“Order in court!” shouted the Honourable Brenda Hudson, irritated.
It had been hard enough to keep the reporters out of the courtroom. Now, what seemed to be two sides in the room were starting to get into trouble.
“The second session of the California State Trial of Tex Cadillac Dinoco begins. Attorney, you may call your witness at any time.”
Alex stood up, shaking like a turkey before the courtship, as he came out from behind his table and moved towards the judge.
“Thank you, Your Honor. Then I call Ryan Sparks.”
Lightning squinted at the name as the door opened behind him, and the above-mentioned entered the room. Though he pretended to look serene, the white-and-blue Ford Fusion kept its nose close to the floor as its gray eyes flew back and forth between the witness stands. At the sight of his opponent, Sparks showed a slight surprise; Lightning nodded in his direction with a half-smile, unable to avoid it. He and Sparks were not particularly close, but they respected each other on the track, having made their debut almost together. Ryan had done so in 2004, finishing in the group average, although McQueen remembered a particularly memorable Fusion race; in fact, he had finished third this season―how had he missed it? Sparks was an example of persistence and hard work, he reasoned. It was only natural that hard work would pay off at some point.
However, the doubt that ran through the 95 went beyond that. Especially if his suspicions were fulfilled. He took a deep breath and tried to control his nerves―he would soon find out. While he chewed on his theories, Sparks reached the stand and climbed the little ramp that led to the witnesses’ place.
“Good morning, Mr. Sparks,” greeted Alex. “Do you swear to tell before this court only the truth and nothing but the truth, so help you the Almighty?”
The Ford Fusion finally focused its attention on the attorney and seemed to try to keep his nerves at bay when he responded:
“Good. May you tell us if you recognize the defendant?”
Sparks turned his steel-colored irises to Tex, without any pungency.
“Yes, sir. It’s Tex Cadillac Dinoco, owner of Dinoco Oil and sponsor of the Piston Cup.”
He gave him a blank stare, but Sally bowed her head while she kept her eye on the witness. Of all that pantomime, something was not going as it should. And the young woman felt a chill run through her chassis as she anticipated what that might mean. Lightning, noticing her confusion, placed a wheel over hers and tipped her chin in a confident gesture as if he had read her mind. Sally made a quick gesture that meant ‘we’ll talk later’, he accepted, and both of them turned their eyes to the process again.
At that moment, Alex asked for a series of scanned documents to be projected on the large white screen on the side:
“These are your tests―right, Mr. Sparks?”
“Yes,” replied the other without hesitation.
“What team are you from?”
“Steel Magnet, sir.”
“And who’s supplying the gas to that team?”
No one missed the mischievous smile that curled up Alex’s hood when that response caused Tex to sink on his shocks, surrendering to the evidence.
“And, were you aware at any time that your gasoline was adulterated?” Mustang continued, “Did you notice any difference in your performance?”
“The truth is that this year I’ve been in a better position than others,” Sparks admitted almost without thinking, with total sincerity. In the face of Mustang’s sudden warning glance, something he only saw for good or bad, he added. “But I always attributed it to my training.”
Alex snorted imperceptibly before asking again:
“You’re a very methodical racer, am I right?”
“Objection, Your Honor,” Nayara jumped up, beginning to tire of the nonsense. “I don’t know if that’s relevant to the case.”
Brenda Hudson nodded.
“Mr. Mustang, stick to what you discussed in your questions,” she warned the attorney.
This one, gritting his teeth and, containing only a poisonous glance, thrown towards Nayara with little discretion, smiled artificially and assumed that small defeat with all the elegance he was capable of.
“Sure, Your Honor. I have no further questions.”
The judge seemed to agree because she just called Nayara next. She crossed paths with Mustang, the tension almost visible between them, before rolling to the witness. The witness watched her, expectantly and motionless. De La Vega took a deep breath and tried to sort out her ideas before opening the hood.
“Mr. Sparks, are you aware of any other cases of gasoline adulteration on your equipment or in your immediate environment?”
The other thoughtfully narrowed his eyes.
“I don’t understand your question, counsel.”
Naya suppressed a snort.
“I mean, do you know any other racers in the same situation, even if they’re from other teams?”
Sparks, to her despair, nodded.
“Yes, I do.”
“Can you tell us who they are?”
Sparks seemed to press his lips hesitantly as Alex seized the opportunity he was waiting for:
“Objection, Your Honor”, Naya could have sworn he was laughing his head off as he said it, but she didn’t turn around to confirm it “that’s attorney information.”
But, unfortunately, the judge didn’t seem to share his point of view.
“Denied, Mr. Mustang. I’d like indeed to have that information at my disposal.”
An unusual mistake by Alex thought Sally, alert. What’s he up to?
Nayara de la Vega, for her part, preferred to continue the interrogation as if nothing had happened while Alex advanced the documents to the honorable Hudson.
“All right, Mr. Sparks. So let’s get back to the point: why would Dinoco adulterate other teams’ gasoline if the interesting thing would be for his racers to win?” the defense attorney wanted to know.
The blue-and-white Ford Fusion inhaled.
“He wants to put an end to the competition, but he is capable of sacrificing anyone to achieve this,” he said, one might even say that with a certain amount of contempt.
Naya, however, popped the hood right away.
“I’m not convinced by that argument,” she said, without swallowing a more-than-probable lie. “Why would he want to damage his life’s project? That is, the careers that the whole country and I would even dare say the world enjoys so much.”
“I don’t know, counsel,” said Sparks, cautiously, “I have no way of guessing.”
“Okay,” Naya accepted, feeling a spark of triumph explode inside her. “Let’s move on to another matter, then–How do you explain losing to Lightning McQueen, the reigning champion, if your gasoline was adulterated with stimulants?”
“No one’s seen McQueen’s analysis,” attacked Sparks then, with surprising coldness. “He could also be doped, and nobody would know it.”
Naya pursed her lips and nodded, though the gasoline was boiling inside her. No one would mess with her idol like that and get away with it―not if she could help it.
“Alright. No further questions, Mr. Sparks. Thank you.”
The judge waved the wheel to invite the witness to retire, something he did quickly in the direction of the door without thinking twice. Meanwhile, it was Nayara’s turn to call her witness.
Sally swallowed oil when she saw her boyfriend drive up to the stand. When they had talked about it, the three of them had thought it might be a good idea. But in that moment and time, seeing the hawkish look with which Alex was drilling McQueen, the young Carrera suddenly doubted the wisdom of her decision―she hoped she was wrong.
“Good morning, Mr. McQueen,” Naya repeated the protocol of the oath, and Lightning took it without a word before preparing for the first question, rehearsed the day before to the point of satiety. “Are you the current winner of the Piston Cup, just for the record?”
Naya asked for her documents to be projected.
“Are these your tests, Mr. McQueen?”
Naya nodded briefly, pleased.
“Do you recognize the following signatures?” She asked then.
“Of course,” he insisted calmly. “These are from my team manager, the analysis technician, and my two sponsors.”
Naya held a sigh of relief.
“These are normal results,” she said, swiftly looking at Alex in defiance, who gritted his teeth but did not reply. “What kind of gas do you use?”
“The legal one, unleaded.”
“So, either you’re an outstanding racer, or there must be an explanation–”
Chuckles resonated throughout the room, and Lightning showed half a smile, which they had also rehearsed.
“Miss de la Vega, you don’t seem to have ever heard of me–”
Even Sally couldn’t contain a chuckle, but she held back as soon as she saw, once again, a strange look in Alex’s eyes. The look of the hunter. And the spark plugs went off. Because his patience had run out, and that in Mustang could be as dangerous as an atomic bomb. As soon as Naya dismissed Lightning and they both left the front part of the court, as Alex didn’t seem to want to ask anything, he cleared his throat and pronounced, without shouting but loud enough to be heard in the whole room:
“Your Honor, I request a graphological analysis of that evidence.”
Naya shot him with her eyes, but there was nothing she could do. Just wait for the judge to say something. To her dismay, she said:
“Your Honour,” Naya jumped up nonviolently, “the defense requests that, if our evidence is to be examined, the prosecution’s evidence is analyzed as well.”
Luckily, Brenda Hudson was a fair and understanding judge.
“Of course. It’s accepted.”
“But…That’s unnecessary!” Alex was shocked and couldn’t help it.
Both Sally and Naya gave him the same questioning looks, mixed with a certain sense of triumph.
“Silence, Mr. Mustang,” Hudson ordered. “It’s admitted. That concludes the sitting until the day after tomorrow, again at the same time. Session adjourned.”
Naya couldn’t help but smile broadly. She was sure everything would be fine, and the knowing wink she exchanged with Lightning and Tex indicated they were thinking the same thing. But her mood declined when she contemplated Sally’s dismal expression.
“Hey, is everything okay?” She asked, approaching the wooden barrier that separated them as the room emptied.
Sally, for her part, didn’t open the hood until a scorned Alex passed by her, barely looking twice, heading for the outside of the courthouse. Only then, Naya’s best friend whispered:
“Did you see the way Alex looked at the witness?”
Naya tried to ignore the sense of danger that had just passed through her circuits before she replied, in a voiceover:
“No–What did you see?”
To her distress, the other car did not answer immediately but seemed to stay meditating for a few moments with a scowl. Yet whatever it was she thought she had glimpsed, it faded with desperate speed into the recesses of her mind, and she sighed.
“I don’t know. I’m not sure,” she acknowledged, “but there’s something strange here. And we’d better find out what it is before it’s too late.”
“We’ll do it,” said Lightning, as the security officials finished throwing them out of the room without violence. “We just have to keep our eyes open.”
The afternoon passed with tranquility, entertained again by the de la Vega family, but Sally was still worried, and Lightning noticed it. However, the young female car did not open up to him until they were left alone on the rooftop after dinner, watching the stars.
“What’s going on, Sally?” He asked, worried.
The girl reflected before answering.
“You’ve been very involved,” he said before turning to him, “although I admit it was a good thing you warned Rusty and Dusty so early. But–I don’t want you to get hurt,” she hesitated, “and I don’t want this to affect us any more than needed,” she swallowed oil. “I don’t wanna lose you.”
Although he was also somewhat frightened, Lightning tried to play it down by shrinking his wheels.
“Hey, come on; you don’t have to worry about me. And you know I’d do anything for the people I care about” ―when he saw that Sally’s green eyes were still charged with sweet concern, he grabbed her chin with a wheel and added in a lower voice― “and I’ll always be by your side, no matter what.”
Sally gritted her teeth decisively.
“If he dares to mess with my people, I’ll take Mustang down,” she mumbled, convinced. “Whatever it takes.”
At which Lightning showed half a confident smile, he kissed her intensely and noted:
“Then I’m going with you.”