13. Lock it up
“Lightning! Here, here!”
Although he knew this could happen, the racer could not suppress a sigh of weariness when he had to face the journalists again that morning.
“Lightning! Are the rumours true? A confirmation for the Los Angeles Braking!”
The young man waited for his girlfriend to stand beside him, silent and serious as ever, before speaking.
“Yes, that’s right.”
“So you’ve paid an astronomical debt to your sponsors? How do you feel about having to do that?”
It was Kory Turbowitz, an old acquaintance of Lightning. The racer took a deep breath, shook his nose, and rushed to correct the journalist.
“This wasn’t an obligation, Kory,” he said calmly, though loud enough to be heard by the third row of journalists around him. “Rust-eze has done a lot for me, and yes, perhaps I would have preferred that information not to be kept from me, but Rusty and Dusty are almost like parents to me, they have always protected me, and I think it’s the least I could do for them.”
“So there hasn’t been any pressure on him to do it? Any ulterior motive?”
A young journalist on his right, a camera on a wheel, got excited. Lightning noticed a cramp in the spark plugs when he remembered Alex, his threats; but he preferred to remain as stoic as possible before replying:
“No, none. When I found out, I felt it was my duty to use the money I won at racing, thanks to them giving me my first chance, to repay them, in part, the favor.”
Seeing Naya waving at him from the courthouse entrance and the journalists’ fence seeming to close, Tex’s bodyguards–whom he had almost adopted as his own–helped push the ‘oil-suckers’,–as they continued to call them in private–, at a signal from him without violence. Thus allowing the racer and his companion to advance towards the concrete and glass building.
When they got away from the press, and before entering, however, Lightning stopped and turned to Sally, deadly serious.
“What’s wrong, honey?” She worried. “Is everything alright?”
For her partial peace of mind he shook the nose as if to get rid of a particularly annoying insect, but it was still crooked.
“I’ve got a bad feeling about this, Sal,” he muttered. “Do you think we’re doing it right?”
She imitated his grimace and meditated for a moment, without answering right away.
“With Alex, you never know,” she acknowledged. “But I prefer to think that he didn’t expect this.”
Lightning lifted a corner of the hood, funny on the inside.
“Let’s see what kind of face he’s got on watching the news, and I’ll tell you.”
“Hey, Stickers–“, she gently stopped him for a moment as he was about to enter. He turned, she kissed him gently but briefly, and when they parted, she mused, “Whatever happens, I’ll be by your side, okay?”
He smiled a little more confidently.
“And I yours. We’re a team, remember?”
Sally flanked him, imitating his gesture.
When the couple entered the room, they discovered they were almost the last to arrive. Ignoring the murmurs of some present, Lightning and Sally advanced to where Naya and Tex were. They directed smiles of encouragement and gratitude to them, in equal parts, before Brenda Hudson made her appearance behind the stage. However, Lightning couldn’t help but feel a spark of triumph in his circuits when he saw anger shining behind Alex’s gray eyes. As anticipated, Mustang did not expect Lightning to have such a degree of altruistic inclination―too bad for him.
The previous afternoon, when the young man had arrived at the De La Vega mansion burning wheels and with shortness of breath, Sally had again feared the worst and cursed Alex in every language she knew. But her anger had turned to stupefaction when Lightning told her about the crude blackmail attempt by the attorney. Both Naya and Sally had decided that they would not rush, that this could be an important test to expose Alex whatever he was up to―neither thought his involvement in the two cases against Tex was coincidental―but they had to be patient. The urgent thing was to talk to Rusty and Dusty, and then all would come out.
“Ladies and gentlemen, the third session of the trial of the State of California against Tex Cadillac Dinoco, is now in session,” Hudson said as she took out some papers from a folder that had been previously placed on the stand. The tension could be cut with a knife as he impassively analyzed the data before his eyes. But when she finally opened his mouth, the defense was unpleasantly surprised. “It seems that the analyses provided by attorney Mustang are of declared authenticity; therefore, they are accepted as evidence,” Lightning felt a chill when the judge paused. “Unfortunately, the authenticity of Mr. McQueen’s evidence could not be confirmed one hundred percent.”
Both Sally and Lightning and Naya and Tex were speechless, looking at each other in disbelief. The racer, in particular, felt as if the ground was going to sink under his wheels any minute. There had to be a mistake. It wasn’t possible that–However, the pedantic look Alex gave him immediately, fleetingly but obviously, gave him the clue he needed. Lightning clenched his teeth, knowing he was powerless. Without reliable evidence, he couldn’t refute it. And the worst was yet to come.
“Deemed judge Hudson, given these results, I have no choice but to request that the reigning champion Lightning McQueen provisionally withdraw his last Piston Cup as well as its financial allocation.”
He gritted his teeth, barely holding back from jumping on top of Mustang and smashing it to pieces. Was that really what he was after? Sally’s expression was not far from his, though she seemed even more downcast. To their dismay, their faint hope evaporated when Brenda Hudson, after a few moments of thought, slowly nodded her nose:
“It’s admitted. Mr. McQueen will receive a formal request to hand over both the prize and the associated money within forty-eight hours.”
“Your Honor,” Naya jumped up, to everyone’s surprise. “Trusting that both sources of analysis are reliable, I request that the tests be repeated to all the racers who have tested positive for this case. Both those corresponding to the prosecution” ―the young lawyer took care to direct a poisoned eye at her rival before continuing― “and those of the defense, by an impartial team.”
Alex glanced at her and ground his teeth, clearly irritated, but he said nothing, and waited for the judge to say something. The defense team, for their part, held their breath until Hudson decided. Once again and to their relief, to move her nose in the affirmative.
“Due to the percentage of the veracity of some of the evidence provided, it is accepted.”
“But–I object, Your Honor!”
Brenda Hudson raised an eyebrow in the direction of Mustang with clear irony.
“Yes, Mr. Mustang? Will there be anything else?”
The attorney, aware that he had committed an inconvenient outburst, moved the chassis to appear composed, although inside he was furious.
“Mr. McQueen is not part of this case.”
Brenda showed half a smile that gave Naya her life.
“I’m sorry, attorney, but here, every piece of evidence counts and the request by Ms. De La Vega is not against any judicial procedure. You should know that.”
Mustang gritted his teeth and bowed silently, assuming defeat in his way.
“If no one has anything else to provide, the evidence will be taken in two days by a team appointed by this court and under strict expert supervision. One expert will be appointed by the defense and the other by the prosecution. Each will take responsibility for the evidence of their defendants.”
Naya held a triumphant smile. If Alex couldn’t stick his nose into her side of the garden, all the better.
“The date of the next session will be two days after the collection of the samples and the taking of the evidence―the session is adjourned!”
As soon as they heard those words, both teams got up to leave. But, before anyone could help it, someone confronted the attorney and cut him off:
“Alex!” Sally rebuked him without thinking before lowering her tone to someone much more hurt and fearful. Whether she wanted it or not, that car was still imposing on her. “Why–? How could you–?”
The attorney then raised his nose, without any hint of guilt, and whispered in his characteristic, slurred voice:
“As I already warned ‘your boyfriend’, Miss Carrera,” he stressed the nickname of Lightning with evident disgust. “Trusting your team, in this case, could be a bad decision. But I forgot,” Alex chuckled with disdain. “You are a ‘one-car show’, aren’t you, Mr. McQueen?”
And before any of them could answer, the attorney dodged them and smugly left the room.
Silence fell over the group formed by Naya, Sally, and Lightning―Tex had already been taken under house arrest―who were stranded in the middle of the corridor until the court guards invited them to leave. Lightning was marching around with his head down and not talking, chewing on what had happened and not knowing who to blame.
“Hey,” Sally called him, trying to smile encouragingly but not quite succeeding. “Come on, let’s go home,” she proposed, which he reluctantly agreed to. “There we will see everything more clearly.”
And I hope I can think of a particularly painful way to end Mustang for what he just did.