Saturday, August 20, 2016

Dum Vivam

     Sergeant Caspian stood in the kitchen of Goldie’s Revenge arguing with the bar owner as blocked the doorway to the basement stairs. The woman stared up at him, shoving her forefinger into his chest. “I know what I heard. And, I’m telling you, it’s going to stop right here and now.” She shoved the point of her half-inch fingernail into his sternum. He grabbed her finger and held it in place. She struggled to pull it back, “let me go.”
     “Ma’am. You will stop,” he practically threw her hand away.
     “I don’t care who’s down there. This is my bar. Not a torture chamber. Either you go down and put an end to it or I will.”
     “My orders are clear. Back away from the door now, ma’am,” Sergeant Caspian ordered, his body tensed.
     “I don’t give a damn about your orders!” Goldie shouted as she reached behind Caspian to grab the doorknob. He swung his hip into her arm while slamming down his own arm. He grabbed her hip, dragging her with him. Off-balance, Goldie fell into Caspian. With her free hand she pushed against his chest causing the militiaman to bounce into the doorframe. During the tussle, neither noticed the kitchen doors swing open as Captain Prescott walked in.
     “Well,” the captain stated.
     Both moved with the awkwardness of teens caught making out, Goldie shoved off Caspian as he straightened up. Their gazes never left Captain Prescott’s face. Both stammered over one another, before Goldie raised her voice to a piercing level.
     “Captain, they’re torturing someone in my bar!”
     Without changing the slightly annoyed expression, Captain Prescott said, “I know, Goldie. That’s why I’m here.”
     “So you’ll stop it?”
     Looking down, he said nothing.
     “If you’re not going to stop it, why are you here?” she screamed.
     “Calm down. You’ve already been through too much.”
     “You don’t tell me to ‘calm down.’”
     “This is the most secured location we could find on short notice.”
     She glowered at him, her pursed lips working of their own volition. After a moment, she gasped. “You’re going to… Oh, you bastard.”
     Prescott stepped forward, outstretched hands reaching toward her. She struggled out of his grasp, once again landing on Caspian. Her eyes bulged as she tried to pull away from the two men. Grabbing her elbows, Captain Prescott pulled her away from Caspian, and up into his own face. She stood on her tiptoes, desperately trying to get free. “Goldie, calm down,” he ordered. “I can’t give you details. Suffice it to say, the man down there is responsible for Avalona.” He shook her, “do you understand?” He shook her again. “I have my orders and so does the sergeant.” Squeezing her in emphasis, he said, “if you don’t calm down, I’ll have you detained.” When he let go of her, she dropped back on her heels.
     Shocked, she stood there rocking slightly. “Avalona?” she whispered the question.
     “Yes,” Prescott replied.
     “All m-my fam-family, friends…”
     “He’s the one?”
     “Kill him,” she hissed, looking into Prescott’s face with a sudden viciousness that surprised them both. “Kill him,” she repeated, spitting out the words. She glanced back at the door behind Caspian, and then headed out of her kitchen.
     When she was gone, Caspian opened the door and stepped out of Prescott’s way. As the captain began to descend the stairs, Caspian asked, “should you have told her that, sir?”
     “For your information: yes, Sergeant. She’ll leave you alone now. Maintain your station.”
     “Yes, sir.”

     Waking up face down on an exam table, in a shocking amount of pain, naked save the sheet covering his lower half, Bonnie Taylor screamed bloody murder. A hand clamped down over his mouth and a masked face appeared in his peripheral. The masked man harshly whispered into his ear, “shut up. The hull isn’t that thick. Someone will hear you.” Turning away from Bonnie, the masked man ordered some unseen body, “get him something to bite into. For Iphi’s sake, we’re about to pass the control. Last thing we need is for one of those uniforms to get suspicious.”
     A burly, hairy knuckled hand roughly shoved a bit of leather into Bonnie’s mouth. No sooner was the leather in place, then his back was racked with the worst pain he’d ever had the misfortune of experiencing. As the doctor dug into him with some unknown implement, Bonnie Taylor lost consciousness again.
     “Good,” the doctor mumbled. “Maybe now I’ll be able to get this damned bullet out.”
     “Will he live?” the barge captain asked from the hatch leading into the Medical office that was unsurprisingly over-equipped for a standard shipboard medical facility.
     Nodding, the doctor kept his attention on his task, saying, “Captain Decker, sir, I’ll relay what I know when I finish.”
     “Fine. Fine. I’ll be on the bridge.”
     “Okay, sir.”
     Without another word, Captain Nathaniel Decker swung his rotund belly around, and headed down the hall to the cargo hold. Once he’d entered the hold, he stopped a moment to take in the scene. In the middle of the hold were six cots each supporting an unconscious woman. Two of his sailors were arguing about the best way to rearrange the hold. Their orders: move the boxes full of contraband to the hidden compartments on the bottom of the barge. The cabin girl, who was carrying a steaming bowl, gingerly maneuvered passed the sailors. Sidestepping and swiveling the bowl upward, she narrowly avoided dumping its contents. She snapped, “heave to!” The two sailors stepped back, never stopping their argument. On a normal day, Decker would have found the scene amusing, if only slightly. Today, he was in no mood for petty antics. Of the questionable cargo they typically carried, this was by far the most dangerous load they’d ever had the misfortune of contracting and they acted like everything was business as usual. One part of him longed to shout at them, but he held that part in check. So long as the crew remained convinced that nothing was amiss, they’d continue doing their work. No sense rocking the boat until it became absolutely necessary. At which point, every one of them would prove their worth or die trying. Satisfied that his guests were well-tended, Captain Decker, exited the cargo hold, and made his way up to the bridge.
     “We just passed River Guard Post #1,” the pilot, a shaggy hair brunette said over his shoulder.
     “Excellent,” Decker said. “I’ll be in my office. Doc will call when he’s finished, patch him to me. Maintain your heading. All is go for now.”
     “Aye, sir,” the pilot said.

     Ducking suddenly, Commander Randle Dante, Sr. narrowly avoided the Hellion’s ¼ inch steel pipe. Dante drove a knuckle into the kid’s receding bicep and then kicked the teen in shin. The pipe clattered to the ground as the young ruffian landed hard, crying out. With one hand, Dante grabbed the back of the kid’s head, the other he clamped over the boy’s mouth. “I can snap your neck or you can shut up. Choose.” Dante felt the teen’s mouth shut. “Good choice.” Swinging the boy around by the head, Dante bent in until their faces were an inch apart. “You’re going to help me find the biggest, scariest mother fucker in your gang. Do you know who I’m talking about?” The boy nodded. “Of course you do,” Dante said as he patted the boy’s cheek. He ordered, “go on. Tell him his 9 o’clock is waiting.” The cat piss covered, raggedy commander laughed heartily as he pushed the kid along.
     When the kid was out of hearing range, Lieutenant Musgrove whispered, “I thought I was doing the talking?”
     “You did,” Dante replied.
     “When?” Musgrove asked in all seriousness.
     “At the car. You expressed misgivings about this operation. I figured that was enough talking.”
     “Oh, great,” Musgrove sighed as visions of their future demise ran across his mind’s eye. He blindly stared up the road as they waited for the executioner.   
     After a few minutes, Dante ordered, “balls up, man. Here comes the kid.”
     Picking up the dropped pipe, Musgrove turned toward the approaching Hellion. Musgrove stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the commander, pipe in hand, his face as blank as he could manage. The commander stood relaxed, a shit eating grin plastered to his face, and a wild twinkle in his eyes. For the first time, Musgrove realized he’d somehow aligned himself with a man who was either the best actor ever or absolutely fucking insane.
     The Hellion wore scuffed up combat boots, holey jeans, and a cut off black t-shirt that said, “Fuck Yourself!” in dingy white lettering across the front. The boy was at that age where his voice cracked when he spoke, “come.”
     “I told you to bring him.”
     “Come,” the boy turned around, heading deeper into Hellion territory.     
     “We should go,” Musgrove whispered.
     “Come,” Dante mimicked the kid, and then strolled purposefully after the young man.
     As they walked down the road, Dante got the distinct feeling that they were being watched. The further in they walked, the more eyes seemed to surround them. He struggled to keep the grin firmly in place. In this situation, crazy was the only viable option for survival. When the kid turned right on Stadium Avenue, Dante’s grin genuinely grew. Predictable. A challenge spoken. A challenge met. Who says these kids don’t have a code. For appearance sake, Dante jokingly said, “who’s playing?”
     “You are,” the Hellion answered.
     “Good,” Dante snorted. “I hate repeating myself.”
     Musgrove listened in disbelief. If they were being taken to the Stadium, they’d never make it back out. The Stadium was a kangaroo court that viewed justice as punishments thought up by the leader and chosen by the whims of the majority. Musgrove paled at the thought, he doesn’t know what he’s done. The stadium was the only democratic aspect of the gang. In all other business, they followed the strict regulation of a hierarchical organization with all final decisions resting on their leader’s shoulders.
     Upon approaching the battered and graffiti covered Stadium, the young Hellion pointed to Gate 4, “go.”
     Dante and Musgrove quietly walked through the gate and into a dimly lit concrete hallway that curved to the right. The angle was precisely enough to keep them from seeing out the other side.
     “You ever seen this before?” Dante asked.
     “Yes, sir,” Musgrove muttered.
     “Someone will take us to the middle of the Stadium. We’ll be interrogated. Then, the gang will decide our fate.”
     “So, we’re fucked?”
     “Yes, sir.”
     Dante’s laughter echoed down the hall.

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