Sunday, July 13, 2008
“This is Patrick and I’m Tom. I spoke with you on the phone.”
The truck’s lights cast strange shadows on the man’s face as he spoke. His eyes twinkled in the orange glow of the Mac truck's running lights.
The moon hung high in the night sky and the stars shone brightly. Fog settled off the coast, but didn’t seem to be moving in like it had the few nights before. It was cold and clear and bright, but something seemed very stuffy about the air. Some sort of pressure front was playing with the atmosphere.
The thing man before Tom Archer nodded, half listening. “Yes, yes.”
“Is this the only container we’re moving?” Patrick ran his hand over the stubble on his chin and stared blankly at the large container on the dolly. His broad shoulders rolled and he knelt down. “We can strap this in and down behind the other boxes in the 150, Tom. No need for the Mac.”
“There are issues that I’ve spoken to Mr….um…Tom…about. We want it secured and within a containment area. Not in the back of a pickup truck, Patrick.” The thin man pressed his glasses higher on his beak-like nose and addressed Tom again. “Are all the arrangements agreed on, Tom? Are we ready to move it?” His words were nervous and tight. He smelled of liquor and, though he was clean cut and well dressed, he seemed somewhat disheveled and out of sorts. His thinning hair blew around on his head and he slid a hand over it to push it back into place. Patrick thought his skin looked gray.
“Sure thing. And the money is fine as well.” Tom watched as lights crested on the hill, then turned off on the main road. The warehouse they were parked in front of was completely dark – the high barbed fence that surrounded it whistled as the wind came up.
“Yes, yes – fine.” The thin man moved to his car and glanced around uncomfortably before opening it and pulling out the envelope within. A soft ding emanated from the vehicle and repeated over and over until the door was shut again.
Patrick stood and examined the crate. It was around seven feet high and three feet across. The wood wasn’t your standard variety crate wood, but something thicker and stronger. He moved around it and noticed that there was a small panel built into the side of it at about the five foot level. He narrowed his eyes and ran a hand over the surface. It was made to slide open. He started to push on the panel.
“NO!” The thin man placed a hand on Patrick’s chest and looked over to Tom. “I thought I made it very clear, Thomas.”
Tom smiled. What did this dude think? That if he talked like he was his Dad he’d be scared or something? “Yeah, I just needed to go over that with Patrick. No worries.” He waved a hand towards the crate and shook his head. “No peeking. Don’t ask don’t tell gig, amigo.”
“Ahh…sorry. Got it.” Patrick nodded. “Sorry – didn’t know.” He folded his arms across his barrel chest. “Sorry. Got it.”
The thin man eyed him and then mustered a very weak smile before handing the envelope to Tom.
“It’s all there, but you can count it if you need to. We need to get moving, however. This needs to be in San Francisco before the sun rises. We don’t need people seeing you roll into the destination.”
“No problem.” Tom opened the envelope and flipped through the money absently. “And another three thousand when we get there, yeah?”
Patrick’s eyebrows perked. Nice haul for five hours on the road.
“Well then, let’s roll out, huh?” Tom smiled a wide, wolfish smile.
The crate was a bitch to load. The thin man watched every move Tom and Patrick made like a hawk uttering warnings and cautions with each move. Once loaded, the crate was tied in and secured with a series of ropes and straps. It wasn’t going anywhere. They parted ways and Tom and Patrick started off North West towards San Francisco.
One hour later, Tom pulled off to the side of the road and killed the truck’s engine.
“What are you doing? Pee break?” Patrick laughed. “Pussy.”
“I’m going to check out that crate.” Tom grinned.
“Don’t ask don’t tell job, man. Why do you want to go fucking around with that crate? Let’s just go get our green on.” Patrick slapped Tom’s arm. “Fuck it.”
“Mr. Stork was way too worried about this thing back there. If it’s major, we can move it along through Raffi or Serge and pull in some serious money instead of a mere six g. Move up. Let’s check it out.” Tom felt Patrick’s firm grip around his arm as he flung the door open wide. He looked back with a smile and barked, “What?”
Patrick’s brown face didn’t smile back. He was serious. “Come on.”
Tom pulled free and jumped from the cab. He moved around to the trailer and heard Patrick jump out and follow around on the other side.
The roll up door slammed open with a clatter and the inside lights flickered to life providing a dim glow of sickly yellow light. Tom climbed up with Patrick close behind.
“Dude, fuck this. Let’s just roll.”
“Easy – this isn’t a big deal.” Tom glanced right, then jerked around to the left of the crate looking for the sliding panel. He yanked a flashlight from the small, built in shelf and switched it on. “Now, let’s see what we are touring with here.”
Patrick made one final grab for Tom’s arm, but Tom pulled away and shouted, “Don’t.” His smile was gone. Patrick frowned and backed away. He looked out the back of the trailer and was obviously pissed, but Tom didn’t care. He sniffed and caught a musky smell. He pressed his nose to his armpit and sniffed again. He narrowed his eyes and glanced over towards the crate.
Tom pressed the panel and tried to slide it open. It didn’t move. The wood was cold to the touch, which he found strange. His eyes narrowed as he ran the flashlight beam along the panel’s edges looking for some sort of latch or clip.
Something inside the crate shifted and thumped against the side.
Tom and Patrick stared at the crate for a minute before Tom continued his search.
“Tom?” Patrick cocked his head to the side and leaned forward. He heard something inside make a sound. Something like a moan or a purr. Then, it thumped again, but harder this time.
“This is interesting,” Tom said in a whisper as he tried to slide the panel again. He didn’t seem to hear the movement inside.
Patrick placed a hand on the wood and listened.
“Ah, wax or something here on top. They sealed it. Probably to make sure we didn’t mess around with it. Smart.” Tom reached for his hip to get his leatherman tool, but stopped short when he heard something slide up the crate wall from the inside.
Something pounded the sides of the crate from inside and both man jumped and pressed back against the sides of the trailer. Something was angry and wanted out. It hit the sides over and over again, but didn’t seem to be making any headway in freeing itself.
Patrick stared at Tom with wide eyes and placed a finger over his lips when Tom started to talk at the crate, shaking his head for him to be quiet.
Tom went silent.
The pounding continued for a minute, then started to slow. After a time, the banging stopped all together. A low, deep growl rumbled from the crate and the two men looked at each other.
The roll door of the trailer slammed shut and Tom cranked the latch down hard, then slipped the lock into place and bashed it shut roughly before shoving Patrick’s shoulder. “Go.” He ran around the opposite side to the trucks cab, climbed in, and started the engine.
Patrick slammed his door and locked it.
Tom flipped on the lights and gripped the wheel. He popped the clutch too fast and the cab rattled and the engine died. “Shit.”
“Ok…wait a minute. Hold up.” Patrick raised a hand. “We’re cool. Let’s just chill out a minute.” He nodded and patted the dash. “We got this, whatever it is is cool back there, and all we gotta do is drive.” He took a deep breath and the smell of burritos and sweat filled his lungs. Patrick sat back in his seat and dragged the seat belt over himself.
Tom followed suit and clicked his into place as well. He turned the key in the ignition and the engine rumbled to life again. He gripped the wheel and looked over to Patrick. His face drooped and he opened his mouth to speak, but said nothing.
“Hey, we’re cool. Let’s roll, man. No need for talking.” Patrick wiped his forehead with his sleeve, then flipped on the radio. Tom Petty let them know that he was free falling and Patrick turned it up.
Dirt swirled around the trucks wheels and rose into the cool, crisp air as it pulled back onto the road and made it’s way towards the freeway.