Bryce sipped a cup of cold coffee as Eddie and Tim explained the situation. When they were done, Bryce raised a finger. "You're missing an important point."
Eddie's heart sank. "What?"
"How are we going to fit you, me, Tim here, the little girl, and the scary man with the dragon in my little car?"
"At least we won't have to find room for the dragon," Tim said. "I've got a plan for getting rid of that."
"Well that's good," said Bryce. "We won't have to get a trailer hitch."
"We could put the dragon rider in the trunk," Tim said. "Tie him up."
Eddie and Bryce shared a glance. "Um," Eddie said. "We still haven't figured out how to open the trunk."
"Doesn't work," said Bryce. "Believe me. I've tried."
Tim pulled the tools he'd used earlier from his pocket, the strip of metal and the stiff wire. "I might be able to help you with that." He stepped outside.
Eddie and Bryce stood to follow. Bryce swayed a little as he did. He put a hand to his head. "What did that guy do to me."
"He used some kind of stun spell. I don't know. Magic."
"So we're in some kind of Middle Earth now? Why'd he attack me? Why not you?"
"I guess you're the one with the spark."
"What does that even mean?"
Eddie put up a hand as if swearing on a bible. "Try to understand, you're a magic man."
"It's what the dragon rider thought."
Bryce frowned. He followed Eddie out the door.
Tim was already working on the trunk lock. He struggled to get the wire into the keyhole. "I think your key isn't the problem. This lock appears to be jammed. It's rusted or something."
He ran to his room and returned with a small oil can. "This ought to do it."
He worked at the lock, then invited Bryce to try the key. The key turned smoothly. The trunk popped open a crack.
"This is it," Bryce said. "If there's any more mysteries in this car, we'll find them now."
He took a breath and opened it. "Ugh!" he cried.
The trunk was a mess. A flat tire, greasy tools, a petrified half-eaten sandwich, wrappers, empty Mountain Sunrise cans, a battered thermos, and lots of scattered packing peanuts. Eddie reached in and pulled out a phone charge cable and a car adapter.
"I cannot have this mess in my car," Bryce demanded. "Get me a trash bin."
Eddie examined the charge cable. He reached into his pocket and found his all but forgotten cell phone. The adapter fit. He plugged it in and plugged the adapter into the car's dashboard.
"You honestly think your phone will work out here?" Bryce asked.
Eddie shrugged. "If it doesn't, at least it has a sudoku app."
"Huh. Well, let's get this car clean."
"We've got bigger problems," Eddie said. "Like how we catch the dragon rider. And how we save the girl."
"Why are we saving the girl again?"
"Because no one else will."
"Uh-huh, and what happens in the next town when there's someone else who needs saving? Are we going to stuff them all in my car?"
"I don't know."
"Don't I have a say in this?"
"You can decide next time, but we're saving that little girl. I'm sure we'll find a home for her somewhere."
"So now we're social workers."
"And bounty hunters."
"That part I can live with. But we're taking on a lot of baggage here."
"You want to leave now?"
Bryce frowned. He grabbed a handful of trash out of his trunk and threw it in a bin Tim had provided. "No," he said.
"So we're going to be heroes?"
"Well, there's that, and there's the $25,000."
Amidst the trunk debris, they found a Swiss Army knife, a nylon rope, a pewter salt and pepper shaker set, fingernail clippers, and a Zippo lighter. Everything else went into the trash.
"Okay," Bryce said. "Now I can focus. How do we take down a wizard and a dragon?"
"It will take some preparation," Tim said.
"Naturally," Bryce said.
"Some hard work."
"And there will be a lot of vandalism."
"Why not? What are we breaking?"
"Not so much breaking as... I don't know. Rerouting."
"I don't want to go to jail," Eddie said.
"You'll have to," Tim said.
"Relax. I've got it all figured out now. Here's the plan..."
* * *
As the sun disappeared under the horizon, Bryce stormed through Holcomb's town square, his face a study in rage. No one remained outside, their impending visitor from the sky leaving the entire town shaking in their homes. Bryce approached the Sheriff's office, past the hastily boarded up hole in the wall where the dragon rider had come through the previous evening, and through the front door.
The Sheriff sat at her desk, an ice bag gripped against her forehead. "What do you want?" she demanded.
Bryce slapped his hands on the desk and leaned over it. "I want to report a crime. My car was stolen."
The Sheriff winced from the noise. "That motorized dandy cart?" she said. "Who took it?"
"The kid I came in with. Him and the blacksmith's apprentice. I was passed out from last night, and they up and took off without me."
She snorted. "I'm not convinced you didn't steal that thing to begin with."
"Well, you help me find it, and I can show you the title." Bryce dropped into a seat.
The woman in black entered from the back room, her eyes locking on Bryce. "Sheriff, who is this?"
"One of the drifters from yesterday."
"He can't have the girl," the woman said, gripping the front of her own dress.
The Sheriff turned and glowered at her. "Relax, Sophie. He's not here for her. Not that I'd mind if he took her."
"Don't say that," Sophie said, stomping her foot. "We have to give her up to the madman from the sky. If not..."
The Sheriff waved a hand. "I understand. But I don't like being party to this."
"But the children—"
The Sheriff's lip curled into a snarl. "Enough about the children. I understand the situation. I wish that girl had never come to this town." She turned to Bryce. "Same way I feel about you."
Bryce scowled back at her. "Then you should get a posse together and help me track down the thieves. Once you find them, I'll be out of your hair."
She laughed. "I've got no time for you right now."
A thump sounded from down the hall towards the jail cells. Sophie turned towards it, but stopped herself when Bryce jumped from his seat, throwing his hands in the air. "Well, you've got to do something!"
The Sheriff stiffened. "Watch your tone, son."
They stared at each other. Bryce stood rigid. "Well, what can you do?" he spoke through clenched teeth.
"Not much, I'm afraid. I've got half a dozen abductions, a wizard on a dragon threatening to destroy this town, not to mention that my town resembles a giant hammer that might collapse into rubble at any minute. To top it off, my deputy hasn't reported in since I woke up from my coma. He's probably ran off. Half the town is ready to follow him, and they might have the right idea."
"Can you at least write a report? Make it official?"
She stared at him, incredulous. She sighed and pulled out a ledger. She spoke as she wrote. "Stolen, one... what do you call it?"
He gave her the details, the names of the thieves, and his own name. All the while, the woman in the doorway watched, guarding the hall to the jail cells in case Bryce made a mad dash to rescue the girl.
"When can I expect my car?" Bryce said.
"It'll be next on my list after my own problems are solved."
Bryce stood up, scowling. "This is pointless."
He glared a moment longer, then tore the door open and slammed it behind him.
"Relax, Sophie," the Sheriff said to her companion. "That little girl's not going anywhere. You can send her off to be slaughtered when the flying marauder returns."
"Don't blame me. Everyone agrees we need to give the dragon man what he wants."
"And what if he decides he wants your son as well? Do we give him up for the good of the community?"
Sophie's face turned red. She spun and returned to watch the prisoner. A moment later, she screamed. The Sheriff jumped from her chair and ran down the dark hallway.
Sophie stood frozen in the doorway. The Sheriff pushed her aside. The trouble was immediately obvious. The boards covering the hole in the wall had been pulled aside, both cell doors were open. The girl was gone.