Authors: Gina Cresse
Tags: #Mystery: Cozy - Treasure Hunter - California
|Gina Cresse - Devonie Lace 04 - A Deadly Change of Power|
|Devonie Lace |
|Avalon Books (2002)|
|Tags:||Mystery: Cozy - Treasure Hunter - California|
Mystery: Cozy - Treasure Hunter - Californiattt
A Deadly Change of Power
Original edition published in 2002 by
Thomas Bouregy and Company, Inc.
Revised edition published by
Copyright © 2012
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the Publisher, excepting brief quotes in reviews.
All the characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Other titles by Gina Cresse
Colton P.I. – Second Unit
—Titles in the Devonie Lace Series—
A Deadly Change of Course—Plan B
A Deadly Bargain—Plan C
A Deadly Change of Heart
A Deadly Change of Power
A Deadly Change of Luck
Los Angeles ~ 1967
eavy brown smog hung thick over Los Angeles as Melvin Oakhurst coasted down the freeway off-ramp and rolled to a stop behind a shiny new 1967 Ford Mustang. A web of electrical power lines littered the skyline. Melvin’s sixteen-year-old son, Lance, sat in the
passenger seat of the old pick
with his arm hanging out the window, holding on to the side mirror in case it decided to fall off, as it had a habit of doing whenever Melvin didn’t shift just right. Lance gazed at the polished car and watched as the blond
in the driver’s seat used the rear-view mirror to apply her lipstick, probably the same candy-apple red as her new car. Lance almost drooled.
“That’s the car I want, right there,” Lance said. “John’s brother says they’re faster than anything on the road.”
Six-year-old Veronica sat in between her brother and father. She stretched as tall as she could to see the car through the crack in
the windshield of the old pick
up. The crack had been there for as long as she could remember, and as far as she knew, Ol’ Blue came from the factory that way.
The light turned green and Melvin shoved the gearshift into low. All three Oakhursts winced at the grinding sound. The
bucked a half-dozen times before the big rectangular mirror dropped into Lance’s waiting hand. He pulled it into the cab and dropped it on the floor at his feet.
Melvin shifted into second and squinted at the mirror. “I’ll fix that tomorrow,” he said.
Lance rolled his eyes. “Why don’t we just sell this old dog and buy a new one?”
Veronica shook her finger at Lance. “Ol’ Blue isn’t a dog! Besides, new trucks cost too much money. It doesn’t grow on trees, you know,” she scolded.
Melvin and Lance exchanged glances. Melvin shrugged his shoulders. “Ronnie’s right, you know,” he said. “I’ve looked through every gardening book I can find, and not one money tree in any of ‘em.”
Lance chuckled and tousled Ronnie’s hair. “Kid’s always right. She sounds more like a forty-six-year-old than a six-year-old.”
Ronnie knitted her eyebrows together, pushed Lance’s hand away and tried to smooth her curly hair.
Melvin coaxed the old truck into the gravel driveway of Harold’s Machine Shop. The brakes screeched and small pebbles rolled and bounced as he brought Ol’ Blue to a halt in front of the roll-up door.
Lance’s eyes caught sight of a motorcycle parked across the yard. He piled out of the truck and was halfway to it before Melvin even opened his door.
“Man! Look at that bike! It’s a Triumph! I bet it’s fast,” Lance said, ignoring
but the sparkling red-and-white racing machine at the end of his tunnel vision. He ran his hand along the polished gasoline tank and sized up the black leather seat. It would take eve
ry bit of self
control he had to keep from swinging his leg over and gripping the handlebars, just to see what if felt like.
Melvin lifted Ronnie out of the truck and set her down. She adjusted the vinyl
lunch-pail over her shoulder and pulled up her knee socks
tagged along behind her father like a puppy into the machine shop.
Harold, the owner of the shop, paused briefly from barking into the telephone to acknowledge Melvin and Ronnie with a nod and a smile. “This ain’t the doggone Bank of America, Orville! I won’t turn one more piston till you bring me cash. Got it?”
Harold winked at Ronnie, then returned his attention to the man at the other end of the phone line. “Good! See ya later, Orville,” he snapped. Ronnie jumped when he slammed the phone down on its cradle.
“Sorry ‘bout that, kid. That Orville, he’s a squirrelly one. Don’t ever trust nobody who won’t look you square in the eye,” Harold said as he pushed the big black safety glasses up on his nose. Wispy strands of gray hair shot out of his head in all directions. A metal shaving clung to a strand of hair over his left ear.
Ronnie looked up at Harold with large green eyes. Her red curls were still a little ruffled from Lance’s tousling. “Okay, Harold. I won’t. You got a piece of metal in your hair,” she said, pointing to the curly object on his head.
Harold scratched his rough fingers through his hair until the object fell to the floor. “What’ve you got today, Mel?”
Melvin shoved his hands in his pockets. “I sprung a leak in my storage tank. I gotta use your welder, if you can spare it for a quick patch job.”
Harold gave Ronnie another wink. “Sure thing, Mel. You know where it is. Just back ‘er up over there and help yourself.”
“Thanks, Harold. I sure appreciate this. I got
ta demo the engine for some big
wigs tomorrow. This could be the one.”
Ronnie gazed around the crowded building and studied the complicated machines. Some had wheels with handles and big screws and blades. Some looked like they could bend a car in half, and one looked like it could squash a bowling ball.
Her eyes stopped on Larry, one of the machinists, as he worked at a huge vertical turntable that spun so fast it made her dizzy to watch. There was a large piece of Styrofoam mounted to the spinning plate, and he used a sharp blade to cut away pieces until it looked like half of a flat basketball, only a lot bigger. Larry noticed her watching and cut the power to the machine.
“Hey there, Ronnie. What are you up to?” Larry asked.
“Hi Larry. Dad had to weld something for the magic car. What’s that?” she asked, pointing toward the big Styrofoam blob.
“That’s Mayor McCheese,” he answered. “And over there’s Big Mac,” he continued, pointing toward a large Styrofoam replica of a hamburger. “A little man is going to wear it in a TV commercial.”
Ronnie studied the unpainted work-in-progress. “Where’s the sesame seeds?” she asked.
Harold strolled over to check on the progress of the hamburger.
“Sesame seeds?” Larry asked.
“Yeah. You know. Two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions, on a sesame seed bun. You gotta have sesame seeds on Big Mac,” Ronnie explained.
Larry’s eyes met Harold’s. They both frowned. Harold checked his watch. “What time are we supposed to have it over to the paint shop?” Harold asked.
Ronnie slipped the blue lunch pail off her shoulder. She unzipped the top and reached inside. “Will these work?” she asked, holding two acorns out to Larry.
Larry took the acorns from her and studied them closely. “Where’d you get these?” he asked, pulling the
off the end of one.
“We had a field trip to the park today. I got a bunch of them,” she replied, holding out her lunch-pail to show it was half full of the nuts.
Larry hurried over to a band saw and cut the acorns in half. He grabbed a bottle of glue from a shelf and stuck the newly acquired
to the huge burger. “Kid, you’re a genius.”
Ronnie beamed as Harold patted her on the back. “You just saved the day, kid. I got a Popsicle in the office with your name on it.”
Ronnie found a roll-around seat and positioned it so she could watch her father work on the big metal tank he’d hauled from home in the back of Ol’ Blue. Harold returned from his office with a grape Popsicle. “Here you go, kid.” He pulled a welding mask from a hook on the wall. “If you’re gonna watch your pop weld that thing, you gotta wear this,” he said, slipping the big mask over her little head. “Don’t want to hurt your eyes.”
Ronnie used one hand to push the mask out just far enough to allow the grape Popsicle inside so she could suck on it. A trickle of sticky purple juice made its way down the stick and over her pudgy little fingers.
Larry walked over to get another handful of acorns from Ronnie’s lunch pail. “What’s that you’re welding?” he asked Melvin.
“It’s the storage tank for the hydrogen fuel cell I’m working on. Sprung a leak. I gotta patch it so I don’t lose any more,” Melvin answered as he pulled a mask down over his face and fired up the welding torch.
Larry gaped at him. “Hydrogen? Jeez Louise!” he gasped as he scooped Ronnie up from her seat and ran for the door. The Popsicle flew out of her hand and splattered on the concrete floor. “Come on, kid, before he blows us all to smithereens!”
Melvin, oblivious to Larry’s panic, put the torch to the tank and began the task of patching the hole. Harold followed Larry out the door.
“Relax, Lar. It’s metal hydride. He does it all the time,” Harold assured him.
Larry set Ronnie down. The too-big welding mask slipped down over her eyes so she couldn’t see a thing. She reached her arms out and felt for Larry’s legs. “I lost my Popsicle,” she said.
Larry raised the mask so she could see. “You know where Harold keeps them?”
Ronnie nodded her head.
“Go get yourself another one.”
Ronnie scurried back into the shop and disappeared into Harold’s office. Larry followed Harold back inside to get a closer look at Melvin’s project.
“What’s this hydrogen fuel cell?” Larry asked.
Melvin cut the torch and lifted the welding helmet off. “I built a car that’s powered by a hydrogen fuel cell. With this tank, it can run for a month before it needs to be recharged,” Melvin explained.
Larry gawked at him. “Why?”
Melvin pointed out the door at the layer of brown smog that hung in the air like a cloud of smoke, choking the city and everyone who lived there. “See that air?” Melvin asked.
Larry nodded. “Yeah?”
“You’re not supposed to. Clean air is invisible. You and I are breathing that brown crud into our lungs twenty-four hours a day.”
Larry frowned. “So, this car—
Melvin nodded. “No pollution.”
“How many tons of batteries does it need?”
“No batteries. Uses this metal-hydride tank instead,” Melvin explained.
Larry eyed the tank suspiciously. “What kind of horsepower?”
“Well, nothing to write home about, but good enough to get from point A to point B in a reasonable amount of time,” Melvin admitted.
Larry shook his head. “You’re dreamin’, Mel. Nothing’s ever gonna take the place of the internal combustion engine.”
“You don’t think people will get fed up with brown air?”
“Sure. They’re already screamin’ about pollution,” Larry admitted.
“And what about oil supplies. It can’t last forever,” Melvin added.
Larry chuckled. “There’s enough oil on this planet to keep us going for a heck of a long time. People aren’t gonna putt around in little wind-up cars they have to get out and push whenever they come to a hill.”
“That’s not the case with my car,” Melvin defended.
“Besides, gas is cheap and there’s plenty of it. Even if the air turns black as ink, people aren’t gonna give up their big-blocks and their V-eights,” Larry insisted.
“And why is that?” Melvin asked.
Larry raised the thick safety glasses from his face and squinted at Melvin. “Because, Melvin, everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.”
Melvin backed the old blue pickup through the back yard to the workshop he kept behind the house. He’d unload the storage tank later, after dinner.
Jane Oakhurst stood at the kitchen sink, her hands feeling around the soapy water for another spoon to wash. Her apron hung loosely from her shoulders and hadn’t been tied in the perfect little bow behind her back as usual. Melvin eased up behind her and slipped his arms around her waist. He gave her a kiss on the side of her neck and pushed her thick red hair away from her ear so he could whisper some sweet nonsense into it. She didn’t respond except to drop her chin lower to her chest, allowing the red hair to fall back in her face. Melvin pulled her hands out of the soapy water and turned her around to face him. Her eyes were swollen and red with tears.
“What’s the matter?” he asked.
Lance and Ronnie came racing into the kitchen from outside. They stopped in their tracks at the sight of their mother’s face. Both stood, gaping at their parents. They’d never seen her cry before. She couldn’t cry. It wasn’t something she was capable of, they thought. Even when her favorite cat got so sick and died last Christmas, she didn’t cry. They could tell she was sad, but never a tear. Never. This must be really bad.
Melvin let go of her hands and allowed her to turn away. “You kids go play outside.”
—“ Lance started.
“Go outside,” Melvin insisted.
“Yes sir,” the pair replied in unison. They exchanged concerned glances and trudged out of the kitchen.