“Actually, Dave, backhoes have always been my favorite pieces of construction equipment,” Lexi said. There was an on-again, off-again interview with David Letterman going on in her head, and it had been there for the past five years or so. It was Cygnet’s fault, but that was along story. “Bulldozers are the big brutes of course, and you’ve got to love them, but they’re glory hounds and one-trick ponies, really. A backhoe can do just about anything.”
She spoke conversationally, and the cab was glassed-in anyhow, so there was no chance anyone would have heard her. It even had air conditioning, and she turned it on. Thanks to the helicopter’s roar, Colby didn’t hear her coming at all. Lexi led the way with the shovel and took out several of the boardwalk’s support beams in a cracking, shattering explosion of wood and dust. Dry-rotted from the desert, the wood was sturdy enough to hold Colby up on top but collapsed readily under the assault of a fifteen-thousand pound backhoe going almost fifteen miles per hour. She was barely even jolted in the seat.
“I learned to drive one of these before I even met Ren. When I was seventeen, we had to dig up the old septic tank in the backyard that hadn’t been used since the Fifties or some such, and connect the mess to the city sewage system. The guys who came out to do the work had this beautiful yellow John Deere backhoe that they used to destroy our backyard.” Lexi drove under the boardwalk and out the other side, smashing everything in her path, and a ten-foot section collapsed behind her. She spun the wheel quickly, so she could get the scoop up if she was about to get shot, but Pinky had been knocked flat. “I was a big late-blooming hormone-ball at the time, of course, and so these construction guys were just the hottest things on two legs as far as I was concerned. Well, two of them were. So I hung around, and eventually–” Seeing the helicopter coming back, Lexi rotated again, to raise the big heavy steel scoop between herself and The Brain. And not a moment too soon, either; she heard at least two shots dink off of the shovel as she put it up. Satisfied that she’d be a hard enough target with the scoop and roof protecting her, she swiveled the seat around so she could grab the twin joysticks that controlled the bucket-arm on the back, and didn’t miss a beat in her interview. “–they asked if I wanted to learn how to drive the backhoe. How could I resist?”
The cranelike arm at the back of the tractor extended upward. It was just barely tall enough to reach the boardwalk’s railing. Pinky was just getting to his feet. She hooked the bucket on the rail, and pulled down, ripping away a generous portion of the walk and knocking him flat again. Lexi instinctively turned her face away, even though the rear windshield protected her from the falling debris.
“Did you know that you can actually crabwalk these things around without the tires?” Two more shots banged noisily on the scoop behind her, but weren’t strong enough to penetrate the thick metal. The tractor rocked on its tires as the hoe went up and took another bite out of the boardwalk. She intended to cut Pinky off on both sides.
He knew it, too. He got up onto his knees and brought the gun up. He had a good shot, right through the rear windshield, until she spun the seat around, back into driving position, and reversed the backhoe under the boardwalk. Pinky shot at her through the roof, but succeeded only in killing the oil pressure gauge.
“Excuse me a second, Dave,” Lexi said. She spun the seat back to the rear yet again, and sent the arm and bucket straight up as quickly as they’d go. The backhoe’s arm crashed through the boardwalk from below, shattering the floor inches from Colby’s feet. He stumbled backward with a curse–a foot closer and he’d have gotten his legs broken. Lexi swept the arm back and forth, and the heavy bucket on the end destroyed more of the boardwalk’s support beams. The backhoe wobbled crazily; she hadn’t lowered the stabilizing outriggers because it would’ve taken too long, and now the side-to-side motion threatened to overturn the tall, narrow tractor. It ultimately stayed upright, though and when the broken lumber stopped falling, Colby was marooned on a ten-by-ten island of boardwalk, twenty feet above the ground. Lexi yelled, “Tonka!” again and returned to drive position. She rumbled out of the pile of wood she’d just created. To her left she could see the helicopter, and realized that The Brain was trying to reposition himself to get a shot at her, or at the engine.
Pinky hadn’t given up, either. Before she could get the backhoe turned around he’d blown out two windows and shot a hole in the seat an inch from her shoulder, his aim spoiled by the bouncing tractor. She was covered in safety glass, but unhurt.
“You missed me, bitch!” she screamed. With the window gone, he could probably hear her. Good. Lexi raised the shovel high and charged Pinky’s island.
There was nowhere to go. He wasted several shots on the inside of the shovel, then jumped as the boardwalk was chewed out from under him.
“I am a creature of snowflakes and fire,” Lexi snarled. The boardwalk collapsed across the upraised shovel, then sloughed forward, away from her. She backed up a few feet, looking to see if Pinky had fallen–she was mad, but she didn’t want to run over him–and he popped up over the top of the scoop. He’d jumped into the shovel! She was so surprised she didn’t react until he had the gun up at his shoulder. Just before he pulled the trigger, Lexi hit a lever and dumped him out.
The backhoe’s windshield burst and a bullet went over her head, blowing out the rear windshield as well; Colby and several cubic yards of wood fell fifteen feet onto the remains of the boardwalk. He hit flat on his back and didn’t move.
Mindful of the helicopter, which was flirting around to her right, Lexi turned the backhoe slightly, to get a better view. Pinky was sprawled half in a pile of wood, unmoving. The gun had fallen just outside the mess. Could she reach it? Lexi didn’t want to get down from her machine for too long, especially if he was just playing possum.
“Do it,” she said to herself again, and threw the door open. The chopper clattered overhead, but didn’t have a good shot yet. Lexi took a step away from the backhoe, then two, three and she could reach the AK-47. She snatched it up and scampered back to the driver’s seat like a squirrel with a choice bit of fruit. “Now I have a machine gun!” she shouted in her best Alan-Rickman-with-a-German-accent. “Ho! Ho! Ho!” When the helicopter dropped down again to get a shot, Lexi put the gun to her shoulder and squeezed the trigger. There was a deafening crack, her right arm went numb, and the gun almost jumped out of her hands. Only God knew where the bullet actually went, but The Brain clearly got the message; the helicopter shot up into the sky as if yanked by a string. It set up shop about two hundred feet off the ground and four or five football fields away, and no more potshots came.
That was two. With the windshield gone, she could hear the BMW, idling near the snack bar it sounded like. Lexi set the AK-47 on the floor and turned the backhoe, lumbering back toward the walkway they’d been driving on. On the pavement, the tractor rocked back and forth like a seesaw, thanks to the heavy weight of the shovel out front and the bucket in the back. Lexi sang “Thunder Kiss ’65” and played drums on the steering wheel as she drove, wishing her hair were longer and she had a CD player, because she’d really never considered it before but White Zombie made perfect construction equipment music. She wondered if they were aware of this fact.
She got there and found Wire sitting behind the wheel of the BMW, lighting a cigarette. He hadn’t seen the destruction of the boardwalk and was probably waiting to be told it was safe to drive again, what with all the shooting that had been going on. He looked surprised when the backhoe came around the corner, then horrified when he saw who was at the wheel.
He slammed the car into reverse as she got the scoop under the car’s front end and lifted it, coming forward the whole time. The BMW’s rear wheels spun madly, finding traction, and the car tore its own bumper off to escape. The front end dropped two feet to the pavement, and Wire put his foot to the floor. Lexi drove straight on into him, lowering the shovel again. (She was still singing, of course.) The BMW made it several car lengths backward, but it wasn’t far enough. When Wire spun the wheel, intending to make a quick bootlegger’s turn, the backhoe plowed into the right side of the car. The windows exploded, the doors crunched inward, and Lexi raised the shovel again, turning the car up on its side like a toy. She backed up, lowered the shovel against the BMW’s underside, and throttled up, pushing it forward until it slammed roof-first into the “Plunder” shop. The impact sent the car through the front wall and rolled it onto its roof. The noise and sensation were fantastic, like a demolition derby as performed by gods, and Lexi laughed deliriously.
“Now is the time when good little girls free their cars,” Lexi said. She wasn’t sure Coquette would like being lifted by the backhoe, but with a bit of rope she should be able to tow the car off easily enough. She sort of wanted to take the backhoe home, but that wasn’t going to happen. Maybe she could look into buying one; she’d forgotten how much fun they were (even when not being used as offensive weapons).
Before she could drive anywhere, though, she was going to have to sleep. In fact, as the adrenaline rush faded, Lexi could feel her body telling her that she had to stop right goddamn now, especially with dusk coming, or she was going to fall asleep at the wheel no matter what was happening. She drove the backhoe back to where Pinky had fallen, and saw him still on the ground.
She sighed. A proper action hero would’ve just killed all of the bad guys and had himself a nap, warmed by the glow of the flaming helicopter’s wreckage, but she didn’t have it in her and she knew it. She tried for almost a full minute to bring herself to just run him over with the backhoe; it would be just like squashing a pumpkin only twice as good for society. She couldn’t talk herself into doing it, though. She supposed it was a good test of spirit to have passed, all things considered.
Failing it would have been ever so much more convenient, though.
Meanwhile, she also couldn’t have Pinky waking up and running around killing her in her sleep, so she pulled the backhoe carefully up where he lay, turned the scoop so it faced the ground, and lowered it carefully over him. He was covered except for his legs.
Shit. Lexi held her breath and hopped out, hoping he wouldn’t wake up while she folded his legs so they wouldn’t be chopped off. The backhoe’s shovel was a few inches above him; if he did rouse, he’d be disoriented long enough for her to run back to the tractor. She hoped.
Pinky didn’t wake up. Lexi returned to the backhoe and lowered the shovel to the ground, trapping him underneath it. Unless he was strong enough to lift the tractor, he’d be stuck there. She didn’t know what she’d do in the morning when it came time to move Coquette, but that was a decision for later.
“One more moondance,” she sang lightly, shutting the backhoe down and pocketing the key. Ren had really liked that song, sappy though it was. It made her feel good to sing it.
She marched through Pirate’s Nest, the picture of post-apocalyptic chic with her clunky boots, shreddy shorts, bra top and AK-47. Now she really wished White Zombie was here, they could make a video and she could star in it. The helicopter was even higher now, a noisy dot up in the sky, and it abruptly wheeled and headed off toward the setting sun. Crud. The Brain was up to something, and she was too sleepy to try and figure out what it might be. There was the matter of the spiky-haired guy in the BMW, though. Lexi walked there.
He had crawled out one of the broken windows and was trying to fix his glasses when he saw her coming. Lexi put the gun to her shoulder, but kept her finger off the trigger like Bert had taught her. She really didn’t want to have to shoot at him, though. Her shoulder was already bruising from the last trigger pull. “Me demanda immediate surrenda!” she called out.
Wire put his hands up.
“The Jackfish is rolled up like a tater-bug,” she said as she walked toward him, “with a Doc Marten footprint on his face. Are you the Crow or the Jackal?”
He kept his hands up. “Listen, lady. I got paid to run a chippie in an Alfa off the road, not subdue a crazy half-naked American with a bulldozer and a bloody AK. Consider me harmless, all right?”
“Well, good.” Lexi lowered the gun slightly. The sun had fallen below the horizon, and dusk was settling in earnest. “Then I need to find a place to sleep, so I will stop having such silly thoughts, and you need to come with me. What’s your name?”
“Wire. What’s yours?”
What a cool handle! Lexi thought of one quickly. “I’m Jackie Oh!, and that’s O H, with an exclamation point,” Lexi said. “Let’s go hide in the museum, before The Brain and his silly hecktilopter come back. Now, now, no heroics and no suicide stunts, or I’ll plant your kisser where you used to plant your feet.” She gave him a silly grin; he clearly thought she was making up everything she said, and not just appropriating cool phrases at random. “Let’s just go, and you promise to behave yourself.”
“No worries about that.”