Monday, January 9, 2012
Frank looked under the bandage on Will’s arm. “You’ll live,” he said. “Pour a little peroxide on it every day or so to kill the germs. My Aunt Mina swore by that stuff: ‘Keep you from gettin’ the infection,’ she always said. Bob-wire scratch, skeeter bite, cut your hand in the kitchen, didn’t matter, she’d be gettin’ out the peroxide.”
“She ever have to deal with someone gettin’ shot?” Will scowled, the strain in his voice matching the stink of his fear and pain. “That sure as hell didn’t go off as planned.”
“As planned? That was pert-near a disaster!” Jered was right. They had surprised a group of a half-dozen or so gang-bangers, walking toward them on the street, but only managed to drop one before the others scattered for cover and returned fire. Outnumbered and outgunned, the 'bangers put up a lot more fight than they had seen from victims sleeping or ambushed. Both sides started carefully retreating, but Will caught one in the arm — fortunately, not his shooting arm.
“Nay,” said Worleigh, scowling more than usual. “Think you that Gowd-a would keep you from the test? It is now that He shall see whether you are fit for His service.”
“I never said nothin’ about quittin’!” Jered protested. “But there’s a lot more of them than us, and you’d think He’d give us a little protection, right?” Will said nothing, but glared at Worleigh and rubbed his bandage.
“We have passed through the first fire,” Worleigh intoned, looking down his patrician nose at Jered and Will. “William, are you still able to do battle?”
Will nodded. “Sure. I shoot one-handed anyway.” He patted his .45.
“So one of theirs lies dead on the ground, and our army is yet intact. Is that not sufficient evidence that we are under the protection of Almighty Gowd-a?”
Jered looked down, saying nothing.
“Yeah, we’ll get ’em,” Steven said. Frank always wondered about Steven, how such a big guy could end up with a squeaky voice. “We’ll move on, give ’em time to forget, and take ’em out later.”
“Y’know, I always heard God helps those what help themselves,” Frank said. “I think Steve’s right. We need to let this area simmer down a little bit. It’s like deer season — you hunt one place too much, the deer get skittish. And some of these deer shoot back. Let’s move around some. I’d like to check out that block in Highlands we hit back when the sh— this all started, maybe get a little payback for J.D. and Thurman and the others, y’know?” Worleigh glared but said nothing, as the others nodded or grunted assent. “Yeah. Who’s got that map anyway?”
“I got it,” said Jered. He dug into his backpack and produced a folded packet, handing it to Frank.
Frank opened the map and pored over it a moment. “Yeah. It’s far enough to get some distance, close enough we can get there this evening. Anyone got a problem with that?” He looked up at Worleigh.
The preacher looked like he’d swallowed something unpleasant, but finally nodded. “Very well,” he said. “We shall see what there is to see.”
“If they ain’t cleared out, they sure like to sleep early,” Jered said, rejoining the others a block away. “I even walked up the street a ways, you think that woulda brought someone out for sure. I wanted to call out, but I didn’t.”
“Remember not what I said, the day Gowd-a placed me in your path?” Worleigh’s smile had a hint of mockery. “They have fled this place.”
“Damn, that’s right,” said one of the Bobs, ignoring the preacher’s glare. “Where’d they go, then?”
Worleigh nodded up the street, toward the on-ramp. “They took the expressway to the northeast, as I said that day.”
Jered nodded. “Prob’ly in DeKalb or Gwinnett, then. Lots of subdivisions up that way, they coulda just moved into one and took it over.”
“That’s a lotta ground to cover, buddy.”
“Yeah, but their smoke should give ’em away, just like the other places. They prob’ly didn’t get too far off the freeway.”
“Well, what are we waiting for?” said Steve, waving his shotgun. “Let’s go get the sum— let’s get ’em! We get the drop on ’em this time, we’ll take ’em for sure.”
“The hour grows late,” Worleigh said, gesturing toward the setting sun. “Let us take shelter for the night, away from this desecrated place. Then we shall deal the judgement of Gowd-a as He sees fit.”
Near dusk, they found a five-story apartment building and camped in the lobby. There was an unpleasant smell in the place, and a restless Will looked around for the source. He found some interesting things on the third floor: pock marks in the cinderblock walls at either end of the hallway; bloodstains on the floor at one end; a broom and perforated blue dress in the hallway; the corpse of a woman in #308, face down on the bed. Worleigh said a few words over the poor woman and they all thought that right and proper. This and other apartments yielded up their canned food, and once darkness fell they cooked supper in the lobby fireplace.
“What do y’all think happened to her?” asked Go-Big Bob, pointing up.
“Looters, probably,” said Jered. “She was maybe doing a little laundry, sweepin’ the floor, and heard some kind of commotion out in the hall. She had the broom and the dress in her hands and stepped out to see what was what, and got herself shot. She got back inside and died on her bed.”
Go-Home Bob scratched his head but said nothing. There were a lot of holes in that story — like why was all the blood at the end of the hallway and not in her apartment? if they were looters, why hadn’t the place been ransacked? For all they knew, it could have been ol’ Joseph getting hisself shot there — but if he said anything, they’d ask so what do you think happened? and he had no idea. For a moment, he wondered if she’d painted the pictures on the walls of her apartment, then pushed it out of his mind. It wasn’t important.