For disclaimers, see chapter 1.
Adventures in the Dust Trade, Part 3
The young man took a deep breath of fresh air and slowly stretched his body. He smiled as he looked out at the raising sun, feeling very happy with all the work he had done for the past month. It was the first rally he fully organized and if he was truthful, he was damn proud of himself. Many of the drivers and navigators had already arrived at the starting point and he looked at each and every one of them as he shoved both hands into his pant pockets.
Most faces he already knew, having raced with most of them at one point or another. Others he guessed were the participants that made up the stuntmen team. Dean Thompson sighed softly when he couldn't find the person he was looking for. For the past month, he had done a lot of research concerning Kristina Von Deering and after all he had learned, he was looking forward to finally meeting her.
In a way, it was because of her that their unofficial competition was still scheduled. If it wasn't for the American stunt technician and his bragging that Kris was better than the drivers were, thus the reason for the challenge, the long distance rally would have been canceled for lack of participation. Even though the race was being held one week after the official World Rally Association event in Perth and that all of the usual participants' cars were already on site, many of the drivers had decided against going through another grueling event. Only half of the original teams had stayed in Australia to get ready for the 7000 kms rally while the others left the continent to go home.
With the challenge given and accepted by the stuntmen, the yearly event was alive once again and scheduled with a total of ten teams. 'But what an odd race this will make,' Dean thought as he waved back to a couple of friends walking by. 'Five teams of professional rally drivers, with powerful racing cars. I kinda feel sorry for the stuntmen. I wonder what they found to drive.'
A strong smell of coffee suddenly reached his nose and the blond man turned to see his friend handing him a cup. "Thanks," the Australian smiled and took the offering. "Another half hour and we'll get the show on the road. Hopefully, everybody'll be here before 6am."
The taller man standing next to him nodded as he took a sip of coffee. "There're six cars left to arrive. Four of them belonging to the stunt team. Think they changed their minds about the challenge?"
"Don't think so, Scott," the blond replied. "Last time I talked to Greg on the phone, he said they were all excited by the idea. They'll be here." Dean looked sideways to see a silver and black Lancia Integrale drive past the few assembled drivers and navigators then park not too far away. "Damn! Guess they made it after all."
"Who?" Scott asked and saw what his navigator was pointing to. "Oh, trouble ahead," he mumbled. "But I thought they couldn't make it this year?"
"Looks like they changed their minds." Dean sighed and brushed his hand through his short blond hair. "I think I'd better talk to everybody individually and tell them not to let the stupidities they'll do bother them."
The driver watched as the Italian team stepped out of the car and walked to the registration table. "I wonder why the rest of the guys keep inviting them every year. Aren't they fed up of all their complaining and rude behavior?"
"Guess not," Dean answered. "Even though I hate to admit it, they're one of the best rally teams we've got. They did win the race last week." He finished the rest of his coffee and threw the empty cup in a wastebasket. "I see more cars coming. Maybe they're our missing competitors. Come on. Let's welcome them and get this thing started." Both men made their way to the parking lot where the rally cars and drivers waited impatiently. Sounds of laughter and ribbing could be heard as they walked through the crowd and they realized, with all the different accents, that this was slowly turning into an international event.
A blue and yellow Subaru Impreza drove into the area where the rally participants were waiting and headed toward the section reserved for the stunt team. The only people already there were a man and a woman with a Toyota Celica. The Impreza parked next to them and both occupants stepped out and greeted the other team.
"Bluey!" Dean yelled, getting the red haired man's attention. "Glad you made it."
Greg turned around and looked at his friend. "Hey, morning," he smiled as he shook the blond's hand and nodded to the taller man standing next to him. "Hi."
"Oh, sorry! This is my teammate, Scott Buchanan. Where are the others?" Dean asked the American and blinked when he saw a man walking around the Subaru to join them. He was tall with broad shoulders and as he took his light jacket off, the T-shirt he wore clearly defined the incredibly muscled chest and arms. His short dark hair had a slight touch of grey but what was most impressive were the deep blue eyes looking back at him. 'Where the hell have I seen this man before?!'
Greg pointed his thumb behind him. "They'll be here soon. Getting used to shifting gears with the left hand. That's why he'll be driving most of the time," he said as he indicated the silent man standing next to him. "He's used to it."
"Hmm, sorry if I've been staring," Dean apologized to the man, "But you look damn familiar and I know we haven't met."
Ludwig smiled and held his hand out. "Maybe it was my sister you saw. I'm Ludwig "
"Von Deering," he quickly said as his features registered in his mind then shook his hand. "Kristina's brother. I've only seen pictures of her but you both look alike. It's nice meeting you."
"That's what everybody says."
"But Greg, I thought you were doing the rally with your friend, Kyle. He's not coming?" Dean asked.
"Oh yeah," the redhead chuckled. "But he's been matched with a friend of Kris', a stuntwoman named Shannon Brennan."
Scott groaned and shook his head. "Now we're really in trouble. Remember what she did to her husband at the New Zealand rally two years ago?"
"Heh," Dean grinned as he remembered the results of the brunette's special sense of humor or in that case, her sense of revenge. "If he hadn't cheated on her, she wouldn't have hooked the car and lifted it thirty feet off the ground." He could still see Randy's face as saw his car dangling in the air, attached to a crane in front of the motel where all the drivers were staying. It was also where Shannon had found her husband in bed with another woman. "What a scene that caused."
The men looked on as three more cars arrived and joined the two that were parked. Scott elbowed his friend in the ribs and pointed to the stuntmen's vehicles. "And you were wondering where they would get their cars. They certainly didn't lease them at the airport."
"No, we didn't," Greg shook his head. "Thanks to Shannon and her brother."
"Hmm, that's weird. I thought she wanted to sell her husband's cars once the divorce was finalized," Dean said and shrugged. "Maybe she wants to do rallies now."
"Why would she sell them?" Ludwig asked.
"She needs the money."
"Shannon likes doing rallies," Scott explained. "But she never cared if she didn't have the most sophisticated cars for them. Her two beat up Ford Escorts were enough for her to have fun. Randy, on the other hand, only wanted to own the best."
"The cars her husband wanted were very expensive," Dean continued. "And he couldn't afford them, so Shannon helped. She nearly went bankrupt because he wouldn't pay her back. Now with him gone, she asked the court and got the two cars in exchange for the money he owed her."
"What a mess," Ludwig replied and waved at his sister as the small group approached them. "Hey guys. How did you like the driving?"
"Confusing," Kyle said.
"Interesting," Kris answered at the same time as her friend. "Nicole didn't even want to try," she chuckled and saw her partner with Shannon. From the brunette's hand gestures, it looked like she was getting frustrated, trying to no avail to get information out of Nicole. The blonde silently stood before her, arms crossed over her chest and a smirk on her face.
Ludwig saw what Kris was looking at and stepped closer to his sister. "What's up with them?"
"Boomer's trying to find out what we discussed with her parents and we're not ready to tell her what it is yet."
The stunt instructor frowned at her, unable to read her expression. "That thing you discussed, is it good or bad?"
Kris stared into space for a moment, trying to figure out how Shannon will react to the news. She then looked at her brother. "It's good, but it'll also give her a lot of work to do. I'm not too sure if she'll like that."
Ludwig saw the twinkle in his sibling's eye and smiled. "And when do you plan in telling her about this thing?"
"Soon I hope!" Nicole answered as she walked up to her partner. "I'm not sure how much more of her prodding I can take, Kris. She's very insistent."
"Come on," Shannon whined. "Tell me what it is!"
The tall woman briefly patted her exasperated partner's back before taking three steps in Shannon's direction, blocking the way to Nicole. "Now you listen to me, Boomer," Kris calmly started, her voice dropping down in warning. "Nicole and I are working on something but it's not finalized yet so you'll have to wait. Don't bug her for any info and don't even think of trying me for some."
"Boomer?" Dean repeated, highly amused and smirked at the woman.
Shannon pointed a finger at him. "Don't even think about it, Blondie," she growled then looked back at Kris. "But how long will I have to wait before "
Kris held a hand up for silence. "We'll let you know by the end of the rally."
"Shannon " the dark haired woman's voice rumbled, the tone causing her friend to shut up. "Oh, grow up, will ya!" Kris exclaimed at the small woman's pout and rested both fists on her hips. "I live with Nicole who's got a masters degree in pouting. I only cave in for her."
"It really works when you do it?" she asked Nicole who was biting her lip, trying not to laugh.
"Sometimes," she smiled and winked at her lover. "But I only do it when I really, really want something." Nicole watched as Shannon tried again, this time batting her eyelashes at her partner. "You're wasting your time," she laughed.
The Australian grunted at Kris then smiled sweetly at the blonde. "Well then, maybe you could "
Nicole poked her in the stomach. "Don't even think about it!"
"Come on, mates," Dean laughed and pointed to the registration table. "Let's get the paper work out of the way so we can start this rally and have fun." He looked at the small stuntwoman, "Boomer, huh?" he chuckled.
"I already warned you, Blondie," Shannon said and poked the taller man in the ribs. "Do not tease me. You make me upset, you know what I can do."
Nicole tugged on Kris' shirtsleeve to get her attention. "You never did say why she's nicknamed Boomer. Care to share the info?"
"It's another name for kangaroo," Scott helpfully supplied then trotted after the men.
Kris saw the confused look on Nicole's face and she sighed. "Well, she is from Australia, isn't she?" she saw her friend nod. "There're a lot of them here, right?" another nod. "Boomer seemed like a fun nickname to give her then."
"Is that your explanation?" Dean asked. "I thought it was because of the sound she makes when she's having sex," he quipped and ran like hell when Shannon let out an outraged scream and started after him, leaving behind Kris and Nicole as they laughed their heads off.
Kris sat quietly on a chair while she let her eyes scan the assembled group. A total of twenty participants sat in front of a table, waiting for the organizers to start the meeting. The rally drivers were on the other side of the small room, easily spotted by the racing suits they all wore. A flag was sewn on their shoulders, indicating their country of origin and Kris was surprised to see how diverse their team was.
Aside from Dean and his teammate who lived in Australia and another team from New Zealand, the others came as far as Finland, France and Italy. They all seemed like a fun bunch, Kris decided, watching them as they teased each other and made bets as to whom would win this year's rally. Only one team made her look twice and those were the drivers from Italy.
They seemed oblivious to what was going on around them, their attention focused in their direction only. Kris frowned as she realized whom the Italians were looking at and glanced down at Nicole who was sitting between her and her brother. The young blonde was talking with Ludwig, her hands wrapped around his muscled arm, teasing him about who would be the ones among the stunt team to arrive at their destination first.
The dark haired woman swallowed the urge to stand up and ask them if they had a problem, hating the undisguised lustful looks they were sending Nicole's way. A burst of laughter and a vulgar motion from the men were too much for Kris as she clamped her jaw tight and started to rise, determined to make them aim their attention elsewhere.
Seeing the angry look on her lover's face, Nicole gently rested her hand on the taller woman's arm, giving it a squeeze. "What's wrong?" she asked softly and looked in the direction Kris was staring in. The rally drivers had started taking their places as the organizers sat at the table. She spotted nothing unusual except for the two men looking her way.
They seemed nice, Nicole thought as they smiled at her. Both of them were of average height, not too muscular and had dark eyes. One had short hair and a goatee while the other had curly hair and sported a well-trimmed mustache. She saw one of them wink and heard a dangerous sounding growl coming from her lover.
"Kris? What " Nicole started to ask but stopped when one of the three rally organizers asked for silence. She slid her hand along her partner's arm then held the larger hand in hers, tugging on it gently to make Kris sit down again. "Are you okay?"
"I am," Kris replied, never taking her eyes off the Italian men. "But they won't if they keep staring at you this way."
Nicole bit her lip and tried not to smile. 'When did Kris become so jealous?' she asked herself then remembered her own reaction at the pub the night they met Shannon. "Oh!"
"Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention please?" the official asked and waited until everybody was sitting down again. "Thank you. My name is Steven Marshall and I'll be your liaison officer for the duration of the race. Any help you may need, I'm the person to contact. Before I get into details, I'll let this year's organizer, Dean Thompson talk for a while."
"Don't do this to us, Steven!" one of the Finnish rally drivers chuckled, "He won't shut up!"
Everybody laughed at the joke as the blond Australian stood up and walked to stand behind the table. "Last time you gave a speech, Teppo, half the room fell asleep," Dean grinned. "Okay, I won't bore you with the rules and regulations " he started and stopped when the drivers applauded. "But I do have to explain some of them since we have new participants this year, and before I go any further, I'd like to introduce everybody."
"Hey Dean," Shannon said sitting next to Kris, "Does this mean we won't have little smiley faces that says, hi, my name is "
"Only if you can't remember your own name Boomer," Scott quipped.
"Boomer?" a driver from New Zealand smiled at the blushing woman. "How did you end up with that nickname?"
"Dean didn't tell you?" Scott asked.
"Okay people, that's enough," the blond quickly said when he caught Shannon's expression. "Let's get this over with. On the rally drivers' team, we've got from New Zealand, Mario Thurston and Phil Lauder. From Finland and sitting in the corner over there are Teppo Gustafsson and Heikki Kankkunen. Stephane Leduc and Gilbert Marcel comes from France and finally from Italy, Tony Aghini and Roberto Panizzi."
"Of course," Steven added, "The last participants on the rally team, are from Australia and that's Scott Buchanan and the organizer of the Outback Rally, Dean Thompson."
Everybody applauded and Dean shuffled shyly at the attention. "Yeah, well, that's enough. I've got another team to introduce."
"You never did like to be in the spotlight, huh Dean?" Scott asked and laughed at the look his team partner was giving him.
"Whatever," he mumbled as he looked through his papers. "Okay. As all of you are aware, this year's rally is different from the others. There won't be a single car as winner but a team, either the rally drivers or the stuntmen. On their team, we have; from Australia, Claire and Eddie Ryan, Martin Wilson and Richard Brennan. Also from Oz we have Shannon Brennan and from the United States, Kyle Middleton. Another Yankee is my friend Greg Lowndes and his team partner, from Austria Ludwig Von Deering."
Dean put his papers on the table and smiled at the group. "And last but not least, a person I'm looking forward to know better " he started and stopped at the catcalls and whistles. "Oh can it!" he shot back to his teasing friends, "I meant that in a professional way." He looked at the woman in question and relaxed when he saw her laughing. "I'd like to introduce you to Kristina Von Deering and her partner, Nicole McGrail both ladies from Austria."
"What about Claire and I?" Shannon said, "You didn't call us ladies."
"You're trouble, that's what we call you," some of the rally drivers who knew the Australian stuntwoman replied in unison.
The brunette stuck her tongue out at the drivers and looked at Kris. "See what I've got to put up with?"
"And you think you're going to have an easier time with us?" the tall woman said as she crossed her arms over her chest and smiled when Shannon poked the tip of her tongue at her. "Don't stick that out unless you plan on using it, Boomer."
"Can we get back to business here?" Dean asked, "We've only got half an hour before we start the rally." He shuffled his papers again and picked up the one he was looking for. "Alright. You all received the rules and regulations concerning the race before you arrived and had plenty of time to go through them so I won't go over them here. However, I do have to stress that most of the rally is done on public roads. If you manage to get in trouble with the law over excess speed, you deal with it. The organizers are not responsible for that." He looked at the man standing next to him and nodded. "Your turn."
"Thanks Dean," Steven said. "Very quickly, we'll go over what to expect in the coming days. There will be a total of ten stages where hotel reservations have been made in your name, the last one being in Brisbane. Only at the specified stages will you have access to equipment for any repairs. In between them, you're on your own with what you've got in your toolbox. Each team has been instructed to have a two-way radio installed in the car and have plenty of emergency supplies. A helicopter will be in service for any major problem."
The official took his time looking at each and every participant, making sure that they understood before continuing. "There will be a one minute difference between each cars at the starting line. When you arrive at the stages, have your time card stamped. You then have eight hours to eat, sleep, and make repairs on the car or whatever. You leave the stage exactly eight hours after the time you arrived and don't forget to have your card stamped again before you go."
Steven waited a beat to let the information sink in. "One word of advice. If you see a gas station, make sure to stop and fill your tank. They're nearly non-existent in some places and you'll be driving at night sometimes." Steven looked at a woman who was standing silently against the wall and waved her over. He waited until she was next to him before he looked over at the stunt team.
"I know this is your first experience with rallies, at least with the special ones the drivers do once a year," he said and saw some of the stuntpeople nod in agreement. "I guess you wonder what's so special about this rally, right?" He chuckled as more people nodded, even among the rally drivers. "Well, it's been the tradition for the past ten years that a game is played throughout the race. This year we're having a variation of a scavenger hunt."
"What kind of variation?" Tony, one of the Italian drivers, asked.
Steven grabbed the Polaroid camera on the table and lifted it for everybody to see. "Instead of hunting for items and bringing them back to the finish line, you'll have to take a picture of it with at least one member of your team in it."
Tony shook his head and growled. "That is a stupid game," he complained. "I am not a photographer, I am a race car driver," he proudly announced, getting an approving nod from his team partner, Roberto.
"You always complain, Tony," Phil, the New Zealander replied, "You know we always do something like this with the rally. Why do you bother to join us if you don't like it?" Agreements sounded throughout the room at the comment.
"Games are for children," Tony continued and looked in the direction of the stunt team, "And for women."
"What?!" Shannon barked as she stood up.
"You're kidding?" Claire, a special effect technician replied at the same time.
Nicole held her breath and hurriedly looked at Kris, who stayed silent, only her raised eyebrow showed that she had heard the comment. Blue eyes stayed fixed on the Italian team, her jaw muscles dancing lightly under the bronzed skin. 'One more like this and the guys will find out what kind of game Kris plays!'
"Okay people," Dean quickly said as he rose to his feet, "That's enough." He walked to the front of the room and looked at everybody. "We haven't forced you to participate Tony, and you can leave anytime you want. Nevertheless I have to say this, we're not racing on an individual level. A challenge was given this year, so it's the rally driver team against the stunt team. Each car that doesn't make it to the finish line causes their team to lose points."
"Also," Steven continued as he lifted the Polaroid again. "The cameras are loaded and contains ten pictures, which means ten items to find and photograph. You either miss one, get the wrong item or simply don't take any shots, more points will be deducted off the total team points." He looked at the woman standing beside him. "Gloria here has the cameras you'll be using. At every stage, you'll receive one clue for the item to photograph. It may be something you'll find at the following stage or much later. Read the clue carefully."
"I hate riddles too," Tony continued grumbling under his breath.
"That's about it," Dean said as he took the camera from Steven. "Don't forget to see Gloria and get one of these and then get your rally card ready. We'll be drawing for the order in which we'll start the rally. Any questions?" he asked and saw people shake their heads. "Good. Have a great race everybody and see you at stage 1."
Nicole slowly walked around their car, trailing her hand along the smooth curves of the vehicle. She was nervous, she admitted, but in a good way. It was exciting and terrifying at the same time. So many things could go wrong during the next six days. They could end up stranded somewhere in the Outback with a car that Kris couldn't fix, but at least, help was one call away with the radio. She remembered with a shiver another time where help had been days away with no food and one of them injured badly.
"Please God, let no one be hurt this time," she murmured softly and turned around when she sensed somebody behind her. "Hey, is everything " she stopped, surprised at seeing someone else than Kris. "Oh hi," Nicole smiled at the Italian driver.
"Hello," Tony said, making a big show of inspecting the young blonde from head to toe. "A beautiful lady such as you shouldn't be alone," he smiled as he stroked his well-trimmed mustache.
"Huh," Nicole hesitated and glanced at where Kris was standing, talking with her brother and Shannon. "I'm not alone, my partner's here. See the tall, dark hair, blue eyes one over there?"
Tony followed the small woman's indication and nodded. "Ah, you are with the Austrian, yes?"
"You know something, you could do better."
Nicole turned her attention back to the Italian and lifted one blonde eyebrow in perfect imitation of her lover, "Excuse me?!" She rested both fists on her hips and frowned, starting to get very annoyed at the way the man was looking at her. "You have some nerve telling me this. Who the hell are you to tell me who'd be better for me?" she asked and felt her anger rise at the condescending look on his face. "I guess no, wait, I know you're gonna tell me that you would be a better choice, right?"
"Of course," Tony replied naturally. "He looks like such a boring man, easily taken out of the way. I'm much more exciting, you'll see."
The Italian waved as his teammate called him and looked back at the confused looking woman. "We'll chat later tonight. Bring your lady friend with you, Roberto would love to meet her. Ciao!"
Nicole watched as the rally driver trotted towards his car and she shook her head. "What the hell was that about?" she asked herself, "He looks like a boring man?" she repeated then slapped her head. "Oh I bet anything he thinks " she let the thought trail when she saw her brother in law and Kris approach her. "Hi," she grinned and wrapped her small hands around Ludwig's arm. From the corner of her eyes, she could see the Italian driver watching her. She stood on tiptoes and placed a soft kiss on the man's cheek, getting confused looks from both him and her partner.
"Hum hi?" Ludwig looked at his sister and shrugged.
"I think I just got you in trouble." Nicole said as she gently patted his arm. "Somebody thinks that you're my partner and well, he wants you out of the way."
"What?" Both Kris and Ludwig replied at the same time.
"But I'm not she's wh " the tall Austrian stuttered.
"What are you talking about, Nick? Who said that?" Kris growled and looked around them. Her eyes traveled across the crowd and stopped on the two Italian drivers who were leaning against their car, looking their way. The one with the mustache winked while the other blew a kiss at them. "Argh, that's enough. I'll "
Nicole quickly reached for Kris' arm when the angry woman started walking towards the men. "Whoa Not now, honey listen. They want us to talk tonight? That's what we'll do," she explained with an evil grin. "Besides, the race is about to start." She slowly brushed her hand on her partner's back, trying to calm her somewhat. "I'm sure that once they find out you are my partner, they'll leave us alone."
"Or they'll try to convert you," Ludwig added but stepped back as his sister glared at him. "It's a thought!"
"There won't be any converting today or ever," Nicole replied as she stepped between the two siblings and looked at the Italian team who were entering their car. "I thought that type of macho attitude disappeared in the 70's," she added as she gently squeezed Kris' hand. "Besides, I'm extremely happy with who I'm with and nobody will make me change my mind."
Having calmed down under her lover's gentle touch, Kris finally nodded and took a deep breath, releasing it slowly. "Thanks," she smiled. "Be careful when they're around, okay? I heard a lot of things concerning them and I don't like it. They're trouble. I'll have a talk with them tonight."
"We'll both have a talk with them," Ludwig corrected as he rested his large hand on Nicole's shoulder. "I don't want anything happening to my favorite sister in law."
"Gee guys, thanks," the younger woman blushed and head butted her lover as she started to laugh. "Come on, let's get ready. I see the first cars started to leave already."
"Right," the tall man smiled, "See you tonight. Good luck."
Kris waved to her brother and watched in amusement as Nicole headed towards to wrong side of the car, her attention riveted on a small piece of paper. She waited until the younger woman opened the door and realized her mistake before moving.
"Left left passenger's on the left side," Nicole mumbled and cast a quick glance at Kris, hoping her friend hadn't noticed the little slip, no such chance. The tall woman stood there with a smirk on her face. "Don't say it!" she warned as she walked around the car to take her seat. "I'll probably get used to this right sided driving thing when we leave."
Kris shook her head with a laugh and settled herself comfortably in the driver's seat. "I told you once," she grinned, "If you want to drive, it's fine with me." She took a small leather band and proceeded to tie her long hair into a ponytail.
"No thanks," Nicole replied and looked down at the paper she was holding. "This is our first clue for the scavenger hunt. 'A surfer's dream, frozen in time.' What could be a surfer's dream?"
"A beautiful day? Good looking girls?" Kris replied teasingly and smiled when Nicole swatted her arm.
"Tsk! I think it's a wave, a big one! I was looking at maps when you were talking to Ludwig and Shannon," she said as she rummaged through the bag sitting between her feet and pulled a map out then opened it across the dashboard. "And then I remembered seeing something in a pamphlet in Perth about a particular tourist attraction."
"You still have the habit of reading every tourist material you can get, hmm?" Kris winked as she tightened the safety belts and started the motor. "Buckle up."
"Oh, yeah." She did as told then dove back into her bag to look for that particular item and gave a small victory chuckle. "Well, I think this habit of mine may have saved our butts. Look!" She held the pamphlet for Kris to see and pointed to a particular section. "Wave Rock."
"A granite wall that's been created by thousands of years of erosion," Kris read from the small booklet. "Sure looks like a wave about to break."
"And that wave's frozen in time, so to speak."
"I think we've got a winner, partner," blue eyes twinkled, "Where's that located? Hang on, we're moving up to the starting line."
"Ha " Nicole quickly went over the information, found the name of the place then grabbed her map. "It's located right about here," she circled the area in question. "Hyden."
Kris nodded and moved the car up one more time before putting her wrap around sunglasses on. "Okay, find me the best route to get there, navigator."
"Huh, yeah I " she looked up as the car in front of them left the starting line. "Time card " she pulled it out from the sun visor and held it ready to be stamped with the date and time then looked down at the map again. "Okay we've got to take this route first then this one," Nicole pointed on the map. I'll figure the rest out once we get going."
Kris smiled as she looked at her companion. "Are you ready for this?" she asked softly, "You look a little nervous."
Green eyes blinked at the sudden question. "This is a very bad time to ask me this, you know," Nicole replied.
"If you're not, we'll just "
"I'm fine, don't worry," she said and gave Kris' hand a quick squeeze. "I've never done anything like this, I was just thinking about what's waiting for us ahead."
"I want you to promise me something, okay?" She waited until her friend nodded before continuing. "Anytime you want out of this, let me know. This rally's supposed to be fun. It's no big deal if we don't finish."
Nicole smiled as a warm hand gently cupped her cheek and made her look into a pair of pale blue eyes. "I will, I promise." She reached for the hand, turning her head slightly and kissed it. "But I'll be okay. Let's do this and have some fun."
Kris gently tapped Nicole's nose and winked, "You got it." She watched as her navigator handed the time card to an official then put the car in gear once it was stamped, leaving the starting line in a cloud of dust.
The two men drove on in silence, watching the scenery as it went by. Dean sighed softly and looked at his friend who kept his attention on the road. "Are you upset they're here?" he asked.
Scott stayed silent for a while as he tried to find the best way to say what had been nagging him since the morning. He glanced at the navigator and shrugged. "It's your show, you're the one who organized this really," he said but knew that answer wouldn't satisfy the younger man. 'Of all people, why did he have to invite them?' he silently grumbled. "I'm not angry, Dean. I just feel like they're trouble. Every time they show up, something happens."
The blond nodded and looked down at the map neatly folded on his lap. "Damned if you do, damned if you don't."
"Why do you say that?"
Dean chewed his lip, "Remember the rally in Helsinki? Teppo didn't invite them and we all know the ruckus they caused because of that." He shook his head slightly, "They're here, we risk trouble, they're not, they raise hell later. I just hope their target won't be Kristina and Nicole. You know how Tony hates gays."
"He's damn stupid if he tries anything with Kris," Scott grinned. "Nobody in their right frame of mind would do anything to her anyway."
"What if they go after Nicole?"
Scott snorted, "Are you serious? From what I heard, Kris could easily deal with an attack against her. But to go for her partner? She'd tear them to pieces." A slow grin started to shape his lips. "That could be one way to get rid of Tony and Roberto."
Dean pointed a finger at the driver. "That's a nasty idea I like it!" he laughed. "But you know something? With the way they act in public, I bet nobody knows that Kris and Nicole are a couple."
"They sure are discreet about it," the driver nodded. "I don't think most of the guys care anyway, except Tony that is."
"Mm," the blonde agreed. "Hey, is that a Lancer up ahead?" he asked as he pointed to the vehicle in front of them. "Is it red and white?"
"It's green," Scott replied and grinned. "It's Shannon. Wanna shake her up a little?" his navigator nodded vigorously and with a chuckle, he shifted gears and pushed on the gas pedal to reach the Mitsubishi.
The occupants of the rally car seemed oblivious to the rapidly approaching vehicle behind them and kept to the speed limit. Shannon, sitting in the passenger seat, scratched her jaw and slightly tilted her head to look at the speedometer.
"Hmm, Kyle? You keep going like this and we'll end up at the finish line two weeks later."
"Hey! You're the one who told me to drive, I didn't ask for this," the bald technician nearly barked. "I have to get used to shifting with my left hand and driving on the wrong side of the road. How the hell am I You find this funny?"
"Of course I do," Shannon replied, not bothering to hide a smirk. "Come on, curly. You did say you wanted some excitement, right? So, step on it. This isn't a Sunday drive, it's a race, mate."
"Yeah, yeah," Kyle grumbled and quickly looked to his right as another car proceeded to pass them by.
"See? I told you we weren't going fast enough!" Shannon complained as she spotted Dean who blew kisses at them and watched their car speed away. "I can't believe this. Go!"
"Next stop, you drive!" the American shot back and pushed the pedal to the metal with a vengeance.
It was early in the afternoon when Kris pulled into the hotel's parking lot. She waited until Nicole retrieved their stamped time card, thus officially ending their first leg of the rally before driving the car to their assigned spot, next to the four vehicles that had already arrived.
"Does that mean we're in fifth place?" Nicole asked as she indicated the parked cars.
"Not really," replied Kris as she shut the motor down and unclipped her seat belt. "It'll depend on the time we did the circuit." She opened the door and stepped out, slowly stretching her cramped legs and back. "This feels good. I was looking forward to walking a bit. Can't say this car allows much for leg room."
"I don't have that problem," the smaller woman smiled, "But I know what you mean. My butt hurts."
"Want me to kiss it better?"
"I dare you " Nicole started and quickly stepped back as her friend moved forward with a grin. "Kris! You wouldn't!"
"But you did dare me," she chuckled and leaned her arm across her partner's shoulders, giving her a gentle hug. "So, how did you like it?"
"It was fun," she replied with surprise in her voice. "I wasn't too sure about certain roads we took, but I guess we did good. We left seventh and arrived fifth."
Two cars arrived and they turned to see Shannon with Scott following right behind them. Both women waited until the vehicles were parked before walking towards them. Kyle was laughing as he climbed out of the Mitsubishi while Shannon seemed a little miffed.
"What's up guys?" Nicole asked, "Did you get lost or something?"
Kyle crossed his arms over his chest, "Yeah, we did," he smirked at the Australian woman. "Boomer here can't follow instructions."
"Excuse me?" she said as she slammed the car door closed. "You gave me the wrong road to take!"
"I told you turn left, but no, you had to keep going. 'I know a shortcut' she says," he mimicked the brunette's voice. "Well, your shortcut got us stuck in the middle of nowhere. I thought you knew these parts."
"Are you finished?" Shannon asked, getting more upset by the moment. "I did find a shortcut. The proof is, we're here before Dean and Scott. So there!" she stuck her tongue at the bald technician, causing him to laugh. "If you hadn't been driving like a little old lady, we would've been here a lot sooner."
"I agree, we should've been here earlier, only if you had listened to me."
Leaning against Kris, Nicole squeezed the taller woman with her arm already wrapped around her waist. "At least they agree on something," she grinned. "They sound like kids."
"Mmm," Kris agreed, "and I don't want to act like their mother so let's get out of here. They'll join us later once they're calmed down."
"What do we do now?" Nicole asked as they walked back to their car, still holding on to Kris.
The dark haired woman gave Dean a small nod in response to his hello and stopped by the trunk of the Lancer. "We have eight hours before we leave again. I want to give the car a checkup and fill the tank before we do."
Nicole nodded and spotted a store, giving her an idea. "I can't help you much mechanic wise, but what do you say if I prepare us a few sandwiches to eat later on the road? We could get a nice meal after you're done and maybe a nap?"
Kris smiled at her partner's plan. "It sounds good, even though the next stage is only three hundred and thirty kilometers away."
"Maybe, but how many did we do so far?" she asked, "Why tire ourselves when we have a chance to relax? I heard that travel will only get more difficult as we go. It'll mostly be on dirt roads."
"You're right," Kris replied as she gently brushed her hand against Nicole's cheek and gave her forehead a quick kiss, missing the frowns on the Italians' faces. "Give me an hour or so to do this checkup, okay?"
"No problem." She started to walk away then suddenly stopped and turned to look at Kris again. "I just remembered something. Maybe I could start talking with the guys about our little plan," Nicole said and saw the slight confused look on her friend's face. "You know, what we talked about with Shannon's mother?"
"Our plan Oh, that! Sure, why not?" Kris agreed, "This is as best a time as ever."
"Good," the blonde smiled and continued on her way, waving at two of the rally teams to get their attention.
A solitary figure walked through the hotel's lobby and slowed down his pace as he heard some laughter coming from the pub. He changed direction, heading towards the sound and entered the room. A few men were sitting at the bar, some of them wearing racing jumpsuits, others simply dressed in jeans and t-shirts.
He scanned the room, letting his eyes fall on each and every patron then with a shrug, left the pub, not having found what he was looking for. 'This is the perfect plan. I can't miss!' he silently told himself. 'Keep to the program and everything will go fine.'
Shielding his eyes from the sun with his hand, he saw a young blonde woman walk past him, lost in her thoughts. She was carrying a grocery bag and was heading towards the lot where ten rally cars were parked. There was a man following her, mumbling in a language he didn't understand but knew it was Italian from the flag he wore on his racing suit.
He briefly considered going after them, but the sheer size of the man convinced him otherwise. 'There are easier targets. Take your time and choose well.' He waited a moment longer then made his way through the parked vehicles, watching the men and women as they worked on the racing cars.
There were four people standing in front of a Mitsubishi, three men and a woman. Two of the men wore similar racing suits as the others, the only difference were the Finnish flags sewn on their shoulders. The remaining two looked similar; tall, dark haired and muscularly built. 'Too risky.' His eyes went back to the Finns and he started reviewing his plan, this time including one of the men in it.
Murmuring voices attracted his attention and he moved slightly to see who it was. Two men stood partly hidden by a van and a garbage container. The taller of the two had his hand resting on the blond's shoulder, trying to explain something. The younger man shook his head a few times then eventually shrugged, making the brown haired man laugh softly. He watched as the older man raised his hand and gently lifted the blond's chin with a finger, then bent down to kiss him tenderly.
The solitary figure drew a breath in surprise at the scene and stepped back into the shadows, reconsidering his plan. 'I found it! Now it's gonna be perfect!' He nodded in satisfaction as he followed the men with his eyes as they left.
Having gone and bought food stuff for later in the day and got positive responses from some of the participants, Nicole headed back towards Kris who was leaning against the car, talking and laughing with her brother. Two men were with them and she searched her memory for their names, only remembering that they were from Finland.
"Tempo and Heidi, no that's not it. Tem Tep Yes! Teppo Gustafsson and Hei Heikki Kankkunen, that's it!" She shook her head with a small laugh. "If he heard me calling him Heidi, I'd be dead meat right about now." The blonde shifted the grocery bag into a more comfortable position and kept walking.
Somebody had been following her for some time but it hadn't bothered her, until now. She slowed down and sensed her tag along slow down his pace as well. With a frown, she turned around to see who it was and came face to face with Roberto Panizzi, one of the Italian rally drivers.
"You scared me half to death," Nicole breathed, relieved to see that it was he and not his partner, Tony. "Why have you been following me around?" He wasn't bad looking, she decided. He had very short dark hair and sported a well-trimmed goatee. Hazel eyes shone brightly when he smiled, showing perfect white teeth.
"I just wanted to say hello." The man reached for Nicole's bag and took it out of her arms, surprising the woman. He put it on top of the closed garbage container then leaned against it. "I was wondering if you and your friend would join us for a drink at the hotel."
Annoyed at the liberty he was taking, Nicole stepped forward to retrieve her bag but was stopped by a solid hand on her arm. She glared at him. "First, let go of my arm," she said slowly but when she saw that Roberto wasn't moving, she pulled her arm out of his grasp. "Second, thanks for the offer, but we're not interested. Now, let me get my bag, I've got things to do."
Roberto chuckled as he pushed away from the container and moved closer to the blonde woman, stepping between her and her goal. "It's just for a drink. We could talk a little bit, I'd really like to meet your friend." He lifted his hand to touch her cheek, "And Tony would love to get to know you better."
Nicole stepped back to assess the situation. 'Okay, this could get sticky.' She quickly surveyed the area, hoping to spot somebody who could help her in case he decided to do something foolish. She knew that Kris was somewhere behind her but too far away to be of any help. Unfortunately, no one else was nearby.
"Listen, Roberto is it?" The man nodded. "Listen Roberto. I told you before; we're not interested in having a drink with you. We've made plans already."
"Plans with that Austrian boyfriend of yours?" he asked with a snort, "He's not even gentleman enough to escort you. All he's been doing is talk with his friends, leaving you alone to walk the streets."
Nicole shook her head. 'First Tony, now him. I didn't want to say it but I guess I don't have a choice now. They'll never leave us alone if I don't,' she thought and sighed. "You're right in saying that he's not a gentleman, because she isn't." She waited to see if what she'd just said registered in his mind. It didn't. All she got was a blank stare. "My partner's a woman, Roberto."
"Of course I know that your partner's a woman, it's Kristina," he said. "You've been driving with her all morning. My partner's a man, what's your point?"
She threw her hands up in exasperation. "You're so dense!" Nicole exclaimed. "Kristina and I live together, we're lovers."
Roberto blinked a few times as he finally understood. "You mean you she " He rubbed his hand over his short hair and blew a breath. "No wonder I was getting nowhere with you. I thought I was losing my touch." He smiled as he saw the woman relax. "Well, I've got the perfect solution for you. All you need is a real man, then you'll never think of being with a woman again. It's a sure cure."
"What?!" Nicole blurted, unable to believe her ears. "A sure cure?" she repeated, "What the hell is that supposed to mean? I'm gay, not contagious!"
"It's not normal," he stated as he moved forward again. "I'll show you what you've been missing."
In a panic, Nicole stepped back to get away from him but found herself leaning against a wall. Her hand connected with something and she instinctively wrapped her fingers around it. The fear she felt suddenly replaced itself by a surge of anger.
"I took so much crap from my father about this, I'm not gonna take it from a stranger!" She swung the item around her body to see that she was holding a broom handle. 'I just hope what Kris thought me won't fail me now.'
Roberto reached for her arm again but regretted his action when the broom handle went crashing hard on his hand but not enough to break it. He stepped back in surprise, trying to shake the pain away from his hand. "Hey! What was that for?"
The man looked at her as if she had grown horns or something. "I don't want to hurt you. Just come with me, we'll have a drink and talk," he explained as he took another step towards her.
"I'm warning you. Leave me alone," Nicole said as she set her feet shoulders-width apart and waited for him, hoping that he would listen to her. He didn't. With a sigh, she swung the handle left to catch him with a broad swing against his knee, making him howl in pain. Not missing a beat, she pulled back and slammed the tip into his stomach, causing him to bend over, losing his breath. His hand shot out and he tried to grab her jacket, but Nicole spun around with the broom handle and with the right end of the stick, swept his legs from under him, dumping him on his butt. There was an incredible noise as garbage cans went flying everywhere as the man crashed against them.
"Will you listen to me now?" she barked, "I told you to leave me alone!" she finished in a near yell. Nicole looked at the sprawled man on the ground, seeing the stunned look on his face. His eyes kept going from her face to the broom handle she was still holding in both hands then back to her again. 'Wow! Can't believe I did that!' she thought, surprised to see that the self-defense move had worked so well. Running feet sounded behind her but she didn't dare look back in case Roberto decided to do something stupid again.
"What's going on here?" Kris demanded as she skidded to a halt next to her partner. She saw the rally driver trying to get up then looked at the makeshift staff Nicole was holding and gently took it away from her shaking hands to lean it against the wall. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine," the blonde answered and relaxed when Kris wrapped her arms around her, giving her a comforting hug.
"It it was just a misunderstanding!" Roberto stuttered as the tall, angry woman stared at him, her eyes mere slits.
With a low growl, Kris let go of Nicole, grabbed the man's racing suit, lifted him off the ground and slammed him against the wall. "What did you do to her?" she demanded. He stared at her with wide eyes, unable to speak. "What did you do?" she asked again, her teeth clenched in anger. A shake of the silent man's head was all it took for Kris to pull the man off the wall and slam him again. "Tell me!" she barked.
"No nothing!" he stuttered, feeling his knees go weak. "I didn't touch her!" He saw the woman's right hand let go of his suit and quickly closed his eyes when her hand formed into a fist. "I swear," he finished with a whimper.
"Don't think he ever had the time," Ludwig said from behind his sibling. "Come on, let him go," he asked but she wouldn't budge. Her arm was cocked back with her fist ready to hit. The rally driver was holding his breath, obviously expecting the blow. As she began to move, Ludwig quickly grabbed his sister's arm, preventing her from hitting the man. "Don't do this, Kris."
Furious blue eyes glared at him. "Let go of me, Lou," she warned. "I want to teach him a lesson. He won't bother anyone after."
"He's not worth the trouble."
"Please, don't," Roberto murmured and cracked an eye open to see what was happening. Both Austrians were staring at each other, locked in a battle of will. The man had a solid grip on the stuntwoman's fist and was doing his best to hold her back. A quick look at his assailant showed her jaw muscles jumping in tension.
Nicole saw Tony running towards them and blinked in surprise as she noticed that more people were surrounding them. Aside from Kris and Ludwig, she saw the two Finns standing near and Shannon was quickly approaching. The dangerous situation finally registered and Nicole reached for her partner's arm, which still held the Italian pinned against the wall. She looked up at the tense face watching him and saw the pure fury in her eyes. "Kris? I'm okay, really." she said softly and tugged gently on her friend's sleeve. "Please, let him go."
Kris glared at the man a moment longer, her left hand refusing to undo its grip then glanced at her companion and saw the concerned look on her face. She turned her attention back to Roberto and Tony who now stood beside his teammate. "Don't you even THINK of doing something to Nicole and that includes you too, Tony," she warned. With a resigned sigh, the dark haired woman brought her fist down and finally let him go.
Ludwig looked at the Italians and smiled sweetly. "Aren't you glad I'm not as boring as you said I was?" he said, "Otherwise, you'd been creamed right about now." He chuckled lightly when Roberto hung his head down in shame. "Don't ever make my sister mad. We might not be able to stop her next time."
Nicole stepped away from the small crowd, pulling Kris behind her. "I never expected something like this."
"Well," she scratched her jaw and looked at the Italian who was now talking with Tony. "Roberto invited us for a drink. I declined the invitation. He insisted, I made him understand what 'no' meant," she shrugged. "End of story."
Kris shook her head slightly. "You're beginning to sound like me."
"I'll take that as a compliment," she gave the taller woman a small smile and sighed. "It's hard to believe that I reacted this way. I'm lucky I didn't break anything. When I saw him reaching for me, I "
"You're not hurt, are you? If he did anything, I'll "
"I'm not," Nicole quickly said as she put her hands around Kris' waist. "He was very insistent but he never got around to try something stupid."
Kris looked behind her friend and saw the two men staring at them. Roberto had a subdued look on his face but she quickly recognized the expression Tony wore. It was one of hate and disgust. "Guess this little event did some damage to their ego," she murmured and lightly rubbed Nicole's arm. "Come on, let's get this over with. Hopefully, they learned something."
"I bet they didn't," Nicole replied softly. "I never saw anybody so dense before."
Both women walked back to the group and stopped as Tony hissed something in Italian and spit at Kris' feet. The dark haired woman raised an eyebrow and crossed her arms over her chest. "Did that make you feel better?" she asked sarcastically. "Hey, this would've never happened if Roberto hadn't bothered Nicole. She told him we weren't interested, he didn't listen."
"You're both sick!" Tony spat.
"Sick?" Kris repeated and looked at Nicole. "I feel fine, how about you? Any colds lately?" she asked with a smirk.
"You think this is funny?" the man said and tapped his head a few times with a finger. "That's where you're sick. Unmarried at your age, her beating up men," Tony continued as he pointed to Nicole. "This is unnatural. It should be illegal," he bellowed.
"It is in some places," Roberto finally joined in.
"What the hell are you talking about?" Kris exclaimed. She had enough of this conversation and wanted to be in their room, resting with Nicole. "What should be illegal? And as for her dumping him on his ass, that's his own damn fault!" she replied, not bothering to inform the men that they were indeed married.
Nicole tugged on her partner's sleeve, getting her attention. "I told Roberto we're lovers." Kris frowned at her then she saw the muscles in her jaw tighten again. Her blue eyes now gone gray turned on the men.
"You mean to tell me," Kris started slowly with a low voice, causing everybody to take a step back, even her brother. "That all this nonsense is because you don't like the fact that we're gay?" She took a few steps forward, heading directly for Tony. "Whatever lifestyle we choose is none of your business."
"It's everybody's business!" he shot back. "What you're doing is immoral!"
"Cut it out!" a voice yelled from the sidewalk not too far away. "That's enough. You don't like it, Tony? Just leave." Dean said as he approached the group with his team partner right behind. "I'm really fed up with you. Every single rally we have, you always manage to screw things up for everybody. I'm giving you a choice. Either you abandon this race or you stay. But if you do, I don't want to hear a single thing from either you or Roberto. Is that clear?"
"Why do you take their side? Are you one of them too?" Roberto eyed the man suspiciously.
"What will it be?" Dean asked, not bothering to reply. "Are you in or out?"
After a moment's hesitation and a few exchanged words, Roberto finally nodded. "We stay."
Slightly disappointed by their answer, Dean looked at the assembled group then at the Italian team. "Fine. But one stupid thing from you and you'll be disqualified."
"Whatever," Tony growled and gave Dean then Kris an evil glare before leaving, dragging Roberto behind him.
"You think that'll help?" Ludwig asked. "I never saw anybody look so upset and for such a reason."
"I did," Nicole replied softly as she leaned against Kris' chest. "My father used to act this way too." She smiled when her partner wrapped her arm around her shoulders and gave her a brief squeeze.
The blond Australian stepped forward and looked at both women. "I'm really sorry about this."
"We'll keep an eye on them," Teppo replied and saw his team partner nod in agreement. "We're the ones who organized last year's rally. We know what Dean's going through."
"Excuse me," Shannon said and stepped between the two Finns. "If you all know they're trouble, why do you always accept their request for your annual races?"
"It's a long story," Scott replied. "They'd have to do something illegal to be refused. So far, all they've ever done is complain and harass a few people but never enough to call the authorities."
"One of them nearly attacked Nicole!" Ludwig protested.
"He didn't harm me."
"That's because you defended yourself," Kris said. "What if I hadn't showed you a few basic self-defense moves? He could've "
"He didn't! Now please, can we change subjects?" Nicole pleaded and looked up at her friend. "I'm hungry, I'd like to rest a bit and I'm tired of being the center of attention."
"Alright," Kris nodded with a smile, "You got it."
"I think were all hungry," Dean agreed. "There's a great steak house not too far away from here. What do you say if we all go together?"
A chorus of yes sounded and the group left for the restaurant, stopping briefly to allow Nicole to bring her grocery bag to their hotel room. A silent shadow followed some distance away, watching, planning. He stared at the two men called Dean and Scott, catching the discreet gesture as the blond slowly scratched the taller man's back. 'Soon, very soon,' he promised himself and quickly stepped back to hide as the stuntwoman and her girlfriend walked out of the hotel. 'It will be so easy, it'll be like taking candy from a baby.'
A soft beeping noise woke Kris and she blinked a few times, trying to focus on her surroundings. It was darker in the small hotel room and she quickly looked at the time before she reached for her watch and shut off the alarm, careful not to startle her still sleeping lover. They had two hours left before they would have to be on their way for the second stage of the rally.
She looked down and smiled as she saw Nicole half sprawled over her, the blonde head tucked under her chin. Kris touched her friend's shoulder and gently shook her awake. "Hey," she called softly and kissed her hair. "Time to get up."
"Don't wanna," Nicole mumbled and tightened her grip on Kris. She frowned when she heard or rather felt her companion chuckle. "Just five more minutes, K?"
"That's what you asked me an hour ago, love." Kris replied and reached under the smaller woman's shirt to scratch her back, causing her to purr in satisfaction. "We're on a schedule. We have to get ready and see in what position we'll be leaving."
With a groan, Nicole sat up and looked down at her wrinkled shirt then at her lover who hadn't moved an inch. "Next stop, we're sleeping."
"We just did," Kris smiled.
"Under the covers, without clothes," she rephrased her answer. "Taking a nap was a bad idea. I'll be grumpy for the next hour or so," Nicole said as she started to get out of bed.
"Really?" blue eyes twinkled mischievously. "Well, I've got the cure for that." She wrapped an arm around her lover's waist and pulled her back in bed. With a squeak, the blonde fell back to her previous position on top of Kris' chest and she blinked in surprise as warm hands started to travel across her back under the half opened shirt. "And you're right. Next stop, no clothes. They just get in the way," Kris murmured before kissing Nicole passionately.
"I really like your cure, Doctor," she smiled as she proceeded to take the offending garments off. "But what happened to the schedule?" Nicole asked with a grin and gently nibbled on Kris' ear.
"What schedule?" the stuntwoman replied and flipped Nicole over on her back. "All I care about is you," she smiled and kissed her lover more slowly, taking her time.
With her fingers brushing through the long dark hair, Nicole smiled back. "No way I'm gonna be grumpy now."
The women walked out of the hotel with only half an hour to spare before the first rally cars were to leave. The sun had set not too long ago and so Kris put the sunglasses she carried in her hand back into her shirt pocket. She spotted the participants assembled in front of a board announcing the order of departure for each team. With a hand resting at the small of Nicole's back, they headed towards them.
"I'll go check the standings. It won't take long," Kris said and left to join Kyle and Dean at the board.
Nicole waved at a smiling Shannon and looked at the two French drivers who were arguing with each other. "What's up with them?" she asked as she stopped next to the Australian stuntwoman.
"They're upset that they lost some points in the rally," she explained. "The French team left sixth but they didn't stop to take a picture at Wave Rock so they were penalized. Each blames the other for the mistake. They've been at it ever since they saw the new standings."
"Oh." Nicole jumped in surprise as somebody kissed her cheek and saw Ludwig wink at her. "Hi!" she smiled at him and nodded to his teammate, Greg.
"You guys are doing great," the red haired man said, pointing to the board. "Seventh car to leave and you'll be fifth to go, not bad."
"Really? Wow!" She stretched her neck to see Kris studying the results then looked back at Greg. "Can't say we've seen you much. Where've you been?" she asked with a grin.
"Here and there," he smiled. "Kyle and I found a great pub and we played a couple of pools game. It was fun. How about you, did you do anything special?"
"Not really," Nicole said. "After we all went to eat, Kris and I took a nap."
Shannon bit her lip slightly and lowered her head to whisper in the blonde's ear. "It must have been one hell of a nap, girl. You're glowing." She couldn't stop herself from laughing when she spotted the instant blush that crawled up Nicole's neck and cheeks. "No wonder tall, dark and moody looks so relaxed," she said, making Ludwig laugh.
"Talking about me, Boomer?" Kris asked as she walked up to stand next to Nicole and shook her head when the brunette smirked at her. "Hi Greg."
He gave the tall woman a small smile. "Hi," he said and cleared his throat, feeling a bit intimidated by the stuntwoman. "Well, if you'll excuse me, I'd like to get something to eat before we go. See you later, Ludwig."
"Yeah," the Austrian nodded then looked at his sister. "So, ready to go?"
The sound of a body hitting metal cut her answer off and they all turned to see that one of the Frenchmen was sitting on the ground next to a car, rubbing his jaw. The other was mumbling under his breath in his native tongue and left his bewildered team partner behind.
"That doesn't sound too good," Kris said as Dean approached them. She saw the man on the ground stand up and go after his teammate. "Trouble ahead."
The blond rally driver looked at the still arguing men and snorted. "Never mind them. They'll yell at each other for a while then everything will be back to normal. We're used to it." He handed Nicole and Shannon a sheet of paper. "Here's the next clue for the picture we're supposed to take. Well, clue isn't the word exactly. It's pretty much direct. Have fun ladies," he smiled. "And Ludwig, your copy's with Greg. See you in Laverton." He said and moved on to the next teams.
"How the hell are we supposed to picture this one?!" Shannon suddenly blurted as she read the next challenge.
Curious at the woman's exclamation, Kris looked over Nicole's shoulder to see what it was. "We have to photograph the paw print of a kangaroo?" She frowned as she tried to figure out how they would achieve this. "Don't tell me we have to give the picture at the next stage. It's dark already and by the time we'll arrive at Laverton, it'll be past midnight."
Shannon shook her head. "No, I asked already. We can register our pictures anytime we want. So I guess we have the rest of the rally to find the items." She scratched her jaw and sighed. "They're gonna give us a challenge every stages, huh? That should be interesting."
"At least we know it's something that we'll find ahead on the road," Nicole explained. "If we find the item before the next stop, we should be okay."
Kristina crossed her arms over her chest and looked at her partner. "And how are we supposed to figure this one out?"
Nicole shrugged and smiled at the taller woman. "Hey, I figured the first one already, it's your turn now." She winked at Shannon who was doing her best not to laugh.
"Oh no. I'm the driver, you're the navigator. It's your job to decipher those things."
"We'll see," she smiled. "What about the standings? Was there a lot of changes?"
"Nice change of subjects," Kris whispered as she bumped her blonde companion with her hip. "The order in which we'll leave hasn't changed much. The Finns are still first, Shannon's brother second and our Italian friends are third."
"We started fourth but we'll leave sixth," Shannon complained. "I think I'll be driving all the way to Brisbane. Kyle drives like he's on a Sunday stroll."
"Don't start this again," the man in question said from behind them. "Read the maps properly and we won't have any trouble."
"Hi Kyle," Nicole laughed, "You know, you guys really sound like an old married couple." She saw the teams start heading towards their respected cars and followed Kris. "What about the other teams?"
"The rest is pretty much the same," the stuntwoman continued. "Claire and her husband are fifth, Dean, Ludwig, the New Zealand team, and French follow right after."
"Well, we'd better go to our own car. We'll see you later," Shannon said and waved to the women.
"Unless we get lost driving there again," Kyle quipped and quickly moved out of the way when his team partner tried to poke him in the stomach.
Kris shook her head and laughed. "Kids."
The red and white Mitsubishi Lancer made its way along the gravel road as it crossed through the inhospitable and deserted land. The last homesteads had been seen a long time ago and due to the darkness of the night, all Kris could look at as she drove was the light cloud of dust hanging over the road, the only sign that somebody had gone by not too long ago.
Reaching with one hand, she rubbed her aching shoulders then moved her head sideways, causing her neck to crack. The driving was getting monotonous and the low rumble from the powerful engine was slowly putting her to sleep. 'I wish the road were bumpier. I could do some real driving then,' Kris thought, 'Or at least a full moon to see the scenery.'
She cast a glance at her slumbering partner and smiled. A sheet of paper was still clutched in her hand and she slowly pulled it out of Nicole's grip and put it away. The blonde head was resting against the molded edges of the seat, swaying softly with the rhythm of the car. 'That woman can sleep anywhere!' There wasn't any point of both of them being awake, especially with nothing to see out there. 'Might as well, let her get some rest.' With a sigh, she turned her attention back to the deserted road.
Now Kris fully understood Nicole's need for a radio; a little music would at least help her stay alert. She looked at the CB and decided to switch it on. "Better than nothing," she said softly and quickly turned the volume down when static was heard. It was quiet on the airwaves and she was about to change channels when Kyle's booming voice was heard.
"You must be kidding, right?"
"Nope," came Greg's reply. "How else would you get a picture of a kangaroo paw?"
Kris smiled at the banter being exchange between the two friends. At least the CB would give her a little entertainment.
"I am not planning to hunt for road kill, Red." Kyle replied and Kris heard Shannon laugh in the background. "We'll take our chance in finding a live kangaroo."
She saw Nicole stir slightly beside her and mumble a few incoherent words. The stuntwoman looked at her companion and gently pushed a lock of blonde hair away from her face then continued to listen to the conversation as more of the stunt team participants joined in.
"Careful you guys," Claire, the Australian special effects technician warned. "Eddie and I barely avoided ramming a roo."
"Are you okay?" Kyle asked.
"We are, mate," she replied. "We ran off the road and crashed into something but Eddie says the car isn't badly damaged. We'll soon be on our way again."
"Do you need assistance?" Greg offered, "Who's behind them?"
Kris grabbed the mike and pressed the button. "We are but I haven't seen you, Claire."
"So it was you we saw fly by," the woman chuckled. "Our car's lights were off, that's why you didn't see us. We're some distance away from the road."
"We're following behind Kristina," Kyle said. "We'll stop if we see you."
"No need," Claire replied, "We're about to leave. Thanks."
Nicole heard people talking and she frowned, wondering why Kris hadn't awoken her. She sleepily opened one eye and saw that they were still on the road and that the voices came from the CB. She closed her eyes again and listened to the people as they talked. "Don't hit a kangaroo with the car, okay?" she said softly. A soft touch caressed her cheek and she smiled, leaning slightly into Kris' hand.
"I'll be careful," the stuntwoman replied. "Go back to sleep."
"'Kay," the blonde murmured and rested her right hand on her partner's thigh. "Wouldn't want to get a picture that way." In a matter of minutes, she was sleeping again.
Kris shook her head. Getting a kangaroo paw picture from a dead animal definitely wasn't something she wanted to do, especially with a sensitive Nicole watching.
There was a sudden change in the car's momentum and Nicole opened her eyes to see what was going on. She blinked a few times and shielded her eyes from the bright sun. "What's going on?" she asked the driver, "Why are we stopping?"
Kris blew a breath in frustration, shifted the gears in park and shut off the motor. "There's a kangaroo in the middle of the road," she grumbled as she opened the door and stepped out. "Damn thing's just sitting there."
Nicole looked at the animal and smiled. "He's so cute!" she said as she followed her friend out of the car and stood by the side of the road. "What are we gonna do? We can't leave him there. He's in the middle of traffic."
"What traffic?" Kris asked and spread opened her arms. "We're in the middle of the desert, Nicole." She turned to look at the kangaroo. He still hadn't moved and was now staring at the two women, sitting comfortably on his hind legs and tail, his jaw moving continuously as he chewed. "Okay big boy, get out of the way," she ordered, moving her arms to make him move. "Shoo!"
"Don't scare him," Nicole said as she sat on the car's hood, "He might run into another car." She watched as the animal took one jump towards Kris, cocked his head and looked at her.
"What other choice do I have?" the dark haired woman growled. She turned her head and glared at Nicole. "Are you gonna help me make him move or will you just sit there and enjoy the show?"
Nicole hid a smile behind one hand, "I guess you don't need my help, he just moved." The kangaroo stretched his tiny arms forward and batted the air like a little kitten playing with a dangling toy. "Oh, look! He wants to play."
"You're kidding, right?" Kris asked the laughing blonde as she kept her eyes on her opponent. "I don't have time for this." She waved her arms again, "Go on, move!" she said in a loud voice, "Shoo!"
"This is priceless!" Nicole shook her head and slid off the hood to get her video camera. "I've got to tape this."
"Nick!" the tall woman called in exasperation, "You want to give me a hand here?"
The younger woman tucked the camera under one arm and started clapping her hands, not bothering to hide her smile.
"You're soooooo funny." With a sigh, Kris started walking towards the animal and stopped dead in her tracks as the kangaroo fully stretched up, easily matching her own height. "Easy there," she soothed him and slowly backed away. With every step she took, the animal moved forward. "This isn't working."
Nicole burst out laughing at the strange dance being performed in front of her. She wiped her eyes as best she could as she kept the video camera aimed at the pair. "Keep moving like this, Kris. You'll eventually have him off the road."
"You're not helping " she started to say and ducked as the roo took a swipe at her head. "Whoa!"
"He wants to boxe!" Nicole giggled.
"What?!" she squeaked, her eyes wide open.
"Never heard of boxing kangaroos?" she asked and saw the big animal take another jab at Kris and bounce a few times in place while emitting strange little noises. His ears swiveled at the sound of laughter and he looked at her.
While the kangaroo had his attention elsewhere, Kris chose that time to try and move out of his way, but she wasn't fast enough. It quickly blocked her way and pushed her hard with its tiny arms, causing her to trip backward and land on her butt in a cloud of dust.
"Careful Kris," Nicole bit her lip, trying not to laugh.
"Why, that over grown, furry tailed rat!" she growled as she scrambled back to her feet. "I'll show you " She saw that the animal was getting ready to do something else so she stopped moving and watched him carefully. "Now what?"
The roo leaned back on his powerful tail, ready to strike and when Nicole saw him move, "Kris " She never had a chance to finish for in one quick motion, the big animal lifted his hind legs and kicked Kris in the chest, sending her to crash to the ground once again, flat on her back. The younger woman quickly left her spot by the car and knelt by her friend. She waved her hand at the floating dust surrounding them, trying to clear the air. "Are you okay?"
Kris silently nodded as she tried to suck air back into her lungs. A barely suppressed giggle made her look up to see her friend bit her lip. "What's so funny?" she managed to ask.
Relieved that Kris was uninjured, "You are," Nicole replied and burst out laughing. She pulled a camera out of her jacket and took a picture of the bewildered woman still sitting on the ground.
"Why did you do that for?"
Nicole grinned mischievously and waved the camera in front of her partner. "I just got us a shot of a kangaroo paw," she announced victoriously.
"Huh?" Kris frowned and looked down at herself, following the blonde's indication. Her once white T-shirt now spotted two very distinctive prints of the animal's powerful paws, going straight down her chest. She shook her dark head. "We should've found a less painful way to get it," she grumbled as she stood up, helped by her friend.
"Yeah, but this will make a much better story to tell back home," Nicole chuckled.
With a sigh, Kris beat at her jeans, trying to get the dust off her pants. A chittering noise made her look up and she saw the kangaroo look at her. He shook his head, tilted his ears back and let out a small barking sound. "Why do I feel like that thing just laughed at me?"
Nicole patted Kris' back and looked up to see blue eyes watching her. "Probably because he was," she grinned. "Well, at least the road is cleared now."
"Finally," Kris mumbled and cast an evil glare at the bouncing kangaroo. "But one thing's for sure. I'm gonna have the last word in this." She took a deep breath, intent on scaring him away with a yell and a wave of her arms.
As if knowing what the woman was about to do, the roo stretched up to his full height again and lunged at Kris.
"Watch it!" Nicole yelled.
Kris rubbed her eyes a third time, trying to wake up. She cursed her decision not to sleep when they were in Kalgoorlie, but she hadn't been tired then. Now she was paying for it. She briefly considered waking Nicole to have somebody to talk with, but they were almost to the next stage and she would get some rest then.
She carefully planned the next hour, wanting to do as much as possible while wasting the least amount of time. 'First, I'll get the car ready for tomorrow, then I'll take a long, hot shower,' she smiled at the thought. They still hadn't eaten the sandwiches Nicole had prepared earlier so she guessed that they'd have a little lunch before slipping under the covers for at least six hours of sleep. If she was tired now, she wondered how she'd look like by the end of the week.
A soft laugh made Kris turn her head to look at her companion and wondered what dream Nicole was having that made her smile, even in sleep. At least it didn't sound like the nightmares she used to get. 'I hope she'll remember the dream and tell me once she wakes up. Those little giggles sure got me curious.'
She tried the CB once again but turned down the sound when she heard that Kyle and Greg were still talking about the same subject, cars. "Can't those guys talk about something else?" With a shake of the head, she continued looking at the road and tried to spot the first signs that Laverton wasn't too far away.
"Watch it!" Nicole suddenly yelled and woke up, scaring the hell out of Kris.
The stuntwoman jumped in her seat, her heart beating a hundred times a minute. "What?! What's wrong?"
"God, I'm sorry!" the younger woman apologized as she ran a shaking hand through her hair. "Guess I was having a weird dream, I " she rubbed the sleep out of her eyes and shyly looked at her partner. "Sorry. Didn't mean to startle you this way."
"It's okay," Kris replied as she let go of the breath she was holding. "Didn't expect you to yell this way. You were giggling just a few seconds ago."
"Giggling?" she repeated and frowned. "Oh, yeah, now I remember. There was this big kangaroo and he was boxing with you."
The dark haired woman stared at her mate and lifted an eyebrow in question. "That's why you were laughing?"
"Well, it was funny," Nicole smiled. "Both of you were face to face and he kind of pushed you and " she trailed then stopped when she looked at the road. Her eyes grew big in fear and she grabbed Kris' arm in a painful grip. "LOOK OUT!" she screamed and closed her eyes.
Continues in chapter 4.
Posted on November 29th, 2000
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