#FanficThursday: “Dating the past” (Cars) – Chapter 6

6. Tex’s in distress

“Okay, Naya–Let’s rewind and go back step by step–”

Sally shook her head, confused. They were in one of the hotel rooms, something they had requested at the front desk for some privacy and to which they had not refused; it might also help to take Lightning McQueen himself as an escort and his prepared smile of innocence. But Sally, for the first time in a long time, preferred not to think about her boyfriend’s effect on ordinary society but to focus on the case in front of them. What Nayara had just told her, right off the bat, made no sense at all. And yet–

The young Audi sighed, ready to repeat the story in the greatest detail if necessary.

“Let’s see,” she recapitulated mentally. “It’s going to be about a month, after a dispute between Tex and Bunty McWheeler, the head of the htB, all of a sudden some papers appeared that compromised the first of them―unlicensed drilling in the Emirates, diverting funds to an account in a tax haven. You know―what, for better or for worse, seems to be the norm in our society today”. 

Sally nodded silently, with her brain working almost innate―and at full speed―to try to fit all the pieces together. 

“At the trial, Alex and his people tried to present a series of pieces of evidence, which were quite solid at first sight”. ―Naya then took out some papers and spread them out on the nearest table so that her best friend could see them―. “Exorbitant licenses, transfer papers–”

“That’s absurd,” said Lightning, glancing at the papers from over Sally’s mirror. He didn’t understand much about legal proceedings, but if he knew the oil magnate as he thought he did then it didn’t hold up, and he said so. “Tex may have millions and millions; but even if this were true.” He said cautiously, fearing the reaction of his female interlocutors; fortunately, they just turned around and listened to him carefully, “I don’t think he’s so irresponsible to leave these kinds of documents–Well, what the hell! I just cannot imagine Tex signing this kind of paper.”

Naya made a sympathetic gesture in his direction, implying that she was in complete agreement and that there was, therefore, something to add.

“You are right and, in fact, at the hearing the day after tomorrow, we were going to hand in the graphological report showing that these signatures were false–Although I must admit that whoever did it, that was an exquisite job.”

“Yeah, that can’t be denied–” Sally acknowledged, before looking up at the documents and fixing her eyes on Naya again with obvious concern. “So what’s the point of a criminal conviction against Tex now?”

Naya rolled her eyes.

“What can I say, it doesn’t seem like a coincidence when we were about to get to win the other case–”

Sally squinted as a sudden, unpleasant suspicion crossed her dashboard.

“Naya–” she called her. Naya gulped, sensing what was coming. And Sally, with a heavy heart, asked, “Who is the attorney?”

The silence of the other lawyer must have been eloquent enough, so much so that Lightning would swear that it was the first time he had heard such a curse coming from his girlfriend’s mouth, even though she had barely mumbled. But one thing was obvious: no one felt right that the attorney on the other side of the stand was Alex Mustang.

The silence seemed to become even thicker as Sally rolled from one side of the room to the other, biting her lip nervously. No―as Naya had said, it couldn’t be a coincidence, even less so if the attorney from the previous case was involved. And it did not matter if they won the other trial. In the end, the result could be just as bad for the old tycoon, and Sally was not at all sure what he could stand behind bars, however diplomatic and socially adept he was. The world of the prison was the law of the strongest. And the ‘Big Tex,’ for better or worse, was only at the bottom of the ladder.

“What did you say the charges were?” 

The blue Porsche came to a halt by a window covered by a translucent curtain which prevented people from seeing it from the street.

On the other side of the glass, a sharp eye could still catch a glimpse of the occasional paparazzi ambushed in the hedgerows. And Sally had been training her skill in finding them, one by one, for three years.

Naya seemed to hesitate for a few seconds before responding, in a voiceover:

“Use of gasoline adulterated with stimulants. Doping, in a word.”

Sally pursed her lips sadly, still turning her back on the other two. She was trying to appear serene, but inside she was shaking like a leaf about to fall in autumn. What to do? After the meeting with her parents, she had only been looking forward to turning her back on her hometown and never returning. But what about Naya? Was she able to abandon her―again?

A long minute later, the answer was crystal clear. So Sally turned very slowly and approached again the circle of light that projected the lamp on the table, still flooded with papers.

“What do you want me to do?” She asked, to the surprise of Lightning.

Naya looked at her for a moment, both hesitant and surprised. She knew first-hand about Sally’s demons. And while she thought about whether to ask for her help or her advice, she had seriously doubted that the other lawyer would agree to come to her rescue―but who else could she turn to, if Sally was the biggest expert in criminal court she knew?

“I–”, Nayara de la Vega moved a wheel on the floor, unsure. “I’d like you to come to the preview and tell me how you see the matter—I–I’m running out of ideas, and this is getting out of hand–I need you–”, she almost begged, with a half-sour smile. “For better or worse, you are the best criminal lawyer I know–” 

Sally looked away in pain, remembering all that ‘virtue’ had brought her in the past. Nevertheless, she looked up as soon as she heard Naya say, almost as if she were thinking out loud: 

“For the Car–It’s just that–I’d be so angry if Alex got away with it again!”

“ ‘Again’?” that intrigued Sally. “What do you mean?”

It’s not that she didn’t know Alex’s reputation: he was one of the most sought-after lawyers, almost nationally, for his ability to win trials. No―it was more the tone with which Naya had exposed it that had set off the alarms of the young Porsche. Naya, on the other hand, turned suddenly to Sally, as if she wasn’t aware before that she was there and whispered:

“Ah–Yes. I forgot to mention that every time we meet in court, Mustang”, she pronounced her opponent’s name with obvious detachment, “tries to humiliate me as much as he can. Who knows”, she hissed to herself again, “it might be because I didn’t fall into his net. Or, whatever–”

“The ones that fall, he does the same thing to us―did you forget?”

The coldness of that phrase nailed Nayara to the spot. Without realizing it, Sally’s best friend had put the wheel right into the soreness. So she immediately turned around, got serious, and shrank the chassis, embarrassed.

“Sorry, Sally. I was so frustrated that I forgot–”

But Sally immediately interrupted her with a front-wheel movement.

“It doesn’t matter,” she replied bluntly. “Past is past.”

For Naya, that phrase made her windshield open like a plate, her brown irises charged with hope.

“That means that you’ll help me?”

And Sally, with her insides still bubbling with doubt, found herself nodding with a sad smile.

***

Sally had been watching the nightfall outside the window for quite some time. The McQueen-Carrera couple had chosen to go out to dinner with Naya in the area near Santa Monica beach to discuss the relevant details of the case. At times, the three of them would inadvertently forget the real reason for their meeting, but that also helped Lightning uncover more than one or two secrets about Sally’s teenage and college years.

The racer was also saddened to confirm his suspicions―that, until everything solved, Tex was under house arrest in his Chevrolet Hills mansion and could barely meet his closest people and his lawyer. Who, every time she looked at Sally, seemed to be about to burst into tears with emotion―there was a bond between them that Lightning was able to see and feel almost physically. And watching Sally’s eyes shine, remembering times past with the Audi A6, made it all worthwhile―all to see her laugh out loud as she had long since done.

But, unfortunately, when they were left alone in the darkness of the suite the ghosts seemed to assault his girlfriend again; since her mood gradually declined from the moment they said goodbye to Naya, a few blocks away until she stepped into the bedroom’s rest area. Although the first nights were a present from Tex, Lightning could still afford the room without problems through his racing savings. The male car observed Sally’s silhouette cut out against the night: motionless, reflective. He took a deep breath, gathered his courage, and slowly approached:

“Hey, Sal”.

She turned with a tired gesture but a certain tenderness shining behind her green eyes. Lightning didn’t know how to express what he was feeling at the time, but he tried to put it in the best light he could:

“Wow–I–I must say I’m very proud of you. Anyway, I thought that–”

Sally showed half a sweet-and-sour smile.

“I’ve done that once before,” she whispered, her gaze lost somewhere in the gloom around them, knowing what he meant. “But despite my terror of Alex, I think–No. I know,” she corrected herself, “I can’t leave Naya to her own devices. If I can help her in any way from the sidelines, I will.”

Lightning smiled with love and emotion in equal parts. Luckily, Sally’s fighting spirit was still intact―wherever it was.

“So it’s true what the bad tongues say,” said the racer, changing the tone to something more malicious and funny. “You are a court’s whiz, huh?”

Sally giggled and couldn’t help herself, playing along.

“Shut up, you–”, she replied, embarrassed.

Lightning chuckled as he looked out the window at the sleeping city.

“You know what?” He said after a while, making Sally turn her nose up at him. “I think it’s going to be all right this time.”

“What do you mean?” She asked, curious.

Lightning shrank his wheels and grimaced confidently.

“Well, statistically, at some point it’s got to be Naya’s turn to beat that overbearing Mustang, don’t you think?” He ironized.

Sally smiled and couldn’t help but smile―not only infected with his mood but simply because she looked at the possibility with confidence.

Could it be true? Could they ever beat the great Alex Mustang, the unbeatable L.A. lawyer? And yet, she chose to respond with some sarcasm which indicated that she was in a better mood, for Lightning’s sake.

“Tomorrow I’ll tell you, Stickers. After all, I didn’t earn my fame for anything–”

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