The only fly in the ointment was that since I was shooting from the high ground the ones I hit fell forward knocking a couple of the other ones down.
I got one more that had started to run but Abel is the one who actually took him out, as well as the other three, all in quick succession. I ran up to look over the rise and make sure there were no stragglers. Nothing as far as the eye could see, and much of the lower trail was visible as the BLM had widened it in anticipation of connecting to another major trail that eventually connected to the Appalachian Trail. I was remembering how Dad had considered it a big waste of money since widening the trail would only create erosion as I made my way back to Abel.
By the time I reached him, Abel had already stripped the men of their gear and was rolling them over a steep incline. “Take the ammo for your Beretta.” Upon hearing his voice I looked more closely at him. His tone was gruffer and his face was set in hard lines. I knew better than to distract him. I also decided not to say anything about it because I knew he was going to be troubled enough when it was all over.
We cached most of the gear off of the men off the trail but I split all of the matches and lighters between us making sure that Abel didn’t object when I pocketed an honest to goodness Zippo candle lighter and a nearly full can of lighter fluid to go with it. I’ve always been a bit of a firebug and the flashy lighter had been one of the things I had hoped to get for my thirteenth birthday. I found out later that Momma was the one that put the kibosh on it; Dad had promised I could have his for Christmas if I promised to use it wisely. But the Blue Hats had taken him away and he had been carrying it that day.
A peremptory “Come!” was all I got as a warning before Abel took off down the trail. I knew it would be dark before we got there and that we might meet company. Within a mile of town Abel finally stopped. He looked at me, still that frozen man and then he softened a bit. “Querida … I …”
“We need to find some place and let me fix you something to eat. Might not be a bad idea to purify some water to fill our canteens either. You can tell me more of your plan.”
He sighed and ran a dirty knuckle down my cheek. “Si. Do you know the … place where they take the trash?”
Thinking for a second I realized he meant the city dump. “Yeah. I’m surprised they haven’t burnt it over.”
Not only had they not burnt it over The Dump was roughly five times as big as it had been the last time I saw it. The smell should have been horrendous but it wasn’t. I mean it smelled bad but not like rotting food or anything like that. Guess there wasn’t any food to rot, or any that had been thrown in the dump had degraded long ago.
Mushrooms grew everywhere but they were the poisonous kind so I didn’t go near them; I didn’t want to track the spores anywhere else.. There were also several poisonous plants growing throughout the trails through the dump like Black Henbane and Bloodroot. Finally we found a hidden spot out of the worst of the stink but well back from the little foot traffic we could see from our vantage point.
Before our hands got any dirtier we ate some jerky and a few spoonfuls of nut butter. “Sorry. I had hoped to have a better dinner for you and Daniel tonight.”
“Hush Querida. I am sorry to drag you into this madness.”
I leaned my head on his shoulder for a brief moment and told him, “I didn’t recall being dragged any place. As a matter of fact I kinda invited myself along … with an or else attached to it.”
He didn’t smile but I felt some of the tension leave his shoulders. “True. But still I am sorry for you to see this.”
“I can’t hide with my head in the sand anymore. Daniel is safe and as soon as we take care of this we’ll go get him and go back home.”
He looked at me and sighed. “You think it will be so easy.”
“Well … maybe not easy, but certainly necessary. Can’t you feel it?”
He shifted his shoulders and said, “Si. But that is me.”
“So now you know it is me too. Now, that you are here and we both sense that this place is pretty sick, have you got more plan?”
He nodded. “You will not like it.”
“But I’ll probably like it better than what I’m feeling right now so give already and stop trying to protect me so much.”
I got a twisted smile at that and he said, “We know that all of the bridges except for one that connects the town to the corridor that leads to the interstate have been blown. This bit of land is essentially cut off.” At my nod he said, “You will think me mad.”
“I don’t think you’re crazy … except for the good kind of crazy.”
“Mmm. Thank you Querida … I think.” After we both gave a brief smile it was time to get serious. “This cannot be allowed to continue Day-cee. It is an … an aborrecimiento … abomination. I am no priest but surely God did not mean for such things to be under His sun. Soon this Richard, he will have so many people on his side that he will risk pushing Hakim out.”
“But Hakim has all of the guns.”
“Guns are only good when you have enough trained people to operate them. If enough people leave Hakim for this Richard they will overwhelm the perimeter. They will suffer casualties yes, but in the end they will have people and the guns to use them. Hakim was satisfied to have his little caliph where he could be all powerful. This Richard sounds like he will not … he will branch out and continue to collect followers. Si … that is how I see it.”
Thinking about it I said, “OK, if what you think will happen is the most likely scenario what can we do to stop it getting to that point?”
“We must stop it now. I had thought to have a war of … of attrition … between Hakim and the crazy Richard but I do not believe there is time. Look at the people going about. You can tell the difference between the area controlled by Richard and controlled by Hakim … there are no people in most of the town but in the part controlled by the Richard there are many people. They are bold, like they have shaken off their terror of Hakim. This is not good.”
“It’s not good that people threw off Hakim’s reign of terror?”
He shook his head, “Not for these, under the influence of the crazy Richard. If they had thrown off their terror sooner it would be a good thing, but not now.”
“Fine. Hakim is now good and Richard is the new bad in town.”
He shook his head. “No, Hakim is still bad … as bad as the crazy Richard just in a different way. They both must perish.”
I was about to say something else but forgot what when I realized he’d really meant to use the word “perish.” “You mean they both must die.”
With no hesitation he said, “Si. Yes. But it is more than that. The people here, they … they are …”
Picking up where he had started to stumble I said, “You don’t think that the people here in town will go back to some version of normal even if both Hakim and Richard are taken out.”
He sighed, “Yes … that is what I think.”
We were both silent for a while before I surprised him. “I agree. They might change if they are forced to, but not as long as they stay where they’ve developed certain … habits. The only way we are going to get the vultures to move their roost is if we get rid of this one.”
Giving me a suspicious look as I started gazing into the dump Abel said, “It will take more than burning this place to drive them away.”
Casually I said, “Oh, I know. Got a question for you.”
Suspicion turned to concern and he said, “Yes?”
“If I figured out a way to build some … stuff … would you be able to get us around town to use it?”