Alex knew better than to drive the Mustang, in its current state, directly to Mr. Darcy’s office. It was apparent that they were being watched, and the Mustang was now impossible to miss.
After Harold had gotten the spare tire installed, Alex had gotten off the freeway at the next convenient place in order to inspect the damage. He had needed to knock the driver side window out, since it was spider webbed to match the passenger side window, so he was missing two windows. It made for a windy ride.
It wasn’t possible to open the driver’s side door anymore so once they were stopped, Alex had needed to crawl out the window. That turned out to be a lot more challenging than it looked on TV.
The driver’s side of the car was dented from front to rear, and a lot of the paint had been scraped away as well. The front end was smashed in from the earlier crash. The rear passenger side was bashed in. The back bumper was looking pretty bad. And one of his tires had been shot.
“I’m sorry about your car, Mr. Minor,” Harold said.
“Thanks Harold,” Alex said. He tried crawling in to the driver’s seat from the passenger side when they got back in, and he found that wasn’t much easier than getting out the window had been.
He parked several blocks away from Mr. Darcy’s office, and they walked the rest of the way.
It was now about ten o’clock at night, and there was no traffic in that part of town, so it was easy to be sure they weren’t being followed. They walked in to the office of Darcy Custom Brokers. Alex was surprised to see Megan at her desk.
“So, I hear you ran into a little trouble,” she said by way of greeting.
“A little,” Alex said.
“It’s amazing how often I have to work late because of you,” Megan said. “Mr. Darcy is waiting for you two, go on in.”
Alex and Harold went in to Mr. Darcy’s office. He was, as usual, sitting behind his desk. He looked up at them as they walked in and said, “Good evening, gentlemen, please have a seat.”
They sat down across from Mr. Darcy, who finished writing something in his notebook, then closed it and slipped it into a drawer in his desk.
“I’m glad to see the two of you aren’t looking too much worse for the wear. What is our current situation?” Mr. Darcy said.
“Well, we had managed to recover the artifacts, as you know, and we were on our way back here when we were ambushed on the freeway,” Alex said.
“Tell me about the ambush. How did it happen?” Mr. Darcy said.
“Well, we were coming back from the airport, and three cars blocked the road ahead of us. Then someone else knocked us off the road, and they boxed us in,” Alex said.
“What did the cars look like?” Mr. Darcy said.
“One was a yellow Honda, with a noisy muffler,” Alex said. “Umm…”
“There was another red Honda, a silver Toyota, and a blue Dodge. All of them looked like they were modified,” Harold said. “The Toyota had a bumper sticker for a college lacrosse team.”
How did he manage to notice all that? Alex thought.
“What happened after they boxed you in?” Mr. Darcy asked.
“They pointed guns at us and demanded the artifacts. Harold beat one of them up a bit. I think he deserved it for shooting my car,” Alex said. “They didn’t seem to appreciate that much, but they didn’t retaliate, just kept demanding the artifacts. Harold said we didn’t know what they were talking about, but they didn’t believe him. Ultimately, they took our bags, rifled through them, and found the artifacts. I think they stole Harold’s luggage, too.”
“They did,” Harold said. “I intend to get it back.”
“Did you notice anything unusual about them? Matching clothes? Anything like that?” Mr. Darcy said.
“No, not really,” Alex said.
“They were roughly the same age. I’d guess they’re in their early twenties. Apart from that, they all had an athletic build, and they were dressed quite nicely,” Harold said.
“Nice as in suits?” Mr. Darcy said.
“No, tidy polo shirts and chinos,” Harold said.
“Interesting,” Mr. Darcy said. He looked at Alex, and said, “What kind of shape is your car in?”
“It’s pretty much destroyed,” Alex said. “Between tonight and the crashes a couple of nights ago I don’t think there’s a straight body panel left on the car.”
“What happened a couple of nights ago?” Mr. Darcy said. “You hadn’t mentioned that, Mr. Minor.”
“We got rear-ended, and then we had someone cut us off and slam on their brakes, so I rear-ended them,” Alex said. “Both of those cars ran off without stopping.”
Mr. Darcy sat back in his chair, and said, “Curious.”
He was silent for a few minutes, and then said, “I’m going to have Megan help you out and see what she can find about these drivers. What did you learn about the people you recovered the artifacts from? Do you think they’re behind this?”
“Well, we learned that the main guy responsible was named Noah Tipton. He and some of his friends were trying to duplicate the work of Thomas Smith, I guess,” Alex said.
“I’m sure Mr. Tipton would like to get the artifacts back, but I don’t think he’s well-connected enough to have sent these men after us. The impression I got was that he stole the artifacts on his own, for his own use, and was here experimenting with them with his friends. I don’t think he knew where we went, either,” Harold said.
Mr. Darcy nodded, and said, “It sounds to me like someone else would very much like to have the artifacts, then.”
He was quiet for a couple of minutes, then said, “Well, of course, Mr. Minor, I have a car you can use since yours is out of commission for now. I’ll have someone bring it around shortly. I’m sure you two are going to keep working on this, and I’m going to give Megan the information you’ve shared with me to see what she might be able to find as well.”
Mr. Darcy stood up then, and walked Alex and Harold to the door of his office. “Don’t worry, gentlemen, I have complete trust in you. I know you’ll get the artifacts back.”
Alex and Harold left Mr. Darcy’s office. Megan was still at her desk.
“Megan, would you come in to my office?” Mr. Darcy said.
Two cars pulled up to the curb in front of the building’s entrance just as Alex and Harold stepped outside. One of them was a long, black sedan with limo tinted windows. The other was a faded red minivan that looked like it might fall apart in a strong breeze. The driver of the minivan hopped out, jogged over to Alex and Harold, held out the keys, and said, “Here you go. Watch out, it can be a little squirrely at speed.”
Alex looked over at Harold, and said, “I’ll let you drive.”
Harold took the keys to the minivan, and the driver went straight over to the black sedan and got in the front passenger seat.
Mr. Darcy had loaned Alex cars in the past that looked like they were ready for the wrecking yard that turned out to be surprisingly high performance. Alex wondered what secrets this minivan might have in store for them.
The doors creaked as they opened, and the windows rattled in their frames when the doors shut. The interior smelled like decomposing seat foam. Harold settled in to the driver’s seat, and Alex paid attention as he turned the key to start the engine. He half expected the minivan to rumble to life with a hot-rodded V8.
Instead, the starter cranked for several seconds, in spite of the fact that it had just been running a moment ago. The engine finally chugged to life. There was a high-pitched whine coming from under the hood, but Alex was pretty certain the one thing that was not making the whining sound was a turbocharger.
It was just a crappy minivan.
As they drove back to the loft to regroup and figure out a strategy for tracking down the artifacts again, they discovered that what the driver had meant when he said it was squirrely at high speeds was that at any speed over fifty miles per hour it felt as if it would go careening wildly through traffic and off the road to explode in a fiery wreck.
Harold got back off of the freeway as soon as possible.
As Alex tried to uncurl his fingers again from gripping the arm rests as tightly as he possibly could, he said, “Well, that was pretty exciting. What do you say we try our best not to repeat that particular experiment?”
“Agreed, Mr. Minor. I think this particular vehicle is best suited to city streets,” Harold said.
The trip back to the loft took about ten minutes longer than it would have had they stayed on the freeway, but both Alex and Harold were happy with the tradeoff. Harold drove the minivan into the parking garage, and parked it in Alex’s usual spot. The creaking of the doors echoed through the parking garage as the two of them got out of the minivan. Under the bright fluorescent lighting in the garage, the minivan looked even worse than it had in front of the office building. It stood out in stark contrast to the clean, shiny, new cars Alex’s neighbors owned.
“Well, I guess we should need to go incognito, and haul a lot of groceries while we’re at it, this thing will do a decent job,” Alex said.
He realized then that he was completely exhausted. It had been a long, weird day, and getting back up to the loft and into his own bed seemed like a really good idea.