Apparently heedless of the massed police outside the cave, the Road Associates took inventory. Dobie, Lars and Victor had of course separated themselves from the group in mutual disdain of the plan to somehow repair and drive the six remaining cars out of the cave. Watching them, though, Dobie was on the verge of a change of heart. On one hand, with enough publicity the American embassy would likely get involved, mitigating the danger to the Americans. But Joseph and Rocky were Solei citizens, and they were in it up to their elbows as well. Dobie tried telling himself that they had less to lose than he did, as he listened to Joseph run through his list of damage to the cars.
“All of the cars have flat tires and body damage from falling debris,” he said. “The Alfa Romeo’s wiring has rotted, and there is no exhaust system beyond the header pipe. The Stratos also has rotten wiring, and the fuel lines have rusted through in several places. The Ferrari looks sound except for broken headlights, but it is stuck in gear and there is no doubt that its wiring is as bad as that of the others. The Porsche has rotten wiring and brake lines.” As he spoke of each car’s major problems, the prospective drivers nodded in turn. The atmosphere had grown very businesslike; nobody betrayed emotion or dismay. “The Hudson requires fuel lines, brake lines and the seat has rotted. And the Allard has a badly rusted throttle linkage, rotted wiring, and a rusted radiator. That is what I can see without attempting to start any of them.”
“Bit of a mess,” Rocky said. Dobie silently agreed, listening in. Without thinking about it, he had wandered closer to the Road Associates.
“Easy stuff,” Lexi said as Dobie looked around the cave and its six derelict inhabitants. “Especially for cars that want to go play, and these are all sports cars, so they definitely want to go and play.””We can fill the tires,” Joseph said, “but I do not know how long they will hold air. And we have four batteries.”
“Six,” Harold corrected. “There’s a battery in the Discovery and one in the Suburban.”
“Leave the Sub running,” Lexi said, her mind racing. “We’ll need it. Hey, Dobie, can I borrow your Land Rover?” The Discovery was sitting on two flat tires and riddled with bullet holes from their chase. “Dobie!”
He jerked back to the present. “Hm? Oh, yes, I’m sorry, do what you like with it.” He had already written it off as an insurance loss.
Lexi grinned. “Land Rover equals wiring…and fuel and brake lines, if we cut and shut creatively.”
Glen smiled wickedly. “Nice.”
“What about gas?” Molly asked.
“If we can get a total of thirty gallons from the two trucks, that’s five gallons per car. Enough to get them into Hamilton,” Harold said.
“Sounds feasible. The Ferrari and Stratos aren’t going to like regular pump gas.”
Dick shook his head. “None of ’em will; they’ve been in a cave for twenty-plus years. I think an Italian tune-up will do all six of them a world of good.”
“Italian tuneup?” Molly asked Glen.
“A lot of older sports cars run better if you take them out and drive them extremely hard once in a while,” he said. “And since a lot of the cars that reward that kind of behavior are Italian…you get the point.”
“I do. So what can I do to help?”
Glen looked from Lexi to Harold to Dick. “Are we each working on our own cars?”
“Makes sense to me.”
“I will help to turn the engines,” Joseph said. Considering the brute force required to rotate an engine by hand–especially one that had been idle for years–no one argued with the big mechanic.
“That’s what Bilbo Baggins hates,” Lexi said. “Chip the glasses and crack the plates.”
“Nothing. But what I am hearing from you, my lovelies, is that we have the stuff to do this thing, yes?”
Harold and Dick both nodded. Joseph said, “Yes.”
They set to work. Dick switched on the Suburban’s radio and listened to a scratchy FM account which described them as “desperate protestors barricaded in a cave” until Harold gently reminded him that they needed the Suburban’s battery to put in one of the old cars later.
Before she started working, Lexi sat behind the wheel of the Alfa Guilia she’d christened Coquette. She didn’t think the words themselves but had a distinct feeling of “here we go again.” How many foolish things could she do in twelve months? And more importantly, why? She ran her hands lightly over the steering wheel and gave the shifter a friendly shake. It resisted at first, then waggled stubbornly. Her world expanded briefly to encompass everything–how were they really going to get out of this cave, would they make it to the boat safely, what would she do when she got back home, why was she doing the things she was and most importantly how oh holy crap how was she going to live the rest of her life alone? It hadn’t occurred to Lexi that she hadn’t found an answer for that question yet; she’d thought she would have by now. But there wasn’t one. The tidal wave of reality swelled in front of her and she closed her eyes, momentarily overwhelmed.
In that same moment, through some trick of denial, reality shrank back to Coquette and the crusty seat beneath her, and everything was manageable again. She didn’t need to solve all of her problems right now; she just had to get this Alfa running and make sure it could drive a few hundred miles without catching fire or committing some other indescribably rude automotive act. That was all. She could do that.
“Are you trying to bond with it?” Dobie asked from her elbow. Lexi started. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to interrupt your communion.”
“I think that on some level you’re making fun of me, aren’t you?”
“Not at all,” he replied. “I saw that you weren’t working, and came to see if I could help.”
“No, you didn’t.”
Dobie smiled. “Harold and Dick are talking about who’s going to get to the boat first. It sounds like they’ll turn this into a de facto race.”
“That’s such an incredibly bad idea,” Lexi said, but she couldn’t help smiling.
“Impossible to say. The Stratos and 911 are about evenly matched, considering we’ll be on public roads. Depends on which one runs better. Glen might beat both of them, because once that big GM lump under the hood of his Allard gets going, it’s not going to break. And I think if you go over there and tell Roger’s Ferrari that this is a race–not Roger, the car–then it’ll run better because that’s what it does instinctively.”
“I guess you’ll be left in the dust for once, eh? I don’t think your Alfa is in the same…what’s the saying? In the same league as Porsches and Ferraris.”
She stuck her tongue out at him. “I may have the littlest car with the littlest motor, but I also weigh the least of any of the drivers.”
“So you’ll get better gas mileage.”
Lexi nodded. “Never rule these things out when it comes to a long race.”
“Don’t tell me you’re racing, too.”
“Of course not,” she replied, then stood up in her seat. “Harold,” she called, “Dobie told me that you and Dick are over there talking smack, and I absolutely refuse to let you turn this into something as vulgar and childish as a cross between the Mille Miglia and the Cannonball Run!” All work and conversation in the cave stopped. The Road Associates looked from Lexi to each other, and then to the cars. “This is a serious expedition, and I think that Lars especially would oppose any shenanigans that involve these valuable cars.” She nodded sagely at Lars, who did his best to conceal his scowl. “No sense of humor in that one. I will also add that it’s academic which one of you is faster, because Roger’s Ferrari is going to make mincemeat of both of you.” She laughed and jumped out of Coquette, leaning back in to pop the hood. “Now it’s on,” she told Dobie. “Now I’ve gone and opened a can of great big bolshy yarblockos. Look at that, Molly’s even helping Glen fix his Allard before the big race. And it’ll be a big race, don’t even think it won’t. It’s a dangerous, stupid, foolish thing and it’s so American Graffiti I could weep tears of Pepsi, and that’s how I know it’s right. This no library–you buy or get out. And bring me some oil for my car.”