RACE AGAINST TIME

Chapter one

Officer Frank Poncherello was waiting for his partner Jon Baker at their usual meeting place one crisp January morning. Ponch was chuckling to himself as he thought of how many times in the past couple of months that Jon had been the one running late. Usually it was Ponch who was never on time. He glanced at the early morning sky and noticed the red streaks as the sun started to come up which made him remember that old proverb. Red sky at night, sailor's delight. Red sky in morning, sailor's warning. I wonder if that will come true today. It's certainly cold enough, he thought as he zipped up his heavy jacket. Finally Jon pulled up beside him.

"So, you finally made it," Ponch sniggered as he watched his partner undo his helmet.

"Sorry Ponch, I know how much being on time means to you," laughed Jon as he turned his motor off.

"So what gives partner, can't you handle married life?"

"What are you talking about?"

"Well let's see, this is the second time this week that you're been late. Three times last week, once the week before…"

"You're got some nerve," interrupted Jon. "Considering the many times you've been late."

"Yeah, but this is Jon Baker we're talking about," Ponch countered with a grin. "The Jon Baker who's never late."

Jon laughed. "Alright you got me there. I'll admit that I've been late once or twice in the past few weeks."

Ponch chuckled. "Once or twice?"

"Anyway, what has this got to do with me being married?"

"I just figured that Cassy must be wearing you out, or keeping you busy in the mornings," Ponch replied with a twinkle in his eye.

Jon blushed slightly. "Well, you might be right there partner, but not this week."

"What! Don't tell me the three month honeymoon is over."

"No, of course not," Jon added quickly. "Cassy's been sick this week, that's why I've been late."

Ponch stopped laughing. "I hope it's not serious Jon."

"I'm not sure Ponch. We had some Chinese take-out the other night and she's been vomiting on and off ever since. We've got a doctor's appointment this afternoon."

"Gee, food poisoning can be bad, have you been sick?"

"No, just Cassy, which is strange as we both had the same dish, but I've been fine."

"I'm sure the doctor will sort it out. What time is your appointment?"

"Two-thirty," Jon's face lit up in a wicked grin. "And you know what that means don't you?"

"What?"

"You get to do all the reports today."

"Thanks partner," Ponch moaned. "Thanks very much."

"Anytime Ponch, anytime," Jon chuckled. "Come on we'd better get going."

Jon buckled up his helmet and they started up their motors. Ponch checked traffic and then pulled out onto the freeway with Jon close behind.

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Over in another part of town, Steven 'Butch' Williams was organizing his men. There was his former cell mate, Mark Smith who was known to everyone as Smithie who was sitting at the table cleaning his Colt 45 handgun. Next to him was Ricky Punter, who was still getting used to the outside world, having only been released from prison two weeks ago. They were discussing, or rather arguing over who to use as their fourth man for the next job they were planning to pull.

"I tell you Butch, that Jason will be fine for this job." Smithie looked up from cleaning his gun.

"And I keep telling you that your nephew is too green, he'll fall apart at the first sign of trouble," argued Ricky.

"Simmer down Punter!" Butch addressed Ricky. "If we want to pull this off today, we'll have to trust that Jason will keep his cool."

"Why does it have to be today?" whined Ricky.

Butch sighed. "How many times do I have to tell ya? Pacific Western Bank accepts a large delivery from the Mint on the second Wednesday of each month, and what's today?"

"Wednesday," Ricky answered. "Okay, I get the picture, but I'm still not happy about using Jason as the driver."

Smithie spoke up again. "Look, I know Jason is green. Hell, it's not his fault he's never been inside, but we can trust him, which is more than I can say for that con you want to use."

"Alright, alright," Ricky conceded. "Jason it is then. Where is he anyway?"

"I had him go for a drive around the area to get a feel for the place." Butch looked at his watch. "He should be back shortly which gives us enough time to go over our plans again. This goes down at 12 noon today."

Smithie finished cleaning his gun. "12 noon? Isn't that asking for trouble? Ya know, being lunchtime and all."

Butch thought for a moment. "Ya know what Smithie? You're right for a change. It's just after nine, which still gives us plenty of time," he laughed menacingly. "We'll hit them with all we've got at 11:30 instead."

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"I tell you partner, they make the best burgers here. C'mon, let's order. I'm buying today."

Jon looked at his partner with an amused look on his face as they walked inside. "Bout time Ponch. How many times did I buy your lunch last week?"

"I told you Jon, I had a cash flow problem last week. I'll buy lunch tomorrow as well."

Jon grinned. "I'll keep you to that."

Ten minutes later and they were back outside with their meals. Ponch slipped his jacket off and watched as Jon bit into his bacon deluxe burger. "You were right Ponch, this is good! We'll have to bring Bear and Grossie over here some…" Jon was interrupted by their radios coming to life.

"Attention all units, be on the lookout for 211 suspects, believed to be traveling in a late model blue Ford Fairmont, license plate number George Ida Robert 782, last seen in the vicinity of Pacific Western Bank, corner of Central Avenue and Milford Street in Glendale. Suspects are believed to be armed and dangerous."

"Why us Jon?" Ponch grumbled as he took a large bite of his triple cheese burger. "Why are we always having lunch when we get these calls?" He grabbed his soda and gulped it down before following Jon and throwing away his meal.

"Did you get that license number?" Jon asked as he climbed aboard his motor.

"You know me Jon; I've got a head for numbers," Ponch said as he put his jacket back on.

"Yeah, I know Ponch, that's why I got the license number," Jon chuckled as he did up his helmet. He glanced at his partner and shook his head in wonder. "What is it with you and that jacket today? One minute it's on and the next it's off again. It's not that cold."

Ponch made an annoyed face, then smiled. "Yeah perhaps you're right, mother." He removed the jacket and put it away, then climbed aboard his motor and they headed towards the freeway.

They turned onto the Westbound Ventura Freeway and had been travelling for about ten minutes, when Jon spotted a blue Ford heading Eastbound that matched the description of the suspect vehicle.

"Check that out, Ponch." Jon pointed at the car.

"Yeah, it's worth a look."

They took the next off ramp and quickly got back on the freeway going east.

Jon picked up his radio mic. "LA 15 7 Mary 3 and 4 have spotted a vehicle matching the description of 211 suspect, traveling eastbound on the Ventura Freeway at the Glendale off ramp."

"10-4 7 Mary 3 and 4."

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Butch Williams was ecstatic. "Well, what can I say? They didn't know what hit them at the good old Pacific Western Bank."

"Yeah, when you pulled your gun on them Smithie, I nearly froze myself," laughed Ricky.

Smithie turned around from the front seat of the car, waving his trusty gun. "Yeah, she talks alright, doesn't she?"

"Come on Smithie, put it away," Butch half heartily growled. "We're not free and clear yet!"

"Sorry Butch," Smithie grinned. "How much do ya reckon we got?"

"We'll count it up properly later but I'd say, oh about half a million."

"$500,000?" Ricky bounced around in the back seat like a kid. "You're kiddin us."

"Nope, it's at least that much."

Jason spoke up from the driver's seat. "Well, don't go and spend it just yet. I've just spotted two Chippies."

Butch instantly sobered up. "Where Jase?"

"Going in the opposite direction."

"It's probably nothin, but you keep an eye out the back window Ricky."

"Sure thing, Butch."

Ricky looked out the back for the next few minutes. "Nothin. Hey, hang on a minute; I think I see them."

"Where?"

"Bout 10 cars back, Butch."

"Yeah, you're right, there are two of them."

"What do you want me to do Butch?" Jason gripped the steering wheel hard.

"Calm down Jason, that's the first thing," Smithie spoke up before Butch had a chance to answer. He looked at his nephew and pulled his Colt 45 out again. "I've got our insurance."

"Smithie put the gun away! How many times do I have to tell ya?"

"Sorry Butch."

Butch caught a glance of the road sign they had just passed and realized exactly where they were. He looked at Jason. "Take the next off ramp and head west toward Figueroa. We just passed the exit for Harry's place. We'll soon know if we're being followed."

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Jon radioed in. "LA 15 7 Mary 3 and 4, confirm 211 suspect vehicle California license number George Ida Robert 782 traveling Eastbound on the Ventura Freeway. Suspects just exited at San Rafael and are now heading west on Colorado Boulevard."

"10-4 7 Mary 3 and 4."

"Attention all units. 7 Mary 3 and 4 are following 211 suspects, heading west on Colorado Boulevard from the 134, Ventura Freeway. Responding units please identify."

"7 Adam responding from the Northbound 5, Golden State Freeway just east of the San Fernando Road exit. ETA 15 minutes."

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"It looks like they're following us. Okay Jason, do you know the way to Harry's storage yard from here?

"Yeah, I was out there once. There's a lot of vacant land out there."

"Yeah, you're right about that. It's pretty deserted. We'll lose them amongst the shipping containers that Harry keeps there."

"What's Harry up to with shipping containers?" Smithie asked.

Butch laughed. "Would you believe that he's trying to go straight? He gets these containers for next to nothing and then sells them on. They make good storage units ya know. They're weather proof and rat proof and the ranchers love them. Harry figures he's making a small fortune on them."

Smithie shook his head. "Harry straight? I'd have to see it for myself."

"Yeah, I agree. He's got about 100 of them out there at the moment, so we should be able to lose those two pigs."

Jason sped through the city and turned right onto Figueroa Street, which quickly became a two lane road that wound back and forth into the hills. Jon called in their new direction and Bear replied he was now eight minutes away.

"They're getting closer, Butch." Ricky was starting to get edgy. "We'll have to do more than just lose them; I'm not going back inside for anyone."

"Relax Ricky! I've got a plan. There's gotta be at least 100 containers out there. We'll bang them up a bit and throw them in one. Problem solved."

"Which way do you want me to go, Butch?" Jason had just turned into the yard. The main driveway veered off into three smaller laneways; one going straight ahead, one to the right and one to the left. There were rows of shipping containers lined up around each of the laneways.

"Take the one to the left. From what Harry has told me; he keeps his older ones in that section of the yard, and the newer ones up there." Butch pointed straight ahead. "The newer ones are ready to be sent out, so Harry keeps them locked up. Would you believe he has trouble with vandals out here," he said with a laugh.

Jason turned to the left and drove up a little way. "Now where to?"

"Pull over behind that container, then everyone get out and spread out."

Butch loved this: anything to get back at the pigs that made his life hell since he was a kid, or so he thought. He smiled to himself as he grabbed the steel bar he kept under the back seat.

The four men spread out amongst the shipping containers; they knew that there wasn't much time before the yard would be swarming with cops.

It wasn't long before the two motorcycle officers rode in, following the same laneway that Jason had. They stopped for a moment as one officer got on his radio. "LA this is 7 Mary 3. We are at a storage yard, 1594 Figueroa Street in Eagle Rock. We've lost contact with 211 suspects but are proceeding to search the area."

The dispatcher replied and the officers rode slowly forward. They stopped again, one pointing in one direction and riding off, the other one turned around and headed toward Butch who was crouched down behind one of the larger containers.

"This is too easy," Butch muttered as he clutched the steel bar in his hands like a baseball bat.

Butch waited for the exact moment as the officer rode slowly past him; he raised his arms and brought the steel bar down hard. It connected neatly across the officer's shoulders, knocking him unconscious and causing the motor to crash into the container next to him with a loud clang. He smirked as he flung the bar to the ground.

"One down, one to go." Butch dragged the unconscious officer out of the way and rolled him over.

"Well, who do we have here?" He read the officers name plate. "J Baker, huh? Well Officer Baker, you're not going to cause us any trouble, are you? Now we'll just find your partner and we'll be on our way."

Butch peeked around a corner and was startled by a sudden wind gust which blew dirt and grit into his face. He spluttered for a moment and noticed that Jason was a few containers away. "Jason, over here," he beckoned to him after he had spat the dirt out of his mouth.

Jason looked at the fallen officer. "Fuck! You haven't killed him, have ya?"

"Relax Jason; it's all in a day's work. He's only a pig!"

"I don't know Butch, I didn't… I didn't agree to this. I just came along to drive, that's all."

"Well you're in the big boy's league now, so you had better get used to it!"

"But Butch…"

"No buts Jason! Now stay here with him while I go and look for his partner."

Butch slipped away, leaving Jason alone with the officer. He knelt down and felt for a pulse, breathing a sigh of relief when he felt a faint one.

"Robberies are one thing, but this is different, it's brutal," Jason muttered to himself as he stood up and looked down at the officer. He knelt down again, searched through his pockets and came up with a wallet. Another gust of wind blew up, this one stronger than the one before. Jason looked up at the darkening sky. "Where the hell did those clouds come from? I hate the rain."

Looking inside the wallet Jason found a card with a name on it. He read aloud. "California Highway Patrol. Officer Jon Baker. Central Station. Los Angeles. (213) 506 7349 ."

Jason put the card in his own pocket and kept looking through the wallet; he came to a photo and let out a low whistle. "Hmmm she's nice, wouldn't mind a bit of her, too young to be a widow though." He kept the photo as well, took out the cash and quickly popped the wallet back in the officer's pocket.

Just then a gun shot rang out, causing Jason to look up. By the sounds of things, they had captured the other officer. He hoped that they hadn't killed him. A moment later Smithie and Butch led the second officer around at gunpoint to where Jason waited. He wasn't wearing his helmet or sunglasses like this officer and he looked slightly disheveled.

"You're not going to get away with this!" The officer said through clenched teeth. "You do realize that we've called in our location, and back up is on its way."

"Shut the fuck up! Or I'll let Smithie fire his gun at you again," Butch snarled. "Only this time it'll be a hell of a lot closer."

They were now close enough for Ponch to see Jon lying on the ground. "Jon!" Ponch wrenched his arm away from Butch, rushed over to Jon's side and knelt next to him.

Butch bolted after him, grabbed his arm again and dragged him to his feet. "Try that again pig and you'll become target practice." He gave Ponch a swift kick and connected with his ankle.

"What have you done to him?" Ponch gasped as he struggled to stay on his feet.

"Shut up pig!" Smithie moved in closer and shoved his trusty Colt 45 in Ponch's face. "I could do with some practice."

Butch turned his attention to Jason. "Get that container open, and quick. We need to get out of here, what with Smithie being trigger happy again. There'll be more pigs here than you can poke a stick at."

Jason managed to get the door open as Smithie poked Ponch in the back with the muzzle of the gun. "Okay pig, get in there!"

"No! What the hell are you thinking?" Ponch stood his ground and refused to move.

"Just get in there pig. I call the shots, not you." Smithie stepped aside and slowly cocked the gun. He motioned towards the container. "Now get!"

Ponch was going to refuse again but thought better of it and reluctantly took a step forward. "You're not going to get away with this…"

"Can it pig!" Smithie gripped his arm tightly and marched him inside. He laughed as he shoved Ponch violently and heard him cry out in pain as his head collided with the far wall. "That'll teach ya, pig!"

Smithie turned to leave but stopped. His eyes lit up as he spied Ponch's service revolver. Quickly he bent over and removed the gun from the holster. "I'll take this," he grinned as he slipped the gun into the waistband of his jeans.

Butch growled. "Come on, this is taking too long. We have to get going."

Smithie tucked his gun away with his new addition knowing that Ponch wasn't going to be any more trouble. He hurried out and helped Butch move Jon. They each grabbed a leg and dragged him into the container, dumping him just inside the doorway. Butch left, but Smithie took great pleasure in giving Jon a swift kick to the thigh with his size 11 boot. "That's for the trouble your partner gave me." He bent down and removed Jon's revolver as well.

Butch closed the door and cursed when he saw that the lock was broken. He pulled his pocket knife out and jammed it through the lock, effectively locking the container up as tight as a drum. "Try and get outta there now, little piggies." He picked up the steel bar from the ground.

Jason had managed with Ricky's help to get Jon's motor back on its wheels. He wheeled it into another container while Ricky raced down and hid Ponch's motor.

"Come on. Let's go! I'll drive," Butch shouted as he headed for the car, the other three behind him. They jumped in the car, slammed the doors and with wheels screeching they were gone. The first drops of rain started to fall as the wind speed continued to pick up.

Ponch moaned as he struggled into a sitting position. He gingerly touched his forehead and winced as he felt the beginnings of a knot forming. He gave his eyes a chance to adjust to the dim light before taking in his surroundings.

They were in an old container with several holes in the roof and walls, including a large one roughly the size of a football which was near the doorway. Ponch guessed that their prison was about eight foot wide and twenty feet long. The floor was hard and flat while the walls were made from heavy-duty steel. The wind was whistling in and out through the holes composing its own eerie melody. This was anything but tranquil.

Ponch stood up and hesitantly took a step forward, testing out his ankle. The ankle was stiff and a bit sore but bearable as he made his way over to the still form of his partner. Ponch knelt down next to him and felt for a pulse. Upon feeling one he carefully removed Jon's helmet.

"Jon, Jon can you hear me?" Ponch held his breath while he waited for an answer.

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Officer Barry Baricza pulled up outside the storage yard. He picked up his radio mic and called in. "LA 15 7 Adam I'm 10-20 at the end of Figueroa in the Eagle Rock area." He noticed a small sign on the gate. "I'm in front of Eagle Rock Storage. No sign of 7 Mary 3 and 4. I'm driving in for a closer look."

"10-4 7 Adam."

Bear drove slowly into the yard. He didn't turn either left or right but went straight ahead; the place seemed to be deserted. He turned his windshield wipers onto intermittent as the rain gathered momentum. He drove up and down the laneways between the containers, seeing nothing out of the ordinary. He picked up the mic again.

"7 Mary 3 and 4, this is 7 Adam. Do you copy?" Bear waited for a few minutes and repeated his call. Still no answer so he grabbed at his mic again. "LA 15 7 Adam can I have the last 10-20 of 7 Mary 3 and 4."

"10-4 7 Adam, last 10-20 of 7 Mary 3 and 4 was 1594 Figueroa Street, at a storage yard."

"10-4 LA."

"S 4 to 7 Adam, do you copy?"

"10-4 S 4."

"What's happening out there Baricza?"

"Nothing Sarge, there's nobody here, no sign of the 211 suspects and no sign of Jon and Ponch."

"Have another look around and report back."

"10-4 Sarge."

Bear drove around again with the same result as before. There was nothing to be seen. He sighed and picked up the radio mic yet again. "7 Adam to S4, do you copy?"

"10-4 7 Adam, go ahead Baricza."

"I've driven around again Sarge, but there's still nothing. Do you want me to get out on foot?"

"No, head back to Central and keep an eye out for them. Who knows what Poncherello may have done."

"10-4 Sarge."

Bear put the mic back in place, turned his cruiser around and headed back out the way he had come in. He stopped before turning onto Figueroa and put his jacket on. Gosh we're in for one hell of a storm by the look of those clouds. He looked at his watch as his stomach began to rumble. 12 noon, time for lunch. Bear drove off with concern etched on his face. Even though his stomach was protesting about lack of food, all he could think about were the whereabouts of his two friends. Strange, he thought. Very strange.