'The Pendragon Route Incident'

by Phineas Redux

—OOO—

Summary:— Fiona 'Fay' Cartwright & Alice 'Al' Drever, lovers, are private detectives in an East Coast American city, in the 1930's. They have to follow suspects on an old bootlegger's cross-country route.

Disclaimer:— All characters are copyright ©2020 to the author. All characters in this story are fictional, and any resemblance to real persons living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Caution:— There is some light swearing in this story.

—O—

Giovanni Jimmy Favelli, big-time gangster in Delacote City NH, in this year of 1934, was still hobbling around his home in the salubrious district of Todmorton with the aide of crutches; these being needful because of a .45 bullet in the left shin curtesy of Fiona Cartwright who, some three months earlier, held a grudge against him. The fact she was presently taking up space on the long sofa in his drawing-room, smiling gaily beside her constant companion, business partner and lover Alice Drever, not adding to his happy nature, rather adding to his ongoing woes.

"So, this's a bona-fide deal, yer sayin'?"

"Yeah, Jimmy." Alice taking the strain of conversation. "Inspector Fletcher gives ya his word o'Honour he'll nix the investigation in'ta the anonymous trucks leaving those Delacote Harbor warehouses late at night these last six months with who knows what on board. In return you supply Fay an' me with an experienced bootlegging driver who knows this state like the back of his, or her, hand."

"Why?"

"Why? Why should ya take Fletcher's offer?" Fiona raising a suspicious eyebrow in the crime lord's direction. "You're askin' a dam' lot'ta questions, an' I still got my forty-five in my handbag."

"Very funny." Jimmy taking this threat with the amount of salt it obviously needed. "Plug me agin an' you'll be doin' twenty in the Pen a'fore ya can blink, is all; an' ya knows same."

"Jimmy, Jimmy," Alice coming it the soft sell. "let's all be friends, forget old troubles, an' work t'gether like partners. OK, what's up, you ask? Well, Fletcher tells us there's a undercover operation goin' on, led by a bunch o'crooks out'ta Canada, moving snow in large quantities to the good ol' US of A. Usin' the old Pendragon bootleggers' route—you know, from Pendragon, over the Quebec border, then down through NH to Vermont. It's broken up there, an' then distributed across the board. So, Fletcher thinks, get an old bootleg driver, follow the old Pendragon route on an appropriate night when snow's fallin', if ya follow, an' catch the bozos' red—or, actually, white-handed."

Considering this information, Jimmy hobbled slowly from one side of the wide room to the other, brow furrowed in deep thought.

"OK, I'm in. Who'd ya want, fer the driver? I got, say four, five names floatin' around."

Fiona wrinkled her own forehead as she thought about the offer.

"Who's your best? We wants someone right on the ball, not any taxi driver who thinks they know the way. Someone who can drive at speed, blindfolded at night, an' not miss a corner all the way."

This time Jimmy came to a halt, looking at the seated women as if they originated in Borneo.

"God, don't want much, do yer?" But he buckled under the strain, that being by necessity his only course. "Rose Delaine, she's in her early thirties, been a driver fer me these past ten year. Nobody better; an' she's made somethin' of a career of the ol' Pendragon Route—bootlegging booze an' whatnot, ya know. Till the Repeal killed that market."

"An' you don't do drugs, Jimmy?" Alice asking this pertinent question with an open-eyed innocence.

"Dam' right I don't do snow, nor opium or dope, or anythin' o'that nature." Jimmy's tone cold and harsh. "My brother, an' a sister, both fell foul o'drugs, some years since. I spent more'n a year trackin' down their dealers—jes' let's say they ain't dealin' any more."

A quiet pause entered the room and took up extended visitation rights as the three digested this tragic history.

"Well, Rose Delaine; when can we meet her? The quicker the better, of course." Fiona carefully guiding the conversation back onto the main track.

"Let's see," Jimmy, unable to rub his chin, made do with shuffling his crutches on the deep carpet. "God, I'll need'ta replace this dam' carpet; it's so deep I keep fallin' on either my face or butt—dam' crutches. Why'n Hell couldn't ya have shot me in the arm or somethin', Fay?"

"Spur of the moment, ol' sport." Fiona being wholly unmoved by this cry of anguish. "Never mind, you're doin' wonderful with those crutches; y'll soon be back t'normal; harassin' the housemaids like ol' times."

"Har-har." Jimmy finding this quip hardly funny. "OK, I'll send Rose round t'your office; say, four this afternoon?"

"Goodie, that's fine, Jimmy." Alice rising, along with her lover, to vacate the premises.

"Jes' make sure dam' Fletcher sticks t'his promise, is all."

"Yeah, yeah, don't worry yourself, Jimmy." Fiona waving a hand towards the invalid as she passed into the corridor. "He'll come through, if you come through first."

"Rr-rrh."

—O—

The offices of Drever and Cartwright, Private Detectives, lay on the 5th floor of the Packer Building, Delacote City, NH.; in fact they made up a small suite, public room, where prospective clients were left to stew till wanted; their secretary, Helen's, small cubby-hole where she produced all the needed paperwork and answered the telephone; Fiona and Alice's private office featuring a long table, massive Victorian bookcase, metal filing cabinets, and a long desk; a private bathroom; and a small subsidiary room where they kept all manner of residual material and equipment.

The afternoon was well on and several pieces of work had been dealt with—clearing the decks, as it were—so that, when Rose Delaine rolled up in front of Helen's desk she was spared the Black Hole of Calcutta experience, instead being shunted straight through to the two waiting, and eager, detectives.

"Hi'ya, I'm Fay, this's Al; so, you're Rose?"

"Seems so, me goin' by that moniker these 30 odd years or so." The middle-sized young brunette raised enquiring eyebrows, speaking in a low growl. "Got a grudge agin' it, or what? Wan'na call me Susan instead, or what?"

Alice had been quietly taking in the personal appearance of their latest guest, eyeing her from head to toe and all points in between; noting her looks, seeming some five years less than her stated age, the pale green wool suit she wore—waist-length jacket with round collar and a tight skirt loosening below the knee to let her ankles show without restraint as she walked or sat, and low-heeled brown shoes; finished with her revue Alice now sprang into action.

"Nah, Rose's good. So, what're your credentials? We know Jimmy's recommended you—but, what ya got we need?"

Rose turned her head slightly to bring her second questioner into full view, staring her down with a hard gaze capable of scaring an Archangel silly enough to stand in her way.

"Jimmy says ya need a driver; a driver who's run the Pendragon Route, more'n once? Well, you're lookin' at same; I spent two year on that route, know it like the back o'my hand. Every corner, every curve, every junction, every side-track, the whole schemolion. That do fer a reference?"

Alice and Fiona exchanged glances; both more or less telepathically letting each other know that here they had a cool customer, and no mistake.

"OK, that checks with what we told Jimmy was wanted." Fiona lowering her brows to give back in kind some of Rose's scowl, but without much apparent effect. "Takin' which in'ta account I suppose we better fill ya in on the case."

"Charmed, I'm sure."

"You ever done time in the hoosegow?" Alice being as catty as she thought warranted in the circumstances.

"Two, in Peel Road Pen., Portsmouth, if ya must know." Rose giving this information with all the appearance of a dentist's client under the needle. "Five year ago, now. Why, that count for or agin' me?"

Ignoring this delicate, even debatable, question Fiona got down to business.

"We needs ya t'drive the old Pendragon Route, maybe over several nights—possibly for a coupl'a weeks. There's a gang, operating out'ta Pendragon, Quebec; they're runnin' snow, cocaine—"

"Hell, I know what snow is; take me fer a innocent schoolgirl, or what?"

"Only sayin'." Fiona smoothing over this stumble in the conversation. "So, they use a variety of trucks, coming through from Pendragon over the mountains, cut through Western NH, an' shoot in'ta Vermont quick as y'like. That's the run."

"How often?" Rose showing she knew how to ask the right questions herself.

"Far as we can make out, curtesy of Inspector Fletcher of the Fifth Precinct, at least twice a week over the last six months." Alice nodding over her open notebook. "The vehicles are always either small Fords or Whites—"

"Flatbed or panelled?"

"Panelled; enclosed, that is." Alice realising Rose knew of what she spoke. "Rear doors and enclosed cargo space. They ain't big trucks; just the sort you'd see farmers' usin'."

"Yeah, you couldn't get a big truck over the mountains, no way; at least, on those back roads." Rose agreeing with this supposition. "So, if you're gon'na follow them, what're you two gon'na use? An' what d'ya want I should drive?"

Here she had picked the high point of the whole plan, Fiona coming in with the details.

"We're all goin' t'gether." Fiona pinning her co-respondent with what she firmly hoped was an authoritative glance. "We have a White three-tonner, panelled. Extra gas drum in the back linked t'the gas tank, so's we won't need t'worry about fuel."

"Very nifty." Rose nodding approvingly. "So, we're all gon'na be in this set-up t'gether, eh?"

"Yeah, that's the way we plan it." Alice looking somewhat dubiously at the young woman.

"You-all gon'na be tooled up with roscoes'?"

"In course; dam' silly if we didn't." Alice beginning to be a trifle riled.

"Only askin'." Rose frowned darkly, then came out with her noli me tangere. "If'n you're armed, I'm armed, too. No questions, no quibbles, no pissin' me off with idle chat about the moral natur' o'the sit'y-atin'; you're armed, I'm packin' my Forty-five, too. That, or I'm out."

A second pause, this one far chillier than its predecessor, elbowed its way into the office; staying for an appreciable time before being given its marching orders by Fiona, now no longer in a good mood.

"OK, but, use it at the wrong time, with the wrong results, an' you'll be takin' a return trip t'Peel Street that'll last a dam' sight longer than you're previous one, darlin'."

"Har."

—O—

"Think we're doin' the right thing, lover?" Alice was in two minds, both of a negative nature if the truth be told. "I don't like that dame, not one little bit."

It was early evening, and they were alone in their office, mulling over their first meeting with Rose Delaine.

"She's one for the History books, that's for sure, at least." Fiona harbouring feelings no whit less adversely directed than her partner. "We'll just have t'keep a sharp eye on her, is all."

"God, one more problem; as if we already didn't have more'n our fair share." Alice letting her private thoughts taste the public air unrestrictedly. "Well, when's the show open, baby o'my dreams?"

"Accordin' t'the phonecall from Fletcher we took an hour ago, we've missed the latest run, last night." Fiona pondered on the outcome of this news. "So our next chance comes on Thursday night an' Friday morn; if they keep the same schedule."

"What's the exact route?"

Fiona shuffled an opened map into place on the wide desk in front of herself and Alice.

"See, here; the truck'll come over west of Snow Mountain, headin' down t'the White Mountains just west of Gorham." She placed her finger on the map, tracing the route. "Cross the Mountains, aimin' for Plymouth, then take a sharp right for the Vermont border around Hanover way. Cross in'ta Vermont there, an' disappear in'ta the Green Mountains, mission accomplished."

"An' where does Fletcher say we should cut 'em off, an' hand 'em over t'the boys in blue?"

"He's settin' up roadblocks, an' things, just outside Plymouth." Fiona pursed her lips dubiously. "If we don't capture them there, we won't get them at all, so he says."

"Huumph, that ain't positive thinkin', in my book." Alice showing away with all her famed decisiveness in a tight corner. "Once I gets on their heels, I'll be dam'med if I lets 'em shake me, come hell, high water, or—or—or, any dam' thing, so there."

Fiona had the answer to this outlook.

"Al, I loves yer ter bits, I do."

"Har. Ditto, from this member o'the party in question, lover."

"Ha-ha!"

—O—

The party under observation had, it was hoped, come through as expected from Quebec west of Snow Mountain, then headed south keeping to the eastern side of a multitude of lakes before taking the Andover-Bethel Pass through the Blue Mountains expecting to turn sharply east again through the White Mountains and veer south-east towards Plymouth, on the way to Hanover and the Vermont border. While the police had organised a complex series of roadblocks and interceptor vehicles throughout the Plymouth region Fiona and Alice had decided that picking the criminals up early and following them was the best plan; the side roads in this whole area of New Hampshire being so complicated and extensive that the crooks had a multitude of possible routes they might take, thereby outwitting any possible police intervention. So, just north of the Androscoggin River on a side road off the main route from Andover, the ladies' truck sat quietly awaiting the appearance of their prey; a stand of firs hiding them from the larger road.

"The engine turning over like this, how much fuel's it using up?" Alice's mind on the accounting ledger, no matter their position.

"Rest easy, lady." Scorn clearly apparent in Rose's tone. "We keep the engine on, the heater keeps us warm; turn it off, we freeze t'death in somethin' under three hours. What's your choice?"

"Rrrr."

"We got enough extra gas, in that drum in the rear, baby." Fiona pouring oil on troubled waters. "We'll be OK, don't worry."

"I ain't worrying; I'm just curious, is all." Alice miffed beyond endurance. "Someone's got'ta keep their eye on the expences, an' what-all else."

"Who's payin' yer for this Sunday School outing, if I may ask?" Rose, sitting behind the wide steering-wheel, mistress of all she surveyed. "Me bein' curious, too, y'know."

The three women sat in line on the long bench-seat in the truck's cab; Rose on the left side behind the wheel, Alice in the middle and Fiona on the right side. All three wore thick trousers, shirts, woolen jumpers, and heavy jackets with fur collars. Wide-brimmed hats, gloves, and lined boots were also widely in evidence. On top of which each woman was tooled up with the side-arm of their choice. The truck sat under cover of a thick stand of firs, engine idling gently, giving just enough power to keep the heater running, though even so it was not exactly warm in the cab.

"Think I'm developing frostbite in my left foot." Alice determined to mine her unhappiness to its darkest depths. "Probably walk with a limp for the rest of my life, after this fiasco."

"Al?"

"Yeah, lover?"

"Can ya hear me easy, lady?"

"Ain't I just said yeah?"

"Well, in that case—can it, I'm gettin' a headache."

"Oh, very funny."

Rose, perhaps feeling left out of the conversation, took this opportunity to shove her cent's worth in.

"Lights, on the road, way yonder."

Instantly a new atmosphere materialised; Rose sat forward hands on her wheel, Alice too leaned towards the windscreen, searching the darkness with narrowed eyes, Fiona casually put a hand down to the holster carrying her .45 automatic.

"Let's wait an' see." Fiona speaking in a nervous undertone.

Some half mile further north along the main Andover-Bethel road the approaching lights could now be clearly seen by all three. Weaving from side to side and up and down as the road surface dictated the unseen vehicle approached smoothly, at a medium speed.

"Truck, or car?" Alice nearly closing her eyes completely in her efforts to answer her own question.

"Too far, yet." Rose's tone exuding calm with no sign of excitement. "I've done this scores o'times, in the past. We just wait, it'll only be another thirty seconds, or so. What was the Trucking Company name you thought was bein' used?"

"Fairley's Freight, out'ta Sherbrooke, Quebec." Fiona answering almost subconsciously as she too kept her eyes on the closing vehicle. "Dark green overall with mustard coloured typography in large letters along the side."

"Is it?—is it?" Alice's impatience growing with every passing second.

The vehicle topped a low rise, passing along the main road hardly more than fifty yards distant heading south.

"It is!" Alice nearly shouting in glee. "Come on, get after the g-d'd-m thugs, Rose. Put your foot down, for God's sake."

"I'm on it." Rose threw the truck into gear, revved the engine and swung her wheel round, right elbow digging viciously into Alice's side in doing so. "Move over some, yer crowdin' me."

"Graah."

Rose, with the gentle skill of an expert, maneouvered the heavy White truck out of the side-road onto the main drag with smooth efficiency. Turning her wheel hard she lined up on the road and pushed down on the accelerator.

"How close ya want we trails 'em?"

"No closer than, oh, quarter a mile." Alice asserting her wishes as she squirmed around trying to get comfortable in the now rocking vibrating vehicle. "Any closer, they'll clock we're onto 'em."

"We got'ta stay nearer'n that, or we'll lose 'em fer sure." Rose pinpointing the obvious. "There's any number o'side roads they could slip down while we're still too far behind to see. Might take us miles a'fore we realised."

Forced into a corner Alice gave way.

"Well, keep 'em in sight, then; but not close enough they can see we're tailin' 'em." She scowled once again. "Can you do that, at least?"

"If we can see 'em, they can see us, is all." Rose battled with the wheel, coasting the truck round a tight bend. "We can't drive without headlights, which'd be simple madness in this darkness; we got'ta keep 'em in sight, so's we know where they're headed. If'n they realise they're bein' followed an' do something drastic as a result, what's the plan?"

Fiona was up for this likelihood.

"If they head off the Pendragon Route, that's our cue t'rev up, overtake them, push them off the road, an' round 'em all up like cattle."

But Rose had an extraordinary answer to this plan.

"Drive off the Pendragon?" She took a moment to glance across at Fiona. "You don't know what the Pendragon Route is, do ya?"

"Wha'ya mean?"

Rose sighed, then slowed down slightly as she went into school-mistress mode.

"The Pendragon ain't a single route, by which I mean a single road or series of such, from point A to point B." She shook her head at the innocence of some. "The Pendragon is a district, an area, a wide vista, far as the eye can take in, at least by daylight. You can veer left in'ta the by-roads an' lanes, an' mudtracks; ditto to the right. You can take the Winnipesaukee-Franklin route; or the Moosilauke-Hanover direction; or play safe with the Plymouth-Bellows Falls route; or any number o'variations of the above, or other courses—it's all the Pendragon Route, covers a lot'ta ground, y'see."

Fiona was p-ssed at this late revelation.

"Sounds like it's half of New Hampshire? What d'we need you for, then?"

Rose, undaunted, was up for this mild criticism.

"Because, even so, they take a sideroad you won't have any idee what in hell they're up to." She returned her attention to the road ahead. "You won't know where any side track leads; what state the roads or lanes they're taking you into are in; which way's which; hell, you'll be lost an' your vehicle croaked inside an hour, whiles the runners drive off in'ta the sunset, laughin' like hyenas; take my word for it."

Echoing stout Cortez, Fiona and Alice gazed at each other, both struck dumb by the iniquities of Fate.

—O—

An hour had passed and, although keeping their long range distance, the truck ahead still seemed blissfully unaware it had a stalker on its heels. All the occupants of the White truck could see, in fact, were the small red tail-lights of the vehicle they were pursuing; lights which flickered, blinked off and on as the road rose and fell, or disappeared for varying lengths of time as the road took a series of wider or shallower bends. All this contributing to Alice's rising heart problems.

"God, they're gone again. We've lost 'em."

"Ma'am, Miss, Lady," Rose also beginning to lose her own cool under this continual whining. "give it a rest, will ya? I know this area like the back o'my hand. They ain't goin' anywhere I can't follow, these comin' fifteen miles, or find a quicker route t'catch up with them further on. They ain't gon'na escape us, so quite whinin' will ya."

Fiona grabbed at this possibility like a hungry refugee.

"Can't you do that? I mean, take another route an' get ahead o'them? We could block the road an' take 'em out easy, then."

Rose, beset by problems inside as well as outside the cab, finally began to gibber with the increasing strain.

"This here, where we are right now, it's the main drag; any other side-track'd be a lesser choice, slowin' us down." Her tone took on that of a child denied its daily lollipop. "If they go off-road; I mean, take a side turning, then I'll know full well what's up, an' can take action. Like goin' on along this road, at a higher speed—cut 'em off well ahead, some'ers. But, like ya both can see fer yersel's, they ain't doin' that; at least, not yet. We're stuck on this road, in this position, well behind the b-ggers, an' that's all there is to it."

Alice considered their position, and options.

"G-d'd-m."

—O—

The night was progressing at its usual speed, but not by any means fast enough for two of the passengers in the White cab.

"How far's Plymouth from here?" Alice beginning to harbour esoteric plans, in her imagination, as to corraling the bandits and dealing summarily with them.

"Oh, sixty mile plus." Rose, from wide experience, knowing the distance to an inch.

"Sh-t. Through these mountains, all the way?"

"Yep." Rose not unwilling in the slightest to lower the morale of her companions as far as possible. "We got'ta lot'ta goin' up, a'fore we finish goin' down, t'Plymouth. You both got a head fer heights? Some o'this here road, an' a variety o'the side tracks, sort'a cling to the edge o'Eternity someway's along the sides o'these mountains. There's one long stretch, over a mile, where the wheels' edges the side of a thousand foot sheer drop, bendin' an' turnin' a'ways in the doin' so; the side-tracks up in the forest not bein' much better. That'll sure as beans wake yer both up when we reaches same."

Two groans echoed in the confines of the cab, one tenor, the other contralto, but both deeply imbued with regret at ever getting into this situation.

But a change was rapidly approaching; indeed, had all but arrived, when Rose took an extra keen glance ahead through her windscreen.

"They're off the main road, gone along a side-track, t'the right amongst all those dam' firs."

Alice perked up in an instant, as if she had been awaiting this very move on the bandits' side.

"Can we follow?"

Rose gently brought the truck to a standstill, short of where the other vehicle had vanished.

"Nah, that wouldn't be wise." She rested her arms on the wheel, considering the position. "That track they've taken, I knows it. It runs mostly straight, even though it goes through a forest o'firs right down on each side o'the track; and in one place it circumnavigates one o'those long vertical sheer drop's I was talkin' about. We follow, they'll realise they've got company in the first mile."

"So, what do we do?" Fiona raising her eyebrows enquiringly.

"Like I said a'fore; we revs up an' takes the rest o'this main road like bats out'ta hell, is what we do." Rose wriggled into a more comfortable position behind her wheel. "That trail they just took, they got'ta come back on'ta this here main highway round Lincoln way, twenty mile north o'Plymouth. If'n we drive fast, an' I mean real fast, we can overtake 'em, an' be waiting at the Lincoln intersection for 'em when they arrives—but we got'ta make tracks right now."

Fiona gave Alice a glance; Alice returned the favour, then both spoke at once.

"Push it t'the floor, lady, an' don't let up fer Hell or High Water, or anythin'."

"Seventy'd be a comfortable average, t'aim for, I believes." Alice being just a trifle optimistic, considering the surrounding mountainous landscape.

Rose, however, was up for it.

"Hang on, ladies', here we goes." And she pressed the accelerator to the floor of the cab with intent, deliberation, and a certain level of pure savagery.

—O—

The White truck had hardly covered another three miles before those in the chilly cab realised why the drug-runners had veered off onto a lesser, but more private, track. In their flickering headlights the glare and dark shapes of a police roadblock showed up spread fully across the road, necessitating their coming to a halt to engage the officers in light-hearted banter.

"What the f-ck're you doin' here?" Fiona leaning out her side-window to chastise the ill-positioned officers.

"Who the f-ck're you?" The officer out in front giving back in kind, glowering the while. "Ya want a ticket right-off, jes' fer bein' p-ssy ter a police officer—'cause I'm the man ter do jes' that. Papers."

"Don't you know who we are?" Alice leaning firmly over Rose's shoulder to shout out the opposite window. "We're in hot pursuit. The Plymouth officers know all about the set-up. Why don't you?"

"All we knows is, we got'ta hold a block on this here road, at this here point, t'stop a suspicious vehicle, a truck." The officer was in his element. "You're a truck, an' a dam' suspicious vehicle in anyone's book, an' mine. Out, all'a ya; let's see the colour o'yer papers, if any. An' if I ain't satisfied, it's the hoosegow fer the whole bilin' o'ye, straight."

The ensuing quarter of an hour, for Fiona and Alice, went down in history as one of the most frustrating periods of their individual and combined business lives. They shouted at officer Harris one on one; then both together, to no avail. Officer Harris, having spent all of three seconds being polite to the Public, threw aside his cloak to reveal his real nature—that of a lion with a toothache. He threatened his female interlocutors with condign, though unspecified, punishment; menaceed them both with railway-shares, leaving aside any attempt to charm with smiles and soap; then, reaching his limits, hauled out a five-shot revolver which looked as if it had never seen the light of day before, and hadn't yet seeing this was still the middle of the night, and admitted he was in the mood for some target practice. It was Rose who, finally coming to life, brought the somewhat embarrassing confrontation to an close.

"Say, officer, what's that man in that cop car doin'?"

Harris, taken off-guard, turned to the vehicle in question.

"He's on the radio, what's it t'you?"

"Call the Plymouth HQ; tell 'em it's in relation t'the Pendragon Route snow operation." Rose's tone remaining cool and clear, as one totally in charge of her feelings. "Get Inspector Thomson on the line; he bein' in charge. Tell him Fiona Cartwright an' Alice Drever are here, itchin' t'get on ahead after their prey. Better make it snappy, if you still want t'be a police-officer in the morning—only sayin'."

Five minutes later, having refrained from giving the police squad any kind of a fond farewell, the White truck was on the road once more; Rose as happy as a lark, Fiona and Alice keeping a sordid silence; they both being equally browned-off with the whole past drama.

"I'm gon'na speed up agin'." Rose letting her passengers know what was on her mind. "Meb'be some faster than I anticipated, what with that hold-up, an' all."

"Mrr-rph." From Fiona, gloomy as hell.

"Rrr-rr." From Alice, in a dark world of her own.

"Yeah, well, there ya go." Rose, unfazed, getting on with business.

—O—

It was April but that meant there was still a fair to large amount of standing snow, the real stuff, lying around or indeed covering wide stretches of the visible landscape; including the highway. The present highway was a highway in physical make-up as well as name; but one of those windy, curvy, never a straight run if it were ever so, kind of highways. The fact that Rose felt it quite reasonable to keep up a speed hovering in the high fifties to low sixties soon began to get on the detectives' nerves, after the fourth slide sideways round a tight bend, rear axle only just missing slithering off the road edge by the grace of who knew whom. Alice being the first of the duo to essay a quiet remark bearing on the matter.

"For f-ck's sake, Rose, take it easy; I like bein' alive."

"What? What's the problem?" Rose glanced swiftly at her irate passenger, before returning to keeping an eye on the road ahead gleaming ghostly white in the headlights. "I once went along here, eight year or so ago, at an average of seventy-two. This's chicken-feed by comparison."

"Meb'be slow down a little?" Fiona trying to make her and her partner's wishes politely apparent while still presenting an air of authority; two standpoints ill-matched to hold the stage together. "Just a little?"

"We slow down, we lose." Rose's tone expressing all her controlled disgust. "What d'ya want, then?"

The detectives hardly needed to discuss this topic; the answer being so readily available to everyone in the cab.

"OK, OK, just be—careful." Alice surrendering with no further fight. "Jee-sus! We nearly hit that dam' tree!"

"But we didn't, ya might'a noticed." Rose recovering the truck's slide round the latest tight corner with practiced ease. "Now ya both see why Favelli recommended me, an' not anyone else?"

Half a mile further on, however, presented another kind of difficulty. Along a fairly straight stretch of the not overwide road all three in the cab saw the headlights of an approaching vehicle; one which seemed to be intent on taking up most of their side of the road.

"F-ck, we're gon'na crash head-on." Alice only capable of seeing the likely end result.

"Veer over—now-now!" Fiona trying for the pragmatic solution.

Instead Rose put out a gloved hand and pressed the horn button with grandiose disregard for the subtleties of life. She depressed the button, and kept it pressed—the White truck being equiped, the detectives' now found out, with something astonishing in the way of car horns; this one sounding, indeed, rather more in the line of that on the Mauretania than otherwise.

"God-a'mighty, I'm deafened." Alice putting both hands over her ears far too late to do any good.

"What the f-ck?" Fiona being reduced to a snivelling wreck herself.

The approaching vehicle, itself having no option but to take note of the impending meeting with what sounded like a Behemoth, thankfully took the right course—slowing down to an eventual stop when both vehicles were barely fifteen feet apart, grille facing grille; it turning out to be a Buick sedan of unprepossessing proportions.

"God, we could'a run over the dam' thing, after all, an' hardly noticed." Alice petulantly taking the High Road, apparently disregardful of the fact they were already on such.

The driver of the sedan, opening his offside door carefully and climbing out with all due diligence to stand with an excess of prudence on the road surface, lightly covered in snow, appeared a little rattled and thereby contentious; the fact he had all the presence of a second-rate Bank manager not helping matters.

"What, if I may enquire, is the meaning of this?" Spoken with an air of righteous contempt and superiority to Alice and Fiona, now braving the chill night air to stand in front of him.

Fiona, being by now all out of any speck of patience, fumbled in her jacket pocket to flash her detective warrant in the man's face; then, replacing this document, she hauled out her .45 Colt automatic aiming it, at the moment, towards the road surface.

"Mister, you are lookin' at a woman who is comprehensively p-ssed across the board. Don't ask questions; don't get on your high horse; don't ask again for another explanation, or it'll come in the form of lead; just run that wreck you're driving off the dam' road an' let us through, is all. No! Not a dam' word,—action."

Faced so unexpectedly with what was obviously an Unstoppable Force of Nature, the man took precisely four seconds to go over his options, and most of his life in glowing Technicolor, before reaching the correct, indeed the only, decision. Turning he, still with the utmost care for his physical safety, made his way back to his sedan; closing its door, once he was inside, with rather more determination than he had earlier opened it. Two minutes later he had followed Fiona's instructions, driving across to the other side of the road, leaving the truck free rein to carry on its own journey—hopefully, out of his life for ever.

"F-ckin' idiot." Fiona moaning about it still as Rose drove them on along the highway.

"Close call." Alice simply acknowledging the reality of the late drama.

"Which?" Rose still full of beans and a zest for Life. "The near crash, or his near miss with the Archangel guarding the doors t'Paradise?"

"Both." Alice letting her mean side have full freedom to express itself.

—O—

The next hour, though fraught with ongoing incidents connected to Rose's free and easy attitude to driving along snowy roads at night, passed rather more peacefully than the previous hour. Alice and Fiona settled to the understanding they weren't going to crash off the road, probably; and the miles ran unchecked under the trucks' wheels; until finally Rose slowed somewhat, speaking after a lengthy silence wherein her passengers had been trying unsuccessfully to disregard her driving style.

"We're coming up to where the high trail the runners' took rejoins us. Just another mile or so." Rose glanced at Alice, by her side. "I'm pretty hopeful we've made it ahead of them; but I can't be certain, that incident with the Buick wasted a lot of our time."

"Not to mention the dam' cops." Fiona putting in her pennyworth.

"Well, we may have struck lucky, in a way." Rose hunched her shoulders, under her heavy jacket as she crouched over the wheel. "Just around here, you can't see it of course, but the trail they're on runs along that drop-off I told you about. One side of the road's bordered by a high vertical wall of raw granite; the other's a sheer drop, over six hundred feet till it meets the fir trees. These same firs presently on our right-hand side, as it turns out. That'll have slowed them up a good deal, if they have any sense."

"An' if they don't? Have any sense, I mean?" Alice's interest triggered by all sorts of lovely possibilities.

"They'll go for a short flight, followed by a mighty heavy bump." Rose sketching the consequences of inattention on the part of the runners' driver with cold indifference.

"You won't miss the junction, will you?" Fiona hoping for the best.

"Nah, it's a standard side-road junction, can't miss it." Rose grunted as she pondered her next move. "This snow all over the road'll come in handy. We can see, as we approach, whether there're any tracks running out from the side-road—if they've already beaten us to it or not."

"What if some other, innocent, vehicle's driven by there recently?" Alice scratching the itchy spot in this assumption.

"Not likely." Rose's tone was confident. "I've driven along here many times; another vehicle, especially at this time of year at night, ain't likely at all. Nah, if we see wheeltracks, it'll be them for certain."

"If they have, after all, beaten us along the road, what then?" Fiona searching for the cracks in the overall plan of action.

"Well, we'll jus—Jee-sus!"

The truck's headlights, gleaming off the snow on the road and the dark shadows of the trees on either hand, now reflected from a whole mass of debris lying scattered over the road in front of them. Rose brought the truck to a skidding halt; the first piece of unidentified rubbish showing in the headlight beam as something twisted but certainly metallic, and painted in colours. All three women sat petrified, simply looking at the debris field covering a wide swathe of the tarmaced surface ahead of them.

"What is it?" Alice hardly able to believe her eyes.

"Dun'no." Fiona also all at sea for an explanation.

Rose, again, showed her remarkable sense of calmness in the face of danger.

"It's metal, panels; and is that most of a wheel with a bit of axle, over there on the other side of the road?" She leaned forward for a better look out the windscreen. "See, that piece of metal's coloured—dark green; an' are those dark yellow letters on part of it?"

"Jee-sus!" Alice first to come to the only possible conclusion. "It's the drug-runners' truck; they've gone an' thrown themselves off that sheer drop you told us about. Look, see the broken trees up the far slope, where it rolled down?"

"Where is it now? Is this all that's left?" Fiona finally coming to her own senses.

"Nah, not enough; it was a big Ford, bigger than us." Rose glanced to the left into the thick trees bordering the road. "Those trees, themselves, hide the rest of the steep slope. Probably goes down another hundred feet or so. Let's get out an' see."

Two minutes later the women had seen all they needed to see. What appeared to be the main body of the ill-fated truck lay some fifty feet lower down the tree-covered slope; the vehicle now merely an unidentifiable mass of twisted wreckage and metal. It was Fiona who volunteered to do the necessary, and clamber down to see if there was anything to be done about any survivors. It took her some ten minutes to reach the wreck; but a simple cursory examination told her all she needed to know. Another quarter of an hour, the return climb back up being far harder than the descent, and she stood on the road once more.

"The cab roof's torn off, as are both doors an' the whole windscreen. The engine's parted company with the frame, but not before pushing its way through the cab. No sign of the rear of the truck, from where the back axle used t'be. There's a few oilskin-wrapped small parcels scattered around, with some still in the back of the truck, behind what's left of the cab."

"I noticed some lying on the other side of the road, where it rolled down through the trees." Alice nodding understandingly. "Looks like it shed it's own cargo of snow all over the real stuff as it crashed out. Any bodies?"

"There's one; or, at least, most of one, in the cab still." Fiona wrinkling her lips in remembrance. "But no sign of anyone else. If he, or she, wasn't alone, the others must be somewhere further back up the tree-covered slope, or under the sheer drop itself."

"Pretty mangled, I'd imagine." Alice covering the necessary outlook on the matter. "Don't think there's any necessity for us t'investigate; leave such to the professionals, eh?"

"What d'we do now, then?" Fiona taking charge of the whole sorry mess. "What d'ya say, Rose?"

"All this debris's scattered everywhere. Take us far too long t'try'n move it." Rose shrugged her shoulders as she observed the mess all over the road ahead of their truck. "Best thing, we backtrack t'those roadblock cops, an' enlighten them on the course of history in these local parts. Let 'em take charge. Looks mighty like our part in the business's come to a sudden end, don't it?"

"Mighty like." Alice agreeing with what couldn't be argued against.

"Hu-uum." Fiona, fed up with the whole thing.

—O—

The private office of Drever and Cartwright, Private Detectives, in the Packer Building, Delacote City, NH, was warm and bright in the morning sun the next day as the two women sat at their shared desk going over the events of the previous day.

"A mess, all round." Alice saying it as she saw it; which was through a glass, darkly.

"Yep."

Quietness reigned unchallenged for all of two minutes twenty seconds before Alice's patience gave up the struggle.

"That all you got'ta say?" Alice harbouring deep, dark, and gloomy thoughts on the whole matter. "We get embroiled in a silly situation, care of Inspector Fletcher of the Fifth. We go for a skiing holiday in the White Mountains, chaperoned by a woman who'd be well able t'give Nuvolari lessons on how to drive; and the end result is a pile of wreckage an' parts of dead bodies. Talkin' of which, they identified what you found in the truck's cab yet, lover?"

"Huh, it was hardly more'n a pair o'legs, with associated pelvic bits an' pieces; how're they ever gon'na find a name-tag for that, baby?"

"Uum, they're still gon'na pay us, anyway; the Police Department, I mean?"

"Dam' straight they'll pay us." Fiona's eyes sparkling with fiery highlights at the trouble and strife they had both lately endured for the sake of Law and Order. "We did what we were told to do; the fact the drug-runners' threw themselves off a dam' high cliff havin' nothing t'do with us. Wonder if this fiasco'll mean the end of the Pendragon Route snow run?"

"Don't know; don't care; in fact, don't give a dam'." Alice washing her hands of all connection with the upkeep of Law and the other thing in the state of New Hampshire, at least for the rest of the present day. "Fay?"

Recognising the suppliant tone in her paramour's voice Fiona glanced round at the blonde by her side, already knowing what was in the air.

"Yup?"

"The rest of the day's still t'enjoy. I'm feelin' just a little cold an' gloomy. How's about we shut this shop for the rest of the day, an' hit the real shops? I got a whole wardrobe o'clothes I need to renew, y'know."

Fiona, though already sure of the answer, had to ask, anyway.

"An' who, dear one, is payin' for this binge? Merely for the record."

Alice, though, was entirely able to offer gentle enticements, along with the threat of the iron glove.

"If I pay for the dresses, can you shell out for the shoes? I promise not to buy more'n three pair—honest."

Fiona, well-knowing she was going to be disappointed in this offer, smiled all the same, reaching out a helping hand to her lover as they stood up.

"God—OK, come on, then. But I insist on stopping at Frederick's fer lunch."

Alice considered the merits of this request.

"Roast duck, mashed turnip, an' red wine?"

"Oh, God—come on, before I lose the will t'live. Got your hat? The yellow short-brimmed one I like?"

"For you, darlin', anything."

"U-uur."

The End.

—O—

Another 'Drever and Cartwright' story will arrive shortly.

—OOO—