The Changed -- Chapter Thirteen -- by Dee Caples

 



The Game Is Afoot



The convoy moved slowly because the heaviest vehicles were made for wrecking things. It took over half the morning to find where Ellis and Nico’s tracks led. Dancy got out of the combine and followed Alonso to the open end of an old military warehouse. It looked like a bunch of pilfering rats and raccoons had run off when they heard them coming. Shit was scattered everywhere.

Alonso looked down at a trail of blood leading away and Dancy didn’t have to say anything. He just turned and followed the smears. “And what is this?” Dancy asked, reaching down to pick up a clump of cut, blond locks. His mouth split into an evil grin.

“Looks like hair,” Mary, his adorable, little chauffeur said.

“Now, that’s an astute observation,” Dancy said, standing up to let the hair fall from his fingers. Mary gave him a pouting look, afraid he was insinuating she was a dumbass. He was but didn’t say so. “I believe it’s Danna’s hair and she's survived whatever happened to everyone else. That means she’s thrown in with this lot. The game is afoot.”

“Huh?” Mary asked.

She couldn’t help it. Most of these kids didn’t even know how to read. Feeling like an old world professor, he said, “It’s a literary quote by a fictional detective.”

“Litter what?”

Dancy patted her cheek with no small amount of affection. “Never mind, dear.” From the depths of the warehouse came the sounds of yelling and shoving. Dancy’s face tightened with anger and he drew his gun to fire a shot into the high ceiling. Everyone went still, their hands full of dubious treasure. “Since you jokers don’t have a combined IQ of over two hundred, let me spell it out for you. We’re traveling heavy enough as it is. Anything tasty can wait ‘til the mission is over. Right now we need this shit less than I need Degan’s dick.”

That got a round of laughter, even from Deeg. His sharp ears picked up two peons mumbling together. “What’s he mean by ‘eye q’?”

“I don’t know. Some kinda vision test, maybe. Gimme a drink of that.”

Dancy kept his back to them, saying, “Put the lid back on. Everyone is to be tip-top until this is over.”

“Eyes in the back of his head,” one of them whispered. He smiled. Let them believe it.

Alonso had come running when he heard the shot, pistol in hand. Dancy was very happy to see that. It meant his power level was high enough for his lieutenant to want to protect him. If he ever slipped he wasn’t fool enough to think one of these yahoos wouldn’t be right there to finish the slam. Maybe even the inscrutable Alonso. The man watching your back today usually stabbed it tomorrow.

He squatted beside a large wooden packing crate, his fingertip going into a bullet hole. Fresh. Alonso knelt next to him. “Found bodies out there.”

“Anyone you don’t know?”

“Just Nico and Ellis.” 

That’s what he figured he’d hear, but hadn’t wanted to all the same. One or both of them would’ve come back if alive, not gone haring off after an enemy who’d already killed three. “This look like a .38 hole to you?”

“Maybe. Or a nine mil.”

“Ellis carries a .45. And there’s a hole about that big right up there,” he said, pointing halfway up the wall directly across from him. Someone had killed two armed men and he skulked about looking for the other bullet holes so he’d know what kind of weapons they were facing. He addressed the room at large. “Look for bullet holes. Here’s one and there’s another. See if you can find more.”

He walked the rest of the warehouse, seeking but not finding. There on the floor. What was that? He swept his foot across a pile of wood shavings, as if someone had been whittling. No, not whittling. Suddenly he was three steps outside his comfort zone. “We have a real dilemma, Alonso. A genuine mystery to solve.” He wasn’t about to tell his lieutenant that two of his best men had been taken out by primitive spears. It was almost more than he wanted to know himself. Were any of the others to find this out it would cause panic, something he could ill afford.

Someone gave a shout and the curious trickled outside to see what the ruckus was about. Alonso came back in to report that a large dust storm was headed their way. “Everyone back into the vehicles,” Dancy ordered.

Lunch was eaten inside the combine and with every bite he chewed, Dancy ruminated over each problem, large or small. He could probably send a couple of motorcycle riders out to scout but that would end in disaster. They could easily lose their way in this flying desert bowl. Air filters would get clogged, causing the cycles to break down. Worst case scenario, they might come across these efficient spear chuckers and he needed every man he had when they finally did.

Who had these people been, out here fifty miles from Dirty Town? Why did he know nothing about them? It wasn’t like him to be so ill informed. Perhaps he’d become too complacent since forming his little haven. Life before that had been mighty fucked up and it hadn’t been easy pulling all this together. Once he had, he felt like he’d earned the right to kick back and eat the fruits of his labor. Who’d have known there was a place like this in the middle of nowhere? His fault and no one else’s. Now he was paying the price for his inattention.

The damn wind just wouldn’t quit. Dancy wondered how Felicia was faring with Alonso for company. He drummed his fingers on the arm of his captain’s chair. It wasn’t often he felt helpless. This was one of those times and he was just going to have to deal with it. No way could he demand the wind quit blowing. God had shown him a long time ago He wasn’t on his side.

Dancy glanced over at Mary and unzipped his pants. “I just thought of something we can do while we wait.”

The smile she gave him was a slow, daring one. “Oh, yeah?” Obliging, she crawled over to his seat and pulled him free of his pants. Dancy put his head back and closed his eyes as lips that were a little too chapped for his taste closed over his flesh and began to move up and down.

“Ow!” He thumped the top of her head and it sounded like a ripe melon. “Watch the teeth.”

“Sorry, honey.” She peeked up at him, her eyes a little misty. This time she took better care and he made a mental note to not ask Mary for another blow job. Cracked enamel had been known to wreak havoc on a man’s cock. With this in mind, he didn’t allow himself to sit back and let her take her time.

It wasn’t until afternoon of the next day before the storm subsided. Mary and Kick examined each vehicle to make sure it had done no damage and then they took off. Dancy was in a fine pique but forced himself to not take it out on his driver. He despised people who were unable to curb their emotions. Being in control was a sign of strength. What he wanted to do was curse and shake his fist at the sky but there was no way he’d allow himself to do that. He needed his cool right now so he sent two men in different directions to see what they could find.

One of the outriders came back and putt-putted alongside the combine. Above the thick red beard of the man was a welding mask cut to look like a German helmet, held onto his head by a chin strap made from a timing chain. Right arm came up, waved in a circle then pointed west. It couldn’t mean that the tracks went that way. The sand had blown them to hell and breakfast by now. Whatever the outrider had found, it must be worth looking into. Dancy indicated for him to lead the way and the man rode ahead, turning the convoy as expertly as a cowboy redirecting a herd of cattle.

It was nearly dark when they reached an old military compound. He was surprised to see the chain link fence still standing. Once again, he didn’t have to tell anyone what had to be done. Two got out, bolt cutters in hand, and cut a hole in the fence while five armed men stood nearby, their heads swiveling to look for danger. No one shot them or launched any type of primitive projectile weapon. Dancy checked his street sweeper and reached for his gas mask. He wasn’t expecting any biological weapons but it was better to be prepared. This was a former military base, a defunct one. Who knew what might have been left behind and what shape it was in.

Alonso got Felicia out of the truck and came up beside his mayor, a sawed-off 12 gauge in a hip holster, a Remington 700 strapped across his back, a .40 cal hogleg in hand. He looked at his new lieutenant, the ridiculous but effective tin eye protection strapped across his face to hide what the bandanna didn’t. “Ready for bear?” Dancy asked, amused, his voice muffled through the gas mask. Alonso just nodded and they stepped through the cut fence. “I’m ashamed I didn’t know about this place,” he said, mostly to himself.

It was made up entirely of quonset huts. As his men kicked down doors, they filed in with guns ready. This proved unnecessary. No one had lived here in a long time. Most of the huts had bunks with rolled-up mattresses, waiting for soldiers that would never return. The rest were offices stripped of their furnishings, drifts of sand invading the corners, holes rusting walls and ceilings. Very little had been left behind and Dancy ascertained that the base had been deserted longer than the warehouse they’d just come from. They could spend the night here.

Everyone spread out to search then came trooping back into the office where Dancy was waiting. “Alonso. Creed. Come here,” he said, going to the wall where a yellowed, faded map was pinned to a corkboard. It showed latitude and longitude markings, topography and sea levels, circles, Xs and the occasional indecipherable scribbling. He knew how to read a map, even one like this. “Here’s where we just came from. And look at this. I believe it’s the designation for a natural spring. No wonder someone was living in that warehouse.” His finger tapped a short distance away. “Here’s where we are right now.”

Creed leaned in by protruding his long neck toward the map. “Don’t see how this helps us track them.”

He didn’t need to see and Dancy knew Creed couldn’t read the sizing inside a pair of boots. That hardly mattered because…

Dancy smiled, content as a pig in slop. “I know where they’re going.” And he tapped the map again.

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