Lexi awoke to find a glass of orange juice, a muffin and a local newspaper outside her door–clearly, Joseph had mentioned her early-departure plan to some member of the kitchen staff. She looked at the paper long enough to determine that the Greens had won the majority they’d been hoping for, and to see that it wasn’t going to rain, and then she set off.
The sun had only just broken the horizon when she set out across the salt desert that separated Dobie’s estate and the city of Marjori from the northern part of the island, one of three that made up Ile du Soleil. According to the map, about a hundred and ten miles northwest was the city of Hamilton, and beyond that a land-bridge to the next island. Driving across one of those engineering marvels would be cool, she decided, and began to plan an agenda for the day; breakfast in Hamilton, and then across the bridge was Lecroy. There’d no doubt be a quaint store or two to poke her head into, and something fun to eat. Lexi forgot all about being annoyed with Dobie, with thoughts of adventure in her head.
As she got on the freeway and set out into the featureless expanse of the salt desert, the deep blue horizon began to fade. Lexi took a cassette from her pocket and slipped it into the player. Wailing, jangly guitars heralded the dawn; CCR was a good way to start the day, and it reminded her of her father, and a bit of Ren, without making her pine for the people she’d lost. She put her foot down, and the Caddy’s massive V8 pulled the horizon toward her.
Hamilton was about an hour and a half away, and she arrived in time to watch the city wake up. Lexi parked at a convenient gas station, bought a second breakfast, and sat on the Cadillac’s hood to eat it while she watched rush hour happen around her. For the first time since arriving, she was in a pleasant mood. If Dobie wanted to play games, she would be happy to play. He was probably somewhat justified in ditching her at his house, since she’d done the same thing to him, but that wasn’t the point. He was clearly laboring under the delusion that she actually wanted something from him, when she had everything that she wanted. And if he wanted her, he could jolly well come and find her.
Time always sped past when she was watching cars; Lexi stayed on the hood for the better part of two hours. The time-to-go feeling crept over her as noiselessly and gradually as the desire to stop and sit for a while had, making itself known as that familiar restlessness to do something, and she slipped off of the hood and went to the driver’s door.
A bright green Toyota Previa minivan had pulled up to the gas station’s parking, and a man had gotten out of it. The Previa caught Lexi’s eye, because blazing lime green wasn’t a color they offered the Previa in, at least not back at home. There was a metallic green, she recalled, but nothing like this amazing, Kermit the Frog color. It looked good on the ovoid minivan, she decided.
The man who had gotten out of the Previa was walking toward her. He was tall, and wore a brown leather vest and an expensive pair of Gargoyles. Lexi thought he looked like the Terminator, and dropped into the driver’s seat, wishing vaguely that Ren were there so she could throw a movie quote at him. The Terminator turned as if to go past her, toward the pay phones, then abruptly stopped in front of her, drew a big, scary-looking pistol, and shot her in the forehead.
Lexi crabbed backward across the seat, but felt the impact and knew there wasn’t much point. He shot her twice more, in the chest this time, and she slipped off of the blue leather and fell across the footwell, her hand flailing at the dash as she went down. She lay there, full of the weird calm of the soon-to-be-dead. She was looking up under the dash, and noticed that the wiring down there was neatly run, not a spaghetti-mess of electrical tape like a lot of old American cars were. You did a good job, Joseph, she thought. She looked down past her feet and saw the Terminator getting back into his van, driving away. Only one person seemed to have noticed that he’d killed her, a wiry little old woman who rushed to the Cadillac’s door. “Oh, dear!” she exclaimed, which seemed to be an understatement.
Beginning to wonder why she wasn’t completely dead yet, Lexi reached a shaking hand up to her face, felt wetness
“Are you okay?” the old woman asked.
“Of course I’m not okay, someone shot me in the head!” Lexi took her hand away, unable to keep herself from looking at the gore. “Mira Sorvino! Why is my blood orange?” she asked. Feeling the spot on her head bit more firmly, it wasn’t hurting so much any more. That wasn’t because the back of her head was gone, but because there was no bullet hole. Just more orange glop. On her chest, she found the same story; the front of her perfectly-faded gray sundress was splattered orange. “Did that guy shoot me with a paintball gun?”
“Are you American?”
“Isn’t everybody?” Lexi replied sulkily, sitting up and pulling herself back onto the seat. She wiped paint off of her face. “Where did that little green van go?”
“Little green van?”
“With the man who shot me in it. I need to have a word with him.”
The woman pointed at the Cadillac. “I think it was because of your car.”
“That’s completely unhelpful,” Lexi replied, deciding that she had no obligation to be nice to strangers right now. She pulled the door closed and started the Cadillac, setting out in search of a lime-green Toyota Previa.
It took her about ten minutes to find it, but when she did it was going the other way on a boulevard street she couldn’t find an entrance to, naturally. Lexi pursued her quarry as discreetly as she could, considering the car she was driving. The Previa and the Terminator driving it headed deeper into Hamilton, which after a while began to remind her of Salt Lake City. She wasn’t sure if it was because it actually looked like SLC or if it was because of the damn salt desert she’d just come out of, though. The layout was linear like Salt Lake, like an oversized rural town, and the Previa was heading for the large square in the middle of downtown.
The minivan continued past the square and into a residential area. The houses were large and older than she was. Large trees masked the fact that the neighborhood was surrounded on three sides by ten- and twenty-story buildings. The street narrowed and began to climb the slope of the shallow valley that Hamilton resided in, and the houses began to get larger. Soon they had backed out of sight of the street and were hiding behind gates.
Lexi gave the Previa a bit more rope; he had to have noticed the Cadillac by now. It was a block and a half ahead of her, turning left into a gated drive.
“Where are you going?” she asked herself. When she got there, the Previa was gone, the gate closing slowly.
“I am a creature of apple pie and Chevrolet,” Lexi said. She gunned the Cadillac’s engine, and the big car leapt forward, squeezing through the gate with barely enough space to avoid losing paint. “Now I’m trespassing!” she yelled, and blew a raspberry.
Before she’d gone fifty yards up the drive, a black Mercedes SUV sped out from around a bend and stopped in front of her. A second Mercedes came up behind the Cadillac, boxing her in. She felt a thrill of excitement, the delicious feeling of being in trouble with a Rich Bastard who didn’t know who he was dealing with. It was the same quiver she got from fucking with Dobie, only stronger. Why did she like this feeling so much?
A man in a suit appeared outside her window. “Can I help you, miss?” he asked, leaning down only slightly. His eyes were invisible behind sunglasses, and he was wearing a coily earpiece. He looked so official she wanted to giggle.
“Are those the big MLs or the little ones?” Lexi asked, pointing at the Mercedes. “I wish they’d distinguish them some other way than the stupid badges. I can’t tell which engines they have.”
“This is a private drive,” he said, ignoring her question. “Do you have some business here?” The tone in his voice suggested that he knew she didn’t.
“Certainly. I was following the green van.”
“On what business?”
“My own,” she said. “I need to talk to the van’s owner.”
“I don’t believe he’s taking any meetings today. If you’d like to leave your name and number…?”
“No, I wouldn’t like to leave my goddamn name and number,” Lexi said. “That nimrod shot me in the tit with a paintball, and I think that means we know each other way too well for names and numbers and appointments. Now move your truck, or I’ll drive through your flowerbed.”
The man looked the long, low Cadillac up and down, then leaned forward just enough to let his shoulder holster show. “This vehicle yours?” he asked, a thinly veiled threat in his voice.
“It’s mine enough,” Lexi said. “And I don’t have time to waste watching you show your gun off and acting like you’re important. Bye-bye now.” She rolled the window up. The suit’s unctuous smile became a look of irritation, and he rapped on the glass again. Lexi sighed, then cranked the wheel around to the right and eased the Cadillac off of the drive. The right-side tires sank three inches into topsoil and crushed gladiolus and pansies into blobs like melted crayons. The suit outside the window banged on the Cadillac’s roof in outrage, and then pulled his gun. “Oh, what are you going to do, shoot me?” she yelled through the glass, and drove off across the lawn.
There was a shout to stop. She ignored it, waiting for the gunshot to explode the rear window. It never came.
“I’ve already been shot once today, what do I have to be afraid of?” Hell hath no fury, she thought. “You’re goddamn right it doesn’t,” she agreed with herself. The Cadillac crunched through another flowerbed as Lexi put it back on the pavement behind the Mercedes. She couldn’t help glancing in the rearview mirror; it was an ML320, the littlest one, like she’d thought. Another bend, a wall of shrubbery, and a house appeared in front of her. It was a sprawling natural-rock mansion, with prominent solar panels on the roof and xeriscaping that took over from the grass once she got past the shrubs. Lexi skimmed those details, zeroing in on the green Previa, which was parked in front of the house. The man who’d shot her was halfway up the steps, talking to a group of men in suits of varying shades of blue and gray. All of them looked up when the big Caddy came around the corner. Lexi parked behind the Previa and went to meet the guy who’d shot her.
As she walked up to the group, looking oh-so-chipper in a faded gray sun dress (currently ruined by orange paint), knee-high boots and a purple leather jacket Molly had bought her in New York, two men stepped forward, suits like the ones that had accosted her on the drive. In fact, they could’ve been clones of the same guy. Speaking of him, she could hear the Mercedes coming, too.
Lexi let the suits block her path (holy crap! They had their hands on their guns) and called out, “Hi there!” The group of men talking to the shooter gave her their attention immediately, and Lexi saw that Carino Rhoades, the new Solei prime minister, was at the center of the group. “Oh, it’s you!” she said. “I saw you on TV, wasn’t impressed. Can I talk to the man in the vest? I didn’t catch his name. Yes, you!” she said, as the shooter realized she was referring to him. Lexi waved and cocked her head. “You shot me a few minutes ago, and ruined my favorite slouching dress and my morning, and I don’t even know what it was about. Scared me to death, too–I thought I’d just been drilled by the Mafia for sure. Anyway, I followed you in from town, and wanted to come up and ask you exactly what the fuck were you thinking and what the hell’s the matter with you? You can answer those in any order you want.”
Carino Rhoades smiled and motioned to the suits, who stepped aside and put their weapons away. “Mr. Goodman does enjoy his pranks,” he said.
“So do I,” Lexi replied. Are you going to do it? she asked herself. Of course I am. She summoned the righteous anger that was already swirling through her veins, thought of her father, of Ren, then took four big steps forward and kneed Goodman in the balls. He went down like an outdated Vegas casino. “Is it funny now?”
The shock of the moment froze even the bodyguards, who moved first to Rhoades’ side. That was the opposite direction from Lexi, who was already headed back to the Cadillac. “Hey!” one of them yelled. She didn’t look back to see if he’d drawn a gun, and pulled out onto the lawn to leave. When all four tires were on the grass, she floored it. The Caddy’s big-block spun the rear tires deliciously, leaving a trail of torn earth that looked like a question mark as she let the car spin around in a lazy donut until it was pointed back toward the gate. She registered men running across the grass toward her in her peripheral vision, but didn’t wait to see what they wanted. The Cadillac jumped back onto the drive well ahead of the Mercedes security vehicles, and Lexi was surprised to see the gate opening as she raced toward it. Perhaps they’d assumed from her speed that she would’ve just driven through it anyhow; maybe they wanted to be rid of her. In any case, she was back on the road and headed back down into Hamilton proper in moments, her dress properly avenged.