Lexi awoke (for the second time) to stifling darkness, but slightly less stifling this time. Whatever smothering thing they’d put over her head was gone, and she wasn’t in a Previa any more either, because minivans didn’t have trunks.
At five-seven, she was just a bit too tall to be comfortable in a car’s trunk, and her knees ached. She couldn’t feel her feet, and an unpleasant tingle in her hands suggested that they were headed the same way. At least she wasn’t tied up at all. There was enough light leaking in through the taillight seams that she could see she was the only thing of significance in the trunk.
Leaving aside the question of what kind of car it was (mid-size, probably American, wide taillights and carpet on the trunklid, it was almost certainly a Lincoln Continental–she decided subconsciously), what next? It was so hot she could barely breathe; someone had tossed her in the trunk and left the car in the sun. Her head was pounding from the kick, the sleeper hold and the heat. It was hard to think straight, and the throbbing in her skull made it impossible to even be afraid. She just wanted air.
Being locked in a trunk was not a good sign.
This was Lexi’s first kidnapping, to be sure, but she was under the general impression that if they planned to keep you, you at least got air conditioning. There was plenty of time to worry about the dark and probably painful fate that awaited her, but that wasn’t nearly as important as getting out of this trunk before she passed out from heatstroke.
There was no room to sit up, but she squirmed around until she could get her hands on the trunk latch. Popping it would be simple with a screwdriver, painful and bloody without one, but…oh, shit, it was a Lincoln, with the stupid electric trunk-closer. She couldn’t pop it without a screwdriver to take the power-assist apart. “Okay,” she whispered. “Plan F.” Well, did the back seat fold? No, Continentals didn’t have folding seats, or even ski pass-throughs. She looked over her shoulder anyway. Structural metal blocked a potential rear-seat exit, as she’d thought. Foiled again.
She listened, heard birds. No cars, no city-sounds. Voices, though. Two of them, male and deep, like they had big barrely chests to resonate in. The men were in front of the car. There was a curse, and the car rocked slightly in tandem with it–they were working on the car. Or trying to.
“What’s the matter, then?”
“I don’t goddamn know. Get out of my light.”
Now who in the heck went and kidnapped someone and then had the car break down? Rule number one of any venture involving cars: Make sure the equipment is good. But then, what did she know? Lexi knocked on the trunklid. “Hello?”
“Is it out of gas?”
“No, Blaine, I filled it up this morning.”
“It sounded like it was out of gas. What are you checking?” Lexi heard the oil cap being unscrewed, then put back on. It was step three in the Look Like You Know What You’re Doing Under the Hood Guide For Men: Be sure to open and close anything that looks like it opens and closes. So Blaine’s companion didn’t know any more than he did. Good. A course of action was forming in her mind, and it didn’t end with her being murdered. Lexi liked plans like that.
Lexi knocked louder. “Hel-LO?”
They heard her, at least. “She’s awake,” Blaine said.
“No shit.” The car sagged again in response to something done under the hood, but there was no motion made toward the trunk.
“I don’t like it in here,” she called. She banged on the trunklid. “If you let me out, I can help.” No response. She repeated the banging. The effort dizzied her; she had to get out of the heat. Lexi didn’t like heat. Her body didn’t agree with it much. “Hey!” she yelled. Lexi hammered on the trunklid and kicked the fender with her feet, making as much of a racket as she could. When there was no response, she started singing the first song that came to mind. “Something strange is happening…my bones do ache and my ears, they do ring-ing!” The Siouxsie and the Banshees song made her think of Ren, and she drew strength from that. It countered the energy that the heat was sucking out of her in earnest now.
She only had to shout two choruses of, “by the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes!” before there was another curse (some Solei profanity she didn’t recognize) and feet crunched in gravel around the car, to the trunk. When the lid was popped, a glorious rush of fresh air came in, borne by blinding sunlight. Lexi closed her eyes and said, “Thank you,” and then something hard and warm was pressed against her head.
“Shut up,” the voice growled. “Shut up, or I will blow your head off, do you understand?”
Lexi nodded. The gun was withdrawn. “But wait–” The trunklid slammed again an instant later. The automatic closer hummed, pulling it closed. “Wait!” she yelled. “Come back! Please? I bet I can fix the car if you let me out.”
The footsteps continued halfway to the front of the car, then stopped. There was a long pause, during which the temperature in the trunk seemed to go right back up as high as it had been, and then he came back.
“Really, I can. Please?”
The key rattled in the lock. “Colby,” the man outside called. “She says she can fix the car. Should I let her out?”
Lexi couldn’t hear the response from under the hood, but it sounded aggravated. Not a good sign. “What are you going to do?” she yelled. “Call a tow truck?”
“Oh, hell, let her out. There’s no place for her to run anyway.”
The key was twisted, and the glorious rush of fresh air came again. This time Lexi was ready for the light. When she opened her eyes she wasn’t dazzled by the sun. She was, however, staggered by the outback-weathered good looks of the big’n’tall-sized man standing over her. Funny–everyone she’d seen in Ile du Soleil was reasonably good-looking in one way or another.
There was time to think about that later, or there would be if she didn’t get herself killed anyway. Before she could move to scramble out of the trunk, Blaine reached in and hauled her out by the arms. She fell immediately to the ground. “Sorry,” she said. “My legs are asleep.”
Blaine didn’t respond. He pulled her arms behind her back, and handcuffed her. That done, he spun her around so she was sitting with her back against the bumper. “When you can stand up, get up,” he said. He stepped back and folded his arms. They were big arms, tanned and moderately tattooed, and enjoying the sunlight thanks to a sleeveless shirt. Blaine had shoulder-length dishwater blond hair, a big square jaw and eyes hidden by Ray-Bans. His jeans were baggy and dirty, like he’d been doing farmwork in them.
“You’d look cool in a kilt,” Lexi said.
He scowled. “What?”
“Nothing.” She experimented with standing, and managed pull herself up with the car’s help. The metal was hot under her hands. “That’s much better, thank you,” she said politely. Blaine was unmoved. He took her upper arm in one big meaty hand and led her to the front of the car, where an even bigger and taller man was hunched uncomfortably under the hood.
Colby looked like a scaled-up version of Blaine, but his jaw was a bit rounder and his hair was dark and crew-cut. His arms were bigger around than Lexi’s thighs. He wore no sunglasses, and his dark eyes bored into her. He wouldn’t have looked as cool in a kilt though, he was too big. He had a gun in a shoulder holster, like Blaine did. “You can fix this piece of shit?” he asked. His voice was neither kind nor unkind, just this side of a Terminator monotone.
Lexi leaned back to look at the car in the daylight. “It’s not a piece of shit,” she said. “It’s a late Eighties Lincoln Continental, one of the front-drivers they built on a heavily modified Ford Taurus chassis. Actually a decent car, better than the Cadillacs that were rolling out at the same time anyway. Not that you’d know it to look at this one,” she added. The Connie had been scraped down the right side by something, and the passenger mirror was gone. The front bumper sagged, and the burgundy paint was oxidized white on every horizontal surface where the clearcoat had peeled off.
“Thanks a lot, My Cousin Vinny. Can you fix the damn thing?”
“Do I have to go back in the trunk if I do?” she asked. Both Colby and Blaine glared at her. “It was a rhetorical question,” Lexi said, shaking her head. “I can’t do much with my hands behind my back, though.”
“Stupid bitch. Tell me what to do,” Colby snarled.
“Sorry, this is my first kidnapping, I’m not used to this. What did it do?” Lexi’s eyes scanned the dirty engine compartment. Everything seemed to be in place, except the cruise control, which couldn’t possibly work with so many of its vacuum hoses gone. There was an oil leak from the valve cover, too, but it didn’t look serious.
“What do you mean, what did it do?”
“When it quit running. I was unconscious at the time, I didn’t hear it.”
Colby seemed to relax. Blaine, already bored, wandered a few steps off and lit a cigarette. “It was running fine, and then it started missing. The engine just cut off. It restarted, then cut off a couple more times and wouldn’t crank any more.”
“Could you go and turn the key for me?”
He looked at her for a long moment. She could see him debating whether she was going to run away. They were in a clear area, but the road was dirt and surrounded by scrubby woods on both sides. Nowhere to run, exactly. “Blaine, get behind the wheel and crank the car, would you?”
Blaine did as he was told. The Lincoln chuffed faithfully but impotently. Lexi knew instantly that it was probably a fuel delivery problem. She sniffed; no odor of gas. What Colby had described sounded like a dead fuel pump. She couldn’t remember if the Continental had an in-tank pump or if it was under the car, so she went to the fuel filler and turned her back to it, laboriously removing it with her cuffed hands. Colby didn’t try to stop her this time. “Do it again,” she called. Chuf-chuf-chuf-chuf. Nope, no telltale fuel pump whine. Lexi turned around and replaced the gas cap.
She went back to the front of the car. “Pull the distributor cap,” she said to Colby. There was no need for him to, but she wanted to see if he even knew what it was.
He hesitated, reached for the power steering reservoir. She nodded, and he removed the cap.
“Is there fluid?” she asked, trying not to giggle at the notion of “distributor fluid” because the dizzy’s job was to send electrical impulses to the spark plugs and it was absurd to think that it required any kind of fluid.
“Click and Clack would be so proud. Okay, I can fix this. Well, actually, you can, since you won’t uncuff me. There’s probably an arc from the ECM to the dizzy.”
“The distributor,” she said, keeping her voice even. She was making the mechanics up as she went along, but she needed to sound knowledgeable at the same time. Given the condition of the car, she was guessing that the fuel pump relay had gone to sleep, and about six times out of ten you could get a dead relay working (for a while) by banging on it. “I’m going to need you to hold the wires apart, but first we need to make sure there aren’t any loose connections.” She twisted her arms, trying to point to the relay box. “Give all of those relays a tap and a wiggle, to make sure they’re plugged in tight.” Colby touched them lightly with his fingers. “No, no, you’re not going to hurt it. Harder than that.” She rolled her eyes in exasperation. “Oh, here, look.” Lexi backed up to the car, reached into the engine compartment with her cuffed hands and gave the first relay she could feel a good solid thwack with her fingers.
“Okay, okay, I got it,” he growled.
“This is going to take both of you,” she said. “You need to hold the spark plug wires apart while someone cranks the car.”
“You can do it.”
“Not backwards, unless you’re going to uncuff me. And I’m not sticking my hands into an engine compartment with arcing electrics while wearing big metal bracelets,” she added. “So unless you’re going to take them off, I need to be behind the wheel.”
Colby narrowed his eyes. “Blaine will get behind the wheel.”
Lexi took a deep breath. Couldn’t look too eager. “Okay, fine. Can I show you what we need to do?”
Lexi twisted again so she could point out the plug wires, three in the front of the engine and three in the back. There was no way for her to reach them with her hands cuffed together. Blaine’s hands weren’t big enough to capture all six by himself, either. Lexi shut her mouth and let him figure this out on his own. When he did, he said, “Crabshit. Blaine! Get out here!” He glared at Lexi, as if this entire business was her fault. “Get in there. Sit sideways across the seat so you can reach the keys, and as soon as it starts, you get out. Or I will shoot you.”
She didn’t reply. Lexi made a big show of getting the guys into the right position, taking care that they didn’t get tangled up in any of the accessory belts and posing them with as much complexity as a good game of Twister. “Lift up just a bit more,” she told Blaine. “Right there–freeze. They’re all separate. Don’t let them touch. And you’re perfect too,” she told Colby. She ran around to the driver’s door, fumbled with it behind her, and tumbled into the driver’s seat.
Was she flexible enough to do that cool trick where you put your hands down past your butt to get them in front of you when you were cuffed? She was going to find out. Lexi braced her feet against the door and struggled. If Molly were here, she’d make a joke about her not getting away because her ass was too big.
“What are you doing in there?” Blaine called. They couldn’t quite see her through the narrow slit between hood and windshield.
“I can’t reach the keys. Almost there,” she said. They probably knew she was getting her hands in front of her by now. Lexi could only see their hands, holding the spark plug wires apart like they were keeping Grandma’s knitting in shape, and she kept her eyes on them, praying they wouldn’t move. She rocked her hips, trying to find just the right angle without making the car bounce around too much. Just a bit more…
Got it! “Okay!” she yelled. Her forearms burned from scraping against her pants. “Ready?” Lexi crossed her fingers and turned the key.
The Lincoln chuffed once and fired right up. “All right!” Colby cheered. Both men let the wires go, starting to walk around the car; Lexi locked the doors and put the car into reverse. She sprayed them with dust as she backed up without turning her head, watching the mirrors to keep herself on the road.
The big men were running toward the car, guns drawn and shouting. She kept going backward, getting fifty, sixty, seventy feet ahead of them. How far would a bullet travel? As long as she kept the car’s nose toward them, the upraised hood blocked their shots, but if she turned around and one of them was a good shot, she’d get blasted through the back window.
Her heart pounded crazily, the way it always did after she’d gone and twisted the tiger’s tail. Was she even going the right way? Had they broken down on the way to some lair where they were going to snuff her out–or on the way from it? Did this little road dead-end around the next corner? Backing through a gentle bend, Lexi saw no answer, just more road and more woods, and not a shred of civilization in evidence. Shit.
Now that the enraged Barbarian Brothers were out of sight, she could at least turn around. Lexi stopped the car, got out and dropped the hood so she could drive forward, then jumped back in. She could already hear Blaine and Colby bellowing in the distance–God, they ran fast. She turned around and drove in direction she’d been heading, but with more urgency. Would it be too much to hope for a map of the area in the glovebox? She looked: it was, in fact, too much to hope for. Oh, well. Lexi crossed her fingers and hoped that the road she was on went somewhere.