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ACER
Author: A.M. Hargrove

Prologue

 

 

ACER

 

 

“Dude, you want to make some quick cash?” my friend, Paulie, asked. He was always calling me about these idiotic money-making schemes that I usually refused.

“Who doesn’t? But what do I have to do?” my usual skeptical self asked.

“This is easy. Go to Savannah and pick up a shipment, and then drive it to Atlanta and leave it at a warehouse.” This sounded sketchier than the norm.

“Okay, this sounds more than a little sketchy. What’s the catch?”

“There is no catch.”

“Then why can’t one of their own people pick it up?”

“Because they don’t have anyone available, that’s why.”

“Nah. I’m passing on this one.”

“C’mon, Acer. I need your help. I’m really in a bind.”

“Why don’t you do it?”

“I have a full plate right now and can’t get down there. Otherwise, I’d be on it.”

He always had an answer for everything. “Okay, I’ll bite. How much?”

“This is the best part. Five Gs.”

“Are you serious? This is bullshit. There has to be something illegal going on.”

“Why do you say that?”

Was he kidding? “Five Gs to pick up a little shipment? Come on, Paulie, even you’re not that stupid.”

“Listen to me. All you need to do is pick up a trailer, attach it to your SUV, and drive it to Atlanta. What’s so stupid about that?”

“Because that should only bring in a few hundred. One G tops. Five is crazy money.”

“Hey, I don’t ask these guys. Most of them don’t even speak American.”

“It’s English, dumbass. What is it?”

“What’s what?”

“In the shipment, asshole.” I blew out a breath. This conversation was going downhill and fast.

Paulie huffed into the phone. “I don’t know, man. Microchips for games or computers. All I know is the cargo is coming in from China. You know they produce a ton of that stuff.”

That was true. They manufactured a huge percentage of it. I thought about it for a minute. It could be totally legit. I was still leery about it, but what if it was just a truckload of computer parts? I stood to make a nice little pocketful of cash. “Why Savannah?”

He huffed into the phone again. “Because it’s coming into the port off of a ship. That’s why.”

That part sounded valid. How else would it get here? “Yeah, yeah. Okay, text me the details.”

I was desperate for the money. Mom and Dad told me at my brother Brax’s wedding a few months ago, they were cutting me off at the end of the year. I’d had eight months to get my shit together and hadn’t done a damn thing about it. It was October and in a few months, I’d be on my own financially, which meant a job and all that. My bank account was virtually empty. Five grand would go a long way to help.

The text came in and it was pretty plain. Go to the Georgia Ports Authority in Savannah, where the ships come in, and look for the China Star. He gave me the pier number and where I’d meet my contact, someone named Liu. He’d be expecting me tomorrow evening around ten. That was a strange time for a pickup. Why couldn’t I go during the day when it would be easier to find? Who was I to argue with five grand though? Maybe the ship wasn’t coming in until late.

The following day, I got ready and headed north on I-95. It was a straight shot all the way to Savannah from Ft. Lauderdale and a relatively boring drive unless I hit traffic, which was quite often. Traffic sucked. I allowed eight hours for the trip but it only took me seven so I pulled into a rest area before I got off the interstate and took a short nap. When I woke up, I had plenty of time to get to my destination.

Fifteen minutes before ten, I was at the port authority, looking for pier number eighteen and the China Star. But when I got there, there was no China Star.

An employee came over and asked if I needed help. “Yes. Can you point me to the China Star? It was supposed to be here.”

He held a clipboard and flipped through some pages. “It’s not listed. If it departed, it’ll be logged into the computer. You want me to check?”

I didn’t know what to do. My instructions had been clear. “Let me make a call first.”

I walked a short distance away and called Paulie.

He answered on the second ring. “Dude, you in Savannah?”

“Yeah, but there’s no China Star. If I drove all this way for nothing, I’m gonna be pissed.”

He laughed and said, “Don’t worry. The ship probably already left, but hang tight. Someone will show up.”

“Someone from the ports authority did and checked. He said there was no China Star here.”

“No, there wouldn’t be if it already left, would there?”

“Guess not.”

“Don’t panic. Just hang around the pier and Liu will show up.”

About twenty minutes later, Liu finally showed. But he spoke zero English. All he did was say my name and then signal for me to follow him to this trailer that was close by. This wasn’t at all what I’d expected. He kept swinging his arms and then acting like he was driving. I gathered he wanted me to get my wheels. So I pulled my SUV up to the trailer and he attached it to my hitch. Then he handed me a piece of paper with an address on it. When I glanced back up, he’d disappeared.

“Hey, Liu, hold on.” I jumped out of the car to give chase, but the guy was nowhere to be found. I was going to ask about my payment. Getting back in, I googled the directions and headed to Atlanta. My brain couldn’t stop thinking about how sketchy Liu’s disappearance had been. What was in that trailer?

I called Paulie. “Hey, I got it. Liu was weird though. He didn’t speak English and then vanished into thin air.”

“What do you mean?”

“Just what I said.” I explained what happened.

“That is weird. Did he pay you?”

“No. When I went to ask about that, he was gone. I figured the people at the warehouse would.”

“No, Liu was supposed to pay you.”

“Fuck, Paulie, why didn’t you say so?”

“I did.”

“No, you didn’t. Those are details I don’t forget.” I slammed my hands on the steering wheel. “Now what do I do?”

“Go to the warehouse. That’s probably where you’ll get the money.”

“You better be right. I may grab some insurance though.”

“What do you mean?”

“Some of those microchips from the trailer.”

“Acer, don’t.” Panic laced his voice, which was odd.

“What’s the problem, Paulie? It would only be a few chips. They probably wouldn’t even notice.”

He laughed a little. “Yeah, they would. They inventory everything. Just don’t fuck with anything in there. Drop it off and get your money.”

“Okay, sure.”

But I couldn’t let it go. It was all too strange, with the way Liu vanished and then Paulie’s reaction. When I found a vacant rest area, I’d open the damn trailer to check out what it held and maybe I’d grab some of that stuff for myself. I finally came upon one that was deserted, which was only forty miles outside of Atlanta, and pulled in. The trailer had a lock on it, but I carried bolt cutters in the SUV. Dad ran a storage unit business on the side and occasionally we had to take over someone’s unit if they hadn’t paid in a while. Bolt cutters came in handy for that.

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