1995 Dodge Neon

Well, it had to end sooner or later.

That morning, Dobie had had a visit from Lars Olufsson, who was a native Solei in spite of his Scandinavian name.  Lars was an expert in classic car values and had been in the business for almost fifteen years.  Dobie consulted him before most of his purchases. 

Today the business at hand wasn’t a car purchase, but Lexi’s discovery.  She still hadn’t told him what was in there, assuming she knew, but the video from the SLK’s front bumper suggested strongly that Ren had discovered a cache of Khorbin treasure–most likely cars–and Dobie thought it best to get Lars’ insights as soon as possible.  From the look of it, he’d made the right decision, because Lars was sharpening pencils.

Whenever Lars got excited or agitated, he sharpened pencils compulsively, with whatever was available.  If there wasn’t a sharpener handy, he’d scribble at an acute angle, wearing the point to a sharp tip that way.  When it was perfectly sharp, he’d break it and start over again.  Lars didn’t seem to be aware that he was doing it.  To accommodate him, Dobie always placed a container of unsharpened pencils and an electric sharpener on the desk before Lars arrived.

Today, the sharpener was getting a workout.  As Dobie explained the situation, Lars sharpened pencil after pencil, and he was more excited than agitated.  “This will be a very significant find,” he kept saying over and over.  “Regardless of the collectibility of the cars involved, this will be a big deal, if they’re authentic Khorbin relics.”

“I’m sure it will.  The question is, will the current political party in power see it the same way?”

“I don’t see why they wouldn’t.”  Another pencil ground away in the sharpener.

Dobie ran a hand through his hair.  “I don’t know if I agree with you there,” he said.  “I think there’s a real danger that they’ll crush the cars out of hand.  You’ve got to agree that would be a loss.”

Lars nodded.  “Unthinkable.  It depends on what’s there, of course, but many of Khorbin’s cars were quite valuable.”

“I hope you’re right,” was Dobie’s answer.  He couldn’t share Lars’ muted enthusiasm, knowing what he did about Rhoades and his cronies. 

After swearing Lars to temporary secrecy on the car matter, Dobie fretted about the house, lost in thought and agitation, and headed down to meet Helen for breakfast.  Danny had arrived first.

Then Lexi had walked in.  First she’d returned early and without warning; Dobie had entertained a hope, when she took off in the morning, that perhaps she’d just come back to change cars.  It was as though she had a sixth sense for the surveillance–Victor had bugged the ten cars she’d be most likely to drive, and she’d taken one of the ones that wasn’t.  If he’d been thinking more clearly, he’d have put Victor out front to stop Lexi from walking in, should she return before Danny headed out to begin the day’s depredations. 

But the mistake had been made, and now he was with Danny at the table and Lexi was standing across the room from both of them, and everyone but Danny had the good sense to look deeply concerned about what might happen next.

“Now how about that?” Danny said, his voice unctuous.  “It’s nice to see you, Lexi.”

His tone told Lexi how she should react.  The thinly veiled hostility was actually a relief, because she was used to it.  “Well, fluffering fuckotash,” she replied.  “It’s just dandy to see you too, Numba Two Son.  Sorry I couldn’t chat in Illinois; I was busy.  But I’m bound to keep running into you, it seems.  What’re you doing here, is what I wonder?”

“I could ask you the same question.”

“I was here first,” Lexi shot back.  “And I’m trying to make myself useful.  Have you ever in your life been able to say the same?”

Dobie rose partway out of his chair, realizing as he did so that Danny was also on his feet.  “Now, Lexi, let’s just calm down.”

“I am calm,” she said almost before he’d finished.  She bounced across the dining area and sat down at the table between them.  “It’s not his fault there’s not room on the planet for both of us.”  She helped herself to a croissant.

“Then maybe you should have killed yourself instead of my brother.”  Danny sat back down also.

Behind them, Helen entered the dining room.  Dobie looked desperately from Danny to Lexi to Helen, but she smiled obliquely and offered no help.  The least she could do was go and get Victor, but she showed no interest in picking up his subtle hints to do so.

Lexi closed her eyes for a half-second and let the comment wash over her.  Stupid falsehood or not, it stung a lot that anyone could even think she’d hurt Ren.  “Is there grapefruit juice?” she asked instead, looking at the pitchers on the table.  Seeing none, she picked up a napkin and unfolded it.  Dobie’s napkins were linen, not paper, of course. 

“Did you hear me?”

“Yes, but I don’t listen to people who say stupid things,” she said absently.  Lexi dipped her finger in the jam and smeared some on the napkin.

“I know what you’re doing here,” Danny said.  His eyes were green, like Ren’s, and they were bright with rage. 

“Do you, now?”  She still didn’t look at him.  She was drawing a smiley face in strawberry jam on the napkin.  No, wait; it was raspberry, she amended, tasting her finger.

“You might as well give up.  Dobie’s not going to succumb to your charms, you temptress.”

Dobie’s mouth opened and closed.

“Actually he’s not my type.  Did you call me a temptress?  Is it even legal to use that word any more?”

“You’ll be making your moves on me next,” Danny said gravely.

Lexi threw her head back and laughed, almost falling out of the chair.  “You?  Li’l Danny Packard, Numba Two Son?  Even if I was after your family fortune, I’d rather have a buffalo’s tongue up my unmentionables!”

He scowled and flushed red.  “I’m sure you know what that’s like, too.”

“Ooh, score one for you, Rod Steiger,” Lexi replied.  “Hold this.”  She held the napkin up like a drape in front of his face, with the dopey grin she’d drawn on it toward her.  When Danny obligingly took the napkin, she punched it.  There was a sharp crack as she hit him; whether it was his nose or her knuckles wasn’t entirely certain.  Danny tumbled out of his chair yelling.  “All that nat’ral charm and he’s stupid, too,” she muttered, then stood up to dance a little dance of hurt, flexing her jam-smeared hand.  “Ow!  You’ve got a hard head, niblet.”

“You’ve broken it!  Ah, God, you broke my nose!” Danny yelled, staggering to his feet.  He slammed his hand down on the table, overturning the pitcher of milk and making the dishes rattle.

“No, I didn’t.  You’re just a big baby.” 

With a roar, he went after her.  With an “eep!” of fright, she ran.  Helen and Kira leapt aside as Lexi charged past them with Danny hot on her heels.

Helen laughed heartily, grabbing Dobie’s shoulder as he moved to follow.  “It’s always so entertaining when you have guests!”

“For God’s sake, Helen, move.  Danny’s got a knife.”

“Oh, shit,” she said mirthfully, but she got out of his way, and then ran after him.

“Kira!” Dobie yelled.  “Maya!  Where the hell is Victor?”  He could hear Lexi and Danny running ahead of him; Lexi was headed either for her room, or for his office.  He lost them where the front and side wings met, then heard a scuffle followed by a slamming door–they’d gone to his office.  Helen was right behind him.  Where was Victor?  From now on, all household staff were going to carry two-way radios.

Up ahead, Lexi screamed.  Some piece of furniture overturned, and then Danny screamed, too.