After an early dinner (or was it a late lunch?), Dobie and Victor still hadn’t shown, so Lexi cajoled Maya into letting her into the garage. Dobie had called her there to check out the cars, after all. Might as well go and have a look.
Any lingering irritation Lexi felt over being abandoned in the house evaporated when the doors opened and she saw dozens of dust cloth-covered automobiles, a sea of them. The garage looked just like any hotel’s parking garage, an expanse of column-studded concrete that ran the length of the house, and there were cars from wall to wall.
“Hel-LO, nurse,” she said, a grin spreading across her face.
Lexi spent the next half hour pulling back car covers. At first she was just curious; then it became a game to see if she could guess what was underneath the cover before it was revealed. She got about eighty percent of them right, but that was only because Dobie had some surprisingly uncommon cars. The assortment of Aston Martins, Ferraris and Jaguars new and old was to be expected, but he also had some considerably less common iron: two OSCAs, a Scarab and a ’37 Buick convertible sedan, to name a few. Classic race cars were mixed with newer luxury models and some cars that were notable only because they were rare. It wasn’t hard to imagine Dobie scanning the auction and exotic car sales lists and picking everything that other people told him was desirable. There was very little evidence of Dobie’s personality in the cars he had, other than the fact that all of them were immaculately kept.
She had uncovered less than half of the cars in the garage, before the main door began to rumble slowly open. She expected it would be Dobie, come to preen in front of his cars and probably unaware that they were a lot more interesting than he was. Lexi wondered if he’d let her drive all of them. Noting the dust on the floor near the contact patches of many of their tires, piled up where a floor waxer couldn’t get at it, a lot of these cars rarely turned a wheel. It was her duty to make Dobie exercise as many as possible while she was here, and she turned, prepared to tell him so.
The man in the garage door wasn’t Dobie, though. He was way too big. There was enough of him to make two or three Dobies, in fact, with a good-sized Thanksgiving turkey left over. Lexi was looking at six feet, six inches of barrel-chested Russian. He couldn’t possibly be anything else, with his bushy black mustache and beetled brows, and Lexi said, “Hi there! Please, please tell me your name isn’t Dmitri.”
“No, ma’am,” he rumbled. His voice was an octave or so lower than a 747 leaving the runway, and he had a thick Russian accent to go with it. Lexi curled her toes in delight as it played up and down her spine. “My name is Joseph.”
“I’m Lexi,” she chirped.
“I know, ma’am.” He looked down at her. His eyes looked black from where she was, but probably she just couldn’t see them. “I take care of the cars.”
She could tell by the pride in his voice that he did more than just wash and wax them. “Good. I wanted to make sure they were in good hands,” she said, grinning. “Is it okay if I keep looking?”
Joseph angled his head in a nod. “If you would like to see the workshop, I would be happy to show it to you as well.”
“Cool! Do you do all of the mechanical work in-house?”
“Mr. Cassarell sends some work out to be done by specialists,” he said. “But not much. I am expert in most Italian and German marques, and they are the most difficult.”
“Who fixes your French cars?” she asked with a smirk, thinking of painfully, notoriously complex classic Citroens.
“Mr. Cassarell has only the Bugattis and the Talbot. No other French cars.”
“You can work on a Bugatti? You are a greater mechanic than I. Which Bug does he have?”
Joseph seemed to bristle slightly at Lexi’s nickname for the legendary French nameplate, but he led the way to a pair of still-shrouded cars. Lexi uncovered the Bugattis with a purr of excitement. They were both blue, a Type 43 and a Type 51. One was a roadgoing car, the other stripped down for racing, but they shared distinctive horsecollar grilles and big, eight-spoked wheels.
“How often does he drive them?” Lexi asked.
“The Bugattis are not driven, except to warm them.”
“That’s a massive, pulsating shame. What’s next to them?” she asked, folding back the cover on the next car, which had a Thirties-racer silhouette also.
“That is the Talbot.”
Lexi slipped the cover carefully from the powder blue race car. It was definitely a prewar Grand Prix car, with massive wire wheels and a single-seat cockpit. Lexi liked it much better than its more famous cousin, the teardrop shaped Talbot-Lago, which she found kind of ugly. This Talbot was much more purposeful, and much more honest. Two big headlights were mounted right at the bottom of the grille, and faired into the front body. The fenders were teardrop shaped, too, another attempt at rudimentary aerodynamics. A token windshield was there to think about keeping debris out of the driver’s face. Lexi ran her hands along the big black exhaust pipe that ran right under the driver’s door. “I don’t think I’ve ever even seen one of these, Joseph.”
“It is a nineteen thirty-seven model T-150C. It was the works car, and it won the French Grand Prix and Tourist Trophy that year.”
She was already behind the wheel, hands on the massive steering wheel. It was as large as a city bus’ wheel, to enable the driver to turn the massive, unassisted steering rack. “I want to drive it,” she said. She was going to drive it, even if she had to defeat Joseph in physical combat to do so.
“Mr. Cassarell does not drive this car either.”
“Maybe he doesn’t, but I do. And I know it’s driveable, if you’re taking care of it.”
Joseph puffed himself up a little. “Of course it is. This car is in original condition.”
“Well, then, so am I, so there’s no problem, is there?” Lexi wasn’t positive she could drive the thing; the only prewar racer she’d driven was a tiny two-liter Sunbeam, and that had been somewhat hairy.
The big Russian folded his arms with one hand under his chin, clearly conflicted. “You are sure? These cars can be very difficult to drive, especially for a woman.”
“Don’t be silly, women used to race 6.5 liter Bentleys,” she snapped. “And I’m way tougher than any of them ever were.” She had one more button to push. “Besides which, what kind of damage could I do to it that you couldn’t fix?” Lexi bounced in the Talbot’s driver’s seat and gave him her best sunshine smile.
Joseph frowned again, and rumbled in contemplation of the eager American girl who had invaded his garage.
She let it go for the moment, resolving to stay at Dobie’s house for at least as long as it took to get a drive in the Talbot. “Oh, okay, I won’t drive it. I have too many places to go; there’s a whole country to see and I haven’t seen much of it yet. I’m going to leave insanely early tomorrow morning, in fact. So what can I drive?”
“What do you want to drive?”
Lexi considered. “Something with a long hood.” She scanned the rows of cars she’d uncovered, and her eye fell up on a black 1961 Cadillac sedan with a blue leather interior. Or should she take something that would annoy Dobie more? The Caddy seemed to smile at her, though; it wanted to go out for a drive.