Tractor-trailers jockeyed for position among speeding cars and buses. Everyone drove at breakneck speed near Narragansett Bay as they rounded the curved highway on their approach to the bridge. It was six in the morning when I made it onto Rhode Island's Interstate 95 headed toward the George Washington Bridge. In the low-speed lane, my car worked hard to keep pace with the others. Speeds increased, akin to those at the Daytona Speedway.
Cars and trucks thundered across the highway of never-ending construction. Orange cones lined the high-speed lane and curtailed traffic. In a flash, everyone squeezed into my lane. Vehicles jostled and maneuvered for a new spot.
Intent on my own strip of road and the lanes of drivers ahead, I never saw the vehicle to my rear left side. My fender was slammed hard. I swerved to the right and lost control of the car. There were no barriers to stop my Taurus as it careened right, left the road, and took flight over the temporary curb. The car bounced out of control, pointed nose first down the knoll toward an embankment. I clenched the steering wheel and twisted, but the car had a mind of its own.
Things happened fast, yet it seemed like slow motion. Hardly aware of the sideways skid over the terrain, my car and I continued on the downhill journey. I tried to straighten the wheel again, but the airborne Taurus hurtled toward a pile of stone and sand. With a loud crunch and a thud we landed. Perched precariously on top of a concrete bridge abutment just before Narragansett Bay, the car and I teetered on the brink of disaster.
The State of Rhode Island was in the process of constructing yet another ramp -- an ongoing construction thing. The T-shaped abutment stood out over the road far below. I balanced on the top edge of the concrete while the groan of bending metal resounded in my ears.
When my body jerked forward the airbag inflated and smashed into my face. I thanked God for seatbelts. So much had happened in a few seconds.
I fought the airbag while it deflated. With the view before me, I suddenly wished it was still inflated. The hood of the car pointed downward and seemed to hang in mid air. The windshield, crinkled and cracked, offered a terrifying bird's eye view of my surroundings. No way could I get out of the car.
Scared, and suspended like a marionette, I took stock of my body while rational thought crept in. I reached up to pull the visor down and stared into the attached mirror. The reflection assured me there were no facial injuries -- just pasty white skin and huge brown eyes surrounded by my erratic dark swarm of curls. My hands and arms still worked, as did my legs and toes.
How the hell was I gonna get out of this car? The dashboard was shoved upward from the impact to the car as it bent in the middle and left little room to maneuver.
Within my jacket pocket, the cell phone jingled a lofty tune. I struggled to retrieve the palm-sized object. I'm not sure how I managed it, but the phone suddenly sat in my hand and I flipped the lid open to answer. Why didn't I use it to scream for help? Well, I don't know -- just call me stupid.
The voice on the other end of the phone wanted to know if I might be interested in an increased limit on my credit card. I held the phone away and gawked at it. I struggled to breathe, since the seatbelt squeezed the shit out of me.
"No, I don't want a freakin' raise in the limit. I'd like to be rescued though," I yelled into the phone and flipped it closed. Sales people do call at such inconvenient times.
Within seconds I dialed 911. I figured there might be no way for the 911 people in Rhode Island to track a cell phone, so I took a breath and glanced around. Some person answered and asked a bunch of foolish questions about my condition and location.
"I'm stuck over a bridge abutment somewhere near the George Washington Bridge, eastbound in Providence," I said. I started to shake and realized shock was next on my agenda.
"Okay ma'am, I'll notify emergency services for you. Are you injured?"
The disembodied voice was calm as a cucumber. Why not? He wasn't hanging forward, God knows how many feet in the air, with his tits divided by a seatbelt instead of a cross-your-heart bra. My hips would never be the same and I was sure there was a permanent strap mark on my skin. My shoulder strap was another matter. A burning sensation ran along my clavicle and down my left arm.
"No, I don't think so. Everything is movable, just uncomfortable. The car is slanted downward and I'm quite far off the ground, I think. The view is poor at this moment."
"Is there a street sign nearby?"
What the hell? Did he really think I was that fortunate?
"No. Just get me the hell out of here," I bellowed and disconnected.
Sirens wailed in the distance overhead, and I could hear them zoom past. Damn. As the sounds receded a fresh batch approached. My cell phone jingled again and I answered the summons.
"Hello," I said, and then glanced around. Can't anyone find me? Providence is, after all, a relatively small city.
"Vinnie, it's Marcus. Are you all right?" His voice echoed over the phone.
My frustration level climbed, and as relieved as I was to hear his voice, I just wanted to get out of the car. Unfortunately, I was afraid to unclasp the seat belt. Courage isn't my strong suit. I just pretend a lot.
"I'm great, having the time of my life. Why don't you join me for a Margarita?"
He mumbled to someone in the background. If I heard it right, he said I was my usual smart-assed self. Fuming inside, and about to lose any control over my temper, I took a deep breath. It seemed they were taking forever to find me. What if I were bleeding to death or something equally disgusting?
"There are more than six patrol cars and a couple fire trucks in the area where you went off the road. Someone should be with you momentarily. By the way, save me a Margarita, will you?"
Breathing heavily now, I tamped my rising sense of panic, while my nerves stretched to the limit. Would someone please get me the hell out of this damned car? I was suffocating in this vehicle and couldn't put the window down.
"Vinnie, are you there?"
With a grunt, I eased the seat lever back and felt the strap across my body loosen a bit. The car teetered and I gasped.
"Yeah, I'm choking to death on this damned seat belt. Get me out of here, Marcus. Hurry." Anxiety filled my voice and tensed my fraught nerves. A tear slid down my cheek.
The sounds of cars screeching to a halt were accompanied by flashing colored lights that reflected off the concrete abutment across from me. Ropes and safety lines appeared over the car as a fire truck aerial ladder rose into view. The next thing I knew, two fire fighters leaned toward the car.
One of them yelled to me and asked if I was all right. Geesh, I thought I established that fact. When I nodded, he gave me the thumbs up sign and turned to the other man with him. They conversed for a few seconds -- an eternity to me -- and then looked back at the car.
"We'll secure the vehicle. Can you get the door open, ma'am?"
Heavy ropes sloped over the car and tightened. Only the two men were in view.
I really dislike that 'ma'am' thing, but didn't say so at that moment. Instead, I nodded affirmatively and tried the door handle. The lock clicked as I forced the door open a crack. Brisk fresh air swept into the car.
With the nose of the Taurus bent, the contorted interior refused to allow the door to open wide. I leaned into it and the seatbelt tightened against my skin. My glance went back to the rescue personnel and I shook my head.
Within minutes they pried the door open with heavy equipment while I waited. I recognized the scissor-like Jaws of Life. I saw them used on a television program, but never the real thing. Some folks have all the luck.
Drenched in sweat, my body shook as the adrenaline rush receded. If I didn't get out soon, I'd throw up or wet my pants, I just knew it. Another embarrassing moment in a life filled with them.
Would it be too much to ask for a mundane life? What is a mundane life, anyway? Do some people really have such a thing? These questions tumbled one after another through my mind as I waited for the professionals to do what they did best -- save my sorry ass -- that's what.
The door peeled back like a sardine can lid and I sucked in the fresh air, gulping great draughts of it. The closest rescuer checked me over. When he finished he smiled at me, his blue eyes sparkling.
"What's your name?"
"Vinnie," I said.
"Well Vinnie, I want you to reach around my neck, if you can." His calm voice soothed my frayed nerves. "The seat belt is snagged. I'll cut it and remove you from the car on a count of three. Okay?"
"On the count of three, right?"
"Yep." He smiled again.
His confidence bolstered mine, and I figured I had nothing to lose. With a white-knuckled grip, I clung to the jacket of my blue-eyed rescuer. He became a life raft and I refused to drown in fear without a fight, damn it. My fingers gripped him tighter as he cut the seatbelt and slid his arm around my waist. He tugged the strap away and counted to three.
I tensed a bit, but firm hands held me safe. He dragged me from the car that teetered toward the ground. My Taurus was a wreck and so was I, even though I wasn't physically injured. We all need to be grateful for the little things in life, right?
Once on the ladder, Blue Eyes loosened his hold. We descended to the base of the ladder truck from the edge of the abutment. When we stopped moving, he released me and I glanced around. I could see a dozen state troopers and Providence cops milling around on the ground below. Marcus stood among them, arms crossed as he waited for me.
Trooper Marcus Richmond came into my life earlier in the year and found a place in my heart. We sometimes disagreed on my way of life, but mostly he accepted me for who I was.
Now his face seemed carved in stone. I was uncertain if he was angry over the accident or relieved that I made it in one piece. It felt like his hazel green eyes never left me as I clambered down the rear of the truck on shaky legs. On the ground, I leaned against the fire engine a moment while Marcus strode forward. Knees wobbly and skin moist, I waited for him.
"Where's my Margarita?" Marcus's softly murmured in my ear as he held me in his arms.
A hiccup sob escaped my lips, and I clung to his lean, muscled body. Tears slid down my cheeks. Strong hands stroked my back and smoothed my wild hair. I leaned away to stare into eyes that mystified me.
"I couldn't get out, and nobody could find me. It was awful."
"I know. We drove all over the place in search of the right bridge abutment. You left a trail, but then the tracks disappeared from view. Nobody knew where to look. I'm sorry we took so long, Vinnie." A tiny smile curled the corners of his lips as he held my face in his hands. "You scared the shit out of me, though."
His fellow troopers and cops looked on -- a few of them familiar to me from my summer escapades. I nodded in their direction as Marcus escorted me to the rescue vehicle.
I perched on the edge of the step while a medical tech checked for damage, I glanced around and then up at the car. My eyes rounded, I gulped and stared.
"Damn, my car is junk." I stated the obvious and now knew what caused the look on Marcus's face before I descended the ladder. He probably had the same thought, but hadn't said so. I could have been crushed like a bug if the car had flipped over. I was saved by the grace of God. Maybe church wasn't such a bad idea.
"My mother doesn't know about this, does she?"
"Not as far as I know. The news people aren't here."
He nodded at the cops as they headed back to do whatever they did. Fire and rescue personnel cleared up the car debris. A wrecker arrived to take away the crumpled metal that no longer resembled my gleaming bright red car. I watched in a detached manner, my mind traveling at the speed of light, as the car was brought down from its perch and loaded onto the flatbed.
"This couldn't have been just an accident, who did this to you? Did you get a look at the vehicle or driver?" Marcus asked.
"No," I answered and explained what had taken place, "I think it was just that, an accident. I haven't pissed anyone off lately."
"You don't think so?" His eyebrow cocked a bit.
"No, I don't. By the way, I'm late for class."
"There won't be any class for you today or tomorrow. I called ahead to tell them you wouldn't be in for a couple of days."
"Oh," I said, wondering who would take over the Criminal Justice class for today.
A young EMT stepped around the truck and said, "You should have X-rays, Miss. I couldn't find any injuries, just your bruised clavicle. You'll be sore though. Seat belts and air bags are necessary, but can cause unseen damage. Get checked out, okay?"
"Sure, thanks." Not in this lifetime. I had enough crap for today. There isn't a chance in hell I'd put up with doctors poking and prodding me like a guinea pig. No -- thank you very much.
The only car in sight belonged to Marcus. All the other troopers and cops had left. With a sigh, I stood and walked toward the Crown Victoria that waited, alone on the street. Casting one last glance at my trashed Taurus, I slid onto the front seat of the messiest cruiser I ever saw.
A laptop computer sat hooked to the dashboard, piles of paper, booklets, and cop debris riddled the front seat, floor, and back seat of the large vehicle. Nothing compact about a Crown Vic, these cars are spacious. I guess it's so the officers can carry more junk.
"Are you taking me home?" I asked.
"It entered my mind, but you should get X-rays first." His intense gaze scanned my face.
"Nah, I'm fine. Just take me home. If I'm in pain later, I'll get checked out. I promise."
His look may have been a bit on the doubtful side, I'm not sure. Sometimes Marcus is inscrutable, and I can't guess what his thoughts are. This was one of those times.
"If you say so. Take it easy today, and no jogging or any of that stuff, okay?"
"You're mothering me, Marcus. I'm fine, I said."
"I know," he smirked, "but you gave me quite a scare." He drew in a deep breath. "I would have to have a girlfriend who can't get from point A to point B without a catastrophe. You're a dangerous woman, Vinnie. Honestly."
"You've always said you liked dangerous women, haven't you, Trooper Richmond?" My attempt at humor was wasted.
"If you think of anything you might have seen, anything at all, just call me. I want this bastard, do you understand?"
His profile was grim and I wasn't about to aggravate him. The best way to handle things would be to keep my ever-open trap shut. Wrong again. Geez, I hate when that happens.
"Do you understand?" He didn't settle for silence. The deadly undercurrent in his voice goaded me into answering him.
"Yes, I understand."
The trip home from Providence didn't take long. We pulled into the driveway and I left the cruiser. Marcus was at my side in an instant and escorted me into the house. He made a great bodyguard, an unnecessary one, but nice all the same.
In the kitchen, he set the coffee pot to perk and leaned against the counter, arms folded in thought. This stance was common when something bothered him and it caused me to wonder if I'd be in for a grilling session.
Cops are like pit bulls. They sink their teeth into a theory, rattle it around a while, and hang on until something shakes loose. When whatever that is, comes to light, they act on it. Sometimes that's a good thing and sometimes it's not. I was unsure of what Marcus was thinking at the moment. While I have an extremely curious nature, I wasn't inclined to ask.
Rhode Island State Trooper, Marcus Richmond had been on the force about fifteen years. Headquarters for this paramilitary group lay about a quarter mile from where I lived. Stationed out of that unit, Marcus cruised by my house often.
"Will you be all right here alone? Marcus asked. "Should I call someone to stay with you?"
Whatever he had on his mind would remain a secret until he decided to share it. Curiosity over needing to know his thoughts pressured me. I struggled hard to keep it under control.
"I'm fine, I don't need a babysitter. I promise to take things easy." My fingers crossed under the counter -- I lied. To stay inside on a gorgeous day like this, even though I had a close call, would be foolish by any standards. After all, I hadn't been injured, except for my sore collarbone.
"If you're sure, then I have to get back on the road. The major will have a fit if he finds out I'm goofing off. Besides, I'm pulling a double shift and have to go to Newport tonight with the governor." He kissed me before he left the house.
After Marcus drove away, I puttered around the house doing odd bits of stuff until I could no longer tolerate being cooped up. With my jacket on, I headed up the street on foot. I figured walking was good exercise, and surely I wouldn't get into any trouble doing that? My life is full of surprises, though, and there was nothing mundane about it.