Sorry to necro the thread. This is the only suitable place to post this. I’ve been chipping away at my own conclusion for personal reasons. I’ve now gotten up to the point where I can say the race is done. The aftermath back home, well. That’s a story for another day ha.
When in Rome, do as the Romans do. Milan was a long way from Rome, but with the radio chatter more nervous than ever and the evening traffic thick and chaotic, the done thing was to blend in and keep a low profile. As low as the flambouyant bunch of overpowered race cars could make, anyway. With her guts mercifully evacuated, only to be replenished with a sense of gnawing urgency, Anna fretted behind the wheel. Her left foot was so numb from pumping the heavy clutch in the stop-start of the streets she wasn’t sure that it hadn’t simply merged entirely with the pedal and ceased to be organic. Chowing through another two cans of rations took the edge off the fatigue, but only barely.
As the last slivers of sun fled over the horizon, other concerns fought their way through the coming darkness. How many more countries were there? Seven? Eight? How many more borders? Having witnessed the scuffle at the Italian border it was clear that the shadowy organisers of this event had bought their way through several places but clearly that money had only found its way into certain pockets given the rest of Europe’s finest seemed hell bent on cutting them off. How much of it was planned, and how much of it was luck… Any of the cars between them could be undercover. Even that truck that seemed to have been following them for the last two hundred miles. Now would be the perfect time to- She tried not to imagine two dozen agents bursting out from the trailer’s canvas, guns jammed in their windows with no way to escape. Anna cursed as she found herself wishing suddenly that she’d had more insight into Ed’s tips before hurling herself headlong into some kind of trap.
The familiar mounting suspense reached fever pitch as she pulled up at the queue of the border checkpoint outside Como. In the darkness, the headlight glare was cut off only by the bulk of that looming semi-trailer. Shouldn’t it have gone to another lane? And why had everything stopped? Shadows danced at the feet of the officers, waving torches and walking up and down the rows of cars. Anna felt her heart sink: Surely the Swiss were too neutral to let a simple cannonball rally through.
Everybody jumped as the klaxons sounded. Undulating wails echoed off the hills, bombarding them in cacophony. The officers swarmed around, the shadows they cast fragmenting into a kaleidoscope. Squinting through the chaos, Anna barely heard the telltale roar punctuated with the spack-spack of backfire before she saw a familiar car squat and blast through the barrier, sending the gate flying. Gritting her teeth, she floored it and dumped the clutch, the Evo leaping forward in its wake. Dancing headlights flashed in her mirrors as the other racers followed suit, followed shortly by flashing police lights converging on them from all sides, complete with megaphones blaring at them in French and Italian.
As the fatigue piled up, doubt had crept in, and now it gripped Anna even as she pursued the unworldly green Bonham. Fifteen hours of non-stop white knuckle driving, several police forces and untold consequences with stakes rising every country they invaded, every road block they evaded. Yesterday, she was a law-abiding car manufacturing heiress and hands-on motoring enthusiast too young and impetuous to sit in full capacity on a board of executives. Today she and all the other nutjobs and career criminals on the roster were probably now terrorists for all that siren meant. All her fibers and nerves were screaming at her to, for the love of mercy, stop and give up this folly, even if it had gone beyond the point of no return, even while she wove between a never-ending stream of police cars and vans and kept the pedal to the metal.
A series of deafening cracks punched through the sirens and tyres and engine noise. Anna screamed as a window shattered and sparks flew, then the Evo bucked hard and spun right. By instinct, she pulled on the wheel, but there was no saving it, and the Evo spun backwards, blasting through a barrier and hurtling down a bushy bank before skidding to a stop on a back road and stalling.
Gasping, Anna kicked the Evo’s door open and tumbled out. The sirens raised in pitch and the lights grew brighter, so, panicking, she dove into a nearby bush, listening to her ragged breathing as the cars roared by amidst the sounds of battle. Then as fast as they had come, they were gone.
Leaping into action, Anna pried the boot open, pausing only to yank out the branch that had somehow lodged its way through the broken window. Empty cans, glass and junk fountained from the rear of the Evo as Anna furiously rummaged for her tyre jack, hauling out her last spare tyre. A chill passed through her as she noted the bullet holes in the rear bumper and the right quarter-panel, but her adrenaline was well up again, and she set to work, jacking the car and ripping the flat tyre off and slamming the spare on in a personal best. As for the window, she kicked out the rest of the shards stuck in the frame, broke out the ever-handy duct tape and stuck her spare jacket to the inside, then taped over the outside for good measure before bundling herself back into the driver’s seat.
Fuel pump, primed. Oil pressure, good. The car was more or less in one piece, and she was alive. There was no doubt anymore. She would fight to the bitter end, or die trying.
The sun rose at the tail end of a long stretch of darkness with only the road, the constant fear of police intervention, and a guardian angel in the form of the green Bonham wagon. At an entire day without stopping, much less sleeping, Anna had well crossed the threshold from reality to a dreamscape, and were it not for that beacon of neon nemesis she continuously traded places with throughout the night, like duelers in the fog, she would have been lost to the miasma of the darkness in the Slavic states.
But as the sun spread its rays and the skies lightened to a brilliant orange, the fire in her eyes renewed. Streaking through the last of Bulgaria, the Evo blowing yellowing leaves off the trees lining the highway, she passed several dilapidated convenience stores before realising she was about out of fuel. One furiously quick pitstop, an extra strong cup of coffee and a weird look from the store clerk later, she pulled into the border checkpoint right on the tail of the Bonham. By now she knew the drill: first gear engaged, one foot on the clutch and the other on the gas. She checked her mirrors. They were well clear of the next car, so it was just the two of them. Any sign of things going awry, and she would bust through.
Anna’s heart about leapt through her mouth when one of the border agents drew a gun on the Bonham. Her right foot tightened, but after a bit of chatter, the Bonham was waved through, as was she. The Bonham wasted no time, all four tyres squealing as it dropped about nine hundred horses onto the pavement and blasted away. Anna followed suit with her seven hundred, and it was on again!
Now mid-morning, the traffic was out in force. Even with the headstart on the law enforcement, the highways were littered with cars and trucks every which way. Anna’s eyes narrowed as she threaded the Evo through the gaps and outside the lanes, chasing down that Bonham. It was the dying momenets of eleventh hour, the minute hand ticking towards noon and even amidst the furious action and the coastal towns whisking by to their left and the sweat pouring down her brow, they were as two duelers staring each other down, waiting to see who blinked first.
One mistimed merge was all it took. A hapless lorry, not expecting the racers to barrel around a curve, moved towards an exit, cutting their route off. The Bonham, being ahead, ran out of space first, and had to brake hard. Anna went to brake, but had to lift off to jink to avoid slamming into the wagon, and the rear went light. Three thousand plus miles of crash course training kicked in, and she instinctively countersteered and hit the gas. The Evo skidded to the middle of the carriageway, scraping the guardrail before snapping back and for the first time in over two thousand miles, she knew she had hit the lead!
Resisting the temptation to fist pump, Anna took a deep breath before picking up the pace again. She probably bought herself three seconds with that. Three seconds, just over a hundred miles to go. It wasn’t over by a long shot.
Sure enough, the moment the traffic thinned on a long stretch between towns, the Bonham was all over her again. Preoccupied with defending, she didn’t see the sharper corner coming up. Cursing, she hit the brakes, veering wide and heading towards the barrier. In desperation she yanked the handbrake and tucked the nose in, the Evo sliding sideways with even less traction. Not one to admit defeat having come this far, Anna piled on the throttle and painstakingly, the Evo changed its trajectory, barely staying off the rail but leaving a giant gap which the Bonham dived into, before roaring away.
Anna cursed as she gave chase. Of all things to start failing now, the uneven wear between the tyres from having to change three of them at various earlier stages was starting to noticeably affect the handling, from the little shimmy the steering wheel kept jolting her aching hands with, to the way it refused to grip properly in the left handers. Come on she urged her faithful steed as she kept her eye on the tantalisingly close Bonham. Just a little longer.
The sign to ATHINA flashed overhead, and the traffic was noticeably thickening again. The highway cut straight to the heart of the metropolis, but the finish point was at the docks, the far end of the city. If the Evo couldn’t take the Bonham on the highway, it would be down to a battle of wits and luck on the narrow streets. It was just a matter of who flinched first, and with the cars now taking up all four lanes, forcing them to dive onto the off ramps and back on again, the time and space was running short.
The Bonham, being wider, felt the squeeze harder and dove right onto the next exit. In the corner of her eye, Anna saw it descend down the ramp out of sight. What its fortunes would be in the bowels of the labyrinth was a mystery, but out of sight, out of mind. Anna forged on, weaving through the traffic, watching her speedo dip from 120 to 100, to 80. Was this the right choice?
A wall of traffic answered Anna. No way through, she slammed her hands on the wheel in frustration. Just beyond was an exit, and she had to resist the temptation to ram a few cars to get to it. She inched painstakingly forward, feeling the seconds creep under her skin, until she was through and roaring off the highway onto the streets! In seconds, she was surrounded by a concrete jungle of apartment blocks in every single direction, three, four, five storeys high and cars parked and double parked all over the streets. Every intersection was a surprise shrouded in dappled morning sunlight, unwitting pedestrians and cars that scattered, then shook their fist and tooted and yelled incomprehensible curses in her wake. Which way was next? It was impossible to see where she was on the map anymore, and it was all she could do to guess where the sun was to keep her heading South East.
There was a flash of bright green on Anna’s right. Her heart flew into her mouth as she realised she had crossed paths with the Bonham once more, only, somehow, she was in front. She had the initiative and on these narrow streets the Bonham couldn’t overtake! Knowing that third place couldn’t be far behind, she pushed on, snaking the car through the streets until the buildings opened up and they spilled onto four lanes of traffic that swerved and screeched around their sudden exit. Glimpsing up to regain her bearings she saw, in the distance, on the hill to her right, the ancient beacon of modern civilisation, the Acropolis. At any other time she might have paused to give thought, but right now, it was merely her beacon of bearing and she had a Bonham hot on her arse, so it was pedal to the metal and blow straight through the red light. A T-junction now, with stopped cars blocking the way. Squeeze by on the left and flick right, tucking the nose around the stopped car and force the Bonham to go wide and rejoin the right side of the road, and she kept the lead. Just a dozen or more of these and the race would be hers. Just a dozen. Anna struggled to breathe– the pressure was crushing. The Evo, once so nimble, felt heavy and bogged. The tyres, especially the embattled left rear, were ragged shreads full of flat spots and the vibration was so fierce that Anna’s spine itched. The street opened up, the road to the docks lay ahead and the traffic thinned to the occasional truck. She put her foot down, and the tyres spun. She short-shifted, and barely stayed on the boost. Cursing, she stuck with the gear, but the moment the revs climbed the wheels started slipping again. With nowhere to hide, the Bonham drew level, and as the speedo climbed, the greater power proved overwhelming for the plucky Evo. With a nose ahead, the Bonham had first choice of the line into the last roundabout, a left turn. Anna contemplated accidentally-on-purpose outbraking herself and nudging the Bonham off line and probably into the kerb where it would crash spectacularly– no. To win and earn such a notoriety would never be a suitable legacy to leave the company. If there was any chance to win, it would have to be fair and square, and by a stroke of genius or luck. Two hundred meters, and the Bonham was a length ahead. Anna eyed the median strip. Perhaps if she jumped the strip she could try cutting the roundabout the wrong way, but one wrong move and her only reward would be death.
All bets were off when the semi entered the roundabout from the other side. The Bonham sliced across the Evo’s nose, clipping the median strip and skipping over the roundabout just narrowly brushing across the nose of the semi. Anna got a box seat view of the truck driver’s bulging eyes as he braked, too late to do anything except to block Anna’s shortcut. With no traction left, Anna could only brake hard and go the long, right way around. By the time she emerged from the roundabout, the Bonham was halfway up the street. There was no finish line, only the same man who announced the start of the race with a billboard. Anna already knew by the time he saw him that the Bonham had already finished. She had lost.
There was no podium, no trophy, no announcements. The mysterious man simply handed a slip of paper to the driver of the Bonham, and slipped back into the shadows of the docks, presumably, to await the other drivers. The driver of the Bonham had already started up and was turning around, pausing to nod to Anna, a tacit acknowledgement of the battle they had shared, and then he was gone.
Anna’s head was awash. Feeling her chest tightening, she fumbled with the door handle and tumbled out of the car, gasping for fresh air. Struggling into a seated position she leaned against the side of the Evo. Every emotion, all the fatigue, the near death moments, and most of all the vexation of overcoming such intense adversity and yet if only this and that bore down and crushed her. Somewhere inside, the pressure welled up, a dam burst and suddenly she was racked by big, gulping sobs and paroxysms that toppled her, curled up into a ball as the tears flooded onto the bitumen.
Hands grabbed Anna’s shoulders, hauling her upright. World a blur, Anna was too dazed to do anything but hang limply as a superhuman force lifted her to standing. She was vaguely aware of a voice barking at her, then a sudden sharp sting of a palm smartly striking her cheek.
“Annabel Herrington, you will pull yourself together this instant!” Blinking away the tears, Anna squinted. Swimming into focus was the stern, sweaty, ruddy, completely unexpected face of Christine Herrington, her mother.
“Ma!?” Anna croaked, belatedly hearing the distant sirens from all around. She shook her head, trying to get her bearings and dispel the hallucination of her mother slapping her across the face. Stern as ever, Christine’s face remained. Anna could only blurt, “What are you doing here?”
Christine looked ready to slap Anna again. “Well I never! My own daughter runs off to go gallivanting across Europe on a highly illegal road race and then has the gall to ask me what I’m ‘doing here’?” One blink later and Anna was crushed in the embrace of a mother who had feared her daughter alone and dead. Another blink, and the moment was past. “Get in the car, I’m driving.”
Numb, Anna felt herself complying and before she could process the last minute of her life Christine had squeezed her middle-aged body into the driver’s seat with a grunt and slammed the door shut. The sirens grew louder and more discordant as Christine squinted at the console’s dozen switches, muttering to herself. Anna finally had the presence of mind to remind her mother how to answer the car, but before even the first word left her mouth, Christine suddenly flicked the starting sequence in perfect order and the engine grumbled to life once more.
“Don’t you forget, I’m a true Herrington myself,” she quipped, preempting Anna’s next, unspoken question. Anna didn’t even have time to warn her about the rather unforgiving clutch travel before Christine stabbed the gas and dumped the clutch. The Evo gave a mighty lurch, the tyres a tortured squeal, and they were off again!
Now the sirens were all around, and the police cars screeching onto the road and swerving around them, trying to get into range to ram them off the road. Anna rapidly discovered that being a rally co-driver was not for frail constitutions. Between her mum jinking every which way, the mishmash of slamming the throttle and the brakes, and crunching the gears, it was a heave-inducing herky-jerky ride punctuated with ear-blasting Doppler attacks every time they dodged a cop.
“Where are we going ahhhhhhh–” Anna cried as Christine plunged the Evo down an alleyway and narrowly won a game of chicken with a cop. Behind them, the cop bounced over the pavement, caromed off the wall and slammed into a parked car with a metallic thud, blocking the road.
“Hush now,” Christine snapped, grunting as she hauled the wheel hard, jabbing the brake as she fought understeer and the car skidded back onto the main road. “I have an escape plan. You’ll see.”
Every jostle of the Evo’s cabin only rattled the multiplying questions in Anna’s head further. It was only when they careened off the highway towards the airport that Anna realised that the cacophony of the sirens had faded into the distance.
“The airport?” Anna scoffed. “How are we-” Christine cut her off.
“Just wait and you’ll see.” The closer they got, the squarer her jaw set and the flintier her gaze. As they passed the exit to the terminals, Anna’s skepticism mounted to the point she was all set to conclude that her mum’s grand escape plan was to ram through a gate, burst onto the runway and chase down a departing plane. Her hands gripped the seat, all ready to brace for impact as they raced towards a guarded gate. Suddenly, Christine slammed on the brakes and the Evo shrieked to a stop. To Anna’s surprise the guards didn’t pull them out of the car at gunpoint, but rather, rushed to open the gate, and hurried them through. While they raced past the hangars, Anna spent the next half a minute blinking in bewilderment, until Christine pulled off the runway and into one of the hangars, where a cargo plane, its propellers already spinning, loomed. Only when she climbed out of the car in a daze and a tall, dark man complete with pilot’s uniform and a dusting of graying hair and moustache emerged from the cargo hatch, did she understand the depth of her mother’s planning. But part of her still refused to believe.
“Christine, mi amour,” crooned the man cand– pilot, seamlessly bending forward and kissing Anna’s mother on the cheek while Anna looked on, dumbfounded. “It is good to see you haven’t abandoned globe trotting.”
“Charming as always, Maurizio,” Christine returned the gesture then held the pilot back at arm’s length. Gears ground in Anna’s brain as pieces of puzzle fell into place faster than she could fit them together. The man looked familiar. Too familiar, yet she had never heard him called by name. It was incongruous. It smacked of something she had spent half her life trying to forget.
“And my dear Annabelle! I would have never imagined meeting you like this.” Now with a sudden caution, almost bewilderment, he stooped at the knees and lowered himself to Anna’s height. “You really took after your mother.”
In just the last day, Anna had been buffeted by many emotions. Determination, desperation, terror, ecstasy, even grief. But the white hot sensation coursing through her all at once was something she had not felt in twelve years.
With all the force she could muster, Anna slapped her father across the face. The resounding crack could be heard even above the noise of the propellers. While everybody stared in shock, Anna further set upon her father. “YOU BASTARD!” she shrieked. “I NEVER WANTED TO SEE YOU AGAIN!”
Two strong arms wrapped themselves around Anna and lifted her whole off the grand. She yelled and screamed and kicked but there is no force on Earth greater than a mother. “Annabelle! Enough!” She was smothered in the constricting embrace until she ran out of energy, sagging back to the floor, whimpering.
“Haha. Ow.” Slightly the worse for wear, Maurizio dabbed at his face with a handkerchief and straightened the lapels on his uniform. “I see she didn’t only inherit your looks, Christine.”
“Don’t you start that with me again,” Christine snapped. “You know full well that was both of us.”
“Maybe, maybe.” Maurizio sighed and ducked down to face Anna, who, still being immobilised by her mother, could only fix him with a baleful glare. “Annabelle, I can only imagine how you feel, but the truth is, it was your mother who sought me out for this favour. I could not refuse her, especially not after knowing she was asking for you. We must move soon, before the police get past the guards. Will you be coming?”
The absurdity of everything now, having driven hell for leather across Europe in an underground race and now sitting in a Greek hangar with a bespoke rally car with a supercar engine and probably about seven outstanding warrants for her arrest was just too much for Anna to think about any more. She just wanted to go home.
The final part will be posted, er, later. Probably more for my benefit than anybody else’s, but, once I finally get around to making the Armada company thread, it will be highly relevant!