Chapter 8 -- Charging
Nick wouldn’t steal anything! And who were those guys? If that was their Beemer, they’d have a hard time catching him. Serves ‘em right.
Jazzed up, he pushed his electric bike towards sixty, much too fast for these streets. He blazed past stop signs and juked from lane to lane, dodging cars and trucks for several blocks before slowing.
He glanced at the battery charge, edging towards nothing. I can’t burn juice like this. Stupid not to have plugged it in the instant I got to the boat.
He flipped off the fake engine noise and coasted down to a comfortable pace. His arms felt jittery. Too much adrenalin. No matter what Slab said, his friends and maybe family were gang members. If he’d thought he’d have walked into gang territory yesterday, he wouldn’t have believed it.
They treated me nice enough, for Slab’s sake. He tried to shake off the remnants of his fear. Was I crazy to have been afraid, or crazy to go there in the first place? It was quite a contrast from the manicured lawns of Forrester.
The bike felt a little sluggish.
I have to make the batteries last. He looked at the road signs, but recognized none of them. On impulse, he made a right turn at the next intersection, but none of the streets rang any bells.
It was like navigating in a fog -- no landmarks. At least no landmarks he recognized. If he were on the water, he’d at least have a magnetic compass direction, and with the GPS, he’d be able to steer a general course.
But the bike had neither. Steer by the stars? Ha, not in Chicago. The sky glowed orange from the millions of city lights. No star could compete.
Off in the distance, however, he could see a cloud bank. That’s over the lake, I bet. He turned again and headed, hopefully, east.
“Why is Nick getting a two-seater car when there’s three of us?”
They were watching him pull the very narrow electric car into the garage beside the family sedan. Barely wider than a motorcycle, it had a front and rear seat.
Mom shrugged. “He’s always wanted an electric car to play with, and with his new job, he can afford it. As long as I have my Subaru, I’m fine with it. And now that we don’t have the boat to tow anymore, we didn’t really need the pickup either. Actually, this is a much better car for him to drive to work every day.”
She grinned. “Think of it this way -- just about the time Nick will get tired of his new toy and want to get something else -- that’s just when you’ll need a car of your own.
“That head-turning red car just might be yours before too long.”
I could use a car, but I’d want one with great range. Maybe a hybrid so I could use common fuels.
The motorcycle was definitely getting sluggish. The battery gauge was down in the red and each stop was harder to recover from. Tommy was using all the tricks, keeping his acceleration to a minimum and making sure that he avoided braking.
Lakeshore Drive appeared, and he was easily five miles south of where he needed to be. He approached the entrance, and then veered off when the acceleration just wasn’t there anymore. He’d have to stay on the little roads, in spite of the fact it added more stop signs and wasted energy.
By the time he was within walking range, on North Marine Drive, he was so slow he had to creep along next to the parked cars. If there had been a sidewalk, he’d have used it.
Finally, the bike wobbled to a stop.
“Great!” He was still a mile or so to Montrose Harbor. Off to the east, there was the regular whoosh of cars and trucks burning gas and getting where they wanted to go.
Electric is great, if you’ve got a charge.
He made sure the gear was disengaged and began pushing. It would be a long walk.
The gas station sign taunted him for four blocks. “Yeah, I know. If I were just driving a regular motorcycle, I’d be home free.”
Nick, why’d you put me in this situation in the first place! What’d you do to make those people chase you? And chase me!
As he came up even with the gas station, he looked closer, and that roaring noise he’d ignored suddenly stopped. The attendant was putting away a yard blower. He jerked on the long cord and its plug came free from an outdoor outlet down at foot level.
An outlet! I wonder....
Tommy checked the traffic and hurriedly pushed the bike across the street. The man looked his way and paid him no attention. Motorcycles came in there all the time, probably.
“Hey, Mister. Can I buy a buck’s worth of electricity?”
Tommy pointed. “Electric motorcycle -- dead battery.”
“I dunno.” He scratched his head. “I don’t have a price for that.”
“Hey, you don’t even have to ring it up. I just need a few minutes of charge, just to get home.”
“Okay, I guess.” He held out his hand. “One dollar.”
Tommy was fifteen minutes into a charge when his pocket buzzed.
He slapped at his pockets, hurriedly pulling out both cell phones. It was his, not the cheap one he was supposed to reserve for Slab.
Timidly, he answered. “Hello?”
It was Cax’s low rumble. “Chet called. Urgent.” And then a click. The giant’s secretarial skills were minimalist.
Chet. Why? He rummaged through his pockets, finding the scrap of paper, grateful he’d scribbled down Chet’s number as well. He dialed, glancing at the battery gauge. Luckily, the heaviest charging was done in the first few minutes. If he were giving away his location, in spite of this new ID number, he’d need to make a run for it quickly.
“Where you at? You gotta stay clear of the docks.”
“Why? What’s up?”
“Three of ‘em came around looking closer. They walked our dock twice, but they don’t give your rig a second glance. Still, if you was to show up, I dunno.”
“Three, you say? In the van?”
“Three at first, but a couple of ‘em ran off some time back. Took a fancy car. They left one guy, and he’s parked that cleaning van right outside the gate. Just sittin’ and waitin’ for now.”
“Is he using that gadget we saw?”
“Nope. Lemme check.” There was a moment of silence. “He’s jes twiddlin’ his thumbs.”
Tommy looked across the highway. He could see the forest of masts in the distance, but he was much too far to make out any detail.
Still. There was just one guy, until the others got clear of Slab’s friends. If they succeeded in keeping him from the Marissa, then he’d really be up a creek. The Cleaners had his house staked out, and likely knew who Kati was by now. They’d tracked down his phone in minutes at the Pool Hall. Slab would be watched. He had nowhere to go, and no one to hide him.
“Chet. Go up to the gate and be ready to open it up for me in a hurry. I’m coming in.”
“But you’ll do it?”
“Yeah. I ain’t yer Daddy.”
“Expect me in five minutes.”
He unplugged the warm cable from the outlet and nodded to the gas station attendant.
Rumble. The Harley noise sounded powerful, and the bike lurched forward as he applied power. He leaned down into the wind. Maybe he didn’t have enough juice for a long chase, but if things went okay, he wouldn’t need any great distance.
North Marine Drive met Montrose, and turned under the highway overpass.
This is crazy. He drove up to the intersection and took the Montrose Harbor Drive. The road looped almost all the way around the harbor like a fishhook. He kept his eyes on the cars and trucks parked beside the road. Where was that van?
He was nearly at his dock when he saw it, parked under a light pole. Definitely the same van. Dull red. Magenta Home Cleaning.
Across the way, he saw Chet and the dog walking their way toward the security gate. Chet’s eyes passed over him, but Tommy was sure he was seen.
It was hard to breathe. He forced a deep breath, turned the motor noise all the way up, and rumbled slowly past the van.
Sitting in the driver’s seat was the Cleaner who’d been using the cell phone scanner the first time. He looked his way.
Tommy let his eyes open wide. For a long second, they stared at each other, and he could see recognition flare up in the man’s face. One more data point. They had identified him by photo, not just as “Tom, son of subject Nick.”
The man reached for his door, and Tommy hit the throttle, making a tight U-turn on the road, racing back the way he came.
The squeal of tires told him the van was doing the same. He quickly lost sight of him in the mirror, but he knew the truck would be on his tail in nothing flat. There was no way his electric motor could keep up against a big Detroit engine.
But he had no intention of letting it turn into a straight chase. He gave the electric motor all the current it could handle, and held on as it tried to do a wheelie.
Montrose Harbor Drive was one long curve. Trees obscured the view behind, but he had to make the intersection before the van could catch up.
Traffic was light enough. Tommy pulled to the inside curve, in the wrong lane. He tapped the volume control on the engine noise, but it was already all the way up. Anyone could follow him by the sound alone. He slowed just a bit, as the intersection approached.
As he expected, there was a flicker of red in the trees around the bend. His pursuer had a second’s clear view of him making the left turn, heading out on West Montrose Avenue. The van was about a block’s length behind.
A dozen yards out of sight around the “Park Bait Shop”, Tommy slowed just enough to jump the curb. The marina’s boat parking area gave him cover to take the sidewalk.
Faster! He had to keep the building between them. He faded the engine noise down to nothing.
If he just thinks I’m faster....
And if he didn’t -- if he realized his prey had jumped the track and doubled back, he’d be back in less than a minute.
I’ve got to get to the boat. It was his only refuge. He just wished the marina wasn’t lit up so well.
He dodged a couple walking on the sidewalk toward the docks. The guy yelled, but Tommy paid him no attention. Banking around light poles and trying to stay clear of other pedestrians and a flock of Canadian Geese, he took the walkway next to the water all the way around to his dock.
Chet had the gate open as he slowed to a crawl and rumbled down the ramp and onto the dock.
“Git! I’ll close it.”
The dog took out ahead of him, running much faster than he could ride in the narrow path. Luckily, there wasn’t anyone to avoid. He had the urge to look back, but if the van had returned, it didn’t matter.
The idea he should just abandon the bike flickered across his thoughts for about a tenth of a second. He hopped off at a run and heaved it over the gunwale. It clattered onto the deck, the front fork high in the air with the wheel turning.
I’ve got to untie the deck lines and fire up the engine.
He took a hard look at the new throttle levers Nick had installed on the control pedestal next to the wheel. There were two, a large hand-sized one with a little one beside it. The little one had to be for the burners. Just set it and forget it to keep the batteries charged. The real control had to be regular sized one.
Tommy pushed the little one full on. Is there an igniter? He didn’t see one. If I can’t get it started and there’s no main battery charge, I’m done.
No time. He went to the port side to loosen the line secured around the dock’s cleat. He unplugged the shore power line and tossed it on board. The dog was dashing back and forth, watching everything he was doing.
Chet hurried up, moving with a slight limp. Had he always walked that way?
“Get the starboard line!”
Chet nodded. Tommy freed the bow line and hurried back to the controls at the stern of the boat.
A whiff of burned diesel caught his attention. An almost invisible plume of smoke was coming out of a hole a foot above the water line on the transom. The burners had started. The Sterling engine was silent as advertised. Nick would be pleased.
Tommy spared a few seconds to scan the dock and shore line. There was no sign of the Cleaners, but that didn’t mean they wouldn’t show up any second.
He looked Chet in the eye. “I’ve gotta get out of here.”
Tommy shoved the motorcycle to the side, just out of his way so that he could operate the controls. With the bike at his feet and the unmounted mast beside his head, he had neither mobility nor any great deal of visibility.
Still, there was no choice.
He checked the water, and pulled backwards on the throttle. Silently, the Marissa began to pull out of its slip.
Ruff! The dog watched until he was nearly clear, and then jumped from the dock, his claws clattering on the unstable surface of the boat’s deck.
“Hey, Chet! Call the dog back!”
The dog hesitantly walked the way toward the helm where Tommy struggled with the wheel and the throttle, trying to keep the boat moving clear of the dock
Chet yelled back, “Not my dog!”
He was clear of the slip, but drifting into the channel. A powerboat was approaching from its own mooring, deeper into the harbor. Tommy had to ignore his stowaway and give the Marissa some forward speed. He spun the large brightwork wheel, and his boat turned confidently.
The dog slipped down from the upper deck and ducked under the bench.
“You just stay put! I can’t have you underfoot right now.” He had no idea what to do with his passenger.
The powerboat moved past him and Tommy upped the throttle a push, until he matched the other vessel’s speed. They were both moving at a walking pace. This was a no-wake zone and no one could make any speed.
The harbor was filled with boats, but off to his right, Tommy was intensely aware of the auto traffic on Montrose Drive. If he were close enough to see the drivers in the cars, then they were close enough to see him.
But every second, he was moving away from the marina’s lights.
He looked down on the bench, where he’d left his jacket. It was hardly the weather for it, but he snatched it up and slipped it on.
A reddish van emerged from the underpass, heading back toward the marina. There’s nothing I can do.