Victor went from Lexi’s hotel to the airport, and was back in Marjori within two hours. Dobie was at the house, in the garage. Joseph, as was common for him, was nowhere to be seen.
“All set?” Dobie asked as Victor opened the door and announced his presence with a slight throat-clearing.
“She’ll be fine.”
“Her room and the car are wired?”
“For sound and video,” Victor said. “And I can track the car via satellite, so we’ll know where she goes.”
Dobie nodded. “I told the staff of Danny’s visit while you were gone. I explained the situation between Lexi and the Packards–“
“They already know.”
“Do they? Interesting. Anyway, I explained that I wish to remain neutral, and that they’re under no circumstances to discuss Lexi with Danny. Not her presence here, not that they’ve even ever seen her.”
“I doubt Danny will talk to them, anyway.”
“So do I, but I wanted to be sure.” Dobie placed his hands palm-down on the roof of a carefully covered Aston Martin, looking at the far wall of the garage. “Danny’s due at lunchtime. I hope he’s not delayed by the demonstration.” There had been some protests in Marjori against the new automotive restrictions. People who couldn’t afford new cars were angry at having their cars taken away, and all across Ile du Soleil the public transit system was suddenly overtaxed. More buses were on the way of course, and light-rail networks had been approved for the larger cities that didn’t have them already, but nothing was in place yet, and people had to get to work. Dobie could sympathize to an extent, but really, if their jobs were that important they’d have found a way to get to work instead of picketing the vehicle inspection offices. You couldn’t change the system from outside of it.
“Should I go and make sure he gets through okay?”
“That’s a good idea, Victor. Go with the car. I’ll be here.” Dobie straightened and looked around the garage. He was happy with what he saw, but was sure he still didn’t feel whatever it was Lexi felt when she looked at the cars. “I’ll be out here,” he said again.
Once alone, he leaned against Joseph’s large rolling toolbox, puffing out his cheeks in a heavy sigh. He tried to get a sense of what Lexi saw in them, to feel the empowerment and serenity that they seemed to give her. It didn’t happen. He was proud of the collection–and glad that it wasn’t about to be destroyed–but there wasn’t anything more to feel than that, was there? He was in a room full of elegantly sculpted sheet metal, glass and rubber, nothing more.
Not that that wasn’t significant in and of itself, of course.
And yet, Lexi had nearly killed herself working her fingers to the bone to save it. This fact was not lost on Dobie, though he doubted he’d find the chance to express his gratitude to her directly until he knew what she wanted in return. And he was having a devil of a time figuring out what that was, exactly. She had flirted enough that he thought there was a good chance she’d sleep with him, but that was likely to be more for his benefit than hers–another step toward her getting whatever it was that she wanted.
It all had him very confused. Usually he was astute enough to figure out a woman’s motives well ahead of the game. Lexi was a puzzle. Giving her the briefcase had almost been an act of desperation on his behalf; it was the only thing she’d shown any interest in getting from him, and even then she’d only asked after it once then dropped the subject. So he’d given it to her, as a way of thanking her for saving the collection–even though she had, after all, been the one who’d endangered it. Perhaps now she’d be done with him, though that was unlikely as Lexi likely lacked the means to fly herself home without his help.
There was something more. Dobie went into Joseph’s office and dialed Helen’s hotel, wanting to talk to someone other than Victor about her.
She was up late, as she always was, and she didn’t complain about the late hour. “To what do I owe the pleasure?” she asked.
“I was curious, as to what you thought.”
“Ah, your latest conquest,” Helen said, purring a laugh. “I must say she’s smarter than your usual. Feeling ambitious, are you?”
He chose not to rise to the barb. “We aren’t involved in that way,” he said.
“Of course you aren’t. And I’d respect you less if you were. She’s no doubt still grieving.”
“So you don’t believe what Becka says about her?”
Helen’s voice was frosty. “I speak very carefully about what I think of Becka Packard’s opinions, little man. Even to you. One never knows who will talk out of school.”
Dobie smiled. “That aside, what do you think of Lexi?”
“You want to know what I saw at dinner, is that it? Did you invite her to get my opinion?”
“I didn’t invite her at all, in fact.”
He could practically hear her smile. “So she just walked in. I like her better already. She’s audacious and fearless. I suppose she’s terribly dangerous, as any woman who’s recently lost something precious will be.”
“Dangerous? You think–“
“Oh, not in that way, you silly man. I mean that as she comes through her grief, she’s going to be untouchable. She’s not going to be afraid of anything. You won’t be able to embarrass her, or intimidate her, or coerce her. None of your usual methods will work.” Helen laughed, and it was hard to tell if she was joking or not. Dobie suspected she wasn’t, entirely. “She’ll be amusing to watch, depending on who she manages to annoy. Has she annoyed you?”
“Not exactly,” Dobie said, and explained what Lexi had done to save the car collection.
“Very dedicated,” Helen said. She sounded genuinely impressed.
“I wish I knew what she wanted in exchange, that’s all.”
“Perhaps she’s already gotten it. She’s out of debt to you, after all.”
Of course! “You’re absolutely right. Why didn’t I see that before? It was her actions that endangered it, and she must have felt compelled to…”
“Clean up her mess,” Helen said. “Very tidy, that one. As I said, your usual methods aren’t going to work on her.”
“I’ve already determined that,” Dobie said ruefully, without meaning to. Helen had an infuriating way of loosening his tongue.
“I hope you didn’t call me expecting me to tell you how to get her into your bed.”
“No, not at all. I just needed…wanted to talk to you a bit.”
“About her,” Helen finished, not unkindly. “How smitten are you?”
“I’m not,” he replied.
“Of course you aren’t. Let me know how it works out. Shall I extend my stay, and come visit you at the house later this week? Wednesday is good for me. I’ll see you for brunch, how’s that?”
Only Helen could invite herself to his home like that. Dobie smiled. “Of course.”