Chapter 11 - The Land of Opportunity
Chicago City Hall
Richard F. Harrison, the 55th Mayor of Chicago, crossed his arms over his chest, and regarded the two men on the other side of his desk with derisive contempt, his eyes flitting from one to the other. The men stared right back, not looking particularly impressed – if anything, they looked bored, and eager to be out of here. They didn't seem to realize that they were speaking to the Mayor, and it was about damn time he received an explanation as to what was happening in his city.
"I'm sorry gentlemen, but I'm not going to set one foot out of this office until you tell me what's going on here."
There; that outta do it.
The man standing to the left fetched a deep sigh from the bottom of his chest, the kind an exasperated parent might use whilst dealing with an unruly child. He was wearing a dark Armani suit with a navy blue tie, and carrying a laptop computer bound in blue tape under his arm. From his clean-shaven cheeks to the toes of his well-polished shoes, Mayor Harrison recognized the appearance of a typical, government pod-person. Albeit, one who knew how to dress.
"Mayor Harrison, sir." The man said, an edge of impatience to his voice. "Rest assured, everything will be explained to you as soon as possible. But, right now we need to extract you from the city. There's a helicopter waiting-"
"You don't seem to understand, Mr.…"
"My name is Agent Dodgson," The man said flatly. "James Dodgson."
"I see…" Mayor Harrison nodded. "Agent Dodgson, I'm going to put this simply. I've been ducking and fucking around you people for the past four days now, and I'm getting sick of it. You barge in here claiming to belong to a Federal agency that I've never even heard of, saying you have an Executive Order to begin a military operation in this city, in order to combat an unspecified epidemic that is somehow linked to the riots we're currently experiencing, but you can't even give me a straight answer when I ask you a simple question. What are you trying to hide?"
"Sir, all of your questions will be answered in time, I assure you." Agent Dodgson assured him. "There's a helicopter on the roof which will take you to Washington D.C.; everything will explained there."
"Washington D.C.?" The Mayor exclaimed. "Washington D.C.? What the hell do I need to go to D.C. for? I start two weeks of vacation tomorrow, dammit! My wife and I were supposed to be taking the kids to Honolulu!"
The two men exchanged a glance that Mayor Harrison didn't appreciate. It was a 'Geez, can you believe this guy?' kind of look. Agent Dodgson took the laptop from under his arm and snapped the tape with his thumb, whilst his colleague retrieved a cell phone from the breast pocket of his jacket, and began to dial, wandering to the other end of the office as he did so. Harrison watched him with suspicion, only looking away when he realized that Agent Dodgson was sliding something onto the desk in front of him. It was the laptop, now free of its binding tape, and with the screen open. The fan whirred as it booted up, and some kind of governmental logo followed the initial Dell loading screen. It was one that the Mayor had never seen before; the head of a bald eagle surrounded by a circle of fifty stars, with a lightning bolt arcing across the background. A border that ran around the circular logo read; DEPARTMENT OF SPECIAL OPERATIONS – UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. Beneath it flashed a red warning:
This computer and all enclosed documents are property of the Federal Government, and are classified top secret, the page read. Unauthorized access and/or distribution is a treasonous offence under Article III, Section Three of the United States Constitution, and is punishable by death or a minimum penalty of life imprisonment.
Mayor Harrison watched as Dodgson's fingers scuttled over the keyboard like spiders, punching in a password that gave him access to the desktop. The word 'treason' kept pulsing its own red warning in the back of Harrison's mind. By the looks of it, he was about to get into some highly classified shit. For some reason, the hairs on the nape of his neck began to prickle. Dodgson typed in another password to access a folder, and swiveled the laptop back in Harrison's direction.
"W-what am I looking at?" The Mayor managed to ask.
Dodgson shrugged. "Just have a look around, sir."
"Do I, uh…have authorization to view these files?"
A faint smile curled the edges of the man's mouth. "You won't be executed, if that's what you're thinking, sir."
The Mayor selected one of the documents at random, his piqued curiosity surpassing the dark cloud of uncertainty and fear that whirled in his brain. It was a video file, approximately a minute long, and labeled 'Haven, Connecticut – 1992.' The town's name was the newest addition to a long list of things that Harrison had never heard of. Regardless, he clicked the video and was greeted by shaky, handheld footage that pitched and yawed as the camera was carried up the front porch of somebody's house. The door swung in with a crash, and there was the thunder of multiple pairs of boots storming across the floor. A living room flashed past – television, sofa, and magazines on the coffee table- and then the camera was jolting up the stairs, swinging into what looked like the master bedroom. Tinny explosions rang out from the laptop's speakers, and Harrison flinched as he realized they were gunshots. The view swiveled nauseatingly again, pointing into the corner of the room. A hunched figure in soiled nightwear was being driven back against the wall by the force of the bullets. Harrison pushed himself away from the laptop on the wheels of his chair, and clapped a chubby hand over his mouth.
Dodgson meanwhile, was checking his watch nonchalantly. "We were lucky that time," He remarked. "It remained confined to the house."
The camera panned across the dead woman's body, from her blood-stained legs to the hole in her forehead. Her face was contorted into a savage expression of rage that was fearsome even in death, and looking at it, Harrison felt the two Whammy burgers and the side order of milkshake and fries that he had ordered for lunch begin to rise in his stomach, like a nuclear missile escaping its silo. He put his hand back over his mouth and stifled a nervous belch.
"Are you okay, sir?" Agent Dodgson asked, and Harrison could have sworn that a faint smile was playing around the man's lips. "You look a little, ah…pale."
"I'm fine." Harrison said, not feeling fine at all, yet reasonably sure that the contents of his stomach were not going to go nuclear just yet. "What in the hell did I just watch?"
"Footage shot by one of our men during a cleanup operation in Haven, Connecticut, in the summer of 1992." Dodgson responded. "The woman who was just killed, Mr. Mayor, is what we in the trade refer to as a zombie; or if you want to use the official designation, a Type Zero specimen. A fully mobile corpse that has no other purpose but to consume other living humans, who are in turn, transformed into similar mindless automatons, starting a chain of infection that can only be ended once all the zombies are destroyed, or there are no humans left to consume. That's the kind of chain that's being built in your city as we speak sir, and its growing rapidly."
Harrison gaped at the man, his own thoughts nothing but a meaningless crackle of white noise. His hand began to move over the touchpad again, apparently of its own volition, and before Harrison knew it, he had opened another file. It was a black and white image of a man lying on a cold metal table, with his body surgically opened from throat to navel. All of his internal organs had been removed, leaving his body a dark, empty shell. His arms, legs, and even his genitalia were all gone, amputated with laser like precision, leaving him a cavernous, empty husk. The only thing that remained was his head, the eyes bright and horribly aware. Whatever it was, it was still conscious. The caption in the bottom-right corner read 'Mexico City – 1970', and was stamped with the Department of Special Operations seal.
In Mayor Harrison's stomach, some internal commander gave the order to 'fire a broadside'. The Mayor practically flew across his office as though someone had attached rocket boosters to his shoes, and disappeared out the door with his hand over his mouth. Agent Dodgson watched him go, his eyebrows raised as he suppressed the urge to burst out laughing. He had seen a lot of similar reactions in his time, and he was not particularly surprised. Nobody could deny that the Mayor had just witnessed some fairly gruesome stuff.
Dodgson packed up the laptop, glancing at the photos on Harrison's desk. Between his phone, and his Truman-style placard reading "The buck stops here", were pictures of his smiling wife and kids. Looking at them, Dodgson felt a faint pang of sadness tug at his heart, like a small child tugging at the hem of his father's coat. His own marriage had withered up and blown away a few years ago, taking his son with it off to Cali, along with his ex-wife. It wasn't that they hadn't loved each other, but every day it felt as though there was an invisible force keeping the two of them apart, like a wall made of bulletproof glass. Dodgson knew what that invisible force was; it was shadow-spun, cloak-and-dagger world of covert operations. Sometimes he could be on assignment for months, and when he was home, there were too many hushed phone calls that were hastily ended when she walked in the room; too many instances where he didn't get home until the early hours of the morning. She began to accuse him of screwing another woman. The final straw came when she caught the scent of perfume on his collar. He tried to assuage her wrath, but what the fuck could he have told her?
Hey honey, it's okay. The chick was just a New York Times reporter who knew a little too much about an arms deal that went bad over in the Mid-East, and who just wouldn't quit no matter how much money we tried to give her. I musta' got her perfume on me when I hauled her, kicking and screaming into the back of that black van, then watched it roar off into the night towards some harbor in the Big Apple. Don't sweat it.
In the end, he had said nothing, and his job had split them apart like the stresses on its hull split apart the Titanic.
The Mayor reentered the room, wiping the back of his hand and looking fairly embarrassed.
"I-I'm sorry," The pudgy man stuttered. "Don't know what came over me."
"I wouldn't worry about it, sir." Agent Dodgson replied, the laptop back under his arm. "You're not the first, and I doubt you'll be the last."
Dodgson's colleague, who had been talking on his phone in a low voice, now wandered back into the center of the office. "Mr. Mayor, there's somebody on the phone who would like to speak to you."
The Mayor took the cell with slightly trembling fingers, taking deep, calming breaths. When the image of the man with his body carved out like a Halloween pumpkin rose again in his mind, Harrison pushed it firmly away. He was the Mayor, dammit. He had to take control.
"This is the Mayor speaking." Harrison declared.
"Mayor Harrison," A male voice replied. It was calm and authoritative, and Harrison recognized it almost immediately as belonging to a certain former Senator for Illinois. "This is the President of the United States speaking."
"Mr. President, sir…" Harrison said, feeling himself deflate like a tire being driven over a bank of jagged glass.
"I understand you've been giving these boys some trouble, is that right?" The President said.
Harrison fought to stop himself from stammering. "I-I simply wanted to be aware of all the facts, Mr. President. Chicago's in uproar out there, and-"
"I understand this is difficult, Mayor." The President said calmly. "Of course I do. But I need you to hold it together, is that clear?"
"Of course, Mr. President," Harrison said. "B-but my wife; my children-"
"Preparations are already underway to transport them out of the city. They'll stay at The Mayflower here in D.C. for the duration of the…incident. Now can I count on you to get in that helicopter without any further trouble?"
"Yes, Mr. President."
"Thank you." The President said, sounding relieved. "I'll see you in the Oval Office within three hours."
With a click, the line went dead. Harrison passed the phone back to its owner, who replaced it within the folds of his suit without a word. Outside the window, the Mayor could hear the looping whine of sirens passing in the street below, and although it was likely a product of an imagination that was currently in overdrive, he thought he could hear the distant whupwhupwhup of the helicopter on the roof.
"We should get moving, sir." Dodgson said. "The helicopter's on standby to take off as soon as we're onboard, and it's probably wasting precious fuel."
"Yes, yes, of course." Harrison said heavily. "But what's going to happen here, Agent Dodgson? What's going to happen to my city?"
Dodgson exchanged a grim glance with his colleague. "We'll stop this thing, Mr. Mayor; no matter what it takes."
Harrison ran a hand through his thinning hair. His previously neat and orderly world was rapidly being pitched upside down, like a table of cards being upended by an angry drunk. Everything was spilling out of control, with no acceptable answer as to why.
Washington. Washington was where he would find the answers.
"I'll get my coat."
In the White House situation room, the President replaced the phone and drummed his fingers on the polished wooden table. Events were surging forward like a locomotive threatening to go off the rails at any second, and it was clear that the infection was far more widespread than anyone had dared to believe. The screens on the far wall were splashed with images of rapidly escalating violence and destruction, as cars and storefronts burned and police lights strobed across sidewalks littered with jagged seas of broken glass. At this rate, Chicago would be a quagmire of cannibalistic madness before the day was up. How was that for change you could believe in?
"Mayor Harrison is on his way." The President announced. "This is your show Jack; how much do you think we should tell him when he gets here?"
Jack Cleveland, the boyish, clean-shaven Director of Special Operations clicked his pen thoughtfully. "Well, we need to consider the obvious implications of bringing another person into the loop on this, Mr. President. He'll have to sign an A-1-A Protocol swearing him to secrecy before we can divulge any information. I gave my men on the ground authorization to tell him whatever was necessary if it would help to get him on that helicopter, so he should probably sign the protocol the second he gets here."
The President nodded, looking around the table at his assembled staff. "Does anybody have anything to add?"
The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs chimed in then; "Mr. President, I would recommend raising the defense readiness condition of our Armed Forces. Should this contagion spread further and potentially become a nationwide epidemic, then we don't want any, uh outside influences taking advantage of our potentially weakened state."
"Ah, the last thing we need now is to start a confrontation, General." The President warned. "We have enough going on in our farmyard as it is."
"I understand that, Mr. President." The Chairman assured him. "However, we have our interests in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz to think about, not to mention our commitment to our allies in the Middle East and the Korean Peninsula. If the United States is seen to be in a vulnerable position, then-"
"That'll be enough for now General, thank you." The President said, amputating the Chairman's discourse and turning to the Secretary of State. "Hillary, what's the situation with regards to the rest of the world? How much do they know?"
"Ambassador Yesui has been trying to get in touch repeatedly," The Secretary of State said, clacking her fingernails against the table surface. "Beijing's demanding to know what's going on, and whether what they suspect is true. Foreign Secretary Hague has also been on the phone – he says MI6 has 'credible evidence' that an outbreak is occurring on American soil, and London would like to know what steps are being taken to counter it."
The President nodded, reviewing the notes laid out before him. They faced an interesting quandary. The virus that was currently festering on American soil posed a unique threat to security of every nation on the planet. With that in mind, there was always a chance, no matter how small, of a world power taking 'desperate measures' to protect themselves from an outbreak on foreign soil before it could spread to their own country. The stark truth was that most of the nuclear-armed powers would rather go to war with the United States than risk having an outbreak occur within their country's borders. For that reason, there was always a possibility that if this outbreak continued to spread, they would see it 'cured' by the medicinal properties of a few Russian or Chinese ICBMs.
For that reason, the rest of world needed to know that America was fully committed to destroying this infection. Raising the DEFCON level would help the US to prepare for any hostile action, no matter how small the possibility of such an occurrence might be.
"General, instruct NORAD and each of the Combatant Commands to elevate their alert level to DEFCON four. Make sure the Fifth Fleet and the Seventh Fleet are prepared for any eventuality. I want to stress that this is simply a precautionary measure, people. Nobody is looking to start a confrontation, especially not now." The President turned to the Secretary of Homeland Security. "Janet, have the National Advisory System placed on high alert; we need to keep the public informed about what's going on, and what steps they can take to protect themselves."
"Mr. President, bear in mind that we can only tell the public so much-"Jack Cleveland began.
"I'm aware of that, Jack." The President said. "But we can still tell people in Chicago about the basic precautions they can take to defend themselves and their families. We owe them that much, at least. Now, I need to contact Premier Jiabao and Prime Minister Cameron, so unless anyone has anything else to add, I suggest we take a short recess and reconvene at 3pm. Jack, I want a direct line to Oakbrook Park set up for when we return."
"Yes, Mr. President."
As the cabinet dispersed, the President briefly flipped through his notes again. The riot cover story was the best one they had so far, but it wouldn't hold for long. Soon the media would begin prying at every facet of it, like the ocean trying to find some way to breach the hull of a rowing boat. They had to stamp the virus out, eradicate it, and scorch it away if necessary; just so long as the truth stayed where it was supposed to be; locked up.
After all, it was for the good of the country.
Mike Bowman had always been something of an opportunist. To him, the secret of success was to seize the moment and twist it to whatever purpose currently suited him. And now, sat in the back of a blue Ferrari 456 on this rainy September afternoon, he found himself in a whole land of opportunity. He had seen the news reports when he flicked the tube on this morning, everyone had. Rumor was that half the PD had been diverted to Morgan Park and the other affected neighborhoods, leaving the force at only half of its usual strength in the rest of the city. When Mike had heard, his heart had literally jumped for joy in his chest. They had been planning to do this sometime around December 1, but with the cops distracted elsewhere, this was too good an opportunity for them to miss; it was as if the Big Guy himself was trying to lend them a celestial hand.
"We ready to go, Mike?" Wade Johnson - formerly Lance Corporal Wade Johnson, US Marine Corps. The brass kicked his ass right back to the States after he accidentally shot up a bunch of people in Helmand or whatever the fuck it was. Mike had been in need of someone with his 'expertise' when it came to being under fire, and had offered him a placed amongst his 'crew' almost immediately after they had been introduced.
Mike checked his watch. It was 3:30pm. Overhead, huge, pregnant thunderclouds were lolling across the sky. "Chris, you ready?"
Chris Lucas nodded, a dusting of fine white powder around his nostrils. Chris was an ex-con who had done jail time for beating his ex-girlfriend's new boyfriend to within an inch of his life with a length of metal piping, leaving the dude with almost every limb in his body broken, not to mention temporary amnesia. Mike had a suspicion that Chris might be a little crazy, but he would never say it to his face, you could bet your ass on that. The final man in their happy quartet was Steve Pritchard, their getaway driver. Not the sharpest tool in the box, but he knew how to put his foot down. Right now, he was staring out of the windshield with his hands gripping the steering wheel hard enough to make the veins around his knuckles pop out, running down his arms like power lines thrumming with electricity. Originally, there were supposed to be five of them; the fifth dude had gone and got himself checked into County General with a suspected heroin overdose. No matter; they could do this without him. It'd be like taking candy from a baby.
Leaning forward, Mike grabbed the gym bag that lay at his feet, grunting with the strain as he hauled it onto his knees. As Wade and Chris twisted around in their seats to watch, Mike unzipped the bag and hauled out five kilograms of burnished wood and winking chrome.
"Whoa," Wade remarked as the weapon was revealed; a gas-operated, fully automatic Kalashnikov rifle.
Mike laid the AK-47 across the empty seat beside him, and reached into the bag again, drawing out a second Kalashnikov and a SPAS-12 pump-action shotgun. Chris and Wade took their weapons like kids receiving presents on Christmas morning. Next came the gloves and the balaclavas; they didn't want to leave prints everywhere for the CSI teams to collect, and they certainly didn't want any witnesses describing their appearances to the cops.
"Remember guys," Mike said, flicking the safety off his Kalashnikov. "We don't want anybody dead if we can help it, but if someone gets in your way, don't hesitate to make an example of 'em. Got that?"
Chris and Wade nodded enthusiastically, eager to get moving.
"Steve, keep the car running," Mike instructed. "The second we're in, fucking floor it. Don't stop for anything."
Mike waited until the street was clear of foot traffic, and then stepped out of the Ferrari, putting the now empty gym bag over his shoulder and stowing the Kalashnikov under his coat. Wade and Chris joined him at his side, and together they stalked up the marble steps that led inside the First Bank of Chicago. The three men had approximately one-thousand rounds of ammunition between them. If this went as quickly and cleanly as Mike hoped it would, they would have no need for any of it.
Inside, the bank was fairly busy. There was a small queue waiting at the tellers windows at the far end of the room, while off to one side a woman in a shrieking-yellow dress was using the ATM machine. At one of the tellers windows, some loudmouth was complaining about money not being wired into his account. Boy, would he have something to complain about by the time this was over. Mike counted about twenty five heads in total, including the tellers behind their windows. They were outnumbered, but they sure as hell weren't outgunned.
"Alright fuckers, nobody move!" Mike cried. God, how many times had he lain awake at night running over those words in his head like a Shakespearean actor rehearsing for his soliloquy? How many times looking in the bathroom mirror, trying to get the pitch and tone just right? And now, the words spilled from his mouth, reverberating with intimidation as they echoed around the bank.
Nice, Mike thought. Very nice.
Across the room, heads turned and necks craned as people turned with interest to this surprising intrusion into their normal, daily lives. Seconds later, that interest turned to fear. A few people screamed with alarm, but most stayed rooted to the spot as their fear held them immobile, like a great invisible weight pressing down on them. To his credit, the security guard nearest to the door was pretty quick off the mark. His pistol was already out of its holster, while his other hand was halfway to the radio clipped to his chest. Unfortunately for him, Wade Johnson was faster.
"Don't even think about it." The former marine said, practically shoving the barrel of his SPAS-12 up the security guard's nose. "Put that thing on the ground and slide it across to me before someone gets hurt. And by someone, I fuckin' mean you."
The pistol was lowered cautiously to the ground, the guard handling it like an unexploded frag mine that could get him killed at any moment. With a gentle push, the pistol skated across the marble floor and came to a sudden stop under Wade Johnson's foot. Meanwhile, Mike and Chris stormed up to the tellers windows, driving the crowd off to either side like icebreakers moving through the Arctic ice fields. There was an unremarkable wooden door separating the tellers section from the rest of the bank. Mike knew that in reality, it was reinforced with several inches of solid steel, and totally impenetrable to gunfire. Brute force wouldn't give them access to the vault, so a little coercion was required.
"Open the door." Mike said, pointing his AK-47 at the scared face behind one of the windows, before quickly realizing the futility of such an effort. That shit would be totally bulletproof.
Fine - new strategy.
Mike grabbed the nearest person he could reach, hauling them up to the window and shoving the Kalashnikov's barrel under the man's oddly swollen throat. Mike's bargaining chip emitted a guttural, phlegmy gluh sound, and struggled weakly to get away. Mike was having none of it.
"You ever seen a person's head explode, ma'am?" He asked the teller behind the window. "It's not pretty, I can tell you. You open that door right now, or I'm gonna redecorate this whole fucking ceiling, understand?"
The frightened teller scrambled to the door, fumbling with a magnetic swipe card around her neck. She passed it through a card reader beside the window, and with a brief burring noise, the door unlocked. With the hostage's purpose fulfilled, Mike shoved him against the nearest wall, and kicked the door fully open.
"Get on the ground! Get on the fucking ground!"
Nobody was dumb enough to argue. In the customer area, Chris and Wade gestured with their weapons, and in the space of seconds, the banks inhabitants were face down on the cold marble surface, hands laced behind their heads.
"Where's the fucking manager?" Mike demanded, panting with adrenaline. Everything was going according to plan for now, assuming none of these bastards had triggered a silent alarm or something. To get to the next stage, they needed the person in charge. "Are you fuckers deaf, where's the goddam manager?"
"Okay, okay!" A man in a dark suit cried, climbing to his feet with his arms raised in surrender. "I'm the manager; just don't shoot!"
"Okay - Chris, take this dude down to the vault." Mike said, tossing the gym bag to his lackey. "Get everything you can fit in there. Wade and I will watch the kids."
As Chris and the manager descended the stairs, Mike distinctly heard the ex-con say; "You so much as twitch and I'll blow your head off."
Mike smiled - this was shaping up to be sort of fun. All they needed now was for the manager to open the vault. Then they would bag the cash and split. On the TV above the tellers windows, somebody had torched a car at the intersection of Illinois and LaSalle, and now coils of black smoke were unfurling into the sky as firefighters unloaded their equipment, and cops stood close at hand, speaking into radios and directing traffic. The scene was only a few blocks from here, and the realization caused the easy grin plastered on Mike Bowman's face to falter, and his expression darkened, like a bank of cloud passing over the face of the moon.
For the first time, Mike began to wonder whether these riots could end up being more of a hindrance than a help.
Meanwhile, Chris followed the bank manager down into the vault, keeping his Kalashnikov leveled at the man's lower back all the way. Their footfalls echoed hollowly as they descended the stairs, and apart from the manager's nervous breathing, all was silent. In spite of that, alarm bells were going off in Chris's head, and it wasn't just because of the coke. Something down here had put his hackles up.
They descended the last flight of steps and were in the bank's cellar. The vault door, a circular steel behemoth with a heart of concrete, was at the opposite end of the room. Chris wetted his lips in anticipation; behind that door lay heaps of cash, most of it probably stored in safety deposit boxes.
"Get the door open." Chris said, cutting off the manager's babbling flow of bullshit.
"Haven't you been listening to a word I've been saying?" The manager asked. He had hit the nail right on the head; Chris had been too busy thinking about how rich he was about to become to listen to anything the man might have had been saying. "The vaults on a time lock, I can't open it."
"What the fuck is it doing on a time lock in the middle of the day?" Chris asked, frowning.
"The riots," The manager said simply, his eyes switching from Chris's AK-47 to his increasingly fiery eyes. "W-we were closing the bank early…because of the riots, you know…we were just getting ready to ask everyone to leave when you-"
"How long until it opens?"
"It's set to unlock again at 6:00am tomorrow," The manager stuttered. "Until then I can't…"
During the course of his parade of half-assed excuses, the manager's watery eyes had strayed to a point just over Chris's burly left shoulder. They widened slightly, in recognition and surprise. Chris turned with a snarl, already raising the Kalashnikov.
"Freeze, don't move!" The security guard barked as his pistol aimed directly at Chris. When he saw that the raider had no intention of obeying this order, the guard fired, and a 9mm bullet punched through the raider's right shoulder.
Chris's finger convulsed over the AK's trigger, and the Russian rifle hosed the entire wall down with bullets. The guard fell, his pistol dropping from his nerveless fingers as the bullet holes stitched their way across his chest. Faint wings of smoke drifted through the air as the last empty shell hit the ground with a meaningless clatter.
Chris put a hand to his burning shoulder, feeling warmth spilling through his fingers. His shoulder had been torn open from the clavicle to his upper arm, and was now gushing profusely.
"Oh my…God." The manager was saying, his eyes the size of dinner plates. His mouth worked like that of a cow chewing grass, but no further sound came out.
Chris stumbled over to the security guard's corpse, his face frozen in the same horrific mask of rage and hate that he had worn the day bludgeoned his ex-wife's boyfriend. He hefted the Kalashnikov again, and fired another burst into the dead man's stomach.
Fucker shot me, he thought as his head reeled and his shoulder bellowed. How'd you like this, fucker?
The barrel of the Kalashnikov rose until it was pointing directly between the dead man's glazing eyes. As he tightened his grip on the trigger, intending to deliver another futile volley of fury upon the man's corpse, it happened. The security guard's eyes, resting on a point just to the left of Chris's feet, rolled upwards like marbles until they were staring him directly in the face. The man's mouth opened, allowing a treacle-like gush of blood to spatter across his uniform and the surrounding floor. Chris stumbled back, his own mouth hanging slightly agape in response.
With a sound like dead leaves slithering over a forest floor, the guard's legs began to shift. His hands began to clench and unclench threateningly, as his entire body twitched and jerked like a long-dead machine now rumbling back to life. But that was impossible; he had riddled the guy with over twenty bullets. He should have been dead as a fucking dodo.
Confronted by the impossible, Chris dealt with it the only way he knew how. The Kalashnikov roared as its magazine was emptied, and the bullets tore their way from the guard's stomach right up to his throat. Blood flew, spattering the legs of Chris's trousers until the weapon's roar finally died.
When it did, he rested the AK-47 against his shoulder, with the barrel pointing at the ceiling. His chest heaved as he panted heavily, grinning like the skull of a dead cow in the sun-bleached desert. That was that dealt with; now for the-
With a scream, the guard launched himself from the ground. His hands fell on both of Chris' shoulders, and the grin was - quite literally - torn from his face.
Upstairs, Mike heard the shooting clearly. Unfortunately, he had his own shit going on right now.
The bargaining chip- the man whose head Mike had threatened to blow off unless the door was opened-appeared to be dying. He lay slumped on the floor, clutching his chest and wheezing heavily. Every now and then a weak cough tore loose from his swollen throat.
"What's wrong with him?" Someone asked.
Mike shot them a look that clearly said 'mind your own fucking business'. In all honesty, he had no idea what was wrong with the guy, and the only real explanation seemed to be that he was having some kind of heart attack, brought on by the stress of the situation. And what the hell was going on downstairs? Chris must have run into extra security; Mike hoped he'd deal with them quick, because they needed to get out of here as soon as possible.
The man gave a bellowing sneeze, spattering the floor with flecks of snot and blood. Mike drew back, his lip curled in disgust, as the man clutched his head as though the expulsion of mucus had pained him. His leg kicked out in a jarring spasm, and he fell still. Silence descended, and Mike's brain slowly began to comprehend what had happened.
Wade was still covering the security guard near the entrance with his shotgun. "Is he…?"
"I think so." Mike slowly approached the motionless man, poking him in the arm with the AK-47's barrel. Reluctantly, he went down on one knee and pressed two fingers against the man's neck, searching for a pulse. He found none.
Downstairs, another burst of gunfire rang out. Mike swore under his breath and stood up, turning his back on the dead man's corpse. What the fuck was Chris getting into down there?
"Mike, what do we do, man?" Wade asked.
Mike opened his mouth, about to tell Wade to shut up and let him think, when the door that led down to the vault slammed open. It was the manager, in full flight with his tie flapping over his shoulder as though it was waving a sarcastic goodbye to their pursuer.
"Hey, where the fuck are you going?" Mike bellowed.
The manager stopped dead in his tracks, his head flitting from the door to the barrel of Mike's gun.
"Your guy – the guard – dead –" The manager began, speaking in fractured, disjointed sentences. Mike couldn't make out a word the guy was saying, never mind trying to piece it together into something that made sense. Then the door, which had been gently swinging back towards its jamb, was flung open again, this time hard enough for it to slam against the wall with a hollow boom. Chris emerged from the shadows of the doorway, his shirt stained with blood. To Mike's stunned eyes, it looked as though half of his face had been ripped away, revealing the glistening bone and cartilage beyond. The sinewy fibers holding Chris's jaw together flexed as what remained of his mouth opened, emitting a hoarse shriek that stung Mike's ears.
"Chris, what's going on?" He asked, stunned.
Mike's accomplice bolted from the doorway, closing the distance between the two of them with ease. Behind him, a second man in a security guard's uniform had spilled from the shadows, lunging across the marble floor with an almost ape-like gait. Chris cannonballed in Mike's direction like an out of control locomotive, his hands hooked into claws. At that moment, Mike did the only thing he could think of; he slugged Chris in the face with the butt of his rifle, sending his accomplice staggering back.
"Chris, you dumb crazy bastard," He growled. "What the fuck do you think you're-?"
Chris lunged forward again, and his ragged jaw clinched down on Mike's shoulder. Blood spurted, and a red veil of pain descended over Mike's vision as Chris whipped his head from side to side, trying to pull a chunk of Mike's flesh away. Mike's Kalashnikov, its barrel sticking into Chris's gut, began to roar, expelling the man's innards from the holes it tore in his back. Chris pulled his head away from Mike's shoulder, taking a chunk of flesh with it. Mike watched, dazed by excruciating pain compounded with overwhelming horror as the chunk of flesh disappeared down Chris's throat.
With one hand clapped to his bleeding shoulder, Mike raised the Kalashnikov again and fired, stumbling back as the force of the recoil hit him like a punch to the arm. For Chris Lucas, it was as though some sinister prankster had placed an M80 firecracker somewhere in his skull. His head caught the full force of the volley of bullets, and Mike stayed on his feet just long enough to see Chris tumble to the ground. Then he too went down, the pain in his shoulder flaring, ripping through him like gigantic shards of glass.
A pair of hands grabbed him before his head could make contact with the floor. Wade.
"Mike, we need to get the fuck outta here."
"No," Mike grabbed Wade by the front of his shirt, vaguely aware of the bloody handprint he left behind on the fabric. "The vault…the money…"
"Dude, fuck the money," Wade said, his voice breaking slightly. "If we don't get outta here now, we ain't never gonna make it."
Mike straightened up, doing his best to ignore the shriek of pain from his shoulder. He only needed to cast a brief glance around the bank to be aware of the chaos that was unfurling. People were running for the door; the bank's alarm was clanging away; the whole place was a mess, and it was only a matter of time before the cops came calling, riot or no riot.
And we could have been so fucking rich.
"Go, go!" Mike said hoarsely.
The two robbers darted across the lobby, pushing their way through the escaping hostages. Out of the corner of his eye, Mike saw that the security guard had pulled somebody to the ground and had his face buried in the man's neck whilst another man tore at his arm. Mike looked away, repulsed, when it became clear that the limb's days of being attached in its socket were grievously numbered.
Better him than me.
Out the doors they went, into the street where rain was still pouring from the steel sky. In spite of the insistent whooping of the bank's alarm system, Mike could hear sirens rising and falling in the distance. Whether they were racing in this direction or not, he had no idea. They reached the rain-washed sidewalk and Mike's eyes darted up and down the street, searching for the blue Ferrari. Where was it? If Steve had fucking run out on them, Mike was going to personally cut his -
Two horn blasts interrupted Mike's angry thoughts, and he saw the Ferrari parked across the street. Steve was hanging half in and half out of the window, gesturing for them to get a move on. With a final glance back at the bank, Mike tore across the street, ignoring the shocks glances and occasional screams that the AK-47 in his hand earned him.
"What the fuck happened in there?" Steve asked as Mike opened the door and slipped back inside. "Where's Chris?"
"Dead. Now drive."
Steve was practical enough not to ask any more questions. As soon as Wade slammed the door shut he threw the car into gear and they roared down the street, paying no heed to the red traffic lights at the intersection. As they passed the bank, Mike noticed a familiar face amongst the throng that was scattering out from the bank in all directions, like grain being sowed across a field. It was the man with the swollen throat, the one who had keeled over and died right in front of him. Being dead didn't seem to bother the guy much, and it certainly wasn't stopping him from tackling people to the ground and tearing their throats out.
Mike tore his balaclava off and flung it onto the floor whilst he inspected the wound that Chris inflicted upon his shoulder. It was fucking bad, alright. Blood was cascading down his arm and smearing over the Ferrari's leather seats.
"Mike, I…Jesus, are you bleeding?"
"Just shut up and drive the goddam car, Steve." Mike growled, coughing as he pulled his jacket off and then began to rip the sleeve of his shirt. He ineptly tied it around his shoulder in a makeshift tourniquet, in the hope that this would at least slow the bleeding. Within seconds, crimson blood roses had begun to bloom across the white fabric. Still, it would have to do for now.
Mike leaned back and closed his eyes, listening to the roar of the Ferrari's five-liter engine. Just what the fuck had happened back there anyway? Chris had finally snapped; there was no doubt about that. Mike knew that taking him on had been a huge mistake. But what the hell had been wrong with him? And what about that other guard? And that guy? What had happened in there?
"What do we do now, man?" Wade asked cautiously.
"We go back to the apartment and think this shit over," Mike said after a long pause. He sneezed into his hand and wiped it nonchalantly on the seat beside him. "If that fucker gave me rabies…"
"Are either of you gonna explain just what the fuck happened in there?" Steve asked. "One second I'm sitting here and everything's rosy, next thing I know people are running, and shit man, just where the fuck is Chris?"
"Dead," Mike said coolly, as he inspected his bandage. "He went crazy. I always knew he was a fucking screwball. He bit me like some crazy ass dog or something; I had to shoot him."
"Oh my God."
Mike thumped the armrest in anger at this shitty situation they found themselves in. "We coulda been set for life, guys." He said despairingly.
Had Mike Bowman known just how shitty his situation really was, he likely would have put a bullet in his head right there and then. Unfortunately for those involved in the events that would unfurl over the next few minutes, that didn't happen.
At the wheel, Steve swerved to avoid a stalled car, and then coasted the Ferrari back into the correct lane to dodge a passing ambulance. He revved the speedometer needle up slightly, feeling himself being pushed back into his seat and fixing his eyes on the intersection ahead. The traffic light on the corner pulsed yellow, then red. Steve kept her going; by all indications, the intersection was clear, and there were no cop cars to be seen. Getting away from the scene of the failed crime was the most important thing right now. Once Steve had done his job, it would be up to Mike to get them out of this fix they were in. Steve was just going to tell him straight; Mike, he would say, if you don't find a way to -
"Steve, watch out!"
Caught up in his thoughts, Steve had left his hands and eyes on autopilot. So he never saw the other car as it swept out from behind the fast food joint on the left. In spite of a hastily slammed brake pedal, the blue Ferrari sideswiped the little grey Pontiac and sent it careening across the street, moving in an almost graceful semicircle as it mounted the sidewalk and rolled onto its side, the passenger side door and everything in front of it resembling a crumpled beer can. The Ferrari itself smashed through two newspaper vending boxes before crashing into one of the steel girders that supported the passing 'L' train line up above. The three men inside were flung forward in their seats, having neglected to fasten their belts. In the brief seconds of disorientation that occur during such an incident, they felt almost weightless, like astronauts hovering around the International Space Station. Then Steve's nose made contact with the steering wheel, producing a sickening crunch. Blood the consistency of watery ketchup pattered across the windshield. The Pontiac meanwhile, came to rest on its roof, wheels still spinning futilely in the air. After a moment, the engines on both cars died, and the only sound was the constant drumming of the rain and the tick of the Pontiac's cooling engine.
At the same time, NORAD and each of the major US Combatant Commands went to DEFCON 4.
Mike Bowman extricated his face from the headrest in front of him and leaned back, rubbing his aching forehead.
With a string of slurred curses, Wade managed to twist around in his seat and thump Steve on the shoulder. The driver groaned, blood flowing freely from his nose as he pulled his head away from the wheel.
"Nice work dumbass," Wade growled, baring his teeth like a dog. "Real good driving, really fucking-"
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," Steve moaned, cupping his bleeding nose. "I didn't see him, how was I supposed to-"
"Oh just fucking shut up, both of you!" Mike snarled from the back seat. "We'll just have to hoof it. Let's find somewhere to ditch these guns before the cops show up."
Mike pushed the door open and stepped out, his head swirling. He staggered around the back of the car, leaning on the trunk to keep his balance as the world threatened to fall away and leave him plunging into the abyss of unconsciousness. A slow, steady thumping was emerging from the Pontiac, making a sound like an angry creature trying to escape from a tin can.
"S-should we help them?" Steve asked, holding a tissue to his nose.
Mike shot him a dark look. "I said shut the fuck up, Steve. C'mon, it's this way."
As the three men trotted past the upended Pontiac, the passenger door fell off with an almighty clang. A man crawled from the wreck, bleeding from a cut on his temple, with an assault rifle dangling from a strap over his shoulder. As he straightened up and regarded them with confusion, Mike's eyes fell to the man's blue uniform and the badge on his chest.
Cops, he thought dazedly.
"Hey, are you guys…whoa, whoa!" The cop half fell, half threw himself to the ground as Mike's AK-47 began spitting bullets at him. The rounds strafed across the storefront behind the upturned Pontiac, sending chips of concrete flying, and shattering a large display window in a cascade of glass chips. Steve and Wade dived for cover, fumbling with their own weapons as Mike backed away, reloading his Kalashnikov with one of the extra magazines in his belt.
Meanwhile, the cop had rolled behind a red fire hydrant and was slamming his assault rifle into the socket of his shoulder and taking aim. The first burst riddled the parked car off to Mike's left, and the second one blew by close enough to make the hem of his jacket twitch and flutter in the wind. Mike slammed the next magazine home and was firing away before he had even aimed properly. He was aware of other people crawling from the crashed Pontiac, running for cover like civilians trying to escape a warzone. A doctor and an old man who shoved him to the ground when a burst of gunfire rang out; a young black couple; a woman in a nurse's uniform...it was the most bizarre police crew Mike had ever seen in his life.
A second cop popped up from behind the car, a shotgun in both hands. He began firing and pumping the action as fast as he could, letting the shotgun bark away. Mike dived behind the parked car and hoisted the AK-47 up over the hood, firing blindly across the street. Beside him, Steve popped another clip into the Uzi had he kept stored in the Ferrari's glove box, and stood up, trying to get a clear shot at the cops behind the Pontiac. He made the mistake of not waiting until the cops were reloading, and it cost him his life. The pig with the assault rifle saw his head the moment it appeared, and opened fire without hesitation. Mike was reloading his AK again when his getaway driver crashed to the ground in front of him, one of his eyes blown out through the back of his head.
Steve, you useless fucking idiot.
"What do we do?" Wade shouted, leaning down beside him as bullets whizzed over their heads.
Mike shook his head. He had planned to rob a bank and get the fuck out of there without firing a single shot, not get embroiled in a shootout with two heavily armed motherfuckers.
"Let's charge 'em!" He shouted wildly. "We can take these fuckers!"
Wade nodded fiercely. "I'm right behind you, boss!"
The gunfire had fallen silent. Mike risked a glance over the trunk of the car to where the grey Pontiac lay on the other side of the street. The two cops had disappeared; no doubt taking cover behind the overturned vehicle. It was now or never.
Mike vaulted over the car's trunk, blasting away with his Kalashnikov, whilst Wade ran around the hood, pumping and firing his shotgun as quickly as possible. The Pontiac was no longer a car, but rather a block of Swiss cheese that somebody had painted grey. The tires hung in sad, ragged flaps.
Wade made it around one side of the vehicle, and then the assault rifle the first cop had been carrying came sailing through the air and struck him square in the mouth. He staggered back, and the cop shot up like jack from his box, now firing a police-issue pistol in Wade's direction. The first shot went over his shoulder, and the second one dug a furrow through the side of Wade's left forearm. He went down on one knee, clutching his arm as though he had received a particularly painful sting from an angry hornet. He grabbed for his shotgun again, trying to get it into a firing position, and that was when the second cop popped up and gave him the barrel from his own shotgun.
Mike had thrown himself behind the Pontiac, and was reloading yet again. This was it; he was on his own. He was about to fling himself around the car and start blasting away, when something inside caught his eye. There was an unconscious, or more likely dead man still strapped in, now hanging upside down from his seat belt. Even through the starred glass, Mike recognized the sallow face and black, oily hair.
Suddenly, the cop was staring at him through the other window. Mike jerked back as the bullets came bursting through, ricocheting off the street and the car's steel frame. He jumped to his feet, coming face to face with the shotgun-wielding cop.
"Drop your weapon!"
The gunfire exploded again, rippling up and down the street. To anyone in the distance, it would have sounded as though some frantic July 4 celebration was taking place. The cop went down first, clutching his side as the bullet tore through the flesh there. Mike moved around the car, intending to stamp the man out once and for all, like the annoying little bug he was.
"Freeze," A calm voice called from behind him. "Don't move."
At some point, the other cop had outflanked him. Mike bared his teeth, his face convulsing into an angry snarl. He twisted around with a speed that surprised even himself, the barrel of his Kalashnikov spinning through the air as it turned to face its target. No matter how fast he was however, the cop was ready. The first bullet took Mike in the lower stomach; the second one hit only a matter of inches away from the first. He staggered back, twisting and flailing madly, before hitting the concrete with a bone-jarring thud. The Kalashnikov soared through the air and clattered to the ground just out of arm's reach.
Mike had barely made contact with the ground before his hand was going for the holster on his thigh.
The cop saw what he intended to do, and pulled the trigger of his own pistol immediately, producing nothing but a dry click.
Empty. In that sliver of a second, Mike Bowman saw his chance, and took it.
The cop popped the empty magazine from his handgun and grabbed another one out of his belt. At the same time, Mike was drawing his Desert Eagle from its holster, fully loaded with .50 caliber bullets. In a second, Mr. Cop would resemble something from a Jackson Pollock painting.
The cop slammed his magazine home just as Mike raised the Desert Eagle and fired.
The safety's on. He thought numbly.
THE FUCKING SAFETY IS STILL -
The rest of his thoughts were drowned out by the thudding explosions from the barrel of the cop's gun. Mike Bowman died with a snarl frozen on his face, the Desert Eagle falling from his stiffening hand as his mind slipped off the mortal coil, and the rain washed the streets clean of his tainted blood.
Tom lowered the Glock, breathing hard. The rain had plastered his hair over his eyes, and he swiped it out of the way impatiently, trotting back around the Pontiac - try driving that thing now, ha - to where Joe leaned against the brick storefront, clutching his side. There was blood leaking between his fingers, but not a lot of it.
"J-Joe?" He asked shakily.
"I'm okay," Joe gritted his teeth as he got to his feet. "He just winged me. Hurts like a bitch, though."
"Walk it off." Tom said, smiling in spite of himself. His whole body was flushed with adrenaline. He felt like he could have done the Tour de France and barely broken a sweat. "Who the hell were-?"
The rest of his sentence was drowned out by a loud cry for help. It was the old man, George. He was crouching over the prone body of a woman in purple scrubs on the sidewalk just down the street. Tom felt the adrenaline in his body flush away as though somebody had pulled a plug somewhere inside of him. It was replaced by abject horror.
Joe's face had gone paper white. Forget the zombies, with their pale, hungry eyes and grasping hands; forget the soldiers, stormtroopers with whatever ounces of humanity or compassion they might possess hidden away behind latex gas masks. The look of abject terror on his friend's face was one of the most terrible things Tom Everett had ever seen. Joe bolted down the street before Tom could even open his mouth, calling his fiancee's name over and over and over.
Jesus Christ, Tom thought as he sprinted after him. Overhead the first hammerfall of thunder boomed across the sky. When's this going to end?
A.N. Thanks to everybody who's read, reviewed, subscribed, etc; And thanks to Rhoades for taking the time to read through this for me.