After they got off shift at the freight yard on Monday, Tod and Buz went to Jepson’s dealership to see the Jag. Jepson had it tucked away in the empty garage stall that the boys had been using while working on their Bel Air, keeping the door closed. Jepson lead them from the office through the garage bays to the last one.
There, the Jag sat, the silver paint reflecting the fluorescent overhead lights.
“Didn’t look right parked on the lot with some of the cars I’ve got,” Jepson said with a sheepish grin.
The boys chuckled. Jepson handed the keys to Tod and he unlocked the car.
Although they had seen the Jag at Henderson’s dealership on Saturday, they didn’t have the time to really look it over. Tod looked over the interior, noting the four speed stick shift on the floor. He grinned up at Mr. Jepson. “You know how to drive this thing?”
Jepson laughed. “I do!”
Buz grinned. “Doyle’ll being drooling over this for sure. Let me have those keys for a minute…”
Tod handed the keys to Buz and Buz went to the rear of the car and stood there for a moment. He looked over the trunk lid and then tried to move the license plate. “How do you open the trunk there’s no key hole?”
“Ah, there’s a latch inside,” Jepson said. “Behind you, Tod, on the passenger side there…” Jepson pointed and Tod reached back behind passenger seat and felt along the floor bump, finding the latch. He pulled it and then trunk lid popped open.
“Odd place for it,” Tod said to Jepson as he stepped out of the driver’s seat.
“English cars…” Jepson said.
Buz opened the trunk and looked at the trunk bay as Tod came to the back of the car. He looked at the trunk space and then grinned at Buz. “You think you’re going to fit in there?” Tod asked.
“One way to find out.” Buz proceeded to climb into the trunk space and when he was tucked in as far as he could go he nodded to Tod to close the lid.
The lid clicked closed and Tod and Mr. Jepson could hear Buz shift around a little within the small space. Then they heard him tap on the lid and Tod went back to the cockpit to pull the trunk release latch.
Buz lifted the trunk lid. “Yeah, a little tight,” he said. “But doable.” He took Tod’s extended hand to help him climb out of the trunk. “The trick now is to figure how to rig the lock so I can get out.”
“I got something for that,” Jepson said, reaching into his pocket. He pulled out a couple pieces of thin silver wire. “Tod, if you could pull the latch for me please and hold it…”
Tod returned to the driver’s seat and did as asked. The latch in the lock mechanism clicked open and Jepson threaded the wire around the latch and then secured it to the housing of the lock mechanism, keeping the latch in place.
“Ok,” he said to Tod. The latch remained open and Jepson took the other thin piece of wire and threaded it through the hook on the inside of the trunk lid.
“What you’ll have to do when the lid is down is take one of these ends and thread it through this hole here,” Jepson said and pointed to an opening on the lock mechanism, “and then just twist the two ends together to secure it while the car’s moving. You better make sure you have a flashlight with you so you can see what you’re doing when you secure it and then unsecure it. Otherwise, you’ll never get out.”
“That would kind of spoil the plan wouldn’t it?” Buz said with a grin.
“It would,” Jepson said, his tone serious. He looked back and forth between Tod and Buz. “Are you two really sure you want to go through with this scheme?”
Buz glanced at Tod, who nodded without hesitation.
“We’re sure,” Buz said. “You’re not trying to get out of this are you?”
“No, no… I just want to be sure. I’ve got the easy part, all things considered. It’s you boys I’m worried about and what happens after this car gets stolen.”
“Don’t worry about that, Mr. Jepson. Tod and I will be fine.” Buz looked at his watch. “You better get going to the club.”
“Yeah. Let me just get my jacket and tie…” Jepson turned and headed to his office.
To avoid any suspicion, Jepson went to the club alone while Tod and Buz waited at his car lot. Jepson stayed for a little over an hour, having a couple of drinks and listening to the jazz band play live music. Within that hour, the Jag was noticed by Stuart and Jepson was observed when he returned to the car and drove away.
Same Tuesday night. When Stuart spotted the Jag again in the parking lot of the club he went over to it to check it out. The top was up and the car was locked preventing Stuart from checking any registration papers but he did notice the temporary plate on the back of the car, indicating it was apparently a recent purchase.
Inside the club, Stuart spotted Jepson sitting at the bar with a drink and watching the band. Stuart waited and watched Jepson leave a little later, returning to the Jag and driving away.
Having discovered a potential new target, Stuart went Doyle’s office after the Jag left.
“I may have something,” Stuart said after he came into the office.
Doyle tapped his cigarette into an ashtray. “What?”
Doyle looked up from the paperwork on his desk.
Stuart nodded. “Been in the parking lot the past two nights.”
“Who does it belong to?”
“I don’t know yet. Some duffer that’s sat at the bar, having a couple of drinks and listening to the band. The car has a temp plate on it, the guy must’ve just bought it.”
“What a shame,” Doyle said. “Find out what you can and let me know if he comes back tomorrow. We’ll have Diane introduce herself.”
On Wednesday night, Tod and Buz met Jepson at his dealership again.
“How many nights am I going to have to do this?” Jepson asked as he tied his necktie.
“Hard to tell,” Buz said. “Tod and I didn’t go the club every night so who knows how soon it was before they realized what kind of car we were showing up in.”
“You’ll know when they know,” Tod said. “When you go back tomorrow night if you have Diane singing to you very personal like, that’s when the set up starts.”
The bitterness in Tod’s voice was clear. Jepson looked sympathetic and he gave a nod. He shrugged into his sport coat and adjusted his shirt sleeves. He patted Tod on the shoulder. “I know how you feel. I was a young man once too…” He stepped toward the Jag. “I’ll see you boys in a little while.”
At the club, Jepson’s arrival in the Jaguar did not go unnoticed. Stuart watched as Jepson settled in at the bar and ordered a drink. He then went to Doyle’s office.
“The guy with the Jag is here. He’s at the bar.”
Doyle got up from his desk and went to the door to look. He narrowed his eyes. “The old guy in the brown sport coat?”
Doyle frowned. “That’s Harold Jepson. He’s got a ramshackle dealership over on West Street. When the hell did he afford a Jaguar?”
“Maybe he sold out finally.”
“Well, he didn’t sell out to me. And believe me I’ve offered enough times to buy his junk cars and push him right out of business.” Doyle returned to his desk.
“Want Diane to set him up?”
Doyle leaned back in his chair and thought for a moment. He hadn’t survived as long as he had in this world without a healthy dose of suspicion about things. And Harold Jepson showing up at the club driving a Jaguar was suspicious enough. “Yeah,” he said. “But I want insurance on this one.”
Stuart nodded and turned leaving the office.
In the shadows of the stage at the front of the lounge, Stuart pointed out the newest target to Diane.
“The older guy at the bar, in the brown jacket. He’s a used car dealer…”
Diane looked less than impressed.
“…who drives a Jaguar.”
Diane looked at Stuart.
“The boss thinks there’s something funny with this one though, so watch yourself. And try not to go soft on the guy eh?”
Diane flashed a look at Stuart, not appreciating the comment. She walked away and worked her way around the tables in the lounge while the band continued to play.
Jepson could see her coming, but pretended he didn’t. She came up to the bar, a few feet away from him and stood there for a moment. He glanced over to her, recognizing her from the poster that was out front of the club. She was just as beautiful in person as she was in her photo. He certainly understood why Tod fell for her the way he did.
Jepson himself had been there once, a long, long time ago. A young man of twenty, smitten by an alluring beauty, a southern belle who grew bored easily and certainly didn’t want anything to do with some silly car dealership. It hurt when he realized he’d been strung along, he recognized the same bitterness in Tod that he had in himself all those years ago. Eventually, it faded and disappeared when Jepson met the woman he would marry and raise a family with, his daughter Maggie and her siblings. He’d lost his wife just a few short years ago but he had been so blessed to have had her. It was peculiar how the old memories now came back.
He snorted softly to himself and took a sip of his scotch.
Diane approached him now and smiled. “Good evening,” she said. “Enjoying the show?”
Jepson looked at her. The game was on. “Oh yes,” he said. “It’s a very good band. Reminds me of the old days.”
“My name’s Diane.”
“Yes, I recognize you,” Jepson said. “Your picture greets everybody at the door.”
She laughed. “That’s right.”
Jepson smiled. “My name’s Harold. You sing with the band?”
“I do. Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.”
“Oh. Well, I’ll have to come back tomorrow and listen.”
“I intend to. Listen, can I buy you a drink?”
Diane smiled. “I’d like that.”
Back at Jepson’s dealership later, he told the boys what happened.
“She is one smooth lady, I’ll give ya that. She approached me at the bar and introduced herself.”
“They’ve made you already,” Buz said. “Now it’s just a question of when they’ll set up to take the car.”
“You know, I was thinking. Why don’t they just steal it out of the parking lot while I’m there? Why go through all this trouble?”
“Keeps the heat off the club,” Buz said. “Wouldn’t do Doyle very good for his business if his customer’s cars are being stolen from there all the time. No, see, I figure he mixes it up. He uses Diane as bait on occasion but probably not too often and otherwise tracks the cars he wants to boost, stealing them either from people’s driveways or from where they work or wherever.”
Jepson nodded. “Yeah, that makes sense. But what about Diane? Wouldn’t the police notice a pattern if cars are being stolen from in front of her apartment building all the time?”
“Depends how often they boost a car from there,” Buz said. “I would think Doyle would mix that up a bit too. You could take Diane to dinner and walk out to find the Jag gone from the restaurant parking lot.”
“It also depends on whether or not the police are paying attention to any patterns,” Tod said. “Like I said before, it seems Doyle has some ‘friends’ on the police force.”
“Yeah, you did say that. So Doyle could put up a neon sign advertising car theft and the cops are looking the other way.”
“Hmmm. Well, at the rate things are going Doyle’s going to get his hands on that Jaguar in the next couple of days I suspect.” He looked at the two of them. “Isn’t that damn fool race you’re running in this Sunday?”
“Yes, it is,” Tod said.
“If this works,” Buz said, “Tod may not have to worry about running that race Sunday.”
“Let’s hope so,” Jepson said.
Thursday night, Jepson returned to the King and was going to sit at his usual spot at the bar but was invited by Diane to sit at one of the tables near the stage. She performed her songs, coming down off the stage and singing directly to the men that sat at the front tables. Like she had done to Tod not that long ago, she sang directly to Mr. Jepson and lingered on him a little longer than the others.
She was definitely alluring. If he were twenty again, Jepson knew he would have fallen for Diane just like Tod had. Perhaps having been jaded by such an experience, and being a bit older now, helped Jepson keep his perspective in focus for the task he was really there for. He played along, however, smiling at her as she woo’d him with her song.
After her show, Jepson waited back at the bar as Tod and Buz had told him to do, knowing she would come out to appease autograph seekers and tolerate men who weren’t bashful about asked for dates. Jepson was appalled at the complete lack of class some of the men displayed.
Which, he knew, set him up in a much better light.
He waited until the autograph seekers were gone before stepping up to her. “May I buy the lady a drink?”
Diane smiled at him. “You most certainly may.”
Before the evening was over they had an early dinner date set for Friday night.
Jepson returned to his dealership and told Tod and Buz the news.
“I pick her up at 6, at the club,” Jepson said. “It’s an early dinner as she goes on at 8:00.”
“That means we better hustle to get over here after we get off shift,” Tod said to Buz.
Buz nodded. “We’ll make it. What’s the restaurant?”
“Place called Chantilly’s, it’s a few blocks from the club.”
Tod looked at Buz. “What were you saying about taking the car right out of the restaurant parking lot?”
“You think that’s how they’ll do it?” Jepson asked.
“More than likely,” Buz said. “You’re not going to be dropping Diane back at her place after dinner because she has a show, you’re close enough to the club that when the Jag gets stolen she can just walk back to the club.”
“Right out of the parking lot? Isn’t that kinda risky? Somebody’ll see them,” Jepson said.
“Not if they look like they should be near the car,” Buz said. “These guys are professionals, Mr. Jepson, trust me, nobody will notice.”
Friday at 5pm, Tod and Buz hustled to get out of the rail yard and then fight Atlanta’s early evening traffic as the rest of the city was getting out of work. Tod found himself resorting to some old New York City style driving, which at least two southern driver’s didn’t appreciate as expressed by their blaring horns. It was close, but Tod and Buz made it to Jepson’s dealership by five-thirty.
They quickly got Buz situated in the trunk of the Jag, remembering to give him a flashlight and do a dry run on working the latch so he could let himself out. With that set, Mr. Jepson finished gussying himself up, with help from Maggie.
Although Maggie knew what her father was up to, she couldn’t help but tease him just a little. “Don’t be nervous, Papa. You look very handsome.”
“It’s not me I’m worried about,” he said. “It’s those boys. It’s Buz in the trunk of that car. I’m worried about him getting caught.” He fixed his tie and looked at his daughter. “Now, you remember what I told you?”
Maggie nodded. “I’ll be right here waiting for you to call.”
“Hopefully these two will be back before I call. If they’re not, though, you wait for me y’hear?”
He smiled at her. “Okay…” He leaned to her and kissed her forehead.
“Good luck, Papa.”
“Ha. I’ve got the easy part.” Jepson slipped on his sport coat and walked from his office to the garage with Maggie following.
“Buz is all set,” Tod said. “I’ll be in the parking lot next to the restaurant keeping an eye on the car and will follow it when they take it.”
Jepson nodded. “Ok. You boys be careful.”
Tod drove on ahead to the parking lot next to the restaurant while Jepson went to the King to pick up Diane. A few minutes later Tod saw the Jag pull in to the restaurant parking lot and park. He had a clear view of it and watched as Jepson came around to the passenger side to open the door for Diane.
Tod looked away, not out of concern that she would see him from this distance but because he didn’t necessarily want to see her, still being pretty burned up by what had happened. After she stepped from the car, Jepson closed the door and the two walked to the entrance of the restaurant.
Now came the waiting game. Tod lit a cigarette to pass the time and rested his arm on the open window of the Bel Air, flicking the ashes off to the side. The minutes passed. It had been a hot day in Atlanta and the early evening was unchanged. It was warm sitting in the car and Tod hoped Buz was okay in the trunk of the Jag. The more he thought about it this had to be one of the craziest things they’d ever done.
Fifteen minutes went by and Tod’s cigarette was burned away. He crushed the remains into the Bel Air’s ash tray and checked the time. He looked toward the Jag again and found himself getting impatient.
Buz was getting irritated too. Folded up like a lawn chair in the trunk, it was dark, it was hot and he was starting to get uncomfortable. He hated to think he and Tod went through all the trouble for their engraved invitation only to have their guests show up fashionably late.
After another five minutes, however, the guests finally arrived. Buz heard voices outside the car and the useless attempt to pull the door latch.
“We’re not smashing the window this time,” one voice said.
Across the way, Tod saw them too. One man each was on either side of the car, appearing casual enough like the car belonged to them. Tod thought he recognized Donnie and although he didn’t know the other man, it was Stuart. Tod watched Stuart, on the driver’s side of the car, remove some kind of tool from inside his suit jacket and work it along the window. In short order the door popped open.
Stuart slid behind the wheel and leaned over to unlock the passenger door. Donnie got into the car and within a few moments Stuart had the Jag hotwired and running.
Tod started up the Bel Air and watched the Jag leave the restaurant parking lot. The Jag passed him and the Bel Air rolled into traffic and followed.
Tod stayed back from the Jag, allowing another car to slip in in front of him. The parade of cars rolled along Peachtree Street, through the heart of downtown Atlanta which, like Times Square in New York, was crammed with buildings, billboards, oversized signs, neon which wasn’t lit yet as it was too early in the evening, and a lot of people and traffic. The car in front of Tod eventually pulled off to another road and Tod hung back, keeping the Jag in his sight.
They continued southwest and it wasn’t long before the buildings thinned out, and the landscape turned to commercials buildings, warehouses and empty lots with battered chain link fences. Traffic lightened up as well as most cars were pulling away toward Route 41 and heading south out of Atlanta.
Tod was starting to wonder where he, Buz and the Jag were going to end up. This really wasn’t looking like a particularly nice section of Atlanta.
In the Jag, Stuart glanced in the rearview mirror. “I think we’re being tailed.”
“Yeah, I noticed that too,” Donnie replied, seeing the Bel Air in the passenger side mirror. “It looks like Stiles.”
“Stiles? You sure?”
“No. But it’s a good thing Doyle asked for insurance on this one.”
As the Jag passed a side street, Donnie waved his hand, jerking his thumb back. A moment later, a box truck pulled out on to the road.
Tod slowed down as the truck took its sweet time turning into traffic. Finally, it straightened in the lane ahead of Tod and plodded along, slowly shifting gears and belching smoke.
Tod moved over to the right lane, figuring to pass the truck, only the truck decided it wanted to be in that lane. Tod hit the brakes and let the truck go ahead of him. He moved back to the left lane – and was cut off again.
To avoid the truck this time Tod crossed the double yellow line and went into oncoming traffic. The car coming at him blared its horn and Tod yanked the wheel further to the left, darting across the two lanes and into a side street.
He pulled to the side of the street to stop and got out of the car, hurrying back to the intersection. He looked to see the truck was rolling along now at a faster pace but Tod couldn’t see the Jag anymore.
It couldn’t have been too far ahead, he figured. Not giving up so easily, Tod hurried back to the car as a police car went past him, pulling ahead of the Bel Air. The police officer stepped from the patrol car and approached Tod.
“Just a minute,” the officer said before Tod could get back into his car. “Could you step up on the side walk here…”
Tod did as asked and looked at the cop.
“So, couldn’t decide what lane you wanted to be in?” the cop asked, his hands on his hips.
“The truck ahead of me cut me off. He’s the one that couldn’t decide what lane he wanted.”
“Can I see your driver’s license?”
Tod sighed and took his wallet out, removing his driver’s license. He handed it to the cop.
The cop looked at it for a long moment, before looking up at Tod, who was looking antsy. “New York? You’re a long way from home, boy.”
“I don’t live in New York anymore,” Tod said.
“You live here in Atlanta now?”
“For the time being.”
“That’s over on the other side of town.”
“What are you doing over here?”
Tod clenched his jaw briefly. “I’m going to see a buddy to help me finish getting my car here ready for a race this weekend. And I’m late.”
“Well, you keep driving like what I saw you won’t make it to the track.” The cop handed the license back. “Maybe that’s the kind of driving you do in New York but we don’t tolerate road hogs here in Atlanta. Understood?”
Tod nodded. “Yes, sir.”
Having delayed Tod long enough, and Tod couldn’t be sure if it was legitimately or not, the officer returned to his patrol car and drove away. Tod climbed into the Bel Air and turned the Chevy around, heading back in the direction he had last seen the Jag heading.
A few blocks away, the Jaguar turned off the main road and down a crumbling street that twisted between ancient looking commercial buildings and warehouses with the only greenery that grew around them was weeds and crazy wild vines that wrapped around and choked only themselves. The Jag travelled over the old asphalt, causing Buz to bounce around in the trunk in the process.
The trip was short, thankfully. The conditions improved as the Jag turned into a drive and then disappeared into a warehouse.
The Jag was parked and the motor shut down. In the dark of the trunk, Buz listened as the two men exited the car and doors were closed. He held his breath, and held the flashlight in his hand for a weapon, half expecting the trunk to be forced open.
It wasn’t. He heard the two men’s voices trail off as they walked away from the car. He then heard the overhead door rattle as it was pulled closed.
There was silence. Buz remained still, listening for at least a minute. He then clicked on the flashlight and undid the wire that held the trunk lid closed, slipping it out of the hook and lifting the lid up slowly.
A stripe of waning sunlight cast a line across the far wall of the warehouse from the high windows. Buz carefully lifted the lid up further and rose up from the trunk, looking around. The warehouse appeared empty, of people anyway. There were various cars parked, some covered up and some looking to have been stripped of parts.
Buz clicked the flashlight off and climbed out of the trunk of the Jag, his stiffened muscles protesting. Standing up, he stretched and loosened up, pulling his damp shirt away from his skin and walked over to a car with its wheels gone and hood up. Inside the engine bay, several parts were missing.
There were two other cars that also had been stripped. On the far end, parked in a corner, however, was car with a cover on it. The shape looked familiar.
Buz stepped to the car and lifted the cover off the back corner. A light blue flank and single red tail lamp of a ’60 Corvette was revealed. Buz smiled and threw the cover off the entire backside of the car. He clicked his flashlight on and checked the spot where that familiar scratch was. It was there, buffed and polished pretty well but still there. He patted the trunk lid, glad to have found the car.
Now to find where Tod was at, who Buz knew was going to be thrilled to find the Vette had been safely tucked away and not shipped off somewhere and sold.
Tod, meanwhile, had no idea where to even look. There were several warehouse properties along the stretch of road, the box truck that had cut him off was nowhere to be seen and the Jag…Lord only knew. He pulled into the lot of one warehouse and drove around to the back of it, only to find it empty. He returned to the street, drove on past properties that were busy with activity and pulled into another commercial property only to get four guys staring at him from a loading dock. Tod turned the Bel Air around and went back to the street, becoming discouraged.
“C’mon, Buz, where are you…”
Buz, meanwhile, was halfway across the warehouse expanse heading toward a side door when the overhead door suddenly started to rattle upward. Buz pivoted and ran to take cover behind the remaining hulk of a stripped car.
The door lifted up allowing Donnie and Stuart to enter along with a third heavier set man with light brown hair.
“Yeah, I got word from The Man,” the third man, Monty, was saying. “He wants the rest of these cars stripped and out of here tonight. The Jag can be covered up for now, Stiles’s Corvette is being shipping out Sunday during the race.”
“Monty--” Donnie said, suddenly stopping mid stride and staring straight ahead at the Jag. Stuart and Monty looked and saw the trunk lid was up. Monty approached the car and saw the lock latch had been rigged.
“Looks like somebody’s been messing with the Corvette too,” Stuart said.
Monty turned to look and saw the cover was half off the sports car. He looked around the warehouse suddenly suspicious and his senses heightened. “Whoever it was might still be in here…” He stepped away from the Jag and picked up a tire iron that was on the floor next to a stripped car. Donnie and Stuart did likewise, spreading out and grabbing something to use as a weapon, a wrench, a screwdriver, whatever was handy.
Buz could see the men through the dusty window of the car he was crouched behind. The three to one odds were just a little discouraging, and the heavy artillery each man was carrying didn’t help things any. The wide open overhead door looked like it was 50 miles away.
Buz figured his best chance was to try to make a break for it. He looked around the scattered parts that were on the floor and picked up a broken side mirror. Staying crouched behind the car he pitched it high and over, where it came down and broke through the back window of another chopped up car. All four men looked toward the car that had been hit and Buz made a run for it.
Monty saw him and spun around. “Hey!”
Buz made a beeline for the exit and all three men went running after him. Buz shot out of the warehouse and ran to the left, heading in the direction of the street.
“Hey!” Monty yelled. “Stop him!”
Out of the corner of his eye, Buz saw there were other men in the yard. He kept running, hell bent for the street. Where the hell is Tod?!
From behind him, Donnie caught up and tackled Buz down to the dirt and broken asphalt. The ground hit hard and Buz was stunned for a just a moment. The street instincts kicked in and adrenaline dulled the pain and fueled the fight. Buz wrestled with Donnie, rolling over the dirt and throwing him off.
Buz sprung to his feet to meet the next opponent, one of the other men Monty had yelled for in the yard, who tried to tackle him back down to the ground again. Buz blocked the hit, staying upright and came down on the guy’s back with a two handed blow.
That dropped the guy to the ground but by that point Buz was out numbered about 6 to 1 as the other men caught up and surrounded him. He fought as he could, kicking and punching but the smack of the tire iron across his back from Monty brought things to a stop in short order.
Buz hit the ground face down. He tried to move to turn over, to keep fighting, but the blow had stunned him pretty good. Monty stepped over him and grabbed a fistful of Buz’s shirt collar and yanked him over on to his back, pushing the curved end of the tire iron into Buz’s neck.
Buz grabbed the tire iron to ease the pressure from his neck and he looked up at Monty.
“Awright,” Monty said. “Who are ya?”
Buz didn’t answer. Not that he had to, as Donnie now peered down between Monty and Stuart.
“That’s Murdock,” he said. “That’s Stiles’s buddy.”
“So that was Stiles that was tailing us,” Stuart said.
“So this one musta been hiding in the trunk of the Jag,” Monty said.
Stuart looked at Donnie grimly. “I’ll let Doyle know.” He turned and left the group.
Donnie was looking at Buz. “We lost Stiles,” he said. “Now we gotta find out how we lose you. Get him up.”
The men yanked Buz up off the ground and he was marched back to the warehouse.
Tod was three blocks away during Buz’s escape attempt and going further in the wrong direction. Finally deciding the aimless wandering wasn’t doing any good, he found his way back to Peachtree Street and headed north.
He glanced in the rearview mirror, bothered that he was leaving Buz behind. But not knowing where to look, not even knowing if Buz was still in the area, the best Tod could do at this point was return to Jepson’s dealership and regroup.
Maggie was waiting and looked anxious when Tod came in to the garage.
“Your father back yet?” he asked.
“No, not yet,” she replied. “Tod, what happened? Where’s Buz?”
Tod sighed. “I lost him…”
Stuart called Doyle at the club and told him simply to come to the warehouse, that there was a problem. When Doyle arrived Stuart met him outside the door.
“What’s the problem?” Doyle asked.
“Stiles tried to tail the Jag,” Stuart said.
“So? You lost him right? Don’t tell me you called me way down here for that?”
“Yeah, we lost him. But his buddy Murdock was hiding in the trunk…”
Doyle’s expression darkened.
“We caught him, he’s inside with Monty and Donnie.”
Doyle nodded grimly. “Harold Jepson was driving the Jag, I suspect Stiles may be at his dealership. Find out where he is. Now.”
Stuart nodded and headed off to another building. Doyle opened the door to the warehouse and went inside.
Buz was tied to a chair in the middle of the warehouse floor, with Monty and Donnie standing as sentries. Buz looked up as Doyle approached.
Doyle looked at Buz for a moment. Buz looked right back, showing no fear.
“You and your friend are pretty stupid, Mr. Murdock.”
Buz shrugged. “Not so stupid as to put a stolen car on a dealership lot.”
Doyle ignored the comment. “And what is it with this car?” he asked, leaning against the fender of a nearby car. “After all, it’s just a car, not exactly something worth getting yourself killed over.”
“It’s not about the car anymore,” Buz said.
Buz shook his head. “It’s all about you. You’re a slug, Doyle. You’ve left a trail of slime all over Atlanta.”
“A crusader,” Doyle snorted, glancing at Monty and Donnie. “A foolish, noble crusader.” He looked at Buz again. “What a bore. Shortly I’m going to find out where your friend is and I’m going to make him a deal. Not that it’ll matter what option he takes because by this time Sunday, you both will be dead, your car will be sold and I’ll have a buyer for the Jag by then too. And I will continue to leave my “trail” all over Atlanta as you say. You and your friend will never be seen again.” Doyle looked at Monty and Donnie. “Bring him to the office.”
Monty and Donnie pulled Buz up from the chair and they followed Doyle out of the warehouse.
Tod waited at Jepson’s dealership until Mr. Jepson returned. He paced the garage floor, smoking a cigarette, worrying.
He jumped when the phone rang. Maggie answered it. It was her father, letting her know he was on his way back.
“Tod is here,” Maggie said into the phone. “No… just Tod…” She looked at Tod as she spoke. “We’ll tell you when you get here, Papa…”
About fifteen minutes later, Jepson returned. He rushed into the office and saw the worried expression on Tod’s face. “What happened?”
“I lost Buz,” Tod said. “A truck cut me off in traffic and then I was detained by a cop for a while. I don’t know where the Jag ended up.”
“Oh no. If they find Buz…”
“I don’t even want to think about it.”
“Maybe he’ll escape,” Maggie said hopefully. “If he hasn’t already.”
Jepson shook his head. “I never should have let you boys do this,” he said. “It was crazy from the start. And you can bet that truck cutting you off was no accident. Now your friend may end up dead, you’ll run that damn fool race on Sunday and probably get yourself killed too!”
“Oh it’s not that I don’t appreciate what you fellas were trying to do but I’d rather lose my dealership than see anybody hurt,” Jepson said. “I’d give it up right now to get your friend back.”
“Buz would tell you no,” Tod said. “But I can’t say I wouldn’t do the same thing as you.”
Jepson nodded. “I’m sorry Tod. Look, maybe we should go to the police, tell them what’s happened what you boys were trying to do. The whole police department can’t be in Doyle’s back pocket.”
“Question is, who do we trust? How do we know which cop isn’t on Doyle’s payroll?”
“Argh, Tod…” Jepson gave a frustrated sigh.
In an office across from the warehouse, Buz waited with Doyle, Monty and Donnie. Doyle was perched on the edge of a metal desk while Buz sat, his hands bound behind him with Monty and Donnie seated nearby. Stuart returned and gave Doyle the report.
“Stiles is at Jepson’s dealership as of 10 minutes ago.”
Doyle nodded. He reached for the black telephone on the desk and turned it to face him, lifting the receiver and dialing the number. He then looked at Buz.
“We’ll see which has more value to your friend. The car, or you.”
“This is crazy,” Jepson was saying. “There’s gotta be a cop we can find!” Any further argument with Tod was suddenly interrupted by the ringing telephone. The three of them all jumped and Mr. Jepson lunged to the phone and lifted the receiver.
“Hello? Buz, is this you?”
“No,” Doyle said. “But I know where he is. Let me speak to Mr. Stiles please.”
Jepson blanched and looked at Tod, holding the phone out to him.
“Who is it?” Tod asked quietly.
Jepson shook his head. “They said they know where Buz is.”
Tod lifted the receiver to his ear. “Hello?”
“You have a choice, Mr. Stiles. Your car or your buddy. But you can’t have both.”
“Look, let Buz go. You can keep the car.”
“Oh no, not that easy. If you want your buddy back you’ll have to work for it. I hear you’re entered in the Skull Cracker on Sunday.”
“If you win the race Mr. Stiles, you’ll win back your friend. But if you lose, I get you and him both. And I dispense with the two of you, and your car, however I see fit.”
“Don’t do it Tod!” Buz called from somewhere in the background. “Cut your losses, get out of here--!”
There was sudden muffling on the phone and Doyle’s inaudible voice was commanding something. Tod closed his eyes, relieved Buz was alive but otherwise distraught at the situation. There was another shout from Buz again and then the ruckus faded as Doyle came back on the line.
“That’s the deal, Mr. Stiles. Or you can do like your friend says and get out now, leaving me to sell your car, and your friend, to the highest bidder.”
Tod let out a slow breath. He could afford to lose the car at this point, but there was no way he could abandon Buz to the wolves. “Ok,” he said. “You’ve got a deal.”
“See you Sunday, kid…”
Tod hung up the phone and Jepson put a hand on his shoulder. “What deal? What did you just do?”
“If I win the race on Sunday I get Buz back.”
“And if you lose?”
Tod looked at Mr. Jepson. “Then Doyle keeps Buz and gets me…”