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Trust in the Fast Lane

By A.R. Moler


Published by JMS Books LLC at Smashwords

Visit jms-books.com for more information.


Copyright 2017 A.R. Moler

ISBN 9781634864749

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All rights reserved.


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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are solely the product of the author’s imagination and/or are used fictitiously, though reference may be made to actual historical events or existing locations. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Published in the United States of America.

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Trust in the Fast Lane

By A.R. Moler

Part 1: February

Chapter 1: US Marshal Ken Sullivan

I hate flying commercial. My gun has to go in a special case in the cargo hold and there’s paperwork involved. And when I get to where I’m going it always takes a crap ton of badge showing and more paperwork to get it back. I’m a US Marshall, so it’s not like I can just conveniently leave my weapon at home in a desk drawer. Believe me, if I didn’t need to be in Chicago in the next few hours, it would almost have been worth the twelve hour drive.

“And sign here, too,” the lady behind the desk said, pointing to another line on the form. “Please check to make sure your weapon is in the same condition it was submitted.”

“Of course.” Like I’m really going to walk away without opening the metal case and taking a look at my Glock. I scribbled out my signature, then popped the case open. I examined my weapon and made sure it was fine.

“You’re good to go then, sir.”

“Thank you.” I took the case and wheeled my carryon in the direction of the central concourse. Once I picked up my rental car, my next stop was meeting Detective Michael Branham of the Violent Crimes Section at his precinct.

As I drove downtown listening to the way too chirpy voice of the GPS, I contemplated the fragmentary information I’d received. I was currently working a case of jewelry store heists combined with murder that crossed four states. Lawrence J Ditweiller was the prime suspect and I had a federal warrant for his arrest. Branham had caught sight of the fugitive while working a case of his own and had chanced to recognize Ditweiller from a BOLO, hence why I was meeting Branham.

At the precinct, I was directed upstairs to a room full of detectives. I walked through the room until I came to a desk with the nameplate that said Branham. Behind the desk sat a guy that looked like he belonged on the cover of some sports magazine. Blond, muscular, sleeves on his dress shirt rolled up, exposing strong forearms. Just looking at him stirred a carnal lust below my belt line and I confess I stood there just looking at him for several seconds before saying his name.

“Detective Branham?”

He looked up.

I held out my badge. “Ken Sullivan, US Marshall. We spoke on the phone.”

He stood up and held out a hand. We shook.

“Have a seat.” Branham pointed toward the chair beside his desk.

I sat down, and he immediately handed me a folder. “Updates?”

“In a manner of speaking. When I talked to you on the phone, I was still waiting to hear back from one of my contacts. I found out that Ditweiller has been to that pawn shop more than once. The guy who owns it is fairly legit but one of his employees, Ray Moreau, likes to run a little side business as a fence. Not a lot of volume but he has a tendency toward real high end stuff,” Branham said.

I skimmed the notes and the list of suspected items that had gone through the fence’s fingers. Branham was organized. I liked that. Lord knows I’d run across some local PD personnel who could barely fill in chain of evidence forms. The item description that caught my eye was an emerald and diamond necklace. The details sounded like an exact match to the heist that occurred about six weeks ago. “Have you actually seen any of the jewelry?”

“No, sorry. But…flip the page.”

I did. There were four grainy snapshots of jewelry.

“I got I.T. to pull those off of Moreau’s phone. I think he’s been using those to dangle in front of potential buyers without the risk of actually showing off the pieces.” Branham rested his elbows on the desk.

“This one certainly looks like the emerald necklace that was taken.” I pointed at one of the photos. “Do you have any idea where Ditweiller is at this point? Or are we just going on the assumption that he might pay a visit to Moreau again?”

“According to Moreau, who’s a scumbag, but has given me some useful info over the past year, Ditweiller claimed he’d be back with another piece of jewelry on Wednesday, tomorrow. The pawn shop doesn’t open until ten.”

“Sounds like stake out time. I’m going to swing by the hotel, grab a shower and a change of clothes and if I can con you into some dinner discussion you can fill me in on what else you know about this scenario.”

Branham gave me a wry smile. “Everybody has to eat. Which hotel are you staying at?”

“Some Residence Inn a couple of miles down the street from here. I generally go for the efficiency ones because cases can sometimes drag on for a while.”

“Probably a wise maneuver.”

“Any suggestions on restaurants? Or should I look for something that’s a chain for predictability’s sake?” I asked.

“Vegetarian?”

“I got up at the ass-crack of dawn to fly halfway across the country to catch a murderer. I don’t think a salad’s what I had in mind.”

Branham looked amused. “In that case, there’s a barbecue place kind of diagonally across from the hotel. It’s fairly good.”

“Nothing says carnivore like eating meat directly off the bone. Sounds good.” I took a look at my watch. “Would seven be a good time for you?”

“That’ll work.”

I handed him back the file folder and stood up. “See you in about two and half hours.”

* * * *

Chapter 2: Chicago Detective Michael Branham

After Marshall Sullivan left, I sat there at my desk, thinking. It had been a dicey unpopular move to call him from a local department point of view. Nobody wants the feds charging in, taking control and booting you out of your own case. But I had read the BOLO sheet on Ditweiller. Six murder charges and three more non-fatal shootings…This guy needed to be taken off the streets and I wasn’t sure I could do that on my own without collateral damage.

Having met Sullivan now, I felt better about my choice. He seemed genuinely interested in my input. There was the added bonus of him seeming to be a serious professional LEO, with a sense of humor. If we ended up spending twelve or more hours in a car together on the proposed stakeout, it would go smoother if he wasn’t an uptight asshole. Granted, we’d only spent five minutes in each other’s company so far, but I’d met my fair share of law enforcement people who I wanted to punch inside of sixty seconds. We tend to be an aggressive, opinionated lot.

From a purely physical point of view, Sullivan looked fit and solid, the sort of colleague you would want alongside you in a firefight. I’d been in a few shootouts. It was never like simulations. There was more adrenaline and more terror, too. Maybe it was because the bullets were real.

I finished up some paperwork on another case that was winding down, and didn’t see any use in going home before meeting him for dinner. By the time I looked at the clock on my computer screen, there was barely more than half an hour to go. I’d amble on over to the restaurant and grab a beer, and dawdle until Sullivan got there. The TV in the bar would almost undoubtedly be set to something sports related. As long as it wasn’t golf, I could stand to watch it for a while.

Tromping across the parking lot to my car, the wind howled an icy blast. One of these years, I’d spend a few weeks in the Bahamas in January, and escape the biting cold and snow of Chicago winters. The forecast for tomorrow included more of the white stuff. Thrilling.

I got to the barbecue place and went to the bar. Basketball was on TV. I ordered a beer and took a sip. In less than ten minutes, Sullivan settled on the stool beside me.

“Great minds think alike,” he said. He flagged the bar tender. “Double of Black Bush please.” As he waited for his drink, he swiveled to face me. “I’m guessing you came here straight from the precinct?”

“Yeah, I spent a while on paperwork.”

“The task that never ends.”

“And if we’re going to be out of the office all day tomorrow, I thought I’d try to catch up enough that I won’t be too buried when we’re done.”

The bar tender sat the glass down in front of Sullivan. “Thanks,” he said to the man, and lifted his glass in my direction. “Here’s to speedy apprehension of the bad guy.”

I clinked my glass against his.

* * * *

Mostly we talked shop over dinner. There’s no clean way to eat ribs. You always end up with sauce and grease all over your fingers. I wasn’t really sure what it was about watching him stick his fingers in his mouth that was oddly fascinating. Maybe it was about his enjoyment of the taste, or his lack of finesse.

“What time do you want me to come by the precinct in the morning?” he asked.

“How ‘bout eight? It’s going to take us close to ninety minutes to get out there.”

“Eight’s fine. How’d you end up cultivating a contact that far outside the city? Isn’t it outside of your jurisdiction?”

“I started out following one guy who led to another that led to yet another. And yeah, technically he’s too far out but I’m using him as a CI so there’s some grayness involved,” I admitted.

“That’s fine. Just curious.” Sullivan slouched back in his chair and stared at the table.

I assumed he was thinking.

“Wear your vest. Bring extra clips,” he said, meeting my eyes again. “I’m hoping for a quick and easy take down, but this guy is dangerous. He’s already killed six people.”

“I’m not a newbie. I’ve been on the job for over a decade.”

“Good. Ever shot anyone before?”

“Unfortunately, yes, I admitted.”

“Dead?”

“One…taking him out was a service to humanity and it was in the middle of a full on gang shoot out. There was another one…He survived, which is good, I think. You?”

“Five. Marshals seldom get sent after the harmless ones.”

For a moment I thought his expression made him look haunted. “Maybe we’ll get lucky.”

“It happens now and then.”

* * * *

Chapter 3: US Marshal Ken Sullivan

I let Branham drive the car we checked out of the motor pool. After all, he had a much better idea on where we were going and wasn’t dependent on GPS to get us there. The first hour of driving was urban, turning into suburbia then finally looking pretty rural. I wasn’t sure I liked the heaviness of the low hanging clouds.

“I didn’t check the weather. Are we going to get rained on?” I asked.

“The temp’s hovering a couple of degrees below freezing. It’s more likely to be snow than rain.”

“Fabulous. I forgot that Chicago ought to be considered part of the great white north.”

“I thought you were from DC.”

“I am. When it snows more than two flakes, the whole city freaks.”

Branham chuckled. “Not so much up here then.”

“When we get there, should we pay your contact a visit?”

“I’d rather leave him guessing. He’s on the twitchy side and he might tip off Ditweiller.”

“Okay, your call. You’re the one who’s familiar with him.

* * * *

Stakeouts are tedious and boring, and in this case, cold. Running the car too much drew attention. The two of us took turns going for a walk, hitting a convenience store/ gas station combo up the street to stretch our legs and use the bathroom. Four and half hours into it, I spotted a man who might be Ditweiller enter the pawn shop. Given the cold and the beginnings of snow flurries, the man was bundled up and I couldn’t be entirely certain if it was him.

“The height is about right and the build, it could be him,” I said to Branham, as I speculated my next move.

He was on the same page. “Would he recognize you?”

“No, we’ve never met, even at a distance.”

“Moreau knows me though. So why don’t you go have a stroll inside and see if you can confirm whether it’s him or not.”

“On it. If you hear gunfire…”

“Let’s hope not.”

I got out and walked over to the pawn shop, going inside. There were four people. One guy behind the counter, I assumed was Moreau. A young couple, man and woman, were looking at jewelry in the case and talking about a bracelet. The man who had just entered was eyeballing a pair of guitars hanging on the wall. He’d taken his watch cap off and I could tell at this range it wasn’t Ditweiller. I dawdled, looking at watches, so as not to tip off Moreau that I wasn’t really a customer. My phone buzzed with a text. I pulled it out and glanced at the screen.

Another guy heading in

The text was from Branham. I looked up and saw another man come through the door. Bingo. I returned my gaze to the watches. “How much for this one?” I asked.

“Two ten,” said Moreau.

“I assume it runs.”

“It probably needs a battery.”

“I’ll think about it.” I ambled out of the store and jogged back across the street. Sliding into the car, I unzipped my coat and popped the snap on my holster. “It’s him. There’s other people in the store. So I vote we grab him on the way out.”

Branham nodded and we both got out. The snow was starting to fall heavier. We took up positions on opposite sides of the door and waited. After about fifteen minutes, the couple came out. Branham and I exchanged glances.

“Something’s off,” Branham said.

“Agreed.”

We went inside. Only Moreau was there.

Branham grabbed the front of Moreau’s shirt. “Where’d your buddy go?”

“Ou-out the back. He was being…squirrely!” Moreau said.

Branham charged around the counter with me on his heels and we threaded our way through the back room and out the rear door. A car was pulling away at the far end of the alley.

“We need to follow him!” Branham darted back through the pawn shop, but I ran up the alley to try and catch a glimpse of which direction the car was headed. It was a brown, four-door Chevy and it turned left as I reached the end of the alley.

I got a partial plate of FNB3. I hastily circled around the corner toward where Branham and I had parked. He had already started the car and was headed toward me. I jumped in. “He went left at the intersection.”

Branham gunned the car and took off in that direction.

“I think that’s him up ahead.” I pointed at the car a quarter mile down the road becoming ever less visible in the increasing snow. “Jesus fuck, what is up with the weather?”

Branham was silent, focusing on the road and lengthening distance between us and Ditweiller’s car. We sped along in totally crap-ass visibility for more than five minutes, trying to close the gap without success.

Suddenly I saw brake lights and realized Ditweiller had slammed on the brakes in the middle of the road. I heard a sharp inhale from Branham as he stood on the brakes. Our car skidded, hit the edge of the road, and flipped.

* * * *

Chapter 4: Chicago Detective Michael Branham

I heard the slow ticking sound of cooling metal. My head was a fog of pain and it took me a while to realize I was upside down, dangling from the seatbelt. My left shoulder and upper arm hurt like hell. I blinked and fumbled for the seat belt release, and crashed into a heap in the inside of the roof. Fuck. Bad plan. It took me another minute or two to catch my breath and get my scrambled brain cells going again.

Where the hell was Sullivan? I glanced around the inside of the car. The passenger side door looked like it had been ripped off. I crawled out the opening and damn near fell over top of him. Sullivan was sprawled mostly face down in a snow bank, limp and unconscious. I felt for a pulse. It was fast and steady. Thank God. But how bad was he hurt? I ran my hands down along his body. The only blood I saw was from a gash on the side of his scalp. Nothing felt broken, but what the hell did I know? He could have some massive spinal injury.

Sullivan groaned and made a floundering attempt to roll over.

“Don’t move. You got flung out of the car when we rolled.” I put a hand on his shoulder to keep him from flopping around anymore.

He wiggled his fingers and feet, took a deep breath and squinted up at me. “My head hurts like hell and I’m kinda banged up, but I don’t think anything’s broken.” Snow was coming down hard. Maybe down was a misnomer, the wind was whipping the icy wetness in almost blinding gusts.

I groped in my coat for my phone. When I pulled it out, I realized it was useless. Not only was the screen shattered, part of the back was broken off. “Where’s your phone?”

He patted his own coat, shoved hands in his pants pockets, and came up empty. “No clue.”

“Well, shit.” I looked around as best as I could in the whirling snow. It had probably gone flying when Sullivan did. We had no way to call for help.

“Honest, I’m more or less okay. We can’t stay here. We can’t possibly be that far outside of town.”

“Okay. I guess. Sit up slowly. Tell me if anything hurts, well hurts bad anyway.” It was the best I could come up with. I helped him sit up.

He flexed his arms and legs. “There’s some aches and I’m probably gonna be black and blue tomorrow, but I think I can walk.” He slowly got to his feet, standing there a little unsteadily once he was up.

“You were out cold when I found you. Chances are you have a concussion.”

“And there’s absolutely crap all we can do about it right this minute.” He took a few steps and braced a hand on one of the tires. The car vaguely resembled a dead bug, all four wheels sticking up in the air, the body and frame crinkled and mutilated. He stood there looking at it, then glanced back at the depression in the snow where he’d been lying. “Why the hell am I still alive?”

“I don’t have an answer, but I’m glad you are.”

“You’re bleeding.” He pointed at my arm.

There was a jagged tear in the sleeve of my coat and on closer inspection, in my arm, too. The blood had soaked the fabric enough that it was starting to drip into the snow. Sullivan yanked off his scarf and wound it tightly around my arm. It seemed to stem the flow for now.

“We need to get walking, or we’re going to freeze to death.” I beckoned him to follow me up the shallow grade to the road. He was wobbly, his steps on the uncertain side. I took hold of his arm, guiding him.

We walked down what might have been the middle of the road. With this much snow, all I could tell was that the surface under all the whiteness was hard enough to be pavement. No grass stuck up. We trudged for what may have been a mile, and saw nothing but some trees and fence posts. I hadn’t been paying all that much attention to exactly where we were going while we were following Ditweiller. The area outside of town was mostly farmland that much I did remember from a glance at my phone while we were killing time parked in front of the pawn shop.

Even though we both had winter jackets, hats and gloves, we hadn’t worn boots and we weren’t truly outfitted for this raging cluster fuck of a blizzard. The snow was heavy and wet. We were getting soaked and if we didn’t find shelter soon, somebody was going to find our frozen dead bodies when the storm was over and done.

Lurking in the gray white swirl I saw something that might be a building. “Sullivan! Is that a house?”

“Not sure. Go that way anyway.” He was stumbling.

I wasn’t doing a whole lot better. We slogged through the next hundred yards. Yes, it was a building. It was big, some kind of barn I thought. The door near the corner was locked with a padlock. Shit. Just great.

“Stand back,” Sullivan said.

I realized he had pulled his gun out. Okay that was one solution, probably the easiest.

“We’ll be good honest cops later and pay for the damage.” He aimed at the lock and pulled the trigger. The shot broke the hasp rather than the padlock but either way it solved the problem. I yanked the door open and we staggered inside, pulling the door shut behind us.

Inside…it was quiet. I hadn’t noticed just how loud the howl of the wind and driving snow had been in my ears. We both sank to the floor and sat immobile, trying to catch our breath. Eventually I looked at what was around me. Open half-doors lined one side of the building. We sat in a long wide hall. A partially disassembled pickup truck occupied all of one end of the hall. Hay bales and other things were stacked at intervals. Behind me was a room, more of a partially walled off corner that had a desk, some file cabinets, and office equipment.

“I think it’s a stable,” Sullivan said.

“No horses, as far as I can tell. I guess they’re shut down for the winter.”

“Yuh.”

His head hung down. He shivered weakly and struggled to pull off his gloves with his teeth.

“We need to get warm and dry.” I got to my feet. Here, away from the snow, I saw how soaked we were. On top of a couple of hay bales, a stack of horse blankets lay. I took a look in one of the stalls. The straw strewn across the floor looked clean. No horse crap.

“If we toss down a couple of layers of blankets, we can strip off all the wet stuff and cover up with a few more layers.” I turned. Sullivan had vanished. I walked a handful of steps back down the hallway. Sullivan was down on his knees next to the desk. A bulky kerosene heater sat on the floor in front of him.

“The heater seems to be almost full,” he said. “But we need matches or a lighter.” We spent a few minutes digging through the desk and finally came up with a lighter. “We should be able to light a long piece of straw and use it to light the wick.” He gave the lighter itself a quick test to make sure it was functional.

“If we push all the straw off to one side and put it in one of the stalls where it’s more enclosed, it’d go a long way toward getting us warm.”

“It’s heavy. I think I’m going to need some help sliding it down the hall.”

“Okay.” I started to help but it ended up being a one-handed affair mostly. My injured arm was not cooperating all that well. We did finally get the heater into the stall, as well as the blankets where we wanted them. God, we were both fumbling and uncoordinated from the bitter cold.

Sullivan spent a couple of minutes getting the heater lit. It took several tries to get the wick up and a burning piece of straw in the right place. I started to remove my coat, but got hung up because of the scarf that was wrapped tightly around my arm. I tried to unknot it but my cold cramped fingers and the wetness of the fabric made it impossible.

“Here, let me help.” Sullivan reached out and began to pull the knot in the scarf loose. “There’s a lot of blood.” He sounded concerned.

“We’ve been moving nearly nonstop since the wreck. I’m sure that hasn’t helped.”

By the time he got the scarf loose and gave me a hand getting the coat off, I revised my opinion. The scarf was soaked. Was that all my blood or was some of it wetness due to the snow? I was already feeling a little on the lightheaded side.

“Sit down next to the heater. Let’s get your shirt off, too and see how bad it really is.”

“The lighting in here sucks. I saw a light switch in the hallway. Is there any power?” I sat down, inches from the heater. Even the beginning warmth felt blissful.

“I flipped it. Nothing. My best guess is the storm’s taken out the power.” He flailed out of his sodden coat and tossed mine and his over the half door to the stall.

I began to shake. Why now? We’d finally gotten to shelter.

“Arms up, if you can.” Sullivan removed my polo shirt. It was nearly as soaked as the coat. “We’re both likely to have h-hyp-pothermia.” He was shaking, too. “As soon as we stopped moving, the wet clothes are sucking what little body heat we have left. We gotta get your arm to stop bleeding though. Stay put.” He left the stall and returned in a couple of minutes with a few things in his hands.

“Where’d you get the towel?” I asked.

“It was on a shelf back near the truck. It looks fairly clean. It was folded up like somebody had run it through the laundry.” He pulled a Leatherman out of his pocket and cut the towel into segments. One he used to wipe off some of the still flowing blood. “This is undoubtedly going to hurt.” He held up a bottle of super glue. “It was on the desk next to a bridle.”

“You’re going to g-glue my arm back together?”

“You really need stitches. This is the best I can come up with. Poor man’s version of surgical glue.”

“Enh, okay.”

He squeezed the edges of the evil gash together, which made me grit my teeth in pain. The glue hitting my open wound caused a sharp burning sensation. And then he blew on it and he held it shut.

“At least that mostly stopped the bleeding.” He bound my arm up with strips of the towel. “Try not to move it around too much.”

I felt like I was going to pass out, so not moving sounded like a good thing…except for the fact I was shaking and my teeth were chattering.

He yanked off my shoes and socks and gestured at my jeans. “Those have to come off, too.”

“Y-yeah…they’re soaked, too.” I stumbled to my feet and wrenched my belt buckle open, unzipping in an awkward fashion. Sullivan shoved my jeans down and I stepped out. Letting some other guy help me undress was weird, but too damn necessary to agonize about it too much.

Sullivan stripped naked, dumping all his clothes in a pile off to one side of the heater. He lifted up the stack of horse blankets and horse coats so that roughly half remained on the piled straw and half were held up by his hand. “Lay down.”

I did. He flopped down beside me and dragged all the remaining blankets over top of us.

We lay there, both shivering. At least we were dry, if you didn’t count my thoroughly wet briefs. Fuck it, I now comprehended why Sullivan had taken everything off. I squirmed around enough to kick my own underwear out from under the blankets.

“I didn’t want to presume,” he said softly.

“We’re adults. It’s fine.”

* * * *

Chapter 5: US Marshal Ken Sullivan

I was so cold that I knew I wanted all the wet clothes off. Screw modesty. Screw embarrassment. I was counting on the blankets to absorb the residual melted snow off my skin. But…there were guys who would choose misery and danger over the possibility of another touching their junk. I had no idea where on that spectrum Branham fell.


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