Beamos’s Gold part 30
The Sawbird Gang stages a brutal raid.
A minute later, twigs popped off in the dark. I scrambled to get to my rifle. Shirtless, I stood in the shadows beside our two prisoners, shushed them then feigned slicing my throat with my Bowie soas they knew I meant business.
Little Bit drew her two forties and had those black pistols ready to point shoot into the night. Nothing rustled for another few seconds.
“Hems that worship the flesh will reap the wrath of the Almighty!” Bonehead’s voice sounded out of the dark into our gulch. Vexed, I watched him push his gaudy cycle into our little campfire light. Grinning Hopper Leap came next and then stone-cold Tee.
I stood straight from my battle stance and watched the rest of them push their cycles into our camp. “You stole my bible, you pilferer punk.”
“Ious waz commanded by th’Almighty to lib-rate th’sacred text from yous pro-fane hands.” Bonehead pointed at the sky and then at me.
“Yeah, well, you go ahead and keep it, outlaw. I wouldn’t want a book back any more than I’d want a cycle back if you had possession.”
“Enough!” Tee hollered. He spoke what his coppery eyes had been demanding to know since he walked into our firelight. “You were on her back all this time?”
“It’s not our fault we’re late,” Little Bit answered for me. “We got knocked down a mountain by a landslide last evening. Beamo saved my life.” Her tone settled Tee a fraction.
“The go-juice is on the trailer right there,” I blustered back at him.
“Wat’er hems doing ov’ here?” Sass bent down to look at our two prisoners and the dispatched Mutant Angel. “Hems gots a sorry shade to ‘ems.”
“Gather around, outlaws and goons, I’ve got a story to tell.” It took a minute to get them all in earshot. Tee wanted to interrogate us, but I made what I had to say the priority. At the end they were even more shocked than I was at finding out the Dezret nation stood conquered by the Mutant Angels. Major Kaim didn’t believe it, but after I pointed out the MA rune tattoo on the hand of our lip-sucker prisoner’s amputated forearm, the reality made him go grey-faced.
Tee rubbed his chin and got that glint in his eyes like he was working on a difficult chess game. No wind or animal noises in the night. One at a time, the outlaws started filling their tanks with go-juice. The others waiting milled around like they wanted someone to lead them back to the Zarks. This made me consider making my play to take over, but Tee finally said, “We need more trade goods and coin and fuel. You used all the silver you had, right?”
“Yeah, I spent it all today,” Little Bit answered.
“We’re going to hit that Dezret joint. Tonight. Those worms aren’t allies to the people anymore; they’re just scab-thrawls for the exploiters. You all up for a job? The Sawbird Gang is going to get paid! We ride!” Tee raised his rifle and a fist as the outlaws screamed and whooped.
Major Kaim tried to speak against it but the outlaws drowned him out. Not sure they really needed to hit the place for supplies, but Tee judged the outlaws had to go on the offense after hearing that news.
An hour later we attacked the trading post from three directions. Tee didn’t bother to consult me on the layout. As we quietly pushed our cycles up to the electriky-generator-lit main building, he was able to see everything he needed to improvise the assault.
Little Bit and me followed Hopper and Bo-Rat around to the back. We managed to catch a glimpse of Killa Milla and Arvey the hogman stuffed into a sidecar attached to the Jack’s cycle. They skillfully slipped away over a short wood-plank bridge and then up into the darkness of a rough trail.
With our guns pointing, we got the drop on a small crowd of seven or eight trying to escape out the back door and several back windows. They didn’t put down their single-shot, bolt-action rifles right away but didn’t brandish them at us. Fierce bursts of exchanging gunfire erupted on the two upper floors. By the time we backed our small crowd into the main dining hall, the firefight was over. Even though they outnumbered us by over two to one, the fifty or so Saints decided to drop their second-rate weapons and go to their knees with their hands on the head. Had it been a year ago before their defeat at the hands of the Mutant Angels, they would have fought hard with their first-rate weapons. Something happens to a people after being conquered besides just the downgrade of their self-defense tools. Honor flies off to the Mansion in the Sky and all that is left is a clawing desire to live on at any cost.
Joro and Khoro hung by the neck the three writhing, gut-shot Mutant Angels on one of the mammoth tusks mounted on the wall. On the other side of the doorway to the stairs, Bonehead and Sass tied rope to the belts of my two sad-faced ruffians with bandaged stumps and raised them onto the other mammoth tusk. Tee barked orders at the prisoners to surrender up their valuables or get whacked on the spot. Major Kaim gave his hardest glare at these proceedings.
I scanned the balcony on the third floor and saw the two bullet-riddled female bodies. One of the Mutant Angels had tried to use the bawdy-girls as human shields. Probably would have worked with the Saints, but the Sawbird Gang outlaws shot right through the poor girls without any hesitation.
Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed the barman trying to slip into the back. I followed, Little Bit right behind. He was reaching around a wooden prep table with a meat slicer to pick up a squad machine gun with a high capacity magazine. I put my Bowie to his neck and he froze in place.
“I’m still waiting for my butter and honey, you lame prick.” Little Bit picked up some biscuits from a platter. She spread butter and honey on them, took some bites then crammed the leftovers into his face. “Poorest service I ever had.”
“Yeah, no tip.” I snatched the greasy towel he carried over his shoulder and tied it around his neck then led him out by it like a leash into the dining hall.
Tee pointed at the barman, “That’s the Big Man with the combo to the safe! Get him over here.”
After I served him up, the outlaws shoved him down then got him spread eagle on the wooden floor. He refused to give up the combo. Joro sat on his left arm. With a small, dull pocketknife, he sawed off the pinky, the ring finger, the middle finger, and then the pointy finger. At first the barman tried to hold it in but by the time the cruel outlaw got to his thumb, he was screaming. With his bloody hands, grinning Joro moved to hold down the barman’s right hand to do the same. The brutalized man spilled the combo then, shouted out for all to hear.
A mixed desire started welling up in me. It would be easy fitting in with these outlaws. What I would have despised before this jaunt seemed to fall into place as the natural order of things and felt exciting. Now it was Major Kaim who repulsed me. His snippy scrunch of a mouth made me vow right there to take action to prevent the fatal double-cross my former commander was conspiring for us. On the other side was the Saints being robbed. In their downcast faces showed the fact that they and their families were going to get harshly punished by the Mutant Angels. It reminded me of the social Darwinists in some books I read. Survival of the fittest. Dog eat dog. Outlawing isn’t right, but I admit now it is alluring when you’re young and strong and the world just doesn’t move fast enough for you.
Tee threw open the almost-bank-vault-sized safe door and the Sawbird Gang cleaned it out. After getting their fingers into each and every one of the Saints’ pockets, the outlaws herded their victims outside to watch their cycles get lit on fire. The following explosions chased their live mounts off into the dark night.
Some outlaws wanted to shoot all the prisoners and burn the whole place, but Bonehead finally got the upper hand and shouted the bloodlust down. As we tore out into the night, some of the Saints hidden in the outlying buildings and in the treeline started taking potshots. The sound of one fast-shooting gun stuck out, a lever action rifle, and I figured it was Killa Milla saying goodbye.
I led them up a narrowing trail at about thirty to forty-miles-an-hour. Strange, ugly scenery emerged in our red headlights. Blank barren areas followed by gnarled short trees and scrub under tall, burnt black tree trunks covered these foothills mile after mile. My solid sense of direction just about failed. I pressed on and finally found the crossroads that forked north.
Tee halted us. The outlaws’ faces had gone from wild-eyed to dread, mouths open and their necks constantly twisting to look behind us.
“Why yous wantin’ wese head northwest ‘sted of south?” Hopper Leap challenged my trailcraft for the first time. “Yous gonna make us waste five hundred round trip miles according to Tee’s map.”
“We need to get to the Highsters’ mountainside nation. Time to trick anybody trailing us. We’ll send a fuel tank south ahead of us two days before we make the final push. Once we get where we’re going, we can’t go back the way we came.” I swept my hand right at Major Kaim like he was to follow-up to say why. He didn’t give any response but everyone paying attention caught on to my gesture.
“We saw lights in the sky back there!” Smooth said. “Ther’a three orange lights up in the sky following us!”
“The ghosts are back!” someone spoke just loud enough for the rabble to hear. Several now pointed up to the southwest.
We watched the airborne trio change from orange to scarlet to blue as they glided over the mountains towards us. They grew larger and larger as they approached and slowed when they were almost over us. Each oval must have been three hundred feet in diameter. Way bigger than any phantasm I ever saw or heard about.
“Flying Machines! Spectacular! Those must be flying machines!” Major Kaim at first was jubilant but as the glowing discs passed overhead that look of despair in his face returned just like when he got off his cycle after his and Bonehead’s return from the FEMA death pit.
“He’s right, they must be aircraft, huh, Beamo?” Tee sounded not sure of himself as they accelerated away from us in an elliptical maneuver around a mountain.
“You expecting anybody coming down from the sky?” I asked back. He shot a look at me and knew I knew about his conspiracy with New Sing from Little Bit.
“I don’t hear any engine noise coming off them.” Little Bit’s voice had wonder in it.
Bonehead demanded, “So wat was hems, Beamo?” He looked at me, his eyes pleading for me not to answer the question he just asked. His fearless new faith had just tripped on those massive flying lights.
“I can’t say. Maybe they were flying tech goblins. The Mericans had developed sophisticated, self-flying machines they called drones right before their demise.”
“You don’t know much,” Tee said but he wasn’t looking at me. He was already peering up from the crossroads to the now moonlit trail ahead. “Thousand-year-old machines can’t lubricate themselves.” Tee’s quip only caused a few muffled laughs from the baffled outlaws.
“I know what I know,” I said back. “We’ll camp two hours ahead. There’s no water anywhere between here and the Highsters’ main village in the Blue Mountains so conserve what you’ve got. I had to take a drink from my canteen after saying that then shot off at a moderate pace.
The trail ahead was well worn but not as smooth as it had been five years back. I had them camp on a mesa top. The Cursed River was a tiny moon-glinting ribbon far, far down below the shear side of the vast gorge behind where we camped but there was no way to climb down to fetch water. Trekkers with broken-down vehicles regularly died of thirst looking down at the big whitewater river or went crazy and jumped the cliff. The outlaws and goons set about erecting their tents. After Hopper and Joro chopped down the nearby stunted trees, everyone gathered around the one good-sized campfire for the night.