“Now, here’s the way I see it ...” Hardcastle began.
Mark, the Judge, and Barbara were all back at Gull’s Way, in Hardcastle’s den. The Judge sat behind his desk.
“... Somebody at Cody Automotive has decided that they want the Coyote back. They realize that a fortune could still be made by selling it to a major company like Ford or Chevy, and having it mass-produced. Since they no longer have the blueprint for it, someone in the company had some hired thugs steal the only existing prototype so that they could use it as a guide to reproduce it.”
“Yes,” Barbara interjected. “My father always felt that the Coyote could be the next Corvette, or the next Mustang.” She shifted in her chair. “But all rights to the car reverted back to me after Martin Cody was sent to jail, since I was an only child and my mother is deceased. Stealing the prototype doesn’t do them any good if I still own all the rights to the car’s design.”
“Ah, but once they have the prototype, all they have to do is alter the design of it a little here and there, call it by another name, and presto! They copyright the new design, build a new prototype, and then arrange to sell the car!”
Mark was starting to think along the same lines. “And if they hire someone to pop Barbara, then that would make it all the easier to get their design through the legal process without having anyone around to challenge it as being a copy of the Coyote,” he contributed.
“Right,” Hardcastle replied.
“But who exactly is behind all this?” Barbara asked.
“It’s certainly not Martin Cody,” Mark interjected. “His butt is still cooling in the state can, and will be for a lotta years yet. Same with Rabbit Vetromile and Joey Morgan.”
“Well, who is the new president of Cody Enterprises, now that Martin is out of the picture?” Barbara asked.
“I already looked into that,” Hardcastle replied. “Some nobody named Johnny Saxon. He was probably promoted up from the mail room or somewhere, so that whoever is really running the show at Cody Enterprises could pull any funny business he wants, and still stay incognito. Makes a harder target that way.”
“That person is no doubt a close friend or relative of Martin Cody,” Mark offered.
“Right. Someone who either has a financial motive in wanting to get the Coyote back for the company — which incidentally is seriously struggling since ol’ Marty went to jail — or has a personal vendetta because Marty got caught. Or both.”
“That makes sense,” Barbara admitted.
“But how do we find out who this person pulling the strings behind the scenes is?” Mark asked.
“Simple,” Hardcastle replied. “We put someone on the inside of Cody Automotive to find that out. And where they’ve hidden the Coyote.”
“You mean like a mole?” Barbara said.
“Huh,” Mark snorted. “You mean a stoolie! Someone who would be willing to risk his life to illegally snoop through the records of one of the biggest companies in America, hoping against all odds not to get caught — and then, once having done so, to squeal on said company, inviting death, disfigurement, and/or dismemberment at every turn.”
“Right,” Hardcastle agreed.
McCormick laughed. “And who are we gonna get who would be dumb enough to do that?” he asked.
Both Barbara and Hardcastle stared at him.
Mark stared back at them. Suddenly the light came on, and he jumped up from his chair.
“Oh, no, Jack!” he shouted. “Not me! I’m not doing this! Uh-uh! No way Santa Fe! Tonto not going into town for supplies again, kemosabe, just so he can get beat to hell again for the ten thousandth time!”
Barbara and Hardcastle just smiled.
* * *
“This is a very impressive resume you have here, Mr. McCormick,” the Personnel Director of Cody Automotive said. “It says here that you were the personal mechanic for race car driver E.J. Corlette for 5 years?”
Mark shifted in his chair. “That’s right,” he said, trying desperately to sound convincing. “It was pretty much because of my work that he won the ’78 Outlaw Trail Championship! We’ve been close friends ever since.”
“Well, that’s good enough for me,” the PD said. “You’re hired. You start tomorrow. Report to Steve Sheldon in Automotive Production, Warehouse #3, in the morning.”
After filling out numerous employment forms, Mark finally left the Cody Automotive Industries office building, located inside a large industrial park in Culver City, and walked a few blocks down the street, where Barbara and Hardcastle were waiting for him in the Judge’s pickup truck.
“Well, did you get the job?” Hardcastle asked as Mark got in the truck, taking off his corduroy jacket and loosening the tie he was wearing.
“Yeah, I got it,” Mark replied soberly.
“Great! Where would you like to go to celebrate?” Hardcastle asked him.
“I’ll tell you what — why don’t you just take me straight over to San Quentin right now, and we can make everything simpler by just eliminating the middle man?” Mark quipped with a lame smile.
Barbara smiled and hugged him.
* * *
Mark’s first day at Cody Automotive was a Wednesday. Fortunately, he was on a semester break from law school, and didn’t have to worry about attending classes again for a couple of weeks. The first few days at his new job were uneventful. He kept his eyes and ears open for anything that might supply a clue to the Coyote’s whereabouts, and tried to get to know as many people as he could. Mark was very sociable when he needed to be, and he rapidly got on a first-name basis with a lot of the guys who worked in his department.
He was just about to head to lunch on Tuesday of the following week when a break finally came. He was talking with a mechanic named Lou, a young guy about Mark’s age, and the conversation turned to Cody Automotive’s money problems.
“Yeah, actually I’m surprised they hired you,” Lou was saying, as they both walked across the parking lot to a little diner located across the street. Mark was wiping grease off his hands with a rag.
“What, you don’t like my work?” Mark replied kiddingly.
“No, no, it’s not that,” Lou continued. “You obviously know your way around a car engine. It’s just that they’ve been laying people off like flies since Martin Cody got sent to jail a couple years ago. Our contracts since then have shriveled, and they’ve even discussed closing us up altogether.”
“Yeah.” They entered the diner and sat down in a booth. After they had ordered, Lou leaned over to Mark and lowered his voice.
“However, recently I finally heard some really good news. I know a guy in the front office who’s assured me that Cody Automotive’s fortunes are about to turn around, big time.”
“No kidding?” Mark replied. He tried to sound nonchalant, but inside his every sense had just snapped to alert. “How so?”
“Well, the scuttlebutt is that we’ve just acquired a new car design that’s almost sure to blow the lid off the automotive market,” Lou continued. “You know, like another Mustang. We’re supposed to be getting the new design some time in the next couple weeks.”
“Wow, that’s great,” Mark said. “Any idea where they got this design from?”
“No, but my friend in the front office told me they already have a prototype of the new car. It’s supposed to be in storage somewhere at our facility in Las Vegas. I’d love to get a gander at it, but right now it’s all very hush-hush. When they do decide to make the car public there’s gonna be some kind of a big blow-out at one of the major casinos, for the news media and all.”
“Wow, Lou, that’s great to know,” Mark said.
Their orders came, and Mark scarfed down his lunch. He couldn’t wait to finish, get to a pay phone, and let Hardcastle know about this.
* * *
When Mark got back to Gull’s Way after work he found Hardcastle and Barbara in the Judge’s den. Hardcastle was sitting behind his desk. The both of them had gloomy looks on their faces.
“Hey, you guys don’t look very happy that we’ve finally got a lead on the Coyote!” he said, flopping down next to Barbara on the sofa. “What happened, Judge — your gold-plated retirement gavel go missing or something?”
“I just spoke to Harper on the phone,” Hardcastle said. “The guy that took that potshot at Barbara in the cemetery is dead.”
Mark suddenly straightened up.
“Dead? How?” he asked.
“He was on his way to the county cooker when a big panel truck came out of a side-street and broadsided the patrol car he was in,” Hardcastle explained. “The driver came through, but the kid didn’t. There were no plates on the truck, so they couldn’t ID it. It took off afterward. They never found it.”
Mark looked stunned, trying to take this news in.
“Whoever these people are, they’re obviously playing for keeps,” Hardcastle warned. “We’re gonna have to be extremely careful going forward with this.”
* * *
Early the next morning Barbara and the Judge got into Hardcastle’s GMC pickup truck, which was parked in front of the main house. Mark came out of the house last. After locking the front door he came over and threw his suitcase into the back of the truck. There were already two other suitcases back there. Then he climbed into the cab next to Barbara.
“And what did you tell your new employer about your not reporting in today?” Hardcastle asked.
“Oh, I just told them that I got a job offer from Paul Newman to be his personal mechanic, and he wanted me to start right away,” Mark replied.
Hardcastle looked at him. “You know, you are still the most facile liar I’ve ever known!” he said.
“Why, thank you, Judge!” Mark said, smiling. Barbara laughed.
Hardcastle pulled the truck away from the curb.
“Well, at least this truck will be a more comfortable ride to Las Vegas than the last time the three of us went there, in that old ’58 Chevy of yours,” Mark observed. “After the first twenty miles or so that tin can was ready to split apart at the seams!”
“I’ll not have you insulting my old truck!” Hardcastle protested. “She was a good friend for a lotta years!”
“Yeah, sure she was,” Mark retorted. “Until the spit and baling wire holding her together finally gave out.”
“Ah, you young whippersnappers don’t know a classic when you see one,” Hardcastle mumbled. “You think everything nowadays is supposed to be used once or twice, and then disposed of.”
“You know, neither one of you have changed a bit in the last three years,” Barbara observed.
“Sure we have,” Mark replied. “For one thing, we’re three years older!”
“But some of us are no smarter!” Hardcastle added.
Mark just shook his head, while Barbara had an expression on her face that looked like an indulgent parent caught between two quarreling children.
They drove out to the main road, and then turned south on Pacific Coast Highway. After threading their way through the various neighborhoods on the northern side of Los Angeles, they turned onto Highway 15, which goes all the way to Las Vegas. Once out on this main road they started making good time.
After driving for a few hours they crossed the California/Nevada border. They decided to stop and have lunch in the small community of State Line, just over the border. Then they headed out onto the highway again.
They had gone some distance out into the desert when Mark decided to pop a tape into the truck’s tape player. After he did so, the speakers started blaring out ’Bad Moon Rising’ by Creedence Clearwater Revival.
“Oh, geez, do we have to listen to that rock and roll crap again?” Hardcastle complained, screwing up his face.
“You see, B.J.?” Mark told her. “You see what I have to put up with? He thinks a classic band like CCR is crap! He probably would prefer to listen to ol’ Fred Waring and His Pennsylvanians!”
“Turn that thing off!” Hardcastle insisted.
“Oh, all right,” Mark replied. He turned the tape player off.
Hardcastle put his nose up in the air. He still looked like he was listening to something.
Mark noticed the look. “What is it?” he asked.
“You hear that?” Hardcastle replied.
Mark listened for a minute.
“Yeah — what is that?” he said. He swiveled his head around and peered out the rear window of the truck’s cab.
“Oh, it’s just a helicopter,” he finally announced.
Hardcastle looked up into the rearview mirror.
“That’s a commercial Bell helicopter,” he said. “What’s it doing all the way out here over the middle of the desert?”
“I don’t know - maybe it’s a TV news helicopter from LA, and they got lost trying to find a rush hour traffic jam somewhere,” Mark quipped.
As Hardcastle continued to watch the helicopter in the mirror, he saw it come down in a straight line right over the highway, directly behind them.
“That copter’s heading right for us,” Hardcastle announced.
Mark turned around and looked again. Hardcastle was right — the whirlybird seemed to be heading right for them.
Now convinced that something wasn’t quite right, Mark opened the truck’s glove compartment and took out Hardcastle’s Colt .45 pistol from it.
“Ol’ Henry won’t do you any good against a helicopter!” Hardcastle told him. Pushing down on the accelerator but not taking his eyes off the road, he reached under his seat and pulled out a shotgun.
“Here, try this!” he said.
He handed the gun to Mark. It was then that Mark noticed that bullets were striking the ground just to one side of the truck.
“They’re shooting at us!” Mark shouted. Hefting the shotgun he started to open his side door.
“Mark, what are you doing?” Barbara asked him, sudden fear in her voice.
“I’m just going into the back to get a better shot!” Mark told her. “Don’t worry — I’ll be fine!” With that he opened the side door a few inches and squeezed out of it onto the truck’s running board. From there he jumped back into the rear bed of the truck.
Once there he rolled over, got up on one knee and took aim at the incoming helicopter. It was almost over the truck by now.
He let go a blast. The helicopter zig-zagged, and the shot missed.
“Here!” Hardcastle yelled. Still not taking his eyes off the road he held a couple more shells out of his side window.
Mark reached out and grabbed the shells. He re-loaded the shotgun just as the helicopter passed over their heads. Raising the gun straight up he let go another blast.
This time he scored a direct hit on the tail rotor of the helicopter. The copter passed overhead and started to wobble in the air like a drunken sailor. It continued on for some distance, but then it became clear that the pilot had now lost all control over the machine. It flew off to the right over the desert, all the while losing altitude and starting to spin crazily.
Hardcastle pulled the truck over to the side of the road, and the three watched as the helicopter crashed onto the desert floor with a muffled BOOM. A huge fireball leaped up into the air, and mechanical parts flew everywhere.
As huge clouds of black smoke began to billow up from what was left of the copter, it became obvious that no one could have survived that crash.
Barbara buried her face in her hands, not wanting to look any more at the burning wreck. Mark jumped down from the truck’s bed and got back into the cab. He took Barbara in his arms.
“Let’s get out of here, Judge,” he said.
Hardcastle pulled the truck back onto the highway.
“I guess you were right about these guys not playing games,” Mark observed.
Hardcastle just shook his head.
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