Disclaimer: I do not own Biker Mice From Mars and I make no money off this work. The characters Sparks, Tala, Chuck Davidson, Detective Amethyst Jefferson, Mr. Matthews, Stan Kormic, Mitch and Buddy Sullivan belong to me, so please don't use them in your stories. But feel free to draw them and send me a copy.
Lyrics to Dust in the Wind by Kansas are used without permission.
This story contains cussing, graphic depiction of violence, drinking of alcoholic beverages, and sexual situations. If you're not mature enough to handle it, go read something else.
This story is dedicated to my cousins Austin and Savannah. You were only here for a short time and family conflicts shorted that time even further, but you are missed. Keep on rollin'.
This story takes place in November 1995, five months after Wars Are Won By Those Who Dare: Family, Friends, and Foes.
Sunday, November 19, 1995
"Another Earth holiday is comin' up." Sparks plopped down on the couch between Throttle and Modo. The Sunday night football game was on a commercial as he maneuvered a thick book in his lap and opened it. "It's called Thanksgiving."
"Must not be real important." Vinnie stretched out between the couch and the TV set. "The stores are already decorated for Christmas, have been since Halloween."
"It is too important."
Modo peered into the book, Sparks' history textbook from his home schooling. The page was topped by a picture of a bunch of humans--some in uncomfortable black clothes and some dressed like they were in a western movie--around a table loaded with food. Sparks wanted to celebrate all Earth holidays the locals thought were important. Halloween had been fun. "What is it?"
Sparks pointed to the guys in black. "Those were the Pilgrims, some of the first guys to colonize America. After they survived their first winter and had a good harvest, they had a celebration dinner with the Native Americans that had helped them. Then a president decided it should be celebrated every year, put it on the fourth Thursday of November, and gave everybody the day off to eat. You're supposed to get with family and friends and give thanks."
Vinnie rolled over on the scoreboard floor to prop up on his elbows. "That's one of the big football days." He didn't take his eyes from the football game on the television set.
Sparks stuck his tongue out at the back of Vinnie's head. "Football came later. But I was thinkin' we should help Charley with it."
Throttle looked up from the book he was reading when not paying attention to the game. "Charley's never done anything like that for us. She goes to a mechanics convention this week."
A mechanics convention? But it's a big holiday."
"She's never made a big meal like that," Throttle pointed to the picture, "or made us give thanks about anything."
"I don't think Charley has any family," Modo said.
"But ain't we her family now?"
Vinnie rolled over to look at Sparks. "Maybe she doesn't think of us as family."
"But she is part of our family, right?"
Modo squirmed on the couch. "You can't just declare someone family, not if they don't want it."
"And she's always left for this holiday," Vinnie added.
"But she celebrates Christmas with us." Throttle slowly closed his book. "And she puts up with a lot of crap from us for no good reason."
"Dating you not a good reason?" Vinnie snickered.
"She was putting up with us before that."
"Maybe Christmas has more to do with friends than this Thanksgiving." Modo rubbed his jaw.
Sparks sighed. "Is it some kinda Biker Mouse thing not to call her family? 'Cause it sounds a lot better than gal we mooch off of."
Modo took a deep breath. "We don't know what Terrans consider family when it's not a genetic issue. And holidays always make it murky."
"Maybe she never bothered 'cause she didn't think you guys would eat if it was something besides hot dogs on the table." Sparks scooted off the couch. "I'm gonna ask her 'bout it."
"Just don't take it personal if Charley has other plans," Modo said.
"Cheese, I won't."
Monday November 20, 1995
"I am sorry, Ms. Davidson, but we don't have any rooms available."
Charley softly thanked the hotel clerk and hung up. How in hell could she have forgotten what was coming? Between work and Limburger's schemes, she had lost track of time. Dad deserves better than that.
So she was going to be home this year. It will be fine, no letters will come, she'd put on the necklace her father gave her for her twentieth birthday. She shook her head. She had almost sawed her neck off with the chain the last time she wore it. Best to keep it in the box. She glanced at the calendar. She had forgotten All Saints Day too. Damn Dad, I'm sorry.
"Morning, Charley." The postman disappeared as he picked something off the floor.
"Morning." Charley smiled at Mr. Matthews, the postman for the neighborhood since she was in high school.
He set the pile of envelopes and ads on her desk. "Not on vacation this week?"
She swallowed hard and tried to keep the smile. "I'm gonna tough it out this year."
He winced sympathetically. "Call me if it gets too rough. My wife wouldn't mind having you over for Thanksgiving."
"Thanks, Mr. Matthews, I'll remember that." She stared down at the pile of envelopes, a knot tugging in her stomach. Maybe the letters had stopped. She was happy now; they should stop. Her hand shook as it reached for the mail. The bike engines roaring into the bay scattered the envelopes over her desk.
She scooped up the envelopes and reached the office door just in time to almost get knocked over by a four-foot-tall, grey blur.
"Charley! Are you leaving for Thanksgiving? They said you always leave, but we should celebrate, we're family, right? I can help cook. I know how to use the microwave without blowing it up. Come on, please, Charley! We got a lot to be thankful for. Don't leave for a dumb ole convention."
Her temples throbbed. Convention? The rest of the Biker Mice looked apologetic behind Sparks. The knot in her stomach shifted. She had told them that first year they were here that she was going to a mechanics convention. "The convention," she said weakly. "I missed the registration deadline with that Val Tech business."
"So you're here? I'll plan everything; I saw a website with recipes for a traditional dinner. I'll get everything together." He darted into the office.
Charley took a deep breath. "Guess we're doing Thanksgiving."
"If you've got other plans, Charley-ma'am?" Modo said, "He gets so gung-ho."
"It's okay, Modo." She went into the kitchen.
In the relative peace, she shuffled through the envelopes. It was there, a card-sized envelope with her address printed on it. Tearing it open resulted in a jagged mess. Her name was created by cutting up some Harley-Davidson stationary and pasted to the letter inside along with illicit promises and an obscene picture to illustrate. It hadn't stopped. She crammed both letter and envelope into the garbage disposal.
"Charley?" Throttle caught the door to shut it quietly. "Are you really okay with this?"
"It makes Sparks happy. He gets such a kick out of the holidays. Christmas should be fun." She focused on his chest.
"Is something else wrong?"
"No, everything's fine. Could you guys watch the garage for me? I have some errands I have to run. Please?"
"Not a problem, Charley-girl. You know that."
Charley kissed him on the snout, stepping into a warm embrace she was loathe to leave. "Thank you, Throttle, thank you."
Throttle frowned as Charley's bike left the garage. Something wasn't right. "Don't blow up the garage, bros."
Vinnie looked up from his bike repairs. "Where are you goin'?"
Modo looked up from the small television set Charley kept in the garage. "You ain't chasin' after Charley?"
"No, I'm following at a discreet distance. There's a difference." Throttle settled on his bike. "She's rattled and wouldn't tell me why."
"What's the matter? You don't trust Charley to tell us when she's ready?" Vinnie stood up beside his red bike.
"It's not about trust." Throttle pulled on his helmet. "She's screamin' so loud for help, she can't even hear it anymore." He peeled out of the garage before his bros could comment.
It was easy to find Charley from the rooftops. When she idled at a red light, he shot a bike mike down. It stuck to her license plate. Visual would suck, but at least he wouldn't lose her.
The haunted expression in her eyes reminded him of past events he'd much rather forget. But why should Charley have that look?
She turned on her radio.
I close my eyes
Only for a moment and the moment's gone
All my dreams
Pass before my eyes, that curiosity
Dust in the wind
All they are is dust in the wind
Same old song,
Just a drop of water in an endless sea
All we do,
Crumbles to the ground, though we refuse to see
The song ended abruptly when Charley snapped off the radio. Her bike wobbled. Throttle frowned. She could handle a bike as well as they could. What had her so rattled?
The next stop was the semi-permanent flower stand parked on the sidewalk corner near the park. He recognized the much older lady running it. They had saved her comics before. And nobody could forget that straw fedora with red hat band.
"Sorry, I lost track of time." Charley dismounted. "Oh, it's beautiful. And the model bike is a great touch."
"I'm so glad you like it, dearie."
Throttle used his helmet to zoom in on the object while the ladies exchanged money. It was a pot of flowers--ones that looked like big powder puffs almost the same color as Charley's hair--and he could see a toy motorcycle sticking out of the leaves. What the heck did Charley want with a pot of flowers? He wasn't a flower kind of guy.
Charley paid for and then stowed the flowers on her bike. Throttle resumed following her trying to figure out what flowers had to do with her edgy mood. He ran out of skyscraper roofs when they hit suburbia, and he had to let Charley get ahead while he reached the ground. The mike acted like a homing signal and he found her bike parked outside a tall stone fence. The sign over the gate named it Good Hope Cemetery.
Throttle peered through the iron gates before entering. No sign of Charley, just stone slabs set on the ground in rows with a few statues mixed in. This was what Terrans did with their dead. But why was Charley here?
He found her and hid behind a large granite slab and statue on the row behind
her. Not that Charley was paying any attention to her surroundings. The pot
of flowers sat on the base of a granite slab, and Charley was talking softly
to it. Throttle did a double take. Carved in the slab was
January 30, 1938
November 27, 1991
Keep on Rollin'
Throttle stepped back. The man had been family, her brother, her father? Why hadn't Charley told them?
You haven't exactly been forthcoming 'bout your own family. He sighed, and remembered something else. "Yeah, I forget. I didn't grow up on a war-torn planet so life has never kicked me in the teeth." Charley was right; they did assume her life was easy and always had been.
"Come to pay your respects?" The question came from an old man leaning on a rake. "Lots of bikers come to see Chuck Davidson. His daughter's there now." He jerked his knit-capped head in Charley's direction.
"I don't want to intrude."
"Suit yourself. Shame they never caught the murderer." The old man went back to raking the fallen leaves, and Throttle crept away.
He pulled the bike mike off her ride. Charley's father had been murdered. He hadn't anticipated sharing that with her too. The anniversary was coming up; was that why she was so rattled? Maybe it was something else, but it wasn't right for anyone to get away with hurting his girl that badly. If it really had been a crime; the old man could've been talking metaphorically. Asking Charley for facts was out. He straddled his bike and hit the radio. "Modo? Vinnie?"
"Modo here. What's up?"
"If Charley makes it back before me, I had errands to run too. Now let me ask Sparks something."
There was a brief pause. "Sparks here. Is it okay to invite Tala? Vinnie's threatening to boycott."
"I don't care who's invited. Now do you know where I can find info on a murder that happened five years ago?"
"The newspapers at the library should have it, why?"
"Well, if I knew why I wouldn't have to go the library. Throttle out."
Tala slammed the dresser drawer shut. "Famak, MC! I thought we had an understanding. I don't like being on this planet during the holly jolly season that has started already."
"There have been no job offers." The synthesized voice sounded smug, despite not being capable of it.
"Scum on vacation? What about personal matters?" There were still socks on top of the dresser. She reopened the drawer to stuff them in.
"Nothing has surfaced in the vendetta category requiring personal attention. Furthermore, my psych program suggest that this continued avoidance of Earth holidays is unhealthy."
"Then we'll go see Maytre. Wait a minute," she pulled her arms out of the drawer, "what psych program?"
"It is a subroutine of the medical analysis programs."
"You've been running a psych program on me?" Tala glared at the intercom on the bedroom wall.
"Biker Mouse Vinnie is on the telephone. Shall I patch the communiqué through the intercom system?"
"Don't change the subject. Have you been running psych evaluations on me without my permission?"
"He is getting agitated and threatening to come over."
"Put him through."
"Hi, Vinnie, sorry about that. What's up?"
"Well, Sparks talked Charley into this Thanksgiving shindig and I want you to come."
Tala opened her mouth to decline but nothing came out. "Our ways feel right because there is a hole in your heart for the ways of your birth people," Maytre had explained once. It was true, the Biker Mice probably knew more about Earth holidays and traditions than she did.
"Look, babe, if you're busy or somethin', it's no big. I just thought you'd like some grub and football."
"No, I don't have a job right now." Her mouth watered for a piece of succulent roasted turkey. When have I had that? "When is it?"
"This Thursday. Say, are you busy right now?"
Her stomach tightened, but she ignored it. "Not really, why?"
"Cause Throttle and Charley both left, and Sparks has gone all Martha Stewart on us. Come to the garage and help us put the brakes on some of what he's planning? Please?"
Tala chuckled. "Okay, I'll come but I don't know how effective I'll be."
Throttle tugged on his neck bandanna. Old newspapers weren't kept on the same floor of the library as the books, but he hadn't found any newspapers. The room held rows of black filing cabinets, each filled with plastic spools of film. He gave up and headed to the librarian's desk.
The young woman smiled. "Can I help you?"
"I'm trying to find some info in the newspapers about a murder."
Her hands smoothed her brunette hair back and tied it up with the scrunchie around her wrist. "Do you have a date?"
"November 27, 1991. And I think it was a local crime. Charles Davidson."
"Sounds vaguely familiar. Let's check the Tribune." She headed for a filing cabinet, and selected a spool of film. "Ever used a microfilm reader?"
Throttle shook his head.
"It's easy. It's just a picture of the newspaper page on the film so storage is easier." She sat him at a funny-looking TV, loaded the spool, and sped through it. "Now if the murder happened on November twenty-seventh, the newspaper probably didn't report it until the next day." She turned to November twenty-eighth's first page. "Didn't make front page. Maybe the Metro section." She scrolled more slowly. The page she stopped at was dominated by the headline "Local Business Owner Slain at Charity Event" and a black and white picture of Charley.
Throttle touched her arm. "That's it."
"Oh now I remember that story. If you need to copy any of it, just line it up between the lines on the screen, feed the change here," she touched a box on top of the machine, "and push the green copy button. I'll be at the desk if you need any help."
He studied the picture as the librarian left. Charley was young, in her late teens he guessed. Her green eyes stared into space above a tarp covered object barely in the picture, but not focused on anything. His childhood core remembered the expression exposed. He remembered his world shattering, and the second lady he had ever loved scooped him into her sidecar and carried him to the safety of his aunt and uncle. Uncle Cutlass had never shown him any memories from that night, but Throttle was positive his child face was the same as Charley's in this picture. Her world had been shattered too. He shook his head and read the article.
|Local Business Owner Slain at Charity Event the Day Before Thanksgiving|
Lomiskey Park--The first Riders for Mercy's charity event was the scene of tragedy on November 27th. Cofounder of the charity organization, Charles Davidson, was found shot to death in Lomiskey Park's box office. Stadium owners had donated use of the facility for the motorcycle race. Davidson was responsible for the box office proceeds, which are going to be donated to local homeless shelters across Chicago.
"Given how much of the box office proceeds are missing, we believe that Mr. Davidson's death is the result of a robbery gone wrong," Detective Frank Welker explained at a press conference earlier today. He is confident that the perpetrators will be caught soon.
"That much money makes people talk. The public needs to pass any information they have to the police department." It is estimated that $25,000 is missing.
The police haven't fixed an approximate time for the crime, waiting for the coroner's report. Eyewitnesses at the race have told this reporter that Davidson was seen alive before the start of the race. His body was discovered when a concession stand volunteer came to tell him who had won.
Charles "Chuck" Davidson was the chief mechanic and owner of the Last Chance Garage, specializing in motorcycle repairs and custom builds. His daughter Charlene has gained quite a reputation as a mechanic as well, and was working in the repair pits of the race when her father was killed. "My father was a good man; whoever did this is a monster," she said before bursting into tears.
Stan Kormic, cofounder of Riders of Mercy, expressed an equal sense of loss. "Chuck would give anybody help. He's the whole reason Riders of Mercy got started. And we're going to keep helping people. No cowardly [explicative] is going to stop that. Chuck wouldn't want us to quit."
Throttle frowned, copied the newspaper article, and folded the haunted expression on Charley's face in his vest pocket. He scrolled ahead. The reports got smaller and were hidden further back in the paper until they were gone altogether by the next week. Charley deserved better than never knowing. Her eyes had been haunted this morning, but they had been afraid as well. Why should Charley be afraid?
He returned the microfilm to the librarian and thanked her. He had one more stop to make, and he wasn't sure he had the authority to demand any answers.
Amethyst Jefferson swabbed her desk with a Clorox wipe. "I don't think that file has come out since Al Capone was under surveillance," she muttered under her breath. Still it was the last cold case to survey. There were worse sections to be assigned to, at least she kept her rank. Like they'd want to take that from a young African-American female. But they don't give a damn about the cases either. Otherwise, I'd have help.
She started typing the notes she had made on the files. Keep your head down, solve a couple of these, and then start investigating Limburger again. Quieter this time.
A few of these cases DNA might turn up something new. A couple she needed to see if anyone had kept resubmitting the fingerprints to the national registries.
The phone rang. "Jefferson."
"Front desk. Got a biker here who wants to talk to somebody about the Charles Davidson case back in '91. Should I send him up?"
"I'll come get him. Just give me a few minutes." The file wasn't far away. Two gunshot wounds, Lomiskey Park's box office, gun never found--probably want to double check ballistics on that--daughter came in a year later complaining about harassment, money hadn't reappeared, the race hadn't had any problems since. She closed the folder with a small frown and went down to get the mysterious biker.
She hadn't expected to recognize the helmeted male in a tan shirt and black leather vest. He was one of the bikers who found Limburger when he had faked his murder trying to evade taxes. The group kept circling Limburger's activities, but she hadn't investigated them before getting busted. Maybe this was a break on multiple levels. "I'm Detective Amethyst Jefferson." She extended her hand.
He shook it. "I wanted to talk to Detective Welker, but they said he's retired."
"Yes, I'm in charge of the case now. Let's go back to my desk." He followed obediently enough, which gave her time to compose herself. He wasn't human! He had kept his helmet and sunglasses on, but she could still see a muzzle. And the hand that shook hers was furry. Be professional. You don't know what his story is. "Do you have a name?"
"Sorry. I'm Throttle."
She led him to the chair next to her desk in the corner. Nearly all the other detectives were out solving Chicago's current crimes. The one other man left as they came in. She sat down at her desk. "So what did you want to talk about in the Davidson case?"
"Why haven't you solved it yet?"
Amethyst studied Mr. Throttle Bad-Ass-Biker. Fuzzy suit or not, it was a question asked out of concern, not a knee-jerk response to cops. "I just got transferred to this section and this is my first day on the job."
"I meant the whole department."
"The leads probably dried up. Have you ever heard of a cold case?"
"It's not being actively investigated. I read a lot of mysteries," he added before she could draw the wrong conclusion over his knowledge.
"Welcome to Chicago PD's cold case division. I'm to figure out what cases modern forensics can solve and figure out what was missed in the others. Looks like you just bumped this one to the top of the pile."
Throttle glanced at the empty desks surrounding them. "Just you by yourself?"
"Well, I guess they'll let me call for back-up if I need it. Now, what's your concern? Friend of the victim?"
"Friend of his daughter. It's not right that she doesn't have any closure."
"Just a friend and you're going to play detective and solve her father's murder?"
Throttle bristled. "She's my girl, and I'm just trying to figure out what happened. I found the newspaper reports but that's just what the cops want to public to know."
"Let's see what's in the file." Amethyst pulled the manila folder closer on top of the desk. He reacted like she thought he would. She wasn't dealing with an exhaust-sniffing scumbag. "I'd rather not talk to Welker, if it can be helped. The man's a bigot. He wouldn't like either one of us poking into his old case."
"He got somethin' against bikers?"
"You gotta be WASP to qualify as human in his book. Autopsy report, healthy fifty-three-year-old Caucasian male died of two gunshot wounds in the chest. One slug in identifiable condition, probably a Glock 9mm that fired it. Weapon was never recovered, but that may have changed since 1992. No feuds or bad blood with anybody. A few fights over comments made about his daughter."
"Apparently that was the same view the ones with the broken noses had when they sobered up." She turned the pages of the report. "No disgruntled ex-employees, no furious customers; if anyone had a vendetta against Charles Davidson, they hid it from everyone else."
"That's impossible," Throttle said. "There's always some behavior tick that makes someone else suspicious."
Amethyst raised her eyebrows. "How many mysteries have you read?"
His boots scuffed against the floor. "I figured out a vendetta before. So was Mr. Davidson just in the wrong place at the wrong time?"
"That or his daughter."
"Charley! She would never...."
"It's happened before. But she never left the repair pits and spent the life insurance keeping the garage open."
"Then he died because of the robbery."
Amethyst frowned. "The money never turned up. And they have never had any problems since, even though the box office take has gotten bigger."
"Not really." She scanned the notes. "Actually in 92's race, they left everything the same hoping to lure the robbers out. In fact, the only difference was your girlfriend refused to participate."
"Do you blame her?"
"But that was the year the anonymous letters started." Amethyst pulled the plastic-bagged piece of paper out of the pile of notes. "My God."
Throttle took the evidence from her. She saw his white teeth when he snarled silently. "This guy is sick." He placed the cut-and-paste letter face down on her desk.
"I agree. Is your girlfriend still getting those?"
"She stuffed something out of the mail into the garbage disposal this morning, and she was edgy. Definite possibility. They couldn't catch this guy either?"
"Welker took the opinion that her ex-fiancÚ was responsible for the letters. A Jack Mac--"
"MacCyber?" Throttle shook his head. "No, he's not the type to do a letter like that. And Charley wouldn't still be friends with him if she believed that."
"Maybe we should see what would happen if she got involved again. Can you race?"
"I've raced before. Not around here though."
"Come on, let's see Mr. Kormic."
"I don't think I like what you're implying, Detective Jefferson." Stan Kormic leaned his skinny frame closer to his desk. His drooping iron-grey mustache bristled. "We're affiliated with with H.O.G. and A.B.A.T.E. Not to mention that all the people in Riders of Mercy when Chuck died were his friends."
Throttle glanced at the energetic police detective. He still wasn't sure what her plan was. "It may not have anything to do with your organization. But it does have something to do with Charley Davidson and this race is the catalyst." She smiled. "All you have to do is enter this guy in the race and Ms. Davidson will be his pit crew. And I'll be watching the reactions."
Kormic scowled. "That kid has been hurt enough."
"Nobody's hurting Charley." It was the first thing Throttle had said beyond hello and he used the tone that even Vinnie didn't try to weasel around.
"She don't need another disappointment from the cops. Welker practically threw a party when Chuck died." The words were aimed at the detective, but Kormic measured Throttle with his gaze. Throttle stared back.
"Welker is a bastard. Could you at least do me the favor of not lumping me with him?"
"You ain't proved you're any different." He nodded at Throttle. "Have you raced? Ever?"
"Before coming to Chicago I did. I can handle myself on a track."
Kormic grunted, but he reached across the desk and slammed a form down in front of Throttle. "As long as we are clear on one thing. When Lene starts wailing on me, I'm telling her whose bright idea this is."
Throttle took a deep breath before rolling into the garage. Charley and his bros' bikes were parked inside along with Tala's. Great, a full house.
Vinnie and Tala perched on one of the workstations. "Hey bro, what took you so long?"
"I had to enter a race."
Vinnie jumped down, snatching the flyer from Throttle's hand. "A race! And you didn't tell me?"
"Sorry, but there was only one spot left." Vinnie's wail brought Modo, Sparks, and Charley out of the kitchen. Throttle grinned. "Hey babe, got time between all the cookin' to get my ride ready for a race?"
Her face paled and she snatched the flyer from Vinnie. "Race?"
"Yeah, at Lomiskey Park for charity. Qualifier is tomorrow, the race on Wednesday. Riders of Mercy are the ones putting it on."
She looked up, trying to see his eyes behind the specs. Even her lips had gone white.
"Cool," Sparks took the flyer. "We need to do most the cookin' on Wednesday night."
"So it's all good."
"No!" Charley clenched her fists. "You can't race!"
Throttle winced, but his specs covered his eyes. He acted injured. "Hey babe, I may not brag like the walking ego over there, but I can race."
She stepped closer; her green eyes opened wide. "You can't, Throttle, not this race."
"I thought we weren't gonna tell each other what we can and can't do. You wouldn't let me keep you from the fight."
"This is different!"
"How is this different, Charley?" She didn't answer, just stared unfocused and breathed hard. "Charley, I need your help for this. Who else can be my pit crew?"
She focused on Throttle's face. "Don't do this, please." Her voice shook.
"I'm riding, Charley." He couldn't look at her.
She shoved him aside and ran to her bike. It peeled out while the garage door still rumbled up.
Throttle sighed. She was probably running for the cemetery. His antennae drooped. Her red leather jacket hung on the chair in her office. He stepped in to get it.
"Well, that was prettily done," Tala growled. She jumped off the workstation and stepped in front of Throttle. "What the hell are you doing, upsetting her like that?"
"Back off, Tala. You're not Charley's mother and you sure aren't mine."
"What's going on?" Sparks asked in a small voice.
"You know what's wrong, bro?" Modo frowned.
"I don't think it's my story to tell." Throttle stowed Charley's jacket on his bike. "I'll bring her home."
"She probably don't want to see you," Vinnie said.
Charley ran through the darkened cemetery. Tears stung her face. She dropped to her knees beside her father's grave. She heaved, coughed, and sobbed. "Daddy. Oh Daddy." She covered her face with her hands. It took a while before she could control her crying. "Throttle wants to race at the Race. I can't lose him too, Daddy. I can't, I can't, I can't!"
She stared at the ground. "Pete said you'd approve of him. I just know how bad I ache with the thought of losing him. And now with the same race? It's too much, I can't think. I can't," she looked up.
Her throat closed. She backpedaled on instinct until she was standing with her back against the large tombstone on the next row. A black leather jacket hung on the left corner of her father's tombstone. It hadn't been on the tombstone when she first got here.
She stared into the dark, trying to distinguish a human shape in the shadows. She heard footsteps above her pounding heart.
"Charley?" Throttle's voice came closer. "Just let me explain, please."
She could only get a whimper out at first. She took a deep breath. "Throttle!" Her feet dug holes into the grassy path. She tackled him, wrapping her arms around him and pressing her cheek against his furry chest.
"I wasn't expecting this reaction." He smoothed her hair, but she couldn't stop shaking. "Put your jacket on." She didn't let go of him. "Charley, what's wrong? You're acting like you saw a ghost."
She pulled an arm away and pointed blindly at the tombstone. "The jacket."
"Yeah, there's a jacket."
"It wasn't here when I got here." She took a deep breath. "I haven't seen it since Dad died. Somebody's here."
Throttle tightened his arm around her before reaching up to fiddle with his helmet. "Nothing's on infrared. Whoever left it is gone." He braced her up and pulled the red leather jacket on her. He managed to make her take the steps closer to her father's grave. "That's a Black Bones jacket."
"It was Dad's and he gave it to me. And I put it on him when we found him and Pete said he couldn't find it."
He pushed her against the tombstone she had braced against before. "It's evidence, Charley. I'm going to get a bag and a camera off my bike."
"Don't leave me here!"
He pressed his gun into her hands. "Don't shoot me when I come back, please."
"Wait, you're not a cop, Throttle. You can't take evidence!"
"We can't leave it here."
Metal crashed on asphalt, just like a bike falling over. Metal beat against metal only softened slightly by the walls and tombstones. "Stay here." He ran down the path.
"Throttle!" The night crept even closer without him. She pulled the gun up, holding it ready like cops do on television, and tried to press her back through the tombstone.
The beating of metal stopped. No gunshots and no scuffles greeted her straining ears. Finally, just after she decided to run to the gate, Throttle's boots crunched the dry leaves. "Charley-girl?"
"Here," she croaked.
He took his gun back and she embraced him. He wasn't hurt. His arms enveloped her. "I radioed for the police. We better wait here."
Charley felt wrung dry. She clung to Throttle and hated herself for doing it. She was supposed to be stronger than this. He petted her chestnut hair and kissed the top of her head until flashlights bobbed among the tombstones.
"He's an informant, and I appreciate you guys calling me." The woman's voice carried to them.
"No trouble, Detective. Not the way he was insisting on it."
"We're here, Detective Jefferson." He let go of Charley.
The flashlights briefly moved over them. "Is anyone hurt?" The female speaker reached them, an African-American woman around Charley's age. "We saw the bike."
Charley looked up at Throttle. "What happened to...." Throttle's bike would defend herself. "What happened to my bike?"
"That was dropped off while Charley was here alone." Throttle told the detective. "I got here and we were trying to figure out what to do when the beating noise started. It stopped and whoever did it was gone by the time I reached the gate."
"And the jacket?"
"Went missing when my father died," Charley snapped, trying to ease the tight knots in her stomach. "And I'm sure my father has better things to do in Heaven than deliver clothes to me!"
Detective Jefferson's eyes flicked up at Throttle. "You haven't told her yet?"
"I haven't explained everything," he admitted.
Charley stepped back from him. "This is a setup?"
"Not the freak out in the cemetery."
"How could you?"
"Damnit, Charley, what else could I do! Especially with everyone there and you positively not wanting us to know anything about him!" He pointed at her father's grave.
She flinched. "My advice is to level with them, especially Throttle. Because I made a similar promise once, and it led to Mike throwing himself at the man trying to kill me. That's how he got the nick across his shell. And how I almost got him killed." Allie had been right. She glanced at Throttle's distressed face. She didn't know how to repair this.
One of the uniformed cops coughed. "Who was the first one here?" Detective Jefferson asked quietly.
"I was and the jacket wasn't on the tombstone."
"So someone sneaked past you and put it there?"
Charley looked at the ground. "I wasn't looking and I wasn't quietly paying my respects."
"There's an all night diner up the road. You two wait there while we process the scene." Detective Jefferson made it sound like she was offering a compromise.
"Good idea." Throttle led Charley out of the cemetery. They needed to talk without the cops hanging over them. She felt exhausted. The bikes were parked just outside the iron gates. She braked on the sidewalk.
Her blue and white repair bike lay in the street. The headlight glass sparkled under the street light. The handlebar was bent down nearly touching the gas tank. The fenders had been bashed until they clenched the tires. The side compartment had been knocked off. Thin dents about the right size for a crowbar covered the gas tank, engine, exhaust pipe, crankcase, and seat.
Her vision blurred. The tears slid out. She couldn't say anything. She didn't want to say anything. Throttle's arm wrapped around her shoulders and pulled her away.
Charley's crying was finished by the time they reached the diner, but her current apathy worried Throttle even more. He sat her down in a booth and handed her some napkins. She looked at him as she took them. "How did you find out?"
Throttle pulled the copy of the newspaper article from his vest pocket and laid it flat on the table. He went up to the counter. "A cup of coffee for my girl? She's had a bad shock."
The older woman in the straight-from-the-Fifties pink waitress dress glanced at Charley. She filled a white mug with coffee, and added a small amount from a flask. The flash slipped back in her pocket. "Trust me, sugar," she said with a wink. "Anything for you?"
"Root beer." Throttle sat down beside Charley in the booth, setting the doctored mug of coffee in front of her.
She stared at the copy of the newspaper, never noticing the coffee. "Do you know no matter how hard you push something out of your mind, it never really leaves? It's always there, pretending to be gone."
He wrapped his arm around her shoulders and guided her hands to the mug. "We're going to solve this, Charley-girl. You won't hafta be afraid any more."
"You guys have enough to worry about without me on the list."
"Hey, I love you. If that doesn't entitle me to worry, we're gonna have some problems." That at least got her to sip the coffee. "I haven't been exactly forthcoming 'bout specifics in my past. But sometimes you get a chance to fight for the past, even if you can't change it."
"And you think this is one of those times?"
"We already got this son of a rat rattled. Look at what he's done and we haven't even started yet."
"Exactly! I can't lose you."
He cupped her cheek and turned her face toward his. "Now who needs the lecture on trust?"
She pulled her head out of his hand and stared at the table. "Do you even have a plan?"
"Get you to the race and see what happens." He pulled his arm back. "Something is bound to happen, especially after tonight."
"And what if that something is you getting shot?" They're finally able to take the bastard to court thanks to bullets pulled out of you!"
"Wanna yell that any louder? I think a few deaf people in Detroit missed it."
"Stop treating this like a game!"
"I'm doing this for you!"
"Glad to see you've settled your differences about this." Detective Jefferson slid onto the booth's other bench.
"The only thing that is settled is I'm not cooperating. I never want to see that stadium again." Charley tried to stand up but Throttle pushed her back down.
"There never was a convention, was there?" He watched the fight in her deflate. "What did you do during this week?"
"Holed up in a hotel room and watched lots of cable. The garage was so lonely without Dad, and I didn't want the letter-writer to find me."
Detective Jefferson's dark blue eyes gazed steadily across the table. "The letters only come during Thanksgiving week?"
"Yes," Charley's voice was small. "Of course, it's someone connected to the race, otherwise I'd get them all year. Welker thought I had done something to attract that sicko's attention or it was Jack being ugly. It isn't Jack. I didn't want you guys treating me like I was broken, like everybody else does, so I lied." She stared at the table. "I don't expect you to forgive me for that."
He squeezed her hand. "Some things just take longer to share. I have stuff I haven't told you."
"Not by much."
"You didn't let your father die!"
"Why were you in the repair pits, Charley?" Detective Jefferson took a glass of water from the waitress and shooed her away.
Charley's voice shook. "He said it was my turn to shine. He could count without my help." Her head bent down.
Throttle wrapped his arms around her and hugged. "Don't hate yourself for surviving. Don't blame yourself for his death. Blame the guy who killed him."
"I know it's my fault. Why would he still be after me if it wasn't?" She buried her face against his leather vest.
"Because he's sick," Detective Jefferson said. "Now stop feeling sorry for yourself and help us. Your father deserves better than this."
She took a deep breath. "Why do you care? Why help us?"
"Because it is my job and because you guys are the ones stopping Limburger, which is what I'd rather be doing. The least I can do is catch a scumbag that has been free for four years."
"You know Limburger's...." Throttle faltered.
"Crooked? Yeah, but proving it is harder. You guys stop him without hurting innocent bystanders. Better than if he had no checks." Jefferson's face softened. "Besides, nobody deserves to be terrorized, even if they think they do."
"We won't be alone." Throttle massaged Charley's hand. "If you want, Vinnie and Modo can stick to us like glue."
"Alright, alright. I'll go." She sighed, "We better go home now. The others will be worried."
"Not just yet. I need you to sign this permission to take your motorcycle in as evidence." Detective Jefferson pushed a paper and pen to Charley. "And I need more detail on the jacket."
"It was my father's jacket. He gave it to me. I was wearing it that day." She looked up at the table and signed the paper angrily. "I put it on him after... after we found him."
Detective Jefferson placed the case folder on the table. "That was disturbing a crime scene."
"I wasn't leaving my father like that! That reporter took plenty of pictures before I did it."
"Then we should be able to see. That reporter did surrender his film after it was developed and the paper got their copies." She flipped through the pictures in the folder. "Here's where you put the jacket on."
Charley only glanced at the photo and nodded. Throttle took a longer look. The Black Bones logo was clearly visible as Charley was caught in the act of spreading it over the face of the man on the concrete floor. The blood from his chest wounds stained his shirt.
"The officials arrive." Detective Jefferson placed the photo back into the pile and continued through it. "Jacket tossed aside, into the corner actually." She flipped through a dozen more photos. "And now it's gone." She showed the photo. "Someone in that room took the jacket."
Charley shook her head. "I don't remember. It seemed like everybody was there, and then the cops took me off to another room for questions. Pete got me out of there and took me to his house. That's all I remember. I can't even tell you what questions they asked me."
"Wouldn't expect you to." She shuffled the photos back in order. "Go home, get some rest. Tomorrow is going to be hell."
There wasn't much point in staying after that. Throttle paid for their drinks, and they rode back to the garage. Charley clung to him tighter than usual. It took the whole ride before he worked up the courage to say anything. "Are you mad at me?"
"I'm not mad." Charley climbed off the bike and picked a wrench off the workbench. She dropped it into the toolbox. "I know you're doing this for me. But I just wanted to forget. There's no forgetting though." She dropped some more tools into the toolbox. "Except certain Martian mice and putting away the tools they use."
"Don't ask me to think right now, Throttle. My brain doesn't want to work."
"Then leave that alone." He took the screwdriver from her and tossed it into the toolbox. "I'll clean this up." He scooped her into his arms. "Starting with you."
"And where do I get put, huh?"
"Good idea." She snuggled against his shoulder.
He carried her up the stairs. "You didn't think we'd understand."
"It didn't compare to what you guys have gone through."
"Pain is pain, regardless of what caused it." He took a deep breath. "I was four when I lost my parents and I should've died with them." She made some kind of sympathetic noise and he set her down outside her closed bedroom door. "That's facts, not just how I feel. My aunt told me that the only way I could redeem their sacrifice was by living my life to the fullest."
"You think I can do that?"
"You're strong enough to do anything you set your mind to." He kissed her forehead.
"I don't feel strong right now." She opened her bedroom door and flicked on the lights. She gasped and her hand flew to cover her mouth.
The mattress and boxspring were dragged off to the side and slashed open. The headboard was in four jagged and splintered pieces. The lamp and clock radio had been smashed on the nightstand before pieces were swept off. Blows had landed on the dresser as well.
Throttle clenched his teeth to keep the seething rage inside. Charley whimpered. He touched her shoulders and she turned, wrapping her arms around tightly and pressed her face against his chest. He hugged her as if that could ward off anything.
"Why?" She choked out. "Nothing else was touched."
Because you'd be sleeping with me in here. Not that he had spent the night since they started dating, but this son of a rat didn't know that. He squeezed her tight, then let her go. "Pack what you need for a couple of days." She looked up at him, puzzled. "You're staying at the scoreboard."
Modo glanced at the clock and frowned. He knew it would take a while for Throttle to calm Charley down, but they hadn't heard from either one in hours.
"Finished homework," Sparks announced as he slammed the books shut on the table. "Though I think I'm the only kid with school work this week."
"I'm sure somebody procrastinated something and they gotta cram." Modo smiled. "Go get ready for bed."
"Okay, okay." He headed to their bathroom beside the galley kitchen. The sound of running water drifted out, but was soon drowned out by a motorcycle roaring in.
Throttle parked his bike next to Vinnie's. Charley climbed off the back carrying a small duffle bag. The expression on her face made Modo want to pound whoever made her feel that bad. And hug her until it went away. It wasn't Throttle's fault, not the way she touched his arm. "I want a shower."
"Whatever you want, babe." He climbed off the bike and hugged her.
Sparks exited the bathroom and his eyes opened wide seeing Charley. Her smile was wan as she went in and shut the door.
Throttle sat on the couch and put his face in his hands with a sigh. Sparks in his shorts and T-shirt stood next to Modo, and they both watched Throttle.
Vinnie swung out of the hammock with a frown. "What's going on?"
"Charley's staying here."
Modo glanced at his son and looked at his bro. "Um, Throttle, I know you two are datin'...."
Throttle looked up at him, then at the short grey mouse beside him. "It's a PG sleep over, Big Fella. After what happened tonight, I'm not feeling amorous, and I doubt Charley is either."
"What happened?" Vinnie crossed his arms over his bare chest.
"It's not my story to tell."
There was an uncomfortable silence while they waited for Charley to get finished. Sparks' hand curled into Modo's flesh one.
Charley finally emerged in a pair of pajamas and her hair wrapped up in a towel. She sat on the couch next to Throttle and curled up under his arm.
Modo hated doing it, but they had to know. "Charley-ma'am, what's wrong?"
She took a deep breath, and peered up uncertainly. Throttle squeezed her shoulders. "You should tell them, Charley."
"I don't know where to start." She didn't look at anyone. "It was always me and Dad. My mother left when I was six months old; my grandmother died when I was ten. Dad started the Last Chance repairing and building bikes. Allie's bike was one he designed and built. Taught me everything I know."
"So how come we never met him?" Vinnie asked.
She stared at the floor. "Back in '91, Dad and his friends started Riders for Mercy. They wanted to show the media that bikers weren't bad guys. They planned a big race for the day before Thanksgiving, all the proceeds going to charity. Dad worked the ticket booth and sent me to the repair pits. He was shot and killed and the money was stolen. The cops never found the killer."
"Oh Charley," Modo cringed at her blunt recital.
"The next year I got a letter." She glanced up at Sparks. "Whoever wrote it cut words out and pasted them on the paper. And he said he wanted me and told me exactly what he wanted me for. The cops thought it was a joke. I went to a hotel room. I couldn't face the garage without Dad. After Thanksgiving, the letters stopped coming at least 'til the next year. I just kept running from them every year. And then you guys came and I lied to you. I wasn't Chuck Davidson's baby girl to you guys, but I couldn't face it if you were ashamed of me too."
"Ashamed? 'Cause your dad was murdered and some nut is sending you smut?" Vinnie's arms dropped to his sides. "That's nothing you did."
"The nut stole my jacket and then gave it back, trashed my bike and my bedroom, and killed my father because of me!"
Throttle hugged her tighter. "There's no closure down that road, Charley. The nut is the one with the problem. You have just been you, and we don't want that to change."
"All this happened tonight?" Modo asked.
"The jacket was left on her father's grave under Charley's nose and she missed seeing the guy," Throttle answered.
"The cops better give it back," Charley muttered.
"Somebody took a crowbar to her bike after I got to the cemetery and found her."
"The cops better give my bike back too."
"We found her bedroom in shambles when I took her home. We haven't told Detective Jefferson about that."
"Do we have to?" Charley asked quietly.
"Yeah, but tomorrow." He squeezed her shoulders and pulled her closer to him. "We'll deal with it after the qualifier."
"This is all my fault!" Sparks wailed. "If I hadn't pushed this Thanksgiving stuff...."
"Sparks, no." She pulled out of Throttle's embrace and knelt on the floor in front of him. "You're right. We should be celebrating Thanksgiving. All I had to live for was the garage. You guys changed that. You're my family and I couldn't ask for a better one."
Sparks wrapped his arms around her neck for a tight but quick hug.
"We feel the same way, Charley," Modo said.
"We'd be lost without you," Vinnie added.
"Let's get to bed." Throttle stood up and helped Charley stand. "We've got a big day tomorrow."
Tuesday, November 21, 1995
Vinnie glared at the smashed furniture, reminded of past events he tried not to dwell on. No wonder Throttle was so concerned. They had left the sleeping beauties in the scoreboard, and came to the garage to see the damage.
"I don't get it," Sparks said plaintively. "If this creep wants to be Charley's boyfriend, why is he trashin' all her stuff?"
"'Cause he's punishing her." Vinnie could feel both Sparks and Modo turn to stare at him as they stood in Charley's bedroom door. "He must've seen them together in the graveyard. One of Mom's ex-boyfriends did this to our whole house when she got a new one."
"You never told us that," Modo said.
"Yeah, well, I wasn't too happy with the fact Mom could find all the psychos in town. But that's why I stayed with you for almost two months."
"Mama never said why you were there. You could've told us."
"Hey, is anybody home? Bikes are here."
"Up here, Tala," Vinnie answered.
She clambered up the ladder and inserted her tousled, blonde head into the bedroom. "Wow, did she start throwing furniture at Throttle?"
"Charley has a psycho chasing here!" Sparks wailed.
"Stalkin' is more accurate," Modo corrected.
"And this is why she got upset with Throttle for signing up in the race her father started?" All three mice stared and she smirked. "Thank you, MC."
"It's worse than that." Vinnie said with a scowl. "This nut probably killed her father and Throttle thinks he can flush him out at the race."
"Well, well." She descended the ladder.
"We best go down too," Modo suggested.
Tala leaned against her bike and pierced them with her steely blue eyes as they entered the garage through the kitchen. "Were they followed?"
"Throttle would take precautions. Especially after finding that." Vinnie pointed to the ceiling.
"True enough. So we're the backup while Throttle tried to flush this guy out?"
"Didja doubt it?" Modo crossed his arms.
"Just getting an understanding of the plan. Never tried crime fighting before. When is the qualifier?"
"Two at Lomiskey Park," Vinnie answered.
"Then we've got time to shop." Tala settled on her bike.
"But we don't know what Charley wants to cook," Sparks said.
"Not that kind of shopping. Come on."
Vinnie was perfectly willing to follow Tala's lead anywhere, but to a huge downtown store filled with furniture wasn't what he expected. "Who's Ethan Allen?"
"It's a brand name. And it's furniture that should withstand your tender loving care." She smirked.
Modo's eyes widened as he glanced at the displayed beds beside the door, the living room sets and coffee tables in front of them, and the salespeople's dismayed expressions. "I don't think they'd approve a field test, Tala-ma'am."
"Just find a bed that looks like Throttle and Charley would like it."
"Cool, a scouting mission." Sparks darted down the aisle that ran around the store's wall. Modo followed him.
"Guess we're splittin' up," Vinnie commented.
"You found somebody new?"
"I meant from Mr. Mom and Martha Stewart." He stopped making a face and hurried to catch up with her stride in the opposite direction.
Vinnie wasn't the only one hurrying after Tala. One salesclerk jogged from the center of the store to meet them. "Excuse me, miss." He gulped. "Miss, can I help you and your friends?" He fell in skipping next to them as Tala continued striding.
His name tag said "Timothy" on his pale blue button-down shirt. Vinnie clapped a hand on his shoulder. "We're here to spend money, Tim. Try to look happy about it."
Tala shot a quick glance at Tim's unhappy face. "We're buying a bedroom set for some friends. That aren't here," she added when Tim's gaze jerked to Modo and Sparks across the store.
"For friends that aren't here? That's pretty unusual."
"Which is why you're going to guarantee in writing that they can trade it in for another set of equal value." Tala paused to study a four-post bed with a lacy canopy. "Too frilly."
"Trade it in? I can't do that!"
Tala swiveled on her heel. Tim took a step back and gulped. "I'm about to pay cash for every piece of furniture we pick out and you can't guarantee a trade-in of equal value?"
"Well, maybe we can work something out."
"Good. Delivery too. That I know you do." Tala shot Tim a look Vinnie was glad wasn't aimed at him.
Vinnie chuckled, he couldn't help it. He glanced ahead in the aisle. "Sweet, that's it," he dodged around Tim and Tala. The bed had a low curved head and footboard covered in a rich brown leather. A red, satiny bedspread added a sexy touch.
"Are you sure?" Tala said doubtfully.
"Dollface, it's leather. You're buying it for the guy who begged a whole Freedom Fighter unit to bury him in his leather vest. Modo, Sparks!"
Tala inspected the prices while father and son joined them.
"I think that'll work, Vinnie-my-man." Modo nodded.
"The furniture isn't all carved up. Charley said she hates to dust." Sparks hopped from foot to foot.
"Okay you guys think this is it?" Tala looked up from the price tag on the bed.
"Alright. Tim," she pulled a wallet from her back pocket and opened to a slim notepad. "We're gonna need a version of this bed large enough for him."
Tim craned his neck to look at Modo. "California King. How big is the bedroom?"
"Big enough," Tala answered as she jotted down notes. "We need two of those nightstands," she pointed to the two drawer table with legs that curved to cross each other, "and the double dresser over there." Charley's old dresser had five drawers stacked on top of each other. This one had two stacks of three side-by-side. "Got that, Tim?" She grinned.
"Good, let's start negotiations." She motioned for him to lead the way to the sales desk in the center of the store.
Vinnie grinned. "You know, I'm starting to see how she can charge the prices she does."
Amethyst parked her car down the street from the Last Chance Garage and watched the activity with raised eyebrows. Two Ethan Allen movers and two bikers were carrying the contents from the van inside. She left the car and followed them inside. A woman with tousled blonde hair directed them to stack the furniture to one side of the garage. "Is Charley or Throttle available?" Amethyst asked her.
"No, sorry, they're not here. Are you a customer?"
"No, I'm not a customer, but I need to speak with them."
The white fuzzy biker put down the end table and looked at her quizzically. "You the cop Throttle talked to about Charley's dad?"
"That's me, Detective Amethyst Jefferson."
"Vinnie," he pointed to himself, "Tala," he pointed to the woman, "and Modo," he pointed to the grey fuzzy giant who grunted putting down a headboard. "I think Sparks is still getting a list of tools from her."
Amethyst followed Vinnie through a windowed door and into an office. A humanoid mouse looked up at them with red eyes that grew wider. He was just a kid, which meant that the fuzzy, non-human bikers must be mice too.
He spoke into the CB microphone. "Is that all you need, Charley-ma'am? 'Cause Vinnie wants to talk to you now."
"That should do. Put Vinnie on." Charley's voice sounded tired through the speaker.
Vinnie just bent over the chair while Sparks scooted out of it. "Actually, it's a Detective Jefferson that wants to talk to you."
Amethyst sat in the seat Vinnie shooed her to. "Hi, Charley, I just wanted to check in with you. You are going to the qualifier this afternoon?"
"Yes, we're all going."
"I understand it's going to be upsetting for you, going back and looking for someone who's stalking you. You must be just upset because the race is where your father died. Do you understand?"
Charley's sigh was audible over the speaker. "I understand. You better get Vinnie to show you what the bastard did to my bedroom. Wrenchjockey out."
Vinnie twitched as he leaned over and switched the CB unit to standby. "Why do I always get the fun jobs?"
Amethyst didn't say anything as she followed him from the office through the garage and kitchen and up a set of stairs. He pointed out an open door on the other side of the living room. She approached it calmly, leaving Vinnie back at the couch.
She frowned at the damage. A crowbar again and a knife on the mattress and box springs. "Well, we've certainly stirred someone up. Has anybody messed with anything in here?"
Vinnie rocked on his feet. "We haven't, but I think Charley had to get clothes. She stayed at our place last night."
"I'm going to have to get a forensic team to work this room. The perp may have left evidence to his identity."
"It's one o'clock now. We're supposed to meet Throttle and Charley at Lomiskey Park at two. Think your forensics will be done by the time the qualifier is over?" Vinnie led her back down the stairs.
"It's not that big of a crime scene. It shouldn't take that long. I need to be at the qualifier too."
Vinnie held the door between the kitchen and the garage open for her. "You arresting this wrenchhead would be a good thing. Arresting him sooner, even better. Mum on the new furniture; it's a surprise."
The moving men and the Ethan Allen truck were gone. The human woman Tala leaned against a work table. "If more cops are coming, we shouldn't be here. Besides, I want to scout the stadium."
Amethyst nodded. "That's probably best. Less explaining." Not that I know what to explain, she added silently to herself.
Vinnie stepped out of the office with a sheet of paper. "Here's the alarm codes. Lock up when you're done. Let's ride."
She watched the group leave with a nagging feeling that they weren't so much a biker gang as a military unit. She didn't understand where that comparison came from, but filed it away.
Charley swallowed hard as they drove through the tunnel to Lomiskey Park's field.
"Hey babe, I gotta breathe." Her hold around Throttle's waist loosened. "Thanks. You sure you can do this?"
"Act like I'm just upset 'cause this is where Dad died?" Detective Jefferson had stressed that point enough when they had talked to her this morning. "Easy; I am. The guys and Tala are meeting us here?"
"Yeah. I think they were up to something this morning. Vinnie sounded smug."
"Vinnie always sounds smug." The breath caught in Charley's throat as they emerged into the sunlight. Nothing had changed. The repair pits lined the stadium walls adjacent to the dugouts. The safety crews were setting up in the center of the field. The oval dirt track was laid out between the two.
"Nothin' challenging 'bout the course at all!" Vinnie's voice carried over all the setting up noises. "Hey, there's Throttle and Charley."
The group moved out of the stand near the tunnel, but the tall human with iron grey hair and a drooping mustache reached Throttle's bike first. "Lene, it's good to see you again."
She climbed off the bike and hugged him. "Good to see you too, Stan." Wetness seeped out of her eyes. "Dad would be so proud of this."
"Yes, he would." Stan Kormic pulled away and tugged on his mustache."Lots of people are going to be glad to see you."
She could already hear her name being called out. "Lene? Charlene Davidson? I thought she was never coming back. Can't stop a Davidson. Damn, I'm gonna need another assistant in the pit."
The sea of faces seemed to be smiling. But a vise still held her stomach. Charley took a step back, trying to keep a smile on her face.
"Hey, you greasemonkeys!" Stan yelled in his best drill sergeant impersonation. "We've got an event to get ready for. Back to work!" The crowd did an about-face and focused their attentions on their jobs. "Your pit is this way, Lene."
Throttle pushed his bike as they followed Stan to one of the cement block stalls on the wall of the field. "I guess a lot of people have missed me." Charley pulled her toolbox off Throttle's bike and set it down on the one workbench in the room half the size of one of her garage bays back at the Last Chance.
"Yeah, well you know how those legacy things are."
Charley turned back to the door. The guys and Tala had quietly come into the stall. "I have a legacy?"
Stan chuckled at her confusion. "That's something I've missed. Let me get back to work."
"Hey, where does this go?" Vinnie headed to the steel door on the back wall. The doorknob refused to turn in his hand. "Locked." He pulled a flare from his bandoleer.
"Leave it alone, Vinnie," Throttle ordered. The white mouse heaved a sigh and replaced the flare.
"Interesting character." Tala stepped back into the stall from the doorway. "Do you trust him?"
The question jolted Charley. How could Tala ask that? She was looking at him like a suspect. "Dad trusted him."
"And Chuck Davidson was never wrong about anyone's character." Everybody turned to find the source of that sarcasm. Two men stood just outside the door, both wearing motorcycle leathers. The brown-haired man with a scraggly goatee jammed his hands into his pockets and stepped inside. His clean-shaved companion skipped after him with a huge grin.
Charley sighed. "Hi Mitch." She smiled genuinely at the taller man who stared at everybody with wide open eyes. "Hi Buddy."
Mitch surveyed the stall as he came to a stop a few feet inside. "So you're the guy who got into Asphalt Jack's pants." He nodded to Throttle.
Throttle's eyebrows settled between his specs and hair. "Excuse me?"
Charley's hands hit her hips. "They're my pants and it's none of your damn business!"
A smile almost curled Mitch's lips. The grin was gone from Buddy's face as he stared at Throttle. "Still have the temper, huh Charley?"
"I kicked your butt in the fifth grade and I'll do it again if I need to."
Buddy tore his gaze away from Throttle and grinned at Charley. "Hey Charley, did you get my letters?"
She smiled at him. It wasn't Buddy's fault Mitch was his brother. "No, Buddy, I'm sorry."
"Let's go," Mitch interrupted, pulling Buddy out of the stall.
"He's a real charmer." Modo said. "And the other guy writes letters?"
"Buddy is Mitch's brother. They used to live just down the street from the garage. And I've never got any letters from Buddy. Mitch probably doesn't buy him stamps."
Vinnie looked out the door after them before asking. "Did Buddy crash without a helmet?"
"No, he was born that way."
"Where was he when your dad died?" Sparks asked.
"Winning the race. But Mitch Sullivan is like that with everybody. He likes to push buttons. He's not a murderer."
"And neither is Stan?" Tala asked. She put on her red and black armor jacket over her T-shirt and jeans.
"Of course not!"
"You have led a sheltered life." Tala's blonde hair bounced as she shook her head. "You need a healthy dose of paranoia. Let's go check things out."
Vinnie patted Charley's shoulder as he passed and followed Tala out the door.
"My life has not been sheltered." She turned to Throttle for confirmation.
"You're just having trouble adjusting to knowing somebody you've trusted killed your father, that's all." Throttle turned to Sparks. "You stay here and guard Charley."
"Modo, keep watch of everybody on the track."
"Sure, looks like they're getting ready for the qualifier."
"Let's go." Throttle pushed his bike out.
Sparks joined Charley staring out the door. "Are you scared?"
"Not with you here."
Modo leaned against the counter someone had set up as a refreshment stand for the workers. Throttle and Mitch were both in the group of thirty riders gathered on the track. He spotted Kormic climbing into the flag booth. Some of the crowd watched the racers, but more concentrated on their jobs.
Two men in greasy coveralls sauntered up to the refreshment stand. Modo took his root beer and stepped aside. Neither one acknowledged the politeness and just continued with their conversation. "Man, why didn't anyone tell me Davidson grew into such a hottie?" The fatter man with greasy hair hanging limp under a filthy baseball cap grabbed his food.
"Because she's competition and wouldn't give you the time of day." His shorter and cleaner companion paid for their food.
"You have got to be gay if you don't want a piece of that ass."
Modo bristled but held his tongue. He turned to watch the qualifiers on the track and to keep the two greasy wrenchheads in the corner of his eye. Talking about Charley like she was a piece of meat. His tail slashed through the air.
"I'm not gay, you dick. I just remember when her dad kicked anyone's ass for looking at her crooked."
"But someone took her old man out." The larger man let out a loud belch before continuing. "Heard she took it hard. Needed the lovin' of a real man. Why didn't I hook up with her then?"
The smaller man slurped his drink. "Because you got your windfall and was busy opening your own shop."
"Oh yeah, maybe we should set up a franchise together."
"Keep dreamin,' man. Keep dreaming."
The larger man laughed. "Wet dreamin'."
Modo frowned at their backs. How much money did it take to open a shop?
Tala surveyed the crowd on the field. At least a hundred down there to get this shindig set up. Everyone else with a vested interest but nothing to do milled around the audience stands. Who was around five years ago and had a vested interest in killing off Charles Davidson?
She leaned against the guard rail and watched the racers take their places on the track. MC had looked for the financial records of Riders of Mercy once they had determined that's what had upset Charley. It was an over-a-million-dollar nonprofit organization. And Stan Kormic lived all year on the salary from putting on this one day event.
But Charley didn't want to think of that possibility. Tala shook her head, she would have to ask about the early plans for Riders of Mercy later, when there wasn't as many prying ears. She squared her shoulders and started toward the first guy to interview.
Return to the scene of the crime. Vinnie sure didn't read the detective stories Throttle did, but he watched the old movies when Throttle had control of the TV. The one with the bird statue and Bogey had been fun. He was pretty sure 'return to the scene of the crime' had been in one of them.
The halls of thick concrete seemed miles away from the motorcycle engines on the field. He found the box office no problem, everything was labeled. People were holed up in the room, doing what, Vinnie didn't know.
And the uniformed rent-a-cop didn't appreciate the scrutiny. "What are you doing?"
"Just lookin'." Vinnie grinned at the man's scowl.
"Casin' the joint?"
"No, sir. Just lookin' over things for Detective Jefferson." Name dropping couldn't hurt.
Vinnie sighed. How did Throttle expect to get anywhere if people kept getting in the way? He stuffed his hands in his pockets and sauntered away from the box office. People probably wouldn't work there without the rent-a-cop. Just around the bend was an opened door.
The cool cement just formed a long hallway with orange lights mounted on the walls. Quigley Field had some of these, wonder where it goes. He headed to the left.
Not very exciting. Apparently, it just ran beside the main corridor. Maybe a special hall for stadium employees. Vinnie tried the first door he came to on the right. Unlocked, but he eased it open. There was nothing to step on. Twenty feet below was the top of the first stand level.
"Whoa, now why don't they have a sign up? Though watch your step is so cliché." He turned to head further down the hall.
The blow struck between his shoulder blades, driving his hands and knees to the floor. Before he could wrap his tail around his assailant, a chain wrapped around his throat. Vinnie was pulled upright. He pushed his fingers between the chain and his throat. He pulled. The pressure eased and cool air trickled into his burning lungs. Vinnie wrapped more of his hands around the chain.
The chain tightened. A hand grabbed his belt and hauled upwards. The colors changed, becoming blinding. He was out the door.
Before his mind could register an oh shit!, the hand let go of his belt and his falling jerked to a stop. His knuckles pressed into his throat. Have to get up. His tail groped, finally anchoring on the door knob. The pressure eased on his throat, but drums pounded in his ears. He couldn't see out of the corners of his eyes either.
Vinnie pulled on the chain, had to get his neck out of it. This was not a cool way to die.
"Do you have any information that can help me?" Tala hooked her thumbs in her belt loops, so she wouldn't pound this last guy in a long line of cretins. She wondered if Charley or Throttle would appreciate her restraint.
He didn't even remove the toothpick from his mouth before speaking. "Chuck's been dead a long time. What's it to a pretty girl like you?"
"He was my uncle and the police gave us the brush off."
"Typical pigs. Why don't we go get a drink and see what I can remember?"
"No thanks. I can't leave my cousin here alone."
"Ah come on," he grabbed her arm. "Hey, what kind of leather is that?"
"It's body armor. I don't play nice." She pulled her arm free. How many more idiots were here to deal with? This was the seventh one to hit on her. Tala scanned the stands rising ahead of them. You'd think the least he could do would be stick close by to help her get out of situations like this. Instead of hanging from a door in the cement wall, kicking his legs wildly with no visible support--"VINNIE!"
"Holy shit," the biker said but Tala was already running up the stairs.
She shot a lasso at the railing of the tier above Vinnie. The wire caught and she activated the pulley mechanism. The yank nearly took her left arm as she was jerked off the stairs. Her boots hit the concrete wall as she rappelled upwards. On the third jump, she reached Vinnie.
Tala grabbed the white mouse with her legs, pulling him up by his armpits. Her feet hit the door. The door slammed against the wall, almost knocking her off the perch. She regained her footing and walked up the door, holding the wire tight with her left hand.
The chain wrapped around his neck and the doorknob. She could get him up even with it. Raspy shallow breaths started once the chain around his neck was level. There wasn't enough time to untie it. Her fingers fumbled against his bandoleers before circling around a flare. She reached behind his head and felt the flare touch the metal chain.
But there was no heat. "Famak! Ignite already!" She shook it. The flare expanded in her hand. She didn't drop it, and the flame cut through the metal. Vinnie crashed against her.
That knocked them away from the door with a spin. "This is gonna hurt." Tala held Vinnie to her chest and tightened the grip of her legs.
They swung through the open doorway, and as soon as concrete was right under them, Tala played the wire out. They tumbled along the floor, slamming into the wall.
"Ugh." Tala disentangled herself from Vinnie. He was gulping down air with a rasp. Other footsteps were running down the corridor toward them. "I hate to do this to you, but we gotta move!" She grabbed his arm and hauled him to his feet running. The footsteps were right behind them. She couldn't let Vinnie get caught and get them all thrown out. She tried the first door on the right and it opened. Across the hall was a doorway to a men's restroom. She sprinted Vinnie into it. He collapsed on the floor once the door was shut. "Are you okay? Do you need some water or something?"
"In a second. When I get a hold of the rat who jumped me...." Vinnie left the threat incomplete.
"Who was it?" Tala squatted next to him.
"He was mad enough to string you up like a piñata and you don't know who it was?"
"He jumped me from behind!"
Vinnie cocked his head. "I wasn't doin' nothing but lookin'. But this place is close to where Charley's dad died. Maybe somebody has something they don't want seen." He had a gleam in his eye. "Let's get back in there."
Tala followed him out of the restroom. "What's scary is I'm agreeing with your logic."
"Why does everybody think some thing's wrong with my wiring? This door's locked. The one I went in is further back."
But that door was locked now too. Vinnie growled under his breath and reached for a flare. Tala slapped his arm as the security guard came bearing down on them. "Hey, were you two the ones playing climb the stadium wall?"
"No sir, that wasn't us." Vinnie smiled at him.
The guard frowned harder. "You two match the description."
"It's okay. They're with me." Amethyst walked around the corner. "Detective Jefferson. I'll make sure they stay out of trouble."
He looked up from her credentials. "We don't need any problems at the event."
"There won't be. You two walk with me." Amethyst waited until the guard went back to his post. "What happened?"
"Somebody got the jump on Vinnie and tried to hang him." Tala crossed her arms. "I got up the walls as fast as possible to save his life."
"Oops, I forgot to thank you for the rescue," Vinnie said.
"So who did you talk to?" Amethyst asked him.
"Just the security guard. I didn't see who it was."
"I'll check him out. You two better go stay with Charley." Amethyst stalked off.
"I don't think it's the security guard." Vinnie shrugged and turned to Tala. "And I'm sorry about not thanking you."
She started to say it was okay, not to worry about it, but his mouth landed on hers before she could say a word. Her knees trembled from the intensity of the kiss.
Vinnie ended the kiss with a grin. "I don't know why ladies have such a problem giving those out after a rescue."
Charley had hoped leaving Lomiskey Park would soothe her jangled nerves. They still hadn't calmed down, and the longer she remained in public, even surrounded by the armed Biker Mice, the worse she felt. Well, mostly surrounded by Throttle and Sparks. Vinnie, Modo, and Tala had split up to cover the rest of the store. "Can't we just go back to the scoreboard?" Charley's voice edged on panic. She willfully brought it under control. She wasn't falling apart in the store, she wasn't.
"We gotta get the groceries," Sparks said. "This is the only time we've got for it."
"You know he's right." Throttle patted her back as Charley leaned over the grocery cart with a groan. "Besides, it gives us a chance to discuss possibilities."
"Those guys discussing the money in front of me at the concession stand sounded suspicious." Modo set two vegetable cans into the cart.
Sparks fished them back out. "Wrong size, Dad. We're going to need frozen for enough to cook with."
"That's what your recipe said."
"For four servings. You eat four servings in one helping."
"What's with all this servings stuff?" Modo tugged on his breastplate.
"Charley and me started nutrition class last month." Sparks took Modo's hand and led him toward the freezer section of the store. "And I think it's that Mitch guy." He said over his shoulder. "He didn't have anything good to say about Charley's dad."
"True," Throttle mused out loud. "But Mitch was qualifying with me and Kormic was in the grandstand with the timers."
Charley straightened and pushed the cart into the cleaning products aisle. "This isn't one of Limburger's pathetic schemes." She grabbed dishwashing soap and threw it in the basket of the cart.
"So you don't have any faith that we can solve it?"
She sighed. "It's not that easy. It's...." A beeping noise started and Throttle was oblivious to it concentrating on her. "Your vest is beeping."
"I hate this thing," Throttle growled. "It's like a leash." He pulled the cell phone out of his pocket. His face grew distressed as he realized he couldn't fit it inside his helmet.
Charley held out her hand and relieved he dropped it into it. "Hello?"
"Ms. Davidson. Is Throttle there?" Detective Jefferson sounded uneasy. Nobody wanted to deal with the fragile Charley.
She could handle this. She wouldn't fall apart. "He can't take his helmet off. What do you need?"
"We finished processing the garage. I'm afraid forensics had to take most of your bedroom furniture for analysis. We packed your clothes in your living room."
Charley knew the horror stories of cops and searches and wondered what shape her clothes were in. "Thank you."
"I just need a list of anything missing. So we can determine if burglary took place."
"Do you really think burglary is why he broke in? Everything I have that's worth anything is the garage equipment and it wasn't touched."
"He may have taken trophies." Detective Jefferson took a deep breath. "Just get a list to us as soon as you can. I'm still looking into the attack on your friend. Good-bye."
"Bye." Charley handed the cell phone back to Throttle. "They finished with the garage and are still working on Vinnie's attack."
"Sorry, it's hard to ID the guy choking the life out of you from behind." Vinnie dropped the paper bag that the store provided to keep frozen food cold longer into the cart. The cart bounced off the floor.
Charley steadied the cart. "Nobody's blaming you. I'm just glad you're okay. What did you get?" She rooted in the bag. "Three five-gallon buckets of ice cream?"
Vinnie slapped his head. "I didn't get you, Sparks, or Tala any. Your favorite is the green, right?" He jogged back to the freezers.
"Mint chocolate chip," Charley yelled after him. "What are we supposed to be getting?"
Throttle returned from wherever his mind had wandered. "Hmm, dinner rolls, I think."
She steered the cart to the bread section of the store. "What are you thinking about?"
"Putting Sparks and Modo to finding names to Modo's picks. Sparks could do the hyperactive kid thing before the race. Vinnie and Tala want to explore the tunnels more."
"You expect to do all that on Race day? Those mechanics will think they're trying to steal secrets."
"What I really expect is the murderer to do something stupid and expose himself, but it's always a good idea to have contingency plans."
"He'll burn the garage down before that happens."
"What is wrong with you? You've been less depressed faced with having to eat Vinnie's cooking."
"Oh now you're worried about how I feel. Imagine that, I'm worried that your playing detective is going to get our friends killed!"
Metal clanged on the tiled floor somewhere in the vegetable section of the grocery store. A spring hit the ceiling, and even more metal bits hit the floor.
Throttle tucked his hands into his vest's pockets. "Well, now we've moved from depressed to hostile."
"SPARKS! Bring me some paper towels, now!" Tala bellowed from the back of the store.
Charley let go of the grocery cart and put her hands on her hips as she glared at Throttle. "You can't send Modo and Sparks into the other pits on race day. The other crews will assume they're spying and hurt them. And don't even say they wouldn't; no one is as noble as you!"
Her anger didn't seem to touch him. "Valid point. Maybe we should talk to the concession stand workers."
Sparks skidded to a stop beside the cart. "Where's Tala?" He hugged a roll of paper towels.
"Right here." Tala stalked down the aisle up to the basket. A sheepish Vinnie and a pensive store clerk followed after her. She dropped a can of whip cream into the buggy's basket, but it looked like half the can's contents were smeared in her hair. She glared at the clerk. "Satisfied, we're going to pay for it."
"I'm not supposed to let customers who food fight stay in the store." The kid hunched his shoulders to run down the aisle.
She snatched the paper towel roll from Sparks' hands. "Fine, escort him out." Her elbow pointed at Vinnie. "I was just standing there."
Vinnie moved closer to Throttle and Charley. "I don't know what went wrong. I'm pretty sure the article said women go wild with whip cream."
Charley sighed as they watched Tala try to clean the goo from her hair. "Not in their hair, Vinnie." She snagged four packs of brown n' serve rolls and put them in the basket. Screaming wouldn't help, she told herself.
"Miss Davidson! Miss Davidson!" The manager of the store hurried toward them followed by Modo packing the largest turkey Charley had ever seen. "Miss Davidson, You are a good customer but your friends are wrecking my store. He broke a vegetable scale!"
"I had to see if this turkey was big enough." Modo lifted the packaged bird a little higher.
"Its weight is wrote on the packaging!" The manager pointed at the numbers.
Charley gripped the buggy's bar tighter. Maybe if she closed her eyes, it would all go away. She started shaking.
Throttle's voice sounded far away. "Charley? Babe, are you alright?"
"Damn, she's cracked." Tala's voice got authoritative. "Vinnie, take the buggy. Throttle, you better get her out of here. Okay, how much does a vegetable scale cost?"
The buggy was pulled free of her hands, and Throttle wrapped his arm around her shoulders. Charley didn't even realize she was crying until they made it outside. She pulled from his embrace and leaned against the brick wall of the store. "I'm such an idiot." She pulled a bandanna from her belt pouch.
"Do you need anything?"
"Yeah, a hotel room so I can avoid all this like I've been doing for the past four years." She wiped her face. "But it's a little late for that now."
Sparks came out of the store carrying a root beer bottle. "Dad said to give you this. And where are we cooking this stuff?"
Charley gulped some of the root beer. "There's only a hot plate and a microwave at the scoreboard, so it will have to be the garage. We'll put the groceries away and I can see what the damage really is. Supposed to see if anything is missing."
"I don't think that's a good idea." Sparks' red eyes pinched together with worry.
"I'm okay; I'm not going to have another break down."
"It's just we wanted to clean up for you."
Throttle shook his head. "Sparks, you shouldn't try to lie. You get the same expression that Modo gets when he tries to hide something. Now what's really going on?"
He was saved from having to answer by Tala, Vinnie, and Modo's exit from the store. "They wanna go to the garage."
Tala shrugged as well as she could pushing the buggy. "Then let's go to the garage."
Once back at the garage, Charley grabbed a bag of groceries and went straight to the kitchen without saying a word. Throttle felt the rest of the group's eyes on him. "I give up trying to figure out how she's going to react to stuff. Just put the food away."
Charley was already up the stairs by the time they got into the kitchen. Throttle took a deep breath and followed her up. She had a jewelry box open on the table, staring into it. "You can tell your cop friend that a necklace is missing. It was the last thing my father gave me and I kept it in the case in my jewelry box and they're both gone." She turned from the table to the pile of clothes on the couch. It looked like the contents of the dresser drawers had been dumped there. Charley's back stiffened and she turned to her bedroom.
The headboard, dresser, night stand, and mattress were gone. The rest of the mess remained. She stepped in and fingered the remains of the clock and lamp. "I guess they didn't bother using the vacuum on any of this stuff. Find out if it's okay to clean this up."
"Charley, are you okay?" He moved into the bedroom to comfort her, but she shied from him.
"I'm fine for having a psycho tear up my stuff and then total strangers pawing through it. Couldn't be dandier. Really wish you'd stop harping on it." She marched into the living room.
Throttle frowned and followed. "Well, you're not acting like you're fine. You know what we have to do...."
"But that doesn't make it any easier to DO!" Charley panted from the scream. Tala appeared at the top of the stairs. "Oh what do you want?"
"To tell Throttle he's a lousy therapist." Tala put her arms behind her back. "Maybe you'd have better luck with Sparks, who is blaming himself for this whole mess." Charley sighed and slumped into a chair. "You are seriously stressed over this. A protector surrounded by warriors. Every thing's heading the opposite of where you feel everybody is safe."
Charley blinked. "What a load of bullshit."
Tala grabbed the arm rests of Charley's chair and leaned into her face. "The only difference between me and you is you're only getting threatened and I know whose genitalia to mutilate."
Charley hung her head. Throttle knelt beside her and lifted her chin. "You don't have this reaction when we go after Limburger."
"Limburger's different." Her voice was sad. "I don't know what's wrong with me."
"Nothing's wrong with you," Tala said. "The creep out factor from an unknown sexual deviant is very high. You just don't think you can survive this."
"What do you know about any of this?"
Tala put her hands on her hips. "I know who tied me up and raped me. I survived and I didn't have any warriors to fight for me."
Charley looked up at her with a pale face. "Tied up and raped?"
"I have to give Vinnie credit for keeping his mouth shut. I really didn't think he would. You are just as strong as me. You will survive this. But in the meantime, go to the scoreboard, take a Valium, and get off our backs, okay? They're doing this for you. I still don't know how I got pulled in." She headed back down the stairs.
"She's right." Throttle said softly.
Charley placed her hands on top of her temples. "I can't think anymore."
"Well, stop trying to think."
"Somebody has to; you guys don't!"
"We do too."
"Okay, name one situation that you didn't blast your way out of."
"That's not fair. We have to blast our way out of all situations in the end." He took a deep breath. Let's worry about this mess later, okay? One more day and we're going to catch this guy."
"I guess this is why everybody who knew Dad treats me like I'm broken."
Throttle hugged her. "Babe, if you weren't reacting to this, then you'd be broken. Come on."
He led her back down the stairs. Vinnie, Modo, and Sparks sat in the garage next to a pile of furniture. "Tala went home," Vinnie said.
Charley slumped. "I didn't mean to make her mad."
His black-gloved hands waved it away. "She wasn't mad. She said if we could get you pissed off, you'd probably start handling this better."
Silently, Throttle agreed. He would be a lot less worried about his girl if she would get mad. He realized the furniture his bros were sitting next to was a bedroom set. "What's with the furniture?"
"Surprise," Modo, Sparks, and Vinnie said in unison.
"You guys got me new bedroom furniture?" Charley started blinking rapidly.
"It was Tala's idea, actually." Sparks tried to say more but Charley's hug cut him off.
"You're not gonna wanna use yer old stuff if the cops give it back," Modo added before she wrapped her arms around his neck.
"And you and Throttle need a bed big enough to knock boots in." Vinnie got a hug then a slug in the arm. "Ow."
Charley sniffled. "I can't believe you guys did this. Especially how I've been acting."
Sparks shrugged. "Tala's right, you're stressed. But you're nothing compared to how jittery Roddie gets when Lance has a mission. Can we have supper now?"
Tala sighed as she pulled off her helmet. "Hot Stuff, how do I keep getting talked into this stuff?"
The bright blue bike beeped softly in response.
"Yeah, that's a lot of help. Fender needs to invent a voicebox." Tala stretched and unfastened her armor jacket as she headed across the garage to the elevator. "MC?"
"Greetings, Mistress Tala. Did you have a good time?" The ship's computer answered through the house speakers.
"Peachy. Had to rescue Vinnie from a lynching and Charley is having a nervous breakdown. And Vinnie then coated my hair with whipped cream. Marvelous time. We should sell travel packages to it."
"Oh dear, you've activated sarcasm mode."
"I'm buying stuff for them. Me, the big bad mercenary who's nice to no one, has bought a bedroom set and a vegetable scale and Thanksgiving dinner."
"I fail to see how that is out of character for you, Mistress Tala. You always buy what people need."
Tala pulled the elevator gate open to the catwalk to her bedroom. "And this is all your fault."
"I did not tell you to buy anything," MC protested.
"Nobody does, I just do." She plopped down on her bed. "It's a strange obligation to make things better for them that I don't understand. I don't know why I feel responsible for them. It's your fault for keeping me here during the blasted holidays that I didn't want to stay for."
"You need a family."
Tala sat up. "I have a clan."
"That tolerates your existence because Maytre tells them to. It will not last, Mistress Tala, and you will be left with nothing but machines. If you cannot find your past, you need a connection to the present."
"Ugh, I hate it when you get all Zen. I'm taking a shower."
"You only hate it because I am right." The intercom speaker clicked off.
Wednesday, November 22, 1995
She ran down the hall, pushing people out of the way. But her father's brown eyes didn't stare up at her once she reached the end where everyone had gathered. Throttle's face stared up at her minus his shades, and his red eyes were blank. She screamed and ran blindly through the concrete halls.
The corridors got narrower. Her running stopped when she ran into a fuzzy body hanging in her path. She fell back on the wet floor, and looked up in shock. Throttle hung from the ceiling by his arms and he was dead again. Modo and Vinnie hung beside him.
Charley sat up with a scream strangled in her throat. Her racing heart began to calm when she recognized the scoreboard. She pulled back the covers on Throttle's bunk bed and tiptoed to the couch. She touched Throttle's shoulder gently to confirm he was still there and breathing. The she went up the ladder to the catwalk and opened one of the panels that looked down at Quigley Field.
The cold November air couldn't erase the image of her fuzzy man and his bros dead. Her body began shaking again. Her family dead again because of her. The sob took her by surprise, but she clamped her teeth together and leaned further out the window. She didn't want to wake them. They needed their rest to get through the race. The breeze nearly froze the tears to her cheeks.
The catwalk vibrated a little and a pair of strong arms wrapped around her waist. "Hey, it's a long way down, babe," Throttle said in a low voice. She let him pull her away from the window and to his chest. His tail shut the panel as he sat with her on the catwalk. "What's wrong now?"
She pressed her face against his chest. "I saw you guys dead."
"In a dream?"
She nodded and stopped trying to hold back the tears. Throttle rocked her until the worst of it passed. Charley sniffled. "I just can't lose you guys too."
"It's not going to happen." She could only stare at him, but his expression wasn't cocky. "Your father was taken by surprise with no backup. We're prepared for an attack. Besides, when push comes to shove, you won't let anything happen to us."
"Who kept Carbine from throwing us in the Pit of Everlasting Doom? Who got the drop on Karbunkle when we rumbled with Brie in Detroit? Babe, you got our backs and you don't even know it." He kissed her lightly on her forehead and wiped her tears away. "Come on, let's go back to sleep."
Sparks kicked his feet as he sat on the work bench. His Dad and Throttle were looking for the guys Modo had found suspicious. Vinnie carried in the last paper bag full of the supplies. Charley sat cross-legged in front of Throttle's bike. She didn't look as stressed in the face, but the only way to really tell was by tail reactions, and humans didn't have tails. Roddie's tail would tie itself in knots. He sighed, he really didn't know how she felt.
Tala walked into the garage pit with a groan. She wore a white leather motorcycle jacket with intricate scrollwork on the front over all of her red and black armor. "Do not get mad at me."
Charley looked up from the laser she was detaching. "What happened?"
Vinnie unpacked the snacks from the paper bag. "You're running late, Dollface. That's not like you."
"Yeah, well, I had a bad dream and couldn't sleep after that, and been running late ever since."
Sparks stopped kicking his feet. "One of your true dreams?"
"I hope not. You were flying More Hot Stuff down a city street. You do that and you won't have to worry about your father punishing you, got it?" She pointed at Sparks and he saluted. She turned back to Charley. "Any ways, I had to tell the guards I was your cousin so I could get down here."
"And they believed you?"
"When I added on your mother's side. She's not as well liked as your father."
Charley leaned her head against the bike's headlight. "Just so you know the whole story, your aunt was an immature slut who abandoned her husband and six-month-old baby girl."
"She's a total bitch and I haven't seen her in twenty years. Gotcha."
Vinnie squatted next to Charley. "You never told us about your mother."
"You haven't told me about yours either."
"Touché, sweetheart." He stood up as Throttle and Modo walked in.
"Charley, are you trying to become one with my bike?" Throttle asked.
"Nah, we're just having a little girl talk. You're going to take care of our man, right?" She leaned back and the bike beeped. "Lasers are taken off, but please don't give them any reason to look closely at your bike."
"I won't." He helped her to her feet.
A race official stuck his head in. "Okay, it's time for the rest of your guys to get into the stands. Only the racer and two pit crew are allowed."
"Sparks, you stick with Charley. Let's go," Modo said. Vinnie and Tala followed him out. Sparks nodded and climbed to the worktable top to sit.
"Tala!" The blonde woman turned sharply at Charley's cry. "Thanks for the furniture."
Tala shook her head with a smile. "You're welcome." She turned around the corner with Vinnie and Modo.
Throttle hugged Charley. "I gotta get out there. But you know this place is crawling with cops. Anybody sneezes wrong, they'll get 'em."
"I know." But she still looked scared.
Throttle rolled his bike out of the garage door and roared down the track to the starting line. "You can see better from the door," Charley told Sparks as she packed the laser cannons.
"Do you need any help?"
"Nah, I got this. You watch the race. It's the first one you've seen, right?"
"Live. There were a few of the 12 mile crater leaps taped onboard the Fury." He jumped down and moved an empty, upside bucket to the doorway. "So who did you work for at the first race?"
"A friend of my Dad's and one of his first customers. He moved down to Florida two years ago." Charley stopped packing stuff, and stood next to him to watch. "Throttle's going to be fine out there."
Sparks didn't answer. He figured she said it more to convince herself.
Tala leaned her back against the guardrail facing the stadium seats. "Our suspects are washouts."
Modo frowned as he tried to adjust the hard plastic seat for his bulk. It creaked ominously."What do you mean?"
"You found a couple of suspicious mechanics who can't sneak out of the pits to get to the box office. I don't trust that Kormic guy but he never leaves the grandstand and is in full view with all the judges and the announcers."
"What about the guy who tried to kill me?" Vinnie leaned forward in his seat.
"Is our strongest suspect and you didn't see him."
"Picky, picky, picky."
Modo stood and the seat shifted back to it's original shape. "Maybe we shouldn't have put Sparks on Charley-watching duty."
"Sparks handled BatWing alright; he'll be fine. But who ever killed Charley's father and is stalking Charley has the freedom to move around this stadium." Tala looked at the sea of faces and frowned.
"The cops are patrolling." Modo leaned against the guardrail next to her, looking at the field.
"And we should too. Throttle's safe enough on the track. The helmet mikes will keep us in touch with him and Sparks."
Vinnie stood up. "Split up like on Scooby-Doo? You can be Daphne, Dollface."
Tala crossed her arms. "You wanna be a piñata again? We stick together."
"Let's go." Modo led the way to the stairs.
Charley twisted a wrench in her hands. It was an easy course, but still so much could go wrong.
"Number eight and number ten are still hugging the inside turn." The announcer droned on the loudspeaker. "Number ten is pulling ahead! Where did he get this extra burst of speed? He's a whole bike-length ahead! Coming down to the finish line stretch. Number ten wins!"
"Throttle won!" Sparks jumped up and down, then darted from the pit garage to the field.
Charley smiled with relief. Nothing happened; everyone was wrong, including herself. This race wasn’t cursed. She packed her tools. The guys will want to party hearty and she could meet them at the winner’s circle and leave without any waiting.
She heard footsteps in boots behind her. Before she could turn around, a fist hit her head and shoulder. Lights exploded behind her eyes and she fell to the floor.
Throttle didn’t think the line of congratulators and hand shakers would ever end. The other racers laughed off his win. "Just for charity; glad you ain’t on the circuit" seemed to be the common refrain.
Sparks exploded through the line. "You won!" He leaped.
Throttle caught him and put the kid down on the ground before his back gave out. "Where’s Charley?"
"I left her at the pit." Sparks sobered. "I shouldn't have."
"You go get your dad and Vinnie. I’ll get Charley. It’s fine, go." Sparks disappeared into the crowd.
Kormic spoke from his left side. "Throttle, we need you in the winner’s circle."
"And I need Charley. It’ll just take a second." He revved his bike and people around him finally moved. He drove across the field to their pit.
The garage bay was empty and the metal door at the end stood open. "Charley?" Throttle dismounted and headed to the unlit corridor beyond the doorway. "Babe, where are you?" He poked his head through the opening.
Something whistled through the air and came down on his helmet. He was driven to the floor by the blow and the world went black.
Modo growled as the latest doorknob to one of the doors leading into the tunnels of the stadium refused to turn. "Are you sure we can't blast our way in?"
"I can afford a lot but I can't afford a sports stadium." Tala crossed her arms as she leaned against the wall. "We're leaving it structurally intact."
Vinnie jogged back from around the corner. "Everybody's leaving, so I guess the race is over."
"We better go back and see what the next step is." Tala stepped away from the wall only to jump back as the horde of people came through the hallway.
"I guess I should've said they were right behind me."
"You might should've mentioned it." Modo grunted as he inched against the flow pressed against the wall.
"How far is the entrance?"
Vinnie jumped for a look above the heads. "Do you want that number in feet or people in the way, Dollface?"
"Where are you guys?" Sparks said plaintively over the helmet speakers.
Modo, Vinnie, and Tala emerged back into the stadium seats through the leaving crowd. "The stairs over there are clear." They headed to the stairs Vinnie pointed out.
"We're coming down, Sparks," Modo responded.
"This was a bust, I hope the cops had better luck." Vinnie grumbled.
Tala frowned at the group of race officials clustering around Kormic. "I think something's wrong."
They reached the field and Sparks ran to them with Kormic following. "I can't raise Throttle!"
"It's okay." Modo switched his mike to Throttle's. "Throttle? Talk to me, bro."
"He said he was getting Lene." Kormic's mustache made his frown deeper.
"Has anybody checked the pit?" Tala started walking toward it.
"Not yet," Kormic admitted. Tala rolled her eyes, but didn't say anything as she led the way.
The garage was empty, except for Throttle's bike revving up and trying to ram the steel door with her tire. "Famak. Kormic, go find Detective Jefferson. Tell him Charley and Throttle are missing and we have to find them." Kormic nodded with a pale face before he ran out.
She moved up to the bike. "Easy, girl, easy. Throttle and Charley went through there?" The bike beeped and back away. Tala tried the door handle. "Well, Vinnie, you wanted to open it."
Vinnie pulled out a flare while Tala stepped out of the way. He held the flare to the doorknob until the lock melted and fell away. The door swung into the garage. He turned on his helmet lights and stepped inside.
Tala followed. "Big wrench right inside the door."
"And here's Throttle's helmet." Vinnie picked it up. "Wow, that's a huge dent."
"Sparks, stay here," Modo said.
"No, Dad, please. It's my fault. I didn't stay with Charley."
"He's safer with us," Tala said. "Come on." Vinnie led the way down the corridor. "We need to stay as quiet as possible. We don't want this nut hurting Throttle or Charley because we're comin'," Tala added.
Vinnie and Modo sighed.
The continued down the dark corridor for several minutes. Tala looked up at the ceiling and walls. There were light fixtures above them, but no switches to turn them on.
Charley work up with a throbbing head. She was lying on something soft, a bed? She sat up and discovered her right arm was handcuffed to the metal headboard. She looked around the room and choked back a scream. Throttle hung by his arms in chains beyond the foot of the bed.
He twisted and lifted his head. "I'm okay, Charley!" His voice was insistent, but low.
She took a deep breath and matched his tone. "My dream, I thought...."
"It's okay. Are you okay?"
She moved her handcuffed arm. "Will be once I get out of this."
"I know the feeling." He rattled his own chains. "Maybe I can reach the nuke-knucks before he comes back." The tip of his tail started snaking between the chain links.
Charley looked around. It looked like this room had been created by walling off a T-junction in a cement hallway. The overhead lights were just bare bulbs. She looked to the left and almost choked again. Stacks of bills were piled neatly on a brittle table and underneath a collage of pictures. Pictures of her. From yearbooks, candid photos with friends, from the newspaper. Vinnie's shrine to his ego was modest in comparison.
She turned her attention back to the headboard made of brass pipes. She wrapped her hands around the bar the handcuff was attached to and tried to twist it. Maybe it would unscrew. "Who nabbed us? Who's behind all this?"
Throttle's mouth twisted with distaste. "I don't know. I came to when he was leaving behind me, heavy footsteps. Plus getting me down here. So it has to be a man."
"We never had a woman as a suspect, did we?" Charley grunted trying to unscrew the bar.
"This guy could give knot making lessons." Throttle twisted his hands, trying to reach the buttons on the fingerless glove.
The door to the right of the shrine to Charley opened. "You're awake."
Charley's jaw dropped. "Buddy? You killed my father?"
"Uh oh." Vinnie stopped. The corridor branched into two directions. "Which way?"
Tala groaned. "And no tracks telling us what tunnel is in recent use? We'll have to split up. Maintain radio contact. This guy likes to get the drop on people."
"Roger," Modo said as he and Sparks headed to the right.
Vinnie's tail slashed through the air, narrowly missing her. "Watch that thing."
"These tunnels go on for miles. How are we going to find them?"
"We'll find 'em, Vinnie," Modo's voice came through the helmets' speakers.
"But there no signs, no sounds, no nothing, whoa!" He tripped over a string of cans. The clattering sound echoed down the corridor. "Was that a clue?"
"No, that's an alarm! Modo, Sparks, converge in this tunnel and hurry." She leaped over Vinnie and ran down the hall.
Throttle twisted to look. It was the guy that had come in with Mitch. A gun was tucked into his belt, and his clean-shaven face pouted at Charley's distraught face.
"I didn't want to." Buddy sat down on the bed, but not close enough where Charley could grab the gun. "He wouldn't let me have the money for us." He pointed to the stacks on the table.
"For us?" Charley echoed.
That's right, keep him talking, keep him focused on you. Throttle silently inched his fingers closer to the nuke-knucks glove.
"You were always nice to me like Momma. That means you love me. And I love you. And Mitch will stop dragging me away from you to go to all his stupid races. I'll buy you nice stuff with the money." He turned away from Charley and looked at Throttle with narrowed eyes. "And to make sure you love me, I have to get rid of him."
"Buddy, no!" He swiveled his head back to Charley. "You're special to me," she continued. "You don't need to hurt anybody else."
Buddy stood. "He'll talk to the cops." He pulled the gun out of his belt and took a step toward Throttle.
Throttle watched Charley's throat move. "He's not going to the police!"
"Of course he is! He doesn't want me to have you!" He waved the gun.
Throttle flinched. He couldn't reach Buddy with his tail, and that gun could go off with the way Buddy was waving it around. And he couldn't use his tail to reach the nuke-knucks with Buddy watching him with his unblinking eyes.
"It's not his decision, Buddy, it's mine." Buddy looked at Charley again. Throttle tried to shove his tail through a chain link. Charley continued calmly. "We're going to go with Mitch to Mitch's next race and we'll stay there where the police can't find you. Now undo the handcuff and let's go."
Buddy shifted the gun to his left hand and pulled the keys from his jeans pocket. "You are always nice, Charley. Nicer than Mitch. Mitch wouldn't send my letters to you." He unlocked the handcuff.
Charley slowly slid off the bed. "You sent the letters with the pictures too?"
He nodded. "What we're gonna do after we're married. I had to leave them in the garage. Mitch thought I was trying to go home."
Metal cans rattled together beyond the door to the right of the bed. Buddy snarled as he switched gun hands. "The cops!"
Throttle's tail finally hit all the buttons on the nuke-knucks glove. He squeezed the glove. The blast broke the chains.
"You told the cops!" Buddy fired. Throttle dropped to the floor. The bullet had missed.
"Throttle!" Charley screamed.
"They're not taking you from me!" Throttle lifted his head over the bed to see Buddy grab Charley's arm and pull her out the door to the left of the shrine. He scrambled to his feet as the door behind him crashed open.
"Buddy has Charley." He caught his helmet Vinnie threw to him. "And a gun." He led them through the next door.
"Anybody else hear something funny?" Sparks asked.
"Sounds like my elevator," Tala said.
"At least this hallway has lights," Modo said. It ended in front of a large metal gate for a freight elevators.
"Stairs!" Throttle threw open the door, and ran up them. "Tala, check the next floor. Relay the other floors."
Tala jerked open the next level's door while the rest of the group kept running. "Still going up!"
Modo grabbed the next door. "Stopped! I think this level has an exit to the parking garage."
"On the other side of the stadium," Vinnie added.
Throttle retook the lead of the group. "Which he'll probably head for. Come on!"
The door ahead opened to the first tier of seats above the ground seats. Buddy dragged Charley along the aisle at the bottom of the tier. He whirled them bother around. "Stay away! You can't have her!" He aimed the gun at the group.
Amethyst looked up from the field below. "What section is that?" She snapped at Stan Kormic.
"550. Oh God, he has Lene."
"All officers, suspect has a hostage and is visible in section 550. Proceed with caution," she ordered into her radio.
"He let her go!" One of the sharpshooters brought up his rifle.
"No, he didn't!" But Amethyst's voice was drowned by the rifle shot.
The bullet tore through Buddy's chest, coming out near his right shoulder. He lurched back with his left hand still curled around Charley's arm. Throttle moved forward. Buddy fired. Throttle grabbed his wound. His left arm was only nicked, but blood still oozed out. Charley's wide open eyes and pale face betrayed her fear. Buddy lurched backwards again, tipping over the rail.
Charley's boot slipped in the blood and he pulled her with him.
"Charley!" Throttle ran for her, arms outstretched. She fell past his grasp and he dived after her. He grabbed her right hand. Buddy continued falling down.
Amethyst forgot how to breath watching the woman fall over the railing and the tan mouse dive after her. Throttle's feet were grabbed by the white mouse and the grey giant held them all, wrapping his tail around the railing. "Somebody get up there and help them or they're going to be pavement pizza!" She screamed into the radio.
"I'm losing my grip!" Throttle yelled.
Tala anchored her grappling line from her wrist gun to the railing before climbing over, and lower herself to Charley. "Take my hand."
"Too far," Charley croaked out.
"You better take my hand or these macho mice are never going to let you go outside again."
Charley reached out with her left arm. Tala expertly talked Charley into how to hang on as she took hold of her. Sparks' arms reached over the rail and grabbed Charley along with a human in a motorcycle jacket.
"Mitch?" Charley looked even more strickened as she climbed over the rail.
The scruffy biker looked like he was going to be sick. "I was trying to keep you safe."
"You did one hell of a job too." Tala climbed over the railing and cut her wrist cord. She grabbed Vinnie's left leg and helped Modo haul him and Throttle up.
Charley ignored Mitch and ran to Throttle, wrapping her arms around him and burying her face in his chest. Throttle hugged her with his right arm while holding out his left for Modo to bandage.
The police ran down the walkway. Tala sighed. "And now the fun gets to last for the rest of the night."
Modo frowned down the hall. Tala hadn't been joking. They had taken over the office space of the stadium for hours. He had told his statement and wrote out a statement, and now sat in the outer hall. Sparks sat curled under his flesh arm. Tala and Vinnie sat across from them.
"How long are they going to keep them in there?" Vinnie asked.
"Probably five more minutes until you ask again." Tala slumped in the chair. "Can we make the cops cook the turkey if they keep us here until tomorrow?"
Modo moved his arm. Sparks sat up and rubbed his eyes. "Is it time to go?"
"In a minute. Wait here." Modo marched to the first office.
Charley's elbows leaned against the desk and her hands covered her face. The cop on the other side of the desk shuffled through pages of notes while a second one ran the video camera. "Just one more question, Ms. Davidson."
"No more questions." Modo held out his hand to Charley. "She's done."
The officer dropped the papers on the desk as Charley stood. "Hey, I'm in charge here. I say when we're done."
"Do they have your statement?"
Charley nodded. "From Dad's death 'til now twice."
"And you taped them both?" Modo focused on the cop with the camera. He nodded. "Then we're goin'. Detective Jefferson can ask any follow up questions on Friday."
"Now wait just a minute!"
"Back off." The cop had to lean back when he found Modo's metal finger pointed at his face. "Is she under arrest?"
"Nope," answered the cop with the camera.
"Is she even suspected of any crimes?"
"Nope." He grinned now.
"Then what you're doin' is harassin' a young woman who nearly died tonight due to malfeasance from your department. Don't mess with me. I've seen every episode of L.A. Law three times and I've started memorizing Law and Order. I'll make you eat that badge, officer. Come on, Charley-ma'am."
She hugged him when they reached the hall. "Now I know why that judge said 'no more lawyers.' Let's get Throttle out now."
"Sure thing. Vinnie's going to blow the place up if he has to sit much longer."
Amethyst sighed and set aside the notebook. "Off the record, that was a damned impressive but stupid stunt to pull."
Throttle chuckled. "You're goin' find that's what we do best. You will get Charley's stuff back to her?"
"Everything we don't need for evidence. And since he died after confessing, I doubt we'll need much evidence. Depends on what we learn from the brother." She rubbed her face. "I still have a long night to go. And there's nothing else your group can help with."
Throttle stood. "Can't say I'm sorry; it's been a long day. And I didn't even get my trophy."
The office door opened and the grey giant Modo stuck his helmeted head in. "You done, bro, or do I need to get lawyerly again?"
"Again?" Throttle left the office with him. Amethyst followed.
"The other cops weren't lettin' Charley go." Modo glared at the two officers she had interview Charley. He herded Charley and Throttle past them and toward the rest of their group waiting down the hall.
The hall door beyond them swung open and admitted an out-of-breath, white male in his sixties with a long, curly salt and pepper beard. "Lene!" He swept her up in a hug.
"Pete? What are you doing here?"
"Stan called me. I don't think he believes your strays can take care of you. You're free to go now?"
"Yeah. It was Buddy Sullivan who killed Dad."
"I'll be damned."
Amethyst watched them leave. I never did figure out what they are. Maybe their mutants. My cousin in Jersey is always talking about the mutants they have in New York. She turned to the other officers. "Let's go check how forensics is doing."
"For the last time, Lene. I've got dinner plans with the Mutates, and I'll see you for Christmas instead." Pete hugged Charley one last time before heading toward the garage door. He slung his arm over Throttle's shoulders before leaving the Last Chance. "And a word to the wise. You try to get Lene killed again, and you won't like the consequences."
"Hey, he was on his way to becoming pavement pizza too. Doesn't that count for anything?" Vinnie wilted at the glare Pete gave him. "Okay, I guess not."
"Good night, Pete." Charley sagged against a wall after he was gone. "So now what?"
"Throttle's going to take you to the scoreboard while the rest of the guys help me." Tala pulled the tarp off the mattress.
"Since when do you give the orders?" Throttle crossed his arms over his chest.
"Do you know how to cook a turkey?"
"Okay, Charley, let's go to the scoreboard."
Sparks pouted as the two riders left on the black bike. "How come we gotta stay?"
"Yeah, what he said," Vinnie added.
"Because if we don't start the turkey now, we don't eat tomorrow. And don't you want to do something nice for Charley and clean this mess up?"
"But for once we didn't make the mess!"
Modo curled his metal arm around a nightstand. "He's dead, Vinnie. That kinda makes him unavailable for cleanup duty."
Tala headed into the kitchen, and pulled the turkey from the fridge. At least it wasn't frozen. Vinnie followed her. "Hey, Dollface, I just want you know I didn't invite you so you could do all the work."
She glanced over her shoulder. He looked ready to duck and run if she started yelling. "Don't worry about it. We're never going to have normal holidays."
His ears perked up. "You want to have another holiday with us?"
"As long as nobody has any psychotics after them on any other major holidays."
Vinnie laughed as he went back into the garage.
Charley hadn't said anything since leaving the garage. She climbed off Throttle's bike once he parked it in the scoreboard. "I'm exhausted." She headed toward her bag on his bunk.
Throttle stowed their helmets before steeling himself. He didn't know how she was going to react. He leaned against the bunk beds and watched her pull her pajamas out of the bag. "I'm sorry." She jerked her head to look at him. "You were right, I wasn't taking it as seriously as I should've."
Charley bit her bottom lip before replying. "My denial behavior wasn't making anything easier. You were right, it's better to know. But I was so scared of losing you." She sat down on the bottom bunk.
He knelt in front of her and caressed her cheek. "What will kill me is losing you. But with you watchin' my back, I ain't too worried about my own skin. I do need to keep a better watch on you."
She grabbed his wrist and pulled his hand away from her face. "You better not be talking about tossing me from your bike before you go charging into a fire fight. Because I had emotional issues about this and zero with kicking Limburger's ass."
"I was actually thinking more emotional well-being. How do you feel?"
"Numb mostly." She let go of his wrist. "I don't know what to think. I'm probably going to have nightmares tonight."
"Not tonight." Throttle moved to the bed and hugged her. "I'll keep them away." She wrapped her arms around him.
Thursday, November 23, 1995
Vinnie trapped Sparks in a headlock. "So did we do the cowboys proud?" He rubbed his knuckles on the kid's head.
"Pilgrims! Cowboys came later." He grunted trying to get out of the hold.
"All the movies were about cowboys and Indians."
"Sparks is right." Charley took another brown 'n serve roll. "Cowboys came later."
"Vinnie, stop picking on Sparks and help me set up the TV so we can watch football." Vinnie released Sparks and bounded to Tala's side.
Modo leaned back in his chair with a moan. "I'm too stuffed to move. You don't hate Thanksgiving anymore, right, Charley-ma'am?"
She sat down nearby on a bench with Throttle. "I have a family to celebrate with again."
"How can you still be hungry?" Throttle asked.
"Unlike you furry food disposal units, I know how to pace myself through a meal." There was a knock on the office door outside, and Throttle got up to answer it. Charley speared some green beans with her fork. The meal was delicious, her bedroom looked good, and everybody was safe. Life was good.
Throttle escorted Detective Jefferson inside. And Charley swallowed hard. "Hi, we weren't expecting to see you today." She set aside her plate and stood.
"So I see; everybody has their helmets off."
"Busted," Vinnie slouched in front of the TV set.
"I guess you have questions about us then." Throttle tucked his hands into his vest pockets.
"I knew you weren't human when we first met, pal," Amethyst retorted. "And I'm not here to bust you. Chi-town would have fallen apart a thousand times over without you guys intervening. So you can keep your secret for now."
"Would you like something to eat?" Charley asked.
"Nah, my family eats at supper. I just came by to tell you Mitch Sullivan didn't know about your father's murder. He knew Buddy was obsessed with you, but he was trying to keep him from being placed in an institution."
"Their mother was always terrified Buddy would be sent to one. I bet she made Mitch promise."
"Yeah, we're still processing the evidence but I think I can get your jacket and bike back." She dug a velvet jewelry box from her purse. "I found this in the room you were held in, and since we don't need it for evidence, I thought you'd like to have it now."
Charley took the box. "Thank you."
Amethyst smiled. "You have a happy Thanksgiving."
"You too." Throttle led her back out. Charley stared down at the heart made of polished crystal. The tiny diamond chip embedded on the right side winked at her. "Is that the necklace your father gave you?" Throttle asked when he returned.
"Yeah. Help me put it on, please." She lifted her hair so Throttle could fasten the necklace behind her neck. The warm crystal laid on the skin below her collarbone just like she remembered it always doing. It didn't weight heavy around her neck. She could barely feel it at all.