Alexis Whitlock stepped on the accelerator, tires squealing on the deserted cliffside road. Three hundred feet below the winding asphalt lay the shining waters of the Pacific. Of all the places in the world, she thought, why does it have to be there? She gripped the steering wheel until her knuckles went white. Behind her, a black sedan with tinted windows followed close. Her eyes flicked to her rearview mirror as unease gripped her. A long crack stretched across the windshield of the other car, and she knew it was him.
Realizing she couldn’t feel her fingertips, Alexis forced herself to relax her death-grip on the steering wheel. The thick layer of clouds in the sky above her were darkening, and she thought she might hear a distant rumble of thunder. She floored the gas as she raced around serpentine curves. The ocean off the cliff had grown darker, now more cobalt than azure.
Without looking away from the road, Alexis reached over and grabbed her phone. She tapped the first number on her speed dial and spoke as soon as she heard the click of someone answering.
“Driscoll,” she said, “Maria Vasquez called. She remembered something over at the overlook, so I’m headed there now. I’m being followed. Send backup.” She didn’t wait for a response before hanging up just as she whizzed past a crooked tree on the side of the road. The sight triggered a memory she couldn’t stop.
“Come on Grace, just this one curve,” she’d said to her sister that day as they’d passed the same tree. “Just take this one curve a little faster.”
“You think I’m a chicken?” Grace had said, pressing on the gas.
She’d released a peal of laughter. “Finally, you’re living on the edge!”
And then they’d reached the curve, and the truck had come out of nowhere, and then they were spinning, and glass was flying, and Alexis was screaming, and Grace was silent.
Alexis felt hollowness clawing at her insides but shoved it away. She flew around another curve, and out of nowhere, an enormous overlook came into view. Without a glance in her mirrors, she jerked the wheel to the right and slammed on the brakes, heart pounding, blood rushing in her ears. The back of the car whipped out and her seatbelt locked her in place, cutting into her collarbone. As soon as the car stopped moving, she threw it into park and unbuckled herself with shaking fingers. She stumbled from her car and kicked the door shut.
Brakes screeched behind her, and she knew she only had a couple of seconds. She sprinted towards the overlook, eyes wild. The guardrail was broken in one place, and a weathered wooden cross sagged at the base.
A grunt sounded behind her and Alexis turned just in time to duck out of the way of a swift shove. The man from the sedan ran past her, tall and burly with a bald head and tattoos creeping up the back of his neck. Mateo Garcia looked just like his mugshot.
And then she saw what he was running for—a small, white ID card, half buried in the dirt at the base of the guardrail. An ID that she knew would have his face emblazoned on it, dropped here three nights ago, even though he’d sworn he’d been out of the state.
“Stop!” she bellowed, dashing forward, but Garcia was too fast. He dove to grab the card. Alexis lunged for him, her body colliding with his. Pain surged through her as the man elbowed her in the gut, and dry dirt flew into her eyes.
Garcia shoved her off himself and shot to his feet. Before she could scramble out of the way, he slammed one of his steel-toed boots into the soft flesh of her stomach once, twice, three times. Blinding white filled her vision as every whisper of air was bashed out of her lungs. She tried to suck in a breath but could only lay there wracked with airless gasps as the taste of blood filled her mouth. Helplessness washed over her when she saw Garcia’s back as he turned towards the ID card. She squeezed her watering eyes shut.
The thought crystallized in Alexis’s mind, and she opened her eyes and forced her lungs to expand. She was not that scared, helpless girl from her past anymore. Every inch of her body screamed with pain, but she silenced it as she pulled herself to her feet. She reached around her back and withdrew her handgun, pointing it at Garcia’s retreating figure.
“Mateo Garcia,” she said with a hoarse voice, “get on your knees and put your hands on your head.” She clicked the safety off.
Garcia froze. Slowly, he pivoted in her direction and raised his hands up to his scalp.
“On your knees, Garcia,” she called. The man sank slowly to the ground. Alexis reached to her belt with one hand to get a pair of handcuffs, and keeping her weapon trained on his torso, she walked cautiously toward him. Cutting a wide berth, she stepped around his back with the handcuffs gripped in one hand.
As soon as the cold metal touched his wrist, Garcia threw his body backward. His shoulder slammed her forearm, and a deafening pop filled the air when the gun went off. He wrenched the weapon away from her, but Alexis jammed her knee up and the gun flew out of his hand, skittering on the gravel. Garcia scrambled to his feet and turned towards Alexis, circling slowly. She took small steps to maintain their distance, never losing eye contact. Garcia grinned and stopped circling when he faced the overlook.
“Give it up,” he said. “You just go get back in your pretty little car, and we can pretend none of this ever happened.”
Alexis glared at the man. He stood at least a foot taller than her, but she did not back down. “I’m not going to do that,” she said. Sirens wailed in the distance and hope flared in her aching chest as she watched Garcia’s every move.
His eyes were wide now, and he shot them in every direction. When they flicked to the ID card in the dirt, Alexis knew what he was going to do.
Garcia dove, but Alexis was closer. She threw her body in front of his and they skidded on gravel. Alexis heaved herself on top of him, but he swatted her with a fist.
“Get off,” Garcia said, grunting with the effort.
The ID card was just out of reach for both of them. Alexis grasped his thick wrists in her hands and pulled. She could not let him get his hands on her best piece of evidence. Pulling herself forward, she reached out and flicked the card further out of reach. The ID balanced on the edge of the cliff and the sight brought to her mind every wretched memory from the last time she had been here. No. She could not give up so easily. The ID balanced on the edge of the cliff, and that day came crashing back like a thunderclap. Fragmented memories flashed through her mind’s eye: Grace’s face, frozen in horror; the overlook rushing towards them; the guardrail catching the car, holding it suspended, half over the cliff, half on the road. Alexis had been unable to move, paralyzed by fear.
That same fear clawed up her throat now, but this time, she didn’t let it dominate her.
Calling on every reserve of strength she possessed, Alexis swung her leg over Garcia’s torso and forced herself on top of the man, jabbing a knee in his back. She yanked and twisted his arms until he cried out with pain. It took every bit of her energy to hold his hands down while he writhed and cursed beneath her, but she managed to weasel her spare handcuffs from her pocket and slap them over his wrists. Two patrol cars, lights flashing and sirens blaring, squealed into the overlook.
“Mateo Garcia,” she said through gasping breaths, “you’re under arrest for the assault and battery of Maria Vasquez, and for attempting to tamper with evidence.” She hoisted him to his feet, remembering the terrible state Maria Vasquez had been in when she’d come to report it. The poor woman had just wanted to get some pictures of the view when Garcia happened upon her.
Garcia’s breaths were staccato bursts in the wind, but he said nothing while she recited his Miranda rights. Two other officers approached, and she handed Garcia over to them to escort him to a patrol car. She turned back to the ledge, withdrawing a latex glove and a small plastic bag from her pocket. Shimmying her hand into a glove, she retrieved the ID card from the cliff’s edge.
“That was quite an instinct, Whitlock,” came a deep voice. Alexis turned to see a tall, angular man in a black trench coat walking towards her with a smirk.
She dragged up the corners of her mouth into a wan smile. “Maria called me, because I’d given her my card after the report,” she said. “I thought I should follow up ASAP since Garcia had been trailing her.” She slipped the ID into the plastic bag and handed it over to her superior. “Thanks for sending the cavalry, Driscoll.”
He took the evidence bag and looked over at the cliff behind her. The smile slipped from his face and his brow furrowed. “Wait, isn’t this where your sister. . .?”
Alexis sighed and nodded, once. “It is.” She didn’t say anything more, and neither did he. Driscoll clapped her on the back and moved along to speak with the uniformed officers. Alexis walked over to the place where the guardrail had broken fifteen years ago. It had never been fixed.
She stood on the edge of the cliff, beside the weatherworn cross, staring down at the cobalt Pacific. The wind had picked up, whipping her hair around her face as she looked. All those years ago, nothing had been made right when she and the police and paramedics had swarmed this very overlook. But today, she had done something good. Though the darkness was not erased, she could rest in the fact that one wrong had been set right.
She heaved a deep sigh, turning towards her car. When her back was towards the overlook, the sun broke through the clouds, and the dark sea sparkled in its wake.