“Hold it—dreams?” Ringo said. “Better to tell me about them now.”
My head was still reeling from the revelation of the sinister figure of Poignard, some kind of global puppet master of the underworld. His name suggested he was French. Was he a force in the second world war that ended ten years ago? Was he behind Vichy France I wondered? Or the Resistance? Or was he playing one off against the other?
And the Beaux Voyous was just a small-time French Mafia interest that he controlled. Their ambitions were narrower: stealing the automotive technology with a view to, I guess, fixing bets on Le Mans and the Mille Miglia? Helping France to beat out Italians for once? To crush Gianni Lancia himself? They were still out there, at least four of them, still looking for the car.
And now Lorenzo had greatly expanded his horizons. He must have somehow gained an audience with Poignard and told him about the powers in Ringo’s elixirs, which he learned from Tanaquil, and now was blackmailing Ringo to take a new batch to Poignard. What a mess.
“Now? Well, I can if you want.”
“I have a reason for asking. Dreams can be…important. But go ahead. Where were you when you had the first dream?”
“After we escaped the Beaux Voyous and with the guidance of our esteemed Lady T, we finally found your house in the forest. Then after a near-miss with a hungry Lurker who chased us inside, we bolted the door, explored the house a bit, and were relaxing, sitting by the fire. We had some wine—”
“What kind of wine?”
“I don’t know. Red.”
“Yes, but what kind?”
“I don’t know anything about wine.”
“Cabernet? Merlot? Pinot Noir?”
“No, none of those.” I looked back in my memory and I heard Dimity saying 30-year something…port. “Oh yeah! 30-year something port!”
“Thirty year? Good heavens!”
“Yeah, something port.”
“Yes, that’s it!”
“Well, well. Ordinary communion wine, except the highest quality there is. Your first tipple and you start with top shelf, premium vintage.”
“Not my first, but…”
“How much did you consume?”
“We shared most of the bottle.”
“The funny thing is, Ringo, I wasn’t sure where reality ended and the dream began. But we heard the Beaux Voyous banging at the door, shouting in French. The door opened. Dimity suddenly had a gun, and she put four bullets in the heads of the four intruders. Next thing I knew, Dimity was trying to wake me up. I thought it was real, and I thought she was a killer, like she was some dead-eyed Mafia vixen herself.”
Ringo scratched his chin and looked pensive. I suddenly caught myself; I felt guilty talking about my darling girl in that way, confessing my momentary impression that she was anything but the beautiful suburban girl I knew her to be, maybe even my future life partner. It was unworthy to air such shameful thoughts that were nothing more than a phantasm induced by strong wine. My desire for her welled up.
“Hmm. Okay, continue.”
“Ah. That’s all.” He looked sideways at me. I had said ‘dreams,’ but I couldn’t go on. The other dream wasn’t even realistic. Just some comic book come to life. And she? A figure from a Jimmy Cagney movie? It was ridiculous and embarrassing. He seemed to read my mind, but he didn’t pursue it.
“It’s just a dream. But, you know, saying it out loud like that makes it seem ridiculous. Just forget that I ever—”
“No no. Sometimes dreams can carry hidden meanings. In previous cultures, dreams were taken very seriously. Kings would call for wise men to come and offer interpretation.”
“And cut off their heads if the message was unfavorable.”
“Sometimes. But you also came under the influence of the elixir on that first day. It has been known to give people visions and premonitions, symbolic messages, things happening simultaneously far away, or things that may have yet to occur.”
I dismissed those thoughts as more of his fantasy-world talk, things that made for a good novel or the movies, but didn’t happen in the real world.
Then Dimity left her new Chickasaw friends and skipped across the gravel road to join us again. She grabbed my hand and gave me a silly and completely endearing smile.
“So what are you boys talking about,” she inquired.
“We’re going back to Ringo’s house in the forest to make more of the elixir—”
Ringo lifted an index finger. “Actually, my boy I think you have another obligation right now.”
I was afraid this was coming. I tried to think of a persuasive response, but I knew he was right. My mother was in the hospital alone, my siblings were who-knows-where, and there had to be some kind of disposal of my dad’s remains—a burial, a cremation, something. Dimity looked at me with big eyes.
“Aw, dang it, Ringo. I would rather go with you and help with the new batch. We both would. Isn’t there any way?”
“I know you are carried away with a sense of adventure for all that has been happening to you this week. But I must speak where honor requires, and you have a duty to your family. It will be many days and possibly weeks before my next brew is ready. Much preparation is required.
“You must be a son to your mother and say goodbye to your father. You should see about the state of your house. Then if circumstances permit, and your mother has convalesced, there may come a time when we can continue our work. That will be after all this trouble with Lorenzo and Poignard is behind me. I cannot bring you into that. It’s far too dangerous. Your mother would kill me if she knew.”
“Okay, but how can you make the brew without the talisman spoon, my spoon, that we went to such lengths to get? It’s reduced to splinters now.”
“That is why this is going to take me some time. I do not have an answer to that question.”
It was settled then. Dimity and I would take the Lancia home. Ringo chartered a ride on an open-cockpit biplane back to his secret dwelling.
We watched from the car in the gloaming of the day, the sun setting behind us. He waved from the rear seat as they rose into the darkening east. I do not know how he found his way in the night, or where they landed. And there was no airstrip in the Allegheny Forest. His house is under the trees. He may have parachuted for all I know.
Mitts came with me because she said she wanted to see her folks, and because she didn’t like to think of me driving alone. I missed my home and family, except that none of it existed anymore. The Beaux Voyous has destroyed everything I had in their desire to get their hands on the very car we were driving, again, south, possibly right back into their waiting arms.
But we knew that drill. And now we had a gun of our own. My mother had been moved to a bigger hospital in Cleveland, so that’s where we headed. As we drove along the two-lane farming roads of central Michigan, Dimity chatted to keep me awake.
“Do you want me to drive some?”
“I got it.”
“Don’t be afraid to ask if you get sleepy.”
“Where do you think we will live when we get married?”
“Well yeah. Don’t you want to get married someday?”
“Sure, I mean, of course I do. Getting married to you sounds swell. But I just wonder…I mean, I would understand if you didn’t want to marry me, but if you do want to then that’s great, because I definitely would want to someday maybe marry you, if you wanted to.”
She was silent for a moment.
“If I ever didn’t want to marry you, it would be because of bloody stupid sentences like that thing you just spoke to me. Try again.”
“I was just trying to—”
“Shut up! Try again. I said, ‘Don’t you want to get married someday?’”
“Well if things—”
“Stop! No, try again. Don’t you want to get married someday?”
“I just would want to make sure—”
“Don’t start with any conditional or bloody subjunctive statements! Don’t you want to get married someday!”
“I…yes. Yes, I do. I do want to get married. To you. Someday. When we are older. I do. Yes, I do. I want to get married.”
“Wait, did you just propose to me?”
“Seems I did. And you said, ‘I do.’”
“That’s just great.”
We managed to drive all the way across Michigan wrestling through banter like this. We talked like two much older people, much closer to marrying age. We talked about where we would want to live. I said going back to her hometown of Freemantle in Western Australia sounded nice. She told me she was actually born in London but had moved to Australia when she was four years old. I felt a little annoyed; she had all this back story and none of it made any sense to me.
It was two a.m. and we were trying to move through Toledo as briskly and quietly as possible. I stayed in high gear as much as possible to reduce the whine of the engine. Only a couple of more hours to Cleveland. We crossed the Maumee River at the south bridge. Nothing but flashing traffic signals. Clouds overhead blocked the stars and moon. The car had no radio. The need for sleep was getting overwhelming, and my patience was wearing thin.
I stopped at the last red light before leaving urban Toledo.
“You’ve really been around, haven’t you. London, Australia, now the United States.”
“For your dad’s employment, I guess.”
“Which you still haven’t explained to me. Because, as you said, he does jobs. Just jobs. I guess your dad ran out of jobs to do in London. So…you…moved to Australia? More jobs to do there, I guess?”
“What do you mean by that?”
“The funny thing is, I have no idea what I mean by that!”
“Careful now, boy.”
“Because I still have no idea why you moved to America, what your dad does, what you’re doing here with me, or anything! All I know is—”
The sound of the gunshot arrived a fraction of a second after the impact of the bullet, which caught the back of my left ear, carved a four-inch gash in the side of my head, and slid past my cheekbone. We both heard the sound but were unsure what had just happened. We looked around for a moment. I felt nothing at first except that something had jarred me. Then Dimity gasped and said,
“Oh my God, Bo!”
The pain came later. The first thing I felt was the flow of some liquid dripping on my left shoulder and rapidly soaking my shirt. A curtain of blood broke forth and ran down the side of my neck and face. But something far more shocking was yet to happen before we left Toledo.