Author’s Note: I think Nick’s right. If you’re going to go on back roads, do it in an antique car.
“If you ever wanted to learn your way around these back roads, this is how to do it,” Nick said, shifting his spot in the backseat. He leaned back, having the time of his life in the natural air conditioning. Carson rubbed his elbow, glaring at his brother. The back felt too crowded now, though he knew that wasn’t real. They all had plenty of space. He was just annoyed because he wasn’t with Mackenna. It was stupid, but he hadn’t wanted to be separated after that whole feeling of being watched, and now he was less comfortable than ever. He wanted out of the backseat as soon as possible.
He was a bit tempted to grab the papers from Mackenna so that he could figure out how far they were from the next stop.
Mackenna set down the book, shaking her head. “It’s a good thing we’re almost to Buffalo.”
Carson didn’t like that tone or her expression, at least not what he could see of it. “Why?”
“You can’t tell; you wouldn’t hear it or feel it, but I can. Mac can. Shadow’s acting up. I’m gonna need to get a better look at her when we stop for lunch.”
Carson grimaced. That didn’t sound good. Both of them knew the car well enough to know if something was wrong, and from the tight line of Mac’s mouth, it wasn’t something little. “You think it’s bad enough to keep you from finishing?”
“It’s not because of the extra people, is it?” Carrie asked, frowning as she leaned forward to make sure Mackenna could hear her. “I hope we weren’t a problem.”
“Of course not. It’s not an issue of weight or anything like that. Shadow is over a hundred years old. She needs to be handled gently and babied a bit when she gets finicky.”
“The car is not finicky,” Mac said, and Mackenna smiled at him. They were funny together.
He acted like such a grump sometimes, and she’d just laugh it off or needle him until he smiled. The way they argued over the cars was the best part of that, though.
“We usually stop for gas before we go to the high school. They’ve got that built into the route, actually, since this is about the halfway point.”
“How big of a tank does this thing have?” Nick asked. “I didn’t even think about that before, but we didn’t stop for gas before, and I don’t remember you filling up any other time, either.”
“We did after the lake tour and before the parade, but you were busy getting your shirts,” Mackenna told him. “The tank’s six gallons. We don’t drive more than twenty-five miles an hour, so don’t get too happy thinking we’ve got the best gas mileage in the world.”
“Has to be better than Larry’s truck, though. That thing has a leak somewhere or something because he’s always having to fill it up.”
“It’s not just the truck,” Carrie said. “It’s the way he drives, too. If he didn’t have to take off from every light or stop sign like it was a race, he’d save on gas, too.”
“Larry always wanted to be a race car driver.”
“Yeah, I remember that. Even when he’d long since stopped playing with them, he wouldn’t let me use his track,” Carson said, shaking his head. “Oh, that reminds me. Do either of you know what happened to my old car collection? I used to have hundreds of toy cars, and I don’t know where they are or what I would have done with them.”
“Um… Well, you said you never had one of those battery cars, so this can’t be right, but I thought… Mom packed them all up and gave them away after that crash of yours. You’d flip out when you heard the word car, ran screaming from her and Grandpa, and you refused to go in anyone’s car for a while. Larry did offer you his track then, trying to help, but you freaked out. Mom said we weren’t supposed to discuss cars with you again, not unless you brought it up, and she kept you home from school for a bit. Think everyone was told you had mono or something.”
Carson shook his head. “I don’t understand how this all got so screwed up. It…”
Mackenna leaned over the seat. “If your father brought Phantom to your grandfather’s farm the day he died and he did it, supposedly, to start rebuilding the trust he’d broken with you and your family, because you asked him to and told him the toy he gave you wasn’t enough… Having him die by it, having that bullet hit it, that would have made it hard for you to deal with any of your toy cars, and we have to assume that your grandfather locked Phantom away after it happened, knowing that it was somehow tied to your father’s death but not necessarily why. He just knew it upset you so he put it away. He probably thought he was doing it for the best.”
“Grandpa would have done it to protect you.”
Carson nodded. “I know. That part fits with me being the one that killed Dad.”
“Only you didn’t, so don’t say that.”