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    C James
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental. Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 

In Memory of Ed Wooton

For the Love - 31. Six Feet Under

Just when I thought life couldn't get any sweeter, Mr. Williams added the kicker, "Tomorrow morning, the State Attorney General's office will hand down a Grand Jury indictment of the Piedmont sheriff, which will include a RICO racketeering charge, attempted murder, and a few other odds and ends."

The bad news followed fast, "This won't defuse the situation with the Piedmont DA and worse, the sheriff will likely pull out all the stops. Chris, you in particular are in danger, because you will be a key witness against him and he knows it. He's already tried to kill you for far less, so when you two get back from Hawaii, I want you both to look into college somewhere besides Lonesome Valley. Steve, you're graduating mid-term so you can both go off together in a few weeks, but you need to start planning, starting now. Getting you both out of town might be our best bet in keeping you both safe."

That night, in bed in my apartment, Steve and I talked about going off to college. The big issue was money; neither of us could afford a university due to the astronomical tuition, we'd planned all along to take our degree prerequisites in community colleges to save money.

Steve, running his fingers through my hair, raised a critical issue, "If we can win a settlement from either the sheriff, Piedmont County, or Thaddeus, then we'll have it made. According to Rick, we have a good case against the sheriff and maybe Piedmont County, but it will take a while to work its way through the courts, plus we'd have a better case once the sheriff is convicted. That leaves Thaddeus. If we have a strong case against him, he might just settle out of court, but we don't. I just hope one of the track team members rolls on him; then we'd have a good shot. Even if it takes a while with Thaddeus, I just want to see him get nailed, somehow."

After classes on Monday, I picked up Steve in the high school parking lot before heading for the bookstore. We entered through the back, carrying a power drill, a case of masonry drill bits, plus a sledgehammer and steel chisels. Betty greeted us as we closed the door, "I hope you two numbskulls aren't planning on ripping out the damn wall.? I agreed to drilling a hole, which does not require the services of a sledgehammer."

Shrugging, Steve replied, "Just wanted to come prepared, in case we spot something really good back there."

"I'll be the judge of what's good," growled Betty, "Now go get some damn work done until Dex gets here with the gizmo."

Steve and I set to work tidying up the back room, re-arranging the stock bookshelves, waiting for Dex to arrive.

The front bell clanged and moments later Betty escorted Dex into the back room. Plopping a satchel onto a table, Dex withdrew a contraption. It was not what I was expecting; it was a camcorder with a cable, which I figured must be the fiber-optic lens, attached to the front end with a liberal dose of duct tape.

"Do you have a TV set here?" Dex asked Betty.

Betty shook her head, "No. This is a bookstore, not a damn theater. Do you need to go get one?"

Dex looked around the room, only stopping when his eyes glazed for a moment, before mumbling, "Ah, when I walked in I saw a nineteen inch LCD flat-screen monitor, right by the phone on the front desk. I've got a converter I can use to connect to the video input and I can run the camcorder into that."

Betty returned with the monitor, setting it beside the camcorder, standing back to let Dex hook up the converter and cables. Within seconds, Dex had everything plugged in and powered on. Maneuvering the end of the cable with one hand, Dex made adjustments to the camera with the other, as slowly an image came into focus on the screen; the wood grains of the tabletop. Dex lifted the cable end, making some more adjustments to the camera before the open rafters of the roof and the top of a support column came into view.

"It can't auto-focus, but it is working," said Dex.

Grabbing the drill bit case and laying it open beside the cable, Steve pulled out a couple of drill bits to match against the cable. Choosing a quarter-inch bit, he fit it into the drill, spinning the chock to lock it into place.

After I'd removed the paneling, Dex had a close look at the bricks, pronouncing them rather new. I glanced at Betty; normally a statement of anything close to obvious would unleash her tongue but, to my astonishment, she said nothing.

Steve positioned the drill bit against the mortar above the first tier of bricks. After receiving an approving nod from Dex, he began drilling. I knew how hard it was to drill through cement, so I expected it to take several minutes. However, seconds later, the drill bit plunged in, all the way to the chock. Steve eased the bit back and out before stopping the drill, looking slightly puzzled as he said, "A half inch in I hit air, its not solid."

Dex had Steve drill a second hole, an inch to the right, explaining that he needed to for a light. Steve drilled, with much the same results as before.

Using a piece of wire, Dex checked to make sure both holes went all the way through. Finding that they did, he began preparing the camera by attaching a strand of heavy cotton thread to one end while explaining that doing so would allow him to change the angle of the tip with ease, once it was inside.

Retrieving a flashlight from his satchel, Dex clipped a short cable to the end; more fiber-optics, I guessed. After feeding the light into the first hole and clicking it on, he began feeding the camera into the second hole, an inch at a time, while staring at the camcorder's LED screen. The rest of us watched on the monitor, seeing only blackness until a fuzzy image filled the screen. Dex made an adjustment on the camera and the image focused, revealing a wall of bricks. Dex fed in more cable, then pulled on the thread, causing the image to shift. More focusing caused the display to change, showing only horizontal lines.

"Steps," muttered Dex.

Further manipulations of the camera, then the light, gave us a look down the steps, showing a flat area at the bottom, with an opening on either side. Dex continued his search as he said, "I looked at the back of the building when I arrived. The adjoining building protrudes further back into the alley, just by seven feet or so, but the wall does not line up quite right. It overlaps this one slightly past the dividing wall. They must have been built that way to disguise this entrance. This whole row was re-built after a fire in the nineteen twenties, so everything fits with this being a prohibition-era bootlegger's tunnel. The bottom end of the passage is cut into rock, and that fits with the old stories about the tunnels being cut by miners."

Betty asked the question on all of our minds, "Then why is there fresh brickwork behind my paneling?"

Dex shrugged, "This tunnel has been maintained, I think. If it had not, I think we would see more debris, cobwebs, things like that. I have no idea why or by whom, but it looks to me like it is still in use. Maybe whoever is using it found the entrance to your bookstore and didn't want to risk discovery, so they bricked it up."

Steve turned to Betty and asked, "I think we need to take down the wall so we can see what's down there. Can we?"

Betty nearly exploded, "No fucking way! Whoever is using it would sure as hell notice their brickwork was gone, and they would have an easy route in here, too."

Dex looked up from his camera, new images of bricks flickering on the screen, "I think there's another way. There appear to be big gaps in the mortar around several of the lower bricks. If I rig a toggle-bolt, then we drill a little and drive a few of the steel chisels in on one side to force it loose, I can use a car jack to pull a couple of the bricks towards this room slowly, probably intact."

"How can you pull something with a car jack?" I asked.

Betty interrupted to say, "Never mind that; what damn good is a hole less than a foot on a side going to do us?"

Dex gave us a shy grin, "I've got a few things in my van. I do a lot of security and computer work and that sometimes means dragging networking cables through air ducts, or just looking around inside them for stuff that shouldn't be there – depends on the job."

That explanation sounded a little too flippant and convenient for the Dex I knew, so I arched a knowing eyebrow in his direction.

Dex caught my look and blushed, "Okay; that is pretty much an excuse. I like fooling around with remote-control stuff, like planes and cars. This way it's all tax-deductible and I really do use the stuff on the job, once in a while anyway. I'll go get some stuff from my van, but I'll need one of you guys to run to the hardware store across the street. I need a heavy toggle bolt, about fifteen foot of heavy chain, and some grey driveway caulk so we can seal the brickwork up again later.

I volunteered to get the stuff from the hardware store, mainly to get away from Betty's annoyed gaze. She wasn't happy about the plan, but I knew she was as curious as we were. What amazed me was that she hadn't quizzed Dex on the details, but Dex came across as someone who could do darn near anything he said he could do, so I guess he got a pass from Betty, which was one hell of an accomplishment in and of itself.

Returning a few minutes later, supplies in hand, I found Dex busy removing something from the fuselage of a remote-controlled model plane. "A miniature TV camera and transmitter unit," he explained, "they're expensive, so I only have one and move it from device to device as needed."

The camera Dex soon had in hand was tiny, just a lens on a tiny black box circuit board, a couple of inches square. Opening a box, Dex placed on the table what looked to be a kid's remote-controlled model 4X4 with huge wheels and the top of the chassis removed. He snapped the camera into place while he remarked, "This thing can't get stuck by flipping over. It can run on either side because the tops of the wheels are higher than the body, and that makes it hard to get stuck. I saw it in a toy store so I bought it and rebuilt it. The only thing wrong with it was the weak radio and not enough bandwidth for the TV signal; it wouldn't work inside of ducts and stuff with the signal so weak. I just swapped out the transceiver for one from a model plane with adequate bandwidth and boosted the power with a linier amplifier in the vehicle and the controller. The linier amp is the same kind they use to illegally boost CB radios. The FCC would not approve, but what they don't know won't hurt me."

After closing up the little vehicle, Dex set it on the floor, using a clunky looking control box with a joystick to drive it around the room. The control unit Dex used had a small LCD screen, but Dex remedied that by connecting the controller to the computer monitor via his camcorder. He set the camcorder to record as we all stared at the screen; the image was black and white, plus a little grainy, but it seemed to work just fine, giving us some good floor-level views of the furniture and our feet.

With the vehicle ready, Dex walked over to the bricks, where Steve had already done some drilling and chiseling. Inserting the toggle bolt into a hole in the bricks, Dex tightened it before attaching the chain. He looped the other end of the chain around a steel pillar that supported the roof, using a padlock from his pocket to secure it. Steve handed him a standard scissors-style car jack, standing back to watch as Dex forced it under the chain on the far side of the pillar from the bricks.

Smiling a self-satisfied smile, Dex used a tire-iron to expand the jack while Steve held it steady. Once Dex had some tension on the chain, he paused long enough to tell me, "Use the sledge to tap the bricks a few times, really lightly."

Dex resumed expanding the jack, and with the very first tap, the bricks rebounded out an inch past their fellows. Even Betty smiled as Dex redoubled his efforts on the jack, dragging the bricks out of the wall. They came out fairly easily, sliding out by hand the last inch, giving us our access to the tunnel.

Still giving us one of his rare smiles, Dex stooped to fiddle with the model car, and I was surprised to see a pair of headlights fire. Dex picked it up, placing it in front of the hole as he said, "I sometimes need this in ducts, so I put some high-intensity LED lights from a flashlight in the headlight housings."

To my surprise, Dex went to the control box and eased the joystick forward, sending the little vehicle through the hole, where it made a clatter is it bounced down the stairs as Dex remarked, "That won't hurt it."

Dex checked the computer monitor, which now displayed an upside-down view of the bottom of a brick wall.

Betty asked, "Any way to turn the vehicle over, or do we need to watch the show upside-down?"

Dex responded by picking up the monitor and placing it upside-down against the back of a wooden chair, the image now right side up. He then rotated the controller box one hundred and eighty degrees.

We all crowded around the monitor as Dex maneuvered the vehicle. A view down the slightly rough floor of the tunnel greeted us, along with Dex saying, "The tunnel goes right and left, and it's pointing right; let's try that way first."

For several minutes we watched the tunnel pass, seeing nothing of much interest until the rough-hewn rock tunnel took a turn to the right, ending in a set of brick stairs.

Betty asked, "Any idea how far you went?"

Dex replied that his best guess was two hundred feet, which caused Betty to scratch her head before saying "That's across the side street, plus two buildings, which would put it under the mailbox and parcel-delivery shop."

Without another word, we watched as Dex turned the little vehicle around, then re-traced his route past our stairs, following the tunnel in the other direction. It passed another set of side-stairs, a brick wall at the top barely visible, and kept going. The picture grew worse, beginning to fade out altogether as Dex called a halt, "I'm losing signal; I think the tunnel roof is about six feet underground, so the thickness of the rock, combined with the lack of line-of-sight, is blocking the radio waves. Hang on for a few while I fix it."

Dex pulled some sheathed wire from his satchel, plugged one end into the controller box, and then tossed the coil of wire through the hole. The picture cleared immediately, so the exploration continued, going much further than we had in the other direction.

The tunnel opened up into a large room with a set of stairs to the left, a closed door on the far end, stacks of boxes and an old cot bed to the right. Dex pulled the little car close to some of the boxes, revealing shipping labels on some, while others were just standard cardboard boxes, complete with hand holes in the sides.

Dex's eyes glazed over for a few moments, which I'd learned was normal when he was deep in thought. Without warning, Dex began driving the little vehicle back down the tunnel.

We remained silent until he reached the foot of our stairs and Betty asked, "What now?"

Dex angled his head in his characteristic way before replying, "We went several hundred yards, which puts that room about a block from here, which would be about where Thaddeus' church is. Therefore, we have a tunnel connecting the parcel-delivery store and the church of someone we know is part of a crime ring. That makes for a very convenient way to ship stuff in and out. There wasn't any dust that I could see on those boxes so they have been moved recently. Some of the boxes had chemical warning labels on them, others didn't. I think I'd like to find out where they are going."

Betty spun around to glare at Steve and me, jabbing a finger through the air in our direction she snarled, "You two knew, didn't you? You knew Thaddeus was involved and that's why you were so gung-ho to poke around down there."

Steve replied, "Suspected it a little maybe, but it was just a hunch."

Betty advanced towards us, hollering, "Why the fuck didn't you two say so in the first place? If there's anything I'd want to be part of, it's nailing Thaddeus."

Steve asked Dex, "See anything that would give the police probable cause to search?"

Nodding his head, Dex replied, "Probably, because the tunnel is outside the property lines, so they wouldn't need a warrant. They could go in this way, just knock the wall down and enter. My best guess though is they'd prefer to have more information before doing anything that would alert Thaddeus. I think they would approve of what I am planning, so I'm just going to do it."

Betty turned to Dex and asked, more politely than usual, "Just what do you plan to do?"

Dex retrieved some supplies from his satchel as he replied, "First, I need to get the car out. Then, I need to rig it to plant a GPS tracking device in one of those boxes."

No one bothered to question how, so we just watched as Dex unrolled a curly strip of flypaper from its canister, tying some string to the ceiling hanger before tossing it through the hole with care. He then drove the little vehicle over it, reversing a few times to fully entangle its wheels and axels, allowing him to pull the vehicle slowly up the stairs and through the hole.

Without a word, Dex exited via the back door, only to return moments later with a small black plastic box the size of a deck of playing cards. Betty glanced at it before saying, "You just happened to have a GPS tracking device sitting around in your van?"

Dex shrugged, "I do security work, which sometimes involves covert tracking. I use this one in my van for my own security; I have a lot of gear in there, so if the van is ever stolen, I can track it in near-real-time."

Steve chuckled as he added, "What Dex is trying so hard not to say is that one of his sidelines is tracking cheating spouses."

I'd known that about Dex, but Betty certainly hadn't; her eyes opened a little wider, but she said nothing, while Dex tried his best to ignore Steve's comment.

Placing the little vehicle on a table, Dex removed the flypaper, dabbing at the sticky spots with some foul-smelling chemical. Once done, he used needle-nose pliers to bend some thick, stiff wire into shape for affixing the GPS to the front of the little remote-controlled vehicle. He then browsed through Betty's desk drawer, dumping some rubber bands and paper clips onto the table. With great care, he attached the paperclips to the tracker with the rubber bands so that they protruded both above and below one edge. He walked with haste to the front of the shop where he grabbed some Blu-tac, a slightly adhesive putty often used for mounting posters on walls. Returning to the table, he positioned the GPS tracker in the wire frame, securing it with a small amount of the Blu-tac. He pulled it free a few times, adjusting the amount of adhesive until he was satisfied.

Dex placed the remote-controlled vehicle by the hole, with the GPS device held level several inches above and in front of the chassis, looking very much like a miniature bulldozer with its blade held high. He threaded his twine through the rear axel, retaining both ends as he dipped the front of the vehicle to pass it through the hole.

Sitting cross-legged on the floor, controller in one hand, the two strands of string in the other, Dex squinted at the small LCD screen on the controller, deep in concentration as he eased the vehicle down the stairs, using the motor to rotate the front wheels and return it fully upright every time it reached a step. Five agonizing minutes later, he had the little 4x4 level on the tunnel floor. Dex pulled one of the strings with caution, pulling it through until it came clear of both the vehicle below and the hole in the wall. Now free to proceed, Dex drove the miniature car at a snail's pace down the tunnel, taking over a quarter of an hour to reach the room at the end.

With sweat on his brow, Dex lined up the vehicle with a box, watching on the larger computer monitor with the rest of us. The room was so silent you could have heard a pin drop, no one daring to do more than breathe as Dex approached the box for the tenth time, stopped a few inches away, took a deep breath, and jammed the controller's joystick all the way forward.

The picture dissolved into a jittery blur, resolving again as Dex reversed the little car while staring intently at the screen. He jammed the joystick back and forth a few times, causing the picture to bounce as his face lit with one of his rare smiles. Wheeling the little rover around, he aimed it back down the tunnel in our direction, his prior tension gone.

Betty apparently noticed the change in Dex so felt free to ask, "I watched the whole thing like a hawk, but I have no idea what you just did. Care to explain?"

Straightening his back, holding his head high though his eyes were still glued to the screen, Dex said, "I knew how high the hand holes in the box were, so I made that wire frame to hold the tracker in the correct orientation for insertion. The paperclips and rubber bands on the tracker acted like a spring loaded toggle bolt. I lined up on the hole and rammed the tracker through. The Blu-tac held the tracker in the frame for the journey but released it once the paperclips held it inside the box. I wasn't sure it was inside, but it wasn't on the floor, and the car would have rocked more when I slammed it from forward to reverse if the tracker was still attached over it. The only place the tracker could be is right inside that box, just where I wanted it. I set it to send its location only once every six hours, so the battery should last over a month. It uses cellular text-messaging, SMS, to send its coordinates to my cell phone. It won't be able to function while underground like it is now, but once it's outside it should work."

We grew silent again, as we watched Dex use his flypaper trick to retrieve the vehicle. As he cleaned it prior to packing it up, Betty asked, "Where did you learn to do that? Spy school?"

Dex gave her a blank look, missing the sarcasm entirely, "No, I've never done that before. I just thought of it when I saw the boxes and the open hand holes."

Betty emitted a low whistle before quipping, "I'll bet you grew up watching MacGyver on TV, didn't you?"

"Only until I was eight or nine. By that age, I knew that most of the tricks he used would not actually work," Dex remarked, while everyone else in the room rolled their eyes.

There was still one worry on my mind as I interrupted to ask, "Hey Dex, how much does that GPS gadget cost? What if you don't get it back?"

Dex shrugged, "I will tell the sheriff what occurred here today when I deliver the data stick to the station tonight. I've done investigative work for the sheriff's department before, so he will almost certainly indemnify me against any loss and pay me for my time as well. Given how badly he wants to get Thaddeus and the Piedmont sheriff, and that what I have done is the best way to make use of what we have discovered while still retaining the option of searching the tunnels at a later time, he will likely raise no objections to my actions."

In his normal abrupt manner, Dex gathered up his belongings and left without further ado, leaving us to seal up the hole by applying some grey caulk, then replacing the bricks. Betty watched, unusually silent, looking somewhat shell-shocked.

Steve remarked, "Dex takes a little getting used to, but he's a great guy."

Betty nodded, her eyes still reflecting bewilderment, "Yeah, I see what you mean. His reactions are a little odd and he seems to take people too literally. That's not unusual for a genius though, and I have no doubts at all that that's exactly what he is – a genius. That's not why I'm confused."

I gave her a puzzled look as she said, deadpan, "What puzzles the hell out of me is why anyone that smart would have anything to do with idiots like you two. Now get to work," Betty said as she turned to leave the room, though not before I caught her grin.

Over the following days, we waited for news from Dex about the GPS tracker, but he had none to give us. The weekend came and went, our time filled mainly with studying in preparation for missing a week of school. Monday saw us back at work, Steve all smiles about something, though he refused to tell me what, answering only with a cryptic 'You'll see when we get to Maui.'

On the way home from work, he asked me to stop by Rob and Joe's. Steve leapt out, whooping, before I'd even come to a stop. I followed him as he bounded up the stairs, taking them three at a time before pounding with far too much enthusiasm on Rob and Joe's door.

Joe answered as Steve gushed, "Let me see it..."

Grinning, Joe lead us down the stairs Steve bouncing around in his wake. I knew by now what must have Steve so excited, but I'd only guessed part of it. With a flourish, Joe raised the door on a service bay, revealing Steve's Charger, gleaming with its new coat burnt-orange paint.

Burnt-orange? Pacing over to the side of the car, I breathed a long sigh of relief when I didn't see a big zero-one on the door, or the stars and bars on the roof. Steve saw me looking, ambling over to punch me in the arm as he said, "I'm not that bad, dude, I'll only put those on as decals later, not part of the paint job."

Chuckling, I twirled a lock of my hair through my fingers as I said, "I guess I'm stuck being blond. No way in hell do I want to ride around in a General Lee look-alike with dark hair; everybody would call me 'Luke'."

Following Steve around as he checked out his baby, I had to admit that Rob and Joe had done a spectacular job; the paint looked perfect, and they'd even shined up the chrome. I looked at the back bumper, seeking but not finding any evidence of my encounter with the Piedmont cruiser. I felt myself grinning too; only later did I figure out that having the Charger back, as good as new, was in a way closing the door on the stakeout and trip to Piedmont ordeal, finally putting it behind us.

I joined Steve in his excitement, his joy infectious, as we took Rob and Joe for a quick cruise through downtown. Even the sight of Thaddeus' church couldn't spoil our moods.

Following Steve home from Rob and Joe's, barely able to keep up, I watched as he tore into the driveway, only to jump out, sweeping me up in a bear hug as I climbed out of my Jeep.

With the Charger back, our minds turned to our upcoming trip. Sitting around in my apartment Monday night, both of us acutely aware that our flight left in under seventy-two hours, I placed a hand on Steve's bare shoulder as I said, "I can't wait for this trip. There's so much that will be new to me. I've never seen the ocean, or anything that's not in Arizona."

Steve turned to me, his hands seeking mine he said, "That's right, you've never been out of Arizona before. I guess that means you've never been on a plane before. Nervous?"

"Not really," I lied.

Steve caught on right away, his impish grin apparent as he replied, "Don't worry, I can fix that. You sit back in your seat as you go racing down the runway at hundreds of miles an hour, on little tiny tires. Then you're airborne, blasting along at five hundred miles an hour with nothing much besides miles of empty sky below your butt..."

My fingers found his ribs, interrupting his fiendish travelogue, as we collapsed on the bed, laughing and wrestling, which soon led to other joys. Damn, but he could kiss...

Wednesday, the day before our flight, Dex stopped by, our camping packs in hand, "The sheriff sends his regards, and thought you might need these back for your trip," he said, depositing them in the living room as he entered the house.

We had been hoping for them, so we thanked Dex as he added, "I told the sheriff all about the tunnels and I gave him the video tape. He said he'd hold off doing anything for a while and give the tracking device time to work. He was also real pleased when I told him it was you two who first suggested bringing him into the loop."

Dex paused for a moment before adding, "I was nice. I didn't tell him what you are planning to do in Hawaii."

Steve and I shared a confused look, as Dex continued, "Come on, I know you two, and I don't believe in coincidence. You had to pick Hawaii for a reason and I think I know what that reason is."

"Steve's father surprised us with the tickets; we had no idea where we were going and we didn't pick it." I said, perplexed.

Dex angled his head, "You mean it has nothing to do with the website server being in Hawaii?"

Steve and I both shook our heads, Steve telling Dex, "I'd pretty much forgotten that, because of all the stuff that's happened. Where in Hawaii is it?"

Looking slightly taken aback, for I guessed being wrong was a rare occurrence for him, Dex replied, "It was in Honolulu, on Oahu, but as soon as the FBI started asking questions, the place closed up and disappeared, or so I was told."

Steve laughed, "If the FBI can't find 'em, I doubt we could, and anyway we're going to Maui, not Oahu. Wrong island."

Dex looked at us closely before replying, "Probably for the best. I hope you both have a great trip. I'll call if I hear anything."

Steve and I opened up the camping packs, checking the gear, discarding some as I started to gather some of my clothes from Steve's closet.

"Whoa, dude," he said with a laugh, "There's a pretty serious weight limit for checked luggage on the flight, so go easy on the clothes. We'll probably live in shorts most of the time, so just take some boardies and stuff, a couple of pairs of shoes, stuff like that, plus a couple of shirts. I'm sure we'll want to shop for some stuff while we're there."

Figuring he was most likely right, I followed his advice, packing as lightly as I could. On Wednesday night, we loaded the backpacks into Steve's Charger. I didn't think I'd be able to sleep, but Steve took care of that, tiring me out and relaxing me, so we both slept soundly until the alarm clock woke us the next morning.

Steve's parents got up to see us off, wishing us both a happy birthday. They handed us the prepaid debit cards for the trip, making clear by their actions that they both approved, something that I was relieved to see. They also told us that in each of our backpacks we would find a small present, which they insisted we were not to open until our respective birthdays.

With hugs and well-wishes all around, Steve and I piled into the gleaming Charger and with a wave we were off, heading for Phoenix via a detour to avoid Piedmont County. We arrived in Phoenix, the road turning to freeway as we followed the signs for Sky Harbor airport, visions of palm trees and tropical beaches filling our heads as we arrived at the terminal parking, in plenty of time for our flight.

©Copyright 2007 C James; All Rights Reserved.
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Please let me know what you think; good, bad, or indifferent.  The feedback thread for this story is in my Forum. Please stop by and say "Hi!"

Many thanks to Conner for editing, support, encouragement, beta reading, and suggestions on this chapter.
Many thanks also to my editor EMoe for editing and for his support, encouragement, beta reading, and suggestions (and for thinking up a title!).

Thanks also to Shadowgod, for beta reading and advice, and for putting up with me.
Any remaining errors are mine alone.

Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental. Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 

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Chapter Comments

The word 'chock' appears several times in this chapter - correctly the portion of a drill that holds the bits is known as a 'chuck'.

'boosted the power with a linier' - linear

axels - jumps in ice skating, s\b axles

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I knew it! Chris was expecting the General Lee from Dukes of Hazard when he spotted the new paint job! His blonde hair is perfect for the car. They didn't pick Hawaii for the server site, but wanna bet they'll find it?  :gikkle:

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