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50

AT EVERY TRAFFIC LIGHT where they had to stop, Kelp and Stan did some more adjustments on the cat's cradle of straps inside the hard hats, until they were just perfect, completely comfortable. They still looked moronic, of course, riding way up above your head as though you were hiding a cheeseburger in there, but at least they were comfortable.

And so was the truck. Not like the hard-riding workhorses of yore, this one came equipped with air, soft bench seating, automatic shift, and even cruise control, though you wouldn't use that so much in the city. But the rest was very nice.

They were southbound on Eleventh Avenue, within two blocks of the construction site where they would stash this very nice truck, continuing to admire its qualities, Stan saying he thought he might hold on to it for afterward since it contained this magic kryptonite stuff that robbed police forces of their power, when all at once a black Chrysler Consigliere cut in front of them so sharply that Stan had to hit the brakes, his horn, and the roof, all at once: "Whatsamatterwithyou?"

The Chrysler in front of them now stopped entirely, and all at once a Jeep Buccaneer was on their left, also stopping, and they were crowded against the parked cars on their right, unable to move.

Kelp said, "Stan, it's a hijack!"

"I don't need this," Stan told the world, and something tapped the windowglass to his left. When he looked over there, what was tapping was the metal end of the sawed-off double-barreled shotgun the right front passenger in the Jeep was aiming his way. The guy had a whole lot of neck and nose, very little hair, and a smile meant for pulling wings off flies. This guy made up-up gestures with the shotgun barrel, and his meaning was perfectly clear: Get out of the vehicle.

Stan, not looking away from the shotgun and its bearer, said, "They want us out of the truck. I'd rather go out your door."

Looking past Stan at their visitors, Kelp said, "Roger," opened his door, and slid out to the sidewalk in the narrow space left by their nearness to the parked cars on their right.

As Stan followed, a guy very similar to the shotgun guy came trotting down from the Chrysler to get behind the wheel of the truck, and another one from the same litter came from somewhere behind the truck to brush Stan and Kelp aside and get up into the passenger seat. With no choice in the matter, Stan and Kelp made their way past the parked cars to the curb as the truck and its three escorting cars, all with Jersey plates, noisily rushed away from there.

Sounding more bitter than outraged, Stan said, "I never been hijacked before. Never once."

Sirens screamed. The three cars and the truck, still at the other end of this block, stood on their brakes, red lights shining against the sun. Police cars came from everywhere, slamming to a stop, plainclothesmen and uniforms boiling out, armed to the teeth.

"Well, you couldn't have picked a better time to have it happen to you," Kelp commented.

"Holy shit," Stan realized.

Two plains with their badges hanging down their shirt-fronts like yellow tongues paused to yell at Stan and Kelp: "Move along, move along, nothing to see here, get on to work, get on about your business, this is a crime scene here."

"Oh, I hate those," Kelp said. "Come along, Martha."

Under their hardhats, they walked briskly away. Kelp, getting into the part, pretended he had a metal lunchbox under his left arm, and you could almost see it.


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