We piled into the truck, Stella, Buzz and me. We all had black on – Buzz and I with our black floppy T-shirts and black jeans and black gloves. Like everything else about her, Stella’s outfit was efficient – the T-shirt fit just fine, and so did the jeans. I know I’ve been using the word too much, but she looked trim. The clothes fit her trimly, and her blond hair was tucked into the black baseball cap so that the only thing that would reflect light would be her face.
The strap for the 9 mm Luger at her ribs lay comfortably across the center of her chest, accentuating her trim – well, accentuating her trimness, let’s say.
She also had a hunting knife strapped to her belt.
“You came loaded for bear,” I said, looking at the gun and the blade when she walked up to the cabin.
“You didn’t,” she noted. “Never hurts to be prepared.”
“I’m more of a run and hider than a stand and fighter,” I said.
“What if you have no choice but to stand and fight?” she said with a glint in her eye that suggested maybe she’d faced such a choice more than once.
“I’m pretty good at hiding – never had to find out.”
“We’re just slipping into the office, switching out the medallion, and slipping out, right?” Buzz said nervously.
“That’s the plan,” I said.
“Because I don’t like to fight, and I’m a lousy runner,” Buzz allowed.
“1:15 in the morning, anyone who might want to fight or chase you is going to be home in bed,” I said.
“Where I’d rather be,” he pointed out.
“Nobody said you have to do this,” Stella said, calmly but maybe with a trace of edge.
“Don’t mind Buzz, he just likes to complain,” I said. “Helps him steady his nerves.”
“That’s mostly true,” Buzz said.
So now here we were in the truck, heading down the road to town. Stella had gotten Buzz talking by picking up on something he said that got him going about his alien conspiracy theory.
“Oh yeah, the aliens sent an advance force a few years back and they helped invent a cheap way to process high fructose corn syrup with our scientists,” he was saying. “The suits love it because it’s so much cheaper than using cane sugar – cost-effective, you know – and the aliens love it because it fattens us up, makes us tastier.”
“Like the old Twilight Zone episode,” she said. “To Serve Man is a cookbook.”
“You watch old TV,” I said. “I’m starting to like you, kid.”
In the dark I couldn’t see, but I got a sense that she shot me a “don’t go there” kind of look.
“Oh, absolutely,” Buzz went on. “All that stuff about obesity being a problem – it’s no problem for the aliens, they positively love us that way.”
“That’s what I like about you, Buzz,” I said. “You’ve got two feet grounded in reality.”
“Hey, they count on us making fun of anyone who tells the truth about what they see and hear,” he said, not indignant at all, serenely confident that he had a hold of that truth.
“OK, shush now,” I told them. We were at the town limits, and I cut the headlights.
The train yard is close enough to the outskirts that you can get there using streets that don’t have streetlights, and it’s a small enough town that the station isn’t all lit up at night, just a light over the main door and the platform, and some night illumination in the lobby. We weren’t going through the main door or near the platform in the back. I parked the truck a couple blocks from the station, and we hoofed it from there.
Buzz and Stella went around to the station master’s office window while I did my electronics thing on the alarm system. The side of the building didn’t have cameras – surveillance on the main entrance and platform was considered enough. The money was all behind the counters. Who burglarizes a station master’s office?
When I came around and gave the high sign, Buzz clambered up and through the window – we caught a break, it was unlatched. I followed him in, and Stella stayed down to keep eyes and ears on anything or anyone who might be coming.
The switch was easy. The coin was in a frame that you could buy at any hobby store – the backing held in place with little metal tabs that you bend back and then fold down when you’re done. All I really had to do was be absolutely sure I placed the fake in the same position as the original. With Buzz holding the light and me working the frame, the whole thing took probably three minutes, probably less.
I slipped the retrieved coin into my pants pocket, cautiously hung the frame back on the wall, and convinced myself there was no way anyone would know the difference.
After we clambered back out and down and shut the window, I gave Stella the thumbs up, and she responded with a grim confirmation nod. Up to then we’d been as silent as a sleeping lamb.
Then we heard tires on gravel and saw headlights coming up the street.
“Oh, crap,” Buzz whispered. “Time to fly away like leaves in the wind, baby.”
Stella, who had pulled out the Luger at the first sound, made it out of the the train yard with me and halfway to the truck before we stopped behind a big old oak tree and peeked around to see where Buzz was.
She was as fast as she looked – didn’t waste a movement as she ran, like a marathon champ. I was no way in that kind of shape, but I could almost keep up.
But, Buzz – remember the part where Buzz said he was a lousy runner?
When we peeked around the tree, we saw Buzz not yet out of the railroad yard, hauling tail but unable to avoid getting caught in the headlights of whatever vehicle just pulled up. From the height of the lights, I’m thinking it was an SUV.
“Freeze!” a man’s voice said, and then there was a chittering sound I didn’t recognize.
Buzz raised his hands – you could see him silhouetted against the lights.
Now here’s the part I’m not going to be able to unsee as long as I live, which maybe won’t be too long anyway.
We heard that chitter-chitter-chitter sound again, and then there was a light brighter than the SUV lights and a sound like, I don’t know, kind of an electric bark, like when a transformer blows on the line.
Whatever you call it, there was a hole in Buzz’s torso so big you could see the light from the SUV through it.
He hung there for a second and then crumpled like a sack of wet potatoes or something.
We heard the guy swear. He ran up to the body and knelt over. He was wearing a cop hat, and I think I recognized it was Sheriff Belloc. Then someone else walked up behind him.
At the time I thought the headlights and the sudden flash had screwed up my eyes so I wasn’t seeing straight. The new guy looked seven or eight feet tall, with his head hunched forward, and I would swear he had four arms, the extra pair sticking out about halfway between his shoulder and his hips.
The cop turned around and gestured at the new guy like, “What was that for?”
Stella touched my arm above the elbow.
“We have to get the hell out of here,” she murmured urgently, holstering her gun.
We got the hell out of there.