Vincent tightened his one handed grip on the wheel as the other fumbled to get a cigarette out of its pack and into his mouth. That task done, he dropped the pack off to the side and pulled out his lighter.
As smoke started to waft into the cabin, Callahan cleared his throat and fidgeted futilely in the close confines between Vincent and Roland. “Do you have to smoke that in here?” He grimaced.
“Helps me think.” came the clipped reply.
“I thought we got all the thinking done before we left campus.” Callahan scowled. “If we’re still thinking now, we’re in serious trouble, Vince. More trouble than we are already.”
“We’re not in trouble yet.” Vincent took a long drag off his cigarette and returned his eyes to the road. “There’s no law against stealing your own property.”
“It’s your father’s property.” Callahan corrected.
“Same difference. You think my daddy’s gonna press charges?”
“I’m thinking the U.S. Army is going to once we take all those guns.” Callahan chewed his lip and glanced around the cramped cabin like a caged animal.
“Well we haven’t taken them yet. Besides, if all goes according to plan, none of this will come back to us.”
“If it all goes according to plan.” Callahan muttered. “If.”
“Hey Burke, is it just me, or is Callahan a might more pissy than usual?” Vincent looked for somewhere to ash his cigarette and found nowhere forthcoming. With a scowl, he started to roll down the window.
On the other end of the cab, Burke didn’t take his eyes off the scenery whipping by, which incidentally allowed him to keep his face turned away from the others. It was nearing twilight and there was less and less to see. “I don’t blame him.” He rumbled sullenly. “He shouldn’t… neither of you should have to do this.
Vincent fought to keep the wind from taking the cigarette in addition to the ash. “For the last time, Burke, we don’t have to do this. We don’t have to do anything. It is entirely, physically possible for me and Callahan to just stop right now and watch you die or go to jail. Entirely possible. But it ain’t gonna happen.”
This was met by a despondent exhalation from Burke.
“My hand to God, Burke, the moment your life’s not on the line anymore, I might just beat you near to death myself.” He rolled his window back up and scowled at his friends. “Both of you man up, will you? We are about to hijack a truck full of military grade weaponry to exchange with the mob in return for the services of a made man. That is so goddamn manly, I’m surprised we can see the road for our colossal, steely cajones.”
When this didn’t rally the troops, he pressed on. “I’m shocked at you, Callahan. Balking at helping this man here after what you did with his sister.”
“Hey, hey, hey; we don’t talk about that.” Callahan said with an aside glance at Burke. He could see the other man glaring at him via his reflection in the passenger window and quickly looked away.
“Well now you can.” Vincent declared. “Because you’re saving his ass. After this, it won’t matter that you yapped his sister’s.”
“Vince.” said Burke in a warning tone.
“Don’t shoot the messenger.” Vincent chided. “And I don’t want to hear it from you. Just like you said, this is your mess. Fact is though, you don’t deserve it. All you did was pay your own way to school, something neither of us did, and for that, Wosniak thinks he can pull your strings. Well that ain’t gonna happen; not to any Liedecker and not to anyone that knows a Liedecker.” He was gnawing on the cigarette filter without noticing.
Burke reflected on where they were; cruising down the highway, off to steal weapons for Wosniak. “What if he is pulling the strings?”
Vincent narrowed his eyes. “We pull back.”
“Whoa, Vince…” Callahan started.
“I ain’t even kiddin’.” Vincent steamrolled right over him. “He thinks he’s got the advantage now, but he don’t. Keep that in mind.”
“No, I mean look.” Callahan pointed.
“Son of a bitch.” Vincent nearly bit the filter in half and started crossing lanes.
Across five lanes of traffic, on the far right shoulder sat an Industrial Tools and Manufacture truck. ITM was another of John Liedecker’s holdings and one that often ‘loaned’ trucks to Morton Defense Works on the principle that a MDW truck would be a target for every radical in the neighborhood. That fact was a closely guarded secret, but not one that was kept from the young man expected to one day share the company with his sister.
The hood was up on the truck and the driver was standing on a portable lift, looking frustrated. Vincent recognized him at once, Danny Freidman, the trucker whose schedule he’d offered to Wosniak.
“He’s supposed to be ten minutes out from the rest stop by now.” Vincent scowled. “What the hell happened?”
“Looks like engine trouble.” observed Callahan. “Not according to the plan.”
Vincent didn’t let the bar phase him. “Can you fix it?”
“I’d have to see what’s wrong to know that.” said Callahan. “Besides, it doesn’t matter now, we can’t take the truck from here, not with the driver standing right there.”
“The hell we can’t.” Vincent pulled the truck off the road, stopping a good five car lengths between himself and Danny’s truck. “Get your head down, we’re changing the plan.” He didn’t wait for Callahan to comply before forcing his head down, out of sight.
“What? We can’t, we don’t—“
“You scrambled his radio and can switch locater channels like I asked, right?” Vincent asked. Callahan nodded. “Good. Now when I get out of the truck, you get out on Burke’s side with your tools and hide behind Friedman’s truck. When we pull off, you get that truck in working order and call me when you finish.”
“Vince, I don’t think…” Burke said, only to be cut off by Vincent.
“It’ll work.” He reached behind the seat and bought out a large cowboy hat inside of which was a pair of dark glasses. He’d gone unshaven for the four days since his encounter with Wosniak and with the proper accessories, Friedman, who he’d only met in passing, shouldn’t be able to recognize him. “It’s got to.”
With a nod to Callahan, he assembled his disguise and slid out the open door. It was a long drop from the cab and the concrete composite shoulder didn’t do him any favors. He stumbled a bit but regained his balance.
Under the guise of stubbing out his old cigarette and lighting a fresh one, he gave the truck he was driving a once over. The trailer was completely covered over in tarp and the doors on the red cab were adorned with decals for Buffalo Hauling, complete with a cartoon buffalo in overalls and a trucker hat pulling a trailer by a tether.
A muffled grunt on the other side of the truck told him Callahan was out. Everything was in place. Pulling his hat down low, Vincent struck off toward Danny Friedman’s truck.
“Hoo-wee!” He bellowed, forcing his usually smooth drawl into a slack jawed yammer he was sure sounded Texan. “Looks like yer in a heap a trouble boy!”
Friedman tore his attention away from his engine to see who was calling to him. “Yeah, looks like. I’ve got a check in less than ten minutes from now and twenty miles up the road.”
“That don’t sound good.” Vincent blew out a huge cloud of cigarette smoke. “How come you’re trying to fix this yourself instead of gettin’ on the horn and calling someone in? Plates say you’re a local boy after all.”
“First thing I thought of.” said Friedman. He was in his forties with a scruffy beard and a pug nose. The color and textures of his left hand vs his right told of years in the business. It was a miracle he wasn’t insulted by the ‘tip’. “Radio’s screwed up. I figure some kids in one of the towers of the highway have an illegal ‘net connection that’s fouling it.”
He shook his head when he saw Vincent start to open his mouth. “Satellite’s giving me hell too.”
“Looks like you got worse luck’n the cat the woke up in the dog pound.” Vincent laughed and took a pull on his cigarette. “’course, I been there too. Now there’s a rest stop about twenty miles from here. I reckon it’s the one you were tryin’ to get to, ’cause it’s the one we’re aiming for ourselves. We can give ya a ride. That way you can check in, fill yer belly, and get a mechanic rolled out here.”
Friedman thought on it a minute, glancing rather obviously toward the logo on his truck. Vincent could see the wheels in his head turning; surely no one was going to try and lift what were clearly labeled as industrial tools. Besides, the truck itself had security cameras hidden both inside and outside.
He nodded. “Yeah, thanks. Let me just grab my checklist and I’ll be along.
It was working almost better than the plan; they wouldn’t have to make Callahan doctor the rest stop’s security cameras. Of course, now he was expected to remedy an unknown engine problem in the truck. But still, like he’d said; it would work.
Between driving Friedman to the rest stop, pretending to use it themselves, and navigating back onto the stretch of highway where the stricken truck waited, an hour and a sizable chunk of the next passed before Vincent put in a call to Callahan.
“What’s the prognosis, doctor?” He asked the moment the other young man picked up.
“He wasn’t in half the trouble he thought he was.” Callahan’s voice was tight, probably from stress or the strain of his work. “Though you might consider telling your father his fleets need more regular inspections. A good once over would’ve caught this.”
“I’ll take that under advisement.” Vincent replied. “We ready to go?”
There was a long pause and he heard Callahan take a few deep breaths. He wasn’t built for this sort of thing and Vincent was feeling a tiny bit guilty pulling him in on this. But only a little. Without Callahan’s knack for all machines, great and small, there was no way his plan would work. “Callahan?” He prompted.
“Y-yeah, we’re ready. Ready as we’re gonna be, I mean do you know how much time we could—”
“Only if we get caught, old man.” said Vincent with enough confidence for the three of them. “Soon as you see me come into view, start the switch; GPS, camera account, key encryption. Me and Burke’ll take care of the visuals.” He looked over to the ever quiet Burke. “Right?”
“Hmm?” Burke had been staring out the window again. “Oh, sorry, Vince. Yeah, right.”
“Damn right.” Vince reached over and pounded Burke on the shoulder. “This is how it ends, Burke. We get the guns, get to Wosniak, and you’re a free man. You need money, my daddy’ll damn sure be able to find you a job.”
“What about the man I killed?” Burke asked after a short lull.
“The gangster that tried to kill you?” Liedecker shrugged. “What about him? Shits like him and Wosniak have been turning our city into a goddamn war zone for years and it’s only getting worse. One less termite in the wood, far as I’m concerned.”
Burke finally stopped looking out the window. This was so he could gape at Vincent. “You’re about to give them state of the art guns!”
“To get my friend out of the shit.” Vincent pointed out. “But the way I see it; I don’t much care what else they do, it’s when they go to war that they turn into something I can’t abide by. These guns? They mean Wosniak wins. Wosniak winning means one king of the hill. No more factions, no more war. We all move on ’bout our lives.”
Burke was still unconvinced. “You really think that’s what’s gonna happen?”
“What else do you suggest, Burke?” Vincent pulled off the highway behind the other truck. “Eliminate crime? Maybe the rubber woman from your science show can put on a mask and tights and get right on that?”
He laughed at his own joke and took out his cigarette pack. Empty. A scowl came to his face. “Alright, you get the tarp and the decals, I’ll hit the cab of the other truck, make it look like he’s been robbed.”
As Burke exited the truck, headed for the ties holding the tarp to the truck, Vincent took a duffel bag out from under his seat and sauntered toward the other truck.
Callahan was sitting on the lowermost step leading up into the cab, working on his mobile computer.
“Ready?” Liedecker asked, brandishing the key to the other truck.
“Just about.” Callahan nodded, abandoning his seat. “Try it now.”
The younger Liedecker stepped up and inserted the key into the door, holding down the control button as he did. Nothing happened for a tense second. Then a quiet beep sounded and a green indicator lit up.
“Key’s are switched.” He reported needlessly before opening the door and climbing into the cab.
“Good. That’s everything.”
“Not everything.” Vincent jerked his thumb toward the other truck. “I need you to break our truck like you fixed this one.”
Callahan fixed him with a disbelieving look. “Vince, are you out of your mind?”
“Danny’s going to have a mechanic out here to fix his truck. We need them to find a busted truck.” He didn’t even wait for the inevitable protest before ducking into the cab.
Inside was a mess of wrappers, disposable cups and magazines. Judging by his trash, Vincent decided that Friedman preferred creme-filled snack-cakes, drank tea for his caffeine fix instead of coffee and was an enthusiast of bass fishing, boxing and both disproportionately and surprisingly, knitting.
“Take all kinds.” He reasoned. Everything loose in the cab went into a trash bag he produced from the duffel bag. After a few layers of garbage, he started finding ampules. All were empty, all were unlabeled. Stimulants, no doubt. He’d leave it to whoever investigated to see if they were illicit or not.
On the passenger seat, he also found a mobile computer, an expensive one at that, the kind optimized for gaming. No way a thief would leave that. It went into the bag. As did the ID and wallet he found in the visor.
Luckily, the rigs ITM used were short range and had no sleeper cabs he needed to clean out. That realization did make him wonder why Friedman needed injectable stimulant for in the first place. Some things, he reasoned, he was meant to merely ponder.
By the time he was done and back to the truck he’d driven in, Burke had done his job. The decals on the door were clingfilm, printed in a small, out of the way custom print shop. They and the tarp had hidden the Industrial Tools and Manufacture logos. The entire plan had, from the start, depending on the entire ITM fleet looking exactly the same.
“Good going, Burke.” Vincent shouted encouragement. “We’ll tarp up the new truck once we get off the highway.” He sprung up the steps to the other trailer and started liberally dumping the contents of the trash bag around. The more ransacked it looked, the better. “How’s it coming with the engine?”
“Much easier to destroy then to fix.” came the reply. Callahan sounded more relaxed. He usually did when he had something to work on.
“Good.” Vincent jumped down from the cab, leaving the door hanging open as if the thief left in a hurry. “Let’s go bring the bad man his guns then. I can’t wait to see the look on his smug face.”
To Be Continued…