St. Louis, Missouri
De Soto Park
Sexton sat down on a park bench, can of Coke in his hand. He popped the tab and took a long swig of the bubbly brown liquid. The coolness of the soda flowed down his throat. He closed his eyes to let the tension in his shoulders flow away. His cell phone trilled. Annoyed, he slammed the cola beside him on the bench. He fished the phone from his jacket. "Sexton. Ah, Rose. Nice trick at the parking garage. Where are you now?"
Sexton stood up. "I have the resources-- What do you mean?" He blanched. "Darren doesn't know how to maintain national security." A vein throbbed near Sexton's eye. "You have no idea what's happening out there, Velasco. The world is a dangerous place. " Sexton closed his eyes to will himself to calm down. "I still have resources even Darren is unaware of. GPS?" He smacked himself on the forehead. "Of course, you'll leave the Blackberry someplace embarrassing, like the backseat of a police cruiser. Keep it, Rose, as a reminder."
Disconnecting the call, he picked up his can and strolled back to his Chrysler. Sexton punched in a number. After the second ring, the other end picked up. "Yeah, it's Sexton. Start Plan B. Extreme prejudice."
St. Louis, Missouri
De Soto Park
Amber jumped out of her battered Accord. "Yeah! Man, that was awesome!"
Allison shook her head. "What did you do to your car?"
"Pushed it to its limit and beyond." Amber glanced back at her Honda. "Man, I am glad I won't have to fix that. I think the engine's a bit warped."
"Don't worry about," Elena said. "The person donating the cars never said about the condition we return them in."
"Considering the condition we got it in, no arguments here," Allison said. "I smell like burnt oil."
Amber sniffed. "Oh, man, Allie. Your car was hosed before you got it. That's so the wrong oil."
"You can smell the brand?"
"Not now, Allison," Elena admonished. "Amber, where are the cars you procured?"
"A little further in." Amber started leading the others into the park. "I figured we didn't want to be seen."
"How far in?" Allison asked.
"Not far." Amber pushed past some bushes. "Ah, here we go. Ta-daa!"
As Allison and Elena cleared the bushes, they saw two cars: one was a gold 1974 Camero with a bold black stripe down the centreline from front to rear; the other was an inferno red 2007 Dodge Charger. Amber beamed as she gazed on the vehicles. "We've lost her," Allison said.
"Aren't they beautiful?" Amber breathed.
Elena shrugged. "For American cars, I suppose."
"You don't see their rugged beauty, the power lying behind their lines?"
"They're cars, Amber," Allison said. "They're just things."
Amber gasped. "Is the Mona Lisa just a thing? Is the Statue of Liberty just a thing? Allie, these are works of art just as much as a painting or a sculpture." She hmphed.
"I much prefer the looks of the Italian sports cars," Elena said.
"Pfft." Amber waved her hand in dismissal.
Rustling came from the bushes. The women turned in the direction of the sound. "Hold on," Rose called. "It's only me. I'm alone." She stepped into the clearing. "Is everyone here?"
"Still waiting on Tyler," Elena reported. "No news over the radio on any channel. How are things working out?"
"Sexton's a lone wolf, or, at least, he is now. His boss denies that they're anything more than codebreakers."
"Good news for us. However, he is still out there."
"I know," Rose said. She held up Sexton's Blackberry. "I let him know his little project has lost funding."
Allison looked over. "Was that wise?"
"Sexton is off-balance even more. He will have to use his shadow resources to find us. The more we can draw him out, the more he'll lose."
Elena shook her head. "He might try something rash."
"Let him," Rose said. She looked around. "Where's Tyler?"
"Not here yet," Allison said. "You don't think Sexton's men got her?"
"There's been nothing on the radio," Elena said. "I doubt they have her."
"Can I still worry?" Amber asked.
"Not yet," Rose said. "Tyler should--" A loud bang! interrupted her. Elena and Rose ducked down, Allison shortly afterwards. Amber walked towards the source of the noise. "Amber, get down!"
"That was a car backfiring," Amber said, still walking. "I'll go check."
"Hey, guys, where are you?" Tyler called.
Amber pulled back the bushes. "Over here. What happened to you?"
"Ran out of gas." The young woman picked her way across the grass in her heels. "You could have waited someplace easier to get to," Tyler complained.
"Sorry." Amber led the admin assistant to the rest of the team. "See? All safe."
Rose dug in her pocket and pulled out several bills. "Have lunch, dinner, and take a taxi home," she said as she handed the money to Tyler. "Thanks."
"Hey, I got out of the office for a bit and got paid for it."
Rose turned back to the others. "We're going to split up again. Amber and Allison, you're in one car. Elena's with me in the other. Amber, choose a car."
Amber switched her attention from the Charger to the Camero and back. "I, er, um . . .."
"Rose, you're going to make her head explode," Allison said.
Rose sighed. "Want me to choose, Amber?"
"No, no, I'm fine." Amber walked between the cars, running her hands along their sides. "Charger, I choose you!"
Allison buried her face into her hand. "Rose, please, don't send me with her."
Rose walked over to the Charger. "Sorry, Allie, but I need Elena with me." She handed a map to Amber. "Once you find Sexton's people, follow the route I've outlined."
Amber jumped into the Charger's driver's seat. "Come on, Allie, it'll be fun!"
"Don't scare Allie too much, Amber," Rose warned. She walked to the driver's door of the Camero. "Just keep Sexton's people busy."
St. Louis, Missouri
Highway 40, Westbound
The red Charger roared down the highway, its driver grinning like a maniac. Allison gripped the door handle. "Amber, you're insane!"
"Relax, Allie." Amber guided the car between two semis. "I'm just seeing what this baby can do. I haven't even touched the extras yet."
Amber pointed at a button on the steering column. "Nitrous-oxide."
Allison closed her eyes. "Can't you drive something normal?"
"What, like something off the lot?"
Amber rolled her eyes. "Do you buy your clothes off the rack?"
"What does that have to do with anything?" Allison demanded.
"You're the only tech I've seen wearing tailored outfits, Allie."
Allison shrugged. "I like how they fit. I still don't see the connection."
Amber smiled. "Okay, how about this. Is your computer either at home or at work the way it was out of the box?"
"Please, Amber. None of my computers come out of boxes."
"My point, exactly."
"You built your own car?"
Amber shook her head. "No, not that. That one's not done, yet, though. You personalize your computer and your wardrobe. They're yours. That's what I do to the cars I drive. I make them mine."
Allison thought over Amber's answer. After a moment, she said, "I think I get it. You're not as dumb as you act."
"This act of yours. Playing being the naïve girl-woman."
Allison rolled her eyes. "You're pathetic."
"Why? Because I'm not as sophisticated as you? Doesn't mean I'm stupid. I graduated with a four-year honours physics degree in three years."
"Then why all the cartoons and stuffed animals?"
"I'm getting old. Doesn't mean I have to be mature. Look at my oldest brother. Man, does he need to take that steel rod out of his ass. I get along better with his kids."
"But you're not a kid anymore. You're in your twenties."
Amber nodded. "Yeah, and? Allie, I'm in a job that lets me drive toys like this Charger, hang out with cool people like you, and have fun, and I can afford to do stuff like race on weekends. Maybe it's not your idea of a life, but it works for me." She eased the car to an offramp. "Besides, you have your mysterious Thursdays, you wear clothes you like, and you control the network at the office. Not my goal, but you seem happy."
Allison sat back in the passenger seat. "Maybe. But what about when you're older? What then?"
Amber shrugged. "I'll worry about it then. Allie, I'm not an idiot. I've put money aside for retirement and all, but that's so far away. Plenty of time to figure out if I want to settle down."
"And what about social events?" Allison looked up and down the driver's figure. "Because you do have a decent body. You just don't showcase it well at all."
Amber's cheeks reddened. "You really think so?"
"I do. Even if you tried designer jeans instead of those cheap pairs you wear, it'd be a start."
Amber glanced at Allison. "You're not just hitting on me, are you?"
"Get over it, Amber." Allison huffed impatiently. "You really have no idea what guys like. Rose and Elena needed a distraction, we provided one."
"By making out?"
"Guys love seeing hot girl on girl action. You and me, in full view of the camera? Free show. Even if you don't know how to kiss."
"I do so know how to kiss." Amber made the next turn sharp, tires squealing. "I'm just out of practice, that's all."
"I could tell."
"So where did you get all your practice?"
Allison smiled sweetly. "That would be telling."