First Person by Andrew Patrick “Look at this pokey bastard,” John Lagland said as the white Chrysler’s brake lights flashed and its bumper approached his own. “Just look at him.” He could not, however, comply with his own command. The driver of the white Chrysler had hidden himself too expertly in front of the driver’s side seat. Nevertheless, Lagland imagined him with perfect clarity: old, with a country squire hat on, hopped up on Viagra and blood thinners, off to further his golf-course victories and otherwise engorge his wizened frame on the fat of the land. Grudgingly Lagland stomped on his own brake, glanced into his rearview mirror and scowled. A red minivan, previously at least a car length or two away, had slipped like a thief in the night into his blind spot. “Fuck,” he said, and checked the clock. It was 7:41. “Fuck,” he said again, and then several more times, savoring the word’s percussive quality. He flared his large nostrils. The reading began at 8:00. On the dot. McIntyre would insist on commencement simultaneous with his pocket-watch’s announcement of the eighth hour. Lagland hated McIntyre, hated his retro affectations (of which the pocket-watch was easily the lamest and thus most aggravating), hated his delusions of bardic glamour. McIntyre was a prissy little putz who believed himself the second coming of Longfellow, and he knew that Lagland had his number. He’d relish the thought of denying Lagland the right to read the final chapter of his novella. Anyone who was late could not read. Those were the group’s rules. That meant he had nineteen minutes to go 24 miles. His hybrid Honda Civic could handle that, but would need to be doing at least 70 mph, not screwing around in the low-fifties with this traffic. He’d be at least fifteen minutes late at this rate, depending on how the lights went once he got off the interstate. Being fifteen minutes late would be the end of all things. No reading, no approval of his brilliant Six Dead Men With My Name for group publication, and McIntyre’s crap-tastic Songs of the Long Land would be the recipient of a full fucking Kirkus Indie Launch by summer. Half a year’s work – stressing, conceptualizing, editing, free-writing reams of blather to keep the juices flowing – would be down the toilet. Lagland flared his nostrils again, feeling the cool air rush to his sinuses, feeling the anger stew, priming his reflexes to do what was necessary. To his left, a tractor trailer cast its long shadow over the other half of the highway. No relief in that direction. To his right, the red minivan had sensed the opportunity and picked up the pace, planning perhaps on a run around both of them into the open stretch of blacktop in front of the Chrysler. He could determine the gender of the minivan’s driver, but her size was ambiguous; she seemed to spread over the seat and absorb it. She was putting something into her mouth. Carefully he tapped his brakes, to warn anyone behind him of diminishing speed, and prepared to jump into the minivan’s slipstream. Nothing behind her prevented this.