by Mark Finn
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Chapter Twenty-Six: A Frank Discussion

Larry drove the van out of the A1 parking lot, his face an unreadable cloud. The guys were all very quiet, still transfixed by the sight of the digging tools that lay in the floor of the van.

The early morning traffic had picked up, and the streets of Tempe came alive with jeeps, scantily-clad sorority sisters holding up signs that said "Car Wash" and cars with families on weekend outings. As they neared the college campus, the bike and foot traffic picked up and they glimpsed several cyclists jumping curbs and zigzagging through the palm trees.

While everyone in the van looked around, stupefied, the CD player continued to play Cowboy Bebop, now a hollow mockery of the action they wouldn't be seeing. Larry drove, a distracted look on his face, about five miles under the speed limit. Every three or four blocks, he would turn right or left, depending on his whim, and keep going. When they had passed the Wal-Mart for the second time, the guys became aware that Larry was lost-in thought, or otherwise.

It was D.J. who finally broke the silence. "Where are we going?"

"I don't know," said Larry. "I need to think about this."

D.J's voice was tight. "What's to think about? We have no backhoe. Ergo, we have no plan. And I suppose you don't have a backup plan, either?"

Larry briefly filled them in on his conversation with McElroy. When he was finished, Turk came to life and said, "Hey man, don't sweat it. We gave it our best shot."

"What do you mean, 'gave'?" said Larry, slowly. "We aren't leaving until we get those modules."

"Larry, be serious," said D.J. "Without a backhoe, we're screwed. It would've worked, but without the machinery..."

"Hey, yeah, man," said Turk. "It was a solid plan. And if you could've gotten a backhoe, then we would've been rich."

"Could've, would've, should've," said Larry. "You guys are a bunch of pussies, is what you are. We still have a job to do, and we're going to do it, by god."

"Uh, hello?" said D.J. "Since when do you tell us what to do?"

"I'm still running this operation!" Larry shouted.

"There is no fucking operation!" D.J. screamed back.

"There is because I say there is!" Larry matched D.J. in tone and volume. "Failure is not an option, D.J."

"Let me ask you something, Master Planner," said D.J., his voice coming down a notch so that it was under Larry's. "In all of your extensive research on the Internet for this heist, did you ever once look up the rental requirements for a backhoe?"

"That's not the point, D.J. I-"

"Oh, no, Larry, it is the point. You have dragged us across the world on this half-baked scheme, to a big conclusion that never happened, because you couldn't be bothered to check out how to rent a backhoe!"

"I did check it out!" Larry sputtered. "There's over fifty websites that tell you how to take apart a backhoe, or drive a backhoe, but not a one of them that tells you anything about needing insurance!"

D.J. said, "Well, Christ, Larry that oughtta be common sense!"

Oh, sure, D.J, you're full of common sense after the fact. Where was that clear-headed thinking beforehand, Einstein?"

"Hey, it wasn't my fucking plan, Larry. How about a phone call, Larry? Did you even think to do that? Or were you too busy planning for the ninjas and mutants?"

Larry's voice got quiet. "D.J., you better step off, man."

"Or what? You'll strand me here? Fine, I can get home without you." D.J. folded his arms. "Just give me what's left of my stake and I'll take my chances."

"Oh, how macho," said Larry. "You could always call your mommy for the money, if you're afraid I'll jilt you."

"You're cruising for it, Larry, I mean it."

Turk screamed, "Both of you shut the hell up!" His voice reverberated through the cramped van. When it was quiet, Turk said, "Larry, seriously, you need to think about how we're going to get home. We can't do the job without the backhoe. D.J., if you're so fucking clever, why didn't you look up the info, when you knew the plan for two whole days?"

"Because Larry said he had taken care of everything!" D.J. shouted behind him.

Turk shouted, angry in spite of his goal to play referee, "Hey, guess what? We got this far, didn't we? If it hadn't been for a single piece of paper, we'd be hitching the backhoe up to the van right now and carting it over to the job. And D.J., don't get all high-handed. If the plan was so fucking awful, then why did you go along with it in the first place?"

D.J. was poised to tell Turk to mind his own fucking business when Larry interrupted. "Okay, look, this isn't doing anyone any good. Let's just...let me just park the van somewhere. I have to go to the bathroom. We'll all cool off and discuss this like adults. And if I can't come up with something by the time we're ready to take off, then we'll turn around and go home. Okay?"

"Okay," said Turk.

"Fine," said D.J.

"Uh, before we do anything else," said Burt, who was looking out of the back window with interest, "we have another problem to take care of."

"What's that?" said Larry.

Burt looked at Larry and said with a hint of awe, "We're being followed."



Next Chapter

Chapter One: The Navel Adventures of Larry Croft
Chapter Two: 1123 Miles to Tempe
Chapter Three: Enter the String
Chapter Four: The Waiting is the Hardest Part
Chapter Five: Rutlege's Story
Chapter Six: The Plot Thickens
Chapter Seven: The Fifth Man is Revealed
Chapter Eight: It's a DRY Heat
Chapter Nine: Preparing to Lam
Chapter Ten: The Mislaid Plans of Mouse and Man
Chapter Eleven: The Danger of Talking to God
Chapter Twelve: Anchors Aweigh, Let's Go Men
Chapter Thirteen: The End is Near
Chapter Fourteen: Roll to Hit
Chapter Fifteen: Six Feet of Beef Stick for the Soul
Chapter Sixteen: Hello, My Name is Indio, California
Chapter Seventeen: Threadgill Takes Charge
Chapter Eighteen: The Players on the Other Side
Chapter Nineteen: On the Road to Perdition
Chapter Twenty: Welcome to Tempe
Chapter Twenty-One: The Game is Afoot
Chapter Twenty-Two: Should Have Known Better
Chapter Twenty-Three: Test-Run at the Waffle House
Chapter Twenty-Four: The Supply Run
Chapter Twenty-Five: The Backhoe
Chapter Twenty-Six: A Frank Discussion
Chapter Twenty-Seven: A Brief History of Larry's Van
Chapter Twenty-Eight: Go Speed Racer, Go
Chapter Twenty-Nine: The Owner of the Thumbscrews
Chapter Thirty: Brain Teasers
Chapter Thirty-One: Frick and Frack Check In
Chapter Thirty-Two: Scouting
Chapter Thirty-Three: The Stakeout
Chapter Thirty-Four: The Food Fight
Chapter Thirty-Five: Time to Dig
Chapter Thirty-Six: Deep in the Night
Chapter Thirty-Seven: Paydirt
Chapter Thirty-Eight: The Phallus of Ebon Keep
Chapter Thirty-Nine: Otto and Stacy Make Good
Chapter Forty: Thieves in the Night
Chapter Forty-One: Critical Failure
Chapter Forty-Two: Downtown
Chapter Forty-Three: The Hoosegow
Chapter Forty-Four: An Emergency Breakfast
Chapter Forty-Five: Two Early Phone Calls
Chapter Forty-Six: Threadgill Meets the Gang
Chapter Forty-Seven: Back to the Van
Chapter Forty-Eight: Five Days Later
Table of Contents

About the Author

Mark Finn is the author of Blood & Thunder: the Life and Art of Robert E. Howard, which was nominated for a World Fantasy Award. He also writes excellent short stories, essays, articles, and reviews. In addition to his regular gig at the Vernon Plaza Theater, he can be found intermittently on The Clockwork Storybook blog and RevolutionSF, holding court or damning with faint praise.