Ascot didn’t like being the get-away driver at the best of times. Caldina leaping into the passenger seat yelling ‘Go!’ They’re on my heels!” was not the best of times. Especially when the three (three!) police cars following them proved very persistent, ignoring all jurisdiction boundaries and just keeping on coming. Each time Ascot thought he’d lost them, there they were again, blue lights blazing on the horizon.
“Come on, put your foot down!” Caldina hissed, twisting in her seat to stare out the dusty back window. “We need to ditch this car, get another.”
“What did you do?” Ascot wailed at her, pushing the cranky old family car faster than it really wanted to go, especially in this heat. “You were only meant to be winning some money to tide us over for a while, poker’s not even illegal here!”
“Poker’s not illegal most places,” she retorted, “just betting on it - I don’t know, okay! A guy at the next table started having a heart attack or something and fell into me, so of course my bag spilled open while I’m trying to catch the dude and remember how CPR goes. Next thing I know half the room’s yelling ‘thief!’ and the other half are yelling ‘murder!’ and I decided to get the heck out of dodge!” She paused. “Hope the dude’s okay. One of the security guys actually knew CPR so I figured he was better off with him.”
Ascot shot a glare sideways. “What did you have in your bag!”
She flopped back into her seat, waving a hand dramatically enough he could see it even while trying to keep both his eyes and the car on the road and out of the numerous potholes. “So some of the people in there were wearing some fancy bits of jewellery it didn’t look like they really needed. I may have lifted one or two. And a few watches. Needed to keep my hand in.”
Gritting his teeth, Ascot didn’t say anything to Caldina. He was the one who’d gone off and got them in so much trouble they’d skipped continent without any money or resources beyond what they had on them, and were meant to be laying low. He swerved around a cluster of holes at an unwise speed, over a set of train tracks, and slowed down as he pulled back into city streets. Not the city they’d started in, of course, and he’d no idea how they didn’t have a cluster of people waiting for them - shouldn’t their escort have called ahead? But luck was apparently on their side as he pulled into normal traffic and started looking for the kind of area where no one would notice them ‘borrowing’ another car too fast.
The luck didn’t last long. He pulled into a back alley between two warehouses, trying to get out the other side where signs had pointed to a residential neighbourhood that might work, when the car choked and coughed and came to a juddering halt. Steam - or possibly smoke - began to seep out of the edges of the hood, and he unbuckled and grabbed his bag in a rush, yelling “out!”.
Caldina grabbed her bag of betrayal, and the overnight bag she’d got on the back seat, and joined him in backing away watching the car nervously. “…Is it going to explode?” she asked.
“How should I know?” Ascot muttered back. “I’m not opening it to have a look!”
“I mean, if we can’t see any flames yet, it’s probably not on fire, right?” They looked at the car, which was smoking a little harder. “…Reckon it’ll start again in a few minutes?” Ascot’s incredulous look apparently said volumes. Caldina pulled a face at him and waved a hand about at the abandoned, graffited, run-down look of the place. “I don’t think this is where I want to hang out with no car and a couple hundred thousand dollars of diamond jewellery, that’s all.”
“Several- Caldina!” Ascot hissed, for approximately the seventieth time so far.
Whatever her next excuse would have been, it was cut off by a new voice startling both of them into spinning around to face the speaker. “Hi, looks like you’re having some car trouble?”
Caldina dropped her hand into her bag, and Ascot shifted far enough in front of her to help hide the motion, but the guy facing them was shortish, about Ascot’s age, hands where they could see them and alone. He was also holding a fire extinguisher in one hand and had a welding glove on the other.
“…Yes?” Caldina said, sounding dubious. “Why, are you planning to do something about it?”
“Well, I may have redirected your, uh, fans towards a couple of people who’ve been causing me a bit of trouble lately, so I figure I owe you one for bringing me a batch of police who don’t know better. I’ve got the radio tuned into them inside, if you want to have a listen. And I’ve got rid of all the camera footage I can delete of you coming into the city, so it’ll be a while until they start looking over here, but the smoke’s gonna draw attention if we don’t get it put out before your car really starts to burn. So, how about it?” He hefted the fire extinguisher and grinned. “I wasn’t expecting you to actually end up on my doorstep, but I guess fate happens. My name’s Zazu, by the way.”
“Ascot,” Ascot told him, unthinking in his confusion at this, and got himself elbowed by Caldina - but she had her hand out of her bag and was waving towards the car like she was granting a gift.
“Knock yourself out, kid. Mind if we take a peek inside at this radio of yours?”
“Go ahead,” Zazu told her, cheerful, before turning his back on them to head over and deal with the car.
It didn’t take him long to put it out - just long enough for Caldina and Ascot to have been stunned into silence by the technological magpie’s-nest that was tucked away inside the warehouse, including a couple of different police scanners and a tv turned on but muted which showed three police-cars which looked very much like their escort - given their insignia were all blatantly from the city they’d fled - now involved in a high-speed chase with a black sedan which was tearing out of town and endangering half the other road-users as it went. That was nothing next to the sprawling mass of the computers and tangled wires draped over two large welding desks, most of the screens locked but a couple monitoring cctv footage of several streets Ascot recognised from their journey in.
The guy walked back in behind them, and dropped the extinguisher down by the door. “It’s out. If one of you would give me a hand we can shove it in the building over the way, get it out of sight?”
“Why?” Ascot demanded, glancing between Zazu and Caldina, before being caught by the computers again. He knew enough to know that the cables and wires everywhere weren’t just for show. But why would a stranger have decided, from nowhere, to help them? Let alone one who happened to have the wherewithal to do so?
Zazu shrugged. “…I’ve got some friends who were impressed with the mess you made in Europe last month. I was on the look-out for a way to run a couple of people out of town so I could get myself out in a more leisurely manner, so when I heard the call coming in about a car headed our way, I did a bit of research - recognised you both from the footage by the casino doors. Figured I might as well help you and myself at once - I’m pretty good at pretending to be the police control-room, so I redirected your tail a bit. When you ended up right outside… well.” He grinned. “…I’m going to struggle to pack all this stuff up by myself. If you could give me a hand, I’ll give you a lift out of here?”
Ascot blinked, and turned to Caldina, who was watching all this with narrowed eyes. He was no good at reading people - that was Caldina’s job.
But when she slowly, slowly, smiled, he found himself relaxing like he’d wanted her to say yes.
“Okay, kid, maybe that’s nonsense enough I might actually believe it, but it’s not like we’ve got many choices right now. But cross either of us and you’ll regret it, understood?”
“Understood!” Zazu beamed. “Now, one question - what kind of take-away do you want?”
They left town the next day, in the opposite direction, in a nice air-conditioned car with plenty of space for Zazu’s boxes in the trunk. Ascot wasn’t even doing the driving.
Things were looking up.