At breakfast, Elvira Maksimovna's voice trembled with the bird's chirping that Sasha knew so well. This calmed Sasha, and when they, having paid for the table and lodging for the night, went out into the courtyard of the hotel, no one-eyed man was there, and Sasha had completely forgotten about the morning incident.
And I remembered when Elvira Maksimovna suddenly asked:
By the way, why were you in the parking lot for so long? I had to wait for you for breakfast.
“I followed the car,” Sasha answered. She did not want to tell Elvira Maksimovna about her meeting with yesterday's one-eyed man, because she herself did not want to relive this meeting again.
- Behind the car? - responded Elvira Maksimovna. - Go and chat with the parking lot workers? They certainly did not leave them indifferent to your appearance ...
“You know I'm not interested in men,” Sasha said.
- Who are you interested in? asked Elvira Maksimovna.
Sasha has already heard this question a hundred times and answered it a hundred times exactly as she answered now:
- I'm interested in you.
“We must think,” Elvira Maksimovna grinned, as always, and in gratitude, as always, patted Sasha on the knee.
They got into the car. We drove out the gates of the parking lot, and soon the hotel could no longer be found in the rearview mirror.
“Maybe you want to lead?” asked Elvira Maksimovna.
“I don’t drive very well,” Sasha said, “you know ...
“So you need to train,” Elvira Maksimovna advised. - Patience and work will grind everything. In vain did I buy you the rights especially for this trip? And she wrote out a power of attorney for this car ... just in case of a fire? ..
- If you're tired...
“You’re talking business,” Elvira Maksimovna said thoughtfully, “when I’m tired, then you’ll lead.” Now it's easy for me...
- As you say.
“Give me a bag from the back seat,” Elvira Maksimovna asked.
Sasha turned around. A dozen identical multi-colored plastic bags of chips fluttered in the back seat, which Elvira Maksimovna had brought with her from the hotel restaurant.
- Wow, - said Elvira Maksimovna, when Sasha got a bag from the back seat, - they even have chips of my favorite variety. Reveal to me...
Sasha opened the package. Elvira Maksimovna took her hand off the steering wheel, but immediately returned it.
“Feed me,” she asked, “so that I don’t get distracted.”
Sasha managed to bring only the first piece of fried potatoes to Elvira Maksimovna's mouth - and immediately dropped it. A sensor on the dashboard beeped frantically, and to the right of the steering wheel, on a small display, the electric letters of foreign incomprehensible words lit up and burned, pulsing, pulsing.
– What is this? Elvira Maximomovna was surprised. – Sasha, did you press anything here?
"Damn, what's written here?!"
The beeping of the sensor turned from intermittent to continuous, and the car began to lose speed. No matter how Elvira Maksimovna pressed buttons and pedals on everything in a row, no matter how she twisted the levers, the car seemed to fall into some kind of stupor and could not be revived in any way.
Of all the instruments, only the steering worked. Elvira Maksimovna turned to the side of the road, where the car quietly stopped.
- Well, - said Elvira Maksimovna, - they arrived ...
- And what happened? Sasha asked. “Like running out of gas…
- You yourself saw how it was refueled ... Here, all control is electronic. And for some reason it crashed. God knows what it is...
Elvira Maksimovna got out of the car. Sasha followed her.
“And not a single car,” muttered Elvira Maksimovna, lighting a cigarette. - What are we now with you - cuckoo here until the evening?
She took out a cell phone from her purse, turned it on, tried to dial any number, listened - only a barely audible wheeze came from the speaker.
Elvira Maksimovna grimaced and threw the phone into the back seat.
Maybe open the hood and take a look? Sasha suggested. It's possible that something can be fixed...
- Yes, what to fix something ?! even Elvira Maksimovna got angry. You might think you know something about it! Fix it... Someone seems to be driving over there,” she said, peering intently at the tape of the road covered with a hot, oscillating film. - The truck seems to be ... Let's vote - it will help. We'll pay him if anything...
Sasha went around the car and stood at the left side of the hood next to Elvira Maksimovna. They looked at the slowly approaching truck, and Sasha had a restless, still incomprehensible feeling growing in her chest, which became clear to her only when the truck drove up so far that it was possible to make out the facial features of the driver sitting behind the wheel.
Black bandage across the face and black beard. Sasha raised her hand to her mouth in fear. Elvira Maksimovna also recognized this truck and did not raise her hands.
The truck flew past them.
“Thank God,” Sasha breathed. Do you remember this driver?
“Who almost killed us last night?” - Elvira Maksimovna clarified. - Of course I remember…
- It’s good that we didn’t stop him and he drove past ...
"Don't rejoice ahead of time," said Elvira Maksimovna in a strangely hardened voice.
- What? .. - Sasha whispered, turning around to where Elvira Maksimovna had turned.
The truck came to a point where the road widened slightly, slowed down, made a 180-degree turn, and stopped like a beast about to jump.
It seemed that the driver was considering how to deal with the travelers who were in a difficult situation. It was at least three hundred meters from the truck to the dead sports car, about five minutes had passed since the truck stopped.
– What is he doing? Sasha asked Elvira Maksimovna in a whisper. Why did he stop there? I'm scared ... He turned in our direction and stands.
A few more minutes passed. The truck stood still. For Sasha, this was much more terrible than if he began to approach them. She couldn't take her eyes off the frozen truck. The driver could not be seen at all through the three-hundred-meter thickness of muddy stuffy air and dusty glass.
- Finally! - Elvira Maksimovna uttered hoarsely and immediately lit a cigarette, nervously drawing in the sugary menthol smoke. - Someone else is driving ... Look - it seems like a jeep is driving?
- Jeep, - Sasha confirmed; glancing briefly, she turned back to the scary truck.
Noticing a sports car parked on the side of the road and women waving frantically, the jeep slowed down and drove up to them.
As soon as the jeep stopped next to them, the truck in the distance began to move again. He turned around again and slowly drove on his way.
Sasha couldn't help but let out a sigh of relief. Elvira Maksimovna was already explaining something to the man who got out of the jeep.
Sasha turned to them as the truck was out of sight.
The jeep turned out to be not just any, but a Land Rover. True, it was dusty and neglected to such an extent that one might think that he had never known a car wash or even a simple rag.
The driver of the jeep was about thirty-five. Short coarse hair, randomly sticking out in different directions, gave the impression not of a sloppy mop, but of a trendy hairstyle. The driver's face was of the type that is usually said to be carved out of stone, although, looking closely, Sasha realized that only the protruding lower jaw could be made of stone. The rest of the face, as soon as its owner began to speak, came into a lively movement - the lips moved in time with the words flying out of them, the eyebrows moved in time with the lips, the folds on the brown forehead moved in time with the eyebrows, and the lower jaw, which was supposed to pronounce the words, seemed perfectly still, and gave every reason to believe that the jeep driver's brain was in her, and not behind the sliding sinuous wrinkles of a brown forehead.
The driver of the jeep was dressed in jeans that were rather shabby and torn at the knees and a denim jacket with torn off sleeves, which, when unbuttoned, did not hide a single muscle of a perfectly trained torso.
As Sasha could understand from the conversation, the jeep driver's name was Edik, he was engaged in the sale of used cars in a town with an unpronounceable name five kilometers away. Edik was just heading there when Elvira Maksimovna stopped him.
“We even have an emergency gang in the city,” Edik boasted, leaning back against his jeep, “you can call and they will come here.”
“I already called,” Elvira Maksimovna said, “she doesn’t pick up from here ...
- Yes? Edik was surprised. – And I also wanted to buy a mobile phone for myself the other day… We don’t even have a mobile center in our city, in my opinion… Yes, this is a city – one name. No mobile center is needed. You whistle at one end, you will answer at the other ...
- Great, - Elvira Maksimovna appreciated. - And what about the car?
- With a car?
Edik went up to the car, opened the hood and, carefully scratching his lower jaw, thought deeply about its shimmering insides.
- Is the car new? Edik asked a few minutes later.
- New, - answered Elvira Maksimovna, - they didn’t really have time to run in ...
- So that's the point! - Edik was delighted. - And you probably quickly drove her?
“I rarely drive slowly,” said Elvira Maksimovna.
“In that case, it could be something like this,” Edik said, wrinkling his brown forehead, “these new machines, just like those stuffed with electronics, have such a shitty feature ... If they are exploited too zealously, they simply turn off the entire system in order to do not overheat ... Understand?
“Almost,” Elvira Maksimovna shook her head. In other words, nothing serious?
- As far as I understand, no, - Edik confirmed and put his hands in the pockets of his jeans, - it is quite possible that in half an hour the engine will cool down and everything will be in order. Although - just in case - you need to show the girl to a specialist ...
- What girl? Elvira Maksimovna asked in astonishment and glanced sideways at Sasha, who was standing on the sidelines.
- Yes, I'm talking about the car! Edik explained. That's what I call cars...
She and Elvira Maksimovna laughed. Sasha suddenly noticed that Elvira Maksimovna was not looking at Edik the way she usually looked at the men around her.
“What if it doesn’t start after half an hour?” asked Elvira Maksimovna.
Edik thought again with his lower jaw.
- I can offer this option, - he said, - I will give you a lift to the city, and from there you will return here in an emergency car.
- And my ... car should I leave here, or what? - Elvira Maksimovna did not understand.
“Yes, you can do it here too,” Edik shrugged his shoulders, “what is there ... Two cars pass along this highway every hour ... And you will turn around in half an hour ... If you hurry, of course ...
- Well, no, - Elvira Maksimovna resolutely objected, - I won’t leave my girl ... that is, the car ... here unattended.
- Then let's - your girlfriend will go with me, - Edik made a second proposal, - in the city she will agree with the emergency gang and return. Until then, take care of your car. Is that how it goes?
Elvira Maksimovna looked doubtfully at Sasha. Sasha shrugged her shoulders, but lowered the corners of her mouth, which always meant she had a clear unwillingness to do anything.
Elvira Maksimovna knew perfectly well that all she had to do was order her, and Sasha would meekly get into Edik's jeep and go wherever he needed to. But she just doubted that Sasha would be able to quickly negotiate with the emergency service workers, whose structure, apparently, is still in its infancy in this city, and organize a trip to help.
And Elvira Maksimovna did not smile at all for half a day to sit in complete solitude in a car melting from the crazy southern sun.
“Besides,” thought Elvira Maksimovna unexpectedly to herself, glancing over Edik’s half-naked torso – from the powerful jaw to the elastically convex and brown abdominal muscles, “it would be nice to ride in a jeep with a peasant – the old fashioned way. For the sake of diversity, so to speak ... "
- Let's do this, - said Elvira Maksimovna, - I will go with you, Edik, and the girl ... Sasha will remain to guard the car.
“Yes, what is it to me?” he said. - Do as you wish. Remember what I said about new cars stuffed with electronics? – this he turned to Sasha. - It is quite possible that when the engine cools down, it will return to normal ...
“Exactly,” said Elvira Maksimovna, “you, Sasha, that’s what – if this happens suddenly ... Well, in about fifteen minutes ...
“In about fifteen minutes it’s about time,” Edik interjected, “the motor will have time to cool down completely during this time. Unless, of course, my diagnosis is correct. But I actually understand something about cars ...
- If in fifteen minutes the car can go, - continued Elvira Maksimovna, - you drive slowly forward - you will meet me with an emergency gang. Then you won't have to pay the full cost of the call.
“But it wouldn’t be better for you and me to wait in the car together,” Sasha said, who really did not want to be left alone, “if fifteen minutes ...
“So should I take someone to town or not?” Edik asked, pulling away from the side of his jeep. - Keep in mind that I'm leaving now. I can't wait fifteen minutes. Things are waiting for me in the city ...
- Drive, drive, - Elvira Maksimovna hurried, taking a step towards the jeep, - who knows. Suddenly, and after fifteen minutes, and after half an hour, the car will not start. And here we are waiting for another ride ...
- A very long time, - Edik confirmed, interrupting, and opened the door from the side of his driver's seat, - a very long time to wait.
“Here,” Elvira Maksimovna said, “as Edik advises us, we will do just that,” her gaze again lingered on Edik’s chocolate press. - Just what should we do if we suddenly miss each other with Sasha?
“Easier than simple,” Edik spoke quickly. There is a cafe at the entrance to the city. It's called Roadside. You will meet there, if that.
- Excellent! - Elvira Maksimovna liked this plan. Do you remember, Sasha? Cafe "Seaside".
“You can’t drive past it,” Edik said, getting into the jeep, “there is only one highway here, and on this highway - on the remaining stretch of the way to the city - there is one such cafe ...
– Did you understand everything? Elvira Maksimovna asked Sasha.
“Yes,” Sasha nodded and sighed.
- Don't be silly! – Elvira Maksimovna reassured Sasha, already walking around the jeep to sit next to Edik, – you have rights. I gave you a power of attorney for the car. You drive normally ... Like.
“Yes, there’s nothing to drive here,” Edik interjected again, “all the time in a straight line and in a straight line. And there are few cars, so even if you want to, it will be difficult for you to crash into someone.
She and Elvira Maksimovna laughed. Edik started the engine.
- Well, see you soon! Elvira Maksimovna shouted to Sasha, trying to drown out the noise of the jeep's powerful engine with her birdlike voice. - Look, do not confuse anything! Wait fifteen minutes or more. Then try to start the car. Then, if possible, drive slowly towards me ...
The end of the phrase was no longer heard. Throwing out two fountains of white dust scorched by the sun from under the rear treads, the jeep rushed along the road and very soon turned into a black dot, and then completely disappeared.
* * *
Sasha couldn't get the one-eyed bearded man out of his head. In a stuffy car, even with all the windows down, she was sleepy, but she was afraid to close her eyes, so that the vile black mug, crossed over the eye with a deaf bandage, would not appear again in her mind.
Finally, weary of her hazy state of half-sleep, she got a bottle of lukewarm mineral water from the back seat and, leaning out of the half-open car door, rinsed her face.
“It must have been fifteen minutes already,” she said to herself, and reaching for the key in the ignition, she tried to start the car.
The engine roared, the car trembled, ready to rush forward.
- Started up ... - Sasha said with surprise, - wow - what miracles ... As if it hadn’t stalled half an hour ago.
The car started moving. Sasha was driving in first speed - very, very slowly.
“Probably it looks funny from the outside,” thought Sasha, “such a massive car, but it moves as if it is groping its way in the dark.”
Sasha received confirmation of this assumption immediately - some crazy teenager motorcyclist who swept past her towards the city turned around and opened his mouth wide, breaking his pimply mug into two halves.
It even seemed to Sasha that snippets of mocking laughter had reached her.
- So what, - Sasha said and increased her speed by two kilometers per hour, - but I have the opportunity to meet Elvira Maksimovna here - on the highway, and not hang around in some eatery at the entrance to the city. I imagine the rednecks in this diner will stare at me. And try to treat with warm Soviet champagne produced in the city of Uchkuduk ...
No matter how slowly the sports car driven by Sasha dragged along the track, and no matter how Sasha peered into the distance unsteady from the heat, the emergency car did not show up.
But some long one-story building loomed ahead, similar to a train car and a construction barrack forgotten by someone on the road - at the same time.
Soon it was possible to make out the sign - "Cafe "Pridorozhnoe".
“Apparently, I’ll have to wait in this cafe for my Elvira Maksimovna,” Sasha muttered under her breath, “you can’t get anywhere ...
“Maybe,” a thought stirred in her, “that Elvira Maksimovna is already waiting for me there? It is unlikely - she does not know for sure that her car has returned to normal ... "
Sasha drove up to the cafe. I parked the car so that it could be easily seen from the road and headed to the cafe.