This is an original work of fiction, using characters created by (and in some cases even trademarked by) others. I do not own, and make no claim at all, to any of the characters in this story.

This story is dedicated to, and was indirectly inspired by, author "storyfan101", and is hopefully the first of many.

THE BLACK VETTE

The old black Corvette Stingray convertible was one of Al Giordino's few land-based passions. As the chief technical director of the National Underwater & Marine Agency (NUMA) he spent a great deal of his time either on or under the water, or working on aquatic machines and devices. When not on or in the water, he was often flying over it, and was proud of the fact he was certified to take the controls of nearly any aircraft on the planet. His considerable skills were put to use daily in his work for NUMA, and the many "extra curricular" activities he and his long time friend Dirk Pitt managed to get up to.

And don't misunderstand, he loved every moment of it. Well, OK, maybe not so much the moments when he was getting beat up by muscle-bound women twice his size, or blown up, frozen in the Antarctic, roasted in the Sahara, trampled by Mongolian horsemen, or taking any one of a dozen bullets to various parts of his body... He flexed his right hand absently (he still sometimes felt the missing pinky finger) then grabbed the shifter and dropped it into third for the approaching uphill corner.

Yeah, there was something almost magical about being on the water... (The big-block V8 roared and the car leaped forward)... But old Detroit iron had a magic all its own too. He smiled as another mile of Pacific Coast Highway opened up ahead of him, and another mile disappeared behind, taking his burdens, at least for a while, scattering them in the car's wake, and dispersing them on the early morning sea breeze.

He continued for a time along the gently winding coastal road, driving West from Santa Monica. On a whim he turned onto Topanga Canyon Blvd and headed north along its delightfully twisty path. The old Vette's modern low-profile tires chirped at the limits of their grip, as Giordino expertly cut the apex of one hairpin turn after another at considerably higher than the posted limit. The roaring bass note of the dual exhaust seemed perfectly in tune with the high staccato treble of the tires, and the engine's broad midrange snarl completed the three-part harmony that was sweeter to Al's ears than any music that might have come from the car's stereo, if it had been turned on.

He slowed the Vette slightly and took the Ventura Freeway exit, once again heading West. Traffic was light at this early hour, and he blew past most of the early commuters at nearly twice their speed. The long straight high speed run did him just as much good as twisty Topanga Canyon had. His mind relaxed, his senses opened up, and time seemed to stand still. Yessiree, he patted the dashboard lovingly, you can't get THIS in a submarine!

After a couple of minutes weaving in and out of slower traffic, he became aware of a small dark shape on the road ahead. It mainly caught his attention because (very interesting!) he didn't seem to be gaining on it. His curiosity was piqued, and he pressed his right foot to the floor to see if he could catch it. The big four-barrel carb opened wide, he was now well into triple digit speed, but he was gradually closing the gap.

He got closer, and the shape resolved itself into another old ragtop Vette! A little closer and he could see the driver's broad shoulders, and a small amount of white hair sticking out from under a dark ball cap. Closer still and he could begin to pick out details about the car: Daytona blue, California plate, mid 60's - maybe a '64 if he had to guess, and that unmistakeable V8 exhaust roar. Very similar to his own car.

He drew alongside and eased off the throttle just enough to match speed with the blue Vette. He glanced over at the other driver to his right. "Well I'll be..." Al smiled and did a double take as he realized his fellow early morning lawbreaker was a senior! And obviously not the doddering silly-hat-and-green-wraparound-sunglasses type either. No glasses at all, no hearing aid, and no lips pursed in a grim 'hold the dentures in' frown. He reminded Al a little of a gracefully ageing beach bum, with a tanned, weathered face, thick neck, broad shoulders that bulged under the T-shirt, and muscular arms and hands that gripped the wheel.

And the look on the old guy's face was something to see. His eyes were wide open and intensely focussed on the road ahead. All business. High speed. Danger. Safety. But the broad gleaming smile gave away just how much he too was enjoying the early morning jaunt. In fact, he looked like he was about to burst into full laughter when he noticed Al out of the corner of his eye. He caught himself with a sheepish grin, glanced over, smiled, and nodded.

Al smiled and nodded back. Mr. Blue Vette squirmed in his seat, suddenly looking much less comfortable, and turned nervously back to the road ahead. If not for the fact the older man was nearly twice his own age, Al could have sworn he looked like a guilty teenager, busted for joyriding in dad's hot rod.

Suddenly the older man glanced over at Al again, eyes wide, mouth open, and a shocked look on his face. His eyes darted down to his speedometer, back to the road ahead, back to the speedometer, then back to Al once more. Then he turned slightly, frowned, and began to point a wagging finger at Al. He opened his mouth to say something, but stopped. One more quick glance at the spedo, then he clamped his mouth shut as if he'd thought better of it. He took a long look in the rearview mirror, another uncertain glance at Al, and gripped the wheel again with both hands.

Al couldn't help but smile. Whatever was going through the old guy's mind, it sure was amusing. One speed demon about to tell off another? That was pretty rich!

He pressed the accelerator right to the floor, and the black Vette slowly pulled ahead. Then he backed off even with the blue Vette again. The senior glanced over at him and raised an eyebrow as if to say 'Are you kidding?' Al blipped the throttle a couple more times, and Mr. Blue Vette smiled, paused, then shook his head, still smiling, and moved into the far right-hand lane. The Las Virgenes exit was coming up, and Al slowed and tucked in behind the other car.

But the old guy didn't slow all that much, and Al could see the rear of the blue Vette twitch as its driver guided it through the sharp corner at the end of the off-ramp. As soon as they cleared the interchange, Al stomped the gas and pulled out to pass, but the blue Vette's driver was watching now, and matched the speed in a second. He was apparently in no mood to be left in the dust by someone half his age. They approached a corner, almost neck and neck, but Al had the inside. He dove hard into the corner, and the other car almost left it too late before backing off. Al was able to smoothly use the entire width of the road to exit the corner under full power. But the blue Vette lost ground, swerving as the driver worked to keep control.

But Mr. Blue Vette made up the distance in moments, and was on Al's rear bumper close enough that the determined grin and gleam in his eyes were clearly visible in the black Vette's mirrors. Both cars poured on the speed, and Malibu Creek State Park was soon a massive green blur to their right. The blue Vette approached to within inches, darted left then swerved right and shot past Al with a surprising burst of speed. "No way - was I just drafted?" thought Al, "And by a senior??? Well, I have not yet begun to fight!" and with a maniacal grin, he pressed the accelerator.

He caught and passed the blue Vette on the next corner, but was overtaken shortly after as the senior out-braked him and power-slid through a long hairpin. They continued this way for several minutes, swapping the lead back and forth many times. Two men and two machines in a high speed, precision contest of daring and will. Two modern-day gladiators locked in combat, jousting back and forth down Malibu Canyon, towards the Pacific Coast Highway.

One last, long sweeping turn brought them past the triangular green front lawn of Pepperdine University, though they barely noticed it. They were side by side, and neither man backed off as they hurtled towards the intersection with the PCH, and the ocean a few hundred yards beyond. Both jockeyed for position, neither willing to give an inch, and still the right-angle turn loomed closer. They waited until the last possible moment, and both men hammered the brakes at the same instant. Eight tires screeched and smoked as the black Vette and blue Vette entered the intersection at the same time, barely a yard apart.

Two hands moved two shifters from fourth to second in lightning fast unison, and two right feet pressed two gas pedals to the floor. Two four-barrel carbs opened wide and both cars screamed sideways around the corner, still side by side, and still barely a yard apart.

Both men were hard on the gas as their cars left the intersection together, and with the Pacific ocean on their left and mansions on their right, they rocketed along the highway towards Malibu. They were dead even, both cars opened up all the way, both drivers intensely focussed, and grinning like kids in a candy store. And both felt more alive than they had in a long time.

But the Coast Highway run ended all too soon. The closer they got to Malibu, the more they had to weave in and out of the building traffic. Al's pulse began to slow as, reluctantly, he eased off the gas and became part of that traffic. Grudgingly he felt himself returning to the real world, from the flight of fantasy he had been on for the past half hour. He glanced over at the driver of the blue Vette - he was coming down too, and appeared to be blowing air out through puffed cheeks, and trying to relax his grip on the steering wheel.

Their gazes met. Al threw a quick salute and a thumbs-up, silent thanks for the shared adventure, and a heartfelt show of respect and admiration for Mr. Blue Vette. This old guy was definitely not coasting gracefully into his twilight years, he still had more guts and ability than a lot of younger men. The older man focussed a steady gaze on Al, squinted slightly as if sizing him up, or maybe somehow passing judgement, then smiled back, nodded, and waved.

A moment later the blue Vette surged ahead, pulled in front of Al, and began to signal left, though no intersections were in sight. They slowed as Al noticed a private driveway on the opposite side of the road. It was flanked by red brick pillars joined above by a black wrought-iron arch, and matching gates. There was a well-kept, understated elegance about it, and didn't seem the sort of place a retired beach bum would hang out. The gates opened, the senior threw one last wave over his shoulder at Al, and drove in just like he owned the place.

"Go figure!" thought Al to himself, shaking his head and smiling. He waved one last time as the blue Vette passed under the arch and the gates began to close. As he accelerated away towards Malibu, he glanced up at the name in the arch that read GULLS WAY.