Mason could see the TV cameras panning the crowd, but he made sure to keep his cap pulled down and to be as inconspicuous as possible. He groaned with the crowd, laughed with the crowd, and shouted with the crowd. Just another regular Joe watching the game. And then the firework display.
The bird watcher looked at the illuminated dial of his watch, although he could tell the time. Six thirty and getting dark, and one more day without spotting the fork-tailed flycatcher. He sighed. Time to move on out and back to the farm. Back to his demanding wife, Yvonne. If he was lucky, he’d get a few hours sleep before he could escape again.
He went through the day’s events again. The guy at the barn had passed him early afternoon in the pick-up, wearing a Bees cap and scarf. Clearly going to watch the big game. He had not seen the tanker driver. That stirred his curiosity. Maybe he would go and poke around while the guy was away. He picked up his flashlight and crept slowly up to the barn.
Nothing moved, no light inside. Same as before as far as he could tell. He moved through the barn and looked out the back. There was the tanker, next to the limo. He clambered onto the footrest and shone the flashlight through the cabin window. Nobody at home. He swung back down and tried the door. It was locked. He retraced his steps back through the barn and picked up the vehicle keys that were hanging on a nail by the workbench.
Outside, one key opened the tanker door and he climbed into the cab. He poked around and pointed the flashlight over the back of the seat. The body was partially covered by a blanket, wide staring eyes reflected in the beam. He dropped the flashlight and began to shake.
And then he heard the snorting and whistling outside.
Mac finally got the call from Rusty midway through the fourth quarter. Neither the security guys, nor the TV cameras had identified Mason. “Hi Mac, got sidetracked. Fire downtown got outta hand. Had to coordinate the evacuation of families living nearby. What’s up?”
Rusty, I’m at the stadium trying to identify a suspect. We think he’s hidden explosives or something worse in the pump house. I need you to call Cindy and ask her where Eddie Nicholls lives. He’s the grounds man. I need keys to get in. It’s a high security padlock, and the windows are all barred. Nicholls is the sole key holder.”
Rusty laughed. “I got a better idea. We got all sorts of bolt cutters, axes and battering rams on our fire trucks.”
Mac hesitated, caught between two options. “Hold on a minute. This is low profile. I can’t have a huge fire truck blazing onto the ground. We’ve got full TV coverage. It’s bound to cause a panic.”
“Hey Mac. This isn’t you at all. What’s up, you got the chief breathing down your neck or something?”
Well yes actually, that is, if Tom Kennedy sees it on TV, thought Mac. Breaking and entering private property without permission, or a warrant. Just on a hunch. I’d be on the dumpster, faster than a fire-fly. “Rusty, it’s sensitive,” was all he could say.
“So you want me to call Cindy?”
“More than that. Can you go and pick up the keys? I’ve got zero back-up. All patrol cops are at the stadium.”
Rusty snorted. “Mac, is this a matter of life and death? I could get into serious trouble here. Please tell me you’re kidding?”
“I wish I was,” Mac replied. “I owe you a big one.”
“And if I can’t get hold of Cindy, or this Eddie Nicholls?”
Mac gulped. “Let’s cross that bridge later. Rusty, you got maybe one hour tops to get back to the stadium.”
“Better use the sirens then,” said Rusty.
The bird watcher patted the wet patch on the front of his pants in disgust. No one had hit him; the snorting and whistling seemed to be coming from the limo’s trunk. He scrabbled around the ground to find the vehicle keys he had dropped in panic, found the limo ones and pressed the key fob to unlock the car without setting off the alarm. Dreading what he was going to find he lifted the trunk lid and peered inside. Two kids curled up tremoring, and asleep. The male snoring loudly. He tried to shake him awake, no luck. The girl was more responsive; she came to and opened one eye. “Water,” she said. Then fell asleep again.
The bird watcher looked at his watch. Past seven. He pulled out his cell phone, switched it on, and called Yvonne. Waited for her to answer. He was about to give up when she answered. “Hold-on. I just got out of the shower,” she said. “Won’t be a minute.”
He heard her put down the phone. And waited. The phone battery warning buzzer went. ‘Low’. Hurry up for ‘god sake’, he thought. He tried yelling into the phone, but got no reply. She came back at last. “Sorry about that baby, couldn’t find my pink robe anywhere. You know, the one with hearts across the front, and...”
He cut across her ramble. “Yvonne, I’m up at the old barn. The farm that’s up for sale. I got one dead body and a couple of drugged kids in the trunk of a limo...” The phone went dead. He cursed. Now what? The guy could return and finish them all off. He had to get the kids to safety. He closed the trunk lid and jumped in the limo. He switched on the ignition and gunned the engine. Better not put on the lights, he thought. Moonlight was good enough. Slipped it into first gear, went twenty, maybe thirty yards straight into a slurry patch and stalled. He sat there revving up the engine but the limo just sank further, the wheels churning hopelessly. He cradled his head in his hands. ‘Meet Mr. Fuck-up’, he thought.
“I gotta trace,” yelled Sergio. “The limo moved off, then stopped, but I gotta trace.”
Bernie sat up in his lounge chair, and hit the remote to turn off the TV. “About fuckin’ time too,” he said. “You’d think with all this technology that cost a fortune, we’d pick-up Mike’s limo in no time. But no, it’s taken days.”
Sergio held up a hand, even though Bernie was twice his size and not in a mood to listen to excuses. “We get the triangulation when it moves, it’s like 3D.” Not to mention that had he not been looking at the screen at that very moment, he wouldn’t have registered it until they played back the tapes the following morning.
Bernie blinked. “Where is the fuckin’ limo, then?”
Ungrateful ‘son-of-a-bitch’. Sergio realized that saying something like ‘in a field someplace out in the country’ was not what Bernie wanted to hear. “I’ll look it up on the map,” he replied. “Should be able to pin-point a recognizable location.”
“Yeah, you do that. I’m outta my mind hanging around this place. I want to nail this ‘motherfucker’ good,” replied Bernie getting to his feet and stretching. “While you’re playing around with your computer, I’m going to check the armory and then call Mario Coppola.
Sergio let him get on with it. He was close to pin-pointing the location.
“Mr. Coppola,” he heard Bernie say. “I located Mike’s limo. You want me to deal with it?”
From the conversation, Coppola was asking questions that Bernie couldn’t answer. Like where was it? His screen lit up. He raised both thumbs in the air and looked at Bernie.
“Seems like Sergio’s got it sorted, Mr. Coppola. I’ll let you talk to him.” Bernie passed the cell phone over to him.
“Yes, Mr Coppola, I can punch in the coordinates into our GPS system... in every vehicle we use... yes Mr. Coppola, Bernie will drive me over... Yes Mr. Coppola, Yes Mr. Coppola, and thank you.” Sergio ended the call and handed the cell phone back. “Mr. Coppola wants me over at his place immediately.”
Bernie sniffed. “Well get your ass into gear, I haven’t got all night,” he replied.
“Mac, it’s Yvonne. Before you ask, it’s not about Chunky, he was a gentleman, but I ain’t complaining, once we got down to it.”
Mac smiled despite the situation. “What is it?” he asked.
My husband called while I was... you know... finishing up. Said he had a dead body and two drugged kids, before his cell phone cut out.”
Mac stopped pacing outside the pump house. Now that it was dark he wouldn’t be noticed. Left Elmer in the TV studio panning the crowds. Waiting for Rusty to call in. “Say that again.” He listened to the repeat. “How long ago?” he asked.
“Well Mac, I was kind of thinking he’d call back, but he didn’t. Maybe twenty, thirty minutes ago.”
Mac looked at his watch. Nearly half past seven. The game was due to finish in a few minutes. He looked up at the brightly lit scoreboard. Bees needed at least a field goal to win. “Yvonne, listen carefully, did he tell you where he was?”
He waited. Yvonne trying to remember. “I think he said old barn or old farm, someplace up for sale. I don’t think he said anything more before he cut out.”
Mac thought quickly. “How does your husband travel to his sites? By car or bus, anything?”
“Well he ain’t too far away, that’s for sure. Somewhere in the district. He rides his bike – some old fashioned thing with a basket attached to the front. Carries his food and thermos in it.”
“Okay, Yvonne, please don’t worry. We’ll get onto it pronto.”
“I’m only worrying about the insurance. I hope it’s up to date. It’s my asshole of a husband we’re talking about,” she replied. And clicked off.
Mac shook his head. Lust and greed. What was Mason’s motive? Rage and envy, pride perhaps? His cell phone rang.
“Mac, it’s Rusty. Shepherd isn’t at home, nor his keys. His wife told us he went down to the stadium first thing. Hasn’t heard from him since.”
Mac groaned. “Where are you?”
“Heading full tilt back to the stadium; that is if we can get through the traffic. It’s chaos out there. Even with our sirens blaring we get held up at most intersections.”
“Rusty, when you get close, just unpack the toolkit and come in on foot. Preferably with no helmet on. We’ve no choice now.”
“Mac I got overalls in the cab, no uniform. That do you?”
Mac punched the air. “Perfect. Just get your ass over here as quick as possible.” He called Elmer and related what Yvonne had told him. “We’re not likely to ID him in the stadium, but we might have a chance if we can locate his hideout.” Mac paused. “Buddy, he’s killed another person and is holding two drugged hostages. I hate to think what plans he has for them. But it sure isn’t going to have a happy ending.”
“Mac, I’m out of here, now,” replied Elmer. “Back to the precinct and update Andy to rustle up some backup. Okay?”
Mac sighed. “Yeah, okay. And watch your back buddy.” He clicked off the call, just as there was an enormous roar from the crowd. Everyone went ballistic waving their scarves and shouting. The Bees had clinched a last minute ‘Hail Mary’ pass and touchdown. After the TV commercials, just the conversion and it would be a magnificent recovery. The crowd held their breath as the kicker lined up. Then everyone went crazy again. The clock wound down and the buzzer sounded. End of game. The players waved to the fans and the teams trooped off to the locker rooms. He could see the big TV screen message. ‘Bees win a nail-biting final tour game. Stay in your seats, folks. Massive Firework display coming up.’ Already a rock band was in full swing and the playing field was filling up with excited fans, all eager to get a closer look at the dignitaries in the marquee. Mac looked at his watch again. Fifteen to eight. For the umpteenth time he fiddled with the padlock on the pumphouse door, as if it would miraculously click open. Then he heard a cough behind him.
Mason cleared his throat. All that shouting when the ball sailed over the cross bar between the posts had made him hoarse. It was all going to plan. Earlier a couple of guys, maybe plain clothes police, had checked out the pump-house, but there had been no follow-up. He couldn’t see it now, it was dark. Anyway it would be too late. Even if someone forced their way in they couldn’t override the system. By the time they got a digger in to rupture the pipes his masterpiece would have reached a finale. All they could do would be to bag the bodies.
The bird watcher waded through the slurry and back into the barn, looking for water. The flashlight beam picked out a crate of plastic bottles, each with a picture of Longfield Mountain springs on the front. He selected a few, making sure the seals were intact, and headed back out to the limo. The guy was still snoring, but the girl seemed to be regaining consciousness. He propped up her head, pried open her mouth and gently dripped the water down her throat. She swallowed it without gagging. Reflex action, without coming around. He finished one bottle and started on the second. No luck there, either. He tipped the third bottle over her head and the last one he prised open her top at the neck and let the water run down her bare back. That did it. She started to shake and gag, and then groan. “I feel like shit,” she muttered. He tried to help her sit up, but she wasn’t cooperating, her body flopping back again. He tried shaking her, but that didn’t work.
He looked at his watch again. Christ, he needed to get a move on, before the killer came back. Only one thing for it. She was the lightest. He took hold of her arms under her shoulders and dragged her up over the lid into the slurry. Then he picked her up by her ankles and slid her across to firm ground, before reverting to her arms again. It was slow work, but he dragged her alongside the tanker truck and left her laying there. No way could he get her up into the cabin on his own. Satisfied he went back into the barn and brought out several more water bottles. He repeated his actions on the guy, but without any response. Dan could have done it, easy as anything, but he wasn’t Dan’s size nor had his strength. And he’d used that up getting the girl out. There was nothing else he could do but to get the hell out of there and find help. Quickly.
The tanker truck started first time, engine purring. He jumped back down and dragged the girl over to some bushes, then carefully backed the truck out to the front of the barn and turned it around into a blaze of headlights. He stalled the motor in fright. The cabin door was ripped open; a heavy hand dragged him out and threw him to the ground. He felt a boot kicking in his ribs, and then a gun was pressed against his head. The safety clicked off.
“Okay, ‘motherfucker’, you got five seconds before I blow your brains out. Where’s Sammy and Mike?” shouted a voice.
“Detective Mackenzie,” asked the voice.
Mac jumped round and saw a thin, tousled-hair youth dressed up in a security uniform that looked three sizes too big. The guard was clutching a picture of Mason in his hand. “You don’t have to fucking creep up on me like that,” he replied. “Yeah I’m Mac.”
The guard scratched his nose. “Good news. I can ID this Joe. It was definitely him driving the Fairview tanker.”
While the news was confirmation, it didn’t improve Mac’s mood. “What took you so long?” he said. Then he quickly changed his mind. “It’s ok; I’m having a hard day. Just hold on here for a while. I need you to help out.”
“Detective, I got my girlfriend and kid waiting for me,” he said pointing to the firework display.
Mac took hold of his arm and squeezed. “Listen up real good. The safety of your beloved angels could depend upon it. Give them a call now and tell them to back off up into the terraces.” He could see the guard thinking it through. “Don’t ask questions, just do it,” he ordered.
Rusty made it back in a hurry with bolt cutters, axes and various other tools that he carried in a large toolbox. “This should do it,” he said. But then he looked at the door with the Sargent and Greenleaf padlock and whistled in amazement.
“What’s up?” asked Mac.
Rusty pointed to the padlock. “This is top-dollar military gear, my bolt cutters aren’t going to shift this in a hurry,” he replied. “Better, I find another way in.” Rusty moved around and tested the window bars. “No way in there; these are made of hardened steel like the door. Only one thing for it.” He pointed to the tiled roof. “Give me a hand up, I’ll take a look.”
Mac looked at his watch. Just past eight. If anything was planned, they wouldn’t be able to stop it in time. And then there was a succession of explosions, and the sky lit up.
The big ape was counting down the seconds. Didn’t seem the nervous type. He could count too. Probably meant every word. The bird watcher hadn’t a clue who Sammy and Mike were, or these gangsters. But when you’re one second away from having your brains blown away, you cough out something, anything, to delay visiting the black hole. “I’ll show you,” he said.
“That’s better,” replied the ape. He took a step back, still pointing the gun. “Make one wrong move ‘motherfucker’, you’re history.”
The bird watcher nearly laughed, but his ribs couldn’t take the added strain. What a stereotype, huh? Mike and Sammy could be the kids, Sammy being short for Samantha. He levered himself up, and motioned for the big ape to follow him.
“Just hold it there,” said the big ape. “Put your hands behind your back.” The bird watcher heard several car doors open and then felt his hands being tied together. “Okay, move it, we haven’t got all night.”
The bird watcher moved back through the barn and pointed to the limo. “In the trunk,” he said. Turned around to face several goons with machine guns. All in black suits. One of the better dressed goons seemed to be in charge. Looked at the limo up to the wheel arch in slurry. Didn’t want to get his black shiny shoes any more scuffed. Nodded to the big ape. “Bernie, take a look.”
That worried the bird watcher. Not just ‘take a look,’ but ‘Bernie, take a look.’ Mentioning names meant no witnesses, no loose ends. Clearly he was on the guest list. He addressed the head goon. “Mister, I’m Nick Shepherd.” Now they knew his name, as if it was going to help. “I’m not the guy who killed the tank driver and...”
The head goon interrupted him. “Shut the fuck up,” he shouted, motioning for another goon to make sure.
Nick felt his collar bone snap as the gun butt knocked him to the ground again. He sat still, cradling his shoulder, biting back the pain, and waited. Not for long though.
“It’s some kid,” yelled Bernie, hauling the body over his shoulder and sloshing back through the slurry to the barn. He dumped it in front of Nick. Still unconscious. “Who’s this?” he spat. The goons looked on.
Clearly not Mike then. “It’s not Mike, then?” said Nick. As though very surprized.
“No it fuckin’ ain’t, asshole.” The dirty wet boot slammed into Nick’s body. “I said, who’s this?”
“He’s been drugged.” Another dirty wet boot into his body. Nick gagged blood and vomit. “I don’t know.” Another boot. “I – don’t – know.” Gasping and retching now.
The head goon took pity on him. “Kill him,” he ordered.
“No, no wait,” screamed Nick. “You’ve got it all wrong. Just listen up for god’s sake.”
The head goon nodded and put a hand out to restrain the big ape. He moved in close and wiped his scuffed shoes clean on Nick’s pants.
“Well, I’m listening,” he said.