His eyes flickered downward for a moment and then back up
again. “So I see.”
I glanced down myself and noticed that I was currently
exceeding the speed limit by more than twenty miles per hour—edging dangerously
close to reckless driving territory. When threatened, like any good citizen
driver, I realize that I instinctually increase speed. My cab is a police
auction refit, a Crown Victoria interceptor with the engine “fixed” back to its
suped-up condition. She’s capable of faster speeds than that without skipping a
beat. And I had to know right then if I was going to need it.
“Who did you piss off?”
I’d heard that acronym before, but I don’t run in quite
the right circles to fully grasp its significance. Elaine would rant about how
they were collectively destroying music and movies and treated everyone like
He went on. “The MPAA and the RIAA will certainly want to
intercept me. This is why I’ve been traveling by night with the camouflaged
balloon. I had to leave it a few miles back.” An expression of sorrow crossed
his face. “I figured that I was flying in the right direction, but I lost my
star fix and had to slow down to get my bearings. That’s when they fell upon
me. Dark shapes like wicked fingers slashed out of the night from all
directions, I tried to out run them with the phlogiston overdrive…but the
fiends had struck the boiler and then it ruptured.”
He went silent for a moment, shaking his head with
“I’m sure you noticed the wreckage. I had to leave it
behind. It is imperative that I reach the headquarters of the EFF in San Diego
as soon as possible. This satchel contains vital information that will allow us
to strike at the very heart of the MAFIAA. I suspect they would do anything to
get their hands on it.”
In the distance, I could just make out the outlines of
another vehicle gaining on us. At this point I was orange-needle into the red
at almost one hundred miles per hour, so the vehicular owner of the sallow
viridian headlamps must have been gunning at least one hundred and twenty.
“We have company,” I said and indicated that he glance out
the back window.
As he did, I checked the fuel gauge—I had enough fuel to
keep up an even greater speed long enough to reach civilization. Which, at the
current rate of acceleration, I figured we were due to barrel through some
stoplight, hell bent for leather. The wards on the taxi flared to life, I could
feel them bristling, coiling like vipers in preparation to strike.
The engine roared as the turbocharger kicked in and the
wind howled, but still the ominous green headlights paced us and continued to
gain. A challenge. Once again a fare had been dropped in my lap who required
extraordinary aid, and perhaps serendipity or fate had placed us together. Of
course, far be it from me to give up on a fare who had a wallet full of green
and a mission. Also, the people after him were violating my turf; some crimes
must not go unpunished.
“I accept,” I said aloud.
“I don’t like the looks of that,” he said. His voice
became serious and lined with steel. “If you would drop me off, I can fend for
myself. I can ask you to go no further.”
I responded with steel of my own. “Nobody messes with my
fares,” I said. “I’m not backing down. I might be able to out run them but if
it comes to it, there may be a fight.”
“I’m not much use in a dust up…as much as I would like to
pay those cretins back for damaging my ride,” he said. “But as for getting
away, I have something that may help. Before I quit the ruin of my balloon I
disconnected the phlogiston device…if you can hold them off for a few minutes,
I can get it installed. It would provide us a celerity that even these fiends
could not match.”
I nodded. It just so happened I had come prepared. You never
know when you’re going to need extra firepower, so I had packed two wands in
the glove compartment. Trying to keep eyes on the road at almost one hundred
and ten miles an hour is difficult enough without fumbling in the dark, but I
managed it without careening us off the road. Moments later I held the pair of
newly minted wands: one made of cold iron and a quartz watch crystal; the other
a standard oak twig taken from a very angry tree.
“Hold onto something,” I said. “This is going to get very
rough. I hope you’re ready.”
The word “Ready!” had barely escaped his lips when I hit
the brake and turned the wheel hard. For an ordinary vehicle, at the speed we
were going, this would not be at all advisable. My taxi is no ordinary taxi.
The loss of speed registered almost like a punch in the stomach as the world
spun treacherously, tires squealed, and the scent of burning rubber filled the
cabin. The green headlamps, and the car that owned them, overshot us at speed.
I pulled the parking break and exited the taxi—through the