Read Republic of the Living (Novella): Vengeance Online

Authors: Taz Gallaher

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Republic of the Living (Novella): Vengeance (4 page)

BOOK: Republic of the Living (Novella): Vengeance
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They trotted through the golf course.  Hanrahan
swept his eyes from side to side along the narrow path.  It was clear that
somebody had once laid claim to this place.  Within the dense thickets of
brush and grass, he could discern the ghostly outlines of fields and, every
once in a while, mounds of sticks and rubble where there had once been huts.
 

Deep into the walled grounds, they came across the
first of its previous inhabitants.  Yellow bones protruded from a matted
pile of rags; the body was curled onto its side.  A few yards ahead, a
neighbor lay next to the path.  This one was stretched out on its stomach.
 A foot away from the body, a smooth, white skull tilted its jaws up at
them as they rode past.

Pearly and Ace moved quietly ahead of him.  The
other man hadn’t uttered a word since they’d passed through the gates.  He
kept his rifle balanced across his saddle with one hand while he guided the
horse with the other.  Hanrahan brushed a bug off his cheek and patted
Bama.


Whoaaaa,” Pearly muttered
softly to his horse.  “Hold on there.”

Hanrahan drew up behind him.


What’s up?”

Pearly pushed Ace into the brush at the side of
the path and pointed forward with his left hand.  He raised himself in the
saddle and whistled under his breath.

A dozen yards off the path, two large poles had
been planted into a hillock of bare dirt.  On each was a naked skeleton.
 Arms and legs had been lashed tight to the pole.  Their heads hung
down over their chests.  They’d been up there a long time.


Whaddya think, boss?”
 Pearly asked.

Hanrahan scanned the green jungle surrounding the
hill.  Everything was quiet and still.  He peered behind him and
turned to Pearly.


Whatever it was.”  He
pushed Bama past Ace.  “Happened quite some time ago.”

Pearly hawked something from his throat into the
bushes.  “Fucking savages.”  He tapped his reins and followed
Hanrahan.

By mid-morning, they could glimpse the top of the
stone wall that surrounded the golf course.  The path split, one branch
bending away into the underbrush to their right.  The other path pointed
toward the wall.  Hanrahan urged Bama forward.  The iron-barred gate
in the wall was still intact.  He slid off the horse and worked a rusty
latch on the side of the gate.


Gimme your axe,” he said to
Pearly.  

The other man pulled the weapon from its loop and
passed it to him.  Hanrahan bashed the flat end of the axe head against
the latch.  A loud clang rang down the wall.  He swung again and the
ancient hardware dropped from the wall with a groan and a puff of dust.
 The hinges were stiff but finally gave way as he heaved the gate open.

A narrow road ran past the gate.  On the
other side, a thin opening in a low chain link fence led into the rest of the
golf course.  He climbed back onto Bama and led Pearly across the road and
through the fence.  The undergrowth here was thicker and the path even
narrower.  Bama’s flanks brushed against tall clumps of manzanita and
dense laurel bushes.  Every ten or twenty feet, they had to duck under the
sprawling arms of unkempt bay oaks.  Patches of shadow and sun alternated
on the floor of the path.

Hanrahan pushed aside a clump of manzanita
branches and peered forward.  A dozen yards ahead, the path seemed to
widen.  He pushed Bama forward and found himself in a small clearing
beneath a young redwood.   He clucked and twitched the reins to bring
the horse to a halt.


Right here,” he said to
Pearly as the other man rode into the clearing.  “Take a break.  Eat
something.  Talk about what happens at the tunnel.”

Pearly nodded and dropped from his horse.  He
grabbed Bama’s reins and, as Hanrahan slipped to the ground, he led the two
horses deeper under the redwood, tying their reins together on a low branch.
  He returned to Hanrahan with his rifle in one hand and a water jug
in the other.  Hanrahan accepted the jug as Pearly dropped to a crouch.
 He sat onto the cool ground and filled his belly with water.


Place freaks me out,” Pearly
muttered, glancing around the clearing.  “Skeletons back there.
 Jungle up here.”

Hanrahan nodded and passed him the jug.


We’re almost there, friend.
 Won’t be long now.”

Pearly rested the jug on the ground and sat down.


Fucking Tilt,” he growled.
 “I’ve known that boy since before.  He didn’t deserve that.”

Hanrahan smiled.  “Jesus, Pearly.  Wake
up.  Do any of us deserve any of this?”

Pearly squinted at him and spat into the dirt.

He leaned back on his elbows and stretched his
legs.  Pearly sniffed at the air and stood.  He rotated his body
until he showed the back of his canvas jacket to Hanrahan.  


What is it?” Hanrahan
whispered as he stood.

Pearly waved at him and cupped his hand to his
ear.  He pointed his other hand forward.  Hanrahan stepped toward the
horses and Pearly shook his head.  

He leaned close to Hanrahan.  “Too close.
 They’ll hear us coming.”

Hanrahan raised his chin.  The aroma of
cooking food drifted through the forest.  He stepped past Pearly and crept
back onto the path.  Twenty feet down the shrub-choked lane he spied a
thin stream of smoke drifting into the sky.  He motioned for Pearly and
carefully picked his way forward.  The path opened up into another
clearing and the sound of low voices floated toward them.  He brushed
gently against the manzanita hedge on his left and snuck forward.

Two blue-clad soldiers lay on their sides, turned
away from Hanrahan, next to a fire.  A big iron pot bubbled on a hob above
the flames.  The men were talking quietly and one kept picking grass with
his fingers and tossing it toward the pot.  They were State militia, but
something about the scene made Hanrahan uneasy.  These men were too
careless, too relaxed.  He turned his head back down the path when a
branch snapped somewhere beyond Pearly.  Another soldier dressed in blue
appeared suddenly on the path with a rifle in his hands.  A second soldier
hopped onto the path behind the first.

Hanrahan froze, his eyes searching Pearly’s.
 Pearly pulled his rifle tight to his body.


That will be far enough,
gentlemen,” the soldier closest to them said.  

He sensed movement behind him.


Corporal
Whitney,” the soldier nearest Pearly said.  “Take these men into custody,
if you will.”

Hanrahan straightened and turned back to the
clearing.  Both soldiers stood next to the campfire now.  Each aimed
a pistol at him.  


Whoa now,” Hanrahan said,
raising his arms.  “We’re friends.  We’re on your side.”


If you will, corporal,” the
voice behind him shouted.

The two soldiers approached Hanrahan slowly.
 

“Hands in front,” one of them said.

He pushed his wrists forward.  One aimed a
pistol at him while the other reached into his pocket to produce a looped piece
of plastic.  He slipped the cord over Hanrahan’s hand and quickly tugged
both wrists together.

“Go on,” the corporal said.  “Move to the
fire.”

Hanrahan stumbled into the camp, his hands
extended forward.   The soldier’s gun tracked him into the clearing


Lay the gun down,” the
soldier behind Pearly said.

Pearly lowered his rifle to the path and Hanrahan
turned to watch the corporal secure his friend.  The pair of soldiers
marched Pearly toward him.


Go on, sit down,” the man in
charge growled and shoved Pearly down onto the ground.

Hanrahan lowered himself next to his friend and
gazed up at the soldiers.   They spread out around the two men, guns
pointed to the ground.  The soldier who commanded the others slipped his
arm through the sling of his rifle and squatted, eye-to-eye with Hanrahan.
 His face was raw and thin-boned and covered in a patchy beard.  A
pair of bulging, green eyes scuttled back and forth over the two prisoners.
 The man’s lips were flaked with white crust.


What have we here?” He
whispered.

Hanrahan opened his mouth and the man’s hand shot
forward, cuffing him across the chin.


Two stragglers.”  The
man continued.  “Trying to sneak up on a squad of state troops.”  He
stood.  “What do you think, Whitney?”

The younger man looked down at Hanrahan, confusion
spreading across his face.  “What do I . . . ?”


Murphy,” the thin man
barked.  “Go get those horses.”

One of the soldiers nodded and turned to sprint
back down the path.


You boys just relax,” the
commander said.  “I need to consult with my colleagues.”

 
He
grinned as he pulled the remaining pair of soldiers alongside him and strode to
the edge of the clearing.  While they mumbled together, Murphy appeared at
the edge of the camp holding the horses’ reins.  He led them across the
clearing and Bama whinnied as she loped by.  After tying off the reins to
a low tree branch, the soldier joined his friends.


Fucking crazy bastards,”
Pearly muttered at him.   “Fucking crazy retarded bastards.”

He turned and Pearly scowled at him.  “Let me
handle this,” Hanrahan whispered.  “You got your knife?”

A tight smile unfolded across Pearly’s lips and he
nodded.  “Stupid fuckers,” he muttered.

The soldiers returned to the two men.


I’m Captain Fremont,” the
thin man said, standing over Hanrahan.  “Duly appointed representative and
agent of the California Permanent State Government.”  He tapped Hanrahan’s
boot with the toe of his shoe.  “You marauders have anything to say for
yourselves?”

He glanced at Pearly.  “I’m John Hanrahan,
overseer of the Fruitvale Station.  This here is James Pearl, my
assistant.”  He nodded at Pearly.  “We’re in pursuit of two fugitives
who . . . .”

The captain raised his hand.  “That’s
enough,” he said.  “We’ve heard all these stories before.”


Captain Fremont,” Hanrahan
continued.  “We’re with the Benton Corporation.  You’ve heard of it?”

The man giggled and turned to his comrades.
 “Whitney?  You ever heard of this Benton Corporation.”

Worry creased the man’s face.  “Well . . . I
. . . .”

The captain batted the young man on the shoulders.
  “The proper response, soldier, is: who the fuck cares?”  He
guffawed.  “Benton Corporation.  Smith Corporation.  Corporate
Corporation.  These individuals, Corporal Whitney, are marauders with
their eyes firmly set on our dwindling supplies.”   

The other two soldiers moved away from the group,
toward a dark gap in the surrounding scrub.


And, corporal,” the captain
continued.  “What is the penalty for marauders?”

The man gazed at his commander with a blank face.

Fremont squatted again in front of Hanrahan.
 “I just want to thank you,” he said, his voice dropping into a low,
serious tone.  “Those horses represent valuable contributions to our
efforts here.  Very valuable.”

He stood and stretched.  “You two outlaws,
however, are not valuable. Not at all.  In fact, corporal, these two men
are very dangerous.  Take this big, ugly one over to Murphy and Banks.”
 

The corporal sidled behind Pearly and yanked him
to his feet.  Pearly glanced at Hanrahan and winked.  Hanrahan’s eyes
tracked the corporal as he pushed Pearly across the clearing to the pair of
soldiers waiting at the forest’s edge.  The corporal passed Pearly off and
the pair pushed him forward.  The trio disappeared into the shadows below
a stand of tall redwoods.  Corporal Whitney returned to Captain Fremont’s
side.

Hanrahan looked up at the captain.  He spat.
 “You’re deserters, aren’t you?”  He shifted his eyes to the corporal
and rested his gaze on the young man.  “A squad of militia deserters.”

Fremont jerked his eyes onto Hanrahan.
 “Deserters!”  He grinned.
 
“Hardly.
 
What do you say,
Corporal Whitney?”

The corporal dropped his gaze and studied his
boots.

Fremont chuckled.  “No, sir,” he said to
Hanrahan.  “Deserters?  No.  We’re the last patrol.
 Abandoned by our commanders.  Left here to defend and protect.”
 He raised his head and stared toward the tree tops.  “Six months
now.  All on our own.  We once were ten.”  The captain grasped
his hands behind his back and raised his shoulders.  “Ten little Indians.”
 He smiled into the sky.  “Three lost to meatbags.  Two murdered
by marauders.”  He paused and pressed his lips together.  “Two to
meatbags?  Three to marauders?”  He turned to Whitney.
 
Corporal, can you remember the damned
math?”


Yes, sir,” the man answered
brightly.  “Three to meatbags.  Johnson and Kyle were killed by
marauders.  And then there was Fuentes.”

A crazy smile danced across the captain’s lips.
 He turned back to Hanrahan.  

“Yes.  That’s right.  And then there was
Fuentes.”  He laughed.  “Poor Sergeant Fuentes.”

The corporal glanced nervously at Hanrahan and his
eye shifted to the campfire.


Jesus,” the captain grunted.
 “What the hell is taking those two so damn long?”

As if in reply, a voice bellowed from within the
forest.  A barrage of snapping branches gave way to a high-pitched shriek
that lanced the air.  The captain swiveled to face the forest.  The
corporal raised his pistol in the direction of the trees.  Both men jumped
when the sharp crack of a rifle echoed across the campground.

As the gunshot faded, Hanrahan pushed his bound
hands beneath his jacket and closed them around the handle of the knife
holstered on his belt.  He rocked backward, pushed his boots into the
earth, and sprang forward, knife extended in front of him.  

BOOK: Republic of the Living (Novella): Vengeance
3.13Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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