From an objective point of view (that was to say: Al's), the car was a bucket of rust - and not in the sort of cool, playing it on the downlow sort of way like Han Solo and the Falcon. Possibly, this also had something to do with Dirk not exactly being of the smugglin' and saving the universe persuasion, but honestly, it was mostly the car.
"Will you look at that beauty?"
"Oh, I'm looking," Al said, thinking: 'please tell me you didn't pay six-hundred bucks for this thing'.
"They were asking seven-hundred, but I talked them down to six-hundred." Translation: its previous owners had almost been willing to pay someone to take the thing off their hands, but then along had come Dirk with the shiny eyes, and, well, that was all she wrote.
Also: this telepathy thing they seemed to be developing might come in real handy some day. "Huh."
"A bargain," Dirk said, and heck, if shelling out six-hundred bucks for a piece of junk put that big a smile on his face, who was Al to argue? Rudi's new computer had cost twice that, and Al still didn't really get what was so great about it.
He looked at the car some more. Open mind, Al. "Needs a bit of work, maybe."
"Don't you worry about a thing, baby," Dirk said, patting the car. Some more paint flaked off. "I'm going to get you all shiny and pretty again, good as new."
"All right, I'm going to leave now. Give the two of you some privacy."
The thing was, Al had never really gotten the car thing. He didn't get people who collected stamps or spent a lot of time playing videogames or who kept their comic book collection in special plastic sealed bags either, but that was all right, because those people weren't Dirk.
On the other hand, it probably wasn't as if Dirk got the whole looking at your best friend while he was half-naked and slightly sweaty and dirty thing Al had had going on for, say, forever, so Al guessed that more or less made them even.
"Enjoying the view?"
Oh yeah. "Don't flatter yourself, Baby D."
Dirk flashed him a grin. "Wait till I pop the hood. There might be a bit of rust on the outside, but on the inside, this is one classy lady. Two, three weeks, you and me, nice open stretch of road."
"That's assuming I don't die of boredom first."
"You won't," Dirk said, all cocky confidence.
Not if you keep bending over like that, I guess I won't. Might die of something else, though. "Two, three weeks, huh? You think Sandecker's going to keep us on the bench that long?"
Dirk shrugged. "If he doesn't, so what? She's not going anywhere. Yet."
"No, I guess she isn't."
So of course they got a call that same day, for a nice little trip to the Sudan.
The Sudan was dry when you got away from the water (which, all right, fair enough), hot whether or not you got away from the airco (which was in sore need of fixing, anyway) and blessedly empty of people trying to kill them when you stayed away from people in general.
Same as usual, more or less, and they didn't blow anything up this time, or lost any equipment, or found anything really valuable, which sucked, even if it was the way it usually went.
You got your Titanics and your King Bateen's and your ancient Inca gold every once in a while, but most of the time, it was just Dirk and Al and Rudi with his computers and the Admiral with his cigars, and that worked just fine for Al, thank you.
It didn't take more than one time of thinking your best friend had just gotten killed to make you appreciate the quieter times in life.
In the end, it was close to four months before it was Dirk, Al, the car and a nice, empty stretch of road.
Or, well, it would have been, except that there was a drive-in cinema where they were showing Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and Dirk had proposed they'd go there instead, and Al had figured why not? There were worse movies to watch.
"Just so you know, I'm not the kind of girl who puts out on a first date," Dirk said.
They'd gotten one popcorn, extra large, which Dirk was hogging for the moment. "Not usually."
"Well, yes," Dirk said. "And anyway, this is - what? Number hundred-and-ten?"
"I guess we're just taking it slow." Al wasn't sure if they were still just joking around as usual, but he was pretty sure that if anyone was going to be making any first moves, it wasn't going to be him.
Dirk ate some more popcorn. "Taking it slow, huh? That does sound like something we'd do."
"Sure. We take things slow all the time."
"You want some of this popcorn?"
"You really want to keep taking it slow?"
"Damn," Dirk said, what might be two minutes or two hours later, but what was probably something somewhere in between. "We missed all the good parts."
"I'm not sure I'd say that." There'd been some pretty good parts right here, Al felt, and they'd both already seen the movie, anyway. On the other hand: "I guess we'll have to come back here again for the next showing, huh?"
"Nothing else we can do," Dirk agreed. "I mean, things were looking pretty bad for Indy back there. Might come in handy one day to know how he got out of it."
"Yeah, and he never seems to lose his hat either, did you notice?"
"Ships sink, cars rust, and a picture probably isn't going to last forever either," Dirk said, closing the photo album with a snap.
Al wondered how long it would be until one of Dirk's contacts would turn up another 'bargain'. "I suppose at least it takes up less space than the real thing. I'd kind of have thought that one would be a keeper, though."
"Well, apparently someone up in New York is selling this old car that used to belong to his granddad."