**** **** ****
Los Angeles, California
The noise from the closet awoke Ralph with a start. Another thump against the closet door alerted Ralph as to the source of the commotion.
In the dark, Ralph waited for his heart to restart and he looked toward the red glowing numbers on his alarm clock. It was after 3am. He climbed out of bed and turned on the bedroom light. He then went to the closet to see what had happened.
When he opened the door, the black box that held the suit tumbled out to his feet. The top of the box was partially open and the suit itself spilled out of it. Ralph looked up at the top shelf of his closet where he normally kept the box and thought it unusual that the box could’ve fallen for any reason. He was sure he had pushed the box back far enough on the shelf so that it wouldn’t have fallen.
He reached down, picked up the box along with the suit and brought it over to the bed. The top of the box opened completely and Ralph fixed the suit inside of it. He then pushed the sides of the box to close the lid again.
The lid wouldn’t slide shut.
“Terrific,” he muttered. “I busted it.”
He tried pushing the sliding lid closed himself but it wouldn’t budge. Instead, the lights inside the box continued to glow and the box itself hummed softly. The instruction book, his third copy of which he had only skimmed through since getting it, was tucked into the slot on the side and was lit up along the binding.
With a sigh, Ralph removed the suit from the box. He picked the box up by the sides to turn it over when the lid suddenly closed on its own. Figuring it corrected itself, he placed the box down and pushed the sides again.
Now it wouldn’t open.
Ralph sighed. He really didn’t want to deal with this now. He put the box on the floor and pushed it under the bed with his foot. He then gathered up the suit and went over to the dresser.
He pulled open a drawer and as he started to put the suit in, the radio on top of his dresser suddenly came to life.
“…KTNH Palmdale, Rick Morin with you here on the graveyard shift. I dunno what it is about this hour of the night, or rather the morning, but some of you out there have a really bizarre way of sending messages to your friends. Got a request here going out to Ralph from you know who. Well, I hope you know who it is, Ralph, because I think you might be in trouble this time…”
“I am the God of Hellfire!” Arthur Brown shouted from the radio. “And I bring you…
I'll take you to burn.
I'll take you to learn.
I'll see you burn!
You fought hard and you saved and learned
but all of it's going to burn.”
Ralph stared at the radio as the song played in all its psychedelic glory. The green guys had his attention.
“You know you've really been so blind.
Now's your time burn your mind.
You're falling far too far behind.
you gonna burn!”
Ralph didn’t need any other convincing at that point. He removed the suit from the drawer and laid it on the bed. He changed from his pajamas into the suit.
to destroy all you've done.
to end all you've become.
I'll feel you burn!”
With the suit on, Ralph turned back to the dresser and looked in the mirror. The song on the radio faded away and a holograph suddenly appeared to him.
Fire. A building fire. And inside, bounded by ropes to vertical beams were three people, one of whom was…
The Fed was struggling in vain against the ropes that held him to the beam. Ralph concluded that Bill and the other two people were trapped inside some kind of warehouse or industrial shop. The fire was growing at the back of the building and smoke was filling the air.
Ralph panicked briefly, not sure what it was he could do to help. Then he remembered seeing Bill through a holograph once and sending a dog back to get Bill out of his car before it blew. But there was no dog here.
The ropes. There’s gotta be a way to loosen the ropes. Telekinesis power of the suit…but can I do it through a holograph? Ralph had never tried anything like this before. His grasp for telekinesis alone was sophomore at best. But there was no time for doubts. Either Ralph could do it or he couldn't.
Bill was still struggling against the restraints. Ralph could hear him calling to the other two people. Deputies. They’re law officers too. One of them was closest to the fire and would be burned first if Ralph didn’t do something.
Ralph took a deep breath and focused on the ropes that held Bill. There looked to be more than one set of ropes that held the Federal agent in place to the beam. Whoever tied him and the deputies certainly didn't want them to escape.
Ralph concentrated on the first knot behind Bill and the rope began to move. The tail of the rope slid through the knot and it slowly unraveled. Once the knot gave away, Ralph focused on the next one.
Bill meantime was rubbing his wrists raw as he tried to work loose the ropes that bound his hands. The fire was only growing more intense, roaring angrily at the back of the building. The smoke began to irritate eyes and throats making the rough scratching of the rope against his skin no concern. When the ropes started falling loose from around his body, however, it startled him.
“Wha…?” Bill leaned forward and found he was becoming free from the bindings. After a moment, the second set of ropes went slack and Bill scooted away from the beam. There was no doubt how it had happened. “Ha ha! Ralph!” Bill got to his knees and looked up, half expecting to see Ralph standing there or something but there was nothing but smoke. Despite the fire, and the occasional cough, Bill was grinning from ear to ear.
“Ralph, can ya cut me loose?” Bill glanced back toward his tied hands. He waited and tugged on his wrists. Nothing was happening.
“Kid, c’mon, I need ya!”
For Ralph, the exercise in holographic telekinesis was an intense and exhausting feat. After the second knot of the ropes around Bill had fallen loose, the visualization had started to dim.
Bill was calling to him. One more... Ralph prodded himself. One more, you gotta get him loose... He focused on the ropes around Bill’s wrists, pulling with his mind the tail of the rope through the knot. He got it through one loop and then the rope just laid there. He could still see it but it wasn't moving. He was tiring, but he couldn't quit now.
Bill felt one loop unravel but his hands were still bound. He looked over toward the back wall of the shop floor that was becoming engulfed in flames. It would only be a matter of minutes before the fire spread across the floor toward Enos.
“Ralph…” Bill pleaded, “kid, don’t leave me here!”
Ralph refused to give up. Not while he could still see Bill. Not while there was still a chance to help. He focused on the ropes on Bill’s wrists again and pulled with his mind on the tail of the rope through another loop. It moved.
It took everything he had left, but Ralph was able to get the last knot free. The ropes fell away from Bill’s hands and Bill could move his arms freely. The last thing Ralph heard before the holograph quit was Bill say, "Thank you...Ralph..."
Everything went dark after that. The young man collapsed to his knees in exhaustion and he leaned his head against the dresser.
He hoped it was enough.
**** **** ****
Free from the ropes, Bill rushed past MaryAnne to where Enos was tied.
“Agent Maxwell!” Enos exclaimed. “You’re loose!”
Bill didn’t reply and instead went straight to work on untying the ropes that held Enos. The fire was dangerously close now, he had only a few precious minutes before it spread. Bill pulled and tugged at the knots, unraveling them at a frustratingly slow pace.
MaryAnne could only watch, silently urging Bill to hurry to get Enos loose.
The heat from the fire blasted at both of men. Enos put his head down in an effort to avoid the heat, while Bill kept the support beam between himself and the hot air. He worked at the second knot and finally got it loose. With Enos free from the ropes, Bill grabbed the deputy by the arm and hauled him up to his feet. Enos’s hands were still tied but this wasn’t pressing at the moment. Bill pushed Enos in the direction of the front of the building.
“Go!” the Fed exclaimed. “I’ll get Deputy Coltrane, go out the front!”
Enos nodded and hurried across the shop floor to the front of the building. Bill went to MaryAnne and worked at the knots to get her loose. The fire was soon creeping along the wall of the second floor offices that overlooked the shop floor and had spread along the floor itself, consuming the area where Enos had been tied just a few minutes earlier.
The heat and the smoke were becoming more intense. Bill struggled with the knots on the ropes that held MaryAnne but finally got them loose. He helped her to stand up and they hurried toward front of the building.
They met up with Enos near an already broken window. Bill untied the ropes from Enos’s and MaryAnne’s wrists and then they busted out the remains of the broken first floor window. They climbed out through it and hurried across the empty street. There, they paused to look back at the burning building where thick smoke was pouring skyward from the back.
“That was close,” Enos said. “Next time I’m that close to a fire it better just be when I’m cookin’ up spare ribs on the grill.”
“Amen,” MaryAnne said.
Bill agreed. “And I’ll be standing in line with a plate.” He turned away from the building and looked at the two deputies. All three of them were covered in dust, soot and sweat from the fire. MaryAnne’s face caught his attention. He reached out and gently touched her chin to turn her head to see more clearly in the early morning sunlight.
The sudden touch startled MaryAnne and she looked up at the handsome Fed. “Uh…”
“He slapped you pretty hard, Deputy.”
Enos looked too. “He sure did, MaryAnne. You’re all black n’ blue!”
“Am I?” she said. Bill let go of her face. “Well, all the more reason to nail these turkeys.”
“I’m all for that,” Enos said, “but we’re gonna have a tough time tryin’ to figure out where these fellas are.”
“Did either one of you notice what street that parking garage was on, the one they put the hit car in?” Bill asked.
“Eleventh Street,” MaryAnne replied. Enos nodded.
“Good. I noticed it too. We start there.”
“Agent Maxwell, if I can ask a question first?” MaryAnne said. “How did you get loose from the ropes? I mean, I kept trying to work at the ones around my wrists but I wasn’t getting anywhere.”
“Same with me,” Enos said.
“Ah, well, I guess they didn’t tie things very tight with me when they let us sit on the floor,” Bill replied. “I had kept working at it too. Uh, in short, it was a miracle. Hallelujah, praise the Lord, let’s move on and go find these creeps!” Effectively changing the subject, Bill turned and started down the sidewalk to the next cross street. Enos and MaryAnne followed.
He paused at the corner and looked up at the street signs. They were on Market Street and the cross street was Sixteenth.
“We’re gonna have to hoof it,” MaryAnne said. “We came in that way originally.” She gestured back in the direction of the burning building. “Hell of a time to not have any wheels. Or guns!”
“We can’t just leave that building to burn,” Enos said. “We gotta call the fire department!”
“That’s exactly what we’re going to do,” Bill said. “We’re going to call the fire, the police, find a car and get over to Eleventh Street so we can nail these guys! Let’s see if we can find a nice business owner who opens early and will let us use the phone…”
Since the other side of Market Street across from the burning building was only more empty buildings or completely bare lots, they hurried down 16th Street to the next street…where they found more of the same. A few buildings looked to be in use but were closed up at such an early hour of the morning.
Across a vacant lot, Bill spotted what looked to be an auto repair garage on the next street over. The garage bay doors were open and there were people about. Bill led the way across the lot toward the garage.
The three black men at the garage saw the Fed and two deputies who were running toward them. Bill reached into his inner suit pocket for his badge and realized he didn’t have it. Then he remembered, Jay had kept the badge while Ronnie had kept the aviator sunglasses. Bill slowed to a walk and patted the pockets of his brown suit fruitlessly. “Ah, damn…uh…” He looked at the three men who were looking at him cautiously.
“Bill Maxwell, FBI. I don’t have my badge. Long story but can we use your phone?”
The three men looked at the three officers in their dirt-smudged uniforms and ash covered suit. The oldest of the men spoke. “What th’ hell happened to you folks?”
“Somebody wanted to have a real live pig roast,” MaryAnne said. “Listen, there’s a buildin’ on fire coupla blocks over from here. One of the old empty ones. We’re afraid it’s gonna spread fast if we don’t call the fire department.”
The older man spoke to one of the other two. “Show ‘em the phone.”
“Thank you,” MaryAnne said. She, Bill and Enos followed the other man through the garage and to an office. They got the number for the fire department from the phone book on the desk and while Bill placed the call, MaryAnne and Enos explained what had happened to them.
“See, we ain’t from around here,” Enos said. “We’re from over in Hazzard County, over the border in Georgia. We’re tryin’ to help Agent Maxwell here from Atlanta catch some bad people only we got caught instead! They tried to burn us. Literally!”
“Sounds like they’s nasty folk,” the man said.
“They are,” MaryAnne said. “We think we know where they might be but we don’t know our way around Chattanooga all that well and we don’t have a car. By chance, do y’all have a car or somethin’ we could borrow? We gotta catch these guys.”
“Well, most of what we got around here is in some state of disrepair,” the man said with a grin. “But lemme check with Freddie, maybe y’all can borrow the truck.”
“Thank you,” MaryAnne said, “we appreciate it.”
The man left to find Freddie and Bill hung up with the fire department.
“Done. Now…” He opened the phone book to find the number for the Chattanooga Police on the inside cover. “Let’s see if the police department around here is on their toes.”
“I asked about borrowing a vehicle,” MaryAnne said. “He’s gone to check.”
“Good. Because the last thing I want to do is to be trying to track these guys down on foot in a city I’m not familiar with---“ Bill’s attention was suddenly to the phone. “Yes, hello, this is Bill Maxwell, FBI Los Ang--- I mean Atlanta! Listen, there is a group of men who are plotting to assassinate the state governors at the economic conference that’s to get underway this morning. They’re in a black 1966 Dodge Charger and they had it parked in the parking garage on 11th Street, across from the hotel—what? Maxwell…. FBI. Yes….” Bill blinked in surprise at something and his expression hung there. He looked at MaryAnne and Enos.
“They put me on hold?!”
MaryAnne rolled her eyes. “This is not going to go well, I can tell.”
While Bill waited on hold, the young black man MaryAnne had spoken to before returned with a set of keys in his hand. He gave them to MaryAnne.
“Freddie’s cool on y’all takin’ the truck. He just asks y’all bring it back in one piece.”
MaryAnne grinned. “We’ll do that. Which one is it?” She looked out the window to the lot.
“The old Ford F150. The blue an’ white one.”
MaryAnne looked at it. It was an old, tired looking truck with faded paint and rust spots. It wasn’t pretty but all she cared about was that it ran.
“It don’t look like much,” the young man said, “but it’ll get ya ‘round.”
“That’s all we need it to do.” She looked at Bill, who was still on hold. Finally, he just shook his head and hung up.
“Forget it,” he said. He looked at his watch. “I think we can safely assume that conference is going to get under way around 8 o’clock. Which means they’ll be bringing the governors in between seven-thirty and eight. Which means we’ve got about 45 minutes to nail these garbanzos.” He looked at MaryAnne and grinned. “And still have time for breakfast.”
“Well let’s get to it. I’m hungry!”
“Me too,” Enos said. “Boy, I could go for some flapjacks n’ syrup and…”
“Oh Enos,” MaryAnne said, holding a hand up. “Don’t talk about food on an empty stomach.”
“Let’s get going,” Bill said. “We’ll worry about chowing down later.” He looked at the young black man. “Can you tell us how to get to Eleventh Street?”
“Sure. Just go out the street here and hang a left onto West Main. Follow that to Broad Street, turn right and it’ll take you right to Eleventh. You’ll go through the TVA complex.”
“We went through there on our way over here,” MaryAnne said.
Bill nodded. “We should recognize it then.” He nodded to the young man. “Thanks.”
“Thanks for the truck too,” MaryAnne added.
“Be careful with them dudes you’re after,” the man said. “And good luck getting’ ‘em!”
Bill, Enos and MaryAnne hurried out to the parking lot and climbed into the cab of the Ford pick up. Bill was behind the wheel and MaryAnne was sandwiched in the middle of the seat between him and Enos. Bill started the truck and a tire spit back gravel as they left the parking lot.
**** **** ****
Jay and his men, meanwhile, had come and gone from the parking garage on 11th Street. Ronnie, Jay and David parted ways with Carl who drove out of the parking garage in the Crown Vic and headed out to where he would wait for his partners on the escape route.
Ronnie got behind the wheel of the Charger, while David took the shotgun seat and Jay was in back. They drove out of the parking garage on to 11th Street and went left onto Carter Street, down past the hotel and the Chattanooga Convention Center and around onto Thirteenth Street. They passed Fort Street, turned right onto Chestnut Street, then turned a sharp right into a small parking lot of a hole-in-the-wall restaurant. Ronnie backed the Charger into a space next to a white panel truck that hid the Charger from the road.
Jay checked his watch. It was quarter to seven.
Now they waited.
**** **** ****
The Duke boys and Rosco, with Flash and Bandit riding with the Sheriff, left Hazzard just after 6am and followed the same route into Chattanooga that MaryAnne, Enos and Bill had been brought in on. The General Lee followed behind Rosco, who was driving MaryAnne’s Firebird. The early morning traffic was light and they exited Interstate 24 at Broad Street, near West 24th Street.
Unlike Bill, MaryAnne and Enos, the Dukes and Rosco each had maps of the city of Chattanooga and had a general idea of where they were going. They had decided they would start in the area where the photograph was taken, 9th Street and Carter Street.
“Okay, Rosco,” Luke said into the CB mike. “Looks like if we stay on Broad Street, it’ll take us right to 9th Street. Carter Street runs parallel to Broad.”
“Ten-four, Luke. Let’s keep our eyes peeled too for Enos’s car, that black Charger and Agent Maxwell’s car.”
“You got it.”
**** **** ****
Enos’s patrol car, unfortunately, had met it’s fate with the building fire, having been left in the back alley by Jay and his men and never having a chance to be found by Bill, MaryAnne or Enos. The white Plymouth, once consumed by the flames, ended up exploding and shook up the area around Market Street. Smoke filled the air and sirens wailed in the distance as the fire department raced to contain the fire.
Chattanooga’s rude early morning awakening was only just beginning.
The city police department, meanwhile, was trying to find out who Agent Maxwell of the FBI was. When the dispatcher had resumed the phone call, of course he found whoever had been on the line had hung up. This put the unfortunate lieutenant that was in charge of the Chattanooga police department’s part of the security detail for the conference in a bind. The state police major that was overseeing the entire security operation dismissed the notification that had come from the Atlanta FBI about a possible assassination attempt. As far as the Major was concerned, the FBI’s claim had no credible proof. Merely having a missing agent and a stolen car did not an assassination threat make.
The Major was no fool, however. All law enforcement were alerted to be on the look out for the black Charger. But to place the governor’s on lock down when there was to be such a high profile gathering and have it turn out to be a false alarm would’ve been even more foolish.
But now, this Agent Maxwell had said that that very same Charger was now located in a parking garage just a few blocks from the hotel where the conference was to take place. He had also stated with certainty that a group of men would be attempting to assassinate the governors. But Maxwell was no longer on the phone and the police department didn’t know if it was a hoax or if it was real.
Not expecting to get much sympathy from the state police, the lieutenant made an internal decision and dispatched a cruiser to the parking garage on 11th Street to check it out. Meantime, the fire radio was active with chatter about the fire on Market Street and more police were needed there for assistance. Chattanooga police were waiting for a call back from the Atlanta FBI and the governors were scheduled to begin arriving at the Tennessean Hotel in thirty minutes.
It was turning out to be a hell of a morning.