Uncle Ringo pulled up next to us on the motorcycle and removed his helmet. He didn’t bother with formalities, he just gasped with urgency,
“Did you get it?”
I withdrew the talisman spoon from my pocket and held it up.
“May I?” he said.
He took the plain wooden spoon and examined it closely, studying its grain, smelling residue from the salutary concoction made last night.
“Brilliant. Now let us get back to the barn—”
“Now hold on a second, Ringo. It’s time you came clean on a few things.”
“Yes, yes, I know you are impatient to—”
“What have you gotten us into?”
“This seems hardly the place.”
“Name a better place! We’re alone and safe. Nothing but cornfields. Come on, right here, right now.”
“Very well. Let’s at least get off the road and sit under this magnificent willow tree. Goodness, would you look at it!”
The willow tree was indeed gigantic, a fountain of reedy branches draping to the ground. We pushed the vehicles off the road and into the curtains of leaves. It was on the farthest edge of a farm, the distant cottage residence of which could be seen back down the road.
“Now listen,” I said. “First there was that Lorenzo guy this morning. Then when I got home, I found that some French thugs had beat the crap out of my dad with a, uh…a sausage. What’s going on?”
“You’re quite right, my boy. I do owe you an explanation. And mademoiselle, I sincerely apologize for any rough treatment you received at the hands of Lorenzo’s goons.”
“Yeah-well-it-happens. You were saying?” was her response. My scalp was tingling.
“Indeed. So, to begin. Lorenzo is an old rival of sorts. We’d been on friendly terms for some years over our mutual interest in various Italian auto clubs. I helped him overcome certain social disorders and he helped me get a good starting position in Le Mans, the Monaco Grand Prix, and a few other circuits.”
“Yes, um, awkwardnesses such as a sort of aphasic panic, you see. A shackled tongue combined with a mortifying priapic pathology whenever he found himself in conversation with a member of the female sex. As you might have guessed, I was able to bring about his transmigration with a dose of one of my formulas designed especially for the verbally impaired. Sadly, there was nothing to be done about his small stature.
“We had a falling out in the spring of ’52. He was engaged in a very hopeful rencontre amoureuse with the lovely Princess Sophia of Greece, visiting to watch the race.”
“Which race was this?”
“The Mille Miglia, my boy. What else? We were in Brescia, the finish line, you know, where I was on the pit crew for Giovanni Bracco and his exciting new Ferrari Berlinetta, which won the Miglia that year, by the way. The race was over, Bracco had won, and I was taking some air on the upper tier of the private viewing boxes when I saw the Princess and Lorenzo engaged in a fairly one-sided conversation. My therapy appeared to have worked for him. Now, I don’t know what’s going through your head, but I did not drug her with one of my potions. No. I simply applied a cologne of my own manufacture, one with certain attributes that render the wearer, ah, shall we say, attractive.
“I walked by them seated at a little table, greeted Lorenzo with brief conversation, bowed respectfully to the Princess, and then left them immediately to have an espresso at a nearby café. In a few minutes, voilà, Sophia appeared at my table asking to join me. She is a delightful girl. We spent several days traveling northern Italy. Your imagination can fill in the rest of the story and it will be completely mistaken. Lorenzo blames me but I don’t see that I am at fault in any way. I wore cologne, there’s nothing wrong with that. But I saved him from ridiculous, risible fantasies, and I saved her from a tiresome evening.
“The whole affair seems to have turned Lorenzo’s interests from auto racing to the chemical arts. He stole this morning’s batch thinking to get rich, but we learned it was inert moments before he seized it. He will not be long in returning for another blend. This time he will test it before leaving.”
I took a moment to process all of this. If it were anyone else I wouldn’t have believed it.
“You’re talking about Brescia,” I said. “But Lorenzo was upset about Turin, not Brescia. What happened in Turin?”
“What? Oh yes, Turin. Very unfortunate. I may have crossed a line in Turin. Some other time. Now, about the encounter of your father with the violent mob—I had heard Le Milieu was in this country but I wasn’t sure what they were after. Oh, I’m sorry, Le Milieu is the French underworld. The particular gang may be the Beaux Voyous or one of any lesser groups, but in short they are after my car.”
“The car? Not the potion?”
“No, you see the French have yet to win the Mille Miglia. They do fairly well in Le Mans and occasionally in Monaco, but they believe if they can acquire the Lancia D24 and unlock its secrets, they may have a chance of one day winning in Italy. Judging from their harsh treatment of Harold, they are prepared to use brutal force.”
“They had guns too.”
“Precisely. They are animals, involved in every corrupt trade there is. Except auto racing, and this is their ploy to break in.”
“Ah. Just dandy. So we’re sideways with a jilted Italian racing mogul, the French mafia, and the Akron Police Department.”
“Police? You didn’t say anything about the police.”
I folded my hands and scanned the grass around us. I said with a psychiatric tenderness,
“They were at the house. When I went to get the spoon. Interrogating my dad.”
“Fine, but do they know about the potions? The car?”
“You know, Ringo, I wouldn’t use the word potions…”
“DO THEY KNOW ABOUT THE CAR??”
At that moment we heard a sound like a very large hornet on the road beside us. I swallowed hard; I think I was excessively salivating. Beyond the shade of our leafy bower we heard the sound of a car approach at blinding speed.
“That’s—” said Ringo, his eyes going white. “That’s a Bugatti! What the hell is a Bugatti doing here? They heard the sound of mon cheri and they’re looking for it! Understand? The French mafia want my car!” He looked at me again. “Bo! The police, you say?”
“Yes,” I said heavily. “The police know about the car.”
“Putain de merde!” Ringo jumped up and stamped and leaped around our little encampment, kicking dirt clods with his boot heels. He screamed, “C’est un putain de cauchemar sanglant! How do they know about the car!?”
The Bugatti shot like a bullet past our cozy little picnic at no less than one hundred and fifty miles per hour, judging from the dangerously red-lining pitch of the engine.
“Never mind! That was the Beaux Voyous! And now, my friends, we are in trouble! If it was only them, we might have a chance. But with the police also on our trail, we’re done for. There’s only one way, my boy. You must flee the state. Cross the border, go into the forest. Allegheny. Yes, the Allegheny National Forest.
“Now listen, give me your complete attention, are you listening? You must remember. You take Pennsylvania 666—I know, ignore that. It’s just a road. Take PA-666, you take the hard turn at Kettleville, past the Billygoat Dime Store, past Linda Lou’s, that’s a house of ill-repute—stay away from there. Go another FOUR POINT SEVEN miles. There will be an unmarked dirt road to your right. Heaven help you find it. Turn in there and hide. I’ll meet you there in a day or so. Now go! Fly!”
We heard distant police sirens. Ringo got on his motorcycle and threw his whole body in the air to come down on the kick starter.
“Ringo! Where will you go?”
He just waved us on with a frantic gesture. Police sirens grew closer. Ringo zoomed away. Soon, the police cars rumbled past and all grew silent again.
We were back with the gentle breeze and barking of dogs in the distance.
Dimity and I looked at each other. She was a zen master of coolness. I huffed in frustration.
“OK! Fine! You drive.”