Hmm…. I notice a couple of my esteemed colleagues mentioning car chases. So here I am with a book which largely features car chases because the hero is a getaway driver thinking ‘hmm… do I have a bit that is not a car chase?” My main character is absolutely yellow so he’s running fast, in the opposite direction to danger, most of the time, especially in the first book. So yeh, pursuit. Pretty much the whole book including a nice one on foot… but then, with all that talk of car chases I thought I might as well. Spot the petrol head.
This is where I should also fess up he lives in a parallel reality where the cars are all James Bond cars and they fly and they’re called Snurds. And I want one. Yeh.
To set the scene. The Pan of Hamgee, our hero, drives for a gang of bank robbers. They give him some junk items which are of religious significance and Lord Vernon, K’Barth’s despot ruler, wants them. Some members of the security forces have questioned The Pan about it, luckily, not too closely because while his getaway antics are famous, nobody knows it’s him. After their next robbery, things change.
Because there’s a lot of boring information to jemmy into my books along the way, I try to impart it while my characters are doing something interesting. I think this is probably quite a good example of my attempts to dump facts on the reader subliminally, so to speak, while they’re too busy being interested in something else.
The robbery went without a hitch, despite all The Pan’s fears, and the Grongolian police were even dopier and easier to shake off than usual. Maybe that was what aroused his suspicions. Glancing behind him he thought he caught sight of another snurd cutting swiftly through the traffic. It might be somebody in a hurry, he told himself. There was no reason for anyone to be following them, they had thrown off all their pursuers, but The Pan wanted to be sure. They were travelling through one of the newer parts of the city, which was built in a grid formation, so he turned swiftly down a side road and zigzagged onto a parallel street.
Behind him, in the distance, was a glint of light as a distant snurd pulled out of a similar side street and continued to follow them. It was black, with the same anonymous dark tinted windows as the MK II. The Pan pressed the button labelled ‘wings’, waited while the MK II transmogrified itself into aviator mode and took off. Almost a mile back, half concealed by the traffic in between them, he could make out the shape of the other snurd taking off, too. He increased his speed, flipped up another side street and continued on his way. Behind him the other snurd mirrored his manoeuvre.
“The robbery’s over. What are you doing?” demanded Big Merv.
“Trying to spill himself some loot,” said Frank. The Pan sighed. He was used to Frank’s digs. The two of them didn’t get along. In fact he suspected that, left to his own devices, nothing would please Frank more than cutting his throat.
“We’re being followed,” he said.
Frank turned round in his seat and surveyed the road behind.
“I don’t see nothing,” he said.
“That’s why you rob and I drive,” muttered The Pan.
“What did you say? You little piece of—”
“Shut it!” warned Big Merv.
Frank and Harry fastened their seat belts – any chance of a chase and they knew the drill. They craned their heads through the back windows. The Pan waited while Big Merv scrutinised the view in his wing mirror. He was glad that his boss was suspicious, not to mention cautious, enough to check.
“’What’s it look like?”
“Black, low slung, fast. It’s not a shape I’m familiar with.”
“Nah,” said Big Merv. “Me neither. Tinted windows though, like ours. If it ain’t another gang, it must be Grongolian. Either way, I reckon it’s bad news. Lose it.”
Far away in another dimension of space and time the pursuing snurd was a 1955 Mercedes prototype, the Uhlenhaut, with gull-wing doors.
The MK II morphed back into aviator mode and doubled its speed in two stomach-lurching seconds, as The Pan floored the accelerator. He flew upwards, skimming the rooftops of the adjacent buildings and down into the next street in the opposite direction. Slowing up he checked his surroundings carefully.
Surely it wasn’t going to be this easy?
The Pan shuddered. He hadn’t lied to Big Merv, the shape of the black snurd was unfamiliar, but it did fit with rumours he had heard. The kinds of tales no getaway man would want to dwell on. Stories of desperate flights, of the finest drivers relentlessly pursued through the darkness of the night and downed in a boiling fireball. Stories of an invincible shape, a legend, a ghost, a mechanical banshee that came screaming out of nowhere to do its lethal work and disappeared as quickly. It was called the Interceptor and nobody was sure it existed but then hardly anyone who’d seen it had lived to describe their experience – certainly none of the people who had been chased. If the anonymous black snurd was the Interceptor, The Pan realised he and his colleagues were as good as dead and there was nothing he could do about it.
He decelerated to normal speed, landed among the rest of the terrestrial traffic and carried on as if he and the Mervinettes were a group of normal people going about their business.
They had gone almost a mile and there was still no sign of their pursuer.
“Have you got rid of it?” asked Big Merv.
Whoever was driving that black snurd had been very subtle and The Pan suspected it was still out there. He took his hands off the wheel to make a ‘search me’ gesture.
“I don’t know,” he said. “It’s not like the others. He knows what he’s doing.”
They were driving along one of the main thoroughfares of the city and as usual, it was busy. The Pan was sick with nerves. If anything happened, the presence of other traffic gave him little room to manoeuvre and although he could remain inconspicuous more easily with other snurds around him, so could his pursuer. He turned into a side road and pulled onto a narrower, less frequented street one block over that ran parallel to the one they had been on.
They were going in the wrong direction and he would need to turn around, but he wanted to be doubly sure they had lost their tail before he did. Although he could see nothing, he had an instinctive belief they were still being followed. He had learned to trust his instincts but as yet for his fellow Mervinettes – especially Frank and Harry – trust was still a work in progress. They were getting restless; he was going to have to turn round soon or they were going to get irritated and Big Merv was going to vent his irritation on him the only way he knew how – physically. Big Merv never hit him hard, but he still didn’t want to get thumped. If anyone was behind them he would have to draw them into the open by going so fast they had to concentrate on keeping up rather than concealing themselves. He accelerated, and as he did so the black snurd pulled out of a side alley ahead of them, turned towards them and stopped in the middle of the street. The Pan screeched to a halt, engaging reverse. As the MK II’s backing lights came on, a flotilla of police snurds pulled out side roads and garages up and down the street, behind him, about 40 of them.
“Arnold!” said Big Merv. “It’s a trap.”
“Mmm,” said The Pan, selecting first gear.
We join the driver of the black snurd for an instant just to find out who he is – I’ve edited that out for brevity – and we rejoin The Pan just as his colleagues are jumping to the inevitable – though wrong – conclusion.
“You little scrote! You’ve set us up!” shouted Frank, and Big Merv glared at The Pan.
“Well? Is that what’s got into you? Have you been disloyal to me?” His voice had an ominous tone and The Pan realised, with horror, that he was close to believing Frank.
“No, no I promise,” he whimpered.
“If you have, we’re going to be paying a visit to the river later,” Big Merv continued, “It’ll be just like old times.”
“N-no,” stammered The Pan. “This isn’t about us. It’s something we stole.”
“Have you been keeping information from me?” asked Big Merv.
The engine of the black snurd revved and with his foot on the clutch The Pan revved the MK II back.
“Yes,” said The Pan distractedly before realising the gravity of his admission, “I mean no,” he corrected himself quickly, “not on purpose.” He turned to his boss who was glaring at him. The antennae were moving but only just, and they were standing up straight, which meant Big Merv was on the brink of blind rage. The Pan glanced down the street at the black snurd, which was still revving its engine aggressively and at the same time, sneaked a look behind at the ranks of police snurds blocking his retreat. This was not a good time for Big Merv to lose his rag, The Pan needed him to be able to listen, answer questions and more to the point think. Better make the explanation fast.
“Remember that stuff you gave me? The junk?”
“Yer,” said Merv, “we remember.”
“It might have belonged to Lord Vernon,” said The Pan. He said it quickly in order to lessen the impact.
“What?” bellowed Big Merv.
“Some Grongles came to the Parrot and they said it belonged to—”
“I heard you the first time, you twonk,” shouted Big Merv, “Why in Arnold’s name didn’t you tell me?”
“I didn’t think it mattered,” lied The Pan who’d spent several wakeful nights wondering how on earth he could bring the subject up and had chickened out.
“You’re not here to think, I THINK, you drive. Anything, ANYTHING you hear, you tell me, right?”
“Yes,” squeaked The Pan. The snurd ahead of them revved its engine again and he glanced nervously about him, checking his escape options.
“Can you get us out of this?” asked Big Merv.
“I don’t know,” said The Pan. He could feel himself going white, he was shivering with fright, cold sweat running down the side of his face. A big part of his job was appearing to be in control, in this instance it was vital. It would be testing enough coping with the chase, let alone if the gang lost their confidence and he had to contend with any back seat driving. He smiled, with what he hoped was a devil-may-care demeanour, rather than the rictus grimace that would more truly reflect the way he felt. “I’ll give it my best shot.”
“You’d better,” said Big Merv, “an’ if you don’t, they won’t catch you alive because I’ll kill you myself. You get me?”
“Oh yes,” muttered The Pan, “I get you.”
He checked the MK II was still in gear and pressed the accelerator pedal as far down as it would go. As he did so, the driver of the black snurd in front of them did the same thing and they hurtled towards each other. The two snurds were on a collision course. The Pan moved the MK II left and the Interceptor moved right. He swung the MK II back to the right and the Interceptor moved left.
“What are you doing you great plank?” shouted Big Merv. “I said get us out, not take him out.”
“Yes, that’s what I’m trying to do. Unfortunately, he’s trying to hit us.”
It was Lord Vernon against him, it had to be. It was a replay of that whole sidestepping incident again, only on wheels. He abandoned any effort to avoid contact, selected aviator mode and carried on accelerating. The Interceptor was yards away now but The Pan was going fast enough to take off. Both snurds left the ground at the same time. As The Pan saw the front of his opponent’s vehicle looming ahead, he moved the MK II sharply upwards and as the other snurd followed, he yanked the wheel downwards. The underside of the Interceptor filled the windscreen, blotting out the light, and there was a bump as it, too, moved lower and clipped the roof of Big Merv’s snurd. The MK II hit the ground with a massive crash and bounced into the air.
“Mind my suspension you pillock!” shouted Big Merv angrily as they accelerated upwards.
“If you don’t shut up the suspension’s going to be the least of your worries,” said The Pan, who was beginning to feel more in control, and therefore at liberty to be lippy, “this is going to be difficult enough.”
The police snurds didn’t follow, they were pursued solely by the black snurd and The Pan could only view this as a bad sign. It was the first piece of Grongolian technology he had seen which measured up to the MK II, more than measured up. The Pan couldn’t match the acceleration of the Interceptor and after ten minutes it was as close as ever. After fifteen minutes it tried to ram them and it was only by jinking sharply to the right that The Pan was able to avoid contact. Instead of passing them and cutting them off, it hung back waiting for an opportunity to repeat the manoeuvre. Big Merv was scared and reacted the only way he knew how, by hiding his fear behind a façade of anger. The Pan could forgive him that – nobody was perfect and on the few occasions it happened, he saw it as a bond, a tiny patch of common ground in the vast desert between them.
“I thought you could drive,” Big Merv growled.
“I can and you know it,” The Pan raised his hands and shrugged, “unfortunately, so can he.”
“Keep your hands on the wheel you great pranny!”
“Then, keep your hair on,” muttered The Pan, “you trust me to do this, remember?”
“Don’t get arsy with me you wimp, just get us out of this,” shouted Big Merv, “NOW!”
The Interceptor fired a snurd-to-snurd missile. The Pan wove in and out of lamp posts, buildings, chimneys and trees with the missile in hot pursuit until, finally, he managed to corner so sharply it continued onwards and exploded harmlessly against the side of a nearby office block. Having failed to obliterate its quarry the Interceptor reappeared and made another attempt to ram them. At last The Pan could see a way out, but it wasn’t one Big Merv was going to like.
“I think I can lose him,” he said, “but the MK II—”
“Just do it,” shouted Big Merv, “and for Arnold’s sake get a move on before you make me throw up, you spotty little Herbert. I have some pride, unlike you, so don’t make me humiliate myself in front of the boys here because if I do, YOU will be valeting this vehicle from top to bottom. Got it?”
“Merv,” began The Pan, wearily, oops too wearily, “sir,” he added quickly, “you know my aim here is to keep us alive, not to make you ill. Concentrate on looking straight ahead, or the view out of the window or something. If it’s that bad, there’s always a plastic bag in the glove compartment.”
Ahead of them was the financial district of Ning Dang Po, complete with skyscrapers. The Pan, hotly pursued by the Interceptor, skimmed over the parapet of the Quaarl Futures Building. He flew low over the roof garden full of resting traders in a selection of bizarre striped and coloured blazers, who scattered in all directions, flattening themselves to the green plastic lawn. As the MK II swooped over them and reached the parapet on the other side, The Pan yanked at the wheel. The bonnet dipped and the front bumper clipped the stonework with a loud thud. The impact flipped the MK II upside down and immediately, The Pan accelerated. As Big Merv’s snurd had somersaulted its back bumper had hit the bottom of the Interceptor and thrown it forward causing the driver to lose control for a few precious seconds. Not long, but enough time for The Pan to fly away as fast as he could. After a minute or two he realised he was still flying upside down.
He righted the MK II and descended swiftly into the nearby Goojan Quarter where the streets were narrow and the houses close enough together to mask a snurd from the air. By the time their mystery pursuer had regained control and turned round the MK II had disappeared from sight.
The Mervinettes sat in stunned silence as The Pan drove them back to the lock-up.