Alex was pissed off. It was bad enough that his car had been wrecked, but knowing that the first couple of collisions on the night they met with Kaylee happened just to mark his car so they could find him again really steamed him. More than the damage to his car, he was angry that he hadn’t seen some kind of setup coming.
I know better than to let my guard down at all when going to mysterious meetings, Alex thought. Especially when the meeting is with a pretty girl who has an awful lot of information about something she doesn’t have any personal interest in. Jeez, there were so many red flags waving it was like being at a communist rally.
He and Harold were back in the minivan, on their way to a garage where Joe said the guy who probably had Harold’s luggage worked.
A little earlier, Alex had argued with Harold a bit about the priority of recovering his luggage compared to the priority of getting the artifacts back from, apparently, Dr. Porter.
“Look, I understand that you’re angry that they stole your luggage, but I think we might want to focus more on getting our hands on the disks again,” Alex said.
“It is important to me to get my luggage back, Mr. Minor. The longer we wait, the higher the chances that something unfortunate will happen to it, or that it will get lost,” Harold said.
“Yeah, but Harold, it’s just a beat up old bag. You can afford a new one,” Alex said.
“It is a family heirloom, and I don’t intend to lose it, Mr. Minor,” Harold said.
“A family heirloom?” Alex said. The bag hadn’t looked particularly worthy of being passed down through the generations to him. It was just a ratty leather bag. It was heavily scuffed, scratched, and patched in places. “I understand there’s some sentimental value there, then, but I think you should let this one go.”
“We’re going to recover my luggage, Mr. Minor, and that’s my final word on the matter,” Harold said.
Alex sighed and leaned back in his seat, which was somehow even less comfortable than sitting hunched forward.
“Well, you’re the one driving, so I guess I’ll be going along with your plan whether I like it or not,” Alex said.
That had been about twenty minutes ago. They were on their way to northeast Minneapolis, a rough part of town that was in the very early stages of gentrification. It was a great place to go find a cool restaurant, but not such a great place to be out walking around by yourself after dark.
“Say, Harold,” Alex said. “You know, a random garage in northeast Minneapolis would be a great place to send someone you’re trying to set up again. We might be walking right into another trap.”
“The thought had occurred to me, Mr. Minor,” Harold said.
“But we’re going to go there anyway?” Alex said.
“Yes,” Harold said.
“Have you got a death wish?” Alex said.
Harold said nothing for several minutes. When he finally spoke, he said, “Mr. Minor, they might be trying to set a trap for us, but if they are, I believe they will find that they’re the ones who should have thought twice.”
Alex half laughed, and said, “OK, Harold, I hope you’re right.”
After another fifteen minutes, they arrived at a place called Bud’s Performance Import Speed Shop. Harold parked and switched off the ignition. The minivan continued running. Harold looked confused for a moment, and turned the key back and forth in the ignition a few times, without any result. He removed the key entirely from the ignition, and seemed at a loss for what to do next.
The minivan’s engine finally stopped running after about thirty seconds.
With a laugh, Alex said, “They just don’t build them like this anymore, do they?”
“Apparently not,” Harold said. “Maybe the good mechanics here at Bud’s can help us keep this car going a little longer.”
“Are you sure we’re not doing something stupid?” Alex said.
“No, the glaring stupidity of this plan is what makes it brilliant,” Harold said.
“That’s some interesting logic, Harold,” Alex said.
“Have a little faith, Mr. Minor,” Harold said.
“I’ll do my best,” Alex said.
They got out of the minivan. A man wearing oil-stained coveralls had already come out of Bud’s and was walking over to the minivan to meet them.
“Hi there. Are you fellas looking to make this thing go fast? Because I think I’m going to have some bad news for you,” he said.
“No, we’ve come to pick something up,” Harold said.
“Well, come on inside the shop, then. Keith is our parts guy, so he’s the person you’ll want to talk to,” the mechanic said.
Bud’s Performance Import Speed Shop was in a building that looked like it was probably built in the nineteen thirties. It had been painted a creamy off white color, and the name of the shop was painted in shadowed blue script. The mechanic led them to a glass door, which he opened for them. Alex and Harold stepped inside.
The interior of the shop smelled like cardboard, metal and grease. Most of the light inside came from the big storefront window. The fluorescent lights overhead gave off a weak light, turned yellow from the aged plastic covering the tubes. There didn’t seem to be anyone around.
“Hey Keith,” the mechanic called, “I got a couple guys here to pick up some parts.”
The man who came out of the back room and stood behind the parts counter wore jeans and a workshirt, with “Keith” embroidered over the pocket. He recognized Alex and Harold immediately. Alex and Harold recognized him as well. He was the one who’d shot the Mustangs front tire.
“What the fuck do you two want?” Keith said.
“We’ve come to collect my luggage,” Harold said.
“What are you talking about?” Keith said. “I don’t know about any luggage.”
“I’m talking about my bag that you and your friends seem to have taken, by mistake,” Harold said.
“Oh, that. It’s my luggage now. Take a hike,” Keith said.
Harold stepped up to the counter and said, “I’m not going anywhere without my luggage. I hope you’ll reconsider.”
“Go fuck yourself,” Keith said.
“Now, there’s no need to be rude. Just give me back my luggage, and my associate and I will be on our way,” Harold said.
“Have you got a hearing problem, or are you just stupid? I’m not giving you shit, now get out of here,” Keith said.
“I did try to be reasonable,” Harold said.
Before Keith could respond, Harold had seized his left ear, and pulled him forward a bit. Keith shouted something that sounded a bit like a swearing, but wasn’t quite coherent. He grabbed at Harold’s hand, trying to get his ear free, without effect.
“Now, about my luggage,” Harold said.
“Eat shit,” Keith said.
Harold twisted Keith’s ear a bit, which resulted in more shouting.
“This is my ear now. I’ll give it back to you in trade for my luggage,” Harold said.
“You crazy son of a bitch, let go of me,” Keith said.
There were suddenly a lot of other men in the room, holding an assortment of wrenches, crow bars, and other tools Alex wasn’t interested in getting to know better.
“Uh, Harold,” Alex said.
“Yes, Mr. Minor?”
“We have a situation,” Alex said.
Harold looked back, and saw the mechanics.
“Hello, Gentlemen,” Harold said. “I’ll be with you in just a moment.”
He gave Keith’s ear another twist. Shouting followed.
“My luggage,” Harold said.
“Let him go and get the hell out of here,” one of the mechanics said.
“Not without my luggage, I’m afraid,” Harold said.
“It’s your funeral,” the mechanic said. He was holding a breaker bar, and moved forward towards Harold, starting to swing the bar. Alex stepped in to protect Harold, but was slightly too far away. The mechanic swung the bar down towards Harold.
Before he was able to connect, however, Harold caught the bar in his free hand, still holding Keith’s ear tightly. Alex didn’t think things like that could happen outside of kung fu movies.
The other mechanics rushed him and Harold then. Alex did his best, but was never a particularly strong fighter and was quickly entirely occupied with simply defending himself, much less helping Harold. He soon ended up grappling on the linoleum floor with one of the mechanics, while the others ganged up on Harold.
Out of the corner of his eye, Alex saw a mass of people raining blows on Harold. Despite this, he heard Keith yelling, “Get him off of my ear!”
He heard a crash, and the next time he looked, he saw one of the men who had been attacking Harold get up from where he’d fallen against some shelving, hesitate, and then back away from the fray. Another guy in coveralls followed the first not long after. In a matter of seconds, Harold was standing by himself again, still clutching Keith’s ear.
“Tell your friend to let my associate go, please,” Harold said to Keith.
“Jake, get out of here,” Keith said.
The guy fighting Alex stopped what he was doing and let Alex go. He got up, looked at Alex and Harold, and backed out of the room as well.
Alex hurt like hell, and he knew when the adrenaline wore off it was going to get worse. He had no idea how Harold was even still standing after the beating he’d just taken. Although he was slightly disheveled, had a black eye, and his suit had a couple of new tears in it, Harold appeared to otherwise be feeling like his normal, unflappable self.
“Now, about my offer to trade you this ear in exchange for my luggage,” Harold said. “Have you had enough time to think it over?”
“I don’t have it anymore,” Keith said.
“I’m not sure I believe you. You don’t seem to be a particularly honorable man,” Harold said. “If you don’t have it, who does?”
“The lady who hired us. We used the luggage to give her the stuff you guys were carrying,” Keith said.
“Why did you do that? Did she want my luggage too?” Harold said.
“I don’t think so. It was just a handy bag, so we gave it all to her,” Keith said.
Harold let Keith’s ear go, and Keith took two big steps away and started to rub his ear. Alex noticed Keith’s ear had turned bright red.
“Fucking asshole,” Keith muttered.
Harold turned to Alex, “We need to go find Dr. Porter, Mr. Minor.”
“I know, I tried telling you that earlier,” Alex said. “Now it’s finally urgent because she has your bag?”
“Yes,” Harold said. “I need my luggage back.”
He turned and started walking towards the exit. Alex followed him out, surprised at where this day had taken them already, and at what Harold was apparently capable of. He suddenly had a much better idea why Harold was working for Mr. Darcy.
Harold pushed the door open, walked through, then held open it for Alex. He called back inside to Keith, “Thank you for your assistance!”
Alex heard Keith yell back “Fuck…’ before the door closed and muffled the rest of what he said.
“So we need to chase down your luggage because it’s a family heirloom… I had no idea you were such a sentimental guy, Harold,” Alex said as they walked back t the minivan.
“Indeed,” Harold said.
They got back in the minivan, and Alex could have sworn he saw several sets of nervous looking eyes watching them go from the back of the open garage bay.
As they drove away, Alex took out his cell phone, and called the number he had for Dr. Porter’s office. He didn’t think the probability was very high that she would be there, but it was worth checking, just in case.
Dr. Porter’s phone rang several times, before going to a voice mail message that said she would be out of the office indefinitely, and to please direct any questions to one of her colleagues who would be filling in for her in her absence.
“Well, crap,” Alex said. “She’s out of the office until further notice. Should we bother swinging by there?”
“We may as well. Perhaps there will still be something, or someone, of use to us there,” Harold said.
“OK, let’s do it,” Alex said.
It didn’t take them quite as long to get from northeast Minneapolis to the university campus as it had to get from Eagan to northeast Minneapolis, but it was still a slow drive. They probably hit every red light on the way there.
On the upside, the minivan fit in with all the other rattletrap cars on campus much better than the Mustang had. They didn’t have to worry about it at all. Alex had to admit, having a car that no one would even think to break in to was a good thing in some ways.
He still would have rather been in his Mustang, though.
Alex and Harold found their way back to the office of Dr. Porter. When they got there, the door was locked, and there was a sign on the door saying all office hours were cancelled. The office Kaylee had been working in across the hall was also closed and locked.
“Well, I guess she wasn’t just avoiding phone calls, then,” Alex said.
The professor who had the office next to Dr. Porter’s happened to come back. He greeted them, and opened the door to his own office.
“Excuse me,” Alex said, “Do you know how we could get ahold of Dr. Porter?”
“I’m sorry, she’s not available. You’ll have to talk to one of the faculty members who are covering her classes,” the professor said.
“No, we aren’t here to talk to her about coursework. It’s really rather urgent that we speak with Dr. Porter herself. Do you know of a way we can reach her?” Alex said.
The professor paused and thought for a moment, before saying, “I really probably shouldn’t be telling you this, but you can find her most nights at a bar in St. Paul called Four Horse’s. There are a few faculty members that regularly go there after work.”