Critical Mass

                  Steve Dunn was known to his face as “Big Man”. When his back was turned he was referred to by a variety of epithets, “wanker” and “dickhead” being amongst them. He was a builder, of the cowboy type, who was proud of his ability to pull the wool over the eyes of old ladies and sting them for as much as he could get. He was the sort of man who would do a shoddy job of replacing an entire roof when all that was needed was a new ridge tile. It was not unknown for him to indulge in a spot of petty thievery when left to his own devices in the homes of his clients. He liked his drink, he liked his horses, he liked his poker, and he loved his Mercedes.
      He loved his Mercedes more than he loved his wife. At school Sharon had been the one all the boys wanted to shag and Steve had won out over all of them to possess her. Ten years of marriage later she drank too much and dressed like a slob. He hated his wife. He was convinced that she had let her looks go just to annoy him. The stretch marks on her thighs and belly disgusted him, although that didn’t stop him banging her until she cried from the pain caused by his hard groin slamming into her. He liked it when she cried. It made him feel that she was paying for making his life miserable. It never occurred to him that she might be depressed, made wretched by physical and emotional abuse, trapped at home with six boys who had learned how to treat a woman by watching their father. All he saw was a fat, dowdy, suckling cow of a woman who couldn’t keep the kids quiet when he was trying to watch TV.
      Dunn’s Merc was the one thing upon which he lavished attention. He knew exactly how quickly the car could reach sixty miles per hour from a standing start. He could list from memory such vital statistics as engine size, braking horse power, precise paint colour, advanced braking system, blue-tooth enabled RDS radio with MP3 capability and, of course, top speed. Big Man Steve loved nothing better than urging that beauty along heat-hazed motorways with the needle touching numbers of three figures, dreaming about “them right ready cunts” in the latest calendar gracing the wall of his office. Big tits, pert cheeks, legs all the way up. Lush, pouting lips, manicured nails digging into their smooth, tanned, satin thighs as they leaned forwards towards him, begging to be taken. Dunn knew just how good one of those bitches would look languishing in the leather upholstery of the passenger seat. He wanted to find out how she would feel.
      Most of the time that he spent behind the wheel, he was trying to imagine.
      At this precise time Dunn was on his way home. That in itself put him in a foul mood. The thought of Sharon at home, surrounded by kids who wouldn’t go to school, sweating over the kitchen stove with her round face and thick legs, made him feel sick. Disgusting cow of a woman. On top of that a sweet job, with the potential of bringing in a pile of readies, had gone tits up. The senile old hag turned out to have a son. The son was a copper. Twenty grand down the pisser and a court summons. Even thinking about his calendar girl, Serene, lounging in the creamy leather seat next to him wearing a white leather g-string and nothing else, licking her lips invitingly, couldn’t dull his anger. It growled in his stomach like an angry bear.
      Dunn was a bastard. That was why he was driving home to a sickeningly dull wife, pathetic screaming brats and another evening of gobbling down his supper as fast as he could so he could get out of his stinking house.
      The car juddered through traffic, snarling in frustration as it was forced to brake sharply every time it accelerated. Its sleek bonnet tried to pounce on the car in front every time the slightest gap appeared. It was a hot day, and despite the air conditioning sweat had dampened Dunn’s hair. One hand drooped lazily on the wheel; the other held a smouldering cigarette, the elbow resting on the open window. The cheap ink in the flaming skull tattoo on his right forearm was rendered almost unrecognisable by sun exposure; it was as if mould or damp had found its way into his skin and chewed at it like maggots on a corpse.
      Dunn swore, face deepening in colour, as a motorcyclist hummed past him. He hated those leather-wearing freaks. Wankers, the lot of them. One of them would hit a car coming in the opposite direction one day, cause an accident, make him sit there in a fucking queue for hours. They should fucking wait, like everyone else. He hated being overtaken, even when stuck in a jam. Especially when stuck in a jam. The Merc rumbled, menacing. His knuckles whitened on the wheel. Impatiently he flicked the ash off his cigarette, sullenly wishing there was another freak coming past. He grinned as he imagined the ash flying into a motorcyclist’s eye, causing him to swerve and crash into the car behind, just as the jam ahead magically lifted in acknowledgement of his right to the road and the Mercedes roared off like a predatory cat to take him to a mansion where his calendar girl, Serene, was waiting.
      The car ahead moved forwards. The Merc leapt forwards and then halted, brakes hot. Dunn edged the car out a foot or so to try to see the cause of the hold-up. There was just a line of cars, almost incandescent in the heat of the day and the tempers coming to a boil, stretching up over the brow of a hill. He cursed again. That cow of a woman would be waiting, he knew, to wail with excuses over how that crap she called food had been burnt or gone cold or just become inedible. The bitch would blame him when she should be blaming this long line of idiots with nothing better to do than sit in front of him.
      He tossed the cigarette, still smouldering, lit another. Smoke jetted from his nostrils, cartooning his mounting anger. He had moved about two hundred yards in what felt like two hundred years. Dunn’s temper became more pungent. He was ranting and cursing to himself under his breath, unaware that he was speaking out loud. As he sat there, pickling in his own fumes, a cyclist threaded through the two lines of traffic, passing his open window almost silently.
      Cyclists! There was a breed that Dunn hated even more than the assholes on motorbikes. Cyclists were a bloody menace. Ran red lights, hopped up and down off the pavement, treated the road like their own private party. Dunn didn’t see why they should get away with crap like that when they didn’t even pay to use the road. No licence, no tax, no nothing. Self-righteous, smug bastards the lot of them, forever bleating on about the environment and traffic fumes. It was the likes of them that were to blame for it costing him so much to keep his beautiful Merc on the road. Bastards. It offended him that they breathed his air.
      The cyclist, one of those lycra-wearing tossers on some kind of fancy bike with bent handlebars, leaned up out of the saddle and stood on the pedals, bike swaying from side to side, calf muscles straining, weaving his way up the hill past the stationary queue. He vanished over the top and around the bend.
      That was almost the last straw for Dunn. He slammed his hand into the steering wheel and starting raving, loudly, at nothing in particular and the world in general. He revved the engine impatiently, the sound inexplicably making him think of the girls in the calendar and the frustration that gnawed deep within even when he was pawing their paper flesh with sweaty fingers, wrapped up in fantasy and lubrication. Always just out of reach, absolutely hot and ready (gagging for it) but locked away in the paper. Dunn’s mood grew blacker still.
      The traffic began to move. Slowly at first, stuttering, then picking up speed. The Mercedes poured itself along the road. Dunn was still impatient, wondering why the cars in front were moving so slowly. Fucking idiots. Didn’t they know how to drive? Were they all so pathetic that they got scared as soon as their feet went near the accelerator? He nudged the Mercedes forward so that it was practically mounting the car in front, flashed his lights. Then he leaned on his horn, a bull’s bellow. The little Vauxhall Nova edged across and let him squeeze through. As thanks, the driver received some very rude gestures and mouthed obscenities.
      The traffic was opening up, the hold-up, whatever it had been, gone. The Mercedes purred, free to lap up the miles as a cat licks cream from the floor. Dunn saw the lycra-clad cyclist up ahead, legs spinning easily, looking relaxed and fit. Smug and self-righteous. He dropped down a gear, eased off on the throttle. There was a traffic island pointing at the left-hand lane. The cyclist was about a hundred yards away from it, Dunn about three hundred yards further back. Up ahead the traffic was thickening again on the approach into town, and no way did Dunn want to be delayed behind some fucking freeloading wanker.
      Impatient, Dunn floored the accelerator and forced the car through in between the cyclist and the traffic island, making sure he had enough of a gap so that the bollard wouldn’t scratch his paintwork. When he looked in the mirror he saw the cyclist had been pushed off the road and into the verge. Good. The stupid shit didn’t deserve to be on the road. Didn’t pay for it, had no right. It was the fuck’s own fault for being there in the first place.
      He turned his attention back to the road, and the Mercedes eased into town and the next jam. Dunn forgot about the cyclist he had forced onto the grass, didn’t think about the rider even when another cyclist passed him on his inside. In fact, Dunn forgot about the cyclist so thoroughly that, when he was waiting at lights, the thump on the side of the car took him completely by surprise.
      The cyclist said something Dunn couldn’t hear over the sound of his CD player and the traffic passing in the opposite direction. The head shook, mirrored glasses reflecting a distortion of Dunn’s face, warped and obese. Then the freak clipped back into the pedals and pulled away before Dunn could say anything, never mind reach through the open window, grab him by the neck and break those glasses in a few face slams against the side of the car.
      Dunn was in shock. How dare this jumped-up little Hitler hippy fucker touch his beautiful car?
      The lights turned. The Mercedes leapt forward. Dunn was so angry now his vision was blurred. His eyes barely registered the road around him, or the cars, or the street. What he saw was the wraparound mirrored glasses, treating him like he was worth shit. He sat rigidly in the driver’s seat, shoulders hunched, chin lowered towards his chest, teeth clenched tightly. The anger twisted in his gut, sweat beading on his face and torso. His rage was so great he felt as if he were swelling, becoming larger. He was so enraged that it felt like even his hair was trying to get away from him, rising up from his head.
      How dare they? How dare they get in his way? How dare any of them? The cars, the police, his wife, the kids, the barman who refused to serve him because he’d had a few already (a bottle of vodka and half a dozen pints), the little old lady who had gobbed to her son the copper. All of them, out to make Steve Dunn’s life one long stretch of miserable frustration, when all he wanted was to live his life the way he wanted. Like that was so much to ask.
      Shuddering through the traffic, the car seemed to sense his rage, respond to it, reflect it. There were no other people in Dunn’s world; only objects, right in his path, blocking his progress, trying every trick they knew to force him to make a mistake, to make him grind to a halt. He raged, fumed, silent now, face so deep a red it was almost purple. The anger chewed inside his chest like rats in a sewer. His eyes stared ahead, fixed, and the car weaved as he tried to find a gap, any gap, to get through.
      Finally he had passed through the worst of it. But the rage was upon him, and that slight release only served to taunt him with its promise of the open road; taunted him with the blatant lies of so many advertising campaigns that spoke of freedom and speed. Taunted him with the false idol that was the sexy Serene, all hot wet panties and parted lips. He could no more possess that mythic body than his Mercedes would ever make use of its zero to sixty in six seconds acceleration, or its top speed of one hundred and seventy-two miles per hour.
      Something inside Steve Dunn was close to explosion.
      That’s when he saw the cyclist, sitting on a wall that bordered the car park of a DIY store, the bike leaning up against a lamp-post. The rider was putting a shoe back on.
      Dunn didn’t think. He swung the Merc sharply across the pavement, stopped, got out. The cyclist had seen him and was standing, looking wary.
      “You fuck,” Dunn barked. “You fuck. You think I’ve got a problem? I’ll show you a problem.” He was head and shoulders taller than the cyclist, much bigger, but the cyclist didn’t look afraid.
      “I know you’ve got a problem,” the cyclist said. Suddenly hands went down, pulled off the lycra top, revealing a sports bra. Dunn was caught off guard. The freak was a woman. “You don’t see human beings, you don’t see people.” She was still wearing the shades. “You just see things in your way.” The bra was off now, revealing pert breasts made smaller by the breadth of her shoulders. She wasn’t giving him time to think, to speak, to act. “Does this help?” She peeled off the skin-tight black shorts, stood before him. Her legs were powerful, tight, her stomach flat. She looked nothing like his calendar girls. She was strong and lean, more like a character in those godawful comics that his son read. Her muscles glistened with a fine sheen of sweat. Naked save for her silver cycling shoes and the shades, she stood shameless in the Jewson’s car park for all the world to see. “Can you see the person now?”
      Dunn felt a stirring in his groin. His cock twitched. Jeezus! She turned all the way round, slowly, letting him get a good look at her. There was a tattoo of a bird on her back, black and crisp and intricate. It seemed to wink at him. “You want this?” it asked, leering. “You want this body? You can’t have it. It’s mine.”
      He lunged for her. She drifted to one side, caught his shoulder somehow, and then he was flat on his back, winded, struggling for breath and dizzy like he was drunk. Stars danced around his vision. She stood over him and as he recovered his breath his dick strained visibly against the zipper of his Levis.
      “The only way you’ll get close to my pussy is if I piss on you. And that would be a waste of my piss.” Scorn dripped from her every word.
      Dunn’s jaw gaped, a fish beached and baking. Finally she removed her shades. He was lost, bowled over and bewitched by this Amazon of a woman so different from his dowdy wife or the plastic calendar girls. Who could stand naked without shame or fear at the side of a busy road. Who could reveal all of herself to him and still give him nothing.
      With a look of disgust she turned away, dismissing him as a pathetic, insignificant morsel, dressed and then mounted her bike. The small audience that had gathered clapped and cheered. She leaned on the pedals, quickly picking up speed, and the drivers who had stopped to watch went on their way, clearing the jam they had created.
      Dunn sat up, stunned, embarrassed. He sat there on the ground next to his Mercedes for a long time. Another cyclist came past, slowed, stopped, got off and wheeled his bike over. He wore a helmet that made his head look like a mushroom and there were no shades on his face. His trousers were held in place by fluorescent yellow straps.
      “Are you all right?” he asked with concern.
      Dunn looked up at him. He saw a cyclist. He saw flashing grey eyes and that hard, lean, proud, untouchable body standing over him, pouring down scorn upon him. He found himself longing for it to do so again. He saw this in himself and was shamed.
      “No,” Dunn replied, and started to weep.