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Kabuki Elliot and his grandmother doing 120 down the Boulevard of the Saints and I'm plastered into the back of my seat as I try and pry another tenth of a second's accel out of the depths of my moaning engine. Stan and Mike said I should take a day off sometime in the next century--but who's got that kind of death wish?

I can't do anything but live now, and I sure as hell don't wish to be doing anything else, anyhow. At this speed, it's just five-oh to that ripping turn, so something's gotta happen soon. Like watching a really good action flick, but there's no popcorn and the seats are way better.

Theater-boy makes his move, flicking his lights around the most God-crazy gee-force-from-hell sharp left and shoots off down 26th, screeching brakes and bleating horns left in his wake. Seven Seconds Luke blaring into my ear so loud I almost miss the mark; another eighth of an instant and the First National on the corner walled up with plywood and "FOR RENT" posters would be on with me in a duet of hot orange sound and fury. As it is, I cut the corner a hair's width into perfect, missing by a few millimeters some rich snob's day-old Lexus.

Somewhere in Luke's fifty billion decibel primal yell I register that the chase crew is on top of me, and the little hairs stand up. Hip-hip-hooray; three more mad crazy hotshots on my go, amped up on God-knows-what miracle juice the medicine men cooked up this morning.

Ten seconds in and I can thank Luke for one bit of magic: empty sun-cooked blacktop. I've got no more than thirty before I'm on the psycho's bumper and we can all talk things over no-rev. Luke's yak-yak party is all over, and I've got a precious two-three to fetch my mind out of the cold, mechanical tomb it's been resting in for the last two-twenty-oh and cycle up to speed. Now for some action, some excitement.

We've got the last Wizard, right here in Haven, some Haven. No capes, no funky hats, but he's the only sane person I know. Ten times the worth of Luke and Mike and Stan and Kabuki Elliot and the chase team all put together. Never actually met the guy, but he's the closest I've got to an honest-to-God hero. That's something real rare hereabouts.

I'm all ears, thinking-cap on, for the last real minute of this run. It's been good--save this one and play it over before I fall asleep. Now here goes: rock the magic, Wizard.

"Go, Gus. Now you're free."

Not the protocol, and this is no time for those mind games he plays in the free channels sometimes. Where's the short, where's our fix?

But upstream our road is clear. I realize in my five-eight space that Kabuki Elliot fell off behind me. Also, the familiar blue on the dash is dead, whipped and ripped right off my eyes. There's just a single red word, glowing, floating out there behind my wheel: "Free."

I'm taking 26th clear out past the city limits, into the wastes beyond, out there where no man goes. Gonna be late for shift off; stolen the cruiser; left the perimeter. Maybe the Wizard isn't so good of a guy. Pass cross after cross, cemeteries of an old age, whiptorn golden pills still swinging in the skies in the wake of my 160.

At eight-three-fifteen-two it's finally at a rest. Desolate, forgotten relic on a desolate, forgotten road in a desolate, forgotten place. Skeletal, lonely, old gas station from an age before plug rides. Stops under the center, and I'm out, wary, gun drawn as seven-odd shapes melt out of the blackness beyond the headlights.

Same ragtag bandit scum we stop and turn off: uncivilized, trashy, worthless for our city. No hope in the world for them. Twelve and one hundred in my stick, no fear, just waiting.

One of 'em's no more than a kid. Never thought about that. They say the kids are the worst: vicious little wack-jobs. Like Kabuki Elliot and his cadre of vagrants. Kid lifts his hands--wacked-out little freak. Snaps the left.

Black; no sight; no nothing. There's a shit for ya. Car's dead now. Snaps the right.

Shock of pain at the flare. Stations alive and I can see them now, perfectly. As yet no crazies, no nutsos. Still time, though, and I've still got twelve and one hundred. But then--

"Now you're free."

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