The shattering bark of an old race car’s engine brought a smile to Dobie’s face when it reached his ears. Joseph started several of the cars every day, and hearing them echoing in the garage always made him happy. He imagined Lexi was bouncing with glee, too.
He checked his watch. He had half an hour before a quick conference call he had to make; after that, he could relax and do nothing for a few hours. Might as well go and make sure she was enjoying herself. Dobie had reached the elevator just as the engine’s racket got a lot louder, like a piston-engined airplane taking off, and Lexi blasted past the house toward the gate. Her hair flapped in the rapidly accelerating windrush, and she’d donned a pair of goggles. In a moment she was gone except for the noise, which was audible for a full two minutes as Lexi sped down the winding roads leading into Marjori.
“Good God!” Dobie yelled, bolting out the front door and running to the garage entrance where Joseph stood at the door in a faint haze of exhaust smoke. He was grinning from ear to ear, a rare occurrence. “What was that? Is she driving the Talbot?”
Joseph nodded, still smiling.
“You let her?”
“She will not damage it.”
Dobie nodded, reluctantly. “You’re the expert,” he said. They could hear the car echoing in the near distance, as Lexi went tearing up the road to the top of the ridge that sheltered Dobie’s property from the worst of the coastline weather. It was almost half a mile as the crow flew, and they could still hear the Talbot. “Let’s hope no one complains,” Dobie said, knowing already that no one would.
The thought came to him that it would be simple to arrange an accident, if Lexi were out driving his cars. Victor could certainly manage something…
He pushed the thought out of his head. Doing as Becka asked was second nature to him. He wasn’t the only person so afflicted–she had that effect on anyone who spent much time around her. Dobie had rarely questioned her motives in the past. But Lexi was different.
Joseph asked a question that Dobie missed. “Pardon?”
“I asked you if I should allow her to drive any other cars,” the caretaker repeated.
“Yes, yes, anything she wants,” Dobie said, suddenly impatient. He waved his hand to dismiss Joseph, then decided to take the call in his office, when it came.
It didn’t do any good, unfortunately. Lexi drove two more cars during Dobie’s forty-five minute call, and he heard both of them racing up and down the drive in spite of his office’s location at the back of the house, and in spite of the double-paned glass. The fact that he couldn’t see either of the cars merely fed his restlessness, as he wondered what she was driving and what she thought of it. It was all he could do not to send Victor down to see which cars she had.
He managed eventually to force his mind back to business. Thankfully the call wasn’t important. His presence was largely symbolic anyway; his people were good, and he trusted them to do their jobs. Once the call was finished, Dobie changed into a swimsuit and kimono, and headed down to the pool. Doffing the white robe, he swam a few laps, enough to get his blood going, and then retired to an umbrella-shaded chair from which he could see the rear of the estate. One of the roads leading up the ridge was also visible from there; Lexi’s latest joyride was evident in a small plume of dust.
Maya was placing a silver tray on the table even as he toweled off. It held a mesh-covered plate, a selection of recent magazines he hadn’t seen yet, and a pair of binoculars. “Giovanni prepared lunch,” Maya said. “A cold cucumber and yellow pepper soup with crab and chives, and sea bass Amandine on watercress.”
“Thank you,” he said absently, picking up the binoculars first. Victor’s idea, most likely. Dobie focused on the latest dust plume, tracked the car in front of it, and saw that Lexi was partaking of his maroon Mercedes 300SL. She had the roadster’s top down and an arm casually on the sill, and looked quite at home in the classic convertible. The distance and her relaxed air made her speed deceptive, and she was out of sight unexpectedly quickly. “Good she’s enjoying herself,” he said to no one in particular.
Lexi returned before he finished his lunch. He found himself hoping she’d join him by the pool, but she was off again almost immediately, this time driving a Gemballa Avalanche, a heavily-modified Porsche 911 that, he’d been embarrassed to discover shortly lafter purchasing it, was too powerful for him to safely drive. Even after hiring a professional driving coach, he could barely get it to go in a straight line. He hadn’t driven it in over a year, but couldn’t bring himself to admit defeat and sell it.
Of course, his guest appeared to be having no trouble controlling the beast. Dobie found himself watching jealously as the bright blue car raced up the ridge. This time the speed was obvious.
“How fast do you think she’s going?” he asked Victor. He didn’t look to see if the bodyguard was even there, trusting that he was within earshot.
“Well over 100,” Victor replied. “If I had to guess, 120 or 130. And still accelerating.” The Porsche disappeared from sight.
Dobie nodded. The thought of arranging an accident crossed his mind again, and he pushed it away by turning his attention to his reading material.
He didn’t check the clock, but it was at least another two hours and six more cars before Lexi finally called it a day. By then he’d gotten sufficiently inured to the sound of the cars racing in and out of the drive that he didn’t notice when one returned and another didn’t go out.
She appeared not long after that in a white one-piece swimsuit, and sat at the table across from him. “Whoever buys your cars for you has good taste, Mr. Cassarell,” she said.
“‘Whoever buys them for me,’ you say?”
“I do. You didn’t pick all of those yourself.” She plucked a grape out of the ornamental fruit bowl that served as the table’s centerpiece, and bit it in half.
“What makes you say that?”
“The fact that you didn’t,” Lexi replied. “Have you really been sitting here all afternoon?”
“Have you really been driving cars all afternoon?”
“Exhausting work, I’d imagine. Would you like some lunch?”
Lexi took another grape and shrugged. “Maybe. Maybe I’ll just wait until dinner.”
“You look hungry, and you’re eating the decor. Victor, have Maya bring Lexi something to eat, would you?” Victor nodded, and was off.
“The Jewish-mother thing is cuter when Molly does it.”
“I’m sorry to disappoint,” Dobie said. “Have I offended you in some way?”
She tilted her head at him. “I don’t know. I haven’t decided yet.” Lexi pushed herself up out of the chair, took two strides across the patio and dove into the pool. She was underwater a long time, then surfaced close to where she’d gone in. “Aren’t you coming in?” she called with a coy head-tilt.
“I swam earlier, while you were driving. But thank you for the invitation.”
Lexi swam to the edge near him.
“So tell me what you think.”
“Of the cars of mine that you drove. Will you be able to explain to me what’s so special about them?”
She grinned. “You don’t already know?”
“Not according to you.”
“So you still want me to teach you their secret language, then.”
Dobie nodded and looked down at her. “I think I’d like that, yes.” From the corner of his eye, he saw Maya approaching the table with a tray. “Your food is here.”
“There better not be tomatoes in it.”
“There aren’t, Miss Lexi,” Maya said.
“Good. If there are, it comes out of his paycheck,” she said, pointing to Victor.
If the joke amused Maya, she didn’t let it show. “Both of the glasses of lemonade are for you also, Miss Lexi,” she said, then bowed efficiently out of sight.
“I love the lemonade here,” Lexi purred, pulling herself up out of the pool.
When she sat down across from Dobie again, not bothering to dry off, he saw that the water had turned her swimsuit almost transparent, a fact she couldn’t possibly be unaware of. Could she? He turned his focus discreetly to his magazine. “It’s the lemons,” he said. “They’re flown in from Australia.”
“Of course they are,” Lexi replied.
“Sarcasm doesn’t become you.”
“That’s true. You become sarcasm.”
Dobie frowned, looked up at her. “That doesn’t make any sense.”
“Course it does. Turn it over a few times, you’ll get it.”