This (hopefully) humorous tale is an original story and it's to be categorized as a Beyond Uber. All characters are created by me though some of them may remind you of someone.
This story depicts a loving relationship between consenting adult women. If such a story frightens you, you better click on the X in the top-right corner and find something else to read.
All characters depicted, names used, and incidents portrayed in this story are fictitious. No identification with actual persons is intended nor should be inferred. Any resemblance of the characters portrayed to actual persons, living or dead is purely coincidental.
The registered trademarks mentioned in this story are © of their respective owners. No infringement of their rights is intended, and no profit is gained.
NOTES FROM THE AUTHOR:
Written: August 4th - 14th + August 23rd - 25th, 2019.
- Thank you very much for your help, Phineas Redux :D
- If you're interested in reading more about Regina Harrison and Stella Starr, you can find all their old adventures at the Royal Academy of Bards in the anthologies, "The Harrison-Starr Detective Agency," "News from the Harrison-Starr Detective Agency," "From the Files of the Harrison-Starr Detective Agency," "Last Words from the Harrison-Starr Detective Agency," and "The Mislaid Mail of the Harrison-Starr Detective Agency." The Academy also hosts the two stand-alones "Flea Market Flicker" and "Beach Bingo Bonanza."
As usual, I'd like to say a great, big THANK YOU to my mates at AUSXIP Talking Xena, especially to the gals and guys in Subtext Central. I really appreciate your support - Thanks, everybody! :D
Description: The unpredictable, unstoppable, undaunted and uncombed private investigators Regina Harrison and Stella Starr return once more with more zaniness, rapid-fire banter, madcap chases and tons of sweet lovin'. How can anything possibly go wrong at a jamboree celebrating the legendary American Motors Corporation, the makers of Stella's beloved Pacer? Perhaps an invitation sent to a certain pair of investigators has something to do with it. Soon, Reggie and Stell are up to their armpits in crazy goings-on that require all their skills to sort out. In short, it's business as usual for the Harrison-Starr Detective Agency, but don't worry - they know what they're doing…
A steady sequence of click-click-clickety-clickety-click-click was the only sound heard in the office belonging to the Harrison-Starr Detective Agency; the plasticky sounds came from Stella Starr's fingers flying across her laptop's keyboard. At five-foot-four-and-a-half inches - the half-inch was very important to her - the slender, late-thirty-something private investigator with the shaggy haystack of dirty-blond hair, the thick-lensed glasses, the questionable fashion sense and the ferocious temper could be described as 'petite' but it was best not to do so to her face.
On this particular day, the Stella-Starr-dress code required her to wear purple flip-flops, pale-gray sports socks, a pair of threadbare, near-ancient blue jeans that she had converted into Bermuda shorts by cutting off the legs just above the knees, and finally a shock-green, 1992-vintage Ninja Turtles T-shirt that she had been given for no charge in a second-hand store - she had been the only customer in seven months who had even looked at it twice.
She had already spent several hours sitting at her desk, and her back was beginning to tell her that she needed to do something else for a while. In order to focus solely on writing the fourteenth - at least - different version of her best-man speech that she was to hold at her best friend Laura 'Law' Cruz' upcoming wedding, she had even unplugged the USB Internet dongle so she would not get distracted by the trained animals, web-cam insanity, wicked memes, fan-made Xena music videos, UFO hoaxes or any other kind of timewasters so often found on the video platforms on the World Wide Web.
Stella had the office to herself since her business associate slash main squeeze Regina Harrison had gone on a quest to clear out the up-market clothing store Boutique Madeleine. The $500 gift certificate, that the actress Millie Jordan had graciously given them after her brief stay a few weeks previously, was undoubtedly in the process of being used down to the last cent by the retired-then-unretired former supermodel whose moniker was the Queen of the Catwalks.
Regina had reached the ripe, old age of mid-forty-something - in the cut-throat world of fashion, any woman older than twenty-five was officially categorized as being 'over the hill' - but her unblemished looks, perfect hair and natural grace had been enough to give her a strong comeback. She was perhaps not a first-tier supermodel any longer, but she was very much in demand for print and TV ads, appearances on various home shopping networks, and even as a guest of honor at special events in shopping malls and the like.
Though Stella gave full props to the people who had made it into their life, she had little patience for the shallow world of fashion. Her interests could be counted using the fingers on one hand, and there would even be a pinkie or a thumb to spare afterward: A) Her sweetheart Regina Harrison, B) Her pride and joy, the chocolate-brown 1975 AMC Pacer, C) Her favorite actress Kate Marshall, and D) Maintaining the ninety-percent success rate for her detective agency.
When she realized her thoughts had began to wander even without the dreaded Youtube distractions, she leaned back in her four-legged chair to take a break from writing the speech. Casting a glance up at the wall-mounted clock, she noted that the hands of time had reached eleven thirty in the A.M. on the Friday of the final weekend of August.
Her desk had remained surprisingly uncluttered after her recent thrashing of the dreaded Paper Monster, but a brown paper bag from Zeligman's Bakery had sneaked onto it to take up space. The bag was empty, but it had held a runny deluxe pastry with not only raspberry but chocolate frosting as well. That and the mug of black to-go coffee had done the job with regards to her second breakfast, but now she had the small matter of lunch to think about.
She sighed when she realized she had zoned out again. Although she had already spent days working on the speech that was supposed to be cheeky yet tasteful, personal yet general and nostalgic yet forward-looking, all that had come out of it were six-and-a-half measly paragraphs. It needed to be at least triple, and preferably quadruple, that or else she would fly through it in world-record time at the ceremony - not only would that make her look bad, it would make Laura disappointed in her. The former had happened so often it did not matter to her any longer, but the latter would be a Very Bad Thing.
The small collection of paragraphs and the blinking cursor seemed to mock her so she gave up the unequal struggle. After saving her work, she inserted the USB Internet dongle once more. The electronic ding that came from the laptop after the gateway program had been loaded signaled that a new email had landed in her inbox.
Leaning forward again, she switched over to her email client. "Grow five inches over night," she mumbled, "with the sensational new penis enlargement elixir Stand & Deliver. Right. Yippee, just what I was looking for! Buncha blip-bloppin' crapola… why wasn't that caught by the filter?" she continued in the same mumble as she marked the email as spam.
She considered returning to the word processing program for another go at her speech, but her internal gauge measuring the creativity level had dropped to a big, fat zero. Instead of tormenting her poor brain further, she closed the laptop's lid to make it enter hibernation.
Being stuck was nothing new for Stella, and the best remedy for it was usually to do something completely different for a while to get her brain to forget about the roadblock. Getting up from her chair, she grabbed the empty paper bag from Zeligman's and shuffled over to the nearest trash can.
The office of the Harrison-Starr Detective Agency was utilitarian in nature, but Stella and Regina did have a few creature comforts in the shape of a comfortable second-hand couch, a low coffee table and a plush, pale-gray carpet that Stella had bought at a Chapter 11 sale way back when she had first started out in the investigatorial business. Their two desks - equipped with old-fashioned landline telephones to have a backup in case anything happened to their smartphones - stood at a ninety-degree angle to each other so they could both keep an eye on the front door to the parking lot outside. Regina continued to use a traditional swivel-chair, but Stella had been thrown off hers so often she had bought a rock-solid, four-legged chair instead that could not possibly run off with anyone.
They had a few potted plants here and there as well as one or two posters hanging on the walls, but the majority of the room's space was taken up by a row of metal filing cabinets that stored all their open and closed case files - and Stella's supposedly secret stash of Oreos. A bulky boom box stood atop one of the cabinets, but they used it less now since much of the music they listened to came from their telephones.
A small table featuring an old-fashioned percolator had been put just inside the front door next to an even smaller wash basin. The back of the office saw a bathroom and a second door that led to a storage room where they kept all their disguises and various electronic gear they needed for their assignments.
Stella tried turning on the boom box, but the talk radio station it had been set to offered nothing but drama, despair and rumors of increased taxes, so the dial was changed to a music station. Three songs later - that she did not know and cared even less for - she turned it off again and shuffled into the storage room at the back of the office.
The portable TV set was soon pushed the other way, but the wheels dug into the plush, pale-gray carpet which threatened to tip the whole thing over. It happened once, then twice, then a third time. After a change of tactic from pushing to pulling and a subsequent fourth attempt that went no further than the first three had done, she swapped back over to the first side of the apparatus and pulled the whole, wretched thing back into the storage room.
Shutting the door behind her, she shuffled into the middle of the office and put her hands on her hips. "Well… I s'pose I could do a little exercise," she mumbled. A small hop followed that perhaps only reached two inches off the ground but that made her shaggy haystack shoot out in all directions. Once that had been accomplished, she bent forward to put her right hand on her left knee; then she put her left hand on her right knee. "Phew. No need to overdo things," she said and shuffled back to her four-legged chair.
Sixty-seven-and-three-quarters winks later, she opened the top drawer of her desk to retrieve the email that had been sent to her from the American Motors Owners Club. She read it for the umpteenth time, and for the umpteenth time, the message brought a smile to her lips. She and her beloved 1975 Pacer Hatchback had been invited to the Forty-fourth Annual AMC Jamboree celebrating the American Motors Corporation and all the models they had put on the market during their all-too brief period of competing with the Big Three auto-makers Ford, General Motors and Chrysler.
The Jamboree would take place two days later on the gigantic parking lots outside the home field of the Bay City Bulldawgs pro-football team. The stadium was adjacent to the Silvery Bay Fairgrounds at the far end of Fifty-fifth Street where she and Regina had spent a fun - but busy - day out a few years back, so she knew it well.
That thought made the smile fade from her face and a gloomy cloud appear on her horizon. Not only did her invitation for the Jamboree necessitate getting the Pacer fixed so it could go back onto the street, but the Silvery Bay Fairgrounds was where she had met her best childhood friend Laura Cruz for the first time in many a year - the college tutor had spent several years working in the rural regions of Central and South America as an NGO assisting the local teachers who tried valiantly to help children who were illiterate or just poorly educated.
Just thinking about her old friend sent an unpleasant gnawing through Stella's stomach. For a change, it did not involve being hungry but rather being reminded of her inability to get the important speech written.
She reached for the laptop to continue, but reconsidered at the last moment and got up from her chair instead. Shuffling over to one of the windows to gaze at the world outside, she soon caught a glimpse of her friendly neighbor, Billy the Mechanic, who walked across the uneven parking lot in his trademark outfit of an ex-canary-yellow - now oil-brown - boiler suit, a filthy T-shirt, safety boots and a greasy baseball cap where the shade had been flipped up to make him look even more like a comic book character. His hands were indescribably oily, and he had smear-marks all over his face like he had spent plenty of time scratching his permanent two-day stubble without stopping to think that his hands were dirty.
The knock-knock that followed was soon answered, and it did not take long before Billy stepped into the office and whipped off his greasy cap. The first thing he did was to look around for Regina. When he discovered the sculpted, picturesque model was nowhere in sight, he let out a disappointed grunt before he plonked the cap back onto his short hair.
"Hiya, Billy. Whassup?" Stella said on her way back to her chair.
"Hi, Miss Starr. I just wanted to let you know that the Pacer is ready for your final inspection-"
Stella came to a screeching halt with one purple flip-flop up and the other on the floor. Hopping around to face the mechanic - while still remaining in the one-up, one-down posture - she shot him a wide-eyed stare for a few seconds before she drew a deep breath and broke out in a: "WOOO-HOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! My Old Girl is ready! Uh-huh-uh-huh-uh-huh! Awright-awright-awright! She's ready! Yeah-yeah-yeah-uh-huh-huh-huh-yeah-yeah-yeah, she's ready!" she cried, bouncing around like a helium-filled beach ball run amuck.
"Ah… yeah. Ready for your final inspection… I still need to check a couple of things like the hose-clamps, but, uh…" Billy said and scratched his neck.
"Aw-haw-yeah-yeah-aw-haw-yeah-yeah," Stella sang while she performed the Stella Two-Step that she had choreographed herself: two sliding steps to the left while pumping her arms toward the right, followed by two sliding steps to the right while pumping her arms toward the left. Then gettin' down for a twistin' booty-shake, then jumpin' up to wave her hands in the air. A kick to the left and a kick to the right marked the official end of the routine.
Once she had reached that stage, she came to a brief halt to grin at Billy - then she let out another whooping howl and started over because there was plenty of pent-up energy inside her to fuel an entire ballet company. "Yippie, yappie, yuppie, yappie, yippie-dippie-doooooo! It's ready, it's ready, it's ready! Uh-huh-uh-huh, awright-awright-awright! Awright!" she cried as she performed a haystack-flying encore of the Two-Step.
"Miss Starr… uh… do you… uh, do you want me to call an ambulance or something…?"
"Gimme two minutes an' I'll be over! Don't do anything before I get there! Okay? See ya over there in two, Billy!" Stella cried, still tearing around the office while doing a solid impersonation of a New Year's firecracker that had accidentally been set off indoors.
Billy nodded slowly as he looked at the human missile who showed no signs of stopping or even settling down within the first half hour or so. "Uh… okay," he said and walked backwards out of the door in case the frantic activity was contagious.
Despite her best efforts of literally hopping into the sturdy coverall from the Bob the Plumber disguise, Stella was unable to make it over to the garage in the two minutes she had set as her target. Because of a little fumble with the left leg that went down into the right - or rather, wrong - pantleg, it took her a frustrating and nerve-racking three minutes and nine seconds before she was able to fly out of the front door of the Harrison-Starr office.
Her mouth hung open and her arms and legs had been reduced to blurry lines in the air as she tried to recover the time she had lost with the troublesome and certainly dastardly pantlegs. Save for the water, the lack of a scaly tail and various fishy contents around her, she resembled a swimming mermaid as the headwind made her shaggy mop of hair stand out straight behind her. Her glasses insisted on bouncing up and down on the bridge of her nose as her booted feet hit the ground, but they had not yet gone further than that.
Storming across the final stretch of the parking lot, she entered Billy's garage where she came to a screeching halt that left two long skidmarks on the far smoother concrete floor. Staring upward, she noticed that her Old Girl was still up on the lift but that everything looked finished. Most of the parts looked to be in their right spots, but the hood was still up and the car had yet to be cleaned after all the hard, filthy work that had been done to it.
Billy the Mechanic stepped out from behind a gasoline drum that he had used as a blast shield from the unstoppable force of nature who had just come into his garage. That the drum carried signs that read Danger! No Smoking! had not stopped him from using it as a tray for a soldering iron as well as a good spot to put a hot angle grinder while it cooled off. "So, uh… are you… uh… calm?"
"Why isn't she down on the ground yet, Billy?" Stella said and slammed her hands onto her hips that the coverall had made completely shapeless. "Didn't you say she was ready, Billy? I'm convinced you said she was ready, Billy. Looks to me you weren't telling me the truth, Billy. Why didn't you, Billy? Is it because you wanted to yank my chain, Billy?! You know how much I hate people yanking my chain, Billy! And look how filthy she is, Billy! Why is she so filthy, Billy? Couldn't you at least have given her a blip-bloppin' sponge-job, Billy?!" she continued in a voice that grew evermore strained, angry and even aggressive as she went along.
For each sentence uttered by the mop-topped investigator, Billy's eyes opened wider and he shook his head harder. "No, no, no-no-no…. no, Miss Starr, I said it was ready for your final inspection… I did!"
Stella drew a deep breath to go on spewing vitriol - but then she came to a halt and let out a simple: "Oh…" when she realized that Billy the Mechanic had in fact said just that. After scratching her neck and wiping her nose on the back of a hand, she broke out in a shrug as she looked up at the many pipes, wires and various other thingamabobs that ran along the underside of the Pacer. "Yeah, okay. Well. Okay. I'm here now, so… I guess we can make that final inspection-thingie. Okay. Lead on, Billy."
"Uh… right," the mechanic said as he moved sideways around the gasoline drum and a few canisters of acetone, turpentine and various other paint strippers and general lubricants that were stacked haphazardly on top of each other. On his way past a cluttered desk, he took an LED flashlight that he turned on. "Right. As you can see," he continued, shining the strong light up at the undercarriage of the AMC Pacer, "the gas tank and the braces holding it in place are new."
"The trunk floor has been replaced as have the rear brackets for both leaf springs. There was nothing left, so…"
"The drum brakes have been taken apart. The shoes and the springs have been renewed. Everything's been properly greased."
"Uh-huh. But when can I drive it, Billy?"
"Uh… soon. We need to do this first, Miss Starr," Billy said and scratched his forehead which left another oil smear. "It's so you can check what I've done to it…"
"Mmmm… go on."
"The rear end no longer leaks. We rolled it over-"
"Uh… uh… the rear end to- to- count the-" Billy said as he took a long step back from the wild animal next to him.
"Okay… go on."
"We- we- uh… the final drive has a four-one-three gear ratio which is good for city traffic."
Billy's eyes darted back and forth like he was unsure whether or not to go on, but he eventually cleared his throat and shone the LED light up at the underside once more. "The brake pipes and lines have all been replaced as has the parking-brake cable."
"Ain't that sum'tin?"
"As you can see, the stainless steel tailpipe and the muffler are new. In fact, the entire exhaust is new from the manifold back."
"Neat. But when can I drive it, Billy?"
"Very soon, Miss Starr. Very soon," Billy said before he turned back to the shiny, new muffler. "I thought that since the rest of the vehicle was in a pretty neat 'seventy-five showroom spec, it wouldn't work if we put a modern exhaust on it so I used a RoarMaster muffler."
"It's a reproduction, but it's ninety-nine percent period correct."
"Okay, moving ahead… the floorboards have been patched or replaced where needed. It was given an undercoating of RustRepellant so it should be good for a while."
"How 'bout that. But when can I drive it, Billy?"
"I know, I know…" Stella said, wiping her nose on the back of a hand. The word 'impatient' did not even begin to describe her jittery state - she was rocking back and forth on the heels of her boots, and her hands were never calm for more than three seconds at a time: they were buried deep down her pockets, held behind her back, buried deep down her pockets, folded over her chest, buried deep down her pockets and held behind her back.
Billy blinked a couple of times as he took in Stella's frantic fidgeting. Then he returned to shining the light at the underside of the Pacer. "The chassis support beams are solid now… uh, unlike before where they were like cooked spaghetti…"
"The transmission was stripped and the cogs were cleaned with a steel brush to get all the old gunk off. The fluids have obviously been changed. New seals have been installed everywhere."
"The torque converter was retooled, and the close-out panel is now complete instead of being a rusty shell."
"Uh-huh? But when can I drive it, Billy?"
"Sorry…" Stella said, burying her hands deep down in her pockets all over again. "Go on, Billy."
The mechanic paused for a second or two longer before he turned back to the Pacer. "The oil pan on the engine has been replaced. Notice the embossed AMC logo. Neat, huh? New seals. New oil and filter as well, of course."
"The bushings and the membranes for the rack-and-pinion steering gear were all replaced. All bolts were checked thoroughly. I believe we found nine loose bolts that were tightened."
"Ain't that sum'tin?"
"The disc brakes up front have new pads, calipers and rotors. The old rotors were warped from lack of use, so they needed to go. I used period-correct copper grease, too. I actually had an original pack from 'seventy-six stashed away…"
"Huh. That's nice, Billy."
"New rubber all 'round in the same size as before. White-walls as you can see. The wheels were tracked and aligned, of course. We used the same steel wheels it came on, but the hubcaps are new. Genuine AMC products, by the way."
"Neat! But when can I drive it, Billy?"
"In a moment, Miss Starr. The sway bar is the original one that was cleaned. Brand new aluminum radiator. It's been pressure-tested and has a five-year warranty. Unlike the old sieve that had about five-thousand leaks…"
"Yeah, huh? Nice."
"Let's get it down so you can see the engine," Billy said and walked over to the controls for the pneumatic lift. After pressing the button marked Down, the machine let out a steady hum as the Pacer was lowered onto the ground. The tires squeaked as they reached the concrete floor - a sound that was matched note-for-note by Stella who was almost jumping up and down in her impatience to get behind the wheel.
"There's a new air filter. I'm not sure if the old one had ever been changed," Billy continued as he pointed at the shiny, round thing in the center of the engine compartment.
"It's got a new PowerCo battery with a period-correct top cover so it looks like one from 'seventy-five… the old technology is much too dangerous to work with now, so…"
"How 'bout that. But when can I drive it, Billy?"
"Very, very soon, Miss Starr. The shock towers were cleaned and patched where needed."
"The firewall is now in one piece unlike before where it resembled a pasta strainer," Billy said and broke out in a shrug. "There was so little metal left that I couldn't find one, single spot where the testing magnet would actually stick. That's never happened before, and I've been a mechanic for more than twenty-five years…"
"Right. Well, I guess the Old Girl is a special vehicle, huh?"
"Uh… yeah. New hoses, new clamps, new belts everywhere."
"Uh-huh. But when can I drive it, Billy?"
This time, Billy did not even recognize Stella's sideways comment. Instead, he continued to point into the engine compartment. "New spark plug wires. Cleaned and refitted the original distributor."
"The smog suppressor is actually working now."
"Ain't that sum'tin?"
"New brake fluid. New coolant in the radiator. New power steering fluid."
"Neat. But when- never mind."
"Polished aluminum valve cover with the original AMC logo."
"New cooling fan. The sensor works so it'll start when you're stuck in heavy traffic."
"Oh, and I also adjusted the carburetor which fixed the smoking issue."
"How 'bout that. But when can I drive it, Billy?"
Billy scratched his neck and then his forehead all over again. "Ah… well… I wanted to show you the interior and the refreshed dashboard as well, but… uh… you might as well check that yourself."
Stella just nodded and grinned - then she realized what Billy had said. One-point-two heartbeats later, she opened the driver's side door and slid in behind the thin steering wheel.
The first thing she noted was that the seats had been treated to new covers in a mid-seventies-vintage shade of chocolate-brown that matched the exterior of the car. The same color was repeated in the new, fluffy sock that had been wrapped around the steering wheel. All that was missing to recreate the green-brown-and-orange decade of the 1970s was a pair of fluffy dice, boxing gloves or baby shoes dangling from the rear-view mirror, but the pale-blue, tree-shaped air-freshener that did indeed swing back and forth in that spot was more than enough to fill her senses with boundless joy and happiness. "Ohhhhhh," she croaked when she caught a delightful whiff of the air-freshener - it was Alpine Air, one of her favorites.
Her eyes opened wide as she took in the splendor. The various instruments were the originals that had been cleaned; the bezels were now clear so she could actually see what the gauges read. All the switches, knobs and dials had been cleaned and re-installed the right-way up. The fake woodgrain-panels on the aftermarket center console and on parts of the dashboard had been renewed or replaced, and the eight-track player had been stripped, cleaned and re-installed by a specialist.
With all those sweet impressions ganging up on Stella, it was only a matter of time before the dam would burst. Her bottom lip started trembling; her lips were drawn back; a few tears appeared in the corners of her eyes. She held her breath for a moment or two - and then she let out a howling, croaking, sobbing and squealing cry of relief that startled Billy into thumping into the drum of gasoline.
Leaning forward at once, she ran her hand across the flat, upper part of the dashboard. "Ohhhh, my Old Girl… my sweet, sweet, sweet Old Girl… ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, my dear, dear, dear old friend, I've missed you so much… I can't tell you how relieved I am to see you back to full health! Didn't I promise you it would get better? Ohhhhhh, look at you! Look at you… I can't believe it… I just can't believe it…"
After wiping her leaking eyes and nose, she fell back against the backrest and stared wide-eyed at her friendly neighbor who dared to lean in through the window. "Ohhhh, thank you, Billy… thank you so, so, so, SO much…"
"Aw, you're welcome an' all," Billy said, shuffling around on the spot while tearing at his greasy ball cap. "Try to start it up… you'll hear the improvements at once."
Stella was too choked-up to talk, so she settled for twisting the ignition key instead. She had barely turned the metal key before the engine came to life with a content, harmonic purr that left her flabbergasted. As she depressed the gas pedal, the exhaust note became deeper and more full-bodied. Gone were the chugga-chuggas, the clinka-clunkas, the plinka-plonkas and even the squeaka-squonkas, and no smoke of any color escaped the tailpipe save for a little steam, but that was normal for a cold engine. "Hooooooooooooooooly dipper-dapper-schwipper-schwapper," she croaked as she tried giving the throttle a little more pressure.
"The RoarMaster muffler sounds great, huh?" Billy said with a grin.
"Go on, Miss Starr… you can drive it over to your office now."
"Wooooooooooooo-hooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!" Stella cried; the burst of noise was loud enough for an entire pack of pigeons to take off from a small puddle on the uneven parking lot - they even left several feathers behind in the frantic take-off.
The Pacer was treated so gingerly as it drove across the parking lot that a snail started honking and waving its two antennae at it. After shouting that the big-ol', bloomin', brown thing should speed up or get outta the way, the snail finally overtook the slow-moving Pacer and roared off into the distance on its glistening trail.
Stella Starr cared little about nature's speed freaks. The seven-foot grin that had been installed across her cheeks could not be pried off with a crowbar. Her hands fondled the fluffy wheel-sock even when she did not need to turn, and she could not stop her eyes from going on a constant tour of the vehicle's magnificent interior.
There were a few things that Billy had not had time to do, like vacuuming the carpets, cleaning the windows and giving the body panels a rub-down with a soft cloth and some auto polish to remove all the thumb-marks and other residue from the various repairs, but those things were all at the top of Stella's to-do list.
After driving into the car's regular slot up against the stone fence, Stella let the engine idle for a few moments to get an earful of the new exhaust note produced by the RoarMaster muffler. She eventually turned it off and leaned back against the new seat cover. Filled with a swirling sense of joy to the Nth degree, she could hardly imagine how a woman could ever get more content and pleased with The Moment. Closing her eyes, she allowed the afterglow to fall over her like a comfortable blanket.
The warm feeling soothed her tormented soul and infused her with so much energy that a good portion of it needed to be spent at once: Getting out, she closed the door and immediately ran a few steps away. With bated breath, she let her wide eyes take in the entire chocolate-brown wonder from the shiny front bumper past the even shinier hubcaps and back to the brand-new tailpipe.
The signs all pointed at an imminent eruption of the volcano inside her. Her eyes were wide and shiny; her cheeks were redder than a baboon's rear-end; she shook, shimmied, trembled and jittered with pent-up energy; she clenched and unclenched her fists, and her shaggy mop of hair began to stand up straight. The superheated substances coagulated, expanded, boiled and bubbled until the proverbial lid could take no more. As it finally blew clean off, she detonated in the largest Stella-made explosion the world had ever seen - and for a change, it was because something positive had happened in her life.
Bouncing around like a manic neutron trying to catch up with its brethren inside a runaway nuclear fission reactor, she let out a constant stream of inarticulate cries where the vowels outnumbered the consonants by ten to one. Her arms went one way, her legs the other. Her hair flew all over the place. She twisted, she shook, she shimmied. She bounced hither and yon; yon and hither. Her hair continued to fly all over as her arms performed forty-seven consecutive Mexican Waves. A handful of ungracious Jumpin' Jacks and cartwheels followed before she tried a somewhat uncoordinated acrobatic maneuver that saw her end up flat on her behind on the parking lot's uneven surface.
Even that small bump in the road did not stop her: now she was down there, she figured she might as well get the most out of it. Instead of getting back up, she joined the world-famous Beetle Boogie Band and began to kick out with her legs and wave her arms like she had no care in the world - and she never stopped letting out a long line of jubilant cries.
Once the initial blast of volcanic energy fizzled out, she came to a rest and settled for chuckling and snickering. By magic, her glasses had managed to stay on her nose, but she needed to adjust them slightly when she noticed three twenty-foot-tall people towering over her.
One was chiefly brownish-yellow and wearing filthy safety boots - she figured that was Billy. The next wore open-toed sandals and Navy-blue slacks so it was a good bet that would be Regina Harrison. The identity of the last of the three people looking at her eluded her, however. The pants were black and starkly creased, and the tips of the black boots were shiny and clearly belonged to some kind of uniform.
"Whoa… what the riffer-raffer is all this?" Stella croaked as she rolled over to sit on her thighs. The person in black was revealed to be a stern-looking patrol officer from the Bay City Police Department. Behind him, a police cruiser - that carried roughly thirty-five flashing emergency LEDs and rotating lights - had been parked in an oblique angle not too far from the silver-metallic Mercedes SLK that Regina had arrived in. The second patrolman had remained at the cruiser so he could cover the scene from a distance or call for back-up, depending.
The first officer's half-inch buzzcut, aggressive jaw, broad chest, dark-gray nightstick, service firearm and - last but by no means least - can of pepper spray that he held ready to empty out in Stella's face were a little too far on the intimidating side of what was necessary in such a moment of joy.
"Ohhh, shiii- uh, I mean… good morning, Officer," Stella continued with an embarrassed grin as she clambered to her booted feet. After wiping off the seat of the coverall and then her hands, she squinted at Regina who seemed to find it all very amusing. "I just got my Pacer back. I guess I celebrated it a little. Or maybe a lot," she said, pointing over her shoulder at the chocolate-brown car.
"Miss," the patrol officer said in a stern, no-nonsense voice that matched his stern, no-nonsense looks perfectly, "we received several complaints from passers-by that someone was using a defective buzzsaw or metal grinding tool outside. Either that or they were skinning a cat alive."
"Ah… no. None of the above. No, I was just celebrating, Officer," Stella said as she squirmed under the no-nonsense glare that had tagged along with the man's no-nonsense voice.
"I see. In that case, have a nice day, Miss," the officer said before he spun around on his heel and stomped back to the cruiser and his waiting patrol partner.
Stella's eyes widened for a moment at the relief of escaping arrest. It would have been one-hundred percent true to the essence of Stella Starr if she had been arrested for being happy and not for losing her temper in public - that had happened roughly nine-thousand-seven-hundred-and-seventy-seven times - but she shook off the shock and retaliated by slamming her hands onto her hips. "Oh hello, Reggie! Thank you so blip-bloppin' much for trying to save me from that mean po-leese officer… no, wait! You didn't! And you sure didn't either, Billy! What gives? Did I morph into a nobody all of a sudden? Or worse, the embarrassing woman who always gets shoved off to the kiddie table at family get-togethers and funerals and weddings and whatnots 'cos she made a teeny-tiny little scene once when a can of raspberry fizz exploded all over the white tablecloths and it wasn't even her frickin' fault!"
Regina and Billy shared a brief look before the model chose the only option she had available to her at that moment in time: she reached out and pulled Stella into a smothering hug despite the fact that she wore an elegant outfit - the aforementioned Navy-blue slacks, an off-white silk shirt and a baby-blue slim vest that matched the color of her eyes perfectly; the clothing boutique where she had bought it had called it Dreamy Blue and she was not about to object - that was one-hundred percent incompatible with the mop-topped investigator's coarse, somewhat filthy coverall. "Oh, I'm so glad you have your chocolate-brown horror back, Stell! I'm really, really happy on your behalf!"
Though Stella had her rosy cheeks mashed up against Regina's ample bosom, she did not seem to mind. "Awwww-thanks, Reggie. You're my friend. My best friend. My… only… friend… hey! Wotcha callin' a blip-bloppin' horror?! I-beg-your-pardon!" she cried as she pulled herself free of Regina's long arms. "This car, this AMC Pacer, is a genuine piece of Americana! This was one of theeeee most popular vehicles of the nineteen-seventies! It sold a bazillion!"
Billy put his hand in the air to break into the one-sided conversation. "Well, that's not exactly right-"
"Yes it is! And was! Don't interrupt me, Billy!" Stella growled before she spun around and stretched her arms out wide at the car in question. "Doesn't this just amortize-"
"Epitomize," Regina said out of the corner of her mouth.
"- the decade of the seventies in all its glory? Yes it does! And look at how it shines!" While speaking, Stella caught a glimpse of the many thumb-marks and other dull spots on the glass and the body panels. "Well, okay, it doesn't actually shine right now, but it will as soon as the peanut gallery allows me to get into the office and find my box of tools 'cos I have it all lined up!" - Deep breath - "I have window cleaning fluid, I have wet wipes, I have rolls and rolls and rolls of kitchen tissue, I have clean rags and wax and SupaShine auto polish and I got so much I don't even know what I got. And I oughtta know 'cos I bought the darn stuff! Cost me an arm and a leg, too!" - Deep breath - "And Reggie, tell ya what… you just volunteered to join me in giving the Old Girl a good, ol' bumper-to-bumper rub-down and an in-'n-out vacuuming. Yes Ma'am, and don't gimme that riffer-raffin' blah-blah-blippety-blah about your hands being unfit for manual labor 'cos you shoulda thought of that a little sooner… like when you dissed my car and called it a horror!"
"But, Stell… my hands really are-"
"Don't wanna hear it, Reggie!" Stella said and thrust her own hands into the air. "You. Me. Pacer. Polish. Rub-down. Window cleaning. Vacuuming. Now."
"You. Me. Pacer. Now! So there!"
Chirping crickets. More chirping crickets. Even more chirping crickets.
"Yes, dear," Regina said as she looked at Stella and then at Billy the Mechanic. Although her face contorted into a horrified mask at the thought of the harsh conditions that awaited her and her well-manicured hands, she was unable to hold it for long - then she broke out in a grin that was mirrored on Stella's face at once.
Ten minutes later, the proverbial sun had come back out for Stella Starr after the short dip involving the stern man in black. Still wearing the coverall from the Bob the Plumber disguise, she had their regular office vacuum cleaner hooked up to a ninety-nine-foot long extension cord and was presently on her knees vacuuming the footwell on the passenger side.
While that whiny activity was carried out, Dolly Parton's Greatest Hits played on the eight-track. The volume had been turned up to one notch below maximum to celebrate the complete, and completely successful, restoration of the ancient piece of entertainment technology. When Regina had asked - in a somewhat ironic tone while covering her sensitive ears with her hands - why the volume had not been turned all the way up, Stella had replied that it left room for an ever bigger, better and louder celebration in case such an opportunity arose.
The Internet had been used for something positive for a change when Stella had found a seller in Okachowabeenaqawaite, Alaska, who offered practically brand-new eight-track cartridges for hardly anything at all. Her old cartridges featuring The Carpenters, The Osmonds and several other superstars of the 1970s had seen so much use they had been worn out, so it was high time to get them replaced. In short, she had bought a whole box of the wonderful things so now she had access to all the hits of Johnny Paycheck, Leon Russell, Lynn Anderson, Joe Stampley, Tammy Wynette, C.W. McCall and the aforementioned Dolly Parton.
Despite the admittedly melodious assault on her sensitive ears, Regina had carried her end of the load by cleaning three windows - well, two windows and the door mirror on the driver's side - but then she had developed a blister on the side of her thumb and had flat out refused to do any more.
Though Stella had not been too pleased with her sweetheart limited stamina, she'd had to surrender when the graceful model had literally stomped her expensive, open-toed sandal onto the ground in a fit of pique.
It mattered little because the energy that exuded from Stella more than covered for the lack of same that was displayed by Regina. Once Stella had finished vacuuming, she pushed the apparatus away and grabbed a roll of kitchen tissue instead. The bottle of window cleaning fluid was next, and she set off doing the remaining windows in world-record time. As she worked, she tried to out-Dolly the original Dolly Parton by tra-la-lu-li-le-la-la'ing at the top of her lungs and performing a step-left-step-right-wipe-wipe-wipe-step-left-step-right-wipe-wipe-wipe version of the Stella Two-Step.
She suddenly came to a hard stop and fell silent between a Tra and the subsequent La-Lu-Li-Le-La-La. The finger that was on the trigger of the bottle of window cleaner began to twitch like she was trying to pull it. Her eyes slowly left the brown Pacer to slide across the uneven parking lot, past the stone fence and up the narrow trunk of the young tree just beyond it.
Up there, swaying in the gentle breeze on one of the branches at the top, she found her enemy. A pigeon. A fat pigeon. A fat, gray pigeon. A fat, gray pigeon that seemed ready to dump a massive white load onto the shiny chocolate-brown paint job of the AMC Pacer. "I. See. You," Stella growled. Her left hand clenched as she spoke which made the roll of kitchen tissue crumple up into half its original size.
A stand-off developed between the two hard-nosed/hard-beaked opponents. Stella squinted. The pigeon cooed. Stella squinted even harder. The pigeon cooed. Stella squinted the hardest she ever had. The pigeon cooed but shuffled around like it was beginning to feel the heat. Stella squinted and growled. The pigeon cooed and shuffled around a little more. When Stella squinted, growled and moved up the bottle of window cleaning fluid like she was going to squirt some onto the bird - the gray menace was too far out of range for anything shy of a proper water cannon, but Stella hoped the fat, gray pigeon did not know the capabilities of human offensive weaponry - the bird finally relented and took off from the branch.
Stella kept her eyes on her flying opponent for a while until it disappeared from her sight. Turning back to her car, she only had time to take a single step before another pigeon entered her field of view. It circled a good distance above her like it was on a reconnaissance mission. "Ooooh… sneaky! Brought in reinforcements, didya? What's next? A thousand-bird bomber raid o' frickin' seagulls? Well, that ain't gonna work with me… not with Stella Starr. Oooooooh, come on in… come on in, ya piece of feathered-" she said in a deep, dark, growly voice.
"To whom are you talking, my dear Stella?" Regina said in a humorous tone as she strolled across the parking lot carrying a tray featuring two mugs, plates and napkins. One end of the tray was occupied by their thermos, and the other saw a bag of treats from Zeligman's Bakery. The thumb that had been afflicted with the blister had now been wrapped in half a pack of bandages so no further harm could come to it.
"That pigeon up there!" Stella said in a hoarse whisper. To make sure her sweetheart knew which pigeon she was referring to, she held up the bottle of window cleaning fluid and pointed at the circling warbird.
Regina briefly looked up to cast a glance at the grayish-white bird, but it could not hold her interest for more than two seconds. "That's nice. We all need a hobby," she said as she walked over to the rear of the Pacer. "Stell, would you mind opening the hatchback. Stell? Stell?"
"I said, would you mind opening the hatch? So I can put down the tray? So we can get some coffee and a delish pastry that I bought over at Zelig-"
"Oooooooooohhh!" Stella cried and promptly forgot all about the gray menace in the sky. Hurrying over to the Pacer, she activated the newly-installed locking mechanism and watched in awe as the gas-filled cylinders took care of pulling up the large rear hatch.
Soon, Regina put the tray into the back and poured black, steaming-hot coffee into the two picnic mugs. "You go first," she said with a grin as she poked the paper bag with a well-manicured finger.
"Thanks, Reggie! You're my friend! Lemme guess, you bought yourself one of those deathly dull bran cookies-" Stella cut herself off with a surprised: "No you didn't!" when she realized the bag held two chocolate donuts and two slices of runny Danish with raspberry frosting. "Ooooooooh, you big stick of dyn-oh-mite! You're my kinda gal… didya know that? Definitely my kinda gal," she continued as she took out one of the chocolate donuts and got ready to stuff it into her yap.
"Well, that's nice to hear," Regina said before sipping her coffee.
Stella grinned as she bit off half of the donut in one go. "Haw-numpph! It's- fffmphumph even got a nutty-creamy-bumphynumphy filling-thingie!"
"It's called nougat," Regina said with a grin.
"Umppffh mbapomiabiah rumphabunubu wrimnaphatta, Regg-muhnioyip," Stella said as she munched hard on the donut. Once she had gulped down the first bite, her lips were stretched out into a wide smile - that they were stained in chocolate and nougat gave them, and her, a comical look. "So I guess I kinda love you a little bit or sum'tin," she continued as she grabbed her napkin to give her face a thorough rubdown in case other brownish stains had thought they could settle down there.
Regina grinned at the sight and the message. "And that's even nicer to hear. I guess I kinda love you a little bit too. And congratulations on getting your car back… I know how much it means to you. Do you want to celebrate in style by going over to Ruby's tonight or something?"
"Oh, you betcha," Stella said and nodded so hard her shaggy hair bobbed up and down. "And! Don't forget… the day after tomorrow, we're going to the big American Motors Jamboree down at the Silvery Bay Fairgrounds. Holy can-of-anchovies, I can't wait… that's gonna be so awesome!"
Furrowing her brow, Regina lowered the mug that had been on its way to her lips as she parsed Stella's words. It seemed that she had been taken off the office mailing list because she had zero idea whatsoever what her sweetheart was talking about. "Uh… that's… good?"
"Naw, it's better than merely good. It's gonna be… huh… why do you sound surprised, Reggie?" Stella said and mirrored Regina's furrowed brow. She took a sip of her coffee before she went on: "I told you about it a couple of days ago when I got the email."
"No, you didn't."
"Yes, I did."
"No, you didn't."
"Yes, I did. I'm sure I did."
"Well, you didn't."
"Yes! I! Did! So there!"
"You didn't," Regina mumbled, but she hid it by pulling the mug up to her lips. "May I have the last chocolate donut now, please?" she said with a grin to lighten the mood before Stella's legendary short fuse was lit.
The two women looked at each other for a moment or two before Stella let out a snicker and turned the paper bag around so Regina could reach for the treat. The sugar-and-fat-bomb looked strange in the ascetic model's graceful hand, but she did in fact begin to nibble on it.
"Rrrrreally weird," Stella said as she reached for the first of the remaining pastries. The center-filling of runny raspberry jam had done its best to soak through the surrounding dough so it was already sagging dangerously in the middle. The vastly experienced Stella Starr calmly negated the threat by cupping her free palm and putting it there. "I'm sure I told you… but never mind. It's definitely going to be a fun event. D'ya know what I'm thinking, Reggie?"
"Me neither 'cos I haven't figgered it out yet. I'll keep ya posted," Stella said and folded up the sagging pastry. After looking at it from several angles, she took a big bite of it in the spot where the raspberry frosting was the thickest.
Regina chuckled at how Stella seemed to function in ways that could best be described as mysterious.
Once the first bite had been processed between Stella's grinders, she cocked her head and gained a distant look in her vibrant eyes. "Okay, it's all lined up now. And I'm thinking period-correct clothing. Nineteen-seventies retro garb for both of us. That means the poncho-"
"Oh Gawd no!" Regina croaked around the next bite of her donut.
"-flared jeans, my rainbow-colored suspenders, my batik T-shirt… the works! Aw-yeah, baby! Awwww-yeah, that's gonna be so flippety-flip-floppin' fun!" Stella said and adjusted her glasses.
"Fun, yeah… a whole buncha fun," Regina mumbled.
Failing to notice the lack of enthusiasm on her sweetheart's part, Stella continued: "What are you gonna wear, Reggie? May I suggest an orange jump suit?"
"An oran- buh…"
"Or a business set in brown corduroy with five-inch wide lapels?"
"Oooooooh, no-no-no… I got it! How 'bout some hippie-threads, Reggie? You could have beads in your hair! Or daisies? Roman sandals, of course… frickety-frick-frack, dressing up 's the best idea I've had the whooooole week… no, month!" Stella cried before she stuffed the rest of the donut into her yap.
By now, all Regina could do was stare and nod; then nod and stare. She knew that whenever her sweetheart got into such a mood, she had no option but to go along with the plans or else the ticket would be punched for a one-way trip to Lake Gloomy.
She scrunched up her face as she recalled a few iconic images and outfits from the decade that was perhaps not remembered for its good taste when it came to fashion. "Hmmm…" she said as she sipped her coffee - if nothing else, it would be a challenge, and she loved any challenge that involved fashion. She would also get an opportunity to look through various magazines from the period, and that was always a bonus.
In short, if anyone could make the 1970s-look work, it would be the Queen of the Catwalks. "You got a deal!" she said and broke out in a grin that only made Stella's squeals and snickers turn louder.
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