HOLLYWOOD—The recognition that his automobile had collided against a bicycle and its rider put Jason under the sort of extreme stress to turn carbon into diamond or make the weasel go pop. Uninjured as he was, and honest, too, Jason had an honest urge to drive right on. He bartered with his Midwestern conscience over keeping his foot on the accelerator, and in the end, his conscience, such as it was, belonging to an actor and mollified by his sojourn in Los Angeles, won out. He forced himself to stop and get out of the Sentra.
The rider lay on the ground a few feet away from the twin beams of the headlights, which burrowed into the night. Jason called to the man who lay stomach down in the edge of the broad intersection at Roscoe and Arleta:
“Are you OK?”
The man's body remained inert.
“Are you OK?”
One of the students waiting at the bus stop ran over to Jason.
“Teacher, he come from nowhere,” he said in broken English. “He crazy. He run into you.”
The student started punching numbers into his cell. Jason, his voice almost asphyxiated by anxiety, repeated:
“Are you OK? Are you hurt?”
There the man lay in his red windbreaker, unmoving. To one side rested a steel framed pair of eyeglasses, one lens cracked. Hysteria, gradually but surely, invaded Jason's voice, “Are you OK? Oh my god!” He gnawed his knuckles, spun round on his heels and did a gallows jig, pinioned by the awful awareness of what he'd done.
“What do I do?” he took out his cell and stared numbly at it. His whole body writhed in the attitude of a man whose limbs twitched as a noose tightened around his throat.
At length, an eyelid of the bicycle rider flickered open. Jason turned around. The man in the windbreaker was using his arms to push himself up.
“Jason,” he cried. Jason looked at the man in disbelief.
“Jason, it's all my fault. I didn't look where I was going.”
“Thank god you're alive,” Jason said. “Where've you been? I haven't seen you for months.”
“Don't you know? I was canned. Roxie Cloud canned me and Janet Gilmore at the same time.”
“I'm sorry, I didn't know.”
“I've been out of work for three months,” said Mr. Perlmutter. “So how's everything going at old Jefferson?”
“At old Jefferson it's same 'ol, same 'ol.”
“Not from what I hear,” said Mr. Perlmutter. “They planning to fire more teachers. And I hear they're negotiating with a private foundation to rename the school Nixon Academy.”
“Dave, if you're trying to scare me... Believe me, when you ran into my car, you succeeded.”
Around the steely rim of the night rose the troubling wail of sirens, approaching closer and closer. A paunchy male officer and his petite female partner dismounted from the squad car and asked for drivers' licenses.
“It was my fault, officer,” Perlmutter stuttered. “I rammed my bicycle into the side of his car.”
Beside the prowl car the officer held the licenses out at arm's length, in hot pursuit of the fine print, and punched the names and numbers into a database. Mr. Perlmutter's face sank; he lost his cheeky attitude. When the policeman returned, he and his female partner had a brief side-bar. Then the paunchy officer proceeded to handcuff Mr. Permutter.
“Why?” Jason asked the female cop, as her partner led Perlmutter to his new accommodations: the rear of the prowl car.
“This guy has been picked up twice before for trying this stunt. He throws himself in front of cars. He gets a TV lawyer and seeks damages for his injuries. He's a con artist. You gotta be pretty hard up to try a stunt like that.”
Mr. Perlmutter looked back ruefully at Jason, his one tuft of steel-gray hair tousled in the night breeze. The male officer returned, after getting his new convict accommodated.
“Face the car,” he ordered Jason. “Put your feet together and arms behind you.” Jason complied like a ghost in a dream where he was soon to awaken. “We're taking you in, buddy boy.”
(To be continued...)
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