A little while later Hardcastle and Barbara met Mark at Joe’s Auto Body Shop, where they had previously arranged to meet after getting the Coyote back. Joe had made arrangements with them to hide the Coyote in a fenced-in lot behind his shop among the other cars he was working on. After parking it Mark threw a tarp over it. When this was done he climbed into Hardcastle’s pickup, and they all headed back to their hotel.
“Well, I must say, being with you two guys certainly keeps a girl from getting bored with life!” Barbara commented. “Do you do this kind of thing all the time?”
“Oh, no,” Mark replied, in a mock-sincere tone. “Usually it’s worse.”
“Well anyway,” Hardcastle interrupted, “now that we’ve got the Coyote back, I think we should get out of town as soon as possible. There’s no telling what these birds might do next. Once we’re back in LA we can regroup, and try to figure out exactly who’s behind all this.”
“I agree — but I think we should get at least a few hours sleep first, Judge, before we drive all the way back to LA,” Mark commented.
“We can do that,” Hardcastle concurred. “They won’t find the car before then. We can spend the rest of the night — what’s left of it — here at the hotel, and then leave in the morning.”
* * * * *
The next morning around 9 AM Mark, Barbara and Hardcastle got some breakfast in the Sahara Hotel’s coffee shop. When they had finished they started for Hardcastle’s pickup truck outside in the parking lot.
“I’ll drop you off at Joe’s, and you can drive the Coyote back to LA,” Hardcastle was saying, talking to Mark.
When they had reached the lobby Barbara abruptly turned to Mark and told him, “I want to use the Ladies’ Room once more before we go.”
Mark nodded. Barbara headed back down the hallway.
“Typical,” Mark said to Hardcastle. Hardcastle grunted in response. He sat down in a nearby chair, and they waited.
“She’s taking an awfully long time,” Mark finally said.
“You know how women are,” Hardcastle replied. They waited a few more minutes. Just as Mark was about ready to go looking for Barbara a young kid of about fourteen, dressed in a t-shirt and jeans, came over to him.
“You a friend of Barbara Johnson?” the kid asked.
Mark looked quizzically at him. “Yeah,” he answered.
“I’m supposed to give this to you,” the kid replied. He handed Mark a folded-up note.
The kid walked away as Mark unfolded the piece of paper.
“Oh no,” Mark groaned.
This got Hardcastle’s attention. “What?” he asked. He stood up.
“Look at this,” Mark said, handing the note to Hardcastle.
WE HAVE BARBARA JOHNSON the note read, in neatly printed letters. WE WILL TRADE HER FOR THE COYOTE. GO TO 9575 GREAT BASIN HIGHWAY THIS MORNING AT 10 AM. COME ALONE. ANY SIGN OF COPS AND WE WILL IMMEDIATELY SMOKE HER.
Hardcastle shook his head. “Whoever these birds are, they just don’t give up,” he grumbled, total frustration in his voice.
“Judge, you gotta take me to the Coyote,” Mark told him.
“You’re not gonna go through with this, are you?”
“I have to. Barbara’s more important to me than any car.”
“Well, I’m going with you.”
“No, Judge, you can’t. They get one look at you waving your shotgun and all, and Barbara won’t have a chance. Please. I’ve got to do this alone.”
Hardcastle stared at Mark, with a ’damned if I do, and damned if I don’t’ expression on his face.
* * * * *
Just before 10 o’clock Mark approached the address on the note he had been given. It was a few miles north of Las Vegas on Highway 93. The address was a lush estate out in the desert, surrounded by green lawns, palm trees, and a high stucco wall around its outer circumference.
Mark noticed that there was a large “For Sale” sign posted on the wall.
He pulled the Coyote into the property and drove around its circular driveway, stopping just in front of the entrance to the house, an ornate carved doorway bordered by high columns on both sides.
Two big, burly men wearing black suits and sunglasses came out of the house and walked over to Mark as he climbed out of the Coyote. One immediately threw him against the hood of the car and proceeded to frisk him from head to foot.
“Don’t worry, guys, I’m not loaded,” Mark quipped.
The two men each took Mark by an arm as if to lead him into the house, but at this additional indignity Mark roughly shook them off.
“Watch it, fellas,” he said, in his best macho tone. “This is a new t-shirt.” These guys were rapidly bringing his naturally rebellious side to the fore.
One man then pushed Mark forward, and the pair led him into the house.
Inside was a huge, sumptuous entry hall that resembled the lobby of a Las Vegas casino. The two men led Mark into a small office located off to one side.
Inside the office was a large oaken desk, behind which sat a man who bore an amazing resemblance to Martin Cody. The only difference was that this man looked a few years younger.
“I thought I recognized this place,” Mark said. “This is Martin Cody’s estate.”
“Give the man a cigar,” the man behind the desk cracked.
“And just who might you be?” Mark asked. “Martin Junior?”
“William Cody. Martin’s cousin.”
“Disgusted to meet you, Buffalo Bill,” Mark shot back. “Where’s Barbara?”
The man gestured to one of the two black-suited guards. The guard left the room for a moment. When he came back he had Barbara with him. Her hands were tied behind her back.
“Mark!” she cried when she saw him. She ran over to him.
Mark put his arm around her. “Are you okay?” he asked.
“Yes,” she replied. But her voice betrayed the fear she was feeling.
“And now — the keys to the Coyote?” William asked.
Mark fished them out of his pocket and threw them to Cody, who deftly caught them.
“Excellent,” Cody said.
“You’ve got quite an operation,” Mark told him. “I especially liked the maneuver with that truck that tried to waylay us on the way into Vegas.”
Cody leaned back in his chair. “Thank you. We do what we can to stay on top. And your Coyote should succeed in putting us back there, once we are able to sell it to the highest bidder.”
“I can see from the ’For Sale’ sign out front that you apparently need the money.”
“Yes. Unfortunately, we do. My cousin ending up in jail for the rest of his life didn’t exactly do Cody Enterprises any good on the stock market. But that should change now. Once the public gets a load of the slightly re-designed Coyote, we should have no trouble regaining our former status in the marketplace. Your friend Flip Johnson really was an excellent designer of hip, innovative sports cars.”
“Yeah, he was,” Mark replied. “Too bad he had to get mixed up with a den of vipers like you and your family.”
Cody ignored this comment and again addressed one of his guards. “Sully, if you please, take our two friends here out into the desert and shoot them. Make sure you bury them where no one will ever find them.”
At this Sully pulled a large pistol out of his suit coat and stuck it in Mark’s back.
“Hey, that wasn’t the deal!” Mark protested.
“Mr. McCormick, I said I would trade you Miss Johnson for the Coyote,” Cody replied. “I didn’t mention anything about what might happen to you after you got her back, now did I?”
“Let’s go, sport,” Sully growled.
Barbara and Mark turned and exited the office, Sully following right behind them. He led them at the point of his gun out a back door of the estate to an outdoor patio. A four-wheel drive jeep was parked nearby. Sully stripped off his coat and tie and laid them on a nearby patio chair.
“You can drive, sport,” he said to Mark. “But keep in mind that one wrong move and your girlfriend gets it right away.”
Sully got in the back of the jeep, his gun still at the ready, while Mark climbed into the driver’s seat. Barbara got in next to him.
“Don’t worry,” Mark whispered to Barbara as he started the engine. “We’ll get outta this. I promise.”
Mark drove the jeep out into the desert, as per Sully’s instructions. After they had driven for about half an hour, Sully told him to stop.
“This place is as good as any,” Sully announced. He climbed out of the back of the jeep, motioning Mark and Barbara to do the same. He got a long-handled shovel out of the back of the jeep and tossed it to McCormick.
“Here, sport,” he said.
Mark looked at the shovel. “What’s this for?” he asked.
“You don’t think I’m going to dig you two a hole in this heat, do you?” Sully told him. He pointed to the ground. “Start digging.” As if for emphasis he held up his pistol.
“All right, all right,” Mark said.
“Make it a nice big hole, too,” Sully said, a nasty grin on his face. “It’s gotta be big enough for the both of you.” He leaned up against the side of the jeep to watch.
Barbara stood nearby, her hands still tied behind her back, as Mark started digging. When he had dug the hole about waist deep Sully reached over and pulled a canteen out of the back of the jeep.
“Just watching you is making me thirsty,” Sully said. He took a long drink from the canteen.
Mark stopped digging.
“Hey, can I have a swig of that?” he demanded. “Look, if I pass out from heat exhaustion you’re going to have to finish this job anyway.”
Sully couldn’t deny that logic. “All right,” he said. He came over to Mark and held out the canteen to him.
When he was close enough Mark threw a shovelful of dirt up into his face. Sully yelled and staggered backwards, dropping his gun and rubbing his eyes. Mark leaped up out of the hole and grabbed Sully’s gun off the ground.
“Okay, sport!” Mark said, now holding the gun on his former captor. “Hands up!”
Barbara rushed over to him.
“I told you we’d get outta this!” Mark told her.
* * * * *
After tying Sully up and leaving him sitting in the shade of a small rock formation, Mark took the jeep and headed back toward the Cody estate.
“But Mark, why are we going back there?” Barbara asked him. “Why don’t we just head back into town and get the police?”
“Because something still isn’t right here,” Mark told her. “I don’t think Wild Bill Cody is the real brains behind this escapade. Somebody else is pulling his strings.”
“Why do you think that?”
“Remember when I made that comment at the house about the ’truck that waylaid us on the way into Vegas’? Well, it was a helicopter, not a truck. But Billy boy didn’t know that. I don’t think he had anything to do with it. I think someone else used him at the house as a blind to hide behind.”
“But who?” Barbara asked.
“I have an idea,” Mark replied. “But I need to prove it.”
When they were within a few hundred yards or so of the house Mark stopped the jeep and got out.
“Maybe you’d better stay here,” he said to Barbara.
She climbed down too. “Not on your life!” she said, smiling at him. “I’m not staying out here all by myself with all these snakes and scorpions and heat! Where you go, I go!”
Mark knew that he wasn’t going to win this argument. “Okay, but stay behind me,” he conceded. He pulled out Sully’s gun.
They both headed toward the estate. When they reached the wall around it they snuck in the rear entrance and, crossing to the outdoor patio, sidled up to the side of the house.
Mark told Barbara to stay where she was, and he slid along the side of the building until he came to the window of the room where they had spoken to Cody earlier. He carefully peeked in.
Cody was still there, working at his desk.
Mark went back to the patio.
“The other guard is standing outside of Cody’s office,” Barbara whispered to him when he got back there.
Mark thought for a minute.
“Okay, I’ve got an idea,” he finally said. “B.J., I want you to go inside and just nonchalantly walk past the guard like you’re out for an afternoon stroll.”
“What?” she said, a quizzical look on her face.
“Just do as I say,” Mark told her. “I’ll do the rest.”
Reluctantly, Barbara went inside. When she went by the guard he looked stunned for a moment. Then he came after her, grabbing her by the arm.
“Hold on a minute, you,” he told her.
Just then Mark came up behind him and slugged him over the head with the butt of Sully’s pistol. The man dropped to the floor like a stone.
Mark winked at Barbara. He bent down and retrieved the fallen man’s pistol from the shoulder holster under his jacket. Then, pushing Barbara behind him, he put one hand on the knob of the door to Cody’s office.
He threw the door open and stepped inside, holding both pistols up, looking just like Tom Tyler in the old western movie he had seen back at Gull’s Way.
Cody looked up.
“Well, well, we meet again, Buffalo Bill!” Mark said. “Get ’em up!”
Cody looked surprisingly unruffled.
“How did you get back here?” he asked calmly.
“Oh, that’s not important,” Mark replied. “Your men had a couple little accidents, that’s all.”
“What do you want?” Cody continued.
“I want to know who your boss is,” Mark told him.
“Yes, your boss. The one you get your instructions from. The one who’s been coordinating this whole thing from the beginning from behind the scenes.”
“Very well, Mr. McCormick,” came a voice from behind him. “Turn around and meet his boss. And do be so kind as to drop your weapons while you’re at it.”
Mark slowly swiveled his head around.
A tall, very attractive blonde woman who looked like a fashion model was standing in the office doorway, holding a pistol against Barbara’s head.
Mark slowly bent down and placed both his pistols on the floor.
“Get them,” the woman ordered Cody, indicating the guns. Cody got up from his desk and picked up the weapons. He put one in his waistband, and pointed the other one at Mark.
Mark stood up and turned all the way around to face the woman.
“And you are?” he asked.
“Sahara Cody,” the woman replied. “Martin Cody’s wife.”
“That explains a lot,” Mark said.
“It certainly does,” Mrs. Cody responded. “You ruined my life, Mr. McCormick. When you sent my husband to jail you condemned me to not only to a future full of overdue bills, unpaid mortgages and a failing company, but you also embarrassed me in front of all my high-profile friends in high society. No longer being able to afford the lifestyle to which I have become accustomed is one thing — but humiliating me in front of my peers is something else altogether. I cannot forgive that. Ever.”
Mark could see the utter hatred for him seething behind Sahara Cody’s beautiful blue eyes. He couldn’t help thinking about how Hell possessed no fury like that of a woman whose extravagant lifestyle had been suddenly taken away from her.
“What do we do with them?” William asked.
“We finish the job that your idiot guards bungled,” Mrs. Cody said. She pulled Barbara back out into the foyer, kicking aside the still-unconscious guard out there as she did so. William waved his pistol at Mark, indicating that he follow.
They were both led out of the estate’s front door to a long white stretch limo parked off to one side.
“Get in!” Mrs. Cody commanded her prisoner.
Just then sirens started to wail, seemingly coming from every direction. A half-dozen police cars suddenly came roaring up the highway from both directions, jerking to a stop just outside the walls of the estate.
“It’s a trap!” Sahara shouted. She pushed Barbara to the ground and jumped into the front passenger seat of the limo herself. William did the same, shoving Mark aside and jumping into the driver’s seat.
William gunned the engine. The limo’s tires squealed, and it shot forward down the circular driveway. Hardcastle and a couple of police officers were just coming up the drive, waving pistols. They all had to jump aside as the limo sped through them, almost running them over.
Mark got up from the ground and sprinted over to Barbara.
“Are you all right, B.J.?” he asked her.
“Yes, I’m fine!” she replied. “You’ve got to get them! You can’t let them get away!”
Just then Hardcastle came running up to them both.
“Are you kids all right?” he asked.
“Yeah, Judge, fine!” Mark told him. “It’s about time you got here! Take care of Barbara!” He pulled a set of spare keys to the Coyote out of his pocket and raced over to the sports car, which was parked nearby.
He jumped into the driver’s seat. Turning the key in the ignition he revved the engine up.
Seconds later the Coyote came bursting out of the estate’s driveway. It literally flew through the air over the curb, hitting the pavement out in the middle of the street. Recovering immediately it twisted around and screamed off down the highway after the limo.
The limo had a good head start. But Mark stomped down on the Coyote’s accelerator pedal and shifted the car into high gear.
The Coyote’s engine roared, as Mark pushed it to give him all she had.
“He’s following us!” Sahara shouted to her cousin. William glanced into his rear view mirror and saw the bright red race car rapidly gaining on him.
Now panicked, he pulled the pistol out of his waistband with his right hand and tried to fire it back out his side window at the Coyote. Of course in that awkward position he could not aim, and his shots went completely wild.
“Give me the gun!” Sahara yelled. She reached over in front of William and tried to grab the gun from his hand. This action made it hard for William to maintain the position of the steering wheel, and his view of the road was also momentarily obscured.
The car swerved. Going as fast as it was it couldn’t keep the road with the sudden change in the wheel.
The limo turned sideways and completely flipped over. It rolled over and over, crushing itself into a mangled hulk. By the time it finally came to rest it was pretty much completely destroyed.
Mark pulled the Coyote to a stop nearby. He jumped out and ran over to the wreck.
He could tell right away that no one was going to be pulled out of that mess alive.