NEW BERLIN _ We were driving slowly down state Route 80, determined not to jar a load of heavy metal steps.
Traffic was heavy for a Sunday afternoon, but I'd waited until the road was empty before turning onto it. Now, in the mirror, I saw a red car about a half-mile back, moving up fast.
The precious cargo on the truck bed behind us was part of a spiral staircase, an expensive, drawn-out project that has to be done before summer or I'll look pretty stupid. Buddy, our eight-year-old, and I had packed the load carefully at the paint shop. The fan-shaped steps were resting on a scrap of rug so they wouldn't slip on the bedliner, and they were all separated with cardboard dividers.
We'd covered the load with a blue tarpaulin and tucked the edges under the steps, but as I stepped on the gas, trying to stave off that red car, the blue vinyl flapped violently, threatening to fly away.
I eased off the accelerator. The red car closed in, the driver flicking his lights on and off impatiently.
I stared, couldn't see him clearly behind the sun visor. A man, a man in sunglasses.
``Is your seat belt on?'' I asked Buddy, who was riding shotgun.
``Because we've got a wiseguy behind us.''
``A wiseguy?'' The boy twisted back as we rounded a curve in Pittsfield, barely 20 feet between the silver truck and red car, moving in tandem like a motorboat and a waterskiier on a short rope.
Then the man hit the horn: a tap and a loud blast. My heart jumped, teeth clenched, hands tightened on the wheel.
``Who IS that idiot?'' I mouthed aloud, deliberately slowing while cars were oncoming and there was no way to pass. There, let's go slow, even slower, you dirty ...