“It’s awesome! Hell, we’re awesome!” Bob Murphy let out a whistle and circled the most hideously beautiful piece of machinery he’d ever seen. “Take my picture! How does it run?”
“Like crap,” Krafty replied as he snapped his buddy’s photo in front of the heap. “We gotta get Chops to look at it. I barely got it here. OK, you take my picture.”
The object of the two friends’ admiration was a beat up 1962 Indian 800cc motorcycle. Most of its black paint was gone; a splotchy rust-orange primer showed through. But the coolest part was the sidecar. With a navy blue and red paint job, the sidecar obviously wasn’t original to the bike and had been adapted to the frame. It was pocked with large gouges and scrapes in the fiberglass.
“Try to start it again,” Murph said, tossing his Polaroid One Step into the sidecar. “I’ll get my mom’s keys.”
“Do you think Chops will be there? It is summer break,” Krafty replied.
“The dude’s always there. I think he has a cot in the back or something.”
It took several minutes to get the motorcycle to fire and, when it did, it shook so much that Murph wondered whether it would make it the ten miles to the Beaver County Vo-Tech Auto Shop. The most Krafty could manage was about twenty miles per hour, because he could only get the thing up to third gear. Murph followed in the family Chevy Nova.
When they arrived, the only car in the lot was Chops’ red Dodge Charger. They banged on the door and someone yanked it open with feigned irritation. “What the hell do you two idiots want?” Chops said in a way that only longtime friends could, without giving or taking offense.
“Come look at this and tell us if you can do anything with it!” Murph said, yanking on Chops’ sleeve.
“Whew!” Chops said with a grin. “You dumb sons of bitches. What did you do?” He walked slowly around the bike, pinging a can of Skoal between his fingers and taking a giant dip.
“We picked it up at Jake’s Junk Yard with the Crimestoppers reward we got from the paper for breaking the Rochester school vandalism case,” Krafty crowed.
“Yeah, I heard about that,” Chops said as he spit a huge brown glob on the asphalt. “Listen, you A-holes better be careful. I heard Ric Roddy is looking for you. He’s pretty pissed that his brother was sent up to Dixmont Juvy for that.”
“Give me a day,” Chops snorted. “It’s slow now and we have a bunch of old bike parts sitting around.”
“Thanks Chops. You’re the best,” Murph said, sincerely. Chops acknowledged with a wink and a well-placed spit.
On the way back to New Brighton, the two “almost” high school seniors listened to local radio station WBVP. The Nova had terrible reception so they’d settled on Paul Harvey and “The Rest of the Story.” As the local news came on they chatted eagerly about their plans for the Indian over reports on weather, road construction, and President Reagan’s visit to Pittsburgh—until something caught Murph’s ear.
“Hey, turn it up, will ya Krafty?” he said with hands obsessively planted at ten and two like the responsible driver he promised his parents he would be. The usual public service announcement about lost dogs reported several missing pets.
“That’s strange,” said Murph. “There’s never more than one, maybe two.”
“Where do you think all the dogs are going?” Krafty asked.
“Away from here,” Murph snapped back. “Anybody with good sense knows to get out of Dodge, even the dogs. There’s no work here since the mills closed.”
When the boys pulled into the Murphy’s driveway, a girl was sitting on the back porch waiting for them. “Who’s that?” Krafty asked.
“It’s Sandi Maybach, dummy! Don’t you recognize your old squeeze?”
“She changed her hair,” Krafty muttered. A rush of memories flashed across his brain and he felt slightly short of breath. Murph noticed.
“Relax dude! She’s probably here because she digs me now.”
As they walked up the porch steps, Sandi rushed toward them. It was obvious that she had been crying. “Maxine is gone. We looked for her all last night,” she blurted, dispensing with hellos.
The boys knew the Maybach’s collie-shepherd mix, a very gentle dog and a neighborhood favorite. “What do you think happened?” Murph asked. Krafty’s tongue couldn’t form any words just yet.
“We don’t know,” sniffed Sandi. “She was in the back yard and then we noticed that the back gate was open. We never use that gate. It has a padlock on it. Someone cut it and took her!” She started to cry again.
“Why would someone take her?” Murph asked.
“I don’t know!” Sandi wailed. “That’s why I’m here. I need you two geniuses to figure it out!”
Krafty thought he caught a tinge of sarcasm. He wasn’t sure. They really hadn’t talked since the Christmas dance.
“You guys figured out who busted up the school when the cops couldn’t. I would think you could find one little dog! She even has a collar with tags!” Sandi’s lip started to quiver again.
“It’s OK Sandi,” Krafty said quietly. “We’ll take a drive and check it out, right Murph? Come on, we’ll take you home.”
At the house on Stuber Road, Sandi showed them to the back yard. The padlock on the gate had been cut, just like Sandi said, and the mangled lock still lay on the ground.
“They definitely used a bolt cutter,” Krafty observed. “I don’t think this was a practical joke.”
“OK,” Murph replied. “Let’s walk the road a bit and see what we can find.”
The three had tramped along the shoulders about a quarter of a mile when they found Maxine’s collar and tags lying beside the road in a drainage ditch. Another ten feet away were tire tracks.
When Sandi saw the collar, she became almost hysterical. “My God! They killed her!”
“No they didn’t, Sandi. There’s no blood here and these tire tracks look like someone peeled out pretty quick,” Murph replied in a calm, flat voice. His mind was already at work.
“Please go back to the house and get me a pad and pencil and a measuring tape. I want to sketch these tire tracks. Krafty, let’s walk the road some more. Maybe they left something else behind.”
The two quickly did as asked, grateful for a plan of action. Shortly, Krafty called out, “Nothing here, Murph, just a couple empty cans of PBR.”
Murph shouted back, “There’s a bunch of Pall Mall butts here. Looks like they watched the place for a while.” Sandi returned quickly and he made a detailed sketch of the area with tire tracks.
“Murph, why the hell would someone steal a dog?” Krafty remarked. “Especially Maxine? There’s nothing special about her.”
“I don’t know. But I think the missing dogs on the radio are all related. Those addresses they gave in New Brighton and Beaver Falls aren’t that far apart. We’re close to Eastvale Bridge; they could duck right back over into BF from here. We’ll show these sketches to Chops and see if he recognizes anything. My guess is the tires aren’t stock. The back wheels are wide and look modified.”
The next day, the boys went back to the Vo-Tech to retrieve their new motorcycle and get Chops’ take on the tire track clues. “Damn Chops, you’re a wizard!” Krafty exclaimed when he saw the bike.
“No problem,” Chops replied. “New plugs, fresh gas, a tweak here and there …” He was not one to give away shop secrets. “I rigged up an electronic starter so you don’t have to kick start it anymore.” Chops pressed the button and the bike fired right up with no knocks or shudders.
“God luv ya, Chops. You’re a lifesaver,” Murph said. “Hey, can you take a look at this?” He pulled out his pencil sketches.
Chops took a dip and studied the paper. “These are unique slicks,” he said. “Special ordered. Whoever bought these has some bucks. Plus, I’d say from the wheelbase that we’re looking at something like a Road Runner—if your measurement is right. I doubt anyone would put these tires on a standard Belvedere. Probably a ’69 or so. They shortened the wheelbase an inch in ’70. I know most of the gearheads in the valley but I don’t know anyone with this kind of setup.”
“OK, thanks again Chops. What do we owe you?” Murph asked.
“Forget it,” Chops replied. “I wasn’t doing much anyway and no one here will miss the parts.”
“We owe you big time,” Murph said and he hopped aboard with Krafty diving for the sidecar.
Murph and Krafty couldn’t wait to show off their new toy and left the Nova in the lot to buzz around town for a couple of hours, switching places between driving and riding in the sidecar. They swung by the Hot Dog Shack and basketball courts before driving down to Henry’s Custard Stand. Henry’s was an old, drive-in style restaurant split between frozen custard in the front and Mexican food in the back. The owners realized it was a good hangout for teenagers and never chased them away. They hired a rent-a-cop to patrol the grounds to discourage any mischief.
The rumble of the motorcycle drew a crowd, and Murph and Krafty became the celebrities of the moment. If the attention they got over the Crimestoppers reward wasn’t enough, they were receiving fresh recognition for cruising around in their contraption, wearing football helmets with the facemasks removed instead of motorcycle helmets.
Their fans weren’t the only ones watching the spectacle. Across the parking lot, Ric Roddy and Jamie Hellock looked on. “Those two assholes aren’t hard to find,” Ric said, swigging Miller Highlife from a quart bottle not so cleverly concealed in a paper bag. “Let’s go.”
The two strode across the lot towards Murph and Krafty, who were happily holding court, and silently parted at the perimeter of the crowd. Stuart the Rent-a-Cop was too busy flirting with some girls in a K-car at the other end of the lot to notice what was about to happen. Jamie matched up with Krafty and Ric walked straight up into Murph’s face.
“You two dickheads think you’re big shit now, don’t ya? You know they sent Rob up to juvy after you narced him out.”
Murph knew the fight was coming and didn’t bother to try to talk his way out of it. “I heard your douchebag brother cried like a sissy when they took him away,” he replied. And with that, it was on.
Ric grabbed Murph by the shirt and head butted him, sending him flying back into a picnic table. Krafty tried to get in a preemptive strike on Jamie and threw a poorly aimed roundhouse, which only smacked the side of his head with little effect. Jamie grabbed Krafty, pulling him in and downward, and pounded his face with a series of knee lifts.
Murph and Krafty were no match against two experienced street fighters. The crowd oohed at each punch, but did nothing to break it up. After a minute that seemed like sixty, Stuart the Rent-a-Cop ran over to put a stop to the melee. Ric and Jamie took off around the back of the adjacent K-Mart, into the woods. Stuart was too fat to bother with a chase.
Murph and Krafty were bloody messes. One of the kids brought bags of ice from the custard stand while everyone else gawked. Stuart tried to question the bystanders but no one wanted to talk, including the victims. They would handle this among themselves.
“You know, if we’re going to continue to do this, maybe we should learn how to fight,” Krafty said, holding ice on his swollen face.
“Brilliant,” Murph replied as he spat blood and checked to see if he still had all his teeth. The two iced their wounds for the next hour, debating whether to go home or not. Murph wanted to get back to the business of finding Maxine.
“Krafty, there’s only one thing to do. We gotta go see Charlie. I’ll bet he knows something about those dogs. I’ll bet they were all stolen, just like Maxine.”
“Dude, can’t we just go home and get cleaned up first?”
“Are you kidding? Do you think our folks will let us out again tonight, once they see that?” Murph pointed to Krafty’s black and blue eye. “No, we need to go now. Let’s get a flashlight at the K-Mart.”
Charlie No Face was a local legend, a character that stalked the roadways of Wampum along Route 18 during the night. Charlie had been seriously burned by a downed power line as a child, and most of his facial features were gone. The severe scarring made him a freak show attraction to youngsters looking for a thrill. Sometimes Charlie would oblige the kids with stories and let them get a look at him for smokes and beer. Because people often thought of him as less than a person, they tended to be loose with their conversations around him. Charlie was always picking up the latest dirt and gossip.
Murph and Krafty had a different relationship with the man. They knew him more as a very sad fellow, and sometimes would visit him just to talk and give him some company. It was because of their nighttime chats with Charlie that they were able to pick up some clues that helped them solve the Rochester school case.
On their way out to Wampum, the two stopped at Pete’s Bar. They knew Greek, the bartender, pretty well and he’d sometimes sneak them a six-pack out the back door. Tonight, Greek slid them a sixer of Stroh’s and a carton of Lucky Strikes, and the friends were off again on the bike.
They drove up and down Route 18 for over half an hour and were just about to give up when they saw Charlie pop out from behind a telephone pole. The two pulled to the edge of the woods while Charlie stayed partially concealed in the shadows.
“How are you Charlie?” Murph started.
“Better than you. I heard you got your asses kicked tonight.”
“Word gets to you fast,” Krafty said, handing Charlie the bag of cigs and beer.
“Your faces tell the story,” Charlie chuckled as he took the package. “I know you’re not here for a social call. What do you want?”
“What do you know about missing dogs? One of them belongs to our friend and she wants us to find her,” Murph explained.
“You two had better stay out of this one. You’ll be in over your heads. Know anything about dog fighting?”
“Sure, we’ve seen stuff,” said Murph.
“Oh, you’ve seen stuff. Do you know what pit bulls are?”
“We know of them,” Krafty added unconvincingly.
“Well there are some bad dudes from New Castle down here running a dog fighting ring with pit bulls. They fight ’em to the death.”
“So what do they want the other dogs for?” Krafty asked. “Maxine isn’t a pit bull. Why steal them?”
“Practice and warm up,” Charlie replied coldly. “To put the taste of blood into the fighting dogs before they square off—it makes sure they get aggressive. When they’re done with the warm up dogs, they shoot them—if there’s anything left when the pit bulls are done. And if they find you snooping around, they’ll shoot you too.”
“My God!” Murph exclaimed. “Where are they doing this?”
“Figure it out. You’re a smart kid. And don’t do anything dumb.”
“Well, they took them from areas right around here. My guess is out here in the woods somewhere. No, wait. Out in one of the mills? Most of them are closed now. The old J&W plant is isolated enough. No one would bother them there.”
“So, I guess you just came to see me because you knew I was out of Luckys,” Charlie said with a nod that indicated confirmation, before disappearing back into the shadows.
“Krafty, we need to go there. Now.”
“Are you kidding? You heard Charlie—those dudes mean business. Anyway, it’s already close to curfew. My folks will kill me.”
“You heard him, too. They’ll kill Maxine. Do you want to live with that, knowing you could have done something about it?” Murph didn’t wait for an answer, and trotted towards the motorcycle.
Murph and Krafty approached the back of the old J&W Tubular Products plant on the outskirts of Beaver Falls with no headlamp. The plant had been closed for a year and leftover stock lay rusting in the yard. They parked a hundred yards from the rear of the plant. Krafty grabbed the flashlight while Murph pulled his Polaroid from under the seat of the sidecar, and they silently started to look around. As they turned the corner of a remote lot, they saw cars parked in a dark corner.
“Look!” Murph whispered. “A Road Runner.”
“Yeah, with big fat back tires,” Krafty added.
“This is it.” Murph sucked in a deep breath and tossed the camera to Krafty. “Try to get pictures of the plates. I’ll look for a way in.”
“Geez Murph, let’s just take the pictures and let the cops do the rest,” Krafty said to nobody. Murph was already off, committed to his plan.
He slid close against the back of the mill and soon found an opening in the corrugated metal wall. Murph motioned for Krafty to join him and they ducked inside. Krafty turned on the flashlight, pointing it down. There were foot and paw prints in the dust of the concrete floor. They stayed low and followed the trail past a line of old annealing furnaces. Soon they could see lights flickering and hear muffled voices. Murph held his fingers to his lips and signaled to Krafty to kill the flashlight. He looked around and noticed a coil of rope wound on a nail, and snatched it down, thinking it might come in handy.
Around another corner, they heard yelling and a dog yelp in pain as cheers rose up. The two crouched and moved closer to where they could see a makeshift fighting arena, and watched in horror as a man pulled a dog carcass from the ring. Murph nudged Krafty and pointed to cages containing several medium sized dogs—most of them mixed breeds.
“Do you see Maxine?” Krafty asked.
“No. Not yet,” Murph replied. He slinked along the line between the light and shadows, closer to the cages. Krafty stayed motionless and watched in near panic as Murph moved to the back of the cages. No one noticed them, since the men were busy placing bets on the main event with two snarling animals set to tear into each other.
Krafty shook his head in bewilderment as Murph reached the cages and carefully unlatched them with no sound. He freed three dogs, herding them one at a time back to Krafty in the shadows. The last cage held Maxine. Murph grabbed her ruff and pulled her out. “Let’s go home, girl” he whispered.
When Maxine saw Krafty, she wagged her tail violently and jumped on him, licking his face. “Shhh. Take it easy Maxine,” he shushed her. The boys quickly tied the whimpering dogs, one to the other, and moved back the way they came.
“Let’s get them to the police station,” Murph said.
“In what? The sidecar?”
“It’ll have to do.” Murph’s mind was set.
They had gone a few dozen yards when Murph looked back to see if anyone noticed the dogs were gone. His toe hit something and he stumbled, stepping on one of the dogs’ paws. The animal yipped.
“Shit! Go!” Murph only half whispered.
The boys and dogs broke into a run. They could hear voices and footsteps behind them and knew they’d been discovered. Even the dogs knew they were being chased, and the athletic boys found out just how fast they could move, zigzagging around mill debris with four mutts tugging at their makeshift harness like sled dogs. They ducked back through the loose metal opening and sprinted towards the motorcycle. Just before rounding the corner, they saw men pouring from the building.
“There!” One of them shouted. “Get their asses!”
The boys flew with the pack of panting dogs. Krafty reached the Indian first and fired it up while Murph hoisted the tethered dogs into the sidecar and piled on top of them. Krafty popped the vehicle into gear and spun out to the road. As they picked up speed, Murph heard something ping off the back of the sidecar.
“Holy crap! They’re shooting at us!” Krafty screamed as he shifted into the upper gears.
Murph struggled to hold on to the dogs. Two were panicked and tried to jump out of the moving sidecar, while the other two jockeyed for position to get more wind on their faces, sticking their butts in Murph’s in the process.
Krafty flew down College Avenue and careened onto Seventh, trying to maintain control of the swaying sidecar. Murph tried to maintain control of the animals. At last they pulled into the Beaver Falls police station where Murph and four yapping dogs tumbled onto the pavement. Murph dragged the dogs to the station’s main entrance while Krafty ran ahead.
The desk sergeant looked up at the ruckus to see Krafty, followed by Murph and a string of dogs, burst through the door.
“What the hell is going on here?” The burly cop bellowed.
Murph offered a breathless account of the missing dogs, pit bulls, fighting, and gunshots while the bewildered sergeant tried to make sense of the story. Eventually, Murph slowed down and the sergeant pieced together enough to dispatch two cars to the old mill. He notified the State Troopers, who promptly set up roadblocks on the way back to New Castle. Before dawn, the police had nabbed three of the ringleaders and recovered several dogs. In the days to come, they would use Krafty’s pictures and round up the rest.
It was just after sunup when the police finished taking the boys’ statements and sent them home, with Maxine in tow. The desk sergeant had called their parents hours before. The other dogs stayed at the station to be reunited with their owners.
When the boys pulled up to the Maybach’s, looking worse for wear, Murph said, “You take her up. I’ll wait here.”
Maxine bounced from the sidecar, and Krafty walked up the steps to ring the bell. Sandi opened the door and screamed with delight as she clutched Maxine and buried her face in the dog’s ruff. Then she stood and looked at the boy with the purple eye and sheepish smile.
“Jim Kraft,” she said, “I could just kiss you!” And with that she grabbed him around the neck and planted a big kiss right on his mouth, followed by gentler kisses around his bruised face. Krafty raised an arm to wave Murph on. He would find another way home.
Murph pulled into his own driveway a little before eight to be greeted by his mother, who delivered first a colossal hug and then the obligatory “I was worried sick” speech. His dad just looked over the front page of the paper and hit him with, “Boy, what am I going to do with you?”
Bob Murphy shrugged and staggered past his parents, on towards his room to collapse into bed. He snagged the local section of the paper from the kitchen counter on his way out and flipped it open to the Crimestoppers advertisement.
“Hmmm, someone burglarized Patton’s Restaurant,” he murmured. “All leads have been exhausted. One thousand dollars to anyone providing information that could lead to the arrest and conviction of …”
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