Forty-eight

Eleven minutes and no cops later, I’m in Dearborn.  Nikki is outside waiting.  She hasn’t seen Grizzle before, but comes right to the truck.  “This looks like it’s yours,” she says as she opens the door.  The hinges groan loudly.  She puts her bag on the floor between her feet and takes her cellphone out.  We’re pulling out of the lot when I realize that she’s not wearing her leg brace.  She’s not moving as well as she should either.  Stubborn little thing.  “So where are we going?” I ask.

Nikki is already talking on the phone.  “Andrew.  It’s me.  Where are you?”  She listens for a moment, then puts her hand over the phone to talk to me.  “Telegraph Road and Fourteen Mile,” she says.  “Heading south.  He thinks they might be going toward Ypsilanti.  Do you know how to get there?”

I grin like Elwood Blues would have, if he grinned.  “I love this town,” I say.  Grizzle’s engine roars, and the old red truck flings itself into traffic on an intercept pattern.  “So what’s going on?”

“I came to see my friend Liz.  Because, because it was just time.  And now something’s happened–this asshole did something, Andrew won’t tell me what–and Liz left, all upset, and he thinks she’s going to go and get herself drunk.  Maybe to death.  She’s really upset and Andrew feels like shit because he always feels like shit when someone’s upset, and he’s following her.”

“What about the offending lump?”

“I’m trying not to think about him,” Nikki says.  I can tell from the tone in her voice that if Nikki sees the guy she’s likely to kill him, for hurting her friend.  I’m down with the sentiment but not quite sure if I feel like thinking about the fact that she might really carry it out.  Too many dead bodies lately.  I drive faster, wishing the radio was working.  Driving is just like dancing, except that it’s harder to trip over your own feet. 

Nikki’s called Andrew again.  “Where are you now?” she asks.

We play phone-tag like that, me driving and Nikki catching directions from her friend, for the next fifteen miles or so and everyone gets to Ypsi at about the same time, near as I can tell. 

We pull into the parking lot of a Kroger on Michigan Avenue, from whose parking lot Andrew called a couple of minutes ago, and Nikki gets out and runs inside.  I stay inside the truck, since it’s kind of freezy, and then pull around to circle the lot.  On my second loop, I see Gray coming out of the supermarket.  My heart does a little hop-skip-jump and I assume that I’m wrong at first, hope I’m wrong in fact, but no, I’m not, it’s really her, and she’s carrying Nikki. 

Well, she’s about the last person I wanted to see.  I roll past her, my stomach doing a dance of confusion and uncertainty and something like abject terror.  I’d really rather not have to say hi to her after the stuff I did to her yesterday.  I circle the lot again, and see Gray putting Nikki into the back of a Chevy conversion van.

Okay, then, so this is a confrontation I’m not going to be able to avoid, if I want to help Nikki.  I may not be able to walk up to Gray and make her stop, but I can definitely follow, and lead some nonexistent cavalry in to save the day when the time is right. 

I kill Grizzle’s lights and roll slowly toward her, and then there’s a commotion by the entrance.  A guy has just come tumbling out, pushed by a woman.  She stays inside; he gets up and runs (somewhat reluctantly) toward the parking lot.  Then the woman who shoved him out comes out, but she’s escorted by a fellow with a cool leather duster and a much less cool rifle of some kind. 

Gray is on an intercept course with the guy who ran out first.  He’s got wavy blond hair in a Budgie kind of way.  He starts jogging with some urgency toward a hot-rod Ford Lightning pickup whose lights flash in acknowledgement of him–he’s just unlocked the doors–and I suddenly get the general impression that he could be the Andrew that Nikki was talking to.  Hopefully, the guy with the gun isn’t.  Anyway, Gray’s moving toward him, through the darkened parking lot, like a cat toward an unwary mouse, and I can’t let that happen.  So I get involved.  I don’t want to, and I’m kind of pissed at Gray for forcing me to do so.  All I want to do is build Ren’s car, goddammit.

I aim Grizzle at a point six feet to Gray’s left.  Thanks to the lack of headlights and a V8 with a knotty exhaust, she hears the truck before she sees it.  She pivots, pulling some kind of knife out of her pocket, and I throw the brights on to blind her.  When the front bumper is even with her, just when she’s probably starting to think that I’m bluffing and wasn’t going to hit her anyway, I floor the brake and spin the wheel.  It goes against every driving instinct that I have, but I do it anyway.  Some little part of me hates myself for it.  Balancing it is another part that’s glad to oblige.  When I hit the brakes, Grizzle’s tail whips around like a cricket bat and swats Gray into the air, just like I knew it would.  There’s a sickening, stomach-curling boont of impact, and she’s airmailed twenty feet into the side of a car hard enough to shatter the side windows. 

I look left, and see the fellow with the gun aiming it in my general direction.  Gray’s intended victim is on the passenger side, looking surprised at the truck that’s just spun sideways in front of him.  He didn’t even see her.  I slap the back window open and yell, “All aboard!  Poughkeepsie, Niagara Falls!”  He takes the hint and leaps into the truck’s bed, safe from becoming a target, and that’s our cue to exit stage left.  Halfway across the parking lot, the back window shatters and I hear a bullet whine into the truck’s roof. 

This does not encourage me to stay in the parking lot.

I keep going, out into the street, and cut a wide U-turn, not sure whether I should go back and run over Gray again or not.  While I’m considering, still rolling, the van with the rifleman comes flying out of the lot, and the guy in the bed of my truck is climbing in through the hole that used to be the back window.  “Follow them!” he shouts.  “Follow them, please!  They’re friends of mine!”

I decide to do as he asks, not least because Nikki’s in that van, probably against her will.  It also means that I can put Gray out of my mind for the moment.  “No sleep till Brooklyn!” I shout, and Grizzle’s engine roars decisively.  “My name’s Lexi,” I tell him in a lower register.

“Andrew Ford,” he replies, taking his phone out.  “Do this often?”

“Oh, I do it for a living,” I say, my eyes on the road.  We’re going about twice the speed limit, and I have to dodge around a slower car.  “By the way your nose is bleeding,” I tell him.  Then again, I imagine that I look a fright too, because I haven’t made even an effort to clean up since Gray hit me with the toaster.

He doesn’t remark upon my condition though, he just says, “Shit,” and touches his upper lip.

I sense the cop car coming before it’s visible, and swerve into the left-turn lane as a Ypsilanti squad car bursts out of a side street, sliding into the open spot I just left.  I wonder if he knows he’d have hit me if I didn’t feel him coming.  I tell Andrew, “No need to call the cops, either, they’re already here.”  The cop spins in a quick 180 and sets out after us, perhaps not surprisingly.  “Ohh, look,” I say, getting just the right level of tremor in my voice.  “You’re makin’ us popular, and when they flash us like that, they ain’t friends.”

“I know we just met,” Andrew says, pulling his seatbelt on, “but I think you’ve seen The Crow too many times.”

That makes me smile; there haven’t been enough people around who recognize good movie quotes, lately.  I’m intent on keeping up with the van that took Nikki.  I know she can take care of herself, and in fact whoever took her is probably in for a really horrible surprise, but it would be nice to at least have an idea of where she’s been hauled off to.  Momentarily, a second Ypsilanti police car joins the chase.  Oh, wait, it’s a county sherrif.  This one’s a better driver, and he pulls up on the right, waving at me to stop.  Funny he doesn’t use the bullhorn thing.

Andrew rolls the window down, letting even more cold air into the cab.  “It’s not us!” he shouts.  “It’s them!  The van!”

Ahead of us, another cop appears.  We’re apparently the bad guys and they’ve missed the van entirely.  I can just barely see it.  The third cop sets up shop in front of Grizzle and starts slowing down.  “I don’t think they’re going to be helpful,” I say.

“I’ll give you five hundred bucks to ram them and keep going.”

The idea makes me grin.  “I wish I could, Andrew Ford.  But the voices in my head are saying that tonight’s not a good night for that.”  I lift off the gas, and the crushed, defeated look on his face makes me want to cry.  “We’re going to have to stop, get out, and lie on the ground, and then they’ll listen to us and feel really stupid because they might have gotten our friends killed.  I would add some comment here about how I wish they would rot in hell, but that’s not fair.  I’d hate to clutter up hell.”  By this time I’ve rolled to a somewhat reluctant stop.  Grizzle is quickly bracketed and blocked in by police cars; the lights are dazzling.  I kill the engine and the lights, put my hands on the wheel where they can be plainly seen, and wait.  Andrew does the same.  I give him a look to let him know I’m as pissed as he is, and he seems to understand it.

“‘Our’ friends?” he asks, now that we’ve got a few moments to talk.

“Mm-hmm.  And Nikki’s much meaner than she looks.  I think they’ll be okay for a while.  Hence my John Wayne-like serenity.”

“You got any of that to go around?”

“Take as much as you like,” I tell him as the first cop finds his car’s PA system and shouts at us to get out of the truck.

We do so, we behave ourselves, and shortly we are hooked, booked, and cooked, so to speak.  I find myself looking at the speckled tile floor of another police station, and wondering where Grizzle has been towed to.  There’s a barrage of questions–do I know Elizabeth Boddie or Valentine Murrow, why was I at the Kroger in Ypsi, et cetera, et cetera.  I don’t, of course.  I don’t mention Nikki’s name, and no one mentions it to me.  No one mentions a dead woman splattered against a parked car, either.  This may be a good sign, or it may be a bad one.  When they ask me about ransom demands, I laugh and that, more than anything else, seems to convince them that really, we were chasing the kidnappers, not in league with them.  Sigh.  They give me my phone call, and I call Cygnet, because it’s about ten-thirty and she’s still at work. 

“HMH.”

She doesn’t say anything silly, so I know I’m not on the air.  It’d be funny, though, she’d love having me on the air calling from prison.  “Hey, Sigue-Sigue.”

“Lexi!  What the hell is up, girl?”

“Not much.  Listen, I don’t have much time.  I’m making a car for Ren, and I’m going to drive it to New York for him.  Can you make a mixtape for the trip, and then I can leave it for him, too?”

“Sure thing, babe.  One mixtape, heavy on the Siouxsie, coming up.  When?”

“When I get out of jail.  Prolly by tomorrow afternoon.”

She laughs.  “You’re calling me from jail?”

“Don’t worry, I didn’t do anything.”

“I’m so confused, and yet strangely touched.”

“But can you make the tape?”

“No worries, sweetch.  See you tomorrow.  I’ll carry it with me till you find it.”

“Thanks, darling.”  I hang up and look at the police officer whose phone I’m using. “Okay, I’m ready.”  If he expected me to call a lawyer, he doesn’t say so one way or the other.  I see Andrew across the station, and smile and wave.  He does the same, but we’re not allowed to talk to each other.  They don’t put me in a cell, since I’m not technically being charged with anything, but they do lock the door of the conference room they stick me in.