River Of Night – Snippet 26
“Tell me again,” Harlan Green said patiently. “How many people did you see, exactly?”
“I only saw a few!” stuttered Freddo. His strategy of staying firmly in the middle of the Gleaner pack had been intended to keep him from being noticed too often. During their disastrous fight earlier in the day that strategy had only ensured that he survived to be interrogated by Green, which was terrifying all by itself. “Maybe five people with guns? Three cars, one crashed.”
“Yes, you’ve said that already,” replied Harlan patiently. “Did you talk to the survivor in the crashed car?”
“No,” Freddo twisted his hands together. “He was already hurt. When he started shooting again, everyone just shot the car until he was mostly in pieces. Even so, he killed Hank! Hank was my friend!”
Harlan regarded the nervous man quietly.
“Mr. Green, I think that Fred here will immediately tell us if he remembers anything else,” Eva said, interceding in a respectful tone. “Right, Freddo?”
“Right!” stammered the terrified man. “Anything I think of, it’s yours!”
“Of course it is,” agreed Harlan. “Mr. Loki, perhaps you could show Mr. Fred the parlor. Once we’re done, you might walk him over to the rec hall. He seems to be in need of some reassurance.”
“Oh, that’s all right. I don’t…” Fred said, but subsided as the Loki stood and opened the office door, holding a hand out to indicate that the smaller man should go.
With a quick look around the room, Freddo scuttled out. Stooping slightly under the average height ceiling, Loki carefully closed the door and returned to the table.
The dim light filtering from outside was considerably augmented by two LED camp lanterns. They cast a bright white light. Batteries were not yet in short supply, but eventually they would run out.
“Miss Eva, one moment while I make a note,” Harlan spoke sideways as he located the bulleted list of prioritized salvage.
“Here we go,” he thoughtfully checked an existing entry. “Tri-fuel lanterns and stoves. Seventeen in inventory. Excellent.”
He turned to face his subordinates squarely.
“I’m very sorry about Biggs, Mr. Green,” Korbish said, beginning his own apology, but Harlan shook his head.
“Mr. Biggs was no great personal loss,” he said, waving away the man’s first concern. “On the other hand, he was a symbol of my authority. He was representing me. Us. The organization. And we were beaten. Publicly.”
“I don’t think that the group that got away is going to challenge your authority,” Eva said carefully. “And we held the town afterwards.”
“The girl,” Loki rumbled. “They took the gleanings. Our people saw them do it.”
“Just so,” Harlan replied, with an approvingly glance at the much larger man. “And we lost significant strength and commensurate group confidence. That can’t be allowed to stand. What else can you tell me?”
“The group we hit is pretty organized,” Korbish offered. “They could shoot, they moved faster than expected and when one vehicle wrecked the others came back to rescue them. Well, all but the first headshot at the intersection and the other guy that got trapped in the wreck.”
Green looked thoughtful as he digested this.
“Did you get anything else from the wreckage?” he asked.
“What wasn’t crushed or shot up, sure,” Eva said. “Clothes, some food and cooking gear, an intact fuel can. Some good body armor, a couple pistols and a rifle that we took off the dead guy. Some maps.”
“The weapons?” the mastermind asked, raising an eyebrow towards the former prison guard.
“They had armory tags for something called BotA BERT,” the big man answered. He unslung a rifle and handed it to his boss. “Made by Daniel Defense – expensive, not just a generic carbine with some after market upgrades. Above average optics. I’ll add it and the other useful stuff to inventory.”
“BotA. I see,” Harlan stood the rifle against his desk and returned his attention to the woman. “And the maps? Show me.”
Eva produced a canvas case and unfolded the bloodstained cover. Harlan took it from her and closely examined the map, unfolding it further. Carrying it over to the wall, he spread it against the map already pinned there, comparing the two.
“Hmm,” Harlan maintained his study for some minutes, then transferred some markings to the larger map. “Well. Isn’t that interesting.” Returning to the table, he rapidly wrote on a yellow pad of stick-on notes while they watched.
“What didja find?” Korbish blurted, unable to wait any longer.
Green noted Ms. Eva’s annoyed glance at her compatriot.
He then turned to Korbish, regarding him levelly, and gestured to the large map that he had previously taped to the wall of the office. Additional yellow notes were sprinkled liberally across its surface, highlighting points of special interest.
“We’re continuing to clear our way west and north,” he said, standing with his hands on his hips, looking at the map. “There are extended clear driving lanes, double lanes in places, to the south and back the way we came. What else do you see?”
“We’re about to hit a river up north,” Eva said as she moved to stand next to Korbish. “A couple of towns and a big city. Not huge, but still bigger than we’ve hit so far. Figure, lots more zombies.”
“What do we find on rivers?” Harlan Green tapped the winding blue ribbon of the Tennessee River. “What were they used for?”
Both lieutenants leaned closer, looking at the newest pen marks on the map.
“What’s a Thunder Blast?” Eva asked, annoying him.
“Not that,” said Harlan curtly. “Underneath.”
“Aaah,” said Korbish, exhaling slowly. “Interesting.”
“Just so,” Harlan regarded him approvingly. “And someone else appears to think it’s interesting too.
He turned to Eva this time.
“Miss Eva, you brought back what, two dozen effectives from your little adventure?”
“Sixteen worth keeping,” Eva said, turning from the map. “Five dead. Seven seriously injured. Twelve more that aren’t good for anything but simple guarding or basic labor.”
“Not bad,” Harlan replied. “I’ll call a general meeting, but after Mr. Loki reviews your assessment the two of you may pick the most useful of remaining crew from Mr. Biggs’ group. Ms. Eva, you will prepare for a reconnaissance to the northeast. Mr. Korbish, your group will evaluate the river crossings to the northwest. Before departure, both of you will conduct local sweeps by way of shaking down your groups. But after that, you’ll help me learn just what this map’s former owners thought to be so interesting.”
Loki closed the door behind the exiting duo. His eyes lingered for a moment on the woman’s backside… but no. He understood Green’s rules very well. Miss Eva might become one of his lieutenants, off limits.
If she continued to deliver.
Green himself continued to look at the map.
“Those two are gonna fight.” Loki stated flatly.
“Almost like I’m planning it that way,” Green replied, without turning around. “If they each survive long enough.”
“The little man, Korbish, he’s clever, but a weasel,” Loki said before adding, “But like you said before, we need smart people, people that we can trust.”
“I need the right leaders to fill my Guards.” Green said, turning to look up at his trusted subordinate. “And I’ve only one of you. The markings on that rifle that you evaluated was owned by something called a Biological Emergency Response Team – apparently one from a New York based bank. They aren’t here by accident and if they lived this long they aren’t stupid.”
“Eva’s smart.” Loki said. “At least as smart as I am. Quick, too. She can handle the men. Even money says Eva is going to kill the weasel while they compete for Biggs’ spot.”
“Maybe. Maybe not, Mr. Loki.” Green replied. “It’s time for Officer Young to step up. Assign him to Green’s team. She can evaluate how he shapes in the field and if he’s going to be an asset. And I think that while Korbish and our Miss Eva compete to prove their worth to take Biggs’ share, you and I will prepare for a little wanderjahr about the territory. I think that we’ll profit by not leaving the most important job to someone else.”