From Bad to Worse
February 8, 2006
Dearborn Heights, Michigan
Traffic in Dearborn Heights was moderate. The sun was still high in the sky and my truck’s dashboard clock showed 2:14 pm. As I cruised through town looking for a service station, the radio began playing “Workin’ at the Car Wash”. As Rose Royce belted out the chorus through my speakers, I shifted in my seat and suddenly realized that my shirt was sticking to the seatback. All that red automotive paint that had gotten on me during my fight in the Ford paint shop was starting to set up. If I didn’t wash it off soon, it would dry on my body and my fur might be permanently stained Dark Toreador Red. I wasn’t in the mood to have to shave myself naked just to get the paint out. But where was I going to find a place to clean up?
Stupid me! The answer was coming out of the stereo! I needed to find an automatic car wash, and fast. Within a minute I located a Shell gas station on the right side of the street, and it had a car wash. One important factor remained for consideration: I had no money. I couldn’t use the car wash unless I put in some quarters.
I pulled the pickup into the gas station parking lot and parked. I rolled down the window and called to a shaggy, overweight man coming out of the mini mart with a six-pack of beer. “Sir,” I said politely, “I don’t have any money. Can you please spare a few dollars?”
The hairy man hadn’t seen me yet, but he heard my voice coming from inside the black Ford truck. “Whaddaya need it for?” he said. “I ain’t givin’ it to ya to buy cigarettes with. Who are you, anyway?”
I sighed and opened my door. He took one look at my disheveled appearance and his eyes bugged out. “Jeezus, buddy, what happened to you? You look like you’ve been to hell and back.”
“In a way, I have,” I said, looking down at my red-stained shirt and shorts.
“Damn, you better sue that plastic surgeon,” the man with the beer gut said, setting his six-pack of Miller Lite on the ground.
He fished in his pocket for his wallet. “Here’s twenty bucks, man. You look like you need it.”
“Thank you, sir,” I said, smiling.
I offered my paw to shake his hand. He looked down at the rough pad on my black-furred palm and then back up at my vulpine snout. “No problem,” he said hastily, and turned to go. “Sue that doctor for everything he’s got!” he added, hurrying quickly toward his car, case of beer in hand.
I got the feeling that he probably would have given me his whole wallet, his car, and maybe even the beer if I had asked for them. I sensed a great amount of fear in him. Did he really think I was the victim of a severely botched plastic surgery operation? I guess it didn’t matter. I now had the money I needed to use the car wash.
Before starting the truck, I decided to give it a once-over. I walked around it and examined all the damage that had been done to it in the last couple of hours. I had plucked it off the assembly line when it was only a few minutes old and promptly jumped it off a building! The jet black paint was scratched in places and the front bumper was a bit loose. Mud and sedum plant residue were caked all over the rocker panels and inside the wheel wells. I ran my fingers over the two 9mm bullet holes in the rear tailgate, the lead slugs embedded deep inside the sheet metal. The exhaust pipe was hanging loose. I circled back around to the front and popped the hood. The engine still looked largely intact, but I still smelled burnt fluids. There was a leak somewhere, but I couldn’t find it. Hopefully the car wash wouldn’t get water inside some vital engine component.
I got back inside the truck and started it up. The cracked windshield had not gotten any worse, but the rearview mirror that had popped off its mount was nowhere to be found. After a brief search I located it under the passenger seat. Then I drove over to the automatic car wash.
I had never previously dealt with a car wash, and I certainly hadn’t taken a bath in one before. The car wash, mercifully, was free. I breathed a deep sigh of relief. No other cars were waiting to go through the car wash, and I saw no passersby who might report me to the authorities. I pulled the truck onto the automatic track and closed all of the windows, then got out. The track moved the F-150 forward at a leisurely pace until it reached its first stage of the wash. I climbed up into the truck bed and stripped to the skin, careful to stay behind the cab as much as possible. Even an animal like me can have a certain degree of modesty.
It was when the first jet of water hit my body that I realized just how cold it was outside. My layer of fur was not quite enough to fully insulate me from the near-freezing outdoor temperature, and that was made worse by being wet. When the truck and I were both thoroughly drenched, the wash machine switched over to the soap and brush cycle. Warm suds splattered down on me and I lathered up furiously in an attempt to get the paint out of my fur. I got some soap in my eyes and was rubbing it out when I looked up and saw a huge spinning roller brush coming up over the top of my truck. I turned around in the truck bed and the roller scrubbed my back as it followed the pickup’s body shape and descended onto the top of the bed rails.
The final rinse cycle arrived and sprayed more cold water on me to get the soap off. A large puddle of red-tinted water swirled down a drain in the floor. I had succeeded in cleaning almost all of the paint off, and I began to look somewhat respectable again. My orange fur was once again orange, and my white fur was almost completely white again. However, my shorts were still stained and the formerly pale gray shirt was ruined, the paint-soaked cloth now the color of dried blood. I couldn’t parade around naked, and if I kept my current clothes, people might mistake me for a psychotic killer. I would have to get some new clothes soon.
I quickly put my still-wet clothes back on my still-wet body and silently cursed the gas station for not having invested in a car wash with the ability to dry the cars after washing them. No wonder it was free. With outside temperatures hovering around 35 degrees Fahrenheit, a guy could freeze to death. I hurriedly jumped into the pickup and started the engine, then I turned the heater knob up all the way to thaw my shivering form. That’s when I noticed that the fuel gauge was hovering just above empty. The factory must have only filled it with enough gas to do the quality control tests and to drive it onto a car transporter, a total distance of about three miles. I had driven it at least ten. I drove the truck over to the gas pumps and parked.
I might have been able to refuel my truck without arousing suspicion if I’d had a credit card, because I would have been able to pay at the pump. There would have been no dealing with a cashier who might freak out and call the cops or pull a gun on me. But I didn’t have the luxury of a credit card. All I had was a twenty-dollar bill. Regular unleaded gas was $2.89 a gallon. I needed gas, food, and clothing. I decided that since there was no way of avoiding contact with the clerk inside the mini mart, I might as well buy a snack in addition to my fuel purchase.
I had enough money to buy nearly seven gallons of gas, but if I sacrificed one gallon I could exchange it for a candy bar and about two dollars in emergency spending money. I could still drive maybe 80 miles, and the candy bar would give me some energy. With newfound confidence I pulled open the door and padded through into the mini mart. I was immediately hit with a noxious smell, a mixture of tobacco and beer. The clerk, a grizzled black man who looked to be in his early fifties, was sitting behind the counter reading a newspaper. Undaunted, I walked over to the candy display and selected a pack of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, remembering how good they had tasted at Andrew’s house in Bonnyville. I plunked the Reese’s on the counter and said, “Seventeen dollars on pump #3, please, and this.”
The clerk peeked over the top of his newspaper and squinted through his glasses at me. His eyes narrowed when he saw my toothy smile. This can’t be good, I thought.
The clerk threw down his newspaper and stood up quickly. He was shorter than I by a few inches, but he more than made up for it with ferocity. “Dammit, I ain’t gonna fall for that stunt!” he shouted. “I been robbed twice in the last month and I know all you people’s tricks. Last guy wore a Nixon mask. Now you kids are doin’ animal masks. You young punks ain’t gonna get me again, not when I have this!”
He drew a huge chrome .357 Magnum out of his coat. My eyes went wide and I ducked straight down under the counter just as the clerk fired once. His shot obliterated the store display behind me. “Sir!” I cried out, “Please! Don’t shoot!”
“Oh yeah? Why shouldn’t I?” he said angrily.
“Sir, please, listen to me,” I pleaded. “I’m not here to rob you, I just want to buy gas!”
I waved the twenty-dollar bill above the countertop to prove to him that I had money. The clerk snatched the bill from my paw. I started to get up and saw that he still had his pistol trained on me. I put both of my paws up in an attempt to show him that I was no threat. Thankfully I had left my gun in the truck. “Please don’t call the police,” I said. “I have no desire whatsoever to rob you. Just sell me this candy and turn on pump #3. I’ll fill up my tank and be out of your life forever.”
The clerk softened slightly. Maybe he figured he had scared me enough. “If you’re not here to steal my money, then why’d you dress all freaky like that?” he asked.
“You have no idea how long a story it is,” I said.
“You ain’t right in the head, are you, boy?” he said, smiling slightly. “If you was normal you wouldn’t be wearin’ some’n goofy like that fox suit.”
So in his opinion I had gone from a would-be robber to a mentally handicapped teenager? It was a double case of mistaken identity! I decided to throw in another story. “Uh, actually I’m headed for a costume party,” I said. “My dad’s out there in the truck right now. He sent me in to pay and pump the gas for him since it’s so cold. ‘Make yourself useful, Bobby,’ he told me.”
“Hell, man, I’m sorry,” the clerk apologized. He put his gun away and extended his hand to shake my paw. “It’s just so hard workin’ in a joint like this. You get all these jackasses who think they can pull some kinda shit on ya and then steal all your hard-earned cash. Know what I mean?”
“Yeah, I do,” I said, recalling the robbery attempt I had foiled months earlier at the San Francisco SPCA. “So ... can you please turn on that pump now?”
“Oh, yeah, sorry,” he said. “Got a little carried away and forgot. Here ya go.”
The clerk flipped a switch to turn on the gas pump and then got out a broom and began to clean up the mess created by his trigger-happy mishap. I walked back out to the truck and began to refuel it. I munched on a Reese’s cup while I waited for the pump to click off when it had put in $17 worth of gas. The pump clicked and I removed the nozzle from the truck’s fuel filler. Shortly afterward, a dark blue Buick LeSabre with 20-inch chrome spinning rims and dark tinted windows rolled to a stop in front of the mini mart. I was immediately suspicious. As I walked back to the counter to get my change from the clerk, two young men got out of the Buick. They were wearing ski masks. It was cold enough outside to make a ski mask a valid substitute for a hat, but these two were just too shady-looking. One wore a heavy coat and kept his hands tucked inside it. The other kept his hands in his pockets. I had a bad feeling I knew what was about to happen next.
I pretended not to notice the teens, but in reality I kept a wary eye on them. If they tried to attack the clerk, I would spring into action and do anything in my power to protect him. The two teens pulled open the doors and entered the store. The one with the heavy coat produced a sawed-off shotgun and pointed it at the clerk. His buddy pulled out a pistol and did the same. In unison they shouted, “Open the cash drawer, now!”
The clerk had gone back to reading his paper and was caught off-guard. “What the hell?” he said incredulously. He looked at me quickly. “You don’t have nothin’ to do with this, do --”
“Shut up and open the damn drawer or I’ll shoot your ass!” interrupted the crook brandishing the shotgun.
The clerk suddenly lost all appearance of defiance and seemed to comply with the thieves’ demands. But he was fumbling with the buttons on the cash register, pretending that he couldn’t get it open. The crooks were becoming impatient. “I’m serious!” yelled the teen with the shotgun. “Do you wanna die? I’ll kill you if you don’t gimme the Goddamn money!”
“Aww, screw it, Troy,” said the pistol-packing kid. “Let’s just shoot ’im and take the whole damn thing.”
He was close enough to me that I could nearly have touched him. I was standing next to the soft-drink cooler. I got an idea. Quietly I slid open the refrigerator door and picked out a 20-ounce bottle of Mountain Dew, then I shook it violently until the right moment came.
The clerk discreetly reached under the counter and tripped the silent alarm. Troy saw him do that and fired a burst from his shotgun. The clerk was hit and flew back against the cigarette display on the back wall. He slumped to the floor, leaving a trail of dripping blood down the plastic front of the display. I was witnessing an armed robbery and attempted murder! I let out a low growl and the crook nearest me turned to see what was going on. I popped the lid off the well-shaken soda bottle and sprayed frothing Mountain Dew into his eyes. The kid flailed around wildly, toppling a rolling display cart of Little Debbie snacks. Troy vaulted over the counter and grabbed the cash register. He tried to yank it off the counter but it was plugged in firmly and wouldn’t move more than a few feet. Meanwhile, I knocked his partner over onto the floor and started beating the crap out of him. Troy spotted me and fired his shotgun. He missed and instead of hitting me, his shot smashed the glass door of the drink cooler. I picked up his accomplice’s pistol and fired twice at Troy. Both shots missed. Troy fired a round into the countertop to snap the register’s power cord, then picked up the register and fled for the door.
I jumped up from behind a potato chip display and unloaded the pistol, my shots shattering the store’s front window and hitting the blue Buick’s right quarter panel and right-rear tire. If I immobilized his car, hopefully he couldn’t escape before the police arrived. The problem was that the Buick was front-wheel-drive; the damage I had just done to it affected neither the drive wheels nor the steering wheels. The kid’s gun was empty and I had no more ammo. Troy’s gun clicked; either it was empty, too, or it had jammed. I made my move. Summoning up all my strength, I leapt over the counter and dropped down next to the badly wounded clerk. I nearly slipped on the blood that was pooling on the floor. I hoped he wasn’t dead. “Sir,” I urged, nudging him, “are you okay?”
“Unnnnnnnh,” he moaned, obviously in severe pain. “Hell no I ain’t okay.”
“Sir, I need your gun,” I said.
“In my belt ... left side,” he grunted, wincing. “Go get that son of a bitch,” he added.
Troy was lugging the heavy cash register out to the car and didn’t notice me sneaking out of the store with the clerk’s loaded Magnum. I knew it had only five shots in it because the clerk had fired one of the six at me. I’d have to make those shots count. I fired one into the right-front tire, which rapidly deflated. Troy heard the gunshot and hurried to shove the register into the front seat, trying to make as quick an exit as possible. I circled around to the left side of the car and shot out the two remaining tires. With four flat tires, that car wasn’t going anywhere fast. There was only one other vehicle nearby: my truck.
Troy started up the Buick and revved it up. The front wheels spun, the flat tires flapping on the ground and quickly shredding. The big sedan slowly moved forward, the bare front rims grinding an sparking on the pavement. I made a mad dash for my truck and jumped in, ready to chase him if he tried to run. I had no sooner started it up than Troy ditched his car with the cash register and his gun still inside it. He ran over toward my truck and grabbed for my driver’s-side door handle. First he shoots at me and then tries to carjack me? That would not do!
My door wasn’t locked. Troy yanked it open easily. “Get outta the car!” he commanded instinctively, as though it weren’t his first time committing Grand Theft Auto. He hadn’t even seen who was driving...
“Oh shit, it’s you!” he cried.
I rammed the shifter into reverse with the door still open. Troy grabbed onto the driver’s armrest and held on for dear life as I floored the gas and turned the wheel hard to the right. Soon I was doing full-throttle reverse donuts in the gas station parking lot, with Troy still hanging on. “Let me go!” he yelled. “Oh God, let me go!”
“You want off, then let go,” I said. “I’ll try not to run over your sorry ass.”
After about two minutes and twenty-four brain-scrambling parking lot donuts, Troy could take it no more. He was being dragged on the seat of his pants over the pavement and the circular motion made him extremely nauseated. Finally he let go of the armrest and flopped to the ground, the metal bottom of the door smacking him on the head as it went by. He rolled like a rag doll from the inertia of his fall. I slammed on the brakes and shifted into Park, then got out with both my Beretta and the clerk’s Magnum trained on Troy. He wasn’t about to try anything else.
I shoved Troy into the mini mart and tied him up with his accomplice using zip lines I found behind the counter. I checked on the clerk. He was in extreme pain but still breathing and still more or less conscious. I picked up the phone and called 911. “Yes, I need paramedics to the Shell station at 23955 West Warren Street in Dearborn Heights. The clerk’s been shot and he needs immediate medical attention. No, I didn’t do it! Who do you think I am? Look, get an ambulance down here right now!”
I hung up the phone and looked back down at the clerk. “Hey man,” he said, looking up at me as he applied pressure to his gunshot wound, “you ain’t really a kid goin’ to a party, are you?”
“No, I’m not,” I said. “I’m sorry; I lied to you so you wouldn’t shoot me.”
“Yeah ... I kinda figured. But, damn, you fight like a freakin’ Navy SEAL.” He groaned again. “Who are you, really?”
I sighed. “If I tell you, you must swear never to tell anyone.”
The clerk gave me a pained smile. “Hell, I ain’t gonna tell nobody, even if I live through this.”
“Okay,” I said. “My real name is Fox Tayle. This isn’t an animal suit; I really am a fox. I was created and trained to be a soldier. I can’t tell you any more. The police will be here soon.”
The clerk looked down at the floor. “Well, shit. I got robbed again. Third time in the last month.”
“Actually, I stopped both of the robbers,” I said. “They’re tied up with zip lines in the corner over by the freezer. Your cash register’s on the front seat of their car.”
“Really?” the clerk said, sounding surprised. “Then I owe ya a big thank-you.”
He started to hold out his free hand to shake my paw again. “Don’t trouble yourself,” I said. “It’s all right.”
“My name’s Ralph,” he said. “Thanks, Fox.”
“See you round, Ralph,” I said, getting up to leave. “Don’t die on me, okay?”
Ralph laughed weakly. “I’ll try not to.”
The automatic doors opened and I padded out of the mini mart. Suddenly I remembered something and went back in. “Hey Ralph,” I said, “here’s your gun back.”
I set the Magnum down gently on the floor next to him. Police sirens echoed faintly several blocks away. “Thank you,” Ralph said. “You’d better go now.”
I turned and walked out to my truck. I shifted into gear and drove away from the gas station. Detroit police arrived shortly afterward. Unless the store was equipped with a security camera, the cops would never see who had singlehandedly foiled the robbery.
I continued on my way east through town. Suddenly I spotted something that piqued my interest. One the left side of the street was an internet café. I pulled a U-turn at the next intersection and parked in front of the café. Diana was probably worried sick about me. I decided to send her an e-mail to fill her in on my current situation.
I walked through the café doors and sat down at a computer, ignoring all of the stares I got from café patrons. Undoubtedly they were shocked by seeing someone who looked like a cross between a Disney character and an ax murderer. The first order of business was to create a temporary e-mail account. I found a website that offered a free service which allowed a person to create a one-time-use e-mail address. It was guaranteed untraceable. I created an address for myself and began to type my message to Diana.
I just wanted to tell you that I’m still alive and I love you.
I’m currently in Michigan. I just escaped from BioCon again. They’re probably still after me. I led them on a chase through the Ford truck plant in Dearborn and managed to lose them there. About ten minutes ago I stopped a robbery in a gas station. I’m not injured, so don’t worry about me just yet. I think Cardiff’s flunky is on my side. I’m still going to try to get to Washington, D.C. Don’t come after me. It’s too dangerous.
I love you.
I finished typing the message and clicked Send. Out of sheer morbid curiosity I Googled my name. No matches came up, thankfully. I then searched for “anthropomorphic fox”. It returned several hundred matches, all for furry fandom and art websites. When I was done with the computer I cleared the browser history and got up to leave. People still stared at me, their eyes following me as I padded toward the door. As I exited out onto the sidewalk, I noticed a dark blue full-size car parked behind my truck. Luckily it wasn’t the thieves’ Buick. Instead, it was a late-model Mercury Grand Marquis with Michigan plates. That meant it wasn’t a government-owned car. I felt relieved. I opened the door to my pickup and got in.
I started the engine and was preparing to pull out into traffic when I felt the cold barrel of a gun push up against the back of my head. “Don’t move,” came a voice from behind me in the back seat.
I cursed myself for having left the doors unlocked while I was in the café. I put my paws up. “Who are you?” I said bitterly.
“Who do you think I am?” the voice said again, an unseen hand pushing the gun harder into my neck.
“BioCon, FBI, some random street punk? Hell, I don’t know,” I retorted.
“One of those is partially right. Three guesses which one.”
My unseen captor was playing games with me. I didn’t like that. I still had my paws up, so I couldn’t touch the steering wheel or the column-mounted shift lever. I put my left foot on the brake and moved my right knee slowly up toward the shifter. “You’re with BioCon, aren’t you?” I said. “I don’t like you people very much right now.”
“I don’t like you, either,” the man said, “but then again, I don’t get paid to like you.”
“What do you get paid to do, then?” I said.
“I’m a bounty hunter,” said the man casually. “Blake Tarpon’s my name. BioCon hired me. A Mr. Cardiff paid me a very handsome sum to locate you. He even provided me with that car parked behind us. We made the deal only an hour ago. I was expecting a cross-country chase, but here you are, barely ten miles from home.”
“BioCon isn’t my home,” I growled.
“That’s not my problem,” the bounty hunter said. “Now you have a choice. Come with me, or I will make you come with me.”
That was the last straw. I shoved my knee up against the shift lever, bumping the truck into reverse. Then I let up on the brake and rammed my right footpaw down on the gas pedal. The big black Ford lurched backwards, slamming its rear bumper into the front of Tarpon’s blue Mercury. Tarpon was thrown backward by the force of the collision and hit his head against the rear window, smashing but not shattering the laminated safety glass. His aim was knocked off-center and he accidentally shot a hole through my truck’s windshield. I turned around in my seat and saw that he had been thrown for a loop by the crash, totally caught off guard. I threw my door open and grabbed for the left-rear passenger door. The stunned bounty hunter rolled out of the passenger seat and fell into my arms. I dragged him behind my truck and rammed his head repeatedly into the side of the Mercury until he was unconscious. Then I retrieved Tarpon’s car keys out of his pants pocket and unlocked his car, shoving him inside. I took his gun and spare clip of ammunition, as well as his car keys and all the money in his wallet. Next, I frisked him. He had more than $10,000 in an envelope in his pocket; Cardiff’s cash payment for Tarpon’s services. I took that, too. It served him right. Then I got back in my truck and drove off.
Four near-death experiences in one day ... or was it five? This could be a record.
Driving to Dearborn Heights had been a mistake. One of the parts of my truck that had been damaged when I jumped it off the Ford factory building was the compass. I had wanted to go south and instead had driven north. I turned south and continued my journey, filling up the tank completely at a Marathon gas station on the southern outskirts of Detroit. The clerk there didn’t really take me seriously and kept saying something about “Candid Camera”. It was getting late in the afternoon, and having had nothing all day except for a couple of peanut butter cups, I was getting hungry. I bought some food from the laughing clerk and enjoyed a small but tasty dinner in the parking lot. Then I set out for Ohio, roughly fifty miles away.
Night fell. I crossed over the state line and decided to turn in for the night. It would be too risky to pull into a motel with all the things that had already happened during the day. I decided to sleep in the truck somewhere. I couldn’t just pull over onto the side of the road and go to sleep; cops ticket people for doing that kind of thing. The last thing I wanted to do while driving a stolen truck and carrying two stolen handguns and over $10,000 in stolen cash was run across a cop. Up ahead was a bridge with a narrow dirt trail branching off from the main road. I turned off onto the dirt trail and drove down the snowy hill to the half-frozen creek and parked under the bridge in a dry spot with no snow. Surely no cop would find me down here. I turned off the engine and climbed into the back seat, then curled up in a ball and went to sleep.
[story by wannabemustangjockey]