by Mark Finn
Start from the first chapter
Jump to Table of Contents
Chapter Twenty-Five: The Backhoe

The atmosphere inside the van was grim as Larry pulled into the parking lot of A1 Rental Supply Company and backed into the parking space near the front door. Through the glass, they could see riding lawnmowers and other equipment inside the small showroom. Along the right side of the building and out back, larger tractors and digging apparatus were parked in rows.

"Burt," said Larry. "Break out the ID."

Burt dipped into his laptop carrying case and handed Larry a small bundle. "There's business cards, a name badge, and the business card of the guy who hired us to do the job."

Larry inspected them. The small stack of business cards and the name badge bore the same logo. "Where did you come up with the name?" Larry asked.

"Oh, well, I hopped online and found that there was a Cornwell-Lewis Construction Company, so I just used Lewis Construction and gave it a similar font. That way, people will think, 'oh yeah, I've heard of you.' Cool?"

"Yeah, this'll work," said Larry. He slipped the name badge with his driver's license picture into the plastic badge holder that he had strung on a lanyard. The cards went into his breast pocket. He picked up the clipboard and adjusted his hat. "I'll be back," he said. "Everyone sit tight." He stepped out of the van, into the hot morning sun, and walked inside, the very model of cool under fire.


Elroy McElroy had been open for exactly nine minutes when the young man came through the door, dressed in work coveralls and a yellow hardhat. He snapped the button on top of his ballpoint pen and put on his professional face. "Good morning," he said.

"Yeah, how you doing?" said the young man. He walked up and put his hands on the counter. Elroy noticed they were pale and soft. "I need to rent a backhoe and a flatbed trailer for the day."

Elroy smiled at the common mistake. "Now, just a second, there, young fellah, do you want an agricultural backhoe, or a hydraulic excavator?" It was surprising to Elroy that someone in the construction trade would make that kind of mistake. Diggers usually asked for an excavator.

The man, who, Elroy noticed, had a laminated name badge around his neck, seemed taken aback. "I, uh, well, I need a hydraulic excavator, of course."

"Of course," said Elroy, as he reached under the counter for a clipboard with the standard rental contract already in place. "What size hydraulic excavator do you need?"

"A Komatsu PC 40," the man said without hesitation. At least he knew his stuff, Elroy thought.

"No problem, I have one or two on the lot. They go for two-fifty a day."

"That sounds about right," said the man.

"Yes sir, we try to stay competitive," Elroy said. He set the clipboard down in front of the man. "Okay, I need you to fill out this contract, and I also need a copy of your insurance form, your certificate of liability, and the person you're working for."

"Wait, what do you need that for?" said the man, his eyes wide.

"It's standard procedure," said Elroy smoothly. "If you don't pay on the contract, or your project funding gets cut, then we put a lien on your backer, so we get paid first. I wouldn't worry about it, though. That kind of thing hardly ever happens."

"Okay, I think I just need the, uh, excavator for one day. I'm, I mean, we're just doing some preliminary work. So, how do we work this out?"

Elroy clicked the button on his pen several times. So, it was one of those kinds of jobs, he thought. Someone underbidding a company and hiring migrant workers to set up the lot cheaply, so they can pocket the difference. Still, it was not his place to judge, he reminded himself.

"Well," he said, "we can do this as a one-day walk-in, no problem. There will be a deposit, of course," he said, apologetically.

"Of course," said the man, happy now that everything was back on track.

"Just fill out the top sheet, then, and I'll just make a quick copy of your insurance papers..."

The man stopped writing. "Insurance papers? What, like, my auto insurance? Liability?"

"Your work insurance," said Elroy, with just the slightest tone of disapproval. Surely these people had some sort of coverage for heavy equipment?

"Hmm..." said the man, scratching his head under the hardhat. "The boss didn't tell me anything about needing the policy number."

"Well, you can use our phone to call him?" Elroy pushed the telephone forward on the counter.

"No," said the man, a panicky look in his eyes. "He's out...of town. I won't be able to talk to him until...Monday. But look," said the man, leaning on the counter, "we've got a job to do, and we're on a serious timetable, here. Is there anything we can do to work this insurance thing out? I mean, I could leave a larger deposit...?" He left the question hanging.

Elroy decided he didn't like the implication and shook his head. "I'm sorry, son," he said. "I can't let you take heavy machinery of any kind off the lot without proof of insurance. If something were to happen to the equipment, well, you can understand, it wouldn't be pleasant. I can still rent you the flatbed, if you still need it." Elroy left the clipboard on the countertop, but took a step back. He wouldn't be moved on this. Not by some stranger who walked in that he didn't know from Adam. If it were someone he knew, that would be different.

The young man looked wildly around, and then glanced behind him out the glass door. "Okay, then, what else you got?" he asked.


"He's been in there a long time," said Burt. "What's going on?"

Turk sneered. "Hey, you heard the man, 'sit tight,' he said. Like he's Harvey Keitel in Reservoir Dogs or something."

"That makes you Mr. Pink," said D.J.

"Fine, I'll take that," said Turk. "He was the one who got away at the end."

"What are you, stupid?" D.J. spun around in the front seat. "Pink got shot at the end, by the cops."

"Steve Buscemi? No, you're wrong, he got away. You can hear the car peel out just before the cops shoot Mister White."

"Dumb-ass, you also hear the car crash and gunfire. The implication is that Pink bought it, too." D.J. looked at Burt. "Are you sure he's a film student?"

"Deej, you're a genius at comics, but you suck at movies, okay?" Turk said, gently. "I know, okay?"

"Yeah, I know, too...that you're an idiot," D.J. said.

The back doors of the van jerked open. Startled, they shut up. Larry stood in the sunlight, holding four large shovels and two pickaxes.

"What's all that shit?" said D.J.

"This is just a minor set-back. Nothing else," said Larry.

Next Chapter

Chapter One: The Navel Adventures of Larry Croft
Chapter Two: 1123 Miles to Tempe
Chapter Three: Enter the String
Chapter Four: The Waiting is the Hardest Part
Chapter Five: Rutlege's Story
Chapter Six: The Plot Thickens
Chapter Seven: The Fifth Man is Revealed
Chapter Eight: It's a DRY Heat
Chapter Nine: Preparing to Lam
Chapter Ten: The Mislaid Plans of Mouse and Man
Chapter Eleven: The Danger of Talking to God
Chapter Twelve: Anchors Aweigh, Let's Go Men
Chapter Thirteen: The End is Near
Chapter Fourteen: Roll to Hit
Chapter Fifteen: Six Feet of Beef Stick for the Soul
Chapter Sixteen: Hello, My Name is Indio, California
Chapter Seventeen: Threadgill Takes Charge
Chapter Eighteen: The Players on the Other Side
Chapter Nineteen: On the Road to Perdition
Chapter Twenty: Welcome to Tempe
Chapter Twenty-One: The Game is Afoot
Chapter Twenty-Two: Should Have Known Better
Chapter Twenty-Three: Test-Run at the Waffle House
Chapter Twenty-Four: The Supply Run
Chapter Twenty-Five: The Backhoe
Chapter Twenty-Six: A Frank Discussion
Chapter Twenty-Seven: A Brief History of Larry's Van
Chapter Twenty-Eight: Go Speed Racer, Go
Chapter Twenty-Nine: The Owner of the Thumbscrews
Chapter Thirty: Brain Teasers
Chapter Thirty-One: Frick and Frack Check In
Chapter Thirty-Two: Scouting
Chapter Thirty-Three: The Stakeout
Chapter Thirty-Four: The Food Fight
Chapter Thirty-Five: Time to Dig
Chapter Thirty-Six: Deep in the Night
Chapter Thirty-Seven: Paydirt
Chapter Thirty-Eight: The Phallus of Ebon Keep
Chapter Thirty-Nine: Otto and Stacy Make Good
Chapter Forty: Thieves in the Night
Chapter Forty-One: Critical Failure
Chapter Forty-Two: Downtown
Chapter Forty-Three: The Hoosegow
Chapter Forty-Four: An Emergency Breakfast
Chapter Forty-Five: Two Early Phone Calls
Chapter Forty-Six: Threadgill Meets the Gang
Chapter Forty-Seven: Back to the Van
Chapter Forty-Eight: Five Days Later
Table of Contents

About the Author

Mark Finn is the author of Blood & Thunder: the Life and Art of Robert E. Howard, which was nominated for a World Fantasy Award. He also writes excellent short stories, essays, articles, and reviews. In addition to his regular gig at the Vernon Plaza Theater, he can be found intermittently on The Clockwork Storybook blog and RevolutionSF, holding court or damning with faint praise.