Shuffling the Deck
David came out from beneath the steps and looked up. Katrina stood proudly, her arms crossed over her chest as she posed next to her latest creation. Gabrielle stepped up wearing a light tan deerskin jacket, dark brown loose fitting blouse and the standard jeans and boots. It wasn't the change in wardrobe that brought the entire operations to a grinding halt. It was her face and hair. The golden blonde hair was now a deep, almost brownish auburn red. That color brought out the emerald color of her eyes to such an extent that they seemed almost luminous. Katrina had also utilized her skills as a makeup artist.
"I'll be God damned," Tommy whispered.
"Kat?" David said, suddenly at a loss for words. "Uh, wow!"
Gabrielle suddenly blushed and smiled.
"Kiss my black ass," Derek finally managed to say. "Damn girl, you look like a teenager!"
"Is that bad?" Gabrielle asked nervously.
"No, no," David said, a smile pulling at the corners of his mouth again. "No, not at all. It's a good thing." He turned back around before the sudden, almost inappropriate, surge of desire got the better of him. "Good thing," he repeated quietly. "Very, very good thing." He blinked, as if the sight of her had momentarily blinded him. "Damn! I need a drink."
Steve heard the comment and shrugged. "Cold showers work too."
"Not on him," Crazy Johnny said dryly from beside his massive yellow monstrosity.
David gave him a scowl and then lay back down on the creeper, sliding beneath the frame of the disassembled car.
Gabrielle watched him depart, his arms swinging back and forth nervously.
"Did we do something?" she asked Katrina. The younger woman only smiled.
"You mean, besides knock him dead?" She asked. She grinned. "What do you think?"
"I don't think my own mother would recognize me," Gabrielle replied.
"And that's exactly what we want," Katrina agreed.
As David was messing about with a brake line, safely beneath the frame of his car, Dusty came over and leaned over him.
"You know," he said casually. "If you don't make a move on that soon, I just might have to." He grinned as David dropped a wrench with a clatter.
"You're a real dick, you know that?" David said from beneath the car. "What makes you think she'd even be interested?"
"In me?" Dusty said easily. "I can think of lots of reasons."
"And I can come up with ten reasons why not, for every one of yours," David retorted.
"Hey in there!" Derek called loudly. "Don't be hating now!"
As the activity on the bikes died down, focus shifted to the massive amalgamation of parts that would eventually become David's 1975 Cutlass.
The work went on at a fever pitch as parts were placed and bolted or welded on, eventually the vehicle began to take shape.
David watched the activity when he wasn't actually involved. He folded his arms and sighed, leaning over next to Steve.
"You know," he said. "I had planned on restoring her myself. It was kind of a personal mission I had."
Steve smiled, his gray eyes looking over the car. "Well," he said. "Get over it."
Gabrielle watched the large metallic beast slowly come together. She also watched David, going at an almost hyper pace, like a small child excitedly awaiting the arrival of a birthday and the anticipated gifts. She smiled constantly as he nit picked over one detail or another, much to the consternation of Steve, who had taken over the role of supervisor for the rushed project.
They continued for nearly thirty-six hours straight, stopping only to swig down mugs of fresh coffee. Then the vehicle, now complete and operational was rolled into a large, plastic lined booth.
"Alright, Goat!" Steve called, waking the young man from a deep slumber. "You're on! Make her beautiful!"
Goat rolled off the lift he had been sleeping on and rubbed his eyes. Then he zipped the forward layers of plastic closed behind him and activated the ventilation fan and compressor. The cloudy texture of the plastic obscured his action as he began to move back and forth around the car.
David suddenly felt nearly three days of straight work begin to take its toll. He rubbed his eyes, yawned, and glanced at his watch. It was twelve-forty AM, Saturday morning!
"God damn." He groaned. With the excitement (or challenge) of getting all the bikes prepped and his car rebuilt finally winding down, he felt the weariness for the first time, as did many of them.
"Well," Steve said easily. "I'm gonna head home and grab some shut eye. Call me when you all wake up."
One by one, they all departed and the shop lights towards the front of the building went dim. The machines slept once more.
David watched the activity behind the foggy plastic for a few minutes, and then he gave in to his desire for rest and trudged up the steps into the main room.
He paused at the bar and poured himself a drink before continuing towards the hallway.
"Hey, Shakes!" Debbie called after him.
David turned and leaned against the corner. Debbie, Jesse, Katrina and Gabrielle sat there, obviously in the midst of some major discussion.
"What did Alti do?" Debbie asked.
David sighed and took a drink. "The same thing society's been trying to do to me for thirty odd years, why?"
"In English," Debbie snapped.
"She tried to dominate my mind," David replied. "She was pretty adept at it, too."
"You think she might try it again?" Jesse asked, suddenly nervous.
David thought for a moment and shook his head. "I doubt she will."
"Oh?" Debbie asked, one eyebrow arching inquisitively. "What did you do?"
David's weary smile spread a little.
"I mind blasted her," he said. "She's blind for a while, yet. Maybe till this whole thing's over?" He shrugged.
"We can't get that lucky," Jesse commented.
"You "mind blasted" her?" Gabrielle asked, not understanding the meaning.
"I took my energy and shot it through her mind. A lot of it, all at once." David explained.
"No wonder you were so wiped out," Debbie nodded.
"Well, that and the blast she sent at me," David closed his eyes. It was the only way he could keep from staring at Gabrielle. "That hurt a lot, though I did my best not to let it show. In any event, I think we might have scared a bit of respect into her. She'll leave us be for the time being."
He nodded once, his gaze locking on Gabrielle and his stupid smile began to reassert itself. He turned back towards his room.
"Knock em dead in red," he muttered, imitating Derek's tenor voice. "That's what I always say. Jesus!"
The girls heard his door open and close, and then silence. Gabrielle sat there, looking at the spot where David had just vanished, a soft smile on her face. It faded as she turned back to Debbie.
"I still don't understand the whole thing about a mind blast?" she asked.
"Alti tried to dominate David's will," Debbie explained. Gabrielle noted that both Jesse and Katrina wore expressions of mild awe.
Debbie smiled. "She tried to get into his head and twist his sense of reality, and then control his actions."
"That part I understand," Gabrielle nodded.
"David," Katrina continued. "Let her into his mind, and then kicked the ever living crap out of her."
"He focused his own mental energy in a duel for control. One thing that Shilah mentioned was his innate ability to manipulate energy?"
"This is part of what she meant," Debbie continued. "David pooled his energy – spiritual and magical - and absorbed all of her punishment, then he drew on more and sent it all back at her in one massive surge."
"Mind blast." Gabrielle nodded, now understanding.
"It was a risky move," Debbie said. "Too little, and he could have left himself open for domination. Too much?" she shrugged.
"He might have died," Gabrielle finished when Debbie paused. "Again."
She got up and paced a few steps away, her heart pounding in her chest suddenly.
"Debbie!" Gabrielle burst out. "That's the second time since I've come here, that he's almost gotten killed because of me! What's he doing?"
Debbie shrugged. "Shakespeare's doing what he does. He's being Shakespeare."
"What are you more concerned with?" Jesse suddenly asked. "Him getting hurt, or you getting hurt over him?"
"Him, of course!" Gabrielle answered immediately, but her eyes told another story.
"Look, Gabby," Katrina finally blurted. "Enough of this. David is falling for you, and you're falling for him. Now, I don't know why you two haven't figured it out yet, and frankly, I don't care! The only thing I do know is that everyone except the two of you sees it!"
Gabrielle said nothing, feeling the truth in the young woman's words sink in with the inevitability of sliding into quicksand.
"Did you know that some of the guys have a pool going?" Katrina continued. "And most of them think you two won't get you heads out of your asses till this is all over!"
"Easy, Kat," Debbie cautioned.
"No," Katrina said sharply. "I think you need to hear this!" She fixed Gabrielle with a fierce stare. "Nevermind the fact that I've had a thing for him for the last two years and nothing's ever happened, now I see why!"
"It's because I'm not like you," she finished with a touch of regret. "David's ass is on the line, because he knows, like we all do, that it's the right thing to do. But David's at the front of the line, because he also cares about you more!"
Katrina sighed. "Look, maybe there will be time to explore the possibilities after this is all over. I hope there is, I really, truly do. But you have to ask yourself one very important question."
"And that is?" Gabrielle asked, not sure whether she should be angry with the young woman.
"What happens if you don't get the chance?" Katrina finished.
She rubbed Gabrielle's arm affectionately for a moment, and then turned and left the room.
Gabrielle stood there, stunned. She wanted to argue, but she could not find the words. For the first time in a long time, she was at a loss for words. She looked at Debbie helplessly.
"I just don't want to lose anyone else," she whispered with a hint of desperation.
"You can't sweat that, Gabs," Debbie shrugged. "All you can do is make the most of the moment."
"You want to know why David's doing the things he's doing?" Jesse said quietly. She was still reeling over Katrina's admission of a few moments before.
Gabrielle looked down at the teenager. Jesse's pale blue eyes looked up into hers.
"He lives every day as if it were his last," Jesse said. "Because, you never know, it just might be."
Those words resonated in Gabrielle's ears, with a truth she had failed to see for the longest time. At the same moment, something else solidified in her mind and heart. She looked back towards the hall, suddenly afraid in a way she hadn't remembered for years.
Debbie smiled reassuringly. "Carpe Diem, Gabrielle. Carpe Diem."
"Seize the day," Debbie finished.
Gabrielle let that settle in her mind for a moment, pacing slowly back and forth, deep in thought.
"I think," Debbie said softly. "That it's time for us to go." She rose, with her daughter in tow and the two of them headed for the door. Debbie turned back to face her.
"I'll tell Goat not to come up until one of you comes down, okay?" She said. "Just think about it. Think hard."
"Gabrielle," Jesse added. "He's a great guy. He'll never steer you wrong. He'll never lie to you, even when you want him to."
"And," Debbie finished, smiling. "He'll never let anything hurt you, if it's in his power to stop it."
"Even at the cost of his own life?" Gabrielle asked, suddenly remembering Xena again, and her last battle in Japa.
Debbie smiled and gave a shrug.
The two women left her alone in the massive room.
Gabrielle paced some more, the memories flooding through her mind. Suddenly, she saw Xena's face before her. She was looking at her, and the love was so palpable, mixed with sadness that, at the time, she didn't understand.
"If I'm going to die in the next thirty seconds," Xena smiled. "Then I want to do it, looking into your eyes."
Those words suddenly hit home in a way that they never had before. Xena had known she was going to die. She had known that the journey to Japa would claim her life. She had desired only one thing before the end. A single, beautiful memory that she could take with her when she went.
Gabrielle suddenly realized that she also wanted, no, needed, the same thing. She wanted a moment to take with her. She wanted to give a moment to the man that had risked his life for her. The thought fell, soft and slow onto her heart, like a warm blanket.
"The man she was starting to love." She stopped in her tracks as that thought rang in her mind, echoed by her thundering heart. Love? Could it really be something like that? She suddenly understood that she was not in love with David. But that she was falling there fast, and that frightened her.
The possibility of doing nothing – of allowing time, after everything was done, was safer. They could take the time to allow this thing between them to grow.
"What happens if you never get the chance?" Her mind echoed Katrina's words. "How would you feel?"
That possibility also frightened her. The question was; which possibility frightened her the most?
She stopped at the end of the hall, which suddenly appeared long and ominous. The easy way was to go back into the main room, maybe fish about for something to eat, she could dig up a quill and some paper and write down everything that had happened, or?
That idea gave her pause. She had not wanted to write anything down since she had lost Xena. Now she was contemplating it again, as much out of a desire to do so, as it would be an easy escape.
The fact that her Muse, dormant for so long, had suddenly reawakened made her smile at the situation.
She wanted to tell this story! She wanted to tell it all, to record this moment in her life for all to know. It was as if a veil had been lifted from her eyes and she could see again.
The emotion welled up suddenly, and for no reason she could think of, a tear ran down her cheek.
"He's given that back to me as well," she breathed. Of all the gifts she had received from this one man, he had given her that as well. The thing that fascinated her most was that he had done this without any expectation. He had wanted nothing from her at all, except perhaps her smile. A smile, that in spite of the silent tears, grew on her face. In that moment, she realized what her soul had been screaming for the past two weeks.
With her heart bouncing within her ribcage, she walked down the hall towards his door.
Her hand stopped just before it touched the wood and she hesitated.
It was her wedding night all over again. The feelings of anticipation, fear, desire, all jumbled into a knot in her belly.
Suddenly, the door to the bathroom at the end of the hall opened, startling her. She let out a nervous squeal as David emerged from the cloud of steam, wearing a pair of cloth sweat pants and rubbing a towel through his thick mane of wet hair. He jumped at her squeal and grinned.
"Sorry," he said. Then he stopped when he saw the look on her face and the tear streaks on her cheeks. His expression softened.
"Hey?" he said softly. "You alright?"
"Hi," Gabrielle stammered, suddenly nervous now that he was before her. "I was, um, I wanted to," She closed her eyes in frustration.
David stepped up to her and put a hand on her shoulder. The touch sent a ripple through her.
"Gabrielle? What's wrong?" he asked.
She looked up into his eyes. "It's just –" she began again and her voice caught. She closed her eyes again and took several nervous breaths. Then she looked up at him and before she lost her nerve, she reached her hands up to either side of his face and kissed him. The moment their lips touched, a river of passion blasted through her, as if a dam had burst and she held him in that kiss for as long as she could hold her breath.
It was David that actually parted them.
"Hey, now," he said in shock. "Slow down, killer."
He put his hand against her cheek. "You don't owe me anything," he said understandingly. "And you certainly don't have to do this."
She let her eyes close under his touch, relishing it for the moment, and then she looked back up at him. She realized that he meant it. She didn't have to do this, and that only made her want it more.
"I know," she said, and she kissed him again. They fell through the door into her small room and never bothered to find the bed. Somehow the comforter and the blankets ended up wrapped about them as their garments went flying.
Then they stopped, looking at each other. She lay atop him, her eyes a green sensuous fire. A smile crept across her face at his expression.
"How long have you been planning this?" He asked.
She placed a finger against his lips, silencing him, smiled, and kissed him again.
It began again with a slow deliberate exploration that would have seemed maddening if not for the absolute pleasure of it all. Every kiss was a tongue of flame in the fire, and their caresses the water cooling that burn. It went on and on for hours until finally, the desires beneath the curious explorations began to overwhelm them both. They clutched at one another with a near desperation as they finally came together. David could feel her nails clawing into his back as she clutched at him. Her breath came in his ear as she held close to him. She felt the heat of his breath on her neck and reveled in it.
David held her tightly to him, almost with the same desperation as she, knowing that this night could probably be their one and only time together. He did not want to fail her in any way. Along with the absolute ecstasy of it all, he felt the pain in his heart that by tomorrow she might be gone. He wanted so much to keep her there with him forever in this one perfect moment.
They made love again and again with the desperation of two people who, though in love, knew that they might be forever parted. They held nothing back, expended all their passion, all their strength, all their desire in this one desperate night.
At some point, the two of them finally succumbed to sleep and lay in each others arms Then David's eyes opened and he saw her lying there, her head against his chest. She had the most wonderfully peaceful expression on her face. David felt her breathing against his skin, slow and gentle. Reaching down he pulled the blanket closer around them.
"Thank you," he whispered softly.
He didn't know how long they lay there. He just watched her sleeping in his arms, burning the image into his memory. Every detail of her face, every sensation of her body lying naked against his. He tried to burn that image and those sensations into his mind.
A soft moan escaped her lips and she stirred. Then her eyes opened and she looked up at him.
"Hi," David said gently, brushing a few stray strands of red hair from her eyes. She smiled and lay her head back down against his chest, listening to his heart beat, slow and steady.
Then she looked up at him again with a twinge of regret. "I'm sorry."
David smiled warmly. "For what?"
"I should have done this a lot sooner," Gabrielle confessed. "I was afraid of you."
David chuckled. "Of me? Why?"
"Because you're everything that I've missed since I lost Xena," she said finally. Then she smiled and kissed him. "And more."
David stroked her cheek and smiled.
"I don't want to lose you," she said. "I've lost so many people already. Perdicus, Xena, Autolicus, Joxer, and so many others. I don't want to lose you too."
He stroked her hair gently and held her close.
"Last night," she suddenly confessed. "I haven't been with anyone since before my husband died. I don't know why, I just," she stopped. Then she looked up at him.
"I want to stay with you, David." She said with a sudden desperation. "When this is over tonight, I want to stay here, with you."
David smiled reassuringly.
"I want you to stay," He said to her. "I want you to feel the wind in your face as we ride across the country, seeing all the wonders that your descendants have created." He smiled as an idea suddenly struck him. "When we're finished with this, would you like to go back home and see Greece as it is now?"
Her eyes lit up at that suggestion. She nodded eagerly.
He kissed her and smiled. "Then let's make sure Alti doesn't get the chance to spoil it, right?"
"Absolutely," she agreed and she kissed him again.
The phone on the nightstand suddenly rang, startling them both.
"Damn killjoys," David cursed, reaching up to grab the receiver. "Yeah?" he growled.
"I realize that the two of you are probably very busy right now," Tommy's voice teased. "But we do have a major deception to plan, and it is two in the afternoon?"
"Right," David nodded. "We'll be right down."
"We?" Tommy asked knowingly. "About damn time." The line went dead before David could reply.
David tossed the phone in the corner and wrapped his arms around Gabrielle again.
"Now I know why certain animals eat their young."
Gabrielle smiled. They lay together for a while longer before they both agreed that they did have to join the others. They got up, dressed and grabbed something to drink on their way to the shop.
When they stepped through the door, David stopped short, his mouth falling open in shock.
In the center of the floor, gleaming black and red was Panama. The Cutlass completely finished out and restored.
"Holy shit," he stammered.
"Just like High School," Dusty smiled. "Only better, because now we all know what we're doing."
At that instant, Steve, who had been seated in the driver's seat, turned the key. The Cutlass roared to life. He let the engine growl at idle for a moment or two, and then revved it, making it roar again and again.
David walked mechanically down the steps, his eyes never moving from the gently rocking vehicle as the engine roared.
Tommy sidled up to him and patted his shoulder. "I think this'll be a match for that cop car the bitch is driving."
David ran his hand lovingly along the fender, feeling the engine thrum beneath his fingers like a thing alive. His smile broadened. "Oh, yeah."
The engine died and silence descended for a moment.
David stepped up to Goat and shook his hand. "She looks wonderful, man."
"Now," Steve said. "The plan."
"The plan." David stepped up next to Gabrielle, who also couldn't take her eyes off the massive machine.
"Goat," Steve ordered. "Grab the flatbed from work and load Panama up on it."
"What?" Goat asked in surprise.
"Go get the flatbed." Steve said again. "Now."
Reluctantly, Goat left.
"Okay," Steve smiled. "The ride leaves downtown at about eight o'clock. If we leave about the same time, and take 355, we can hook up with them about here." He pointed at an intersection on a map draping over his workbench. "Once we hook up with the ride, we shuffle the deck."
"And lose us in the crowd." David nodded. "Then what?"
"Then, after about ten miles, you two duck off here," he pointed at another intersection. "Switch vehicles under the bridge and head to Serpent Mound while the rest of us, with what's her tits in tow, continue towards Starved Rock." He grinned. "You two will have to make a subtle change on the way."
"Oh?" David asked.
"I've already talked to Trikey Mike," Steve continued. "He'll be in the middle of the pack on the Chariot. Get up next to him, ditch the helmets and," he turned to Gabrielle. "Your outer jacket."
"Outer jacket?" Gabrielle asked.
"Yup." Steve smiled. "Come with me. There's a quick modification we need to make on Rosie."
Derek pulled Bullit up into the gas station and began fueling up his bike for the ride. His eyes surreptitiously scanning the surrounding traffic. Sure enough, he spied the familiar black sedan coasting down the main street of town. The car slowed suddenly and then continued. Derek smiled as he saw the two pairs of eyes fix on him. He finished gassing up and turned out of the gas station, following them. He passed them on the main road and began a long winding route back to the clubhouse.
"Call Papa Bear," he said into the mic on his helmet. His cell phone beeped.
"I got the bitch," Derek said cheerfully. He checked his mirror and saw the black Chevy two cars back, trailing him. "They're on me now. How long you want me to string them along?"
"Give us thirty minutes," Tommy said. "Then head back this way."
"No problemo," Derek answered cheerfully.
In the car, Alti and Mr. Finch watched intently as the silver motorcycle made several turns onto various unnamed roads, weaving casually through the countryside.
The entire time, Alti focused upon him with unblinking rage.
"I can take care of him," Finch said.
"I doubt it," Alti retorted. "If he gets a whiff of us, he'll leave us behind." She tried again to enter this mans mind, only to give up in frustration. She was still feeling the effects of that mans' mental attack. Her powers were still paralyzed. "Just keep him in sight. Let him lead us to Gabrielle and the Amulet."
Members had been arriving steadily for the past hour, and now there were nearly thirty people commiserating in the clubhouse. Most of the members, not in the know, were upstairs in the main room, while the conspirators waited in the shop.
Gabrielle paced nervously, while David chewed on a cigar, his eyes fixed on the two closed doors.
A familiar, high-pitched beep was heard, and David hit the door switch. Derek and Bullit coasted into the bay and stopped.
"Okay, compadres, she parked out on Main, waiting." He smiled smugly. "Next?"
"Next, is dinner," Steve said easily.
"Dinner?" David asked. "You're hungry?"
"Yeah," Steve answered. "First order of survival. Eat when you can, you never know when the next meal is coming. Come on."
On his way up the steps, he put his phone to his ear. "Goat! You there yet? Well, get moving, we roll in a couple of hours."
They entered the main room, crowded with members and friends of members. Off in the corner, on the sofa, Shilah, Debbie, Katrina, and Jesse all sat along with several other people that she didn't know. All of them had an air of expectation, and they each silently greeted her.
"That's the rest of the coven," David whispered in her ear.
Gabrielle nodded and then stopped when she bumped into a large muscular man in a rough and worn black jacket, covered by a vest that seemed to be made of countless patches.
"Hey, T-Bone," David greeted, shaking the mans' hand. Then he looked at Gabrielle.
"Gabby," he smiled. "I believe you already met T-Bone, here?"
Gabrielle looked up at the wizened face and long dark beard in recognition. It was the man from the bar. The one that she had gotten into a fight with.
Suddenly, the adrenaline began to flow.
Instead, T-Bone extended a hand in greeting. "Hello again."
Gabrielle didn't know what to say. She took the proffered hand and shook.
"By the way," he said, grinning. "That was a pretty wild show last weekend. I'm impressed."
"Don't make me repeat it," Gabrielle growled.
T-Bone looked at her for a moment, and then he laughed uproariously.
He patted David on the shoulder. "She's alright." He said. He nodded to her and turned, disappearing into the crowd.
"What was that about?" Gabrielle asked, completely perplexed and shaking from unexpended excitement.
David only shrugged. "He likes you."
"Likes me?" Gabrielle shot back. "He's the same son of a Minotaur that tried to mess with me – "
"And you stood your ground," David finished. "Then you let him know it wasn't just a fluke. You earned his respect." He smiled. "Relax."
David looked back at Shilah, who only nodded. Then the rest of the coven, minus Tommy, vanished through the door.
"And so, it begins," David muttered.
Alti and Finch watched helplessly as more and more vehicles poured into the tiny field adjacent to their objective.
"I'm sorry, Alti," Finch said regretfully. "There are simply too many of them for us to get in."
Alti growled in frustration as she tried to think of a way – any way – they might be able to get in and reclaim their missing property.
Gary or "Dad" was one of the last ones to arrive. He strode into the garage where the majority of the participants were doing final checks of their bikes, and spread his arms out.
"Shakespeare?" he asked. "What's with the cop car at the end of the driveway?"
"Not cops," David answered as he double-checked the quick wiring adjustment he and Steve had made. "And they're after Gabrielle. We need to get her out of here."
Gary fixed his gray eyes on Gabrielle for a moment, noting the change in hair color with a raised eyebrow, and then he nodded.
"Say no more," he said.
As the group was gathering around their bikes, David, Tommy, Derek, Dusty and several others withdrew to a corner, near Derek's workbench. They stood silently for a moment. Then David said a few quiet words and Derek reached up and his a button on the small bookshelf stereo sitting above his bench.
Instantly, music began to play and the small group fell silent as if absorbing the sound.
"Uh, oh," Gary said from astride the lady. "They're playing Willie the Wimp."
Gabrielle slid next to Debbie. "What are they doing?"
Debbie smiled. "Them? Oh they're just getting psyched up."
"Psyched up?" Gabrielle asked. "What do you mean?"
"Whenever those boys are about to do something completely crazy, they always play that song to get ready for it." Debbie explained. "It's kind of like taking that deep breath before you dive under water."
As she watched, they all seemed in a mild state of reverie, subtly moving to the music. David's lips moved in synch with the words as he stood there. She watched his fingers twitch in anticipation.
"Okay boys and girls!" Steve shouted over the din of voices. "Load up!"
The music halted and the men in the corner went into a form of auto pilot, moving their bikes up into the group.
Tommy walked his Yamaha up next to David and Gabrielle, as they finished their final preparations.
David smiled and the two of them bumped fists before finishing their checks.
Cycles were lined up in front of the closed doors, three across, with the café bikes in the front. David and Gabrielle set themselves in the middle of the pack. She looked over at Steve and Debbie, astride Mistress. Steve had his cell phone to his ear. He spoke a few words and nodded, then he looked up at Gabrielle and gave the universal sign for "okay."
The ride was leaving the city.
Gabrielle leaned forward to tell David and heard him muttering something to himself.
"What did you say?" she asked.
"Just part of a little twisted prayer I know," David replied with a wry smile. He lifted his helmet before his face and paused.
"Yay, though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I will fear no Evil, because I'm the baddest son of a bitch in the whole damn Valley!"
Gabrielle smiled and drew her own helmet over her face. David turned and plugged the small lead into the jack on the helmet before checking to make sure her cell phone was on.
"Crank em up!" Steve shouted.
Alti's patience was at an end. She had just decided that she would go into the place, and she didn't care how many of them there were, when the ground suddenly thundered beneath them. The entire building seemed to shake.
"What in the name of Hades is that?" she hissed.
The door slid aside, revealing the interior of the place and a flood of pale lights burst forth from within. A thin blue haze rolled out into the crisp night air, and then three motorcycles seemed to leap out of the barn, followed by more and more.
Alti recognized the silver bike in the front. The dark skinned man in the jacket with the painted tiger.
"It's them," she said, settling back into the seat. "Follow them."
"Where is the girl?" Finch asked as his eyes tried desperately to scan the passing figures.
Alti didn't see her, but she did see the back of another jacket, and her eyes lit up.
"There!" she pointed at a dark colored bike in the middle of the pack. "She's there! Go!"
They inched forward and waited until the last bike in the pack thundered past, then the black Chevy pulled out into the road and followed them. There was no mistaking that yellow machine. It was the same bike that had nearly fried them a few nights before.
David hit the button on the top of his phone. "Conference mode. Call Papa Bear, Bullit, Crazy Johnny, Oddball, Dusty, Gabrielle, and Steve."
The lines all connected. "Okay," David asked. "What's up?"
"Well," Johnny's voice answered calmly. "Our favorite fan is behind us. Keeping a discreet distance for the moment."
"Igor told me that the ride headed out a little ahead of schedule," Steve added. "They should be past the ramp when we get there. We'll need to hoof it to catch them up."
"Okay, boss," David agreed. "Then take lead with Dad and set the pace. Everyone else, keep an eye on our friends back there. If they get too anxious, or do something crazy, scatter. I don't want anyone getting hurt. Johnny, can you hold them off if it comes to that?"
"You want me awake or asleep?" Johnny replied easily.
"Okay," Steve said. "One hour till the interstate. Just sit back and enjoy the ride."
A little less than an hour later, the thirty-two bikes of the Zombie Squad and others took up all three lanes on the 355 bypass heading south. Several of the speed happy café riders began horsing around, riding wheelies and the like, while the others maintained a rough formation.
Dusty came riding past David and Gabrielle on Slut, bouncing back and forth and smacking the rear seat as if he were a jockey in a horse race. Several other members had their own antics, and a couple of games of tag ensued, which only managed to mix the formation up even more. That was exactly what David and the others wanted. They kept rotating positions, inside, outside, towards the front, or rear, but never in the outer edge of the formation, hoping to confuse the two people in the black sedan that still shadowed them. T-Bone, locked his throttle, leaned back on the back seat and rested his feet on the gas tank, lounging comfortably as he coasted past Gabrielle and David, an open can of soda pop in his hand. He raised the can in salute and took another drink as the bike drifted forward.
Gabrielle laughed out loud. Another, neon blue and green racing bike coasted by, the riders legs wrapped up on the back seat, his hands resting on the fuel tank, while his chin lay on them, as if asleep.
Gabrielle leaned forward. "You're all crazy!" she shouted. "All of you!"
She wrapped her arms about David's neck and squeezed reassuringly. In spite of the threat behind them, she was actually enjoying herself.
9:10 PM – I 55 South
Alti sat and watched in frustration as the crowd of motorcycles continued down the dark interstate. Without the benefit of regular lamps illuminating the road, she had almost lost track of Gabrielle several times. She had memorized the pattern of rear lights on the back of that machine, and kept her eyes glued to it with reptilian intensity.
"We should do something," Finch suggested.
"No," Alti countered. "She's going after the Chronos Stone. If we are to find it, then we must let her lead us to it!" She smiled. "She won't get away. Not now."
No sooner had she said this than the car crested a low hill and she saw a sight that made her heart sink. About a mile ahead of the small clot of machines was a long, seemingly endless line of tiny red taillights.
"What is that?" she asked in growing despair.
"Well," Finch sighed as he saw the line of bikes stretching off into the distance. "There's something you don't see every day."
David grinned. "Call Trikey Mike," he said, and another line clicked.
"Yo ho there!" A voice called back over the rush of wind.
"Trikey!" David greeted. "Check your mirror."
"Hey there Shakes!" Mike's voice was a loud baritone. "Get your ass up here! I want to meet the new lady in your life!"
"Well, she's on the line right now," David smiled.
"Really?" Trikey replied cheerily.
"Um, hello?" Gabrielle said uncertainly.
"And a fine hello to you too, miss," Trikey replied. "So, you're the one that finally cracked the gloomy brat out of his shell?"
"Hey!" David protested. He heard the others on the line laughing.
"I guess you could say that,' Gabrielle smiled. "Among other things. But he was never gloomy around me? He's been a perfect gentleman."
"Gentleman?" Trikey replied. "What have you done with the real Shakespeare?"
"Where are you?" David asked quickly.
"Three quarters of the way up, inner line," Trikey replied. "Just come on up the middle and you can't miss me!"
Steve raised his left fist up and pumped three times in the air, then he and Gary began accelerating. Instantly, the rest of the squad ceased their on road antics and followed suit.
As they neared the trailing bikes of the formation, yet another, deep and airy voice entered the call.
"Good evening ladies and gentlemen," Igor announced. "A bit of trivia for all you fans out there this evening. Currently, the temperature is forty-eight degrees with winds at a calm one-mile an hour out of the south. Tonight's grand total, two thousand, four hundred and twenty seven bikes. Total donations to the cancer fund were fifteen thousand seven hundred dollars. Our sponsors thank you for your support."
"What's up, my brother!" Derek called out gleefully. "Can we pay you at the end point, my boys and I wanna join up?"
"Absolutely!" Igor's voice answered. "Come on up!"
Tommy's voice was thick with humor.
"Johnny, Bullit," he called. "Wake up the hornets!"
"My pleasure," Johnny's voice sounded happy for the first time.
"Bullit? With your permission?"
The silver Hyabusa drifted off to one side and the MotorPsycho howled ahead, hugging the left shoulder as it picked up speed.
"Light em up, my brother!"
Not to be out done, the other speed happy rocket jocks accelerated towards the mass of machines.
Johnny got half way past the first batch of bikes and then opened up the flame-thrower, spewing the twenty-foot long burst of fire as he rocketed past them. Just after him, Derek and the other crotch rockets in the Squad ripped by in pursuit. The effect was immediate. Dozens of other racing bikes slipped out of the main formation and began skittering about in the left lane, while the cruisers reformed.
Steve's voice simply oozed confidence.
"Okay kids, let's shuffle the deck."
David and the Squad melded their formation in at the same time. Soon there was nothing but a large mass of blending red taillights out in the middle of the darkened highway.
David moved steadily and smoothly forward in the formation until he spotted his target, a large, green and white three-wheeled bike with a molded squarish top. The words
"Trikey Mikey's Sewing" painted in brilliant blue letters.
David slid in and noted the passing highway sign. Three miles till their exit.
He sidled his bike up alongside the trike and waved.
"Hello there!" Trikey Mike waived jovially. He was a short man, pudgy in the middle and completely bald. His face was a picture of piercings, and his gloved hands were covered in silver rings.
"You dropping off, or picking up?"
"Okay guys," he announced. "We're going off line for a while. We'll check in a little later."
"Good luck Shakes!" Tommy called. "Hey Gabby! Take good care of him!"
David reached down and flipped a small toggle switch behind his left knee. Instantly, the single tombstone taillight went dark, and two more horizontal lights along the base of his bags lit up.
David disconnected the cell phone and removed the helmet, tossing it in the back of the moving trike.
Gabrielle did the same thing, and her red hair went streaming in the wind. She also disposed of the helmet and then shrugged out of the black jacket. The tan deerskin underneath appeared. She managed to hand that over to the older gentleman before settling herself for the next part.
"Ready?" David asked.
Gabrielle reached down at the bundle of folded cloth between the two of them.
David released the handlebars, allowing the bike to coast, and reached behind him as Gabrielle slipped the plain canvas duster up over the shoulders of his riding jacket, obscuring the Zombie Squad colors.
David looked over at Trikey and grinned.
Trikey smiled and nodded in approval.
"You're a real pretty lady! Nice to have met you!" He shouted at Gabrielle. Then he looked at David. "Excellent taste, Davey Boy!"
David smiled and gave a bow, and then he slipped into formation next to the trike.
Alti's eyes scanned the crowd of bikes for the familiar red taillights, she found several in this mass of machines, but none of them were the one she was looking for. A realization began to settle like rocks in her belly.
"Setup," she hissed in anger. "It's all a setup! The little bastard!"
She looked hungrily at Finch.
"Run them off the road!" She ordered. "Run them all off the road!"
"Are you completely mad?" Finch asked in shock. "There are thousands of them, and if I hit one, they will be on us like a pack of wolves!"
"Wolves," Alti hissed. She slammed her fist into the dashboard and fixed her eyes back out at the passing multitude of bikes.
They passed a large, three-wheeled vehicle, painted a brilliant green and white. Alti perked up a bit when she saw another motorcycle beyond it, but the lights were the wrong pattern, and the passenger wore a pale coat and had dark hair.
They continued up the formation.
Gabrielle leaned her head against David's shoulder and watched, holding her breath as Alti's car coasted past and continued up the line.
David checked the next sign. One mile to the break off.
"Went right by us," David shouted triumphantly.
Gabrielle breathed a sigh of relief and then kissed David's cheek. "It actually worked!"
"Hey! Hey!" David sounded offended. "My plans always work!"
"You mean Steve's plan?" Gabrielle corrected him.
"I helped!" David continued.
"Yeah!" David grinned. "I picked your coat!"
David looked over at Trikey and gave him a salute. "Ride safe, buddy!"
Then he switched off the ignition. The bike went dark and silent, coasting down the ramp to the underpass. He brought Rosie to a stop behind the silent flatbed.
Panama sat in front of it, waiting patiently.
David and Gabrielle walked toward the front of the truck. David knocked on the door. A bleary eyed Goat peeked out through the window.
"Oh," he said. "There you are. About time!"
David grinned. "Load up Rosie and take her back to the house," he said. "I'll see you later."
"Sure thing," Goat answered gleefully.
"Hey, Goat," David called as he stood next to the door of his car. "Thanks for everything."
Goat merely bowed theatrically. "Just don't scratch the paint job," He begged. Then he began to wheel Rosie up the flatbed and tie her down for the trip home.
David and Gabrielle slid into the car. The interior still smelled of cleaning solvents and new leather. David pulled his phone free and dialed Derek.
"Ce pasa, Cavrone!" Derek answered immediately.
"Hey Bullit," David asked. "Is she still with you?"
"Oh yeah," Derek was laughing. "And is she pissed!"
David grinned. "Have a drink for me at the Rock, we'll see you later."
"Right on." Derek replied. "Adios Muchachos."
David flipped the phone closed and turned the ignition. The Cutlass's engine growled to life immediately.
David looked over at Gabrielle. He kissed her and smiled.
"Let's go find this stone, shall we?"
Gabrielle pulled the amulet from her pocket and grinned.
The top pointed was glowing brightly.
"That way," She gestured.
"That way it is," David replied, and the car launched itself forward into the gloom.
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