Bobby Z saw the traffic light change to yellow and smiled. There was no way he was stopping. He shifted gears and stomped on the gas pedal.
The Ford Mustang quickly responded to his actions and sped through the intersection
Bobby laughed as the wind whipped through the open window. He reached over, turned up the volume on the radio, and was rewarded by Sammy Hagar loudly proclaiming the inability to drive under the speed limit.
He thought of what his friends would think of his music selection. Black men weren’t supposed to listen to white music, but Bobby didn’t care. Rap was fine for when you were cruising through the hood, checking out the honeys, but not for when you were really driving. Only rock would work for that.
A flashing light caught Bobby’s attention, and he checked the mirror. Two police cars were behind him in full pursuit.
He laughed as he shifted the muscle car into its highest gear and pressed the gas all the way to the floor.
The Mustang jumped ahead, accelerating to its top speed. When Bobby again looked in the mirror, he was rewarded with the sight of the police cars fading into the distance.
No one would ever catch him!
“Bobby!” said a voice from the radio.
He looked at the radio in confusion. What was going on?
“Bobby! Wake up, man!”
He opened his eyes and looked around in confusion. As his eyes cleared he could see the interior of his primitive hut.
A black man stood at the foot of his cot. “Bobby, man, wake up! We got work detail!”
Bobby threw his arm over his eyes. “Leave me alone, Leroy!”
Leroy laughed. “No can do, Bobby. You know the boss man gave you the turkey pens today. If you don’t show up you get the shit detail.”
Bobby groaned. It wasn’t just an expression. The shit detail was just that, shoveling human feces from the outhouses so it could be processed into fertilizer. It was bad enough to get the duty on regular rotation. He sure wasn’t going to do anything to get more of it. “Okay, okay, I’m coming.”
He swung his feet to the floor and sat up on the cot. “Anything’s better than that!”
Bobby stood and stretched the tired muscles of his back. He wondered if he would ever get used to the intense manual labor required here in the early Cretaceous. He had been in pretty good shape, but nothing had prepared him for what he now did every day.
He looked down at the fence he had just finished repairing and nodded in satisfaction. Good and solid, it should hold in the turkey lizards for a while. Ever since the locusts attacked the Cherokee village of Saluka, and they discovered the lizards ate the insects, all the towns kept flocks of the lizards penned up near the crops, ready to go on locust-eating duty.
One of the creatures was circling the rails, looking for a hole big enough to squeeze through.
Bobby smiled when he recognized the spot pattern on the lizard’s hide. “Yeah, go ahead, you little shit. You break out one more time and I will personally make a meal out of you.”
Wiping the sweat from his forehead, he looked up at the sky. The hot sun was high overhead and he estimated it must be about time for mid-day break. Because they were in an almost perpetual tropical environment, only emergency labor was performed during the hottest couple of hours. “Hey, Leroy, ain’t it about break time?”
His partner looked up at him and nodded. “Yeah, think so. Let’s see what they cooked up today.”
“Probably cold sliced turkey lizard on pine nut bread, just like yesterday.”
Leroy laughed. “Yeah, you right, with those weeds they call salad.”
“You know, I’d kill for just one small bag of Cheetos.”
“You and me both, man, or an orange soda.”
Both men laughed as they dreamed up the ultimate menu of junk food they would never again have the pleasure of eating.
Bobby leaned against the wall of the hut, trying to take advantage of the shade. He took a bite of his sandwich and grimaced. He had been right, cold turkey sandwiches again.
Leroy laughed beside him. “I saw that. Don’t let the cook see you don’t like his fine gourmet cuisine.”
“Yeah, right, gourmet, it doesn’t even have any mustard on it.”
“Ain’t gonna happen, man. I heard that ‘less somebody find some wild mustard come through time with us, we ain’t never gonna see mustard again. An’ even if they do, it sure ain’t gonna be no Grey Poupon!”
Bobby laughed. “I don’t need any fancy stuff. A little plain yellow mustard would be good.”
Leroy chuckled and nodded in agreement. “So, how’s it feel to be a free man, now you got your release from parole?”
“I can’t say I’ve noticed it being a whole lot different from parole, since all it means is I get to come back and do the same jobs I’ve been doing since I got paroled to this so-called town.”
“Well, least you ain’t banned from Schulerville or Saluka no more. Hardened criminals like me still be stuck here in Boom Town, ‘less I want to go hook up with Bostic’s group.”
“You’re not exactly a hardened criminal, Leroy. They only charged you with the one robbery.”
“One is enough when two people are killed, man. Even if I didn’t pull the trigger, I was still part of the group that killed ‘em. Accessory to murder was the official charge. That with the armed robbery got me sent to Alexander. It’s gonna be a while longer before I get released.”
Bobby chuckled and looked at his friend. “What’s the matter, Leroy, you don’t like the local native girls?”
Leroy laughed along with him. “Well now, there ain’t nothing wrong with the native girls. But what I would really like is to get me some fine Afro-American boo-tay!” He emphasized the sentiment by gripping the air in front of him as if he were squeezing a woman’s derriere.
Bobby shook his head in resignation, but laughed anyway. “Ain’t gonna happen, Leroy, unless one of the guards takes a liking to you.”
“Stranger things happen, man. Cook got himself a bootylicious little piece.”
“Yeah, but he ain’t as ugly as you!” Bobby quipped and then ducked as his friend took a playful swing at him.
“I oughta kick your ass!” Leroy teased. “You ain’t got yourself no woman, either!”
Bobby chuckled. “Shut up and eat your sandwich, Leroy!”
The two men finished their meal and were relaxing in the shade when John Robertson, one of the work foremen, approached and sat down beside them. “Hey fellas, mind if I join ya?”
Leroy chuckled. “Why, John, you got some shit work for us?”
“Relax Leroy, it ain’t nothing that bad. I saw you guys were finished with the turkey pen. You want to help out with a job, or do I let them find something else for you?”
Bobby exhaled in surrender. “What’s the job?”
John smiled. “Don’t know. I was told there’s a special project, and they could use someone that knows about cars. You know about cars, right, Bobby?”
“What kind of project? I know a lot about driving, but not much more than the basics about how a car works.”
“I have no idea. They just said they needed somebody who knows about cars. ”
“This have something to do with the car they brought in from Schulerville, the one they locked up in the barn before anyone could get a good look at it?”
“Probably, but how the hell should I know? They don’t tell me anything. Look, you want the job or not? I’m sure there’s some other detail we could put you on if you’re not interested.”
Bobby winced at the subtle threat. “What do you think, Leroy?”
Leroy shrugged his shoulders. “Hey, we gotta do something. Anybody not sick gotta help out. If it ain’t this you know John’ll give us something a lot worse. Might as well.”
Bobby nodded. “Okay, we’re in.”
Bobby dropped the last of the plastic gallon milk jugs a little too casually, causing it to bounce across the floor of the hut.
“Careful!” warned Nate File. “We only have so many of those jugs, and if one breaks we can’t replace it.”
“You really think you can make a car engine run off this stuff?” Bobby asked as Nate started filling one of the jugs from his still.
“Well, it ain’t as high quality as the ethanol I used to make. We just aren’t producing enough corn yet for that. But, for something made out of scrub cactus, I think it’ll work okay.”
“Wait a minute!” Leroy interrupted. “You tellin’ me you gonna use our Cactus Kool-aid to try and run an engine?”
Nate laughed. “Don’t worry, Leroy, we can always make some more. There’s plenty a cactus out there. But if we can come up with reliable fuel, imagine what we could do with a working engine.”
“Ain’t no good roads, how you gonna drive a car?”
“Well, they are slowly improving the track to Schulerville with gravel, but I don’t think he’s talking about driving, Leroy,” Bobby said.
“That’s right,” Nate confirmed. “With an engine we could pump water better or hook it up to a crane, stuff like that.”
“So, we’re going to try the fuel you’re making in the car that got brought over from Schulerville?” Bobby asked.
Nate nodded. “And if it works, I’ll help them set up their own still. Uh, I mean alternative fuel distillery.”
“Spoken like a true moonshiner,” Bobby joked.
“That’s alternative fuel producer,” Nate corrected, laughing.
“What kind of car did they bring over anyway?”
“It belonged to one of the guards that was shot when they took back the prison. You want to see it?”
“You ever drive one of these?” Leroy asked.
“Yeah, once. I always wanted to buy one, but never had the money. Nate, are they seriously going to tear up a car like this just for the engine?”
Nate nodded. “Yeah, but what else are they going to do with it? There ain’t no highways anymore.”
Bobby shook his head sadly. “It just ain’t right. A car like this was meant to be driven.”
“Sorry, Bobby. You know as well as I do, there ain’t no time for joyriding. This car’s been named a piece of work equipment.” He turned to the other man at the back of the car. “How’s it going, Leroy?”
Leroy tipped up the jug as the last drops of the cactus fuel were poured into the car’s gas tank. “That’s it!”
Nate turned back to Bobby. “What do you say? You want the honors? The keys are in the ignition.”
Bobby hurried to the driver’s door and opened it. “You don’t have to ask me twice, Nate.” He slid into the seat and paused as he enjoyed the sensation of being behind the wheel of a car again, his hands caressing the steering wheel.
Nate laughed. “Are you going to start it up or have sex with it?”
Bobby shot him a dirty look but reached for the key. As he turned it, the car roared to life. Leaning his head back against the headrest, he closed his eyes and enjoyed the vibration of the car. “Oh, man. It’s been too long.”
“You two want to be alone?” Nate joked.
Bobby didn’t even bother opening his eyes. “Very funny.”
“Everything feel okay?”
Bobby opened his eyes before answering. “Yeah, it feels pretty good. It started right up.”
“No more than could be expected for a car that hasn’t been run much for several months.”
“Good, now let it run for a while so we know it’s running on the new fuel and not just gas that was left in the line.”
As the car was running, they opened the hood to listen to the engine better and after several minutes, since no problems were found, shut it off.
“Well, it looks like the test was a success,” said Nate. “I guess we tell them we can pull the engine tomorrow.”
Bobby reluctantly got out of the car and closed the door, his hand lingering more than a moment on the smooth metal.
Bobby stared up at the ceiling of his hut. He hadn’t slept all night. Thoughts of the Mustang kept running through his head.
It just wasn’t right. He had wanted a car like that his whole life, and now they were going to tear one up right in front of him. Heck, they expected him to help.
He rolled out of his cot and quickly got dressed. Maybe a short walk would help him get to sleep. Not that he would get much sleep anyway; it was almost dawn.
After walking for a bit, he looked up and saw the wall of the barn ahead. Funny, it was almost like his feet were subconsciously leading him here.
What the hell, he thought and pushed open the big door. The early dawn light spilled into the building and glistened on the hood of the Mustang.
He slowly walked around the car, letting his hand caress the metal. When he reached the driver’s side, he opened the door and slid into the seat. He gripped the steering wheel in both hands, just enjoying the sensation.
He wanted to drive this car so badly. Closing his eyes, he tried to remember the feeling he got when he raced down a stretch of highway. Man, he missed that feeling.
He opened his eyes and saw Leroy stagger into the barn, rubbing his eyes.
“Hey Bobby, I saw you were up already. What’s up?”
Bobby didn’t answer as he stared out the open door. Then he reached down and turned the key in the ignition. The engine fired up immediately.
“Bobby, what you doin’, man?”
“I’m going for a drive, Leroy.”
“Bobby, think man! They comin’ to take the engine out today.”
Bobby gripped the steering wheel tightly with his left hand, while putting his right on the gear shift. “Then I don’t have much time, Leroy. Let me know when they have the main gate open.”
“What you talkin’ about, Bobby?”
“The main gate, Leroy, is it open?”
Leroy looked out the door. “Yeah, man, they just opened it. But you can’t . . .”
Bobby didn’t wait for Leroy to finish. Instead, he shifted into first gear and stepped on the gas. The car’s tires spun slightly before gripping the packed dirt of the barn, and then the car shot through the door.
He steered the Mustang onto the path that led to the main gate and shifted into second. The gate guards dove out of the way of the speeding car as it leapt through the opening.
He managed to get the car up to thirty miles per hour before the ride became too rough from the primitive road, but Bobby didn’t care. He was driving again and going faster than he had in years.
The wind coming through the open windows was already warm and humid from the environment, but it was blowing fast, and it felt so good.
All the ruts in the road kept him from increasing his speed, but they also added to the excitement he felt. It was almost like the one time he had visited his mom’s relatives out in the country, and they had taken him off-roading in their four-wheel drive truck.
He had driven for almost a half hour when his revelry was cut short. An extra deep rut caused the Mustang to bounce extra hard, and the car became airborne. When it landed, the wheels on the driver’s side struck an unexpected mound and the car tipped up on the passenger side wheels.
Bobby gripped the steering wheel and took his foot off the accelerator. “Easy, baby,” he gasped as he attempted to coax the car back to all four wheels.
The car swerved along on two wheels for a few feet until another small mound knocked the car back, and it slammed down hard onto all four wheels.
Bobby sat breathing heavily as he tried to calm his nerves. Nothing like that had ever happened to him before, and he knew he was lucky the car hadn’t flipped over. And he wasn’t even wearing his seat belt.
He reached down and turned off the engine, knowing he needed to check out the car before continuing.
Opening the door, he slid out and began to walk around the Mustang. After what it had just been through, it really didn’t look that bad, just a few scratches and some dirt streaks. However, something must have hit the passenger side mirror while the car was up on two wheels, because it was dangling loose, only attached by the control wires. Of course, the real damage, if any, would be under the car.
It was just as he was starting to get down on the ground to check under the car when he heard the woman’s scream. He stood up and looked around, trying to find the source.
Then he spotted them, a native woman followed closely by a man, each of them clutching a small child as they ran, the man frantically watching behind them.
“Oh, shit!” Bobby gasped as he noticed the tall grass bending near the couple on both sides. Something was chasing them.
Bobby began waving frantically. “Over here!” he called, trying to get their attention and direct them to the car, the only visible shelter in the area.
It was apparent the couple was more afraid of whatever was chasing them than they were of him, because they aimed directly for him and the car.
When the couple reached the car, they were obviously hesitant to get in, so Bobby shoved the woman’s head down and pushed her into the back seat. Bobby glanced back as the man handed the child he carried in to the woman.
Bursting onto the road were two velociraptors, straight out of Jurassic Park. Moving grass in the area told him there were even more that he couldn’t see yet.
“Crap! Crap! Crap!” he swore as he struggled to push the man into the car, none too gently.
He got the man into the car and jumped in behind him, pulling the door shut.
Looking out, he could clearly see the raptor speeding straight for him. “Oh shit, windows!”
He flipped the key so he had power and pressed the switch for both windows to close. They seemed to rise painfully slow. “Come on, come on, come on!” he chanted.
Just as his window finished closing, the lizard smashed into the side of the car. The creature’s teeth scraped against the metal and glass. Swallowing his fear as he leaned away from the window, Bobby deliberately reached down and pressed the button to lock the doors.
A second raptor pounced onto the hood of the Mustang and began trying to tear at the roof. Thank God it’s not a convertible, he thought.
Two more raptors were now around the car, scratching at the metal.
Not knowing what else to do, Bobby pressed down on the horn. The loud wail seemed to startle the raptors slightly as they stopped trying to get into the vehicle. But their prey was inside, and they quickly resumed their attempts.
Bobby reached down and grabbed the key in the ignition. “Okay, baby, I hope you’re still in good enough shape for this!” He turned the key and the engine roared to life.
“Thank God!” He looked over at the man, who was obviously terrified of the loud noises. He knew the man wouldn’t understand, but tried to calm him anyway. “Hang on, buddy. I’m going to try to get us out of this.”
He shifted the car into gear and stomped on the gas. The rear tires spun on the dirt road before catching, and the car jumped forward. The raptor on the hood wasn’t prepared for this sudden movement of its prey, and it slid off the side.
Knowing he had to get back to the safety of Boom Town, he turned the wheel sharply, and the car spun around to face the direction of the town.
Ahead on the road the raptors were regrouping and apparently didn’t want their prey to escape. Unfortunately, they were directly in their path.
He glanced over to the man and tried to calm him. “It’s okay, buddy, we’re going to get out of this.” The words obviously were not understood, as the man still looked completely terrified.
Now the raptors were coming straight for them. Bobby knew better than to hit creatures this size head on, so he swerved slightly, hitting one of them with a glancing blow. Even that was enough of an impact to cause the car to slide to the side.
He straightened the car and pressed down on the gas, causing the car to accelerate.
The raptors, although fast, were not fast enough to catch the car, even though Bobby couldn’t get the speed much past thirty and keep the car under control.
When he approached the town, he slowed, but kept moving. The guards jumped out of his path as the car zipped through the gate, and Bobby jammed on the brakes. The car slid sideways as it came to a stop.
Bobby threw open the car door and called out to the guards. “Raptors! Close the gates!”
The guards rushed to comply and the gates swung shut.
Bobby looked at the people in his car and saw how terrified they still were. “It’s okay, we’re safe here.” But, when he looked out and saw who was approaching, he knew he was in trouble.
Bobby sat on the simple bench outside the large hut where the hearings and trials were held, awaiting his sentencing. A single guard, Jason Lloyd from Schulerville, sat with him.
Lloyd looked over at him and smiled, shaking his head slightly. “Did you at least have fun?”
“You mean other than almost killing myself by driving too fast and then almost getting eaten by raptors?”
“Yeah, other than those things.”
Bobby chuckled a little. “Yeah, other than that it was pretty fun.”
Randy Lynch, another guard from Schulerville, opened the door and looked out. “Robert Zimmerman, they’re ready for you.”
Bobby exhaled and rose from the bench. Nobody ever called him Zimmerman except in these official hearings. He hadn’t used the name since he was about ten unless he was signing something. And nobody but his mother and her family had ever called him Robert.
He walked through the door and entered the hut. The interior was simply one large room where a large table had been set up for the parole board. A single chair had been placed in front of the table where the parolee had to sit and face those seated on the other side of the table.
He looked back and saw that both Lloyd and Lynch had taken up guard posts next to the door. He turned back to the table and saw that he had pulled one of the top dogs of Schulerville, Rod Hulbert, for his hearing.
Rod gestured to the chair. “Have a seat, Bobby.”
Bobby sat. “How did I happen to pull you for this hearing, Rod? Are you slumming?”
Rod chuckled. “No, I like to keep in the rotation. It was pure coincidence. However, I am glad I got this one. Why did you do it, Bobby? You just got off parole.”
“I don’t know, Rod. I just couldn’t let them tear the engine out of a car that pretty without driving it one last time.”
“Old habits die hard, huh? How many times does that make now, five or six?”
Bobby laughed. “Six, that they caught me.”
Rod laughed as well. “If they didn’t catch you, it doesn’t count, right?”
“Something like that.”
“Well, I’ll be honest. Grand theft auto was something I never thought we’d be dealing with anymore.”
Bobby only smiled in reply.
“Anyway,” Rod continued. “We don’t really have any precedent for this in our current situation. What I would probably do is charge you with grand theft and punish you accordingly. It is rather apparent that you’re guilty.”
“I didn’t steal it. I only borrowed it for a while.”
Rod laughed again. “Yeah, and you know that argument didn’t fly back in the future either.”
Bobby simply shrugged his shoulders.
Rod kept going. “That would normally warrant a return to parole status for at least a year and hard labor as punishment. However, there are extenuating circumstances.”
“Like what? How about four human lives out there in the town, two of them children, who are now being housed and fed, instead of winding up as lunch for a pack of dinosaurs.”
“I couldn’t leave them out there.”
“No, you couldn’t, and that speaks to your character. Plus, you saved them at some risk to your own life.”
“So, what does that mean for me? Am I off the hook?”
Rod chuckled and shook his head. “Not hardly, we can’t just let you off. There has to be some punishment.”
“Okay, what will it be? Am I back on parole?”
“No, but you are restricted to Boom Town for one month. Plus, you are sentenced to hard labor for that period as well.”
Rod smiled. “Well, one of the work foreman, John Robertson, has made a suggestion. He says there is a rather dirty detail for which he never seems to get any volunteers.”