“You were straddling the lanes back there for a good mile and a half.”

“Was I?”  Austin pressed his lips together, clinging to the steering wheel for dear life.  A nervous trickle of sweat skittered down the right side of his neck. 

“You haven’t had your vehicle converted yet, sir?” 

Austin looked up.  The officer had diverted his attention and his flashlight beam to the back of the car.  “I’ve still got four months before the conversion law takes effect,” he answered. 

Careful, Austin.  Not too argumentative…

“Don’t wait too long,” the officer replied.  “Most of the gas stations in town have closed up.”

And the remaining ones are charging an arm and a leg for filing up.  Don’t remind me.

“You still live at this address?”

“Yes, sir.”

A pair of noiseless lights coasted in the opposite direction.  Austin frowned; he didn’t like the sluggish pace of the converted cars, didn’t like losing the sound of a ravenous, rumbling engine hungry for pavement, didn’t like losing the feel of tires lapping miles of earth.  That’s what he had now.  That’s what he loved.  His was not a top of the line sports car, but he’d spent several years tinkering with it here and there, giving it a little more power and pickup. He kept it in good shape, changing parts more frequently than he needed to.  The car in return rewarded him with travels free of mechanical problems; nothing more than an occasional flat tire to deal with.  Power shivered the metal frame every time he turned the key, and the pulsing rhythmic growl of the motor sang to him every time he took the vehicle out.  He loved it.

Then came the Conversion Law.  

Conversion… More like castration.

“I need to run these.  Wait here.” 

Heavy footfalls traced their crunching path back to the police car.  Austin slouched, letting out a tense breath, running a hand through sweaty hair.  He rolled his eyes toward the passenger side of the car, first examining the seat, then the floor.  Anything that betrayed evidence of a crime in sight?

No.  Nothing at all.  No reason for the policeman to ask him to step out, to open the passenger side door, the backseats, the trunk.  Everything looked just fine: a normal, everyday traffic stop.  That’s all this was, and that’s all it would be.  Over and done with before he knew it, and everybody would be on their merry way.

Right?

So why’s your heart still kicking so hard against your chest, buddy?  

“Because we’re not done yet,” he whispered, staring at the rearview mirror.

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