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The Tail
A Short Story By R. Douglas Frederick

The tail lights of Joey's car flew silently through the darkness. The bug's constant BEEP-BEEP-BEEP told us what we already knew; Joey was just up ahead. On occasion, we would get a little snide comment from the tiny microphone hidden beneath his wide gaudy lapel.

"Snitch to Narcs . . . Snitch to Narcs . . . Can you read me?" The heavily accented voice oozed out of the speaker. "Just a little ways more dudes and you get your goodies!" Detective Johnson took his eyes off his driving in time to shoot me an 'oh brother' look.

We pinched Joey several days ago trying to convince us the white powder in the bundled bags he had hidden in his rig belonged to someone else. Just a routine traffic stop. He was cruising in his rental car at 75 in a 55 zone. The Trooper at the scene didn't buy his story. His sister's friend hired him to drive her car from Miami to Seattle. This prompted a request to search his car. Like a dumb shit, the little turd agreed. I guess he thought the Officer was bluffing. He wasn't, and five kilos later Joey quickly agreed to cop a plea.

A quick glance at is rap sheet spoke almost as loud as the Hawaiian shirt he wore under that obnoxious sports coat. Three priors for transporting, two for selling and five for possession. Some guys just never learn when to quit while they're ahead. He wasn't really a bad guy. A well mannered smart ass perhaps. Never violent though; he always went along without a fight when he got popped, and always managed to get out early on good behavior. Until the next time.

With the agreement we would go easy on him, Joey said he would be happy to lead us to the 'Big Guys'. Still, there was something about this guy I didn't like. Besides the obvious fact of being a dope smuggler, the whole setup just didn't feel right.

We wired him up and gave him his car back so he could continue his delivery. With our little homing bug planted inside a coke bag, we could trace it right to it's final destination. Which at this point just ten miles from our present position. So for the time being, Mr. Jose Hernandez joined the good guys. At least that's what he told us.

He informed us he was part of a mule network making runs from Miami to a remote ranch in central Oregon. According to him, two thirds of the cocaine in the Pacific Northwest was distributed through this ranch. We had no reason to doubt him, in fact our own continuing investigations pointed to a central Oregon distribution point.

As Joey's tail lights flared bright, he slowed down and turned onto a non-paved road.

"OK dudes, I'll have to go on alone from here . . ." The electronic Hispanic voice informed us, " . . . these guys have this road watched and they know who's drivin' on it."

As per our plan, Joey would go on ahead while we listened and waited for our signal. He didn't know about the homing bug in the coke. Our insurance just in case he decided to be a bad boy after all. His car headed on down the gravel road, as we slowed our unit and pulled off on to a small fire access road. The lava cinders crunched beneath the unmarked "Narc Mobile's" tires as we slid to a stop.

Our convoy included four rigs; two Game pickups out of Bend and a metallic red sedan loaded with DEA and FBI guys. Everyone wanted a piece of this action. Joey had mentioned these boys are armed to the teeth, and tended to get nasty if cornered. I checked my watch. Ten forty three according to the liquid crystals. Better check in with the district dispatch.

"Fifty-One from Fifty-Three." I told the plastic microphone in my hand.

"Fifty-Three." Was the immediate reply.

"We've reached the staging area. Will proceed at the signal in about twenty."

"Copy. Let us know when you're ready. Fifty-One out."

It would take him close to twenty minutes to get to the ranch on this road. So we passed the time by putting on body armor, checking radios and loading our pieces. The cool dry night air a pleasant change from the humid valley summer. The jet black moonless sky blazed with stars. Thoughts of possible fire fights seemed quite unreal amid this tranquil setting.

"Wow! Did you see that!!" Exclaimed an FBI guy in a loud whisper. I could just make out his arm's dark form pointing skyward. Everyone looked up to see a bright star silently gliding along. Must be a city boy, I thought.

"Never seen a satellite before?" I quipped as I focused on the little light above us. No sooner had the words came from my mouth, the light made a ninety degree turn. It didn't slow down. It just started going in another direction.

"I've never seen a satellite do that before!" Special Agent Robinson replied.

As we watched, it made several more abrupt turns as it zig-zagged on before disappearing behind the tree line. Being rational cops, we all just told ourselves it was ' . . . only a plane or something . . .' It was the 'something' that reinforced my already creepy feeling about this operation.

"Hey, our boy just stopped!" Detective Schmidt called out from the lead car. He had been monitoring our beeping coke bag, and the tell tale Doppler shift stopped shifting, suggesting a motionless car. Too soon. He couldn't have made it to the ranch that quick.

"I knew it!" I said. "I had a feeling that little slimeball wouldn't come through."

"Let's give him a few minutes . . ." Special Agent Daniels answered. ". . . then we move in and see what's happening."

"The beep's dead!" Schmidt said. The little creep must have found the bug.

"OK boys, saddle up!" I commanded as I slid myself into the lead car's passenger side. The caravan pulled out and headed on down the road.

"Hows the wire?" I asked, leaning over the seat to Schmidt.

"It's still active. But I just get heavy breathing." He turned up the volume and we could hear Joey panting hard.

"Sounds like he's got a friend in there with him!" Johnson chuckled, as he shifted into second. We started to head up a steep hill.

"Better call in and let 'em know what's happening." I said as I reached down and grabbed the radio mike.

"Fifty-One from Fifty-Three . . . Fifty-One from Fifty-Three . . ." The speaker was silent. Great. A dead spot. This country was full of them what with all the hills and mountains around. ". . . can't copy, will try later. Fifty-Three out."

Joey's breathing started to increase. ". . . oh no . . . not again . . . not now . . ." His voice had a distinct terror edge to it. Another noise began to be heard over the breathing; A high pitched whine, almost like a dentist's drill.

"Oh shit, he's going to get dusted." Schmidt quipped from the back seat. Johnson pressed down harder on the gas pedal.

I tried the radio again. No luck. I tried to talk to the other units behind us, and I couldn't raise them either. Odd, I thought. The Bend station might be out of range, but the other cars are right behind us. I looked back, and the headlights to the rear started to drop back.

"What the hell are those guys doing?" Johnson said glancing into the rear view mirror.

I turned around and noticed some lights up ahead. "There's Joey!" I said. As we got closer, we could see some other bright lights silhouetting Joey's car. Must be another car from the ranch I thought.

"Let's pull over and wait for our buddys . . ." I told Johnson. ". . . don't want to go flying into this thing all by ourselves!"

Johnson pulled over and I turned back around. The other units were nowhere in sight.

"Those assholes . . ." I muttered as I turned back towards the front again. The lights on Joey's car now seemed to be coming from above! Then as I watched, the lights went out.

Our car must have stalled at the same instant, since we were now parked in silent dark on the roadside. I glanced over to Johnson, his dark form a silent statue, hands gripping the wheel. Weird, I thought as I reached up and felt my nose. The left nostril was plugged up, and a dull, throbbing pain pulsed from deep within my sinuses.

Lights flared on from behind. Startled, I turned around to see the headlights from the other cars shining through the rear window, then the bug's BEEP-BEEP-BEEP started up. I swung back in time to see Johnson starting up the car.

"How the hell did that happen?? I don't remember turning off the car!"

"You mean it didn't just stall?" I asked.

"No way! The key was turned off!" I looked up ahead, and saw Joey's car.

"Cover me." I asked as I opened the door and slid out behind it. I drew my piece as Johnson aimed the spot light on the vehicle in front of us. Joey was there. We could hear his normal breathing over the radio.

Schmidt grabbed the shotgun and flanked out to the other side as I approached the motionless car. Joey just sat there looking straight ahead. His eyes were open, but he seemed doped up. Great, I thought. The jerk must have pulled over for a little toot and got a bit too much.

I flashed my penlight into his eyes as I holstered my revolver. His reaction startled me as much as him.

"Wha . . . don't do that mahn! Where did you come from?" He inquired.

"Come on Joey, what's the scoop?" I asked. "Why did you stop, and where did that other car go to?"

"Stop? Other car? What are you talking about??" I noticed dried blood under his left nostril.

"I thought you promised you'd play it straight with us and not toot up?" I told him.

"I didn't toot up! Come on Lieutenant, give me a break!"

"Well then what's that under your nose? Ketchup?"

He raised his right hand up and felt his upper lip with an honest puzzled look on his face. An expression of familiarity soon replaced it.

"What TIME is it Lieutenant?" he asked me. I raised my left arm up and shined my light on the digital readout. Twelve twenty six read the display.

"That's odd . . ." I mumbled. "...I must have hit the stop watch." I checked again. It was in the regular time mode. "Hey Johnson, what time you got?" I yelled back to the two bright lights behind me.

"Must be around Eleven or so . . ." he began to say ". . . wait a minute, this can't be right . . . it says it's twelve thirty!"

About this time, everybody else ran up; guns drawn and ready for action.

"What the hell is going on up here?!" Daniels commanded as he approached my position. I decided I ought to try calling in again. I went back to the car and grabbed the mike.

"Fifty-One from Fifty-Three."

"Fifty-Three. Where have you guys been? Any longer and we were going to send out the cavalry!"

"We hit a dead spot, but we can read you fine now. Will be moving out in a minute or so."

"Copy Fifty-Three. That's the longest twenty minutes we've ever sat through!"

"Everything's under control now, just a little delay. Fifty-Three out."

We all now wore puzzled looks, except Joey. He had a knowing smirk on his face as he rubbed his nose.

"OK Joey, I want some answers NOW!!" I commanded.

He just shot me this little smart ass grin. "You'd never believe me!" As nightmarish memories with bug-eyed bogeymen and strange lights in the sky from childhood crept into my head, I felt as though I already knew.

"Never mind. Lets get this show on the road." We all climbed back in and proceeded with the operation.

It happened slick and easy and without any flying lead. Five pinches, several hundred kilos of coke, a pound or two of pot and enough guns to start a small war. We dropped Joey and his friends off at the county can and returned to the motel in two hours. It had been the biggest Oregon coke bust in years.

We weren't tired, so we assembled in my room with a fifth of Jack Daniels. Nobody talked about how we managed to lose an hour and a half of time. Whenever I brought it up, someone would say something like 'Yah, that was strange . . .', then they would casually and quickly change the subject.

By the next day, everyone had all but forgotten the missing time. Everyone but me that is. And maybe Joey. You see, this wasn't the first time I'd misplaced big chunks of my life. I had a feeling it wasn't going to be the last, either.

© 1987 by R. D. Frederick

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