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Midnight Rider

On an dark country road, a couple sorry stoned bastards bank on divine musical intervention to outrun the Devil. Great tune. But a sucker's bet. Hold on tightly to those silver dollars, boys...


Midnight Rider by Jordan Harper


I do not believe in the Devil or the sanctity of Jesus Christ, but I’m telling you that something greater than you or me put that song on the radio at just that moment, just that moment when the cop hit his cherries and filled the night with swirling blue and red. The timing was too right to be anything but a message. A message meant for me. I got the message. I understood what it was asking. And I said hell yes.

Flash back a couple minutes, back when the cop first pulled out behind us on Route 23. When you’re cruising in a stolen car with twenty pounds of mule-strong Nazi dope in the trunk and the air is rock-concert hazy from the roach burning in the ashtray, when you take the farm roads to avoid humanity and wind up with a cop car riding up your ass, you get the Fear. That deep-brain fear, the kind that came from tiny mammals that learned to freeze when the snake slid by. The Fear gets you where you can’t reach forward to stamp out the roach or turn down the radio, which wasn’t nothing but car-lot commercials just then. It’s a weird trip the Fear has taken from the glands of our mammal mothers down to a couple of sorry stoned bastards who were doing no good and doing it dumb. And it’s weird things your stoned brain will think about when you got the Fear.

“What do we do?” Pinkle asked. My man Pinkle is the type of friend you have that, in a moment of clarity, is all the sign you need that your life has gone shit-side up. He was meth-skinny with a disposition as rotten as his picket-fence teeth. He’d take your last cigarette without asking and he’d keep your lighter too if you didn’t ask for it back. And he’d pick you up for a dope deal in a stolen car, and then he’d have the shiny steel balls to talk you into getting behind the wheel.

And now, as the cop car loomed behind us on the road, I saw that Pinkle had his hand on the car door handle. This suckmouth son-of-a-bitch was planning on jumping ship. Sure as shit the cop would chase me if Pinkle bailed, and I’d be the one with twenty pounds of dope and my dick in my hand.

Before I could tell him where to stick it, the cop lights filled the car, blue and red, and just right at that moment—I mean exactly that moment—the first notes of “Midnight Rider” by the Allman Brothers Band filled up the car with its sweet strong sound. What else could I do? I stomped on the gas and away we went.

Hear that guitar, man. Duane Allman, a couple of years before his motorcycle smeared him like a modern-art masterpiece down fifty feet of Georgia asphalt. Da-da-da-dun-da-dun! Mournful but steady, like a sheriff walking out into the street to meet his sure end at the hands of John Wesley Hardin. It’s the sound of a man running the race best he can knowing death is at the finish line, and the thing of it is, brother, that’s the truth for every one of us.

The cop came roaring after me, of course, but he was in a cop car and I was in a goddamn surefooted chariot of glory being yanked down the road by a double dose of Greg fucking Allman. Double dose, man, because Greg’s harmonizing with himself in that song, and when the cop triggered his sirens somehow they harmonized with Greg too and I knew for a fact that the message had been received.

Pinkle had bug eyes and he begged me to stop but I couldn’t hear him. I’m wondering if this cop knows about the Sunset pass. It’s a little side street that was coming up on the right in about two miles. The turn is sudden but gentle, so if you know it’s there you can make it at well over eighty miles an hour, which is about where I had her right then. But if you’re not ready for it you’ll fly right past it.

Oh shit, Dickey Betts, man! His solo kicked in and you know the end is coming. Tall grass and sleeping cattle whipped past us on either side. I could feel every bump in the road, they were all in time with the song and we were all a part of the song and I’m singing and I’m laughing and it’s right and it’s good. And Duane’s still hitting that riff and Greg’s singing again. He’s running and so am I. Here comes the Sunset pass. I shut off the lights.

We rolled in the dark, the music all around us. We left the ground as we hit the dip down to the pass.

I was right about one thing. The cop whipped right past us down Route 23 and we would have got away clean if that flatbed truck hadn’t been coming up the other way. We hit it mid-air and Pinkle went through the windshield, twisting and clawing and screaming through the night like Superman with a load on. See, he undid his seatbelt when he was thinking of bailing on me, the little shit.

So I sat there alone, thinking it was a flatbed truck that ruined Duane’s day too, and also there was an awful lot of blood and glass everywhere, and Dickey’s guitar lead faded into nothing and there’s silence.

And the silence at the end was right too.

Then a new song kicked in. The fucking Carpenters, man. I hate the fucking Carpenters.

And I couldn’t even reach up to change it.

Jordan Harper has worked as a scalper, rock critic and television writer. His stories have appeared in places like Out of the Gutter, Crime Factory and ThugLit, as well as anthologies such as The Baddest of the Bad and Hardcore Hardboiled. You can read more at www.jordanharper.com