River of night, p.36

River of Night, page 36

 part  #7 of  Black Tide Rising Series


River of Night

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  * * *

  When Marcus had charged forward, he’d left his Winchester off safe, which wasn’t a surprise considering the overall weapons handling skills of the Gleaners. But as a result, when the man fell he performed, without volition, a last, small but crucial action.

  The pain of the round hitting his chest caused his trigger finger to spasm, and his shotgun discharged one last round of buckshot.

  By equally sheer bloody bad luck, one of the unaimed pellets struck Paul right in his unarmored buttocks, burning like fire.

  “Well, shit,” he muttered. He tried moving experimentally, but he discovered that moving his right leg created stabbing pains that radiated from the deep muscle in his hips and ass all the way up his spine. Running away was going to be a problem.

  He tried to listen for Connor, for the teen’s voice rapidly faded.

  Most of the fire had fallen off. There apparently weren’t many of the Gleaners left to shoot, but a few rounds still snapped overhead or slapped into the trees around him. But a single shooter was enough in a situation like this one. Paul took a deep breath.

  “Emily!” he yelled. “Emily! Can you hear me?”

  “Yes!” Emily shouted back as she continued to trying to force a backwards magazine into the underside of her rifle.

  “I’m going to provide cover fire!” Paul yelled. “Don’t shoot. Get…” He fumbled for the boy’s name. “The kid next to you! Get his attention! When I start shooting, you grab him and Katrin and get the hell out of here. I’ll cover you!”

  “Okay!” Emily shouted, sounding almost relieved. “I can do that. Eric! Eric! Can you hear me…?”

  * * *

  As the rest of the team started to pull out, Paul rocked his selector switch from semi to full auto. He squeezed the trigger for short bursts, laying down fire on every spot that might hide a remaining Gleaner. He could see some vague shapes in his night vision, despite the rain and he concentrated on those positions. He rapidly emptied two magazines, then a third, smoothly reloading each time.

  The last one ran dry and he dipped into his hip pouch, finding it empty. He checked the magazines in his chest rig. There was one more and he rocked it into his rifle. Paul couldn’t hear anyone else shooting, and there were no sounds of movement behind him, so the team had already retreated a safe distance.

  He flexed his leg, and bit back a scream at the burning, stabbing sensation as the great muscle above his thigh moved the shotgun pellet around. Nope, he wasn’t walking out of here.

  But if they’d slowed the Gleaners long enough and the rest of the team made it back to the dam alive, he’d call it a win. He peered through his sights and scanned for targets.

  * * *


  Harlan crouched lower behind the tree as somebody on the other side began firing short bursts on full auto, peppering each likely hiding spot with three to four rounds before moving to the next. After several bursts, there was a longer pause, presumably as the shooter replenished their ammunition. There’d been shouting, and then the sounds of movement and now this. He was no tactical expert, but even he knew that expending that much ammo on auto, in this visibility, was wasteful. That was one of the reasons that he’d limited weapons capable of automatic fire to his lieutenants who he trusted to judiciously use the increasingly scarce ammunition.

  Like Young.

  Harlan frowned at the memory as a few rounds snapped close by, refocusing his attention. He peered carefully around and spotted the sustained muzzle flashes. Whoever it was seemed to have plenty of the needful. The shooter was still using bursts, not just panic firing. That suggested a certain amount of intelligence and self-control. That could be a problem, especially since Harlan seemed to be about out of people. He noted that the stay-behind was remaining in one place, judging by the sound and muzzle flash. Better, there seemed to be only one person and he was pulling one of those “I’ll stay put to cover you” things.

  That was the kind of stupidity that made Harlan certain of victory.

  Because the shooter would run out of rounds sooner or later, and now Harlan knew exactly where he was.

  * * *

  Paul ran through a final string of fire and went dry on his rifle so he laid it aside and drew his Glock. He couldn’t hear any movement on the trail behind him, so maybe Emily had successfully extracted the survivors. He leaned around the tree and scanned the area. He could see one figure in the distance, farther back than most of the Gleaners, and he targeted it with the pistol, firing a few shots just to keep the shadow at a distance.

  * * *

  A much different timbre accompanied the next string of shots from the hold-out.


  Harlan smiled.

  The last of the group was down to pistol and the shooting wasn’t even in the right direction. That suited him just fine. He’d maneuvered farther to one side, finding a couple of fresh Gleaner corpses, and one stranger, a very young teenage male. The age of the victim was good news, if it meant that the defenders were down to high school kids.

  He leaned around and tried to figure out which tree hid the shooter. His goggles had the same drawbacks as all night optics, and in this case the very limited field of view required him to move his head slowly side to side, panning around to spot the bright spots in the night.

  His remaining men were where?…well, that was a good question. However, his target was right there.

  Harlan lay down in the prone and fired an economical burst at the tree hiding the shooter. Then he jumped to his feet and ran forward and to the side, hip firing in the general direction to cover his movement, just as the books said to do.

  * * *

  Paul cursed as the rounds cracked around his position. Okay, so maybe staying behind sucked a little harder than he expected.

  He tried to cover the open area with the pistol and banged some blind rounds around the tree but he wasn’t sure if he was even firing at the remaining Gleaners.

  * * *

  Harlan made it to cover and considered his next move. One enemy left, pistol only. If only he had a grenade this would be easy. He needed to find grenades. Harlan made a mental note.

  He reloaded, considering how many magazines he had left. Not many. Finding mags for an MP-7 was tough. The previous owner had had only one. He considered reloading ammo from his backpack but he’d been dropping his empty magazines as he went.

  He’d just have to go with what he had.

  Or, maybe, talk? Whoever was left was probably thinking about how they’d not like to die.

  “Hey! You listening?”

  * * *

  Am I? Paul wondered.

  Sure. The longer this jackass talked, the longer the team had to escape.

  “I’m listening!” he shouted back.

  * * *

  “Hey, listen,” Harlan muttered, considering his options. More loudly, “We don’t have to do this. You’re down to your pistol. That’s a losing proposition for you.”

  “So why you talking?” the voice yelled back. “Why not just shoot?”

  “You could get lucky,” Harlan said, admitting nothing that wasn’t obvious. “Besides, you’re still alive, even if you’re alone. That makes you a survivor. Hard. I need people like you. I reward talent. Why take the chance on dying? Just change sides.”

  “Eat shit and die,” the man yelled. “I’m not a mercenary for hire!”

  “Oh, are you a believer?” Harlan said. “You’re a rare breed now. Sure you don’t want to live through this?”

  “Bring it, bitch,” the target said, sounding confident.

  Harlan liked the attitude, even if it was mere bluster.

  “I like your spirit,” Green said, wondering if maybe he didn’t really want to try to recruit this guy. It seemed like all of his own people had run away and here this guy was standing his ground, fearless. Worst case, he could get a little closer before he finished this guy off.

  “Look, let’
s keep talking. I’m coming up so we don’t have to yell at each other. Don’t shoot.”

  * * *

  What the fuck? Paul wondered. Hell, keep this asshole talking.

  In the near distance, the rifle fire that had been steadily increasing was joined by the sound of overlapping explosions. That was either very good or very bad, and there was no way to tell from here. He could hear deeper reports and the roar of something that sounded like surf, which made no sense since they were nowhere near the ocean.

  Paul looked at his pistol. He didn’t harbor any illusions about his chances. Lamed, alone and low on ammunition was not a winning hand. He made up his mind. One mag in, one out, let this guy get close and then take the best shot that he could.

  “Okay,” Paul said after pausing long enough to appear that he was seriously considering the Gleaner’s offer. “Come on up.”

  “No shooting,” the man said.

  “Sure,” Paul said. “Word of honor of a banker. We’ll just talk.”

  He waited until he heard the crack of a branch then leaned around and dumped the mag towards the sound.

  The volume of return fire was unpleasant. Paul was struck twice in quick succession. The round that skidded off his back plate felt like a hammer, but the near miss was worse. It opened the sleeve of his jacket as neatly as a fresh scalpel, skimming along the length of his left forearm and burning like hell. The moist forest loam had already soaked through the material of his trousers, and now fresh blood added a new note to the smell of mud and decay. The arm wound numbed his left hand, and the instant-on sensation of pins and needles made him sag.

  Paul half rolled to one side and went for a one-handed pistol reload. Using his injured arm to pin the gun to his hip, he used his right hand to eject the spent magazine and replaced it with the last one. He got ready to lean around the tree for one last try.

  * * *

  Harlan had noted that the shooter favored his primary shooting hand, always going to the right, so he dodged in the opposite direction.

  Bingo. Intelligence over guts, every time.

  “Why, hello there,” he said to the man sprawled on the ground. “Let’s get acquainted.”

  * * *

  “Aw, fuck,” Paul muttered as he felt the barrel of the rifle touch his skull.

  He relaxed his grip on the handgun, and it dangled from his forefinger before falling to the ground. Paul raised his hands and rolled onto his side, but motion used his injured ham, where the damned shotgun pellet was buried deeply in the muscle. He gritted his teeth.

  “Shot?” his captor asked solicitously.

  “Not by you. You can’t shoot for shit,” Paul said. “Just shot in the ass by some random clown.”

  “And where did you put your head that it was unwelcome?” the gunman said, painfully banging his rifle muzzle on the bandage that covered Paul’s existing head wound. “Maybe you should work at not shooting when you promise to talk!”

  “I promised as a banker,” Paul said, chuckling despite his situation. “You’d trust a banker? We fuck anyone over for enough money. You? I’d fuck you over for free.”

  “I’m sorry to hear that,” the man answered, then kicked him squarely on the dark gooey stain that was seeping across the seat of Paul’s trousers. “I just wanted to ask you a few questions. Wait—you’re a banker? Would you happen to be from Bank of the Americas?”

  The standing man added a kick for emphasis.

  “Ahh,” Paul groaned as the pain in his legs, ass and back soared higher. He braced himself with one arm to avoid rolling sideways. He glanced at the Gleaner and considered his gear. Even in the partial-darkness, Paul could tell that the man was well equipped and lightly built. A shadow moved in the trees behind his captor, who was taking his sweet time looking at Paul down the length of a thin nose, the looks of which would be greatly improved if Paul could just smash it flat. “Maybe. You must be the team lead.”

  “Governor,” the man said, correcting him. “Harlan Green. Pleased to meet you, Mister ‘Used-to-be-a-Banker.’ If you worked for Bank of the Americas, you must have worked for a man named Smith. His little group has become a thorn in my side, and it’s been a pleasure killing you off one at a time.”

  “Oh, god,” Paul groaned. “You’re a talker. Jesus, not that. Just shoot me and end it.”

  “Soon, Mr. Banker. First, where’s your boss? I’d like to talk to him.”

  “Fuck off and die,” Paul said. “Save your time and end it.”

  “How many are at the dam?” Green asked persistently.

  “More than enough to stop you, prick,” Paul said. He saw the shadow move behind Green again, drifting closer.

  * * *

  Harlan’s radio broke squelch, and though he’d already turned it down to avoid giving his position away, it was still too loud and distracting. He reached down with his left hand and twisted the volume knob till it clicked off.

  Though the battle was out of sight behind the forested peninsula, the firing at the dam had built to a thundering crescendo. Harlan knew that he had places to be and people to kill. However, any information that he could get from the wounded man might help. Time to get a better look at what he had to work with.

  He fished around in a pocket and withdrew a Cyalume, snapped it and dropped it in front of his catch. They’d seen zero zombies since crossing the river, the defenders had all withdrawn, and let’s face it, he really wanted a look at his captive.

  Below him, the soldier rolled all the way over and returned Harlan’s gaze.

  “Hey, asshole,” the bleeding man said. “You really should look behind you.”

  “I admire your optimism,” Harlan said as he raised his rifle and aimed at the one leg that wasn’t bleeding. He felt the beginnings of the delicious rush that accompanied each demonstration of his power, each time that he consummated his will. “Does that ever work?”

  His captive stayed silent. Pity that he couldn’t take longer to enjoy this, but needs must.

  “I’ll start with the legs, then each forearm and go from there until you are more cooperative,” Harlan warned the man, knowing that no matter what he learned, he’d add this one to his collection.

  The lack of hair would be a challenge. Hmm.

  “You just going to stand there?” his captive asked.

  “I’m pointing a rifle at you,” Harlan answered. “That’s hardly just ‘standing here.’”

  Without warning, Harlan Green felt a point of burning cold just barely kiss the skin under his Adam’s apple. He froze, perfectly motionless.

  “Mate,” a gravelly voice whispered intimately in his ear. “He wasn’t talking to you.”

  Green very carefully thumbed the MP7 on safe and slowly allowed his weapon to sag until the sling held its weight.


  Dragon had received Loki’s orders to advance across the bridge with ill grace, but he did it. No one disobeyed that big fucker. Still, no one had said that Dragon had to be on foot when he did it. The governor had found a working armored truck somewhere, something surplused to a local yokel cop after the war on terror. Loki called it an emrap, whatever the hell that meant, but Dragon called it bad-ass! The big gun was removed, but there was a turret, and lights, and it still had armored windows and everything. The six huge tires lifted it way up in the air, and he had a great view over the sides of the bridge. Ahead, muzzle flashes were visible and the occasional bullet struck his armor before wheeling off into the dark. The vehicle lurched and Dragon’s helmet smacked the turret interior. He suppressed a curse as the driver inexpertly slowed, preparing to ram an obstacle. A crunching sound signaled that he had breasted yet another concrete barrier and was taking advantage of the machine’s bulk to shove the obstruction out of the way.

  Dragon spun the turret to look backwards for a look-see. Behind them, the now darkened bridge was littered with zombie corpses both old and new, jumbled Jersey barriers and improvised metal wire fencing that had been crushed flat by his bitchi
n’ ride.

  Closely trailing his tank was a big dark blue semi tractor set up as a towing rig. A couple of pickup trucks were well to the rear, dismounting their troops. One of Green’s tame mechanics had welded a bunch of shit to the eighteen-wheeler, Mad-Max style. It was supposed to help push the lead vehicle if needed, but so far it was just something that the upper deck assault team of fifty could hide behind, and they were doing a good job of staying tightly clustered in the shadow of its tailgate as the little convoy crept across the never ending span. The defenders’ rounds clanged off the armor of Dragon’s pseudo-tank or skipped off the pavement and whirred past, but the troops were safe from anything to the direct front.

  Dragon estimated that they were just about halfway across. He’d been shooting one of their few machine guns, the one that he and Young had captured in fact, but it wasn’t as much fun as he’d hoped. The damn thing was heavy, the controls were stiff and the thing kept jamming. It seemed like every twenty or thirty rounds he’d have to open the lid, fiddle with the belt of bullets, then align everything, then smack the lid down again, work the handle and see if it shot. Talk about a pain in the ass.

  Still, when it ran, it was fucking great to watch his bullets hit the target building with little puffs, or best of all, when the ruby tracers ricocheted up and away at crazy angles. For the moment, he wasn’t shooting. He was saving an entire belt to blast the concrete blockhouse from close range, or maybe that crazy lightning-shooting smokestack. He sure as hell wasn’t gonna get within a football field of that fucker until it was knocked flat. Screw Loki and his plan to save any technology!

  To be fair, there really wasn’t anyone to shoot at, just flickering little lights that he thought were muzzle flashes, and not many of those. It was actually really noisy and confusing. Worse, it was taking a long time, because the driver wasn’t in any hurry. Hitting a barrier too hard could bust the truck, which sucked, because these things were supposed to be invulnerable or something. Still, Dragon appreciated the care that his driver exhibited. The last thing they needed was to get high-centered in the middle of the span.

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