Dazed, but still alive, Mengalli heard the loud blast of a horn. He opened his eyes to see a pair of headlights heading straight for his legs which were still stretched over the white line separating the shoulder from the westbound passing lane. With considerable effort and pain, he managed to roll onto the shoulder within seconds of having his legs crushed by the weight of the approaching car. He glanced at his right hand, miraculously still clutching Neiman’s Sig. He hoisted his body to a sitting position, then used his left hand to wipe his face. The glove was covered with blood when he looked at it. He gazed eastward and saw the police Crown Victoria, at least five hundred feet away, its motor still running and its red and blue lights still flashing. Numerous cars were slowing to examine the scene. He stood, hobbled across the highway and continued along the shoulder to the dead trooper’s body. He relieved the trooper of his Glock 17, then dragged his body into the ditch beyond the highway’s shoulder. Satisfied the the body could not be seen by passing motorists, he staggered back to the Crown Vic. He climbed in, jerked the gear shift into drive, and rocketed onto the highway, hoping to catch up with Kerri King and her boyfriend.
He had almost reached the speed limit when he glanced to his left and saw what appeared to be his rented Cadillac, traveling in the eastbound lanes. He stared at it until it passed and he saw its compressed rear section. It was too dark to see the occupants or its tags, but the damaged rear was sufficient evidence for him to make a decision. He knew if he was wrong he would likely lose his prey, but he would still be alive and able to complete his assignment at a later date. To continue the pursuit, however, involved great risk. Every second he spent in a damaged and stolen police vehicle represented a greatly heightened exposure. His safest move by far was to abandon the police car escape into the night on foot, but time was his enemy. Kerri King and her boyfriend could now identify him as the killer of the the New York State trooper. They had to be killed, soon. He had never failed to complete an assignment. He was determined to continue with that record. He made his decision.
He jerked the steering wheel to his left and drove the Crown Vic across the grassy highway median, leaving two huge ruts in its wake. He rocketed onto the westbound highway and accelerated to a hundred miles per hour. The race was no contest. The vehicle Mengalli drove was a CVPI, a Crown Victoria Police Interceptor, equipped with a super-charged engine, specifically designed to combat aggressive driving. He caught up with the white Cadillac in less than ten minutes. He was delighted to see the Ontario license plate attached to the compressed rear of the vehicle.
Kerri glanced at her side mirror and saw the fast approaching police vehicle, its red and blue lights still flashing. “There’s a police vehicle behind us. I think he wants us to stop.”
“No,” Steve groaned as he looked at his rear view mirror. He was about to apply his brakes but stopped when he saw the heavily damaged grill of the CVPI. Terror sent a shock of adrenalin through his system. “That’s the same police car we just left in the westbound lane. I can’t see who’s driving it, but I‘ll bet it’s our friend,” he said, then slammed his foot on the gas pedal, widening the separation between the vehicles.
Mengalli quickly caught up with the Cadillac and moved the CVPI to a position parallel to and to the right of it. He rolled his window down and pointed the dead trooper’s Glock 17 at Kerri’s head. Steve pounded the brake pedal, causing the Cadillac’s wheels to squeal against the pavement, and Mengalli to miss with another shot, but not by much.
Mengalli also applied his brakes and brought the CVPI to a complete stop, no more than a hundred yards in front of the Cadillac. He was excited and energized. He had his prey almost exactly where he wanted them. Both vehicles stood motionless, motors running. The standoff continued for several seconds until Steve and Kerri saw the tail lights of the CVPI brighten. Its driver had shifted into reverse.
Kerri removed her cell phone from her purse and reached for Steve’s hand. She locked her eyes on his. “You have to keep doing this for as long as you can... He’ll kill us if we don’t keep moving.”
Steve shifted his focus to the cell phone for a second. “What are you going to do with that?” he asked, then re-focused on the CVPI.
“Call for help,” she replied, then opened her phone and went to work.
Mengalli backed up to within fifty feet of the Cadillac, then stopped and jumped out. He lifted his Glock, pointed at Steve and pulled the trigger. The bullet penetrated the windshield and entered Steve’s head rest, an inch from his right ear. Steve ducked and depressed the gas pedal to the floor. With his eyes barely above the dashboard, he pointed the Cadillac directly at Mengalli, giving him time to make only one more shot. The bullet passed through the windshield and continued through the shattered rear window. Mengalli dove to the ground behind the CVPI, barely avoiding being hit by the Cadillac as it passed to the left and onto the highway shoulder. He stood, leaned on the trunk, took aim and fired twice at the rear of the Cadillac. The first bullet made a loud plink as it hit the metal to the right of the rear tail light. The second bullet passed through the shattered rear window and hit the rear view mirror, causing it to explode in a shower of glass. One of the shards grazed Steve’s forehead. “Damn!” he shouted, then reached for his forehead and wiped blood from the wound.
Kerri handed him her one and only Kleenex. She wanted to cry. Steve was risking his life for her, all because of her decision to go to war with a huge multinational corporation. “Steve, I’m so sorry. You don’t deserve this.”
Mengalli strained to haul his battered and bruised body into the driver’s seat. It took him less than four minutes to catch up to the Cadillac. He slowed and maintained a constant distance behind it. He needed time to consider his options. He had to stop the Cadillac long enough to kill its occupants. The task would be simple if destroying the Cadillac was an option. It was not. That vehicle was the essential component of his exit plan. He had to abandon the police vehicle, soon. Again within his contemplation was simply driving away and abandoning his prey, but his pride dominated, consumed him. He had never failed. He could not fail this time.
He raced past the Cadillac, then slowed until its front bumper almost touched the Crown Vic’s rear bumper. Each time Steve swerved, he swerved in the same direction, refusing to allow passage. He continued to reduce speed until both were moving at less than ten miles per hour.
Steve had to make a decision. He had to keep moving. The alternative was unthinkable. If he stopped, his pursuer would kill both of them. Much as he wanted to continue eastward, toward Buffalo, his adversary had given him no choice. He turned hard to his left, depressed the gas pedal, and sped across the median. Once again, he and Kerri were headed west on Interstate 90.
Mengalli followed. The Crown Vic rocketed onto the westbound lanes as he floored the gas pedal, then quickly accelerated to 140 miles per hour. Vehicles in its path either slowed or pulled over to allow it to pass. He caught up with the white Cadillac as it approached the final toll plaza on the westbound New York State Thruway. The facility, an eight lane structure, was located at the highway’s intersection with Shortman Road, a mile from the New York/Pennsylvania border.
Kerri was the first to see the return of the Crown Vic. “Oh, no,” she groaned as she looked at her rear view mirror and saw the fast approaching flashing red and blue lights. “He won’t give up.”
Steve slowed the Cadillac as it approached the fourth of four CASH ONLY lanes. He made a decision as he waited for the vehicle in front of him to pay the required toll and move on. “This is the end of the road, Kerri. We’re not going to run any more. I’m going to drive up to that booth and stop.” He did as he promised, rolled his window down, and looked straight into the eyes of a thirty-eight year old black female toll collector. “This is a life and death emergency,” he shouted. “There is a man in the stolen police vehicle behind us. He is not a policeman. He’s trying to kill us. Can you see the vehicle?”
The toll collector leaned out of her booth and looked to her right. “I see it. What do you want me to do?” she asked, staring at Steve suspiciously, processing his story, attempting to decide if he was telling the truth, or not.
“Do you have a phone?” Steve asked.
“No, but my supervisor has one. He’s in the first lane kiosk.”
Steve’s heart sank. If he left the car to run to the first kiosk, he would risk leaving Kerri alone. “Get over there and tell him exactly what I’ve just told you. Tell him to dial nine-one-one. Please do it fast. We don’t have a lot of time. We’ll stay right here.”
The shocked and terrified toll collector refused to move and continued to stare at Steve. “How do I know you’re telling me the truth? Maybe the police are after you.”
Mengalli had stopped the Crown Vic fifty feet from the toll plaza. When the Cadillac failed to move out of lane four, he realized what was happening. He had to make a decision, fast. He had to make a move on his prey now, or flee and get as far from the scene as possible. He fretted as a growing number of cars passed the CVPI and lined up behind the Cadillac, horns blowing. The Cadillac remained stationary. He assumed that it was only a matter of time before the area was crawling with police.
He yanked his gear shift into drive, turned right and raced through the first of two EZ PASS lanes. He made a tight and fast, counter-clockwise, one hundred and eighty degree turn, then backed up and brought the Crown Vic’s rear bumper to a stop, directly in front of the Cadillac’ grill, blocking its exit. He climbed out of the vehicle and hobbled to Kerri’s window. With the Glock clutched tightly in his right hand, he signaled to her to open the window. When she did, he pointed the Clock at her. “Get into the back seat of the police car. Bring your boyfriend and tell him to get into the driver’s seat. Do it fast or I will kill both of you where you’re sitting,” he demanded, the large and growing number of witnesses stifling his urge to kill her immediately.
Kerri looked up and into the black crazed eyes of a determined killer. Her choice was simple. She could refuse and die now, or follow his order and die later. She turned to Steve and nodded.
The two doomed lovers stepped from the Cadillac and walked slowly to the Crown Vic. Defeated and scared, they knew their captor planned to drive them to a secluded area, kill them, then escape. They had come so close to safety, but lost, their hopes for a happy life together dashed, forever.
It all happened very suddenly and quickly. It started with a distant, but rapidly intensifying clattering sound, within seconds the area was bathed in light, as if the sun had broken through heavy dark clouds. Everyone looked up to see two hovering police Bell 430 helicopters, no more than twenty feet above Mengalli, their spotlights fixed on him. Dust and debris flew in all directions as the thumping rotating helicopter blades broke the cool night air. Troopers, dressed in full SWAT gear, sat at the opened starboard doors of the helicopters, their M-16 military rifles pointed at Mengalli.
“New York State Police!” a bull horn boomed. “Drop your gun and get to the ground, face down. Stretch your arms and legs, now!”
Mengalli was confused. For the first time in his long and sordid career, he faced defeat, failure. It had never happened to him. It had always been so easy. Until that moment, failure had never been in his lexicon. He stared at Kerri, his subject. He had a micro-second to kill her, thereby accomplishing the primary component of his assignment. Disposing of the body and escaping without detection, the other components were now impossible. He thought of the kindness and generosity of Ken Layton, and of how disappointed he would be when he learned of his failure to kill Kerri King. He thought of his family in Pasto, Columbia, and of how much he wanted to see them again. In the end, the choice was his. He had seconds to make it. He could live, or die.
“Drop your gun and lie flat on the ground!” the bull horn boomed again.
Mengalli released his grip on the Glock, allowing it to fall and clatter on the pavement beside his feet. He descended slowly to his knees, then lowered himself to a face down position.
Relieved and ecstatic, Kerri raced around the rear of the Crown Vic and into Steve’s waiting arms. She held him as if she never wanted to let go. “I love you, Steve Monteith,” she said with tears flooding her eyes.
Steve kissed her forehead, then spoke into her ear. “You still want to marry me?” he asked with a big smile.
“More than ever.”
“Even if I don’t have a car?”
Kerri laughed and pointed to the Crown Victoria. “Let’s use that. It’s really fast”