Chapter 5 – Tactical Error #2
Kirk drives east five blocks before turning left onto the highway towards the closest gas station. Traffic on this street is practically nonexistent after midnight most nights and tonight it is completely nonexistent. The absence of lights at their local Kwik Trip is glaring. No light illuminating the marquee, no lights inside of the building and no lights at the pumps, all are turned off.
“Well, I can’t say that I’m surprised by this. But…I was hoping to see prices on the marquee.” Laments Kirk. “Maybe their big store out by Walmart will be open.” Gwen’s attention is not on the gas station. She’s looking down the road noticing silhouettes ahead of them. “There’s a large group walking up there. Is that normal for this late at night?”
It is not unusual to see pedestrians on this street. The sidewalks along this highway are wide. However, most people use this sidewalk during daylight hours. Seeing anyone walking at this time of day is not usual.
“No, it is not normal.” Replies Kirk. “Except early in the statewide lockdowns during the pandemic I saw groups of people walking down Burnett Street on my way home after 1:00am. As things loosened up, the late-night foot traffic stopped.”
Gwen gives Kirk a worried look. Kirk always tells Gwen to trust her instincts when it comes to safety. “Can you bang the car around baby, I don’t like this.” Kirk completes a U-turn at the next intersection and heads south just one block before they would’ve caught up with the group on foot.
“Initially, I thought that the BP downtown would be our best bet for gasoline. That one never seems to be too busy and the self-serve pumps are open 24 hours a day. I should’ve stayed with my original instinct of going there first.” The couple head downtown with cautious apprehension and their heads on a swivel.
The familiar glow of the BP sign is visible for a few blocks before they arrive. Kirk pulls up next to an equally illuminated pump and exits the car. As feared, the price per gallon was much higher than it had been this morning when he topped off his gas tank. $7.959 per gallon! “Wow babe! Almost $8 per gallon! Here goes nothing.”
After inserting his credit card into the KIOSK the card is rejected. The display reads; Error 10000 Undefined error. Contact vendor. The car windows are up so Kirk speaks loudly to Gwen. “Wow! My Gateway Finance card was rejected! Got an undefined error message. I’m supposed to contact Gateway.” Gwen responds. “Do you have another card, or do you want to try mine. It’s a Gateway MasterCard too.” Kirk responds. “I will try another option babe.”
Kirk shakes his head and digs out the Chase VISA card from his billfold. This time his card is accepted. The VISA goes back in his billfold and the MasterCard is slid into is left front pants pocket. After entering their zip code Kirk began the process of filling Gwen’s gas tank. Initially he notices what he thinks is a firefly in the back yard of the property immediately south of the filling station. However, each subsequent appearance of the light was always in the same location. The firefly was not flying. Upon a closer look he realized that the light was the tip of a lit cigar. They were being watched!
Kirk’s heartrate instinctively begins to race as he checks the digital display for how many gallons have been dispensed. Five gallons, that’s at least halfway to topping off Gwen’s gas tank. Kirk squeezed the nozzle hard, as if to insist that the machine dispense gasoline faster than it can perform. One nervous eye stayed on the glowing tip, while the other eye kept an watch on the pump display.
Fixating on whoever is watching him was Kirk’s second tactical error. Suddenly a muffled voice from behind startles Kirk as his head is quickly and belatedly on a swivel once again. “Having trouble with that gas pump mister?” Asks a young man slightly in front of two more young men who are flanking him on both sides. All three are wearing pandemic neck gaiters. The one in the middle who appears to be the leader is wearing a Batman logo mask while the two flanking him are both wearing the familiar green and gold logo of the Packers.
Gwen instinctively covers the display on her phone and quietly dials 911, but the service is not available. Helplessly, she continues in vain to attempt calling the police while watching the interactions between Kirk and their unwanted intruders.
“No.” Replies Kirk. “Everything is under control here. Thanks for asking. All good.” Just then all four men are startled as the tank becomes full and the pump handle that is still in Kirk’s hand snaps back into the off position. The surprised reactions of the intruder’s does not go unnoticed by Kirk. These three are not confident. Whatever they are up to, this is new to them. Which makes them unpredictable and dangerous.
Suddenly Kirk remembers the smoking observer to the south. His mind thinks back to the movie Jurassic Park. The raptors hunted in packs. One raptor would stare down its prey while others would attack without notice from the flank. Was this a set up? Is smoking person the real ringleader? His heartrate begins to surge again. Deep steady breaths begin in an attempt to regain his wits.
The nozzle is quickly taken out of the tank and returned to the pump. Batman speaks up. “That’s great old man. If you want everything to stay “All Good” you can give me that credit card you just used to buy gas.” He then thrusts his open left hand outward toward Kirk.
Thinking quick, Kirk reaches into his front left pocket and pulls out the Gateway Finance credit card that failed and hands it to Batman. “Here you go.” Batman suddenly gains some confidence, takes the card, and immediately responds. “Very good old man. I’d hate to see you get hurt. Now how about the rest of your wallet. Hand over your money.” After putting the credit card in his back left pocket Batman thrusts his hand toward Kirk again.
“Sorry, friend. I don’t carry cash. Too dangerous at my age. That’s my only form of payment.” Kirk keeps his head on a swivel wary that whoever is behind the cigar to the south may show up to assist the young thugs.
The left flanker nervously speaks up. “Don’t lie to us! We heard you tell whoever is in the car that one of your credit card was denied. Hand over the wallet.”
Kirk tries one more misdirection. “That’s my only card. Sometimes if you clean the magnetic strip the machine will read it. I rubbed it on my back pocket, like this.” He demonstrates rubbing the back-left pocket with his palm.
Right side flanker breaks his silence laughing sarcastically. “This old fart wants to get bloodied up! Hand over your wallet old man!” Lunges at Kirk, then nervously snaps back to his spot in the pecking order when Kirk defensively and instinctively raises a fist.
Looking up and behind him, Kirk points at the light above the pumps. “Okay guys don’t do anything that you may regret later. See that camera up there? It’s a security camera. We are being recorded. We can end this right now; you guys get my card, I don’t get bloody and we all leave here no worse for the wear.”
Batman holds up his right arm as if to tell his flankers to hold back while he thinks for a few seconds. “Nice try mister, but we’re masked. The only thing that will be identified is your beaten and broken body. I will take your wallet now.” This time he glides his open hand toward Kirk.
As feared, a new deep voice booms in from behind Kirk. “Nice evening tonight is it not gentlemen?” To Kirk’s surprise, Batman and the Green Bay flankers are more startled than he is.
Batman’s voice cracks attempting to answer. “Yes, yes it a very nice night. If you don’t mind, we are conducting a business transaction. Move along.”
The booming voice suddenly pulls out a handgun. “I was thinking that the three of you need to move along and leave this couple alone. Now, beat it while you can still do so on your own two feet.”
What Batman did not notice while paralyzed by the sight of the gun that he was staring down, was his flankers who had both begun to back away from his flank. “Okay mister let’s talk about this. I’ve got his credit card. We can go to an ATM and pull out cash to split. How about that mister? Hey! Old man. What’s the PIN for this account?”
“No!” Replies the man with the gun raising his voice for the first time. “You are going to give this man his credit card back and leave.” Pointing behind Batman. “Your friends are smarter than you are.” The flankers are now running north as fast as they can while occasionally glancing backward.
“Okay!” Huffs Batman as he tosses the card on the ground, spins around and hurries to catch up with his entourage.
Kirk briefly and quickly breathes a sigh of relief while wondering if he was taken out of the fire just to land into the frying pan. “Thank you.” Kirk stammers nervously as he bends over to pick up the worthless credit card. Thankfully, danger has passed.
“You are welcome. What are you two doing out this time of day on THIS day of all days without security?” Patting his firearm. Before Kirk has a chance to respond he adds. “Let me give you some advice. I call those jokers The Rubber Knife Gang. When you are dealing with wanna be gangsters, go for the one in charge. It works like a charm. For this crew it was the one wearing the Batman logo. If you challenge him, punch him hard in the nose, then the other two will run just like they did. Next thing you know, he’s turning tail and running too.”
Points toward Gwen. “Never put precious cargo in danger. Now go home. Think about what just happened and learn to protect yourself, and her.”
This brutal honesty was difficult for Kirk to absorb, but he knows that it is truth. Kirk thinks of himself as the Alpha protector of the house. These words hit him like a blow to the gut. The wind has been temporarily taken out of his sails. Speechless he just stares back at the man with the deep voice and gun.
“For a while I thought you were going to talk your way out of this mess. Unfortunately, those boys just aren’t bright enough to reason with. I guess, some days it is better to be lucky than good. Who knows what long term effect this quake is going to have? Even this far away from the quake our resources could get scarce.” Glances at the gas pump. “Look at what happened to the price of a gallon of gas in a little over 12 hours.”
“Next time you might not be so lucky. Next time it might be someone really evil instead of just stupid. Next time there may not be a good guy with a gun to bail you out. You should go home now.” He turns and walks back home into the darkness.
Kirk realizes that the gas cap is still dangling and returns it to the tank neck. After getting back into the car he turns to Gwen and says. “I’m so sorry baby.” Places his right hand on Gwen’s left shoulder. “That was dangerously stupid. I didn’t think people would go rogue this quickly.”
Gwen places her left hand on his right thigh. “Baby, I heard what the man said before he left. He called those kids The Rubber Knife Gang. He’s seen them before. They’ve been rogue a long time. The earthquake didn’t make them go rogue. They were already broken. We were in the wrong place at the wrong time. This could’ve happened yesterday at 1:00 am just as easily. Let’s go home baby. I’m exhausted.”
“He also told me that I have to learn to protect us. I thought I already knew how. I was wrong.” Kirk becomes reflective. “He called himself a good guy with a gun. Before tonight that was just a catchy phrase to me. It has a much deeper meaning suddenly.”
Gwen interrupts. “We’ve talked about firearms in the house Kirk. We agreed that having a gun in the house could be more dangerous than not having one. You hear of people shooting family members every year thinking that they are intruders. When was the last time you shot a gun?”
“When did I last shoot a gun? Wow, almost 40 years ago. Pheasant hunting with my dad and uncle Harold. I shot at two hens. Uncle Harold even yelled “hen!” I was so excited that I just shot. Luckily, I missed them both. The experience soured me on hunting and guns. If I shot at something that I knew should not be shot at, then I could no longer trust my decision making with a gun.”
“See baby, you knew the answer before I even asked the question. We need to find another way to protect ourselves.”
Kirk attempts to lighten the mood with some humor. “I don’t think we can make a SCRUM board for this problem.” Gwen chuckles, then pauses. “Are you sure? We can brainstorm the problem after some sleep. Who knows? We’re pretty smart and resourceful.”
Kirk chuckles back. “You are probably right baby. I hope you are right. We will bring a better universe to our home.”
After an uneventful ride, they are mercifully back home. Kirk backs Gwen’s car into the garage and shuts the overhead door. Once safely inside the garage, Gwen manually closes the safety latches they installed at the same time a new automatic garage door opener was installed.
Kirk looks over at Gwen. “That was a good investment.” Gwen smiles and follows him into the house.
Gunner is released from his kennel, fed, then let outside for his evening constitutional. The couple make sure that all entries are locked and begin getting ready for bed while Gunner is outside. Gunner gives a muffled ‘woof’ indicating that he is ready to come back in the house and assume his Guard Dog duties for the evening.
Kirk looks at Gunner and declares. “I think Gunner should no longer spend time in a locked kennel while we are gone.” Gwen interrupts. “What if he jumps up on the door or window when we get deliveries?”
“I read that one thing burglars avoid is homes with a dog. That is probably true for Rubber Knife Gangs too. I want people to think twice about messing with our home”
Gwen grins. “Look at you! That’s one item for the SCRUM board already.” Shut your mind off baby. It’s time for bed.”
“I’m going to need a megadose of Melatonin to get to sleep tonight Gwen. This has been one eventful day.”
Gwen opens a pill bottle, gives two to Kirk and keeps two for herself. “Here baby. These are 6 milligrams each. It’s lights out time.” They both swallow their Melatonin from a shared Dixie cup full of water.
Kirk turns on the lights attached to the headboard and shuts off the overhead light. They both settle into bed, adjust CPAP masks over their noses and turn off the headboard lamps. The comforting hiss of the machines begin. Gwen is finally back in their bed, nestled up against his left side with her head on his chest. Kirk can get some real sleep as a very long day comes to an end.