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 Post subject: Re: Doing Time
PostPosted: Sat Jul 22, 2017 10:29 am 
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After an early breakfast, Rose stood in the yard looking up at the blue sky decorated with a scattering of puffy white clouds. The air was pleasant this morning, signaling the gradual end of the very hot summer days. She was excited at the thought of being in the air again, as she had been since she was a little girl. Most weekends as a child she had spent in the passenger seat of her father's plane, after her mother died. As was customary, everyone at the private airfield looked the other way when she began her training a year before the legal age. After jumping through all the legal hoops, Rose flew her solo flight on her sixteenth birthday and received her flight certificate before graduating from high school.

At college, while maintaining good grades, her spare time was spent at a nearby airfield. Rose did whatever tasks needed done in return for flight time. With her head literally in the clouds, her social life had always suffered. She was friendly with people, but had no close friends. The young pilot fretted at the delays in getting back home. She admitted to herself that she owed these people a large debt, but after a couple days of instruction she was out of here. No more delays. Rose jumped at the sound of someone clearing their throat behind her.

Trey and Joker stood waiting with innocent looks on their faces and she knew this would be a long day. At the estate she watched each man repeat the required pre-flight checks. Her comment on Joker's air of boredom was met with Trey's reply that Joker was a mechanical genius. The smaller man nodded in agreement. "I've operated every piece of construction equipment there is".

"Not at 13,000 feet you haven't", their instructor countered, which gave him pause.

Joker flew with Rose and Trey followed in the truck with their fuel supply. The bank robber slowed to look at the shot up truck, just down the road from the Venango airport. Each bullet hole was now surrounded by a circle of rust. Those events seemed like a long time ago, although it really wasn't. He stopped again to open the gate to the landing strip, when the plane he had assumed was waiting for him came in for a landing.

"Where have you been" the small man asked?

"It must be nice to have time for a sightseeing tour" Trey referred to the Cessna's late arrival?

"You would have loved it, nothing to see but empty country".

"Let's get this over with" Rose interrupted. "We're skipping some steps since you won't be flying at night, chatting with the tower or taking any tests. This is the steering wheel, it's called the yoke. Push it forward to go down, pull it back to go up. Turn it right and you roll out right, that means your right wing dips and the bird goes right. Same with the left. When you're taxiing it steers the plane with the front wheel".

"These are the instruments. Your airspeed in knots, that's 1.15 mph. The faster you go the more fuel you're burning. The altimeter tells how high you are flying. The heading indicator shows your compass heading. The vertical speed indicator says how fast you are climbing or descending. The artificial horizon shows if you are going up or down, left or right". Rose paused touching the remaining instrument "This is the turn and bank indicator that shows your rate of turn or bank. All I'm going to say is you need to land before it gets dark or the fog gets too thick. I can't teach you all this in two days".

"The rest are the throttle, fuel mixture, carburetor heater, flaps, fuel tank control, rudder pedals and control trim. Don't monkey around with the tank control, leave it set to both". Rose had the pair taxi back and forth on the runway and taxi lanes. The thief surprised her at how well he did, even though he had been watching her during takeoffs and landings, Trey was a little slower to pick it up, although both men were quick learners.

Lunch was warm soda pop, cheese, crackers and some questionable looking apples from last fall. They lay in the grass on the shaded side of a hangar. "This is boring, when do we get to the good stuff" Joker bugged the instructor. She ignored him and not long after that lady like snores issued from the still form. "We should move the plane" Joker said with an evil grin.

"As entertaining as that would be, we might never find out how to take off and land".

"I'm pretty sure I could do that right now. I've been watching real close when she flies".

"You mean all two times you flew with her"?

"It's clear you aren't a mechanical genius like me".

"Hey, when you're right, you're right" Trey shrugged.

"Seriously, I'm pretty sure I can take it up and land it. You don't even need half of those instruments, unless the weather turns to crap. So you land and wait it out" the thief said with a serious look on his face.

"We still need a plane and we never checked this place out".

"We could do that now" Joker suggested eagerly. Seeing his partner's look at the sleeping form, he added "She'll be fine. We checked the grounds inside the fence and the building are shut up tight".

The pair stood and walked to the nearest hangar. The thief popped the lock, then they slid back the right side of one of the hangar entrances. The large door groaned on un-oiled rollers, dust disturbed by the movement sifted down. Trey stepped back, however Joker stood waving his hands, causing the dust to swirl back up around his head. Coughing, the smaller man ran forward out of the cloud. The smell inside the building was of fuel and lubricants. The aircraft in front of them was missing it's prop and engine cowling, so they started down the building to look at the remaining planes.

The sleeper had awakened to the sound of the voices, remaining still, listening to the conversation. She almost spoke when the little weirdo said he thought he could fly from watching her. As the pair walked away the thought "I could go right now", jumped to the forefront of her thoughts. The pilot turned her head, watching her students go around the corner of the building.

She rolled to her feet, tossing the carbine that they insisted she always keep with her, into the plane. Seconds later, Rose was climbing into the back of the fuel truck. A five gallon can was already full of aviation fuel and sitting at the edge of the tailgate. She began pumping fuel into a second can as fast as the device allowed. Between trying to hurry and watching for the convicts to reappear, she spilled fuel and fumbled screwing the cap back on the can. Sliding the gas can onto the tailgate resulted in a metal against metal screech that made Rose wince. The sound not only set her teeth on edge, but may have also alerted her hosts.

Getting the five gallon cans off the truck was more in the way of a controlled fall than a lift. The pilot staggered toward her ride with a can in each hand. She had decided that carrying two, wasn't any worse than being off balance with just one container. Making several quick passes with shop towels from under the seat, removed the worst of the fuel spilled on the can, but not the smell. The cans had to be boosted into the plane one at a time, then moved to the rear before there was room to get the other inside. Secured to the brackets Trey had jury-rigged, the cans would stay in place for normal travel, but still become deadly missiles if she crashed again.

Rose paused for a moment, thinking about how heavy the cans were. What if she didn't land at an airport, but was stuck out on a road. How would she add fuel to the high wing tanks? Not to even mention that the onetime higher population of the coast where she was headed, also meant more undead creatures. Feeling guilty for the first time, she dragged the pump and hose from the truck and stuffed it in the back of the plane's cabin. The pilot rubbed her hands on the grass and then several shop towels, however they still stank of fuel.

The wheel chocks were the last item added to the load. The old style, wood, wedges were dumped onto the passenger seat. The pilot sat at the controls, with her eyes closed, taking deep breaths, getting her mind right. She extended her arms, shaking her hands once her eyes were open, completing a personal ceremony. The engine was still warm and fired right up. With the brake off, the Cessna rolled slowly on its own toward the runway, like an old draft horse following his route with little human intervention. Sure the convicts would be watching by now, Rose started her run, never looking back. The ground fell away beneath her wings, leaving her with a euphoric feeling of being on her own and free again. The aircraft climbed at a gentle rate, eventually making a long turn onto a southwest heading, across the mountains.

The criminals bypassed the twin engine bird by that was closest to the doors. The single engine next to it had a worn look to it. The paint job looked to have used left over house paint applied with a roller. The seats inside all showed once white stuffing through splits in the covers. A third plane had the right wheel and landing strut missing, replaced with an ominous red tag. The last spot was empty. "Awake at last", the thief commented when the sound of the engine penetrated the metal walled building. before the pair reached the opening, they could tell the source was moving. "That can't be good" the ex-soldier said what they were both thinking.

Their heads popped out into the sunlight momentarily, for a quick glance before ducking back inside. No dead were to be seen and nobody had fired any shots at them. Exiting the hangar, joker kept an eye to the rear while they covered the ground to the corner. The surroundings seemed to be clear, which didn't explain why the little Cessna had started it's take off. Joker stared after the retreating aircraft, startled when his friend called "She took the transfer pump and some cans".

"How rude" the little man called back.

"Perhaps she remembered an important appointment" Trey suggested innocently.

"Don't ask me to rescue any more pilots".

Several reanimated humans waited by the airport entrance, attracted by the activity. They followed the convicts along the fence, away from the gate, enduring the small man's insults. The smell from the dead, dispatched months earlier was inescapable. The stink was so bad it was almost a taste as well as a smell. Trey backed away from the fence about fifty feet, assumed a one handed target stance and squeezed off a shot. The target's ear separated from the head, to dangle by a thread of skin. The second shot was a clean miss. The third shot, made with concentration on the trigger struck the goon in its right eye, turning the rotten brain to mush. "I think I'm pulling to the left. But this sure isn't a target trigger. I used to be better at this." Joker grunted his disinterest at the technique displayed, marched up to the fence and blew the brains out of the last goon at a range of six feet. He did feel much better after returning the small group to their natural state.

Driving down the road the thief just had to say "Shooting like that is stupid, just use both hands".

"It's a skill. What if you don't have the use of both hands? Then with a smile "What if you get challenged to a duel"?

""Who is going to challenge us to a duel"?

"The way things are, I predict a return of dueling as a way of settling differences".

" More like a wild west gunfight at high noon, than pistols at dawn" Joker scoffed at the idea. "So, what do we do with the rest of the day" he changed the subject?

"We hang around the farm, do our part. Then tomorrow we finish checking out the house at the estate, walk the perimeter wall and then check out that little airport".

"Peach will be pissed when I tell her about Rose ditching us" Joker said, anticipating her reaction.

The two pairs of siblings greeted the convicts arrival at the farm. Loud "What did you bring us" was rewarded with a handful of fired handgun brass. Trey had them smelling the burned powder in the recently fired cases. Something he had always enjoyed at a young age, although shotgun shells were the best.

At supper that night Joker broke the news of Rose's departure. "You've heard of dine and dash, well this was fly and flee". Peach disappointed the thief, by not appearing to care.

"There's no such thing as Fly and Flee" Peach argued.

"It's a thing" Joker said defensively. "I'm much more in tune with the hip crowd, so I'd know".

Trey appeared to back up his friend up saying "All the teenagers that own planes are doing it these days", while rolling his eyes.

The subject of going to the estate was approved by everyone. Thompson, as always, volunteered to remain behind to watch over the place. The Swede was only going to ensure domestic tranquility, however Peach really wanted a day out. The youngsters played outside until dark, chasing each other yelling "dine and dash" or "fly and flee".

The next morning, the extended family piled into three vehicles for the trip. Thompson, who had never gotten over his fear of being outside the walls, had a rifle in his hands that he wouldn't put down until the others returned. Never having done any physical labor, he was slow as well as having to deal with sore muscles each night after his arrival. Now he was proud of being able to keep up with the Swede, no matter what the daily task was. The criminals recently had been training him with a weapon. The laborer was not only an OK shot, but could maintain the rifle as well. He had always been in favor of gun control and still found firearms distasteful, however the weapon did provide a degree of comfort while by himself on the farm. After they left, he sat in his room for an hour, staring at his old three piece suit and thinking about his life before things went to hell. The remainder of the day, Thompson sat in the shade of the porch when he wasn't walking the perimeter fence around the farm.

The estate looked different since the airplane they were used to seeing in the front yard was gone. Peach took the kids up to the barn until the house was finally cleared. Only the basement was left to be checked. Repeated knocks drew no response, so Joker jerked the door open, however the stairs were empty. The air smelled stale, but there was a trace of rot. The back of the stair treads were closed off with one by six pine boards, eliminating a view of what might lay in wait underneath. "How come I always have to do this" Joker griped?

The cellmates crept down, keeping their backs against the wall, flashlights and gun barrels pointing into the darkness. "Eeeeeeeyip" Trey called out, making his friend jump.

"Let me know before you do that" the small man complained.

"Sorry" the bank robber said, not sounding sorry at all. "I forgot how jumpy you are. You got to learn to relax buddy". The only reply was a growl from the smaller man. Boxes of different sizes lined the walls on neat shelves. Once the shelving was full, the owner just stacked his goods on the floor. The Swede moved to a new post halfway down the stairway to cover their backs.

"Whatever this stuff is, there sure is a lot of it" the thief said, shining his light through the large enclosure that was the same size as the house's footprint. The men walked up and down the aisles between the stacked boxes. Against the back wall, under a dust cover lay a rack of rifles, cased handguns and a lot of ammo cans.

Trey popped the latch on a case that held an even dozen handguns. "Here's some stupid Glocks for you pal" the bank robber said noting the one empty spot in the rifle rack and one missing handgun from the case. Several of the ammo cans weren't as dusty as the others, indicating the top cans had been removed. Bored with the empty barn, the children chased each other and the dog while waiting for an all clear from the house. Upon a wave from the Swede, they all rushed inside to explore. The cellmates stood aside to avoid the rush, then left to look over the empty barn. "Lots of room" was Trey's only comment.

The partners started walking along the west wall, heading north. The barrier was the same red brick as in the front of the estate. Trey wondered if the construction would change once it was out of sight of the house. The ground was a slight slope that looked as if it was mowed weekly at one point. Nut bearing trees sprung from the overgrown lawn. The incline increased as the distance from the barn also increased, however the trees were still present as was the once mowed lawn. Went the incline reached a point where using a tractor wasn't practical, the mature woodland and ground cover began.

The convicts followed an unused tractor trail through the oaks, maples, wild cherry and occasional spruce or walnut tree. The thief was already jumpy from the alarmed squirrels scurrying through the leaves, before a grouse exploded from a grapevine tangle with a noise and motion that would startle even veteran outdoorsmen. Joker jumped back, trying to swing his rifle on target, fell backwards over a tree limb lying on the old trail. Trey ducked to avoid the rifle swinging past his head. "What the hell was that" the thief shouted?
"Just a Grouse" Trey answered, amused at his friend trying to untangle his feet.

"I don't like this, we can't see nothing".

"Well, nothing can't see us either. Besides, when was the last time we saw a goon just standing in the woods away from buildings and stuff"?

"When you hurt your leg" Joker argued.

"That doesn't count, they were already chasing us".

The section of wall had a less weathered appearance, like it was newer that the rest, however at least ten years old from the condition of the trail. A couple hundred yards further along, the brick was replaced by a fence that changed direction. The men left the trail to follow the fence downhill at an angle to the northwest. They crossed a small run at the bottom of the hill that had a trickle of water winding its way past the rocks.

The fence, that was far from new, was still sturdy and serviceable. At the top of the slope they had climbed, Trey found the corner of the fence where it turned east and he called for a break. "This is a great place to put some people on. Too bad the Swede will never leave his farm" the ex-soldier said.
"Maybe Derby and Archie would be interested".

"That Erie group at the cattle ranch"?

"I don't think there's enough pasture for that many cows".

"The Rules farm is still empty too".

"It probably still smells like bleach" the bank robber replied. "Tough to get wives to go there".

"Most of them aren't ready to leave the walls yet, you know that".

Trey shrugged, then picked up his rifle. Acknowledging that the break was over, Joker grabbed his gear. The men reached the second back corner, seeing that the fence was in pretty bad shape. There weren't any breaks, however the metal had that weather worn, look betraying its age and fragility. The only distraction before coming within sight of the house, was a small group of deer. Having become used to the lack of humanity, the men didn't alarm them at first. The pair approached quite close, before the animals moved off leisurely.

The Swede looked relieved when the other convicts showed up. Peach put all three men to work removing boxes of supplies destined for the farm. None of the children wanted to leave after their outing, they all pouted, but didn't dare defy her. The partners were tempted to stay themselves, although in the end decided to make several days appearance at the homestead.

Rose was free at last, her head literally in the clouds. She had been mentally plotting a course, even before the cast on her leg had been removed. She didn't want to go as far east as Philadelphia before going south. Philly, NY City and New Jersey must be chock full of the dead. The idea was to go south at an angle once she was past Pittsburgh, passing south of Baltimore and Washington, but staying north of Richmond.

The Allegheny mountains were close to 5,000 feet high in places, which shouldn't be a problem with a service ceiling of over 13,000 feet. With the spare fuel, she'd have to trust to luck at finding a place to refuel if needed. However, even over estimating the distance, she should have more than enough for the 450 miles. 56 gallons a would get her there. Cruising at 140 miles per hour the trip should only take a little over three hours. The young pilot had been so close to her destination when she crash landed.

It wasn't long before Rose could see in the distance where Pittsburgh had once been, off to starboard. The smoke was gone, however the blackened area in the river valley stood out. The Cessna crossed into Maryland near Cumberland, across the arm of West Virginia, emerging into Virginia near Front Royal. With the last of the mountains behind Rose now, she began a gradual descent.

The pilot leveled off at 1,000 feet, wondering again about the dead. They didn't seem attracted to the distant noise above them. At 100 feet, they would doggedly set off after the aircraft that they had no chance of catching. Their rotting, lizard brains just didn't see the connection. She passed Culpepper, watching for Fredericksburg, where she would swing back north for Maryland's eastern shore. In her mind, she would buzz the house and her father would come outside, hand shading his eyes as he looked up. Then he would pick her up at the old airfield, in his equally old Ford truck.

The daydream shattered when the F15 blasted past to starboard, so fast that the young pilot had no idea what craft it was. The little single engine wobbled as Rose stared after the intruder instead of taking care of business. it took a second to catch her breath and return to flying straight and level. The second shock was the Beechcraft twin engine that had moved in on her port side while she gawked after the fast mover. Rose cursed, fighting to regain control of the plane once again.

Looking her new guest over, she decided it was a model 50, even though twin engines weren't her thing. It didn't look as big as the few model 18's that had been around. The pilot nudged the Beechcraft Twin Bonanza closer to the little Cessna. When it stayed straight and level, he moved his wingtip toward her. Rose watched the wings creep closer together, then noticed the co-pilot motioning that she should land. She sighed, there was no escaping the twin engine, let alone the jet he had at his command. The co-pilot was pleased to see her return a thumbs up gesture.

John Spirro widened the gap between the planes and moved ahead, leading the way. He was sad that the flight was going to be so short. Flight time was rare these days, even rarer for the jet jockeys. In his heart he had hoped for a chase. When the emergency started, he had been a jet jockey himself. There really wasn't much for those pilots to do these days.

When he had joined his first squadron nobody had to beg for flight time. He had really felt he belonged when he got his promotion to Captain. Lt John Spirro became Captain Jack Sparrow and the pirate nonsense began. He missed those days. Now only a few fighters were kept ready to go. The former pilots were given other tasks, some were even given a rifle.

The Pirate was one of the few that had spent his time to become rated on a twin engine, since he had no private life. Now it paid off, keeping him the air. He chauffeured the big wigs and flew recon, although he still didn't fly as much as he had previously. The airfield hove into view within ten minutes. The Bonanza made a low level pass as the Cessna touched down and was swarmed by security. Spirro sighed, "Probably a week until he would have a chance to get up the air again".

Rose followed the Air Force plane, the heading almost in the direction she wanted anyway. The landing area hadn't existed before the dead came back to life. She knew all the airfields and this one was never there. From a distance the strip and building were surrounded by some type of concentric circles. The view closer was three alternating rings of fence, ditch, fence, ditch, fence, ditch. Before the landing took all her attention, she stared at the bodies inside the first three rings. If she had been familiar with World War One, she would have recognized the western front in France.

Military Humvee's raced on each side of the runway pacing the single engine craft as it touched down. The Cessna rolled to a stop just feet away from a plow truck blocking the runway. Rose followed the orders shouted at her after killing the engine. Hands in the air, she fell flat on her face getting out of the pilot's seat. Two strong young men lifted her up as though she weighed nothing at all. With her hands on the warm hood of a vehicle, her feet were kicked back and apart. Her old revolver was stripped from the shoulder holster before the search began.

The young pilot might have gone along with the program, however the probing hands lingered in really private areas. "I'll kill you fucking perverts" she screamed before her feet were kicked out from under her. A heavy boot in the middle of her back kept Rose pinned to the runway face down. She saw feet approach her position "Military rifle in the plane Sir". A moment's silence was interrupted "Tag her and bag her Sergeant".

The handcuffs were closed a notch too tight and would quickly become uncomfortable. The heavy hood slipped over her head was instantly uncomfortable. The light through the cloth was very faint, although she could breathe perfectly well. Rose started to struggle when claustrophobia struck her. A large hand with an iron grip on her throat helped calm her down. In her head, she began counting seconds when the vehicle she was placed in began to move. They didn't travel very fast, stopping after only three and a quarter minutes.

Rose was lowered from the truck by her arms before the truck moved away. The young woman hadn't realized how much her captors had stunk, until she smelled deodorant on her new pair of guards. Hands lifting her almost off her feet propelled her forward, the toes of her boots just brushing the concrete. She counted the stairs she was dragged up by how many times her feet hit something solid, before having nothing but air under them again. Entering a pool of shade, both darkened the interior of the hood, as well as lowering the temperature of the air surrounding her. The air cooled further, when she was whisked through a doorway that was wide enough for the trio to pass through side by side.

"A real live woman from the wasteland" a male voice said pretending to sound shocked. "In her own plane and armed to the teeth, just flying in out of the blue" the one sided conversation continued. "Put it in number five" the voice ordered in an all business tone of voice. Rose was dragged through a right turn, then a left. Evidently a hallway, from the way the squeak of her boot tips echoed slightly. Her escorts stopped, one releasing her arm to unlock a door. The hood was roughly pulled off her head before she was thrust into the room.

Once the door slammed shut, the pilot blinked several times, then surveyed the space she was in. The room was thirty by forty feet, lit only by a long, narrow window, high up on the back wall. The walls themselves were made of concrete block and painted a puke, greenish yellow. The floor was also concrete, although unpainted. A toilet and a sink with no mirror, sat behind a small screen. The only furniture was a metal framed bed, it's bare mattress supported by a web of thin web of metal strands. Rose slowly circled the room studying it, before sitting on the bed. The mattress sagged badly.

The young woman replayed the day's events in her mind. She decided that her sudden decision to fly off had made no difference. She would have been caught in this net anyway. Eventually her stomach told her that dinnertime came and went. The room slowly darkened as night fell. With little else to occupy herself, Rose began the exercises Trey had demanded. The pushups, sit ups and leg lifts finally made sense, although she hated to admit that the criminals had been right. She curled up on her saggy mattress and slept until dawn, waking chilled with nothing to cover up with.

The sun had been up for a couple hours when a polite knock came at the door. Rose was given her orders in a polite voice. She stood in the center of the room, back to the door, feet spread, arms extended to the side and fingers spread. "OK, turn around dear". The men who were evidently the ones who had placed her in the room stood in the doorway watching her. Rose ignored them staring at the woman pushing a tray into her room instead. She was slightly above average height, but moved with an athletic grace. Several years older than Rose, she wore a uniform with an armband, bearing a red cross.

A small folding table and chair were set up " Have a seat dear, breakfast is served".

Rose's stomach growled at the scent of food in her nostrils. Refusing to eat would serve no purpose, so she took the offered chair. The food was a combination of canned and powdered, with the exception of the bread. The young pilot kept her opinion to herself, trying not to gobble the plate's contents. When the last crumb was gone, she was ordered back to her bunk. The cart was loaded up again, although before it was removed the older woman passed some information to her. "You're to be interviewed later today. For what it's worth, nobody stays here long".

Rose guessed it was late afternoon before a man's voice ordered her to assume the position before her keepers entered the room. Once again shackled, she was hustled down the hall, trying to match her jailers' strides. Taken to another room where a chair was bolted to the floor in front of a desk, her cuffs were secured with a short chain, also bolted to the floor. The room was almost a duplicate of her own, and just as bare. She hadn't wait long when the door opened. A man in a gray uniform entered and took a seat at the desk. He opened a folder and studied it while she studied him. He was average height with a clean shave and military hair cut. His shoulders slightly wider than most men, however her eyes kept being drawn to the three ragged, parallel scars. Along the jaw line, but under the ears, they extended the entire right side of his face. It appeared as if somebody or something tried to tear his face off.

"So, Rose, we haven't had many civilian fliers since the emergency began. Tell me about yourself back to when this mess started".

She told him about college out west up though crashing her plane before he stopped her. His interest had increased at the mention of her treatment at the prison. "Where was the prison? Where was the plane crash? What were the names of the people involved with helping her? Where there soldiers there"?
The gray clad questioner wrote down each of her answers in detail. Encouraged to continue, she related her recovery and everything else up to her forced landing. She was asked for more details about the flights she made for the military.

The interview ended on a note of apology from the soldier. "We don't usually hold anyone for more than a day, but you were involved with something of interest to us. Your accommodations will be much better than the holding cell". Rose was walked back to a different room without handcuffs this time. The door was still locked behind her, however her new digs were more like an expensive hotel room.
The was a large screen television , an extensive DVD and CD library, a real bed and a really nice bathroom.

After searching for cameras and finding none, she had a long soak in the tub, then washed her clothing in it as well. She found new clothes from what was hanging in the closet. The meals were served on a permanent table in the room, without being observed, although the food was no different. The daily interviews continued, with her providing much more detail information. Rose traced each of her flights on a series of maps from the thick folders brought by the scarred man. She also located her destination on one of the local maps. For the first time she believed that she would be released eventually.

Rose was careful to ask only the most general questions about local events, most of which the gray man was willing to answer. At the end of the fourth interview she was told that she would be released the next morning. Unfortunately she would not have her aircraft returned. A patrol was going near where she wanted to go and she could accompany them if she wished. The area hadn't seen any activity lately. Or, she could be found work inside the wire. But once she left, there was no coming back. The scarred, gray man nodded, when she insisted on continuing her quest.

Rose never saw the kind man in gray man, whose name she didn't know, again. At dawn the next morning, a gruff soldier with four subdued stripes on his sleeve, banged on her door. "Get your shit, you won't be coming back" he ordered. "I don't have any shit, you guys took it all" she snarled back.
The staff sergeant grinned in approval at her spirit. The few civilians he had encountered were mostly empty shells of human beings.

Breakfast was at a table full of rough people in different uniforms in the chow hall. Patrols were nothing new to this group and their humor showed it. A Hispanic man, almost as wide as he was tall, looked down the table with a smile showing a gold tooth. "I give her two hours, she won't be flying over everything now". The rest of the squad's estimates of her time left on this earth varied from two days to two weeks. "I walked across the state of Missouri by myself, I think I'll be just fine" Rose replied with a smile. Given a place in one of the vehicles, her gear and weapons were returned to her. "Don't load those things until we drop you off. Nobody wants to be shot by an excitable civilian" the Staff Sergeant warned.

They drove though all three rings of fence, following the road that wove back and forth, so the gates weren't all in a line. Between each fence were a series of ditches and obstacles that could be used by a retreating party to block the road if there was a breach. A man in a tower at the outside ring called all clear before they were permitted to leave. The men manning the gate on the outside ring were jumpy and slammed the gate shut almost hitting the rear bumper on the last truck through. The smell of the dead bodies was almost a taste, rather than a smell. None of those rotting in the sun were even close to the fence.

The patrol drove mostly side roads, finding observation points with a view of bridges and major roads. Her excitement built as she recognized more and more landmarks. The trucks stopped at the dead end road, she grew up on. Her first act was to load her weapons as soon as her feet were on the ground. A thump behind her made Rose jump. "We'll say we lost it" said the man with the gold tooth as the trucks pulled away. It was a carton of military MRE's.

Rose stashed the food out of sight, then walked quickly down the road. The young woman couldn't help herself and broke into a jog. Once the house came into view she could barely restrain herself from calling out. The front porch was covered with windblown grit and debris, but they never used the front door anyway. Rose raced around the house to the back porch, only to find it in the same condition, except for the open door. Her heart sank.

The young woman climbed the stairs to call loudly into the dark opening "Daddy". Desperate, she ran from room to room, finding no sign of recent habitation. Back on the porch, she hoped he was in the garden, that was when she saw the grave, partially hidden by the tall grass. The tears blurred out the date when she saw that her father had died before she left Nebraska. Rose's tears continued most of the night, until just before dawn when she slept.

Days were spent in the house, reliving all the happy memories they had shared. Finally she had no tears left to shed. Rose was sure her Aunt June and Uncle Art had buried her father. They weren't really relatives, but they were family. Rose took a week to work up the courage to visit the only other house on the dead end road. She buried the their partially devoured bodies in front of the burned out pile of charcoal that used to be their house.

The canned goods and jars of food from last year's garden lasted two weeks. Rose took the things she thought would be useful from the camping gear in the basement. The MRE's were tied on the top of the pack and she set off down the road. Maybe Uncle Art's sailboat was still tied up in the marina. She'd sail south until she passed Richmond, then maybe she'd find another plane. There was always Pennsylvania.

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 Post subject: Re: Doing Time
PostPosted: Sat Jul 22, 2017 2:55 pm 
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YAY!!!!!! SO GLAD FOR MOAR!!!! Sounds like the U.S.M.C (the MOAR Corpses) win again.

Poor Rose, sad to see she lost her plane, her dad, and sounds like family friends. But that's what she gets for leaving our protagonists. Maybe we'll get intermittent updates of Rose? Hear how her travels go?

Thanks again for the update, one of my favorite stories here!

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 Post subject: Re: Doing Time
PostPosted: Sun Jul 23, 2017 12:47 pm 
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Thanks!

Appreciate the continuation of this storyline...

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 Post subject: Re: Doing Time
PostPosted: Mon Jul 24, 2017 3:56 pm 
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Thanks for the new installment. This is an excellent story. Do hope it continues.

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Just got caught up again! PLEASE KEEP GOING :clap:


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 Post subject: Re: Doing Time
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It has been mentioned to me that the last post would be a good ending. I was surprised. What do you all think?

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Captain Trask stood at the sink looking in the mirror, to begin the painstaking task of a morning shave. Getting in between the scars without cutting his face was the goal. Every morning, the thought that not even a beard wouldn't hide the ropes of shiny scar tissue, went through his mind. He was sure the General would turn a blind eye if it was an improvement. He had to admit that luck had been on his side. Scratches from the dead had a fifty-fifty chance of being fatal. Those that died, had about the same odds of just dying, or coming back as a zombie. The group's medic had plucked a loose fingernail from one of the wounds, before flushing the ravaged area with alcohol. The soldier got those scars saving his General's life. He wasn't a desk guy and had requested a return to the infantry several times. The old man's reply was always the same. "Sorry Bill, you're too important here".

Finished with putting on the medium gray uniform, he looked in the full length mirror. The bare uniform was just wrong, no rank, no name tape, no indicator of what he did for a living. There the scars helped. Nobody that looked like he did spent all his time behind a desk. Plus, the side of his mouth was pulled down in a permanent frown of disapproval. His job was to make people nervous. He scooped up his rifle and vest before exiting the room. The Captain never even went to the latrine unarmed.

Trask showed his I.D. at the compound gate. No one just strolled into Combined Intelligence, where the spooks lived. From his office on the first floor, he had a clear line of sight to the main door. The morning was spent writing his report of the interview. The remainder of the day was spent gathering confirmable information. He managed to secure twenty minutes of the General's valuable time the next morning. He continued to go over the information for his presentation long after the building had emptied. He nodded to the junior Lieutenant who would babysit the building, hoping nothing would occur on his shift.

Bright and early, Trask arrived for his appointment just after the General's personal assistant arrived. She was a cute redhead who filled out her uniform nicely. Like many people, she never looked directly at him when speaking. Others, couldn't seem to look away from the wrecked visage. Sergeant Urizzi had shivers down her spine when looking at the Captain. He sat in a chair, rifle between his knees, zoning out. The General, not a morning person, passed through the room not speaking. The old man would have his morning brew before taking care of business. At last, the gate keeper let the officer pass into the inner sanctum.

The General rose to greet his guest. It wasn't just an act, he was genuinely grateful to the young officer, The commander had grown to like his rescuer, although he also tried to keep him from further harm. "What have you got for me Bill"?

"I have some information about the missing Major Barton, his mission and his troops out in Pennsylvania".

"Excellent. I've wondered about that".

"The Major is dead. His mission was successful. Most of the soldiers he took along have survived".

"The source?"

"A young woman who was flying a small plane that we snagged".

The senior officer remained silent, letting the junior offer provide all the details obtained from the interview. "It should be easy enough to confirm if the test was successful" he finished his report.

"So those soldiers have no idea how to get back" the General asked?

"Knowing the Major, I would guess they have no idea" The Captain agreed.

"I'll kick this upstairs. I'm sure the test results will be of interest. Most likely they'll order a flyover. The Major is dead then"?

"He tried to kill the prisoners that got them into town, in front of witnesses. In a flamboyant manner, knowing the Major. This McFaren and his cohort are trouble shooters for the survivors in the area. He is the one that borrowed one of the laser trucks".

"And the other units are still just sitting there"?

"No way of knowing, sir".

"Thank you Bill" the man with the stars ended the meeting. The following three days were spent with busy work. Scanning reports, filing items that needed filed and clearing his desk. Bored, the Captain would drift down to the building armory to bullshit with the men in the cage. They didn't have a lot to do either. The enlisted men were leery of the scarred officer at first, until they realized he wasn't the typical grey jacket that filled the building.

Summoned to the General's office, Trask waited ten minutes so he wouldn't seem too eager. "I guess I'm fighting a losing battle here" the older man sighed. "You're determined to get back into this meat grinder. Well, we lost a major and mislaid a lieutenant , so I'll send a captain. Trask couldn't help but smile as they went over all the details. His orders were waiting for him when he left the office. He personally dropped the paperwork off at the motor pool, supply and personnel. The world was falling apart, but the military still ran on paperwork.

The force assigned to Trask was a platoon of mixed service members. That was the rule now more than the exception. The makeup of the platoon was almost down to fifty percent Army. There were fewer Marines around as than there used to be as well. The Navy and Air Force had run out of tasks for most of their personnel, so they were given rifles. With little training, the losses were high the first few tours on the wall or patrols. What was left were those that learned quickly or were just plain lucky. His best troops had always been those that grew up either on the mean streets of the larger cities, or those from the country that grew up in the outdoors. The platoon had just come off a tour on the wall and a stint on patrol. The Captain hoped that they enjoyed their day off, it would be their last for a while.

Lieutenant Alvarez and Staff Sergeant Merced had no idea why they were ordered to appear at the CI headquarters. To say they were worried was putting it mildly. "No good will come of this" the black, enlisted man with the shaved head growled to his platoon leader.

"Probably not, so let's see what they want" the laid back officer replied as they approached the compound gate. The delay, while approval for entry was made by telephone, was taken in stride by the calm and collected Lieutenant. The pair were shown into Trask's office. They checked out his scars and he studied the unflappable officer and the angry Sergeant. Trask slid both a copy of their orders, as well as reports on the situation to date, across the desk to each man. He stood looking out the window for the time it took the others to become familiar with their upcoming assignment. The Captain also provided a list of equipment to be drawn from government stores. "Questions or suggestions" Trask asked?

"No sir"!

"I'll see you at the airfield in three days then". Trask watched his men leave, thinking that he could have done worse. He slowly and carefully went over everything one last time, looking for flaws and missing pieces. Satisfied, he looked around the office briefly before closing the door. The remainder of the day he spent in his quarters, going over maps of the destination. The surrounding state maps first, noting the population centers and major roads to be avoided. Then the Pennsylvania map, looking for ways to return if necessary. From the interview, the Captain knew most of the traveling had been to the north. Once south and once west, but repeatedly to the north. No interest was shown in anything to the east, the more mountainous area.

The one local map he'd been able to get his hands on, was the most important. Again, information from the interview, allowed him a general idea where the farms were located. He'd go over the information each night until he could recall the detail easily. Pulling out maps all the time would give the men the impression he wasn't sure what he was doing. The rest of the time available was spent going through the tombs in the basement of CI for more information or being denied updated satellite photographs. Evidently, changing the trajectory was out of the question. Maybe there wasn't anyone left that knew how to do that. Although he did spare the time to show his scars at the armory and motor pool, just to insure complete cooperation.

Alvarez and Merced were amazed at both the armory and the motor pool. Almost no waiting was involved in drawing their equipment. The weapons and ammunition were stacked and waiting. Lieutenant Alvarez signed off on the forms, still shaking his head, never having seen belt fed weapons so clean. Staff Sergeant Merced was stunned to see the vehicles he was being offered. He had expected to be offered junk, and after a lot of argument settling for slightly better junk. The items signed for weren't new by any stretch of the imagination, but mechanically sound. The body repairs were neatly done and freshly painted. The two men exchanged experiences, agreeing that the man from CI had some pull.

Expecting to spend time getting all the gear in shape, the company showed up at the hangar with nothing to do. They had no way of knowing that Illion and his men had left from the same structure earlier in the year. Trask was there ahead of the company. The Captain had a line of bent and dented pop cans lined up, throwing rocks at them. He heard the company pull up behind him, but continued his activity. Alvarez approached and cleared his throat, though the other officer gave no sign that he had heard. He was debating what to do next when the captain spoke "Have the company fall in, please".

Trask continued his throws, preceded by a big league windup and follow through to the sound of shuffling feet and rustling equipment. Feeling the company's eyes upon him, he managed to kill the last five cans with five throws. Turning, he gave the assembled men a couple minutes to take a look at him. "Open ranks" the man in gray suggested to the company commander.

The order was given, the front ranks took the prescribed steps forward, the third rank stood fast and the rear rank moved backwards. Trask, followed by the Sergeant and Lieutenant, drifted up and down the rows of soldiers. The purpose wasn't an inspection, but rather to give each man a good look at his face. Although he gave them a once over as well. The navy men were wearing a mix of blue camouflage and whatever else that had been available. The zoomies had their own unmistakable uniforms. The new men didn't even have a tape showing their branch of service. Their information had been written with a black marker. All their boots were serviceable and the rifles were clean.

Back in front of the group, the man in gray suggested "Have them fall out and form a circle". Alvarez nodded to the black man, who got the group herded into a circle surrounding the officers. "You won't up on a wall or hunting waterlogged creatures who managed to climb out of the river" The Captain began. "If it comes, it'll be a stand up fight. The average heights are 5' 9" for a male, 5' 4" for a female. The big people died being big people, the small people were better at ducking, dodging and hiding. The dead you run into aren't going to be giants". There was nervous laughter from the ring of soldiers. "At least that's what the reports say".

"Do not shoot unless ordered. Do not use your bayonet on your rifle to stick the dead. The result will be black goop in your rifle barrel. I'd recommend a pipe, tire iron or something that won't break. Your target is right here" the Captain pointed to his temple "and here" he placed a hand on the nape of his neck. "The top of the head is harder to fracture". Trask motioned a man from the front rank to move next to him. "You're a Zombie, put your arms out" which resulted in more laughter from the group. "Step to the side, then make your swing. They haven't any balance, you can trip them or a shove will topple them. I don't recommend it, but if you grab a sleeve and tug, they fall on their face. If you knock down the ones in front, the rest will trip over them. Hit and move, don't let them get behind you" he finished up.

Merced moved the men into the hangar, grounding their gear by squads. In the office, the three men in charge went over the mission. They poured over the maps, discussed distances, expected opposition and time allowed. When all the questions were answered, that could be answered, conversation dried up. The ranking officer took a desk in the corner , put his feet up and continued looking at the maps. Alvarez and Merced drifted outside to talk with the squad leaders, so they could brief the troops. Alone, Trask closed his eyes and tilted his head back. From here on out, he'd have to take things as they came.

The afternoon was spent with the soldiers doing common task training. The parts concerning zombies weren't in any of the field manuals. Later, Merced took a gaggle of soldiers down the flight line for evening chow. When they'd returned, Alvarez took the other half for their meals. Task strolled along behind the group. Merced had paved the way with the mess sergeant , eliminating any hassles. Trask seated himself across the table from Alvarez, neither man speaking while they ate.

The light seemed to hang on, even once the sun was out of sight, except inside the hangar. Merced and Alvarez were unrolling their sleeping bags, expecting Trask to remain in his corner. He surprised them again, electing a spot in the hangar a short distance from the troops. Merced looked at his platoon leader and shook his head without speaking. The Captain rolled his bag open, hearing the conversations die down. Like crickets, the sound of whispers soon resumed. In one corner, voices started to rise, but he still couldn't make out the words.

"You guys need to grow some balls, I'll do it" floated out of the darkness. An unidentifiable figure approached, stopping a respectable distance away. "Excuse me Sir".

"Step a little closer soldier".

The man moved forward dropping to one knee. "The men were wondering about your scars Sir" he blurted out in a soft voice.

The officer's amusement was evident in his voice. "Before this mess started, I was stationed at Schofield Barracks on Oahu. While snorkeling one fine Sunday morning, I got into a tussle with an eleven foot Tiger shark which was attacking a cute surfer girl. I went to the hospital and the fish went to the taxidermist. The view of the islands from a medical chopper is pretty cool".

The enlisted man chuckled "That's weak Sir".

"Not at all. It has an exotic locale and the classic battle of man against nature and a damsel in distress. However, you have permission to come up with something better Sergeant".

"Thank you Sir" the shadow said, taking his leave. Before he rejoined his group he paused "How did he know I was a Sergeant"?

Trask listened, anticipating the groans following the story and wasn't disappointed. He was sure the junior NCO was confirming that the story was bullshit, then providing a better story about what he had heard really happened. The remainder of the night was filled with moans from the sleepers and occasional cries as a soldier sat up being chased by a nightmare from his dream. Seeing the posted guards and his sleeping team mates quickly calmed them down. Rarely a night would go by without the officer feeling the fingernails of a dead hand ripping the skin from his face.

Merced had half the platoon on their way to breakfast before it was fully light out the next morning. Trask followed this group today, listening to the troops trying to recall the words to some surfing songs. The platoon Sergeant was annoyed that he had no idea what was going on, but was sure it was the gray clad man's fault. The Captain stayed for a third cup of coffee, going back with Alvarez's group, who was equally puzzled about the song topic. The vehicles were checked again, then the waiting began. Several card games started up and a lot of the men dozed off on the hard concrete, leaning against their packs.

An Airman in a blue sedan showed up just before lunch. He politely inquired why the hangar's inhabitants weren't in the assembly area. The officers denied being informed to move to another area. "Sirs, the transport is waiting up the flight line. Just head that way and you'll see my car" he pointed over his shoulder with a thumb. Merced got the troops mounted up and the group moved out in the direction the blue sedan had headed. A little ways past where they had breakfasted, the sedan was parked in the shade of a huge aircraft wing.

Airmen moved all the vehicles into the bay of the craft. They clearly didn't trust the Army not to damage their precious plane. Cargo with wheels was secured to the deck and cargo with legs was secured in the seats. The ground crew departed just ahead of the closing ramp. When the engines spun into life, the passengers all reached for the headsets next to each seat. Talking wouldn't be impossible, although it would take a major effort. The military plane would never be confused with a civilian airliner. It was noisier and shook more taxiing to a takeoff position. The men inside knew the crews didn't fly very often these days and hoped they remembered enough to get into the air.

Before it seemed like they were traveling near fast enough to get airborne, the deck took on a serious tilt. The plane still shook, but in a totally different manner. Slowly, by degrees, the deck leveled out again. The platoon visibly relaxed, giving each other a thumbs up. Trask gave the aircrew ten minutes to accomplish what they needed to do, then unbuckled his restraint and stood up. By the time he neared the cockpit door, all eyes were on him, including that of a crew chief barring the way.

The Captain had a letter from the General, although he was pretty certain he wouldn't need it. He considered it his Richelieu letter. The 17th century French Cardinal allegedly gave warrants to his assassins stating that "The barer had done what was done for the good of France". The platoon watched the confrontation with interest. The man in gray pointed to the door behind its guardian. The crewman shook his head pointing back to the seating area. The Captain leaned forward and the crewman reacted by backing up as though the scars were a contagious disease. After all, the man had been in close contact with the dead.

The troops thought this was funny since there was never any love lost between the Air Force and the Army. The members who weren't Army had begun to consider themselves so. When the Captain passed through the hatch to the cockpit Merced sighed "That man uses his face just like a beautiful woman to get what he wants" he said to himself.

The pilot and co-pilot were startled when the hatch was opened. That shouldn't happen unless it was an emergency. Both men cringed seeing the gray intelligence uniform that always meant problems. "What can we do for you Captain" the co-pilot asked?

"I have a message I'd like you to transmit every ten minutes or so. I don't expect an answer, so that should simplify things".

The co-pilot snatched the paper from the extended hand, ignoring the wrecked smile of gratitude. "Will do" he acknowledged suppressing a shudder.

Trask nodded at the smiling men on his way back to his seat. He spent the remainder of the flight studying the maps he knew by heart and reviewing his landing "to do" list. The rest of the passengers were happy to doze off, since spending a night on concrete. He checked his watch every the plane banked as though changing course. Seeing it was way too early to have arrived, he went back to his lists. Later, a crewman notified Alvarez, one of the few who were still awake, that they would be landing shortly.

Merced started making his rounds, kicking booted feet. The transport's starboard wing dropped slightly and stayed in that position. The craft continued to circle for almost a half hour, before leveling and beginning its descent. The short distance it taxied after later took everyone by surprise. The men stood and stretched, trying to stay out of the way of the crew feeing the captive vehicles. Alvarez was on the ground, directing the troops chased out by Merced to an assembly area, where they formed a perimeter.

Several platoons were sweeping the airport shooting the dead as they came into range. An Engineer company, followed by a rifle company raced across the runways on an unknown mission. Another company of Engineers was setting up a fence fifty feet from where the original had collapsed. The smell of the pile of dead had many soldiers pause in their work to vomit. The fence crew was watched over by two companies of riflemen, although no mobile dead had approached the opening. At the same time, mechanics climbed over the trucks attached to flatbed trailers containing an unidentifiable cargo.
Aircraft mechanics we checking out several large transports that hadn't been part of the flight that had just landed.

The men on the airport side of the perimeter had plenty to look at. Those on the fence side saw only fields, woods and parts of a dead city. Once they arrived, the vehicle crews were set to seeing if there was any damage, leaving one man in each crew on watch. Trask made his appearance about the time the shooting started at the newly erected fence. Alvarez issued instructions to move the company to a back gate near some of the hangars. "Now" the company commander asked when they were in position?

"Now we wait" was the brief reply.

With the noise from all the activity, the vehicles' approach from outside the fence wasn't heard. A trooper called out a sighting, giving Trask time to walk to the gate. A battered dump truck, smeared with fluids from collisions with the dead, followed by an equally batter SUV slid to a stop outside the fence. A motley looking bunch emerged from the stinking trucks, led by an older man in a once white lab coat. Only one of the group looked comfortable with the weapons they carried. "It's good to see you Doctor" Trask greeted the new arrivals.

They were interrupted by a Frenchman with his newly learned fractured English "She's about freaking time".

The Doctor and friends were escorted to one the planes already loaded with two of the flatbed trailers. The UI man spoke on the walk to the plane. "No, he was very helpful" the older man replied to the Captain's inquiry about Trey. "They helped test one of the units. His friend, the little guy, was very mechanically inclined".

Trask sensed he wasn't being told everything the Doctor had to say, "What else Doctor"?

"They offered to take us to a secure location, with other people there. The unit that was taken was payment . I told them somebody would be coming for us, although I had no idea it would take so long".

"Payment for what" Trask asked?

Engineer and rifle companies had been recalled and lost no time boarding the transports after the final loads were secured. Alvarez's company was a mile from the airport when the big planes began taking off. The mechanics had only been successful with one left behind craft and it was the last to leave the runway. The soldiers of the company suddenly felt very lonely when the roar of the big engines had faded into the distance.

One local surviving group, that was in the flight path had spotted the planes make their landing. They were still arguing about what to do when the planes left again. Another small band that moved from place to place hadn't paused to discuss the issued, piling into whatever would run to make a dash toward the airport. Seven humans wept bitter tears at being close enough to hear the engines during the takeoff. They continued on, however they were thwarted by the dead on each route they tried. The noise had attracted every reanimated human in the city. With heavy hearts, the survivors took round about directions to what passed for home for now.

Alvarez's company had barely missed being spotted by those attempting to be rescued. The soldiers managed to reach the interstate with little trouble, but began running into larger numbers of the dead. Trask, in the lead truck, headed the convoy onto a side road when only a few dead were in sight. They hadn't traveled west for long before they came across a county road building, with a fenced in lot. The trucks pulled through the closed, but unlocked gate when the Captain opened it. Alvarez had the vehicles circled and Merced picked men to check the clearly empty garage.

One glance was all that was needed to see no goons were there. There wasn't any office, only a beat up desk and chair in a back corner. A few empty storage shelves lined the rear wall, otherwise the place was empty. Merced noticed a ladder attached to a wall, even the same color of dirty paint in the rest of the building. "Delcosta, get up that up that ladder to see if the hatch at the top will open" the Sergeant ordered.

The young soldier slung his carbine over his head and shoulder, looking up the metal rungs. He made a face as he started up the ladder "You should learn somebody else's name besides mine Sarge" he mumbled.

"I heard that Delcosta. You think I don't like you because you're an Air Force puke. That isn't true at all. I like the Air Force, I really do. Any time there's a war, they're nice enough to give the Army a ride. The problem isn't that you're an Air Force puke. The problem is that you are a useless soldier and I'm tasked with turning you into a real soldier".

"Thank you Sergeant " the man working his way up the ladder whispered. At the top of the ladder, he reached above his head, feeling around the square hatch. He located the hinges and figured that a latch would be on the opposite side. It seemed to be a lift and slide affair from what he could feel in the darkened alcove. The lever refused to give although he could barely get a grip on it. Fishing through his pocket, the Airman located his pocket knife. The blade clicked open with a flick of the thumb. Force from behind popped the lever up. The hinges were stiff and creaked as the lid slid up and back.

Freddy Delcosta took a quick look at the empty, tar and chip covered roof, before climbing out in the open. He walked along all four sides, looking down at the troops, the fence and the area outside the enclosure. Even before the emergency, he'd always felt safer up higher, than on the ground, with a corresponding feeling of vulnerability upon returning to earth. "No dead will get up here" he thought out loud. The sound of boots on the metal rungs made him turn toward the roof access expecting Merced, bringing another ass chewing with him.. "After all, he hadn't been told to come out on the roof, only open the hatch. Personal initiative wasn't always rewarded".

Delcosta, his mother and sister, were refugees staying at the old Air Force base in upstate New York. His father had flown to Chicago for business, never to be heard from again. His mother had come from money and married money, so living in a military barracks and sharing a room with a stranger was hard on her. His younger sister was sickly, and unfortunately, the military and their dependants were the priority recipients of medical care. Entire days were spent in the waiting room without being seen by a doctor.

Their roommate was a Marine, although he was in his sixties. He had weekly meetings at headquarters attempting to get back in uniform, until in order to placate the old warrior, he was made barracks chief and in charge of security for building 1008. Gunny Marston was the one who suggested that Ted volunteer. His family would rate medical treatment, such as it was, and a spot in one of the duplexes in military housing. Ted agonized for three days, before signing the papers and breaking the news to his mother after the fact. Her histrionics about being left alone were worse than he expected. She calmed down once she had actual rooms of her own. The big time lawyer, with connections, sitting at the curb after being evicted, received no sympathy.

Basic training was to last an entire two weeks. Every day they marched to the end of the block, then ran a mile and a half. At the end of the first week, the volunteers were informed they were no longer property of the Air force, they were soldiers now. The training changed significantly. The run was two miles and they were issued rifles. Another week was added for the accelerated Army training. His last night was spent with his family, before climbing aboard an empty supply flight to an unknown destination. Although, to Sergeant Merced, he would always be an Air Force puke.

Instead of Merced, the head that emerged wore a gray cap and had a ravaged face. The Captain was followed by the lieutenant and then Merced. He stayed at the far corner of the roof , and after a glance, he was ignored by the group. "Shouldn't we be alone" Alvarez asked?

"No" the Captain replied. Your troop will hear some things and pass them on. The men will of course accept the scuttlebutt as gospel, and be thrilled to be in on the big secret. It's better for morale if things go south".

Delcosta heard the mention of a prison, convicts, lost soldiers, a missing piece of equipment and a secret experiment, although not many of the details. At first it sounded like a James Bond movie, however as the conversation continued it was more like Lord of the Rings. Shortly after the command group left, it occurred to him that he was supposed to hear what he did. Devious was the word he arrived at to describe the man in gray.

Hours later, just before dark, his relief arrived. The sound of boots on the ladder rungs was followed by cursing, then a rifle dropping onto the roof. Eriksson's blonde head popped through the hatch bitching about the lack of a man sized passage to the roof. The large man, known as the Swede, had to get one shoulder through the opening, then squeeze to get the other out. He was followed by Number Three, so called because several troopers were named Smith. Neither man was in the guard's squad.

Delcosta barely caught the tossed MRE. He sat on the low wall surrounding the roof, slicing open the package. "You can leave now" Number Three said slowly to the new guy, as though he was an idiot.

"Naw, I like it up here". It's quiet".

"Sure, it's great up here" the Swede butted in. "Until something happens and they run off without us". Number Three nodded sagely pointing at the big man.

By the time the diner finished eating, washing the food down with several swigs of tepid water from his canteen, night had fallen. His parting words to the city boys made them look around quickly. "Watch out for the owls, they've been buzzing me. They'll rip your face off man".

The soldiers didn't sleep well. Most were more used to the sound of gunfire, than the sounds of a night in the country. Even those familiar with the noises, hadn't heard them in quite some time. The guards took turns stretching out on the gravel roof when no relief showed up. The only movement they saw, were occasional soldiers relieving themselves by the rusty barrier fence. Some of the sleepers revisited bad experiences in their dreams. There were yells, loud voices or cries from some of the men to keep the guard alert.

Since they were outside the wire, Alvarez had insisted on "stand to" every morning, just before sunrise. Every man had some type of cover, with their rifle pointed at their sector of the perimeter. Then chow was followed by vehicle maintenance, before packing up all the gear. The order for the road march remained the same as the day before. Merced was the last man out of the compound, he latched the gate, so nothing without a functioning brain would get in.

The convoy stayed on the two lane roads, after the experience the day before. He had no place else to be, however Alvarez was becoming annoyed with Trask. Every time there were bodies within sight of the road he called for a halt. The earlier stops involved moving the remains with a stick, later a quick look was all he required. The larger piles were mostly reanimates, with bullets holes in the skull or shattered heads. The singles or smaller groups, evidently were those pulled down by the dead.

Sooner or later the convoy had to get to the other side of the four lane. The first attempt was impossible due to the number of dead reported by the scouts. The second time, the scouts were gone long enough to worry Alvarez and piss off Merced. Finally, a runner returned reporting a gap in the traffic. "Haul ass, we have break".

The convoy put the pedal to the metal, slowing only enough to recover the scouts. A large number of bodies littered the area near the underpass, although the road had enough clear space for the vehicles to squeeze through. More homes and farms were near the road west of the interstate. Alvarez was amazed, but thankful that they hadn't had contact with the dead yet. He had expected conditions to be much worse. The lieutenant was sure that current events were subject to change at any time. This was just too good to be true.

Trask called a halt just outside a little burg, to let everyone stretch their legs and give the scouts time to go forward. The command group gathered around one of the Captain's maps, looking where he placed a finger. "We're here". His finger traced a connecting road on the other side of the town.
"We're going here. We'll infiltrate the area and observe before we take any action. Pick some good men and let them know".

Alvarez and Merced put their heads together, making selections for the job. The officer questioned a few of Merced's choices, but he was adamant. He gave in, his sergeant always knew what he was doing. The scouts returned to report "No zeros on the streets, but we could see them in some of the windows".
Merced left for twenty minutes, returning from south of town having found a place to hold up. The unit mounted up, following the Sergeant a short distance.

The convoy stopped on the road while the officers checked the bivouac site. A short side road led to a clump of houses among some scattered trees. The back yards were fenced in, which was a plus. The leaders returned to the convoy in time to see the red and white Cessna make a low pass over the vehicles. "Well, there's something you don't see everyday" Trask calmly said to the surprised group sitting in the open.

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Three men and a woman trapped in a building, send help. If you can't send help send two more women. Groucho Marx-Duck Soup

USAF SP 72-77,US Army reserves 84-92


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 Post subject: Re: Doing Time
PostPosted: Wed Oct 18, 2017 9:21 pm 
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Groucho wrote:
It has been mentioned to me that the last post would be a good ending. I was surprised. What do you all think?


HA! I was just going to go through and post here saying MOAR!!!!!! You beat me however.

I would say it would be a good ending, for book 1 or 2..... but this is a trilogy (you knew that right?). I could see it as an end but there's lots left for our anti-heroes.... Right? Please don't make me beg.

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I like huge dicks, Halfapint, so you are OK in my book.... hahaha
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Tell ya what... If Zombies attack and the world ends I'll hook tandem toddlers to a plow if it means I'll be able to eat...


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 Post subject: Re: Doing Time
PostPosted: Fri Oct 20, 2017 5:41 am 
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Ah, a long awaited post!

MOAR, please!

Bob

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People who are rather more than six feet tall and nearly as broad across the shoulders often have uneventful journeys. People jump out at them from behind rocks then say things like, "Oh. Sorry. I thought you were someone else."


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 Post subject: Re: Doing Time
PostPosted: Sun Dec 03, 2017 5:25 pm 
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Trey and Joker watched the rest of their group depart for the farm, before starting to close up the buildings on the estate. The thief hadn't had much to say, so Trey was sure his friend had something on his mind. The cell mates drove down the sloping drive to the road and stopped to close the gate, Joker waited in the cab, while the bank robber moved the barrier back into place. Upon his return, the smaller man turned off the engine and met him by the rear of the truck. "You said there was an airport over there didn't you"?

"Why yes I did" Trey smiled at his friend still pointing to the west. "At least there is on the map, although it isn't in a low population area like the others we've been to".

"Since we're already here, we should at least go take a look". Joker had his jaw set and was ready for an argument on the subject. He was a little disappointed when his friend replied with a grin "Whatever you say Sky King".

"I figure we can sneak over there and if there aren't too many, we can do the Pied Piper thing".

"I can take them for a walk, while you look around" the soldier offered. "It's still a couple hours until dark. But, let's take the truck as close as we can. If we have to run, we can't lead them back in this direction."

Joker slowly cruised west, backing off on the gas the farther they went. On the right side of the road, the wooded land rose gradually at first, then steeply to the same height as the hill behind the estate. On the left side, a stream, at its low summer level, meandered close to the road. On the far side of the waterway, mature maples and oaks, as well as a steep bank, blocked the view. The airfield should be beyond the trees, however they'd just have to cross the creek to find out for sure. Joker pulled off the road in one of those mysterious wide spots, that show up along a border. Trey always wondered why it was there and who used it enough to make rain filled, potholes in the surface.

The men gathered their equipment, softly closing the doors until they clicked. The bank was two long steps down and put them on the edge of the stream. "Somebody crosses here" Trey whispered, pointing out the rocks sticking above the water's surface, in a line to the far bank. Seeing the dried dirt, deposited on the stones from high water during the last rainfall, he added "But not lately". The bank robber balanced with one foot on a wobbly rock, then stepped to the next. The gap in the middle of the stream was wider than the others had been, however Trey made the jump easily.

Joker stood looking at the rocks for a moment, then started across. Trey, standing at the top of the bank, facing the trees, heard the splash. Turning he whispered "You're doing it wrong". His partner had made the short jump, but off balance, had put his foot into water just deep enough to go over the top of his boot. The small man squished the rest of the way to the bank, his wet footwear picking up a clump of clay climbing the bank. "There better be a plane in there" he exclaimed with a disgusted look on his face. First he poured water from his boot, then wrung the water from his sock and finally pried the clay from its sole with a piece of broken branch.

The pair proceeded slowly up through the trees. Joker's boot wasn't audibly squishing, but each time he put his foot down, a small amount of liquid moved. Like anyone else who works or plays outside, it wasn't the first time this had happened to him. "At least it's not cold out" he thought how much worse that would be. The forest floor leveled for a short distance, then turned into another incline. "This is fill from when they leveled the area for the field" the thief said in a low voice. The trees growing on the dumped earth were younger than what they had walked through earlier. The rest was tall weeds, sticker bushes and some fairly large rocks.

The convicts made their way up the man made hill, until they could see the airfield. They had arrived at the north end of the place. Any further north and they would have missed it altogether. Looking south, they saw figures in the distance, although there weren't any goons at this end. "We have a couple hours of daylight. We can go around or just stagger over there" Trey said quietly.

"Let's walk almost straight across, until we're out of sight".

With the decision made, they started away from cover. The men adopted the slow, loose jointed, slightly side to side method of their enemy. The grass alongside the runway was almost tall enough to bail for hay. Insects jumped or flew away as they approached. The pair came out onto the runway, trudging across faded paint lines that needed touched up and slight cracks in the blacktop that needed filled. Joker moved on when Trey stopped to use the binoculars.

Upon reaching the cover of the airport building, the convicts hurried to the back corner. The side they were on being featureless, with no way of access to the inside. The rear of the building faced a steep hillside, with piles of shale at the bottom that had slid down the incline due to the effects of wind and rain. Dead trees from the forest on top, had eroded at the base and fallen onto the bare hillside. A dozen feet of grass and weeds separated the hill's base and the sidewalk next to the wall. The men would have to walk the length of the hangar in order to have a good look at it.

Small windows were placed high on the wall for the sole purpose of letting in light. Both doors they came across were without locks or handles, made to be opened strictly from inside. The criminals were aware their escape options were limited if the dead showed up. The steep hill of loose shale would be a hard climb. Having covered the width with no luck, Joker eased up to the corner for a peek at the side they hadn't seen yet. An eddy of the wind had deposited a variety of trash around that area of the property. The thief picked his way gingerly through the mess. Twice he had to move debris to make a place to step. One heap of paper and plastic shopping bags, concealed a rotting skull with a bullet hole in the forehead.

Standing away from the corner itself, in case a goon was right at the same corner, he eased forward. The access road disappearing through the trees was the first thing he noticed. Each slow step revealed more empty asphalt, until he could see both another blank wall and a pair of goons fifty yards in front of the hangar. Backing up slowly, the thief turned motioning his partner back the way they had come. When they reached their starting point Joker said "It's in the front I guess".

"Yep" Trey replied. "It's almost like they didn't want anything stolen".

"That ain't funny man. There must be something in there to have it locked up like this" Joker said, turning the corner after a quick look. He was peering around the front corner when Trey caught up to him. "Well, they haven't moved".

"Let's split up. Give me a wave when you can get in, then keep your radio on after I get our friends out of here".

The two men staggered in different directions, Joker along the front of the hangar and Trey back out towards the west end of the runway. The bank robber slowed his pace and turned onto a taxi way before Joker reached the first doorway. He watched the smaller man make his approach, ready to intervene if the dead took an interest in him as anything other than a fellow traveler. Joker paused by the first door. The large sliding door wasn't made to be opened from the outside. There wasn't even a handle on the exterior. The door entry door was set in the wall to the right of the aircraft exit. Joker cursed silently to himself. The owners used deadbolt locks as well as padlocks and they were top of the line. Cheap padlocks were no problem, however the more expensive ones had a second notch cut in the shackle. He could still open it, but it would take time. Trey was surprised when his friend moved on. If the entry was easy, he'd be inside by now.

The second door was set up exactly the same as the first door. Joker staggered to the third door, waiting until none of the goons were facing him to look at the lock. The deadbolt lock meant he wouldn't be quickly or silently slipping inside. Quick would be far from quiet and silent would be super slow. Joker was sure that one of the goons was looking at him funny, when he looked back from checking the door. The last door was past where the goons were milling about. They'd never tried to fake it up close and personal before. The thief made a stiff legged circle while thinking about how fast he could do both locks. Arriving back at his starting point, the thief decided to go for it.

Trey saw the reanimated humans begin to move toward his friend and decided on his course of action as fast as Joker had. He jogged toward the dead clapping his hands. The sound was sharp and loud, the kind that would make a person jump if they weren't ready for it. The sound being more stimulating than Joker's action, the dead turned toward the noise. "Don't just stand there" the bank robber taunted the ghouls, sauntering toward the access road.

The dead moved after their tantalizing prey that stayed fifty feet in front of them. The road was the only way in or out foe vehicles. Still on airport property, the land on both sides of the blacktop was wooded. Blown leaves and fallen branches littered the shaded roadway. Trey was surprised at the length of the access road that seemed to just keep going. Finally, the group emerged into the open within sight of a large group of homes. Trey squinted, walking west into the setting sun, looking for a way to lose his followers.

The driveway passed between two of a row of homes built in the 60's, merging onto a township road. He could see a newer subdivision farther west, the ideal spot to give his new friends the slip. The convict pulled ahead of the ghouls to give himself a little breathing room before doing his disappearing act. Trey was startled when a voice whispered "Help us"! The house to his left featured a woman in one of the second story windows, waving frantically. Looking back at the dead he spoke loud enough for her to hear. "Get out of sight. I'll come back when I've lost these guys. It might be a little while, so keep your cool". When he glanced over, she was no longer in sight.

"Thanks Joker, old buddy" he murmured to himself. The creek they had parked next to was flowing to his right, so they were still traveling in the correct direction. Trey crossed the road into an overgrown lawn, between another pair of older homes. Past their back yards lay an open field, with a small pond. Beyond that was the neighborhood of newer, larger, fancier houses. The convict suspected they all had four bedrooms, fireplaces, pantries and finished basements. He also suspected that most of the owners had been house poor, buried in debt and living the middle class dream.

Trey drifted toward the pond, however he couldn't get the goons to enter the water. "Maybe if I had a longer lead" he thought out loud. " That could be a useful experiment". The houses he was approaching had fenced in back yards mostly. The strange group adjusted their course to pass through an unfenced yard, across the street and alongside another house. The bank robber opened the gate to the fenced yard, walked to the porch over the stepping stone path and up onto the low rear deck. A stack of 2 by 4's, cut to the same length as the window was wide sat against the wall with a box of framing nails. Three boards had been nailed over one window before the project had been abandoned.
Trey used the hammer with a worn, wood handle to bust a pane of glass in the door frame next to the lock.

Trey reached through the new opening to unlock the door and was embarrassed to find it wasn't locked. "At least Joker isn't here" he thought, knowing he'd never hear the end of it that the knob hadn't been tried first. The leader of the dead parade was entering the yard through the open gate, when the ex-soldier entered the mud room after a quick glance inside. A door in the hallway leading to the kitchen showcased a huge fireplace and heavy wood furniture in the living room. In the kitchen packages of once frozen meat had arrived at the stage of decomposition that made him want to puke. Evidently the owners had decided not to take it with them at the last minute.

Another short hall took him from the kitchen to the front door and another access to the living room. Trey waited by the locked front door until he heard the dead in the laundry room, then noisily unlocked the door. "Are you guys coming or what" he spoke loud enough for the goons to hear him, then shut the door behind himself. The poured concrete porch was inset into the front of the house, so he took a quick look around the corner he had just passed by moments ago. None of the dead were in sight, letting him creep to the fenced yard in time to see the last two ghouls enter the house. He waited a couple minutes before easing up onto the porch and closing the door. Just in case, he reached through the hole he'd make to lock the door.

As Trey stepped off the porch, movement out past the back yard caught his attention. Another group of dead was approaching, probably drawn by the activity getting the first bunch locked up. He looked down at his boots, shaking his head. "It's going to be one of those days". The new herd was still many minutes away from arriving. They had come out of the woods across the back field of the subdivision. The bank robber walked the edge of the field to select another home to stash the new group in. The dead changed direction, aiming at him as he moved. The yard he picked had a rear gate, large enough for anything the size of a riding mower to pass through. This time he tried the door, finding it locked.
Using his Joker approved lock picking set, he selected a wavy piece of metal called a rake and began work on the lock. Over half a dozen tries were required to hit all the pins in the lock, announcing success with a muted pop.

The goons weren't quite at the fence yet, so Trey checked out the house. The building wasn't as large as the first had been and was sparsely furnished with cheap items. Except for the dust, it appeared as though the owner had just stepped out. Back at the open door, he glanced at the sun that was much closer to the horizon. The mob had finally reached the open gate where their eagerness created a logjam. One member squeezed free, releasing the others, some of whom ended up on the ground.
He backed into the house, as the clump of ghouls reached the porch. Another logjam formed in the back door, before breaking much like the first had. This time when he slammed the front door closed,
the dead were pounding on the door a moment later. He took a good look around once he was out in the street. The detour he took, made sure he was out of sight of the new residents in the neighborhood.

The sun was barely below the horizon, although the landscape was still quite bright. Trey approached the home the woman had hailed him from, staying under cover as much as possible. The minutes ticked by while he sat and watched for anything that might indicate a trap. When full dark arrived, the house he was interested in still showed no sign of light or movement. "At least they're that smart" he mumbled. He crossed over to the back entrance, kneeling to one side, tapped three times on the glass of the aluminum storm door. A moment or two later, the curtains moved slightly and he stood up slowly. The sound of the door's locks being manipulated was followed by a low squeak of the interior and then the louder scraping of the exterior door being opened.

His eyes took a few moments to adjust to the room, since it was darker inside than out. He could make out the woman who sought his help. They stood in silence as he imagined she was wondering if she had made a terrible mistake. " My name is Trey. Maybe we should close the door" he suggested.

"You got any food" she asked, closing the door? "My kids haven't eaten today".

"I picked up a few things, just in case" the bank robber began pulling cans from a blue pillow case, filched from the second house. Lastly he sat a can opener on the counter. "Fruit cocktail which everybody seems to have in the cupboard. Some stew, chili and baked beans too, my canteen's full if you need water".

"I'm Cherry. We have a couple bottles of water left. Thanks for the food" she said, wiping some bowls clean with a paper towel. She popped the pull ring on the can of beef stew, spooning it into the bowls. The mother carried the food into the next room, where he heard her whisper. Small voices replied briefly before the spoons were heard clinking against the containers. Cherry returned to the kitchen and almost panicked when she didn't see the stranger.

"Over here" the man's voice said making her spin toward the sound. Trey had made himself comfortable with a seat at the small table off to the side.

She sat down opposite her guest "You don't ask many questions".

He noticed she sat sideways in the chair, so he couldn't pin her by shoving the table. "I didn't ask any questions! My friend and I were checking out a place up the road. I led the goons away, so he could get inside. I ran into another bunch, but they're all locked up for now".

"Won't he wonder where you are"?

"Probably".

"Won't he come looking for you"?

"Not after dark, unless it's an emergency, which this is not".

Cherry ate in silence, scraping the bowl clean. "I have two boys. Their Daddy went looking for food four days ago. He hasn't come back" Cherry said in an angry voice.

"Where was he going"?
"Just around, who knows".

"We can check the houses tomorrow. I don't know this area, except from the map. I hope he isn't a shoot first kind of guy".

"He'd never shoot first" Cherry said like she had firsthand experience.

Trey's radio made a loud click when he turned it on. "Sky King, Sky King" the bank robber said into the mike. Waiting several minutes between attempts, Joker finally answered.

"What do you want" the small man demanded? "Oh, hey it's dark out. Where are you"?

"I ran into a snag. See you in the morning".

"OK, Sky King out!".

Trey spent the night on the living room couch and the family in a bedroom with a chair under the door knob. He was opening cans of fruit cocktail the next morning just after daybreak when the mother and children joined him. The bank robber received shy smiles from the boys in return for his winning smile. "Evidently my friend is occupied, so I'll check the houses. It shouldn't take more than a couple hours".

"This place was unlocked. Do you break the windows or use a crowbar on the doors"?

"We're pretty good at picking locks, it's much quieter".

Trey shouldered his gear and left quietly by the back door. He started with the few homes between where he spent the night and the creek. There weren't any signs of entry, however he did a quick walk-through anyway. His boots made the only tracks in the fine layer of dust on the floors. Some of the locks took longer to open than snooping about the property did. He reversed direction to finish the row on his side of the road. The fourth house was occupied by a goon that bumped into the door while the soldier was working on the lock. The state of decomposition ruled out the ghoul having been the missing man. The cupboards ranged from completely empty to being fairly well stocked. He left some canned goods on one porch for later collection.

At the end of the row, Trey crossed the street to search the next row of homes. Towards the middle of the new row, a rear door was open with gouges from a pry bar evident in the wood and frame. The stench was particularly awful when he entered the door, especially considering that it had been open to the outside. A few items were set by the door, recently the bank robber guessed, due to their dust free condition. The tracks in the dust led to an open door in the hall next to the kitchen. He eased the door closed so it wasn't blocking the hallway. The odor was even stronger at this point. The flashlight beam lit up the sloping ceiling when he reopened the door. He'd found the access to the basement.

Someone had cut away the stairs. The stringers holding the steps had been sawn through just below the floor. The moans of the dead reached him before the flashlight's beam found them. The body they had feasted on lay face down on the concrete just under the door. The description of Cherry's husband and his clothing were of no help. Everything was the color of blood slowly drying in the heat. Hopefully, the victim had died as a result of the fall before the dead got to him. The goons were standing with their arms raised, as if to catch him if he fell. That was when Trey noticed the sizes and dress of the flesh eaters. It looked like a family. Whether they had killed themselves or one had been bitten, the staircase had been removed so they couldn't escape. The man down there hadn't turned on his flashlight before taking a second step. The thought of dealing with the situation with a broken leg in the dark gave him chills. Nobody outside the walls would have heard the five suppressed gunshots.

He finished the row of homes, making only hasty inspections. In fact, Trey finished the entire neighborhood, not only to be thorough, but to put off delivering the bad news. Although the chances of finding another adult male were razor thin. On the way back to Cherry's place, he detoured to pick up the goods that had been left on a porch. Cherry was sitting at the table nursing a cup of cold tea when he knocked on the door. The two quiet children had empty thread spools, found in a junk drawer, rolling them around the living room floor. "I think I found your man". Cherry sobbed at the news, then quickly pulled herself together.

"You can come with us, if you want. Rest up for a while even if you don't want to stay". She nodded her head before gathering their pitifully few belongings and got the boys ready to travel. Trey's offer to help was refused, although by the second stop on the way to the airport it was clear she couldn't manage the youngsters and items rolled up in a bed sheet. He carried the sheet slung over one shoulder and the rifle slung over the other. She carried the youngest and led the other boy by the hand. The bank robber chaffed at the slow pace, thinking "The dead move faster than this".

Joker sat on an upturned bucket leaning back against the hangar wall when he saw his friend and new found companions. They moved so slow that he fought the urge to yell "Hurry up"! Arriving at the door, Trey made the introductions. The small man was miffed at barely getting a nod in return for his greeting. The children ignored him, which was a rare occurrence. Ignoring the family, he told his friend "Man you got to come see this".

"Does it fly"?

"I don't know" Joker replied with a hint of doubt in his voice. Then added with his usual confidence "I put it back together".

Trey dropped his burden, following his friend into the hangar. He followed the excited thief to the only airplane in the hangar. The yellow and white Cessna still needed the engine panels replaced, but otherwise looked to be airworthy. "I didn't want to try starting it until we were ready to leave" the thief explained.

"You put it back together" the ex-soldier stated.

"Well, yeah. I don't know why it was apart, but everything was just sitting there. Probably a rebuild. The fuel was still good, so I filled it up" the short criminal said stroking the aircraft affectionately. "They had fuel in these wheeled tanks. I doubt it's legal and it sure isn't safe. I grounded it before messing with that".

"Let's get those doors open then" the larger man replied.

The huge doors were electrically powered. The lights joker used while working on the engine were solar powered, however the alternate power wasn't meant to open the plane access. A hand crank was located at each of the doors. The crank turned easily, although the metal it was moving was extremely slow. "Screw this, let's try pushing " Trey said, impatient at the speed events were happening at since last night. The men leaned into the door, making slow progress, but still faster than the crank. A half hour later, both doors were open and the panting men walked to the plane. "She isn't much help" Joker whispered.

"It's a sad story" his friend replied.

"They're all sad" the older man said, showing his dislike for Trey's foundlings. "What are you going to do with them"?

"Drop them off at the prison, with the other depressed people".

The convicts lined the plane up so it was a straight shot out the door. Joker sat in the pilot's seat, held up both hands with crossed fingers, then hit the ignition. The motor tried to turn over without success.
The thief fetched the wheeled stairs and took off the engine panel, talking to himself the entire time. He had his head under the engine cowling for three or four minutes, then gave the craft another try. The motor turned for a moment before running roughly. As the sound smoothed out and gained power, the man in the pilot's seat eased the choke closed. Trey grabbed his friend's gear and weapon, stashing them in the passenger seat in the front. Joker was waving his hands and pointing, unsure what he was trying to convey, Trey waved back. He ducked under the wing, dodging the wing strut and landing gear as the airplane began to move.

The party of four watched the Cessna turn right across the asphalt apron, left onto a taxiway and left again onto the runway. The plan sat facing west, into the wind. Trey could hear the pitch of the engine rising and falling at the far end of the runway. The pilot seemed to get the power at a level he was happy with, however it still sat motionless for several minutes. At last, the motor revved and the yellow and white vehicle began to move. The plane picked up speed, approaching the halfway point. The bank robber kept waiting for the wheels to leave the ground. He was sure the pilot had left it too late, the craft was awfully close to the trees at the end of the runway when it went wheels up. Still, it wasn't gaining enough height. Then the nose tilted up, the landing gear barely clearing the tree tops. Trey let out the breath he hadn't realized that he was holding.

The sound died away going westward, then returned, but farther to the north. They watched Joker circle around the airport, gaining height. The bright yellow stood out against the blue sky and was simple to follow. Trey expected his friend to head north to what they considered their airport. Instead, Joker turned south east, flying out of sight. The sound hung in the air, growing fainter by the moment, until it was gone. He continued to stare where the plane had disappeared, but his friend wasn't circling back. Cherry broke the silence, saying "He's some pilot".

"Well, he's new to flying".

"Why didn't we go with him"?

"Our truck is down the hill that way" he motioned with one hand.

Dreading another long, slow motion walk, Trey scooped up the older boy, swinging him to his shoulders and snatching up the bundle of belongings. Cherry started to protest, however the bank robber started across the asphalt. With a cry of dismay, the woman ran after him carrying the younger child. Their pace was more of a stroll, but at least it was no longer a crawl. The convict stood at the bottom of the fill, where the airport transitioned back to woodlands, waiting for Cherry to get to the bottom. Then they made their way to the creek, following the same route the two convicts had used the day before. Cherry insisted on a break before crossing the creek. Trey used the stepping stone passage to carry the bundle up to the truck. Everyone made the crossing dry shod, climbing the bank to the road.

Trey, still didn't want to drive back past the estate, was thinking of circling to the north. He really didn't want his passengers at the farm, even for the night. The drive to the prison should still allow him to pick up Joker before dark. The woman finished putting her boys in the truck and turned to her rescuer. He didn't notice the short barreled revolver in her hand until he heard the click of the hammer being cocked. "Definitely broken" the bank robber thought. "I was going to take you where there are other families. It's been safe from the beginning, or at least as any place is safe these days" he said in a calm, slow voice. "There are even a few stray soldiers there".

Cherry slowly shook her head from side to side. "I know you helped us. But there aren't any safe places now, and no safe people either. So put your guns in the truck bed or I'll shoot you".

Trey shrugged, then unbuckled his gun belt, holding it in his left hand. With his other hand, he slid the rifle off his shoulder by the sling. Holding the weapons out to his sides, he approached the truck with his back to her. One at a time, the illegal arms he'd acquired at great expense, were dropped into the bed.

"Don't turn around and don't say anything. Just start walking".

Trey backed away until she felt safe to jump in the truck and drive away. He watched the truck disappear down the road. With a few choice expletives, he threw his hat on the pavement, jumped up and down on it a few times and then kicked it. The toe of his boot caught the cap just right and he watched it sail into the air with a right hook that put it into the creek. The bank robber stood in the road with his head down for a minute before sighing in resignation. The first mile of the walk back to the state he occupied himself with all the gruesome ways Cherry should die. The second mile he was calmer and debated whether to put her on her knees first or just shoot her in the head where she stood. Eventually he decided to just punch her in the face really hard, although he doubted that they would ever meet again.

"How would he replace the weapons? Sure, they had the beat up rifles from the armory and he could use one of the homemade suppressors, but it wasn't the same as his store bought rig. Handguns threaded for a suppressor were going to drop into his lap, nor were custom holsters. Setting a quick pace, it still took Trey over two hours to reach the estate border wall. The last half mile he left the road aiming straight for the house. He jumped for the top of the wall, got a grip and raised himself up to swing a leg over. Getting off the wall was much easier. At the house, he sat on a swing in the shade under the porch roof until he'd cooled off. Once he thought he heard the Cessna in the distance, however the sound died away. Entry into the house was accomplished the same way Joker had on their very first visit.

Trey headed downstairs, going directly to the firearms. The rifles were top of the line civilian semi autos, a version of the military rifle. The weapon was clean, however it did need to be lubricated. He made face handling one of the Glocks taken at random. "Oh well, it's better than nothing at all". The spare magazines were located and loaded, although it took longer to find something to carry them in. The end product was a wide belt held up by suspenders. He wondered if the owner had bought everything from the same web site. A pack completed his shopping trip, even if he did still need a radio. On the way out the door, he snagged a spiffy green golf cap to replace the one in the creek. It was a long walk back to the farm, but maybe he'd get lucky and find some wheels.

Joker knew he wasn't going as fast as he should be, so this was going to be tight. He didn't think he could stop in time, the only solution that occurred to the pilot was to pull out the throttle. The engine surged for a moment before he hauled back on the yoke. He lost sight of the trees in the steep climb and held his breath. Seeing the tops of the trees from the side window let him breathe again and level off. Using large circles and a shallow climb, he gained height.

At last, he aimed the plane in the direction he thought he should go, then checked the compass. What was the point of flying if he had to follow the roads. He'd see the interstate sooner or later and then turn north. The interstate was crossed much sooner than he expected, after a turn north he spotted the airfield, but wasn't ready to land yet. It would hours before Trey could make it here and there was time for some sightseeing. He did end up using the roads to find the compound where Trey's brother and friends were holed up. Two flyovers were greeted with excited waves from most of the occupants and nobody shot at him.

"This is great, Trey should be here" he said out loud grinning. The white and yellow craft ventured further south and then made another long turn north. Sighting the prison, the pilot made several passes over the walls from different directions. The reception wasn't as wild as the original aircraft flyover, but any plane was cause for a celebration these days. "Too bad there was no place to land" the pilot thought to himself. The last pass was south west to north east and that was when he saw the convoy.
"Aw shit, more soldiers" Joker groaned. He made another circle, flying straight south down the road for a good look at the military group. "At least they aren't shooting at me" he thought, looking down at the figures looking back up at him.

The thief did some quick thinking, Trey would be showing up to drop off the woman and children and walk right into the new guys. Thinking his friend would be on the road by now, he flew back in that general direction. Every few moments he called over the radio, but never received a response. What was spotted, now that he was actively searching, were the dead. Mostly single, human shapes were seen here and there, although he did see pairs and one small group. None were on a road and from the air he couldn't even tell if they were moving. The black pickup truck wasn't spotted after he began flying the likely routes his friend would take. He zoomed the farm to the delight of the children in the yard, however their truck wasn't there either. He could land on the road behind the farm, however Trey would driving around Franklin looking for him. At a loss of what else to do, Joker headed for his home field as he thought of the Venango county facility.

They'd had their lessons at the field, but doing a solo was different. Joker flew over the site several times, remembering how Rose had made her approaches to land. The thief made several dry runs, reducing his speed each time, until he thought he had it right. He wiped his sweaty hands off on his shirt, licked his dry lips and went for it. The bird dropped lower and he kept nudging the throttle until he was worried he'd lose power altogether. He adjusted the flaps, then waited for the wheels to touch the pavement. For a second it seemed that he was coming in short of the runway, bounced once when the landing gear kissed the blacktop and then he was down. Touching the brakes, flaps up, throttle in and it still seemed like he was going too fast. As the craft slowed down, he breathed easier, turning onto the taxiway at walking speed. The short convict walked slowly around the plane sipping water from his canteen. "Things would go a lot better next time" he assured himself.

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Last edited by Groucho on Sun Dec 03, 2017 10:01 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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YAAAAAAAAS! GREAT UPDATE!

Did find one error with Cherry's name. Right after the into and she walked back in there's this "Wanda returned to the kitchen"

Anywho, thank for the update. I thought for sure Joker would have spotted the truck.

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Good catch on the name, thanks. Joker was flying a north east, south then northwest triangle, Cherry left going west.

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Groucho wrote:
Good catch on the name, thanks. Joker was flying a north east, south then northwest triangle, Cherry left going west.


Didn't catch that..... thanks! Answers that question! What's a criminal to do without his good pew pews! :D cant wait for the next update!

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I really needed that new installment. I've missed Joker and the Thief.

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MOAR please....

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Thank you very much for the uppdate, it was Good as always!!!
It is much appreciated...

But now I think it's time for MOOOAAAR...

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Joker had debated with himself whether to park in the hangar or outside. He'd decided on a parking spot outside, since the craft couldn't be seen from the road anyway. He chose one of the dozen spots in the parking area, attached the tie down anchors and screwed the static grounding cable into the receptacle sunk into the hardstand. The post flight checks that Rose always insisted, on were completed. The thief walked the perimeter fence, still too excited from the flight to sit still. When he settled down, it was in a spot where he had a view of the gate. He dozed in the shade, waking once to a metallic sound that turned out to be a goon pushing on the fence. The convict closed his eyes again, but couldn't relax with a dead man at the gate. The rules are different when you're alone.

The reanimated human was led up the fence to where the other bodies stunk up the road. One shot, from up close, dropped the creature on top of the growing pile of corpses. He swished the water remaining in his canteen, deciding to save it for later. The new pilot had been in such a hurry to try the plane, that he hadn't taken the time to get his gear out of the truck. He didn't have any food or the kit to get clean water. Looking up at the sky, Joker decided that if Trey wasn't here by now, he wouldn't show up until tomorrow.

The thief hopped the northeast corner of the fence, that was closest to the homes up the road. The houses just beyond the fence held nothing for him, so he tried the small neighborhood across the road. The doors were wide open on some of the homes, the owners having departed in great haste. The others were locked up tight, reflecting the belief that the situation was only temporary. Windblown debris decorated the yards of both, mostly the ever present plastic shopping bags and paper. Joker looked through the open buildings first. He reasoned that the dead were unlikely to be present and items of use may have been overlooked in the hasty departure.

The thief banged his spear against the door frame several times, then listened for a response. Despite the silence, the small man took a quick look around. The last room to be checked belonged to a young girl. The line of dolls on the window sill sported a gap in the middle. "Probably the one permitted toy she could take with her", the convict guessed. Movement under the bed made him turn quickly. The slung rifle wasn't in the way of his smooth draw of the suppressed handgun. The sound had stopped as he pointed his weapon. The vision of a zombie toddler with her favorite doll, jumped to the front of his mind. Bending down, Joker used his spear to lift the cover of the still made bed, to peer under it. He fell back against the dresser, firing once at the black and white cat that erupted from under the bed and streaked across the room. "Son of a bitch" he said with feeling in a shaky voice, then he started to laugh.

He left the house with some bottles of water from a partial flat in the laundry room. A clean pillow case from the linen closet made a handy sack for his haul. As a consolation to the disturbed feline, he left an open can of cat food on the floor. The only things he found ready to eat in another home was beef stew and fruit cocktail. There was some pasta, rice and beans, however he had neither the means nor inclination to build a fire and cook it. The only means of transportation that was worth his time, was a woman's pink bicycle, with hand painted flowers on the frame and a wire basket on the handlebars. After pumping air into the soft tires, Joker rode back to the airfield.

The thief sat on the pavement, leaning back against the wheel of his plane. He finished scraping the can of stew with a borrowed spoon, then gave a loud belch. Sipping the lukewarm bottle of water, he thought how disappointing it was that no one was present to appreciate the accomplishment. "Summer is going away" he said out loud. The sun had begun to set earlier, although this was the first time he'd noticed the seasonal occurrence. The trees across the runway were still green, with one exception. Like the one outside his apartment, that always changed color first without fail, it would be a maple. It would be bare of leaves before the others even began to change. The remaining daylight was spent admiring his airplane from various angles. After dark, Joker stretched out on the cheap carpet behind the seats in the cabin, humming some old songs until he fell asleep.

Joker had a bad dream, where the goons had him by the legs and he couldn't get away. He couldn't even take one step, no matter how hard he tried. His eyes snapped open in the dim light of dawn and he recognized his treasured airplane. His legs still didn't work. Then he realized that he'd slid down with his legs into the cone of the rear fuselage. Gripping the carpet, he barely had enough traction to pull himself forward freeing his feet. The thief stumbled out of the craft, after a quick look around and marched back and forth to het the blood in his legs moving. The sun, just peaking over the horizon cast long shadows everywhere. The small man sighed, halfway expecting Trey to be sleeping in the truck next to the Cessna. "We gotta stash some stuff here. Food, water and a car, at least.

Joker took his time with breakfast, consisting of canned fruit and water. "Two more hours and I'm out of here" he thought. At the appointed hour, after using the spear on two goons by the gate, he pushed the pink bike onto the road. The water bottles rubbed against each other in the basket, creating a squeak with each small bump in the pavement. An amazing amount of gravel had washed onto the road in spots since winter. What could be ignored in a vehicle, had to be pedaled around on two wheels or risk a crash. He was high enough in the hills, that there wasn't many hills, mostly just a rolling terrain. With enough speed downhill, he could coast up most of the next knoll. He pedaled past the ice cream store and their old shot up truck. The more times he passed that place, the more he wanted a dish of soft serve ice cream.

Joker frequently stopped to check out vehicles he might be able running. The ones he passed by didn't have a convenient slope to try push starting on. Normally he'd by pass the older cars and the ugly ones, but beggars can't be choosers. In this case, the beggar couldn't find any wheels with gas in the tank. He thought about going through every place he saw looking for a gas can, but pedaling along was kind of fun and should get him back to the farm today. Plus, he'd never tell Peach, but he missed her cooking. The only car with gas that he tried to start, was an appalling shade of green. He pushed the ugly little spud until it rolled from its own weight. He shifted out of neutral into first, holding the clutch in and waiting for the speed to build up. The thought jumped into his mind "I wonder how many people can't drive a standard shift"? Joker popped the clutch and it really sounded as though the motor was going to turn over , however the car only slowed to a stop. He walked back up the slope for his bike, thinking "I probably should have poured some gas in the carburetor".

He turned onto the cut off, still expecting to meet Trey driving in his direction. So far he only chanced upon one ghoul. When the convict sighted the dead man in the road ahead, he picked up speed aiming right for the creature. It turned toward him, alerted by his laughter and fell on its face when he swerved away as it lunged. The small man rode around the reanimate in circles, verbally insulting the creature. It was all messed up and couldn't seem to get to its feet. He leaned the bike on its kickstand, walking to the side of the road, followed by what was once human crawling after him. The crippled zombie had broken its bottom jaw in the fall. The mandible hung from the left side of its face, swinging from side to side on a string of tissue as it crawled toward its prey. Joker couldn't get the correct angle to use his spear, so he shot it in the head once it reached the ditch.

The road ahead twisted back and forth, with forest on both sides, although it was mostly level. Emerging from the shade of the woods, the trees were replaced by overgrown farm fields. Not far away lay the interstate he had to cross. The road he was on ran under the four lane, but Joker stopped before he reached that point. The dead lay on both sides of the road, with just enough room to drive past. The smell was horrendous. At least in a vehicle you could crank the windows up or speed through the zone. Fluids, baked out of the remains by the summer sun had run across the road in spots and pooled in others. Joker found the thought of that substance being sprayed onto his clothing by the bicycle tires distasteful.

The thief pushed the pink bike off the road and onto the once mowed verge. Large green, grasshoppers leapt frantically out of his path, as he forced the wheels through the tall weeds. He stopped to look around for a moment, prior to lifting the machine and carrying it through the greenery. Starting up the incline of the raised four lane road, he felt the footing change from earth to stone, covered with plant life emerging from the crevices. Dragging the bike upwards, the white fluff from dandelions floated around him on the faint breeze. The convict muscled the bike over the guard rail, then pushed it up the ramp.
He paused when he had a view of the four lanes of blacktop in each direction. The coast was clear, so he crossed the first two lanes, moving into the grass separating the two ribbons of asphalt. The sod was still soft from the last rain, the wheels and his boots both sinking an inch into the muck under the thin coating of grass.

Joker scraped the thick mud from his boots on the edge of the roadway, clumps falling from the tires of the bike when he pushed it. "Well, it was a good idea" the thief said out loud. Abandoning his plan, he walked down the exit ramp, which was almost past the contaminated area. Riding slowly, Joker avoided the pools of black gunk and continued south. He reached the turn off onto an unmarked gravel road that Trey had used to reach the farm. Riding on the loose stone surface made him wish he was back on the pavement. The ride was noisy, bumpy and the possibility of a spill was real, especially trying to brake going downhill. Arriving at an intersection, the thief wasn't sure which way to go. He sat on the bank to take a break, drinking tepid water from a bottle while he thought about his route. He vaguely remembered them arguing about his partner's "You have to go south to go west comment". He just wasn't sure if it had occurred here.

An hour later, Joker was lost. The back roads he chose that appeared to go west would turn north or south. He backtracked to his starting point several times. The small man was livid, kicking stones and ranting about the inbred, rednecks that settled this part of the country. At a loss of what else to do, he decided to head back east, then turn south to roads he knew very well. His stomach growled as he pedaled along and breakfast seemed like it was a long time ago. The thief could have stopped to scavenge a meal, but the sun had passed its peak and he was determined to reach the farm before dark.
The farther south he went, the more cautious he became. The lone traveler slowed for hill tops and bends in the road. He was more worried about the new army contingent than the dead.

Joker sat in the shade of a tree next to the road, slowly drinking a bottle of water. "Only one bottle left" he thought. He wouldn't drink the last one unless he was desperate. At last, the convict reached a turnoff that he knew very well. Determined to make up for lost time, his pace increased. There were fields, he passed, where it wasn't unusual to see a ghoul, usually a good distance from the road. The stinking, corpses of the goons who had approached the fence and been destroyed, were hidden in the tall grass. It was impossible to tell if the stink he smelled originated with the twice, killed creatures or the mobile cannibals leaning against the barbed wire. Although the thief still delighted in dealing with those foes, much like a small boy pulling the wings from flies, he didn't spare the time today.

Tired and hungry, Joker sucked down the last bottle of water. The farm was just across the valley in front of him. He was a little startled to realize that he'd been thinking of the farm as home. The convict had lived many places, but they had never been considered as home. Home after a bad day, a couple bad days actually. Everything was fine until they went to the airport. Are airplanes, bad luck? Joker was much too tired to pursue the thought further. He knew that no matter how fast he went downhill, he'd end up pushing the bike up the full side of the valley. The criminal lobbed the empty water bottle at a tall thistle, scoring a direct hit on its purple blossom, before pushing the bicycle off with one foot. The machine slowed and started to wobble on the flat road. The rider, with his feet on the pedals, balanced precariously, determined not to make any further efforts in an infantile contest to start downhill. The front wheel started down the incline, drawing its load onto the slope.

The breeze felt good on Joker's face as the speed increased. At the bottom of the hill, the wheels lost their grip in the loose gravel for a second. Upright and leaning over the handlebars, he put his weight into pushing each pedal down. Gravity won before he'd made much progress up the hill. The loose stones had cost him distance, barely covering the bottom quarter of the hill. Straddling the bike, he looked up the hill with a sigh. Head down, he stared at the wheel rotating on the blacktop as he walked up the hill. He'd learned early in life, from years of drudge work, to concentrate on the task, not how much remained to be done. As was often the case, when he raised his head, he was almost to the top.

Joker leaned his two wheel transport against the fence, looking around the empty yard. "They must be eating" the small man thought. With an evil grin on his face, he slapped the aluminum siding shouting in a deep voice "I'm here to eat your brains". The children squealed in fake terror, the Swede laughed and Peach yelled back "Stop it". The dog went into protective mode, charging through the door the children had forgotten to latch for the millionth time. The canine rounded the corner, head held low and teeth bared. Recognizing a pack member , his attitude turned to joy. The thief was forced to endure the animal's greeting before he could get inside. The convict grinned at everyone, even Peach with a sour look on her face. He scraped what food was left in the kitchen onto a plate and sat down. "Has anyone seen Trey"?

"No" Peach spoke up before taking a bite from her plate.

"I'm guessing that was your new plane that did the fly over" the Swede said changing the subject.

"Yep" the thief answered with a huge smile on his face. The adults were interrupted by the children wanting to know when he would take them for a ride. They were disappointed to find out that Joker wanted to practice a little more before taking them up.

"When did you see Trey last" Peach changed the subject again?

"Yesterday. He was supposed to pick me up at the airport, but never showed. I flew the roads, but didn't see our truck anywhere".

"How did you get here" the Swede said a little concerned.

"Bicycle" Joker replied through a mouth full of potatoes. "It was farther than I thought" he added after swallowing. The small man scraped the plate clean, then pushed away from the table. "I better go look for him".
The Mercedes was already stocked up and ready to go. The kids were pouting because he was leaving again already, so he gave them a job filling the jugs with fresh water. When he pulled out of the driver he was sure that he'd find his cellmate was just down the road.

Trey hadn't walked a mile before he took a dislike for his new hat. First of all it was a golf hat. The bank robber had never understood the attraction the game held for people. More importantly, despite the hefty price tag stuck to the inside of the crown, it was not well made. The brim kept drifting to the right and his eyes kept being drawn to that side. He already felt stupid for getting robbed, now he'd look the part as well. Rather than his normal, alert self, Trey's mind kept drifting back to that morning. No matter which way he looked at it, he didn't see how he could have changed the outcome.

At one point, he looked up from his introspection to see dead men in the road. Trey had rounded a bend in the road where Joker had wrecked his motorcycle. The goon who had caused the crash had been moved to the side of the road quite some time ago. The cluster of reanimates was just standing there looking down at the destroyed corpse. One by one they raised their heads, looking at the surprised convict. The last one to see him was standing with his back in Trey's direction. He was sure that face showed an emotion when it turned. It was anger.

The goons all started to move in his direction. One dead man tripped on the body doing a face plant in the tall grass. Another locked ankles with the fallen goon, losing its balance and moving sideways to crash onto the gravel road. Of the three remaining zombies that came towards the bank robber, the angry one was in the lead. In fact, it was the quickest goon he's ever seen. Dropping his pack, Trey fished the hammer out of his belt where he carried it. The lead, once human's sole garment was a faded, red polo shirt. "I bet there's a story there" Trey said not smiling at all.

The ex-soldier stood with his hammer raised over his shoulder, ready to strike. When his target was within range, he moved to the right, circling for an opening as they had done many times. Mister naked below the waist, turned with him leaving no opening. Trey reversed his direction, with the same result.
He reversed his direction for the third time, stepped closer than he liked, blocking the goon's arms with his own left hand, then struck a solid blow to the temple. Unfortunately he lost his grip on the handle.

Trey knew something was wrong, the blow felt strange. He backed away from the exhibitionist zombie that swayed from side to side. The face of the hammer had penetrated the skull, however it moved loosely with each movement of its host. The handle would swing forward into the goon's view, then disappear as it reached toward the movement. It began turning to the left, seeking what kept appearing on the side. Trey backed away from the whirling dervish, to deal with the rest of the group. Having lost his blunt instrument, the bank robber used the new Glock after drawing the targets off the road.

Trey snatched the hammer's handle as it flew past him, getting the goon's attention. He used as a handle to tow the last goon off the road for a bullet. A gunshot to the head did little to assist in retrieving his hammer. A short search was rewarded with a large rock. Trey struck the skull from greater and greater heights before he heard the bone crack. Not only had the skull cracked open, but so had the hammer's handle. Using the largest part of the wood handle, the bank robber probed the splintered skull. Unlike the other dead, there was no black mush in place of the brain. The bottom half of the head lay what looked like a fungus. A touch or two with the wood handle reduced the mass to liquid. "I certainly hope this is a rare exception" Trey whispered to himself.

The little mix up brought the felon out of his funk about the robbery. No longer fixated on the event, he still enjoyed thinking about delivering a right cross to that lady's face. Trey set a moderate pace, taking breaks when he wanted. Several times he stopped and watched for a period, if he'd heard a bird's alarm call from the woods along the road. When nothing happened, he'd carry on. Once he heard a disturbance from the trees. It must have been a deer, since it was entirely too fast for a goon.

Upon reaching the first house he figured on checking out, it didn't look promising. Standing on the road was different than cruising by in the truck. The farmhouse set back from the road a short distance, at least two hundred yards the lone man judged. Walking up the gravel drive, the yard was more of a mess than he had first thought. The beat up, old, farm truck wasn't parked by a tree, it was smashed into it. Whomever had been driving had gone through the windshield, losing blood on the hood and the bark of old Elm.

That truck was the reason for stopping in the first place. Looking over both shoulders for threats, the bank robber went down to his knees, peering under the old Ford. Leaking oil and Antifreeze from the damaged engine compartment had killed the grass. Trey sighed, "This old girl isn't going anywhere".
A dozen human bodies lay in the yard, along with those of a couple dogs. Scattered rifle brass dotted the stone walkway leading up to the porch stairs. Without checking, he could tell there were at least two calibers from the size of the empty, brass cartridges.

The steps and porch, were coated in the black rot the dead, spread like union painters on the Friday before a three day weekend. Checking around the back of the home, Trey passed boarded up windows, finding a securely boarded up rear door to match. The ex-soldier shook his almost empty canteen in the back yard before deciding to give the old, hand pump a try. He grit his teeth at the squeal of protest coming from raising the rusted pump handle. The down stroke wasn't as loud, although it was still groaning by the time water gushed from the cast iron, spigot. The felon drank his fill of cool, clear water from cupped hands, before filling his container. Refreshed, he strolled over to the barn, located far enough behind the house for the earthly odors to dissipate. The animal stalls had been empty long enough for the sharp ammonia odor of urine to fade. A more thorough search might turn up something useful, but now was not the time.

The next cluster of homes was out of sight until he rounded a bend in the road. Each building sat on two acres of land, probably purchased from the farm he had just been to. Like most homes built in the 1960's and 1970's, they only had one and two car garages. Long front yards were offset by short backyards. The boundary line was a barbed wire fence, enclosing an open Hayfield and ensuring privacy. The houses were close enough together that he walked the outsides as a group. Through the windows, Trey could see the signs of a hasty departure in two. The third, looked neat as a pin. The neat house was entered after he used the hammer to tear off the trim and jimmy the door. The owner hadn't been concerned enough about security, to use long screws securing the door frame to the studs.

The smell inside told the old tale of dead bodies. The only occupants were and older man and woman, laying on a bed. Empty prescription bottles littered both night tables. The cupboards were bare, empty food cans and water bottles neatly stowed in trash bags in the garage, next to an older sedan with an empty gas tank. The basement was one of the emptiest he had ever seen. The only items were some boxes marked "Christmas decorations", setting next to a washer and dryer. There was nothing there for the felon, so he moved to the neighbor's house.

Trey tried the door handle and found it unlocked. In contrast to the neat house, it appeared as though a tornado had spun through this home. There was enough sports equipment to outfit a sporting goods store. Many of the items were sized for children of various ages. Although he found baseball gear, the ball bats all seemed to be missing. Summer type clothing was heaped on the floor of each bedroom, the occupants having departed during the winter. Again, there was nothing of use for the bank robber.

At the third house, the garage was also empty. The house looked lived in and nothing was obviously missing. Trey guessed they family hadn't been home when the world ground to a halt. His stomach agreed with the position of the sun and he looked for something to eat. The gas grill on the back deck was operational, the tank being three quarters full according to the gauge. While the rice boiled in one pot and chili warmed in a second, Trey fried some Spam in a pan. The water in his canteen was almost the same temperature as the case of water from under the ink. Otherwise, it was a pretty decent meal. The criminal relaxed in a lounge, picking his teeth with a toothpick as he debated moving on or sleeping here.

Catching himself nodding off, the ex-soldier decided to travel until it was closer to dark. First, he cleaned the everything he used to make the meal. Knowing that there was a usable grill at this location, he might need it another time. With a pillow, case full of water bottles slung over his shoulder, Trey continued his hike. With the exception of only one goon, way off in a field, birds were his only companions. The sun was almost below the horizon, only a sliver was still visible when he arrived at the house where Joker had stashed Rose after the motorcycle crash. The house was still shut up tight and the bank robber sat on the porch, in the shade, sipping a bottle of water.

Trey cleared the house in the dying light, then returned to the porch. He'd almost forgot how it felt to be alone. He liked company, however being by himself never bothered him. Sitting outside in the dark by himself, enjoying the summer night was always a pleasure since he was a child. Most people seem uncomfortable in such a situation and want to fill it with talk, rather than having a companionable silence.
The felon sat unmoving, watching a fox that emerged from the thick weeds at the edge of the field across the road. The animal paused in the middle of the yard, its sensitive nose catching the barest hint of human scent in the still air. The beast turned away from the possible danger and disappeared.

The late summer sun heating up the second story room woke Trey the next morning. He made the rounds of the upper windows checking for movement. Downstairs he went from window to window again, seeing nothing to cause concern. His morning meal was a can of peaches left over from Rose's stay. The neighboring homes had never been properly cleared, only checked for dead through the closed windows. The bank robber settled for a quick look through the garage door windows. This was much handier for a scavenger than the newer houses with windowless garages. Unfortunately, all of the parking spots were empty.

A hour later, as he slogged down the road, a line of smoke caught his attention. Trees lining the north side hid the horizon, until the forest was broken by a field. The bank robber stood looking over the ground that sloped down to a small run, across an expanse of level ground and up a ridge. The plume of smoke had to be several miles away. It rose in a narrow column in the still air, then dissipated in a breeze at a higher altitude. He decided it was a made from dry wood, based on the light gray color, as opposed to a building burning, which would be much darker. It was hard to judge the distance based on what he could see. The convict was tempted to check it out, but decided to move on instead. Not only was he by himself, he was armed with untried weapons.

The delay in getting started on his slog back to the farm had been the weapons. The previous owner had been concerned with preserving the weapons during storage. Trey wasn't sure what type of grease had been used, only that it had been liberally slathered on. Evidently, the application of the preservative had been long enough in the past that it had started to harden. Although there was plenty of patches present, along with gun oil, the bank robber found no type of cleaning solvent. Several pillow cases from the linen closet were ruined scraping the grease off the accessible areas of the weapons. The most difficult parts to clean had been the rifle bolt group and the barrels of both guns. Both barrels were completely blocked, as was most of the bolt carrier itself. A bare cleaning rod, its tip covered with patching material, had to be forced through all three pieces. Bracing the handle on the concrete floor and pushing was the only way progress was made.

A search uncovered a can of turpentine in the barn and a paint roller pan to put it in. Due to the stink of the turpentine, he moved the operation outside. The pistol parts and the bolt carrier group were dropped into the paint pan to soak. Patches soaked with the foul smelling liquid, were repeatedly run through the rifle barrel, then repeated with the other parts. The owner's toothbrush was used to scrub the smaller pieces clean. Wishing he had some boiling water, Trey settled for wiping the metal as dry as he could. The felon finished with several oil soaked patches, which helped with the smell. Deciding that this was as clean as the arms were going to get, Trey lubricated critical areas and reassembled the firearms. In the kitchen, looking for something to clean his hands with, Trey discovered a can of cleaner used by mechanics. The goop had a scent of its own, although it was much better than the turpentine. At least today is better than yesterday, the bank robber reflected.

The sun was low in the sky, when Trey stopped for a drink. He drained the last of the warm water in the canteen. Looking around, he realized he was where Joker had ditched the motorcycle in the woods. That meant he was only a couple miles from home. The criminal walked the edge of the road looking for the path made by the bike. The second time he covered the area, he spotted a couple broken weeds. Pushing through the undergrowth, he thought about how nature repaired itself. Trey almost tripped over the machine before he spotted it. The kickstand had sunk into the loam, dropping the bike onto its side. The handlebars had turned, leaving the front tire sticking up. He could smell the gasoline that had leaked from the gas tank, although it should still be half full.

Before dropping his gear at the base of a tree, the man took a long look around while listening. Neither seeing or hearing any threat, Trey muscled the motorcycle up onto its wheels and moved it a couple inches to ground that would support the kickstand. By the time he found a limb solid enough to support the weight, the machine was listing again. Rocking the bike, the remaining gas sloshed in the metal tank. Turning the key in the ignition, the headlight came on lighting up the shaded area under the dense trees. Trey toed the shifter until the neutral light came on, before touching the starter switch. The engine tried to turn over, but the battery didn't have much charge left. The sound of the engine grinding changed, puzzling him. Too late, he realized it was a vehicle passing by on the road. By the time he snatched up his rifle and sprinted to the road through the thick vegetation, all that was left was dust hanging in the air.

"If that was Joker, he'll go all the way to the airport before turning around" Trey thought to himself. Having time to kill, he went back to the two wheeler and pulled the battery. He'd charge the battery and come back in a day or two. They could stash the bike in one of the homes they passed. "Not as good as a truck, but it would be better than walking" he said to himself. Figuring Joker would stop at the estate, as well as the airfield, the bank robber found a comfortable spot in the shade, with a view of the road. He grinned, thinking of the grief he would give his partner. Joker cruised down the road, expecting to see Trey any minute. "There shouldn't be any problems as many times as they had driven this road. Maybe the truck broke down or it may have been wrecked. Unless his friend had a run in with the dead or some unfriendly strangers" he thought. The driver carefully slowed at each bend in the road, watching the sides of the road for a sign a vehicle had left the road. At each home he passed, the thief would stop for a good look before proceeding. He was tempted to tap the horn, however he'd save that for the trip back if he was still searching. Joker's last stop before the airport was at the estate, but it appeared as they had left it two days ago.

The thief repeated the maddeningly, slow trip to the empty parking spot in the pull off. He sat there debating whether he should just drive up to the hangars, checking the neighborhood along the way. Instead, with a sigh, he left the car locked and walked down to the creek. A slip on the same rock resulted in another dunked foot, although he managed to keep from going in over his boot this time. Joker followed roughly the same path that was used the previous trip. A quick look from cover, revealed an empty stretch of pavement. The convict jogged across the blacktop to the hangar. The one door left unlocked, permitted a quick look at the unoccupied building.

Joker's "Hello" returned only dead silence. Grumbling to himself, he jogged across the tarmac and down the entrance road. After a short distance, he realized that carrying a rifle and running with one was a big difference. He tried to carry it in first one hand, then the other. After an attempt at having the rifle slung on either shoulder, then with his head and arm through the sling, he settled for carrying the weapon at a relaxed port arms. Before reaching the houses, the thief was alternating his jog with a fast walk. As the houses came into sight, he reverted to a slow and cautious walk. The house where Trey said the woman had stayed was empty. Joker cut through the housing plan, looking up and down each street, without a sign of the truck or any of the dead.

Reaching the edge of the field past the homes, he was startled by several goons inside a house pawing at the windows when they spotted him. He turned toward the road his truck was parked on, crossing behind the other homes and across a large green space. Building up speed with a couple quick steps, he jumped to ditch separating him from the road. Joker set off down the road in a jog, breathlessly singing a cadence Trey occasionally used on the track at the prison, although he changed some of the words. "I don't want to be an Airborne Ranger, I don't want to live a life of danger". The small man was more than ready to slow to a walk by the time the Mercedes came into view. He caught his breath, draining a water bottle from the trunk and feeling frustrated by the search.

He drove through the gate of the estate, closing it after himself. After discovering discolored patches of cloth that had a chemical smell scattered where he parked, he also found an empty water bottle on the porch in the shade. "Somebody was here" he said, feeling like Sherlock Holmes. Inside, the small man was puzzled why Trey would have taken a rifle and a handgun from the racks. "Maybe it is somebody else". Not knowing where else to look for his friend, the small felon decided to wait back at their farm.
The drive back was even slower than the drive out had been. At intervals, he would stop to listen, tap the horn, then listen again. The only goon that appeared in response to the noise, was in bad shape.
It was missing one foot, which gave it a lurching gait. Step, almost fall, catch its balance and then drag the stump forward. One eye that had been pried out of its socket, swung erratically on the dead woman's cheek. As it reached for him with its fingerless hands, he shot it though the empty eye socket. Lifeless at last, the body fell back at the edge of the woodland it had emerged from.

The short criminal had given on finding Trey as he neared the farm. That was when he saw a figure standing at the side of the road. As the Mercedes approached, Trey stood up and held out his thumb like a hitchhiker. Joker had slowed, not sure if it was a goon or a person. Recognizing his missing partner, he pulled up next to Trey stepping from the car. "What happened to you? Where's the truck"?

"It's nice to see you too" the bank robber smiled.

"No, seriously, what happened"?

"I was robbed" the taller man said.

"The lady with the kids" Joker asked in disbelief?

"Yeah, the witch with the kids".

Joker started laughing, paused long enough to say "You got robbed by a girl", then laughed his way into a coughing fit. "Aw, come on man, that's funny".

"If I ever see her again, its bang, pow, right to the moon" Trey responded.

"But we stole lots of stuff" Joker interrupted.

"We never robbed a citizen, just businesses" Trey argued. "She took everything. The truck, supplies and guns".

"I few over here looking for you and never saw the truck".

"She went west. They're probably dead by now if she didn't turn north. How did you get your car?"

I slept in the plane, then found a bicycle" the thief refused to divulge that the two wheeler was a pink girl's bike.

"Must be nice, you always find motorcycles and bicycles laying around. We're gonna have to stash some wheels and guns for future occasions. I don't know where we'll get another water filter. We have an FN from the gun shop, its threaded for a suppressor. Archie can probably make one, but I still won't have a holster or many spare magazines. Have to take a trip to my brother's place, I've been meaning to go over there anyway" Trey thought out loud.

"Crap, I almost forgot" Joker interrupted.

"What" Trey asked, expecting something important.

"So I was flying around, showing off my new plane. I was over by the prison and flew over a new bunch of soldiers".

"Did you call Illion"?

"Naw, I was busy flying the plane" Joker said, like his friend was an idiot.

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 Post subject: Re: Doing Time
PostPosted: Sun Mar 11, 2018 8:44 am 
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Thank you Groucho!

I really enjoyed this latest installment. It was great to spend time with the Joker and the Thief and I hope to see moar of the story soon. :mrgreen:

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Ahhhh... yess! Thank you! I had been thinking about our friends and what they were up to! Great update as always Groucho!

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thanks Groucho !! good stuff !!


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Thank you!!

Good stuff as always..

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Trask turned to watch the small aircraft disappear. The sound of its engine continued to recede in the same direction, so the craft wasn't circling. Like the commander, the rest of the platoon also stared after the Cessna. "Lieutenant Alvarez, move the platoon off the road. Your men will be manning observation posts". "The pilot couldn't have missed seeing us" he thought. "He must have reported us on the radio by now too" he mumbled to himself. The Captain decided to go through the motions anyway.

Merced picked the troops for the OP's. None of the chosen soldiers looked thrilled to draw the duty. Two men sitting back to back, one to observe the target, the other to watch out for the dead. Alvarez trusted his platoon sergeant , however he figured someone else should know where the troops were posted. In case the black man had a heart attack, fell off a cliff or got mobbed by the dead. The detail approached the prison from the cover of the trees and homes facing the institution. The first two men were far enough north to see that side of the place as well as most of the fenced area behind the back wall. The next pair with a view of the gate, were able to see anything happening inside. The last pair, like the first, were far enough south to view that area. "Do you know why you have this duty Delcosta" the platoon sergeant asked?

"Because I'm an Air Force puke sergeant".

"And a useless soldier Delcosta, don't forget that". All of the troops were happy to be stationed inside a house, instead of hiding out in the bushes.

The remainder of the platoon had moved into the houses designated. Those not watching the surrounding area from the windows, were performing vehicle maintenance or wiping down their weapons. Trask claimed a teenager's bedroom for his own. Soldiers walking down the hall saw him on his knees, looking through his maps and documents. Alvarez notified him after returning from posting the observers. A brief smile crossed the scarred face when he acknowledged the junior officer. Deciding nothing new could be gleaned from the maps, he took a walk around the area, checking the platoon leader's decision. Alvarez knew his stuff, however Trask had nothing else to do.

The squad leaders had their men in position before daylight the next morning for "stand to". Normally the troops thought this was ridiculous. The dead would attack anytime they found warm meat. Although this trip they had to consider the human factor. The men discussed what those people must be like after all this time on their own. The thinking was that they must be scared little rabbits, even with a lost platoon to protect them. More than a few of the healthy, young men wondered about unattached females that might be suitably grateful for their rescue.

The squad leaders drew rations for their men, then distributed the 1,250 calorie meals in brown pouches of MRE's to each man. Whether it was menu A or menu B, everyone had a favorite. The earliest had their pick of meals, the later men complained about Mexican or Italian food for breakfast. The caffeine junkies would get permission to make an almost smokeless fire from dry wood to heat water with. Trask could take or leave coffee, however he showed up at the fire just to keep the soldiers guessing.

"How long have you been in MI, Captain" a soldier asked?

"I'm not in MI. Really, I'm in Supply. My boss just wanted to make sure you guys get what you need in the field".

The man nodded at the lie. "I knew that Sir".

After Merced had delivered meals to the OP's, he reported back to the officers. "Nobody has left the compound. People can be seen walking past the gate. Others go to the gardens in the fenced area outside the walls. That's it" the bald man finished.

"If nothing changes, we'll make a visit after lunch" Trask decided. He had interviewed people brought onto the post, but making contact with survivors was a new experience for him. "I want two men to come with me. Leave couple here to watch our gear and the rest of the platoon will stay out of sight until I signal. If there aren't any questions, we move out in one hour" the officer looked at his watch.

Merced disappointed three solders to watch the vehicles and gear. "Delcosta, you and your girlfriend Schmid will accompany the Captain. We don't want to scare civilians by sending real soldiers in there".
Delcosta and Schmid had arrived at the unit together. As new members of the second squad, it would take awhile to be accepted into the group. Probably until more recent additions to the platoon arrived. As such, the new men shared each other's company.

"Merced sure has it in for you" Schmid said.

"Only until new meat shows up, I hope" Delcosta replied.

At the appointed time, Alvarez had first squad on the left flank, fourth squad on the right flank and the remaining squads in the center. The officers and their attachments led the center squads to the OP, the flank squads moved up to the flanking OP's. Merced roved squad positions, making sure everyone was where they should be. Trask watched the prison for an hour before he and his two man detail moved out of the tree line. "Keep your weapons slung" the officer ordered the enlisted men. "This isn't an assault". It didn't appear that anyone had noticed the three soldiers standing in the side yard of a house along the road.

"Let's move up to the gate" the officer ordered. With one of his escorts on each side the Captain strolled across the lawn to the road. They crossed the ditch and angled left onto the drive leading up to the gate. The wall, which didn't seem very tall from a distance, grew more impressive as they walked closer. The three soldiers stood looking at the empty courtyard through the pair of gates. "There's a guy up there Sir" Delcosta indicated second story gate box.

"Hello" Trask called out, loud enough to get the guard's attention.

Mr. Swan, the head guard, put down the old copy of National Geographic he was flipping through and swiveled his chair around so he had a view of the gates. Surprised to see soldiers standing there, he took a minute to gather his thoughts. "Hello yourself, and see how you like it" the guard quoted Mark Twain. He heard a chuckle from the men at the gate. Whether they recognized the quote or just thought it an odd figure of speech he didn't know.

"I'm here to see a Lieutenant Ilion, although I don't have an appointment. Would you be so kind as to inform him that Captain Trask would like to see him" the officer called back?

"Let me see if I can get hold of him" Mr. Swan called down to the trio. He picked up the hand radio that had been silent since he took over the post at daybreak. "Swan to Illion" he said, holding the transmit switch down. Waiting a moment, he tried again "Swan to Illion, I need you at the front gate". Becoming peeved, he mashed the switch again "Illion, Mathers or FBI guys, somebody answer the damn radio. I have some people at the front gate you need to talk to". After waiting again. he began to wonder if the problem was the radio "Radio check, anyone receiving me please respond".

"I hear you. What are you going on about"? Bobo responded. The big man was always grumpy when he was awakened.

"I'm trying to get the Army or FBI, there are some people at the gate, they'll want to talk to".

"Alright, alright" the big man growled. "I'll get dressed and go find someone".

Mr. Swan went out on the catwalk where the visitors could see him. "They're trying to track him down". His eyes swept the empty area outside the gate. "Are you guys all by yourselves" the older man asked, knowing there were others out there?

"No" Trask answered. "I wasn't sure what type of reception we might receive, the rest are in the trees" he waved vaguely over his shoulder.

"I'll open the front gate. At least you'll be out of the sun, but the inside gate stays closed".

"That would be much appreciated" the Captain replied. Mr. Swan picked up the handle from a shelf, and walked to the end of the catwalk. The manual crank which saw little use when they still had electricity was used daily now. The unit was geared to be easy to turn, with the result being the gate slowly inched open. The three soldiers waited for the gate to crank open, then moved to a spot of shade that would grow smaller until it disappeared before noon. Mr. Swann wanted to ask some questions, however the new officer didn't seem to be a chatty type. The head guard stood where he had both some shade and could see the new arrivals. The longer he waited the more angry he became. "What if this was an emergency" he asked himself.

Twenty minutes after the first attempt to contact the Lieutenant, the officer called back. "What's up Swanny"?

"It's a good thing the dead aren't climbing the walls, since nobody inside wants to answer the damn radio" he spit out. " I got an Army captain out here and he's looking for you".

"Oh shit. I'm on my way. Out".

"He'll be joining you shortly, Captain".

Illion left the building, walking at a pace he thought of as business like. Not dragging his feet, but not rushing either. The two officers, separated by the inside gate, took a moment to get a feel for the other. The Military Intelligence gray uniform the senior man wore made Illion sigh inwardly. "Another freaking spook" he thought. The lieutenant didn't salute the other officer, in his mind they were still in a tactical situation. "Mike Illion, Welcome to Pennsylvania sir" was all he could think of to say.

"Bill Trask" the Captain said, smiling, looking slightly to the side displaying his scars. "At least he didn't salute or wince at the scars" the senior officer thought. "I have a company with me. May we come in"?

Illion gestured to the watchful Mr. Swan, who cursed under his breath and started to crank open the inside gate. Delcosta was sent to have Alvarez bring his men inside. "We thought your detail was deceased" Trask mentioned to Illion.

"Major Barton is deceased Sir. He kept me in the dark, so I followed my last orders".

"Relax Lieutenant, I'm acquainted with how the Major ran his ops. You had no idea how to go about getting out. Have you had many losses"?

"A few. All trying to get into Pittsburgh".

"We know about that second hand. Once the company is settled in, we'll have a meeting".

Sgt Mathers arrived during the brief conversation. Illion knew his platoon Sergeant was rounding up the men . "The Captain will need billets for his company" Illion informed Mathers, who departed as abruptly as he had arrived. Waiting for the platoon to arrive, Trask was full of questions about life outside the military perimeter. How had the civilians faired? Numbers of the dead? Were any other survivors contacted? Most of the answers would need to come from various civilians here at the penitentiary about the early days according to Illion.

The new platoon's vehicles drew up at the gates as the gate opened the last inches. Sergeant Merced directed the transportation to an area near, but not next to the prison's collection of cars and trucks. "Who are you" Merced demanded of a soldier who approached him?

"Seaman Murphy, Sergeant. I'm to guide your men to their quarters".

Merced looked up at the sky in disgust. "A freaking Navy puke. I hope you're better at soldiering than the Air Force puke I got".

"Sergeant Mathers says I'm a natural born killer" Murphy replied with a sincere look on his face. The new platoon followed Murphy to an empty cell block. Sheets and blankets were piled on one of the tables. The Navy man was almost out the door when he turned " I almost forgot, don't close the door, you need a key to open it".

At a meeting that evening in the Warden's outer office, the Army leadership and the Federal Agents discussed their missions, bringing the new people up to date on events and progress to date. Trask developed a respect for the two convicts responsible for his presence. He didn't ask why nobody had covered Barton's back. However, the goals hadn't changed. Report on the damage from the explosion, recover the laser carrier and bring the two felons to whatever Unified Military decided was justice. As the meeting ended the CB radio came to life. "Trey to Illion, Trey to Illion. Get your feet off the desk and come back , please".

"Illion must know about the new group by now, but we should give him a call" Trey said. "Let's get the battery out of the bike while we're here" he added. Joker had the battery removed in two minutes, then stowed in the car's trunk where it would stay upright. The kids and dog met the cellmates at the gate. The children asked questions and the Sheppard demanded to be petted. Peach handed Trey a plate of leftovers from supper. Nobody seemed to think that it was strange that the two men were gone overnight. "I miss your cooking when I'm gone Peach".

The cook looked surprised, "Thank you".

Trey made the call to Illion, who seemed to take his sweet time answering. "I hear you have some new playmates, or is that old news"?

Illion confirmed that the breaking news was a half a day late. "Was that you guys in the plane that buzzed us" the lieutenant asked?

"That was Joker, I was otherwise engaged" the bank robber replied.

"Captain Trask is in command of the new arrivals. He'd like a look at Pittsburgh, for the official report. Since you and Joker have a plane" Illion left the rest unspoken.

"Wait one" the bank robber responded.

"I ain't flying that goober" Joker said before being asked.

"That's alright, I figured on taking him myself" Trey said with a large smile.

"Ha, you haven't even soloed yet" Joker scoffed.

"How hard can it be" Trey raised his eyebrows? Joker sighed in defeat when his friend turned back to the radio. "I'd love to. Oh, he's not going to try and kill me like Barton, is he"?

"He has no interest in killing you" Illion answered the question, not sure if Trey was serious. "Of course, he doesn't know you yet" slipped out, resulting in a frown from Trask. "How about tomorrow"?

"I don't know, my calendar looks pretty full" the criminal paused for effect. "I guess I can bump hoeing the corn back a day, but you'll have to make it up to Peach".

"How about I send a couple guys to do your corn"?

"Sounds like a deal".

"Where and when" was Illion's next question?

"You'll have to come here to hoe the corn" Trey answered being deliberately obtuse.

Illion sighed again. "I meant for the plane".

"Oh, wait one. I have to talk to flight Op's".

Trey gave his friend an inquiring look "Was there anywhere near the prison to land? I don't want to invite them to the airfield".

"Not that I'd want to use if it wasn't an emergency" Joker said immediately. "We could always use the interstate. Do a flyby and see if the goons are out in force".

Trey pushed the transmit button "We'll check out the four lane for dead guys tomorrow morning. Probably a few miles north or south of your location. Oh, bring a couple of Archie' suppressors with you, please". Illion agreed and they signed off.

The sun was just starting to peek over the horizon when the criminals left for the airfield. It was one of those end of summer or early fall mornings with a clear blue sky, that promised a warm day ahead. The partners were greeted at the entry gate by a double handful of the dead. Joker eased the Mercedes to a stop "There are more of them every time".

"We can't keep landing here then. We need a couple other places to rotate through, preferably with a fence". Trey exited the German car, rifle in hand "I'll do these ones". The bank robber raised and lowered the weapon over his head, shouting at the goons who had turned to look at them but made no move toward them. "Get over here, we have places to go". The dead obliged, advancing as a group for a short distance, then evolving into a line as the faster members surged ahead. Trey, backing off the side of the road and down the steep slope, stopped when only his head was visible.

He shot the first goon when it was only a foot from the end of the barrel. The body rolled down the incline for some distance, ending up against the base of a small crabapple tree. None of the other bodies went far. Two remained right where they were shot. The others rolled or slid downhill a short distance. The bank robber couldn't help but notice how differently the bullets acted with the same point of aim. The front sight settled between the eyes with each shot, however one bullet would punch through the skull, leaving a nice round hole, while the next would remove the top of the head. The last goon was a nude, young woman that had the hair pulled from one side of her head and an ear bit off. Her downward slide was stopped by the body of the first goon by the tree.

Fueling the Cessna was more difficult without the transfer pump that Rose flew away with. The felons took turns hauling five gallon containers up a ladder to the wing tanks. The cheap, little siphon pump worked, although with a lower flow rate, it took much longer. A disgusted Joker finished the last can, descended the ladder, then threw the gear on the ground. "A lot of good these gloves did, my hands still smell like fuel" the smaller man complained loudly.

"You got to pay to play" his friend replied.

"Wow, such wisdom. Did you come up with that all by yourself" Joker asked sarcastically.

"No" Trey grinned. "My Dad used to say that".

"Well, we paid, now let's go play".

The two men loaded their gear into the back of the four seat plane. Trey had replaced what gear he could from the estate and the farm stocks. The rifle's balance felt very wrong without the addition on the barrel. The pistol on his belt felt lighter than his missing piece had, the barrel not rubbing his thigh. The pack didn't have that comfortable, broken in feel. "Wham, pow, straight to the moon Alice" he thought to himself. One spare handgun they had brought took a while to arrange hanging from the steering column, where the pilot would have instant access. It would mean shooting left handed, however a passenger would have a difficult time grabbing it.

"Where do you want the new guy sitting" Joker asked?

"I figured he'd sit up front. You can sit behind him or behind me, whichever seems best to you. He'd have a hard time shooting you if you're behind him. On the other hand, if you need to get your hands on the controls quickly it's not the best place".

"If I have to grab the controls, we're pretty much screwed anyway" the small man said.

Trey did his pilot inspection, making sure everything that was supposed to move did and the things that weren't supposed to didn't. Joker finished installing a CB radio, located so the man with his hands on the yoke didn't have to stretch. The bank robber confirmed his friend's transmission from the seat of the Mercedes. Trey started the engine, the felons patiently waiting for their transport to warm up. The little craft taxied out to the runway, facing into what little breeze was blowing, according to the windsock. The pilot set the throttle a little hotter than his friend had, even though he didn't eighty foot trees to dodge at the runway's end. Trey adjusted the flaps and released the brake.

The Cessna rolled forward as though it was as eager as the pilot to get airborne. Just like in practice, the pilot eased the yoke back and the wheels left the ground. Trey watched the altimeter, then started his slow, climbing spiral. Both men spotted goons, mostly by themselves, but at least one pair apparently traveling toward the airfield. Trey turned east until he reached the interstate, then turned south to follow the ribbon of concrete. The men noted potential land areas, between overpasses and bends. More goons were spotted, although none were on the four lane itself. They passed the prison located west of their flight path, continuing south.

The cellmates found what they were looking for about five miles past the gray bar hotel. Trey spiraled down so they could get a close look at the site. Joker gave the pilot a thumbs up gesture which matched the pilot's opinion. The thief made the call for Illion who responded at once. "How will I know the spot" the lieutenant asked?

"You'll see us" Joker said with a wide smile.

"You never flew with these guys before" Trask questioned Illion as they climbed into one of the army trucks.

"Nope" Illion answered, leaving the gate, followed by two other vehicles full of troops. The officers drove in silence until Illion, looking around said "I think this was where they meant". A second later his foot reached for the brake in a reflex action to the red and white plane appearing above him, passing from behind. His eyes flicked to the rear view mirror, showing the other driver had the same impulse, hitting the brakes. Illion crossed into the other lane to miss the truck in front that slammed on their breaks. The officers had a ringside seat for a less than confidence building landing. Trey set the craft down too hard, bouncing back up several feet. He came back down again with a much smaller bounce before getting the tires to just kiss the concrete.

Trey let the plane slow with a minimum of braking. The Cessna turned on the area allowed by the roadway facing back the way they had come. "That was a heck of a landing" Joker said laughing.

"I don't why it bounced. I never did that at the airport, maybe it's different on cement" Trey smiled back at his friend. While they talked, the soldiers had driven up stopping several vehicle lengths from the spinning propeller. " I guess we should shut her down, in case they want to talk" the pilot decided, eyeing the men still sitting in their truck. The airplane's occupants exited carrying their rifles to be on the safe side. They took a long look at the surroundings, but the dead hadn't arrived. The soldiers still hadn't moved, Joker leaned casually against the door, cradling his rifle in his arms. Trey rested the butt of his weapon on the ground, one hand on the barrel and the other on a wing strut.

Trask watched the plane's landing and ground maneuvers . The actions of the two felons seemed to indicate that they had nothing else to do, however this was a favor so the first move was up to the military. He looked at Illion who sat behind the wheel just looking at the criminals, waiting for his superior to speak. "Thanks for the ride. Have somebody watch the radio, who knows where we'll land".

"Will do sir, good luck".

Trask stepped out onto the road rifle in hand, pulling his pack from the bed of the pickup. He grunted with the effort from the weight. The Captain was a firm believer that there was no such thing as too much ammo or water. After all, he wasn't walking to Pittsburgh. Capable of producing a smile on demand, the current one was genuine. "Nice day for a flight" he addressed the criminals. The two men returned the smile, although the shorter man's effort had a trace of crazy in it. "Geez, what do you have in here" Joker asked wrestling the heavy pack into the rear of the plane?

"Just the essentials" Trask answered. "You guys know the area where we're going"?

"Yep" Trey answered "Since I was a kid". "Joker even flew the route before". Trey started the engine and the army trucks withdrew. The lead driver picked out a likely spot and crossed the grassy area between the lanes onto the northbound lane. Trey was wheels up by the time the Cessna passed the trucks. The single engine craft flew north gaining altitude before it made a long sweeping turn to the south.

A mob of the dead walked the back country roads. The group had about two hundred members, but the number changed frequently. Some would split off when attracted by movement in the fields or woods. Others, attracted by the group, would join up. Sometimes a lack of sound or motion would leave them standing motionless on the road for hours or even days. The call of a crow or a squirrel crossing the road would set them in motion again. A whitetail deer standing still at the edge of a patch of woods bordering the road, watching the mob pass by flicked its tail at the wrong moment. A cluster of goons at the rear detached itself.

The deer was long gone before the cluster reached the wood line. They kept walking toward where their prey was last seen. The rough terrain quickly broke up the cluster. One goon lost its footing crossing the drainage ditch at the edge of the road. Between the muddy bottom and the narrow ditch itself, the high school senior was stuck. The single mother followed an alarmed Blue jay away from the cluster. The grocery clerk walked into a tangle of fallen trees and couldn't figure out how to extricate itself. The cluster spent days in the damp woods and began to sprout sulfur fungus about their bodies.
The cluster was down to five members by the time they walked into the sunshine again.

The dog that barked furiously at the shrunken cluster of the dead, had been sleeping in the shade on the house's porch. He'd been alerted by the cracking of limbs and the swish of brush against what was left of the once humans' clothing. "Ole Shep", a mixed breed, charged the dead, circling around them barking, at last retreating until he was defending the porch. Surrounded, the animal slipped through the doggy door into the home. The goons might have departed if the dog had quit barking. The continued noise from inside had the dead pushing and beating on the house's siding and door.

Shep lay at the far end of the kitchen watching the door, unsure of what to do next. The kitchen was testimony to the dog's survival instincts. Giving into his hunger when his family never returned from their daily trips, the dog had emptied both large bags of dog food delivered by the nice man in the big brown van. The kitchen counters were swept clean of anything that could be eaten. The pantry door never had latched securely, allowing the animal access to the food laden shelves. Shep had become adept at hunting rabbits, squirrels, mice and shrews. The noise from the group was replaced by a distant buzzing. The dead became distracted by the Cessna as it drew closer. They set off in search of the source of the noise, even after it stopped. A glimpse of the red and white plane when it took off, encouraged them to continue.

Trask had never flown in a single engine airplane before this trip. The interstate looked plenty wide enough for a takeoff, until it was actually happening. The guard rails on one side and the dip separating the directional lanes on the other side looked way too close. The captain didn't realize how small a margin of error existed until it was too late. He'd flown a lot for the Army. Mostly encapsulated in the belly of a large aircraft, he wasn't used to seeing where he was traveling. Even if he could have looked, the altitude would have been much higher than the little plane traveled.

Trey was in no hurry to gain altitude and was still at two hundred feet when he passed above the prison. The plan discussed by the convicts would take them south and west to 422, then to the toll extension of 376 and 376 right into the "Burgh". Trey flew over Lake Arthur to pickup 422, changing course to follow it west to New Castle. At the toll extension of 376, which had been built to close a forty mile gap, the small plane turned south. At both of the toll booths, cars and trucks jammed the four lane road and were populated by a large crowd of the dead.

At Beaver Falls, where the toll road ended, they continued on old 376. Trey narrated the route for the other two men, one of whom took many notes. Once the travelers reached the Ohio River, Trey turned south to follow the river, pointing out the Beaver Valley nuclear power plant. The pilot circled, returning to the interstate where the weapon caused destruction had ended. Trey was interested in what the burning area looked like now. The ash and blackened timber weren't as bad as he expected. Some green was showing among the burned trees, and the ash was partially washed into the river from the rains.

The river made it's turn east toward Pittsburgh, however out of curiosity, the pilot went west up the Beaver River. The results of the explosion stopped at the falls, which everyone thought was interesting.
Flying back down the river past Bridgewater they noticed the burnt out hulks of the larger pleasure boats bobbing in the water next to the docks. Trey pointed out the route they had taken into Rochester on the that fateful day. The fires hadn't stopped at the tops of the valley, but burned most of the river towns. Freedom, Beaver, Ambridge, Aliquippa, all were gone. Trey did get a small amount of satisfaction that the couple of snobby rich towns had disappeared as well.

The flyers could tell where buildings had stood. The asphalt roads looked melted, the cars stripped of their paint rusted on bare rims. Reaching the city, it was easy to see where the detonation took place. The point had disappeared, where Fort Pitt had stood was part of the river now. They flew first up the Monongahela River southeast, then the Allegheny River north. The damage stopped at the first bends, however the fires continued.

Trask requested a closer look at the damage going back down river. The pilot looked over his shoulder at his friend, who nodded with a crazy grin on his face. Trey began flying under the bridges in their path, jumping out of the valley over a town, then back down to river. The felons were howling like a couple drunken hillbillies, the Captain even laughed a couple of times. Climbing back to a safer altitude, the bank robber asked Trask "Anything else you want to see"?

"Nope, I saw what I needed to".

"Then we'll take the shortcut home" he said, turning due north. "Did you learn anything first hand that you didn't already know"?

"Nope, but you know the military". The Captain radioed his people, estimating the time of their arrival.

Flying a straight line, the interstate seemed to wander back and forth underneath them. Arriving where they had taken off from, no vehicles could be seen. Five goons had also arrived, attracted by the noise of the takeoff, but stymied by the guard rail. "I always wanted to shoot them bastards from a plane" Trask blurted out.

"Why not" Trey accepted the challenge. "You'll have to aim almost straight down or you'll hit the propeller. That would be bad".

Joker opened the Captain's pack as instructed, removing the suppressors that were requested. He set the criminal's pair on the seat and passed the third one forward. The scarred officer smiled while attaching the crude silencer onto the rifle borrowed from Joker, who had removed the factory model.
Trey circled around, lining up with the edge of the highway while losing altitude. The pilot also cut his speed back as far as he dared. Trask opened the window, admitting a blast of air. He positioned himself with one knee on the seat, realizing how narrow his field of fire was. Under the propeller, but over the wing strut. He flipped the safety over to full auto.

The first run, Trask watched the approach, however by the time he put his eye to the sights, all thirty rounds hit behind the fab five. The impact area on the second run was in front of the targets, although much closer. "This isn't working. Give me some distance, I can shoot behind the strut" Trask instructed the bank robber while he changed magazines. The aircraft made a third circle, lining up west of the interstate. The officer using his sling as a shooting aid, also found he could rest his rifle on the bottom of the window frame. With both eyes open, he could see the targets before they appeared past the strut. Holding the gun motionless, he let the forward motion of the plane sweep the bullets across the goons. Joker watched the rounds impact among the dead, only the last one in line receiving a bullet in the noggin.

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