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The guards had rushed to the window, and from the shouts of discovery, found the ripped sleeve from Freedy's shirt as he as hoped they would. He heard them rush out the back and started to relax. And then they were back in again, and back out, and then back in again. All the while shouting.
The gold miners and Freedy kept quiet through it all.
Jim was quivering, and finally Freedy reached out and gave him a hug. "The air is just inches away," he whispered. "Imagine the sun, the light and the breeze."
His barrel-mate finally stopped shivering, and a few minutes later he surprised Freedy with a loud snore. Freedly reluctantly elbowed him awake.
A good hour later, the warehouse workers were let into the storeroom and they heard heavy lifting and loading going on around them. Finally, Freedy felt his own barrel tipped.
"Are you sure these are supposed to be empty?" The worker complained.
"Hey, they're oak slates with black steel hoops. The very best."
"Yeah, you and your damn beer."
"Makes the beer taste better."
"Yeah, well that's just stupid." To Freedy and Jim surprise, the barrel was turned on its side and rolled into the truck. "Oomph," Jim said, every time Freedy landed on him. "Oomph."
For his part, Freedy was too crushed by Jim to make any noise.
They were tipped back upright, but upside down. "Shh!" Freedy whispered to Jim as the big man began to whimper. But there was so much racket going on around them, no one heard them. Finally they heard the big doors to the truck slammed shut, and if it was possible, it was even darker.
"Get me out," Jim started to whimper. "Get me out."
Freedy managed to wiggle his way toward the top and pushed up. There was something heavy on top of them.
"Get me out!" Jim started yelling, while Freedy tried shushing him. Finally, after about five minutes, they heard something being shifted above them and the top came off. Charlie was frowning down at them.
"Shut up, Jim. They haven't started the truck yet. They might still hear us."
Jim was fine after he scrambled up past Freedy and tipped over the side the barrel. He sprawled on the floor breathing deeply.
Freedy understood how he felt. He hadn't realized until Charlie opened the lid and let some air in that he'd been stifling. He had a splitting headache, but whether from Jim's bulk or the lack of air or both, he couldn't tell.
Moment's later, the truck started moving.
They had apparently barely missed being buried in the back of the truck, but fortunately the load over Charlie's barrel had fallen off. A few minutes later they were all free.
The truck was almost full, but there was just enough room to crawl around. Freedy scrambled over some boxes and cans to the back door. There was a small crack along the bottom of the back doors and he was relieved to see the yellow van following, with Sheila grim but beautiful at the wheel.
"Well, hurrah for Freedy" Billy said. "This is at least the third time he's save us. We're going to have to give him a bigger share."
There was a moment of silence, and then they all said at once, "Nah...." "No way!' "He's just doing his job!"
They sat in companionable silence for awhile.
"This isn't a refrigerator truck is it?" Billy said. The skinniest of them, he felt it first.
"Sure feels like it," Bob agreed.
"Don't worry, we'll get out at the first rest stop," Freedy assured them.
Two hours later, the truck shifted down, and then turned abruptly, whining to a stop. A big release of air pressure from the brakes, and then silence. Freedy looked out through the small crack and saw the driver heading to the restrooms.
"Now!" he said, when he saw the man disappear.
It was no use. The door was secured from the outside, and there was no safety latch on the inside.
"That's illegal!" Steve muttered, sounding offended.
The irony was, in the end, they all went back to the barrels after knocking some air holes in the top. It was a lot warmer inside the enclosed space. All but Jim, who shivered and nearly turned blue, but refused to get back in. He rummaged around, and finally threw some loose cardboard on top of himself.
They were lucky in the end that Price-Ceiling was so hard on its workers, because the driver made the entire trip in eighteen hours without stopping for more than a few short periods. Finally, the driver parked behind the store in Centerville, Pennsylvania and walked away for a well-earned rest.
About five minutes later, Sheila had managed to open the back door, using a wrench to break the lock.
She looked in worriedly, and Freedy nearly fell into her arms coming out the back.
"You all right?"
Freedy didn't answer, but just kept hugging her. The whole trip he'd been dreaming about this. He didn't care anymore that she was a cop and might arrest him at any moment. He would gladly follow her anywhere, even in handcuffs.
She murmured a soft sound, a reassuring sound that only a woman in love can make, and he nearly broke into tears.
"Where are we?" Freedy finally asked.
"Our home base, Freedy," Charlie said, clapping him on the back. "Welcome to Centerville, Pennsylvania, the non-union coal mining pit of the world."
The miners knew all the open bars and the best motels in town, and they were quickly settled in.
Freedy stayed with Sheila, for some reason not feeling tired at all. They held hands as they walked to the motel room, and when the door was locked they fell into bed.
Freedy fell asleep with Sheila in his arms. 'I should do something about this," he thought drowsily. And then he was out.
1 week ago