The tour of Suzie’s house ended right where it had begun. In the kitchen. Drew watched Suzie move to the stove where something good was cooking and turn all the burners back on. Conscientious woman, Suzie Hammacker. Drew liked that about her. Miranda, dressed in black leather and thigh-high boots, leaned against the counter to talk to Suzie. Lots of sex appeal there. Good fling material, were he so inclined.
“I need to talk to you. In private.” Vin’s voice came in low and mean like a stray dog, but Drew wasn’t worried. Whatever bothered his old friend could be worked out. It always was.
“Certainly. Let me give you a ride to your apartment.” Drew glanced over Vin’s shoulder at the ladies as he spoke, then leveled his gaze at Vin and spoke more slowly to convey his real meaning. “As we agreed before.”
Vin’s chin came up and he visibly checked his anger. “Ah. Yes. Of course.” He turned toward the ladies. “Suzie, we’ll get back to you about Drew’s room. I’ll take the one in back.”
“All right.” Suzie smiled uncertainly. Drew wasn’t sure she really wanted to rent out either room.
Be that as it may, he had other concerns. He nodded his farewells, and followed Vin to the Subaru. Vin got in his face, literally, grabbing the front of his polo shirt and snarling at him.
“Keep your hands off of Miranda.”
Drew wasn’t surprised. Without hesitation he said, “All right.”
Vin blinked a couple of times, apparently caught off guard by Drew’s easy acceptance.
“Are you telling me you don’t have any designs on her?”
“None. Mind you if she keeps throwing herself at me….”
Vin growled. For a moment Drew thought he might start swinging, which could prove interesting. Though more heavily built, Vin didn’t have as long of a reach as Drew. They had gone a round or two in their spare time when they were at Quantico together. In the last few years they hadn’t come to blows at all. It would be interesting to see what time had done to their technique.
Vin must be nuts about Miranda to be willing to do it in Suzie’s backyard, but if that was what he wanted, Drew would be quite happy to bring it on. Vin struggled with his temper, his face doing some interesting contortions. He released Drew’s shirt, then stomped around the car to the passenger’s seat. Safely hidden by the car, Drew grinned.
He had suspected for some time now that Vin might be more interested in Miranda than either of them let on. Not that he minded. Miranda wasn’t really his type. If anyone, Suzie…. No. Drew had no particular need for romantic entanglements at the moment.
He settled behind the wheel of his old Subaru Legacy before giving Vin an assessing look. “Want to see today’s footage? The camera is in the back seat.” Drew gestured in invitation. “You did some fancy driving.”
“I had to.” Vin reached between the seats for the camera. He fiddled with the buttons, then watched the playback screen intently. “They were out for blood today. Oooooh, That was closer than I realized. Hah! Nailed his partner in the rear finder.”
Drew started the car. “Notice we have the faces of the drivers from both cars. I’ve already got the connection between them and the web site.” He made a Y-turn in Suzie’s three-car parking lot, then eased up the narrow driveway to Jennifer Street.
For the last several weeks Drew had been working on all the ins and outs of the case. He wanted more than a slap on the wrist for the founder of an internet based club whose stated mission was to turn America’s streets into a demolition derby. They played a number of games, racking up points for the amount of damage they could do to a car without paying for it. Hit and Run for Hit Points they called it. They used cab drivers as hockey pucks in several of their games.
Though he had enough evidence to put most of the members away, he wanted the founder of the game more than anyone. So far the founder had been very illusive. A few days ago Drew had unearthed a connection he thought might help him flush out the self styled Smash Master.
“I think the man in the blue mustang is the founder’s best friend. Notice the grin on his face?” Drew turned at the end of the block.
“I’ll bet he ran straight to his buddy and told him how much fun he had beating up on the taxi driver in the red barrette.” Vin looked quite smug. The barrette was his idea, intended to give the club something to focus on. “Did you check the web site to see if they have anything more about us?”
“Haven’t had the chance yet.” Drew turned on Willy Street headed for Shenks Corners. “I’ll check their blogs after I drop you off. I did hear from the home office, though.” Drew kept his eyes on the road. Vin wasn’t going to like what Drew had to say, but it had to be said.
“Vin, I might have to take you off the case.”
“Not on your life, buddy!” Out of the corner of his eye Drew saw Vin put the camera down. “We’ve almost cracked this case. You can’t cut me out now.”
“There’s been a fatality. A cab driver in Chicago. I can’t in good conscience expose you to the level of risk we are now facing.”
“Did anyone claim the hit on their Hit Counter?”
“Yes. The Smash Master.”
“So that’s why he wasn’t taking our bait.” Vin sounded thoughtful, and not the least bit concerned. “He was out of town. We’ll get him now for sure.”
Drew stopped at the light, the last one before Willy Street turned into Atwood Avenue, and leveled his friend with a hard look. “Do you have any idea how dangerous what we are doing could get? There isn’t much I can do from the Subaru to keep them from forcing you into a tree or a building.”
“Better me than some cab driver who doesn’t know what’s going on.”
“But any other cab driver would simply pull over and call in for an accident report.”
“Which is what makes hunting me so much more fun for them. We did it on purpose, remember? I didn’t go into this deal blind. I knew what I was doing when I offered to help. I’ve faced worse danger in the line of duty.”
“Yes, but you’re a civilian now. The rules are different for civilians.”
“Bend them.” Vin’s eyes flashed angrily.
That was the problem with Vin. He never could live by the rules. Drew bit back on a sharp retort.
“I know what you’re thinking, but you won’t say it because you need me.”
Drew ground is molars together, refusing to rise to the bait.
“You won’t kick me off the case because if you do then Smash Master will get away from you. You know he will. You can’t get anyone in for a small-time case like this quickly enough to replace me. He will slip through your fingers without me.”
Drew opened his mouth to argue, then clamped it closed again. He really did need Vin. Though he didn’t want to use him, letting him go would set the case back more than he cared to contemplate. And they both knew it.
He gave Vin a dirty look. Vin grinned and waggled his head in smug victory. “So I’m still on the case?”
“You’re still on.”
“Good, because the light went from green to red and green again and there’s someone behind us.”
With a grunt Drew put the Subaru into gear.