Car 54, Where Are You?
The facts, though interesting, are usually irrelevant.
The sun rose slowly over the horizon, bathing the valley in a warm orange glow. Along the street, households were waking up and going about their daily routines. Early-morning commuters rushed out to their cars with briefcases in one hand and coffee in the other while telecommuters and businessmen in bathrobes shuffled down to the mailbox to retrieve the newspaper, casting sleepy smiles at their early-bird neighbors.
The house nestled in the oak tree on the end of the street was going through its daily activities as well. Although, compared to their neighbors along the block, they were hardly "routine."
A mountain bluebird in an apron was busily scrambling salamander eggs, frying bacon, flipping pancakes, preparing her son's lunch, and trying to talk on the phone. She struggled to understand what the frantic caller was saying over the din of the sizzling foods, the tv, and the music reverberating down from upstairs.
"MA!" a voice shouted from the floor above, "Have you seen my report on the crime rate of San Viano?"
"It's in your bookbag, Ferdie!" she called back.
"Oh. Okay," the voice replied. A few seconds of relative silence followed. "Uh, Ma? Where's my bookbag?"
"On the table," she sighed, "Now get down here and have some breakfast!"
Thundering footsteps echoed through the house, and a teenage bluebird rocketed down the steps, grabbing a stairpost to swing himself around toward the kitchen. Slowing, he stepped around a baby bird in diapers.
"Hey, Bink," he greeted the nestling, "What'cha building?"
The little bird looked up from his finger-painted diagram of 1,3-tri-oxymethylethylene glycosulfate and the tinker-toy atomic model of the super-conducting compound. Smiling up at his brother, he took his bottle out of his mouth and said, "bwoon!"
"A balloon, huh? Nice," Ferdie commented, as his little brother erupted into a fit of giggles. He walked into the kitchen, seated himself in front of his breakfast, and began wolfing it down. Pausing to swallow, he looked across the table at the mouse reading the classifieds. "Looking for a job, Squeaks?"
"Might as well do something," the ex-starship captain glared at him, "seeing as how I can't reach my crew to tell them to come back."
"Sheesh. One mistake and I'm branded for life," Ferdie grumbled. "Have you found anything interesting?"
The mouse tossed the paper on the table and began ticking off a list on his fingers.
"Well, I can't join your military, because they'll get suspicious when they do a background check and discover I don't have a background. Aerospace companies won't accept pilots that don't have all their flight hours documented. Body-guarding is boring, and mercenaries are illegal in all but a few barely-habitable countries."
"Uh.....huh..." Ferdie said through a mouthful of pancake. "What's that leave?"
"Police work. And the 42nd precinct's hiring."
"42nd? Cool! That's Ferdia's precinct!"
"My sister. Didn't I tell you she was a cop?" Ferdie paused, confused. Then he remembered: Ferdia had left the family's Roswell vacation early to get back to the police academy before her break ended, and so hadn't been there when the family met Squeaks. In fact, since graduating from the academy a few months ago, Ferdia had been so busy with her new job that she hadn't even come home to visit. Ferdie had written and told her about Squeaks, and he was pretty sure he'd talked about Ferdia with Squeaks. Evidently he'd missed a few details.
Ma Birdie sighed, hanging up the phone and coming to the table. "Ferdie, that was your friend Bob Kiwi," she said, "He wants to meet with you as soon as you get out of class."
"Oh. Okay, Ma." What did Bob want now? He shrugged to himself. Whatever it was, it could wait. Turning his attention back to Squeaks, he asked, "So, you're gonna apply for a job at the station?"
Having finished his attempt to find anything better in the want ads, Squeaks dropped the paper on the table and leaned back in his chair, arms folded. "Why not? It's something to do."
It then occurred to Ferdie that the 42nd Precinct was on the far side of the valley. In San Viano. Suddenly, an idea struck him.
"Uh, want me to give you a ride there?" he volunteered, hoping Ma didn't realize that would mean him missing his first class. He hated Humanities class. All his teacher did was talk about her trips to museums in Europe and give them assignments like "make a reproduction of a work of art and do a report on the original piece, time period, and artist." It being early May, Ferdie, along with the rest of the class, had come down with a major case of senioritis. He couldn't wait to graduate and escape that class.
"Won't you be late?" Squeaks asked, dashing his hopes to pieces.
"Not if we leave right now!" Ferdie jumped up, grabbed his bookbag, and started for the door. If they moved fast, they could be gone before Ma realized that, yes, he would be late.
Squeaks got up and followed the bird out, thanking Ma Birdie for breakfast and waving at Bink, who was anxiously calling "Ba-Ba!" and waving after the departing mouse.
Squeaks got all the way down the tree to the garage before he realized his mistake. Ferdie was seated in a rusty, dented wreck that gave out a high-pitched whine until its motor finally caught. Then it sounded more like a garbage disposal.
Squeaks arched an eyebrow and put a hand to his chin in thought. He'd forgotten about Ferdie's 'car'. "Maybe I should just call a cab and let you go to class," he said.
"Oh-ho, no! I don't want to hear any more about the subtle differences between traditional and transitional Greek sculpture! Besides, maybe we'll see Ferdia. I still haven't introduced you two."
Squeaks reluctantly got into the car. "You really need to get a safer vehicle," he grumbled. Even for a ground transport, this one was violating many of the codes even the least-civilized worlds he had been to had mandated. Why this planet's inhabitants felt it wise to allow their young use of the worst of their vehicles was beyond him.
Ferdie pulled out of the driveway, shifting the car into first gear as Ma came running out of the house. She'd finally realized that the reason she so seldom saw her daughter was because of how far away the city of San Viano was from the San Bernadino Valley.
"Bye, Ma!" Ferdie yelled joyfully, leaning over the passenger seat and waving at her as the car accelerated down the street.
The four motorbikes sped along the rundown neighborhood's streets at speeds made possible only by their riders' familiarity with the area. Cutting across one-way streets, zigzagging through alleyways, and darting around the countless potholes that pockmarked the street, the gang struggled to shake the cop behind them. The prowler matched their dangerous pace, skidding and sliding into sharp turns that kept it right behind the bikers as they wove through the traffic.
In a last-ditch effort, they swerved onto the exit ramp of the highway running above them, dodging around the oncoming motorists. Clinging to the shoulder of the highway, they were confident that the squad car had been forced to give up the chase -- until blaring horns and screeching tires behind them alerted them that this was not the case. Red and blue flashing lights accompanied by the high-pitched siren preceded the battered prowler as it drove up the ramp, forcing other motorists to the side.
The four bikers broke away from the shoulder, weaving into the oncoming traffic and provoking angry curses and rude gestures from highway-faring motorists. That is, until the motorists noticed the oncoming squad car and frantically swerved to the side, creating not a few fender-benders and beginning a traffic jam that soon backed up all the way to San Bernadino.
Well aware that the vehicle behind them was much better protected should an oncoming car strike it instead of them, the gang cut across the median and into the flow of southbound traffic. The squad car did the same, nearly side-swiping a black limo in the process. Getting desperate, the bikers took the next exit and headed directly into the last place most cops wanted to start a shoot-out in -- the historical district.
However, they were not being pursued by most cops. They were being pursued by someone hell-bent on capturing them and too far in debt to care where they were caught. The squad car swerved onto the street behind them, sending tourists scattering as it mounted the curb and straddled the sidewalk to get around motorists that slowed or stopped in the middle of the street to watch the chase.
Suddenly, a shot rang out, skimming the lead bike's metal plating. The badge behind them had evidently had it with the cat-and-mouse. Two more shots went off, and the lead bike pitched forward, sending its occupants tumbling as it slid along the side of the street, its back tire blown out.
A nearby traffic-guard had just enough time to jump out of the way as the remaining three bikes swerved onto a pedestrian street and headed toward the largest building on it. A building they knew would be open, a building with enough winding hallways and scattered entrances and exits for them to lose their pursuer, since few cops knew the building well. The theater.
Ferdia cast a sideways glance at the brown mouse busily handcuffing the two downed gang members who, miraculously, were not badly injured. She'd had it with this gang. They respected no other gang's territories and so were always sparking gang wars and related violence. They terrorized their parole officers. They'd robbed thirteen stores and two banks in the past month. And two weeks ago they had shot her partner. Which was why only five of the original twenty-five were still free. And those five had just driven up the steps of the old theater.
Pedestrians gawked, city officials paled, and tourists gasped and snapped pictures as she did the same. Or tried to. She slammed on the brake, swerving her car lengthwise across the steps as she jumped out and rolled behind one of the theater's decorative statues that lined the steps seconds before the grenade that had been nonchalantly tossed onto her hood exploded.
~Where'd a street gang get those?!?~ she wondered, using the smoke and flames of her late prowler to mask her approach. That made, what, six cars in the past five weeks? The guys at the garage were beginning to cringe when she asked for keys.
"Police! Freeze!" she yelled as she swung into the doorway. The fleeing rat paused and did a double-take, a non-believing look on his face. Turning back to resume running, he had enough time to realize his fellow gang-members hadn't stuck around to help him before he felt someone grab his jacket and roughly shove him into a wall.
Handcuffing her unconscious captive to one of the pillars in the entranceway, Ferdia took off in the direction the others had run. ~One down, four to go...~
"Man, I TOLD you we should've split up on the road!" the hamster with the green spiked hair yelled up to his fellow bikers as they ran down the hallway. "She's gonna get all of us now!"
"Aw, shaddup!" one yelled back at him. "We outnumber her, and we don't hafta yell before we shoot."
"POLICE! Freeze!" A voice yelled behind them. A squirrel turned and fired at the sound, narrowly missing the cop as she ducked behind the corner again. The hamster yelped as she returned fire, shattering the ceramic-potted plants and chipping the statues that lined the hallway. The gang split up down three separate hallways.
Ferdia went after the one that had fired at her as the gang split up, watching her back in case any of the others had doubled back. Seeing that none had, she concentrated on her prey.
The squirrel running ahead of her fired a shot or two at her every few seconds, forcing her to slow her pace. As a stray shot shattered a light behind her, she had an idea. The hallway had no windows, and the dim lights were rather far apart. Taking aim, she took out the four directly ahead, diving behind a marble column with a bronze bust of Shakespeare resting atop it as a barrage of bullets broadcast her quarry's displeasure at the sudden darkness. Just as she knew it would.
She crouched, springing into action the second she heard the faint "click" of a clip running out. She tackled her quarry, slamming the squirrel into yet another marble column, this one housing a bust of Faust. The squirrel struggled and kicked, but had lost his gun in the fall and was quickly attached to Faust courtesy of a pair of handcuffs.
Ferdia stepped back and hesitated for a moment before choosing a direction to look for the other bikers. The squirrel didn't look very athletic and had been too tired to put up much of a fight, so she didn't think he could lift -- and carry -- the 200+ pound bust of Faust.
The other three bikers had met in the main auditorium, then split off to different box seats on the second level. They lay in wait for, and were quite pleased to see, the cop.
Ferdia slowed as she drew near the auditorium, holding her piece at the ready. The auditorium stretched before her, row after row after row of seats, an orchestra pit, three levels of risers, plus ten plush boxes on the second floor, each jutting out into the room, all perfect hiding places....
The thought had just occurred to her when three streams of bullets tore through the seats around her. Ducking into the doorway, she returned fire to the two mice in Boxes Three and Four. The Gothic-clad one in Box Three she recognized as the gang's second-in-command, as it were. The pink-and-purple dyed and painted one in Box Four she could only guess was his girlfriend, as she perched as close to Box Three as she could while still being in Box Four.
Gold-plated molding chipped and burst around the Boxes as well as around the doorframe she was using for cover. The velvet-covered walls were also getting their share of flak, the aged wood splintering as the velvet covering and thick hanging curtains shredded. She couldn't get a clear shot from where she was. Muttering under her breath, she scrunched down low and dashed along the lines of seats, firing at the mice as she ran.
The Goth mouse yelped in pain, clutching at his newly-torn ear. At this, the girl let out a battle cry, emptying her clip at the retreating avian. She then leapt from her box to Box Three, only to learn the boxes were farther apart than she had thought. Scrambling at the molding along the box and the tattered velvet on the wall, she fought to haul herself up.
Ferdia, meanwhile, located the stairs leading to the box seats and headed to Box Three. The mouse, writhing in pain and still partially deafened from the gunshot, didn't hear her coming until she kicked the gun out of his hand. Cuffing him to a seat, Ferdia approached the box's rim and looked down at the dangling mouse.
Preoccupied with screaming curses after a retreating figure in the box across from the one she clung to, the mouse recoiled as Ferdia's hand closed over one of her wrists. She jerked back and let go of the wall, turning as she fell to land on her feet.
Even as the mouse stumbled to her feet, Ferdia vaulted off the rim. She hit the ground running, quickly catching up to and tackling the high-heeled biker. She clamped the mouse into the last set of handcuffs she carried just as a dozen other officers arrived.
"Jeez, girl, what'd you do to this place?!" Casey asked, gawking at the damaged hallway. The orange finch picked up his pace and caught up with the bluebird, walking alongside her as she retraced her steps through the hallways to find one of the punks she'd caught.
"Think you could do it without trashing public monuments and causing a three-hour backup on the interstate?"
"Not alone I can't."
"That you saying you want a partner?"
"That you volunteering?"
"Heck, no. I like getting a paycheck at the end of the month." Rumors abounded in the precinct of how much Ferdia's paychecks were routinely docked to cover damages. If even as little as half of them were true, then it was no wonder why she put in as much overtime as she did.
"Hmph," was the only response he got. It wasn't that she didn't want to talk to Casey, one of the few cops in the precinct that didn't regard her as a maverick; it was just that she was still looking for the last gang member. She was certain he'd run down this hallway. But, long and well-lit as it was, there was no sign of him....
....Wait. She stopped, walked a few steps back to one of the only two doors in the hallway, looked at it thoughtfully for a moment, and strode in.
"Uh, Ferdia?....That's the men's room...." Casey started, stopping as a shout, then a series of sharp squeaks and the sounds of a struggle came from the room. Rushing in, he saw that Ferdia had a struggling hamster pinned on his stomach, straddling him as she wrestled his arms behind him. Casey smiled and shook his head, striding up to her and dangling a pair of cuffs. "Need these?" he asked.
"Thanks," she replied, cuffing the hamster and dragging him to his feet. "I'm gonna head back to headquarters now, mind if I use your car?" she asked, passing the hamster to Casey.
"Yes I mind! I need that car!" he replied, catching up to her as she turned to him with an annoyed look on her face, "But I'm taking these guys back there anyway, I'll give you a ride."
She heaved a defeated sigh. ~Nobody in this precinct trusts me within fifty feet of their cars.~ "Fine," she agreed.
"Great. Now where'd you leave that squirrel?"
********** Chapter 2 / Back to Car 54 Index