~~~

“Something’s wrong,” Diane whispered. “It’s too close to dawn. They should have blown it up by now.”

Tony nodded from behind the pylon that hid them. His face was a stone as he continued to stare at the trucks from the shadows. “We need to move… now,” he said, keeping his voice low.

“They’ll see us coming. Without the distraction, we’ll never get close enough.”

“We’ll play the part,” he said, holding a hand up to her face. “Hopefully they won’t realize the ruse until we’re in close.”

“It’s risky.”

“Yeah. But it’s all we have left.”

“We could just… leave.”

“No.”

“But… what about the explosion?”

“What about it?”

“Aren’t you concerned? Maybe they’ve been captured… or maybe that shady fucker, Taven, isn’t with us, after all.”

Tony sighed, trying to reign in his temper. “I’m not leaving here without those trucks,” he said. “I can’t.”

Diane stared at him. “Are you hearing yourself? Something’s clearly wrong. First, no Wendy. Then no Nadia and Hash. Now… we’ve got no explosion. None of this adds up to anything good.”

“Go back if it bothers you that much,” Tony snapped under his breath. “This is the last chance we have to save Orosco and the others. We don’t do this now… they’re dead. Then, everything we’ve suffered through to get here means fucking nothing.”

Diane took a deep breath. “I’m sorry. You’re right. I’m just… worried.”

“I am, too,” he said. “But we’ll just have to improvise now. The damn trucks are right… there! And there’s only five of those fuckers. We can do this… even without the distraction.”

She nodded. “Okay. Let’s do it, then.”

Tony turned to the hunter and smiled like the devil. He said, “Let the anger loose. Fight quick. Fight hard. Forget just as quickly. Repeat.”

Diane just stared.

“Understand?” he said.

“Yeah,” she said sadly. “I understand.”

~~~

Midnight.

Wendy, Herbie and Sheila returned to The Oasis. They entered through the back door leading into the storeroom to avoid notice. Herbie had closed the bar last night at 7 pm, to the grumbling of many customers, claiming that he was out of stock. This was not unheard of, but very unusual for Herbie who always made sure the taps were running.

Wendy sat down on a keg as Herbie lit a lamp, choosing not to turn on the bar lights.

Sheila leaned against a wall and yawned. “That was exhausting,” she said. “I expect a full night’s pay, Ollie.”

“Yeah, yeah,” he said. “You would. Don’t worry, you’ll get your wages.”

Wendy stared at her blood-stained shaky hands. She had cleaned them several times since exiting the murder room, but the reddish residue wouldn’t come off and just made her hands looked swollen.

“Don’t think you’re going to sleep in after this,” Herbie told Sheila. “I expect everything to return to normal tomorrow evening. It’s bad enough I had to close early. I can already hear all the bitching I’m going get for that one. And now with Wendy leaving us-”

Sheila laughed. “Well… I’m not stripping if you expect me to open this shit-hole again.”

Herbie shook his head and said to himself, “What I wouldn’t give to have an appreciative employee or two.”

“Stop it,” Wendy said, interrupting their indifferent behavior.

They both stared at her.

“Just… shut up,” she said, in a deflated voice. “You two act like we didn’t just kill a man an hour ago. Well… we did.”

Herbie sighed and scratched his head.

Sheila lit a cigarette, took a deep drag, and then shook her head at her. “You’re welcome,” she said, sarcastically.

Wendy glared at her. “Oh… I’m sorry. Did I forget to thank you for helping me torture him first?”

The stripper waved a dismissive hand at her and turned. “You’ll never understand this place, Wendy. Get with the program… or just slit your own wrists already.”

“Alright,” Herbie said. “Enough of that. Wendy’s upset… and she’s right. We did just kill a man-”

“You mean I just killed a man,” Sheila corrected. “I’m the one who stabbed him in the chest when we got that confession… you two just sat there and watched.”

“How can you… how does that not bother you?” Wendy said, staring at the young woman’s back.

Sheila took another drag off her cigarette, staring at her own elongated shadow on the wall. “You got what you needed, didn’t you?” she said, refusing to turn and meet Wendy’s gaze.

Wendy looked away, and back at her hands. “Yes,” she said, closing her eyes.

“Then leave it at that,” she said, crossly. “Don’t turn this into anything else… and don’t you lose a wink of sleep over that prick, either. I know I won’t.”

Wendy looked back up at the woman, then over at Herbie. “Don’t either of you feel responsible for that man’s death?”

Herbie sighed, looking increasingly uncomfortable. “Look, Wendy, we did what we had to do… and now it’s over. Make your peace with our end of it and just let it the fuck go.”

“Is it really that easy?” she said, wiping tears from her face. “And if it is… then I’ve been in this horrible town too long… and so have both of you.”

“Just give it a rest, bitch!” Sheila protested.

Wendy couldn’t stop. She closed her eyes and said, “He… he didn’t even do it. Silver paid to watch… that was what he finally admitted. He just sat in one of those filthy chairs, staring through a peephole, while a handful of strangers in masks just ripped apart my friend. Silver didn’t know them. They didn’t know Mark. And Mark… poor Mark… he had no idea what was happening to him.” She covered her face and sat on the floor. “And now we’re no damn different than those beasts who killed my friend.”

Sheila was about to speak, then remained silent, puffing on her cigarette instead.

Herbie threw his hands into the air. “Screw it. I need a damn drink. We all do… especially after tonight.”

“You picking up the tab or are you going to take it out of our non-existent paychecks?” Sheila kidded.

“Just shut your pie-hole,” he grumbled, stepping out of the storeroom and out behind the long dark bar. The overweight bartender tried to use the lamp light coming from the back to find a bottle of anything strong. He ducked his head and struck a corner. “Sonofabitch!” he called out.

“Now there’s a mouth any mother would love,” came an amused female’s voice from out among the dark tables.

Herbie recognized the voice. He stood straight up and closed his eyes with a heavy sigh. “Shit,” he hissed.

Sheila and Wendy stepped out into the dark bar. Wendy was holding the lamp.

“What the hell’s taking you so long?” Sheila snapped.

“Not now,” he said. “We’ve got company.”

Before either woman could register his words, someone sparked a lighter, then lit a cigarette.

Wendy gasped as the bar was momentarily lit up, revealing several face-painted individuals spread out across the bar, sitting casually at random tables and sipping drinks in the dark.

At the back of the room, Briana had her boots kicked up on a table. She finished lighting her cigarette then kept the lighter lit a few moments longer, allowing the looks of surprise and horror to sink in on all their faces. She flashed them an amused smile. “Boo,” she said, letting the lighter go out.

Someone near the front door hit a light switch. The bar came to life, revealing in disturbing detail, a much larger number of Lunatics… and every one of them carrying guns.

“Briana,” Herbie greeted, wiping sweat from his brow.

The long-haired leader of the Lunatics raised an eyebrow. “Ollie,” she mockingly responded, and said nothing else. She just stared at the three of them standing behind the bar, taking a few more drags off her cigarette, and acting as if they were the ones who were trespassing.

“Um… Briana,” Herbie tried again. “As much as I enjoy you and your people’s patronage… I would prefer if you stopped by when I was open. Not that I’m telling you what to do or how to run-”

“Herbie,” she interrupted.

“Y-yes?”

“It’s time to shut up now.”

The bartender nodded.

Briana removed her boots from the table and leaned forward on her knees, still smoking her cigarette. “And I suppose you three are wondering what me and my men are doing here… just sitting in the dark… hmm?”

No one dared to answer.

Wendy was too terrified to move.

As was Herbie.

Sheila turned to the barkeep and said, “What the hell is this?”

“Sheila… not now,” Herbie cautioned.

“I don’t care who she is! It doesn’t give her the right to break into places and scare the fuck out of citizens! We still have rights here, protected by Candyman himself!”

Briana laughed at the sudden display of anger, blowing smoke out of her nose. “You tell ‘em, girl!” she encouraged the stripper. “It’s nice to see someone with a pair of balls around here… even on a dumb girl such as yourself.”

Sheila flashed the Lunatic leader a nasty glance.

“Don’t!” Herbie sternly said.

Too late.

Before Sheila had a chance to turn her foolish gaze elsewhere, the sound of two bullets blared across the bar. One stuck the stripper in the forehead, the other ripped open her chest.

Sheila turned her pale, stunned, and bloody face toward Herbie, then collapsed to the floor like a marionette with its strings just snipped.

Wendy screamed.

“Stop that shit,” Briana warned, aiming her handguns at her.

Herbie quickly moved in and put a hand over Wendy’s mouth. “It’s… it’s all good,” he said. “I’ve got this.” He was nodding and trying to hold back his own tears—still trying to process that Sheila was dead.

“Okay, then,” Briana said, flashing the bartender a wicked smile. She holstered her weapons as fast as she’d drawn them. The Lunatic leader rose to her feet letting her long coat fall over her gun belt. “Now that I’ve got your complete attention. Let’s try not to piss me off again, alright?”

“Any… anything you say, Briana,” Herbie said.

He let go of Wendy’s mouth. She took several deep breathes and regained control.

Briana laughed at the two of them, putting her hands to her sides. “If it’s not obvious by now… I’m here, with all my friends behind me, because you three… sorry… you two are in deep fucking shit.”

Herbie and Wendy remained silent.

“Now… if it were up to me… I would mow you both down right now, then me and my boys would finish our drinks, burn this shithole to the ground, and then be on our way. But… it’s not up to me. Unless either of you want to disrespect me again… like your stupid friend lying in her own piss and blood next to you.” She waited for them to take the bait. “No? You two are just going to let me shit all over your dead friend… and do nothing?”

Herbie closed his eyes. “No, Briana. We aren’t going to do anything.”

The Lunatic leader looked disappointed and shook her head.

“This… this is about me, isn’t it?” Wendy dared. Please… just spare Herbie. This has nothing to do with him.”

Herbie gave her a surprised glance.

Briana stared at the barkeep. “Herbie? Ollie? Hell… who the hell are you, anyway?” she joked. She turned to the girl. “Yeah… this is all about you and your wonderful friends… and all the dumb-asses who have decided to help you and your wonderful friends.”

Wendy nodded submissively.

“Everything’s changed, you little nerd,” Briana said. “We know all about you and your friend’s plans for later this evening and we’re in the process of collecting the rest of them. But… for starters… there’s the two of you.” The Lunatic leader pointed a gloved finger for effect. “Now,” Briana started, sitting back down, “come and tell me where your friends are-”

“I’m not telling you anything,” Wendy said.

Herbie closed his eyes.

The Lunatic leader frowned. She growled, “Sit… down!”

Herbie grabbed Wendy’s arm and dragged her over to Briana’s table. They sat.

“Now… that’s much better.” Briana stretched her arms back behind her seat and smiled. When she was finished, the face-painted woman reached into her coat for another cigarette and lit it up. She blew smoke into their faces and then addressed Wendy. “Let’s try this again. Where are you friends?”

Wendy closed her eyes, took a deep breath, then repeated, “I’m not telling you anything.”

Briana glared at the short woman. Finally, she laughed and said to Herbie, “This one’s got some balls, too. Where do you find these courageously stupid bitches?”

Herbie said nothing.

Briana turned her attention back to Wendy. “Well, that’s okay. You just sit back and protect your friends. I can respect that. Truth is, I don’t really need you to tell me anything. I know all that I need.” She winked at them and finished, “I’m just enjoying fucking with you before I arrest you both.”

~~~

An hour before dawn.

Several flashlight beams shot out of the tall grass surrounding Splash Landing, lighting up what was left of the night. Harsh, commanding voices filled the air. There was the occasional glimmer of automatic weapons as artificial lights crossed paths. Men and women wearing painted faces and murderous expressions were everywhere.

Nine and Joe lay prone beneath a trailer on the eastern edge of the former water playground, watching in horror as the Lunatics hunted the weeds for their friends.

“What do we do?” Joe whispered, still out of breath from pushing hard to get back through the labyrinth of alleys and back streets that had turned them around several times.

Nine’s mind was reeling. They’d almost been caught three times as Lunatic patrols had run past their hiding spots in route to the north end of New Cleveland. He suspected Taven had betrayed them, somehow alerting the authorities on their plans, since he still hadn’t blown up the storage facility. But now, it didn’t matter. He’d hoped to reach Splash Landing in time to intercept Wendy, Diane’s friend, Nadia, and hopefully, the good sergeant. But that possibility was gone.

He looked to the young girl. She was clearly terrified. I have to get her away from all this, he thought. They’re looking for us… not her. “Joe,” he said.

She turned toward him. “Can you make it back to the pavilion?”

“You mean without you? Screw that!”

“I’m being serious now,” he said. “Whatever plans we had are screwed. I’ve got to get to the parking garage. Maybe I can still reach Tony and Diane before the Lunatics do… maybe not… but I need to try.”

“I’m going with you.”

“The hell you are. I need you to find us a way into Harper’s Run undetected. If I can get to my friends, we’ll be hauling ass back there.”

“You mean… the door at the top?”

“That’s all we have left,” he said. “I still believe that door will take us outside. But I need you there to get us in once we arrive. It shouldn’t be a problem, not with all this activity going on tonight. You’ll have to hurry. Stop by Ollie’s Oasis on the way and ask for the owner, Herbie. He’ll know what happened to Wendy. If you can, bring her with you.”

“But… what about you? What if you get caught?”

Nine smiled and ruffled the girl’s blue hair. “You’re a good kid… a smart kid. You deserve way better than this fucking place. Get Wendy to Harper’s run if you find her. Locate a way in and meet me back at the Black Jack tables. I’ll be there… with or without the others. And then we’ll get out of here before daybreak while the Lunatics are distracted.”

“You promise?”

Nine hated lying to the girl. But there was no more time. He smiled. “I promise. Can you do this for me?”

She frowned, then nodded. “I’ll do it.”

“You be careful… and stay hidden,” he said.

“You, too,” she said, then added, “I like you a little better than that jacket… and I already miss that dirty old thing.”

He smiled, feeling his throat tighten up with emotion. He nodded. “I understand. You mean a lot to me, too. Now get out of here before we both turn into blubbering idiots.”

She laughed lightly. “See you soon.”

He nodded and watched the blue-haired girl sneak away. Well, there’s that, at least. Can’t have her mixed up in any more of our shit.

Nine turned his attention north, focusing on the parking garage.

This is probably a death sentence going there, he thought. It no longer mattered. He had to try. For Tony… for Diane.

Nine moved as quickly and as quietly as he could toward the garage.

~~~

Next Episode 52-4

Previous Episode 52-2

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 52-3: Sodom” Copyright © 2019 Scott Scherr, from the novel, Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Six: Mother. 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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