“Be honest,” Lexi said to Dobie. “When have you ever had that much fun in fifteen minutes?”
That, at least, was what he thought she said. He didn’t answer her, in case he’d misheard. He could barely hear her under the aural assault of the muffler-less Alfa’s sonorous song. They’d miraculously gotten down the mountain and into the city of Hamilton proper without being forced off the road, shot, or otherwise injured, and Lexi had proceeded to drive straight into downtown.
What seemed at first to be sheer idiocy turned out to be the key to her getting away from the pursuing police, however. The tiny Alfa was able to skim through holes in traffic that stopped the bigger sedans the police drove, sirens and lights notwithstanding. Lexi also rarely slowed down for turns. It felt like Coquette’s body was actually leaning far enough to dump him out more than once, but the little car didn’t put a wheel wrong, and with every turn she gained a few dozen yards on her pursuers. They went through downtown Hamilton in a haphazard, zigzagging path–they actually met Roger and Lars in the Ferrari going the opposite direction at one point–and one by one, she lost the cops.
When they’d pulled a full two turns ahead of the nearest set of flashing lights, the Alfa’s lights went out. Lexi went straight for a block or so, then turned quickly in front of a box van and ducked into an alley, shutting the car off as they rolled off the main road. She let the car coast to a stop behind a dumpster, out of sight from the road. With the engine shut off, the throbbing roar stopped, and Dobie couldn’t hear much other than his ears ringing.
“Do you think that will lose them?” he asked.
“Think what will?”
“Turning the lights off and hiding.”
“I didn’t turn off the lights, they just went out. A wire somewhere’s probably grounded out. And now we have to find it in the dark, won’t that be fun?” She grinned at him, high on mad driving. “I stopped because we only have four gallons of gas. Three, now, probably. At the very least, I had to get away long enough for us to fill up, or we’re not going anywhere.”
“That makes sense,” Dobie said. His hearing was returning. “Although it would have been nice to hear that we stopped because we have no lights.”
“Lights, schmights. Why do they put up those big mercury-vapor boogers, if they expected me to bring my own?” She rolled her shoulders and stretched her neck. “I think I’m going to stop for a while and let the police get bored and wander off. We seriously need gas. And a muffler. And a flashlight. And I think we might have made someone mad,” she said, looking in the mirror.
“The truck we passed. It stopped in front of the alley, and the driver’s coming this way.”
“Oh dear God,” Dobie said.
Lexi looked at him. Her eye roll was lost to the dark, but she said, “Don’t worry, I won’t let them rape you.”
“I hardly think you could–“
The man who’d been walking up the alley reached the Alfa’s door, and a flashlight came on suddenly. The beam found Lexi’s face, then Dobie’s. Lexi squinted. “I beg your pardon!” Dobie barked, holding his hand up.
The light clicked off. “Sorry. You’re Cassarell,” he said.
“You were on the news.” The truck driver had a gruff voice, just like Lexi expected a truck driver would. He was about six-three and thick, but she couldn’t see more than that until a police car went past on the street, lights flashing. It was followed by another. The truck blocked much of the light, but Lexi got a glimpse of a narrow-handsome-tired face with a day’s worth of scruff. The truck driver looked toward the mouth of the alley, then back toward them. “Cops are chasing you.”
“You’ve deduced that much already. Very good,” Dobie said, his voice unctuous.
“You and your girlfriend could use some help,” he said.
Lexi smiled and introduced herself. “I’m not his girlfriend,” she added, getting out of the car so she didn’t have to crane her neck up so high.
“You’re the American who found King Khorbin’s cars,” the truck driver said. “They talked about you, too.” He made a noise that might have been a laugh. “Wow. My name’s Gabe.”
She shook his hand. “I don’t suppose you know where the closest gas station is? And an auto parts store?”
“Don’t fire that thing up. Bring all the cops right back.”
“I was going to walk, actually.”
Gabe switched the flashlight to his left hand and scratched his neck with his right. “I’d lie low for a while, if I were you. Get that car off the road. You can stow it in my garage for the night, and we’ve got a couch you can sleep on.”
“That’s a kind offer,” Dobie said, “but I think we–“
“That’s just about the greatest thing I’ve heard all day,” Lexi said. “I’ll help make dinner.”
“The wife will be happy to hear it,” he said. Gabe took a step back, looking at the Alfa. After a moment of consideration, he said, “My truck’s empty. It’s got a twenty-foot box. Find some ramps and we could put the car inside it. I live in Lecroy, on the other side of the bridge. They got stores there, too.”
“I’m not sure that’s such a good idea,” Dobie began.
“Sounds wonderful,” Lexi said, interrupting him again. “If it’s not too much trouble for you, that is.”
Gabe glanced at Dobie, then turned his attention back to Lexi. “I think what you’re doing is right,” he said, starting back toward the truck. “There’s some long four-by-sixes behind the Tromas building. I’m going to get a couple of them for ramps, and I’ll be back.”
“We’ll be here,” Lexi said cheerfully. As Gabe’s truck rumbled to life, she turned back to Dobie, who was sitting in the car with his knuckles to his cheek. “What?”
“This is a terrible idea. We have no idea who that man is.”
“Of course we do. His name is Gabe, he’s going to help us, and he drives a big dirty Hino. What’s not to like?”
He sighed, shaking his head. “Never mind. Forget it. Are you all right?”
She frowned. “Am I all right? What the hell does that mean? Why wouldn’t I be?”
“That was a very…hairy ride we just took. I just wanted to be sure you were okay.”
“That was a massive giggle,” Lexi said. “I’ve driven worse traffic in Cincinnati. But I do suddenly want a potato pierogie more than life itself.”
He paused with his phone out. “A what?”
“A potato and cheese pierogie. If you had one right now, I would kill you and take it. I’m not kidding.”
“I’m sure you’re not,” he said. “I’d be more impressed if I knew what a pierogie was,” he added, pressing the power button. Nothing happened. He pressed it a few more times, then turned the phone over. “Oh, dear.”
“My phone isn’t working.”
She held out her hand. “Let me see.” Lexi took it, tried the power button, then handed it back to him. At the other end of the alley, police car went by at high speed, but its lights weren’t flashing. “Battery’s dead. What, did you leave it on all night?”
“I suppose I did,” he said, slightly irritated.
“Haven’t you got another one?”
“No, Lon Chaney, another battery. It’s really easy, you take the dead battery out, and then you put a fresh one in. And then you can charge the dead battery. Much easier than buying a new phone, don’t you think?”
“Victor carries the spares,” Dobie grumbled, mostly to save face. His phone had never done this before. If there were spare batteries, Victor almost certainly carried them. “What about the phone I gave you?”
“Cooked off in the cave,” she said. “I didn’t bring it. There’s some other things I didn’t bring, too. Shit. I need to find myself a drugstore, so I don’t soil my underwear. That would spoil my fun more surely than anything.”
He wrinkled his nose in distaste. “Soil your underwear?”
“Yup. I picked a perfect time to be ragging, eh?”
Dobie looked completely lost. “Ragging?”
“Don’t be dense. Oh, God, you really don’t understand, do you? It’s okay, I can help.”
Before she could launch into an explanation, with which she fully intended to make him as sick as possible, Gabe’s truck turned into the alley.