HVD Car Wars Mailing List
Car Wars Fiction
U.S. 1
by Christopher J. Burke


Published by the HVD Car Wars Mailing List, July-November, 1997
Reprinted by the Seattle Washington Autoduel Team, October 18, 1998
Updated April 01, 2013

Part 1

Uncle Jack paced back and forth across the conference room. His eyes scanned the walls, the floor and the ceiling as if he were looking for something other than a place to begin.

The door opened and his secretary, Jessica Ryder, entered followed by a cafeteria worker with refreshments. She directed him where to place the tray and handed Jack his mug, sporting the Wildcat Auto Works logo, and teeming with fresh-brewed java. Before Jack could get out a "Thanks, Jes" the two had gone and the door closed.

Lucky nearly burned his fingers pouring out four flaming-hot cups, but that didn't stop Uncle Jack from downing half a mug in his first gulp. That got him talking.

"Alright," he started.  "Let me get to business. Your business with me and my business here."

"First, I want to thank you for your quick response. I want to commend you for making the trip from New York to Baltimore on such short notice.  I'm impressed that you could make the trip so fast. It tells me that you are suited for the task I have for you."

"WAW has had a crisis on our hands for the last two months. The usual industrial stuff, I won't trouble you with the details -- they're not important.  This morning, it went beyond all that. This morning, it got personal."

"WAW president, Victor Cose, and I took in an early meeting in the conference room down the hall regarding the sabotage to formulate an appropriate response. A couple of minutes before nine, Jes buzzed that a kid Vic fired last week was at the reception desk.  Don't get the wrong impression; he was there because I had called him."

"These raids have frustrated Vic tremendously, and he took it out on this kid, sent him packing after he lost a package. He had blown a tire on Vic's personal dueling machine to boot. When Vic cooled down, I convinced him to meet with the kid about taking him back."

"I escorted him to the conference room and as we approached, I heard the clock chime nine. On the ninth chime, the room exploded, throwing me and the kid against the wall."

Turbo raised an eyebrow and looked to Lucky who looked to Oddball who looked to me. Slowly, the four of us turned our heads toward the corner of the room. There stood an old grandfather clock, pendulum swing left to right and back again. The hands read five before six.


We all jumped up, out of the chairs, over the table, under the table, curling up fetal . . .

When we heard Uncle Jack's low chuckling, we realized that the room hadn't exploded and taken us with it.

"Thanks for the laugh, boys. It's the first one I've had all day. Naturally, we swept the building immediately for other devices. Particularly the clocks."

We picked ourselves up and took our seats again as Jack continued. Victor Cose was currently in critical condition at a nearby hospital but he needed special treatment. Unfortunately, the treatment he needed required a small trip: to Key West, Florida. One of the great perks of being a CEO, when you can use your annual physical as an excuse to take a relaxing vacation on the beach. Your clone needs a
memory update? Plan a four-day weekend to take care of it.

Ain't corporate life grand?

"We can't fly Victor down there for a couple of reasons, the most important being an inner ear imbalance that could kill him if he travels at an elevation safe enough for copter travel."

Uncle Jack called up a map of the Atlantic Coast on the computer screen. "Gentlemen, you will be going escort Victor Cose's ambulance to Key West. More specifically, to the First Key West Hospital, an armored fortress built in the old naval base. He'll be fine once he gets there, but first he has to get there. And I'm told that he needs to be there within the next 48 hours if we're going to save him."

When Jack had called this morning, he had told me that he needed some guys to make a run for him.  He hadn't said where to, how far, or what the mission was or what the cargo would be, but he did tell me my godfather had been involved in an incident. By now, I had guessed what the mission would be but never dreamed of the scope.

I stared at a map outlining a journey of over 1,300 miles. And time was definitely of the essence.

Oddball emitted a low growl, his eyes fixated at the map. It suddenly hit me what he was complaining about. After Raliegh, N.C., the path veered in an unexpected direction for several hundred miles. "Uncle Jack, is that the proposed route you want us to take?"

He hit a key on the PC and the highway starting flashing. "Yes, Sean, it is."

The four of us at the table looked at each other. Turbo spoke up first. "You want us to take U.S. 1? Pardon me for asking, but I thought you wanted Mr. Cose to get there alive."

Jack smiled. "I'm sure you'll do your best. If you don't, I'll personally see to your dissections. That goes for you, too, Sean. I obviously can't play favorites."

I responded by pouring another cup of coffee.  I knew that Uncle Jack always had a reason for everything, so I let the other guys hash
this one out. Lucky came right to the point.

"As bad as the interstates are, at least they're patrolled and in some semblance of good repair. No one travels the old federal roads except bandits looking for stupid people."

Turbo spied me relaxing and took that cue to sit back down and hear the rest of the story. He poured another cup for himself leaving only enough for one more cup in the pot. Oddball's gazed moved from Lucky to the pot and back again. Lucky realized what was transpiring too late. He lunged for the pot, but Oddball had already snatched it away.

"Ahem."  Jack cleared his throat. "If I may interrupt your little drama here." He hit a button on the intercom; Jes responded. "Could you have another pot sent in here? Thank you."

He fingered another key and I-95 lit up in green all the way from Baltimore to old Miami. "There will be a team taking the interstate. However, it won't be you. If someone wanted Wildcat Auto Works to grind to a halt for a few days, they've pretty much got it. But if for some reason, someone wants Victor Cose dead, well, I'm damn sure that they're not going to get that.

"Victor's love of Key West is a known fact, so they'll be expecting this. They'll be patrolling the interstates. For that reason, a decoy group will travel that road and only a few key people in this company will know about it. We're planning on smoking them out."

Jack opened his briefcase and pulled out four datacubes and passed them around. "All the information you'll need is there. Detailed maps.  Where to get supplies and to patch-up and refuel your cars. Every obscure fact we could dig up about the territory you're driving through is there. Any questions?"

Turbo raised a hand; actually, it was more of a two-fingered salute. "Just one question. You said that there were a couple of reasons Cose couldn't fly, the main one being his ears. What's the other one?"

Jack hit another key and a weather channel appeared on the screen with a display of the U.S. covered by several patches of white, swirling clouds.  A darker system in the lower right corner of the screen caught our attention.

"Thanks for reminding me," Jack said. "Tropical Storm Diane is aiming for the Florida coastline. She may be upgraded to hurricane by landfall."

Ask a silly question . . .

* * *

By dawn, everything was in place.  Victor Cose was placed inside an unmarked, Ambunaught, which had been refitted with a Vulcan in the turret, a set of radial tires and an active suspension system. Our vehicles were fully loaded and ready for the trip.

Uncle Jack took me aside. "Sean, I'm glad you came. Vic always thought highly about you and he'd be proud to know that you're on the team."

I smiled.  "After all the free parts and experimental equipment I get to 'evaluate', it's the least I can do."

Turbo honked his horn.

We shook hands. I donned my helmet and jumped behind the wheel. Jack looked over our cars, eyeing the Wolf decals in particular. "One minute, guys. I have to ask. What's with the Wolves? I thought you went by 'Driving Tigers'?"

"Away from home, we're the Road Wolves. We don't like letting the boys from Bensonhurst know that several team members are out of town. They look for any opportunity."

Lucky stuck his head out. "So we use the name of a former gang that decided to merge with the Driving Tigers. It was a mutual agreement, though superior firepower played a distinct role."

As Uncle Jack laughed, Turbo honked his horn again, and his voice came over the radio. "Let's do it."

Slowly, the garage fell back and Baltimore unfolded before us. With a few deep breaths and a few deep prayers, we were on our way. Turbo summed up the way we were all feeling at the moment.

"Everything's A-OK now, guys. Just remember, we can only go south from here."

Part 2

So there we were driving along the streets of Baltimore, heading south on U.S. 1, escorting an unmarked ambulance down to Key West. Now, I know what your thinking: Who in their right mind would take an ambulance onto Route 1 for a thousand-mile journey unless they were just planning ahead? Well, it's a long-story, but I'll sum it up for you.

Yesterday, a bomb went off in the Baltimore office of Wildcat Auto Works, critically injuring president Victor Cose. One of the senior VPs, Jack O'Hara, my uncle Jack, gave me a call and within hours four members of the Road Wolves arrived in his office: Aramis (that's my road name), certified ace; Lucky, certified ace, uncertified double ace; Turbo, certified double ace; and Oddball, certifiable, if you know what I mean.

Our mission, and we chose to accept it, was to quietly escort Mr. Cose to Key West for treatment via U.S. 1 while a decoy team traveled I-95.  Crazy, sure. But that doesn't mean it can't be done. And we were so damned well determined to get it done that not even a hurricane could stop us.  Which is a good thing . . . because there might be one hitting the Florida Keys the same time that we would.

Traffic was light, mostly due to the early hour. Baltimore kept the roads in good repair and patrol cars occassionally let their presence be known. Turbo, in his ramcar "Bumper" took the point. Lucky followed in his clunker. After that, the van, then me and my station wagon (Hey, don't laugh; it was my father's.) and finally Oddball covering the rear.

Two paramedics manned the van. Jones, the driver, had some prior autodueling experience. The other fellow, Carmichael, professed to knowing only how to use personal weaponry on a more defensive level. Victor Cose rested on a stretcher in the back of the van, hooked up to monitors.

We spaced ourselves apart so as not to attract attention.  The last thing we needed was to be ID'ed before we even left the city limits. And we still had two long days ahead of us.

Our convoy had only traveled a few miles when a small compact came into view behind us. He honked at Oddball to let him pass. A quick look showed it to be an old lightweight Civic with nothing more than an MG strapped onto the hood. One of the old Japanese beer cans. There aren't too many of them on the road nowadays given their tendency to squash like bugs on contact. There was no apparent reason why this guy was on the highway let alone honking at Oddball.

Cautiously, we allowed him to pass on our left, each of us keeping an eye on him. When he had passed, we saw the retrofitted spikedropper hanging down from the tail bumper. "Jury-rigged" would be a better word. As a courier between arena duels, I'm used to lightly-armed vehicles that use speed as their best defense, but not even triple hazard pay could get me behind the wheel of that thing.

"Does anyone else have the strange feeling about that guy that I had?"  I asked.

"Keep an eye out," Lucky replied. "We're going to find a wreck in a little while. Someone is going to pick that runt off.  I just hope the jerk doesn't come running to us for protection."

Lucky spoke prematurely. As we turned the next bend, the tan compact had spun around up in the distance. He was heading back our way.

"Gladys, oh, Gladys --" the radio sobbed.  "I can't live without you . . . "

Turbo tapped his brakes. "We've got our first problem. Lucky, you take the point for a while." No reason for Turbo to test out his ramplate just yet.

Lucky swung around to get a clean shot but hesitated. "I can't fire on the poor sap. He's gone wacko over a woman."

I grinned. "Your brother in spirit, Luck?"

A blast from the Civic's MG cut off Lucky's retort, not to mention a piece of his front armor.

"Then again . . . " The return burst of ammo disintegrated most of the distraught loony's front grill, leaving a gaping hole that exposed the engine.

"Thank you," he said.  "Finally, someone understands."

Less than 100 yards apart and closing fast, the wacko swerved toward Lucky at full speed. He wanted a head-on collision to end his troubles.

No one wanted to knock off the jerk, but he was about to get us killed. Lucky dueled with a Gentlemen's Code of Honor that usually prevented taking tire shots except in extreme circumstances. They rarely got less gentlemanly nor more extreme than now.

Lucky let out a yell as he swerved and blasted the compact's left front tire. The Civic flipped and rolled. The convoy avoided the wreck, unsure if its driver had survived.

No one said anything. We had been worried about industrial spies, terrorists and major crime syndicates, and we almost bought it because of a jilted romantic. Funny thing is we all felt for the poor sap -- it happens all the time. Personally, I thought Gladys should have given him another chance.

*  *  *

The next couple of hours were uneventful. The entire entourage charged up in Washington. Lucky replaced a couple of wasted rounds. All the vehicles got a fresh set of tires -- off-road tires because of conditions ahead. Within a half hour, our wheels were moving and we were pointing toward Richmond, Va.

No one complained about the unusual quietness of the road. You would figure that an unpatrolled road like this one would be a haven for bandits, but bandits need victims and there just weren't enough of them around any more to make it worth their while.

U.S. 1 passes through the hearts of many small towns, but those hearts bled out long ago during the Riots and the bad years following. Artifacts and landmarks of another time dotted the landscape. Almost everything had been picked clean, but careful scrounging could turn something up.

The weeds had grown unchecked by the sides of the road, many to the size of trees which lifted rubble and debris in their branches. Enough growth popped up between the numerous cracks in the highway that Turbo wished Bumper sported a brushcutter instead of a ramplate. Though we had the foresight to use off-road tires, the disrepair of the road still forced us to slow down considerably, no faster than 40, and sometimes slower.

Up ahead, a couple of the trees swayed in the breeze. Just a couple, not the rest. Had we been outside our vehicles, we might have noticed that the air was actually quite still.

Jones got on the radio. "Did anyone else see that?  The pair of faces. At least, I think they were faces."

I craned my neck around, saw nothing. Then some of the brush started moving. Turbo hadn't passed it yet, so it wasn't because of us. Something was in there.


A tailpipe bounced off Turbo's windshield. Rocks and twisted metal started to rain down on the van.  Then they started to emerge, whatever it is they were. Once, they might have been people, but now?  Their pale skin was caked with dirt, their clothes tattered revealing starved physiques. They snarled and growled bearing sharpened teeth. Hunger drove them, and I got the impression that they saw a tasty meal, if only they could open the containers.

The first wave ventured toward the road wielding rocks, metal spears and clubs, one even had an ammo-less rifle. Our turrets swung about as Lucky, Jones and I swept the area with Vulcan fire. Some of them fell over and others fell back, but a second wave emerged. Turbo bumped a few of them over, but there were too many to speed through, not with the decrepit road surface.

I reached over to the box of grenades I keep handy on the seat next to me, grabbed a pineapple and tossed it into the crowd away from the car. The sudden loud noise scared as many as the shrapnel. Reaching out, I hurled another over the car to the side of the road. Instead of scaring them at the source, the grenade erupted harmlessly with the bushes absorbing the blast. That gave me an idea.

Keeping my eye on the fight ahead of me, I felt around until I found what I wanted and hurled that into the brush. With a flash of light, the weeds erupted in flames. Oddball and I passed the fire closely, fanning it, spreading it a little.

The creatures behind us stopped following. The ones in the trees scattered out of them. The attackers in front who didn't give up got caught by the second grenade. Within seconds, the road in front of us was clear, and we jammed on the speed.

"Lucky," I said. "Remember when we were discussing last month how flamethrowers are too bulky and useless to have on long-range trips?
I think I'll change my opinion."

"You, too, huh?"

*  *  *

Simply put, we blew out of Richmond. We needed to make up the time lost to the cannibals and the time for the extra repairs and reloads. We didn't slow down until we crossed the border into North Carolina and then only out of necessity. We'd lose more time if we ran out of juice short of our next pit stop.

About 20 miles north of Raleigh, N.C., a lone cyclist pulled up, hanging 50 feet behind Oddball. He stayed there for a minute making no effort to pass or communicate. Oddball finally go on the radio. "Any particular reason you're hanging on my tail?"

"Nice van you got there," replied the biker. "Must be something pretty important with so many people guarding it."

Another pause.  "Anything we can do for you?"

"Yup, must be really important stuff in there."

Oddball looked the cycle over carefully in the mirror. The front armor was fairly bulky with no hint of any gun ports. Only the top of the cyclist's head could be seen.

"So which is it going to be?" the cyclist asked.

"Which which are you talking about?"

"Oh, horrors! Forgive my manners. I should have noticed from your tags that you're not from around here. My name's Cobra, and this here is Rattler territory. Us Rattlers get first choice on all the goods that come through here. You got a choice: give us what we want and you guys keep the rest, or we take it all. What'll it be?"

Oddball accepted one fact: this guy resembled a slimy reptilian. "Cobra, my name's Mongoose. If you ever plan on laying any eggs, I suggest you crawl on your belly back into your muddy hole."

"Is that your final word?"

Oddball growled. And that spoke for all of us. If there was anything worse than a scuzzy, loud-mouthed, unarmed, hustling snake, it's a scuzzy, loud-mouthed, unarmed, hustling snake with "Southern hospitality".

The lone rider fell back. Behind him two more cycles appeared. Then two more, and further back a couple of more came into view. We had a whole swarm of them . . . or whatever you call a bunch of snakes.

Turbo took charge of the situation. "Aramis, drop back and give Oddball a hand."

I was already on the way, slowing until I was even with Oddball on his right side. We left little room to pass or get a clean shot at the van. They hadn't shot yet, and we figured they were waiting for a good shot at our tires or a way around us. Either way, we wouldn't accommodate them.

The first to make a run tried to swing about Oddball's left side. With a quick drift, Oddball sent him flying head over handlebars off the side of the road. The second jumped up and took a shot at passing between us through the space Oddball left. I swerved toward him and Oddball swerved back. The fear in his eyes burned through his faceplate as the side of our cars each touched his handlebars. In the face of his inevitable demise, a sudden surge of "heroism" overcame the biker. He pulled a grenade and waved it so I could see it. I flipped a switch, and he saw the muzzle of my Vulcan swing toward his head.

We stalemated for a moment. He didn't think I'd try it with the cars so close together. He thought I was bluffing. Jerk, it's the first rule of the road:  "Vulcan's never bluff."

"Aramis, you're going to clean the mess off my car this time! Last time I scrubbed guts off for two hours before I got the shine back!"

Our cycle buddy took a quick look at Oddball, who returned a deranged, twisted smile. He jumped up, put one hand on top of Oddball's car for support and flung the grenade as far as he could. Very nice. Very stupid, too. I pulled to the right about a foot. His cycle no longer braced, he toppled very nicely, thank you.

The pack swung around his crashed cycle and started to open fire on our rears. Under cover of fire, Cobra managed to gun past me on the right side. I had been so engrossed torturing the last guy, I hadn't kept my concentration.

"Get him!"  Oddball ordered.  "I'll get the rest."

Dropping a load of spikes, I jammed down on the accelerator. The pack avoided them easily, but they were all behind Oddball now. He fired two rounds from his rear-mounted anti-tank gun. We don't know if he actually hit anyone, but the resulting explosion took out all but two of them. Both fell way back.

In the meantime, General Custer closed in on the van. He had no weapons mounted, so I expected him to pull a grenade to take out the tires.  What he pulled instead was bad news; Cobra hoisted a stick of dynamite into the air.  He wasn't going for the tires -- he wanted to take out the entire van!

That did it.  No more Mr. Nice Guy. One volley from the Vulcan took Cobra out and the cycle flew off the road. The dynamite, however, fell from his hand onto the highway. I swerved, but there was no way to avoid it.

The explosion sent me spinning out of control. I grabbed the radio.  "Keep going!  I'll catch up."

Oddball sped past me as my car flipped over the shoulder. I timed myself, jumped and tumbled clear of the car. I lay there in the grass several feet from the wagon for a couple of minutes. Nothing bruised but my ego.

Part 3

The van and its retainers pulled into the Raleigh garage of Wildcat Auto Works one vehicle short: mine. As the gates slid shut behind the convoy, a team of mechanics moved out with fresh tires and ammo clips.

Turbo hopped out of Bumper and approached a mechanic whose nametag read, believe or not, "Rench". "You can put that set of tires away. I don't think we'll be needing them." Turbo then turned and walked off.  "Anyone want a drink from the machine?"

Startled, Rench went to Lucky.  "What's he talking about -- you lost someone out there? He okay? You want us to send a truck out looking for him?"

Lucky waved off the questions.  "No need. Aramis will be fine. He's great at getting out of tough spots. I should know; I've put him into a few myself." Lucky's smug grin didn't seem to ease Rench's concern.

"Relax."  Lucky reached into the air and snatched a can on collision course with his head. He ripped off the tab and took a swig. "He's lugging around a case of grenades. Don't worry yourself about it."

The burly man was left dumbfounded by the team's nonchalant attitude concerning a fallen member. He stood speechless as Lucky wandered off. Words fled him even faster when he felt a tap on the shoulder and met Oddball face-to-face.

"Open the gate. I got a call on the radio. Our guy's outside."

Rench recovered and gave the order. The barrier moved aside just as a cycle rode up into the garage with me on it. A cold can flew toward the cycle. I grabbed it before it struck me and waved a thank you to Turbo.

He waved back.  "I figured you'd be here sooner or later. Any problems?"

"Not really," I replied. "If this bike hadn't had a sidecar, it would've been a different story though. All the other bikes were scattered across the highway by their owners and their owner's handguns. This bike practically came riding right up to me."

I called Rench over. "Send out a tow truck for my car. It's about 20 miles north. This cycle should cover the cost."

"Right away, sir. You going to wait for it?"

"No time for that. I'll pick it up on the way back. Thanks." Reaching into the sidecar, I hauled out a knapsack and tossed it to the mechanic.  "Put this in the van. Oh, and tell Jones that I'm driving now."

Rench left with the bag and ordered my tow. I had just sat down to knock back my soda when Oddball shuffled over to me.

"What's in the bag?" he asked.

"A bunch of grenades and some Vulcan ammo. Never know when it'll come it handy. Besides, the stuff's expensive."

"You probably won't need it. You got to figure the Vulcan's been stripped off by now."

I took another drink. "Not likely. The car's sitting on it. The wheels are probably gone though." I called over to Rench, "Make sure they have a couple of spares -- or send a flatbed."

We finished our drinks, and the mechanics their repairs. Time to set off again. Oddball asked me if I could handle it.

"No sweat. Just stay close behind me."

Oddball growled. "Yeah, that's a good place for a rear guard."

"You know what I mean. Just let me drive the van, and we'll have nothing to worry about."

"Your driving is what I'm worried about."

It was my turn to growl."Cut it out. I'll handle her fine."

Jones cut in. "Actually, she handles like a brick."

Oddball and I growled in unison.

*  *  *

The next few hours passed quietly, if you consider rumbling over worn terrain at high speeds quiet. Boredom brought me close to taking potshots at fleeing squirrels, but then I realized that wild creatures were a good sign. It meant that there weren't any more hunger-starved crazies nearby.

The only excitement on the Augusta leg of the trip came when we approached a northbound convoy. It took a couple of minutes to assure the fellas in the big rigs that we weren't bandits looking for trouble. Running my courier routes, I've picked up a few tips from various truckers at some of the stops along the way, and that certainly payed off now. Anything to avoid arrays of autocannons and twenty-ton ramplates.

The Augusta stop lasted long enough to get a bite to eat. We checked the data from the cubes that Uncle Jack provided and decided to press on into New Jacksonville where we planned to crash for the night. (I'm talking figuratively here, folks.) The roads were good and the armor was holding up well enough. Quick patches were fine for the short hops, but the grease monkeys in Jacksonville would be up all night laying it in thick.

With a little luck and no unnecessary stops, we could cover the remaining 250 miles just after dark. Before dark would've been better, but we'd have had to really push it, more than was prudent. So we'd deal with night driving on unfamiliar roads. What could happen, huh?

Well, for one thing . . .

WAW didn't have any company-owned garages in Waycross, Georgia, but there was no way we'd make it another 70 miles without stopping. According to the maps we had, this was our best best. We had no idea was to expect from a regular truck stop. As the cars charged up, we hit the diner. Everyone inside was of high spirits -- they were celebrating something. One guy, Max, told Lucky that they usually find any excuse to party, but tonight something special was going down. Only problem was that no one knew exactly what it was. We turned down the invite to the party. Too much to do and darkness was setting it already.

New Jacksonville was less than 70 miles away. So far, the trip had taken us over 12 hours and it'd be another hour before we could turn in for the night. Our tires were feeling some of the wear as were the rest of us. Oddball and Lucky had each lost small pieces of armor. I'd have been happy to just see the Florida border without another incident.

No such luck. A radar blip slowly advanced on us. A minute later, another edged onto the screen behind the first. Both were gaining on us, but we played cool. We had to think about Mr. Cose's welfare. Soon, two pair of headlights became visible, and each vehicle sported a flashing light -- along with a heavy smattering of offensive hardware.

Great, I thought. We're heading to Key West, our lives threatened at every turn, bandits lying in wait everywhere. So what happens? We get ticketed for speeding in Georgia. No way I'm showing up for a court appearance.

We pulled over immediately -- why look for trouble? No reason to slug it out with the cops. One of the men from the lead vehicle got out and approached Turbo cautiously.

"We weren't speeding, were we?" Turbo knew full well that we were doing about 75. He talked with the officer for a few minutes and then exited Bumper. He walked around the back and showed the man his empty cargo holds. Ramcars usually have a good deal of empty, useless space. When they finished, they walked up to Lucky's clunker; Lucky didn't have a sqaure foot to spare to squeeze in any cargo. The three then came toward the van; Lucky walked behind, puzzled and scratching his head.

Turbo stuck his head inside the van. "Sean," he said, knowing it bothered me when he didn't use my street name when we're in the street.  "These gentlemen are checking for contraband being smuggled across the Florida border. They have to inspect the van for illicit cargo. You haven't been stashing any tobacco products back there, have you?"

Lucky grabbed Turbo by the arm and yanked his head out the window. "Is that what this is about? Why didn't you just show him the guy on the stretcher so they'd let us pass?"

"You kidding?  I wouldn't miss this for the world!" Turbo positively grinned from ear to ear. He shouted to the back of the van, "You can open her up, officer!"

The state trooper sprung the door and gasped in shock. He stared at Victor Cose and his attached monitors then looked to Jones and Carmichael, each displaying grim faces. He then gazed at me up front. I managed to keep a straight face even as Turbo cracked up in my ear.

Turbo composed himself and approached the officer. "You see, sir, we are in charge of getting this man -- who you can see is in critical condition -- to a specialized hospital not far away in Florida. Even now as we speak, his lifeforce slowly ebbs away."

The trooper was flustered.  "Why didn't you say something ten minutes ago?!"

"Never let it be said that the Road Wolves would be so inconsiderate as to obstruct police procedures."

"Where are you going?" he demanded.

"We're meeting a relay team in New Jacksonville."

"Get in your vehicles. You're getting an escort to the Florida border."

"Yes, sir." Turbo turned with a wink to Lucky and me. Leave it to Turbo to get our escort team an extra layer of protection. For free, no less!

Once across the border, after the patrol cars had fallen back, I got on the radio. "You took a bit of a chance there, didn't you, Turbo?"

He chortled. "I figured as long as none of us had any smuggling compartments, they wouldn't give us any trouble." He laughed again, proud of his own work.

"Turb," I replied slowly. "You realize then that it's a good thing that I lost the wagon up in Raleigh. The one I sometimes transport sensitive materials in."

His laughing stopped cold. Radio silence. A minute later, Oddball cut in. "You all realize that it's a better thing that they saw our patient before they got around to checking out the stuff in my car. Or does anyone want to explain it."

A cold shudder. Chills on the spine. Stiff hairs threatened to break the neck ring on my body armor. I straightened up in my seat and kept my eyes forward.  I didn't want to think about Oddball's car. As a part-time developer/gadgeteer and part-time mad scientist, he might have brought anything along for the ride. How mad is he? Let's just say that when he sent some designs to my godfather for his opinion, Victor Cose had a special R&D lab set up for Oddball . . . in an isolated section of Brooklyn . . . where no one would get hurt.

That was the main reason that Oddball had come along for the ride. I hadn't thought that there might have been any other reason, but the words "Road Test" suddenly flashed acrossed my mind.

Thanks to the Georgia State Police, we were in New Jacksonville in 20 minutes. Not a moment too soon for me. We saw Victor Cose and his equipment into a special area set up for him, and then we all found our bunks. The mattresses were hard, lumpy, and somewhat worn. I was asleep before I hit the pillow.

Part 4

To bring you up to speed: Two days ago, Victor Cose, President of Wildcat AutoWorks was caught in an explosion, the work of industrial sabotage. Jack O'Hara, VP and long-time friend, hired his nephew's autodueling team, the Driving Tigers, to bring Victor Cose to a special facility in Key West, Florida -- a two-day trip down U.S. 1.

Yesterday, the team started its journey as a decoy team set off down Interstate 95.

*  *  *

We awoke in New Jacksonville to a beautiful morning with a sky a peculiar shade of orange. The garage buzzed with people checking equipment, including Oddball who stood in his trunk recalibrating his anti-tank gun. The mechanics seemed happy for the work -- in this town, damaged cars turn into flaming wrecks quickly. The residents take it in stride though; it takes time to totally rebuild a city.

The team suited up, our patient was secured in the ambulance, and we set off. The weather forecast told us to take advantage of any clear skies we got, so we got an early start. Maybe that's why we were able to travel an entire hour without another incident.

In what seemed to be a replay of last night, another police car came racing after us -- this one bearing the black and gold markings of the Florida Highway Patrol. When it pulled alongside the van, they told me to pull over, and our entire convoy did.

The FHP car stopped across the highway and both men got out. The taller guy went to Turbo; the driver stepped over to the van and waited.

Turbo went through the same routine. "We weren't speeding, were we?"

The officer shook his head even though we had been. "You do know that this road is in a state of disrepair. It's like that down most of the coast. Not many people go this way, except for bandits and victims. Which group do you fall into?"

"None of the above, Officer. Thank you for the warning, but we're in kind of a hurry and I-95 is more crowded than Coney Island on a humid August afternoon."

The cop smiled. "New Yorkers, huh? Just what we needed a few more of down here. Anyway, we have to search your van. We have reason to believe that there's a shipment of illegal substances being run across the border from Georgia down into Miami."

Turbo took the radio in hand. "Let me tell the others. You must be working with the Waycross PD. They stopped us yesterday for the same thing."

The cop's smile grew larger. "Yes, that's right. We've been working on this crackdown for weeks. Well, then if you've been though this before, this won't take very long." The officer waved to his partner.

"I'm sure it won't."  Turbo raised his window. "Did you read that, Aramis?"

"Loud and clear," I replied. Very clear. Jones was puzzled by how little fuss I made. Carmichael just sat tight, facing away from me. The back of the van flew open, and the shorter officer peered in. He saw Carmichael and the wounded man wrapped in bandages. He took a good look and reached for his gun. Then a shot rang out.

He hadn't noticed Carmichael's pistol.

"Go!"  I screamed into the radio.

Tires screeched. The other "officer" jumped for safety. Jones and Lucky each took shots at him; both missed. I instinctively reached for a grenade before realizing that Carmichael was dangling out the back trying to shut the door. Oddball closed in to give us some cover.

"What's the story, Aramis?"  Lucky asked.

"Bulletproof vests don't stop head shots. He was down before he got his gun out. Our patient is doing fine."

Turbo got on the air. "Okay, guys, we left a man back there.  As soon as he hits his radio, we may have a lot of company." The radar went crazy with blips. "We may be in trouble."

As we streaked down the road, they pulled from behind the trees and fell into formation behind us. We had speed on our side though, and catching us on this terrain would take forever. At least, that's what I thought before three cars pulled within a couple of car-lengths.

"Hey!  Gasburners!" Turbo quipped. "I haven't seen one of those in the longest time. Cool stuff. What a waste. Take 'em, Oddball."

A loud "Y-e-e-e-h-a-a-h!" echoed over the airwaves. Oddball had seemed very itchy this morning about that AT gun. As we came to a bend in the road and they moved into proper range, Oddball aimed at the lead vehicle and fired, scoring a direct hit.

The road sparkled in a cloud of electric pink. Paint covered everything but mostly our pursuers. In my opinion, I'd said the guy who got it the worst was the one in the middle. He didn't see the tree in front of him until it was riding shotgun. The guy on his right also drove off the road, though he managed to stay in one piece.

Oddball's newfangled paint shell passed its first test with flying colors. So to speak.

The green and pink sedan remaining managed to clear its windshield and get back on the road in time. As soon as he was hot on our tail again, Oddball did what no one expected him to do: he fired another round. The sedan's paint job became a panorama of the grotesque. The roving mural fell back, not knowing what had hit him.

"Really, Oddball," Luck spat with disgust. "Bright orange? How could you?"

To which Turbo replied, "It's not just for breakfast anymore."

Oddball just hummed satisfaction.

*  *  *

We had passed Daytona and stopped at Vero Beach where we were informed that Tropical Storm Diane wasn't moving out to sea and would probably hit the coast within the next few hours.

Lucky wasn't happy. "How come no one told us sooner. They had to have known before now."

"Maybe they were waiting for her to go hurricane. Doesn't the idea blow you over?"

"Aramis, this isn't the time for your bad puns. We're driving straight for it. We could get killed."

"Guys," Turbo cut in, calmly. "What's the big worry? We've been through it all. We've driven though rain, snow, sleet, and Jersey. How destructive could Diane be?"

Oddball growled. He wasn't overly thrilled either. But we all finally agreed, however reluctantly, that we had to keep going for as long as we could until Diane forced us off the highway.

That's a major problem of ours: We got plenty of guts and we got plenty of brains. We just don't always use them both at the same time.  Shoddy road, Florida coast, possible hurricane. Hey, life's too short to worry, right? Yeah, who knows, you might be dead in another eight hours anyway.

We kept going southward, even as a mass exodus rushed northward. The skies grew darker as we passed Nuevo Miami. The waves crashed against the MacArthur Seawall and spilled over the top. Diane moved closer. We all felt uneasy and all remained silent after leaving Miami. The only saving grace was the smooth asphalt beneath our wheels. This was the home stretch; it was just a matter of time.

*  *  *

The road had been deserted for several miles, no signs of anyone on the highway. Not surprising -- anyone with any sense in his head had probably barricaded himself in some secure spot. Anyone but us, that is. And at least one other we could notice.

Overhead a chopper hovered a little way down the road, just hanging there with the black clouds as a backdrop. The pilot watched us for a while, making sure, all the while trying to hold a scrawny one-man copter steady in the heavy winds. You had to wonder how low on the totem pole this guy was to pull down this assignment.

We closed in and brought all weapons on to bear on the target. He veered off quickly. A dozen potshots flew wide and away. That didn't help him, however. The wind and rain did him in in a matter of minutes. A fire erupted when he crashed, but the storm doused the flames quickly.

They knew where we were now, but that was okay. We could pretty much guess where they were. Actually, they kept us guessing for over 30 more miles of pounding rain and gale-force winds.

Our point-man started to sway back and forth.  Lucky got on the air, "Turbo, you okay?" Lucky's the type to get nervous quickly when there are gales about.

Turbo proclaimed, "Remember the Cyclone!"

What the hell was he babbling about? Was Hurricane Madness setting in?

"This is bigger than all of us," he continued. "This isn't just Cose or Wildcat we're fighting for. We're fighting for the glory of Brooklyn." Turbo struck a chord in all of us, got a pumped, adrenaline flowing. "Are we going to let a little thing like Diane stop us?"

"Arrrrrrrrr!" Oddball's growl drowned out the storm. Turbo had delivered a back-handed slap across the face. Diane wasn't just a storm, she was a woman, too. Who's fury was greater? That's another story. Whatever the case, we took off as our rearguard took off, determined to stand up to Diane and spit in her eye.  n the face of certain annihilation, we sped onward. Into the valley of death drove the six duelists . . .

Some folks might think it strange to see four vehicles charging down a slick highway doing 70 in a storm with winds blowing at 50. They might think it strange to see the drivers, fists clenched, teeth gritted, enjoying the ride. They might call it crazy, dangerous or stupid.

They've never been to Brooklyn.

We drove as if hit by lightning . . . until we came upon a tree that had been. Turbo saw it start to topple and hit his brakes. Lucky, who had been following close behind, swerved to avoid a collision, oblivious to the impending danger. But not for long.

"Turbo!  What do you think you're . . . H-e-e-e-e-l-l-l-l-p-p!" Lucky saw it. With no time for brakes, he hit the accelerator and executed a beautiful maneuver just as the tree would've clipped him. This had the unfortunate consequence of several more swerves and fishtails -- mostly unintentional -- at least, I think they were unintentional. There are times when I'd swear that Lucky had an aversion to moving his car in the direction it's pointing while simultaneously keeping all four wheels on the ground.  This was one of those times.


Very funny, Turbo. We all stopped, everyone except Lucky on one side of the tree, Lucky a couple hundred feet down the road. A thunderclap followed by heavier rain didn't stop us from piling out and deciding what to do about the tree.

We couldn't budge it. The waterlogged limbs wouldn't ignite. Shooting it would take all day, not to mention all our ammo. No one wanted to suggest Turbo's ramplate. We managed this far, we had to keep going.

"Any sane solutions?"  I asked. Everyone looked back and forth until all eyes came to rest on Oddball. No one, not even Oddball, spoke a word. Finally, I sighed and uttered the inevitable. "Any insane ones?"

Oddball stuck out his hands. "Give me some grenades."

"Wait a minute!"  Lucky protested. "You'll blow a hole in the highway before you blow a hole big enough to pass through. I'm not going to stand here and allow it."

Oddball collected my grenades, shrugged and grunted, "I wouldn't recommend standing there myself." Lucky stood his ground as Turbo and the medics got in their cars. I took Oddball's. Then Lucky thought it over more carefully, weighed the possibilities, and ran for his life.

Oddball examined the deadwood before him.  Had he some of the equipment from his lab, rigging a chain reaction wouldn't be a problem, but that wasn't a possibility. Then he noticed the squirrel hole, or whatever kind of animal inhabited the trees down here. He calmly reset the timers on four of the grenades and let all of them drop into the hollow of the tree. Oddball executed a beautiful swan dive off the side of the road to safety.

Moments later, kindling covered the road, along with a huge log in two pieces. Oddball was standing there with eight grenades left. We picked him up and started down the highway to recollect Lucky.

"Ahead, warp factor one!" Turbo ordered.

An unknown voice came over the radio. "Attention, Convoy. We have one of your men surrounded. If you want to see him alive, approach slowly and surrender the van and its occupant. If you refuse, this clunker will be blasted into its component parts as well it's driver."

Turbo knew how to handle the situation. He replied, "He's a victim of war. He understands."

Lucky's voice shot back. "No, Turbo. I don't understand. Why don't you come down here and explain it to me!"

We continued as if nothing had happened. My mind focused on driving because I didn't want to think of the mutilation I would inflict on whoever touched the van. Jones climbed into the shotgun position.

"Aramis, do you know what we're going to do? I mean, do you think they'll call Turbo's bluff."

I kept my eye on the road and my expression blank. "What bluff?"

Jones turned pale. "I'll go check on Mr. Cose." I grabbed him before he could leave.

"Man the guns. I don't want to take a hand off the wheel unless I have to."

I followed Turbo as we accelerated about the next turn. Up ahead was the most disappointing excuse for a roadblock I'd ever seen. Just a couple of station wagons parked across the road. Of course, the path leading up to the blockade was lined with heavily-armed defenders on both sides of the road. Jones gasped as the sight of so many people and called for Carmichael to strap Mr. Cose down as tightly as possible.

"Forget the cars, do a sweep on your side, and I'll take care of mine."

"Yours?  How?"

I grabbed the top two grenades from the backpack. "Oddball didn't use them all. I keep these for emergencies."

The storm pounded the windshield, making it difficult to see the targets. Lucky was bracketed in my a lux with a turret and a group of guerrillas.  They hadn't fired on Lucky yet, so they must have been conserving ammo, holding it for us.

"You have three seconds," the voice announced. "What'll it be?"

Turbo gunned it. He jumped 20 mph in a second and a half.

"Halt or we'll open fire!"

He sounded desperate and with good reason. Have you ever tried to hit a moving target in a hurricane with a BB gun? They'd have had a better chance if they had. Two dozen men jumped from the ditches and lined up in front of the station wagon with whatever paraphernalia they could fire.

"They task me!"  Turbo muttered under his breath. He leveled off the accelerator at 65 mph and was gunning for the crowd. Shotgun blasts, Uzi bursts, even a rifle shot or two, and poor Lucky seemed to have been forgotten. At most, they might have scratched Turbo's paint job.

"I'm aiming for them," Jones said.

"No. Aim for the ditches," I replied.

"The ditches? There's no one there."

"There will be."

Turbo didn't let up at all. He held tight. "You guys ever been to Bensonhurst?" With less than a second to impact, the crowd scattered and dove for cover. Turbo ripped through the barricades, straight through the center, knocking both wagons to the sides of the highway. Our ambulance was close behind, but not close enough. Everyone got to their feet and fired.

"Here we go!"

 Jones made a strafing run on the right side. I tossed the first grenade, with it's cousin right behind it.

"Aramis, I'm sitting under those pineapples in case you forgot!"

Before Lucky could finish griping, the road flashed royal blue. Quite serene, actually. Everyone was so overwhelmed that they couldn't see where to shoot. That made little difference, though, because the concussion grenade threw them all for loops anyway.

In short, no one touched the van, not even the black and royal blue Caddy. The driver, safe from the blast, was ready to return fire. Then Oddball blasted him with that rear-mounted autocannon.

"That's it!" the radio boomed. "Your pal is history!" A moment or two passed when he yelled, "Where'd he go?"

In all the commotion, Lucky decided to make a timely departure, backing down the road as far as he could before being noticed. "I'm sorry I couldn't stay and chat, but I really must be going." With that, he threw the car into forward gear and raced off after us. Our hijacking pal decided not to follow.

We didn't stop to congratulate ourselves. Good thing, too, because it wasn't time for that yet. We realized that when we heard a pair of explosions and the shells rocked the road.

"Incoming," Turbo announced. "And damn if it ain't a big one."

Lucky swung into his customary position and hollered, "Holy -- What the hell's that RV doing?"

"Moving very slowly," Turbo replied. "They don't handle well in storms."

Jones whispered, "You don't suppose they're just a bunch of friendly retired folks, do you?" Another pair of explosions answered his question.

Turbo cursed. Lucky told him to move aside so he could get a bead on it, but Turbo waved him away. He was staying the course against the behemoth.  The distanced between us closed rapidly. The RV driver stopped with the twin-turretted rocket launchers and starting aiming the bad news.  There was a large-bore weapon protruding from the front grill. Make that a "massive-bore" weapon.

"Turbo, move aside." Lucky ordered, but Turbo didn't budge.

The RV inched toward us, waiting for a clear shot in the storm. Finally, the tank gun locked in and fired on Turbo's position. The only problem was that Turbo wasn't there.

Before the shell ripped free of the RV, Turbo ignited Bumper's jump jets and sailed into the sky, as high as the RV. But not higher than its turret.  Bumper ripped through the turret and came to rest on the top of the RV. Within the monstrous vehicle, there was an explosion, and it started to tip over.  Turbo spoke the truth -- they don't handle well in storms.

"Geez!  Everyone to the left!  Quick!"

We got around the prone machine and stopped as fast as the rain allowed. "Any sign of Turbo?" Lucky yelled. "Did you punch out?"

"Punch out?" Oddball shouted into the wind. "If he did, he's halfway into the Gulf by now!"

Flames were shooting out from all sides by the time we got to the wreck. Bumper lay smashed amongst some fallen trees on the side of the road. The driver's seat was empty, but the car top, though thoroughly smashed, was still in place. He hadn't ejected.

"Hey," a voice yelled. We turned and looked up. There, on what had been the side of the RV, now the top, stood a bumped and bruised Turbo. "Can someone give me a ride?"

*  *  *

"Road Wolves, we have you on our radar. You are safely inside the non-combat zone. The gates will be opened for you when you arrive."

The old Naval Air Base was just a minute away, but we didn't drop our guard yet, despite the announcement. We had been too banged up along the way. We didn't feel safe until the gates swung open before us, and even that made our hearts skip beats.  A half dozen black cars sped out.

"Road Wolves, this is Escort One. You have clearance to enter." You would have thought it still was a naval base.

Once inside the medics rushed Victor Cose into emergency. I stayed in the waiting room for the latest news. Lucky went for some coffee.  Turbo went for some nurses.  Oddball went for whatever he could get his hands on. A few minutes after they left, another patient was rushed into emergency. Busy day, I thought.

I had just finished reading the "No Smoking" sign for the 412th time, when I heard someone approach. "So there you are," he said.

 I turned to see Uncle Jack standing over me. He wore a white lab coat. "Victor's going to be fine thanks to you and your friends.  You did a great job."

That was a major relief. "Great news to a very tired and soaked body. This isn't something I want to repeat anytime soon."

Uncle Jack nodded. "Agreed. But I must admit, you handled yourselves like pros out there. That was some great driving." He gave me a slap on the back.

 "Hey, we are pros." I started off to find the gang to give them the good news when that slap on the back suddenly felt like a slap in the face. I looked back at Uncle Jack with glaring eyes. "Just how would you know how we handled ourselves? For that matter, how did you even get here? The airports are closed."

Jack took a seat and indicated for me to do so as well. I stood. "It seems that we had an informant in the crew I picked. Everything was out. So last night, while you slept, Victor was switched with the other team.  nly one of your medics knew that I was on that stretcher today. That was me in all those bandages, and I heard everything that happened. Let me say I was thoroughly impressed."

My face went red to deep crimson to hotter than the unholy inferno, but instead of lashing out, I turned and stormed off. Uncle Jack hollered after me, "Sorry you were the diversion, Sean. But that's how it had to be. You should've expected something like this after you asked the Georgia State Police for an escort last night."

I kept walking.

"If it's any consolation, Sean, the other team would never had made it through without you." He laughed, "I understand the guy in the Caddy was greatly confused."

I stopped at the end of the hall, deciding whether to go left or right. Back wasn't an option.

"Are you going to tell the others what went down?"

"They'll figure it out," I shouted back. "They'll wonder why I'm not speaking to you." I turned left and moved on.

"You know something, kid. You're pig-headed, just like I was at your age. You know, you're going to turn out just like me. I did what I had to do out there, and you did what you had to. And everything got done that was supposed to get done. I'm proud of you, kid."

He was still talking as the words drifted off and all I could hear was the sound of my boots on the hallway floor. I tried ignoring what he had to say. The funny thing was, though I hated to admit it, I knew he was right.

Gaming Notes

You mean I was supposed to come up with gaming notes for this thing? Actually, I could dig out the scenario that I wrote up based on this, but the rules of the game changed drastically in the last fourteen years since I originally wrote this piece. And parts of the story bent the rules as they were back in 1983. So I decided to confuse everyone by leaving the story mostly intact, but updating other parts of it, mostly so it would read better.

On the other hand, I'm glad to see that I predicted things that eventually happened. There were no sedans back then, and I mentioned them more as a vehicle description than as a new car class. I always hated having to dig out my Vehicle Guides every time I read a story to find out what the other car was. And I hated throwing out random car names as opponents.

Another invention wasn't mine, but Matt Laverty's -- the paint shell for the anti-tank gun. He had some really sick ideas in those ideas, so I used a couple.

The biggest change, of course, is that hand weapons -- grenades in particular, but also the Uzis -- just don't do any kind of damage to cars, not even to their tires (a rule change in there, somewhere). And then there was AV ammo, and then it was gone . . .

I just concentrated on the story.  I figured that was the best approach.

I hoped you liked it. And if I can sneak in a plug for the Driving Tigers Magazine page, it's located at the following Web address.

Driving Tigers Magazine Archive

Stop by. I'll be updating it again soon.

Christopher J. Burke
Driving Tigers/Road Wolves
mrburkemath AT gmail DOT com