Sunday, May 3, 2015

Chapter 4


The first hour wasn’t too bad.  The girls that were left had enough street experience that they knew to walk fast and stay gray.  They were also smart enough to understand that now wasn’t the time for salvaging.  Didn’t mean they didn’t have to be reminded a few times but that was par for the course.  In the places they grew up if you didn’t try you didn’t get.   

This was the first town of any size that I had been through in a while.  Kiko had avoided all of the larger cities as much as possible on the advice of the militias and his own common sense and experience.  Houston would have been the largest and closest to our current location.  For all that we were still surrounded by nothing but urban build up but going from run down residential housing to bombed out commercial district.  Reading signs we were passing told me we were in an area known as Texas City and heading towards the port.   

We weren’t that far from Galveston either and I could just remember a family vacation there when I was very little.  What I remember most was ice cream on the pier and discovering “beach” did not necessarily mean the same thing as the beaches I was used to at home.  Galveston beaches were different from the soft white sand and gentle waves I had grown up knowing.   

Our first bad experience was when the gulls took notice of us.  I had been having a bad feeling for several moments and not able to place its point of origin until I realized that the gulls had started acting oddly.  I nudged Barb and she got the message so quickly that it revealed she must have had an experience or three with DV infected birds herself.  Kiko had just begun to pick up on things when I started to herd the other women towards a couple of turned over dumpsters leaning against the side of a warehouse. 

I slowly backed up to Barb and tried to nudge her to move faster but she gave me a silent but frustrated grimace.  The girls didn’t want to go into the protection the dumpsters afforded.  Glancing inside I saw a couple of decaying corpses and rolled my eyes thinking, “They’re dead and little more than bones inside their clothes, they ain’t gonna hurt nobody.” 

While Kiko covered me I went in and kicked the corpses out the other end, picking up a machete from one of the picked over skeletons.  About that time a bird dove at one of the girls and got a good pinch on her arm.  Kiko reached out, tore it off and broke its neck but it was too late, the girl had started to scream.  Barb backhanded her to shut her up but the birds were all stirred up at the noise as it rushed along the walls of all the buildings created a canyon-like echo. 

As the birds dived the women finally lost their fastidiousness and dove into the protection of the dumpster and wall.  I used the machete to cut down as many of the birds as I could, giving everyone time to get in.  Kiko liked the action so well he pulled his own and between the two of us we must have killed three dozen gulls in just the minutes it took Barb to herd the women inside.   

The blood from their dead compatriots only drove the birds crazier.  I started kicking the feathered corpses out into the raging flock.  It took some of the heat off of us and gave Kiko and I a little breathing room.  We were at it another twenty minutes before a loud noise several “canyons” away grabbed the birds’ attention and they swarmed off to look for easier pickings. 

Breathing hard Kiko and I stood back to back another minute before calling the women out.  Barb fussed a bit brushing feathers from us and shaking her head.  “You two are loco and were almost bird food.  What happens to us if either one of you gets killed.” 

“You live or you die the best you can,” I answered since Kiko didn’t seem to be paying attention.   

A slow smile twisted her lips and she nodded.  “True.” 

Kiko grunted and headed out after consulting a hand drawn map in his pocket.  After getting them in it was difficult to get the women out of the protection of the dumpster and I had to go in and pull the last one out by her hair.  “Move chica.  Ain’t got time for anything else.” 

She got the message and we finally fell back into a smooth travelling line, but the women were now giving off a vibe that told me a few of them might panic at the next incident.  And there would be a next incident, there always was, we just didn’t expect it to happen so quickly. 

An hour later we were about to step out of an alley to cross to a different avenue when a volley of shots rang out from a roof top and I saw Kiko go down and the women started screaming.  Barb proved she was up for the job assigned to her as she manhandled the panicking women into the small storefront I pushed her towards.  Kiko wasn’t moving but I didn’t have time to worry.  I sighted in on those stupid enough to show themselves and took them out one by one until those that were left were smart enough to keep their head out of the way of my bullets. 

I finally worked my way down to the impossibly big guy and I snagged an arm and pulled him to relative safety. 

“You crazy Chica,” he gasped. 

“Maybe.  Probably.  Can you run?” 

“No.  Bastard ricochet got me in the leg.” 

“Ok then, don’t puke.” 

“Wha … ?” 

Man had a core of lead making him so heavy that it almost kept me from being able to complete the fireman carry back to the store front.  “Barb?  Can you … ?” I asked as I heard noise in the alley that meant I needed to clear a few more baddies. 

She nodded and took over while I carefully stepped back out to see what I could see, nearly getting shot myself when a hastily formed cross fire failed.  I’d worked too many nests however to get caught by something that shoddy.  I surprised them with how ruthless I could be and how good a shot I was.  I also wasn’t averse to hand to hand which is what I used to take out the last man when he tried a weak and pathetic knife move. 

What did nearly get me was that the birds came back.  I only had time to strip two corpses before they started landing, stripping flesh from the dead men.  I fought them over the third corpse and then had to give up when I got pecked hard enough to draw blood.  I ran back to the store front with my booty. 

This time it was Barb who said in outrage, “Are you crazy?!” 

“Like I said earlier … maybe, probably.  But we got guns for most of us now.” 

A weak growl from Kiko drew me over to where he leaned against a the base of a broken counter.  “You wanna get shot in the back?” he snarled. 

I shook my head.  “Naw.  Besides, the first one that shoots either of us gets the rest of them dead as fast as I can put a bullet in each one.  And the last one I hold onto for a little … fun.” 

The way I said it even had hardcase Barb blanching but Kiko just kept looking at me before nodding slowly.  “Ok, your call on this.  Just make sure it hurts like hell as payback.” 

“OK, how’s this?  Kneecap them and let the birds have them?” 

Barb scooted over.  “We get the message.  You scare some of these hens too much more and they’re going to stop breathing.” 

I looked over at the women and reinforced my message with a cold look.  I turned back to Kiko and took my own look at his wound.  I stared at him and him at me.  He reached into his pocket and pulled out two papers.  “Take these and go.  All I ask is when you get where you’re going you get this one delivered to my wife.” 

One piece of paper was the hand drawn map to what I presumed was the pick up point, the other was an envelope that held a single sheet of paper covered front and back with a clumsy scrawl.  I folded them both back up and stuck them back in the pocket they came out of.  “Do I looked like your damn death messenger?  You’re gonna live and we’re all getting out of here together.  Got it?” 

I turned away before he could answer.  I reached the door just in time to have it kicked in and sending me flying backwards several feet where I cracked my head on the floor knocking me out.  I came to with a rough kick to my backside.  Not appreciating it I turned quick as a viper and had my opponent down and his throat ripped open before anyone else standing around could react.  But when they reacted it was with brutal force.  I would have still kept fighting until someone put a gun to Kiko’s head. 

I shook my head in frustration.  When did I get attached to that piece of walking wall?  Wiping blood out of my eyes I looked over to see that the women had been roughed up and Barb would be sporting a black eye but I also noticed they’d started to give her some space.  Unfortunately they’d already shaken everyone down and taken the guns and their shivs.  That let me know that this crowd were experienced.  And that was bad news. 

To control us Barb and I were assigned the task of helping Kiko get on his feet.  We also had to be his crutches as we hiked the commercial district alleys.  The more we walked the weaker he became.  I heard some of the other women talk like we should run, leaving him behind.  I promised them some serious pain if they pulled that crap and they got the message and shut up. 

The hike was two hours and then we met up with another bunch of the same gang and they seemed to have prisoners of their own.  My eye was experienced enough to tell it was a boat crew. 

“Ah, Bro … looks like you had some fun too!” 

The gang bangers all laughed and hooted and hollered calling themselves the ridiculous name of “Land Pirates of Texas.”  Idiots.  Dangerous idiots but still idiots nonetheless.  And after exactly what you would expect such men to be after.  All of us women got fondled and pinched as much as fresh fruit at the market.
 
We eventually came to an area that was fenced off.  A broken and faded sign indicated it had been some kind of DV defensive position but given that it had been abandoned the defenses must have failed at some point early on.  The fact that it was caged on top and not just fenced on the sides told me that the birds must have become a problem very early on in the pandemic. 

The captive men were all shoved into one cage and us women were shoved into another section to be ogled at with abandon.  They made lots of promises … crude promises designed to raise the level hysteria I could already see building in the women.  Barb was doing her best to keep them under control but when I turned and looked at each one in turn and told them what would happen to them if they didn’t tow the line they got real quiet and huddled in the middle of the caged area no longer paying any attention to the land pirates. 

“What you wanna spoil our fun for?” asked one disgruntled “pirate.” 

All I did was give him an evil smile and he backed off.  I caught Barb’s eye and gave a more natural smile with a shrug of one shoulder.  Her eyes widen for a moment and then she had to hide her face because she could barely stop the laugh that wanted to slip out. 

I noticed slowly all of the land pirates began retreating to buildings that surrounded the fenced off area and sensed something bad was coming.  I looked over to see Kiko speaking in low tones with the men over there but before I could get his attention the first of the birds hit the cage. For a nerve-wracking hour thousands of sea gulls attached the cage trying to get inside.  There were areas of obvious repair that let us all know that they’d gotten in before.   

“The entertainment in this dump sucks,” I heard one of the crewmen mutter.  I turned to see it was a tall man and I pegged him for either the Captain or First Mate.  When he reached out and broke the neck of a bird that had been cawing noisily too close to his ear I nodded in approval and did the same thing myself a few times.  That’s when most of the rest of us joined in.  The women had more practice at it than the men, probably as a result of having to wring the necks of fowl to pluck for the dinner table. 

We heard the land pirates booing from their protected area until some of the angry flock turned their attention to that noise.  About fifteen minutes later there was an audible crash followed by some screams to let us know the birds had won a battle.  When I heard shots inside the building I wondered how big a sin it was to pray that the DV infected birds won the war.

Finally, as full dark fell the birds retreated en mass.  They were there one moment and then just as suddenly they were gone.  Broken and battered birds littered the area.  For some reason I was unable to relax.

“Kiko?!” I called quietly.

“Yeah,” he returned in a breathy, pain-filled whisper.

“Something else is coming.”

“You sure?” 

“Yeah.  Don’t know wha … oh bolas!  Stand up, stand up!  Get back to back and be prepared to stomp!” 

The others were responding too slowly.  I must have looked like I was having some kind of fit but I’d finally placed the smell that struck me from beneath the odor of dead birds.  If you’ve ever worked along the water you know that birds aren't the only scavengers you have to deal with to protect your catch and whatever else you might have in your hold.  But the warehouses were the worst, especially the abandoned and unused ones.  They became havens for them. 

Rats.

They came by the thousands.  Mostly they were focused on the corpses of birds and luckily for those of us in the cages most of them were too big to get through the thick metal mesh.  That isn’t to say they didn’t try and that some of them didn’t make it.  It was disgusting work but no worse than nest busting, a job I sometimes held as a way of paying my way north. 

A nest buster be called in when DV infecteds gathered in too high a number in any one location.  It didn’t matter the species – and this sometimes included humans – nest busters would go in and destroy as many as they could by whatever means was necessary.  I’d busted a few nests of DV infected rats but I had considered it one of the worst assignments.  I watched a man off himself when the rats made it passed his protective gear and got inside his suit.  Well I didn’t have a suit and my only protective gear was my boots.  I used them the best I could and stomped the rats that made it beyond the fencing.  Those that got stuck trying to get through were often eaten from the other side by their cannibalistic brethren.  I got nipped twice, both from rats falling from above when a smaller beast made it through those that were swarming all over.  The women were truly in a panic and hysterical but kept the presence of mind to stay away from the walls of the cage. 

The rats lasted until just before dawn.  We were all exhausted but no one had expired.   

“You ok Kiko?” 

All he could do was nod. 

“All the women made it.” 

“’S Bueno," he responded in a guttural croak.

I saw that someone had given him more first aid but I didn’t know who or why.  The boat crew didn’t strike me as the Good Samaritan types.  The man I had taken for one of the leaders of the boat crew gave an ironic brow lift and said, “That explains the lack of overnight guard.”  I snorted and silently agreed.   

A little after daybreak the land pirates came back, most of them looking worse for wear.  I wanted to find out if this was how they normally looked or if they’d had trouble of their own but realized it didn’t matter either way.  All that mattered is that they looked mean and ready to snap with no provocation.  The women caught the vibe and Barb looked at me.  I gave a minute shake of my head.  Sometimes you can egg men on to doing something stupid and sometimes you can’t.  For now I told her to go easy and control the women and keep them tight. 

We were all hustled out into a formation that made me wonder a few things.  I can understand putting prisoners in number into pins where they were easy to control but walking them to a new destination that way didn’t make sense.  I kept my eyes and ears open. 

That’s when I heard two of the pirates – supposedly I assume leaders of their teams – speaking.  "We’re gonna split up when we get to the end of Avenue B.  You take yours to Pearl.  He wants to question where they come from and what they doing in our territory salvaging.  We taking the women and heading down to Diesel’s and see what we can get for them.” 

“Hey now.  Pearl said we could take some time with the girls before they got sold off.” 

“That was last night.  The troubles used up all of that spare time.  Pearl said taken ‘em this morning first thing ‘cause he needs us back over at the barrier to go on a dog hunt.” 

“Uh uh.  I was promised.  I ain’t had none in over a week.  All the rest of your got your share out of them others we caught early yesterday.  I just come in off the boat.  C’mon man,” 

The other guy groaned and then admitted, “I s’pose we can give you a minute.  Go pick you out one but if we gotta waste the time I wanna good show.” 

Knowing a better opportunity wasn’t likely to present itself I made a move by knocking into the guard standing closest to me.  I’d spotted a knife carelessly hidden in his belt.  I wanted it and I was going to get it.   

It was ridiculously easy for someone that had been on the street as long as I had.  Unfortunately the one I’d bumped into over compensated and pushed me right into the land pirate that had been about to make his “pick.”  He grabbed me and his gun and I started fighting.  He was big and beefy and got me with a good backhand that threw me off just enough that guns came down and stopped the fight before I could finish it.

3 comments:

  1. Thanks for the story Kathy looking forward to more when you can.
    Wayne

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  2. Thanks for the story Kathy looking forward to more when you can.
    Wayne

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  3. So glad you were able to get the "Way-Back" machine to help you recover this story. I hope there will be more of your older stories as well as many many more new ones.
    As always,
    Thanks for making us part of your life.

    ReplyDelete