~~~

Gina opened her eyes and slowly allowed her vision to focus with the new morning light. She saw Marcus sitting on the hearth with his legs crossed, chin resting on his hands, and grinning down toward her like an idiot. She tried to move her arms and legs, then winced as her sore muscles reminded her of last night’s activities. “Fuck,” she hissed, forcing herself to sit up. “Everything hurts.”

“It will pass,” Russell advised. “You used muscles last night that you probably never knew you had.”

Gina glared up at the annoying man. “Is that supposed to be funny?”

Russell’s smile widened. “From my perspective… yes.”

“Okay… well… now that you’ve been thoroughly amused by my pain, why don’t you stop staring at me and go do… something!” She looked around the ruins camp, feeling a sharp pain in her neck. “Damn… I feel like I was run over several times in my sleep!”

“The adrenaline coursing through you last night made you unaware of the strain on your body… until now.”

“No fucking shit,” she said, shaking her head toward the ground. “I remember getting back to camp, cleaning up, eating like a damn horse, and then-”

“You laid down and were asleep almost immediately,” Russell finished. “You snored so loudly I thought the dead might hear us. Fortunately, I believe it frightened them away instead.”

She glared at him again. “My, you’ve just got jokes this morning, don’t you? And… I don’t fucking snore.”

“Of course. My mistake. The forest-shattering noise coming from your area must have been some new zombie wilder-beast we’ve not seen yet. Perhaps we should-”

“You done?”

Russell smiled. “Yes. Now, I’m done.”

“So,” Gina started, ignoring her physical discomfort, “do I have to ask, or can you just tell me this time?”

Russell nodded. “Yes. We’re ready… as ready as we can be. I’ve taught you all I can in the short time we’ve had together, and it will have to suffice.”

“Seriously? You mean, I’ve graduated the Marcus101 All-You-Can-Kill training course?”

He laughed. “You’re almost there. The rest we can cover in transit to the airport.”

Gina’s face grew grave. “It’s really that time then?”

“Are you having second thoughts?”

“No… no… I just… well… shit, Marcus. You can’t just spring it on a girl like that!”

Russell jumped down from the hearth and grabbed a thin stick from out of the fireplace. He then sat down next to Gina and started drawing the layout of the airport in the dirt. “On the north side of the terminal are the three large hangars, and to the south of it are all these smaller structures. Based upon the number of patrols and the frequency of those patrols around the terminal and those hangars, I would guess that our target is either in the terminal or in one of those hangars.”

Gina nodded in agreement then started to shift uncomfortably.

“Something wrong?”

“No. I’m just a little anxious,” she lied. “Go on.” In truth, calling this Lady Clementine the ‘target’ bothered her more than she thought it would.

“We’ll head back up to the ridge where you first showed me the airport and spend the rest of the day gathering as much current information as we can from observing their activities.” He looked at Gina and finished, “After, we’ll put together our final approach plan, and sneak in there tonight. I’m assuming we’ll be able to use the smaller structures to… Gina? What is it?”

Gina was staring off into the trees; her thoughts, distant. She turned back to Marcus. “Sorry. I’m still just out of it today. I’ll shake this off on the way. Promise.”

Russell raised an eyebrow, then said, “Very well.” He stood up and ran a foot over the dirt drawing. “I’ll gather what we need while you grab a bite to eat. We’ll head out in an hour.”

Gina nodded with a smile. Once Marcus’s back was turned, she stared down at the dirt-smeared drawing of the airport with a frown, and thought, We are going to murder this woman tonight… a woman we’ve never met. She sighed heavily and finished, We will sneak in, find this woman in a vulnerable moment, and then… eliminate the ‘target’. The word didn’t work for her. It sounded like a clever lie used to water down the morality of what they intended to do.

“We’re going to take this woman’s life in any way we can… and it’s going to be horribly violent and bloody.” She found no solace in the spoken admission… but at least it was the truth.

~~~

The remainder of the morning crawled by like a morbid countdown with each passing step. Gina and Marcus packed light, carrying only enough food for their afternoon stakeout of the airport—and the lethal tools required for the dark deed ahead.

Gina tried to redirect her focus away from the heavy lingering thoughts that tried to steal from her resolve and concentrated on disappearing into the forest instead. They moved swiftly, efficiently, and blended into their surroundings with ease, wearing dark and dull colored clothing that matched their environment.

Russell took the lead and smiled to himself as they penetrated the dense brush. He seldom heard Gina at all moving stealthily behind him unless he paid close attention to the ‘tells’ in her movements. They’d trained hard over the last few days and nights and he felt confident that she possessed the skills needed to stand her ground when they time came.

This is foolishness, boss.

Russell sighed. Go away. You’re ruining the moment.

The other one chuckled in his head. As much as I’ve appreciated you two killers honing your blood thirsty skills beneath the moonlight—It’s almost fuckin’ romantic and all—I still have to point out the obvious. Like this doomed mission to kill the bitch at the airport.

Russell ignored him.

Okay… let me put it another way. There’s absolutely no profit in this venture. Who gives a shit what the Mother Bitch is doing? I know you sure don’t. And why risk your precious golden goddess getting gunned down in the first place? Hell… if it’s her death you want, I can accommodate in a much more enjoyable-

Just wait, savage, Russell interrupted. You’re not seeing the bigger picture yet. But I promise… you will. Only stay patient for a little longer… and stay out of the way.

The savage relented and went silent.

Gina stopped behind him and got low.

Russell turned, crouching down. “What is it?” he whispered.

“This isn’t right,” Gina said. “This isn’t the route to the ridge above the airport.”

Russell nodded. “Yes. You’re right.”

She gave him a what-the-fuck look.

“We need to take a detour,” he said. “Your hesitation this morning is concerning me.”

“I’m fine,” she hissed. “I’m not having second thoughts. Let’s just go.”

Russell was adamant. “You need to perform one more task to complete your training. Trust me on this. Just try to keep up and I’ll explain when we get there.” He turned away and started moving again.

“Where the hell are we… shit!” Gina could do nothing but follow.

~~~

Russell’s detour took them west of the airport, near the southern border of the large forest, just a couple miles south of the Interstate.

Gina looked up through the tree tops and observed the sun well past its midday descent. “We’ve been traveling for hours Marcus,” she said, when they stopped for a brief rest. “Where the hell are we going?”

Russell was staring off toward the edge of the forest. “We’re just about there.” He pointed to a spot where the trees were thinning out near the top of a rise. “Come see for yourself.” He started moving once more.

Gina shook her head and followed Marcus toward the rise.

Once there, Russell signaled her to get low as she crawled up beside him at the top of the hill. Her eyes went wide immediately when she realized Marcus had led them to the edge of the forest.

Below them, in a bowl-shaped valley, was an abandoned construction site surrounded by a tall chain-link fence. There were several intersecting streets and cul-de-sacs with empty lots intended for housing. On several lots were the skeletal frames of houses never finished. There were scattered piles of construction materials like wood and aluminum, four large cranes, and half a dozen bulldozers spread out through the area. There were two large completed homes sitting at the center of the site, one on each side of the most completed looking street, appearing oddly place surrounded by all that unfinished construction.

Gina turned to Marcus confused. “What’s this about? Seems like a strange time to be out here house hunting.”

Russell smiled, continuing to stare down at the two completed houses. “When I first entered these woods, I was… delayed… when a camp of three armed individuals found me in the forest. They were very insistent that I join them at their fire pit. I was exhausted, so I returned with them to their camp.”

“You’re just now telling me about this?” Gina said.

“It didn’t seem relevant at the time. Anyway, I could tell right away that they were trouble, but I just listened to their story, piecing together what I could, while I plotted my escape.” Russell continued. “Their leader, Albert, seemed particularly interested in me, especially when he realized I was armed and had managed to stay alive alone in the woods. I think his intent was to recruit me into their group.”

“You refused, of course,” Gina said. “How did you get away?”

Russell frowned, displaying the right amount of false regret in his face as he continued. “I had to… defend myself, when they wouldn’t let me leave. I killed all three of them when the situation… escalated.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Gina consoled. “You and I both know there are plenty of shit-bags still left in the world.” She stared back down at the houses. “But that doesn’t help me understand why we’re out here.”

Russell sighed. “Before I disposed of those three… and believe me… they had it coming, they told me about their base camp down there in that construction site. Apparently, they’d been acting like a gang for quite some time now, doing what they wanted, when they wanted… and to whoever they wanted.”

Gina was starting to understand. “Go on.”

“I was concerned that they might have discovered you out here and brought you back to this place. They’d told me roughly where it was, so I tracked their movements, along with their description, and found it.”

“And just what is happening here, Marcus?”

He stared at her and frowned. “I watched for a bit, from this very spot, and discovered that they’d been taking people, against their will… I heard screams late in the evenings. I believe they were torturing people, particularly women.”

Gina was getting angry. “So… what… they’ve turned those houses down there into their own little rape dens, is that what you’re telling me?”

“Among other things,” he confirmed. “Men, women, perhaps even… children. I’d learned enough to know that these people were no longer human. No one does the things they do without becoming animals.” He turned to her and finished. “You called it a den. That is exactly what this is. This group down there is a pack of blood-thirsty wolves preying on the weak. I got close enough to realize that you weren’t there, and then… shamefully… I departed.”

Gina glared at him. “You mean you just left those people alone with these savages? What the fuck, Marcus? Why didn’t you do something to stop it?”

Russell closed his eyes. “I’m not like you, Gina. I’m not driven by compassion or the need to right injustices. I calculate odds… and in this case… those odds worked against me. I was just one man against an entire pack of wolves. If I had tried to help, I would’ve been dead. Going in to one such den is hard enough, but there are two houses down there. To attack one would’ve alerted the other.”

“Yeah, but I’ve seen you fight!” Gina snapped. “You can handle that shit!”

He smiled and admitted. “I’m good, but not that good. I would’ve needed to be in two places simultaneously and attack both homes at the same time. And that is something, even with my skills, that I cannot do.”

Gina nodded with a wicked little smile surfacing on her face. “So, you brought me here to even the odds… that it?”

“After I told you what was happening here, I didn’t think you’d object to this… detour.”

She stared back down at the two horror houses, setting them on fire with her eyes. “How many?”

“Between the two houses, there are probably thirty gang members living in there… and they’re armed.”

Gina gasped. “That’s fucking crazy, Marcus! How do we even have a chance at-”

“They’re wolves but they’re not trained soldiers… not like down at the airport. If we struck them swiftly, with the element of surprise, and at each house at the same time… we could stop these beasts. I’m sure of it.”

“You’re saying that you like our odds better here… than at the airport. Is this your way of convincing me to give up on the airport plan? Give me something else to focus my anger on and then hope it’s enough? Is that what this is, Marcus?”

Russell laughed. “Perhaps I’m becoming transparent. We’ve spent entirely too much time together, so it would seem.”

“I don’t appreciate your bullshit games,” she said. “You knew I wouldn’t let this go once you brought me here… but that doesn’t mean I won’t go right back to the airport when we’re finished with this mess. I hope you understand that.”

“It was gamble. But I was prepared to return to the airport if this didn’t satisfy the tempest swirling within you.”

“Stop making this all about me,” she hissed. “You make it sound like I’ve got some blood lust need to kill people, and that’s why I’m set on killing the woman at the airport. Lady Clementine is Mother. Maybe she’s not the leader, maybe she’s just one of many leaders… but it’s still important that we take her down and cripple that sadistic organization. So, let’s not make this about me, okay?”

“Fair enough,” Russell said. “I apologize if I’ve misjudged you. It’s hard to tell with how volatile your emotions make you respond to situations. I’ve seen you react based upon those emotions, and I’ve seen the aftermath of those reactions and how they weigh upon you.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about!”

“I don’t? Was I not there and tried to warn you when you attacked the children who shot Greg in Andover? Was I not at the Bad Man’s house when you tortured and then put Marvin in the basement, and then set the house on fire?”

Gina had no response.

“I’m not judging you, Gina, but I am making judgments based upon your emotional reactions from the past, and I started to believe that maybe this was more of the same.” He sighed. “Bringing you here, to this place, was my attempt to give you a justifiable target for those rampaging emotions… and a target your conscience could clearly live with. If you’re wrong about the airport people… you won’t be able to handle the aftermath, I promise you. But what we do here, tonight… you will be able to live with.”

Gina refused to continue this discussion. “Well… we’re here now. Let’s deal with the first problem right in front of us first.” And then she reluctantly admitted, “You may be right, Marcus. Maybe I am emotionally unstable.”

“I didn’t say that,” he quickly corrected.

“Well… whatever. Maybe after we handle this, I’ll be able to hear what you’re telling me about the airport people… assuming I’m wrong about them.”

“If nothing else,” Russell countered, “this was still the right call bringing you here. You still need to prove something to me, and yourself, before you can handle what waits at the airport.”

“So, this is more training,” Gina said with a laugh. “And what do I have to prove?”

Russell’s face grew grave. “You need to prove that you can set your emotions aside and do what needs done tonight, despite what despicable things you may find inside those houses. If you go in there with your emotions out of control… our odds of success will greatly diminish.”

“And that’s what you’ve been trying to get into my thick head all along, right?”

Russell smiled. “Like I said… transparent.”

“Okay, then,” Gina said, staring once more down at the two houses down on Not-So-Suburbia Street. “I assume you have a plan?”

“Of course,” Russell said with a wicked little smile. “I’m always calculating. Let’s get back a bit and discuss it. We’re going in well after dark.”

As Gina and Russell moved back down off the hill, the savage could no longer remain quiet.

Pardon the interruption, boss. But what the hell are we doing back here? As I recall, we had quite the time down there. It was… how should I put it… ‘A beautiful day in the neighborhood’.

Russell did not respond.

Really, the silent treatment? C’mon! Ya’ gotta give me somethin’?

Russell finally thought back, Prepare yourself for this evening, savage. Tonight… we will finally get to reap from what we’ve patiently sown.

~~~

Next Episode 47-3

Previous Episode 47-1

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 47-2: The Enemy” 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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