Once again, the flight was uneventful. Alex was extremely glad he had been able to get some reading materials, since Harold wasn’t in the mood for conversation.
Alex had tried to ask him a bit more about how he had recovered the artifacts with so little trouble, but Harold had simply looked at him and shook his head no. So they flew in silence instead.
It was late evening when they arrived back at the airport in Minneapolis. Alex was amused once again that there was a red carpet rolled out for them when they were getting out of the airplane.
Getting back to the Mustang, Alex immediately noticed the bashed in corner of the back bumper. He sighed, and was glad that this assignment was about wrapped up so he could bring his car in and get the bodywork repaired.
He opened the trunk, and threw his bag in. Harold kept his bag, which had the artifacts in it, with him, and got into the passenger seat. Alex shut the trunk, hopped in the car, and started it. It fired right up, which was a relief to Alex. He’d been mildly worried that there was some hidden damage from the crashes waiting to be discovered at an inopportune time.
As they got rolling towards Minneapolis, Harold called Mr. Darcy to let him know they were on their way back to his office with the recovered artifacts. He was, of course, pleased to hear it, and told Harold he would be waiting for them when they got there.
Although the airport they’d flown out of was a small one, it only took a few minutes to get from the airport back to the freeway. The weather was sticky warm, and Alex was glad the air conditioner was still working in the Mustang too.
They were going fairly quickly, but Alex noticed a car barreling up behind them in the left lane. He got in to the center lane to let whoever it was pass, and a couple of seconds later a yellow Honda with an outrageously loud exhaust zipped past them.
“Wow, that thing sounds like shit,” Alex commented to Harold.
“Indeed,” Harold said.
The car in the center lane sped up to keep pace with the yellow car.
Typical, Alex thought. The second someone looks like they’re going to pass, they speed up.
Less typical was that the two cars slowed down again to match the speed of a third car in the right lane, turning all three lanes into a rolling roadblock.
“What on Earth are they doing?” Alex said.
All three cars began to slow down, keeping right next to each other.
Alex had exactly enough time to realize that they were in a bad situation, when another car slammed into the right rear corner of the car. The Mustang swerved, and started to fishtail. Alex fought it and thought he was getting it back under control when they got hit again, sending the Mustang spinning to the center breakdown lane.
We’re gonna die, Alex thought. The Mustang hit the center dividing wall on the driver’s side with a terrific BANG and came to an abrupt stop. Alex and Harold both sat in stunned silence for a moment, trying to figure out if they were OK or not.
“Are you hurt?” Alex asked Harold.
“No, I don’t think so, thank you. Are you injured, Mr. Minor?” Harold said.
How the hell does he sound completely unphased after that? Alex thought.
He said, “I’m fine, thanks Harold.”
A car came to a stop in the breakdown lane in front of the Mustang, and reversed until it was nearly touching the front bumper. Alex was relieved someone was stopping to help, until another car came to a stop on their left, and another boxed them in from behind.
“Shit,” Alex said.
Harold took off his seat belt, and Alex noticed him tensing up. Several men got out of the cars surrounding them, and approached the Mustang. Harold was reaching for the door handle when he and Alex both realized the men outside had guns drawn on them.
“Awesome,” Alex said.
Harold put his hand back in his lap.
One of the men leaned down and looked in the passenger window, keeping his gun pointed squarely at Harold.
“Both of you put your hands where I can see them!” He shouted.
Alex and Harold put their hands up. Alex wondered who they had pissed off. He briefly wondered if they were just unlucky enough to be getting robbed, but dismissed the idea immediately. The whole scene had been too organized for that.
“Now, open the window over here, and hand me the Thomas Smith artifacts you guys are carrying,” the man said
“I’m certain we don’t know what you’re talking about,” Harold said. “We aren’t carrying any artifacts. Who the devil is Thomas Smith?”
The man outside rolled his eyes and said, “Don’t bullshit me. All of us are more than happy to just shoot you and take your bags if we have to.”
“Well, we do hope you won’t feel that’s necessary. But we really have no idea what it is you want,” Harold said.
There was a shocking BANG, and both of the side windows shattered. Alex realized, with his ears ringing now, that a gun had gone off. They shot my car! He thought. He then checked himself to see if he’d been shot. He was still amped up enough from the crash, he realized, that he might not even have noticed it if he had been hit.
He looked over at Harold, who looked mildly annoyed. He seemed to be uninjured as well.
Glass rained on Harold as the man on his side of the car bashed in the spider-webbed glass. He pointed his revolver directly in Harold’s face.
Harold did not take kindly to this.
It happened so fast that Alex wasn’t sure if he’d really seen it or not. Harold grabbed the man’s arm, wrenched the gun away from him, and pulled his arm sharply. The man didn’t even have time to resist, and found himself nearly face to face with Harold.
Harold grabbed him by the collar and suddenly lifted, slamming him into the roof of the car head first. The man groaned, and Harold let him slump back out of the car.
There were suddenly three more guns pointed in the passenger side window at Harold, staying safely out of reach this time. Alex realized there were also a couple of men with guns pointed directly at him.
“We’re way outgunned here, Harold,” Alex said quietly. “I don’t even carry one.”
“So between the two of us, we have one gun now,” Harold said. He sighed, and said, “If we weren’t confined in a tight space, I’m pretty sure we could handle this.”
Alex had no idea how to respond to that.
One of the other men outside said, “Just give us the artifacts. If we wanted to shoot you, we would have done it already. But that doesn’t mean we won’t if we have to.”
“I still have no idea what these artifacts you’re talking about are,” Harold said.
“OK, well, then I guess we just want everything you’ve got in the car. Start by dropping my associate’s gun on the ground,” the man outside said.
Harold looked displeased, but complied with him, dropping the revolver out the window. One of the men outside kicked it away from the car.
“Now your luggage. I see a bag there on the floor. Pop the trunk too,” the man said.
Harold passed his luggage through the window, then opened the glove compartment and pressed the trunk release button.
The man who took the bag from Harold passed it off to one of the others outside. Alex heard someone rummaging in the trunk, and a voice said, “There are just books and clothes in here.”
“What kind of books?”
The trunk slammed shut again.
Another voice said, “Here we are.”
“Well, would you look at that? Those look like artifacts to me. You fellas were holding out on us. That was pretty rude, I think,” the man outside said to Harold and Alex. He said to the man holding Harold’s bag, “Take the bag and split. We’ll be right behind you.”
Alex heard doors slam, and then the car behind them forced it’s way into the traffic that was now congested from the chaos going on in the breakdown lane.
Once they were away, the man outside the window took aim and shot the front passenger side tire. That front corner of the car dropped noticeably as the tire went immediately flat.
“Stop shooting my car, damn it!” Alex shouted.
The man outside smirked. “Sorry for the inconvenience. You boys have a nice night.”
More car doors slammed, and the two cars still blocking them in pulled back into traffic and roared away.
Alex and Harold sat in silence for a moment. Alex was supremely frustrated. Not only had they just lost the artifacts that, so far as he could tell, they’d found in the nick of time, more by sheer luck than sleuthing, but his car had just been beat up even more.
As he was slowly able to gather his thoughts again, Alex said to Harold, “I guess we’re not done after all. Any ideas on what we should do next?”
Harold, back to his usual, unflappable self, said, “Have you got a spare tire?”
“Yes,” Alex said. He wasn’t quite sure what that had to do with getting the artifacts back again.
“Then I suggest our next step is mounting it on the car,” Harold said. “Stay put, I’ll have it changed in just a moment.”
With that, Harold popped the trunk again, and got out of the car. Alex thought about getting out and trying to help, before realizing that his side of the car was still pushed up tight against the center wall. He was going to have to either get out the passenger side, or climb out the window, Dukes of Hazzard style.
While Harold was busy changing the tire, Alex took out his phone, and called Mr. Darcy.