Part V - The San Diego Caper
He stood on a hill 75 yards away. He wore a tan leather jacket with fringe and cradled a shotgun in the crook of his arm. He was a stump of a man. His white gray stringy hair ducked out from his greasy baseball cap that had a logo on the front with big lettering saying “Freedom First.”
He looked at us, and yelled, “Now hold it right there.”
Hank kept walking right at him.
“I told you to hold it right there. You understand? Speaka da English?”
“Yeah, I heard you,” said Hank. “Of course, I speak English.”
“Well then stop where you are and state your business.”
Hank kept walking and drew out his wallet. He flipped it open and held up the side that had his Sheriff’s badge prominently displayed. “Hank R. Murphy, Sheriff, and this is my associate Mr. Bryce Holliwell. We’ve been on deep undercover assignment in Mexico when we got discovered. We must get to San Diego immediately.”
“I’ll do be doing the questioning,” said the man.
Sheriff? I was thinking. Here we go.
“Well, that’s fine sir, go right ahead and do all the questioning you want. By the way can that weapon of yours shoot down a Hell Fire missle launched from a drone cruising at twelve thousand feet?”
“Course not,” said the man. “Why?”
“Well, I don’t want to alarm you but as you can see from the condition of our most recent mode of transportation.”
“And escape,” I added.
“Yes, and escape,” Hank continued. “Then I, as Sheriff of Conestoga County, and as his attorney...” He jerked a thumb in my direction and I nodded. “Recommend that we take cover immediately. Do you have transportation readily available? We only have a few minutes before - you know.”
“You know,” I said, crossing my arms and nodding sagely.
“I don’t know what you boys are talkin’ about. But you don’t look like no drug smugglin’ mules to me.”
“Well shucks, we ain’t,” exclaimed Hank.
I was afraid Hank was going to start doing his Dukes of Hazard impression. He has a way of imitating the accent and manner of speech of whomever he is around. I don’t know which is worse his fake hillbilly or his fake erudite scholar. Seemed like he was going for hillbilly Libertarian gun tottin’ Tea Partier. I hoped I could keep a straight face. The best way for me to do this I decided was to pile on to whatever he was saying and see how thick I could layer it without getting caught.
“No sir, we ain’t that. As a matter of fact, we are undercover agents trackin’ them kind,” I heard myself saying. I wondered where I was going with this and where it would end.
“Yes that’s right we be undercover U.S. guvment agents,” said Hank. “We gotta get out of here right quick. You hear me?”
The man stared. “Undercover huh? Mule trackers.”
“Almost got caught though?” he asked.
We nodded again.
“Look, they got a lot of fire power chasing us and I’m afraid we don’t - unless you got something bigger than that,“ I said pointing at his double barreled shotgun.
Hank looked up in the air and said, “they don’t have a bead on us yet. Did you see that glint?”
The man looked up in the sky, “No, I didn’t.”
“Drones,” said Hank. “Tomahawk model sevens with mini-Hellfire Vulcan 6Bs. Deadly. Hopefully, we’ll be out of here before they get their bearings.”
“We’ve got to get to San Diego immediately,” I said.
“San Diego? Well, I don’t know.” said the man.
“Either you take us their or we’ll have to make an emergency acquisition of your transportation. Which is?”
“Ford - pick up. They make ‘em like that no more.”
“Damn shame,” said Hank. “Come on, time’s a wastin’ We gotta move.”
He walked right by the man and headed for the dusty blue truck parked at the edge of the highway near where the man was standing. I wasn’t sure if the man was going to shoot Hank in the back or not. I thought I could hear two banjoes playing a fast and furious breakdown. I expected a Dodge Charger to come surging up over a hill at any moment.
“Hey,” the man said as he began to nearly run to catch up to Hank.
“Naturally, the office will cover all your expenses, and if we’re lucky I can get you an accommodation,” said Hank.
“All expenses? You mean like a meal and gas?”
“That’s right Pardner, you just go to the local FBI office and tell ‘em Sheriff Murphy sent you. I’ve got carte blanche,” said Hank, “Let’s saddle up and get going before them drones find us.”
The guy looked up at the sky.
“You’ll never see it coming,” I said.
“Until it’s too late,” said Hank, “Come on now. Vamos!”
The old man lowered his gun and headed for the rust bucket he called a truck. It took him a while to even get it going and once he did we headed out at about thirty miles an hour.
After a mile Hank yelled, “Stop.” The guy put both feet on the brake pedal, not that it did much good. The brakes were so mushy that the thing rolled and slid to a gentle landing.
“What’s wrong?” asked the old man.
“I think it’s your carburetor,” said Hank. “Lemme check it. Pop the hood, keep the thing running.”
Hank got out and looked under the hood. I heard the engine race. He looked around the hood at the windshield and yelled, “You better come here.”
The guy got out and Hank was motioning for him to grab the throttle and goose it a few times. The engine roared. Hank came back to the driver’s seat and got behind the wheel. “Man we’ll never get there if he drives,” he said. Then he yelled out the window, “See what I mean?”
The fellow shook his head.
“Okay, never mind,” Hank yelled, “Get in.” He began to move the car forward and the man twisted away from the truck. We went forward about fifty feet. The fellow was running after us cursing and screaming.
“Close the hood please,” Hank said to me. I jumped out and slammed the hood down and jumped back in the truck. Hank slammed the thing in reverse and passed by the fellow, almost hitting him. It spun the old guy around several times. Then Hank pulled up beside the fellow, leaving the old guy on the passenger side.
“Roll down the window please Bryce. Let’s see why he’s so excited.”
“You sons of a ...”
“Hold on, sir. I’ve got to get to San Diego pronto. Are you coming or are you going to stand there jawin’ at me?”
I opened the door. “Better get in and hold on,” I said.
He climbed up and was hardly in the cab when Hank floored the truck.
“Whoa!” cried the fellow. I held on to him.
Hank did a little wiggle in the middle of the road and the door slammed shut.
“Please be quiet,” Hank said. “It’s best if I concentrate on my driving.”
I don’t think the old fellow knew what to do or what to make of us. He sat bolt up right, grabbing whatever he could. I do believe he was going through his list of things he had wished he had taken care of in his life before this morning.
There weren’t many vehicles on the road and that was probably a good thing for the old fellow’s heart, because Hank has a belief that when you are going considerably faster than the surrounding traffic they are, for all intent and purposes, standing still. A view he shared with us when he got the truck up to over ninety. At that speed the wind was rattling the bumpers. Whatever straw and dirt that might have been in the bed of the truck had left or was sucked into a corner. We came upon a convoy of several trucks with some cars nestled in between. Hank never hesitated and began to pass them all. It was at that moment that over a rise another truck appeared, coming straight for us. I tensed. The old guy started screaming, “Holy Jesus! Mary and Joseph!”
Hank cut the wheel and we nosed in behind a truck. We were so close you could see the rivets in the sheet metal of the truck’s rear doors. We popped out on the other side, running on the shoulder, We heard the truck’s horn in the other direction go from high pitch to low, as it zoomed by the truck we were passing on the shoulder. Once we were clear, Hank cut back to the passing side of the road only to meet another truck and have to duck back again. By now the old fellow had closed his eyes and was just screaming. Hank never took his foot off the gas.
“See no problem,” Hank said. As if to demonstrate the techniques he had just been describing. Before we left the last truck, the one leading the pack, Hank decided it was a good time to demonstrate slipstreaming. He pulled up to within a few inches of the back of the lead truck. He gunned the engine while pulling up on the emergency brake. He pulled up just enough to slow the forward motion of the car a bit while the engine raced. He released the brake as he cut the wheel to one side and the truck lurched out to pass.
“See how that’s done. Nothing to it,” said Hank.
The old guy’s eyes were bulging. He was catatonic. His eyes were red and and moist. I think he was saying good-bye. Good-bye to life, to his sweet old truck, to everything.
As we got close to the beach Hank said, “Haven’t seen any drones. But we gotta be careful. Tell you what. I’m going to pull into this hotel garage, where they can’t follow us. You take over and go out the other side.”
“Me?” said the old guy startled.
“Yeah, you. Get ready.” He cut the wheel hard and careened into an double decker parking lot. Slammed on the brakes and jumped out. I followed him.
“Quick,” said Hank, “Go out there so the drones won’t know anyone got out. We’ll be in touch. Go to the FBI office. Tell ‘em Sheriff Murphy sent you. Now vamos!”
Hank ran for the hotel door and I followed. We heard the truck pull away.
Once inside the coolness of the hallway we slowed to a walk.
“Who was he?” I asked.
“Don’t know,” said Hank.