The honky-tonk roadhouse was rocking when she rolled up on the vintage hog. She walked the motorcycle back towards the stairway that led down from the front door and porch. Taking the mirrored aviator shade off, she surveyed the area for people standing around and spotted only two. They were on either side of the entrance. Both were over six two and looked like they had played linemen on the local community college football team.
As she walked up the steps one stepped away from the wall, meeting her at the top of the stairs.
“We don’t allow nig—” was as far as he got.
He landed hard on the rough pavement, never touching the steps, wheezing as he worked at trying to breathe again.
She turned her attention on the other, who slowly reached up, and tipped his straw hat.
“Nice ride,” he said, nodding in the direction of her motorcycle.
She walked past the door checker, ignored the cashier. Once all the way inside, the noise was nearly overwhelming. A line of dancers on the small dance floor doing a “boot scoot” line dance to the country rock music blaring from the speakers.
Working her way to the left, she edged the crowd to the less crowded, and much quieter dining area on the far side of the bar.
She spotted her mark sitting in the far back with another flyer. Getting closer, her mark was on the left, their back to her. Fatal mistake. Stopping next to the table, she grabbed the woman’s hair and smashed her face into the table, once, twice, three times before slamming it into the booth back.
The flyer’s eyes were unfocused and blood streaming from an obvious broken nose.
“Voy a cortarte, jodida perra de cerdo,” the dark woman said, snapping the knife open. She pushed the tip of the double edged blade into the flyer’s neck. “Tell me what I want to know, and I’ll make sure you die quickly, comprender.”
“Puta! I tell you nothing!”
“Have it your way.” She slammed the woman’s face into the table again, then jammed the knife into the base of her skull. Looking at the woman’s dinner companion she nodded to the emergency exit. “Out that door, featherhead. You don’t want to be here.” The man bolted and she reached into a cargo pocket and pulled out a canister. Flipping the safety cap up, she thumbed the button, released and rolled the grenade under the table.
Turning, she walked back through the crowd and had just passed through the outside doors when the incendiary ignited. The crowd was just coming through the front doors when she tapped the electric start and roared off into growing darkness.
Once through the door Chris spread his wings and took to the air immediately. He climbed high enough to not be spotted from the ground, and low enough that he would classified as ground clutter by airport and weather radar systems in the state. Checking the compass bearing, he headed off across the desert, following Spider’s ‘oh shit’ contingency plan.
He glided for a bit while fishing out a small earbud. Pushing it into his ear, he pressed the single stud on the end, and was rewarded after a minute with a long and short tone. The tone repeated after fifteen seconds. He mentally shook his head as his remembered the beacon had guided pilots across the North American continent for well over a century.
Luckily for him, he wouldn’t be flying that far, maybe forty or fifty miles straight line. When the tone shifted from Long-Short to a long tone, then to Short-Long, Chris banked left and got back on the long tone signal. He rode that beam for twenty minutes until he spotted the small blinking blue light on the ground.
“That has to be it,” he said to no one, dumped altitude, flared and touched down at the vehicle entrance of a large bunker. “Let’s hope you’re right Candice.”
The pedestrian door was unlocked. He walked into near pitch blackness. When the door slammed shut he could see a small green light blinking on the far wall. It turned out to be a switch. Chris flipped the lever up and was rewarded with blue night time lighting.
Fifteen minutes later, he’d found the kitchen, a coffee urn, filled it with water and plugged it in.
Why this place had power and running water was a mystery. A mystery that Candice might solve once she got there. If she got there. No, when she got there he corrected himself. He’d never known that woman to miss an appointment.
The first indication that Candice was close was the deep roar of a motorcycle.
About damn time he thought to himself as the ultramodern road hog slowed, then rolled to a stop inside the bunker. The glow strips near the ceiling provided just enough light to see. Spider parked near the corridor entrance to the living quarters.
“I was wondering when you were going to get here,” Chris said walking out to meet her.
“Had to make a couple of stops along the way,” Spider said.
“There’s a pot of water for coffee if you want. Dinner is MRE de jour, or on the lite menu, ramen in a cup with bouillon cubes.”
Spider pulled open a recessed door and stepped into the dining facility.
“Air Force DFACs, don’t you just love them. Real trays, plates, even steel utensils, while the rest of us grunts get paper plates and sporks.” Spider sighed sarcastically. “The good old days.” She sorted through the remains of a couple of cases of MRE’s and pulled out one. Using a mug from the plastic rack on the counter, she filled it with hot water from the stand alone urn and used the “hot beverage mix” from the MRE to make either chicken soup or a lemon lime hot toddy.
The two sat down at one of the remaining picnic style tables with their respective meals.
“Go ahead and ask Chris,” Candice said after she was part way through the BBQ rib patty sandwich.
“You mean about the bar? About you killing my contact and torching the place?” Chris dropped his own sandwich onto the table and arched his hands together. “Okay, I’m asking, what the hell were you thinking?”
“What I was thinking was that I was keeping your head from decorating someone’s trophy room.” Candice replied, ignoring the anger creeping into her partner’s voice. “You were being played, she was stalling until a Mexicali goon squad could get there.” She put her meal down, wiped her mouth with the paper napkin. “They had nasty plans. They were going to stuff you in the back of a semi-trailer and send you to Washington. SecHome has a big dinner planned at some high faluting restaurant in downtown DC next week. It was the goon squad’s job to get you there, as the meat course.”
“You’re joking, right?” Chris asked, his pale skin going pasty.
“A nasty bit of psych warfare they learned from us. Nothing so disturbing as sitting down to a nice fiesta dinner and being served the heads of your senior capos on a covered dish for desert.”
“You ... your unit did that?”
“Told you before all this started, Zoo don’t have rules, we have missions, and the only goal is breaking the bad guy. Whatever it takes, being more brutal, more ruthless, ask no mercy, give no quarter.” She looks away, then down at her meal.
“Bolivia was the worst. The cartel was pumping out all sorts of poison. Cocaine, X, Comet, and worse. Got the kids hooked on it, then worked on the families. Moms and the teen girls would end up in the whorehouses, the little girls sold to perverts. The men and boys would work the fields. Unless the boys were pretty. Pretty boys went to a special hell.”
She looked back up at Chris, her eyes flint hard.
“You know how we operate, no innocent blood. It took us a while to find where the pretty boys went and we got them back. The nuns of a local convent took in the boys we rescued, gave them cartel money to take care of them. I warned them what would happen if they abused the boys. I bit the soldier in charge of the operation, injected him with venom. By the time he died, he was bleeding from every pore in his body.”
“You ... bit him?”
“Most people call me Spider because I’m a cyber-path, go head crawling through the hyperweb. I could do that before I enlisted. Didn’t want to work in a cube farm, so I volunteered for a ‘special duty assignment’. There were nearly sixty of us at first. We took a ten mile, double time ruck run to a MASH unit, out in the middle of nowhere Texas. Medical tests they said, booster shots. Every last one of us got bleary eyed, gut puking sick. Some of us recovered. Most didn’t.”
“Training after we recovered was brutal. Wilderness skills, weapons, hand to hand with weapons, and bare hands. That’s when I found out how much I’d been changed. Aloysius Klondike, the Fourth. Bastard son of some Alaskan money bag. We were doing open hand training. He got me on the ground and instead of letting me go when I submitted, he choked me. I was able to break the hold and pulled him down. Instead of rolling him off, I bit his shoulder, hard. I felt something pump, in my jaws. When I pushed him off me, he was screaming, his face turning purple, bloated. Blood started weeping through his skin. I stood there, watched him die and felt ... nothing. Two days later I was transferred, to the Zoo.”
“Spent my entire career there. Training, instructing, or deployed, fighting in some stink hole.”
“But the Zoo was shutdown, the whole unit disbanded, thirty years back,” Chris said. “How old are you?”
“Your mama should have taught you never to ask that question,” she grinned while rolling up the remains of her meal. “Let’s just say I’m old enough to be grateful for the new day, and young enough to appreciate a warm, friendly, body.” Spider replied, tossing her trash into the waste can.
“Lights out, Chris. Tomorrow starts way early.”
In the barracks, the two bedded down for the night. Chris was settled and nearly asleep when roused by Candice pushing a half bunk against his and sliding under the blanket. He draped an arm, and a wing over her as she snuggled against him.
It wasn’t the first time they’d slept together in the field. It was, however, the first time they didn’t have camo and body armor between them.