Script Immunity

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CADILLAC CRUSADE – Anna Victor reunites with her boyfriend, Jerry, home from Afghanistan only to face the threat to Los Angeles from two haunted cars!

© 2007 G.N. Jacobs

Night fell over the arena as two flatbed trucks delivered a car each to opposite ends of the dirt floor home to stunt cars, monster trucks and the weekly demolition derby. Fans of vehicular mayhem filed into the bleachers ready to consume mass quantities of beer and hot dogs. Their chatter carried on the air and they spoke about one thing: the main event.

The silent cars waited as if experienced gladiators catching a snooze before being called to the Coliseum floor. The knowledgeable experts among the fans, mostly the men, could see something very different about these cars. They looked like they had just come from the showroom floor. Derby cars are typically gutted of glass, extra seats and anything else that might kill a driver.

Fingers pointed at the midnight black Cadillac CTS, the one sports car in the Cadillac lineup. And then there was the silver BWW 5-series sedan waiting at the other end of the arena. Some shook their heads not quite comprehending that the management proposed to wreck two very fine cars, perhaps they hadn’t read a newspaper in some time. The fans that had kept up quickly explained the reasons eliciting wows from their impressed friends.

The PA crackled to life just as the guys delivering the cars pulled yellow parking boots from the front wheels. The Cadillac and Beemer immediately jumped to life, lighting up and gunning engines with great menace. Of course, the management enhanced the feeling with a carefully chosen soundtrack that started with the main theme from Gladiator, a speed waltz. The crowd caught the emotional undercurrents intended for them.

“Ladies, gentlemen and children of all ages!” the announcer shouted into his mike. “Riverside Motor Sports is proud to present our new permanent headliners! Over here we have Bad Black, the Cadillac Crusader!”

The music changed to AC/DC’s Highway to Hell. The black car gunned its engine and popped the clutch. The crowd stood thinking Bad Black would jump ahead and grease the deliverymen before they could reach the safety of their truck cabs. A man stood up in the announcer’s booth just behind the wire mesh at the arena’s edge. His hands glowed which wowed the crowd more than the cars.

The black sedan responded to the blond man with light jade eyes like a whipped cur before its mean master. The steel chariot ground to a halt turning a charge into a showy donut in the dirt. Bad Black capped its entrance with a blast on the horn, a cross between La Cucaracha and Woody Woodpecker’s three-note kiss off before he pecks the bad guy’s head.

“And at the other end, we have Mean Silver, the Killer Beemer!” the announcer continued.

Mean Silver spooled up its engine and did three donuts, just for spite. The car’s grill dipped as it sloshed to a stop. The music changed to Overture to the Flying Dutchmanby Richard Wagner. The dust rooster tail took a few seconds to settle to the ground. The crowd roared.

“As you may have read in the papers,” the announcer explained. “Both Bad Black and Mean Silver were captured in the wilds of the L.A. freeway system and brought here to work off the karma of their horrible deeds. Jerry, will you do the honors?”

Jerry Campbell, the man with the glowing hands, stood up again. “SURVIVE THE BEEHIVE! DRIVE TO THRIVE! DRAW THE PROPERTY LINE! CRUSADER AND SARACEN NEVER CROSS THE LINE! SO SAY ALL OF US!”

The crowd chimed in on So Say All of Us. Blue lights spread out from Jerry’s fingertips enveloping the whole property including the parking lot. The crowd stood shocked, not quite sure what they had seen. Jerry would likely have had to explain that he was a good wizard from the days of the Viking raids, if he hadn’t added a few silent syllables to his spell that knocked most everyone out. Five seconds later, the fans woke to forget the spell and that Jerry had cast it.

“And now let the games begin!” the announcer shouted.

Bad Black and Mean Silver pegged their tachometers and charged each other. The crowd cheered.

***

Three weeks earlier, Bad Black was a showroom queen at Santa Monica Cadillac-Pontiac, a typical dealership on Santa Monica Boulevard. The whole length of the street between Lincoln Boulevard and the eastern border of the small Los Angeles suburb had been given over to car lots. True, there were fast food joints and small businesses on the street, but the boulevard had always been Car Central.

The CTS was an excellent selling model, but not this particular car. Customers drove it, but demanded to take the similar car third from the left in the back of the lot. None of the sales staff could figure out why the Black wouldn’t move even with an eight thousand dollar discount, until a customer said, “It’s a sweet car, but I get the feeling that it’s trying too hard in a bad way.”

Most of the salesmen would’ve shrugged and written the Black off as the one chariot that wouldn’t sell in a fantastic sales year. Their manager, Hamid al-Bashir, spurred them constantly to sell the pig as soon as possible. He might have gotten more willing cooperation if he’d told his men about the nightmares.

***

Mean Silver had also spent the entire time since the transporter truck dropped it off at Culver City BMW as a showroom queen. The main difference: the Silver couldn’t hide its rage long enough to even get test drives. Once they stepped within three feet of the door, customers demanded to drive another car of the same type. At least, sales were brisk.

The markdown on the Silver was now at ten thousand and falling fast and still no one wanted the car. The staff began taking a pool as to when the vehicle would find a garage. Participation was lackluster because no one really thought the car would ever leave the lot.

Salvation of sorts came in the form of a poker game. John Christiansen, General Manager of Culver City BMW, held an Aces over Queens full house against what his intuition said was a good two pair. The only problem; George Brandtman of Santa Monica BMW had bet the hand well despite an early tell that had almost ruined the hand. John matched the raise to All In.

George took a long pause in the swirling cigar smoke. He and John were head to head in a “friendly” game between BMW dealers. The only assets left to bet were IOUs and inventory from their lots. George batted away the smoke and smiled like a shark.

“I’ll raise you that black 7-series you asked for against two 5-series sedans, one silver,” George said.

John initially resisted the bet because he’d already found his customer the 7-series from another dealer’s stock. But, then he remembered that Mean Silver fit the bill just as well as another car. He was doing George dirty, but he was a car salesman. John played up caving to George’s superior moxie and nodded. George laid down a Kings and Eights two pair. John disgustedly threw his cards face down to the table hoping no one would see.

“Beats me, George,” John said. “Good hand.”

The transfer was accomplished with a handshake and the proper paperwork. The car went onto the back of a truck for the twenty-minute drive to Santa Monica. John took a nap at lunch and reveled in the fact that his dreams were about his wife and not the Mean Silver.

***

Jerry Campbell sat across from Anna Victor in the outdoor dining area of Barney’s Beanery on the Third Street Promenade. Anna had a massive double order of ribs and mashed potatoes before her, while he’d only ordered a bread bowl of clam chowder. He knew looking into her bottle-green eyes that he would sell his soul for the opportunity to make her happy for the rest of her life. But, first he had to apologize.

“I should’ve quit when you asked and stayed,” Jerry said. “I’m sorry. You were exposed to some weird stuff while I was away. I would have given anything to have been here for you.”

Anna put her hand to her mouth as if stifling a burp or barf. Jerry had been around enough women to know the symptoms of the parasite she carried. She had the beast that spends nine months eating for two at which point the woman takes it home, names it, gives it the best of health care and education and then eighteen years later complains that parasite never calls.

Anna broke down in tears abandoning the carefully orchestrated torture campaign she’d worked up before even contemplating taking Jerry back. Now, she just wanted her man to forgive her and take her back, but there were considerations of the male ego.

“I’m sorry too,” Anna said accepting a napkin for her tears. “I could have waited before dating other guys.”

Jerry used his centuries worth of romantic experience to perfectly time putting his hand over Anna’s. Their touch held all of the old electricity from six months before when he’d obeyed company orders and took a tour in Afghanistan. It had been hard for both of them, but at least Jerry had a Pulitzer for photography to show for it.

“I kept up with your articles when I could, Anna,” Jerry said putting nothing but love into his voice. “Charlie Beckman wasn’t the father. You used protection, I’m guessing. And even if he had been the father, if I’m not willing to spend the rest of…well, a long, long time being your man, husband and lover, I don’t get to be pissed when you start dating.”

Jerry took a breath before continuing. “You wrote about Charlie with great affection. He leapt off the page even under the terms of Names Changed to Protect the Guilty. I got to like him, so speaking as your first jealous rooster I don’t think I could have rumbled with him the way I normally would have. I’m sorry for your loss.”

“I think I’d cry more if it had been you,” Anna said. “I take it from your tone you’ve figured out the real deal?’

“Yes, Anna, the only article with more passion than your James Bond adventure with Charlie was the alien mating series,” Jerry said. “The hate and hurt dripped off the page such that I almost expected to find you missing hands and tongue like Livia from Titus Andronicus.”

“Ai me my brother prepare thine eyes to weep,” Anna quoted. “Are you OK with this? I want you, but if you don’t think it could work now, I’ll understand.”

Jerry leaned across the table and kissed Anna even though she hadn’t wiped her face. A deep association with mashed potatoes that would last the rest of his long years formed in that instant. She kissed him back. The other patrons cheered.

“I’m too old now to enjoy breaking up a good couple over something like rape by false pretenses,” Jerry said reassuringly. “I am a bit miffed that you and Bobby so neatly took care of Daddy. I don’t even get to have a revenge fantasy.”

“Miffed, dear?” Anna teased. “You don’t use that word. So were you abducted by aliens in Afghanistan or what?”

“A lot of or what,” Jerry said. “You might not take me back once you hear.”

“Was she pretty?” Anna asked.

“They are all pretty in their own way,” Jerry answered.

“Ask a silly question,” Anna said brightly. “But, you came home to me, now. That means something.”

Jerry kissed her again. “I hope you believe me that I came home and was detoured. And when it was over you were with Charlie, so I went back to work.”

“If you keep kissing me like this, I’ll even believe that you went to Mars and played chess using your Martian girlfriend as the Queen,” Anna said. “And I will conveniently believe you didn’t shag. Will I likely meet your Circe?”

“No Anna, she didn’t like me so much when beasties weren’t chasing us,” Jerry explained. “Burroughs and Homer in the same sentence? You read too much.”

They held hands. Anna fought the urge to dig into her purse and call her mother on the cell phone. Instead, a rumble in her stomach told her to eat another rib. She was happy that the Universe showed her some favor. And the ribs were good.

Jerry smiled and put a pack of Matchbox cars on the table. “Where’s Bobby? I’ve gotten terribly attached to the little guy.”

Anna broke out giggling and put his hand on her belly, which hadn’t yet begun to show. Jerry’s head snapped back as if punched. He briefly saw a full-color image of a male fetus growing into a boy and then he went into Bobby’s room. It was a mess with all sorts of toy cars spread across the floor simulating traffic on the 405 Freeway. Bobby stood up from his rocking chair with a paperback copy of All the President’s Men. The black teddy bear he’d been reading to fell softly to its face. He chose to look like a ten-year-old boy with big blue eyes and an infectious smile.

“Hi, Jerry, are you back?” Bobby asked.

“I’m still negotiating, I think,” Jerry said. “But, God willing, yes.”

“I’ll twist Anna’s…I mean Mama’s arm,” Bobby said. “It’s so weird to have to call her Mama now.”

“Does your mother let you keep your room like this?” Jerry asked playfully.

“Mama threw up her hands and threatened that my real room after I’m born would be spotless,” Bobby said.

“Do you believe her?”

“Yes,” Bobby said shivering.

“And that book you’re reading?”

“Mama is reading it to me and I’m reading it to Anonymous Bear,” Bobby said giggling. “It’s good. The President gets boiled in oil.”

“I know Bobby, I drew a couple political cartoons about it when it happened,” Jerry said. “Now who names their bear Anonymous?”

“It hasn’t told me its name or gender, yet,” Bobby said with the seriousness only a child can muster on such subjects. “Anonymous will warm up to me in its own time. Now please go back to pleasing Mama. It’s time for me to eat.”

Jerry shook hands with Anna’s future son as he broke the connection with her belly. She read the shocked expression on his face.

“Even being who and what I am, I would never have expected this outcome,” Jerry said. “But, it is the best of all possible worlds.”

Jerry and Anna scooted to the same side of the table so they could make a Get-A-Room kiss.

“By the way, dear,” Anna said finally coming up for air. “You said the word husband which implies the M-word. Are you making an offer to shop for a ring?”

“Let’s call it a statement of intent and shop for other things first,” Jerry suggested.

“Like what?” Anna asked faking a pout.

“Can you believe this crap?” Jerry groused. “In addition to leaving the Queen of Hearts in the lurch, my assignment also gave some punk the perfect opportunity to jack my car from long-term parking at the airport. I need a new car and it might be a cute couple thing to do together.”

Anna’s eyes lit up even more than they would have if he’d blindfolded her and set her loose in the wholesale jewelry district of downtown Los Angeles. She sat up straight as if to say leave it to me.

“What’s your budget, Love?” Anna asked. “What kind of car do you want?”

“Something that splits the difference between the responsibilities I’m backing into here and a fun car,” Jerry answered. “And I should keep the budget to what I don’t have to explain to the tax man or drug cops on my present salary.”

Anna did the math on her fingers. “We’ll have to go a little bit beyond that stupid limit, if you want an actually fun car. But, I have some time today.”

***

After running home for a nicer dress and makeup, Anna dragged Jerry to the Cadillac dealership at the eastern end of Santa Monica Boulevard. She hung on his arm pretending to be a ditzy house-frau, an easy mark for a salesman. A young man wearing a clip-on tie approached from the staff lounge.

At six feet, the salesman had sized up the nice couple as soft targets that would overpay by two thousand dollars and go for the extended warranty. At three feet, he caught a flash in the woman’s bottle-green eyes that put him on guard. He extended his hand.

A comedy writer with more time to spend on this tableau might have made millions describing how Anna and Jerry played tag team on the salesman. Despite her inviting smile, long legs and glorious black hair, Anna fell naturally into the role of Bad Cop, shaking her head at every ridiculous offer and assertion. Jerry played Good Cop, asking with sad puppy eyes if the car met with her approval.

The salesman felt sure he had Anna’s number what with the way that she subtly used her assets to encourage compliance. Three test-drives later, the last of which was the Bad Black, the final sticking point was the extended warranty for a silver CTS.

“Ma’am, you and your man would feel a whole lot better knowing that we’ll take care of the car for a full ten years,” the salesman probed.

Anna and Jerry shared a smile. She dropped the trophy wife act and went for the kill.

“Now, Sir, we all know the game when it comes to warranties,” Anna rejoined. “Fifteen hundred more when you offer a standard 7-70 is cash down the toilet. However, I will let Jerry spend that money on the four year service contract.”

The salesman grimaced with a small measure of frustration, mentally calculating the variance of profit margins between the warranty and the service contract, which paid for regular maintenance. The difference was great enough that the race for the trip to Hawaii for the top seller would be closer than necessary. He was dealing with a car salesman’s worst nightmare, a Barbie doll that has actually held a plug wrench. However, the informed customer is always right.

“Ma’am, I appreciate that cost is always an issue,” the salesman said trying his last trump card. “I can give you a better deal on this black car that we used for the test drive. Unless you really like silver.”

Jerry and Anna shared a look actually considering the offer, until she inadvertently put her hand down on the Black’s fender. She didn’t like the vision that came next. She saw through an unknown man’s eyes; he wore armor that seemed to crush down on her chest. An Arab warrior stood before her with a bloody saber. She swung a broadsword shouting defiance.

“FROM HELL’S HEART, I STAB AT THEE! FOR HATE’S SAKE, I SPIT MY LAST BREATH AT THEE!” Anna shouted.

She broke touch with the black car. Inside her head, she felt a warm comforting hug from Bobby. Sorry Mama, Bobby thought. I was napping. Anna patted her dress smooth as if it were normal to quote Captain Ahab’s death scene on a showroom floor. Jerry looked at her curiously remembering a truly great story.

“Obviously, we don’t fit with the black car,” Anna said. “We’ll take the silver one at the agreed price with service contract, but no extended warranty.”

The salesman decided the Amazon negotiating with him was more than a little scary and wanted nothing more than to close the paperwork and get the check. A feeling of dread descended on them before they turned towards the office. Anna happened to look up out the front window to see a flatbed truck carrying two BMW 5-series sedans to the BMW dealership farther west along the boulevard.

Bad Black hadn’t yet earned the nickname, but the hate certainly made it bad. It hadn’t felt the presence of the Other for quite some time. It seethed deep within the bowels of the engine and navigation system.

Anna first saw the headlights snap on despite the broad daylight. She didn’t take much notice until the white lights turned blood red seeming to squint with unrequited rage. She shoved Jerry out of the way just as the engine kicked over. She attempted to dive the other way, but her blue Fuck-Me pumps slipped on the showroom floor. Anna fell in front of the looming Cadillac grill. Mommy! Bobby shouted inside her head. Jerry looked back with alarm.

“SLIP AND SLIDE! FLIP AND GLIDE, SAVE ANNA’S HIDE!” Jerry incanted as he fell to the floor.

The friction coefficient of the floor changed allowing a micro-gust from a heating duct to blow Anna out of the way. She slid along the floor winding up in a disheveled heap against the window. The Black roared past crushing the salesman’s foot as it went.

Moments later, the car hit the plate glass window some ten feet from Anna. Surprisingly, the glass held denting the grill with a horrible sound like crushing a tin can. She recovered her wits pulling a digital camera from her purse. She snapped many frames to be sure she got the image.

Hamid al-Bashir ran out from his office with most of a cheeseburger on his shirt and fear in his eyes. Anna kept snapping pictures. Previously clear car windows darkened like polarized sunglasses.

“Allahu Ahkbar!” Hamid al-Bashir shouted. “Save us!”

Shouting God is Great in Arabic apparently wasn’t the right thing to do in this case. Bad Black popped into reverse painting the floor with rubber. The car may have needed to back up for another go at the window, but upon hearing Arabic it extended the maneuver to bear down on the poor man.

Hamid screamed and covered up his head. Anna screamed as her finger automatically held the shutter down. The man cracked his head on the Black’s rear windshield and then bounced into a room partition behind him. Jerry put up his hands to cast another spell. But, the car began repairing itself as if shrugging off blood and body damage happens every day.

Bad Black made full power in forward aiming straight at the window. Anna kept taking pictures despite the rattling glass that in her slow-motion perspective felt like a major earthquake. The glass pane shattered into bits the size of grains of sand. The car bounced through and out into the street. Anna finally dropped her camera shocked and screamed for a while in high E-flat.

***

Mean Silver felt the old enemy like a blowtorch to the transmission. The hate flooded back with each remembered exchange of blows between his saber and the infidel’s broadsword. The dichotomy between the memory of life and the present state of machinery almost brought the car to a true state of sentience. A wife, children and good friends from the coffee house all flashed through the navigation system and Mean Silver almost forgave…well, everybody.

But, the simple thought I have lost those things crossed the car’s proto-mind. Mean Silver felt and heard the nearby shattering glass. It didn’t have eyes except for the backup camera installed in the rear bumper. Instinct took over the BMW redlined straining against the tie-down chains.

Bad Black smashed out onto the sidewalk between a streetlight and a mailbox. Bracketed, the Cadillac bore down on the middle-aged woman out walking her dog. The lady dove behind the mailbox leaving her Corgi to fend for itself. The small dog lay down betting its life on a differential being just high enough. Apparently, Divine Providence liked dogs today.

The dog felt the unrequited rage embodied by the car and growled. Mean Silver broke the tie-down chains with a carefully orchestrated series of hard jolts in reverse. The BMW then discovered the flaw in the plan: gravity. Any other car would crack the rear axle and bend the chassis dropping to the pavement like that, but the chariot blew a note of defiance on its horn as it healed.

Traffic stopped as the Cadillac and Beemer circled each other in the street. The Corgi stood its ground in the street barking at both cars. The chariots spooled up their engines at each other. The dog’s owner recovered her wits and ran to grab her pet crossing herself as she went. The silver car laid down a quarter-donut turning to face the infidel, cabin glass darkening and headlights turning crimson.

A lifetime passed in the moment where the cars, the woman and the dog waited for the next shoe to drop. Engines revved. The woman said a Hail Mary and an Our Father, for good measure, as she froze in Mean Silver’s blood red headlights. The dog dug its heels in rippling copper fur with each bark.

Anna partially recovered from her shock and ran out to the street with her camera. Jerry followed behind. Mean Silver redlined its engine and honked menacingly at the infidel harlot with the unruly dog. Bad Black made no response, a silence that spoke volumes. Anna snapped more pictures and made running observations into a digital recorder.

“Hey Jerry, isn’t this your job?” Anna asked playfully.

“My cameras were rerouted from London on the connecting flight,” Jerry said, confidently striding toward the trapped woman. “You’re doing fine.”

Anna remembered her humanity and moved forward with Jerry. Mean Silver inched closer dipping the grill slightly. Bad Black blew what would become its signature three-note horn blast and glided to a stop between Mean Silver and the woman.

Jerry reached the woman and Anna got hold of the dog. In her mind, Bobby played fetch with the dog in a grassy park. Mama I want a dog, Bobby thought. Anna looked down at the dog with her eyes, it was happy wagging its tail.

“Bobby, not now!” Anna hissed.

I want a dog, Bobby repeated.

“Sure, sure, whatever,” Anna said quietly. “I’ll get you a boy’s dog like a shepherd or a retriever, now be quiet.”

Bobby mentally hugged his mommy. Anna and Jerry silently made the woman and her dog disappear into the Cadillac dealership. Sirens from the vaunted Santa Monica Police Department approached. Anna hid behind a Cadillac Escalade and resumed her photography.

The possessed cars, the police and the pedestrians rapidly evacuating the sidewalks formed a multipart Mexican Standoff straight out of a western. A flash of sentience almost struck both cars, but mutual hate kept them at the autonomic level of pissed off wolves. Bad Black took stock of the situation and couldn’t understand how it knew where the infidel was without being able to see, except out the rear bumper. Mean Silver had a similar confusion. Together, they had but one thought: upgrades.

The police commander turned on his bullhorn. “This is the police! Turn your engines off and throw the keys out the window!”

Bad Black popped into first gear pulling a smoking donut to head west towards the beach. Mean Silver jammed into reverse crunching a police cruiser before completing the J-turn. Anna got a great shot of glass shards erupting from the rear window of the police car. The demon cars laid rubber and exited the scene.

Anna breathed heavily as the cars faded into the distance. Bobby mentally tickled his mother to get her mind off the fear now that it was all over. She sat with Bobby and Anonymous Bear in the rocking chair in the corner of the mental room. Her grimace at such a disaster area only brought a shrug and a smile. Jerry touched her shoulder to alert her to an approaching detective.

“You know this the second time in five months cars run amok have ruined my day,” Anna said absently.

“So this has happened before, Miss Victor?” the detective asked flipping open his notebook with an exaggerated air of authority. “You can’t be talking about that robot car thing a few months ago. Officially, it never happened.”

“Bad for tourism, Detective?” Anna asked rhetorically.

The detective gave her a knowing wink and nod, producing a digital recorder. “You’re going to tell me your story twice,” he ordered. “Once with all the freaky details and once again washed with chlorine, if you get me.”

She gave her statement twice.

***

Mean Silver rolled silently up on the electronics store at Pico and Sawtelle. It paused a moment in the parking lot examining data on the wireless Internet connection. Pages about video cameras and churches scrolled by at lightning speed. It was time to break another plate glass window.

Customers and staff on the cavernous sales floor looked up as the exit door splintered. The bag checker hit the deck breaking her wrist as the Silver flashed past. The pimply kid in the camera department in the back of the store froze.

An alternating series of short and long engine revs communicated all demands. The kid in the blue shirt ponied up a digital video camera, an USB connector and a cigarette lighter adaptor. The silver car backed up slowly preparing to leave until the newly installed camera saw the golden glint of a crucifix. The poor kid died five seconds after being hit.

***

Bad Black took a more subtle approach to upgrades with an insecure credit card number. Waiting in a dark garage for the FedEx truck proved difficult. The Other was out there somewhere. Traces of the thrice-damned Saracen already flooded the Internet. Bad Black pounded the garage door, frustrated.

***

The bells peeled out Ode to Joy. A perfect couple straight from the top of the wedding cake laughed, smiled, shook hands and tried to walk between the birdseed. No one noticed the silver BMW glide to a stop a block away from the Methodist Church with a brick façade and tall steeple.

The windshield darkened to a near black. The headlights glowed the scarlet of a holiday tablecloth. Mean Silver added power slowly, already learning to sneak up on prey. Halfway down the block, the pride of German engineering jumped the curb. The band saw the car first. The hell-wagon redlined, kicking up a rooster tail of grass and dirt.

The groom pushed his love out of the way. In a grand coincidence, this penguin made his living as a stuntman. He leapt and rolled into the dark windshield spinning to the grass behind the rogue chariot. Everyone in the wedding party survived, except the bridesmaids who wore floor length dresses in an ugly teal. Mean Silver spent a moment healing a bent strut and crumpled fender. The bride screamed in middle C-sharp.

Police sirens growled in a lower register, a B-flat at the bass end of the keyboard. Mean Silver slid around the grass to allow time for a decision. And just like that sports sedan dropped off the curb and disappeared into traffic a few blocks south.

***

Anna brought Jerry to the aftermath to get the story. This time he held the camera and the pictures were works of art. She was torn between basic compassion for four dead women and a sharp joke that would burn bridges. Obviously, her last experience with ugly bridesmaids’ dresses was still fresh in her mind. She turned to her boyfriend.

“Jerry, you had a strange look at the Cadillac dealer,” Anna probed. “You know something. It might help us get ahead of them.”

“No, I don’t,” Jerry lied poorly.

Anna put her foot down with a no-sex-tonight look. Jerry folded like the whipped cur he’d cheerfully become.

“It was what you said when you touched the black car,” Jerry said. “I heard an English Crusader shout those words just before dying with his Saracen opponent. Jerusalem 1187, I think.”

“I keep forgetting how old you are.”

“I resemble that remark.”

“Now explain how Melville put those same words in Captain Ahab’s mouth seven hundred years later,” Anna demanded.

“Herman and I got pissed one Christmas and he showed me the first draft,” Jerry explained. “Originally, the speech needed help, so I gave him a better one. I’d forgotten where I’d heard it until you touched the car.”

“So what’s the thinking, Love?” Anna asked.

“The silver car hates Christians,” Jerry said. “The black car hates Muslims.”

“My love, did they teach you to state the obvious at Wizard School?” Anna asked a little testy. “This is where you play Fred and rattle off arcane knowledge right before saying ‘I have a plan.’”

“Apparently, the only thing you did more of than reading as a child was watch TV,” Jerry teased.

“Hey, everything I ever learned about investigative reporting I learned from Scooby-Doo,” Anna fired back. “You said you heard the original speech, so you were at the Third Crusade. What do you know about who the cars used to be?”

“Precious little, I was hunting a Black Wizard in the carnage and busy with other things,” Jerry admitted. “But, generally speaking, Death Oaths like that are a matter of convincing the oath taker to forgive.”

“Jerry, I was hoping for something more achievable like drop the bastards into a volcano,” Anna said.

“All that would do is foist the problem onto a later generation because the iron that their spirits have impregnated would bubble back up and resurface as some sort of tool that people have to trust,” Jerry advised.

“Can you contain them?”

“I have a few ideas, so yes I think so.”

Anna hugged Jerry. “Sometime you’ll have to tell me what the Crusades were like.”

“I was only visiting on other business,” Jerry said. “Crusades or Jihads designed to force the other guy into your religion are morally dubious at the best of times. Besides, about a third of all the White Wizards in the world started out as Muslims. We made a gentlemen’s agreement to save the club.”

“It’s still an eyewitness account,” Anna insisted.

***

The FedEx truck came and Bad Black upgraded itself with hi-def digital. The black Cadillac glided along wide thoroughfares lined with palm trees obeying all traffic laws and surfing the Internet. The wedding outrage blistered the proto-soul deep in the crankcase. The radio played Highway to Hell as the car considered strategy.

Either it could hunt Muslims and draw the Silver onto a field of Black’s choosing, or it could shadow the enemy by trying to guess which church would be hit next. Bad Black chose the first option as more efficient, but truth be told mass slaughter of Muslims was also a good thing in its own right.

***

Imam Walid al-Kassir stood a moment enjoying the blue minaret of the King Fahd Mosque on Washington Boulevard. He was a moderate Muslim leading a mosque funded by the Saudi Royal Family, which couldn’t tell whether they believed in moderation or full-blown Wahabbism. And then to make matters worse, nineteen morons made war on people who only saw themselves as doing legitimate business. Well, at least he had the view of the minaret on a warm day to ease the cares of his daily toe dance leading his people.

Walid, or Wally as a Baptist friend had taken to calling him, entered the sanctuary. The main prayer room stood empty, as it wasn’t Friday. He kicked off his shoes and sat against a support column on the hardwood floor. He had a letter to write to the families of four women killed wearing dresses in which no one could run.

He allowed himself the wicked thought that every religion seemed to require women to wear restrictive clothing, though the Christians only made noises about it for formal occasions. He wondered if men had come up with such codes in order to make women easier to catch. And then Allah made the poetry of his heartfelt condolences sing until someone knocked at the door.

Anna and Jerry entered through stout oak doors and immediately earned Walid’s respect by kicking off their shoes. Anna dug into her purse for a rainbow-hued scarf to wrap around her raven hair. Walid put his notebook down and approached, hand extended.

“May the grace of Allah descend upon this magnificent house of worship and allow poor travelers with urgent news to enter,” Jerry said in letter perfect Arabic.

“May Allah wrap his arms around such worthy travelers as they enter a house of God practically like a barn so they may tell their news,” Walid replied in English. “Sir, I detect some Farsi cadences to your Arabic. How such a Nordic looking man survived his recent trip to Persia is a tale I would hear.”

“Everybody wants to hear my stories,” Jerry said smiling. “But, they distract from business. I’m Jerry Campbell and this is my companion, Anna Victor.”

“I’m honored such a talented reporter would grace my mosque,” Walid said. “We have a Catholic friend in common, Father Gallegos.”

“Small world,” Anna said. “Father Juan is good people.”

“He tells me of a small boy with great untapped power,” Walid probed.

Anna rolled her eyes and pulled up her shirt. “You might as well meet him since you ask.”

Walid put his hand gingerly on her stomach. He broke out laughing when he made the connection. When Bobby and Walid ended their greeting, Anna smiled ruefully.

“The story of how he went from dead to my son is even longer and more embarrassing than Jerry’s Persian story,” Anna said. “But, we’re getting sidetracked with pleasantries. Presumably you’ve heard of the hit and run at the Methodist Church in Santa Monica?”

“I was just composing my letter of condolence when you arrived,” Walid said.

“The silver car had no driver, which can only be properly reported when I wear my tabloid hat,” Anna explained. “Jerry thinks it is haunted with the soul of a Third Crusade Jihadist.”

Walid’s eyes registered shock. “I have heard this story, a Crusader and Assassin killed each other and cursed them both to eternal hatred. Until now, it was just a story to frighten children into obedience. If the silver BMW is the Assassin, where is the Crusader’s soul?”

“In a black Cadillac CTS, Imam,” Anna said.

“And you mention this because…”

“The King Fahd Mosque is the nicest and easiest to find in Los Angeles,” Anna said.

“I see, a problem in any language,” Walid admitted. “But, can’t someone borrow a bazooka from the Pentagon and be done with it? America is an excellent gunsmith.”

“The cars have already survived rough handling,” Jerry said. “So, it won’t be that easy. Take whatever precautions you feel are necessary for your flock.”

“Any suggestions?” Walid asked.

“You’ve got to have a disaster plan ready for earthquakes, fires and the return of the Inquisition,” Anna said. “The one where you meet offsite in the homes of the Faithful. Also, keep the meeting schedule off your office computer.”

“Why, Anna?”

“Both cars are Internet capable,” Anna answered. “You have to figure that sooner or later encryption systems will be like bubblegum to a supernatural being with a built-in modem.”

“I will see to it,” Walid said.

Anna, Jerry and Walid shook hands. Bobby mentally hugged his new friend. Anna looked inside to find her unborn son putting away his cars and books. Something in the way Bobby held the roll of tape, probably the set to his shoulders, made Anna shiver. They left the mosque.

Out in the street, Anna snaked her arm in Jerry’s. She felt a hormone rush spiked with a slight edge of fear bleeding in from Bobby. They kissed with an intensity seen only in Production Code Movies. Jerry could feel Bobby covering his eyes, but the boy was clearly afraid.

“What’s wrong, Anna?” Jerry asked.

“Bobby is cleaning up his room,” Anna said shivering. “It’s as if the Captain ordered ‘Clear for Action.’ I’m scared.”

Jerry touched her cheek under the scarf. “Recently forgiven boyfriends are good for fear, let me take you home.”

“And?”

“Foot rub.”

Anna nibbled on his ear and blew. “My feet are fine, Love.”

“You’ll still want one, I have excellent technique.”

“This I have to see, but only if you lie to me about how you learned. This is not the time to learn about you and Lucretia Borgia.”

“Lucy poisoned me once upon a time,” Jerry said seriously. “It’s another long story that I’ll have to make time to tell. What I will say is that the woman who taught me didn’t make the history books.”

Anna kissed him again. “I picture a barefoot village girl with a Mona Lisa smile. But, on second thought, I don’t care, let’s go home.”

Jerry led Anna to her car. They both felt the spine-tingling fear at the base of their skulls as if someone were watching.

***

Bad Black fumed watching an obviously European couple embrace the Infidel Faith. That such a fine woman would stoop to wear the blasphemous head coverings of the Saracens clearly indicated treason. The camera followed the couple as the man led the woman to the driver’s side door. Bad Black couldn’t quite fathom that a man would entrust such a powerful machine to a woman. It must be part of the blasphemy, the car thought.

The woman buckled up and closed the door of the canary yellow Lamborghini. The man dutifully took his place in the shotgun seat. She turned over the engine and merged into traffic exposing her license plate. Bad Black ran the plate with its Internet connection and pulled out into traffic behind the traitors.

***

Bobby felt hostility lurking somewhere behind his mommy. Since forcibly taking residence in this body, he wasn’t sure he could still feel the Other like this. Now, he knew he could. His only regret, his fear became Mama’s fear.

The mental room had been cleared for action some time ago and now got busy taping windows and screwing down furniture. Anna appeared to him in her nicest business suit, the one men thought sexy.

She looked around already showing the practiced eye of an experienced mother. A spider web of tape had replaced all the other clutter. Anna sat down on the bed and patted the mattress. Bobby hopped up next to her.

“Bobby, you’re panicking again,” Anna said. “You do this, get scared and then do crazy things to prove you’re a Big Boy that doesn’t get scared. I need to drive.”

Bobby nodded and hugged his mommy. Anna held him a long moment before noticing Anonymous Bear had been taped to the pillow. She handed him the bear, now looking like a mummy. He held it tight and some of the fear in both of their guts faded with each pet of the bear.

“Anonymous Bear isn’t any good unless you hold it,” Anna said.

Bobby held the bear up to his ear. “Mama, Imhotep says many things,” he said softly. “He agrees with you about being held. He also introduces himself as Imhotep the Mummy, a boy bear. He’s touchy about pronouns.”

Anna took the bear and looked it in the eye. “I’m sorry, Imhotep.”

The fear returned and Anna felt it in her gut. “Now why are you afraid, Bobby?”

“Because the Mean Other is somewhere behind us, and it hates you, Mommy,” Bobby said.

Anna blinked and both Bobby and Imhotep wore crash helmets. This was almost too much she burped up her fear.

Anna white-knuckled the steering wheel and checked the mirror just as Bad Black made a lane change. She turned to Jerry in the shotgun seat.

“Please tell me you spotted the Cadillac minutes ago,” Anna said.

“No, the problem is that black sports sedans are dime a dozen in Los Angeles,” Jerry said.

Anna stomped on the gas while yanking left and e-braking. Every other car on the street plowed to a stop leaning on their horns. She downshifted into first gear for more traction. Bad Black laid down rubber following her through the move.

“Call the cops!” Anna hissed.

Jerry pulled out a cell phone only to lose it against the windshield, when Anna pulled a quarter-donut to make a ninety-degree turn. He flicked his finger and mouthed a few syllables. The shattered phone rebuilt itself on the dashboard. He would’ve grabbed it but Anna yanked right.

She swore as the black car bumped her from the rear. She lost a loose filling, spitting it out onto the dash. Jerry simply used his vast age and experience to grab the phone dancing on the console, because Anna was still better behind the wheel. Phone in hand, he gripped the door handle and coat holder trying not to look like a scared little girl doing it.

Anna downshifted as Bad Black advanced and then she dropped the hammer causing a miss. She blew past a motorcycle officer with a radar gun. She cringed at the huge fine coming unless she opened up her shirt and laid on a big smile. Good thing she brushed her teeth this morning.

Unfortunately, the motorcycle cop made a mistake akin to getting between a mama-bear and her cub. Bad Black ground the officer under its wheels. Anna pulled a drift turn to make a right through a stale yellow light. The Black followed swerving around a taxi and causing a pile up between two SUVs.

Fear gripped Anna, but her mouth was too dry to scream at the horrors in her mirror. A thread of loud Middle Eastern music carried on the air from the cab over the horns and smashing metal. Bad Black slid to a stop. Anna did the same.

By now, the whole city had tuned in for the chase. Six helicopters, eight if you count the police, stacked up overhead in the holding pattern. Anna stuck her hand out the window and waved. She imagined millions changing hands at offshore betting sites.

Bad Black stood still deciding between the cab and the whore it had assumed was Muslim. The cabbie flooded his big Ford engine, rasping his starter. The poor man took off running. Bad Black jumped the sidewalk going after him.

Anna laid down rubber giving chase. Her big and not so eco-friendly pasta rocket engine caught up to the Cadillac and she cut off the car. Bad Black’s camera panned and caught the whore’s scarf streaming out the window. It worked like a matador’s cape, inducing the demon car to slide around towards the Lamborghini. The cabbie kept running.

Anna turned to her petrified boyfriend. “Have you thought up a useful spell?”

Her almost pleasant tone calmed Jerry down. “No, but even if I do we’ll probably need both cars in the same place for it to work.”

Anna patted Jerry’s hand between shifts. “I’m going to help you out behind the wheel when this is over, if Bad Black, there, lets us live. Call it an incentive for masterly magic.”

Bobby took his cue from Anna putting the mental image of a NASCAR cockpit complete with 6-point safety harness into the lower left corner of her vision. He bounced in his seat. She would really need to speak to Bobby about his wildly divergent fear cycle, because too afraid and too reckless were equally deadly.

“Go Mama-racer, Go!” Bobby sang.

Anna cringed to hear the Lamborghini’s low differential smack asphalt as she dropped off the sidewalk. Her car was tougher then she gave it credit. Bad Black followed.

“Go Mama-racer, Go!” Bobby sang gleefully. “When there’s trouble at the track and you’re not sure if you’re coming back, Go Mama-racer, Go!”

“Bobby, shut up!” Anna hissed. “I need to drive and think up an escape route! I can’t listen to your song!”

Bobby shut up with a beatific smile and held Imhotep in his lap.

“We’re near Ballona Creek,” Jerry suggested. “Lots of nice straight concrete away from everyone else.”

“I’m thinking road construction,” Anna said. “I just remembered where some is.”

She pointed at Jerry’s cell phone that he’d never used. “Jerry, call a cab company and order a cab for Santa Monica.”

Jerry made this call. And so resumed a titanic car chase the city would speak about for decades.

***

Meanwhile, Mean Silver enjoyed following the chase on the Internet. That thrice-damned Crusader had always been impetuous so it made sense that it would be torn between that Muslim cabbie and that whorish woman. The BMW shook on its tires laughing deep in the power train that just because the scantily-clad Christian wore a scarf in a mosque the Crusader had mistook her as one of the Faithful.

Mean Silver almost had another attack of forgiveness and real sentience contemplating that a Christian could risk her life for a Muslim she hadn’t even met. But, the need to grind the Crusader under the original equipment Dunlop tires was too great. It turned the camera towards the castle that rose over a verdant fence and hedge.

Something about the Magic Kingdom’s parking lot pissed off Mean Silver. It was more than the uncovered women in shorts and blasphemous T-shirts strolling by. It was more than the costumed mascots that roamed around, though the mouse was creepy. It was the entire concept of a place dedicated to hedonistic pleasure, when they should stay home and read the Koran. These infidels didn’t even read their Bible.

But, Mean Silver was patient, quoting to itself the sura from the Koran about Allah being the best and most patient of plotters. A special group of infidels who hadn’t yet made their appearance would meet their destiny. Sky tram cars moved overhead as did five separate monorail trains.

Minutes that seemed like hours passed and finally the target showed up. Three vans clearly marked St. Jude’s Parrish School and Day Camp parked in the tour bus section of the lot. Mean Silver kicked over the engine.

THUMP! THUMP! THUMP! THUMP! THUMP! Mean Silver stopped counting at five, but multitudes of infidel children, a priest in shorts and a nun all splattered off the bumper. Actually, the nun lived with a compound fracture of the tibia.

***

Anna and Jerry pulled off the Santa Monica Freeway at the Cloverfield exit. They had dragged Bad Black all over Los Angeles keeping the Cadillac bore sighted on her Lamborghini. She’d cringed with every tap on the bumper, but at least she was fully insured. The helicopters followed, as did every radio car in the city.

“Jerry, I just realized the flaw in the plan,” Anna said. “Those camera ships are feeding images to the Web. We need a blackout. Can you…well, you know?”

Jerry released his grip long enough to open his cell phone. “I can, but I may not have to.”

He made a call. “Hey, Mike it’s Jerry. I’m riding shotgun in the Lamborghini. I need a favor as you’re the guy in the lowest chopper.”

“What?” Mike asked.

“Cut your camera on cue and block the other cameras,” Jerry said. “We’re going to get out on foot and deal with the cops, later.”

“Damn Jerry! My producer is telling me to extend the chase, if possible. You’re good for ratings!”

“Mike, I know where your bodies are buried.”

“Jerry, you didn’t have to get nasty,” Mike said. “We’re pals and the suits will just have to put on some CSI reruns.”

They hung up and Jerry made a funny face. “I have friends in low places.”

Anna looked up over her shoulder at the choppers. The whup-whup gave her a media-induced flashback. “Shit! I’m still in Saigon,” she said grinning.

Jerry made the shame finger. “Young lady, I think I’m taking your remote away.”

And then Bad Black bumped her again leaving another welt on her formerly pristine pasta rocket. Anna raised the Hawaiian Good Luck Sign even though a haunted car couldn’t be expected to care. Bad Black bumped them again.

Anna finally found the stale yellow light she wanted pulling a drifting turn to keep up her power. The black Cadillac made the turn glued to her bumper. They went west toward the beach. By this time, pedestrians clustered on sidewalks holding up signs of support. Go Lamborghini girl and other sentiments outweighed die slut by four to one. She rolled down her window.

“Jesus! Get a life!” Anna shouted at the holder of negative sign barely loud enough to be heard over the screaming engine.

Bad Black’s camera swiveled left and right catching the glint of a gold Ankh around the throat of a cute high school senior going for a retro 70s look. The black car jumped the curb because it could. The girl became a pinball between the windshield and the concrete retaining wall. What landed on the sidewalk didn’t live long, fortunately.

“That Goddamned bastard killed her!” Anna shouted at Jerry. “And you’re not doing anything about it!”

Bobby frowned in the corner of her vision and pushed her Happy Button. Obviously, Anna blaming Jerry for anything was not in the boy’s interest. She blissed out and focused on her driving.

“I’m sorry, Love.”

Bad Black shook off the blood and healed a huge dent in the grill, which seemed to smile with evil glee. The car didn’t stop and welded itself back onto Anna’s bumper.

Anna expertly weaved through the cars ahead as they pulled over for the mother of all police chases. The Cadillac bumped her lightly in an ever-increasing staccato rhythm. She thought of a bully tapping the class victim until he cried. I’m smarter, Anna thought.

The seconds crawled like hours. Finally, Anna’s trap approached. A fish market loomed on the right. She yanked the wheel to the right, ducking into an alley. Jerry reached for his phone and dialed.

“Mike, ten seconds,” Jerry said.

***

The construction crew enjoyed a warm December day in an alley. The city had decided to rip up asphalt and replace pipes. At the moment, not much work happened because someone had brought a handheld TV. Orange vests clustered around a backhoe.

“What we can determine now is that the yellow Lamborghini is being chased by the black Cadillac,” the traffic reporter announced. “Our scanner tells us that the police are totally focused on the black car as the aggressor. We have seen the woman help her case by virtuoso driving that has saved lives and by acting as decoy. She must be smarting about this last hit and run behind her.”

The youngest member of the crew realized something and looked up to see the chase with his own eyes just a few blocks east. He tapped the supervisor’s arm and pointed. The boss squinted up at the helicopters under his hard hat and made a decision.

“Let’s help the lady out,” the man said. “Make a box for Cadillac Man.”

The men ran to their equipment as if RAF pilots scrambling to meet the Luftwaffe. They had just got moving when the chase turned into the alley.

“Nine,” Jerry told his phone.

Anna e-braked around the backhoe and reversed the turn around the bubbling tar pot. Bad Black made the first right turn to see a labyrinth of construction gear taking shape.

The backhoe operator dropped his bucket on the black hood, but made the mistake of lifting it up for the coup de grace. The demon car healed and kept after its prey. The portable TV was flung into a chain-link fence and kept broadcasting.

“Chivalry is not dead, it appears,” the traffic reporter said. “A construction crew is blocking the Bad Black Cadillac. Oh, my I think I see the method in the woman’s madness.”

“Can you explain, Tom?” the female anchor asked.

“No, Jane,” the reporter said. “There is speculation that Bad Black is listening to our broadcast.”

The reporter held his hand over his mike. “They’re going to ditch the car.”

Anna waved to the construction crew as she rocketed through the alley. She saw the cab ordered pull up on schedule. She yanked the e-brake and slid into a perfect parking place near the mouth of the alley.

Jerry spoke into his phone. “Mike, now!”

Tom the reporter watched as his colleague, Mike, pulled on the collective and blocked the camera angles of every ship in the stack. Tom had gone to Fort Rucker with Mike, so he saw through the bird strike Mayday squawking on the radio. Mike wants the girl, Tom assumed. Oh well, back to reporting traffic until the next chase.

Anna stripped off her seat belt, her fear spiking and pushing her through the fastest Chinese Fire Drill in her life. On the asphalt, she heard the angry tones of Bad Black’s horn as a front loader blocked the alley. Jerry stood next to her and smiled.

“Smoking fire kills those that can’t see,” Jerry incanted. “Bend light around that which is important to me.”

Smoke and small versions of St. Elmo’s Fire appeared at Jerry’s fingertips. He did a Wonder Woman twirl spreading the smoke over the mouth of the alley. The tiny fireballs hid in the smoke.

Bad Black made a note to kill these orange heathens even though most of them wore crucifixes at their throats. The front loader finally backed off to reveal the smoke. The Cadillac tore through before anyone could change their mind.

Anna and Jerry ran to the cab. She freaked out hearing the click of her heels on pavement. Jerry yanked her by the hand and pulled her into the cab. The cabbie, a Sikh from Lahore, stomped on the gas pedal leaving a rubber trail.

Bad Black entered the cloud following in the harlot’s footsteps. The fireballs blew up in sequence like a string of firecrackers on steroids also called flash bangs. The camera overloaded on the green and blue flashes. The camera mike squealed with hideous feedback much like the overdrive setting on a badly tuned Stratocaster.

Mike corrected for his fictitious bird strike just in time to catch Bad Black emerging from the cloud only to spear a lamppost. Anna’s cab had already rounded the nearest corner. Every helicopter got great footage of the Cadillac backing away from the light. Eyes bugged out all over the city when the hood healed under the best possible camera angles.

The smoke cleared leaving Bad Black and the helicopters alone with Anna’s Lamborghini. The yellow pasta rocket took a savage beating from the black Cadillac. Gearhead hearts broke all over the city.

***

“There is absolutely no truth to the rumors created by the Weekly World Guardian and their mysterious columnist Anna X that either of these cars are driverless Hell Hounds out of a bad 70s movie,” Los Angeles Mayor Raymondo Villanueves declared. “We have about thirty leads for each car and we will get them.”

The Mayor stood tall at a podium carefully laid out under the historic North Archway at City Hall. The Mayors and County Commissioners of every civilized place in Los Angeles and Orange Counties stood with him. They formed a task force that would stamp out this vehicular mayhem. Anna took notes from the reporter’s pool. Jerry took pictures.

“Mama, why are the politics-men lying through their teeth about the cars?’ Bobby asked as his mommy gently rocked him and Imhotep in his mental rocking chair.

“Bobby, politics-men have an institutional fear of the naked truth,” Anna explained. “Their voters are sometimes like scared children.”

The speech and photo opportunity ended. Two LAPD officers of the large corn-fed variety appeared at Anna’s elbows.

“Please come with us, Miss,” an officer ordered.

The officers led Anna into the Mayoral Presence, which included Cardinal Archbishop John O’Rourke of Los Angeles. She did her best to remain calm in this cliché scene. But Mayor Villanueves was in a fine lather.

“It’s all your fault, Chica!” the Mayor shouted. “You’re a storm crow and it stops now!”

“Your Honor, as far as I know I’m merely the sportswriter who is making your urban renewal program possible with positive coverage of the Road Rage, the expansion football team that you kissed ass to get for the city,” Anna said sweetly fighting not to laugh in their faces.

Cardinal O’Rourke played the nice grandfatherly priest handing over a cup of coffee. “Young lady, let’s not be evasive. Your activities and friendship with Father Juan Gallegos and others interested at bumping back at the things that go bump in the night have been reported to us.”

Anna kissed the Cardinal’s ring because it helps to play nice some of the time. “So what am I supposed to do about your political problems, Your Eminence and Your Honor? Especially since Bobby, my unborn son, thinks you’re silly for spouting such bald-faced lies in this case.”

The mention of her pregnancy divided the room. The Cardinal lit up like a new grandfather. The Mayor merely squinted with suspicion.

“No Chica, you don’t get to hide behind your brat!” the Mayor hissed. “You and your puto boyfriend are my point men for ridding Southern California of this menace! My oldest boy works for the IRS, I’ll see you audited to death if you fuck me!”

“Your Honor, I was going to do it anyway,” Anna said. “The Cadillac killed a girl just minding her business and I want payback.”

“So we understand each other?” the Mayor asked.

“No, Your Honor, you called my boyfriend, mi Corazon, a puto and that’s a deadly insult,” Anna promised coldly. “If it ever happens again, I’ll have my man take a nudie photo of me and use Photoshop to put you in bed with me. Your wife will love that kicked over beehive.”

Anna stood up to leave stopping at the door. “It would be nice if the city unbent my car as a way of saying thanks.”

She left.

“Damn!” the Mayor exclaimed. “That one has brass balls. I should’ve married her.”

***

Mean Silver and Bad Black watched the press conference with laughter. They flashed lights, honked horns and opened doors and trunks for several minutes. Then it was back to business examining threads on the web for new targets.

The unknown harlot named Anna X, who may or may not have driven the Lamborghini, had stirred up the city despite official denials. Notices of Christian and Muslim sanctuaries closing all over town for ‘emergency repairs’ littered the Internet. But, both cars had once been crafty warriors and knew how to think outside the box. Surprisingly, the same Jewish Temple appeared at the top of both target lists. The cars were miles apart in different dark alleys and they kicked their engines over at the same time.

***

The Steinberg-Weisman wedding was a hoot. The best man had liberated some spare bullet-resistant polycarbonate from work and forged it into a wineglass. The groom gamely made three passes at the ritual glass shattering before the best man apologized and switched out the trick glass for the real one. The young people thought it funny. The elders were horrified.

The bride sided with the traditionalists because this was her day and it is bad karma to mess with a bridezilla. The groom saved the day with a little Kung Fu. He centered his chi and performed a Mexican Hat Dance that broke both glasses to the cheers of everyone present.

All that was left was the caravan to the reception hall. And so another couple straight from the top of the wedding cake appeared on the doorstep of their temple ready for married life. Birdseed rained down on them. Shouts of Mazaltov rang in their ears.

A five-year-old saved most of their lives. Tim Weisman had born up with the suit, the bath, the haircut and the attentions of all those creepy old people that claimed to be his relatives. But, the small snatches of fun he could steal from the event were his alone. As the couple moved to their limo, Tim amused himself with the cars in his pocket: a black Cadillac and a silver BMW.

He had displayed much cunning by opening the Crusader Cars two-pack long before any adults could see and take the offensive toys. Without the packaging the cars could’ve come off any Matchbox production line. And so Tim zoomed the cars as he spun. When he saw the real cars rolling to a stop at opposite ends of the block, he shivered.

“Those bad cars are here, Mama!” Tim shouted. “No one said they didn’t like Jews!”

The wedding party scattered having learned from the Methodist wedding. The bridesmaids wore knee-length blue dresses that advertised their Pilates-toned legs and allowed them to run, so they lived. The rabbi and cantor flung their vestments into the windshields of the approaching cars and put the nearest old lady into a fireman carry.

The men helped their women into the relative safety of the temple abandoning shoes, cell phones and other assorted objects. One enterprising teenaged girl collected these items and tossed them at the approaching cars, now on the sidewalk with engines at full-throttle. Perhaps, tossed was too tame a word as the girl already had an eighty MPH softball pitch.

Windshields spider-webbed under the hail causing the cars to swerve slightly. These distractions allowed all but the four oldest people to reach the safety of their temple. Younger people came back for them. The two octogenarian men instinctively stood their ground. The cars approached. The men rolled up their sleeves revealing a tattoo. They formed a double box out allowing their wives to be rescued behind them.

Something about these old men put the fear of God into the cars causing them to swerve into each other. They laughed and waved their arms as the cars disentangled from the head-on crash.

“Come on, Grandpa run!” the softball player yelled from the temple door. “Bring the other Grandpa, too!”

Both men smiled as they sized up the situation. Nothing but a lawn and an unreinforced masonry wall kept the cars from their families in the temple. They knew what had to be done. The cars healed from the wreck. The men approached each other and shook hands.

“You have a fine grandson,” the bride’s grandfather said.

“Your granddaughter is better, we’re trading up,” the groom’s grandfather admitted. “I survived Buchenwald, you?”

“Regensburg, they almost froze my package off.”

“Are you ready?”

“Yes.”

The men turned to face the cars as they revved engines.

“You’re pathetic you Nazi bastards!” one grandfather shouted raising his tattooed arm.

“I have lived well on my borrowed time, so come get me Eichman!” the other man chimed in.

And so began an intricate ballet of two cars and two old men, possibly gifted with more agility than they’d ever had at twenty. The cars lunged forward and missed as the men dodged like a matador. Their families remained glued to the windows by the door as the men laughed and sang.

Approaching police sirens gave the demon cars a moment’s pause, but they each decided to finish the job. The men linked arms as if in answer to the square dance command Swing your Partner. One grandfather dropped his pants at Mean Silver.

“Nyah! Nyah! Nyah! Nazi bastards can’t catch me!” he sang.

Which perhaps greatly tempted Fate as the man broke his ankle on a lawn sprinkler. Bad Black smashed one man and Mean Silver got the other. The police were closer now. The cars circled each other as if they wanted to tangle directly. They exchanged headlights and horns before they collectively decided to leave until later. They laid rubber making two donuts and left in opposite directions.

***

Later, Anna held Tim Weisman as the police cleaned up the scene. Bobby and Tim played cars in their minds. Anna had lost all objectivity and most of her patience with Jerry.

“Jerry, my love, if there was ever a time to break the rules and leave your fingerprints on a situation, I think now is it.”

“I’m working on a plan.”

“Work harder.”

“Yes, dear.”

Bobby opened a private mental channel to his mother displaying a picture of the Matchbox cars in Tim’s pocket. The home designed Crusader Cars packaging really spiked Anna’s anger.

“Tim, Bobby has told me about your cars,” Anna said. “May I see them?”

Tim handed them over glad to get rid of them. He cried. Jerry stepped closer to sneak the perfect picture.

“Adam Smith lives,” Jerry said.

“What? This is profiteering!” Anna hissed.

Tim cried again. “But, Mister, the real cars came because I played with the toys.”

Jerry sat down and put Tim on his knee. “Tim, these cars came to take your grandpa and grandpa-in-law because they started out as bad men who didn’t know when to stop hating people who are different. Any Jews would do nicely for them, but your family threw this nice wedding. You did a brave thing when you warned your family. And the grandpas died because they too were brave when they saw their families in danger. That’s all there is to this.”

“Are you sure, mister?” Tim asked.

“I’m an expert on magic, Tim,” Jerry said. “The belief that naming calls is a form of sympathetic magic and in my life I have never been more frustrated by how useless that kind of magic is, so you have my promise.”

Tim believed the sincerity in Jerry’s light jade eyes. He stopped crying and hopped up to run to his disconsolate mother. Anna touched Jerry’s hand.

“I’m sorry, I reacted like an angry mother,” Anna whispered. “It is very good to have the right man around.”

Jerry said nothing and tickled her forearm because he could.

“I’m sorry, too,” Jerry said finally.

“What for?” Anna asked. “Remaining calm and seeing the situation like a man?”

“No, Angel Face, I want to stick around the rest of your life,” Jerry said. “It’s good policy to apologize even when I’m completely right.”

And then an idea or at least half of one hit Jerry like a ton of bricks.

“Greed is good!” Jerry growled doing a letter-perfect Gordon Gecko impression. “Capitalism will solve part of our problem with the Crusader Cars.”

“Which part disposal or capture?” Anna asked.

“Disposal. I’m still working on capture.”

“It’s a start.”

***

That might Anna sat on the couch reading The Hobbit with Bobby. Gandalf had a merry time distracting the trolls until morning. But, Bobby’s telepathic spider-sense worked overtime ruining the touching moment. Something hostile waited in the dark beyond the yellow streetlights.

***

Bad Black had finally cracked the DMV database and followed the Muslim harlot writer to her home. Perspective was so warped that despite finding traces of Anna’s true Presbyterian affiliations on the Internet, she was still a Muslim harlot.

The camera rotated to watch the single light in the upstairs window. The harlot enjoyed peace in her home because no car could reach her in an upstairs condo. Anna came to the balcony window surveying the length of the street before reentering.

***

Anna resumed reading with Bobby, as the dark outside became all encompassing. But, the lingering fear stuck the narrative at the stupid trolls.

“Mama, you’ve read this part five times already,” Bobby complained. “Boil them, sit on them, roast them, skip down.”

“It’s you that’s distracting me,” Anna said.

“The cars are close.”

“I know, that’s why I wanted to read to you, so we don’t think about it.”

She did her best to get them back to the story picturing the trolls at dawn. This led to the rest of Jerry’s idea coming to her as she wondered if the cars could be distracted and delayed until they were made impotent. She stood up and kicked Jerry awake from her love seat.

“Get up Jerry,” Anna said. “If you can have your disposal plan ready in 36 hours, I’ve figured out the capture plan.”

“Yeah what?”

“Can you make a spell that causes cars to run out of gas?”

“I can do anything with either the right rhyme in English or key phrase in Latin, Greek or Egyptian,” Jerry said. “But, it will increase entropy in a whole area speeding everything up until things die. It will be very dangerous to play decoy.”

Anna nodded and retreated to her office to compose an email.

***

Mean Silver glided to a stop at the other end of Anna’s street. It had done the same online detective work as Bad Black and reached the same conclusions. The Christian harlot was a threat because of her media profile, a concept only freshly understood. On that it could agree with the thrice-damned Crusader.

The silver BMW could feel the Cadillac just up the street, but direct confrontation was pointless. Both cars were equally invulnerable. But, it still felt good to smash hoods with the old enemy.

An email sent to a chat room devoted to Mean Silver came through: the harlot issued a challenge.

Greetings Muslim Dickhead, I trust that I find your beard in a state much like your sister’s vagina, smelling like fish and dripping with sperm, you miserable evil cocksucker. Meet me on Fifth Street downtown, Saturday at 2pm. Love your favorite emancipated woman.

***

Bad Black’s email began with Greetings Christian Bastard, but delivered the same message with an insult more suited to piss off an English Crusader. Rage welled up in the crankcase and then it allowed itself to feel the Jihadist bastard just yards away. Both cars peeled out and smashed hoods because they could. They backed away and retreated into the night.

Anna and Jerry watched the crash and shivered. They went to bed.

***

Anna and Jerry woke up to find a black 1969 Dodge Charger parked out front with a red bow on the hood and a card. The card had the logo of a cable TV show dedicated to sparking creativity among motoring enthusiasts. Anna grabbed the card.

“Dear Miss X,” Anna read. “Hot, classy women like you are almost as important to us as hot, classy cars. We’ve been following your situation. Shame on you for thinking you could offer battle in anything less than this chariot. We call him Sir Lancelot; he’s armored. Go get ‘em, girl. With love from the staff of Thunder Alley.”

“So how does it feel to be an automotive Joan of Arc?” Jerry teased.

“This is my second go round,” Anna said faking a jaded outlook. “Those robot cars a few months ago…but, I’m lying. It’s a charge to the ego, every time.”

Anna took the keys from the center of the bow and strapped in. The engine kicked over making a deep throaty rumble that almost gave her an orgasm on the spot. She was happy until she remembered something.

“I thought I’d done a good job separating my Anna X byline from my Anna Victor byline,” Anna said worried.

Jerry kissed. “There are lots of smart people on the web with the time to cross-reference stuff. Apparently you are their Joan of Arc, so relax. Oh, and it would be a good idea to mention Thunder Alley in your press conference. It’s good advertising.”

“Adam Smith lives?”

“Yes.”

***

Anna and Bobby waited on Fifth Street between the All Seeing Eye of the Central Library and the white phallus of the tallest building in Los Angeles. She sat on the hood striking a spokesmodel pose as if a black Charger with a monster engine really needed a babe on the hood. She wore her racing suit open to the front showing off a lacy bra and cleavage enhanced by her pregnancy.

Bobby threw a snit in their private mental space because while every boy wants a beautiful mom, he doesn’t want to see her pictures on the Internet. Such exposure may have been necessary to bait a pair of fanatic cars, but he didn’t like it. He sat with his arms crossed as Anna sat with him in their rocking chair. Imhotep the Mummy Bear sat between them as if trying to make peace.

But moms develop a skill set for coaxing children out to play, so Anna showered Bobby with kisses until he giggled and broke. The outside world only saw a brunette with a beatific smile twiddling her thumbs. The media hovered overhead even borrowing choppers from San Diego and San Francisco TV stations.

Mean Silver arrived first causing Anna to zip up her suit. The free peep show was over. The BMW stopped going the wrong way on the one-way street. An angry horn that practically called her a whore blared. Anna took her time strapping into her car because she could.

Mean Silver leaned on the horn again. Anna merely pointed in the direction the German car was heading revealing the ominous arrival of Bad Black. Engines revved. Lights flashed. Anna gripped her steering wheel.

Downtown traffic automatically rerouted around the brewing demolition derby. Creative people took the live feeds posted to the Internet and set them to music. So far the Man with No Name Theme led the pack. The whole city caught its breath waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Anna didn’t waste any more time, kicking the engine over and stomping the gas fluidly. Her Charger curved around its slightly larger rear-wheel drive turning axis. Mean Silver grew larger in the windshield framed by the library and streetlight.

The Charger smoked with the horrible smell of transmission fluid heating up. The reporters in the choppers smelled the car several hundred feet up. Anna speared the Beemer into the light using a mass and torque advantage to bend the Ultimate Driving Machine around the concrete pole. The audience cheered as Anna snapped into reverse.

Anna thanked the builders of the car for the armor as only a mild paint gouge in the left fender resulted from the hit. The city cheered again as Anna backed into Bad Black smashing it into a mailbox. Anna screamed in her cockpit. Bobby held his hands over his ears.

“COME GET SOME! I THOUGHT YOU WERE WARRIORS! NOW THE PEDESTRIANS ARE FIGHTING BACK!”

Enraged, both Mean Silver and Bad Black took her bait yanking the obstructions from their mountings. Bad Black spun tossing the mailbox and attached concrete slab at the Charger.

Mama! Bobby shouted between Anna’s ears. Look out!

Anna screamed through a donut and J-turn. The city cheered to see the mailbox miss. Mean Silver finally worked the streetlight free and pointed it at the Charger. A quick hit to the brakes caused a miss. The city cheered.

Anna cranked around heading east toward the Los Angeles River. The demon cars followed.

Jerry waited by a ramp overlooking a river that had long been concreted over. The water was barely three inches deep, as it hadn’t rained yet. He laughed at the sign on the chain-link fence that read DANGER KEEP OUT!

He watched the chase and demolition derby on a portable TV. He heard the cars and choppers and quickly shuffled through the spells jotted down on index cards.

Anna saw Jerry and blew him a kiss through the windshield. Jerry thoughtfully waggled a finger to open the gate to the access ramp. All three cars screamed down into the concrete canyon.

Bad Black and Mean Silver were already past Jerry when they realized they had been artfully trapped. The gate closed behind them.

“Entropy sucks! Combustion mucks! Long lines bring back Even Odd! Run out of gas you stupid Sod!”

An amber bubble descended upon the three cars sliding around on the wet concrete. Anna watched the water of her rooster tail hit the bubble and flash to steam. She pointed south and dropped the hammer.

Bad Black and Mean Silver had been trying to pull a Pinky Fontaine on Anna smashing her between them. Her sudden burst of speed caused them to lock front ends. She felt fear grip her spine hearing her engine spool up into an impossible RPM rate well above 10,000.

The car shook straining to get out of the bubble. Bad Black and Mean Silver forgot their common purpose and proceeded to smash each other.

“Please baby, please get me out of this bubble,” Anna pleaded rubbing her hands on the dashboard like there might be a genie in the glove box.

Anna finally blasted out of the bubble running out of gas just as the speedometer broke at three hundred. She held the car straight letting the car drift to a stop somewhere near Long Beach. Her first thought was for Bobby who hugged her. She didn’t like the white in her hair that she saw in the mirror.

Jerry watched the sports sedans still in the bubble smash each other. He quickly read the remaining spells. Blue force fields blocked the storm drains that fed the river. And then at least on TV all traces of Jerry’s magic disappeared from the public record. Everyone saw, but the cameras and archives didn’t so in time people would disbelieve their eyes and memories.

Jerry sat down on a concrete wall and ate a sandwich.

***

Bad Black moved like it was encased in concrete and dropped in a deep ocean trench. Gas consumption spiked and battery levels dropped precipitously. So this is what it feels like to die.

Mean Silver cursed its enemies including the harlot with his last thoughts before hibernation. This time the universe didn’t listen. Both cars sputtered and died with loud backfires. The city cheered.

***

Jerry sat down to see Anna slather mustard on six hot dogs. She wore the tiniest black dress because Bobby would grow out of her womb soon. Her green eyes twinkled ready to enjoy pregnancy and controlled vehicular mayhem.

Bad Black and Mean Silver smashed each other and all the other derby cars. The crowds safely behind wire mesh loved the show. Already fans divided up holding signs of support for each car. The Crusader Cars toys had been bought out by the original manufacturer and sold like gangbusters.

Anna put her hand in Jerry’s and ate a hot dog. She needed more relish and tried to grab some off Jerry’s tray. Instead, she found the jewelry box with the Ring. She cried as she put it on. They kissed. Jerry cast a silent spell that reversed the aging damage to Anna. He paid for it with chest pains as his motives were borderline selfish. She didn’t figure it out until the next morning in her mirror. They kissed again. The crowd cheered.

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