by Dan Swanson
The ride home was a good time to reflect on the day’s events. She had thought she was going to be bored in Redcliff, but she realized she was wrong. She had girlfriends to gossip with, an intriguing new man in her life, baseball to look forward to, and mysteries to solve. And she could ride her bike again. What more could a girl want? Actually, she wanted to fly again, too. Greedy girl! she thought to herself. But it’s probably too late in the growing season for crop-dusting, and Dad probably doesn’t have enough gasoline to go joy-riding. Well, even she couldn’t have everything.
Lily was driving much more slowly than she usually did, having discovered last night that road maintenance was one of the things affected by the war. So she wasn’t surprised when a big car passed her, driving much faster than she thought was safe. She was surprised, however, when she came around a sharp corner in the road, and immediately in front of her that same car was parked across the road as a roadblock.
The bumpy roads may have saved her life. She had just enough time to dump the bike and push herself away from it before she landed. She rolled into one of the front tires as her bike slid under the car. She hoped it did some damage to the car, but right now, it would have to look out for itself. Lily managed to use her bounce from the tire to roll into the ditch. Ignoring the pain and her many bruises, she popped to her feet and ran into the woods along the road. Just as she dived behind a big tree, she heard gunshots and the sound of bullets tearing through the bushes around her. Her adrenaline was pumping, and boy, was she angry. Somebody was going to pay for this.
Momentarily safe — or at least she hoped so — she took a quick physical inventory. Her riding gear — leather jacket, heavy pants, boots, gloves, and helmet — had protected her from the worst damage. She thought she might have cracked ribs, and she was bruised all over. The pants and jacket were shredded, and the helmet was dented, but she could move well enough. So, how to make these guys sorry for trying to kill her? As long as they stayed near the car, where she could see them in the backscatter from the headlamps, and she was invisible in the dark, she had a big advantage. They would depend on their guns to scare her and protect themselves. Big mistake, she hoped.
The men near the car were arguing loudly about what to do next. Lily wasn’t too impressed with their intelligence. One suggested that they head back and tell the boss that they hadn’t been able to find her. Another suggested that they had better find her, or the boss would be really unhappy, and the consequences of the boss’s anger appeared to worry him. The third seemed to be the smartest, and he told both of the others to shut up, because she could overhear them. There was immediate silence at first, and then some whispering began. It seemed the argument wasn’t over yet.
Well, there was no time like the present to soften these guys up a little bit. She eased her way to the other side of the car. Damn, the handlebars on the Peashooter were mangled. She knew that, later on, she would feel really bad about the damaged bike, but right now she pushed her pain to the back of her mind and concentrated on the task at hand.
She silently moved closer to the road and found some rocks that fit her hand pretty well. She tossed one back over the car, as far up the road as she could throw. When the rock bounced off the road, all three men turned in that direction, and Lily chucked two more rocks as hard as she could throw. Both rocks struck. Loudmouth number one took a hit in the left shoulder, which knocked him down and might have cracked a bone, leaving him screaming. The smart guy took worse damage, as his rock hit him on the cheek under his eye with a sickening thud and an obscene crunching sound, knocking him out immediately. Lily hoped he wasn’t dead; she had never killed anyone, and she hoped she never would.
Loudmouth number one’s screaming covered any slight noise Lily might have made as she moved closer to the car. He climbed into the rear seat, screaming in pain and begging his buddy to get the car moving. Loudmouth number two was trying to load the unconscious man into the front seat, while number one screamed to leave him, don’t worry about him, and get going now.
The second man aimed his gun at the first man and threatened to shoot him if he didn’t shut up. He finally managed to stuff the other guy into the front seat and slammed the door. When he turned around to head for the driver’s door, he never saw the spinning side-kick that knocked him out. The screamer was lying on the seat, and never saw Lily, but did see his partner fall to the ground. He moaned in fear and quickly fired several shots through the closed window and rear door of the car. Lily hadn’t expected this, and she let out a little yell of pain when the glass violently shattered over her, but once again her riding outfit protected her from serious injury. Her scream seemed to embolden the first man, because he shuffled over to the broken window and cautiously stuck his head up to look around. The first thing he saw was the barrel of his buddy’s gun, pointed right into his eye. The shock, combined with the fear and his pain, was too much for him, and he passed out.
Lily took another physical inventory. A few more scratches from the broken glass, but nothing major. Not too bad; even her mother ought to be impressed. She realized that she was riding on a wave of adrenaline and would soon pay the price, so while she still had a lot of energy, she opened the tool kit on her bike and pulled out a roll of black tape, then bound each of the thugs. She looked at them closely, and she didn’t recognize them, but she thought she recognized the car as the Plymouth she had seen last night. She had no idea why thugs who were hijacking a gasoline truck last night were trying to capture or kill her tonight. They couldn’t have known she had observed them last night, or they would have captured her then, wouldn’t they? Well, she thought, maybe the FBI will get the full story out of them!
The handlebars on the Peashooter were mangled, so she wouldn’t be able to ride it. There was other damage as well, most of which appeared to be minor. A few hours to replace the bars, pull out some dents, and then a new paint job, and she ought to be back on the road. The Peashooter had originally been designed as a race bike, and it was designed to take some pretty rough falls and keep on going. Kind of like me! Lily thought in amusement. She’d check to see if anything else needed repairs tomorrow. It wasn’t a heavy bike, and she was able to get the front wheel into the boot of the car and wedge it safely in place. She drove the Plymouth slowly to the State Police Headquarters. She had never been here before in her life, and now she was coming back for her second visit in less than a day. She hoped it didn’t get to be a habit.
She told her story a half-dozen different times, while doctors tended to the bad guys. Finally, the FBI let her go, again. They promised to call her when they learned anything from the prisoners. Lily was awfully happy to see her dad’s truck waiting for her. Her mom was there, too. Lily finally had a chance to let loose her emotions, and as Heather DeLuna gathered her in for a big comforting hug, Lily couldn’t help but cry.
Her tears were mostly for the bike, because her big brother Eddie had given her that bike, and she had always kept it in perfect condition in his memory. But she also cried because of the terrible events she had been part of the past day and a half. Witnessing a truck hijacking, losing time that she couldn’t even remember, and getting shot at. She had never hurt anyone before, and the memory of the noise when the rock shattered the smart guy’s cheekbone made her sick to her stomach. The police doctor had reassured her that he would live, and Lily knew he would have probably done much worse to her, but she regretted the necessity of hurting anyone, ever.
She cried herself out on Heather’s shoulder as Jake DeLuna drove them home. Once there, they carried the bike into the barn. Lily had expected everyone to head for bed, but she was surprised and then thrilled when they both pitched in, then and there in the middle of the night, to help her fix the bike.
There were several junkers around that Lily used for spare parts, so Jake picked out the best set of handlebars, and started removing it from the scavenged bike. Heather found the dent-pulling gear and started popping out the bigger dents. Lily started crying again, almost overwhelmed by the love embodied in their helping her. She knew they knew how much this bike meant to her, and she realized it must have reminded them of Eddie, too.
In a couple of hours, all the visible major damage had been addressed. There were still some minor dents, and the bike needed a new paint job, but it wasn’t a wreck any longer. Lily knew she would have to check it closely later on for hidden damage, but at least she could look at it now without much pain.
They finished at about 4:30 A.M. Jake and Heather normally got up at five o’clock in the morning, so they decided to just stay up and make it an early day tonight — if, they joked, Lily would stop having adventures at night. Lily managed to get a few hours of sleep. When she woke up, she was so stiff and sore, she almost decided not to play. But a brisk workout with Heather, mostly setting-up exercises, showed her that everything still worked all right. “Look out, Toledo Mud Hens! Here I come!” she yelled in exuberance, as they loaded themselves into the truck and headed for the ballpark.