by Kris Kramer
Crash lived for moments like this.
“Stop fucking yelling at me while I’m fucking driving the fucking van!” he yelled behind him over a stream of Chinese obscenities as he swung the van hard to the right, sending his two passengers in the back sprawling across the floorboards. He was careening through the streets of Los Angeles in a souped-up delivery van, hitting speeds up to ninety miles per hour on straight-aways, with both federal and local authorities chasing after him in a dangerous, high-stakes pursuit. Bullets bounced off the armored walls with a muffled thud, while the unsynchronized wailing of police sirens and the squeal of high-performance, synthetic rubber on asphalt filled the street behind him. A violent death was only an instant away but he couldn’t be happier because he was putting on a show for the masses. “How am I supposed to enjoy this with all your yappin’ and shit?”
This van was identical to the one Tox and Flex took off in, a trick designed to split any pursuers who wouldn’t know which one to follow. Crash didn’t know how many were after Flex right now, but he definitely had more than his share of cops and Scimitar chasing after him. They even pulled up alongside his van a couple minutes ago and fired at his wheels, trying to cripple him, but he’d been too smart for those assholes. He had run-flat tires on these babies, which meant they could shoot all they want and he could still keep going for another fifty miles. The only problem for Crash was that he had the important cargo in his van. So even if they couldn’t shoot him down, he’d still have to lose them somehow if he didn’t want to completely blow the plan. That meant he needed to start improvising on the route to help thin out the herd behind him. But first he had to swing around an old lady driving a Buick.
Bubs cursed at him from the back – at least he was pretty sure he was cursing, it was mostly just a whole lot of really belligerent Chinese. The back of the van was entirely cleared out, leaving plenty of room for cargo, although right now it was mostly empty. The only things back there were a couple of duffel bags, a bound, gagged and unconscious assassin, and Bubs, the team’s interrogator, who had one hand on the prisoner’s arm and the other on a metal railing that lined the ceiling. He was trying to keep himself steady but Crash’s high-speed driving kept him off-balance and irritable, hence the streams of cursing in foreign languages. Crash didn’t care, though. He was in the zone.
They’d left the hotel only five minutes ago, but he figured the TV stations knew something was up by now and helicopters should already be out looking for them. Any minute now they’d be breaking in on news channels with this, and the whole world might even see him tearing through downtown LA like he owned this bitch. He knew silence was golden in his business and the bosses wouldn’t be pleased with how things were going down but right now he was living the dream, and he needed to soak it all in while he could. Right after leaving the hotel, he’d felt that little ball of anxious energy forming at the pit of his stomach, where it waited, lurking. Ever since then, he’d craved that climax, the moment where it flooded his body, leaving him flush with adrenaline and excitement, making him feel like he was invincible. But he wasn’t there yet. He needed more to get that rush. A lot more. After all, he hadn’t even broken 100mph yet.
“Whoooo!” He yelled with a giant smile on his face. He looked back at Bubs, who wasn’t at all happy. They were both wearing their masks and goggles, but Crash could still tell. “Don’t you fucking love this?”
“You’re crazy!” Bubs yelled back in English. “Stop driving like a maniac, or you’ll get us killed before they do.”
“Do you not know me? I fucking got this, man. You seriously need to relax.” Crash swerved back to the middle of the road, after letting the van drift too close to the side. “You know, if you need a girl or something after this-”
“I don’t need a girl! I need you to start worrying about all those police after us!”
“Not just police, vato.” Crash checked his side mirrors. “We got Scimitar all up our ass, too.”
“Then lose them!”
“Right. I’ll tell ‘em not to follow so close. How about that? Maybe they’ll hear me over their fucking machine guns.”
A dip in the road sent Bubs and the prisoner flying for a moment, then crashing back down into the padded floorboard. The padding was actually a bomb-suppressor blanket, in case anyone following got smart and decided to roll an explosive underneath the van. Can’t be too careful, Crash thought wryly as he slammed his foot on the gas pedal. Bubs scrambled back to a kneeling position and yelled again, first in Chinese, then in English. “When this is over, I’m killing you myself! Slowly!”
“Hey, I’m the driver. You’re the support. So support me already! I’m not feeling the love from back there.”
“I am not playing around with you!”
“Fine. I’ll slow down if you can get them,” he hooked his thumb toward the back, “to get off my ass.”
Bubs pulled out his pistol and waved it in the air so Crash could see it in the rearview mirror. “You think this is slowing them down?”
“No, not really.” Crash beamed back at him. “But that’s why I come prepared, amigo. Get the grenade launcher. It’s in that big-ass green duffel bag.” Silence filled the van and Crash looked in his mirror to make sure he still had passengers. He saw Bubs looking at him with a confused tilt to his head. “What?” he asked.
“You brought a grenade launcher?”
“Yeah. And right now I’m kinda glad I did. Now grab it and kill some of those cocksuckers.”
“You want me to fire grenades, downtown, from the back of a speeding van?” Bubs asked. “With you driving?”
“Why the fuck do you think I packed a fucking grenade launcher?” Crash pounded the steering wheel, then quickly pulled it left and zoomed around a black convertible. Bubs grabbed the rail to steady himself, then looked back up at him with a snarl on his face – Crash could tell. “Dude, if you don’t do something, like right now, they’re gonna fucking win. And I know how much you hate losing, so if you don’t want me fucking calling you my Chinese loser-boy in prison, you need to fucking man up and launch some fucking grenades at those sonsabitches! Go smack ‘em like they just stole your fucking rice!”
Bubs just stared at him for a moment, probably seething under his mask, before finally relenting and reaching for the bag. “Dumb ass,” Crash muttered under his breath. “When I tell you to use the fucking grenade launcher, you use the fucking grenade launcher.” Bubs was an interrogator and torturer, so this wasn’t really his thing, but that was no excuse for letting a perfectly good grenade launcher go to waste. “Like there’s any other option.” Crash shook his head.
By now the roads ahead were clearing out a bit and more pedestrians lined the streets. The police must be radioing ahead and blocking off traffic downtown. Word was getting out and now people were coming to watch in person. Crash wished he’d had this kind of treatment during his street racing days. Punching it in a tricked out hoopty while cruising through downtown LA with a crowd of spectators on each side was like a dream come true for him. He laughed and shook his head at the irony. He was all about the spectacle, and right now he was getting that in spades. The only problem was that he had to disappear to win this race. But that wouldn’t be a too difficult. He had faith in himself, no matter how screwed up everything else got.
Crash heard Bubs unzip the bag, and grunt as he lifted the grenade launcher, and he squeezed the steering wheel in giddy anticipation. It had taken a while, but now the whole world would see him and his team in all its glory. This was gonna be fucking awesome.
10 days ago…
Javier “Crash” Moreno parked his truck on Nevada Street, right in the heart of a small, mostly abandoned warehouse district just north of Long Beach. The only other car in sight was a silver Chrysler coupe, parked on the other side of the street in front of an old warehouse with faded, stained gray brick walls and a giant FOR LEASE sign in the window. Crash’s cell phone rang as he turned off the engine, his every day phone, not his work phone, and he pulled it out of his pocket to see the number he hoped not to see today.
Fuckin junkies, he thought, and tossed the phone on the seat as he stepped out of the truck. Let it keep ringing, because he had real work to do today, and he didn’t need those fidgety assholes distracting him right now.
Crash strolled across Nevada toward the warehouse, which was nestled between two other grungy, old warehouses, wearing his usual outfit, jeans and a tank top. Crash was a short guy, wiry and lean, with spiky black hair and a neatly trimmed beard. Waiting near the front door was a large, heavyset, middle-aged man named Harvey, who was wiping the sweat from his forehead with a handkerchief, even though it was a cool, overcast day in Southern California. Harvey was the leasing agent for the warehouse’s owner, who was looking to make some money off this property any way he could. It was empty, and had been for several years now, along with everything else on the street, and Crash suspected he was the only interested party this place had seen since the 90s. This part of town was older, and out of the way, which meant he didn’t have to worry about too much foot traffic outside. Plus, it was just down the street from Long Beach Airport, which made for easy travel. It was just what Crash needed, and he found himself wishing the other warehouse he’d leased today had been as perfect.
“Harvey, my man.” Crash held his hand out and smiled big. “We meet again.”
“Mr. Lopez. Good to see you.” Harvey smiled back at him and they shook hands. Harvey had puffy cheeks, and when he smiled Crash couldn’t help but think of the fat guy from Laurel and Hardy. He also thought it was strange that the guy always smelled like salami, even at ten o’clock in the morning. “I think you’re going to like what you see here.”
“Oh, I don’t know, Harvey. I’m not easy to please.” Crash walked through the open door and glanced around at the empty warehouse. “You should ask my old lady about that when she gets out of the clink.”
Harvey chuckled, not entirely sure if that was a joke. It was, but Crash liked keeping people off balance. “I’d love to meet her.”
“Not a good idea. She fucking hates white people. That’s why she’s in jail.” Crash smiled.
“Oh.” Harvey didn’t.
Crash walked slowly through the building, examining each cobweb-filled nook and cranny, and imagining what kind of equipment could fit there. This warehouse was to be the team’s workspace for a while, where they’d engineer whatever they needed for whatever jobs were coming up. He had a specific list of equipment, much of it large, as well as weapons, building materials, and vehicles, and he needed room for all of them. But he also needed to keep the size of their space small enough that it didn’t attract too much attention. A nice, run-down, out of the way place like this was good, even though it might be a tight squeeze to get everything he needed inside.
Crash was a mechanic during the day, and good one, too, but that was boring for him. He was an action junkie, and his work for the team let him explore his constant need for adrenaline. Building armored cars. Rigging elevator shafts. Miniaturized surveillance equipment. And his favorite – explosives. He wasn’t an expert with them, yet, but he was learning fast, and who didn’t like making things blow up? He respected that there were more subtle ways of doing things, but that wasn’t his style. He wanted a grand entrance, and a big finish, and every once in a while, Big Man would let him do just that. Nine months out of commission had made him antsy for something to do, though, and his idle hands had been the devil’s instrument quite a bit over the long summer. He needed something he could throw himself into, and this looked like a good place to do just that for a few weeks.
“Do you think this will be big enough for you? This is one of our smaller locations, but if you need more space, we can look at a bigger one. I have a unit in Lomita that’s about 22,000 square feet, almost double the size of this one.” Harvey idled about near the door, dabbing the sweat on his forehead, while Crash paid particularly close attention to a large metal grate in the floor used as a drain.
“Nah, man. I think this will suffice,” he said, trying to gauge if the drain connected to the sewers. He’d have to come back and check on that later.
“You mentioned storing some machinery here on the phone. Is that still the case?”
“Nah. We ain’t puttin’ machinery here.”
Crash smiled at Harvey as he walked toward the door. “C’mon. I’m a young Latino man, flashing money, buying big warehouses.” He put his arm around Harvey’s shoulders and pulled him close. “What do you think I’m really putting in here?”
“I, uh –“, Harvey stammered, his face turning white. He swallowed hard and started to back away. “I’m not sure what you mean, but I’ll have to call – “
Crash laughed. “I’m just playing around, man! I ain’t puttin’ no fucking drugs in here. That’s for my other warehouses.” He winked at Harvey and then reached into his back pocket, and he snickered when Harvey flinched, probably thinking he was going for a gun. Instead, he pulled out a folded piece of paper. “I run a linen company. It’s called Linens By Lopez. Maybe you’ve heard of us. I need a new place to put all my fancy new washing machines and my extra inventory. Here’s what I need. You tell me if the wiring in here can support it.” He grabbed Harvey’s other hand, which was clammy and limp, and slapped the paper into it. He stopped to take one last look around, and then walked past Harvey and out the door. “I gotta catch a plane, man. You give me a call once you look through that list.”
“Right,” Harvey replied weakly, a forced smile on his face. “I’ll do that.” He wiped his brow with his handkerchief as Crash stepped back outside. Except for his truck across the street and Harvey’s coupe in front of him, the road was empty and clear for as far as he could see in either direction. With all that open space, he almost felt like racing again. Almost. He had places to go and he needed to stay out of trouble for now. There would be time for that kind of excitement later.