(This is a sporadic CC serial. A list of the previous installments can be found in order below. JS)
Louis Broderick pulled the almost new Chrysler Imperial into the parking lot by the formidable concrete structure. Lighting a Brougham brand cigarette as he walked past the electrically charged concertina wire fence, he took several heavy drags before tamping it out by the unadorned front entrance.
Walking inside, Louis went through the metal detector before waving his badge to the armed guard who pointed him toward the armor plated door. Upon hearing the buzz, Louis opened the door and was met by another guard. As this second guard escorted Louis down the hall, Louis heard the authoritative sound of the steel door slamming shut, emphasizing he was now on the inside and leaving this facility unaccompanied would be an impossibility.
Weaving their way through a maze-like series of hallways, Louis was shown to the mini-courtroom deep within the bowels of the maximum security prison. Security for transporting prisoners for parole and other legal hearings was simply too cost-prohibitive; it was easier and cheaper to bring a judge and attorneys to the prison. While Louis was neither judge nor attorney, he was there for an extradition hearing.
No sooner had Louis taken his assigned seat than the bailiff called out “All rise!” as the judge entered the cinderblock room.
All formalities were quick. Full responsibility for Louis’s charge, Henry Crichton, were now given to him as he was to transport Crichton from Marietta to the federal penitentiary in Marion. Not a short trip, but one Louis knew was imperative for being successful.
This thought was reiterated by the judge when he singled out Louis just prior to the commencement of the proceedings: “Mr. Broderick, I cannot emphasize the depths to which you are responsible for this felon. Remember that despite all security efforts, word of what happens always seems to travel fast. That is why you are here. Crichton is a man sought by many, so I must implore you to exercise great intrepidness. May you be inspired by Georgia’s own Sheriff Lamar Potts and have the cunning to elude any interference you may receive.”
As Louis was escorted back outside to retrieve the Imperial, the magnitude of his latest assignment began to weigh on him. He knew that while he might be queasy on the inside, he must keep his poker face; unfortunately, Louis was cognizant he had recently developed the habit of running his tongue over his new front teeth when his nerves were rustled. Trying to reassure himself, he knew he obviously would not have been assigned the movement of Crichton had he not been highly capable of doing so.
Wheeling the Imperial through the sally port and into the transfer tunnel, the overhead gate closed with the same raw authority as did the steel door from earlier. As Louis pulled to the curb, two guards escorted Crichton out a nearby steel door. Still in shackles, Crichton was placed into the specially equipped passenger seat. It was fabricated such that Crichton’s arms were still behind him while he was seated and belted in. Louis’s orders were to not stop until arriving at the transfer tunnel in Marion – a driving time of around six hours.
Leaving the prison, both Louis and Crichton rode in absolute silence. Louis drove briskly but not to the point of creating undue attention. While he possessed a get-out-of-jail-free card of sorts, he wanted to blend in with traffic.
Neither spoke until they were slowed down by a wreck blocking both lanes of the interstate just east of Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Stopped within eyeshot of where a tattered Oldsmobile had collided with a loaded eighteen-wheeler, law enforcement was already on hand. Pulling to a stop in the right lane, Louis could see an officer walking down the centerline of the highway, informing motorists of the delay.
As the officer approached them, Louis cracked his window just enough for him to hear. “Sir, we’ve had a pretty bad wreck. I’m afraid you’re going to be stuck here for a bit. We’re working on getting it cleared off.”
Thanking him, Louis rolled his window back up.
“We’ve just been set up.”
Louis was mildly surprised. “Oh? Tell me more.”
Henry had a knowing smile pull at the edge of his mouth. “Louis, I can’t believe you are that naive. Think about it. One, the wreck just happened – how is law enforcement going to be on scene so quickly? They have to fight traffic also; they don’t just appear.
“Second, have you noticed how much traffic there is on this interstate? No sane patrol officer is going to walk down the center of the road with that much traffic approaching as he won’t keep up with the growth of the queue plus he’s in danger of being killed from a secondary crash.
“Third, he’s looking at who is in each vehicle. For that, you were in a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation but you handled it as best you could.”
Louis smiled. “Henry, you are right but you didn’t mention Number Four. Did you listen to how he spoke? Maybe he’s a transplant to Tennessee, but it emphasizes your points. Hold on, we’re going to haul ass.”
Looking behind him, Louis could no longer see the officer with whom he had spoken. Yep, this was a set-up! Louis confirmed to himself.
Thinking fast, Louis shoved the Chrysler into Drive and shot onto the shoulder. As soon as his tail was straight, Louis jammed the gear selector into Reverse and put his foot to the firewall, the front drive wheels throwing debris onto the bottom of the front bumper. Henry, seeing how Louis was soon doing nearly 45 mph in Reverse in the 10′ space between the jammed right lane and the guardrail, was having trouble catching his breath. Louis, seemingly unfazed, kept pouring the coals to the Chrysler, its 3.8 liter V6 near wide-open throttle, the cars immediately to their left a blur of colors and a cacophony of honking horns.
Henry had been right; the traffic queue was rapidly growing and had grown to a length of nearly three miles. Once just past the tail, Louis slammed on the brakes and turned the steering wheel hard to the right. After the front end of the Chrysler had arced around nearly one-half circle and was pointing toward the median, Louis slammed the Imperial into Drive. With no discernible loss of momentum, Louis dove into the median of the interstate, aiming toward the westbound lanes.
As Louis traversed the median, he could see a ratty Ford Mustang off in the distance doing a hasty dive into the median from the left lane, a rooster tail of brown, water deprived grass coming from its spinning rear wheels.
Hitting the westbound lanes of I-24, Louis kept his foot planted to the floor of the Imperial in a valiant hope it would keep delivering more oomph than Lee Iacocca had seen fit to endow it with. Seeking the next interchange, Louis was trying to formulate a plan of escape. As he saw the rapid approach of both the Mustang and the US 41 interchange, Louis took his foot off the throttle, slowing down to around 70 mph in the left lane just beyond the gore point of the interchange.
As the Mustang pulled up alongside Louis, he could see the driver attempting eye contact. As the driver lowered the Mustang’s window, Louis could see a second goon aiming a chrome-plated .357 Magnum toward Henry’s head.
Standing on the brakes, Louis steered into the median, making a deafening noise inside the Imperial and creating a large dust cloud. Keeping his foot in the throttle, Louis crossed this wide median back toward the eastbound lanes of I-24 and the interchange of US 41. The Mustang shot past them, locking up its brakes as it did a rubber melting U-turn into the median.
Blasting up the off-ramp onto US 41, Louis had to slow for an inattentive driver in a Camry to turn right. Slowing to about 20 mph before turning left onto Murfreesboro Highway, Louis immediately felt the warm, wet slobber of the spitball that had just hit him: the Ultradrive transaxle in his Imperial was slipping considerably, with the engine revving up wildly during upshifts. Louis knew he had to regroup.
Reaching over the unfasten Henry’s seatbelt, Louis said, “Okay, Henry, you better play along or we’re both going to be pushing up daisies. I’m getting you to Marion but not in this Chrysler. They are going to let us use their Mustang.”
Able to see the Mustang heading their way, Louis knew he had a short window in which to execute his latest contingency plan. He just hoped the Imperial made it before the transaxle finished taking a dump.
Louis lit a Brougham cigarette as he slowed down. Reaching over to open Henry’s door, Louis instructed Henry to roll into the ditch, lie facedown, and act dead. As Henry rolled out of the slow moving Chrysler, Louis aimed the Imperial toward a box culvert. Sticking his cigarette in his mouth, Louis rolled out of the Imperial before it rolled forward, straddled the headwall of a box culvert that ripped open both its oil pan and fuel tank, then thunderously overturning onto its roof before coming to rest on its side.
Hearing the Mustang approach, Louis crouched down on the embankment on the opposite side of the road. He wanted a good view of the Mustang.
As the Mustang approached, its engine sound making a complete mockery of those “Turbo” badges, the driver locked up his brakes, stopping the Mustang at a 45 degree angle to the centerline. Shutting off the engine, both passengers vacated the Mustang with the Magnum packing passenger holstering his sidearm.
One said to the other: “Damn, they’re both still inside the car.”
As the two men from the Mustang walked through the dead grass of the ditch and into the water containing the overturned Imperial, Louis stood up and silently crept toward the Mustang. Looking at the rears of the two while walking backwards toward the Mustang, Louis inadvertently kicked a beer can that some litterbug had chucked onto the road.
The two from the Mustang looked up from the water and saw Louis standing there.
As the passenger reached for his gun, Louis piped up. “Stud, if you pull out that pea-shooter, you’ll never learn where Crichton is. He’s not in the car.”
“Where is he?”
Louis smiled and took a good pull on his Brougham. “Crichton is being taken to Montgomery, Alabama. I’m a ruse so it looks like somebody bull-shitted you. If I were you, I’d be pissed.” Louis took another pull on his cigarette.
The two goons from the Mustang looked at each other and smiled. “We’re not falling for that crap. With what Crichton’s done, Marion is the only place for him. And we can’t exactly just let you go.”
Louis could see where this was going. “That’s not showing any kind of southern hospitality. Besides, Sparky won’t like that.”
The Mustang passenger laughed and said “Sparky, my ass” as he reached inside his coat jacket toward his holster.
With that, Louis flicked his blazing Brougham into the oil and gasoline filled water. Upon Louis’s Brougham hitting the petroleum filled creek water, the two from the Mustang hardly knew what hit them. When the foul stench hit Louis, he breathed a sigh of relief.
“Well, you dumb-asses can’t say I didn’t offer you an out.” He also swore he would never quit smoking as it had saved his life too many times.
Walking back behind the Mustang, Louis fetched Henry out of the ditch and guided him to the Mustang.
“Louis, that was impressive. By the way, did anyone tell you about my history?”
Thinking about it, Louis realized he hadn’t found it pertinent. “No, Henry, I don’t know.”
“Louis, I used to have your job. You need to be very wary of those around you.”
To be continued…
The Imperial was found in Hannibal, Missouri, May 2015
The Mustang was found in Holts Summit, Missouri, in 2013
The Passenger series, in order: