Dooley's is south of the Verrazano Bridge on the Belt Parkway, the only drivable highway left in Brooklyn. Truckers, couriers passing through New York, and Guard units on patrol drift into Dooley's trying to kill time and their livers. It's a sort of Switzerland of the autoduelling circuit. You can't start trouble in the bar because of Dooley, the self-made widow.
I pulled into Dooley's an hour before Gloria. The bar was just starting to fill up. There were some truckers, a biker, a few couriers, and the regular crowd. I ordered a Southern Comfort and sat in a booth in the back. For an hour I cultivated a vicious buzz and wondered how far sound would carry from the booth.
When Gloria blew in I was still drowning my sorrows. She was wearing a slinky black dress that looked painted on, and her blonde hair was loose around her shoulders. A few heads turned, some indiscreetly. She looked out of place among the combat armor. She wasn't staying.
"Hi, Lucky. I can't stay long." She sat down opposite me and ordered a Scotch. Then she told me.
The drinks didn't help much. All my breakups feel the same - like being run over by a truck. I was hurting, and mad at myself for being so vulnerable. All I could think was, she could have told me this sooner. I knew I had to get one thing off my chest.
"I want the Elite," I muttered. She stopped babbling about personal space and growth.
"Is that all that matters to you?" she shrilled.
"If you want spiritual enlightenment, go to Tibet, or L.A. Me, I'm a materialist from Brooklyn. I want the car." My voice stated to strain. "I can have it sold and pay you your half tomorrow."
"Oh, no! You're going to wait until I can buy out your half! That car is becoming my trademark on the news." A few heads turned.
"I need the money now. The last car I tried to repossess had a grenade under the power plant. The office is making me pay damages." That had been a nasty episode; my eyebrows were just growing back. Gloria hadn't even noticed.
"Listen, I'm a field reporter. I need a flashy, stylish car for my rep."
"You should have thought of your reputation before you started dating me," I growled.
"I should have thought of your reputation before I started dating you! All you care about are cars! You're nothing but a low-life car thief!" More heads turned, and a few car thieves looked insulted. Gloria got up and stalked towards the door.
I jumped up and shouted after her, "I'm giving you one week to hand over the car, Gloria. Then I'm coming after it, and you'll just be another job!"
She didn't even break stride.
The other bar patrons strenuously avoided my gaze. I slowly sat back down and signalled for another drink. As a measure of her concern, Dooley brought it to me without even inquiring whether my legs were broken. I knocked it down.
She had called me a low-life car thief. That hurt. I've been a repo-man for a while, but I still don't understand why people loathe my profession. Sometimes people obtain a vehicle under false pretenses, or use a student loan to build a duelling machine, or simply shaft someone close to them . . . like a gullible boyfriend. Naturally, the marks have a problem - they want their cars back. Challenging the possessor of the car to a duel is somewhat self-defeating. They want a better return on their investment than burning wreckage, so they call me.
I do my work with a clear conscience. No matter what people say, no one ever died waiting for a bus. If an autoduellist is good, he doesn't have to shaft someone for a car; a backer will find him. If he's bad, I may be saving his life (and there must be a lot of bad duellists out there, because collection agencies are always calling me to retrieve combat machines).
I ignore what most people call me, but I wish they'd leave my mother out of it. Dooley's was the only place I seemed to fit in. All the autoduellists here were pros - they know I helped cut down on the punk kids.
"Hi Lucky." A voice stirred me out of my self-pity.
I looked up to see Turbo Pirelli sit down beside me. I hadn't seen him since he became a courier for the Times. He still had an easy-going smile and archaic wire-rim glasses. I grunted.
"Well, Lucky, I finally got a hot car under me and guess what?" he began, "No one wants to duel anymore. How are things with you?"
"I'm having Southern Comfort and wishing for some female comfort."
"Women troubles again?" he asked, sipping his brew.
"With me, the two re inseparable." I told him about Gloria, including the part about the Elite being enough to get me on my feet financially. I wanted all the sympathy I could get.
"So, you're going to repossess her car . . .your car." Turbo mused while cleaning his glasses. "Why don't you just forget about Gloria and hire another repo-man to get the car?"
"Repo-men have reputations, too, Turbo! She shafted me right here in front of my friends. What would they think if I hired a ringer?"
"Who cares? You don't have a lot of friends anyway. Still, your dedication does appeal to my overly simple sense of justice."
Gloria lived in a fairly wealthy neighborhood near the shore, overlooked by the Verranzo Bridge. A few of the houses had auto-targeting home defense systems; all were walled. Walls I could deal with, but having to dodge infrared laser scanners was a different matter. I didn't think Gloria had had time to put in anything fancy since the last time I had been here. That was a chance I'd have to take.
I passed a group of characters of bikes. They didn't do much besides look tough; I wasn't surprised. My car was a nondescript clunker which no one ever challenged or would think of stealing.
I parked around the corner from Gloria's house. It was dark and the street was dimly lit. Everyone seemed to be indoors, which suited me fine. If they didn't mind bikers rolling around, they probably wouldn't mind me, but I'd rather not have to worry. Besides, some of the equipment I carry tends to attract attention. I slipped on my gas mask with the built-in light intensifier and sized up the job.
Gloria was living in a brownstone on a quiet side street. There was a walled carport in front, topped with plain barbed wire, as I remembered. I checked for recent modifications, then took a running jump and grabbed the top of the wall. I pulled myself up for a look. The silver Elite shimmered in the moonlight, its image clear in my intensifier goggles.
I noted the slight bulge of AP grenades on the car's sides. She couldn't buy my half of the car, but she had enough money for a new anti-theft system!
I heaved to the top of the wall and carefully worked my was under the barbed wire.
Thee carport's walls were heavily reinforced; I did not want to have to drive the car through them. I would have to pick the lock on the gate. I peered at it, searching for alarms, and found nothing. I had mentioned to Gloria that no alarm could stop me. I was lying, but I guess she believed me.
Silently I slipped down to the ground. Gloria's precautions were too little and too late. They might keep out your basic street scum, but not me.
There was a light on in a ground floor window. It was only Gloria's television, but seen through my starlight goggles it lit up her entire living-room. I saw her on the sofa, brushing her hair. It made me think of recent good times and realize that I had a few regrets.
I tore my eyes from her. I noticed the foot-wide water bowl by the wall moments before an overgrown wolf came tearing around the car, straight for me.
"Eeeagh!" I replied, or something equally intelligent. The dog was sneaky and well-trained. If I paused to pull my gun, I'd be the evening's entertainment, so I turned and jumped at the wall. I missed and tried again. This time I grabbed the top and pulled myself up, shutting the mutt up by letting him gnaw on my boot heel as he pulled my boot off. I climbed onto the wall as a flashlight beam speared me. This time I went over very quickly. I got hooked on the wire a few times, but it didn't slow me down. Behind me, Gloria yelled, punctuating her screams with 9mm bursts. They blew chips out of my armor and pushed me off the wall. I landed with a thud.
"It was an Alamo Streetsweeper ... I bought it for her birthday," I confessed, eyeing my dented armor. One more slug would have chewed right through.
"If you'd been more generous she would have killed you," he said, inspecting the damage on my ankle. "you got sloppy, Lucky. Gloria's obviously out for blood."
"Maybe you could help me, Keep me on my toes," I suggested.
"Well ... You'd do the same for me if I were in this mess, God forbid."
We slid into a parking space across the street from Gloria's house. I checked my grenades, tool kit and machine pistol, then tightened my armor straps.
"She seems to have done well for herself," Turbo said.
"She hasn't improved her defenses since last night."
"What for? They worked last night."
I flushed. "She may know everything I do, but that won't help her! I'm going in. I'll be out in five minutes - with that car!" I pulled on my gas mask and goggles and jumped out.
I got over the wall as easily as I had the night before. The Elite was still parked inside the wall. This time, I saw the dog first. He was chewing on my old boot. I let him play catch with a tear gas grenade, and after that he ran in circles until a wall broke his concentration. He tried barking but didn't get far with a mouth full of Cry-Baby.
I dropped down and walked to the gate. It tool me a few seconds to pick the lock. There was no light on in the brownstone, so I allowed myself a leisurely stroll around the car. Whoever installed the anti-theft system knew his business. It took me a good five minutes to disarm the grenades on the driver's side. As I began forcing the car door, I was distracted by some cyclists whizzing by. I thanked heaven they weren't gas-burners. Damn noisy cyclists.
I concentrated on the locks. Gloria had had them changed, of course. I peered through the window. It looked like she hadn't changed the ignition; that at least would make my job easier. Finally the door clicked open. I may not be a mechanic, but I do know locks (and alarms, bombs, booby-traps and tripwires). I settled into the driver's seat, fitted my keys in the ignition and started the motor. On an impulse I blew the horn a few times. When Gloria peeked out of a window I saluted her. Then the grenade went off under my seat.
"I could have been killed! It could have been concussion, or flechette, or frag!" I yelled.
"But it was paint!" Turbo gasped. He had his glasses off and was wiping his eyes.
"Electric pink paint." I now had a new hair style. Good thing I had been wearing my gas mask, or I would look positively elfin.
"If you could have seen yourself running through that gate! Why didn't you just drive out?"
"The entire windshield was covered with pink paint. I couldn't see out." I really felt like murdering Gloria. Elaborately. I'd never talk shop with my next girlfriend - that was a solemn oath.
"I think she has you cold, Lucky," Turbo said, gasping for breath. I looked at the two sets of combat armor in the corner. One was shredded by bullets and the other was effeminate. A third, pristine set lay on my kitchen table. I began putting it on.
All right, so I couldn't just waltz in and drive the Elite out. It would take some time to safely disarm it. I had to choose another angle of attack. But then, there are an infinite number of angles . . .
A few nights later, I saw one of those angles take shape. I sat in my clunker down the street from Gloria's brownstone. I didn't have to wait long. Gloria drove the Elite out of her front yard, shut the gate by remote and came down the street towards me. I ducked down. I was sure she wouldn't recognize my clunker (it's that sort of car), but my pink hair was another matter. I watched her pass me by, the Elite's forward laser gleaming slickly. After she had turned the corner I powered up and pulled out. No hurry - I knew where she was going. After all, I was the "fan" who had sent her the free ticket.
I drove past the Random Violence disco just as Gloria was getting out of the car, wearing that slinky black dress. She looked almost as good as the Elite. I turned into a back alley and parked, grabbed my backpack and walked down to the parking lot. There was no one around. I pulled the tow chain out of my pack and secured it to the steel rail running around the lot. I played out the chain as I crawled over to the Elite. I froze as another car, a bright red Indra Dragon, pulled in. Its driver parked and went into the disco and I relaxed. I secured the chain to the bumper with a massive padlock, then walked back to my car.
Everything was working so far (that is, no one was shooting at me yet). I drove out of the alley and floored it. I may have mentioned that I drive a nondescript clunker, and I was right. However, it has a nondescript super power plant. I screeched into the parking lot like the vengeance of Fangio himself, expertly sideswiping the Elite. It did no damage, but the anti-theft device sounded its alarm and fired the AP grenades. That's the problem with anti-theft systems, they overreact. Patrons scurried into the lot, then dove for cover.
Gloria came out. I smiled and ran my fingers through my pink hair. She sprinted to the Elite as I pulled out. I accelerated until I was out of sight. Then I braked, hauled the wheel around and slipped into the alley again. I jumped out and began running back to the lot, my bad ankle throbbing.
Gloria had obviously tried to pull out and give chase. Her car had about as much chance of flying to the moon. The chain had been pulled hard enough to bend the steel railing, but it held. I walked over to the rail and placed a thermite mine on the chain. As Gloria jumped out of the Elite, I activated the mine and ran around the opposite side of the car. Gloria began beating the chain with a tire iron. She had left the door open in her haste. A few friends were trying to calm her but she was still whacking away. As I climbed into the car, some guy watching Gloria saw me and yelled.
I'll never understand why some men think women are beautiful when they're angry. Gloria looked like she had swallowed her tongue. She came at me with the tire iron, clearly wishing it were a chainsaw. "Help me get him!" she yelled. "I'll get you all on the news!"
Hands were fishing into jackets for guns. A few people were pulling auto rifles out of their cars. As I dove into the Elite a bullet tore my shoulder pad off. The car vibrated under multiple shots as I closed the door. I started the engine and prayed that thermite mine would go off soon.
It did, with a nice big flash. That chain could tow a big rig, but it couldn't take the thermite. The chain snapped and the Elite took off like a scalded cat. I sideswiped that red Dragon before regaining control and roaring out of the parking lot.
I settled back in my car. Everything had gone perfectly - too perfectly, considering my recent luck. Gloria wouldn't have jumped into the car without deactivating her booby-traps, but still I felt mildly uneasy. The mild unease solidified when the red Dragon flashed into the rear view portion of the heads-up display. The guy who had yelled to Gloria was driving. Gloria sat by his side, acting persuasive.
I ran a red light as the Dragon zapped the asphalt I'd been driving on. Cars around me honked angrily, then veered out of the way when the Dragon rounded the corner. On my left a street light vaporized. That's the problem with space cowboys - their lasers never run out of ammo, so they think they never need to practice gunnery.
The inside of the car lit up as the Dragon's lasers finally connected, burning into the rear armor. I twitched and lost control for a second. As I made a tight left turn, I triggered the turreted grenade launcher and dropped a few eggs behind me. I had no way to know if Gloria had changed the load since we broke up.
The dragon drove straight through the grenades. There were multiple explosions and I had a cheer halfway out of my throat before I realized they were only flechettes. Why did Gloria want only flechettes? I guessed she'd planned to nail me with them. She would, but not the way she'd planned. The Dragon's lasers blew another hole in the Elite's trunk; it was starting to get hot. I triggered the minedropper. Better the mines exploded in the street than in my back seat. Suddenly the fire extinguisher cut in and I was sitting in foam.
The Dragon went over a mine and detonated it. The big car skidded and its laser burst went wide, frying another street light. With a quick burst of acceleration I skidded into a narrow side street. I continued dropping mines, knowing there'd be no way he could get past them in the alley.
I hit the brakes just in time to stop dead behind the sixteen-wheel truck blocking the street. I threw the Elite into reverse and almost hit the juice when I remembered the mines I had been dropping. The street was too narrow for me to pivot, the grenade launcher was useless and my twin laser was pointing forward. I did what any New Yorker would do in this situation - I blew my horn. A trucker appeared in the rear cupola port and made calming gestures. I blew my horn again and the gestures changed. The head ducked out of sight.
The Dragon came around the corner slowly, trying to avoid the mines. It stopped. Gloria was no longer smiling.
"You can either get out or fry," Gloria said over the CB.
It was time for a defiant reply. I switched my own CB to transmit.
"Hijackers!" I screamed. I screamed it again as I fired my twin laser into the rear of the truck. At my range there was no way I could miss; I didn't. I burned chunks out of the rig's back, stopping as soon as the trucker's head reappeared.
"Stay in and fry, eh?!" he exclaimed from the cupola. He eyed the Dragon angrily, then swung the coop' around to reveal a gauss gun. If he thought I was with the Dragon I was dead as well. I felt oddly calm.
I heard the faint whoosh of gauss bullets passing overhead, followed by the crunch of the slugs chewing through the top armor of the Dragon. The Dragon jerked into reverse and sped back down the street. I slumped back, closing my eyes. When I opened them again the trucker was standing by my door, smiling.
My benefactor, one Igor the ape, was very grateful for my timely warning. He had been parked to secure some loose cargo and was preoccupied. He was so thankful he even offered a gratuity. Not wanting to arouse his suspicions, I accepted.
I dropped off the Elite at my apartment building and took a cab back to my clunker. The old heap never looked so good. As I drove into Dooley's, I patted myself on the back. Even after allowing for damage to the Elite would fetch a good price. I loved it when revenge had a point to it.
Dooley grabbed me when I came in and gave me a smack on the lips. Turbo was pounding my back and shoving a drink into my hands. All the other regulars let out a cheer. I was surprised good news traveled so fast.
"Yours is the superior intellect, my friend," Turbo said by way of a toast.
I laughed maniacally and tried to ignore my cuts, bruises and fatigue. Dooley might have thought I was being fresh the way I was leaning against her, but I was really having trouble standing. Just then the door opened and everyone fell silent. Gloria walked in. Turbo fell into a wary stance but make no move.
"Hello, Gloria, " I said very coolly.
"We should Talk."
"Right." I gestured at a table and we sat down. Everyone acted like they weren't listening.
"I knew you resented the way I broke things off, but I really didn't think things would go so far. I must have hurt you very much. I'm sorry." She studied the tablecloth as she spoke.
"Right. Well, we're even now. I bear you no ill will. I'll pay you for your half of the car in a day or two, soon as it's chop - er, sold."
"Good." She looked up and smiled. "Maybe we can part in good faith, as friends?"
"Maybe." Maybe BLUD and the AADA will bury the hatchet too. She got up to leave. I walked her out to the street and watched her catch a cab. As it pulled away, Turbo came up beside me and put his hand on my shoulder. I felt good. My victory was total.
"Lucky," Turbo began carefully, "where did you park your car?"
Did you ever feel reality hit you like a ram plate? Noticing the empty space you parked in does that. But I wasn't too worried. I probably knew the guy who stole it for Gloria.