Lexi had felt this sense of commingled exhaustion and alertness before. She’d been in a rally car at the time, with Ren, and the two of them had been racing all day on no sleep whatsoever thanks to all-night repairs made necessary by the previous day’s drive. Lexi had been navigating, calling out the directions to Ren mechanically and efficiently, and in her weariness she forgot everything else.
It was like that now. Lexi was unsure whether she had ever known a life outside of being chased through the Ile du Soleil desert by a BMW cop car. Had she ever done anything else? Certainly she’d imagined worlds without the sirens and flashing lights and hot hot sun and occasional potshots that necessitated driving half off the road to create a concealing dust cloud, but she couldn’t remember for sure if these quiet, non-car chase worlds existed or not. If she thought too hard, there was in fact some doubt as to if they did. Surely she’d been in this car since birth, and maybe her father before her. It was the way of things.
On some level she was aware of the crazy thoughts, and knew they were just sun-addled thinking and she hadn’t spent her entire existence in an Alfa. On the other hand, she also remembered the crazy thoughts in the rally car being followed by a fantastic hallucination (her pace notes had turned into the final scene from As You Like It), whereas the pirate ship on the horizon looked like it was actually there.
Of course, that was the nature of hallucinations, to look like they were actually there, but it really was a pirate ship. A couple of them, in fact. They had appeared off to the left and now they were in front of her, maybe a mile away. Lexi hoped that she had turned toward them, and not the opposite. If they were moving she was going to have to make some big changes in her worldview.
They weren’t moving. They weren’t exactly pirate ships either, she saw as she raced closer, but a pair of weather-hammered billboards in the shape of pirate ships, built twice life size. They flanked the road, such as it was, and a short distance on she could see buildings, gates, the skeletons of rollercoasters. An amusement park.
“I’m gonna get laid in the funhouse!” she screamed, then started to explain that it was an old joke between her and Cygnet and Molly, then remembered that she was alone except for Coquette.
Judging by the lack of cars in the parking lot and the CLOSED UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE SEPT 22 1988 sign, business wasn’t so great. The ticket booths were boarded up but there were no chains on the gates, so Lexi drove right through the gap where the turnstile had been. Belatedly she realized that the Alfa might be too wide, but she’d already made it through with no damage before the thought formed.
Behind her, Wire slid to a stop. The BMW wouldn’t fit. Colby threw the door open. “Go to the south gate–there’s a service entrance. It’s open. Don’t let her leave the park.” He hefted the AK-47 from the back seat and ran into Pirate’s Nest.
Looking up, he saw that Blaine and the helicopter were drawing close. They’d gone off on a tangent after Lexi had outrun the police cars, so that the cops wouldn’t follow them down the road to Pirate’s Nest. Colby gave an unconscious grunt of satisfaction and ran for the snack bar. Behind it, a wide staircase of artfully rough-hewn planks ascended to a raised walkway about twenty feet high. The boardwalk was shaped like a giant anchor, and ran the length of the park, offering a panoramic view of the kiddy rides, picnic area, and the park’s three small manmade lakes, each of which was named after an ocean or bay. Of course the place looked like it had survived a nuclear war; the boardwalk was reasonably solid but its railing had fallen away in places and all of the wood was dry-rotted. Only one of the lakes had a thin layer of brackish slime in the bottom. Crude concrete pirates cavorted around them, brandishing the stubs of cutlasses or crouched over rusty cannon. The vandals hadn’t come out far enough to do much damage to the place in the end, though. Even the high rollercoasters were largely un-graffitied.
From the boardwalk, Colby could see almost all of Pirate’s Nest, and the few buildings that offered cover were easily cleared by the helicopter. Blaine had an AK-47 just like his, and plenty of ammunition. In an hour the sun would begin its quick slide below the horizon, but Lexi would be dead by then.
Lexi drove through the Pirate’s Nest, sticking to the wide sidewalk that ran from attraction to attraction. If only Disney World would let you drive through the park, she thought. It was actually kind of fun. It would be perfect if there was somewhere she could hide, and take a nap perhaps, and then this would be lots more fun in the morning, but she doubted that Pinky (who had been in the BMW) and The Brain (who was, no doubt, in the helicopter) would wait. Going to sleep was a good way to wake up dead. Pinky and The Brain were nothing if not persistent.
Something told her she ought to turn left, so she did. Out of the corner of her eye she saw a cement pirate’s upraised arm shatter as a 7.62 slug slammed into it.
“Shooting at me!” she cried, and put her foot down. The Alfa leapt forward, spoiling Pinky’s next shot, and then Lexi was off of the path, driving between a defunct Tilt-A-Whirl (its name was “Sea Legs,” but she knew a Tilt-A-Whirl when she saw one) and a swing ride. The sound of bullets whanging into metal in front and behind urged her on. She was fighting panic and close to losing. She looked wildly about, trying to figure out how Pinky was shooting at her without looking away from where she was going for too long, and was speeding under the boardwalk toward the front of the park when she finally saw him up there. He was running to keep her in sight and Lexi ducked her head, expecting to take a shot in her exposed back as she went under him.
The killing blow didn’t come. She made it past the gift shop (she assumed that was what it was, as the weatherbeaten sign over the boarded-up door said, “Plunder”) and out of Pinky’s sight for a moment, and nearly ran into the BMW.
It was coming straight toward her. Lexi turned without braking and the Alfa’s tires squalled in protest. As the car became unbalanced she locked the brakes and skidded neatly to the side. The BMW never flinched. Considering that he had the benefit of an additional thirty years’ worth of engineering, not to mention airbags, seatbelts and probably twice as much sheetmetal, this wasn’t a surprise.
She shifted into reverse without hesitating, backing up perpendicular to her original path. There was a sturdy-looking fence surrounding the park, as well as depressions here and there that might once have been pools. If she wanted out she’d have to return to the front gate, and now there was a BMW between her and it.
That was fine, she didn’t want out. Lexi spun as the BMW turned around, and lit off for the other side of Pirate’s Nest with the big car nipping at her bumper. She couldn’t see the driver, but he knew what he was doing, that was for sure.
The buzz of a bullet over her head reminded her that she had more than one problem to deal with. Over the rip of the Alfa’s engine she could hear helicopter blades, too.
The chopper was less than a hundred feet up, and seemed to burst over the derelict merry-go-round in front of her. It turned broadside, and Lexi let out a yip of fear as she saw The Brain in the door, aiming a giant gun at her as if she were, in fact, Charlie. She dodged Coquette right barely in time to avoid the stream of shots that followed; clattering behind her told her that some of them had probably plunked into the BMW. They didn’t disable it, though, and the German stormer stayed on her tail.
Another turn took her past the carousel and out of the Brain’s line of sight…but back into Pinky’s kill-field. Yaiii! She felt his eye on her before she saw him, and was already turning.
“One-two-three,” Lexi said. “Sniper, chopper, BMW.” Listing her worries didn’t make her feel any better. Could she just park under the boardwalk? No, Pinky would just shoot right down through the wood. Lexi chewed her lip in desperation, cut through the gate leading to one of the larger rollercoasters, and drove into the latticed beams that held it up. The BMW followed her, dammit, and they slalomed through the timbers with bullets chunking the wood on both sides of Lexi. It was decent cover, though. Lexi was consumed with keeping control of her car on the uneven ground and not crashing into a pillar, which was kind of relaxing as it put the guns out of her mind.
She made the last turn a tight one and went through the gate on three wheels at an angle that wasn’t even remotely safe, but Wire stayed with her. Lexi knew she couldn’t keep this pace up for much longer before she made a big (and probably fiery) mistake, and even as she was thinking it the BMW put on a burst of speed and got alongside her. He was going to force her back off the sidewalk, into a building. Lexi floored the brake before he could sideswipe her, and dodged into a narrow alley between two midway buildings. She was shielded from the helicopter again but could see the boardwalk directly ahead. Fish in a barrel. She didn’t slow down, getting out of the kill-zone before Pinky could run into position.
The BMW met her on the other side of the midway, and this time he hit her. Lexi turned with it, minimizing the impact damage, but the swerve took her over the edge of what had been a shallow-concrete-lined pond with a mermaid on an island in the middle of it. She couldn’t stop Coquette from sliding into the basin, and turned the slide into a wild four-wheel drift to avoid the mermaid. The car was going around–she saw the BMW shoot past–and she let it, giving it some power so she could come out of the pond–the chopper twirled overhead–at an angle to the way she’d come–OMIGOD A CANNON!
The Alfa was halfway up the steep slope leading out of the pond when she saw the thing, a rusty iron cannon whose mounts had sagged, pointing it down into the pond, and she was driving straight into it. Lexi got a bit of spin on the wheel and Coquette came up the ramplike wall of the basin at an angle. The car’s back half gave a leap, and she was scraping chassis on the cannon, rear wheels dangling helplessly. Aaaannnd…scene. The Alfa was stuck. Lexi vented a primal scream of fear and frustration.
One thing was sure: she couldn’t stay here. She shut the car off and bailed out. The chopper was dropping, kicking up dust with its deafening rotor wash, and she couldn’t hear the shots but could feel them striking earth around her. Lexi found momentary shelter behind a concrete pirate, then under the awning of the Sea Legs ride. The helicopter paused, waiting for the dust cloud to blow away. If she could get to the boarded-up museum building or the gift shop, and find a way inside, maybe she could hide until dark…
Lexi hopped from Sea Legs, scooted under the boardwalk, and made it to the carousel without the chopper seeing her, and ducked inside a swan. The BMW purred close by, then kept going. The boardwalk passed almost directly overhead, and she could hear Pinky up there, talking on a radio. The sound of the helicopter blew his words away, but it wasn’t hard to guess what they were discussing.
She put her head up slowly, experimentally. A shattering barrage of gunfire made her drop back down, crying out, but they were murdering Sea Legs, not her hiding place. In fact Sea Legs was on the other side of the boardwalk from where she was. The fire came from above and from the helicopter, which meant (hopefully) that they were looking in that direction. Lexi put her head up again. Dust swirled luridly, although no longer thick enough to conceal what moved. The BMW was out of sight. She could see the museum, thirty feet from the carousel, and a cheerful yellow backhoe loader an equal distance in the opposite direction.
The helicopter dropped lower, as The Brain tried to see into the badly perforated Sea Legs ride. Lexi realized that she was almost completely blocked from view for the moment. She looked at the backhoe again.
Go, a voice inside her said. It sounded like Ren, so much so that she got goosebumps, and she was running for it even before it occurred that there might not be keys. That was how it was. Ren spoke and she’d do. He’d do the same for her, if she spoke. There were no lies between them, just undying trust, no pun intended. So Lexi ran.
The keys were in it. Lexi cranked the backhoe to life, and the sound was lost under the helicopter’s roar. Lexi let out a throaty bellow–“Tonkaaa!” and put it into gear.