1956 Ford Thunderbird

Dobie and Victor were gone when Lexi got home.  It wasn’t a surprise, though she did feel a twitch of disappointment that they hadn’t hung around for three days waiting for her to get back.  She felt like she’d discovered a limit to the abuse Dobie would put up with. 

It took about twenty minutes to wander through the big, quiet house (it hadn’t been this quiet in months, and Lexi found herself suddenly loath to fill it with noise just yet) and make sure everything was more or less as she’d left it.  It was, except that Dobie had taken the briefcase.  That was also disappointing, but not unexpected.  Lexi consulted the answering machine, which was full to bursting with twenty-five messages.

While the machine played, she poured herself a glass of grapefruit juice.  Three of them were Molly.  Well, that meant she was in trouble.  Molly wouldn’t leave more than three messages, but you could assume that she’d called about five times per message.  Eddie Sharp, Nikki’s boss, had left a message telling her that Dobie had called him looking for her.  Cygnet had left a similar message.  After that there was a call from a journalist, someone from a publication too boring for her to remember the name of.  After that, someone who wanted her to build another Crane-Packard.  And another.  And another.  The machine played her a litany of voices, all of them male, all of them wanting her to build just one more Crane-Packard.  Some were polite, some were boisterous, some were rich bastards who assumed that if they waved enough money she’d do it.  How had they gotten her number, anyway?

She looked down at the machine, which had been sitting on the floor since she’d gotten annoyed with the cheap phone stand and burned it in the fireplace just before Christmas.  The friendly voice that was currently speaking made a long, impassioned plea for one of the cars she and Ren had designed, and spoke lovingly of the rest of his collection.  He had some really nice cars, and really wanted to add a Crane-Packard to the stable. 

Lexi scowled and flipped the empty glass out of her fingers.  It tumbled, fell and shattered on the floor next to the answering machine.  “Mendacity,” she sighed.  “Just leave me alone.”  She hadn’t built a car for Ren and blown it up on his grave as a publicity stunt.

She had no choice but to call Molly, of course.  “Why the hell did you take off for two days and not tell anybody where you were going?” was the first thing out of Molly’s mouth.  “You’ve been scaring the shit out of everyone!”

“Who’s ‘everyone?'”

“Well, let’s see.  I didn’t know where you were.  Cygnet didn’t know where you were.  Nikki didn’t know.  Josie didn’t know.  Dobie was staying in your house and you just disappeared out from under his nose.  Shall I go on?  I’ve had a little knot in my stomach for two days, Lex!”

She felt honestly bad.  “Sorry.  I just…there were a lot of things going on, and I had to take off.”

“I know.  Road Associates, right?”

“You talked to Glen, eh?”

“Yes, I did.  He got home yesterday.  But did I hear from you?  Noooo….”

“It’s not going to work to claim that I had farther to drive, is it?”

“No, it isn’t,” Molly said.  “You drive faster than he does.”

“Well, not right now.  Grizzle’s all torn up.”  She told Molly about Danny Packard.

Molly had no problem aiming her vitriol at a new target.  “Spoiled, psychopathic son of a bitch!” was her response.  “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine.  But my truck is bent.  He runs, but not happily.  I’m going to have to install a new radiator and find front-end pieces, which will actually be kind of fun.  But I’m not going to send Numbah Two Son a thank-you card any time soon.”

Molly made an inarticulate sound of irritation.

“Really, I’m okay.”

“I think you just have no sense of potential danger.  He could have killed you!”

“I’m sure he wants to,” Lexi said, her voice uninflected.  “Lucky for me, I’m not interested in dying any more.  And actually I might have been exaggerating a bit about the radiator.  Ray and Dick did an amazing job fixing it, and in a parking lot even.”

“Well, I’m glad everything’s okay,” Molly said with a sigh.

“It is, more or less, except that I’ve got a thousand messages on the answering machine from people wanting me to build Crane-Packards for them.”

“It is your fault for pulling one of the greatest marketing stunts of all time, you know.  Using a race car to outrun all of the cops in New York and New Jersey–for real, not in a movie–is bound to make the boys want one, babe.”

“Rainier wasn’t a race car,” Lexi replied absently, knowing it made no difference to Molly.  “And I’m not making any more.  I can’t.  It’s not right to build them without him.”  She didn’t say Ren’s name, but Molly knew who she was talking about.  “And I just decided I don’t want to talk about it any more.  How are things on the Snow estate?”

“Weird.  Everything went to shit all at once–I lost my job, and then this IRS audit came down.  They send a field auditor to my house and everything.”

“Oh, Mol.  You lost your job?”

“Reshufflings of the journalistic deck,” she replied.  “Nothing personal, of course, but the totem pole no longer includes me.”

“They can go suck each other’s totem poles,” Lexi said.

“Save your evil thoughts, the story’s got a happy ending.  I had lunch with Dobie Cassarell–he came through Boston on his way out of town, and took me out to a lunch so good that it made me question my value as a human being.  I’m not kidding, I might be willing to perpetrate genocide just to eat at this place again.  Anyway, I told him about the job thing, and he got me in touch with the North American News Syndicate, and they’re going to add my column!”  Molly laughed as Lexi squealed in delight.  “So, just like that, I’ve got a two-year contract and a real-life income.  They say it’s a trial period, but what it means is that I’m not going to starve in the meantime.”

“So cool!  We should celebrate with vodka.”

“We should.  I’ve been walking on air, I can’t think bad thoughts about anyone.  I even got Annabella, the auditor, to come out of her shell a little bit.  We had a fascinating conversation about the pros and cons of one-night stands this morning.”

“You can make friends with anyone, can’t you?”

“When I’m in a good enough mood?  Yes.  It is my secret power.  Now, tell me you want to hear all about Dobie pumping me for information about you.”

“Did he?”

“No.  But I got the feeling that his taking me out to lunch was more than just him happening to be in town and wanting to look at my boobs.  Which he didn’t, not even once.  And he hardly mentioned you, but if you took off on him the way you did on everyone else, I get the feeling he wanted to know where you went.”

“Oh, shit,” Lexi said mildly.  She’d had some vague notion that she might be rid of him, though she didn’t know if she was glad about it or not.

“Why’s that?  Trouble?”

“Not directly.  He just…he wants something from me, some intangible, and I don’t know what it is.  I probably can’t give it to him.  But it won’t stop him from trying, because he’s that kind of guy.  And I’ll let him, because I’m that kind of girl.”

“He seems like an okay guy.  Apart from the money, even.”

“No, I know, it’s my problem.  On two levels, in fact, because in a sick way I like the attention.  Some little part of me feeds on it and doesn’t care who it comes from.  Do you know that I went out with Dave and Tim in college just because they were really interested in me?”

“Um, yes.  It kind of showed.”

“I didn’t care one way or another for them, I just responded to their interest in me.  It was kind of a scary thing to learn about myself–hey, what do you mean, yes, you backstabbing whore?  Whose side are you on?  Anyway, I was reminded of it, because he invited me to go back to Ile du Soleil with him, right before the Road Associates thing.”

“Oh my God, are you serious?”

“Mm-hmm.  He wants to show me his etchings–er, his car collection.  I don’t know if the invite is still open at this point.”  She opened the refrigerator, looked around for a while, and then closed it.  She hadn’t eaten anything since getting back to the house, but nothing seemed to appeal to her.  “Do you think I should go?”

“To Ile du Soleil?”

“No, to McDonald’s for a box of Chicken McNuggets.  Of course, to Solei.”

“Gee,” Molly said, her voice filled with a level of sarcasm normally reserved for maternal Italian guilt trips, “let me think about this.  A free tropical vacation at the house–no, make that the estate–of a worldly, blindingly rich and handsome bachelor who routinely dates supermodels.”

“Yah, that’s the problem, isn’t it?  If it weren’t for him, I’d go in a heartbeat.  With him there…well, I think Dobie’s one of those guys who doesn’t realize that Gatsby was kind of an asshole.”

“Well, if I could pass for you, I’d go in your place.  Especially if Danny Packard is roaming the highways gunning for you.  Speaking of which, what if he shows up at your house?”

“What if he shows up at Dobie‘s house?  They are friends, you know.”

“I believe the guy code requires that Dobie protect you, if that happens.  Up there, you’re by yourself.”

Lexi sighed.  “I don’t know if I feel like having a vacation right now.  I need to fix Grizzle.”

“Maybe Dobie will spring to ship your toys, too.  He’s infatuated enough.”

“You think?”

“Yeah, I do.  Go, Lex.  You’re getting out in the world and living again, and it makes me happy to see it.  Insanely jealous, of course, but don’t let that stop you.  Don’t pull that Brian Wilson crap again.  And tell me where you’re going, no matter what you decide, you hear?  If you disappear on me again, I swear on my grandmother’s grave…”