Happy to be on the road again, Anniballa gleefully started the engine, and the jeep took off.
The day wore on, and the shadows in the car grew longer. After another hour of driving, the first signs of the Sahara were glimpsed to the west- rough, broken land full of shaggy clumps of wild grass that eventually melted into the golden waves of sand far in the distance. Buildings and traffic became scarce. The southern landscape of Tunisa was barren and uniform. Malcolm even fell asleep for a while, his head nodding and bobbing against his chest.
On the other side of the little dusty city of Tataouine, mountains rose again on the right. The highway snaked south through desolate, barren land. From time to time, a lean-to house sat alongside the road, but for the most part, there was only an arid vista. Hermes busied himself trying to spot the stone ksour, old Berber fortresses perched high among the mountain peaks. Malcolm slept and Anniballa wriggled her fingers and toes to keep them awake, happily watching the road stretch out in front of them. None of them saw the tan Land Rover that was sitting a few feet away from the main road, and which began to pursue the jeep as soon as it passed.
"I was reading a book last night," Anniballa said.
"On Greek mythology."
Hermes snickered. "You really shouldn't believe everything you read."
"I never knew you were a Psychopomp. That you used to lead dead souls to Hades. The land of the dead."
"Supposedly." Hermes looked back to make sure Malcolm was asleep. "That's what the Greeks thought. That I was sort of the gopher of Olympus. That I spent all my time delivering everyone's messages and running errands. And still found time to take every departed soul across the Styx."
Her eyes narrowed. "What did you really do?"
Hermes chuckled to himself. "I have no idea, but I'm sure it wasn't play tour guide of the afterlife."
"You don't remember any of it?"
"Not really. Don't think much about it actually. Down here is much more fun."
"And the Greeks? They just made up Psychopomp?"
"They made up a lot. You know I supposedly had a transsexual child with Aphrodite? That's where all the hermaphrodites come from. Both our names shoved together. What were they smoking in Athens?"
Anniballa opened her mouth to ask about Aphrodite, when through the back windshield she saw the Land Rover charging toward them, kicking up dirt and dust from the road. She slowed down to let them pass.
Hermes glanced at the Land Rover as it came up beside them. Two Turks glared at him. The driver turned the steering wheel sharply and slammed his vehicle into the side of the jeep. Anniballa fought to keep the wheels on the road as Hermes grabbed the sides of the cab. Malcolm was jolted awake by the collision. The Turks readied another attack, but Anniballa down shifted and pressed the accelerator to the floor. The jeep lurched ahead.
When Malcolm figured out what had happened, he turned to Hermes. "I was dreaming that I was at home in my own bed and fell out."
"They're your Turks," Hermes told Anniballa. "We've got to lose them."
The Land Rover raced on, just keeping up with the jeep. It tried to side-swipe them again, but only caught the back fender. The jeep's engine surged and roared as Anniballa leaned over and pulled a black Magnum pistol out of the glove compartment. She cocked it with a click.
"No. What are you doing?" Hermes cried. "Don't shoot."
The jeep was rocked by another blow. The back wheels skidded momentarily off the road before Anniballa could recover. "They're trying to kill us!" she shouted.
"Just get away from them," Hermes said. Then he leaned across her and out the window. Looking at the Turk in the passenger side of the Land Rover he shouted as loud as he could, "I don't have it!" even showing them his empty hands.
The Turks answered with another fender-crushing hit. Anniballa cut across the road and put the Land Rover behind the jeep. The Land Rover swerved angrily then leapt ahead to press against the jeep's rear.
Malcolm clutched the sides of his seat. Anniballa still held the gun. Hermes grabbed it then turned around in his seat and crouched on his knees. "Hold on to my belt loop!" Hermes yelled at Malcolm above the engine.
Hermes took the human's hand and wrapped his fingers around the belt loop on the back of his jeans. Then using Malcolm's grip from the back seat as an anchor, Hermes thrust his torso out his window as far as he could. The dry air and dust whipped past his face. He was trying to get a clear shot at the Land Rover's front tire to stop the chase. But the first shot he fired coincided with a bump in the road, and the bullet bounced off the metal hubcap.
The Turk in the passenger seat withdrew his own gun, and pointed it out his window, shooting at Hermes before the immortal could fire again. The bullet ripped through the bones and cartilage in Hermes' elbow. He let out a yell of pain and his fingers loosened around the gun. It tumbled out of his grip down onto the road, where it was run over by the Land Rover. At that moment, the belt loop snapped, and Hermes' body fell against the jeep door, almost following the gun down onto the highway. In a panic, Malcolm leapt forward between the front seats, throwing his arms around Hermes' legs.
The immortal hung inches above the cement highway, the wind full of dirt and dust still cutting his skin. He could feel his ichor surging toward the bullet wound in his arm, racing to heal the damage.
Anniballa hit the dashboard, cursing at the jeep in Arabic to go faster. Malcolm struggled to keep hold of Hermes and pull him back inside the cab. The Turks nudged the jeep once more. Hermes placed one hand on the outside of his door and tried to push himself back up and inside the window.
The highway curved to the right around a small cluster of boulders and rocks. As soon as Anniballa made the turn they all saw something short and gray stretching across the road. Everyone realized what it was at the same time: a huge herd of goats in a line from the hills on the right side of the highway to the sparse, grassy plain to the left. Malcolm and Hermes screamed. Anniballa slammed on the brakes with both feet and turned to the left. The Turkish driver did the same, swerving to the right. The front of the Land Rover collided with the back corner of the jeep, sending it spinning out of control into the plain, dirt erupting in a cloud from its tires. The Land Rover threw itself toward the hills. Terrified goats began to bay and stampede away from both vehicles. Malcolm clutched Hermes' legs as tight as he could to keep him from being thrown. The immortal could only dangle as the jeep made a complete rotation and came to rest, its front pointed back the way they had come.
When everything was still, Hermes was able to pull himself back in the cab.
"Your arm!" Malcolm yelled.
"Don't worry," Hermes said breathing hard. "They just hit the gun."
He looked over his shoulder and saw the Land Rover tilted up against a rocky incline. Hermes jumped out of the jeep.
Two teenage Tunisian girls rushed about trying to get their panicked goats under control. Hermes tried to create a path for the jeep back to the road. As the girls shouted for him to stop, he drove the goats off in the direction of the Turks, who were trying to work the Land Rover loose. Waves of goats fanned out toward the two men. Anniballa finally cleared the throng and pulled the jeep onto the highway. Hermes jumped into the back seat and yelled with a smile, "Enough kidding around! Let's get out of here!"
The back tires of the jeep spun against the cement as Anniballa launched it down the deserted highway toward Remada...