River Of Night – Snippet 37

River Of Night – Snippet 37

“Oh!” Before replying, Risky swallowed and schooled her features at his revelation, though her hands trembled slightly in Tom’s warm grasp. “Oh. Is not the ordinary world any longer, Thomas. We can’t count on later. There isn’t time to wait for dinner invitation. I know that you can’t walk away from your duty, even if I think it is stupid. That’s part of my problem. Is part of the reason that I brought the boat back. I think that you’re the right person.”

Tears glittered in her eyes.

“Risky, I am very sorry that I am making you upset,” Tom said, as they both continued to ignore their audience. She felt his grip tighten as he squeezed her hands. He searched her eyes. “But what do you think that I’m the person for, if not to live up to my word? To save everyone? To kill all the infected? To be with?”

“Yes.” She said, taking a deep breath and exhaling slowly through her nose. “Yes. All of it. For now, we get to Site Blue. You redeem word. Then we talk about the rest. Make promise that you won’t die being brave and stupid! Agree?”

“I promise to try,” Tom replied, letting go of her hands to hug her softly, as though she were spun glass.

“Try hard!” Risky said, getting the last word, and then she fiercely returned his embrace.

###

The homestead smoldered in the background. It was a testament to the horrors that had become commonplace that no one blinked at the smell of what was literally a funeral pyre for most of the family that had declined their invitation to join the Gleaners.

After a brief exchange of shots convinced Eva that taking the house wasn’t worth the casualties, she had ordered the house fired. The one Gleaner casualty wasn’t too bad, despite his hollering as his wound was dressed.

Jason had worked his way forward alongside another of the original Gleaner Guard whose thick, almost squat appearance had prompted the former cop to mentally dubbed him “Short Round”, even though he heard others call him Dragon. Like the other Guards, his equipment was several notches up from that of the average Gleaner. Still, it had required three of their improvised incendiaries before the roof properly caught fire. Then they had sat back while the house burned, expecting the survivors to bolt.

The ex-cop had watched the windows and doors from an improvised hide and waited until the second floor sniper used the same window once too often. Jason knew he wouldn’t forget the sight picture through his variable power Leupold scope, the crisp release of the trigger, the briefest blossom of red against the white-haired man’s work shirt.

As the roof began to collapse, an older woman and teenage girl had run out, their hair smoldering. No one else tried to escape. Briefly, Jason had heard a church hymn being sung inside.

Eva had inspected the new captives before questioning them, almost gently. Jason saw that her demeanor was not unkindly and he’d relaxed.

Briefly.

Then Eva had turned the mother over to the convoy’s rank and file. The new victim didn’t start screaming until they threw her daughter onto the ground next to her.

###

Afterwards, the Gleaners took advantage of the open sided barn to eat in the shade and perform simple maintenance before resuming their route.

Jason was certain that his growing moral flexibility wouldn’t stretch to actual participation, so he had elected to excuse himself from the just concluded public rapes. Shooting an armed combatant was one thing. What followed was revolting. In the scheme that Green had built, it was as necessary as the rest, perhaps. Despite the absence of any objection at his abstinence, Jason saw a few speculative looks came his way. Even after the horror of metro DC during the height of the plague, the mercy killing of his partner and all the rest, he wasn’t fully comfortable with… all this.

Green had a plan to get to some kind of civilization and his was the only organized group, though.

Jason was familiar with the adage about eggs and omelets. In a broken world with billions dead, the means justified the ends, right? Even God had turned his back. And he wasn’t a cop anymore. Not his problem. He just had to keep repeating that to himself. He’d get around to believing eventually.

Meanwhile, he tried to continue to get a feeling for what he had to work with. He laid down his Colt Enhanced Patrol Rifle, no doubt scavenged by the Gleaners from an abandoned police vehicle. He pushed out the take down pins and levered open the receiver marked “Law Enforcement Use Only.” The little auto sear modification that he’d fashioned from stiff wire was black with carbon. In fact, the entire fire control group was dirty, probably due to the Russian ammunition they’d been using.

“What’s with the blue latex gloves all the time, man?” Jason said as he reached for the rags next to where Short Round was cleaning a rifle on a workbench.

The Gleaner had actually worn the gloves during the fight but afterwards carefully stripped them off before beginning to work on his rifle.

“Are you seriously asking me if I am from the Triads because I’m Asian?” Short Round said, giving the cleaning rod a vicious twist. “Zombie apocalypse of not, that’s some fucked up stereotyping, man!”

“Easy, easy!” Jason replied, holding up his hands placatingly. “The neck tattoo, the occasional bit of Chinese slang, the fact that almost all of the people that Green pulled off the prison buses were from organized crime of one sort of another, you know…”

The other man squinted at him for a moment.

“Whatever,” he said as he changed out the jag for a bore brush. “Nah. What Mr. Green did was different. He went looking for bad motherfuckers. Like, everyone was handpicked because we’re special. Me? I was actually sort of a cop, like Loki.”

“Yeah?” Jason said, fighting to keep his face straight. “What branch?”

“DHS, man! Homeland Fucking Security!” Short Round said, tapping his chest. “I was a TSA officer. You know, airports, trains, that sort of thing. I had a sweet gig in Atlanta, running a crew at Hatfield. We made decent money on the side, but the great thing was picking out some fine thing coming through security. Make like she set off the explosives residue detector – scare them good. The younger, the better, you know? The teenage ones without parents were the best. Flash the blue gloves at them, take them in the exam room and hooo-eeee!”

He made a suggestive motion with his fist.

“Uh-huh,” Jason said as he decided that skepticism was the safest response. After all, a quick headshot would prompt questions from the rest of this crew. “And that qualified you for Green?”

“Nah,” the former TSA agent replied with a shrug. “Guy on my crew got careless. Got caught stealing penny ante shit by the straights, then flipped and gave state’s evidence. Couldn’t have that. Once I posted bail, me and the crew paid him and his old lady a visit. Made a point of explaining why we wuz angry. Skinned that bitch and made him watch. Blue gloves handy for that too.”

“So then you got caught?”

“No man, ain’t you listening?” Short Round said as he began assembling his weapon. “After, we decided to lean on the TSA supervisor who objected to our little ways. Turned out he was some kind of gun nut. Shot back, the fucker! Then the cops came, and it was all done. Damn shame. It was a good gig. Anyhow, I plead out for murder two, figured parole in maybe fifteen years and bam! Zombie apocalypse. Next thing, I’m on a bus somewhere in this shit state and it wrecks. There’s Mr. Green and his fucking scary dog Loki and they’re offering me a job. Like I don’t know what would happen if I said no.”

“So the tattoo?” prompted the ex-cop.

“Man, I was in prison,” Short Round said with a grunt. “You never been inside? You gotta pick a side. You gotta run with your pack. The White Resistance wasn’t gonna take me, and them MS13 fuckers were straight up crazy in groups. You know I ain’t black, so what does that leave?”

“Cool story, bro,” Jason said. He didn’t think that the Gleaner would catch the lack of sincerity. “If I see any blue gloves I’ll grab them for you.”

“Yeah?” Short Round squinted again, checking to see if the new guy was being sarcastic. Then he smiled briefly. “Thanks, man!”

###

Paul Rune’s early, personal efforts at using polearms had been surprisingly successful.

Despite the store of ammunition that Smith had transported to Site Blue prior to the Fall, Paul knew that it couldn’t last forever. As a result, he had proposed creating more hand weapons to eliminate infected. Somewhat to his surprise, Kohn had enthusiastically backed the project.

To start he had made a demi-pike, nearly an assegai. Working with a local refugee and the tools recovered from a smithy, and after much trial and error over the previous month, they had forged a scavenged shovel blade into a long, leaf-bladed lance head. Fitted onto a shortened but reinforced shovel handle, it was light enough to be wielded one handed and remained handy in the tighter confines of a building. Their recce to the high school had proven that.

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