John Hunkins, Author
Reno slowly reached over, his eyes glued to the ribbon of asphalt in front of him and flipped a switch on the ancient Bearcat scanner. It was invaluable to know exactly where
the townies and mounties were, and now it was time to switch over to the next set of frequencies which he'd programmed back in Casper, his last fuel stop. Thank God, clean air
on these channels.
There would be a reception committee waiting for him at the Montana border; the only question was, would it be friendly or not. Reno wanted nothing more than to punch up
Tom's number on the cellular, but ears might be listening. Come through for me, brother Tom.
The Bighorn Mountains majestically marched past on his left, punctuated by the staccato flash of utility poles. At 140 mph, there was no time to glance at gauges, but if he
could, he'd see the boost needle resting resolutely on 12 psi. Reno lifted the throttle ever so slightly and the wail of the blown LX dropped just a hair. White stripes fired at him like
tracers that slipped off to his left as he guided the car toward the inside of a gentle bend in the interstate.
There were few cars in northern Wyoming, not that you could really call them 'cars' anymore. He could see them in the distance, electronically linked together like imitation
pearls on a cheap thread, their inductive electric motors sucking current from an unseen cable buried below the roadbed.
Just north of Kansas City, Reno had passed train of twenty such 'cars' at such a high speed that the aerodynamic force of him passing made them meander like a river. The rear
car received the brunt of his blast; it wagged back and forth like a labrador's tail, it's computer trying it's best to lock onto the car in front. It wasn't so much fun as it was payback
for Charlene. But by now, the 'wag the dog' game was boring, not to mention dangerous.
Reno squished back into the throttle, and powered out of the bend. It was s light bend, but at a buck thirty it could, without enough caution, put him sideways with no hope of
recovery. He coaxed the ancient red LX back onto the crown of the interstate, it's broken white line once again stabbing eagerly into the center of the bug-splattered windshield.
A small brown speck on the road ahead grabbed Reno's attention. Could be a rabbit. Or a prarie dog. Oh God, please move. He lifted the throttle and drifted slowly into the right
lane. His heart beat against his throat as if it were trying to escape from his body. The creature darted to the left, just barely escaping death and most surely saving the antique
Mustang's rare bumper cover.
The Mustang loafed along at 90 as Reno gathered himself. The adrenaline surge squeezed the base of his spine like a vise; his palms were slippery with sweat. It was great to
be alive, Reno thought, and nothing made his aging body feel more invigorated than putting the hammer down. No more arthritis, no more poor circulation, no more knee trouble.
Reno jabbed the gas. The wheels picked up speed.
Four days earlier, Thomasville N.C.
The 150-year-old tobacco barn had been in the Calhoun family since 1979. The warm smell of Connecticut broadleaf, long since gone, mixed with a cord of freshly split maple.
The earthen floor and a musty Naugahyde sofa. The odor brought back fond memories of smoking his first cigarette with Chip, making out with his first "real" girlfriend, Sarah, and
building fast Mustangs with his brother Tom. In a sense, Reno had lived his whole life in this barn- at least, all the parts that mattered.
When Pop passed away in 2029, Reno inherited the farmhouse, the barn, and what remained of the once-vast farm. Developers had long since turned the biggest part of it into a
housing tract, and Reagan Boulevard, a six lane highway now bisected what used to be its center.
Reno and Charlene lived happily in their rural-cum-suburban oasis - until she was fatally rear-ended two years earlier by a train of electric cars with a computer malfunction.
Reno sat down cautiously on the old Naugahyde couch, bracing his arthritic knee with his left hand. He took the tattered red cap off his head- his favorite, it read 22nd annual Ford
Motorsport Nats- and wiped his sweaty brow with a clean shop rag. He picked up the jelly jar full of iced tea sitting on a metal tool cart, swallowed deeply until his throat ached
from the cold, and belched loudly.
This was his favorite part of the month. Sometime between the fifth and the tenth Ed, the mailman, brought the new issue of MUSCLE MUSTANGS & FAST FORDS. Printed
on real paper too, just like they all used to be. Reno slid his reading glasses over his nose and dug in.
This one- the September '56 issue- looked like a good one. "Cheap Horsepower! Hotwire Your 3-Phase Electric Motor For Just Pennies." "Battery Shootout: Nickel Hydride vs.
Lead Acid," "OBD-VII Update," and "Montana Gasser Nats Coverage" were splashed prominently across the cover.
The rest of the mail consisted of a couple of junk discs, an electric bill, and another notice from the DMV. Uh oh, big trouble. MM & FF would have to wait.
Reno reached over to the tool cart and plucked out a flathead screwdriver which he slid under the envelope's flap.
Reno looked up at the shiny red 1989 LX notchback and his eyes began to well up.
March 21, 2015, Thomasville, N.C.
"Switch the key on now, but don't start it," shouted Tom from under the hood.
Reno turned the key and heard the fuel pump cycle on for two seconds. "How's that?" he asked.
"No good. I'm still getting a code," said Tom, frustrated. "Damn this OBD-IV stuff. We're never going to get to Denton in time."
"Just put in the old EEC processor and I'll just flash my shield like I did last summer."
"Man, you keep doing that and Captain Marsh is going to have your job. Besides, it's more fun this way. When Cale sees a probational transponder light on the rear bumper, he'll
swallow the bait hook, line and sinker."
"Yeah, I guess you're right," said Reno. Tom always was the sharper one when it came to street racing.
Last summer had been the best. Reno and Tom- mostly Tom- had goaded Cale Flinchum into a street race after they met at the A&W one Friday night. Tom said Cale's Camaro
was so slow that Reno could beat him with four donuts on his car. Cale was furious and accepted the challenge in front of a big crowd on payday. Big mistake. When Reno and
Tom showed up on Route 109 with a bag of Krispy Kremes taped to the hood, Cale tried to back out, but Chip was already holding the money. That bet payed for some big-time
cylinder head work, a visit to the emergency room (a knife wound in Tom's arm) and at least one case of beer.
"I got it," shouted Tom, "let's rumble." He slammed the hood and jumped in the passenger seat. "I hope that jumper holds, just don't whack the throttle unless you mean business.
I don't know how many times it'll work before it sets a disable code. Okay?"
"Yeah, yeah" said Reno, "I know."
Reno cranked up the blown mill and backed up the rumbling, whining beast out of the barn and onto the street.
"Well if it ain't ol' donut eater and his little brother," Cale taunted, leaning on his black LS1 powered Camaro.
Tom felt the goosebumps rise up on his arms; the nervous tick he got in his deltoids whenever his temper flared was beginning to twitch. "As I recall, we really put one over on
you last time..."
"Hey, cool it, Tom," Reno said, putting a hand on his younger brother's shoulder. And in a whisper he added, "You're going to spoil the whole thing."
"Tommy boy better listen to his brother or else he's gonna get his ass kicked," Cale scoffed as he casually tossed another french fry into his mouth. "How much money'd you
bring me tonight?"
Cale was pretty damn cocky this evening, thought Reno. Maybe he wasn't fooling around. If he was a player, though, he was stupid for showing it. But that was pretty much
par for the course with Cale.
"Look, man, we're having a little trouble tonight, we think we're just going to pass. Maybe next month when I get off emissions probation."
Cale walked around to the rear of Reno's LX and his face lit up like a Christmas tree. "Uh oh, looks like you boys've a little trouble with the smog police. Watsa matter, can't puff
daisies out your ass?"
The truth of the matter was that Reno hadn't been cited for an emissions violation and therefore hadn't been put on probation; he just wanted Cale to think he had as part of the
OBD-IV worked this way: all cars not originally equipped wih OBD-IV, including Reno's LX, were required to be retrofitted with it. The system automatically monitored catalyst
efficiency and downloaded emissions efficiency to government-operated cellular stations along the roadside. Along with the catalyst efficiency, the encrypted data stream contained
vehicle speed, engine speed, vehicle position and, obviously, who owned the car. In other words, Big Brother knew who you were, where you were, and what you were doing.
When your old car fell outside the prescribed parameters, you were cited electronically, your transponder was illuminated, and your car ran like junk until you brought it in for
inspection, or until, as law-makers hoped, you decommissioned it.
The stakes of street racing were high as a result. This was not kid's play anymore; it was a high tech game of cat and mouse that required a commanding knowledge of
computers and communication networks. The trick to street racing was to find a remote area between two distant DOT cellular stations. Once you were there, you toggled over
the real-time transponder data feed from the ECM to a bogus data stream from a digital microrecorder. While you were hauling ass down the highway at several times the speed
limit, the recorded data chip replaced the real-time feed with a pre-recorded data loop containing mundane operating conditions. The data stream was encoded to prevent tampering
such as this, but Tom got the DOT encryption algorithim off the internet from an underground street racing site and burned a customer data loop into a black market chip. It was
one of the easier tricks in the book, and it was illegal, thanks to the New Clean Air Act of 2009.
Cale almost didn't bite, but he wanted to beat those Calhoun brothers so bad he could taste it. They were snotty kids, just a little too smart for his crowd. After last summer's
incident with the donuts, they needed to be taught a lesson, an Cale was the one to do teach it. Otherwise, the guys would never leave him alone.
"Look, fellas, I'm a sporting man," Cale softened his tone, feigning sympathy. "Tell you what I'll do. Put up three grand in cash and I'll give you the roll."
Reno responded first; "No way, man. Didn't you hear us pull in? This thing is running like hell."
"I thought that was the way it always sounded," Cale goaded.
Cale chomped another handful of french fries. Maybe he would even spot them a car length - his fogger nitrous system was good enough to make upo the difference. If he
spotted cars and still won after giving them the roll, they would look like the biggest bunch of losers in town. Besides, he could call for higher odds with a handicap.
"Give us a minute to think about it, " said Reno.
By now a crowd had gathered around the two cars. The Calhoun brothers huddled in whispered tones, arguing. Tom's voice occasionally erupting with dissension. It sounded
like Tom wanted to make the run but Reno was trying to talk him out of it. It was getting late, and if Cale was going to spend some of that cash before the night was over, he'd
have to do something now.
"Look, if you guys are wussin' out I'm leaving," Cale opened the door as if to get in. He paused and said, "This is my last offer: You get one car and the roll. Put up three grand
against our fifteen hundred to cover the handicap. Whaddya say?"
"We haven't got that much. But, make it two cars and we'll go title for title," said Tom.
Now that was a new twist on an old cliche. The odds weren't as good, but hell, he could have a pretty nice Mustang by the end of the night. "you got yourself a deal," said Cale.
Reno and Tom could hardly hide their excitement as they pulled away from the A&W. Reno almost forgot to turn on the micro switch. Besides invoking the prerecorded data
loop, it also activated a processor controlled relay and solenoid, which injected small, random quantities of automatic transmission fluid into the intake manifold. The ATF would
make the car look and run like hell, until Reno flipped another hidden switch just seconds before the race.
The desolate 2-lane strectch of Route 109 was barren of vehicular traffice except for a dozen or so cars parke parallel to the road, which was bordered by dried-up cornstalks. A
series of dense burnout marks scarred the road from countless previous encounters.
Tom hopped out of the passenger side, reached behind his seat comma and retrieve a gallon jug of industrial glue, cut with toluene. Traction compund was a thing of the past,
as were drag strips. But that didn't stop Tom and Reno from making either.
Six years ago, Congress had enacted the New Clean Air Act, which had a devastating impact on sanctioned motorsports. OBD-IV was only the tip of iceberg; all cars, including
those participating in off-road motorsports, were required to meet the same stringent federal emissions and inspection criteria.
This quickly brought all but the most prestigious forms of motorsport to a standstill. Virtually overnight, the business of owning and operating a dragstrip became an unbearable
liability as huge fines were doled out not only to racers, but to track owners as well. Within in its first year alone, the New Clean Air Act forced the closing of 159 drag strips
Tom unscrewed the cap and poured the liquid on the ground in front of both rear tires. He guided Reno into the two puddles and motioned him to turn the tires over gently in
the pungent lquid. With a vigorous scrubbing motion, Tom signaled Reno to drop the hammer. The slicks spun and grew large as Reno shifted the manual-valve-body AOD from
1 to D. He released the Line-Loc and the LX tracked forward slowly, ejecting a thin plume of white smoke from both tires.
The LX picked up speed and right before Reno sensed the slicks would hook, he cut the throttle to save the stator sprag in the converter.The blow off valve reacted to the
closed throttle plate by venting with a loud swoosh. Reno slowed the lathered-up horse and followed his brother's directions as he backed carefully into the hot black stripes.
Tom and one of Cale's boys spotted the two car distance after Cale did his burnout. Cale's Camaro sounded awesome, and in the old days, at a drag strip could probably run low
9s - nearly two seconds quicker than Reno. But that was history...
July 6, 2056 Governor's Mansion, Helena, Montana.
Russel Pickering was getting tired of this bureaucrat in Washington, and the fact that he was on his video screen, and not in his office in Helena, made him no less annoying. The
federal government was trying to negotiate a reconciliation and things weren't going well.
The sovereign state of Montana was still part of the United States, but the link had become extremely tenuous over the last ten years. In the early forties when the federal
government forced all states to phase out fossil fuel vehicles- with the exception of military vehicles and aircraft- Pickering had made the issue the cornerstone of his gubernatorial
campaign and won in a landslide victory.
The friction between state and federal government had come to a head in '51. On Pickering's orders, the Montana National Gaurd and the Montana State Police had barricaded all
roads leading into the state in anticipation of a standoff with federal troops, who were massing on the border. Ironically, fossil fuel was the primary concern of the feds; so many
petroleum reserves had recently been discovered deep in Montana's rich mining country that had added an extra strategic thrust to the politcal agenda.
Pickering had stared down the barrel of the gun and hadn't blinked yet. Throughout the ordeal, Pickering marshaled support from other Midwestern states , gaining enough allies
to secure limited autonomy from the federal government. This autonomy included, among other things, the freedom of its citizens to convey themselves in vehicles driven by
internal combustion engines.
Pickering had done a lot of researching- and soul searching- and like many Americans wasn't convinced of the global warning chimera. Perhaps all their efforts had paid off and
global disaster had been averted, but most likely the internal combustion engine played only a small role in the environmental picture. Every bit of archeological and geological
evidence suggested that huge climatic swings were the norm for planet earth and predated human intervention by hundreds of millions of years. One spewing volcano produced in
30 minutes as many greenhouse gases as the world's entire yearly output circa the year 2000. In any case, you couldn't prove or disprove something that didn't exist.
Pollution was another kettle of fish, however, and on that count Pickering was firmly aligned with his environmental Democratic roots. He had always supported efforts to keep
that air and water of Montana clean – often finding himself at odds with the state’s big mining. Oil, and timber interests – but with so few internal combustion-driven cars on the
road today, they had virtually no effect anymore. Of course, Pickering also admitted to a certain amount of bias, as he was a diehard hot rodder.
“Excuse me, Mr. Governor,” interrupted Pickering’s assistant, “but there’s a Mr. Tom Calhoun in the foyer; he says it’s urgent. I told him you were in a meeting.”
Pickering’s eyebrows arched in surprise. He turned to the bureaucrat on the screen and excused himself for a long-needed break.
March 21, 2015, Rt. 109 north of Denton, N.C.
So far, so good. Reno looked over at Tom, standing outside the car to his left, and winked. This trick, if it worked, would be the upset of the century. He had heard about it
from an old ex-street racer from New Jersey named G.
Under the negotiated rules of the race, Cale couldn’t move until Reno moved. If Cale jumped the start, Reno won by default. If Cale wasn’t ready when Reno started, Cale had
the option of sitting still and Reno would have to back up and do it over again. What G had taught Reno was that under the right circumstances, the other guy will follow you even
if he isn’t ready. It was a nervous reaction in the heat of battle that usually cost the faster car the race. It wasn’t cheating, said G, it was fair play at the edge of the rules.
Reno watched in the mirror as Cale purged the nitrous and brought up the revs. After a few long moments, Reno flipped a hidden switch and urged the small-block up against the
converter. How well the sucker punch worked depended on how long Reno could string out the launch, kind of like an old-time staging game.
Reno held the throttle for a few moments, then let off, bringing the engine back to idle. Cale must really be steamed right about now. Reno kept his left foot firmly on the brake
and his right foot resting gently on the throttle. He pulled on the driver’s-side door latch, pushed the door wide open, and leaned past the B-pillar as if he was about to get someone’
s attention. The interior light and the warning chime came on and the cool March air rushed in. Easy now. Wait for his revs to drop.
What in the hell is this jackass doing? Doesn’t he know how to race? Cale concentrated intently on Reno’s rear bumper 20 feet in front of him in the left lane, his right thumb
ready to pop the trans brake the split second the LX twitched. Cale watched in disbelief as the Mustang’s engine lowered to an idle and the left-side door popped open. Cale lifted
off the gas, placed his foot on the service brake and disengaged the transbrake. Hmm, he must be having trou…
Now! Reno whacked the throttle, the fuel injected 302 wailed, and the LX convulsed forward. The door slammed closed violently against the forward motion as Reno yanked
his body inside, narrowly missing a whack on the head. The shift light blinked and he pushed the lever to D. Boy, if he didn’t follow me I’m cooked. Reno had a split second to
check his mirror. The bobbing headlights of the Camaro were the best thing he’d seen all year.
Tom was grinning from ear to ear. Big bro, that’s about as good as it gets. He had watched Reno leave the second after Cale got off the gas. Cale jumped back on it, the
Camaro stumbled, sputtered violently from a nitrous backfire, and then hoisted the wheels a full three feet in the air. By the time the Camaro got moving good, Reno was already a
good ten to twelve car lengths out and moving fast.
Because of the narrow viewing angle, it was usually hard to tell who was in the lead at the finish line, but as the taillights shrank in the distance, it was clear that those of the LX
were the smallest.
Thomasville, N.C., July 5, 2056
Reno had put off the inevitable long enough. He knew he was a lonely relic, a foolish old man who refused to give up the past, but dammit, that past had been good to him.
He took a deep breath, filling his nostrils with the smell of the earthen floor, Naugahyde, maple and tobacco long gone. He caressed the bright red Mustang with an old terry cloth
hand towel imprinted with the words “Days Inn.”
Charlene was gone, his brother Tom had moved away years ago to Montana, and he was about to lose the only other thing that mattered to him; his Mustang.
He’d sooner die than let the state squash his memories into a 2-foot cube of steel, rubber and glass.
6:00 a.m., July 6, 2056
The twin 20-gallon fuel cells were topped off with 100-octane aviation fuel, the police scanner was programmed, the Z-rated 17-inch run-flats were bolted on, and Reno’s
loaded 9mm Beretta, detective’s shield, and cell phone lay on top of a scanner directory and a Rand McNally road atlas in the passenger’s seat. Reno stuffed his duffel bag behind
the roll bar, jammed a stack of ancient CDs in the glove box, fired up the supercharged V8, and pulled out onto Reagan Boulevard. It would be a trick, but Reno though he had a
pretty good chance of pulling it off.
Yesterday, when he called Tom with the bad news, it was partly to reminisce. But when they started talking, the wheels started turning, and within minutes they had a viable
plan to bring the LX to a safe haven in Montana. Hell, Reno might even sell the farm later on and move up to Billings with Tom.
But there were more immediate concerns, like how to talk himself past nosy DMV officers, and how to find fuel along the way. As a retired detective on the Greensboro police
force, Reno would receive a bit of professional courtesy along the way, but it might be touch and go with the expired plate and inspection sticker. His antique car plates were only
good through the end of June and the state wasn’t validating them any longer. If Reno stayed on the interstate system, he’d have the least amount of trouble. Since traffic
enforcement was largely electronic on the highway, he might not even need to flash his shield.
Fuel would be tougher. When the last gas station closed down 5 years ago, he bought a couple of old NASCAR fuel cells from a friend who restored race cars. It nearly made
him cry to put a torch to the LX’s trunk, but when the job was done, it was work of art.
Unfortunately, aviation fuel was the only thing available to pour into those cells. AvGas had a low vapor pressure and tons of deicing agent, so it was far from ideal for use at sea
level. Reno had fits with it, but after tinkering with the computer’s spark table he was able to make it livable.
July 6, 2056, Governor’s Mansion, Helena, Montana
Pickering stood up and walked around the polished stone slab desk, its intricate fossil record covered by data discs, piles of manila envelopes, a 1/12 scale model of a 1968
Dodge Charger, and an open laptop computer. He reached out a hand to the compact, athletic older man. “Tom, it’s good to see you. What brings you up to Helena?”
Tom took the governor’s hand, “Good news and bad news, Russ,” said Tom, putting on the best face he could.
“What could be worse than being held hostage in your own state?” Pickering said with a wry grin.
“It’s my brother, Reno. He’s coming with his Mustang.”
“That’s the good news, right?” Pickering knew what the rest meant, and he could already feel a headache coming on.
“I sort of told him that you would be able to get him into the state. You can do that, can’t you?” petitioned Tom.
“Anything for a constituent, even though you are a Republican.” Pickering joked to inject some levity to the situation. Tom was no ordinary citizen; he was the best restoration
expert and mechanic Pickering had ever known. He also owed Tom big time for bringing Pickering’s 1968 Charger back from the dead.
“Hey, I voted for you, but it was only because you have the only restored Magnum 440 in the state!” Tom quipped.
Putting the subject back on track, Pickering asked, “So how’s Reno getting here?”
“He left North Carolina this morning and should be here in three days if everything goes right. He’ll be coming in on I-90 from Wyoming.”
Pickering folded his arms, sat on the corner of his desk and stared at the steel points of his boots. After a moment, he looked up at Tom and said, “I think I’ve got an idea.”
5:57 p.m. July 9, 2056, 5 miles south of Sheridan, Wyoming
On his left, the ragged purple peaks of the Bighorn Mountains cut sharply into the cloudless blue sky. Never had Reno seen such imposing geography before – the East had
nothing to equal it. The scale of the mountains played tricks with his eyes as he tried unsuccessfully to manage glimpses of them while watching the road. The town of Sheridan,
which lay to his left, was nestled at the base of the forested Bighorn range and was primarily a large service town for several posh ski resorts and dude ranches in the area. Reno
took another quick peek at the gas gauge. Damn, it was low. It was decision time: Either make a quick detour to the Sheridan County airport, or try to coast in on fumes. Tom
told him yesterday that he had to make the border between 6 and 7 p.m., the only window of opportunity the governor could give him, and it was nearly 6:00 already.
He knew the car and its gauge well. It wasn’t fooling when it hit E. If only Reno hadn’t had such a heavy foot on that empty stretch just north of Buffalo he surely would have
had L100 to go the distance.
Reno eased off the gas, partly to conserve fuel and partly to read the signs that were becoming more frequent on his approach to Sheridan.
As the town of Sheridan passed by on his left, Reno watched the signs with increasing discomfort. Finally at the northern edge of town, Reno saw the sign for Route 331: Exit
right ½ mile, Sheridan County Municipal Airport.
The engine sputtered and quit as he made the exit and passed under the interstate overpass. Reno flipped the fuel tank selector switch back over to tank number one, put the
tranny in neutral, cranked the ignition, and prayed that there was enough fuel left to make it to the airport.
6:15 p.m., Montana-Wyoming state border, Route 451
Pickering thought it was ironic. Just 40 miles north of this spot Custer fought the Battle of Little Bighorn. God, he hoped his own loyalties weren’t as screwed up as Custer's.
Only time would tell.
The dancing heat ripples on the old two lane road were amplified by the high magnification of the binoculars. There was absolutely no activity on the Wyoming side other than a
half dozen buzzards circling lazily between the border and Parkham, Wyoming.
He lowered the long range binoculars and climbed out of the aging National Guard Bradley fighting vehicle. The similarity between him and Custer made him too uncomfortable.
It wasn’t that he was afraid of an ambush – other than the barbed wire and the semi-permanent concrete barriers across the road, there was nothing resembling anything
threatening – rather it was the fear of misguided ideals.
He handed the binoculars back to Sgt. Lightfoot and walked back the black Camaro where Tom sat. Route 451, Pickering figured, would be a much more innocuous crossing
point for Reno, a good thing since Pickering didn’t want to make a political incident out of it. It was permanently blocked to vehicular traffic – a relatively small problem – but
unlike I-90, it had the advantage of being unmanned by a federal garrison.
6:21 p.m., Sheridan County Municipal Airport, FBO
Luis Gonzalez latched the ground cable to the aluminum loop protruding from the wing root of the twin engine Beechcraft and placed his foot into the side cove labeled ‘Step’.
Just as he was about to jump onto the aircraft with the fuel nozzle, he heard a shout from behind.
“Hey, buddy, can I get a few gallons of fuel? I’m kind of in a hurry,” said the old man.
“Which plane yours, meester?” asked Luis in broken English.
“It’s not a plane; it’s that car over there.”
“Sorry. No plane, no gas. That’s the law. I get into beeg with trouble Senor Edwards if I give to you.” Luis wasn’t about to get into trouble again and lose his job, especially
after selling fuel to that group of bikers last month.
The old man got closer and said in a confidential but firm tone, “I’ll pay you for the gas and give you an extra $100 to make it worth your while.”
Luis wanted to say yes – he could use the extra cash – but there was too much activity at the airport right now. Luis shrugged at the stranger who now seemed agitated.
Look, meester, you come back tonight. I help you out.” The old gringo looked to his left, then his right, pulled a pistol from the small of his back and aimed it at Luis’
6:27 p.m., Montana-Wyoming state border, Route 451
It had been almost six years since Tom had last seen his brother, so his anticipation was running high. At sure he wasn't sure if Russell would grant him - and his brother - such
a big favor, but Russ came through. The problem was, what if Reno didn't show?
A gentle breeze washed over the rolling grasslands of the Crow Indian reservation, giving the group of 14 men a much needed respite from the late afternoon heat. Earlier, the
soldiers had gathered around the Camaro, asking questions about it, and Tom had regaled them with the story about how he and Reno had won it in a street race more than 40
years earlier. But now the mood was pensive. The longer the group stayed at their poisition, the more likely they were to attract attention.
Tom's handheld scanner bleeped: Units in the vicinity of Sheridan County Airport, respond to shots fired. Be advised, fire and rescue notified for possible related explosion on
Unit six responding, over.
Tom sat upright in the Camaro's worn white leather seat. That's all they needed now. Lots of activity on the other side of the border. On the other hand, if something was
happening in Sheridan, 20 miles to the southeast, maybe it would help divert attention from Reno.
Unit three to base, in pursuit of a bright red 2-door, early model internal-combustion vehicle, westbound on Route 331, North Carolina plates Charlie-Mary-Charlie-three-zero-
seven. Possible suspect. Requesting all wants and warrants, over.
"That's Reno!" blurted Tom.
Pickering wasted no time. He jumped out of the passenger seat of Tom's Camaro and ran over to one of the armored vehicles parked on the shoulder of the cracked, disused
road. A soldier who was leaning against the inside of the Bradley turret came to life and politely addressed Pickering. "Yes, Governor?"
"Sgt. Lightfoot, order the men to cut the wire and move the barriers." Pickering gestured to the concrete slabs and then dabbed the sweat on his forehead with a handkerchief.
"When they're finished, position the Bradleys in the neutral zone with interlocking fields of fire. Our man's coming through and he's got company."
6:28 p.m., Route 331, 2 miles west of Sheridan, Wyoming
Sheridan County Sheriff's Deputy Carl Robinson had never seen such a vehicle in his 12 years of service. Sure, he knew what a Mustang looked like from the pictures and
museums, but this one was different. When it ripped past him it had a bone-chilling roar that breathed power. For a second Robinson imagined the filthy explosions that drove the
pistons down in their bores to make the wicked sound, and then he powered his cruiser's four high-torque electric motors. This fossil guzzler is goin' down for the count.
Unfortunately for Robinson, westbound 331 was big trouble. There was only another quarter mile or so of paved, powered roadway ahead, after which the road turned to
gravel. That meant switching to battery power and losing ground to the speeding red bullet.
Robinson keyed the mike; "Unit three to all units, in pursuit of suspect, request road block at the intersection of Route 331 and Route 343. My ETA is five minutes to that
This is unit six, copy unit three.
"Unit three I read you," responded Robinson.
I'm tied up at the airport with an interrogation. Recommend you call Wyoming HP.
"Damn." Robinson pronounced slowly, taking care to not key the mike.
For 30 years Reno had pursued criminals but never once had he thought about crossing over to the wrong side of the law. Stepping on the smeared, indistinct line of arbitrary
EPA regulations was one thing, but committing an outright felony had totally unnerved him. In that instant, he had betrayed he had upheld his whole life. Reno glanced over at the
9mm pistol. It was suddenly repulsive to him.
For the first time in his life he was outside the law, a rogue. There was no turning back now, but the gas man gave him no choice. After forcing him to pump L100 AvGas into
the LX at gunpoint, he told the poor guy to run for his life. Reno jumped into the Mustang, fired three rounds into a nearby 55-gallon drum of fuel, blowing it sky high as a
diversion, and burned rubber out of there.
But the diversion did him no good. Just a mile from the airport he passed amerced cruiser parked in the brush. Reno must’ve been doing close to 100. He knew from the
scanner that there was not likely to be a roadblock ahead, but he was thankful for the run-flat tires nonetheless.
6:29 p.m., I-90, 3miles north of Sheridan, Wyoming
Trooper Thill was a long way from the barracks in Buffalo, so it pissed him off that he got the call so close to the end of his shift. He flipped on the lights and siren and fed
maximum current to all four electric motors.
The left northbound lane of I-90 was all his, thanks to the emergency override signal broadcast to cars in front of him. In spite of the computer-guided steering, Thill held a firm
grip on the wheel, just in case.
There were no officers in the sparsely populated area, so it would be tough – but not impossible – to arrive in time at the crossroads community of Ranchester. That was the
location of the intersection of Routes 451 and 343, and if Thill could get there before the old hot rod, there would be no way out.
6:45 p.m., 5 miles west of Ranchester, Wyoming
When the road turned to gravel 15 miles back, Reno knew he was partly out of the woods. The huge dust plume would make it even harder for the battery powered cruiser to
negotiate the turns, turns that Reno had drifter through without visual obstruction.
By the time he finally hit Route 343 – and found no road block – he was at least a full mile ahead of the cruiser. But the road was paved again, and that meant unlimited power
for the deputy behind him. Reno pulled over at the intersection took a quick look at the map to get his bearings, and laid pedal to the wood.
The map showed a small town named Ranchester ahead, and from the size of it there wouldn’t be much in his way. Reno needed to stretch out his lead as much as possible; this
would buy him enough time to proceed cautiously through town, averting possible disaster with pedestrians and local traffic.
6:50 p.m., Ranchester, Wyoming
Thill parked his cruiser, lights on, in the center of Route 343, just west of the intersection of Tongue River Road. He popped the trunk, retrieved a folded metal lattice laced with
spikes, and spread it deftly across both lanes.
This was the best place for a road block. The sight distance down westbound 343 was fairly short; it had a northerly curve flanked with dense spruce on either side, making it a
good trap. It was also far enough away from the center of town to eliminate any injury to citizens, and other than a distant mobile home and a few utility poles at the northwest
corner of the intersection, there was little property to damage.
With the blockade set up, Trooper Thill unlocked his shotgun and picked up the radio mike to notify Dispatch of the completed road block. As Thill keyed the mike, he heard the
raspy tone of exhaust in the distance. Thill dropped the mike and bolted out of the cruiser with the shotgun and ran for cover beyond the ditch.
A red antique sports car came barreling around the corner at close to 70 mph. It hit the brakes and swerved to avoid hitting Thill’s cruiser. Thill admired the driver’s excellent car
control, but it wouldn’t matter; he’d still hit the spikes.
The red car ran over the spikes and jinked sideways as the tires blew out. The driver cranked in a small amount of opposite lock, hammered the gas, and continued on hardly
worse for the wear. Miffed, Thill raced to his cruiser latched the shotgun, hit the siren, buckled his seat belt and powered the motors in a smooth, rehearsed sequence.
A hand rolled cigarette hung from Thelma Wooley’s lips, a half inch of ashes clinging to it as she yacked, toothlessly, on a cordless phone. Store bought cigarettes been
outlawed 30 years ago and she was reduced to buying nickel and dime bags of black market tobacco like some sort of drug addict. She stood on a precarious-looking set of
temporary stairs on the front of her mobile home, one runny-nosed child on her hip and another clinging to her thigh.
She stopped momentarily to watch the spectacle: the road block, the speeding red car, the highway patrol cruiser chasing after it.
She watched, mouth agape, as a white sheriff’s cruiser came whirring around the corner 15 seconds later. Its tires squealed in protest and ran squarely over the spikes. The out-
of-control cruiser then skidded sideways, rolled over, and smacked a utility pole on the opposite corner from her.
“Jackie, you ain’t gonna believe dis.”
6:58 p.m., Montana – Wyoming state border, Route 451
Why was he even doing this? He was putting his political reputation on the line, not to mention the careers of 12 excellent soldiers, for an idiotic stunt like this. Pickering
quickly reminded himself that it was for an ideal. If a man wanted to drive a real car, then let him. It all went back to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, something the
bureaucratic government was increasingly forgetful of. And as long as he was the governor of Montana, he’d try to find a way to accommodate all like-minded Americans.
At a different level, Pickering knew how close Tom was to his brother. He’d heard the stories and laughed his butt off over many a homebrewed lager. If he didn’t help Tom
when he needed it most, then his friendship was just a sham. But there was limit to even what a governor could do, and that limit was rapidly approaching.
They would only have one chance to get Reno inside, and if Wyoming caught Reno trying, the game was over. On the surface, Pickering didn’t think the citizens of Montana
would take too kindly to his use of National Guard troops, either. If they found out, some would think the act smacked of power abuse, but he knew he was doing the right thing.
The citizens of Montana had a rugged, unpretentious sensibility – the same one that elected him over and over – and his motives would ring true under public scrutiny. And if not,
it was a price Pickering was willing to pay.
Pickering held the binoculars to his eyes one more time. The highway patrol probably caught him. Tom’s not going to like it. The lengthening shadows made the image even
sharper, and in a few minutes, the jagged peaks of the Bighorn range would blot out the sun completely.
Then Pickering’s eyes were drawn to a momentary flash in the direction of Parkman. He watched for a few more seconds to see if his eyes were playing tricks on him. He
could barely make out the flashing lights of a patrol car, and in front of it was a tiny red dot.
“Take a look at this sergeant.” Pickering handed the binoculars over to Lightfoot.
Lightfoot put his fingers in his mouth and let rip a shrill whistle that Pickering was ill-prepared for. “Gentlemen, prepare for engagement,” Lightfoot shouted.
The men had been lounging around, talking nervously. Suddenly they were galvanized by Lightfoot’s bark and took up their positions behind the concrete barriers.
“Just one cruiser, Mr. Governor,” said Lightfoot. “I don’t think we have much to worry about. I recommend we wait until they’re about a half mile out and fire three 30mm
Pickering thought for a few moments and then turned to Tom: “This will scare the bejeezus out of him won’t it?”
“Yeah, but we’ll all laugh about it tomorrow,” said Tom stoically.
“Go for it, Sgt. Lightfoot.”
Reno had the LX running as fast as he dared. He knew the border had to be near. The deflated tires had slowed him down as the car’s stability was now compromised at
higher speeds. One thing was for sure: If he didn’t get to the border soon, the run-flats would flat run out. This had enable the wind-cheating electric cruiser to catch him in the
A flash of light strobed directly ahead, followed a few seconds later by a sharp, audible concussion. Holy Jesus! They’re firing at me! Reno wanted to lift, but the cruiser was
behind him too close. Two more shots boomed overhead. It dawned on Reno that he would’ve been gone by the third shot if they’d wanted him to be. Laser-guided artillery was
deadly accurate, so those would have to be warning shots. A few seconds later the highway patrol cruiser began to decelerate as the border loomed ahead.
Beaming from ear to ear Reno planted the throttle to the floor, and embraced his new home.