49

In the passenger seat, Dakota’s corpse taunted Claire with a death-rattle laugh. The front passenger door had been torn off in the collision with the paramedic truck, and now the wind and flames rushed in through the gaping hole.

Claire took her foot off the gas, pivoted in her seat, and kicked Dakota into the flames. The corpse launched out of the car, bounced off the tunnel wall, and disappeared into the flames.

The enormous fireball chased Claire to the end of the tunnel.

And out.

Beyond the tunnel, Claire drove past a row of parked patrol cars, then hit the brakes and came to a stop. The Hummer was still burning. The fire had spread from the back compartment to the rear seats.

Get out!

Gasping and choking, Claire staggered out of the Hummer. She collapse on the highway and crawled away.

Two policemen rushed to her side and helped her from the burning car.

“You all right, lady?”

“I’m fine,” she lied.

Medic!

Firemen ran to the Hummer with water hoses, and quickly knocked down the flames. More firemen arrived. They jumped down from their red trucks, gear in hand, preparing to battle the horrific blaze inside the Devil’s Tunnel.

Too late.

The tunnel collapsed.

Explosions threw dirt, rocks, and cement high into the air.

It’s over, Claire thought.

But didn’t believe it.

An hour later, as the tunnel fire died and the rescue crews began to clear the rubble and search for survivors, Claire stood leaning against a patrol car, watching the first hint of sunrise over the mountains.

The medics had bandaged her cuts and checked her bruises, but she was still being interviewed by the detectives, O’Brien and Hunt.

O’Brien looked skeptical. “So they killed him?”

“For the road.”

Hunt checked his notes. “You say his name was…”

“Eldritch Fowler.”

“And he was your…”

“Father… I mean, grandfather.”

Another lawman, Officer Massey, arrived and addressed O’Brien. “Something you should see.”

Hunt said to Claire, “Stay right here.”

“Of course.”

The two detectives followed Officer Massey back into the Devil’s Tunnel, leaving Claire momentarily alone.

The burning smell was inescapable. Detective Hunt stood a few feet inside the passage. Further in, the tunnel had completely collapsed. At least a dozen units had driven in there. So far none had reported back to dispatch. Everyone feared the worst, but hoped for a miracle.

It would take days for the rescue team to work their way through to the other side.

Long, hard days.

Even here, at the outer edge, the asphalt had melted from the extreme heat.

Hunt stood with O’Brien and Massey at the edge of a newly formed break in the road, where the asphalt had cracked open to reveal an undocumented burial site.

Inside the cracked earth lay a human skeleton.

Poor bastard.

The skeleton had been buried with a dark slouch hat and a black canvas duster. His skull looked up at them. A morbid grin flashed one gold tooth.

“I’ll take him down to the lab,” Hunt said. “Try to get an I.D.”

O’Brien surveyed the rubble and carnage. “Bad night.”

Hunt concurred. “The red crescent moon. The devil wind. The road is thirsty.”

O’Brien shot him a skeptical glance. “You don’t believe that, you do?”

“What?”

“About the Highwayman. Ghost cars. Blood Alley.”

Hunt laughed. “Nah.”

He looked back to check on the girl, Claire. He didn’t see her. She wasn’t standing where she was supposed to.

I told that girl to stay put.

He stepped out of the tunnel and looked around.

The girl was gone.

And so was the Hummer.

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