~~~

Corporal Carl Thompson was out of patience. He placed his hands behind his back and paced back and forth behind the two Ford F-150’s he’d ordered moved to the other side of the street, facing the hospital doors. He had two armed men lying prone beneath the trucks, two more along the side of the building near the doors, and a sniper on the hardware store roof behind him. The last man stood behind the trucks watching Gibbs who was handcuffed and on his knees.

Private Gibbs was smirking at him.

Thompson ran a hand through his short black hair and stared at him. “What’s so funny, Private?”

“You look nervous, Thompson,” he said. “If I can see it, you better believe these guys can all see it. Why don’t you call it a day before you lose control of the situation… you know… like down in the basement last night.”

Thompson nodded at him. Little fucker’s trying to unravel the men. He knows they’re listening. He nodded at the big man watching Gibbs.

The big man, Gordon, smiled and then struck Gibbs in the back of the head with the butt of his rifle, knocking the loud-mouthed private to the pavement. Gibbs was out.

“That’s ‘Corporal’ to you, shit bag!” Thompson hissed. “You may have been Hash’s bitch all winter, but I still outrank you. Best not forget that if you want to be alive at the end of the day.”

The big man laughed.

There, he thought. All it takes is a little display of force and authority, and these guys know who’s really in charge. But still, the longer Hash stalled, the more he looked like an idiot standing out here. Gibbs was right. He needed to take control quickly. That had originally been the plan. Take ‘em quick in the street and catch the fucker in the act of freeing the prisoners, Thompson thought. That way, I secure my right to take over after they all see his shady shit.

But Hash had figured him out… fucker… and now he had to improvise.

“How much longer?” Gordon asked. “We should just go in and-”

“Don’t question me, Private,” Thompson barked. “I have this under control.”

The big private rolled his eyes and sighed.

Shit. It’s already starting. I don’t know how Sarge kept them all in line this long. He had to move to the alternate plan. Thompson had no interest in confronting the sergeant on his terms. Outgunned or not, Hash was a clever man.

He stepped back around one of the trucks and yelled, “Alright, Sarge! I’m done being nice. So, here’s how this is going to happen. You come out right fucking now, with all those prisoners, or I will put my gun to Private Gibbs’s head and execute him for treason. You have five minutes.”

Gordon nodded, a satisfied grin highlighting his dull face.

Thompson smiled back. After this is over, I’m going to personally see to it that this big asshole has an accident at the North Barricade. Fewer men means fewer insubordinate mouths to deal with.

The next four and a half minutes moved painfully slow. Thompson was sweating.

Damn you, Sarge! Don’t force my hand here! You know you can’t win, so stop being so fucking stubborn!

“Private Gordon! Bring that traitor out in front of the trucks.”

Gordon started smacking Gibbs around, until he came awake, and then the big man dragged him into the street.

“Get him back up on his knees,” Thompson said, calmly retrieving his handgun. “I want to make sure they all see this.” He’d meant his own men as much as Hash and the prisoners.

Gibbs looked up at Thompson. “Don’t do this. It won’t end well.”

Thompson ignored him and shouted toward the hospital entrance. “Sarge! Time’s up! You come out right now or-”

From within the hospital lobby, they heard several shots fired.

Thompson and Gordon retreated behind the trucks dragging Gibbs with them.

The sniper from the rooftop yelled down, “I don’t see anyone! Inside only!”

“What the fuck?” Thompson said. “I told those two idiots to watch the exits, not storm the fucking place!”

One of the gunmen beneath the truck called up. “I see movement near the doors. Should I-”

“No. Hold on,” Thompson said. “We don’t know what’s happening yet.”

Suddenly, Sergeant Hash yelled out from the lobby, “Thompson! Hold your damn fire! I’m coming out with a prisoner!”

Thompson motioned for Gordon to move Gibbs back out in the street. He came out around the trucks and held his handgun to Gibb’s temple. “No one does a fucking thing until I see how this plays out,” he hissed at his men.

The front doors of the hospital came open as Hash stepped out into the sunlight. He was storming toward Thompson, chest puffed out like a raging bull, dragging one of the female prisoners roughly by the arm. When they reached the edge of the street, Thompson could see that it was Alysa, the woman who made his life hell recently, looking like she’d been roughed up. There was a large bruise across her left cheek.

“That’s close enough, Sarge,” Thompson ordered.

Hash stopped and stared at Thompson, then at Gibbs. He then glared at the three confused men near the truck and lastly up at the sniper, his face red with explosive anger. “Relax. I’m not armed. Here, take this fucking bitch,” he barked, pushing the wounded woman into the street.

Alysa fell painfully to the pavement, tried to get up, but then collapsed on her stomach.

“I took care of the rest,” Hash said. “Saved you this one to make up for my… error in judgment.”

Thompson’s eyebrow went up. He smiled and said, “Let me get this straight. Are you telling me that you just gunned down the prisoners?”

“They were playing me, just like you said.” Hash shook his head. “After I put you and the men in lock up, they must have sensed the friction between you and I,” he looked down at Alysa in disgust. “This one here, she was feeding them all the right things to say. Had me falling for it, too.”

Thompson crossed his arms and stared down at Alysa. “And just what did they say?”

“They told me some bull about the Lunatics they’d met up with in Bristolville. Remember that place?”

Thompson nodded. They were all aware of what happened there. Last time a Lunatic raiding party came through from the east, they couldn’t stop boasting about it. Those freaks enjoyed describing their kills to make Hash and the rest as uncomfortable as possible.

“Well this one here convinced me that they were working for them. She spoke specifically about Briana, that painted-face psycho with the two handguns.”

Thompson frowned. Yes, they all knew who that was. She was the worst of the lot, and their leader. “Go on.”

“Anyway, that big one… Tony… he said that they were sent over to infiltrate us and gather information about how we really ran things here, to see if we were hoarding supplies instead of turning over the arranged percentage of goods, that kind of shit. When I called him out, this bitch here just looked at me with that devious little fucking smile she was giving you downstairs, and she said that if we didn’t let them leave immediately, that Briana would be back to settle matters.”

“She knew her by name?” Thompson said, staring down at Alysa. “She actually called her ‘Briana’?”

“Yeah,” Hash said, putting on the performance of his life. “That’s when I got nervous. I started wondering how many more of these ‘spies’ were roaming about. So, I told Gibbs to get their shit and meet me at the bridge. I was just going to send them on their way… you know… just in case that bitch there was telling the truth.”

Thompson stared down at Gibbs. “Is that the truth?”

Gibbs nodded, staring at his sergeant and quickly adapting to his new acting role. “Yeah, that’s the gist of it. Sarge ordered me to keep the details between us.”

Good job, soldier, Hash thought with relief.

Thompson studied the man’s face and nodded. “Hell, I shouldn’t be surprised. You’re always doing what he commands like a good little puppy.”

Gibbs gave him a ‘fuck you’ look.

Thompson started to pace. “You should’ve let me out immediately” he said. “I could’ve helped you, Sarge! But no, you went to this worm instead.”

Hash sighed. “I’d already fucked up by putting you and the boys in that cell. I knew you were pissed. So… I figured I could handle this first, then let you out.”

Thompson laughed and looked at his men. “In other words, you fucked up twice, and tried to cover your own ass. Isn’t that correct?”

Hash looked pissed, but he relented. “If it makes you feel better for my bad call, then yes, I fucked up royally.”

Thompson smiled smugly. “So, what just happened in there? And why is this one still alive?”

Hash closed his eyes. “When you and the boys worked out your own escape and surrounded the place, they got indignant with me. Especially the big man, Tony. They accused me of setting them up and threatened me with all sorts of Lunatic retaliation threats. They actually thought I was sending them outside to get executed so they wouldn’t report back about how we treated them last night.”

Thompson shifted uncomfortably.

“Well, things got a bit heated in there. You boys out here didn’t help matters. So… they tried to jump me… and I… took care of the problem.”

Thompson was nodding. “Of course, you did. What else could you do, right?” He walked over to Alysa and finished. “And this one, here? Why did you leave her alive?”

Hash frowned. “As much as it pains me to say it… and you’ve been trying to get me to see it all along… I’ve been too… lenient… when it comes to outsiders. If these fuckers really are spies, well, we could’ve discovered this much sooner and dealt with it.”

“You mean, if you had allowed me to finish my interrogation, right? Is that what you’re telling me, Sarge?” Thompson was enjoying himself.

Hash nodded. “Yes. I was wrong. You were right all along. But I killed those fuckers, and that’s not going to sit well when those freaks come back. I figured you could get the rest out of this slippery-tongued devil bitch and give us some kind of advantage before they roll into town. But we need to settle things, you and I, right now, before shit gets worse.”

“You mean, we need to clean up your fucking mess.”

“That about covers it,” Hash grumbled.

Thompson laughed and holstered his gun. He stared at the good sergeant and said, “Well… we all make mistakes. Your real fuck-up was not trusting in me.”

“I realize that,” Hash agreed, staring around at the armed men. “Do what you need to do with the girl. Call it a peace offering. Either way, she needs to be as dead as the others before the Lunatics get here. I suggest-”

“I suggest you stand down, Sarge, and step aside,” Thompson said. “No, actually, I insist.” He placed his hand beneath his chin, stared down at the prisoner, and then back at Hash. “Here’s what I’ll do. You surrender all authority to me from here on out, help me clean up your mess, and apologize to me in front of all the men… and I’ll let this little misunderstanding slide. Deal?”

Hash nodded. “Deal. Now, can we just… wait… what are you-”

Thompson was quick. He retrieved his handgun, walked up to Gibbs, and put a bullet through his brain.

The young private collapsed in a pool of his own blood.

Hash stared at the young soldier, then turned and scowled at Thompson. His acting job was finished.

The other armed men were stunned. The two beneath the vehicle had already moved out to stand near the trucks next to Gordon. The sniper on the roof stood up to get a clear view of what just happened below.

Thompson laughed, staring into Hash’s intense face. “Oh, come on, Sarge! You knew I couldn’t just let you off the hook that easy. Somebody had to pay for all of this! We’ll just let the late Private Gibbs be a reminder of what happens when someone goes up against me. Believe me, he’s no great loss. It was either him… or you.”

Hash took a threatening step forward.

Thompson turned the gun on him, causing the bull-of-a-man to stop. “Just settle down, Sarge. All is forgiven now. We can start fresh under new management, deal with this mess, and hell… if we need to… we can take out those fucking Lunatics, too. It’s a brand new day, Sarge, full of possibilities.”

“Thompson,” the good sergeant said. “Do you remember what I told you that day at the power plant… you know… when you stopped me from helping those defenseless people from getting slaughtered?”

Thompson’s good humor departed. “Can’t say that I do, Sarge. That shit seems like a thousand years ago. Why don’t you refresh my memory.”

A wicked little smile appeared on the sergeant’s face, causing Thompson to sweat. “You pulled a gun on me that day, too.”

Thompson’s eyes went wide with understanding. Before he could pull the trigger, the corporal felt a sharp pain in his leg as Alysa stabbed him with a long syringe.

Thompson stumbled back, firing his gun wildly into the air. He fell to the ground and crawled back behind the trucks to collect himself. “Shoot them! Kill them all!” he yelled.

Hash dropped to the ground just as Alysa rolled over and quickly tossed the good sergeant his handgun she’d hid in her clothes.

Before the other armed men could react, the sound of automatic rifle fire burst forth from a second-floor hospital window as Tony targeted the roof sniper, catching him unaware, and hitting him in the throat. The sniper was no more.

The two men in front of the hospital doors looked up, trying to get a clear shot at Tony.

The hospital doors burst open as Mark charged the first armed man with Hash’s second rifle, firing into his chest at point-blank range. The first soldier went down.

Diane and Nine charged the second soldier with the blunt weapons they’d made from the hospital room beds and knocked him to the ground. They bashed his face in repeatedly.

Wendy came out last, waving her arms at the soldiers across the street, hoping to distract them and draw their fire.

Before anyone could react fast enough, Alysa was quicker. She sprung to her feet and jumped right into Private Gordon’s arms, knocking him to the ground with her momentum. Before the dull private could do anything, Alysa punched him hard in the windpipe, and then jammed his nose up and in with a powerful thrust of her palm, sending bone fragments into his brain. The big man died instantly.

Hash took advantage of the chaos, got down into the prone position, and fired several rounds at one of the two remaining gunmen half-exposed behind the truck. The gunman went down.

The last soldier started firing wildly at the crazed woman who just rolled off Gordon’s chest. Alysa sprung to her feet, dodged and weaved the clumsy close-quarters attack and ducked in under the barrel of his rifle and struck him hard in the groin. Before the soldier could register the pain, Alysa slipped in between his legs, got behind him, and kicked the gunman behind his knees, causing him to stumble forward and fall. She quickly got on his back, put the struggling man in a choke hold and snapped his neck.

Alysa felt the round enter the back of her right arm and exit the front. She spun around and off the dead soldier, using the pain to fuel her rage.

“Die you fucking bitch!” Thompson yelled as he fired several more times at her, missing his mark. Alysa rolled into one of the trucks, giving the corporal a clear shot.

Alysa stared defiantly up into the monster’s face and spat, “You better pray that Death keeps me from hunting you down.”

“Stupid fucking bitch,” Thompson said, aiming for her face.

The final gunshot struck the side of Thompson’s head, sending brain matter out the other side as Hash finished him the same way Thompson had executed Private Gibbs.

“I told you the next time you pointed a gun at me, you better pull that fucking trigger, or I’d kill you… and I meant it,” he hissed into the lifeless corporal’s face. Hash turned to Alysa and offered a hand. “You okay, soldier?”

“I’ll live,” she said, holding her free hand over her bullet wound. She reached up and took the good sergeant’s hand. He helped her to her feet.

Mark, Nine, Diane and Wendy were running over as Tony just exited the hospital.

Hash smiled at them and said to Alysa, “They all made it. Your friends are some tough sons-a-bitches. Sorry about the face.”

Alysa grimaced through the pain and said, “That was my idea, remember? Besides, you punch like a pussy.”

Sergeant Hash turned to her, eyebrows raised, and laughed hard.

~~~

Next Episode 42-12

Previous Episode 42-10

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 42-11: The Kill Room” Copyright © 2018 Scott Scherr, from the novel, Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Five: Remains. All Rights Reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission by the author.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

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