It felt weird to be driving. The only other times I’d done it, either my dad or a driving instructor had been in the passenger seat.
“You know how to get there, Bro?” Manny asked.
“No, not really.”
“It’s cool, I’ll navigate. Keep going straight, I’ll tell you when to turn,” Manny supplied.
“Thanks, Manny. You’re really okay with this?” I asked.
“I don’t have much choice, do I? I’ve got to be okay with it,” Manny said.
“That’s not true, man. We could’ve walked. Sure, it would’ve been tougher, but we could’ve done it.”
“It ain’t no thing, Bro. It’s been weird, these last few days with you. It’s like you’re this whirlpool, sucking everything in. It wasn’t like that with you before. I was always the one getting us deeper in the shit. What’s changed?”
I was a little surprised at Manny’s poetic turn of phrase. A little worried too. Was I really like that? In the movies, it never turned out well for the ships that found whirlpools.
“I don’t know, man. I guess with my dad dying, I feel like I’ve got a new start. I can become somebody important. You know how it is. First you make the money, then you get the power, then you get the women.”
Manny raised an eyebrow but didn’t say comment on me paraphrasing Scarface. “I swear, Bro, you’re like a different guy. Your dad dying really changed you.”
“Yeah, I guess so,” I agreed.
Our conversation was interrupted as Manny directed me to take a quick left and then right in heavy traffic. We drove a few more minutes, and then a voice came from behind me through the solid wall of the van.
“How far out?” Flattop asked, his voice carrying clearly.
I glanced over my shoulder and saw his eyes looking through a two-inch high slit in the back wall of the vans cab. I felt a bit embarrassed, as I’m sure the two of them back there had heard every word of our conversation.
“I don’t know. Manny?” I asked.
“Fifteen minutes?” Manny said, sounding a bit unsure.
“Don’t forget the masks. You need to be ready to put them on,” Flattop said.
It was still in my pocket, so at the next stoplight I took it out and tied it around my neck. When it was needed, I’d be able to just hook it over my nose and I’d look like an old school bandito. Combined with the sunglasses no one would be able to ID me.
Traffic was heavier than normal, and we were moving slowly. My gut clenched as not once but twice as STPD cruisers passed us by, not even giving us a second glance. Whatever Hondo had done to the plate, it was working. My curiosity wouldn’t let it lie any longer.
“Hondo, what did you do to the plate on this van, anyway?” I asked, directing my voice through the slit.
“It’s a skill I have. Now when the cops ID the car, it shows as properly registered to a shadow entity. I could’ve registered it to you, but that would have defeated the point of using the masks. So instead it’s going to show as registered to this little snitch I know. It’ll last about three hours. Plenty of time.”
That told me that the cops had some kind of skill where they could run a plate without computers. It made sense, really.
“Cool. That must come in handy,” Manny said through the slit.
“Sure does. I got another one here for the Merc,” Hondo said, his voice faint.
“Come on, we can talk later,” Flattop said. “Keep your eyes open and your mouths shut, we’ve got work to do.”
With Flattop’s reminder, Manny and I stopped our casual conversation and concentrated on the drive.
“The yard should be a couple blocks down there,” Manny said, pointing to our right.
The street we turned down was wide and lined with industrial buildings. It was basically deserted on a quiet Sunday afternoon.
“No cops? Then masks on,” Flattop said from the back.
There were no cruisers in sight, so I pulled the mask up over my nose and Manny did the same. A minute later we were pulling off the street and up to the gate of the unmarked yard that held the Mercedes.
As soon as I pressed on the brakes and came to a complete stop, I heard the rear doors open and the Soldados piled out. Manny wasn’t far behind.
All three of them ran to the gate, the LSS wearing the black balaclavas and Manny with the Sunshrouds and the mask. Flattop was holding a pistol in his right hand, keeping it low and close to his thigh while he scanned the street. Manny had his .38 held awkwardly in his left hand as well, looking around nervously.
With those two sentries standing watch Hondo stepped up, opening the jaws of the bolt cutters and clamping them down on the thick padlock holding the gate closed. It hit the ground with a heavy metallic clunk and a moment later the gates slid open.
The three of them rushed in, guns coming up to cover the yard, but it was empty. That was until a black German Shepherd charged out of the shadows of the garage and pelted across the yard, barking and growling.
Hondo backpedaled rapidly, raising the bolt cutters above his head with both hands like a club. Manny and Flattop stood their ground, neither of them shooting. The dog stopped about six feet in front of them, showing a full mouth of sharp white teeth. It snapped, barked and growled at them but didn’t seem in a hurry to actually attack the two grown men.
“Jesus, shoot that fucking monster. You know I feel about dogs,” Hondo said.
“No, wait. Hold on,” Manny said.
He reached into one of his pockets and pulled out the half-full bag of beef jerky from earlier. He squatted down, setting the bag in front of him and pulling a long piece of dried meat free. He held it out to the barking dog, who stopped barking for a moment, but kept growling.
“Good doggy. Come on, we’re your friends. You want some of this, huh? Come on, come and get some jerky. We don’t want to hurt you, come on boy,” Manny said.
We were in an awkward position with the van hanging halfway out the open gate while we confronted an aggressive guard dog. Anyone passing by would see the tableau—four men in masks, two of them openly armed. The cops would be here before we knew it.
“Come on, we’ve got to get off the street,” I said out the window.
“I can’t just shoot it. The gunshot will bring the cops too,” Flattop protested.
While Manny’s negotiation with the dog might eventually pay off there was no way I could wait. I cranked the wheel hard to the left and squeezed the van into the gap between him and the fence, entering the yard completely. I was so hard up against the fence that I had to climb through the passenger door, but the van was in. Walking slowly past Manny and the dog, I reached the gate and Hondo and I pulled it closed.
Manny shuffled forward a step, still extending the beef jerky in front of him. His gun hung forgotten in his left hand.
“Come on, you know you want this,” he said. The dog disagreed, backing up and starting to bark again.
“Manny, that things going to eat you,” I said.
“Nah, Bro. If he was going to attack us he would’ve done that already. I got this, Bro.”
“Fucking dogs,” Hondo said, eying the dog with suspicion. The bolt cutters were gripped tight in his hands, and his stance told me he’d brain the dog if it came close to him.
“Let’s leave Manny to that, we’ve got to get you started,” I said. “Flattop, you got Manny’s back?”
“Yeah, I’ll shoot if it attacks him. Go get that Merc ready,” he said, not taking his eyes off Manny and the dog.
I pulled my pistol free, still thinking that there might be a guard. With all the barking and the empty yard it no longer seemed likely, but caution seemed like the better approach.
Hondo and I jogged across the yard to the human-sized door, a very similar layout set up to the LSS garage. The thick steel door was closed, and the knob didn’t turn it all—locked up tight.
“Shit. Yeah, this won’t do much good on a door like that,” Hondo said, hefting the bolt cutters. “I’ll go see if I can open the slider.”
While Hondo tried to find some way to open the sliding door, I was still eyeing the door in front of me, wondering if I could shoot out the lock. Was that really a thing? I was sure there’d been a MythBusters about it, but I’d never watched it. Not even the TL;DR version on YouTube. It seemed like I was more likely to shoot myself in the foot than open the lock. Movies were bullshit so much of the time.
I didn’t spend long reflecting on that before the door slammed open, almost smashing me in the face. The man that came through the door was short and stocky with a large beer belly, messy looking brown hair, and tanned skin. He was carrying a black pump-action shotgun with a pistol grip in his right hand, dangling carelessly with the muzzle pointed at the floor. He was rubbing his face with his left hand, squinting at the bright light.
“What the fuck are you barking at, you stupid dog,” the man yelled.
Without hesitation, I raised my gun and pointed it directly at his head.
“Stop right there,” I said.
I felt a tingling sensation in my brain, something similar to the one I felt when a skill leveled up, but I ignored it. Now wasn’t the time.
“What the fuck,” the man said. He began to raise the shotgun, but I tightened up my grip on the pistol and successfully conveyed to him with my body language that I was going to shoot him. He stopped moving.
“Drop it,” I instructed.
He hesitated, then it slapped down into the loose gravel at his feet.
“Do you know who you’re robbing?” He asked, not turning his head to look at me.
“No, and I don’t care. Turn around,” I ordered. He did as I ordered, shuffling slowly.
By this time, Hondo had returned. The bolt cutters were in his left hand, and in his right he’d pulled free one of the thick, white zip ties he had looped on his belt.
“Hands behind your back,” he ordered. “You know the fucking drill.”
While Hondo was doing that, I IDed the man standing in front of us.
“Bunny, really?” I asked, chuckling. Bunny glared at me but said nothing.
Hondo slipped the zip tie around Bunny’s wrists and with a hard yank pulled it tight. He grabbed up the shotgun and tossed it in the back of the van.
“Anybody else in there?” I asked.
“Fuck you,” Bunny replied.
“Hey, I’m only asking because if there is, they will be shooting you first,” I said.
I wrapped my left hand around the back of his neck and pushed him forward with the muzzle of my gun pressed into his back. Keeping close to him, I pushed him back into the garage. We left the bright sunlight behind for the cool dimness of the garage interior. I was pretty happy when no one shot at me, human shield or not.
The interior looked a lot like the LSS garage, only with two lifts instead of one and a little cleaner. The only vehicle parked inside was the Mercedes that we were looking for.
|2020 Mercedes AMG GTS||Silver||NONE|
The pictures hadn’t done it justice. It looked like speed incarnate, but not just speed. It somehow managed to look fast, and classy at the same time. It was beautiful, and I only wished I could afford something so nice. I made a vow that one day I would. Maybe it wouldn’t be this exact car, but one day I would have something this beautiful, or even better.
After Bunny and I stood in the door for a bit and no one shot us, I was fairly certain that the garage was empty. There was no way to know for sure, without searching it, but there weren’t many places to hide.
I started to say his name, then realized how dumb that would be, and quickly came up with a substitute. “Err, H. Cover this guy while I make sure the place is empty.”
Next time we needed code names. I’d be Mr Black.
Hondo nodded. He had produced a chunky revolver from somewhere, a kind I hadn’t seen before. It was large and mean looking, and nothing like the little .38 that Manny carried. He stood outside in the sunlight with his gun pointed at Bunny.
I pushed Bunny forward a bit further into the garage. “Get on your knees. If you move, my friend here is going to shoot you. Got it?”
“You stupid fucks. Yeah, I got it,” he said, and knelt on the hard concrete.
Before I started searching, I glanced back out the door and saw the dog was no longer growling and barking. Instead he seemed more open to the idea of maybe accepting some beef jerky. Flattop stood nearby with his gun still trained on the dog.
He looked over his shoulder toward us, and caught my eye. “Go, get it done.”
I nodded and returned to the garage. Dredging the depths of my memory, I channeled every cop and spy movie I’d ever seen as I moved carefully through the garage. I took cover as often as I could and peeked around corners in what I thought was a pretty ‘tactical’ way. I’m sure I looked ridiculous—I certainly felt it. It didn’t matter, a few minutes of searching revealed that no one else was hiding in the garage. Or if they were, they were doing it so well I couldn’t find them.
“It’s clear,” I yelled from the back.
“Come and help me with this guy,” Hondo yelled back.
I covered Hondo while he used more zip ties to secure the guys feet and then to secure him to the steel leg of one of the shelving units along the wall. Bunny was a strong guy and probably would be able to break free eventually, but we wouldn’t have to worry about him for the immediate future.
Hondo got to work on the Merc, popping the hood and looking under it with a flashlight, mumbling to himself. I went out into the yard and met Flattop as he was coming in.
“He’s made a new friend,” Flattop said, gesturing back to Manny.
I nodded. It seemed like he had. The dog was now happily eating out of his hand and accepting Manny’s pets.
Manny looked up at us, his face still hidden behind the mask and sunglasses. “I’ve always wanted a dog. Look at how skinny this guy is. They must not be feeding him much here.”
He slowly but surely fed every piece of jerky to the dog, giving it plenty of affection as he did so. The dog soaked both up gratefully.
Things went smoothly for a while. Hondo found an immobilizer and either removed it or neutralized it, I wasn’t sure which. If there was a tracking device, he didn’t find it. It wasn’t like my world, where you could buy a GPS tracker on Amazon for $20. Since this car had already been stolen at least once it seemed like a fair bet that if it had a tracker before it didn’t have one anymore. He put the new plate on it and checked that it didn’t have any obvious issues that would cause it to break down on the way. Finally, he pronounced it ready.
The garage doors opened easily from the inside. The Merc started with a throaty bellow and Flattop drove it out of the garage and stopped in the middle of the yard. He left it running and stepped out, looking it over with a wistful expression.
“Damn, I wish I could drive that baby. So, so sweet.”
He looked over to Manny standing nearby. “She’s all yours.”
“Great,” Manny said. He seemed nervous, although it was hard to tell with the mask and the sunglasses in the way. The dog sat, silent and attentive, at his feet.
“Take this,” Flattop said, handing over a thick packet of paperwork. “When you get to the gate, show this to the guard and he’ll let you know where to go inside the port. Once you deliver the car, make sure you get a signed receipt. Got it? We don’t get paid without that receipt.”
“Got it,” Manny said.
“Good, let’s go,” Flattop said.
Manny walked toward the open door of the Mercedes and the dog followed, his head up and watching intently. Manny looked down and started to say something, but whatever it was it didn’t matter. As soon as it became obvious where Manny was going, the dog made his move. He darted ahead and into the Mercedes, skipping across the driver’s seat and settling elegantly in the passenger seat, looking back out at Manny as if to say, “come on, what’s keeping you?”
Flattop and I broke out into laughter.
“You’ve been adopted,” Flattop said.
“That animal is going to fuck up the leather,” Hondo muttered.
“Chill, Bro. It’ll be fine. He’s a good boy. I can’t leave him here—these assholes don’t even feed him,” Manny said.
“Manny, take the dog or leave it here,” Flattop said, squashing the argument. “Whatever you’re going to do, do it now. We need to get out of here. Remember, masks for the first couple of blocks, then drop them.”
Manny got into the car, closing the door behind him. It seemed the dog would make the escape with us.
Hondo and Flattop opened the gate to let Manny out before they jumped into the back of the van, closing the doors behind them. The burbling sound of the Merc’s turbocharged V-8 was wonderful, and the car jerkily moved forward as Manny got used to the touchy vehicle.
“I hope your boy’s going to be all right. It’s not simple driving a car like that,” Flattop said from the back. “It’s nothing like that Buick of his.”
I didn’t doubt that, but I also didn’t doubt Manny. He was smart, capable and I knew he could do it.
He proved me right seconds later when he smoothly pulled out of the yard and onto the street, driving the Mercedes like he’d been born to it. I followed him in the van, much less confident. Two blocks later, the masks came off and we were on our way.