Road Phantoms - Chapter 02

 

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  At anytime over a million trucks are professionally driven on the highways and by-ways of America. Carrying everything from acid to yachts. Not all loads are so innocuous. Some are precious and some are out-right lethal. For loads that are deemed dangerous or valuable to be referred to as High-Security, special trucks are used. Trucks that look so normal, one would never guess it from any other. Trucks that run in secret, apart from their company, called Ghost Fleets. Others have no markings at all, and are specially modified. One such company that specializes in High-Security Loads; Phantom Lines....

 

Anyone that stood along the roadside, would swear they felt the ground shake. Five 18-wheelers roaring onto the highway from the side road. As it opened up into multiple lanes then merged to the interstate, the trucks began to jockey for position.

"Well. We're out of here. Let's have some tunes." MiLo called out over the secure radio.

Faust chuckled. "I have one that's perfect. Open Channel."

All five drivers switched over to the Channel and Faust set to transmit then brought up the song. A moment later, the opening riff of Take Me Down by The Pretty Reckless began to play. Back at the terminal for Phantom Lines, Lacey patched the channel through to speakers in the bays. It wasn't often so many trucks left at once, so the drivers liked to make an event of it. She found it funny. But there was no denying Taylor Momsen had the seductress part down.

PeaceMaker had switched lanes and started to pull ahead. MiLo grabbed another gear to come around him.

"You gonna spur that hawse?" MiLo challenged.

SuJa called back, laughing. "LET 'ER BUCK!"

The big red Peterbilt shifted over to an outside lane and Faust laughed. "First one to the cloverleaf? What's the deal?"

"Aw, HELL NO!" SuJa up-shifted.

PeaceMaker had glanced in his mirror then exclaimed over his mic. "Look out! IT'S TRIP!"

The grey Kenworth had dropped back, but now was bearing down on them. Black smoke streamed out of the twin 6 inch stacks as it closed on the line of trucks driving abreast with one lane empty between them. That lane now being consumed by Trip-9.

"Better grab another gear and drop the hammer. You're all racing for second." Trip-9 said flatly and roared past them.

Faust stomped his accelerator down, pulled out of gear, let off the pedal, slipped it into the next gear and put the pedal down again. "Its on, girl."

The others were 'floating' their gears as well, shifting without using the clutch. The gears of big trucks were not synchronized, that was how they were able to do so. The technique required a feel for the truck. Literally. The engine sound was the most common gauge, but an experienced driver could feel through the steering wheel and floorboards when the gears needed to be changed. It became a little tricky if a driver had the engine retarder on, otherwise known as Jake-Brakes. It used the engine's compression against itself to slow down a truck. Using that device was what caused the throaty, growling and sometimes crackling sound associated with trucks. The larger the stack, the louder the sound. Any liquid that found its way down the stack, made the crackle or popping sound.

Jodi took note of his position in the mirror and up-shifted again. One behind the other, they hit the cloverleaf at high speed and took the long curving ramp to go East, followed by SuJa. PeaceMaker took the Northbound ramp. Only MiLo went West. As the song faded out, Lacey turned off the patch to the bays. She sipped her diet soda and updated information. No routes would be changed.

 

~*~*~*~

 
Allegany Ballistics Labs: Rocket Center, West Virginia

Chuck Wheldon stood on the loading dock as a blue Peterbilt slowly backed up. Its doors had been opened by the driver before backing the last twenty feet to the dock to gently bump the edge. The driver climbed down and strode over to the steps and met him.

"Chuck Wheldon?" MiLo asked. "I'm SuJa. Here to pick up load number 47261-52."

Chuck nodded. The driver fit the description, as did the truck. The papers on his clipboard were authentic as well. He waved to the waiting men. "It's him. Load it."

One man went to the truck and set up the ramp. Two forklifts slowly took in shrink-wrapped pallets of plastic looking crates. The trailer was being loaded with missile components. The solid fuel and engine assembly.

SuJa counted every crate on each pallet, keeping a count. He also checked many of the crates' seals. As the fourth pallet was about to go inside he stopped it. "Hold it!"

Everyone stopped and watched as he looked over a crate then waved. "Problem. No seal on this crate. I'm kicking it."

"SHIT! Give us a minute." Chuck said then waved them all to stop.

The crate was pulled and visually inspected then opened and inspected by a supervisor. He determined the components were in order and authorized the crate closed and sealed. SuJa verified it was now satisfactory and allowed the pallet to be re-wrapped then loaded. Two rows of ten pallets, twenty total. Chuck signed the manifest where SuJa marked then took the yellow copy.

After SuJa had pulled the truck up and closed the doors. They were locked and sealed. Chuck also noticed that he was now armed and wore a jacket that matched his pants.

"SuJa." Chuck called out.

SuJa turned around. "Yeah?"

Chuck shrugged. "What's it mean?"

SuJa grinned. "Suicide Jockey. Later."

One of the security guards walked over. "Is he serious?"

"I remember now. Back in the old days. Horse and wagon; they carried dynamite and nitroglycerin. It was called Suicide Runs and the guys driving the wagons became known as Suicide jockeys. The ways have changed, but the name stuck. Yeah, he's serious." Chuck said.

The truck rolled out of sight without any indication of the dangerous load inside. By noon the next day it rolled in to Raytheon's facility in Waltham, Massachusetts. Within minutes the last pallet rolled off and other pallets became to be loaded. Once again, SuJa inspected them before nodding for them to be loaded. Fully assembled AIM-9X II SideWinder missiles. These crates were longer so instead of ten pallets per row, there were only eight and they had to be secured with a series of extendable bars called load-locks and straps.

Jerry Booker signed the manifest. "You're all set SuJa. No idea why they called in somebody like you. This is a regular load."

"They pay, I roll. Standing around asking why, slows up the works." SuJa replied then went to his tractor. He pulled forward then came back to close, lock and seal the doors.

It was true that other carriers routinely carried these loads. This time was different. Raytheon Security filed a report that they suspected a load information was going to be compromised. This shipment in particular. The OSI had been contacted. A surveillance team verified the threat. The load of Sidewinders marked for Joint Base Langley-Eustis was targeted. Once again, the blue Peterbilt rolled out.

SuJa knew the story. It had been in the paperwork to expect possible hijacking. Outside Raytheon's gate, he pulled on the helmet and fastened the five-point harness. The trailer doors had an interior set of locks that only he could release from inside the tractor. He sent the underway signal over his satellite link.

Not long after he was on the interstate, they came.

"Howdy boys. Nice of you to show up and keep me awake for a while." SuJa chuckled to himself and trod down on the pedal.

The powerful 3406 CAT engine roared as he picked up speed and switched gears. As the big truck neared one hundred miles per hour they made their move on him. A white cargo van pulled up along side. The passenger waved to get his attention then motioned him to pull over.

SuJa looked down then smirked and gave them the middle-finger. "I'm gonna to piss you assholes off. How d'ya like me now?"

He pressed the alarm button. It sent the signal to Phantom that his truck was now under a hijack attempt. The passenger leaned out his window with an assault rifle. SuJa didn't even give him a chance. He let off the pedal and the Jake-Brakes roared, slowing the truck. He down-shifted and floored it. The Peterbilt surged forward.

"WHAT THE FUCK?" The driver of the van yelped as the big Peterbilt nudged his back end.

Suddenly the truck surged forward again, banging the van and causing it to slide around then slide sideways in front of the truck. He let off then rammed ahead. the van was pinned sideways in front of the truck. The tires blew and were shredded away to the rims, now throwing a shower of sparks. SuJa backed off again and rammed it. The wheels caught and the van rolled over onto its side. The Peterbilt didn't slow down and caught it from rolling over again and continued to push it along on its side, uncaring of the scene inside.

The passenger looked in horror as his driver screamed. When the van had flipped over, his arm slipped out the open window to be pinned underneath and ground away between the road and van. Now the driver was going about the noisy business of bleeding to death. Quickly the passenger turned the rifle and shot him in the head to end the suffering. It was a struggle, but he started to climb up to push his upper body out of his own window. If he could do that, then he could shoot at the driver of the truck and kill him.

SuJa smiled inside his helmet as he saw the rifleman emerge from the passenger window and turn his gun on him. Round after sparking round bounced harmlessly off the windshield. SuJa let off then rammed again, knocking him back down into the van. He could see that the hijacker went straight down to the other window. His feet hit speeding pavement causing his legs to be pulled under. It took only a moment for the pain to hit, but the fear already had him screaming.

Finally the van began to drift to the side and slide away, slamming into the concrete support column of an overpass as the big blue Peterbilt roared on by undeterred. After two miles, SuJa switched off the alarm and sent the All-Secure signal. Several people had seen the event, but only one person called it in. By the time the State police were brought in, he was already over the state line. SuJa made his drop-off at the base within his scheduled time without further incident.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Winnisimmet, Massachusetts:

"Are you sure about this?" Kennedy Pena asked.

Chief Willie Pena nodded. "The Regional for ATF assured me, this guy can do it."

Reed pointed. "Is that him?"

A big red Peterbilt slowed and turned in. It stopped and they saw a man wearing dark red open one of the trailer doors, hook it then the other and climbed back into the tractor. The truck pulled around the face outward then rolled back and stop to gently bump the edge of the loading dock. After climbing out of the cab again, he slowly walked toward them and lifted himself up to greet them.

Willie's eyes were immediately drawn to the two hand cannons strapped to the man's thighs before the clipboard in his hand. "Right on time."

"Chief Pena." The driver wearing dark red leather pants and jacket softly growled before turning to Kennedy and Reed. "Hello. Such nice company you keep."

Kennedy didn't like the way he talked. It set her on edge so she glared at him. "Let's just tend to business. Mister?"

"Faust. I like; business. Shall we get to it?" Faust practically purred then tossed a wink to Reed and looked to Willie. "I'm picking up ten pallets of small-arms. Lot numbers; 2085591 through 2085601."

Willie nodded. "Yeah. You understand; this is a high-risk load?"

Faust chuckled malevolently. "Of course. I wouldn't be here, were it NOT."

Willie saw him produce a silver coin and begin to tumble it across the backs of his fingers of his left hand. A difficult task itself, but this guy was doing it easily with leather gloves on. That's when he remembered something the Regional supervisor said.

"Willie. The driver coming; his name is Faust. He's dangerous. You don't have to worry about the guns. Just worry about HIM. He's STRANGE. If he has a coin out, DON'T take it. Bad things happen to people that get his coin." The ATF Supervisor informed him.

Willie asked. "How bad, Deputy Director Hale?"

"Death, usually." Jeremy Hale said flatly. "All the people that wind up with those coins, die or go to jail for a very long time. Faust has the devil's luck. Any time there's been an attempted hijacking, they all die. More than once, the truck and trailer were completely blown off the road, he walks away without a scratch on him. Anybody he gives that coin to, is rotten."

Willie watched him play with the coin as the Evidence Clerk brought out the first pallet of crated guns.

Reed was watching him too. "The trucks were hijacked the last two times the Department tried to get rid of guns. What makes you different?"

"Have they now? Well, that makes things more exciting for me, doesn't it?" Faust smiled to the teenager then held up the coin. "If you really want to know, we could make a deal. You look like a smart young man. What say you?"

Willie caught his attention. "Reed. That's not our concern. He's the man for the job and leave it at that."

Suddenly Faust turned to look at the pallet being loaded and smiled. As the clerk came out, he commented. "Such dedication! You're a good Lumper."

"Uh, yeah. Thanks." The clerk replied.

All three watched Faust in confusion. From that moment on; he never took his eyes off the clerk, except for a minute when he went inside the trailer then came back out smiling. The coin continued to tumble over his gloved fingers.

When the last pallet was loaded, Faust flipped the coin to him. "Good job LOADING me up. Thank you. For EVERYTHING. Quite a DEAL."

Willie was about to say something, but the clipboard was in front of him before he could.

"Sign on the line, WILFREDO PENA." Faust growled with a leer. "And we; will be DONE."

Willie Pena had met many different kinds over the years. Good, bad and wild. Some were even crazy. But when he looked in the eyes of the man in front of him, he saw pure evil delight. It was there, burning like a fever in his dark eyes. As if Faust now knew something was going to happen, something he WANTED to happen. Without a word, Willie signed and felt like he had just sealed someone's fate. Or signed away a soul that wasn't his own.

Faust tore out a copy, handed it to him then turned with a smile to drop down from the dock and laughed. "A bargain! The best I ever HAD."

"Uh, Dad?" Reed asked, confused.

Willie stared as the truck was pulled forward. "Not now Son."

They heard a song started to play and a haunting male voice began to sing lyrics that sounded sinister.

If you feel alive. In a darkened room. Do you know the name, of your solitude? If you ain't got the answer. If you dont know the truth. If you want the power. Then let it flow through.

Kennedy said softly. "That's Danzig. I knew somebody that used to listen to him alot."

Would you let it go? Oh. Would you let it go? OH! Would you let it go? Oh, OH! WOULD YOU LET IT GO? They cannot end this morning. Of my life. Show me. How the gods, KILL!

Faust finished securing the doors and waved over his shoulder, laughing, as the song erupted into full volume. He climbed in and a moment later the truck began to pull out.

Willie spun around to the clerk, who was looking at the coin in his hand. "Alright Ed! Spill it! What did you do?"

Ed Haynes looked shocked. "H-How? NOTHING!"

"He's the leak!" Kennedy said, putting two and two together.

Ed tried to bolt, but Reed was faster and tackled him, bringing him down. Willie leaped onto him as well and began to cuff him.

"ONE COP DEAD AND THREE IN THE HOSPITAL BECAUSE OF YOU!" Willie yelled.

Ed protested. "You don't understand! The Connors knew I worked here. That I'd know when guns were being moved. THEY'LL Kill ME IF I DON'T TELL THEM. THEY TOLD ME TO PUT THE TRACKER IN THE TRUCK!"

"He knew." Kennedy said, now understanding everything. "Somehow, he knew Ed did it. OH MY GOD! Willie, he WANTS them to try for him!"

"The Devil's luck." Willie said, more to himself than anyone else. "Anytime there's been a hijacking of his truck, they all die. Even if the truck is blown off the road; he walks away without a scratch. OH GOD, just WHAT have I turned LOOSE?"

Faust up-shifted again. The feeling was there and he looked at the small box, the size of a pack of cigarettes. The tracking device was working perfectly. He didn't feel the need to tell them there was a scanner in his trailer and it signaled to him that it had detected a transmitter. In no time at all, he was approaching the city limits. He saw them in the distance. A medium-duty box truck blocking the road with two pick-ups in front of it. Two cars were parked on the side of the road and several men were scattered around the improvised road-block.

He pulled the helmet on, hit the alarm button then switched off his headlights and turned on a different set of lights. The underside and space between the tractor and trailer were almost floodlit with red light. Songs were changed with the push of a button and Mother by Danzig began to play. Faust laughed as he down-shifted, trod down on the pedal then pressed a button on the backside of the shift.

"What the fuck? Darren you think this guy doesn't understand, he's going to stop?" David Connors asked.

Darren spoke around the cigarette between his lips. "We're gonna kill him anyway, who cares. Huh?"

The brothers saw the lights of the truck change as it sped up. It was glowing red and flames shot from the twin stacks as the big diesel roared louder.

"Is this guy fucking crazy? SHOOT HIM!" Darren Conners ordered.

Pistols and assault rifles began to shoot at the truck, but the bullets merely sparked across it and amplified laughter rang out from the truck. The truck roared as it slammed into their roadblock and several were pinned between vehicles. The truck continued on through like the battering ram it was, clearing the road. The box truck was finally shoved to the side as it rolled over.

Faust pressed the alarm button again then stopped. He backed up and stopped again then climbed down. Several men were struggling to get their bearings or stumbled around. Their situation was resolved quickly when Faust pulled the two Wildey .475 Magnums from the holsters. Each cartridge had to be hand-loaded and the slugs had been milled, from 666 Stainless Steel. Annealed or Cold-Worked Austenitic Stainless Steel - A666. There was no need for any personal insignia to be detailed on the flat of the slug. Its composition was signature enough. The hardened slugs could tear through ballistic vests with ease, not that these men were wearing any.

David and Darren Connors fell to the ground staring in horror at the gun-toting man-demon approaching them as he laughed over loudspeakers from the truck.

"Wh-Who the Hell are YOU?" Darren demanded.

One of the guns was holstered and the man produced a coin that he flipped and caught. "That will cost you to know. Do we have a Deal?"

"YEAH!" Darren ground out in pain.

Faust flipped the coin to him and pulled off his helmet while it was in the air. Darren caught it and saw the man's face, smiling in absolute pleasure as the gun in his hand bucked twice. One shot for Darren and one for David, killing both.

Faust turned back for the truck, laughing. "Faust. A Deal is a Deal."

In Darren's right hand facing up was the coin, showing an ornate stamped F. Six dollars and sixty-six cents of hand-cast sterling silver. Faust's trademark, that his truck had an attempted hijacking. His laugh lowered to a chuckle as he sent the all-clear signal and drove away, heading to Houston for the ATF warehouse there.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Federal Evidence Storage- Chicago, Illinois;

Agent John Wahlpool stood on the loading dock watching the gate. "So when's this guy going to get here Dean?"

"Any minute now." Agent Dean Scranton answered. "I was told I'd know him when I saw him."

"Well we need to hurry up and get this shit out of here. The Marlans are pissed we seized it. Even more when we found their rat and shut him up." John reminded.

Dean sighed. He wanted to hate the agent-turned informant, but he understood. He may have been an agent, but he was also a father and husband. They had taken his wife and kids. Dean had been on the recovery team that got them back. Currently Harry Marlans' eldest son was in lock-up, sharing a cell with the biggest, meanest bad-ass they had inside. The man had killed ten men in a club in a beat-down. Worse for anyone else, he had no ties to any gang or group. A group of ViceLords had gang-raped his sister during an initiation. She was only 17 and now in a coma from the beating to make her submit.

They both perked up when the sound of a diesel engine slowing down could be heard followed by a black rig coming into view. It easily pulled in then turned about and stopped. The driver climbed down and went to open the trailer doors.

Dean began to laugh. "I should've known it would be HIM."

John looked over then back to the driver and back to his partner. "Dean-o, you can't be serious. For Christ's sake, he's wearing fucking spurs!"

Dean continued to laugh as the truck bumped the dock and the driver walked up.

"Dean-o. I knew I should've turned this one down." PeaceMaker commented.

Dean glared back. "Yeah. And if I'd known it was you, I'd have said screw it and sent this shit out UPS."

The stare-down lasted a few seconds then both men erupted into laughter and shook hands.

"Damn, its been a while." Colt said. "How long you been with this bunch?"

Dean nodded. "Too long. I been with them for three years now. I got fed up with all the weekend warrior wanna-be's ATF deals with."

"Uh." John regarded the two in confusion.

Dean looked over. "John. Colt Denton, PeaceMaker. Best transporter on eighteen wheels. PeaceMaker, John Wahlpool, my partner."

PeaceMaker shook hands. "You have my sympathy. Or should I say, pity? How'd you get stuck with this idiot, John, consolation prize for losing a raffle at Wal-mart?"

John shook his head. "Worse. I came over from a Vice unit in St. Louis. During a raid on a cat-house I caught The Drip. DEA said I could have a new treatment, but had to work with him. Suffering is part of the treatment they said."

"And now you know the true meaning of regret. I'd have told them I'd rather keep The Drip." PeaceMaker said with a straight face.

Dean shook his head. "I gave up rednecks with burning crosses that can't even spell racism, for this?"

"Yeah. You did. Now load the truck, boy." PeaceMaker drawled then laughed.

Dean waved to the two Evidence Clerks. They began bringing out pallets with forklifts and loading them inside the trailer. Twenty-two pallets went in under close watch.

John noticed PeaceMaker kept looking at something as each pallet went into the trailer. "What's up?"

PeaceMaker held up what looked like a pager. "Scanner. It tells me if any kind of transmitter is planted in the trailer. Clean so far."

"Its old school you should be worried about. They probably have a dedicated team watching the building to call an intercept team with a description of your truck." Dean commented.

PeaceMaker shrugged. "Its their funerals for trying."

John asked. "You want an escort? We can get some cars to go with you."

"Bad idea John. We'd just be getting in his way. Once Peacemaker gets a gear, anything that gets in his way is toast. Or Roadkill." Dean said.

"That's right." PeaceMaker said then held out the clipboard. "Sign your life away Dean."

The DEA agent took it and began to sign. "Yeah, yeah. If the shit ain't real or short, you'll come back and shoot me then drag my body behind your truck all the way to D.C. I know."

PeaceMaker took the clipboard back and dropped down from the dock. "That's right. Channel 30, Raffle and Drip."

They watched him pull forward then walk back and secure the door. He waved over his shoulder and climbed back into the truck. Two quick blasts on the air horn and he started rolling out.

Dean sighed. "There he goes. 70 feet long and close to 40 tons; chrome, steel and pure mean-ness. The Marlans family would be better off not trying for this load. Come on 'Drip', let's go find a C.B. and listen to the carnage."

"Thousands of comedians on the streets, starving to death trying to be funny and I made a joke that got me stuck with a shitty nick-name." John griped.

PeaceMaker up-shifted and headed for the interstate. He'd barely made a mile and a half when a Chicago P.D. cruiser pulled up alongside with his lights on. PeaceMaker up-shifted again and increased his speed, now coming up on eighty miles per hour. The police cruiser was keeping up with him and an officer stuck his arm out the window and waved at him to pull over.

A voice called over the C.B. "Black WesternStar. Pull over!"

Peacemaker spun his wheel left instead and shoved them into the K-rails and pulled away without dropping speed. He noticed two vans and a car speeding to take over the chase. He let the van directly behind him get closer then yanked down the 'Johnson Bar', a bar on the steering column for the trailer brakes only. The tandems locked up making the speeding van plow into his back end. The armored trailer took no damage from the impact, but the van's front end was smashed in and had blood on the windshield as the truck pulled away to resume picking up speed.

Jimmy Marlans shouted. "WHO THE FUCK IS THIS GUY? HE TOOK OUT A COP CAR LIKE HE HAD A LICENSE AND NOW A VAN TOO? GET UP ON HIS SIDE. I'M GONNA SHOOT THE FUCK!"

For the first time in his life, Mickey Tole had the feeling that this was a BAD idea, but he did as he was told. He floored the pedal making the Camaro leap forward. He pulled around the truck and came up on the driver's side. Jimmy pulled out the old school Smith and Wesson .44 revolver and aimed at the window. He pulled the trigger all six times and started swearing.

"SON-OF-A-BITCH! BULLET-PROOF GLASS!" Jimmy swore then his voice went up an octave. "OH SHIT!"

The truck had tapped it brakes enough to get the car slightly ahead then swung in behind and roared forward. It was the classic PIT and slung the car sideways to be caught by the nose of the truck. Jimmy and Mickey were both yelling in anger and fear as the truck shoved them down the highway, edging toward the right side of the lanes then dropped back to rush forward and slam them. The car was launched over the side to plummet onto a street below, upside down. The other van seeing this, dropped back and took the next exit.

"Break 30." PeaceMaker called out over the C.B. "How 'bout you Raffle? You and Drip got your ears on?"

Dean groaned in reply. "We hear ya. Go ahead."

Peacemaker said to them. "Three four-wheelers of idiots, one is a local bear. I'm gone."

Dean tossed the microphone onto the dash and started the car. "That was quick. Damn he makes a big mess. Dirty cops, when will they ever learn?"

On the highway, PeaceMaker was now roaring along at over 90 miles per hour. He could see what looked like three white trucks with yellow lights running in a side-by-side formation. He switched over to channel 19 and grabbed the mic.

"Break 19." PeaceMaker called out.

A voice called back. "Go Break!"

PeaceMaker could see better now and recognized the trucks. "Southbound. Big Iron Boyz clear that get-gone lane."

"Who-dat?" A voice called out.

"PeaceMaker." PeaceMaker growled.

"Lane's yours." One of the Big Iron Boyz called.

Immediately the middle truck slowed down giving the left truck room to swing into the lane. PeaceMaker up-shifted again, taking him over the 100 mark as he went past the well-known trucks. They were rolling at the posted limit of 60, so he practically blasted by them. There were three trucks on the roads, no driver wanted to cross. PeaceMaker, Faust and the mysterious grey Kenworth supposedly driven by a woman. PeaceMaker turned on his radio and was greeted with Ronnie Milsap's Prisoner of the Highway. He turned it up loud.

In fact, every truck heading southbound heard and moved out of the far left lane. That continued for an hour after PeaceMaker left the city limits behind. Just over the state line into Missouri; a cruiser turned on his lights, swung out and closed in then backed off to slowly cross over to the Northbound lanes.

Looking in his mirrors PeaceMaker smirked. "That's right. You don't want nothing with this truck, Full-Grown."

Full-Grown being the C.B. term for State Police. The cruiser had obviously gotten close enough to run the license plate and knew to heed the warning it came with. Even though he had a radio capable of monitoring the police bands, PeaceMaker only used it inside cities. Out on the open Highways, he didn't need it. If the license plate didn't deter someone, then they were fair game for him. Not long after sunrise he pulled off the interstate onto a state highway and drove three miles.

The black WesternStar pulled in at a small station. He pulled all the way around the building to get into position between the single set of deisel pumps. An old man came out.

"How much you need, Driver?" The old man asked.

PeaceMaker nodded to him. "All I can hold."

While the old man filled the tanks, PeaceMaker checked the fluids then cleaned the windshields and mirrors. He gave the cords to the air tank valves a quick tug to purge the water out. After fueling, they went inside. Peacemaker paid for the fuel, filled two large thermos bottles with coffee and grabbed a breakfast biscuit. Within minutes he was back on the interstate en-route to Dallas, Texas.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Mike Conlow rolled in to Lake City Ammo Plant in Independence, Missouri. In the loading dock lot he opened the doors then backed up to gently nudge the dock and bailed out.

"How's it goin', eh?" MiLo asked and handed the man his clipboard.

Brandon Jackson looked over the forms and nodded. "Your accent threw me for a minute. Paperwork's in order."

"Always is. You ready?" MiLo asked.

"Yep." Brandon replied the called over his shoulder. "Load up!"

Two forklifts came out and began to carefully load up the pallets. MiLo checked what looked like a pager on the belt of his jacket and marked off each pallet going in. Finally he handed over the clipboard.

"Fourteen pallets of 30 millimeter Depleted Uranium rounds. Sign there." MiLo said.

Brandon signed and handed the clipboard back. "Satisfied? Good to roll?"

MiLo tore out a copy. "Yep. Anything new?"

"Yeah. Everybody thinks this load is going to Fort Hood, Texas. Just in case. All good?" Brandon remarked then gave him a thumbs-up.

MiLo chuckled. "All good. Don't let 'em work you too hard."

Brandon just shook his head and chuckled too. MiLo hopped off the dock and went back to climb up into the tractor. He pulled forward ten feet then went back and secured the doors. As he went back to the cab he chambered his pistol then zipped up the jacket and pulled on the helmet. In the driver's seat he latched the harness and sent the load out signal. As he rolled out he played his favorite song, Road Hammer.

Carefully he watched his mirrors and saw a pick-up that was keeping a fair amount of distance. MiLo just grinned, he already had a plan to deal with them if they actually were following him. At the next exit he turned off and rolled to the truck-stop he had spotted earlier. A big Petro. The light grey WesternStar rolled through the gate and headed for the parking area. The pick-up had followed him, but had to stop. It wasn't allowed in there.

"Aww. What's the matter? The mean ol' gate guard won't let your little pick 'em up truck in, eh?" MiLo laughed to himself then rolled behind a line of trucks.

He pulled up Chris Rea's Workin' On It and headed for the back gate and rolled right out. As he rolled past the front of the truckstop he was hidden by another truck beside him. He turned onto the ramp and began to up-shift as another big truck was right behind him. He was laughing as he hit ninety-five miles per hour. MiLo knew they would be going crazy soon. By the time they figured out he wasn't there, they wouldn't know which way he'd gone and would never catch up.

"Better luck next time hosers!" MiLo said to himself as he drove off into the night heading for Moody Air Force Base in Georgia.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Jodi spun the wheel to make the turn for the gate of Shaw Air Force Base. The Airman at the gate waved her forward with his flashlight then climbed up to see her ID and check it against the list. He walked around the truck, playing the beam underneath it and noted its number then pointed to the side. The dark grey Kenworth pulled forward and over. A dog was brought out and circled the truck.

Another Airman waved to her. "I need to look inside the cab."

Jodi waved back for him to go around to the other side. He heard locks then tried the handle. The door swung open and he climbed up to look inside.

"Holy shit! What kind of truck is this?" The MP asked, seeing the framework of a roll-cage and the woman was firmly strapped in with a five-point harness.

Trip just looked at him. "You done?"

Slowly he backed down from the truck. "Yeah. Follow that Hummer."

After a wave to proceed, the Hummer led the way with Trip-9 following close behind. Slowly the truck was directed to the base Ammunition Supply Point, A.S.P. At the depot she climbed down and opened the doors then backed into to dock. Once again Jodi had to show her ID. Both her license and Military ID. It took a few minutes to confirm her clearances, but all came back in order.

One by one, pallets were brought out. Jodi almost crawled all over each one, looking for anything out of the ordinary before waving it to be sealed and loaded. Two metal cases on each of the ten pallets down both sides of the trailer. Forty warheads, three mega-ton yield each. After each pallet was secured, Jodi finally came out of the trailer and handed over the clipboard.

"Sign forms 46, 71 and 139 Colonel." Jodi instructed.

The colonel looked them over and said. "I never heard of 139."

Jodi pointed it out. "139 replaces forms 29 and 36, Colonel. As of September 21, last year. Verify that."

The Colonel went over to a phone and called in. Four minutes later he hung up and began signing the forms.

"You certainly are up-to-date on procedures. My Lieutenant knew exactly what form you were talking about. I guess I'm getting old." the Colonel admitted then finished and handed the clipboard back.

Jodi shook her head as she counter-signed then tore off certain copies. "Technically, these should have been picked up ten years ago Colonel. I'm sure D.O.E. about shit when they found out these were still here."

Colonel Mekland frowned. "They did. Everybody, from the Base Commander on down to me, got REAMED."

"Uh-huh. Well, I'm good to go." Jodi stated. "Colonel."

Mekland nodded. "Safe trip."

Trip went back to the tractor and pulled forward then walked back to secure the trailer doors. She walked around the entire truck and trailer.

"What's she doing Colonel?" One of the MPs asked.

Mekland had been watching as well. "She's looking for anything that doesn't belong Airman. Such as transmitters or sabotage devices."

The MP was shocked. "You mean she thinks one of US would do that?"

"Harsh lesson Airman. When it comes to nukes, there is no such thing as trust. I'd be concerned if she didn't check her truck." Colonel Mekland stated watching her climb back into the tractor.

The truck began to roll forward then out on to the road. Ten minutes later, it rolled through the gates out into the night. Inside the truck, Jodi had already sent her load-out signal. She reached forward and switched off the third light switch, which turned off the majority of truck lights. Trip-9 was now running Black-Out and up-shifted, picking up speed. It took less than an hour to go from Shaw to Camden, South Carolina to get on Interstate 20. Merging onto the interstate, the grey Kenworth passed 70 miles per hour and continued to accelerate. She would be able to run Interstate 20 all the way to Pecos, Texas then turn North to go into New Mexico for Carlsbad.

The sun was rising just as Trip-9 rolled into Augusta, Georgia. A quick refuel stop outside Atlanta gave enough fuel to run non-stop to Marshall, Texas. Phantom Trucks never used any of the national chain truckstops when loaded. Only small places where the truck was in full view and any incident would be slow in reporting by request. Jodi drove on. Atlanta was no problem, rush hour was past. Finally in Louisiana, in the Shreveport-Bossier City area, she pulled in at Barksdale Air Force Base. There was a secure area waiting for her to sleep at.

An hour before sunrise, Jodi woke up. Quickly she walked around the truck, checking for any devices then climbed back in. A Humvee led the way back to the gate and she rolled out. Not long after, she pulled in at Pony Express; an old truckstop in Marshall, Texas. Both tanks were filled to full and she tossed out the trash from her cab. Including the gallon jug she had used to empty her bladder with. Inside she paid for the fuel, two gallons of water, filled both thermos bottles with fresh coffee and some foil-wrapped sandwiches. If Jodi had the habit, she probably would have bought cigarettes too, but she didn't. After another quick walk-around, Trip-9 was back on the road.

40 miles west of Abilene, Texas was the next refuel point; Trent, Texas. The sun was setting as the dark grey Kenworth broke from the gloom with its jake-brakes growling and turned in at the run down station.

An old man lurched out. "Fillin' up, Driver?"

"Yessir." Trip replied and uncapped the tanks for him then acknowledged his cap. "Vietnam."

"That's right. I was with the 25th. Snot-nosed kid back then." He said setting the nozzles into the tanks and began fueling.

Trip grabbed a squeegee and cleaned the windshields then mirrors. "What do you hear, West-bound?"

The old man spit to the side. "Got a Sheriff down there, this side of Pecos. * Pogue County. He's about as mean as a Two-Step Charlie and twice as sneaky."

"Speed-trap?" Trip asked.

"He done learned himself a new trick. He sets himself up a fake road close and makes folk detour off the interstate and then gets into his town where he can fine 'em every dollar they got. If they ain't got enough, he takes whatever they do have. Including trucks and cars." The old man said angrily.

Trip nodded grimly. "Big mistake to try that with me."

The old man nodded to the station. "You might be wantin' to call Highway Patrol to make sure there ain't no real Road Closing."

"I can do that from in the truck." Trip said.

The pumps stopped and he hung up the nozzles and came back around. "Anything else?"

Trip pulled cash from the inner pocket of her jacket. "That's it."

She pulled off the notes and handed them over. He took them and counted out change from his own pocket and hand-wrote a receipt.

"Thanks." Trip said, pocketing the ticket and zipped the jacket.

The old man pointed to her guns. "Missy, them hawg-legs will get Sheriff Bocum's attention real quick if you get down from that truck. I ain't lying, he'll shoot as soon as look at you."

Trip was climbing back up into the cab. "He can try. Take care Trooper."

He watched her start the engine, strap in and pull on a helmet then close the door. "Lord-a-mighty. Something tells me Bocum should sit around drinkin' beer tonight."

As Trip-9 merged back onto the Interstate she used the cellphone to call in. A few minutes later Troy himself called back, Texas Highway Patrol stated there were no closures for I-20. That suited her just fine. It didn't take long and she was pushing 110 miles per hour as night fell. Miles flew by under her wheels. Twice she saw police lights come on after she passed and give chase, only to back off after getting close enough for the license plate to be run.

"Break 19 West-bound." A voice called out on the C.B.

Another voice answered. "Go Break."

The first voice called out. "West-bound is detouring Exit 91."

"Rod-jo, rod-jo. I'll keep an eyeball out for it. 10-10-on the side." The second voice replied.

Trip felt it was a set-up. Neither party had identified themselves nor had the reason for the detour been stated. Another factor was that she had just passed mile marker 101. She was being given plenty off warning about the road up ahead. Sure enough, a crude barricade came into view. The real give-away was that the signs had obviously been hand painted and marked with flares, not blinking lights.

"Pathetic." Trip muttered to herself and held her speed, crashing through the make-shift barrier.

Seconds later blue lights came on and gave chase. Jodi switched songs and cranked the volume. The remix of Gavin Rossdale's Adrenaline began to play and she floored the pedal and upshifted for the last gear. Trip-9 lurched and settled into building more speed. The alarm was activated and the big truck roared on.

In the squad car a deputy called over the radio. "SHERIFF! I GOT A LIVE ONE. THE DAMN TRUCK JUST BLEW THROUGH THE BARRICADE!"

"Bobby. Turn on your lights and run 'em down." Sheriff Bocum answered.

Bobby protested. "I'm doin' that already! I'm doin' a hun'ert 'n fi'teen and that damn truck is just up and walkin' off!"

Bocum snapped at him. "Trucks don't go that fast, Boy! No trucker'd try to out run a cop."

"West-end! That truck's a comin' Block 'em!" Bobby called in frustration.

A voice called back. "We just pulled our cars out, Bobby. C.C. is pulling out his truck to block further on."

Bocum jumped back in. "I'll go to C.C.'s truck. Ya'll better stop that truck first!"

None of them had any clue that Jodi's scanner had found their frequency and she was listening to their exchange. One by one she checked the loads of her two Colt 10mm pistols. Then she worked the zipper of her jacket up to the collar. Once the helmet visor snapped down, It would take anti-armor rounds to bring her down. Just in case, she shoved two of the rifle's magazines into her jacket pockets.

Up ahead she saw the two cars blocking the road and a handful of flares leading to them. Visions of Baghdad faded in and out as she found herself screaming the song lyrics like she had back then.

"Too much is not enough! Nobody gave it up! I'm NOT the kind! TO LAY DOWN AND DIE!" Trip sang at the top of her lungs and slammed through the cars. "ADRENALINE, SCREAMING OUT YOUR NAME! ADRENALINE, 'CAUSE YOU DON'T EVEN FEEL THE PAIN! WILDER THAN YOUR WILDEST DREAMS! I'M GOIN' TO EXTREMES! TASTE ADRENALINE."

A hundred yards further a tractor and dump trailer blocked the road. It was easily seen the trailer was full of debris. Trip locked up the brakes and corrected to prevent a jack-knife. As soon as the truck lurched she threw it from gear and hit both valves to lock the brakes and bailed out, grabbing the REC-7 before clearing the cab.

"FREEZE!" Bocum yelled then started shooting with his Smith & Wesson revolver.

Trip brought up the assault rifle and switched to AUTO and let loose a burst of 6.8mm that chewed up the front of the pick-up truck and drove him down behind it. Bullets began smacking into her back, drawing Trip's attention. She turned and triggered off another burst, dropping the Deputy to writhe on the road. Trip snapped the visor down and stalked toward the truck. A long burst ripped into the truck from the REC-7 and magazines were changed.

"SON-OF-A-BITCH!" Bocum swore trying to reload his revolver.

Shots from behind again gained her attention and she spun and let loose two bursts that almost tore the second corrupt Deputy in half. She turned back and send another volley into the side of the blocking tractor. The driver inside barely avoided being hit by any. Quickly he understood what was wanted and started up the truck then backed it into the median strip. He then had to duck from bullets being fired from the Sheriff.

"PULL THAT TRUCK BACK UP HERE!!" Bocum yelled after shooting twice.

A quick stitch of rounds through his legs made him flop onto the road.

"I'M A FUCKIN' SHERIFF YA SUM BITCH! YOU AIN'T EVEN GONNA MAKE IT TO MY JAIL!" Bocum cursed and raised his pistol.

A burst into his shoulder rendered it useless and the revolver dropped. Trip bore down with the assault rifle.

Bocum glared with hatred. "I'm the goddamn law here! I'll have you hung! Who the fuck do you think you are?"

Trip just held down the trigger,sending the remaining rounds to hammer through his chest and turned away. "Trip-9."

Slowly she walked back to her truck, retrieving the spent magazine along the way. Trip began to roll forward and went around the discarded pick-up. She turned off the alarm and sent the all-clear signal. Her phone rang, so she answered it using the Bluetooth to her helmet.

"Go." Trip answered.

Troy Montaine's voice asked. "Status?"

Trip replied. "Secure and rolling. Three bodies."

"Highway Patrol is on the way." Troy warned.

"I'm already gone. Trip-9, out." Trip said then disconnected.

Five minutes later two highway patrol cars stopped at the wreckage.

"Jesus Christ! What the Hell happened?" One of the patrolmen asked.

The other shook his head. "Earlier, a truck blasted past me. I ran the plate and got a Federal warning. Looks like that jack-ass Bocum tried to hijack it."

"What do you mean; a warning?" The first patrolman asked.

"You just started on your own. There's a group of trucks. Those trucks haul government loads and have license plates that tell you to back off. The one I just saw, told me not just to back off. It told me the driver is dangerous. That means they were hauling stuff we don't want no part of. You see a warning come up, obey it. Let THIS be a lesson to you." The older Patrolman pointed to the now dead Sheriff. "A badge don't mean shit when it comes to those trucks."

They called in for services to come clean up the highway. The driver of the dump truck was detained for questioning, sometime during which, men in dark suits visited.

It was late morning when the dark grey Kenworth rolled through Carlsbad, New Mexico. It stopped at a facility called WIPP. Waste Isolation Pilot Plant. After being unloaded, it rolled back out.

 

~*~*~*~

 

MiLo walked into Troy Montaine's office. "You wanted to see me?"

Troy stood up. "Come in Mike. Ted, this is Mike Conlow."

"I've been looking forward to meeting you." Ted stood up and offered his hand, his Canadian accent was evident.

"Hi. What's up?" MiLo asked.

Troy sat back down. "Think of Ted as my counterpart in Canada. He came to ask if I knew of any drivers experienced with high-security willing to relocate to Vancouver. I only know one."

MiLo nodded. "That would be me."

Troy nodded back. "That's right. His offer is on the table and I have no objection. You have no obligations, but your own. Would you like to hear his offer?"

"It would be closer to family. Ok. I'll hear you out." MiLo replied.

Troy stood up and went to the door. "Take your time gentlemen."

"Thanks." Ted said.

Troy closed the door behind him and went down to Dispatch.

"Hey boss." Lacey greeted.

Troy patted her on the head. "Find that driver information for me. Silvia Petrescu, the GypsyMoth."

Lacey nodded as he left. "On it Uncle Troy."

Troy went out to the bays to look over all the trucks. Soon, the Road Phantoms would be taking the highways again.



*Author's notes- Winnismett Tales characters used with permission from their creator: efingdumb. Many thanks ef.
Pogue county, Texas is fictional and used for the purpose of this story.



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