February 8, 2006
The Ford truck plant bustled with activity. I stared in wonder at the mind-blowing size and complexity of the operation for a brief moment, then heard the footsteps of my pursuers getting louder behind me. I had no time to stop and admire the place; but if I was going to lose Farley and the BioCon security staff in there I was going to have to form a plan, and fast.
None of the assembly workers had yet seen me enter, but I knew that it was only a matter of time before someone did. Would they think it was a prank and dismiss it, or would they call security? Again, there was no time to think about it. Farley rounded the corner and entered the building, followed closely behind by a few BioCon security guards. I quickly observed that I appeared to be in the area just before the paint booth. The truck bodies had already been dipped in the primer bath and next had to be painted. I took off running along the assembly line, ducking between truck bodies to the other side. “Stop!” I heard Farley shout. “You’re only making this harder on yourself!”
I stayed hidden behind a Ford F-150 SuperCrew cab that was slowly making its way to the paint shop along an overhead conveyor. The doors had already been attached for a test fit, so I would have a certain degree of shelter and safety if I jumped inside the truck. I pulled the door open and leapt inside the large oversize cab, then lay down on the floor. The truck was suspended just above the floor, and it began to rock slightly when its center of gravity shifted due to my added weight. This, and the visibility of the white tuft at the end of my tail over the window sill, betrayed me. “Come on out, Fox,” Farley said, more of a command than anything. “We’ll take you back to the lab and everything will be okay. Don’t make us do anything...”
“...Stupid?” I finished from inside the truck cab.
“Something like that,” he answered back. “Look, seriously, dude. You can’t be out like this. Get out of the truck and let us bring you back. If you don’t, we’ll have no choice but to take you by force.”
Take me by force? What was I, a military operation? “Piss off!” I called out. “Just let me go!”
“Surrender now, or we’ll take you out,” Farley said, his voice sounding serious. “Dr. Cardiff wants you alive. Give up now!”
I checked to make sure that the gun I had stolen from the BioCon security checkpoint was loaded. It had a full clip. The gun was a Beretta just like the one I was accustomed to using, and that meant it had fifteen shots at my disposal. I didn’t have a spare clip, so I would have to make those fifteen shots count.
My sensitive fox ears picked up Farley whispering to one of his men. “If he tries to escape, shoot him. I’ll explain it to Cardiff.”
I was marked for death if I tried to run. They had me in check, hiding inside a slowly moving truck body en route to the paint shop. I remained inside the cab until the conveyor brought me all the way to the paint booth. The cab was lowered slowly onto a motorized track mounted in the floor. Farley and the BioCon goons followed the truck body until the booth’s doors opened and the cab was admitted inside. I kicked the door open and rolled out onto the floor just as the robot-controlled paint sprayers turned on. Dark red paint shot out and hit the surface of the truck body. Farley and the guards burst into the booth with their guns drawn, prepared to shoot. I ducked immediately behind the truck and was hit from behind with a jet of paint. One of the lackeys fired and shot a hole in the truck’s hood, the gunshot echoing through the small room. I made my way toward the back of the cab and returned fire, tagging the man in the shoulder. He fell into another stream of paint and was covered in red.
Another man snuck around behind me and knocked me to the floor. He must have weighed a good hundred pounds more than I. He easily pinned me to the cold concrete, his hands on my throat. I clawed at his face with both paws and slashed his nose. The man reared back in pain and I kicked him in the stomach. A third guard fired at me from the other side of the truck cab through the truck’s windows. Bullets whizzed past my head and embedded themselves in the wall. In a move not even I knew I could do, I jumped up and dove into the cab through the window, then rolled, heaving all of my weight up against the door on the other side. The unlatched door flew open and shoved the guard out of the way. The man recovered and went for his gun, which had slid across the floor. I aimed for his gun and shot it away from him. He lunged at me and caught a bullet in the leg. He grabbed my footpaw as he fell and yanked me to the floor, pulling a muscle in my leg. The wound in his calf oozed crimson on the concrete. He latched onto my leg in an attempt to pull himself closer to me. I kicked at him but he was undeterred. The guard reached for my pants leg and nearly ripped them off my body, but I pistol-whipped him on the head just in time and knocked him out cold.
One guard was left uninjured, besides Farley. Farley was avoiding the action, standing in the far corner. The other man was in front of the cab, waiting for me to make my next move. For a brief moment the thug’s ice-blue eyes met mine in a cold stare, then he raised his gun and fired. The shot whistled through the fur on top of my head but miraculously missed me. I dropped down under the cab and crawled to the other side. The guard moved over to the side of the truck where I had just been. A paint sprayer was operating right next to him. I popped up from behind the truck fender with my gun drawn. The guard and I stood facing each other, both of our guns leveled at the other’s head, separated by seven feet of molded sheet steel. “Don’t make me kill you,” the man said to me, his pale face contorted by anger and adrenaline and creating a strange contrast against his dark-colored BioCon-issue guard uniform.
“Hey Bubba,” I said, my teeth flashing in the bright light as I spoke, “What’s black and white and red all over?”
The man was caught off guard. “...What?” he said cluelessly, his mouth hanging open.
“YOU!” I shouted, jerking my gun over to the right and firing.
My shot hit the paint sprayer and spun it around into the guard’s face, spraying red paint into his open mouth. “Aaaaaughh!” he cried, hacking up a mouthful of Dark Toreador Red as he stumbled blindly around the room trying to wipe the paint out of his eyes.
The gun battle was over. The truck body was perforated with bullet holes and we were all covered in either blood or red paint. Which was which, I couldn’t tell.
I staggered out of the paint booth with more paint on me than there was on the truck. Farley followed me out, his shoes making squishing sounds as they tracked paint on the concrete floor. Up ahead was a station at which doors were being removed so that interior components could be installed. It was staffed by human workers, who were surely going to notice an orange fox and an FBI agent running by, brandishing guns, both covered in dripping red paint. I gritted my teeth and focused on the path ahead. I reckoned that, with the switchbacks, the assembly line was about a mile long. If I could find shortcuts, it might be much shorter. I currently had one pursuer and only four shots left. Hopefully I wouldn’t have to use them.
I sprinted past a pair of workers installing a windshield. They saw me and almost smashed the wafer of glass against its frame. Up ahead, workers were installing dashboards and seats. One stared in puzzlement and nearly forgot to install his seat before the truck traveled past him. My presence was causing quite a stir in the factory, one which would probably reflect in their quality ratings, but no one had yet called in security. I wondered how long I would be able to say that.
I continued running down the assembly line, disrupting the work process at every station. Farley apparently wasn’t used to getting this much exercise; I could hear him wheezing as he struggled to keep up with me. I wondered how the man ever passed his physical to become an FBI agent. I was easily outpacing him, even with my pulled muscle. “Fox!” he called breathlessly. “Please! Just give it up!”
“Hell no!” I shot back. “Leave me alone.”
I vaulted over a safety barrier and made my way across a storage area to another assembly station where truck cabs and chassis were being connected. The area was full of workers, many of whom were welding. I would have to be extra careful not to catch an errant spark in my fur. I looked back over my shoulder and saw Farley doing his best to catch up. He was wheezing more now and stopped to take a break. I knew that I should just keep going and use his shortness of breath to my advantage, but for some reason I stopped.
Farley leaned heavily against a pillar and coughed. He was doubled over and was clearly having trouble breathing. Little did I know Farley was an asthmatic, and he could very well die if he didn’t get his medicine soon enough. I didn’t want another death on my record. Against my better judgment I turned around and came to his side. Farley looked up at me with fear in his eyes. “Fox ... help me,” he pleaded. “I’m having a - cough - asthma attack. I need you to find my - cough - inhaler. Quick!”
I searched through all of Farley’s pockets and finally found a small gray Albuterol inhaler. I had never seen a person experiencing such a sudden and serious asthma attack before. He was on the verge of passing out from lack of air. I shook the inhaler well, then propped Farley up straight against the pole and stuck the inhaler’s mouthpiece in his gasping mouth. I pushed the button down and shot a dose of the aerosol medicine into Farley’s lungs. I had to give him a double dose before he showed any signs of improvement. After a while, he stopped wheezing and got his coughing down to a minimum. I had just saved the life of my enemy.
“Thank you, Fox,” Farley said, still somewhat winded but sounding relieved. “I would have died if you hadn’t done that.”
“A life for a life,” I said. “We’re even if you let me go.”
“I can’t guarantee they won’t keep after you,” Farley said. “I’ll have to tell them you got away.”
“Who’s ‘they’?” I said.
Farley shrugged. “BioCon. The FBI. Hell, it’ll get out to everybody pretty soon if you’re not careful.”
I left Farley where he was and turned to go. We were surrounded by a loose circle of puzzled auto workers who stared silently at the spectacle before them. All work stopped on the assembly line for a moment. All eyes were on me. I took the clip out of Farley’s gun and put it in my pocket with my gun. The crowd parted as I padded away toward the conveyor.
I had walked several hundred feet along the line before anything else happened to me. I reached the final assembly station and the inspection area. Workers were examining the trucks for quality and mechanical defects. I needed transportation and this was the place to find it. A row of completed pickups sat waiting for their stamp of approval. I chose the one second from the front of the line, a black F-150 SuperCrew 4x4. I opened the door and got in, then waited for the yellow extended-cab truck in front to pull out into the holding yard. The hood was up on my truck and the worker standing in front couldn’t see who was in it. The key was in the ignition and I started the truck on his signal, then pulled it forward. Inspectors examined every inch of the pickup except the interior. A woman walked over to have a look inside at about the same moment that the worker in front shut the hood. As soon as I was clear, I revved the truck up and put it in gear, taking off quickly. Shocked workers jumped back and I sped away across the large paved yard. Someone cried out, “Call Security!” behind me but I wasn’t going to stop for anything. Not in here.
One of the truck’s windows was down and I heard a man wearing a hard hat yelling into a two-way radio, “Get the guards down to Quality Control, STAT! Some nut just stole a truck off the line!”
Two white Ford Escape compact sport-utility vehicles came tearing out of a driveway to intercept me. I pulled a quick U-turn and headed back across the paved storage yard toward the factory complex. There was only one entrance large enough to admit my vehicle: the way I had just gone out. I honked my horn multiple times to warn the still-stunned workers that I was coming through. People dove out of the way as I bounced over the ramp and narrowly missed the long row of brand new trucks on final inspection. The Escapes cautiously followed me into the factory, carrying a significantly lower speed than I. I was pulling away from them, but then I reached a curve of the assembly line. Beyond it was what appeared to be a large freight elevator with its doors open. I would either have to turn left and avoid the procession of truck bodies moving slowly along the conveyor, or time it just right to thread the needle between them and get into the elevator.
I chose to do the latter. I slowed down and blew the horn again, then aimed the truck between two partially assembled F-150s. If I screwed this up I would crash. If I crashed, I’d surely be caught. My knuckles were turning white under their black fur as I gripped the steering wheel and put the accelerator to the floor. With a whoosh that was either a close shave or me exhaling a sigh of relief, I cleared both pickups. Now the elevator was coming up fast. I braked sharply and came to a stop inside it. I looked behind me and saw that the security guards’ vehicles were stuck back at the assembly line and my pursuers were exiting to chase me on foot. The elevator doors closed and I pushed the button for the top floor.
The lift made an agonizingly slow ascent to the top floor of the building. Finally the doors opened and I backed the truck out onto the carpeted floor. Carpet? What was carpet doing in a factory? I turned around in my seat and saw a large group of people staring, mouths open, at me. I had just encountered a tour group.
The crowd backed up nervously as I turned the truck around inside the room. Except for the elevator, the room was bordered all the way around by glass. I was inside the factory’s observation deck, 80 feet above the ground. I heard the elevator doors close behind me and the whirring of machinery as it again descended to the ground floor. The people were still staring at me. The tour guide looked the most shocked of all. “Who...who are you?” she said.
I fumbled for words for a moment. “I’m...I’m...Harry. Harry Van Pelt. Hi. I’m here to - er - demonstrate this fine Ford product for you all today. This is the 2006 Ford F-150 SuperCrew pickup. It’s big and powerful and ... loud and ... yeah. Oh, and did I mention it’s big?”
I flashed a weak but toothy smile. The people were still staring at me. A small girl blurted out, “Is that tail real?”
I began to get my courage back. “Of course not, kiddo,” I lied. “You and I both know there’s no such thing as animals that walk and talk like people. This is just a costume.”
“Oh,” she said, looking down. “I was kinda hoping you were for real.”
The smile faded from my face. But my awkward moment was cut short by a far more awkward moment: the elevator doors again opened to reveal the security team. I saw them in the corner of my eye and decided to make my exit. “So folks,” I said quickly, “who wants to see a test drive?”
The tour guide started to say, “You can’t do that in here!” but it was too late. I was already in the truck. I floored the gas but the emergency brake was on. The truck revved up but went nowhere. I popped it in gear and took off.
“There he is! Get him!” commanded the security team leader, pointing at my black Ford as I tore up a small patch of carpet, the four tires suddenly finding traction and lurching the truck forward.
The three other security guards drew their service pistols and prepared to fire. I held the horn button down and accelerated toward the far window. Tourists scattered and backed up against the side windows as I rumbled by. The blunt front end of the F-150 smashed through the window glass and burst out into the steel-gray day. Twenty feet above the nearest flat surface. Hoo boy. I gritted my teeth and prepared to get hit in the face by an air bag.
My truck dropped like a rock. It landed hard on the roof of the building, but not so hard as to deploy the air bags. That was because the factory’s roof was covered in sedum plants planted in a thick cushion of dirt that absorbed much of the force of the landing. Once all four wheels were back on the ground (or roof), I gave the truck some gas and churned up a heavy cloud of dirt and uprooted sedum plants behind me as the four-wheel-drive system overpowered the mushy ground. I pulled forward to get out of the planter but instead found myself in even more sedum. Most of the roof was carpeted in the stuff! I continued to drive through the sprawling rooftop garden as the four security guards leaned out of the shattered observation deck window twenty feet above me, looks of pure disbelief on their faces.
It looked like I was home free. Or at least no one was chasing me across the roof. However, I still had a problem. I had yet to get off the roof. Ahead of me an access door opened and out came four more Ford security personnel. I jumped the truck over a low wall and onto the concrete walkway, bits of sedum plants flying up in the air as I drove past the guards. One pulled out his gun and started shooting at my back end. I heard two bullets bite into the tailgate. For a brief moment I considered getting back to the ground by crashing through one of the many raised skylights located in various places around the roof, but that would result in a quick drop onto a concrete floor, and possibly a fatal landing on a heavy piece of manufacturing equipment. I elected to try jumping off the roof instead, not knowing how high up I really was. I accelerated out of the guards’ firing range and aimed for the end of the factory roof.
The truck’s heavy-duty off-road suspension easily handled the small raised masonry piece on the roof’s edge. My F-150 vaulted over the side and again I clenched the steering wheel tightly, praying that I wouldn’t soon feel the intense pain of a broken back. In almost no time at all, the truck landed on ... another level of the roof? This level was about fifteen feet below the previous one. The truck hardly felt it. The problem now was that I still had probably another forty feet to go before I reached the ground.
No one had been foolhardy enough to pursue me this far across the factory roof. I was very thankful for that, with all the other things on my mind at the moment. The end of this rooftop was coming up, and I decided not to tempt fate as I had before. For all I knew, there might be a pit of spikes at the bottom. I highly doubted that, but a forty-foot drop onto hard asphalt wouldn’t be fun either. I put on the brakes and rolled to a stop just before the edge. The engine idled smoothly as I sat catching my breath. A commercial jet whistled overhead and far in the distance I heard a car alarm going off, but other than that, the only sounds were the truck and my own breathing. I felt like a stunt driver, preparing to drive his vehicle off a building and drop safely onto a pile of junk cars in front of thousands of screaming fans. But I wasn’t a stunt driver, and there were no fans. I peeked over the side. There were no cars down below, either. Only two parked eighteen-wheelers attached to car carrier trailers, their cabs facing the building. The two car transporters were roughly thirty feet from the building, and the one on the left was almost exactly lined up with my truck. Both of their loading platforms were lowered so that a shipment of newly completed trucks could be driven on board.
A plan began to form. I wanted to get off the roof alive and with a minimum of injuries. It would be an added bonus if my truck were still in running condition afterward. If I made the jump at the right speed and aimed just right, and the planets were perfectly aligned and the wind was blowing the right way, I could potentially land the truck on the car transporter. If I didn’t ... well, I tried not to think about that. It’s amazing what lengths a person will go to for the sake of self-preservation. Finally I decided I could wait no more. Summoning every last bit of courage I had, I padded determinedly toward the pickup, got in, and shut the door firmly. I buckled my seat belt and cracked my knuckles on top of the steering wheel. Then I shifted into reverse and backed up about a hundred feet. “It’s now or never,” I said to myself, and rammed the shifter into Drive.
The truck lurched forward and quickly covered ground. I reached the end of the roof and felt the tires lose contact with the rooftop as the truck went airborne. Time seemed to slow down. The truck’s nose angled downward and I saw the sloped metal loading platform of the car transporter looming below me. I put both footpaws on the brake pedal and leaned back in my seat, bracing for impact.
I would say that the landing was unlike anything I’ve ever heard, but considering that I’ve been through a missile strike and had a gun go off inches from my head, it wouldn’t be true. The landing sounded like an especially loud thud, with a certain amount of metal-to-metal grinding from the undercarriage and skid plates hitting the transporter’s loading platform. My truck’s tires skidded and the wheels hopped over the rough metal. The rearview mirror popped off its mount and the windshield cracked straight across. Half a dozen warning lights came on instantly on the instrument panel. I kept both footpaws on the brakes until the pickup bounced down the loading ramp and shuddered to a stop on the asphalt just beyond it.
Something didn’t smell right. The truck was leaking some kind of fluid. I didn’t have time to get out and look. Maybe I could get it to a repair shop in town before it blew up on me or the engine seized. I accelerated slowly across the lot toward the exit and noticed a distinct rattle coming from inside the dashboard. That would start to get annoying after a while. I turned on the radio and found that at least that part of the truck still worked. An oldies station was playing “Born To Be Wild”. How appropriate. I smiled and turned it up to drown out the rattling dash, then drove out through a side gate onto the street and headed for town.
[story by wannabemustangjockey]