Road Phantoms - Chapter 03

 

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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....

 

Chapter 1

Jason had been working hard all morning to finish. Trip-9's truck had taken a beating, though everyone that had seen it commented it was light damage compared to usual. Still though, he'd had to dive in and hurry to pull the damaged parts and replace them over the past three days. He stopped to go refill his cup. After a stop in the men's restroom, he went to the break room for more coffee.

He refilled it the way he liked and snapped the lid on to take a sip. "Oh Yeah."

A giggle from behind made him turn around and freeze. Red-haired twins in identical black dresses faced him, smiling.

"He's cute." The twin on the left said, added to by the twin on the right. "He's new."

Jason looked to them and stammered out. "Uh. Hi."

Slowly they approached him, still smiling and drawled in unison. "Hi."

"Can I, like, help you?" Jason asked.

The twin on the left slipped an arm over his shoulder. "Got a name?"

"Are you fun?" The twin on the right did the same.

"Um." Jason looked from one to the other then saw someone in the doorway and blurted out. "I DON'T KNOW THEM."

The twins looked to see Jodi walking in and said in unison. "Hi Trip!"

Jodi didn't even look at them. "I thought there was a Leash-law in town."

"You want to put us on leashes?" The twin on the left asked with a smile, while the twin on the right giggled and asked. "And pretty collars?"

"Get off the mechanic." Jodi said then gave them a quick glance. "Jason. That's Frick on your right. Frack is on the left. They belong to Faust."

"It's amazing how she can tell us apart." The twin on the left remarked.

The twin on the right pouted. "But she never plays with us."

"YOU will, WON'T YOU?" They asked together caressing Jason Coruthers' face.

Jason stammered. "I, uh, well."

Jodi turned around and stared coldly at the two. "Frick, Frack. Off. NOW."

Jason could swear the temperature of the room just dropped and the twins slowly moved away.

"Wow Trip." One twin commented and the other nodded. "We didn't know he belonged to you."

The leather-like pants creaked slightly as Jodi started walking to the door. "He works on my truck. He isn't done yet."

Faust asked in his usual growl-like purr as he sauntered in. "Cranky today, Trip?"

"Keep them off the mechanic." Jodi said walking out.

The twins rushed over and slipped their arms around Faust. "Trip's being MEAN."

Faust looked over to Jason. "Jason, was it? I see you've met my Sins."

Both waved to the mechanic and giggled.

"This, is Lust." Faust said seductively and kissed the one on his right, then growled and kissed the one on his left. "And this, is Envy."

"Trip won't let us play." Envy complained while Lust nodded. "We'd give him back. In a day or two."

"UGH!" Lacey groaned then glared at Faust. "What are THEY doing here?"

"LACEY." The twins whined.

Lacey ignored them and addressed Jason. "You work on Trip's truck, right? When will it be ready for her?"

Jason tried to regain his composure. "This afternoon, sometime. Does she need it tonight?"

"I need her ready to roll tomorrow morning." Lacey said then added. "Fly-by, too."

Faust looked over. "Monkey said I'm ready. I can go if you need."

Lacey shook her head. "I already have a load for you. It's right up YOUR alley."

"Fly-by is ready. I'll have Trip-9 finished this afternoon and ready to roll." Jason stated.

"Tell me when." Lacey nodded then looked over to Faust and the twins. "Do something with them."

Jason thought it best to make his way out while she was talking to them. He rushed back through the first door of the bays and slowed down as he walked to the last one.

Setting his cup down he shook his head. "Nah, that wasn't strange."

Shaking that off, he went back to work.

 

~*~*~*~

 

The next morning all drivers and mechanics were in the break room when Lacey came in.

"Faust, Stunt-man, Gypsy-moth, Fly-by and Trip; you have loads. PeaceMaker, Check-point Charlie and Hobby; standby-by. Arvee is on idle. SuJa is down." Lacey called out then looked over to a mechanic. "Danny, how long on SuJa?"

Danny nodded. "The truck'll be ready tomorrow. The idiot driving it on the other hand, can't do nothing with. He's beyond all fucking hope."

"Hey now!" SuJa said.

Everyone laughed.

Even Lacey had smiled and waved them out. "Go to work."

When all but the drivers with loads had left, Lacey began handing out envelopes. "Trip and Fly-by are a double-up. Gypsy, I know you're new and all, but you're doubling up with Stunt-man. Sorry."

Dell Seavers looked over to Lacey. "That hurts."

"I'm pretty sure I can deal." Silvia Petrescu, Gypsy-moth, replied.

Silvia was slowly getting used to the company. They were different than any other she had heard of. She had grown up behind the wheel of her father’s Peterbilt. Joined the US Army at 18 as 88H - Cargo Specialist. Silvia won her spurs running Gun trucks on Red Route 1 in Afghanistan after the first of three combat tours. The attitude of 'The load gets through, no exceptions' didn't go without notice. She was tapped to run supplies to the forward Firebases and Basecamps. In all of the runs, she never lost a load or convoy under her protection as a Gun truck driver. Served eight years before being discharged. Honorable Discharge and returned home.

The homecoming wasn't joyous; finding out that her mother and father had been killed in a Hijacking. Her parents had taken a load of small arms ammunition for the U.S. Marines. Within hours the truck was hijacked and stolen, her parents left on the side of the road dead. She spent the next two years looking for the hijackers before finding them, members of a gang subordinate to a Mexican cartel. She killed them in an all-out rolling firefight on I-10 between Pecos and El Paso, Tx. Luck was on her side, along with the law. Public opinion though, was not. No one would give her a load due to the cloud hanging over her head. Everyone thought she was heavy handed in her use of force to protect the load she was carrying. It was a load of high explosives, small arms ammunition, and AT-4’s.

That's how things had been for a year. Two weeks ago, a man with a cane showed up. Troy Montaine; and he had an offer. It was a never-ending fix for a driver like her.

Seavers looked over. "My office in five minutes?"

"Sure." Silvia nodded then went to the office Lacey had assigned her to.

Inside, Silvia changed into the new clothing given to her. Lacey had explained that though it looked cool and fit her style, it's real purpose was to protect her. The pants and feminine-looking Duster were made with ballistic material. Even the boots she had to immediately start wearing four days ago, were bullet-resistant. It felt strange to strap on the gunbelt with its two .45 caliber Heckler and Koch pistols. She had an old Colt, but Montaine shook his head and told her that she would use his guns driving his truck, or none for somebody else.

"My money; my driver, my truck, my guns." Troy said flatly. "Or not at all."

Silvia nodded. There were no two-ways with this man. It would be his way, or no way. After really checking out the truck, she really got the picture. There was NOTHING ordinary about this company. When she had asked around, mouths closed. The only thing people would say about Troy Montaine was, If you needed something, somewhere? He was the man, but don't ever try to cross him.

She then walked down to his office. "I'm ready."

Dell waved her in. "C'mon in."

Dell explained the load. Then he explained the route and why. Finally he explained the protocols. Silvia was impressed. Despite her inital thoughts of him being a bit of a flake, Stunt-man was fairly serious and thorough when explaining.

"I think maybe I need to apologize." Silvia said.

Dell leaned back against his desk. "Why's that?"

"No offense, but I thought you were a flake when I first met you." Silvia commented.

Dell laughed. "I am! I am also a professional. Professional Stunt-Man, Stunt Coordinator, Stunt Driver, Truck Driver. You can be fun and professional at the same time. So what if I'm a flake? I commit to the job when it's time to work. I never got more than bumps and bruises on set. I got hurt off-set and now I do this. Get my point? Do it right, or do it for the last time. This is JUST like stunt-work. The only difference is, you DEFINITELY don't get a second-take. Let's go."

They went to the bays and climbed into their trucks. Within five minutes, the doors lifted and they rolled out. Stunt-man's sparkling root beer color Freightliner leading Gypsy-moth's light grey WesternStar.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Fly-by met Trip in her office.

"Hey Trip. What's the skinny?" Brendan Williams, Fly-by, asked.

Jodi brought over the atlas and pages. "High speed run. Pick-up is in Hot-lanta. The Hot-Zone."

Brendan gave a low whistle. "CDC? Oh jeez. That place creeps me out."

CDC, Center for Disease Control. A Federal Agency under the Department of Health and Human Services . From the common cold to Ebola, focuses its attention on infectious disease, food borne pathogens, environmental health, occupational safety and health, health promotion, injury prevention and educational activities designed to improve health. They maintained a highly restricted research area called the Hot-Zone. Anybody that knew anything about disease research, knew about it. The doctors that worked there were the most highly trained and dedicated. Hot-Zone was for Level-5 contagions. Diseases that killed in days, or hours.

Trip looked over. "Then you're gonna LOVE where the drop-off is."

"Plum Island?" Brendan asked.

"Namtar's Fortress." Jodi replied flatly.

Brendan shivered. He'd only heard rumors of the place. It was where the military secured weaponized pathogen research. It was a classified location hidden at Dugway Proving Grounds, established in 1942 to test biological and chemical weapons, located about 85 miles southwest of Salt Lake City, Utah. Somewhere within an area the size of Rhode Island was a twenty square mile zone called Namtar's Fortress. Namtar was the Mesopotamian god of disease and death. Naming a facility that secured and researched pathogens that had become weaponized after him, wasn't that far of a stretch.

Jodi looked at him intently. "Stay inside your truck. During pick-up and drop off."

"How bad? CDC-5?" Fly-by asked.

Level-5 was the highest level of contagion, lethal, issued by the CDC.

Trip shook her head slowly. "No. This is Black-8."

That put it all into grim reality. The military had their own system for bio-agents. Red one through ten and Black one through ten. Red were naturally occurring and killed within days, like Ebola. All bio-agents in the Black category were created through research and killed within hours. The higher the number, the faster it killed.

"Once we pick-up. The only stopping is for fuel and twice to sleep, four hours each time. We have no restrictions. You and I are the fastest trucks." Trip said then asked. "Go, or No-Go?"

Fly-by looked at the manifest for what seemed like an eternity then said. "Go."

Trip nodded. "Hook up your reefer. We roll in five. I'll lead."

Fly-by nodded.

"All you have to is stay on my tail Fly-by." Trip instructed. "Hook-up and roll."

After grabbing her guns, she led him out. Five minutes later, the grey Kenworth was followed by a white one, heading for the road.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Faust was ready and rolled out in minutes. This was definitely HIS kind of load. A load of 25 tons of cocaine seized by Border Patrol being transferred from their El Paso facility to a DEA group in New Orleans. Normally PeaceMaker would take this type of load, but the information was that the cartel wanted it back and had already tried. They would definitely try again. The DEA requested Faust specifically. They one of two things would happen. Either the load would go through, or the cartel members on this side of the border would be wiped out.

It wasn't his first time and a previous hijack attempt gained him a name. El Chófer del Diablo. The Devil's chauffeur. That amused him. Almost as much as the DEA using seized drugs to bust major organizations. The problem came when large amounts were in play. 25 tons got alot of attention. The producer wanted it back. The smuggler wanted it back. The buyer wanted it back. The junkies themselves wanted it back. All that would between the dope and everybody else, was Faust. A run like this would require the Devil's luck.


Chapter 2

Gypsy-moth followed right behind Stunt-man. He had to remind her that they didn't have the load yet, so they still had to play by the rules. Most companies did all they could to prevent dead-heading, running without a load. Empty trucks didn't make money. Phantom was different. Every second the truck was out of the bay was paid. However, the special privileges Phantom had only applied to when they had loads. Except for PeaceMaker, Faust and Trip. Because of the nature of their loads, they had no restrictions. Also there was the off chance that the decontamination of Trip-9 wasn't thorough enough.

"How you doing back there Gypsy?" Stunt-man asked over the radio.

Gypsy-moth called back. "All good Stunt-man. We coming up on it?"

They had drove according to the regulations then stopped in Reno to rest up. Now they were ready. It was late afternoon and they were about to pull in at the holding area n Pershing County. It was basically a high security warehouse for gold and silver bullion produced in Nevada. Also it was where Casinos kept gold payments. The security there was just short of the Depository at Fort Knox. Or so the official statement was. Some secretly argued that it was more heavily defended.

Slowly the two trucks turned in at the gate and stopped. After the authorization was confirmed they rolled through and docked.

"How you doing?" Dell asked the man at the dock. "I'm Stunt-man. She's Gypsy-moth."

The man nodded and shook hands with both. "I'm Rick Scanlon. We're all set to load you up."

Dell nodded. "Ok. Bring 'em on."

Two forklifts began bringing out pallets of gold bullion. Each one stopped before going into the trailers for the bars to be counted. Scanlon also counted. When the last pallet was loaded Gypsy looked over to Stunt-man and shook her head.

"Something's wrong." Scanlon remarked. "Ten bars are missing."

Stunt-man nodded. "Noticed that ourselves. What's up?"

Scanlon looked pissed off. "That's just what I'm going to find out!"

Twenty minutes later one of the forklifts came out with ten bars on a pallet, followed by Rick with a look of disgust.

"Sorry about that. The last bars weren't staged because they had come in separately and were stored differently. My fault." Rick apologized.

The additions were added to the count sheet and Gypsy nodded. "Clerical error I guess."

Scanlon shook his head. "No. I FUCKED up and it's not taken lightly. We don't do 'oops' around here."

"The count is right, now. You fixed an error before it became a problem. I got no gripe." Stunt-man said.

"But I do." Scanlon said clearly. "I messed up. I have to take the hit. That's the way we are here."

Rick Scanlon took both clipboards and signed off then accepted the manifest copies. "Stay safe out there. Our protection stops at the gate."

Stunt-man chuckled. "Fine by us. Let's go Gypsy."

They climbed into their trucks and rolled out. Along the way Stunt-man noticed more Nevada Highway Patrol cars along the highway. They had driven two hundred miles when Gypsy-moth noticed something in her mirror.

"Stunt-man." She called out over their secure radio. "I got something coming up on our back-door."

George Thorogood could be heard in the background when he replied. "We got something up ahead too."

Over the CB a voice called out. "Two trucks heading south. Save yourself some trouble. Pull over and get out."

"That's pretty straight forward." Stunt-man replied over the CB.

Gypsy asked. "Does this mean we can hurt them now?"

"That's a BIG 10-4. Bring out your whiskers and grab a gear." Stunt-man instructed.

He floated up a gear as he drifted into the oncoming lane. Gypsy floated up too and took up his previous space. She also flipped a switch she had been told about. A set of slim metal rods swung out and down from the front bumper. Gypsy had been explained of their purpose. Just as they closed in on the group of vehicles in front of them, she saw what Stunt-man had suspected. Spike strips. She had to laugh as the two trucks broke past unharmed. The Whiskers serving their purpose, scooping up and holding the spike strips away from the tires to be dragged along. A hand signal from him told her to stop and they both bailed out.

Dell had the old M-14 in hand as his boots hit the hardball, Silvia had an M-4. Both opened up, peppering vehicles as they advanced. Good news, bad news. Nevada is a 'stand your ground' state, which means there are a lot of guns, especially assault rifles. These guys didn't show up to party empty handed. Civilian version of AR-15's, Bushmasters, returned fire as did a few AK-47s. That was the bad news. The good news was, the shooters didn't have the skills honed from actual combat or time spent on ranges. The only way to acquire the skill of shooting accurately while being shot at, was experience.

The next best thing to that was being on the set of a war movie. Stunt-man treated it as such and kept his cool and focus. Between the two of them, the hijackers found themselves being hammered by overwhelming return fire.

"COVER ME!" Stunt-man called out then dashed back to the front of the trucks.

Gypsy-moth had complied and triggered off bursts to keep them pinned down as he worked. Stunt-man held the rifle one-handed to shot in the general direction while pulling the spike-strips out of the way. His sharp eyes had caught what Gypsy hadn't. Flashing lights in the distance. Highway Patrol cars were coming.

"TAKE OUT THEIR RIDES!" Stunt-man instructed as he rejoined her.

Gypsy changed aim. "ON IT!"

A static target was easier to hit. Tires were first then they shot into the engine compartments. They weren't concerned about the rounds having the punch to penetrate the blocks, just to get in there and tear up components. Batteries, radiators, belts, distributor caps, hoses and wiring were the real targets.

"THEY'RE WALKING NOW!" Gypsy-moth stated, seeing steam or smoke coming from the vehicles.

Stunt-man smiled. "Roll out!"

Together they covered each other's retreat to the tractors. Gypsy dropped a gear and began to roll forward. Her door popped open again and she leaned out the send cover-fire as Stunt-man climbed up into his truck and began to roll forward. He saw what she was doing and did the same, but in a higher gear. Gypsy ducked back inside and up-shifted. The hijackers knew they were about to lose them and risked coming out to shoot more accurately. That's when they finally noticed the problems had compounded.

Stunt-man dropped back into his seat and shifted again then grabbed his mic. "CUT AND PRINT, THAT'S A WRAP!"

Gypsy-moth wanted to laugh. He left his channel open and she now heard Hold On, I'm Comin' by Welshly Arms start to play.

"You know, I'm surprised you aren't playing Danger Zone." Gypsy called out.

Stunt-man answered. "They didn't have a shoot-out. Besides, we don't have planes. I could have played something from Mad Max Thunderdome, but Tina Turner doesn't fit this."

"It don't?" Gypsy asked shifting again.

Stunt-man laughed. "Nope. She's a nice lady though, never turned anybody on the crew away for autographs or pictures. Even found time to write some songs on set."

"NO WAY! You worked that one?" Gypsy asked as he pulled ahead.

A line of patrol cars screamed past them heading for the fight.

"Just another day on the job." Stunt-man chuckled. "Just like M.I.2 and The Patriot. I was in Shanghai Noon, too. I wanted X-Men but they wouldn't let me."

Gypsy was truly interested. "Why not?"

"The Stunt Coordinator knew I had a sprained ankle." Stunt-man laughed. "He threatened to break it if I ever tried to lie to him again."

Gypsy laughed back. It was easy to understand. That movie had been a blockbuster, anybody would want to have been in it. The rest of their run was uneventful as they blended into the mass of trucks heading East on Interstate 10 then on Interstate 20.


Chapter 3

Jake Roper had barely crushed out a cigarette and was lighting another as he stood waiting on the loading dock.

"Roper, what's got you all jittery." The Sergeant in charge of the Border Patrol lock-up asked.

The DEA agent blew out a stream of smoke. "I'll just be glad when this is over."

"Don't feel like the Lone Stranger. If Enrique sends more guys, we might not be able to keep them out." Ron Sanchez remarked. "We're just not equipped or staffed for this kind of thing."

Jake shook his head. "Enrique Ventura is not my main concern."

"Should be. He wants his coke back. Twenty-five tons is A LOT. He's gotta make good or his distributor is going to take it out on him." Ron pointed out.

Roper took another drag off the Winston. "They can slaughter each other for all I care. Look, this has been a constant nightmare and guessing game of who can be trusted the whole time this shit has been here. An hour ago I found out just exactly who is coming to pick it up. I was worried before. Now I'm fucking scared."

The sound of a diesel engine slowing down interrupted them. A red tractor-trailer began turning in.

Roper groaned. "Oh shit. He's here."

The truck stopped and the driver dismounted to open the trailer doors then backed up to the dock and made hiss way to them.

Sanchez felt like he was being sized up by an old rattlesnake when the man in red leather walked up the steps of the dock to join them.

"Agent Jake Roper." The man in red growled with a smile and held out a clipboard. "I'm here to pick up."

Roper didn't like the guy. He knew the man was a border-line psycho, but the higher-ups wanted him. The load was already compromised. No need to be sneaky, the second the coke moved an inch, everybody and their connection would know.

"Load him up!" Roper told the man sitting on a forklift.

Sanchez watched as the man in red stood casually then produce a coin and began to tumble it across his gloved fingers. After two pallets were loaded, he found it strange. The driver wasn't even counting the kilos of cocaine. He barely seemed to pay attention to the pallets either.

"Everybody is obsessed with that shit. You aren't even counting it. Why?" Sanchez asked.

Faust looked over and smiled. "Because I don't care about it."

Ron Sanchez could tell just by looking into the man's eyes. He didn't care if the dope was all there or not. He wanted something else. The man was using the dope as bait.

"Ron. If that load is short, I'm the one at fault. Not him." Jake said as he was watching the next pallet go inside the truck.

"Es esto loco o simplemente estupido?" Sanchez asked quietly to no one, if this was crazy or just stupid.

Faust heard and laughed. "Somebody will be finding out, REAL soon."

Suddenly as the next pallet was driven in Faust stood at the opening of the truck and stopped the forklift from coming back out.

"Ingles, Espanol?" Faust asked.

The man answered. "I speak English. Why?"

Faust pointed into the trailer. "Good. Now go back and get it. Bring it to me."

"I don't." The man started to say, then ducked as the single pistol shot clanged off the support beam in front of him. "SHIT!"

The coin began to tumble over Faust's fingers again then he held it up. "To save time, I'll buy it."

The forklift driver knew he had been found out. With his hands now up, he slowly walked back and pulled the transmitter from the pallet. Faust gave him the coin and took the tracking device.

"Your ass is grass." Roper said.

Faust waved him off. "Finish loading the truck. A deal is a deal. When he calls in he can tell them its me. You know who I am now, don't you?"

After looking at the coin he slowly nodded his head and said in Spanish. "El Chófer del Diablo."

The Devil's driver. The coin had revealed it.

Faust leaned in close and almost purred. "What else are you willing to sell?"

Quickly he shook his head. Now that he knew exactly who stood in front him, he wanted nothing to do with him.

"No? Just load the truck?" Faust asked and when the man nodded he replied. "How disappointing. Load the truck, you have a tip-off to call in."

Roper watched and kept count as the forklift resumed loading. When he was done, Faust beckoned him down then spoke quietly. Roper became more and more unnerved as Faust smiled as he spoke. With the look of a man about to give the order to his own firing squad, the forklift operator took out his cellphone and made a call. After he disconnected, Faust chuckled and patted him on the back.

Roper signed off the manifest and handed the clipboard to Faust. "That's all of it."

Faust signed then tore out the yellow copy. "If you say so. Time for a bit of fun."

"I'm not going to ask. I don't want to know." Roper remarked.

"You don't? That's surprising. Enrique himself is coming." Faust snickered. "I feel generous; I'll leave you a piece Roper."

Roper's eyes widened as a second coin suddenly tumbled across Faust's fingers then offered. "I could offer you a DEAL."

Slowly the DEA Agent reached for the coin. "What do you want?"

"Your undivided attention for a few minutes." Faust leered.

Roper took the coin. "Done."

Faust chuckled. "Don't waste a second."

Roper stared at the man in front of him. A man with a reputation of being pure evil. Sadistic delight danced in his eyes. Roper could hear someone leave to go back into the building and after a couple of minutes, a loud noise. As if something had been dropped.

Finally Faust turned around to leave. "A bargain, the BEST I ever had."

After he left, Roper turned to look. The forklift driver had hung himself from a set of warehouse shelving with an extension cord. There was no need to call paramedics. He could tell from the angle of the man's neck, it was broken. He chose suicide over jail. Considering his character and actions, it was the better of his options.

Sanchez had watched in horror as the whole thing unfolded. He now turned to Roper. "Now we can't get anything from him."

Roper shook his head. "He didn't have anything to give than what he did. He wouldn't have lasted an hour in a cell anyway. Let's go. We're about to see something worse than what Santa Anna wanted at the Alamo."

Faust had a five minute lead and it was increasing. Normally it would be insane to go where the hijacker expected a truck to be. Even more so to make sure they would be getting there in enough time to set up. Faust knew they would be exactly there. They didn't know who he was though, but definitely heard his voice. Especially the tone of it. He had practically challenged them to come. Machismo dictated such an insult had to be met.

Enrique Ventura was beyond angry. First the Border Patrol had discovered the safe house of his cocaine, then seized it and now the informant at the warehouse had been caught. What really burned was the fact that the driver of the truck had openly challenged him, personally, to try taking it back.

"Enrique." A man with a MAC-10 called. "We'll be ready in a couple of minutes."

Enrique snarled. "Hurry up Benito. VAMOS!"

The sound of airhorn caught all their attention. A red truck and trailer was now bearing down on them.

"Is that him?" Benito asked.

Enrique didn't get the chance to answer. Amplified laughter came from the truck as black smoke began to pour from its stacks, the engine roared.

"Este tipo esta loco?" One of the men asked loudly if the driver was crazy.

"Mierda no! Es el chofer! EL CHOFER DEL DIABLO!" One of the men announced.

Several began to shake their heads and start moving away. They now knew who they were facing. The Devil's driver.

Enrique yelled. "TIRAR AHORA! MUERTE TODOS INICIAR TIRO!"

Enraged at his men frozen in fear, Enrique ran out into the middle of the highway and started shooting. The nine millimeter bullets bounced harmlessly away, of the ones that actually hit.

Faust had spotted them in the distance and began playing Mother by Danzig. When he saw them moving around, he knew they had figured out it was him. That's when he switched on the speakers and began to laugh. It only amused him more when the first bullet ricocheted off his truck. The expensive clothing was the give-away. Enrique himself had mustered enough anger or courage to stand and fight. Faust down-shifted and stomped the pedal down. The higher compression from the lower gear served his purpose.

"Un trato es un trato, Enrique." Faust announced then thumbed the switch on the back of the gear shift.

Enrique was now frozen in his own terror as the big red truck bore down. The the drive spoke, a deal is a deal, as flames leaped from both the rig's stacks. Then he was punched backward from the truck's nose. He didn't even hit the ground when it sped up to literally catch and hold him against its grill then plow through the cars in the way. One dragged him down and under the truck.

The men watched in horror as single coin bounced on the road then slowly stop spinning to rest by Enrique's dead hand. They barely saw it when the police cars screeched to a stop. Roper was with them and looked down at the mangled body.

Sanchez saw the coin. "Is that what I think it is?"

"Yeah. A deal's a deal." Roper nodded.

Behind them, men struggled as they were forced into the squad cars. All of them screaming about a truck from Hell, driven by the Devil, laughing as it ran Enrique down.

"Roper. Just exactly who was that guy?" Sanchez asked.

Roper sighed as he felt the coin he had been given. For some reason, it felt like it was burning his hand. "Faust."

"Faust? Like the guy that made the deal with the Devil?" Sanchez looked over.

"Look around." Roper replied then started walking back to car. "What do you think? Could an ordinary man do this? ALL this?"

Sanchez began follow. "No. A crazy one might try."

Faust continued on. Things were fine until night fell and he was approaching Beaumont, Texas. A Highway Patrol unit came along side.

"Attention driver. If you are who I think you are, don't worry. I won't try to stop you." The Highway Patrolman called out over the CB, channel 19.

Faust slipped his helmet back on, just in case and answered. "Oh?"

"Up ahead is a problem. The road is being blocked. A protest group of white supremacists. It's the Klan. They've tied up all Eastbound lanes. Can I ask that you re-route around them?" The patrolman asked.

Faust chuckled. "My speed can't drop now. The explosives will go off to prevent my load from being taken."

The Patrolman was shocked. "EXPLOSIVES? HOW BIG WOULD THE BLAST BE?"

"Sixty pounds of Semtex will be really interesting." Faust now laughed.

In the car, the Patrolman called over his radio to the units trying to clear the protest group and its opposition. "ALL UNITS! ALL UNITS! CLEAR THE HIGHWAY! THE TRUCK COMING IS NOT ALLOWED TO STOP! CLEAR THE FUCKING AREA OF CIVILIANS! ITS BOOBY-TRAPPED IN CASE IT STOPS!"

That was all the Sheriff's deputies and Highway Patrol needed to hear. They immediately began forcing people to the sides. The angry protesters wanted to go back in to continue challenging the men garbed in white robes and quasi-Nazi uniforms spewing slurs against minorities.

The Sheriff himself went in front of that group. "You have to clear these lanes of traffic. Now."

"That badge doesn't change your color, Nigger! You don't tell a proud WHITE man what to do!" The leader of the faction declared.

"Its your funeral if you don't. I can't stop what's coming. Nobody can." Sheriff Darnelle Jones stated then walked away.

Again the derogatory slurs began to go out over bullhorns. It all stooped when the sound a roaring diesel engine could be heard as its headlights cut through the darkness and smoke of a burning cross.

Faust began laughing as the song recommended by his mechanic Monkey began to play again. Nick Nolan's Life Of Sin was becoming a favorite. the speakers outside were switched on and his laughter rang out.

"Fools and their souls are soon parted." Faust announced then switched his lights.

The truck's headlights cut off. From beneath and behind the cab red lights came on, giving the red Peterbilt a hellish glow.

"STAND YOUR GROUND! WE ARE WHITE AND RIGHT!" The white garbed leader called out to his group.

Faust bore down on them then down-shifted. The Caterpillar engine screamed in protest, building compression. As the truck plowed into the now fear-filled group trying to hold the straight-arm Nazi salute, flames erupted from the twin stacks.

Faust called out, laughing. "IT WAS ME ALONE WHO CHOSE, A LIFE OF SIN!"

Screams came from all sides as the truck plowed through, even the burning cross fell to its impact. The truck never slowed, only crushed that in its way underneath. Everyone had been too shocked to try even taking video, much less a picture of it. They all thought the driver would suddenly screech to a stop or the group would jump out of the way. They were all wrong.

On the other side, Faust switched back to regular lights. The song ended. His speakers off he sang along with the next song.

"OUTLAW JUSTICE! TROUBLE'S GONNA COME! OUTLAW JUSTICE! DEVIL'S ON THE RUN! CATCH ME IF YA CAN!" Faust sang.

He was really starting to get into the Dark Country albums. Through the night he rolled on, heading for New Orleans without further event.


Chapter 4

Trip and Fly-by had stopped at the Pilot in Atlanta to sleep and eat just after noon. They woke up at ten that night to eat again and refuel then drove out to the Hot-Zone. Two highway patrol cars were sitting at the gate as they pulled in. After they were checked, the trucks were directed inside the compound. A man standing by a small 'yard truck' guided them into a side-by-side parking formation.

He then cranked down the landing gear then unlatched the fifth-wheels. Trip and Fly-by pulled forward, dropping their trailers and clearing the way. The 'yard truck' hooked up to Fly-by's trailer and after the landing gear was retracted, he drove inside a large building.

"So what do we do now?" Fly-by asked over the secure radio.

Trip answered back. "We wait. The trailers are being loaded in a controlled environment. negative air pressure and stable temperature. They'll DeCon the trailers on the way back to us. Try to get in another nap, it's gonna be awhile."

The 'yard truck' came back and took Trip's trailer. Two and half hours later both trucks were knocked on to wake them. Both drivers climbed down and met a man in a suit.

"Forester." Trip greeted him.

Alan Forester nodded. "Nice to see you Trip. The trailer's are loaded and almost finished with DeCon. Here's the manifests. You know the drill, Don't pen the trailers once you set your locks. Maintain constant temperature at all times. You have a fifty-two hour window of transport. Georgia State Patrol will get you out of Atlanta. After that, you're on your own, as usual. Anything?"

"Standard fail-safe?" Trip asked,

Forester nodded. "Without the code, the thermite package will incinerate the entire trailer in three seconds."

Trip nodded. "Copy that. That's it then."

"Ok. Hook up and roll. That's it. You already know the rest. Be careful, this is a Level Black 8. This agent is lethal within three hours of contact. It isn't pretty."

Fly-by asked what was on mind, though he really didn't want to know. "What's it do?"

"It hits hard and fast. First is a shortness of breath accompanied by a feeling of fluid inside the lungs within thirty minutes. That's because you're bleeding into them. The blood then also begins to evacuate via nasal, ears, eyes. Rectal and urethral bleeding as well along with bladder and bowel failure. Major organ failure within the next forty-five minutes to an hour. Major muscles also begin to deteriorate. That's when your brain starts to melt." Forester explained flatly.

Fly-by shook his head to try clearing the mental image the description had given him. "Jesus H-fuckin' Christ!"

"Now you're going think every little thing might be exposure. Never ask what the shit does, dumb-ass." Trip remarked. "It'll kill you, that's enough to know."

Forester patted Fly-by's shoulder. "Even if all goes well, you'll still get checked out before leaving the Fortress. Ok?"

"Ok Doc." Fly-by said, sounding a little more relaxed.

Trip saw the 'yard truck' coming back with Fly-by's trailer. "Get ready. Here they come."

Fly-by looked and headed for his truck. "I'll follow your lead."

Both got back in their trucks and waited. Fly-by backed up and hooked to his trailer and waited while the lines and cables were attached. Trip's trailer was brought out next and she hooked up. They put on their helmets and she rolled out first. Fly-by fell in right behind her. The gate guard waved them on through as the patrol cars pulled out in front. With their lights on, the Georgia Patrolmen led the way to the 285 loop. They merged onto the interstate circle and took the far outside lanes.

"Got any good driving music for this?" Fly-by asked over their secure radio.

Trip opened the channel and pulled up Orange Crush by REM. Soon she was edging 85 miles per hour and starting to crowd the patrol cars.

Fly-by felt good. "are they going to drag ass ALL the way around this damned thing?"

"Who cares. Fall back and drop the hammer. I'll take point." Trip called back then did just that.

The big grey Kenworth eased back then drifted over two lanes and roared to life as the bulk of lights went off.

"Go dark. We're outta here." Trip instructed.

Fly-by followed suit and switched off the bulk of his lights and trod on the accelerator. He stayed hot on her trailer as they began to move through higher gears and screamed past the two bewildered patrol cars. when the song ended, Fly-by called out for a repeat playing. It was the perfect music for the current setting. When both trucks were exceeding 120 the two patrol cars were failing to stay with them and were left as the trucks continued to gain speed.

The two trucks moved through the light traffic in tandem like Sidewinder snakes on hard-pack ground. Trip occasionally flashed her headlights to clear a lane. In no time at all they slowed enough to make a high speed coast of the merge to Interstate 20 then geared up again. Motorists in cars and trucks were startled when the two ghost-like rigs suddenly blasted by them and were gone in seconds. Several CB-ers complained, but were met with silence instead of response.

"BREAK 19! DAMN DRIVER! You wanna back them trucks down? Almost blew me off the damn road!" One CB-er called out. When there was no response he warned all listening. "Ya'll look out. Two crazy-assed drivers are Westbound outta Hot-lanta like their asses're on fire and their heads're catchin'!"

He then called out the mile marker he was at and guessed as to theirs. Trip and Fly-by heard, but ignored the conversation and stayed in the far left lane as their speed topped out. Just above 135 for Trip and 132 for Fly-by. As the traffic thinned out to sporadic she switched on her ground radar. It was the secret to her success. Only her truck and Fly-by's had it as they could reach the highest speeds of the whole group.

Just about all the truckers within a hundred miles had soon heard the warning over the channel and many were not surprised when suddenly the scale stations went into by-pass. Within minutes they saw the reason why. Two rigs running together in almost total black-out screamed past and disappeared just as fast as they came.

"HOLY SHIT, SABER! Did you see THAT?" a driver on the out ramp called out over the radio.

Saber replied. "Nope, Rookie. Didn't see a thing. You must be tired, eyes playing tricks on you. NOTHING there."

Several other drivers echoed the statement, they saw nothing.

Trip heard the exchange and smirk then switched songs to that one Faust had played a while back. Take Me Down by The Pretty Reckless. It wasn't bad.

"OH I LIKE THIS! WOOOOO!" Fly-by called out and let his racing groove settle over him.

For the racer, this just became his kind of run. He knew he wouldn't be able to pass Trip-9, but it was fun to just draft behind, as if waiting for a chance to make his move to steal the lap and flag. They both had twin 85 gallon tanks, but the high speeds they were running at would drink the tanks down fast. Just over the Louisiana line, they pulled in at a small station that was just opening and took on fuel. The mom and pop station could only serve one truck at the time so they made use of it going to restroom. Fly-by took care of his needs while she refueled then Trip did the same as he refueled.

Trip pulled out and led the way back onto the highway as the first rays of sunlight started to stain the sky.

"We'll take Dallas and refuel again to run for line. Stop in Kansas to sleep. Can you handle it?" Trip asked.

Fly-by felt as revved as his truck. "Romp on it Trip, I'm on you. I got the tune."

He set to broadcast and brought up Godsmack with Straight Out Of Line. It was a hard, heavy hitting song. Just what they needed to hear as they came up to speed. They passed through the towns along the way and had to slow down due to the morning traffic. Instead of the usual four and a half hours a normal person needed, it only took them three. He kept the hard hitting music going until they stopped outside Dallas. Both knew this was where their run would slow down.

As Trip-9 pulled out after refueling Jodi called out. "We have to chill until we get outside the outlying towns, then we can get on it again."

"No problem. I can hold back. You said we'd run to the Kansas line and break there, right?" Fly-by asked.

Trip replied. "10-4."

She kept their speed around 75 miles per hour as they wound around Dallas. Several times the traffic opened up enough to let them bump up to over 80 but it wouldn't last long. Typical traffic for such a big city. It would have been safer to wait until close to midnight. That wasn't an option, too much could go wrong and she didn't want to linger in an area for too long. When the ramps for Interstate 35 came into view they sprinted for it and to the Northbound ramp. From there they would stay running North into Oklahoma. Once clear of the suburbs of Dallas the traffic thinned out enough to resume higher speeds. Both trucks accelerated to over 100 miles per hour and maintain it until deep into Oklahoma. Another refuel stop and they ran all the way to Kansas before stopping to refuel. At an old closed down station they backed the trailers together and took a sleep break.

Fly-by shifted around in the seat to get comfortable enough then slept for four hours. When he woke from the chirping of the secure radio he groaned.

"How the hell do you get used to that, Trip?" Fly-by asked.

Trip answered casually. "Practice."

Fly-by shook his head in disbelief. There had been no trace of fatigue at all in her voice. Quickly they performed a walk-around of their trucks and verified they were ready. The two trucks pulled out as the sun was setting. Trip knew the refuel point was within thirty minutes of driving but would only be open for another hour. Normal truck lines would have teams of drivers for runs like this. The nature of the load prevented it. Far safer to only risk two highly paid drivers with no dependents than two teams that usually had families requiring benefits.

That had always been Troy Montaine's hole-card. His drivers had only themselves to lose and thought it was a fair trade in accordance to their personalities. They loved the risk. He didn't want the kind that would risk racing a train to a crossing hauling explosives, he hired the one that always won, because it was the only way they felt alive. A driver that would weld a bulldozer blade to the front of their truck to charge down Donner Pass in a blizzard. Crazy enough to take a challenge, but skilled enough to pull it off. That was the hallmark of Phantom Lines.

Fly-by stuck to Trip's tail-lights as she pushed past 130 again. He had finally felt re-energized after the refuel. A chance to eat and get coffee, he was good to run again. The traffic was light at night and they were running black-out as usual, aided by ground radar. Soon they were on Interstate 70 heading for Colorado. That would be the most difficult leg of the run, Colorado was just as strict on truckers as California and in some case, even harder.

As they crossed the state line, Trip called out. "Colorado. All go-no quit now. Stay on me back there."

Fly-by laughed. "Sure you don't want me to lead?"

"You know the road that good?" Trip asked, already knowing the answer.

"Ya got me. No, I don't. You know this run better than anybody. I'm on you." Fly-by chuckled.

He knew Colorado was an unforgiving state. The roads would curve and plunge without much warning. Even more so if going at high speed. Trip knew the run so well, she could do it almost blind. That was how many she had made. By noon the next day they were finally crossing into Utah. At Salina they jumped off the Interstate onto a State highway big enough to handle their transition to InterState 15 to run up to Salt Lake, but turned off at Santaquin onto state highways. Trip explained it was a more direct route. Direct, but slower and less populated. It was getting harder for Fly-by to stay sharp, but Trip was easily finding ways to keep him engaged and alert. As night fell he saw the first sign. U.S.Army Dugway Proving Grounds. Under that was Skull Valley Reservation.

"Fly-by." Trip called out.

Feeling the miles like never before, Fly-by answered. "Yeah?"

"Back it down. Taking the next left. We'll be there in an hour." Trip informed him.

Fly-by sighed. "Thank FUCKING God! How the hell do you do this?"

"My Give-a-fuck broke in Baghdad. Never got it fixed. Turning." Trip replied.

Both trucks turned onto a narrow black-top road and followed it for twenty minutes. She had kept their speed down enough to not alarm the gate guards. They stopped and were inspected then waved through. Over half an hour later as the first rays of sunlight hit, a large building surrounded by a fence loomed ahead. Another set of guards inspected the trucks and waved them in. An Army Sergeant waved them to a side-by-side parking position then checked over the manifests and unhooked the trailers.

Two Army trucks came over and hooked up to the trailers and took them away while the Sergeant climbed up to stand on the side of Trip-9 and direct her. The trucks were parked and the Sergeant waved for them to follow him inside a smaller building.

"Check and clear your weapons. Clothing goes in here and go through that door." The Sergeant instructed then left.

Trip did as instructed and took her time, letting Fly-by go through first. They would be checked over for any exposure. The final stop was a set of showers. Two sets of Army sweats waited for them. There were M.R.E.s waiting for them and two beds. They were informed they would be kept there for at least twelve hours. When Fly-by finally woke up, it had been almost sixteen hours.

"Wow. I feel like I been beat with a tie-down bar." Fly-by stated, sitting up.

Trip was stamping her foot into a boot, their clothing had been returned during their sleep. "Better than the alternative. We can get dressed now."

Fly-by eagerly began to get back into his own clothing. It looked much like his racing suit.

A door opened and pleasant looking woman came in. "I see you're both awake now."

Trip immediately saluted. "Captain Hill."

The Captain smiled and returned the salute. "As you were. How do you feel?"

"Ready to go, Ma'am." Trip replied. "What's the word?"

"You're both clear, Trip. Mister Fly-by, there's nothing to worry about. Neither of you were exposed. You're fit to leave." Captain Hill stated.

Fly-by laughed. "Ain't gotta tell me twice!"

Captain Hill smiled. "Like I've never heard that before. Right this way, Sergeant Devon will see you out."

They followed her down a hallway then were buzzed through door and met the Sergeant who had brought them in.

"Your trucks and trailers are finished with DeCon. Follow me." He led them to an exit with another door by it. "Specialist Winslow, their weapons."

The soldier in the room nodded. He came back with their pistols and rifles. "Verify arms and sign out."

Trip went first and checked her weapons then signed for them. Fly-by did the same and they followed the Sergeant outside. He led them to their trucks that sat parked in the large lot.

"You're fully fueled and ready to go." The Sergeant informed them.

Quickly they made a a walk-around then climbed into the cabs. Minutes later they were rolling through the gates. An hour later they were approaching the main road.

"If you want, you can bail off and got to Salt Lake to stop for a while. I'm heading straight back." Trip called out over their secure radio.

"Sounds good to me. See you back at the terminal in three days." Fly-by replied and signed off.

In the back of his mind, he wondered exactly what had been in the trailer. He just couldn't see using such big trucks to carry flasks and petri-dishes.

In her own truck, Trip was glad Fly-by hadn't asked any details. Fly-by wouldn't have been able to do so well had he known inside the trailer had been ten capsules containing a human corpse. Very few knew that some of the bodies donated for medical research would be used in such fashion. There was no way to restart a brain, but many of the other functions could be restarted with mechanical means and simulate a live body. One that could host disease. Kept at a critical temperature and using machines to circulate blood and even breathe, a body could fool pathogens into behaving as they would inside a real living person.

The only other method was using animals such as primates or pigs as test subjects. That was where real risk came in. The diseased animals had a habit of being uncooperative, even attacking the researchers and infecting them. Trip knew that by the time they had both returned to Phantom's terminal, the Army and DARPA researchers would be working to synthesize a serum to combat the pathogen. A serum that would then be stockpiled in case of an outbreak.


Chapter 5

Trip sat down in the salon chair.

"So Jodi. You have great length now, don't tell me you want it all gone?" The stylist asked.

Trip shook her head. "No Stacy. I want something different though. A color maybe."

Stacy nodded and smiled. "Color is good. What do you want to do?"

Trip held up her jacket, a dark grey color. "Match this."

"You're nuts." Stacy remarked.

Trip tossed the jacket into another chair. "Make it happen Stace."

"Ok." Stacy said. "I still think you're nuts. Who wants grey hair on purpose? Platinum blonde, sure, but actual grey? It's your hair. I'll do it if you want."

Trip sat back and watched as Stacy began mixing the color then drape a cape over her. when the brush began to apply the color, Trip smirked at her own reflection.



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