All 12 story segments for the The Chase are posted below, with each original Top Suspense author (Max Allan Collins, Vicki Hendricks, Ed Gorman, Bill Crider, Harry Shannon and Dave Zeltserman) writing two of the story segments. The rules we had for writing the story were that there would be no planning, no coordination, no safety nets. Each day one of us wrote up to 250 words of The Chase and passed it onto the next writer. The only leeway was the last writer got to go past the 250 word limit to try to finish up the story, and the only editing done was for consistency errors.
We're offering free books and bragging rights to the first 5 people who can match each story segment to the author who wrote it. You can enter the contest by sending an email to email@example.com with your picks. Entries must be received by Dec. 30th, and one entry per person. We'll be announcing the winners on Jan. 3rd.
Lauren Blaine didn’t know who was in the car behind her, and she didn’t know when they’d picked up her trail. She looked over at the man in the passenger seat. He looked back, his face a blank. He had nothing to say. He seldom did.
“I don’t think I can lose them,” Lauren said.
The man’s head moved a fraction of an inch in what might have been considered a nod.
“I’m going to try, though.”
Another slight movement, which Lauren took for assent. She pressed down on the accelerator and the Cadillac CTS-V surged forward. They were on a little-used farm-to-market road, a curvy, hilly two-lane blacktop that Lauren had turned onto from the Interstate. She’d planned to cut over to the state highway to the west and follow that to their destination. Now she wished she hadn’t taken the shortcut.
The car behind her was gaining, which seemed impossible. The Caddy was the fastest production sedan made in the U. S. But maybe the car behind had been made elsewhere.
Lauren risked another glance at the man beside her. He unfastened his seatbelt, reached inside his jacket, and pulled a Kimber 1911 .45 from a shoulder holster. Lauren didn’t think a gun was going to be any help, but seeing it did make her feel a little better. The man refastened his seatbelt.
Lauren didn’t feel better for long. As the Cadillac crested a hill, she saw a slow-moving farm combine not a hundred yards ahead. It was so wide that it took up most of the road.
"Uh-oh,” the man said.
Lauren’s heart was in her throat, her pulse pounded, its pace steadily increasing as they raced closer to the combine. It went from an metal insect on the ribbon of road to a behemoth of mud-splattered steel in a terrifying span of seconds. She looked at the man seated next to her for guidance, but his eyes told her everything she needed to know. They said, whatever you do, don't slow down...
POP! Lauren heard a flat, harsh sound, remembered getting so angry at a man for cheating she'd slapped him across the face; it was that kind of sound but smaller somehow, more compact. The wind screeched into her face. With a feeling of dread she located the tiny spider web shape in the safety glass inches from her headrest. A bullet hole. The men in the other car were shooting at them. One round had come within inches of erasing her life. The sound came again.
She panicked a bit and their car fishtailed down the highway, an accidental but effective evasive maneuver. Lauren slid from the road and danced along the embankment, flattening wheat. She briefly wondered if she should gun the engine and try her luck in the fields. But they had no idea what was out there in the rows and rows of wheat, ditches and sink holes and rocks perhaps, scores of ways to stall the car. On the other hand they would be free to run on foot and covered by the seemingly eternal ocean of tall wheat?
The combine driver leaped from the machine and Lauren jerked the wheel left, crossed the road, bounced the car into the field. Her sense of direction was nearly always wrong and she was counting on that, heading opposite of what felt right to get to Kansas City. For over ten years, the darkness of LA clubs had replaced the open sky bordered by glistening grain, beauty she still hoped to reclaim.
Paolo turned. “Shit!”
Her lip curled and trembled. “You’re the one insisted on coming.”
“I saved your ass!”
She clenched her jaw and checked the road. No car on the hill. Ahead, one hope for cover, a sloping barn against the blue.
What had she been thinking? After two years of marriage, watching Jimmy’s drug money grow and keeping her Kansas roots secret, she’d sacrificed her lead time. Her little farm, the herb garden, dogs, chickens, the pot-bellied pig . . . all her dreams traded for a one night stand. Now up to three nights. If she’d known that Jimmy was so well-connected—but no, it was her stupid drinking that got her into trouble again.
She glanced out the side window. The other car still hadn’t crested the hill. Christ, yes! A few more seconds! She glared at Mr. Smooth-face-square-jaw, his wide eyes shifting between barn and highway—what the hell was his last name? She should be sick of those thick lashes and muscular lips, finished with all six foot three of him, but she still felt the warm sting, making her want it again—if only she could find the fucking highway.
“Pull into that barn,” Paolo said.
She shot him a glare. “What the hell else did you think I was going to do?”
But she did it anyway, sliding through the open doors that seemed to be waiting for her. She didn’t wait for the jerk’s help – she scrambled out, shut the barn doors, the scent of hay strangely comforting. In some weird way, she was home.
“We’ll wait it out,” she said, and turned, and the handsome prick was grinning at her, the Kimber pointed right at her.
“Fuckin’ funny,” he said.
“I was just thinking that.”
“You figured they were after you. No. Me.”
“They’re not Jimmy’s people?”
“Who are they then?”
“Does it matter? You knew I worked with Jimmy. You knew I swam in those waters.”
Talkative now, all of a sudden. Why hadn’t he shot her?
Of course. The farmhouse. A shot might bring Farmer Brown. But this move – pulling the gun on her – it spoke volumes: he was stupid. He could have picked the right moment to show his hand. Too early in the game....
“You don’t need that,” she said, gesturing toward his gun-in-hand. “We’re in the shit now. Together. I’m helping you. Why — ”
“That’s the funny thing. Jimmy hired me to take care of you.”
The prick had picked her up in that bar and screwed her silly for how long? And his end game was a bullet?
“Sit over there.”
Apparently he didn’t see the pitchfork leaned against the post.
She knew she had only seconds to fill her fingers with the pitchfork handle then turn and stab him before he could get an accurate shot off. She remembered how he'd complimented her after their fourth round of lovemaking. She obviously inspired him. Now she hoped that doing a slutty walk in her tight red skirt and sweaty white blouse could distract him from the Kimber in his hand.
She might have been a stripper strutting her stuff as she walked away from him and toward bale of hay where he wanted her seated. Subtle he wasn't. In the dusty confines of the barn, lazy dust-filled sunlight streaming through the shattered windows, his breathing became loud and short. Horndog.
As she approached the post the pitchfork leaned against she put her hand to her backside and rubbed, as if giving herself pleasure.
Harder and harder came his breathing. That wasn't the only thing that was harder no doubt.
God could she actually pull it off? Suddenly the whole plan seemed absurd. He'd kill her right here and right now. What had she been thinking of.
But wasn't he going to kill her anyway? What did it matter where she died?
At times in her life she'd been so frightened that she seemed to be watching herself from a distance. A woman who was her twin sister would be trying to extricate herself from a dangerous situation. But Lauren Blaine had the easy part. All she had to do was watch.
She turned toward him still holding the pitchfork. Fuck, she was angry. She wasn’t sure if it was at this prick or at Jimmy, but her rage was near choking her. “Why don’t you just shoot me already?” she demanded.
He scratched lazily along his jaw with one hand as he trained his .45 toward her chest with his other. Showing a thin smile, he said, “I’m not done with you yet.”
“What do you mean not done with me? In helping you get away from those men or in fucking me?”
“A little of both.”
The prick! Those words were like pouring gasoline on her rage as it exploded within her. She charged him then without realizing it, and when he fired a warning shot Lauren threw the pitchfork as she dove to the ground. Something wet and sticky hit her. When she looked up, she first saw the blood spray, then him, his eyes confused, the pitch fork sticking into his thigh and blood spurting from the wound. She had hit an artery and he was bleeding out fast. The confusion drained from his eyes as they became cold and reptilian. He shot at her to kill but he was too woozy to see straight, and the bullets bit into the barn floor next to her. He fired off two more shots as he fell backward. After a few twitches he stopped moving.
It became deathly quiet inside the barn. She heard a car pull up and held her breath as the engine was killed, then doors opened and closed.
Lauren didn’t waste any time looking for a place to hide. She scuttled over to Paolo and jerked the .45 from his cold dead fingers. Okay, so they weren’t cold. What the hell.
Paolo had fired three shots. How many were bullets were left in the magazine? Four? Ten? A hundred? Lauren didn’t have a clue. She pointed the pistol at the doors.
One of the barn doors opened. A man poked his head inside.
Lauren pulled the trigger. The .45 slug tore through the wooden door about three feet to the left and a foot above where the man’s head had been. Lauren wasn’t much of a shot.
The door opened all the way, and the man stepped inside. He didn’t seem afraid. Lauren didn’t blame him, but she fired the pistol anyway. And missed again, still wide left.
The man didn’t even blink. “You’re wasting your time,” he said. “My friend’s waiting outside, so even if you get me, which I doubt you will, he’ll come in and take care of you.”
Lauren pulled the trigger. The bullet went wide to the right this time. Over-correction.
“That pistol’s a Kimber,” the man said. “I heard four shots before, so that means you got one left. Wanna try again, or you just wanna come with me and Frankie? Jimmy wants to see you. Says you got something belongs to him.”
Lauren heard a low rumble. It was getting louder. She looked at the Kimber. It might as well have been a water pistol for all the good it did her. She dropped it to the dirt floor.
"Why did Jimmy send three, for insurance?"
That rumbling sound. Hadn't he noticed? No. He was too busy studying her breasts. The man nodded. "We gave Paulo his space until you two took off. It looked like he was more up for dipping his wick than carrying out orders. So we lit out after you." He looked at Paulo's corpse, skin so waxen, the dirt and straw darkly stained. "Thanks. You didn't waste him, we would have had to."
And then he finally heard the noise. Stiffened.
"Is this some kind of convention?" Lauren asked. The stranger moved from registering the rumbling sound to something else, something more sinister. Lauren could see his mind struggling. Jimmy wants it back, but he also wants the bitch dead. What do I do now? Now that there's some other car?
"Hustle up, dude!" The guy outside. The one he'd called Frankie. High voice, California accent. "We got company!"
The guy facing Lauren moved his eyes. They dropped down to his own weapon. Armed it with a slide and a click. Lauren acted without thinking. She bent down, scrambled to grab the Kimber, lined up on his groin and fired. Her aim was as terrible as usual, up and a bit to one side, but this time her last slug took off part of his skull in a spray of blood and bone. He dropped. She ran over, pried the 9mm Glock from his hands. Lauren felt giddy. Yawn. Another body, another gun.
The engine cut off and she heard a car door open and close. No voices. Nothing. A shot! Two! Three! Four! How many guys out there? The doors would burst open any second and she had to be ready. She'd seen it on TV a hundred times. She got against the front wall, took a sturdy stance, holding the Glock with both hands. Which side of the door would open?
She widened her legs and held her breath. Waited. Panted. Her arms shook. She propped her elbow on her hip and struggled to keep her trigger hand steady. Sweat ran between her breasts.
After two lifetimes, her arm dropped to her side. All dead? Doubtful. Just waiting for her head to appear.
She glanced around. Light slanted from above, gleaming on Paolo's tan forehead. Other than the sagging roof, the barn seemed sturdy. Odd timing, but she remembered a similar barn. Darrell, unsnapping his overalls. Mmm. He was a hot treat, but being a country wife hadn't appealed to her, stoking the wood stove and snapping beans, chasing after grubby kids with their green-snotted noses. Church on Sunday. Hell, maybe coming back was all a mistake, not just the way she'd done it. There was life in LA.
She gave the door a kick, knocking it open a few feet. Nothing. She charged through and stopped fast in front of a rusty pick up with huge muddy tires. The windows were half down, a collie whining inside. “Sweet baby,” she said.
The collie was docile enough. Even more docile was Frankie, sprawled in the late model job alongside the pick-up. Frankie was a little guy who’d splattered a lot of blood onto the driver’s side window; he’d taken three hits, two in the face, one in the throat. The latter wound was gurgling a little.
Looked like the pick-up truck’s driver had slid up to a stop next to the newer vehicle and just started firing away through his open window.
Somebody didn’t like intruders....
Yet no sign of the driver. And that fucking collie hadn’t shot anybody. Lauren looked all around – the day had died on her, but visibility was fine in a clear blue dusk long with shadows. She circled the barn, gun in hand, till she came back to where she started.
If Frankie’s killer was the occupant of that farmhouse (where a couple lights were on), she’d need to hustle. She quickly returned to the barn, opened the trunk of her car, got rid of the extra suitcase – like Paolo himself, excess baggage – and gave the brown carry-on filled with Jimmy’s money a loving little pat.
She was just about to go up to open the barn doors and drive the hell out, hoping for room to squeeze past the two parked vehicles out there, when the rugged-looking Marlboro man with the plaid jacket and blue baseball cap and double-barrel shotgun stepped inside.
“Hold ‘er right there, missy,” he said, face blank as a hay bale.
“Oh, thank God,” Lauren said. “I never thought I’d live through it. I'm so grateful you killed him."
"Never mind that. What's your connection to them?"
She knew better than to tell him anything. She had a bad girl/good girl switch somewhere in her brain. Good girl was in charge now. Sobs. Tears. The stereotypical hysterical chickenshit woman.
"What the hell's wrong with you?"
Fucking good girl switch. It must not be feeding her full power. She had to make the good girl switch work. She went back to sobbing. Then she pretended to start to faint.
He was right there to save her and right there to listen to her after he carried her over to a hay bale and set her atop it. The story he got should have made him sympathetic—bad guys chasing her and almost killing her—but she could see that he, looming over her, remained skeptical.
Then she stood up and fell into his arms, her fingers nimbly finding his crotch. Hard already. So he had been paying attention like a good dogie. Then why did he push her away?
“I want the truth. Now.”
“All right. You’re a fucking cynic, here’s the deal,” she said. Then she told him about the big pay day he’d get if he’d move the cars so she could get out and not call the cops on her for four hours. “That’s a lot of money.”
He was obviously thinking it over. What was he going to say?
As it turned out he didn’t have to say anything. The nasty smile and hungry look he flashed her answered her as well as words. Lauren started to unbutton her blouse, but Marlboro man turned her around and shoved her against the hay bale. There was a moment where he must’ve been fumbling with his pants, then her skirt was pushed up and her panties yanked down. He was rough as he entered her, his fingers digging into her thighs. Once again she was being used. Just like all those men at the club where she danced before she met Jimmy, and then Jimmy in those early days. How he’d trick her out so he could bust in and rob the sap while they were screwing. And later what Jimmy used to make her do with his business associates.
She caught his reflection in a glass pane, and she knew this time was different. Not just with how he was keeping his shotgun at arm’s length, but from the cruel twist of his mouth. She realized something else also.
“That guy in the tractor who ran me off the rode. You look like him. A cousin of yours? A brother?”
He didn’t say anything. Just pounded harder into her like she was nothing but meat.
“What’s your game? You run rubes off the road, so you can rob them of their cars and money?”
“How many rubes you got buried out here?”
He grunted as he pulled out of her. “I’ll shut your mouth for you!” She didn’t fight him as he grabbed a fistful of her hair and guided her toward him. She went willingly. As far as she was concerned she was only going to be biting a sausage in half.
Marlboro man let out a scream. Lauren spat out a lump of flesh and scrambled to the shotgun while he stumbled backward a step while clutching his bloody stump. His eyes grew wide for a brief moment, then the shotgun blast obliterated them, as well as the rest of his face.
Lauren decided she was sick of Kansas. She adjusted her panties and skirt, then fished a set of car keys from Marlboro man’s jacket. With the money she had she was going to leave an ocean or two between her and Jimmy. No one would use her again. She couldn’t help smiling at what happened to the last few men who tried.