Ringo picked up the kerosene lantern from the table and signaled Dimity and me to follow. He strode over to a storage vault in the dark interior regions of the barn, an area so cloaked in shadows that I had not noticed before. Rotting wood planks partitioned off a large corner of the barn, and there was a wide door with a hasp and a padlock.
He gave me the lantern to hold and then fished a ring holding a few keys out of his pocket. Placing key into keyhole, he removed the padlock and swung the door open. We entered the room.
Glimmering in lantern light like a sphynx was the Lancia D24.
There is a kind of vertigo induced when a thing is so radically out of place, so existentially dislocated, that the mind does not have categories for it. Here was an essentially priceless, world-famous vehicle, a miracle of automotive engineering with a gigantic 3200 cc V6 engine, parked in an abandoned barn, surrounded by horse rigging and chicken wire!
This car had never sullied its tires on any American street, much less in the most unexceptional town in the entire Midwest.
It only had two seats. After some moments of silence, I finally said, “I guess the three of us could squeeze into that. Dimity can sit on my lap, and—”
“No, no. As I said, we don’t have to. You and the young lady take the car back to the house and fetch the talisman from your mother’s kitchen. I must run other errands on the motorcycle. Reconvene here in one hour.”
“What? Ringo! I’m fourteen! I don’t have a driver’s license.”
“No license would help you with this car anyway.”
“I’ve never driven a car before.”
“Nonsense. You’ve been to the state fair?”
“Surely you have not neglected the Bumper Cars.”
Bumper cars? I couldn’t believe my ears. Did I need to state the obvious? I shook my head. “Ringo. It’s not the same.”
“Sure, it is. Driving is easy. Press the gas, press the brake, turn the wheel. You see? Easy.”
“What about shifting gears?”
“Santo cielo, you whine like Moses at the burning bush! Look, there are four gears. It’s possible you will not need to go beyond second gear. There’s the clutch. You’ve seen your parents shift gears in a car. By the time you get to the end of the driveway, you’ll get it.”
“My first time behind the wheel in my whole life is going to be driving a Lancia D24 on rural Ohio farm roads? This is insane. How can you trust me not to crash it?”
“I know you. You’ll be fine. Just get back to the house, get the spoon, and get back here. Oh! and you must not let anyone see you. No one must see the car. Not one soul. Especially the civil magistrate. If another car is coming toward you, pull off the road and hide behind a sign or a building, and then continue. This is imperative. Drive quickly. She is quite fast.”
“How did you get this thing?” I said, stalling.
He sighed. “I’m afraid that is a story for another time. But let’s just say I got it the only way there is to get one—as a gift from Gianni Lancia himself. The circumstances were complicated but, in short, we met when I was racing in the Mille Miglia. A friendship arose. One night over rabbit cavatelli, I shared with him a concoction with a family resemblance to the one we made last night. He was so impressed with it that he offered his best for my best. ‘Only,’ he said, ‘it must be kept in absolute secrecy.’ The official story is that there are only two in the world. You now see there are three. Now, we must be on our respective ways.”
We had to roll the car out of the mud and hay manually. Ringo put the car in neutral and we pushed it out of the storage vault, out of the barn, and into the day which was clearing as the gray overcast sky relented to allow random sunbeams to touch the earth like searching spotlights from above. Ringo looked hard at me. I looked to Dimity and she gave me one of those subtle sideways tips of the head and flight of eyebrows.
I resigned myself. “I’ll need the key.”
“Cars like this do not require a key. Turn the knob there. As for you, my dear, you may set your mind completely at rest. Your amichetto is more capable than he realizes.”
I sat low in the seat. Dimity got in the bucket-style passenger’s seat, wide-eyed and, to my astonishment, smirking sidelong at me.
“Let’s go racer boy.” I could barely see over the dashboard.
I turned the ignition knob and…Oh Johnny!