1974 Lancia Stratos HF

It took Harold all of ten minutes to outrun the confused, ill-trained police pursuit that followed his Stratos up into the mountains.  The roads turned wickedly twisty within a few miles of the cave, and the ex-rally car made short work of them, even with its elderly tires.  Even when one of the cylinders went dead, turning the engine’s wail ugly and discordant and putting a notable dent in the car’s power output, he still had no trouble keeping ahead.  Harold concentrated on piloting the short, squat, responsive car through the switchbacks and gradually, the flashing lights behind receded until they were merely streaks on the sky.  Soon the light pollution from the next city blotted them out entirely.

He had barely noticed the time passing.  It was just like being on the track, that confident feeling of tuning himself in with the car and letting the rest of the world fall by the wayside.  For a good long time, the only things that existed were the complex organism that was himself and the Stratos, and the innate knowledge of the growing gap behind him, as the competition fell back.

Harold couldn’t let himself get too lost in the fun, though.  He kept a weather eye on the gas gauge, and an even closer watch on the car’s condition.  The right front tire was wearing badly, and probably wouldn’t make it another hundred miles, and it was almost time for fuel.  He’d planned to avoid the freeways, which would add some extra time but would be more likely to cut down on police intervention, and his chief ally in this mission was a penlight and a map of Ile du Soleil that he’d bought while shopping for tools with Lexi. 

The sticky part would be the land bridges; there wasn’t any way to get from island to island without taking them.  He was dropping back down into civilization before he knew it, and he was on the outskirts of Hamilton just getting onto L7 when that bad tire went. 

He expected it to happen; the Stratos coasted to a stop without drama, and without a right front tire.  The dry-rotted rubber had disintegrated, carpeting the road behind with shreds of black and leaving only a thin stripe of tire on the rim.  Trying to limp to a gas station would only result in a destroyed wheel, so Harold stopped, got out, and stood by the car to consider.  It was past midnight, and the freeway was almost deserted.  Whatever commotion had been caused by the others going through town–Dick, Roger, and Lexi chief among them–seemed to have died down, thankfully.  There were no helicopters in the sky, and no police cars prowling the roads, for the moment.  Harold was aware that his car was far from subtle.

Two or three cars and a truck whipped by without slowing.  The Stratos’ spare wheel was in place, but the tire on that one was flat as well.   He debated briefly, then decided to drive on the wheel long enough to get off of the road.  If he ruined the wheel, he could install the spare with a new tire.  There wouldn’t be a spare then, but the time and safety advantage over getting out in the dark to change the tire would be worth it. 

He’d limped along for about a mile, naked wheel grating on the pavement with a sound that was painful to contemplate, when a small, loud car towing a trailer blatted past, then slowed almost immediately.  On closer inspection Harold realized that it wasn’t a single car with a trailer, it was an Opel Corsa driving a very short distance in front of the Hudson, which had no headlights.

When the distressed Stratos caught up, Victor was already out of the Hudson.  “We’re going to a safe place,” he said, with no other greeting.  “About five miles.  Can you make it?”

“Absolutely,” Harold replied.  No point in wasting time with a thank you.  He fell into line behind the Hudson, and the parade moved off, taking the next exit into a veritable forest of an industrial park.  The three cars navigated a maze of streets that looked abandoned, arriving finally at a warehouse.  The signage on the building identified it as TechSyde LLC; Victor climbed out of the Hudson again, looking large even next to the large car, and went to the bay door.  He tapped a code into the alarm pad, and the first bay door began to rise.

Harold had questions, but waited until the cars were inside and out of sight to ask them.  Victor answered with his usual curt efficiency.  “Dobie owns the property and the company.  We’re borrowing the space for the night.”  The Opel was driven by a friend of Rocky’s whose name wasn’t offered.  Harold didn’t ask.  “You’ll be needing a tire, I assume?” Victor asked.

“A full set, if possible.”

The bodyguard nodded.  “We’re calling out for headlights.  I’ll get you set up as well.”

Harold looked around.  The warehouse seemed to be packed with electrical components, as well as a small-scale assembly area.  “What do they build here?”

“Waste oil burners and heating units.”

“I’m sure we can scare up enough wiring to fix whatever’s shorted.”

Rocky nodded.  “That was the idea.  How’s she running?”

“Got a dead cylinder, now that you mention,” Harold said, yawning with a fierceness that surprised him.  Getting off the road took the energy right out of him.  He stretched his shoulders.  The Stratos was a demanding car to drive, hot as hell inside, and his lumbar reminded him that he wasn’t getting any younger.  “I’m trying to decide between a nap and looking at it.”

“It’ll all seem a lot easier to deal with in the morning,” Rocky said.  “I’m after makin’ myself a pallet.”

“That, and getting across the bridge.  Any ideas?”

“Dick has already gone across,” Victor said.  He had a cellphone to his ear.  “There was talk of barricading them, but the trucking companies protested.  Nobody wants to be responsible for disrupting deliveries.”

“Dick was on the news?”

“No.  The news thus far has been mostly incorrect.”  Victor hung up.

“Then how do you–“

“I have my sources.  Glen and Molly have also made it across to Lecroy.  No word on Lexi and Dobie, or Lars and Roger.”