FRIDAY  5/22/20

PAGE SIX

   They replace the hammer handle with a towel gag to keep Aella from screaming obscenities as the three of them carry the still struggling woman and place her in back of the Yukon. Evans helps the wobbly Nick into Miller’s car. As they head out the side streets towards the hospital Chace calls the ER and informs them to be ready and gives them an ETA.
   Halfway there Nick lapses into unconsciousness and Evans puts the peddle to the metal, pulling into the emergency entrance first. A group of attendants are already waiting for them and quickly bring Nick inside just as Chace and Miller arrive with Aella.
   “This one’s a little bit of trouble,” says Chace to the two burly male LPNs and explains the situation while they put Aella into restraints.
   After Aella had been examined she was given a sedative as Nick got stitched up and sent to be x-rayed for a possible concussion.
   “So what the hell happened?” asks Chace wearily. “We were going along great.
   Miller is on his iPhone doing a google search and nods his head in realization.
   “D’you guys remember the Gates of Thermopylae in Greek history?” Both Evans and Chace give a little shrug. “Ephialtes was the Greek shepherd who showed the Persian army the mountain pass so they could defeat the 300 Spartans from behind. His name is synonymous with a traitor in Greece. It even means a nightmare.”
   Chace turns to Evans.
   “What was the number you read?”
   “5-4-9-9,” answers Evans. “It was a one and only.”
   “That could be a hypothetical birth date for Ephialtes,” says Miller, “the Battle of Thermopylae was in August of 480 BC.”
   “What the hell are we dealing with?” asks a now tired Chace as he turns to Miller. “Stay here and catch a nap. Me and Evans are going to the stores to see what Nick picked up. It might give us a clue as to what Silver-hair has planned.”
   “I’ll scan and send these sheets to the linguistics department,” adds Evans. “See if they can decode them from the native languages.”
   “Good idea,” says Chace, “this is getting a little bit bigger than we can handle. Time to call in the reinforcements.”
   They both climb into the Yukon and buckle up.
   “First stop is Menards,” says Evans flatly. “Let’s see what we’re dealing with.”

   *****

   As Eddie is finishing up jogging King he glances inside the Detention barn where a group of about 10 people seem to be waiting. As soon as King is the last one off the track and is unhooked by Callie and Sissy, Raymonds emerges from an expensive motorhome parked alongside the barn sporting a brand-new $800 jumpsuit in his colors, a new $500 helmet, and puts on a $50 pair of white kid leather driving gloves and marches straight for the track.
   Everyone snaps to attention and jumps into action as Gambler N is brought out of the stall, hooked up, walked to the track, without stopping in a single motion, Raymonds takes the lines and places himself on the jogcart intense and not saying a word to anyone.
   The track is void of horses and machinery and the maintenance crew close the gate.
   Raymonds jogs the spotless horse in his brand-new equipment slowly past the awe-struck fans as he nods benignly to them.
   Hank and his gang are watching Raymonds absorb all the attention.
   “That showboatin’ sonovabitch,” laughs Hank.
   “I thought,” says Yee Haw, “that he was planning to arrive by helicopter tomorrow. What happened to that?”
   “Management said it was too dangerous,” explains Hank. ”What with all the people expected so Raymonds made them clear the track today just for him. He had to get his own way somehow.”
   “That’s one sharp-looking animal though,” admits Yee Haw with a shake of his head. Frenchie just raises his eyebrows.
   Up in the empty Press Box on the roof Warren is on the phone with Larry in the computer room.
   “Are you going to be ready to bet the $10,000 tomorrow?”
  “Yes!!!” whines Larry as he nervously fumbles with the cellphone and his keyboard. “Quit asking me!”
   He ends the conversation in a huff.
   In the far turn by himself Amal waits in the grounds crew’s golf cart ready to go over to work on the Winners Circle’s shrubbery. He has more of his copper coil hidden under the rakes and tarps as he softly sings to himself. Raymonds jogs by and eyes the odd-looking unshaven Arab who nods and smiles knowingly back at him.
   Raymonds just smirks a bit a shakes his head slightly.
  Over in the Jug Barn King gets a warm bath and a good rubdown from Eddie. He puts a blanket on him and Steven starts to walk him on the grass just outside the Barn.
   Callie and Sissy are watching Willie fight with Diver as he tries to wash him. The colt is backing away pulling tight on the leadshank as Willy yells “WHOA!!!” to no avail. Finally Perkins takes the horse from him and calms the bug-eyed animal down.
   “You’ve got this horse half crazy,” he growls at Willy.
   “I’ve got him sharp,” Willy hisses into his face.
   Callie and Sissy turn back and see a relaxed King slowly going along with his head drooped by Steven’s elbow. They both look at Eddie expectantly.
   “Best he’s ever been,” says Eddie with a smile and a wink. 


   Evans and Chace are just leaving  Home Depot as Chace turns to Evans.   
   “All this stuff was bought by Colonial Realtors in Columbus. All paid for with a pre-paid debit card. It looks like a regular order for a construction site but plastic barrels, paint, tape, wires, large batteries in such quantities,” he says as he looks at a copy of the register slip, “is a shopping list for a pretty big bomb.”
   “But where’s the explosives?” asks Evans.
   “I’ve got a feeling that the other “chefs” are going to add them to the recipe,” says Chace. “Stop here for a minute.”
   Evans parks kitty-corner in the parking lot as Chace grabs the laptop. He types in “Colonial Realtors” in a Google search. A Facebook page pops up and shows an idyllic urban scene in Columbus’ east side with the words “Trusted for over 50 years.” and an address and telephone number which he immediately dials.
   After three rings he gets a recorded voicemail message saying they’re “not available… blah, blah, blah.”
   “Get us down to Driving Park just off of 33 south,” Chace. “We’re going to check out this Colonial Realtors.”
   Evans quickly heads the Yukon down I71 , to the exit in 10 minutes, and onto Route 33. They go slowly along as Chace counts off the street numbers until they pull up in front of a boarded-up storefront that looks to have been empty for years.
   “There’s your Colonial Realtors,” he grimaces. “And I guar-ron-tee you that telephone number is a burner cell too. Dammit!” he adds as he puts the phone into the speaker, “let’s see how Nick and Aella are doing.
   He dials Miller’s number which wakes up the napping Miller with a start.
   “Yeah Boss?” he quickly replies as he blinks awake.
   “How are they doing?” asks Chace.
   “They both have been admitted and both of them are out cold.”
   “Okay, so Aella’s sedated,” says Chace, “but what’s with Nick?”
   “Concussion,” answers Miller, “he seemed alright but he started talking gibberish in a half-conscious state and then just conked out.”
    Chace looks at Evans and shakes his head. “As if things couldn’t get more complicated.”
   “Miller,” says Evans into the speaker, “have you got anything back from the Home Office?”
   “Only a text,” he answers, “saying that the code is one tough cookie to crack, even for the team. There’s one number that appears four times that’s giving them a problem and can’t be decoded using any language.”
   “Which is…” asks an impatient Chace.
   “4147,” answers Miller, “which,” he pauses for added effect, “is the date of King Paul’s - Frederica’s husband – return to the throne in Greece. I think that’s the key number.”
   “Good work!” calls out Evans as he drives along.
   “And,” adds Miller triumphantly, “not only was the Queen the granddaughter of der Kaiser it seems that she was a member of Hitler’s Youth Corps when she was a child in Germany!”
   Chace and Evans look at each other disbelievingly.
   “Nazis?”


 
   Even with all the Top Ten horses done jogging the Fairgrounds is still a flurry of activity as the final preps for the race tomorrow are being tested. The hoard of reporters are still interviewing Raymonds in front of his barn.
   "The only thing negative I can say about Delaware this week," smirks Raymonds, "is that we're going to have to wait until tomorrow before we get into the Winners Circle."
  "Is he the best Mr. Raymonds?" waves a reporter.
   "All I can say," says Raymonds turning serious, is that he's the best I've ever sat behind!"
   "That's quite a statement!" adds another.
   "He quite a horse," smiles Raymonds  confidently.

   Eddie emerges from King’s stall and looks at his watch. It reads 11:15.
   “Hey Gabe,” he calls out, “you getting ready for lunch?”
   “You gotta have a tapeworm Camptown,” answers Gabe from inside his stall. “I ain’t even digested breakfast.”
   “Don’t forget we’ve got the big dinner tonight,” pipes in Sissy.
   “The what?” says Eddie and Gabe in unison.
   “The dinner in the Pavilion tent at 7 for all the families,” she looks at them questioningly. “Each of the horses involved has a table of eight as well as all the match-ups plus the officials plus the press… there’s going to be about 150 people. Didn’t you hear about it?”
   Eddie and Gabe glance at each other and smile.
   “No,” offers Eddie. “Being in here is like being in the eye of a hurricane as the storm swirls around you. What with all the press and the stories and the fans we just go about our business as usual.”
   “I’m lucky I know what day it is,” laughs Gabe.
   “Well,” grins Sissy, “this is your official notice. Be over there by 7… we’ve got Callie, Pete, Steven, Mum, me and Chester and Louise at our table.”
   “Okay,” laughs Eddie as Sissy heads back over to their barn. ”Will do.”
   Gabe and Eddie watch as she stops to talk with Joe Powers eye, eye, eye and they grin knowingly.
   “Hey Camptown,” says Gabe with a sly smile, “and it looks like you’ve got a dinner date too.”
   “Oh p’shaw,” says Eddie dismissively. But he did have to smile a bit.
   Willy hurriedly walks past them on his way to the restroom.
   “Hey Willy,” calls out Gabe. “You know we’re having a big dinner tonight so you better not fill up at lunch.”
   “I already know,” he says with a whine. “They told us yesterday while you two were out jogging but I just forgot to mention it.”
   Again Gabe eyes Eddie sideways and shakes his head.
   Lee comes out of the tack room and walks over to the stall. Gabe turns to him.
   “Did you hear about this dinner tonight?”
   “Yeah Pops. I thought you knew. Why?”
   “We got room for three more at our table?”
   “Sure do,” answers Lee.
   “Make sure that Hank, Yee Haw, and Frenchie know that they’re invited.”
   Lee breaks into a wide grin and says “Absolutely!”

   In the Winners Circle the TV electricians are setting up two large portable generators behind the tote board. Amal is unloading bags from pallet of black mulch as he studies the control panels on them.
   “Do they put out a lot of voltage?” he asks the tech guy nonchalantly.
   “Oh gawd yeah,” laughs the tech. “These babies can light up the whole Fairgrounds if we needed to.”
   “Yes, yes,” says Amal to himself as keeps working. He tries to stifle a smile. “Yes.”

   The Yukon pulls into the hospital parking lot and Evans and Chace quickly go into the lobby. Miller is in the corner on his laptop. They both walk up to him.
   “Nick came to about 10 minutes ago,” offers Miller. “He’s in room 162 E.”
   “Good,” says a somewhat relieved Chace. “How about Aella?”
   “She’s in room 237 W. She’s still out but they’re planning to give her another blast of tranquilizer in an hour.”
   Chace turns to Evans. “Tell the doctor to hold off on that. I want to see what state she’s in.”
   Evan nods and quickly moves to the stairwell.
   Chace motions for Miller to follow him down the hallway to Nick’s room. “What else you got?” he asks as they move along.
   “Colonial Realtors is a dummy corporation for a dummy corporation in Kansas City which lists its headquarters in the Cayman Islands.”
   “That’s where the Square come out of,” murmurs Chace.
   “I’ve called stores in Marysville,” adds Miller, “to see if Colonial Realtors has purchased anything lately.”
   Chance looks at him intently.
   “Three stores,” says Miller, “did business with them in the past week. Same scenario: Called in orders paid with a prepaid debit card, picked up in a white van.”
   “Hmmm,” grunts Chace as they walk into Nick’s room as he is being checked by a doctor. Although he is still groggy he manages a smile and says “hello, how are you my friends?”
   “How you feeling Nick? asks Chace.
   “What am I doing here?” answers Nick as he looks at them questioningly. “Do I know you?”
   Chace and Miller look at the doctor who raises his eyebrows.
   “He thinks that it’s September of 2018.” 


   “It’s not unusual for head injury patients to have a memory loss that can range from minutes to years,” says the doctor. “Most of the time it will return eventually.”
   Chace smiles sympathetically at the confused Nick who sports a massive black eye under a thick cotton bandage as his whole face is swollen. He looks like he was at the losing end of a fistfight gone bad.
   The phone rings as Chace answers “Yeah?”
   Evans is outside of room 262 with a nurse as Aella starts to stir and begins to emit a low growl from her throat.
   “She’s coming to,” says Evans.
   “We’ll be right there,” nods Chace as both he and Miller make a quick dash to the door. They walk briskly to the stairwell up to the 2nd floor and approach the room. Aella screams a barrage of obscenities that echoes in the hallway.
   “This is getting as bad a one-armed paperhanger with a case of the crabs,” says Chace as they enter the room. The nurse is standing by with a sedative as Aella glares with hatred at the three men who study her.
   “Aella?” asks Chace.
   “TRAITORS!” she screams!
   “Better pop her,” Chace says to the nurse as Miller holds up a finger.
   “Can I try something?” he asks Chace who just twists his head a bit and nods “okay.”
   “For every action there’s a reaction. Yin and Yang,” begins Miller. “This all started when we mentioned Ephialtes, right?”
   Aella really tests her restraints as she leans forward off the pillows and grits her teeth.
   “So if he was the traitor,” continues Miller, “the opposite would be the hero Leonidas.”
   Suddenly Aella eases off of her bindings.
   “He was the king who lead the 300 Spartans into battle against the Persians,” Miller explains. “He’s celebrated throughout Greece.”
   He stands by Aella’s side and repeats “Leonidas” loudly.  Aella relaxes and lays back onto her bed. “Leonidas,” says Miller a third time and all the tension and anger is gone from her face. She blinks twice, looks at the trio, and smiles.
   “So… THREE crullers and some coffee?”
   “What the hell?” says Evans to Chace, “and I was waiting for her to spit some pea soup at us.”
   “Aella,” asks Chace. “Do you know what today is?”
   “Yes,” she answers a bit perturbed as she looks at the clock on the wall. “It’s 3:20 on a Friday and I should be at my donut shoppe closing up! Why am I here?”
   “You’ve had a spell,” says Chace, “but I think you’ll be okay now.” He looks at the nurse holding the syringe and shakes his head no. “They’re going to keep you overnight and you can go home in the morning. I called the shop to let them know.”
   He motions for the three of them to leave the room.
   “A little white lie,” he says to the other two. “Miller, call the shop and tell them she’ll be indisposed for two days.” He turns to Evans. “We’ll keep the both of them here until after the race is over on Saturday. These poor bastards have been brainwashed something awful. No need to have a couple of ticking time bombs walking around Delaware.”
   They walk slowly back to the lobby.
   “Miller,” says Chace, “good work today. Go get some shuteye. We’ll call you if we need you. Evans,” he adds. You too. I’ve got to contact the Home Office and get some backup.”
   He looks out through the lobby’s front window just as an Olentangy beer truck rolls by on 37 and he remembers Nick’s order for Saturday.
   “Let’s see what goes with the beer delivery,” he mumbles as he gets the number from his iPhone and waits as he is connected.
   “Olentangy Beer Distributors,” says a female voice on the other end.
   “Is this the warehouse?” asks Chace.
   “No sir, this is the answering service. How may I help you?”
   “Is there anyone in the warehouse now?” asks Chace.
   “Not really sir,” responds the operator., "the hours are from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday but I’ll see.” She rings the warehouse to no avail.
   “It’s Friday,” she apologizes, “no one is answering.”
   “But there could be someone there,” says Chace hopefully, “a foreman or lead supervisor?”
   “Yes sir,” she answers. “But it is Friday afternoon, they close down until 12:00 midnight Sunday.”
   “And they’re in the Delaware Industrial Park off 42?”
   “No sir, they relocated to a larger facility on Scottslawn Road in Marysville, six months ago.”
   “Jeezus,” says Chace through gritted teeth as he studies his watch, “that’s 20 miles.” He looks at Evans who just raises his eyebrows.
   “Okay,” laughs Evans wearily, “I’ll drive like a bat out of hell, you call in the cavalry.”​

   Chace picks up the Company phone and speed-dials a number as he starts to sing softly.

   "The end of the Civil War was near and quite accidentally..."

   They look at each other and call out together: "F TROOP!!!" 


   Johnny MacArthur pulls into the Colonial Inn, hops out of his car, and clicks on the locks as the horn beeps. He turns to see Moe and Bro leaning against their Chevy eyeing him as he walks towards the front door of the lobby. Moe finally pipes up.
   “So Johnny,” he smiles. “We gonna do some business tomorrow?”
   Johnny stops and faces them. He shakes his head slowly and grins a bit.
   “You know what guys,” he says quietly to them, “I’m gonna get you better odds.”
   “Yeah?” perks up Bro. “that sounds good to me. How you gonna do that?”
   “Watch me in the post parade, five minutes to post,” smiles Johnny. “If I got my whip tucked under my arm it’s means I’m a no-go... you can bet all you want!”
    “Alright Johnny Boy,” grins Moe widely, “it’s good to see you coming around!” They both get into the Chevy and drive off as they’re on the phone to Shaky Louie. Johnny smiles as the automatic doors open up and he walks into the lobby.
   “I can bet,” he laughs softly to himself, “that neither of those two dumb bullocks knows what ‘ambiguous’ means.
   He sees Linda Bethany and her Terrible Trio heading towards their room and waves happily at them.
   “Are we ready for tomorrow?” he calls out.
   “Yeaaaah!” they all chorus.
   “Me too!” he adds as his steps got a bit springier.
   And he walked a little taller.

   With lights flashing and Evans sometimes topping 90 they pull into the Warehouse at 3:55 just as the manager is locking the door. They both jump out of the Yukon as Chace waves his arms at him.
   The manager stops and studies the pair a bit apprehensively.
   “Just a few questions,” says Chace as he holds up his badge. “Are you delivering to the All American Variety in Delaware tomorrow?”
   “Yeah. Early,” answers the manager. “I’ve got a special order all set up.”
   Chace and Evans walk onto the platform.
   “Can we see the order and what route it’s taking?”
   “Sure,” says the manager as he lets them into the building. “We’ve only got two stops but they’re calling for 25 kegs and 100 cases Bud.” He pulls the sheets off the clipboard and hands them to Chace. “All American is getting 5 kegs and 50 cases first,” he continues, “then Gerry is leaving the truck off at the second stop in case they need more beer and supplies.”
   “Where?” asks Evans.
   Chace looks up from the requisition slip.
   “The Fairgrounds kitchen,” he says solemnly. “Can we take a look at the truck?”
   “No,” says the manager, “since it’s an early delivery, Gerry took the truck home with him.”
   “Is that unusual?”
   “Not really,” answers the manager, “we do that a lot with special orders.”
   “Okay,” says Chace as he puts the clipboard on the counter. “Can you give this Gerry a call for us?”
   “No problem,” offers the manager as he dials. “He should be almost home by now.”
   The phone rings once and immediately goes into voice mail.
   “Now that’s unusual,” frowns the manager. “He always has his phone on.” He tries again to no avail.
   “Can you tell us a bit about him,” asks Evans. “How long has he worked here?”
   “Farioli? He’s a good guy,” says the manager, “he’s been on the list for over 20 years… he’s 4th in seniority.”
   “Married?” asked Chace.
   “Wife and two kids. They bought a house over in Plain City about 3 months ago just after we moved into the new warehouse.”
   “You got GPS tracker on the truck right?”
   “Sure do,” answers the manager as he turns to his computer and types in a few letters. “Hmm,” he says as his brow creases, “that’s odd.”
   “What?”
   “The tracker on the truck… it’s been deactivated.”
   “You got a home address for Farioli?” Evans quickly asks. “And the best way to get there?”
   “Head straight down 33, take 42 into Plain City and stay on it until you take a left onto Amity Pike,” offers the manager with a wave of his hand, “it’s nice blue ranch about ½ mile on the left. I was there a month ago for the housewarming party…” his voice trails off.
    And Chace and Evans were out the door in two steps.


   Amal stood in the afternoon sun and wiped his face with a work towel. He looked proudly at the 72 bags of black mulch that he had spread over the Winners Circle and smiles at a job well-done. He casually glances around to see if anyone is paying attention to him.
   No, they never do. They never have. He is “Amal the camel driver,” “Captain Hook,” “the Claw,” “the sand monkey." They had not seen him unravel the two 25-foot coils of copper that he had spray painted black to conceal its glimmer nor did anyone notice as he buried them in a widening arc just under 4 inches from the surface.
   After all he was just another dumb immigrant doing menial labor for minimum wage.
   “Hurry up,” he whispered to himself, “and get that done. We’ve got more alqarf for you to shovel against the tide.” He stopped and reached for the garden hose, drank a mouthful of the cool water, and then began to water the black mulch.
   He needed a good wet base, on that would carry the electrical charge throughout the Winners Circle when the TV cameras were turned on. It would be much like dropping a radio in the bathtub. It will be glorious to see the pig sultan and his ass-kissers drop like bugs in a zapper.
   Perhaps some of them will smoke from the top of their head.
   Glorious.
   And as he continued to water the black mulch he softly sings a Song of Praise.

    With lights on and speeds approaching 110 mph Chace and Evans zing down Route 33 until they come to 42 South. Chace takes the exit with a bit of a squeal to the tires as Evans braces himself on the dashboard. Evans grimaces and eyes Chace who smiles widely.
   “Old ‘Yukon Annie’ can haul ass when she has to!” he grins.
   “Well ease up a bit,” says Evans as he repositions his laptop, “and let me pull up some info on Farioli.” As Chace backs down Evans types in a few lines and studies the screen.
   “The guy’s 42, got two kids,” he reads, “twins, a boy and a gal who just graduated from Sunbury in May. They’re about to go to OSU this Fall. He was a Little League coach as well as the girls’ softball assistant coach back in the day. Wife volunteers at the school.”
   “Sounds like a model citizen,” offers Chace.
   “Yeah,” says Evans slowly, “only a naturalized model citizen…”
   “Say what?” asks Chace with a snap of his head.
   “Back in 1999. Came to the country as an orphan in 1990,” explains Evans, “sponsored by ‘Guidelines World’…”
   “The same outfit as Nick and Aella?”
   “Oh yeah,” sighs Evans, “better push old Annie again… but run silent.”
   


   With lights off the Yukon motors through the center and turns onto Amity Pike, As they approach the new ranch the dark-haired son is mowing the lawn as his sister and mother are weeding flowers. They pull into the driveway behind a new Honda and are met with quizzical stares. They get out of the Yukon and identify themselves.
   “Has something happened?” asks the wife nervously.
   “No ma’am,” says Chace to calm her down. “We just need to talk to your husband about the delivery he has to make tomorrow. Is he home yet?”
   “Why, ah, no…” she answers a bit confused. “He called me about 2 this afternoon to say he had to make an overnight emergency run up by Toledo and wouldn’t be home until tomorrow morning around 10 a.m.”
   “Toledo?” asks Evans with a puzzled expression. “That’s a bit out of the way for Olentangy isn’t it?”
   “Yes,” says the wife, “that’s what I thought. But he has been acting strangely this past week.”
   “What do you mean?”
   “He’s been a good-natured man but lately he’s nervous, restless, on edge. He acted like he wanted to cry. I asked what’s wrong but he remained tight-lipped.”
   “Have you called him lately?”
   “Again, that’s another thing,” she adds. “His phone. It’s not working now.”
   “Thanks for your help ma’am,” says Chace as he hands her his card. “If he calls…”
   “Yes, yes,” says the now tearful woman, “I know.”
   Her two kids walk over to comfort her as Chace and Evans hop into the Yukon and take off down the road.
   “We’re gonna have to get some satellite support and find that truck,” says Chace as he speeds along. “What type was it?”
   “One of those 28 foot box jobs, 12 feet high, green, ” answers Evans as he looks up from the laptop. “We know he’s not heading to Toledo.”
   “Right,” agrees Chace as he turns onto a small sideroad and pushes the Yukon up to 50. “See what backroads lead over to the Fairgrounds from the warehouse. He’s going to try and keep it out of sight until his Saturday morning deliveries.”
   “There’s a ton of them,” bemoans Evans and he begins to call the Home Office.
   “Just give me one to start,” says Chace as he turns towards the laptop. “I…”
   He never even hit the brakes as the county road took an abrupt 90 degree angle to the right. Evans was only able to lift his eyes in realization as Old Annie sailed over the ten-foot drainage ditch and landed about thirty feet deep into the thick brush.
   The air bags deployed with a knock-out punch as the engine quit in protest. There was no alarm nor any smoke and the Yukon lay quietly concealed from the road less-traveled in the middle of nowhere.
   Chace and Evans were out cold and the events of the past 48 hours caught up with them as they remained unconscious while the minutes ticked away.
   Ironically Nick and Aella were sitting up bright and alert in their hospital beds having a nice supper.​​​


​    After all the animals were fed everyone cleaned up and were well-dressed as four of Ohio’s most experienced equine state police stood guard over the detention barn. Eddie and the gang walked over to the Pavilion set up by the first turn. The large white tent was lit to the hilt as the crowd milled around inside sampling on canapes or a complimentary beverage. A small instrumental quartet softly played in the background as chatter and laughter echoed off the high-peaked ceilings.

   At 6:30 the Governor of Ohio officially welcomed everyone and they took their seats at their table all tastefully arraigned with flowered centerpieces and cutlery. Each of the 20-plus tables had their very own waitperson. They began the service with a soup then salad and the talk was pleasant and lively. The trays of plates with short ribs in gravy and mashed potatoes were carried out from the makeshift kitchen and placed in front of the guests. Eddie looked around the tent at the various tables and smiled.
   “An awful lot of dignitaries,” he grinned.
   “Well, my top dogs,” chimed in Callie, “are here at the table with me!” She lifted her water glass in toast. “Thank you all for getting us here. And,” she nodded at Uncle Eddie, “especially to that man right there. You’re making all of our dreams come true!”
   Eddie hung his head and blushed as they raised their glasses and added “Here, here.”
   “I think the stars just aligned for us,” he humbly said. “I hope it carries through tomorrow night as well.”
   Again everyone raised their glasses and shouted “Here, here.”

   A few tables over Old Man Hopkins glared at the laughing group and gritted his teeth.
   “Where’s the boy who was taking care of Diverzified,” asked the owner's wife. Hopkins snaps out of it and turns to her with a forced smile.
   “Pardon?”
   “The boy who was taking care of Diverzified?” she explains. “I haven’t seen him for a couple of weeks now.”
   “Oh,” smiles Hopkins, “that boy. I think the pressure got too much for him. He asked to go to the farm where it’s a bit more relaxed. It happens,” he reassures her, “the limelight is not for everyone. In fact he walked off the job there last week. Now Willy,” he adds as he motions toward the little weasel, “is used to campaigning a good horse. And,” he emphasizes with a direct stare at him. “Always does what he’s told.”
   Willy smiles his little smile and grins knowingly at him.

   At Gabe’s and Lee’s table Hank, Yee Haw, and Frenchie are outfitted with their best wardrobe which consists of new T-shirts and blue jeans. They’re clean-shaven with their hair slicked back with a little dab of styling foam. They watch in awe as each course of the meal is place in front of them by a cute blond waitress. The smitten Yee Haw smiles at her. She smiles and winks at him.
   “Boy,” he says as she walks back towards the kitchen and the water guy refills their glasses, “it’s nice to be treated like a real person once in a while.”
   “Yeah?” says Hank with a humph, “better not get used to it!”
   Everyone laughs as Frenchie just rolls his eyes and grins.

   At Callie’s table Chester studies the group enjoying their meal.
   “We’ve got quite a diverse table here,” he laughs. “Eddie’s from Indiana; Louise is now from Minnesota, the kids hail outta Maryland originally.”
  “Thanks to the Navy,” offers Mary with a smile. “We’re Buckeyes now!”
  “Absolutely!” agrees Chester. “Now where,” he asks Callie and Pete, “did you two start out?”
   Pete grins and answers first. “I’m originally from upstate New York. My family’s been in the business for three generations but,” he added with a shrug, “I was the runt of the litter of four brothers who drove. There wasn’t,” he smiled slightly, “too much opportunity for me to drive so I decided to get a job grooming in Florida.”
   “That’s where we met,” adds Callie with a smile as she took Pete’s hand. “We were both working for a large training outfit in southern part of the state. We ended up right alongside of each other. I had just come down from Wisconsin for the winter.”
   “Right,” laughs Pete. “We originally fought like cats and dogs until we both realized how little we knew.”
   “Then my Dad died that Spring and I went back to home for the funeral and to help with his three horses,” added a subdued Callie. “After everything got settled and we were trying to figure out what to do with them, I told my Mum that I’d like to race them in Ohio, which just had an infusion of money with the casino referendum. Mum,” she dropped her shoulders sadly, “didn’t want me to go. She said it was ‘too tough a life for a girl.’ She wanted me to get rid of the horses and go to work at the electric company like my older sister. I couldn’t…”
   “But then,” smiled Pete, “we hooked up again at the old Raceway Park just outside of Toledo, had some success, and we’ve been together ever since.”
   “It’s been rough at times,” adds Callie, “but once you’ve got horse fever in your blood it’s kinda tough to get rid of.”
   “Tell me about it!” calls out Eddie with a sparkle in his eyes.
   And everyone had a good laugh.

   Over along the back road hidden in the brush there was some stirring in the Yukon as Evans deflated the airbags with his penknife.
   “Chace,” he groaned as he rubbed the white powder from his eyes and nose. “Are you with me?”
   There was no answer.


   Fat George, Harry and Phil are at the Disco Inferno bar counting out their money as they pool it together.
   “Okay,” slurs George, “this is all we’ve got, right?”
   “I kept $20 to eat,” offers Harry, “just in case…”
   “You got canned goods in your damn tack room. Give it up,” growls George. “we’re all in or nothing!”
   “Yeah,” nods Phil, “I even cashed in my empties. How much we got?”
   George takes Harry’s two tens and finishes counting the stack of crumbled bills.
   “$580 dollars…” he grunts as he smiles contentedly at the pile. “We can do $200 in exactas, $200 in trifectas, and $180 in superfectas. They’ll all pay telephone numbers with that Gambler N out of it.”
   “Do you got the shit?,” leans in Harry.
   “Right here,” says George as he smugly pats the breast pocket of his jacket.
    Phil and Harry high-five each other as George chortles.
   “We are going to get it all!” he grins foolishly at them. “Barkeep,” he calls out, “another round if you please!”

   Warren and Larry are sitting in their car in downtown Delaware outside of their apartment.
   “It was nice of those bastards to invite us to the party,” bemoans Larry. “It’s like we don’t even exist!”
   “Exactly,” whines Warren, “and I’ve been there for 5 years!”
   “Okay,” says Larry sternly, “this is it: I’ll have $10,000 cash for you to bet offshore tomorrow just before post time. Keep your eyes on where all the smart money is going and enter it in during the window on your program.”
   “I know! I know!” protests Warren. “We’ve gone over this a hundred times!”
   “Just so you realize it,” reiterates Larry. “This is all we have. If we miss then we are fucked. No money, no job, and we have to get out of town. Capiche?”
   Warren makes a face, turns his head, and stares out the car window.

   At the Pavilion the tables have been cleared and the quartet is playing some dance music. Eddie and Louise, Callie and Pete, Sissy and Joe Powers eye-eye-eye along with Linda and her kids and a host of others are on the dance floor. It was a nice way to wrap up the evening before going back to the barn.

   Across the infield Amal is watering down the Winners Circle again to make sure it stays wet. He softly hums to himself.
   "Amal,” says Howard the guard as he suddenly emerges from the darkness, “you’re working awful late tonight.”

   “Chace,” repeats a concerned Evans as he’s about to shake his partner’s shoulder, “are you okay? Chace?” Chace’s head is lolled to the side motionless. He comes to with a start.
   “What the hell time is it,” he asks as he looks around at the encroaching dusk. “How long we been out?”
   “You okay?” asks Evans.
   “Yeah, yeah,” says Chace plaintively, “how long we been here?”
   “It’s 8:30 now,” says Evans, “we’ve been out a couple of hours.”
   Chace pushes the door open and gets out of the Yukon. Evans is on the map on his iPhone. He switches to the satellite image.
   “There’s only about another ten feet of brush in front of us,” Chace says he stands on the running board, “then nothing but cornfield.”
   We’ve got about an acre of 7 foot-tall cornstalks in front of us,” adds Evans. “I don’t think Annie wants to jump that 10-foot ditch in back of us again.”
   They both get out and clear a path to the edge of the stalks before Chace climbs back in and starts the Yukon up. Evans hops back into the passenger seat.
   “You want me to team this?” goads Evans. “Your driving record is getting too many demerits on it so far today.”
   “Go shit in your hat,” says Chace with a grunt as he puts Annie into four-wheel drive. “Get on the horn and call in for some flyover.”
   He edges the Yukon slightly into the cornfield and then backs up a bit.
   “210 feet to the road, straight ahead,” adds Evans with a point of a finger as he braces himself.
   Then Chace floors it.  



     “We’ve got 50 feet to the road,” calls out Evans as the cornstalks snap out of their way, “better back off a bit!
   “I was thinking we could make a couple of crop circles while we’re at it,” grins Chace as he eased his foot off the accelerator.
   The Yukon slowed down immediately and literally crawled on to the single-lane path. Chace turns the wheels slightly to the left and stops.
   “Okay,” he says seriously to Evans, “check in and get us some eyes before we go any further. I’m not driving blindly from now on.”
   Evans dials on his iPhone and waits while a computer as it beeps softly three times. “Evans,” he firmly states into the phone, “D77547E David.”
   A clear, calm female voice answers on the other end. “Hello Agent Evans. You are secure. What is your request?”
   “I need aerial over Delaware, Ohio section 43015. Eyes on a green 28 foot Olentangy Distributers delivery truck. Situation Alpha.”
   “One moment please,” answers the voice.
   “We’d better do a 20 mile radius,” asks Evans as he looks at Chace, “just to be sure?”
   “Right,” nods Chace, “I don’t think he could have gotten much further than that.”
   “Agent Evans?” came the voice on the other end.
   “Yes?”
   “I am afraid those eyes are off-line right now. We are attempting to correct the problem.”
   “Off-line?” asks a bewildered Evans. “How long has it been off-line?”
   “Earlier today around 3:30 p.m.,” answers the voice, “we believe that it was some sort of collision with some space debris. We are repositioning one of its running mates as we speak.”
   “When will we have some eyes?”
   “Not until approximately 0200 hours tomorrow morning,” came the answer.
   “Oh boy,” sighs Evans, “better make this an alpha priority. Please call me when you’re back.”
   “Will do Agent Evans,” came the voice.

   Evans clicks off the phone and shakes his head as he stares at Chace. “We’re blind until two this morning.”
   “Okay,” says Chace with a raise of his eyebrows as he turns on the headlights, “time for some more old-fashioned legwork.”
   He aims Annie north on the dirt path and proceeds cautiously through row upon row of corn that stand on either side of the road.
   “One good thing,” smiles Evans. “This should take us out to the main road that we wanted to get on in the first place… two and a half hours ago.”
   “How far?”
   “About a mile,” answers Evans as he studies the iPhone map.
   After a couple of minutes the Yukon comes up to a small rickety bridge that crosses over the 15 foot wide drainage ditch. It has a gate on the other side which Evans gets out and walks over to open. He stops and rattles a chain.
   “It’s padlocked,” he calls out to Chace.
   Chace puts his head onto the steering and mutters to himself. He lifts his head after a few seconds. 
   “How far back to the other end of the road?”
   “Probably three miles,” answers Evans, “if we’re lucky.”
   Chace taps in fingers on the wheel, grunts, and takes out a snubnosed .38 from the armrest.
   “Shoot the fucker,” he barks to Evans.

   At the sidewalk bar downtown Bro and Moe are trying their best to charm two local ladies as they ply them with $8.00 cocktails.
   The girls quickly become tired of the age-old clichés and pickup lines.
   “We’ve got a busy day tomorrow,” finally says one gal. “We’re hostesses in the Pavilion for the big race so we’ve got to say ’goodnight.’”
   “That’s interesting,” pipes in Moe in a last ditch effort. “We’re actually a couple of movie actors scouting scenes and extras for our next film and we’re only in town until after the race.”
   “Really?” smiles the other girl sweetly as she stands up from her chair and leans forward at the two Bohunks. “And what film would that be,” she asks, “Dumb and Dumber 4?”
   And the pair of gals turn and laughingly walk away.

    At the Disco Inferno bar George, Harry, and Phil stagger out into the parking lot and climb into the cab that the bartender has called. The worn cabdriver shakes his head and drives the raucous trio up to the Fairgrounds and they laughingly get out of the cab. George even tips him $5.00 and they walk past the guards showing their badges.
   “I think I left something in the backseat of the cab,” says Harry with a belch.
   “What?” asks George and Phil in unison.
   “The contents of my bladder!” smiles Halfwit proudly and they drunkenly all high five each other on the way to the grooms quarters.


With a muffled POP the rusted lock split open. Evans shakes his head with a slight smile.
   “That’s the first time I fired that thing outside of our mandatory target practice.”
   “Well c’mon, Clint,” says Chace, “Open the damn gate and let’s get out of here.”
   Evans pushes the gate and it swings easily out. Chace drives Annie over the bridge and out onto the asphalt as Evans closes the gate and wraps the chain around it to keep it closed.
   “I’ll look up the owner,” he says as he hops back into the Yukon, “so we can send him some restitution for the corn and the lock.”
   “Right,” laughs Chace, “especially the lock… that got to be out of the Dollar Store discount bin from 20 years ago.”
   He wheels Annie towards Ostrander and heads down the empty County Road.
   “Get on your Google map and see if there’s any place around here that can hide a 28 foot beer truck,” he say to Evans. “Even if it’s in plain sight.”
   “A lot of country around here… lots of woods and farms and barns. It’s gonna be tough without any eyes.”
   “You know,” admits Chace, “You’re right. It’s a needle in the haystack. We’ll head over to the hospital, check on the Bobbsey Twins, clean up and get a couple of hours of shuteye before we’re back online at two. D’you got your carryon with you?”
   “It’s in the back, with yours… jeans and a T-shirt.”
   “Okay,” agrees Chace as he picks up speed, “sounds like a plan. And I gotta admit: my ass is draggin’.”
   “Waddaya talkin’ about,” say Evans with a twist of his head, “we just had a nice little 2-hour nap.”
   Chace just grunts as they head into town.

    The backside at the Fairgrounds has finally quieted down for the night. In the Detention barn everyone has pulled out their foldaway beds, set out their feed for the morning, and are just about to call it a night.
   The air is warm, with a very light breeze as the sky is as clear and as dark as a pool of spring water while the stars twinkle away.
   A very faint Song of Praise can be heard if you listen closely enough. It seems to surround the entire Fairground from every direction.
   Over in his maintenance shed the unshaven and wild-eyed Amal sits in chair, slowly rocking back and forth, and stops his singing.
   He smiles happily.
   He has not slept for two days.

   At the hospital Aella and Nick are sound asleep when Evans and Chace arrive. They question the doctor on duty who says “they are calm and resting” then they secure an empty room to shower and catch a few hours. With instructions to the nurse to wake them at “quarter to two” they are both out cold in a matter of minutes.

   The shed row of the detention barn is quiet except for an occasional snore from the caretakers or the slight movement of a horse in the stalls. All the grooms have gotten used to the bangs and the rattles from the horses and can now sleep right through them.
   And that is what Willy was counting on as he slowly sits upright and swings his legs to the floor.
   He looks around him at the numerous motionless bodie in the darkness. One horse sees him and pushes on his feed tub which rattles loudly.
   “Bastard,” Willy mutters to himself. He reaches into his pajama top pocket and pulls out the envelope of aspirin and quietly tears it open. He pushes himself off of the cot and noiselessly walks down the aisle of the barn, carefully making sure no one is awake.
   All is quiet.
   He stops in front of King’s stall. The horse is laying down asleep with his nose just touching the straw as Eddie lies on his side facing away from him softly snoring in shallow breaths.
   “Perfect,” thinks Willy as he looks side-to-side. He leans slightly forward and reaches his hand out that places the envelope right above the feed bucket.
   His eyes glint with anticipation.
   A large muscular hand comes suddenly from out of the darkness and grabs him by the wrist.
   Willy inhales a gallon of air.
   “Feedin’ a little early, Willy?” smiles Lee sternly.
   “I, I…” protests Willy as he struggles to wrestle free from Lee’s ironclad grip. “I, I, I’ve got to go to the bathroom!”
   “Welllll,” grins Lee as he imitates Hank, “it smells like you already did!”

   Then the all lights came on as everybody woke up.

*****

   “We’ve got eyes!” says Evans excitedly just as Chace was about to open the door to go to Aella’s room. He jumps back over to the screen.
   “Start with a 15-mile radius from the warehouse in Marysville. Criteria: 12x28 box truck.”
   Evans types in the info and the pair scan the screen as the images zero on several suspect images, both moving and stationary. The GPS ID’s do not match any of the Olentangy truck though. After a half hour Chace barks “Widen it to 20 miles!”
    “The sonovabitch seems to have disappeared!” calls out a frustrated Evans.
   “We’ll get him!” says a determined Chace. “He’s out there.”
   

   Willy has been sitting quietly in the State Police trailer with a pained look on his face for over an hour as the trooper is filling out his reports.
   “It wasn’t my idea,” he finally blurts as he wrings his hands. “I was TOLD to do this!”
   The trooper looks up. “Do you want to talk about it, Willy?”
   Willy weakly nods his head ‘yes.’
   The Trooper pulls out his pocket recorder and signals the Corporal on his phone. 
   “Just for your protection Willy,” assures the trooper, ”Now,” he smiles benevolently, “who put you up to this, Willy?

   At the trailer Mary, Sissy, and Steven are already up and having toast and tea.
  Over in the Colonial Inn numerous rooms are lit as they all have come down with a case of pre-race jitters. Surprisingly Travis and Justin seem rather subdued.
   Bro and Moe are nervously playing a game of Gin Rummy.
   Johnny MacArthur is lying on his still-made bed with his arms folded behind his head as he stares at the ceiling in deep thought. A picture of his wife and kids are on the bed beside him.

   Downtown in their apartment Warren is counting a stack of hundreds while Larry writes the combinations of numbers down for the exactas and trifectas.
   On the backside Callie is pacing the floor of their trailer while Pete studies the program once more.
   “Don’t wear the print off of that,” snaps Callie as she keeps looking at her watch.

   In the early morning air a very faint Song of Praise floats throughout the barn area.

   It is Race Day.



​   “We’ve got eyes!” says Evans excitedly just as Chace was about to open the door to go to Aella’s room. He Chace and Evans are still hunkered by the laptop as the satellite images scroll across the screen. There is very little movement throughout town as the time approaches 5 a.m.
   “Have them focus on any large buildings,” say Chace, “that are big enough to hide a damn truck.”
   Evans types in the request.
   “And concentrate between Ostrander and Delaware,” he adds.
   “They’re going to hide it,” explains Chace, “and hide it quick. I’ve a feeling that they’re going to rig it as an incendiary device.”
   “A bomb?”
   “Yep,” answers Chace grimly. “Just like the Oklahoma bombing. All that stuff that Nick picked up was the basics… sort of like the stock for the soup.”
   “There’s about twenty barns in the area that could be suspect,” says Evans as he shakes his head and studies the screen. “None of them show anything other than the usual activities.”
   “I’m calling Miller,” offers Chace. “He’s had a chance to rest and we need fresh ideas.”
   Chace dials his number and it’s immediately picked up.
   “I’m already in the lobby,” huffs Miller into the phone as he hustles along. “The Home Office dug another “Lucky Day” up off the internet. From four days ago.”
   “And?”
   “They were targeted to 6 weekly local rags within six states. All it said was “Gather,” adds Miller with a grunt as he pushes the hallway door open. “I’ve got the printout. Where are you guys?”
   “Room 150,” answers Chace. “You sound like you’ve found something the Boys in Washington missed.”
   “Could be,” laughs a breathless Miller as he turns into the corridor, “then again I might just be watching too many Secret Agent Movies.”
   He opens the door to Room 150 as Chace and Evans turn to see him filling in the frame, holding up the sheet, and smiling.
   “But if it works, it works.”
   “We get you on a diet,” laughs Chace, “and you’re gonna make a helluva good field agent.” He stops and looks at Miller expectantly. “Did ya bring any donuts with ya?”

   Willy has been talking – mostly complaining – for over an hour now. The trooper has been wearily listening to him bitch literally about everything and often has to redirect his tirade as he goes into a tangent about some horse or person from 25 years ago.
   “Willy?” asks the trooper pleasantly, “would you like a coffee and something from the breakfast in the barn?”
   “Why yes,” smiles Willy slightly, “I would… some egg and English muffin, with cheese… please.”
  T he detention barn is already up and about as the horses had been fed and everyone is lined up for breakfast. The Corporal’s phone buzzes.
   “Yeah?”
   “Bring us a couple of regular coffees and egg cheese muffins,” says the trooper quietly into his phone in the corner of the trailer.
   “Tiring, isn’t he?” asks the Corporal.
   “This guy has been giving me the runaround for over an hour. The next thing I know he’ll lawyer up on me,” says the trooper as he eyes Willy fiddling with pencils on the desk.
   “Okay,” says the Corporal finally. ”He isn’t going to name names like he said. Let’s wait until the Captain gets in here at 7… he can get a statement from the little weasel.”
   “Good enough,” answers the trooper. “Bring them coffees.”
   He turns to see Willy slightly smiling to himself with his eyes glanced to the floor.
  “ I’ll name names alright,” Willy thought as he shifted in his seat.
   But first he had to go through a list in his mind of everyone who’s ever slighted or aggravated him in the past two years. Now was the time to put their ass in a sling.
   He quivered with delight at the idea of it.
   And they’re gonna hear him roar.

  “What time you got?” calls out Chace as he takes the sheet from Miller.
   “6:45,” came Evans reply. He stops studying the laptop and walks over to the drapes on the window and opens them. The bright morning sunlight lit up the room and made them all squint.
   Chace places the sheet on the table and studies the various highlighted numbers.
   Miller places his finger on his handwritten number “4147.”
   “The ‘master number’,” nods Chace with the look of realization.
   “Yeah,” answers Miller, “only this time it spells ‘gather.’”
   “Is it another subliminal trigger like ‘Ephialtes’ was?” asks Evans.
   “That’s what I wracked my brain on,” answers Miller but then I followed the 4-1-4-7 past the 00 cutoff point in the number sequence both 9 top and 9 bottom, cross and diagonal.”
   “Anything?” asks Chace.
   “Nothing but gibberish, mismatched letters, no matter which of the four major languages they used.”
   “English, French, German, and Spanish?” asks Evans.
   “Right,” agrees Miller, “but it is right there in front of us.”
   “In front of us?” snorts a bewildered Chace. “I’d better borrow your glasses.”
   Evan leans closer and scratches his head. “What?”
   Miller takes the highlighter and moves it across the square to the double 00 counting out as he goes along. He marks each two-digit number with authority.
   “One, two, three, four… 24. One… 39. One, two, three, four… 03!” he calls out until he reaches the final end 00.
   Chace picks it up and reads the numbers aloud: “24-39-03-22-04-30-61…”
   Evans catches it.
   “The last three sets of numbers,” he exclaims, “43061! That’s the zip code for Warrensburg!”
   “Yes!” says Miller triumphantly. “And there’s a county road 322 that leads through the backwoods of the town!”
   “2439 CR322 in Warrensburg?” asks Chace.
   “I’m on it,” calls out Evans as he types new directions into the laptop. The camera focuses in on a farmhouse, two SUVs, and a large barn set off a quarter of a mile from the road.
   “It’s owned by an Edgar Martin,” adds Evans as he reads the particulars. “He’s 93, disabled, and the place has been in his family since 1883.” His wife died over 20 years ago. He can’t be there by himself.”
  “ Go thermal,” instructs Chace.
   The house shows one person in the kitchen but the barn seems devoid of anything. The roof is interfering with the signal.
   “That’s a portable transmitter set up,” notes Chace with a smirk. “It’s called the Terrorist’s Camouflage… $99.99 at Small*mart.”
   All of a sudden a male figure emerges from out of the barn and walks towards an SUV. A second figure follows him out almost immediately. They stop and talk by the door. A third figure comes out and pulls back the barn door. The exhaust from the delivery truck plumes upward.
   “That’s our spot!” calls out Chace. “Let’s go!”
   “How far?” asks Evans as he gathers up the laptop.
   “Eight miles!” answers Miller from the map on his iPhone. “We can make it in six minutes!”
   “Five if we hurry,” laughs Chace.
   Then all three broke into a run down the corridor and out to their cars.


To be continued


​   Johnny MacArthur pulls into the Colonial Inn, hops out of his car, and clicks on the locks as the horn beeps. He turns to see Moe and Bro leaning against their Chevy eying him as he walks towards the front door of the lobby. Moe finally pipes up.
   “So Johnny,” he smiles. “We gonna do some business tomorrow?”
   Johnny stops and faces them. He shakes his head slowly and grins a bit.
   “You know what guys,” he says quietly to them, “I’m gonna get you better odds.”
   “Yeah?” perks up Bro. “that sounds good to me. How you gonna do that?”
   “Watch me in the post parade, five minutes to post,” smiles Johnny. “If I got my whip tucked under my arm it’s means I’m a no-go... you can bet all you want!”
    “Alright Johnny Boy,” grins Moe widely, “it’s good to see you coming around!” They both get into the Chevy and drive off as they’re on the phone to Shaky Louie. Johnny smiles as the automatic doors open up and he walks into the lobby.
   “I can bet,” he laughs softly to himself, “that neither of those two dumb bullocks knows what ‘ambiguous’ means.
   He sees Linda Bethany and her Terrible Trio heading towards their room and waves happily at them.
   “Are we ready for tomorrow?” he calls out.
   “Yeaaaah!” they all chorus.
   “Me too!” he adds as his steps got a bit springier.
   And he walked a little taller.

   With lights flashing and Evans sometimes topping 90 they pull into the Warehouse at 3:55 just as the manager is locking the door. They both jump out of the Yukon as Chace waves his arms at him.
   The manager stops and studies the pair a bit apprehensively.
   “Just a few questions,” says Chace as he holds up his badge. “Are you delivering to the All American Variety in Delaware tomorrow?”
   “Yeah. Early,” answers the manager. “I’ve got a special order all set up.”
   Chace and Evans walk onto the platform.
   “Can we see the order and what route it’s taking?”
   “Sure,” says the manager as he lets them into the building. “We’ve only got two stops but they’re calling for 25 kegs and 100 cases Bud.” He pulls the sheets off the clipboard and hands them to Chace. “All American is getting 5 kegs and 50 cases first,” he continues, “then Gerry is leaving the truck off at the second stop in case they need more beer and supplies.”
   “Where?” asks Evans.
   Chace looks up from the requisition slip.
   “The Fairgrounds kitchen,” he says solemnly. “Can we take a look at the truck?”
   “No,” says the manager, “since it’s an early delivery, Gerry took the truck home with him.”
   “Is that unusual?”
   “Not really,” answers the manager, “we do that a lot with special orders.”
   “Okay,” says Chace as he puts the clipboard on the counter. “Can you give this Gerry a call for us?”
   “No problem,” offers the manager as he dials. “He should be almost home by now.”
   The phone rings once and immediately goes into voice mail.
   “Now that’s unusual,” frowns the manager. “He always has his phone on.” He tries again to no avail.
   “Can you tell us a bit about him,” asks Evans. “How long has he worked here?”
   “Farioli? He’s a good guy,” says the manager, “he’s been on the list for over 20 years… he’s 4th in seniority.”
   “Married?” asked Chace.
   “Wife and two kids. They bought a house over in Plain City about 3 months ago just after we moved into the new warehouse.”
   “You got GPS tracker on the truck right?”
   “Sure do,” answers the manager as he turns to his computer and types in a few letters. “Hmm,” he says as his brow creases, “that’s odd.”
   “What?”
   “The tracker on the truck… it’s been deactivated.”
   “You got a home address for Farioli?” Evans quickly asks. “And the best way to get there?”
   “Head straight down 33, take 42 into Plain City and stay on it until you take a left onto Amity Pike,” offers the manager with a wave of his hand, “it’s nice blue ranch about ½ mile on the left. I was there a month ago for the housewarming party…” his voice trails off.
    And Chace and Evans were out the door in two steps.


To be continued...