Tuesday, January 3, 2012
Go-Big Bob had misgivings about Worleigh’s plan — mainly because he was the one who would get shot if anything went wrong — but he’d signed up, for better or worse, and he was more afraid of the certainty of looking like a coward than the possibility of death. Go big or go home, after all. But the clouds above reflected his mood: low, grey, and a little uncertain. It seemed like a miracle in itself that Worleigh knew of a liquor store that hadn’t been looted — in downtown Atlanta, no less! — although it looked as if someone had left abruptly; there were empty food containers strewn about and the back door was standing open. A street vendor’s food cart was another seeming miracle, and the two together made the bait. The cart made plenty of noise as he pushed it down the street toward the presumed gang-bangers, bottles clinking and wheels rumbling. The trucks parked along the curb whispered their invitations — Nothing to fear. Nothing to worry about — but they too were part of the plan.
At last, someone stepped out and saw Bob… or rather, the cart. “Hey!” Bob ducked, pushed, then darted between two parked trucks. The cart rumbled down the street a few more feet before slowing; Bob dodged onto the sidewalk as the gunfire started. “That’s right!” the sentry yelled, “You better run! Whooooooo!” He fired a couple times more into the air before Bob ducked around the first street corner he reached.
He stopped for a moment, felt himself over — no holes but the ones he’d been born with — and started jogging back to his companions. A moment later, he heard the sentry whoop and heard more voices, fading as he turned this way and that around each block to confound any pursuit. He nearly jogged right by the others before they called to him, making him jump.
“Shit!” he gasped. “That about scared me worse than the shooting!”
“Tame your tongue!” Worleigh snapped. “Have they taken our gift?”
“Sounds like they did. The first one sure sounded happy, and I heard more coming.”
“It is well, then. Let them drink their fill, then we shall smite them in their tents.”
“They don’t have — never mind.”
They edged closer as evening fell. As they drew within three blocks of where Bob had abandoned the cart, they could hear the revelry in full swing. While (and after) Bob was delivering their Trojan Booze-Cart, others scoured nearby shops for various items. They took turns dressing: black shirts and pants, moccasins or slippers, balaclavas. They painted random lines and spots across their exposed faces, and each took a long knife and a pistol. The night dragged on, and they took turns dozing inside.
At last, the party noises faded and died. “This is a night for cold steel, not hot lead,” Worleigh told them, laying aside his long chromed .410 revolver, “but keep the other at hand in case you need it. Do not scruple to spare any of them, for they are devoted to destruction — man, woman, and child — and do not defile yourself with the females or any treasures of this place. When you have finished your holy work, we shall purify those dwellings with fire.”
“What about their guns?” Frank asked.
Worleigh thought a moment. “Guns you have, but the Lord shall provide ammunition. Take only what you can carry easily, and do not spend time looking for such. Only take what you see as you do your work.”
Sleeping sentries were the first under the knives; few if any knew what happened before finding themselves in the afterlife. A stumbling drunken youth wearing gang colors was set upon and perforated before he had a chance to make much noise. On a cold night, few were out by choice. With the streets cleared of the living, they paired up and went through each building, knifing anyone they found. Dogs barked, but none of the victims woke or gave it any thought before it was too late; most of the dogs were small enough that they were simply set on and stomped or stabbed to death like their masters. Frank ended up shooting a larger mongrel, but by then there were few survivors; recreational gunfire was such a part of life here that once again none of the remaining living even awoke for it. At last, as the sky began to lighten with the coming dawn, the eight of them gathered bloody and panting around the now-empty cart.
“It is well,” said Worleigh, picking up the gas cans they had left at the corner. He lifted a finger into the air. “The wind is behind us. We can pour out half on the first building on each side, and the wind will carry it down the street. Save a little in each, that we may use it to start the fire.” He gave one can to Jared, who crossed the street and splashed the gas around the lobby, propping the front doors open. Ray-Ban did likewise on the other side.
“The holy fire shall purify this defiled place,” said Worleigh, pouring the rest of the gasoline into two water bottles. He twisted a strip of rag for each bottle and inserted it, then handed the bottles to Frank and Steve. “Now light these, and cast them in.”
Palmer’s voice crackled over the radio. “Smoke! Down toward Atlanta!” he said. “You can see it from the overpass.”
“Anyone else out there?”
“Just Tim and me.”
“What is it?” asked Cody, standing on the overpass and watching the plume of black smoke.
“Nothing good,” said Patterson.
“An ill omen,” Delphinia said. “Be watchful, lest the fire descend among us unaware.”
“What? You’re saying someone set it?” asked Palmer. “How could you know that?” Delphinia only shook her cowled head.
“She might just be jawbonin’,” Cleve said later, “but all the same, I think it’s smart to start taking precautions. Nobody rides alone, for one thing, and nobody rides unarmed. We need to start patrolling, just in case. And we need to be ready to defend our home.”