The roar of several high-powered engines echoed across the beach as a small Zodiac boat made its way through the breakers toward the rocks. Inside, two figures crouched low, one of them looking up enough to keep the boat on course.
“Almost there, just another thirty yards,” said the one steering the boat.
“You know, it really would have been easier just to drop in here,” said the other. “I could have–”
“Totally blown our cover before we got started. These folks aren’t dumb. They stage a race like this, they close off the start and finish area, and they’re watching everybody that comes in or out. Fortunately, the starting area backs up on the beach, here, so we’ve got a better-than-fair chance of slipping in.”
“OK, I’ll take your word for it. You’re more accustomed to using the subtle approach than I am.”
A moment later, the motor went silent. Seconds later, they felt the boat brush against the sand underneath. “Perfect timing as usual.”
“All part of the schtick, chick.” An increase in the noise level from above the shore caught their attention. “They’re starting — we’d better hurry.” Both of them jumped from the boat and pulled it up onto the shore. Stashing it between a couple of large rocks, they each grabbed a duffel bag and went to find a place to change.
Above the beach, the roadway was brightly lit by rows of halogen lights mounted on top of a dozen pickup trucks. Along the roadside, dozens of customized cars sat, basking in the attention of hundreds of young people milling about, their attention focused mostly on a pair of cars sitting side-by-side in the middle of the road. The Pontauk Cam-Am and the Evasion Warhorse were both almost twenty years old, but both gleamed under the bright lights like they had their original showroom finish. The pipes and headers that adorned each vehicle, however, had never been seen in a dealer’s showroom, nor had the modified engines that rumbled under the hoods.
Among the crowd, a couple walked hand-in-hand. The broad-shouldered young man in torn jeans, white T-shirt, and a scuffed leather jacket turned toward the two muscle cars and ran a hand through his short red hair. His companion shook her head, her mane of long, thick black hair falling over one shoulder. She ran har hands down over the tight black leather pants that clung to her hips and legs.
“If the point was to be inconspicuous, you did a really lousy job of picking my outfit, Roy.” She adjusted the leather bustier, drawing glances from several men — and a few women — in the crowd, as the light glinted off the metal fittings on the wide leather bands around her wrists.
“Hey, Donna, you know I couldn’t pass up the chance.” Roy Harper grinned in the glaring lights from the trucks. He lowered his voice as he continued. “Just remember: keep an eye out for a guy with a diamond stud in his lip and a waxed mohawk. My tip says he’s making a delivery of dust here tonight under cover of the race.”
“Don’t look now, but I think I have him spotted.” Donna Troy Long tilted her head toward her left, where several people were checking out the engine in a late-model Nitsun 290G. One of them stood head and shoulders above the rest, and the seven inches of hair waxed straight up like a fin only added to his impressive height. The fin of hair was dyed in streaks, starting black near his scalp with bands of brown, chestnut, brownish blonde, and pale white at the edges. He turned toward them, his black eyes scanning the crowd. As he turned, the many chains hanging from different fittings on his gleaming leather jacket swung, catching the light in a sparkling display. “I see where he gets his nickname.”
“Yeah, and Shark, there, is just as dangerous as the real thing, too. Along with the shooting on the reservation where I’m staying, the DEA suspects him in at least six shootings, plus a couple of dozen overdoses that may or may not have been deliberate.” Donna Troy saw the determination flash in her partner’s eyes. “We’re bringing him down — tonight.”
Donna gave his hand a squeeze. “A case like this, I’m glad you decided to call in the New Titans. We’ll get him, Roy.”
David Lattimore looked up from the jumble of wires under the rear deck of a car where he was re-wiring the speakers. The flash of red hair had looked familiar, something about the way the head was cocked. He looked over near the white XR-8 and let his eyes linger on the brunette in the tight black leather. “Yeah, that looks like Roy’s style,” he murmured. Spotting the red-headed young man, Dave smiled. “Looks like he’s working again. Better keep my eyes open; he’s probably gonna need a hand. Boy always had a way of getting in over his head in a hurry.” His fingers continued making connections on their own as his eyes skimmed the crowd and the cars.
He watched as Roy and his lady-friend made their way toward the sleek black car with gold striping and a gold eagle emblazoned on the hood that was waiting to start in the next race. “Ah, no, Roy, not the damned Shark. You really love trouble, don’t you?”
As he watched, Roy and the beautiful woman circled the car and the man in question. Past experience with Roy Harper allowed him to read the expressions on the young man’s face, and they weren’t pleasant. He’s not hearing anything that’s helping him, thought Dave. Shark’s too cagey for that.
As he watched, the man called Shark climbed into the black Can-Am at the starting line for the street race. Dave knew the route: five blocks straight out, left for two blocks, right onto the docks — with all of the trucks, shipping containers, and other obstacles down there — right again and up the winding roads into the heights overlooking the shoreline, and back down again to a mile-long straightaway leading to the finish line. Nitro Alley was Virginia Beach’s best-known unofficial landmark, and Dave had been spending a few nights a week there for the past two years.
“Roy, I don’t know what you want with that sucker, but you’d better nab him now if you’re crazy enough to try. Once he takes off from that line, ain’t no man alive can catch him.”
“Looks like he’s in this race, Roy,” said Donna. “If he’s doing this deal, it must be down at the finish line.”
“Damn, the only way to nab him is to be there when he does it.” Roy started looking around, just as a short black man in a tight-fitting, dark red muscle-shirt stepped up to him.
“Looks like you need a ride, man. I think you’re nuts, but I’ll back your play.” Roy turned, and a smile came across his face as he recognized the face of David Lattimore. “Yeah, man, it’s me. No names, just move. Your lady-friend, too.”
The three of them made their way to a vintage red Thunderhawk. The black man opened the driver’s side door and climbed into the back. “Take the wheel, man — you always had a hankering for fast machines.” Donna dashed around to the passenger side and climbed in as Roy took his place in the driver’s seat and swung the wheel over in front of him.
“Damn, Davey, you always did have good taste in cars,” said Roy with a grin.
“Not nearly as good as your taste in ladies,” replied Dave, laying one hand over the passenger seat. “I’m Dave. Roy and I worked together a couple years back.”
“Donna.” Reaching up and giving his hand a perfunctory squeeze, Donna glanced over at Roy. “You’re not seriously considering…”
“Are you kidding? It’s the only way we can keep up with this guy.” Roy grinned devilishly. “Besides, this is not all that different from Ollie’s old car. The gold one.”
“Oh, why do I have the feeling I’m going to regret this?” sighed Donna.
“OK, guys, on your marks!”
Two engines roared louder than the others in the crowd, and people started screaming louder than before.
Both drivers released the clutch on their cars, their right feet down hard on the accelerators as their right hands held fast to their parking brakes. Two pairs of slick tires squealed on the pavement as rubber burned.
Both drivers released the brakes, and the cars leaped over the starting line. Both drivers watched each other as they sped down the road. Neither of them noticed a third car taking to the road behind them.
“When they turn left up here, veer to the right and take Munson Avenue. We can get to the end of the course before them.” Dave was hunched over between the two front seats, watching the road and pointing toward the turn-off.
“No,” said a female voice. Roy and Dave both turned to Donna. “What if he doesn’t wait to the end of the course to make the drop?” she asked.
“What’re you talking about, lady?” asked Dave. “Shark ain’t gonna risk his racing rep by stopping in the middle of the course.”
Donna shook her head. “Look, how big do you figure the package is?”
“Small briefcase, maybe as small as a cigar box,” said Roy.
“Then why does he have a styrofoam shipping container two feet across sitting on his front seat?” asked Donna.
Roy’s eyes hardened. “Of course! He can drop it on the road and just pick up his money at the end. Then he’s just receiving the payoff on a racing bet!”
“Exactly — so we have to get both the pick-up man and the money man.” Donna clicked the button to release her seatbelt. She leaned her head out the window, the wind whipping her long hair back behind her. “No offense, Dave, but your windshield could use cleaning.”
Dave marveled at how this woman could stand to keep her eyes open as the car careened through the streets at 120 miles per hour. Roy moved to the left side of the road as he approached the first turn, then swung to the right as he started the left turn. By swinging the wide-bodied car right before the turn, he kept all four wheels on the road and made the turn with minimum deceleration. He killed the lights to reduce the chance of being seen by those in the cars ahead. He was only about thirty yards behind the Warhorse, and the Can-Am driven by Shark was about ten yards ahead of that.
As the Shark went into the next turn, Dave said, “We’re going onto the docks here. Probably the best place for him to drop that box.”
“Good — and he’s more likely to toss it to the right, away from the water.” Donna wiggled out of the leather bustier and pulled up the silver-flecked black spandex that was underneath. “No peeking, boys.”
“Um, yeah, OK,” replied Dave, rocking to the left as Roy accelerated into the next turn. “Watch out — they leave all kinds of stuff around here.”
“No problem. Just like old times.” Roy was in his element: high speed, danger, a target in his sights. The big car rocked slightly from side to side as he swung it around a forklift and a cluster of oil drums.
“There it goes!” cried Donna. “And here I go!” Dave’s jaw dropped as she slipped through the open window like a shining black eel. Instead of dropping to the ground and rolling as he expected, she slid upward on the air currents stirred up by the passing cars. He saw a flash of gold as she withdrew a coil of faintly glowing golden rope from a pocket on the back of her right boot.
“Jesus, Roy! Was that who I think it was?”
“Yeah, Davey boy. It’s nice having friends in high places.”
“Damn! Are you and she–?” Dave left the question unfinished, knowing Roy would catch his meaning.
Roy hesitated before answering. “No, nothing going on between us.” In his mind, he added, Any more.
“Man, I’m glad to hear that.” Dave let his head drop for a moment. “Roy, buddy, when this is all done, we need to have a long talk.”
Artemis let the air currents carry her upward, reveling as she always did in the feeling of freedom as the ground fell away from her. The supreme grace and balance gifted to her along with Amazon strength, speed, and endurance allowed her to dance on the slightest of air currents. As she slipped among the eddies and slipstreams created by the passing vehicles and the sea breezes, she looked below to spot the box Shark had tossed out.
“Efficient operation — they’ve already got it.” She saw two men carrying the foam shipping container toward a black van. “Don’t know if there are any more in the van. Since I can’t carry it like Superman, though, I’ll have to take them each down.” She unwound the golden lasso, a duplicate of the one carried by her late adoptive sister Diana, and cast it down at the two men carrying the box. One cast encircled them both, and she pulled up on the line to tighten the lasso around them.
“Time to call it a night, boys!” she called as she alighted on the ground. She watched them closely, noting the way their eyes darted toward the van. She looked at the vehicle and saw a shadowy movement in the driver’s window.
When the first shot rang out, her right arm whipped up. There was a pinging sound as the bullet struck the Amazonium bracelet under her leather wristband. A second shot was deflected back at the van, striking the driver’s side door. The gun dropped out the window, and the door slowly opened.
“OK, lady, you got us. But all you got is a possession rap. All that happened is, we found them drugs on the docks.” The gunman stepped out, his hands up in the air.
“Drugs? Oh, gee, I didn’t know there were drugs in there,” replied Artemis innocently. “Interesting that you would know, considering the container is still sealed.”
“Aww, jeez,” replied one of the men bound in her lasso.