River Of Night – Snippet 14
The first zombie lurched out of the black shadows, and splashed directly towards the closest target. Fat Ralph threw himself backwards and Tom ducked to one side as the former gangster swept his new boss with his loaded rifle. Time abruptly slowed as Tom paused, assessing the situation.
The second hand on Tom’s watch advanced one tick.
Ralph was scrabbling backwards, and Tom noted as his man’s fingers began to form into claws, seeking purchase on the water-slick concrete.
The infected was wading towards them in slow motion, perhaps thirty feet away.
As he watched, another infected loomed out from behind the last car hoist. A third silhouette joined the first two, then another pair. Tom knew, without looking, that he might still escape back through the door, leaving Ralph to get swarmed. But, despite being a pain in his ass, the former mobster was his man now. Ralph had taken his salt, and it was a two-way street.
So leaving him to die wasn’t going to happen.
Tick. The second hand advanced again.
Twenty-five feet. The zombies’ collective growling and keening filled the space, drowning out the sounds of their splashing progress.
Tom had heard the sound before, at Washington Square Park, and again, beneath his own building during their breakout from Manhattan. It was pure hunger, raw and red. It was the warning of the predator, signaling to the pack that there was fresh prey. It was the sound of the darkness come alive, penetrating some deeply buried species-subconscious where ancient humans built fires against the unknown.
Center mass wasn’t enough. He needed stops and drops. That meant head and spine shots. The second hand on Tom’s watch ticked for the third time, and Tom processed the angles, the distance and knew it would be a near thing.
On a battlefield every bit as dark as the Indonesian triple-canopy jungle in Timor where he was first blooded, Tom called on the same focus to surmount the ancestral fear. He noted his own emotions, shunting them aside, compartmentalizing everything but the need to service the targets in front of him. In that moment, as the zombies accelerated, closing the distance to their prey, Tom became nothing so much as the guidance system for the weapon he bore.
Before the watch ticked once more, he raised his custom AR and engaged.
Despite the poor lighting, the view through the Aimpoint had sufficed to center the bright red dot on the first zombie’s chest. The first two rounds he fired into the infected’s center of mass were attempts at a spine shot, but they only staggered his target. Tom adjusted and drilled his third round through the zombie’s head. Instantly, it became a good zombie, bonelessly slumping in mid stride as its fellows narrowed the gap by another yard.
Fifteen feet. As the infected closed, the water became shallower, allowing increasingly faster movement.
The next infected was making good time, but the jerking gait forced on the zombie as it fought through the now shin deep water cost Tom the first shot. His disciplined second sight picture allowed him to find its head with the next round. His shots were coming closer together now.
Switch targets, the muzzle traversing with aching slowness.
Shoot – shoot – shoot. Infected down. Tom’s cadence was even faster, the Geissele trigger barely resetting before he released each subsequent bullet.
Six feet, a lunge away.
Shootshootshootshoot and one more round through an eye, instantly rag-dolling his target. It splashed face first into the water covered floor.
The last infected closed all the way only to trip over the dead fellow at Tom’s feet before sprawling gracelessly. Tom carefully moved back half a step so that his next round would bounce away, not towards Ralph or himself. Then he loosed the final bullet which zipped through the crown of zombie’s skull and against the cement underneath.
Tom heard the ricochet whine spitefully, but then there was only the splashing behind him as Ralph continued to flail backwards, heedless of muzzle discipline.
“Jesus goddamit whatthefuckwasthat!”
Tom didn’t so much as glance behind him. He double-checked the room instead, sweeping carefully, finger off the trigger, head up.
He did have time for a comment, however.
“Mate, if I turn around and that fooking gun is sweeping across me again,” Tom said, in a perfectly calm voice. “You’re going to eat it, flash suppressor first. Believe.”
Shouts from outside finally penetrated his combat focus. Mechanically he replaced the partially spent magazine in his rifle as Ralph picked himself all the way up, very deliberately, even exaggeratedly keeping his rifle muzzle down the entire time.
Tom wasn’t worried about a sweep now; no man is as careful as someone who has broken the first rule and been called on it.
“Two friendlies, coming in!” Durante’s voice rang out from the front of the store, warning the pair of the approach of friendlies. “Tom, you okay?”
“In here, Gravy!” Tom replied sharply. He slid the old magazine inside the open neck of his blouse and then studied his empty left hand. It was steady for now, but he could feel the adrenaline still coursing through his body.
He knew from experience that in a minute or three, he was going to have a few residual shakes.
Just like the old days.
The view from the silver and navy blue Crown Vic with Virginia State Trooper markings was just like the old days. Except for the novel sensation of sitting in the back.
Jason patted the cracked upholstery as the car ghosted along the two lane state road. Back seat or not, this still beat walking. Looking around, he noted that his seat mate was scooted as far from Jason as the cabin permitted.
“Hey, could you lower the window a bit on my side?” he asked the wheel man. A rosary was knotted around the rear view mirror, and the shortened swing of the crucifix caught Jason’s eyes for a moment before he met the driver’s squint in the mirror. The driver, sporting a shaven head, dismissed Young before looking at the other figure in the back and raising his eyebrows in an obvious question.
“It’s cool, Dragon,” the woman to Jason’s right answered. “He’s not going to jump from a moving car. And he smells like actual shit.”
“You’re in charge, Eva,” the driver answered, lowering the window. Then he replaced his blue latex-gloved hand back on the wheel, and refocused on the road ahead.
Jason immediately enjoyed the rush of cool fall air. He noted, for the umpteenth time, that the road they were using was remarkably clear of wrecks, garbage and bodies.
“Sorry,” she said, looking over her passenger without any shame. “You smell worse than I thought – and it’s even more like ass with the windows up. It’s probably been a while since you had a shower, right?”
“You could say that,” Jason replied. “Since, well, since before I got to Richmond.”
Richmond was two week’s worth of careful hiking to the east. His last real shower had been the morning that he walked out of the apartment that belonged to his infected patrol partner. He’d never looked back.
Not till now.
Jason had spent much of the morning shadowing the newcomers from a distance. Seeing the strangers cooperating, sharing what was clearly an improvised uniform and most of all, killing his arch enemy, the infected, had stirred intense feelings in Jason. He’d watched as the three scouted and dispatched several more infected. The internal argument about joining up with anyone again had been fierce.
In the end, simple human loneliness had won out, and he’d very carefully called out to them while they ate lunch in their car.
The entire “getting-to-know-you” dance had been akin to two porcupines sizing each other up before mating. Slow and ginger steps had led to a surprisingly civilized conversation, led by the woman. She’d introduced herself as one Miss Eva O’Shannesy. Once he’d cleared and safed his Remington 700, she even let him hold onto it, earning a couple of surprised looks from the other two.
Jason had been on his own for so long, that the presence of three other people, armed and apparently organized, was making every cop-sense he that possessed go off incessantly. Despite the softness of the ride and the emotional comfort of still being armed, he was sitting on the edge of his seat.