Read Republic of the Living (Novella): Vengeance Online

Authors: Taz Gallaher

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Republic of the Living (Novella): Vengeance (6 page)

BOOK: Republic of the Living (Novella): Vengeance
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A crowd of people was assembling in front of the
tents.  He waved his hand and the man he’d spoken to, his face obscured by
a hoody, led his group toward the gate.  Chewy flashed him a thumbs-up and
the man wagged his head, turning sideways to urge his group forward.  

Chewy raced to the side of the truck and laid the
rifle on the hood, pointing its muzzle toward the station entrance.
 Something moved in front of the gate.  A pair of faded pink sneakers
appeared below the shadows cast by the globe lamps.  His hands were slick
with sweat and he had trouble keeping the gun steady.

 

******

 

The others were already in their cots, blankets
pulled up over their shoulders.  Pearly stripped down to his boxers and
sweat-stained t-shirt.  He grinned.  Too bad they couldn’t hold their
liquor like he could.  He sat on the edge of the bed and, as he did every
night, he closed his eyes and focused on the silence of the station building.
Nothing.  Not even the tick of a breeze against the building.  Not a
peep from the chinks on the other side of the fence.

Parker was a kid, he thought to himself as he
rolled onto his back.  But he knew how to handle himself.  He gazed
up at the ceiling.  Hanrahan had found a real good set-up.  Another
week or two and they could all get back to Elk Grove.  Get this load
shipped across the Bay.  Maybe make a quick run down to Hayward to pick up
some more.

He closed his eyes.


Aw shit,” he muttered as he
sat up.  Ace was waiting for him.  Shit.

He staggered to his feet and swayed, surprised at
how unsteady he felt.  He groped through the darkness to his pile of
clothes and pulled out a long-sleeved shirt.  Fuck pants, he chuckled to
himself.  And shoes.

He tottered toward the door.  Hanrahan sat up
quickly as he passed his cot.


What’s up, big man?”
 His friend’s voice was thick with sleep and booze.


Nothing, man.”  Pearly
flopped a hand against the doorframe to steady himself.  Just forgot to
give Ace his treat.


Jesus,” Hanrahan swore as he
flopped back onto the cot.  “You and that goddam horse.  Oughta get
married.”

Pearly grinned and staggered into the room where
they cooked and ate.  A fat green apple perched on the windowsill above
the sink.  He grabbed it and headed toward the feeble blush of light in
the windows of the door.

The cool, night air swirled around his bare legs
as he strode to the security gate.  The booze dulled the clammy chill of
the plaza’s concrete floor.  He stopped.  He heard movement beyond
the pickup truck.  The quiet stir of shoes on gravel.  He rubbed his
eyes and peered through the security gate.  Goddam Parker was missing from
the top of the truck.


Punk,” he muttered out loud.
 Have to rip him a new one.

A dark shape fluttered against the far end of the
gate.  He stopped again and narrowed his eyes.


Parker?  That you,
asshole?”

The shadowy outline froze and then whipped into a
flurry of motion.


What the hell?”

He walked closer to the gate.  The apple
dropped from his hand onto the hard concrete with a tiny thud.


Hey,” he sputtered.
 “What the fuck?”

A tiny Asian girl stared up at him from the gate.
 Their eyes met and he rushed toward her. She took a step backward as he
grasped the bars of the gate in his hands and shook it.


Motherfucker,” he growled,
yanking hard on the gate.

It wouldn’t move.  He glanced back to the
girl.  She stood there silently, studying him without emotion.  A
dark figure loomed up over her shoulder.  Parker.  He shifted his
eyes to watch the boy stumble toward the girl.  He was bent over, clutching
his stomach.  He tripped and staggered closer to the silent girl.

The crack of a rifle thundered across the still
air and something pinged off the gate to his right.  Pearly collapsed onto
his stomach, his eyes still fixed on the girl.  She turned slowly and a
long blade glinted in the lamplight.  Parker was close enough to grab her
and he lifted his hands from his belly.  The girl stepped to the side.


Nooooo . . ..“ Pearly
screamed as the door behind him clattered open.  He twisted around.
 “Get the fuck down,” he shouted.  “They got guns.”

Hanrahan dove to the floor and crawled toward him.

He turned back to the girl.  Her machete hung
in the air, high over her head.  She glanced directly at Pearly before she
swung downward.  The blade whisked through the air and Parker’s outstretched
hand bounced onto the pavement.


Jesus Christ,” he screamed.
 “Don’t.”

She ignored him and spun around slowly,
accelerating as her momentum whipped the blade upward in both hands.  A
gurgling sound bubbled out of Parker’s throat.  The blade flashed once and
the front of his face disappeared. The rest of him collapsed at the girl’s
feet.

She leaned down over the dead boy and carefully
wiped her blade across his shirt.  She stood for a moment, contemplating
the body at her feet.  Glancing again at Pearly, she spat on Parker’s
body.


What’s happening?”
 Hanrahan gasped next to him.  “What’s going on?”

Pearly felt something boil up his throat and he
rose to his knees.  Another shot rang out and a bullet ricocheted off the
concrete to his right, sending a spray of sharp dust against his face.  He
ducked down.

Somebody shouted from the other side of the truck.
 When he raised his eyes, the girl was gone and the horses were snorting
and neighing in panic.


Aw, fuck no,” Hanrahan
muttered next to him.

Hanrahan twirled around and rose to a crouch.
 He dashed away from Pearly, bowling Tilt to the ground as he disappeared
into the door to their quarters.


Jesus,” Tilt whined as he
climbed back to his feet.  “What the hell?”

The sound of shouting and horse hooves against
pavement faded down the street, echoing away from the station.  Pearly
swore and launched himself to his feet, lunging toward the gate.  A thick
black cord wrapped itself around the last bar, binding it to the stanchion on
the wall.


Goddam, Tilt,” he screamed
over his shoulder.  “Get a knife.  They’re taking the horses.”

Parker’s body slumped on the ground before the
gate in a slowly expanding puddle of black.

 

******

 

She raced up to Chewy, who stood waiting for her
at the far corner of the brick building.  He jammed her pack into her arms
and began jogging up the street.  She wrestled the pack straps onto her
shoulder as she caught up with him.  He snapped his eyes toward her and
nodded.

“Horses go away,” he huffed.
 
“Let’s go.”


Wait,” she grabbed at his
jacket sleeve.  “Hold on.”

He stopped, his chest heaving up and down.


I know a better way.”  

She tugged him to the left and down a street of
auto repair shops and ancient bungalows.  Ahead, the concrete bed of the
elevated train tracks loomed over the dark street.  She pointed to the
tracks as she jogged forward.

They halted next to a massive pillar that anchored
the track bed.  She slipped around the pillar and returned from the other
side.


Over there.”  She
jabbed a finger at another pillar across the street.  “I know it’s there.”

They hustled across the street and hurried around
the pillar’s twin.   


There.”  Her head
craned upward.

A maintenance ladder was bolted onto the side of
the concrete tower, its lower rungs encased in a tube of metal.  Chewy
stumbled forward.  A simple padlock fixed a metal cylinder to the end of
the tube.  He raised the rifle like a baseball bat and swung.  The
stock of the rifle cracked and splintered, but the lock remained in place.


Again,” she wheezed.
“Hurry.”

He swung harder and a long shard of wood flew away
from the rifle butt.  The lock sprang open.  He dropped the rifle and
hoisted her up.  She fiddled with the lock and the cylinder fell away.
 Her pink shoes vanished up the ladder rungs.  He backed up, ran
toward the pillar, and kick jumped upward.  His fingers found the first
rung and he pulled himself up just as a pair of boots rattled down the ladder
and bounced off his shoulder.
 

She waited for him at the top, leaning over her
knees to catch her breath.  He crawled onto the concrete floor of the
track bad and flopped onto his back next to the outer rail.


I fucked up with the
horses,” he gasped.  “And . . .should have taken that guy out with the
rifle.”

She shook her head.  “I got him.”

He nodded slowly.  “You did.  And
they’re pissed off now.  Real pissed off.”

She stood and gazed up the tracks.  

“We can use this,” she said.  “Leads right to
the tunnel and then into the valley.  Come on.”  

She leaned down and offered her hand.  He looked
up at her and she grimaced.


Get your hustle on, old
man,” she muttered as she wrapped her fingers around his and yanked.

Somewhere up ahead, the darker void of a station
etched its silhouette across the black night.  He sighed and stepped
forward, following her up along the edge of the rail ties.

 
 

He observed the hole in the side of the hill and
grunted.  The horses were tied off below in the high-ceilinged living room
of the abandoned house.  The wide second-story picture window showed him
another house in front and a fenced-off plot of bare ground beyond the house’s
backyard.  The tracks ran over the fence, which protected the entrance to
the tunnel.

Pearly was sure he’d beat them.  After
burying Hanrahan and leading the horses out of the golf course, he’d ridden
like hell toward the ochre face of the mountains.  By the time he found
the house, the sun had crested the middle of the sky and Ace was covered in a
thin sheen of sweat.  He busted down the front door with a few kicks of
his heavy boots, tied off the horses, and collected a couple of armfuls of
grass and weeds from the overgrown yard.  The horses were munching on
their fodder below as he studied the place where he would kill the man and
woman who had destroyed his friends.

He left the soldier’s rifle on the shredded
blankets that covered the big bed.  He still had his long gun and the
little corporal’s pistol.  He would only need one.  On the way out of
the house, he patted Ace’s flanks and stroked the muzzle of Hanrahan’s horse.
 The two animals whinnied in appreciation.  

He leaned his rifle against the inside wall next
to the gaping doorway and double-checked the pistol.  The clip dropped
from the pistol’s grip and he cleared the chamber. His finger pulled the
trigger and the hammer clicked.  Replacing the clip, he pulled the slide
back and pushed the gun into the back of his belt.  Its reassuring weight
settled against his lower spine.


I’ll see you two soon,” he whispered
to the horses and stepped through the doorway.

He wrangled the heavy door back into the frame,
tugged it twice, and proceeded to the vacant lot below the tunnel entrance.
   

 

******

 

Mai stopped and raised her hand.  “There it
is.”

He grinned and nodded.  A hundred yards in
front of them, the dark arch of the tunnel beckoned.  Sweat dripped along
his temples.  His legs were heavy and his back ached.  Chewy leaned
over the wall of the track bed and observed the neighborhood.  Bigger
houses and bigger yards.  A pair of swings drifted back and forth in a
backyard playset.  The streets were hidden under overgrown trees.
 Barely visible beneath the canopy of leaves and tree limbs, a blue
station wagon was cantilevered across the yellowed grass of somebody’s front
yard.  


What do you think?”
 She joined him at the edge of the track.

He transferred his gaze to the area around the
tunnel.  The gate to the fence circling the vacant lot below the tunnel
was still intact.  Dried-out rivulets from last year’s rains crisscrossed
the parched surface of the hill.  A jay squawked from its hiding spot in
the trees below.

He twisted his head.  “I don’t hear any
horses.  Ground around the tunnel looks clean.”  He turned to her.
 “Maybe we got lucky.”

She frowned.  “Just maybe?”

He straightened.  “These days.
 
Always just maybe.”

He trudged beside the rails while she hopped from
one tie to the other, keeping just ahead of him.


Come
on,” she said over her shoulder.  “Have a little faith.  We’re almost
there.”

He squeezed his lips together before he could say
anything and fixed his eyes on the mouth of the tunnel.  The commuter
train once ran from the valley to the bay, carrying its crowds of businessmen
and secretaries and students to the city across the bay behind them.  The
tunnel connected the sprawling suburbs of the valley to the flatlands of
Oakland.  How long could it be?  A mile, maybe two.  An hour or
less of cool, shaded traveling.  He picked up his speed and she matched
his pace.

They halted at the verge of the tunnel and
listened.  The thick darkness yielded only silence.  They traded
glances and he pulled the flashlight from his pack.  


If there’s anything in
there,” he whispered.  “I don’t want to turn the light on and get them
started.”

She slid her machete from her belt loop.
 “I’m quieter.  Let me go first.”

He nodded and she slinked into the tunnel’s
entrance, her tiny figure vanishing from sight.

Her sneakers slapped quietly just ahead of him.
 They walked for fifteen or twenty minutes before he heard her stop.


Something ahead,” she
whispered from the darkness.

He held the bulb of the flashlight against his
palm and flicked it on.  Crouching, he flashed the beam up the tunnel.
 Two trains were stuck next to each other just twenty yards in front of
her.  The sloped nose of one train pointed at them.  The boxy rear of
the other train occupied the right track.  He clicked the light off.


I’m going right,” she
murmured, twisting her head over her shoulder to catch the outline of Chewy’s
thick body against the wall of sunlight behind him.  

She moved from the center of the track to the edge
of the ties and the shuffle of her footsteps echoed dimly down the tunnel.
 The hulking train on her left dwarfed her and, except for a lighter shade
of darkness that betrayed a line of windows, she was blind.  She shortened
her steps and inched forward along the side of the last car.

A shadow within the shadows popped out from
between the train cars.  She pulled her machete up and stumbled toward the
wall of the cavern.


Bitch,” a deep voice growled
in the darkness.

Something heavy slammed into her shoulder and her
head bounced against the rough stonework of tunnel.  She slipped and
pitched backward, bouncing on her backside and crashing against the ground.
 The machete rattled onto the ground and her eyes shuttered down as heavy
boots crunched past her.


Mai,” Chewy shouted.
 “Mai.  What’s happening?”

She shook her head and pushed her eyes open.
 The beam of the flashlight lit up the space between the dusty train and
the tunnel.  Light flowed around the silhouette of a wide, dark body.
 

Something clicked loudly in the empty tunnel.


Uh huh,” the voice said,
aimed away from her, back down the tracks.  “Keep the light on but point
it up.  I want to see you.”

Her head throbbed with pain and she couldn’t move
her left arm.  She rolled onto her stomach and tried to crawl toward the
figure in front of her.  Digging her toes into the gravel, she pushed
herself forward.  Her head spun and she stopped, fighting against the
cloud that settled over her eyes.


Well, holy shit on a hot tin
roof,” the deep voice rumbled along the tunnel.  “I know you.”

She blinked and shimmied forward a foot or two.


Lompoc.”  His laughter
was rough, like the sound of rocks tumbling down a hillside.  “Another
fucking jailbird.”  

He choked off his laugh and his boots crunched
farther away from her.  “Ain’t that the way it just had to be.  A
regular ex-con reunion in the middle of this clusterfuck.”

She heard Chewy mumble something.
  Taking a deep breath, she pulled herself to her knees, leaning
sideways and inching closer to the train.  The figure in front of her
seesawed and she crouched against the grimy wheel of the train.


Yeah, whatever.”  The
man coughed and spat. “Your little girlfriend back there.  She murdered my
friend.”  The voice paused. “Parker. He wasn’t hardly more than a child
himself.  And the two of you killed the rest of my friends.  You and
those fucking savages.”

Chewy spoke but she couldn’t understand the words.
 Another deep laugh rolled around the tunnel.


Fuck you,” the man said.
 “It’s always been a world of shit. Should have learned that at Lompoc.”

She tugged her head upward and willed her body to
follow.  The spinning stopped and she leaned her good shoulder against the
train.  A few feet beyond her, the machete blade glinted dully. Her hand
closed around the wooden handle when something exploded in the tunnel.
 She dropped back down to her knees and grasped the machete.


Yeah,” the voice shouted.
 “Go on and crawl.  Just like a meatbag or one of them stupid
chinks.”

She looked up.  The flashlight cast a fan of
light beneath the train car.  Chewy groaned.  She swallowed and dug
her toes into the earth.  Aiming for a spot between the train and the tunnel
wall, she launched herself forward.  She smelled him - - rank, sweaty,
sharp - - and swung the blade sideways.

He screeched and staggered against the wall of the
tunnel.  The gun dropped onto the tracks.  She could see its dull
metal barrel in the slanted rays of the flashlight.  She remembered what
Chewy said about pissing them off.   She hurled the machete toward
him and stumbled as she turned away.


Bitch.”  Pearly howled.
 “Motherfucking cunt.”

She heard him scrabbling in the gravel at the end
of the train.

Staggering down the track, she lurched into the
gap between the last two train cars.   His heavy boots stamped back
and forth and the flashlight beam danced along the tracks next to her.
 Another gunshot boomed down the tunnel and a window shattered somewhere
along the train the tunnel.


I’m going to fucking kill
you,” he shrieked.  “Murder you.”

Uneven footfalls echoed toward her.  She
glanced up.  There was only one way to go.  She stood and spread her
good arm like a wing across the lip of the car platform.  She jumped and
her feet drummed at the car’s undercarriage.  Her toes found purchase and
she dragged herself onto the platform.  Digging her fingers into a recess,
she threw her weight against the door.  It moved an inch.  She heaved
again and it moved open another inch.  Jamming her fingers into the gap,
she leaned all her weight against the door and metal screeched against metal.
 

She slipped through the gap and a window to her
right exploded into fragments.  The crack of the pistol shivered down the
tunnel.  She ran forward, her good arm extended in front of her, her other
arm dangling at her side.  Behind her, the man grunted as he pulled
himself into the train car.  She leaped across the gap into the next car
and reeled forward through an open door.  

His boots pounded at her back.  He paused at
the gap and the beam of the flashlight jerked down the aisle in front of her.
  Two more gunshots roared into the empty car.  A wasp stung her
right ear and a gush of heat spread down her neck.  

The car evaporated into darkness and she flexed
her legs to leap into a rectangle of darkness ahead of her.  A cloud of
sharp, sweet odor flooded across her mouth and nose and she stopped, teetering
over the space between the cars.  A rustling sound, like the scrape of
feet through leaves or sheets of dry paper unfolding, swelled in the black
space of the doorway.  She sagged to the right and fell onto the tunnel
floor, rolling and looking up to see the man’s heavy body flash across the
space above her.

He screamed and booming starbursts of light
erupted inside the train car.  Pearly screamed again and she heard his
body thump against the floor.  The flashlight clicked on and off and then
on again.  Beneath a nimbus of pale light, the fingers of one hand appeared
over the edge of the platform.  A face materialized above the fingers and
turned toward her, its mouth gaping open silently.  He looked at her but
his eyes were blank.  A withered, almost translucent hand plunged into his
long hair and something cracked through the air.

She scurried backward, away from the train.
 The rustling sound had been replaced by wet, sucking noises.  Mai
twisted onto her belly and crawled on her hands and knees toward the tiny arch
of daylight at the end of the tunnel.  At the rear of the train, she
tripped across Chewy’s legs.  He was sitting against the wall of the
tunnel and she pulled herself up alongside him.

She pressed her ear to his chest.  He was
still breathing.


Yeah,” he croaked.
 “I’m alive.  Not so sure about my leg though.”

She sank her torso against his chest and patted
his shoulder.  His hand brushed her ear and he jerked it away.


Oh shit,” he wheezed.
 “You’re bleeding.”


Yeah,” she answered.
 “But I’m alive too.
 
I think.”

His chest shuddered with silent laughter.


Come on, little sister,” he
gasped as he nudged her aside and struggled to push himself to his feet.
 “Time to get your hustle on.”

She grinned and grabbed his arm, pulling herself
upward.  They tottered against each other until he dropped his arm across
her shoulder and she clutched his jacket in her fingers.  They stumbled
toward the daylight.


Too bad about the tunnel,”
Chewy said as they stepped into the warm sun.  He blinked and tipped his
chin upward.  “Guess we’ll have to climb this pinche mountain together.”

BOOK: Republic of the Living (Novella): Vengeance
12.89Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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