I did my best to kill Bobby Ackerman late one April night when we were both seventeen.
We were speeding down a two-lane highway, a narrow trail of asphalt that sailed off a ridge and down into a long, sweeping right-hand turn and then rushed past a white stucco house with a tile roof, a house that crowned the hill beyond a quaint covered bridge over a dry creek bed running parallel to the road. We were descending toward a little town named Crane, and we were flying.
"Geez, man," Bobby said. I looked toward the passenger seat as the Plymouth dug into the arc of the curve. Bobby’s eyes were wide.
"Slow down, slow down."
Bobby grasped the armrest with one hand and braced his left leg against the hump in the floorboard. I could smell the beer on his breath as he fought to stay in the seat.
The old sedan wallowed back toward the right lane.
It was the first time I'd driven his car. But it wasn't Bobby's car, really. It was his dad's. His dad was a railroad engineer, complete with the traditional bib overalls and cloth cap.
Bobby was my friend, trapped like me in the last year of high school. But he was different. I was secretive, sullen, and sarcastic, but Bobby was outgoing, with an ever-present desire to please sometimes amplified by a brittle manic energy. I liked beer, the drug of choice for our generation, but Bobby liked beer too much. That night he needed someone to drive him home.
Now I had the old car racing down the road and off the ridge at something close to 80 mph simply because that was all the speed I could wring out of it. I'd made one turn, but there was one more ahead before we entered the valley and the town that lay astraddle a creek. The next turn was a sharp, banking left-hander, edged by a dozen or so white posts laced together by steel cables, and oncoming traffic was obscured by a little hill.
I caught a glimpse of a yellow sign ahead, one marked with a black arrow curving around the words 35 mph, but I didn't lift my foot from the accelerator. My hands chased the steering wheel, persuading, begging the car to stay off the limestone bluff to the right, and the old sedan was reluctant, never steady, demanding one correction after another.