Alone, in trouble and facing jail, Buddy Hawks is made an offer he can't refuse, or can he?
Author Note: If you're a M.A.S.K. canon purist, you may want to look away now. I'm playing a little fast and loose with one or two canon elements. I hope you can forgive me.
With many thanks to T_non_sum, Angel, Ganeris and Freespirit127 for editing, feedback and patient hand holding.
The Coming Storm
Buddy lay in bed, eyes shut. He could feel sunlight on his face, which suggested it was morning, but opening his eyes would probably reveal the fact that the whole of the day before had been one very long and seriously whacked out dream. It can't have been real, he thought. I'm gonna open my eyes and either be back in the home, or in jail. And the stupid thing was, he didn't want to feel the disappointment of knowing it had all been a delusion. The idea of someone actually believing in him, of someone actually wanting him, felt so good it couldn't possibly be real.
There was a knock on a door, then, "Buddy?"
Fuzzily, Buddy recognised that voice wasn't Chris or Ben from the home. In fact, it sounded suspiciously female. The only woman who'd be interested in whether or not he was getting up was Vanessa, and the voice definitely wasn't hers. It was too high and sweet.
Unless I wasn't dreaming, and yesterday really did happen, Buddy realised. He opened his eyes, and sure enough, it was the pale blue-painted bedroom that Sarah had shown him the day before.
Shit! Buddy sat up and tried to get out of bed, but only succeeded in tying himself up in the blankets and landing on the floor with a thud.
"Buddy? Are you all right?" Sarah called.
Buddy sighed. "Yeah." That would teach him to panic. He unwrapped himself from the blankets and managed to get to his feet. Grabbing a pair of threadbare sweatpants from the small pile of clothing he'd tipped out of the duffel bag, he hauled them on and headed for the door.
Opening it, he found Sarah standing on the landing, a brown-haired and chuckling baby in her arms.
"Good morning," she said. "Did you sleep all right?"
Buddy blinked, trying to drag his thoughts into some kind of coherence, particularly as he found himself the focus of the baby's attention. "Uh, yes. Thanks."
Sarah grinned. "This," she said, "is Scott."
It seemed to be the appropriate response as Scott gave him a big beaming smile then turned his head towards Sarah's shoulder and gurgled something.
"Matt says he'll be ready to go in an hour; is that all right with you?"
For a second, Buddy was puzzled by the question. Then he remembered. The 'day' job at Boulder Hill Gas Station that he was supposed to be starting today. "Uh, yeah." He mustered a smile. "I'll be ready."
"I'm sure you will." Sarah glanced at Scott. "OK. Time this monster got his breakfast. When you're ready, just come down to the dining room - breakfast isn't a formal meal in this family."
With that, Sarah turned and headed back down the stairs. Buddy watched her leave. Over her shoulder, Scott peered up at him; then waved. Self-consciously, Buddy waved back, provoking a chuckle from Scott. Then both Scott and Sarah were lost to his view. Guess I'd better get dressed, he decided.
Forty-five minutes and two wrong turns later, Buddy reached the dining room, where Matt was reading the business pages of the New York Times and sipping a cup of coffee. He looked up as Buddy entered.
"All set?" Matt asked.
Buddy smiled tentatively. "I think so."
Matt grinned. "You'll be fine." He folded the newspaper up and dropped it onto the table. "If you're ready, though, we might as well go."
Matt stood up just as Sarah, without Scott this time, appeared in the dining room. "You're going?" she asked.
"I have a meeting in Denver this morning," Matt replied. "So the sooner we leave, the better."
"I don't want to be any trouble," Buddy began.
"You're not being," said Matt. "The gas station's on my way into Denver. Besides, I should probably introduce you to Earl and Cassidy."
Buddy wondered who they would prove to be.
"So we'll see you later," Matt finished, giving Sarah a smile.
"All right." She kissed Matt. "See you later." Then she smiled at Buddy. "Good luck."
It was a short journey from the mansion to the gas station, though it did cross Buddy's mind to wonder just how he was going to return to the mansion that evening.
As if reading his thoughts, Matt said, "Cassidy will be able to give you a lift home tonight; but she doesn't work every day, so that's not a long-term solution."
"I can walk," Buddy offered. "It isn't far."
Matt grinned as he pulled the Camaro onto the gas station's forecourt. "See what you think of that idea after you've finished your first day."
Buddy decided that sounded ominous, but he had no chance to think about it any further as a man who could have been Mac's double came out of the shop.
"Mr Trakker; good to see you."
"Morning, Earl," Matt answered. "I've found you a new mechanic."
And suddenly, Buddy felt nervous. Earl sounded at once dubious and unfriendly, though, to judge from Matt's smile, Matt saw nothing wrong with the tone.
"Mac Stevens recommended him," Matt continued. "His name's Buddy Hawks."
Earl just lifted an eyebrow. "I haven't forgotten the last joker Mac recommended."
Buddy gulped. That really did sound ominous. To his surprise, Matt laughed. "I can promise you, Buddy's a little better than that."
Then Earl smiled and Buddy guessed that whatever it was, it had been a private joke between Earl and Matt. "We'll see," he said. Then to Buddy: "You ain't gonna change any oil just sitting in Mr Trakker's fancy ride."
Nervously, Buddy scrambled out the car and found himself being scrutinised by Earl's steady glare. Whatever test it was, he guessed he passed it when Earl nodded.
"You'll do," he pronounced. To Matt, he said, "Cassidy's in the office, if you need to see her."
Matt got out of the car. "Thanks; I'll do that. See you later, Buddy."
Buddy watched Matt cross the forecourt.
"All right, kid," said Earl, bringing Buddy's attention to the older man. "Let's get you started. We got a full schedule of services and inspections today. Since you can't do the inspections---"
"I know what to do," Buddy cut in.
"Maybe you do," said Earl sternly. "But you don't have a piece of paper from the state saying you can. Right?" Silently Buddy nodded. "Then you don't do any of the inspections, which means the services are all yours. Anything you don't know, you ask. Got me?" Buddy nodded. "All right. First service of the day's a '69 Chevy. Think you can deal?"
Earl grinned, at once looking far more friendly than he'd done at any other time so far. "All right, then, kid; get to work."
Buddy soon found Earl hadn't been exaggerating. No sooner had he finished one car than the next one arrived, and each one needed something slightly different. Then there was the unfamiliarity of the garage. He found that he was wasting quite a bit of time either asking Earl where tools were, or looking for them himself.
Although, as he lay on the board, trying to undo an oil pan plug that looked as if it might just have been fitted by Henry Ford himself, he reflected that he was probably not doing too badly. It had taken him several days to get the hang of Mac's rather eccentrically laid out shop and yet here, he could almost see the logic of Earl's methods.
The wrench slipped and Buddy scraped his knuckles against the underside of the car. "Son of a---" He sucked the abused knuckles, mentally ran through an extensive list of profanity and glared at the bolt. Who got their car serviced so infrequently that the oil pan plug was rusted in place?
He lifted the wrench, intending to make another attack on it. As he did so, he heard the unmistakable tap-tap of footsteps as someone entered the garage. Awkwardly, Buddy twisted, trying to see who it was, but from his vantage point, all he could see was a pair of very feminine heeled-boots.
"Can I help you?" he called.
The owner of the boots chuckled. "Got a question for you," she said, her voice low and husky. "Do mechanics on their first day get to break for lunch?"
Buddy jumped, and promptly cracked his head on the underside of the car. "Ow."
"Oh, jeeze; Buddy - you dumbass!" Buddy slid out from beneath the car in time to see the speaker, a petite young woman with fiery red hair, shake her head. "Your head's a hell of a lot softer than the underside of a car."
"I know that, Vanessa." Buddy sat up, a rueful smile on his face as he rubbed the bump. "On the other hand, if folks didn't scare me half to death, I wouldn't have head-butted half so many cars." He stood up and went to hug her. "I wasn't sure if you'd get my message."
"Uh-uh!" Vanessa fended him off. "You're covered in grease and I just got this jacket clean from the last time you slimed me!"
"Aw, c'mon." Buddy grinned all the same. Vanessa just looked at him. "I'll pay to get it cleaned, later."
"That'll be a first." But she finally submitted to being hugged and, for all her complaints, returned the hug enthusiastically. "I about kicked Rax's ass when he told me what happened on Tuesday," she murmured.
"It could have been better," Buddy agreed. "But it didn't turn out so bad in the end."
Vanessa let go of him and stepped back. "I couldn't believe it when Mac told me you'd gotten a job. But here you are - up to your neck in grease." She smiled. "You're like a cat; you know that?"
"What; I have nine lives?" Buddy joked.
"No; you land on your feet," Vanessa corrected. "Guess this means you're going respectable, huh?"
"I'm gonna give it a try." He smiled lopsidedly. "Can't keep doin' what I was doin'."
Vanessa nodded, but though she smiled, Buddy could see it was forced.
"What about you?" he asked.
"What d'you mean?"
Absently, Buddy started wiping his hands on an oily rag. "What're you planning on doing?"
"I haven't given it any thought," said Vanessa lightly. Too lightly for Buddy to entirely buy it.
"Bullshit," he said bluntly. "Look; Mac thinks you're in trouble---"
"Oh, Mac's been speaking to you, huh?" Vanessa's voice was suddenly flint-hard. "Mac doesn't know as much as he thinks."
"And maybe you don't know as much as you think, either," Buddy replied, looking up from his hands. "Vanessa, Rax set me up on Tuesday night."
"What?" Vanessa stared, incredulous. "Why the hell would he do that?"
"I never said it made sense." Buddy shrugged. "But I had a hell of a long time to think about it, Tuesday night. 'Fact, there wasn't really much else I could do, 'cept think."
"You've got it wrong." But Vanessa didn't sound as certain as perhaps she'd have liked.
The cough was pointed and came from the garage doorway. Buddy looked round and saw Earl frowning at him.
"Is Miss McLaren's oil change done?" Earl asked.
"Uh---" Buddy glanced back at the car he'd been working on. "Not yet."
"Then maybe you should get on with that, instead of arguing with your girlfriend," said Earl.
"Oh, I'm not his girlfriend," said Vanessa, as at the same moment, Buddy said, "Vanessa's not my girlfriend." They exchanged a glance, and Buddy added, "She's my sister."
Earl just gave them both a look. "Whatever." He turned to leave the garage again. "When you're done on Miss McLaren's car, get yourself some lunch. I don't want you passin' out."
Buddy waited until he was sure Earl was out of earshot. "Guess that answers your question."
"Huh?" Vanessa frowned. "What question?"
Buddy sat down on the board again and prepared to make another attack on the oil pan plug. "About whether I get lunch. Apparently, I do." He slid back under the car. "Though I don't know where I'd get anything around here."
"I drove up here," said Vanessa, moving to lean against one of the workbenches. "If you promise not to lecture me about Rax, I promise to take you some place for lunch."
Beneath the car, Buddy grimaced. This was what happened every time they ever tried to talk about Rax. They'd start to argue, then Vanessa would make him promise to drop the subject, and he'd agree to it. He sighed. "All right."
"Look; I'm not six any more," said Vanessa. "I can look after myself."
"C'mere, you little---" Buddy put as much force as he could muster into turning the wrench and was finally rewarded by the plug moving. "I know you can; I just---" He sighed as the oil started to empty out of the pan. "I just don't think everything's OK with Rax. Something's up."
"You don't like him," Vanessa observed.
"After Tuesday night, can you blame me?"
"Yeah, actually," came the answer.
"Oh, here we go." Buddy groaned. "I knew there'd be someway Tuesday was my fault."
"Buddy; how dumb do you have to be to go along with one of Rax's schemes?"
"I never claimed to be smart."
Vanessa snorted. "And you're not that dumb."
Buddy scooted out from under the car, plug in hand. "You go along with his schemes," he pointed out, starting to scrape the accumulated grunge and grease off the plug.
"Not that sort of scheme I don't," said Vanessa. "Besides," she added, "armed robbery? That's just not you." She snorted again. "In all the time I've known you, you've only gone after three people, and all three of them were hittin' on me."
Buddy had no answer to that. "You would tell me; if you were in trouble? Wouldn't you?"
"Of course I would. Haven't I always?" Vanessa answered. "You're my big brother and you always will be." She smiled. "Nothing's gonna change that."
Buddy smiled. "All right, then." The plug now clean, he sat back down on the board, intending to replace it.
"Oh, hey, wait a sec." Buddy looked up to see Vanessa suddenly, and frantically, patting her jacket pockets. "I got something for you." She frowned. "Damnit; where'd I put it?"
"In your car?" Buddy suggested helpfully.
"No--- Ah!" Vanessa finally extracted a small package from an inner jacket pocket. "Here." She handed it over. "It's kinda a congratulations thing."
Bemused, Buddy accepted the parcel and opened it. Inside was a red cloth cap.
"I figured, when Mac told me what you were doing, it'd be useful," Vanessa explained. "Keep the oil and shit out of your hair."
Buddy grinned and firmly rammed the cap down, over his hair. "Thanks; it's perfect."
"Now how 'bout you finish this oil change? I'm starving."
Buddy lay back on the board and slid beneath the car again. "You and me both."
The oil change only took another fifteen minutes to complete, then Vanessa, complaining bitterly that he was going to get oil on her car's upholstery, drove Buddy up to a small roadside diner a mile further along the road.
"I don't know why you're complaining," Buddy commented as they reached the diner. "Your car's a museum piece anyway."
Vanessa rolled her eyes. "It's not that old." Buddy just grinned. "Anyway; you oughta have coveralls or something. Didn't Mac loan you some?"
"I grew out of 'em." Buddy shrugged as they entered the diner. "Besides, all my clothes are covered in grease anyway."
Vanessa snorted. "That's no excuse." To the diner waitress, she said, "Two BLTs and two sodas."
"Coming up," said the waitress with a small grimace at Buddy's oil stained clothing.
Once she was out of earshot, Vanessa said, "See? It's not just me."
Buddy groaned. "Jeeze, what are you? My mom or something?"
Vanessa grinned. "Just your little sister who's embarrassed to be seen out with you."
Buddy rolled his eyes and groaned again. "All right, already. I'll spend my paycheck on clothes. Satisfied?"
"Maybe," Vanessa replied, smiling a little.
Buddy recognised the expression on her face. "All right; what? What do you want me to do?"
"Take me with you?"
The waitress delivered the two sandwiches and the two glasses of soda at that moment, so Buddy waited until she was once more out of earshot before he asked, "Why?"
Vanessa smiled innocently. "Because I've always wanted to be taken shopping by a guy with money?" Buddy just looked at her. "All right; I wanna razz you over your taste in shirts."
Buddy groaned again. "Why do I put up with this?"
"Because I'm your sister, and you love me for it," Vanessa answered. "And because I've bought you lunch."
Buddy picked up his sandwich. "When you put it that way; I guess I don't have a choice."
Vanessa grinned. "Nope."
After lunch, Vanessa took Buddy back to the gas station and then headed off on her own concerns. But if Buddy had thought the afternoon would give him a chance to think about everything she'd said and, more importantly, what she'd not said, he was sorely mistaken.
If possible, the afternoon was even busier than the morning. He lost count of the number of cars he worked on and by the time six o'clock rolled around, his knuckles were scraped bare from constantly bashing them against sections of engine. Still, as he finally tightened the last nut on the final car of the day, he decided it could have definitely been a worse start.
"Good job, kid," Earl observed as Buddy slid out from beneath the car. "You did good."
"Thanks." Buddy smiled.
"Tomorrow, I'll show you how to close up; tonight, Cassidy's itching to get going."
Earl just thumbed in the direction of the garage door. "Get," he said, a smile on his face. "See you tomorrow, kid."
And that seemed to be Earl's last word on the matter, as the older man started putting away the tools. Given no other alternative, Buddy wiped his hands on an oily rag and made his way out of the garage and into the evening sunlight.
"Hey; kid!" The shout, paired by a piercing whistle, directed Buddy's attention to a truck, parked up on the edge of the forecourt with its engine running. Seated inside it was a woman who looked about the same age as Matt, with mousy brown hair and wrap-around sunglasses. Seeing she had his attention, she waved him over. "I'll give you a ride, kid."
Buddy realised this must be Cassidy. He wasn't quite sure what he'd been expecting her to look like, all he knew was this wasn't it! The one thing that was obvious was that she was impatient to get going. Hurriedly, he crossed the forecourt, not wanting to annoy her any further.
"Thanks---" he began.
Cassidy cut him off. "I drive past the place anyway," she said. "Hop in and let's get going." Then she smiled. "Sorry; I just have to get home quick tonight."
"Get. In," Cassidy insisted.
Meekly, Buddy did as he was told.
"Better," Cassidy remarked, pulling away from the gas station with a rubber-burning tyre squeal. "First rule of working at Boulder Hill Gas Station: Don't argue with Cassidy."
Buddy decided the safest response to that was no response. Instead, he concentrated on not getting thrown out of his seat as Cassidy hurled her truck round the hairpin bends in the road that led back towards the mansion. She'd get on great with Vanessa, he decided as they screeched round another bend with the truck coming perilously close to rolling. They're both nuts when it comes to speed!
After one final turn, when Buddy was convinced the truck took it only on two wheels, he was more than relieved to see the gateway of the mansion coming up fast on the left-hand side of the road. Cassidy screeched to a halt right outside the gate.
"You don't mind if I just drop you here?" she asked.
"Uh, no." Buddy wasn't sure he ever wanted to be in another vehicle Cassidy was driving, ever. "Thanks."
"De nada," said Cassidy. "See you next week."
Buddy slid out of the truck, and no sooner had he closed the passenger door than Cassidy was off with another squeal of tyres and a spray of dust and gravel.
Buddy slowly shook his head as he crossed the road and entered the mansion's gates. She's nuts - I hope I don't have to catch another ride with her. He walked slowly up the drive, enjoying the chance to stretch after spending so much of the day in various awkward positions. A shower was going to feel extremely good, and maybe twelve hours of sleep, too.
As he neared the mansion's main entrance, Sarah, with Scott firmly strapped into a stroller, appeared through one of the side doors.
"Buddy; how'd it go?" she asked.
Vaguely, Buddy realised he was actually too tired to feel nervous in her presence as he answered, "Good, thanks."
Sarah grinned. "Good. This monster," and she waved a hand at the grinning Scott, "has decided he's not tired, so I'm going to see what a little fresh air will do for him. Dinner will be at eight o'clock tonight, if you want to join us?"
Buddy's stomach chose that moment to growl, loudly. He blushed. "Uh, maybe not."
Sarah smiled. "No problem." She turned the stroller and started along a path that suggested it might lead round to the back of the mansion. "See you later," she called.
Buddy nodded and made his way into the mansion and up to the small apartment.
While a frozen pizza cooked in the tiny kitchen's oven, Buddy showered and tried to wash off as much of the accumulated grease as was possible. Unfortunately, by the time the oven's timer started bleeping, indicating the pizza was cooked, all he'd really succeeded in doing was turning his hands a more uniform grey colour. So I need to buy some grease remover, he reflected, hastily pulling on the threadbare sweat pants and rescuing the pizza before it turned to a cinder. Maybe I should get that before I meet up with Vanessa. She'll only tell me she told me so.
Despite his better efforts, though, the pizza was still on the charred side. Guess the oven cooks hotter than it says, Buddy decided, making a mental note to use a slightly lower setting next time. For all that it was burnt, though, the pizza still tasted good, and at least it stopped his stomach from making him sound like he hadn't eaten all day!
Once he'd finished eating, Buddy cleaned up the kitchen, then wondered what he ought to do for the rest of the evening. He almost felt tired enough to just go straight to bed, but he vaguely felt as if he ought to do something constructive towards that 'other' side to his employment. The difficulty was knowing quite what and just where he ought to start. Sure, he'd designed vehicles before, but generally, he knew exactly what the vehicle was to be used for. This felt extremely vague.
Restless, Buddy started to explore the apartment, as if seeking inspiration. The bedroom closets revealed nothing but a few wire hangers and a lost lady's shoe that he guessed had probably belonged to the previous occupant of the apartment. The kitchen cupboards revealed a coffee percolator and all the paraphernalia necessary for brewing coffee. That, at least, looked useful.
Pulling all the bits out, Buddy set about brewing a pot of coffee. Then he turned his attention from the kitchen to that wide desk. It was an old fashioned looking piece of furniture, with drawers on both sides, most of which were empty, but the largest of them, which ran the entire width of the desk, was full of stationery supplies, including a huge stack of construction paper. Useful, he decided.
At that moment, there was a knock on the door. Buddy turned to face it just as Matt entered.
"Hi," said Matt. "Are you busy?"
Buddy glanced at the paper. "Not really."
Matt smiled. "Good; follow me."
Bemused, Buddy duly followed Matt out of the apartment, down the stairs and then through the doorway immediately next to the foot of the stairs. To Buddy's surprise, on the other side of the door was yet more stairs. These led down and Buddy guessed they were going to ultimately come out in one of the mansion's basements. Why was Matt taking him down here?
Then they reached the bottom of the stairs and Buddy found his answer: The stairs led to a subterranean parking garage of cavernous proportions. There were only three vehicles parked up. One was the Camaro, parked on the left hand side of the garage. Beside it was a powder-blue '57 Chevy that looked as if it had probably seen better days, while on the right of the garage was a non-descript pick-up truck that looked as if it was more rust than truck.
It was the truck that Matt led Buddy towards.
"She doesn't look much," Matt admitted, "and she probably isn't up to much, either, but she goes, she's street-legal and she'd get you from here to the gas station and back. What do you think?"
Buddy blinked. Was Matt actually offering him the use of the truck? "I---"
"You could look at it as a project," Matt continued, smiling. "Both Mac and Earl agree that the chassis is sound, so with a little work---" Matt spread his hands wide.
Now Buddy recognised it. "This is Mac's; isn't it?"
"Well it was at the back of Mac's lot," Matt agreed. "I'm not sure it was exactly his."
Buddy grinned a little. "He told me he won it in a poker game."
Matt tipped his head back and laughed. "That sounds like Mac."
Buddy shot him a curious look. "I guess you know him pretty well."
"I should do," Matt admitted. "Andy and I were probably some of the first kids he took in and kept out of trouble, and I've stayed in touch."
"He told you about me," Buddy realised.
"I mentioned I was looking for a good, inventive mechanic," said Matt. "He mentioned you." Buddy wasn't quite sure what to think about such a bald admission. "Not that he was telling me anything new; I'm involved with the racer competition."
Matt gave him a look. "Anyone who can design a car fast enough to beat all course records for that competition and build it out of scrap has a special talent. Be proud of it." He reached out and patted the truck. "So what do you think; think this would work out?"
Buddy gave the truck another look. It would need a complete bodywork overhaul and a re-spray and he doubted the engine would run to his standards, but it had promise. "Yeah; I think it might."
TO BE CONTINUED