Gunman's Peace: An excerpt
Macon was an hour and half drive from Newlanta barring any interruption. There were always interruptions; feral cattle herds, beggars, ambushes; always something. So when he saw smoke rising about a mile ahead near the old Highway 16 exit, he wasn’t surprised. Moses pulled off the highway, driving the truck into a stand of pines. He grabbed his sniper rifle, slung it across his back, then stepped out the truck. Frick and Frack stirred.
“Stay,” he said. The dogs settled down.
Moses entered the woods, working his way up a nearby hill for a better look. He took out his binoculars, focusing on the base of the smoke. What he saw caused his throat to tighten. He never got used to it, no matter how many times he saw it. Six bodies sprawled near a burning van, a family most likely. They were still fully clothed, which meant the ambush was recent. Whoever did it was probably lurking nearby, making sure they’d hit everyone. Moses placed his binoculars on the ground then brought his rifle to position. He loaded four rounds into the magazine then one in the chamber. He took a kneeling position, gripping the front of the rifle with his left hand and supporting it on his knee. He brought the scope to his eye, looking at the scene with the crosshairs. He held his breath and waited.
They came out of hiding minutes later, three men and one woman dressed in green jumpsuits and saucer-like helmets.
Doughboys, Moses thought. Real badasses.
Moses tracked them as they crept into the open. He waited for the sweetness, for that moment when they all paused. When it came, he squeezed off the rounds in quick succession, working the bolt action with flawless efficiency. Ten bodies lay in the road, four with one 30.06 round in their skulls. Moses waited until dusk before re-turning to the truck and continuing down the highway. He maneuvered around the wreckage and the bodies, sparing a glance at the hapless family. They were probably trying to reach Newlanta, hoping for safety and stability behind its formidable walls. How many others had died like them? He would tell Voorhees they needed to expand their sweeps. They would be invading war-lord territory, but it was worth it if fewer innocent families were lost.
The Doughboys worried him. They were out of their range, much further north than he remembered. Shifting territory meant war, which meant he would have to be much more careful, if that was possible. He exited at Forsyth, or what used to be the small city. He pulled up behind the remains of a large department store, one he’d used long ago as a crash pad. If he was lucky it was still abandoned; if not, he would move on. He’d done enough killing for the day. Moses didn’t bother unloading the truck except for the dogs.
“Security,” he said.
While Frick and Frack trotted off Moses set up camp. There would be no fire or any heat source this night. The Doughboys might search for their missing cohorts with sophisticated equipment. He wolfed down two cans of rations then unpacked his sleeping bag. As a precaution he draped the bag with a cold blanket to reduce his heat signal. Frick and Frack would alert him to any interlopers, so he settled in for a good sleep after a hard drive.
When he slept, he dreamed of the dead fam-ily. He saw them clearly, their fresh blood oozing into the asphalt. They sat up to look at him, their eyes brimming with tears. They touched their wounds, a look of confusion on their faces. Then they looked at him. Their mouths opened as they utter the same word.
Moses sat up, tears in his eyes.
“I don’t know,” he whispered. “I don’t know.”
His link chip chirped, interrupting his grim thoughts. He found his eye piece and put it on. It took a minute for it to link with the dogs, another few seconds to display a visual. He counted six intruders. Four searched the warehouse while two rummaged his truck. The images weren’t distinct, but Moses assumed they were more Doughboys. They probably found their buddies then began sniffing around. As much as he didn’t want to, this would be wet work. They were too close for gunfire and he didn’t want to attract any additional attention. He strapped on his knives then screwed suppressors on his handguns just in case.
Whoever they were, they were well trained. They worked the store in pairs—one point man, one back up. Moses knelt as he watched them, the cold blanket thrown over his shoulders.
“Eeny, meeny, miny, moe,” he whispered. ‘Moe’ was the team approaching from his left.
Moses crept toward them. He found a metal bar as he worked his way toward the pair, stopping when he reached the interception point. He shifted his knife into his left hand and the bar into his right. Moses tossed the bar toward the team coming from his right. The quiet shattered as the bar crashed into a metal shelf then clattered to the floor. The right team halted and Moses grinned. They were very well trained; lesser soldiers would have sprayed the building with gunfire. The left team moved in, running toward the sound. Moses let the first man pass; he jumped up and grabbed the second man, his hand covering the man’s mouth as he slit his throat. The first man spun about just in time to meet Moses face to face be-fore Moses stabbed him in the throat as he took him down. Moses crouched by the dying men.
“We just want what’s ours,” a voice called out.
Moses didn’t reply. They knew he knew their location; they were trying to find him. He checked his scanner; the men near the building entrance were probably listening for him as well. As much as he hated to do it, he armed the dogs.
“Your life for our loot,” the voice continued. “It’s a fair trade. That road kill was ours.”
The words road kill made his hand shake with anger. It was a good thing Frick was in position; he activated and fired the homing rockets instinctively. The outside explosion was the perfect diversion. Moses was up and running toward his hunters before the shock subsided, a knife in each hand. This didn’t have to be wet work; he wanted it to be.
He barrel rolled into both men, taking them down. He came up slashing and stabbing. The man closest to him died a bloody mess, the second man managed to fire a shot before Moses fell on him. His shot furrowed Moses’s left thigh; he ignored the pain as he sliced and stabbed the man until he lay still. Moses limped toward the building entrance to see what was left of Frick and his truck.
His leg was throbbing by the time he reached the wreckage. Frick watched over the flaming vehicle, its rocket port still smoking. The other Doughboys sprawled nearby. Moses shook his head. Two months rations up in smoke he thought. There was nothing he could do about it except bandage his wound and move as soon as possible. The explosion and night fire would draw scavengers like flies to shit.
Moses opened Frick’s first aid kit then treated his wound. He numbed the gash then set the dog on point for his next destination. It trotted into the night woods. Moses waited for ten minutes before following. His departure wasn’t a moment too soon; as he entered the woods, he saw headlights approaching from the highway. Frack met him soon afterwards and together they followed Frick, the path meandering more than he remembered. A quick IR scan revealed why; Frick was avoiding scavengers converging on the explosion site from the east. Unless they were part of the same horde, there was bound to be a firefight.
Moses and Frick caught up with Frack at his backup hideaway, a dilapidated house hidden by kudzu, honeysuckle and blackberry vines. Years ago, he planted anti-personnel mines and heat sensors around it just in case he needed a place to hide and defend. He hoped they still worked. The dogs were programmed to walk through the death trap without triggering the ordinance. Moses trailed behind them until they reached the entrance to the kudzu covered shack. He pushed his way through the morass and was met by the pun-gent smell of decay.
“Great,” he whispered. He turned on his torch, searching for the source of the smell. To his relief it was the carcass of either a coyote or a large dog. Moses settled into the opposite corner, curl-ing against the damaged wooded wall as the dogs folded then shut down. In minutes he was deep into a dreamless sleep.
He awoke to the insistent vibration of his hip alarm. It was still dark, his chronometer dis-played 5:00 a.m. Moses grabbed his HK MP5, slip-ping the clip under his body so not to make any noise. He lay still, listening for pursuers. The was no way they could sneak up on him; the vines, dead leaves and twigs revealed anything larger than a rabbit approaching. There was also no way out. He switched on his IR; there were fifteen heat signals moving his way. Moses crawled to Frick, opened its storage unit then took out the mine trigger.
Moses let them advance a few more seconds before pressing the manual detonation. The explosions deafened him as it jolted the shack. His ears were still ringing when the roof cracked and the sidewalls gave way. There was nothing he could do but curl up and pray the impact would not kill him. The support beam just missed his head, but the rear wall smashed his left foot. He choked back a scream as he struggled to load the clip into the HK.
“Fuck! It’s a goddamn minefield!” someone said.
“Minefield hell,” a woman answered. “Those charges were triggered.”
The woman laughed. “There.”
“If that bastard was inside that, his ass is dead. Whose still alive?”
“James, Diego you and me,” the woman said.
“Shit! Let’s get’em and get the fuck out of here. This shit is bound to draw flies.”
Moses listened to the duo grunt as they lifted their wounded comrades then ran away. He waited until he was sure the interlopers were not turning back before testing his wound. He tried to sit up but grimaced in pain. He waited until daylight had come and gone before dragging himself free of the wreckage and activating the dogs. Frack responded, debris sliding off its metal frame as it stood. Frick remained motionless. The dog had been damaged by the blasts. Moses didn’t have the strength to dig the damaged dog free. He would have to leave it in hopes he could salvage it later.
Bodies surrounded the safe house, which wasn’t good. Wolves, coyotes, panther cats and other scavengers would show up soon and none of them would have a problem putting down a meal that moved a little more than the carcasses they had come for. He tried to stand but as soon as he put weight on his injured foot he collapsed. There was no way he could enter a Free camp in his state; someone would try him for his gear as soon as he arrived. He’d have to find a place to heal. There was one option; easy to get in, hell to get out. He wouldn’t play that card unless he absolutely had to.
He fashioned a brace for his foot then cut a sturdy branch from a nearby oak to use as a crutch. He packed on his gear then hobbled as far as he could from the destroyed cabin. He was a quarter of a mile away when he heard the howling, answered by the grating squeal of a panther cat. He picked up his pace the best he could. On a healthy foot he could cover seven to ten miles in a day; on his bad foot he barely made three. The last mile was torture. Moses realized he had no choice but to set up a permanent camp then let the healing nanos repair his foot. He found a steep hill that gave an unobstructed view of the surrounding area for at least 500 yards in every direction. An old observation hill most likely. The fact that it was unoccupied didn’t say much, but Moses had no choice. If someone or something was going to come for him, he wasn’t going to make it easy. He struggled up the hill for most of the day, Frack trailing behind. Once he reached the summit, he set up his lean-to. There would be no fire on this night as well; he’d have to make do once again with cold rations.
It took three days for his foot to heal, even with the nanos. He hated using them; they were Old tech and extremely rare. He doubted he would be able to replace them, but he had no choice. The mission had to proceed.
“You’re getting old, boss man,” he said as he tried his foot on the fourth day. There was slight pain but nothing he couldn’t handle. Once he reached Macon he would rent a shell and rest a few more days. The warlord controlling the city did her best to be fair-minded, at least as fair as a warlord could be. He still had blood on his hands; maybe it had been forgotten over the years.
Three days into his journey his plans for Macon became a bust. Moses looked upon the city from an old billboard that occupied the crest of a steep hill. Doughboys patrolled the outskirts; columns of smoke swirled into the sky from various sections of the city. It was a full-scale raid. Moses lowered his binoculars then spit. He would have to find a way around. Cutting through would most likely mean running into raiders, and he wasn’t healed enough for a firefight. He linked visuals to Frack then switched the robotic canine to stealth reconnaissance. It would drain Frack’s batteries, but it was a necessary precaution. He set the range at five miles, which put Frack a half a day ahead of him. In the meantime, he would wait and heal. Frack set out at a trot; Moses set visuals on standby as he checked out his surroundings.
He found a dense stand of pines and oaks then set up camp. The nearby homes looked weathered yet inviting, but if he knew anything about the Doughboys it was that they were very thorough. He gazed through Frack’s sensors at the damage being wrought, bracing himself for the worst. It was bad, but not as bad as he anticipated. They were taking captives, killing only those who resisted. Most interesting was they were taking special care not to harm anyone. That was way out of character for Doughboys. He didn’t know them to be slavers; someone must be paying a good price for bodies and it seemed the Doughboys had adapted.
Moses wanted to help but it would be foolish for him to try. He had an assignment, and he was only one man. But sometimes, no matter how a person tries to avoid trouble, it finds its way to you.
The screams came from his left as he was packing the last of his gear. Moses loaded his HK and attached the suppressor as the voices grew louder. The family burst out into the open, running down the middle of the street with four Doughboys in pursuit. Moses watched the drama for a moment, struggling with himself on what to do. Shooting the Doughboys, suppressor or not, would reveal his position. Not shooting them would result in the family taken as slaves. If he was near Newlanta the decision would be easy. But out in the Wild, the situation was different.
“Fuck it,” he said.
Moses gunned down the Doughboys. The fleeing family froze, looking at the dead men in terror. Moses emerged from his hiding place.
“Over here!” he shouted.
The family stared at him, then ran.
“Shit,” he whispered.
He heard more voices. As he suspected more Doughboys were coming. If the family had heeded his call they would be safely hidden. But he couldn’t blame them. With what they were go-ing through he was just another threat. He strolled into the open, checking his weapons along the way. If he couldn’t save them, the least he could do was be a serious distraction.
He did a quick search of the bodies and found three hand grenades. He took one of the Doughboy helmets, put it on his head then waited. Minutes later twelve Doughboys ran toward him.
“What’s going on?” the lead man shouted. “How many?”
Moses answered by tossing the grenades.
“What the . . .”
Moses flattened as the charges exploded. Then he was up in the kneeling position, spraying the smoke with automatic fire. He waited for the air to clear before moving. He wanted to make sure if anyone was still alive, they would follow him. More footsteps and shouts came his way. He could say one thing; Doughboys weren’t ones to run from a fight. After he was done with them they would wish they had.
Moses waited until he was sure the other Doughboys had seen him before he sprinted for the cover of a nearby neighborhood. The homes were barely livable, but these days they were bet-ter than most. He found a house that gave him a clear view of the road then took off his guns, load-ing each with a fresh clip. He was using a lot of ammo, but he’d make up for it later.
The Doughboys appeared moments later. The soldiers separated, some investigating and relieving their dead comrades of their gear, the others scanning the area for him. Moses waited until the Doughboys were packed in the road before opening fire. They scattered; some running in his direction. Others took cover and fired wildly; a few rounds bounced off the walls of his hideout. Once everyone had taken cover he worked away from where the family fled. Once he had the Doughboys’s full attention he strapped on his guns then ran south, following the electronic trail Frack left for him. The Doughboys pursued him for five miles before giving up the chase. They were there for slaves; dead men don’t get paid.
Moses kept up a brisk pace until he was a few miles south of Macon. He found another wooded spot near a slow-moving creek then sat to rest. He was tired and hungry. He decided he wanted fresh meat, so he took out his hand line, dug up a few worms from the nearby vegetation and fished. He caught a bass, two bream and a cat-fish, more than enough for a good meal. He cleaned the fish then started a small fire. He gathered lemongrass and blackberries then leaned on a pine tree for a tasty meal. As he settled in for a good sleep Frack returned. Moses put on his eye-piece then accessed the dog’s recorder. He smiled at the images. What he and Uta suspected was true. His old friends were still in business. Moses continued to study the data and discovered another surprise.
“I’ll be damned,” he said. A smile came to his face as he continued to watch. He now knew his destination, but a detour was in order. Tomorrow the real fun would begin.
I hope you enjoyed this excerpt. If you would like to purchase Gunman's Peace, it's on sale now from MVmedia, LLC. If you order it directly you'll receive a signed copy by yours truly.