Ray pulled into the gas station and parked at the pump closest to the road. As he got out and looked at the pump, he read “Prepay or card only”. Apparently, someone else had already done to this business what Ray was planning on doing – pulling away without paying. A gas skip, it was called. Many service stations now required the pumps farthest from the station to be pre-paid.
“What a bunch of crooks,” Ray muttered, not catching the irony of the statement. “These people don’t trust nobody.”
Ray pulled the car around to the inside bay and began to fill the car. He knew the teller was probably already writing down the license plate, which made him smile a bit since this was already a stolen truck. About to be filled with stolen gas.
Inside, a young teenage girl wondered why the customer had pulled around from the front. Now next to the station, he waved as he filled the tank. She then remembered that those pre-pay pumps had lots of people pulling around, and they usually tried to pay with a bad check. She caught herself being negative, and trying to put a better spin on the situation, said out loud, “Well, maybe he just wants to pay with cash.” She went back to the stocking of the shelf, and listened to the pump tick away.
Ray employed another trick he had learned back in the pen. As he got close to full, he pumped the last dollar very slowly, like he was trying to fill it completely. But what he had done was watch the attendant turn her back on him, relying on the counter in the station to tell her when he was done. Then she would stop stocking the shelves and take his money. So she thought.
After her back was turned, Ray placed the pump end on the ground and let the gas puddle. Inside the store, the counter ticked away as gas spilled on the ground. Almost three gallons ticked out slowly before she thought to look back and see what was taking this moron so long to pump his gas. The truck was gone.
By the time cars the two other cars arrived to pick up Smitty, Skinner and the others, nearly an hour had passed. Smitty decided to let the other cars ahead that had been contacted to be looking for Simon’s truck do their job. He would stop with Skinner and talk to Simon. They would have to depend on the troops farther up the line to do their job, and maybe they would be able to gather some valuable information.
Smitty was sitting in the front room on some old magazines, while Simon was sitting on the tattered Barcolounger. This had really been a wasted effort. Simon’s time frames kept changing, and from what Smitty could tell, he was hiding something. Smitty suspected that Simon had encountered Ray much earlier in the day than his official story, and the transport of Ray to the farm was still murky.
“So,” said Smitty, “exactly how did you get Raymond Johnson here to the house?”
Simon sat back and looked Smitty in the eye. “I made him walk back while I followed in the truck.”
Smitty and Skinner looked at each other, and then back at Simon. “How exactly did you get him to do that?”
“I was in my truck with my shotgun pointed out the window out him,” Simon said matter-of-factly. “He just walked down the road in front of me.”
“Then when was it,” inquired Smitty, “that he got away from you?”
“It was when I was getting out of the truck.” Simon replied. “I was closing the door when I looked up and he was skedaddling around the corner of the house. I got one shot off before he made it into the barn.”
Skinner was smiling, but Smitty was trying to stick to business.
“So how long did you have him trapped in the barn before you called us?” asked Smitty.
“Oh, I called you right away,” Simon lied, hoping there wouldn’t be any questions about the money or the phone call he had just made. “It wasn’t more than a minute or two and then I called my neighbors for backup.” Simon smiled, remembering the television word. He had watched enough television shows to know when to call for help and what cops called it.
Smitty asked about weapons the suspect might have.
Simon decided to speak slowly and carefully, so as not to reveal how Joe’s gun had really ended up in Ray’s hands. “Well,” Simon drawled out slowly, “when he came out of the barn with his hands up, we sort of circled him and I think Joe just got a little too close. That’s when he grabbed Joes’ gun and took my truck.”
Smitty decided he had the information he needed, but there was still something Simon was holding back. “We have an all points bulletin out on your truck, so we hope to have that back to you as soon as possible,” Smitty said, using Simon’s truck reference as an excuse to wrap up the interview.
“An APB, huh?” Simon said, enjoying being able to speak the lingo. “You guys will get him, I bet. Didn’t strike me as a particularly smart fella.”
“Well,” Smitty said as they walked to the front door, “he got away from you, made me crash two cars and has killed three police officers and shot another. He might be stupid, but I don’t want to see anyone else hurt.”
Ray was looking up the road at three squad cars blockaded across the road. With the lights flashing, they were visible for over a mile, and Ray was able to pull over before they saw the truck. He could choose to try to find another road, walk to Ridgeway, or find another ride. He propped up the hood of the truck and pretended to work on the engine.
Out here in the middle of the country, it wouldn’t be long before someone would stop and ask for help. Then Ray would make sure they would be the ones who needed help.
Cody Merring had just finished his emergency medical technician program. He’d graduated last week, and now was headed home to Ridgeway to start looking for a job. His beat up old Honda had made this trip many times, and if Cody was lucky, he would be able to get some work soon and replace the rattletrap car. Up ahead, he could see a truck with its hood up, and because he needed hours of practical experience now, he had vowed to stop every time he saw someone in trouble. Even if they didn’t have a medical emergency, he knew he would have to work on his “roadside” manner, and this truck looked like the perfect opportunity.
Ray smiled as he heard the car slow down and pull in front of the truck and then back up. He kept his head in the engine for effect. Cody was by his side almost immediately. “Car problems?”
“Yeah,” Ray muttered, “same old thing. This truck has a problem with the fuel line. I’ll have to go to town and get another fuel pump. I’ve already put three in it.” Ray turned from the engine to see a tall brown-haired man in his early twenties looking into the engine. Then he faced Ray.
“I don’t know anything about engines,” Cody confessed. “But I could give you a ride to town, if you’re going to Ridgeway.”
Another smile from Ray, but this time he let Cody see it. “That would be mighty neighborly of you. You don’t mind if I bring my rifle along, do you? I’d hate to leave it here and have it get stolen.”
Cody patted his side under one arm. “I happen to be packing heat myself,” he chuckled. Cody had carried a gun since before he was legally able.
“Concealed carry permit, huh?” Ray asked.
“Yeah,” Cody replied. “I gave myself permission to carry this weapon concealed. No, I do have the permit, though. You never know when you might need a gun.”
Ray smiled broadly again, but thought to himself, “Yeah, you really never know.”
The officers at the roadblock were stopping every car. The message they had been radioed had said to watch for a blue truck and a short dark haired man. A fax of the criminal was smudged badly, but the assembled troops thought they would be able to identify the man. But mostly they were looking for the blue truck.
Cody got back in the car, and Ray asked if he could lie down on the back seat and rest, saying it had been a long night. They were less than an hour out of Ridgeway on the only road from the south, so Ray said he was hoping to get a quick nap. Cody hadn’t given a second thought to the request, so into the back seat went Ray and his rifle. When Cody pulled up to the line of cars waiting to get through the roadblock. He felt a cold steel barrel on the back of his neck.
“These guys up ahead are looking for me,” Ray said slowly. “Tell them I’m your father asleep in the back, and you never saw the blue truck I was in. Got it?
Cody nodded and then said, “Yes,” quietly. He was trying to think of a way to get his hands from the wheel and onto his own gun. But Ray was already anticipating that.
“Get your gun from your holster and give it to me. Slowly.”
Cody did as he was told and took the gun out. He began to turn around to give Ray the gun, but Ray just said, “No reason for you to turn around. Just hold it up and I’ll grab it.”
For a split second Cody thought about turning around and pulling the trigger, but the steel barrel poked his neck in a reminder that slow and steady was the name of the game. He held the gun over the seat, and Ray reached up and grabbed it. The rifle was lowered.
“I’ve got your pistol aimed right at you. Thanks for this blanket in the back, “said Ray. “I’m going to pretend to be asleep, and don’t do anything funny. We wouldn’t want them to make me get out, because I will shoot you first, and then I’ll shoot them.”
A silence hung in the air. Cody was certain this man was serious, and would have no problem shooting anyone, even if it were a policeman. He wouldn’t even bat an eye at shooting an emergency medical technician.
At the roadblock Jack Arness was checking ID’s. Still looking for the blue truck, he waved the yellow volkswagon through without stopping her, since the female driver was the only passenger. He did look in the backseat as she drove by, but after checking 100 or more cars, the tedium was beginning to set in. “Bet this guy has already left the state,” Jack said to the other patrolman helping with the blockade.
There was nothing drivers hated worse than waiting in a line only to be waved through. Though the technique usually netted some arrests for drug deals (the guys were always the most nervous) and some minor violations, the “net” thrown around the roads rarely produced the suspects they were put in place to find. Jack and his partner knew this, but the odd van-full-of-drugs or illegal alien transporting explosives made the job at least a little interesting. Every car was a potential surprise.
Jack had seen it all in his 14 years of service with the highway patrol. He had seen people driving completely naked (he ignored it), he had people take off their seatbelts in violation of the state code just to spite the officers (they insisted they weren’t driving at the time they were stopped) and he had seen guns pointed at him. That guy hadn’t spent a day in jail, but he was on an extended visit to the state mental hospital.
Tonight’s gallery of fools included a man who changed places with his Doberman, thinking the officers would be amused by the doggie driver. His humor would cost him $150.00 for improper operation of a moving vehicle. They had also seen people lighting up joints less than 3 cars away, then fanning the smoke out of the windows as they were pulling up to the checkpoint. Another $300.00 fine for no drug stamp. At least they weren’t stupid enough to carry more than the legally allowed amount at one time (where it could be seen openly).
Jack waved another single occupant through the line, male, also with no one in the back seat. He had always wondered about the drug stamp law. Why would the state require a stamp for use of a product that was technically illegal? He often wondered if people actually went up to the state offices and tried to purchase drug stamps in advance, and if the state then took their names and addresses for further investigation later. Even though he wondered about it, he never took the time to find out if anyone actually ever paid for one before they used the drugs. Everyone who got caught got billed later. So what was the point?
Jack muttered under his breath, “So what’s the point in a roadblock that has no chance of turning up the suspect?” It was too bad that public work often involved simply doing what one was told because your boss thought it would work. Someone above who had less experience in the matter, and was too stupid to actually ask someone on the front lines what would work. It was the bane of the public employee. Effective people running the front lines, ineffective bureaucrats in charge of the show. Luckily, the faces of the bureaucrats changed often enough that the frustration didn’t drive Jack crazy.
Jack saw the yellow Honda three or four cars back, but paid it no particular attention, since he had by this time checked almost 200 cars. Routine had set in, and unless something jarred him from the regular motion of cars passing and him waving them on, this particular yellow Honda would let the very man they were seeking cross into the town where a large bundle of money was waiting for him.
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