Stumbling over a generator cable, he caught his balance, then was in the clear once again, until a few docks later when the process repeated. Four minutes and a good deal of dodging later, Charlie came to the north end of the dockyard. This was where the burglaries had happened. Skid slowed to a stop. The docks here were thinner than the south end, and older. The wooden planking was grey from weathering. The planks had cement poured next to them, building the dock area outwards to hold the larger loading equipment. The warehouses abutted the edge of the docks. Their wood and red brick walls and single story construction seemed to Skid like huge turtles that came ashore and died in place.
The break-in happened on the dock side of the northernmost building. The yellow police tape on the front door and huge loading dock next to it was a big clue. Charlie took a long look at the building as the sun baked the asphalt and concrete. And the air carried the smell of salt water and decaying fish to his nostrils. He looked towards the docks, which was no help. The last two piers had no ships, and no workers around to talk to. He turned to look back south. The nearest potential witness was about a hundred yards away, and there were a couple hundred servicing a pair of freighters. He could see the cranes on the pier moving large pallets of crates. The grey, blue, and yellow forklifts picked up smaller pallets off the large pallet, and like ants in a line, rolled back towards the warehouses to drop off their cargo.
He turned back towards the south. The sunlight glinting off the forklifts scuttling back and forth was mesmerizing. He blinked, then sighed, “What do I do now?”
Night settled down over the dockyard. While the sounds of traffic had slowly dissipated, the cacophony of the cranes and workers was still at full roar, and carried faintly to Skid, who had moved to the end of the old, weather-worn pier to watch for thieves coming back to break into the warehouse. They gotta return to the scene of the crime. This place is too easy not to pick over. Skid crossed his fingers, hoping he was right. All those comics and mysteries he loved so much said that bad guys always came back for more. I just have to wait, and I’ll catch them red-handed. He settled in for a night of watching, only to find out the rule every other cop has been on a stakeout figured out. The crooks will never appear when you’re awake or ready, if they show at all. This was Skid’s new experience. He kept himself awake by running down to the first active dock, then back again to the end of the old pier, with the predictable results of letting people know he was around.
It was eleven thirty at night when a heavyset figure drove up in a dark car. The vehivles lights were out as it purred to a stop next to the warehouse. This has got to be it! Skid thought excitedly. It was just like the comics. The crooks came back for more! He didn’t wait, but dashed up to the car, shouting “Freeze! You’re under arrest!” The car’s floodlight mounted on the right side of the car came on immediately and spun to illuminate him.
Skid blinked in the light as a voice said, “Jesus Christ! What the hell are you doing, kid! Trying ta give me a heart attack?!” The voice was familiar somehow. He decided to ignore it and confront them like the hero he was supposed to be. He ran quickly to the driver-side door, and gave it a hard yank. The interior light came on to illuminate the gate guard, sitting in the driver seat. Her face was pale in the glare of the harsh mercury lighting from the parking lot lamps. Skid felt his cheeks flush in embarrassment.
“>Uh, sorry. I didn’t think…I just didn’t think.” The stammered apology seemed to calm the guard, who managed a thin smile. She shifted in her seat. The door clicked as she pulled the inner lever and opened it, shifting her heavyset bulk out the door and into the muggy night air.
“I understand. It’s no big deal. I scared myself on my first evening doing guard work.” She paused a moment, then took a breath as she seemed to gather her thoughts. “It was six years ago I got hired. I’d just gotten out of college with a degree in Biology, only to find no one wanted a biologist without a masters, or a doctorate. I jumped on the job. The lead out here gave me the route to drive, what to check, and where to stamp the clock to prove I covered my route.”
Her eyes lit up with the remembered first night. “One thing that they forgot to tell me was that pier eight was a twenty-four hour pickup for priority loads. I drove past the gate, and found it open. At night, all the gates are supposed to be locked. This one was wide open and a pickup was sitting just inside. People were scurrying around flashing lights at the crates, then loading them onto the pickup. There were seven of them and just me with a mag lite and walkie talkie.”
“I called it in quietly, and you know what my lead said?” She chuckled. “He said ‘go check it out, rookie. Oh, and don’t get shot’, which didn’t help my paranoia at all. I walked in and announced myself, at which point there were a couple of screams. The guys dropped the small crate they were moving and seven flashlight swiveled onto me. ‘Jesus ma’am! What the hell are you giving us a heart attack for!? We called it in and I’ve got the papers for the pick up right here.”
I could hear frigging laughing coming over the walkie. I’d been so tense I’d held the transmit button on. My lead had set me up.” She chuckled again, then turned what was supposed to be a stern face at Skid, but her smile ruined the whole stern thing. He found himself grinning at the story. “So, did you get him back?”, he asked her. The guard, whose name was ‘Menendez’ according to her name badge just above her left chest pocket, smiled, and shook her head. “No, it doesn’t work that way. Though, I do seem to remember someone replace his sugar packets with salt once.” Skid chuckled, then looked around the parking lot again. “Is this you trying to tell me that I’m wasting my time?”