**** **** ****
The next morning, Commander Mayson stopped Bill in the hallway on the way to the bullpen.
“Maxwell.” Mayson waved a finger for Bill to follow him into his office. Bill did.
Mayson shut the door. Bill knew immediately that this was something sensitive. Mayson rarely shut his door. “Somebody tried to steal the Hit Car last night.”
Bill blinked. “What? Out of that podunk towing yard you had it put in?” The yard had been chosen to hold the Hit Car because it was inconspicuous. So much for that.
“Yes, out of that podunk towing yard. Whoever it was wanted it bad enough that they hotwired a flatbed tow truck, loaded the Hit Car on it and almost got away with it.” The Commander headed toward his desk.
“There was a short chase by the Atlanta police and our thieves ended up abandoning the truck and escaped. But…” Mayson stopped behind his desk and turned back to face Bill. “…not before shooting the hell out of an Atlanta police car.”
Bill approached the desk. “Sounds like our boys from the other morning.”
“It does and I don’t like it. If it was the same guys, how the hell did they ever find where that car was being held?”
“I would guess the same way they found out where Jay and his boys would be the other morning,” Bill replied.
“You realize what that implies, don’t you?”
“Yes, sir.” Bill met the Commander’s gaze. “There’s a leak somewhere.”
“Yeah. That’s what I’m afraid of.” Mayson was irritated. “Just when it seemed like I was finally getting this field office turned around, I’ve got somebody leaking information, quite possibly contributing to the death of two agents! The only problem is I don’t know who to even begin to suspect.”
“It may not be anybody in this office, sir.”
“Then which office could it be? LA?”
Bill hesitated. He didn’t think it right to speculate such, since LA’s bubbling problem more than likely wasn’t known outside of Deputy Chief Caine and few higher rank Feds in LA. And himself, thanks to the Deputy Chief and to the information he had gotten from Ralph regarding Agent David Turco and the possible connection to trucking kingpin Noah Vincent. Connections he couldn’t prove just yet. “Ah, well…”
“Do you have a theory, Agent Maxwell that you’d like to share?”
“Well, only that the way the Hit Car was stolen out of LA like it was to begin with, somebody had to have an inside line to the bureau to know where it was impounded.”
“And….that whoever that inside line is, is still feeding information to whoever’s pulling the strings on this whole thing. The killing of Jay and his crew and the attempt to get back the Hit Car. Anybody could’ve found out when Jay’s hearing was scheduled for, it wasn’t exactly top secret. Some agent in LA could’ve called here for something else, made a casual inquiry, asked an innocent question. One agent talking shop with another. And then locating the Hit Car here, they could’ve just punched it up in the computer. LA can look to see what we have impounded. We can look to see what they have impounded. Exactly what it is, where it is. How long it’s been there.”
“The only thing we have no clue of is who could be pulling the strings. Who had the Hit Car stolen and shipped here? Who financed Jay?”
Bill wondered if he took a leap of faith would Mayson follow. “I might have one possible suspect, at least for stealing the Hit Car out of LA. Not sure he would’ve financed Jay but can’t rule it out either.”
“Who’s Noah Vincent?”
“Noah Vincent is a truck driver. Or he was a long time ago. He runs a trucking business in California that covers several states. Most of what he does is legit but he’s been rumored and suspected over the years of hauling contraband. Drugs, booze, weapons, you name it. Johnny Diamante smuggled dope into California and he brought it up from Mexico. I could never prove, but I had my suspicions that Vincent was Diamante’s hauler of choice. If that’s true, then Vincent would know of the Hit Car, he may have even moved it around for the Disco Prince when he was trying to nail me.”
“Okay, let’s suppose all that’s true. Why’s Vincent doing all this? Why’s a trucking king in California getting mixed up in a political assassination in the south?”
“He may not be. At best, I can only suspect that Vincent provided the Hit Car for Jay. Ever since I took the Disco Prince off the streets, there’s been a power struggle for Diamante’s old empire. Paco Castillo is a drug pusher trying to take over all the old contacts. Noah Vincent is the transporter who has control of the routes and distribution. I’m not sure Castillo and Vincent have come to terms yet and I suspect they won’t.”
“So Vincent is trying to grab more power?”
“That’s my theory. I don’t know if he’d reach so far as to back what Jay tried to do, but he may have hired out the Hit Car to Jay for a good price.”
“And now he wants the car back?”
“That thing is built for one thing and one thing only. It’s possible Vincent could hire the car out to whatever blood thirsty gun-toting creep wants to use it. Or he wants to use it himself.”
Mayson sighed. “The last thing we need is for more blood thirsty gun-toting creeps to get their hands on that car.”
“May I make a suggestion?”
“Destroy it. Completely and totally crush it. Something I probably should have done back in LA, might have avoided some of this.”
“Not all of it, Bill. Those guys probably still would have attempted to hit the governor’s with or without the Hit Car.”
“Maybe. But unless anybody objects, I think we should totally destroy that car now. If I’m correct that it’s Vincent that wants that car back, I say we shut ‘em down and completely destroy that car before somebody tries again to steal it and succeeds.”
Mayson nodded. “That car was only being held as evidence against Jay and his crew. With them killed, it closes the case.”
“Exactly. Let’s not be foolish and hang on to something that’s basically Pandora’s Box. Every time that engine is turned over it’s never for anything good.”
“True. All right, Maxwell, I’ll authorize the destruction of the car and see it gets done. In the meantime, I want you to follow up on this Noah Vincent. Either prove he’s connected with all this or find out who is.”
“Yes, sir. Uh, if it’s okay with you sir, I’d like to oversee the destruction of the Hit Car myself.”
Mayson met Bill’s gaze. The Hit Car was personal with Maxwell and it showed, though Mayson knew Maxwell would never say such. Professional pride, he would call it. I should have had the car decommissioned in LA. This is my responsibility and I need to finish it.
The Commander nodded. “Okay.”
“Thank you, sir.”
**** **** ****
While Bill went to work securing the authorizations to have the Hit Car destroyed, Piper and his men were carrying on with their work.
The failure to retrieve the Hit Car put a damper over the group. Hugh especially was agitated over it but kept his cool as the group continued on with preparations for their third job. Killing Agent Maxwell.
They spent the day doing intelligence work, confirming Maxwell’s address and documenting some photos of the agent without him seeing them. They then returned to their motel room to plan.
Nicky and Moose were seated at the small table in the corner of the room. Nicky handed an eight by ten black and white photograph to Moose. “That’s Maxwell,” Nicky explained. “Know that face, Moose. You may be breaking it soon.”
Moose grunted a chuckle. He looked at the photograph under the light, Agent Maxwell dressed in a three-piece suit with aviator sunglasses. Nicky handed another photo over, this time the Fed had no sunglasses on.
Moose studied the images of their target and immediately hated the man he saw. The plan was for the Fed to be gunned down, like the others, but Piper had expressed concern that the Fed wouldn’t go down without a fight. Therefore, they had to be damn sure they took Maxwell down by any means necessary.
The Fed would go down, Moose promised himself. He would not let his buddies down, if it came down to him completing the job.
Even if it meant breaking the man’s handsome face…
With a sudden urge of hatred and quick reflex, Moose suddenly crumpled the photograph in his hand.
Nicky smiled. Moose was ready.
The telephone near the bed suddenly gave a shrill ring. Moose didn’t flinch, still holding the photograph tightly in his hand. Nicky glanced up as Hugh stepped over and answered it. He then held the phone out to Piper. “For you. The Man.”
Piper walked from the window and went to the phone. “Yes?” He listened for a moment, his expression neutral. “Tomorrow?... Excellent.” Finally, he nodded. “Understood. It will be done.” He hung up and looked at his men.
“We may have a second chance with the Hit Car.”
Hugh brightened. Moose never loosened his grip on the photo but looked at Piper. Piper was looking at Hugh, knowing the wheelman was more interested in this.
“Feds are gonna destroy the Hit Car. It moves out tomorrow.”
“We gonna take it?” Hugh prompted.
“We are. We’re also going to take the opportunity to nail Agent Bill Maxwell…” Piper looked at Nicky and Moose. “Since he will be escorting the car.”
Nicky smiled and nodded. Moose, crumpled photograph still in hand, slammed it down on the table and started laughing.
He was looking forward to it.
**** **** ****
Early the next morning, at the impound yard on Oakland Drive, Bill watched as the Hit Car was loaded up on to another flat bed tow truck. Tucked into the pocket of Bill’s brown suit jacket were the authorization papers that gave him the go ahead to see the massive black car finally put in a crusher where it belonged. He couldn’t wait to get this over with.
“You want this tarp over it too right?” the tow truck driver asked.
“Yeah. Don’t need people ogling at it or making offers to buy it or some such nonsense.”
“Kind of a shame,” the driver said, “the engine in this thing alone s’gotta be worth about $3000. I know some guys that would love to have an engine like that in their cars.”
Bill said nothing. The driver glanced at the Fed and then shrugged to himself. He carried on with his work, securing the hooks and chains to the underside of the car to keep it secured upon the flat bed. He then picked up the lightweight car cover Bill had brought and began to throw it over the Hit Car. The cover was secured with bungee cords hooked to the fenders of the Charger and stretched across the hood and the trunk of the car.
“Okay,” the driver said. “She’s ready to roll.” He jumped down from the flat bed and walked to the cab of the truck.
Bill got in the passenger seat and the truck headed toward the exit of the impound yard.
At the street, the truck turned left. It rumbled down the road and passed a side street where a car was waiting to turn out. Bill looked at the car and then watched in the outside mirror as the car pulled onto the road behind the truck.
“Salvage yard ain’t too far from here,” the driver said.
Bill nodded, still watching the mirror. “Good.” He then turned his gaze to the road ahead of them.
The car following eventually turned off to another road.
The Atlanta Salvage Yard was a multi acre junkyard located on Atlanta's industrial west side. High wooden fences, trees, and shrubs hid most of the yard from view of the roads that surrounded it, except for the side where the main entrance was located. A high chain link fence ran the length of the yard on this side with a large gateway. The flat bed tow truck rumbled down the narrow road and past a couple of small auto repair shops across from the yard and turned into the open gateway.
Bill looked and saw no other cars on the road ahead of them or behind them. The truck cleared the entrance and kicked up a fine cloud of dust as it headed further into the yard.
A moment later, an old Ford pick up truck rolled slowly down the narrow road and paused at the entrance. Hugh, Nicky were in the cab while Moose was in the bed of the truck. They watched the tow truck turn out of sight in the yard. Hugh turned the pick up into the yard and drove in.
The tow truck lumbered over the rutted path through the yard toward an unloading zone where a yard employee was waiting.
Once the tow truck stopped, Bill stepped down from the rig. The driver went to work to prepare unloading the Hit Car. Bill reached into his suit jacket for his Federal badge and the salvage papers. "Morning," he said to the employee. "Bill Maxwell, FBI..." He held open the badge.
The employee nodded. "Yes sir, been expectin' ya."
Bill nodded and tucked his badge away. He was about to hand over the salvage papers when a vehicle engine could be heard racing toward them. Bill turned to look and saw the old Ford pick up barreling toward them. The man in the passenger seat leaned out the window with an automatic rifle and opened fire.
Bill grabbed for the yard employee and pushed him behind a junk car. Bullets chased after them, ripping across metal and smashing through glass. The tow truck driver scrambled in the other direction across the yard and sought refuge behind a junk car.
The assailants didn't care about the tow truck driver. Hugh pulled the pick up in front of the flat bed tow truck and stopped. Moose jumped out of the bed of the pick up, while Nicky continued shooting in the direction of Bill, bullets smashing glass and sending sparks off the rusted dimpled fender of the junk car Bill was hiding behind.
Moose climbed into the flat bed tow truck and started it up. The Hit Car was still secure on the flat bed having not even been unchained yet.
Behind the junk car, Bill had his .45 in hand but there was no pause in the unforgiving gunfire. From his vantage point, however, Bill could see the flat bed tow truck begin to back up.
He gritted his teeth, especially infuriated now. There was a pause in the gunfire and Bill slowly moved to peer over the fender of the car only to immediately duck back down again as another barrage of bullets skimmed over the hood.
The tow truck backed up in a Y turn and then pulled forward to head out of the salvage yard. There was another pause in the gunfire as Nicky stepped out of the pick up truck with the intention of finishing off Agent Maxwell.
Bill took advantage of the pause and looked over the car as the gunman was getting out of the truck. He raised his gun over the hood and opened fire.
The outside mirror on the truck shattered and Hugh yelled at the gunman. "FORGET IT!" Nicky jumped back into the truck, another bullet from Bill's gun poking into the door of the truck as it closed. Gears shifted and the truck launched backwards.
Emboldened, Bill stood up from behind the car and kept firing at the truck. The truck swung around in Y turn and then lurched forward toward the gate of the yard. Bill aimed for the back window of the truck, between the driver and passenger and gave the two something to consider. The back window shattered as the truck fled.
Bill stood for a moment longer and lowered his gun when the truck was out of sight. Cautiously, the stunned yard employee and the tow truck driver came out of their hiding places. Bill told the employee to go call the cops.
“I knew it,” he grumbled after the frightened kid took off to find a phone. “I knew it! I knew somebody would try to steal that car!”
The tow truck driver looked at Bill incredulously. “It ain’t so much they stole the car, Agent Maxwell. Those guys were trying to kill you!”
**** **** ****
Hugh, Nicky and Moose at that moment weren’t too far away. About a half mile away from the salvage yard was the closed up auto repair garage they had scouted when they first came to Atlanta. Piper was waiting for them, standing next to the car Bill had seen in the mirror of the tow truck.
Moose guided the tow truck into the open garage stall, while Hugh pulled the pick up into the alley at the side of the building. Piper noticed the busted back window.
“Did you get Maxwell?” he asked as Hugh and Nicky exited the truck.
Nicky shook his head. “You’re right. To get him we gotta catch him totally by surprise. He won’t go down without a fight either.” He pointed to the smashed back window of the truck.
Piper nodded grimly. “I figure it’s going to take some very special planning to nail Maxwell. We’ll give it one more try but I may have to take care of Maxwell myself while you two and Moose head up north to Hazzard and take care of those two deputies.”
Hugh and Nicky nodded. Moose had the tow truck situated within the garage and was now pulling the garage doors closed. A new chain and padlock were secured on the door and the Hit Car was safely tucked away.
Seeing this was done, Piper nodded to his men. “Let’s get rid of that pick up truck. Then we’ll figure out how to get Agent Maxwell.”
Hugh returned to the pick up while Nicky and Moose got into the sedan with Piper. A moment later, they headed down the empty street.
**** **** ****
The stealing of the Hit Car, and what Mayson was classifying as an attempted hit on Bill, had the Atlanta bureau Commander further agitated. It seemed like somebody had declared open warfare on the Atlanta FBI and Mayson had no idea who the enemy was that he was fighting.
“Whoever these torpedoes are, they’re thorough,” Mayson said later that day to Bill. “They wiped out Jay and his crew. They got the Hit Car back. And now, it would appear, they’re trying to kill you too.”
Bill shrugged. “I don’t think they were looking to kill me specifically. I think any Fed that might have been standing there this morning they would’ve taken some shots at. They weren’t exactly discriminating that morning on the highway when they nailed Jay.”
“The witness reports I have here from the tow truck driver and the salvage yard employee are pretty adamant. That gunman was looking to kill you. They completely ignored the tow truck driver, never gave him a second look. And they probably wouldn’t have touched the yard employee either were he not hunkered down behind the same car you were.”
“Well, I don’t think---“
“Well I do! Bill, you were the agent that spoiled that hit on the governors and somebody seems to be really upset about that hit being botched. They succeeding in killing Jay, they succeeded in getting the Hit Car.” Mayson looked at Bill with concern. “I think you’re next...”
A shiver went up Bill’s spine and he shrugged a shoulder, giving a loud sniff. “Bah…they’re not gonna get me…”
Even as he spoke the words, he thought back to the blitzkrieg strike on the highway and merciless hail of bullets at the salvage yard. Nothing but sheer luck and the will to live had kept him, and Kenny for that matter, alive on the highway. At the salvage yard, the primary objective of the torpedoes was getting the Hit Car, the only thing that perhaps had spared him there too. But one thing was clear from the highway attack and even the salvage yard ordeal. The men behind it were professionals much more than Jay and his band of confederates had been. More than that, they were coldblooded, ruthless killers who succeeded at their primary objectives.
If Mayson was right, Bill was now their primary objective.
Bill could only hope that his luck held.
**** **** ****
Outwardly, Bill showed little concern about the prospect that he was a target for the torpedoes that had killed Jay and retrieved the Hit Car. He brushed off Commander Mayson’s concern and excused himself from his boss’s office. Inside, however, was a different story. These guys were two for three. They were fast. They were brutal. He wondered why these guys hadn’t been sent to hit the governors instead of Jay and his boy scouts.
Despite Bill’s nonchalant attitude about the possibility of these guys looking to kill him, he remained at the bureau for the rest of the day and surrounded himself with requisitions and files. APBs had been issued for the tow truck and the Hit Car, but Bill also put a call in to the Georgia Department of Safety’s Motor Carrier division, asking to be notified if any truck belonging to Vincent Vanlines or subsidiaries stopped at a weigh station anywhere in Georgia, whether coming in or going out of the state. It was the most he could do for now, until he gathered up enough documented information to back up the authorization to have every truck in Vincent’s fleet that came or left Georgia to be stopped and searched.
It was a long shot though. Although Vincent shipped the old Charger to Georgia in one of his trucks, according to Ralph’s holograph, Bill figured Vincent wouldn’t risk using one of his own trucks to ship the Hit Car back to California. If that were the case there was no telling what truck that car could be in, when it would be leaving, and no way to stop every truck on Georgia’s highways for the next several days to find it.
In the meantime, Bill requested every piece of information he could on Noah Vincent. Most of the information Bill already knew but if nothing else, his poking and prodding would alert whoever the leak was back in LA – which he suspected was David Turco – and might force Vincent to make a hasty move.
As an added touch, Bill called the LA bureau and asked to speak to Agent Turco. The conversation was casual, unofficial. Bill asked how the Castillo case was going.
“Sorry that one got dumped on ya,” he said. “Almost had it wrapped up. Shoulda been easy to make some headway into Castillo’s organization with those two turkeys I had busted just before they shipped me out.”
Bill was surprised to hear that Turco has not been successful. “Judge turned those two loose, couldn’t hold them on much other than the reckless driving charges. If they were supposed to be my ticket in to busting Castillo it was a bad rap.”
“Oh.” Bill said with disappointment. Both for the two soldiers being released and for the sinking feeling in his gut that Turco really was a rotten apple. “I’m sorry it didn’t work out.”
“I’ve got other leads to follow. Don’t worry, Bill, Castillo is right in my sights, I’m not letting him go anywhere.”
“That’s good to hear, kid. Remember, pressure makes diamonds. Be a nice gold star for ya if you bring down Castillo.”
“That’s my goal, Bill.”
Bill wished the agent luck and ended the phone call. His objective had been to rattle Turco, but the conversation left him a bit unnerved. Reckless driving charges? C’mon…
In LA, Turco was rattled. He left the federal building and drove a block away to a payphone. He dialed Noah Vincent.
“You’ll never believe who just called me out of the blue…Maxwell. He was asking about Castillo but I also know he’s been pulling file requests. Yours. I don’t know what he suspects, if anything—well obviously they haven’t nailed him yet because I just talked to him fifteen minutes ago! .....You better make sure they do. If he starts figuring stuff out, we’re screwed……Okay, I’m screwed. Thanks a lot.” Turco hung up. With a sigh, he returned to his car.
**** **** ****
In Atlanta, Piper and his men were at their motel room, plotting their next attempt on Agent Maxwell, when the phone rang. Piper himself answered it, got as far as “hello?” and Vincent started in immediately.
“Yes, we got the Hit Car back this morning—no we didn’t get Maxwell. I told you, Maxwell’s gonna be a tough target, Nicky did his best—yes, I know. Yes… Yes, it will be done.” Piper hung up.
Hugh, Moose and Nicky were looking at him. “Got a bur in his saddle about Maxwell?” Nicky asked.
“Apparently Maxwell’s pulled files on Mr. Vincent and even called LA and spooked our leak.”
“Does Maxwell know that Fed’s a leak?” Hugh asked.
“You think I bothered to ask? Vincent wants Maxwell wiped out. Now.”
“Today?” Nicky asked.
“Yesterday sounds more like,” Hugh said.
“He would have preferred Maxwell went down this morning, yeah.”
“So we do it today. This afternoon.” Nicky picked up the high-powered rifle he was tending to and lined up the sight and dry fired it.
“And good bye Agent Maxwell…"