One by one, the king freed the remaining four riders. Then he returned to his go-cart, behind which the newly liberated riders had assembled.
The king tossed the heart to Robert, who caught it in one hand and felt suave. “You have need of that, I think,” said the king. “Simply touch it to her icy prison, and your maiden fair will be free.”
“Actually, I kind of doubt she’s a virgin,” said Robert.
“That’s as may be,” replied the king tersely. “We have a certain manner of speech. To us, Rebbecca Smith is your maiden fair, and you are her champion.”
“Don’t you think that’s a little archaic?” said Robert. “Not to mention demeaning to Rebbecca.”
The king frowned, considering. “I never gave it much thought,” he said at last, “but I can see how one might reach that conclusion. Very well. You may use the heart of Crutchford to rescue Rebbecca, the woman you like, from her icy prison.”
“Thanks,” said Robert.
“It is we who owe you thanks. You have done us a great service today, Robert Wilson. Without your help, Crutchford would have been the victor.”
“It was your plan,” said Robert, shrugging. “All I did was use the drone you provided. I’m surprised you didn’t just use the drone yourself.”
The king smiled. “Ah, but how would we have done that?” He held up his hands, fingers spread. “We are eleven. Our hands are not big enough to activate the drone one-handed, and we would be quite unable to tag Crutchford while driving. And if we attempted to use the drone while stationary or on foot, Crutchford would surely have been able to imprison any of us before we would have a chance to tag him. No, your participation was essential, and the Go-cart King thanks you.”
Robert bowed his head in acknowledgement.
“Ride!” shouted the king, and with engines roaring, they were gone in seconds. Robert wondered if he would ever see the Perpetually Eleven again.
At the moment, however, he had more pressing matters to attend to. Checking the street signs to get his bearings, he took off at a quick jog on the shortest route back to his house. Or, more to the point, back to Portman’s house. He stuck to the sidewalks, deeming it unwise to go back the way he’d come, through yards and flowerbeds. He was in a hurry, but it wasn’t a matter of life and death. It wasn’t worth enraging suburban gardeners.
As he turned the corner onto his street, he saw a police cruiser pulled up in front of Portman’s house. A chill ran over him. What were they doing? What had Portman told them? And most importantly, what was the status of Rebbecca Smith?
Robert slowed to a brisk walk so as not to appear suspicious. As he drew nearer, he saw that Mr. Portman was in his front yard talking to two uniformed police officers. Mr. Portman noticed Robert and called out. The police officers turned to regard him.
“I told them everything,” said Mr. Portman grimly as Robert reached speaking distance.
“Did you?” said Robert, preparing for the worst.