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Ralphie Kendrew drank like a bladder fish. Yeah, sure, he was everybody’s best drinking buddy—until the shit hit the fan. It wasn’t his fault that Caltrans’ so-called explosive expert couldn’t hold his booze and vaporized himself against a panel truck, damaged two vans, a concrete mixer, and an asphalt pavement machine—what a dope! The investigation commission put the blame on his ass despite the fact that everybody from his crew was boozing at the Big Gulch Saloon off Highway 1. How was he supposed to know that tequila shots were half-price that Tuesday? Or that a troupe of lap dancers were called in to service a bunch of political bigwigs?      

“You should have known better,” the Chief Superintendent of Highways, an aged prick turkey wattles, scolded, wagging his finger, calling him a “lush” and a “Judas goat.”

Humiliation was a new feeling for Ralphie. He didn’t like it. 

Work on the Sumash Bridge above the Gabrielino Gorge was all but completed by then. The steel gusset plates binding key parts of the structure were intact, signed off by the county building inspector. All except for one twenty-by-twenty steel plate in the center of the bridge. In the chaos after the powder monkey’s explosion, that section still had to be approved, because that walking turd of a civil engineer told him in his mumbo-jumbo, college-boy gibberish—something about “buckling loads” and steel plates. But work somehow shifted to removing the Type 80SW’s, those ugly bridge railings that looked more like concrete tank traps, and only because the latte-sippers in Sacramento wanted to improve the view of California’s oceanside scenery. They didn’t give two shits for the thousands of working stiffs piling into their crappy Honda Civics heading into the city for the morning shift jobs. 

Ralphie hated them, hated every single one of those glamorous residents in the gated community overlooking the Pacific from the decks of their multi-million-dollar monster houses. You want a more pleasing view of the canyon? OK, I’ll see what I can do about it . . .

Two nights after he was told to clean out his locker, he set to work on his plan after the last guy   packed up his gear in the bed of his pickup and drove off. He worked all night with his Ford F-150 and a towing chain to remove the fastenings to the I-girders beneath the steel mesh where the plate sat. Just before dawn, he picked up the BRIDGE CLOSED signs, slapped his handmade stencil OPEN over CLOSED, slathered it with black spray paint, and replaced the signs, keeping the main highway access closed. He wasn’t about to deal with traffic flow—certainly not cars of working moms and kids on their way to school. 

Grabbing his neon-yellow traffic vest from the truck bed, Ralphie planted himself at the entrance of the gated community’s only exit to the bridge. The first car approached at six-fifteen. He gulped and watched the sports car slowly approach. 

He isn’t sure, Ralphie thought. The paper said next week was the planned date to reopen.

The throaty purr of the big Porsche engine almost drowned out the driver’s words. Ralphie took in the attaché case, the styled cut, expensive sunglasses, the bone-white shirt with gold cuffs, and thought: Good, a lawyer

“Hey, I thought the bridge was closed for another week,” the driver said. 

Ralphie couldn’t see his eyes, but the man looked annoyed. He had that classic “I-smell-excrement” look on his clean-shaven mug, a look aimed at lowlifes like Ralphie Kendrew.

“Sweet bearded Christ, I’ve been getting up an hour early for a month because of this goddamned detour.”

“Well, your worries are over. We just opened it up last night.”

“Why the hell wasn’t it mentioned on the radio? Just another Caltrans boondoggle to give you lazy union guys more unnecessary work.”

Ralphie smiled. “That’s right, sir. I like your sports car, by the way. Is it a Porsche?

“Did you miss the shield with the black horse on the coat of arms on the hood? Right under your nose, pal.” 

“Gee, bet it costs a fortune. What model is it?”

“What the—it’s a Carrera, one hundred thou before the goodies are toted up. Keep sucking on the public teat with your forty-dollar-an-hour job. Maybe you can get one someday.”

“Wow, a bit testy this morning, aren’t we, sir? Did your live-in cook substitute Folger’s for the roasted beans from Costa Rica? Tsk-tsk.”

“I’ll humor you since I got up early for the detour. This is a Nine-One-One, just like the emergency number you’ll be calling one of these days soon when that beer belly hanging over your pants gives you a heart attack.”

Ralphie made a sad, pouty face and mimicked tears streaming down his cheek with his index finger. “Better get going or you’ll be late for work. I imagine you have lots of clients waiting for you to bill them a hundred bucks an hour for your big lawyer words.”

“Fuck you, you envious little peon. Loser!” 

He roared off.

Ralphie’s eyes were glued to the diminishing slope of the Porsche’s rear as it accelerated, the distinctive targa bar and aluminum gills flashed in the dawn sunlight. He held his breath. The high-pitched whine became a low rumble as the Doppler effect kicked in, stringing out the sound waves behind the receding vehicle.

Close, close . . . there, right there, you’re right there about . . . Now

The driver’s scream had a Doppler effect of its own. Ralphie stood nailed to the spot, all ears, as the man’s yodeling cry dropped an octave-per-second along with his vehicle that seemed to match the 38 feet-per-second descent—a long, 800-foot plunge into the creek bed below.

Ralphie wanted to check the damage to the bridge, but there was no time to relish the moment—another vehicle was fast approaching. Another foreign job. Ralphie stood ready with his doctored sign. 

The driver slowed to a stop just as the first one had. The window came down with a pneumatic whoosh, releasing an expensive cologne wafting upward to prickle Ralphie’s nostrils.

“Redundant, isn’t it?”
“Sorry, sir?”
“Your sign. It’s redundant,” the driver said. “Unnecessary. If the bridge is open, it’s open. Why are you standing there with your sign proclaiming it to be open?”

Ralphie stammered. The man sounded logical, flustering him. He hadn’t thought of that. He feared the man might have spotted the gap in the bridge’s center coming around the hill.    

“Hey, man, relax. Just jerking your chain. Glad to see the bridge fixed. That detour was costing me a ton. Any idea what it costs to fill this baby up?”

“No, sir.”

The driver, a man in his early thirties, broke into a laugh. 

“A lot.”

“I’ll bet.”

Ralphie scoped the interior of the Lamborghini, as much as he could see. He spotted a white lab coat and the disc-shaped resonator of what must be a stethoscope sticking out.

“Are you a doctor, sir?”
The man cut his eyes to where Ralphie was looking. “Naw, that stuff on the seat, that’s just to pick up chicks.”

Ralphie stared. The man burst into another laugh.

“Yes, I confess to the crime. I am a doctor. You need a boob implant, I’m your man.”

“No, thanks, I’m good.”

“I thought I had a droll sense of humor, but you have me beat.”


He winked at Ralphie. “Got a half-dozen pairs of tits to perk up before lunch. Adiós, amigo.”

“Have a . . .”

The Lamborghini sped down the bridge at a higher speed than the Porsche.

“ . . . good day.”

This time, it wasn’t a yodel but an ear-splitting crunch of metal and shattered glass. The Lambo had slammed into the other side before dropping into the gulch. Seconds later, he heard the echoing splashes of pieces of the sports car hitting the water.   

Ralphie watched the van roll up. It must have bypassed the phony road signs he’d planted earlier.

The window came down. Ralphie noted five teenage males crammed into inside. 

“. . . ’ssup, homes?”

The driver, a buzzcut with neck glyphs and sleeve tatts, looked at him with a bored expression. The odor of weed escaping from the van was so strong Ralphie had to step backwards to keep from inhaling.

“What the fuck, Nico,” the Eminem lookalike in the passenger seat said to the driver. “Quit wasting time with this motherfucker.”

That set up a chorus of hoots from the backseat. They looked the same, each one tatted up, adorned with eyebrow studs, and clothing that looked like something from a Goodwill bin but even with gaping holes in the holes would cost more than he once made in a week. 

“Just wanna ask the dude something, all right?”

Nico’s expression was serious. “Where do you buy your shoes, man?”

Ralphie replied, “Steel-toe boots. Got ‘em at Target.”

The van peeled off with a chorus of yipping hyenas. The passengers engaged in crotch-grabbing and shouts, calling him “Target Man” accompanied by loud farts that sounded like marbles tossed into a bathtub. The van blasted away, swerving from side to side down the bridge, the driver having fun. A third of the way down, rap music blasted from the van, drowning out their howls. The thumping beat, a staccato mumble of slang directed at enemies and “bitches” trailed in the van’s wake. The last thing Ralphie heard was something about “chewing on cocks” before the van disappeared, ass-over-teacup, into the hole.

So long, ya jerkoffs . . .

The rapper’s jovial obscenities played all the way down to the bottom of the ravine before the impact. Ralphie wondered if the two sports cars before them took the brunt of the van’s fall. He liked the idea, but he didn’t have time to wonder because three more vehicles appeared around the last bend and headed toward the bridge. He held up his sign and waved them past, as though traffic were piling up.

Head-to-butt, like ants at a picnic, Ralphie thought, watching the cars approach, glance at him, and peel off down the bridge. They picked up speed by the time they reached the middle of the bridge. The first two vehicles disappeared like a magic trick in a headlong dive into the abyss. The third driver sensed something just in time despite her distracted driving. She hit the brakes hard with a screech of burning rubber, the big Benz slewed, skidded the front portion leaning over the gap.

By eleven, it was steamy hot; the temperature rising into the mid-eighties. The shimmering mirage of heat waves assisted the deception, making the gap in the bridge invisible until a driver was right there about to go into it. Fewer brakes were applied now. An occasional horrified wail from the car’s interior reached him, but mostly all he heard was the barely discernible sound of crunching metal in the muggy air. 

The first Caltrans truck showed up at noon; his ruse of misdirecting traffic finally discovered. Workers hopped out, started to approach him, but were shouted back by the new supervisor, his replacement—that mealy-mouthed bastard Billy Johnson. 

By the time the first police cruiser pulled up with its siren screaming and light bar flashing a rhythmic turquoise and cherry, the bottom of the gorge had rung with four more passengers taking the ride of their lives: a black Navigator, a teal Infiniti, a battleship-gray Escalade, and a silver Lexus 

The two officers approached with guns drawn, ordered him to get “the fuck down in the road.” They had him walk backwards to them. He complied without resisting. They patted him down, cuffed him up, and bundled him into the back of a second cruiser.

When they reached the Bixel Street off-ramp of Interstate 110, he asked the cop, “Officer, what the hell is a Judas goat anyway?” 



Robb White has published several crime, horror, and mainstream stories in various magazines and anthologies. A third private-eye novel featuring Raimo Jarvi will be published this summer. “The Girl from the Sweater Factory,” a horror tale, was a finalist in The Dark Sire Magazine’s 2020 awards. Two recent horror stories are "The Backyard Digger" in The Yard and "The Tick Bite" in Black Petals.


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