Brice Robertson eased his car to a stop on the shoulder of the highway that led on down and into the town. He sat there, the powerful engine idling, the throaty exhaust grumbling as if it were perturbed at him having reined it in. This was his baby, rebuilt from a total wreck that he had found in a junkyard one day and hauled home. He had put it into his shop and painstakingly taken it apart and then reassembled it piece by piece until it was like new. Hell, it was better than new, certainly better than these new pieces of crap that they dared to call automobiles.

     This was a 1969 Dodge Charger R/T with a 440 magnum, punched, balanced and blueprinted meticulously until the thoroughly massaged engine put out right at 500 horsepower, even without the squeeze, as he called the polished stainless-steel bottle of nitrous oxide that rode in the trunk. On the juice, it was capable of short bursts of well into the 600 horsepower range, more than enough to blow off any of those challengers that dared to choose him out.

    But this car would shortly go into storage, for it was too conspicuous for the work that he had come back to this town to do. The gleaming Nitro Yellow Green paint stood out noticeably, and even if one wasn’t a muscle-car aficionado the billet racing wheels were sure to catch a person’s eyes.

     He ratcheted the floor shifter down into first gear, checked the rearview mirror to make sure that the highway was clear, then goosed the throttle just a bit to get her back up on the road. Tires spun for a moment, then gripped, a light haze of tire smoke drifting across the highway as he accelerated down the long mile into the town of Harlton. It was a moment that had been a long time coming, and he was finally ready for his vengeance upon all those that had ruined his life.

      Letting up on the throttle, Brice let the engine brake him down to the 30 miles per hour speed limit as he crossed the bridge that marked the edge of the city limits. Many unaware motorists had been caught there by the local police force, as they didn’t pay attention to the small sign that advised them of the limit, the inertia of their car keeping them at a speed high enough for the officer to ticket them.

     Most of the travelers were just passing through and had no intention of returning to fight the ticket, so just paid the fine and went on their way. It was one way that the city had of filling its coffers with money, just one of many, some more honest than others.

    He glanced up ahead of him and sure enough, he saw the nose of the patrol truck just barely visible behind the edge of the other cars parked in the local auto repair shop. Harlton barely boasted of 2500 residents, most of whom were either in the local nursing home or were still managing to live in the income-assisted retirement community at the north end of the town. There was still enough business for several garages to survive, although each had to add several other services in addition to just doing auto repair.

    One had started selling low-quality used cars that he pawned off on the locals who couldn’t afford to go to a real dealership for a car. For a thousand dollars down, he would finance them on one of his cars. Usually it would barely last long enough for the person to get it paid off, but that wasn’t any concern of his. Another also sold a few cars from time to time, but also sold tires as a sideline. In a small farming community, it really didn’t take too much to earn a good enough living to survive.

     Brice glanced down at his speedometer, more of a knee-jerk reaction than worrying about his speed. He was so in tune with this car that he could tell exactly how fast he was going just from the sound she made. He could see that he was doing right on 28 miles per hour, good enough to slide right on through as he intended. Time enough to take care of those boys in blue later on.

    He was startled as the patrol truck’s headlights flashed on and the officer pulled out behind him as he passed. Maybe he is a Mopar fan, Brice thought. That would be just great, to get pulled over just so the guy could get a look at his ride! He watched the police truck in his mirror, hoping that they would turn off at the top of the hill, and they did, heading down the street towards where the police station was located.

    Brice let out a sigh of relief, and pushed down on the brakes as the stop sign came into sight at the junction of the two highways that met and joined in Harlton before splitting back apart later on down the road. He chose the smaller one in front of him and headed on out of town towards the Indian reservation that began just outside of town. Here he would have to meet up with his friend of many years, the only one that had stood by him throughout all of the years and the ensuing wreckage of his life.

     This town had taken everything that he had had that was good, all of the joys of his life, and had crushed them. When he had fought back, he had seen firsthand the depths that those in power in this town could sink, and had paid with five years of his life in the Federal lockdown in Leavenworth before he could prove his innocence. He was back now, and ready to get his pound of flesh that they owed him.

     Brice rolled slowly down Jackrabbit Road, headed for Chiefs’ house. What in the hell is Chiefs’ first name? he thought to himself as he tried to avoid the potholes that pitted the surface of the country road. Try as he might, he couldn’t remember what it was. Maybe he had never even known it, come to think of it, he had never referred to his friend as anything else but Chief.

     After driving deep into the backwoods of the reservation, he finally came upon the turnoff to Chief’s house. The car rumbled up the track that led in amongst the trees nearly a mile before spilling out into a clearing. Before him he saw Chief’s junky old 1955 Chevy sitting outside of the adobe house that stood there in the center of the clearing. The last time that he had seen that car he had sworn that it wouldn’t hold together for another week, yet here it sat looking just as it had 7 years ago, right before he had been taken in to stand trial.

     Brice pulled up next to the ’55 and parked, getting out and stretching the road-weary muscles in his back and legs. The lightweight racing seats in the Charger were fine for ¼ mile blasts but left a bit to be desired for long hauls. He glanced inside the window of the ’55 and just had to laugh. The stereo was still hanging there below the dashboard, held up by several pieces of baling wire just as it had been when he had left. He looked up and down at the car, and still swore that if you took off all of the wire and duct tape and cardboard, there would only be four tires left standing there.

     “Hey, you wanna buy dat ting, or just admirin’ it!” Brice swiveled around at the shout from the door of the house. A wide grin broke over his face as he saw his bud standing there in the doorway with two frosty bottles of beer in his hands. Chief hadn’t changed a bit in seven years, he swore. The old bastard could have been frozen in a time capsule for all he could tell.

    “I see that some things will never change, pard!” He reached out to take a beer from Chief, who quickly drew it back.

    “You know better than that, gringo, go get your own! These are mine!” Chief’s face split with a smile as he motioned Brice in towards a fridge that sat just inside the door in the mudroom. No food was allowed in that one, only beer and only one kind as well. Chief brewed his own beer, had always said that no one else knew how a beer should taste. This was his own private stock in there, and a more potent brew you would never find. Its one redeeming quality was that you could get drunk on it, as long as you didn’t mind the taste!

     Brice came back out into the shade, tipped the bottle up and gulped down about half of the bottle of beer. He set it down on the tree stump that stood there, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, and let out a resounding belch. He then wrinkled up his nose and shuddered as the taste finally registered. He swallowed a few times, then looked over at Chief. “I see you are still makin’ this stuff out of goat droppings and lye soap, Chief!”

     Chief’s eyes sparkled over the top of the beer bottle as he looked at his friend. “Yup,” he said. “And this is the good year, too!” He laughed and tipped his up and drained it. He set the bottle inside the door and set off towards the big barn that stood out back behind the house.

     Brice followed along, catching up and walking alongside as they made their way through a maze of old farm implements, antique gas pumps and a host of items that Brice couldn’t identify. “When are you going to junk this stuff, Chief?” he asked.

    Chief stopped and turned towards Brice. “I can’t get rid of this stuff, you know that as soon as I do I will more than likely need it!” Brice reached down and took a hold of a chunk of what appeared to have been a short section of angle iron, now so rusted that it bent easily between his hands. He laughed, and tossed it to the side. Chief picked it up and set it back where it had been. “I ain’t gonna be able to find it when I need it, if you keep movin’ stuff around!”

     Brice had to laugh at his old friend’s actions, but knew that the man knew exactly where each and every piece of material was supposed to be in his backyard. He had a photographic memory for things like that; quick to spot anything that had changed from the norm.

     They turned back towards the old barn now, each of them taking a hold of the large sliding doors and slowly opening them. Inside, Brice saw some sort of vehicle covered by a large canvas tarp. Chief crossed the floor to it and began to roll the tarp back. Brice watched as the front end of a 1976 Chevy 4x4 emerged from beneath the tarp. His grin got wider and wider as his eyes noticed things here and there that one wouldn’t see on a normal farm truck. It was taller, having at least a six inch suspension lift in it and it looked like a two or three inch body lift for tire clearance as well.

     He walked over closer to it, and began a walk-around as Chief set the rolled up tarp in the corner. Brice leaned down and looked at the tires, then glanced over at Chief, who smiled back at him. “CTIS.” He told Brice “Central tire inflation system, off of an Army HUMVEE that I got from an auction. Four settings here.” He opened the door of the cab and showed Brice the control panel on the left side of the dash.   “Pavement, off-road, mud, and emergency. You can air up and down on the fly, and if you go too fast for the conditions, it automatically inflates to the next level. Emergency is only good for about five miles at five miles per hour normally, but these are no ordinary tires.”

     Brice knelt down and looked closer at the tires on the rig. “Oh man, beadlock rims?” Chief nodded at him. “Anything else?”

    “Run-flats.” Chief told him. “Has a special support inside so that you can keep on driving even after the tire goes down, if it even can with the CTIS system pumping it up.”

     “What will they think of next?” Brice asked, shaking his head. Chief just gave him that ornery grin that he knew so well. “OK, I know you want to spill it, so go ahead.” Chief just motioned him towards the cab of the modified 4x4. Brice stepped up onto the sidebars that stuck out from the frame of the truck and slid into the seat.

  It felt like he had climbed into the pilot’s seat of a stealth fighter. Gone were the factory gauges and controls. In their places sat state-of-the-art digital readouts of basically every function of the vehicle. Air pressures, oil pressure, speedometer and tachometer, battery condition, you name it, there was a readout for it before him. He had to chuckle as he saw one that was labeled “turbo boost”, with another one that read “NOS pressure”.

     “Are these what they say, Chief?” he asked.

     “Yup!” Chief smiled and winked.  


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