Rocky had never been in a serious auto accident before, but the one he’d just been in hadn’t come as much of a surprise. The Hudson’s brakes had gone out shortly after they’d caught up to the Alfa, and he’d scrubbed speed as best he could but really, it had only been a matter of time before he hit something. He had hoped to possibly make it out of Fountainhead, where the car could coast harmlessly into the desert, but whacking a parking block was just as well.
The subsequent launch and roll came as a shock, however. At first he wasn’t sure what had happened; there was a bone-jarring thud, and then the horizon jumped up and spun suddenly under the car. The Hudson turned turtle, then flopped back onto its wheels. Unbelted, Rocky and Victor were flung wildly about–the phrase, “like marbles in a paint can” suddenly made a lot of sense–and when the car came to a rest on its wheels, the windshield and most of the glass were splintered, the dry-rotted headliner had come loose and was resting across his shoulders like a dusty shroud, and Victor was gone.
The engine had stalled, and he could hear shouts and engines, horns honking. Rocky looked around, not sure where he was, and tasted blood. His upper lip and nose were numb; he touched his fingers there and came away with a bit of wetness. He instinctively wiped his face on his forearm, then opened his door and got out.
Ah, yes, that was it, he’d just crashed the car. The damage was actually minimal; the roof and driver’s side were scraped and a little bit sausaged, but apart from that nothing major appeared to have come off of the car at all. All four wheels were still attached and pointing more or less in the same direction.
“We survived,” Victor said, approaching. He walked stiffly, and his suit was shredded at the sides and back.
“You got thrown clear, man,” Rocky said.
“Yes, I did.”
“Supposed to wear your seatbelt, prevent that from happening.” Both men grinned; the Hudson didn’t have seatbelts.
“I’ll take that under advisement.”
By now the paralysis of the onlookers had broken, and would-be rescuers were approaching. Among them were Dobie and Lexi. “Did you see that?” Rocky asked Lexi.
“It’s a miracle you didn’t hit anyone else,” Dobie said. “It’s a miracle you weren’t both killed.”
“That was a hell of a ride,” Rocky said.
Lexi made him sit down on the curb. “What was that all about?”
“Lost my brakes,” he replied. She nodded in understanding. “Couldn’t bring her down without bashin’ into something, so I sped up in hopes that I could make it out of town instead.”
“That was dumb.”
“I’m probably going to agree with you later, when my whole body turns into a bruise. But I’m going to have one hell of a story.” He lay back on the pavement, closing his eyes. “So do you think you can help me fix it? I bet I can hold what’s left of her together for another couple hundred miles.”
Lexi grinned instantly. “You think the police will let us have a car-fixin’ party right here in this parking lot?”
Rocky shrugged. “It’s private property. Technically, if we’re in this lot here with the owner’s permission, we’re not on public roads, and as long as we’re not driving, then the car is technically not doing anything illegal.”
She frowned. “Are you serious?”
“I have no idea. But I’m hoping it’ll confuse the oinkers long enough that they won’t drag us away in handcuffs.”
“They might have to deal with the locals first,” Lexi said. The gathering crowd had all but stopped traffic.
Dobie and Victor had moved closer to Lexi and Rocky and the Hornet. “Victor, keep an eye on those people,” Dobie said, indicating the people who were looking into the Alfa.
“Aw, they won’t bother it,” Lexi said.
“This is not a good place for us to be,” Dobie said. “These people–“
“Love us,” she said, cutting him off. “They just had a riot to stop the cops from chasing us, remember?”
Dobie gave Victor a meaningful look that was apparently unnecessary, as the bodyguard was already in a ready position.
“So,” Rocky said to Lexi, ignoring Victor and Dobie, “do you think you could go and sweet-talk the owner of this here shop into letting us stay for an hour or so?”
“I can do that,” she said with a smile. “What needs doing after that?”
“Brakes, obviously. A bit of backyard bodywork and we’ll see if she rolls straight.”
“How did you not manage to even blow a tire?”
“I have staggering, godlike powers over matter and physics,” Rocky replied.
“Clearly. I’ll go talk to the store people for you.” She turned and bounced toward the store.
Dobie broke away from Victor, having heard part of their conversation, and followed her. She seemed cheerful, and so he was thus uncertain how to react, when Lexi started to cry.
He’d discussed her crying at length with Victor, but had never actually seen her lose composure, so the idea of Lexi weeping was a theoretical concept up until that point. It happened all at once. She crossed the parking lot with her characteristic light gait, paused with her hand on the door to the store, and just when he thought she was about to make one of her off-the-wall comments, she started sobbing.
She put her hands over her face. Dobie’s momentary paralysis broke, and he put his hand on her shoulder but she shrugged it roughly off.
“What’s the matter?” he asked, opening the door for her and ushering her into air conditioning.
“They almost died, you complete ass,” she sobbed through her hands.
“Nobody was hurt in the crash. No harm done.”
“You don’t understand…they got lucky.” Her tears were subsiding. “Unbelievably lucky. If a car had hit them, or if they’d have come down on the roof, or if there was a fire…it would have been bad. Very bad.”
He risked touching her shoulder again. “But they’re alive.”
This time she responded to the touch, and wiped her eyes with a sigh. “This thing I have noticed. Give me another forty seconds and an orange soda, and I’ll be okay.”
A man came through the door behind them, and Dobie handed him some money. “Bring me an orange soda, please.”
The guy looked at the cash. “I don’t work here,” he said, bewildered.
“As a favor, my good man.”
He shrugged. “What brand?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Anything orange and bubbly is wonderful,” Lexi interjected. “Actually I can get it myself.”
“Oh, no you don’t,” Dobie said. “You sit down for a moment, you’ve been driving all day.” He motioned the man toward the coolers at the back of the store. “Anything orange and bubbly, you heard the lady.” The guy glared at Dobie, who didn’t seem to notice. “You there!” he called to the attendant behind the counter. “Are you the manager? We require the use of your parking lot to make repairs to our car. Is five thousand a sufficient rental fee?”
“You do your work, and I’ll do mine,” he said, peeling off more bills.
She went back outside. When Dobie came back out, Rocky was behind the driver’s seat of the Hudson, and Lexi was in front of it.
Victor met him partway to the car, out of earshot. “It might be best for us to leave,” he said. “I can have a car here in five minutes, and in the confusion no one will notice.”
He considered. The crowd might not notice, but Lexi certainly would. “I’ll stay,” he said.
“Not the safest course of action,” Victor replied. “There are two police cars across the street, in Hamm’s parking lot.” Dobie looked around and saw the familiar Hamm’s logo, and the police BMWs parked beneath the sign. “They won’t engage while there’s a crowd, and they’ve got orders not to create another street chase.”
“Good.” Dobie rejoined Lexi, and handed her the soda.
Lexi knelt in front of the car and touched her forehead briefly to the Hornet’s grille.
“What are you doing?”
“Thanking the car for not killing Victor and Rocky.” She prostrated herself in front of the car.
“I think that’s a bit extreme.”
“Now I’m looking for leaks, you stupid,” she giggled. Her mood had swung all the way back, with no sign other than slightly puffy eyes that she’d been weeping moments before. Dobie wondered if that was a good or bad indicator of her mental health. “Found it!”
“You found the leak?”
“I spy with my little eye, an exploded brake line. That would explain the past few minutes adequately.”
“Can you fix it?”
“‘Course I can, snotling. I just need a squidge of tubing and some truly fierce cable ties, and a brake fluid refill, and that should get us the rest of the way there. Oh, and a tube cutter, to take out the bad section. Hey, Rocky! You want to crawl under the car, or should I?” She pushed herself back up, and saw Dobie handing more money to a middle-aged woman carrying a shopping bag.
“What are you doing?”
“Sending this woman to get the things you and Rocky need. Would you like a new sun hat?”
Lexi made a face. “Did it ever cross your mind to just do something yourself?”
“I gave her a hundred dollars above the cost,” he said by way of explanation.
“Oh, well that makes it okay then,” she said sourly.
“What do you mean by that?”
Dobie thought she was having another mood swing, into curtness this time, but when Rocky asked for a sip of her orange soda, she gave it to him cheerfully. A man from the crowd offered the use of the bottle jack from his new truck, and Lexi all but adopted him, immediately accepting the help from a perfect stranger and asking him about what he did for a living as she and Rocky raised the Hudson. Dobie stayed out of the way; Lexi answered questions for the crowd, which grew to about twenty people. Some of them even helped. She set two adolescent children to the task of looking at the wires under Coquette’s hood to see if any of them were broken (telling their mother to make sure they didn’t burn themselves on the engine, of course) and borrowed a second jack to get the Hornet higher into the air. She was practically giving a seminar on how to change one’s brake lines in the middle of the road, should one need to do such a thing.
Dobie surprised himself by feeling somewhat left out. It wasn’t as though he was the only person who wasn’t helping, but he got the sense that Lexi noticed his inactivity more so than anyone else’s.