“Call me crazy, but I think they just might do it,” Dobie said to Lars.
With no pencils available to sharpen, Lars had taken to plucking threads out of discarded shop rags. He’d completely unraveled one. “I’ve never seen anything so irresponsible.”
“And yet, it feels good to be part of it, doesn’t it?”
Lars just looked at him.
“Well, I for one am enjoying the show.” The battered, derelict sports cars posed in various states of disassembly, lit by the harsh work lights strung about the cave. Joseph had turned all of the engines, and all six had been rolled to ensure that no axles had rusted solid. Most of their tires were holding air, though that was unlikely to last for long once they hit the road. The Hornet, Porsche and Allard had even spun their starters when given fresh batteries. The three recalcitrant Italian cars were all undergoing wiring transplants from the Discovery. Glen had expressed amusement that the new truck’s instrument panel and engine control harness contained more wiring than the Alfa, Ferrari and Stratos put together.
Molly joined Lars and Dobie. “Too many cooks,” she said.
“Dick and Harold are soldering. Everyone else is jerry-rigging fuel lines. I was in the way.” She shrugged pleasantly. “No useful skills, me. Now if you had a coffee grinder, I could contribute.”
“You seem confident,” Dobie said.
“It’s a brave front. All I can do is trust in Lexi now. I’m stuck on the merry-go-round.”
“That makes you angry?”
“Not at all,” she said, waving her hands. “Not a bit. I got on of my own free will, after all.”
Lars cocked an eyebrow. “So you’re not afraid?”
“Scared to death. I’m not used to misbehaving. Neither are you guys, are you Dobie?”
“Why would you say that?”
“It shows in your body language. You and Lars have been standing over here like you expect a headmaster to burst in at any moment. You’ve separated yourselves so that if the shit hits the fan, ‘you were just over here,’ and thus somehow innocent, right?”
Dobie smiled. “I see you’ve given this a lot of thought,” he said with just a touch of condescension.
“Oh, we’ve been talking about you the whole time,” she said, and winked. “What’re you going to do when the doors open? Stay here, or ride with?”
Dobie and Lars looked at each other.
Molly stretched her shoulders. “From the sound of it, you don’t have a lot of time to figure it out. Myself, I’m beginning to wish very strongly that there were bathrooms in this cave.” She returned to her position near the Allard, watching Glen check the intake manifold’s surfaces while Lexi wiped the last bit of cleaner out of the Alfa’s carb.
“We’ve been using empty oil and water bottles,” Glen said. “The caps keep the smell down.”
“That’s just wonderful for you externally-plumbed types,” she said, her voice ripe with sarcasm. “What about Lexi and I?”
“What?” Lexi said, not looking up. “I’m fine, I used a funnel.” Glen tried not to laugh, and failed.
“I am going to pretend you never told me that,” Molly said. “It’ll be for the best.”
Dobie appeared suddenly, and put his hand on Molly’s shoulder. He gave her a squeeze, and said, “Although Victor is skeptical of my motives,” cutting his eyes at Lexi, “we have decided to be involved. If you could join us?” He squeezed Molly’s shoulder again, and moved along.
Glen was frowning heavily. “What was that about?”
“Private conversation,” Molly said. “We should go see what he wants to talk about, though.”
Dobie gathered the group near the back of the Discovery, which was now partially gutted. He looked like he was about to make a speech, but instead stepped aside, and Victor began telling them about the tactics used by the Ile du Soleil highway patrol. “They’re understaffed,” he concluded, “across the board. Because there’s no national highway patrol, any local department is going to have trouble maintaining six separate chases.”
“In other words, split up as soon as we’re out of the cave,” Dobie added needlessly.
“How are we going to fuel?” Glen asked.
“I have no idea,” Victor said, even though the question was addressed more to Harold than to him.
“We’ll find a way.”
“We’ll need tires, too. Everything’s holding air for the moment, but that might last an hour, might last all day. And none of these cars have standard size tires.”
“I can make some calls,” Rocky said. “I know some guys. We’ll have to rendezvous somewhere.”
Harold nodded. “Where are we, ladies and gentlemen? The Lancia is ready for a trial by fire.”
“Hornet’ll run,” Rocky said. “Dunno about stopping though.”
“Give me another twenty minutes on the Ferrari.”
“Ten for Coquette,” Lexi said.
“Allard is ready.”
“Ditto,” Dick said, twirling the Porsche’s keys around his finger. “Guess it’s time to make some phone calls.”
“Phone calls?” Dobie asked.
“Yes, would you like me to notify your next of kin?” A few laughs went around. “Seriously, though, I’m calling the media. My cell’s reception is kind of sketchy here in the cave, but as soon as I’m on the road, I’m going to call any U.S. media outlet I can think of. The more people know what’s going on, the less likely we are to get shot.”
Glen handed Dick a business card with Late Apex’ publisher’s number scrawled on the back. “You can call my friend Cygnet at WHMH,” Lexi offered. “That’s the only media number I know by heart. It’s a pretty big radio station. Plus you’ll like her, she’s a very sick individual.”
“If I contact media here,” Dobie said, “I’m sure they’ll listen.”
“That’s a fantastic idea.”
“Am I the only person who remembers that the police have barricaded the entrance?” Lars burst out.
Joseph looked at Dobie. “I will see to that,” he rumbled.
“Okay, then, how do we get to Woodford?” Roger asked. “Mr. Cassarell?”
“Oh, don’t ask Dobie, he doesn’t drive anywhere,” Lexi said lightly. Before Dobie could protest, Rocky began giving them rough directions. Notes were taken. Harold and Dick pitched in on the cars that weren’t finished, and the fuel from the Discovery and Suburban was carefully metered out to the cars, leaving only a gallon or so in the big SUV’s tank. Joseph and Rocky pushed the carcass of the Discovery away from the cave doors so they could be opened. While the drivers were priming their carburetors and getting fuel to flow through long-dormant systems, Dick went as close to the door as he could, borrowed Dobie’s cell phone and dialed the police with one and a local TV station with the other. Harold picked up Dick’s video camera and filmed this process.
Holding both phones up at the same time, Dick announced cheerfully, “Good afternoon! I hope you can hear me. This is Dick Sheehan, I’m an American citizen, and I’m calling you from a cave outside of Hamilton, where we have been blockaded inside by the police. I was attacked without provocation by a police officer this morning, leading to a series of misunderstandings that I believe brought us here, and I am calling to clear the air.” He paused, listening to one or both lines. “Yes, I’ll hold while you transfer me.” He waited again, then repeated his initial statements, adding, “I am talking to a local television station at the same time that I am addressing you, Mr. Tierson. I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your rank.” He paused again. “That’s very interesting. Anyway, to appraise you all of our situation while my phone is still working, we are down here in this cave with six classic automobiles that belong to Lexi Crane. She is down here also, as are Dobie Cassarell and his bodyguard Victor. We also have two American journalists with us, and a Solei speculator named Lars who will be happy to interpret the values of the cars we have found. As these historically significant cars do not conform to the current environmental laws, we will be taking them out of the country.”
“He sounds like a professional, doesn’t he?” Lexi said to Molly, who nodded.
“In spite of the police response to us, we are unarmed and pose no threat to the public. If you don’t mind, we’ll be out of your hair in just a few hours.”
Dick stopped and listened, and with one hand motioned to Harold, who handed the camera to Lars. “That’s our signal,” Harold said, heading toward the Stratos with his keys upraised.
“What signal?” Molly asked.
“Sounds like the authorities are being obstinate,” Glen said, sliding behind the wheel of the Allard. “We discussed this earlier.”
Dick spoke again, and he sounded incredibly amused. “Well, Ms.–was it Franklin? You couldn’t hear Officer Tierson’s response, of course, so I’ll paraphrase for you. I have been informed that the Solei government’s position is that these cars constitute a historical site, a King Khorbin cache, and that as such they plan to destroy these vehicles, ironically in the name of historical precedent. They refuse–in the most amusing and hysterical terms–to recognize the documentation that clearly identifies Ms. Crane as the owner of this property and these cars, even though she is willing to cede ownership of the land to the Solei government after the cars have been removed. I have been informed that, as the police have seized the truck we rented to transport these cars, we have no choice but to give ourselves up and surrender Lexi’s property. I think that about covers it. I would now like to present my rebuttal.” Dick turned around and raised both phones to the garage. When he did so, Harold cranked the Stratos, which sneezed once before snarling to life. Glen and Rocky dialed fire at the same time, adding deeper exhaust notes to the cacophony, and Lexi’s muffler-less Alfa blatted awake with a noise like a thousand snare drums gone mad. The distinctive wail of the Ferrari’s V12 came in last, as Roger finally got it cranked, using the running Allard to jump-start it as they were a battery short.
Dick looked like he was going to explode with glee as he hung up both phones and brought his arms down. He twirled one arm in a “giddy-up” gesture and hopped into the Porsche.
“What’s going on?” Lars asked Molly as she took her purse out of the Suburban. He had to shout to be heard.
“All aboard!” she yelled back. “Time to find a seat!”
Lars looked at Joseph, who was behind the wheel of the Suburban, and the mechanic shook his head no. “Oh, for heaven’s sake,” he said, looking from car to car and finally deciding to join Roger in the Ferrari.
Dobie slipped into Coquette with Lexi; she looked surprised, then gave him a sideways look and half a smirk, then turned to face front again. Victor nodded to him from his position by the door, and then began pulling the wooden doors open.
Molly tried to find a comfortable position in the Allard’s passenger seat, wishing she could sit farther down in the car. Glen looked at her, flexing his fingers on the wheel. He was grinning from ear to ear, and she’d seen that look exactly twice before; once on Lexi, and once on Ren. Both times had been memorable, to say the least. She rolled her eyes and made the sign of the cross.