|by Mark Finn|
Chapter Forty-One: Critical Failure
"Listen," said Larry, "we aren't getting anywhere fast with this." They all stopped what they were doing and looked at him. "I mean, we know where some of them are, right? So, you guys come help me dig and we'll see if we can't tackle this pallet from more than one angle."
"Makes sense," said D.J. He pitched in to the right of Larry, tossing dirt behind him.
"Burt, Turk, you guys finish up this hole here," he pointed to the left of the partially excavated pallet.
"Why that one?" asked Burt.
"Because of how this pallet was laying, this had to be the edge of the pit, you see?" Larry made square outlines with his hands. "They drove the pallets up to the edge and let them fall in. So, this ought to be right next to another pallet."
"Okay, sure," said Turk, now an expert with the pick. "C'mon Burt, elbows and assholes."
"Right behind you, Hard Hat," said Burt.
They worked in silence, concentrating on their respective jobs. The sound of shovels in dirt lulled them, made their minds wander in strange directions.
D.J. was contemplating the idea that they were not going to be able to finish this job before daylight when he looked up and saw the police car swing into the Gamesmen parking lot. "Aw, no," he said, and then the lights and sirens went off, and the guys were pinned in place, dirty butterflies on Styrofoam.
Burt was the first to unclench. "Let's run!"
"Nuh uh," said Turk. "I ain't getting shot!"
Larry spoke in quiet, firm tones, "Everyone kick the dirt back into the holes. Cover the boxes and pallets up. Hurry."
They moved around in short circles as another police car appeared, driving along the railroad tracks, presumably to keep them from bolting for the woods. The first cops on the scene jumped out of the car and ran to the fence. "Drop the shovels, now!" they shouted.
The second set of policemen jumped out of the car, hands on their holstered weapons. "Don't move! Hands in the air!" They commanded.
"Let me handle this," said Larry, a confident look on his face. "I can take care of small town cops."
Officer Hank Compton had been on the Tempe Police force for six years. He had started like all rookies in the force, on the graveyard shift, four nights on, three nights off. After a year, he was put on the day shift, but quickly changed his work schedule back. He really loved the nightlife. Even in Tempe, things got weird, thanks mostly to the college. Compton thrilled in the unexpected situations that came up from time to time. It made up for the nights when not a damn thing was cooking other than putting drunks in the tank. In the past six years, he had only drawn his gun on a suspect once, and he had never fired his weapon at another person. It wasn't something to be proud of; it was just part of the job. He prided himself on being able to talk to the street folks and help them work out their problems. The night-shift prostitutes considered him a good egg, if a little full of himself. That also came with the job.
When the call came down that two trucks were being hijacked and a warehouse broken into, he was thrilled. The night had been a disappointment, especially for a Saturday. Traffic tickets. A fender bender. Three false burglar alarms. Even the whores were in hiding. As much as he loved the unusual graveyard situations, he hated the nights when he could have slept in his patrol car and not made a difference. Hijacking, B and E...Christ, who wouldn't want that? Compton nodded to his partner, Ernie Jones, and Ernie grabbed the radio. "This is eighteen, we're on it," he said. "Thank god," Jones said to his partner.
As the patrol car crossed the train tracks on Dobson Road, Jones pointed across Compton's chest. "Flashlights, looks like."
"Good eye," Compton said, taking the car off-road, parallel to the tracks. "Looks like maybe a chase," he said.
"No," said Jones. "They aren't running."
That's odd, Compton thought. They were staring in the other direction. They drove through the vacant lots behind the warehouse district, lights and siren off. "Aw, shit," Compton said. "Look."
Another black and white was now rolling up on the other side of the warehouses, siren wailing, lights flashing. Now Compton could see four men in the back lot with shovels.
Jones was livid. "Didn't I say we had it? Who the fuck is that?"
"Dunno," said Compton. "But we're on this side with the perps, so it's our collar."
Jones grinned. "Life can be good sometimes."
Compton brought the cruiser to a halt. "Let's go."
Jones jumped out and yelled, "Don't move!"
Compton ran around to the back end of the cruiser. "Hands in the air!"
He could just see the black and white on the other side of the fence, but with the light in his eyes, he couldn't tell who it was. Someone was on the other side, jumping around and screaming, "There they are! They stole the trucks!"
Compton got a good look at the perps. If the oldest one was twenty-three, he would eat his own hat. College kids, from the looks of it. They were wearing black from head to toe and were covered in filth and grime. They were standing in front of one of eight to ten holes in the ground, none too surreptitiously kicking mounds of dirt back into it. Scattered around them were shovels, picks, flashlights, and jugs of water. They all had their hands in the air, their eyes like dinner plates.
"Okay," said Compton, "you boys want to tell me what's going on here?"
The big one, maybe six-one, and built like a stack of tires, stepped out of the rank. "Well, sure," he said. "How're you guys doing? I'm Larry, Larry Croft. My dad's Harry Croft, but that name probably doesn't ring...you know, we were just kicking back, doing a little thing, and frankly we didn't know that it was illegal...the van I'm driving broke, and we were just...digging...none of us are drunk, because we wouldn't..."
Compton held up his hand. "Son, if you'd just finish one of those sentences, we'll start to get on a whole lot better."
While Compton tried to decipher what the kid had said to him, Jones went over to the fence to see what was going on from the other side. He came back, grimacing. "It's Charles and Lloyd," he said.
Compton rolled his eyes. The back gate opened, and officers Charles Salazar (he pronounced it Sal-AY-zahr, like he was trying to hide the fact that he was Hispanic) and his partner Lloyd Bolton ambled through, along with a young man in a security guard's uniform. "That's the thieves!" the security guard shouted.
Compton watched Larry Croft gasp.
"They stole the trucks!"
Compton watched Croft frown. "No we didn't," he said, turning around to face the security guard. "They took off maybe ten, fifteen minutes ago."
"They were friends of yours, then," said the security guard, pointing a finger.
"Think about it, dumb-ass," said Larry. "Would truck thieves stick around to get caught by someone like you?"
"You smart ass sonovabitch!" The security guard stepped forward, fist cocked. Jones restrained him before he could get far.
Compton stepped up to Croft. "Don't mouth off to me, son," he said, amiably. "I'm bigger than you and you won't win."
Croft stepped back. "No, no, not at all," he said. "But this 'roid here is lying. We didn't steal any trucks."
"Then what were you stealing?" asked Compton.
Larry looked at the hole in the ground. "Uh..." he said.
"I'm pressing charges!" hollered the security guard over Jones' shoulder. "He insulted my badge! I am not a 'roid!"
Jones looked at the other two cops, who were cracking huge grins and trying hard not to laugh outright. "Why don't you guys go check out the warehouse? And take this guy's statement?" There was a distinct act-like-cops tone in his voice as he said it.
They dropped the smiles like they were live snakes. Salazar shot Jones a go-to-hell look and he and Bolton strolled back out through the gates, the security guard in tow.
Compton sized up the situation and decided it was better to end it now or separate the parties at the station, where they had more control of things. "Tell you what," said Compton. "We can either talk about this here, or down at the station. Your choice."
The four young men looked at each other. From the other side of the fence, the security guard yelled, "I'm still pressing charges! Trespassing! Insulting an officer of the-an officer! And being a smart-ass! Book 'em, Dano!"
Compton raised his eyebrows. "Well? Anyone want to volunteer some information?"
"Well," said Larry Croft, "It's kinda hard to explain."
"Well, then," said Compton, "you can figure out what to tell me at the station, then."
He called Jones back over and told him to frisk the suspects. Compton took their identification and was surprised to find they were all from California. He ran their licenses and handed everything back. Considering how scared they were, Compton noted, they were holding up pretty well. The security guard was running loose again.
"You want me to come down to the station?" he asked Jones.
"Hey, meter-maid," snarled Croft, "we didn't steal your trucks, so get off it!"
"That does it," said the security guard. Jones moved to intercept, but the guard danced out of the way. "You better just stay in jail, 'cause I'm gonna be waiting when you get out, and I will kick your ass!"
Jones blocked the guard's vision of Larry. "Hey," he said, "you can't threaten people in front of a cop! Now zip that lip or I'm taking you downtown, too, and I will do it, Mister."
The guard sobered up. "I'm damn good at my job," he said. "I don't have to take abuse from no thieves."
"Look, you need to call your people," said Compton, exasperated with the theatrics. "Send a replacement down here, so you can come to the station and fill out a report."
Salazar and Bolton came back. "No sign of a break-in," they told Jones.
"That's okay," said Jones, "we're going to take them back and figure out what's what, maybe try to get the owners of this place on the phone and see about the trucks."
"You want a hand?"
Salazar playing the role of dutiful cop, all of a sudden, thought Compton. "No, we got it," he replied. Truthfully, they could probably use a hand, but he didn't want to admit it to them.
"Uh, what about my van?" asked Larry.
"Where's your van?" asked Compton.
"Behind the trees, there." Larry pointed.
"I'll take it," said Jones. To Larry, he said, "we'll impound it until we can figure out what's going on. Come on, turn around," he said.
"You're going to cuff me?" said Larry, incredulous.
"Yep, so you don't run on me while we're in the woods."
Compton said, "Jones, you wanna drive the van around and pick this stuff up? I'll take these three and meet you back at the station."
Salazar and Bolton said, "well, if you've got it wrapped up..."
"Yeah," said Compton, a little shorter than he'd intended.
"Uh huh," said Salazar, lightly. They would discuss it when they got off-duty; Compton was sure of that. He looked at his partner for a little sympathy.
"Hey, you were bored, remember?" said Jones.
"My bad," Compton said. Jones led Croft away in cuffs, looking miserable.
"You're not going to cuff us, too, are you?" asked the short, stocky one.
Compton thought about it. All they had taken off of the kids was a Swiss army knife. On the other hand, they weren't being very forthcoming, either. Maybe a little scare was in order. "You've broken the law already. You don't want to resist arrest, son," he said.
Terror washed over their faces. They would crack at the station, Compton thought. No problem. "No sir," said the stocky kid.
Compton cuffed each one of them, grateful for his extra pairs. "Okay, let's go, guys," he said as he held the back door open.
The tall, skinny kid said, "Shotgun."
"Congrats, Turk," said the youngest-looking kid, who had been quiet all this time. "It's all yours, buddy."
Compton shook his head, convinced that this was all somehow his fault.
The lights and siren made Jerry Markham jump in his seat, his eyes snapping open. Holy shit! He could see two cop cars across the street, one in the parking lot, and one in the fields. In the fields? Something wasn't right... Markham started. The trucks were gone! He rubbed sleep out of his eyes and tried to piece it all together. Nothing made sense. He called Steve.
"Cops," was all he said.
"Cops, across the street. Picking up Croft. I think."
"I fell asleep."
"I'll call you back." Markham hung up. He watched the scene silently, as the cops and the security guard moved around. He could just make out Larry and his friends, dressed in black. How could he have missed it? His twisting stomach told him he had drunk far too much coffee, but with cops across the street, he dared not move.
It took a while, but eventually the cop car on his side of the fence drove off. Markham started his car, keeping his lights off, and silently crept away under the waning darkness. It was a hollow victory; after all, he didn't have any module in hand. However, the thought of Larry Croft rotting in jail was more than enough to make up for missing out on the Phallus of Ebon Keep.
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