She wore an olive tunic with the sleeves rolled up. On some parts were stains of old blood blotched around crude stitches and patchwork. Her hair was braided into pigtails pulled into a bundle. Her boots were made of sheepskin with soles of pig-hide, the loose cloth of her trousers stuffed around her ankles. On her waist was a leather belt that held a pair of empty sacks. Bags hung under her eyes, marked in lines of insomnia.
She knelt in the underbrush by a great oak, the cold dew soaking her knees. The dirt was moist as she felt in a hollow between the roots, spiders tickling her knuckles as they scattered to safety. She moved her face in, picking up the stale scent. Something felt soft to the touch and she plucked it free.
She licked her lips when she saw it in the light, brushing it clean of dirt.
She sat up and reared her head.
The boy stood in the ancient page-rags of his father, his hands cupped before him.
‘I forgot the kind we need, so I took many.’
Ingrt stood. In his hands were mushrooms of different sizes and colors: some big and white, small and white, and others small and brown. She picked out and discarded the small white ones.
‘Those kill.’ She pointed to the big ones. ‘Those we keep to snack.’ She picked up a brown. ‘These we gather lots. Understand, little-one?’
‘Aye! I will get all I can find!’
‘Good boy.’ She returned the mushroom and he scurried off.
Ingrt looked at the one she found, smelled it close to her nostrils, and bit her lip. A bead of sweat crawled down her forehead as her heart fluttered with warmth, her hair standing on end.
* * *
The boy and Ingrt walked through the forest with full sacks.
‘Thank you for joining me.’
‘Father said I must learn for when I am Viking on my own.’
‘Farmers Viking and you make for a fine farmer.’
She looked to his little face.
‘Your mother would be thankful her husband is raising you well.’
‘Aye… she would.’
They shared a silence, the squeak of their boots on the wet grass the only sound.
‘Will you take them?’
‘I will not, Ingrt.’
‘Better to wait for battle; better time.’
‘I mean to never take them. I am afraid.’
‘What is to fear? All you see is good.’
‘Saegard went mad on the last raid; clawed out a Saxon’s eyes and ate them, remember?’
‘Saegard took more than he should; too much vision for fragile brain and he is no Berserker.’
‘Neither are you.’
She stopped and knelt in front of him.
‘True, but mine eyes have seen the gods, and are blessed to see them eternal.’ She drew closer as she spoke. ‘They love to see us kill, to take lives, and claim plunder.’ She showed him her hand as it shook. ‘My body aches for blood and the gods call on me for violent-sport!’
‘You talk mad, Ingrt. May we hurry back to camp, please?’
She laughed and embraced him, carrying the boy the rest of the way.
‘Never grow up, little-one.’
* * *
The camp was close to a foggy shore by a handful of long ships resting on the beach, their serpent figureheads like petrified monsters in the haze. On land there were small tents surrounding a large one, standards and flags fluttering in the wind as men and shield-maidens readied their gear around fires.
A small group of naked men cloaked in bear and wolf hides huddled around a black cauldron. An elder of thick muscle and covered in tattoos stirred the soupy contents with a long spoon. Their eyes were sunk into their skulls, baring creases from age and stress. To the side their pole axes and clubs were stacked like teepees.
The elder and his fellows looked to the boy and Ingrt holding up the sacks. The group cheered and made way for the pair. They approached the cauldron and she dumped the brown mushrooms into the milky liquid as Gunnar stirred.
‘A fine harvest,’ he said to her. ‘The gods will grant you a hefty treasure at battle’s end.’
‘What of the little-one; he found more than I.’
Gunnar grinned at him.
‘How old are you boy?’
‘Aw! Not long until you are made a man, but for your service, it may happen before the day is done. You will grow fast like Vali and slew many men.’
The boy was slow to smile.
‘Thank you, sir.’
‘Soon you will call me brother! Take care, friends; combat draws near!’
They said goodbye and left the Berserkers to their soup.
In the thick of the tents she stopped and handed a brown mushroom to the boy.
‘Think on what I said and take it if you find your feelings changed.’
He made a half smile and pocketed the cap.
‘I will, Ingrt. Thank you.’
She hugged him one last time and the boy ran off.
* * *
Inside her tent was a simple bedroll, woolen blanket, and a mug. Against the center-pole leaned her gear: a vest of leather and chainmail, a hand-axe, and shield. It was colored in a blue field with nine yellow spiral arms pointing to the center boss.
Ingrt put on the vest and placed the axe in a loop upon her belt. She knelt by her bedroll and pulled away the blanket. Lying underneath was a small charm of an eight-legged horse tarnished to an emerald color. She picked it up and gave it a long kiss before slipping the charm into the side of her boot.
A horn bellowed outside and a toothy smile grew across her face.
* * *
The warriors were gathered in front of the ships facing the camp. The Chieftain stood before them, dressed in thick black furs with a heavy gold necklace and an iron helm. Beside him were his Thanes, a personal guard armed with spears and bows.
The Berserkers sauntered into view carrying the cauldron like a litter on their backs. They planted it before the Chieftain and formed a line. A Thane passed him a bowl and took a liberal scoop of the soup.
Gunnar was the first in line and knelt. The Chieftain poured the steaming liquid into his mouth and the elder swallowed every last drop before joining the warriors. Each Berserker drank, some of them puking it up after standing. Upon rejection they would fall to the ground shove it all back in.
When the Berserkers were fed the Chieftain faced his warriors.
‘You lot know the plan: I want those bastard Stalvnar boats intact. I want no cut rope, no split oars, no slave-claims, and every pound of their gear wet in only blood. If you cast one into the sea, you dive in, bring him up, and kill him right.’ He paced in front of the warriors. ‘I want that iron; I want that iron to kill more of them bastards. Do you want that iron?’
‘Aye!’ said the warriors.
‘Do you want to spill their blood and take all they have?’
The warriors cheered, bashing their weapons against their shields.
The Chieftain fisted his shield, turning to his Thanes to see they were doing likewise. He let it go on before raising his hand.
‘To the ships!’
The warriors cheered and separated into the boats.
* * *
Her arms and shoulders felt sore, tight and firm from repetitive use. With every pull she inhaled; with every push she exhaled, stroking to the rhythm of a drum. At the front she could see the boy sitting close to the gunwale beside his father. Gathered at the bow the Berserkers shivered with blood-shot eyes. At the side the ships glided across the water in a flawless motion, maintaining a straight formation. Mountains capped in snow stood sentinel in the distance.
‘Ramming speed!’ said the Chieftain and the drumbeat quickened.
Her breathing turned into grunts as she fought her body’s pain. The wait felt like hours, a murderous stalemate made worse by her flesh crying out for respite. She lost feeling in her arms as her elbows seized into stiffness.
Her hands moved on their own pulling the oar in. She stood and took her shield off the gunwale, putting it in the grip of her left hand. Out in the water the enemy came towards the formation at speed. Ingrt swallowed three mushrooms and drew her axe. The ship lurched forward in a violent halt and she was thrown off her feet.
It felt as though she crashed through a wall of glass when white light flashed into her eyes. Her clothes were torn off by a torrent of hot wind as she fell into a space of blue and white sparks that rushed past her like clusters of shooting stars. A black figure materialized in the distance, jerking and twitching like the animated charcoal scribbling of a mad artist. The creature had no face and four limbs in a human fashion. The wind blew harder as she dove to meet it, her bundle of pigtails coming loose.
She presented it her shield and hit the figure with a slam. She swung her axe but it ducked and struck her leg, the blue sparks flashing red. Ingrt shrieked and buried her axe in its head. The figure exploded into nothing and the blue sparks flashed yellow.
More creatures were upon her from all sides. She laughed with a wild insanity that made it hard to breath as they fought, slashing at her with their pointed arms. Ingrt went on cackling as her shield broke into splinters, goring the figures with her hands in tandem with her axe. In desperation she sank her teeth into one and tasted iron.
When the last figure disappeared, a white light consumed the blue sparks like a wash of paint. Ingrt felt herself blind when there was no color left and the light burst open to a plain of grass. She hit the ground in a tumble, feeling her wounds open wider and fill with dirt. She stopped on her back, staring to an empty sky of azure.
The sun was warm and the breeze cool against her naked skin as she came to her feet. Before her was a vast landscape of rolling hills. Standing tall in a lake was an ash tree, bare of leaves and earth around its thick roots. In the distance were forests clustered at the feet of great mountains of blue and white. From the peaks rose a single rainbow.
Ingrt smiled, lone tear creeping down her cheek. When she turned round her eyes became awash.
The giant man had a single eye that blazed like a fiery sun and a hollow socket for another. He had a white beard that stretched down to his chest from a shiny helm of wings. A cape of crimson flanked him and on his chest was a cuirass of silver scales. His legs were clothed in a kilt of the same color, greaves, and leather boots. Vambraces hugged his forearms as he held a great boar-spear planted in the grass. On each shoulder was perched a raven, one with black eyes, and another with white. By his legs, staring at her with a hungry curiosity were two wolves, twin beasts of grey and black fur.
Ingrt’s mouth was agape in awe before she raised her hands high.
The air escaped her lungs. She looked down at a lone dagger in her lower abdomen as silence snatched her voice. She blinked and a hand formed around the hilt, the blade now stuck between the links of her vest. Another blink and bodies appeared at her feet. The prang of swords-to-shields and the cries of men came to her ears as Ingrt found the hand belonged to a foul smelling ginger that stood in her face.
She hyperventilated before screaming aloud, grabbing hold of the ginger and bringing him down atop the bloody corpses. Between punches she dug her teeth into his face, tearing out and discarding each piece before another mouthful. A pair of Berserkers strong-armed her off the man, leaving him to cry lip-less, the tendons of his face severed. Another warrior silenced the ginger with his axe.
The boy was carrying his father on his back, blood splashed across his face and clothes. He watched Ingrt hugged by the berserkers as the battle went on across the boats. She thrashed and screamed in their arms, her eyes red.
* * *
Half remained, rowing at a mournful pace as they towed a new ship. Down the center were stacked the bodies of their friends from bow to stern.
The boy rowed as he watched his father’s guts pushed back in and sewn up. At the bow he saw Ingrt huddle by the Berserkers while an apothecary pulled the dagger free. Her face was a pale, sickly green, shivering and sweating as she mumbled incoherent nothings. Her face puffed and she leaned over the gunwale, emptying the contents of her stomach into the sea.
* * *
She awoke to the crackle of a fire and the night sky. She turned and boy was sitting before the flames beside his father in a bedroll.
He came closer.
‘Do you feel well?’
She sat up with a groan, the blanket slipping off her chest. Around her sides and stomach were fresh lines of stitches amongst her old scars.
‘Are we still…’
‘Too many wounded. We burned some this morning.’ Her eyes reared to his father. ‘He sleeps still… Are you thirsty?’
She nodded and the boy stepped back to his seat. He returned with her mug filled with water and a sack. She finished it off in one gulp.
‘Is there anything to eat?’ He pulled a piece of dried meat from the sack and watched her chew it whole. ‘Who fell; I cannot recall their faces last I was wake?’
‘Bragi, Modi, Idunn’s father… Thurd, and some I did not know. The Berserkers survived; the Stalvnars were too afraid to fight them.’ He made a half-smile. ‘I am thankful you yet live.’
She took his hand.
‘And I pray your father will wake just as I.’ After kissing his knuckles she let go and laid on her side.
He went back to his place and stared into the fire.
‘Will you lay with me, little-man?’
The boy’s chest went stiff and he looked to her.
‘Ingrt… your husband—‘
‘Oh, you have such narrow thoughts!’ she said with a chuckle. ‘I mean share my bed, not my flesh.’
He smiled and took off his boots before getting under her blanket. He laid with his back to her as she held him tight, kissing his head. The boy fell asleep, her eyes still fixed on his bedded father.
* * *
Her things were wrapped in the bedroll at her feet. The rhythm was slow and the cargo light with only the claimed boat. It was a thankful pace, leaving little for her wounds to complain. She watched the boy on the opposite side, sitting with his father between them wrapped in a blanket. The boy carried the man’s sword on his back.
* * *
There were mountains at port and starboard as they rowed into the bay. The town stood on a shore of stones with docks extending over the water. A crowd of wives and children waited there. The ship slowed to a halt and tied on. The wives cheered for the men’s return and cried when they received only a sack of ashes.
Ingrt and the boy stood. He slung his father’s shield on his back while she took the man over her shoulder and the two disembarked. They walked through town, the streets alive with jubilation. She felt her hand pulled and stopped.
Her man had a great blonde beard that made his face took small. The excess cloth of his right sleeve was rolled up over a scared stump as he held onto her.
She smiled at him and he replied with a nod.
* * *
The boy’s house was outside of town on the side of a hill. They were alone as she laid the body down by the front door, sheep bleating from behind the fence.
‘Do you need help tonight?’
He shook his head.
‘I must carry him to shore. There is spare wood I can use. Thank you, Ingrt.’
She knelt and hugged him.
‘Come stay with us. Maybe not now but when you are ready.’ She pulled away and looked at him. ‘We always wanted a son…’
The boy smiled.
‘I must settle with father and the gods, then I will think on it.’
She kissed his cheek.
‘When you are ready, speak to the Chieftain about selling your land. A plot like this is too big for you alone, little-man.’
* * *
Ingrt could hear the goats whine when she approached the farm, her man waiting out front. They embraced each other in a kiss.
‘I have longed for your touch,’ he said.
‘Mine eyes are heavy, but I shall keep them open, my love.’ He put his arm around her shoulders and walked to the door. ‘I am sorry I lost your shield again.’
‘I am glad it kept you safe and whole until the end. I will have make one better and stronger for this coming season.’
* * *
She traced the scars on his hairy chest as she lay under him. She watched sweat drip from his nose and onto her chest as he moved, his face scrunched in effort. He grunted with every thrust but all she could do was remain silent. Ingrt closed her eyes, shutting off all senses except one, and he stopped.
‘Do I hurt?’
She smiled and opened her eyes.
‘No, my love. Please go on.’
‘You look in pain, lest you find me unworthy.’
She placed her hands on his cheeks.
‘You make me happy; you always make me happy… Please go on.’
He stared at her with droopy eyes and laid down chest to chest, his arm around her back. She held on and kissed his ear.
* * *
She awoke alone, birds chirping and roosters cawing from the backyard. The floor was cold when she slid off and winced as a soreness shot up from her lower half. Ingrt went to the kitchen, each step causing pain, and found a wrap of spare cloth. She covered her whole abdomen and thighs, tying them off with string.
She returned to the bedroom and found her old work dress. It was a simple garment with small open cuts and black dirt stains on the skirt and sleeves. She combed her hair, undoing the braids that still remained and settling on a simple ponytail. When she put on her boots there was something rigid and hard against her sole. She took her foot out and held the thing in her fingers.
The charm was greasy with old sweat, the scent of her odor upon it. She wiped it on her skirt and gave it a kiss, leaving it atop the chest at the foot of the bed.
* * *
Red cuts formed on her forearms as unruly poultry flapped about in a tantrum. She was moving them out of the coop to deposit their eggs into a basket before cleaning out the putrid waste. When the work was done she rallied her goats to a stool and milked them dry with her man.
Ingrt rested on a bench outside, taking sips from her mug. She looked at her boots caked in feces and mud. It was a light brown color but all she could see was red. Her left hand was formed in a slack grip as if it were holding something. On each finger was a callous that seemed to ache a phantom pain.
‘I miss it too.’
She looked up to her man standing in front of her.
‘My nerves are restless,’ she said. ‘Next season seems so far away.’
He sat beside her.
‘Someday the Stalvnar’s will come for vengeance. It may happen before winter and you will be back on the wall, fresh and ready.’
She made a half-smile.
‘We lost many. Perhaps you will join me to fill our numbers.’
He shook his head.
‘One must stay to mind the home while the spouse goes Viking.’ He kissed her head, ‘I am more useful honoring your bravery working the land and keeping the bed warm for your return.’
* * *
She worked in the garden with her man clearing out weeds by the house. After picking up a thick bushel her eyes grew wide.
In the shadow of a hole in the stone foundation was a cluster of small brown mushrooms. Her hand trembled as she plucked them, smelling dirt and old rain. She stopped herself from swallowing them whole.
Ingrt came from behind, wrapping her arms around her man’s chest. He angled his head to meet her lips. She showed the mushroom and he chuckled.
‘Where is the battle?’
She moved around to his front in a straddled position. He laid on his back as she pulled off her dress and broke apart the mushrooms. Ingrt came down and put one in their mouths as they kissed in the dirt.
Appalachi Corps: “Cattle Car”
The train rumbled through the night in the Shenandoah Valley. Just after the engine was the officers’ car, a rusted streamlined section of fancy rooms and furnishings. There were two of these followed by the standard NCO cars, eight in total to account for the whole company. Those cars were made for livestock before the engineers fitted them with enough wall-bunks to carry half a platoon of Green Coats. The soldiers’ luggage and weapons were piled down the middle of the cars.
Sergeant First Class Dianna Manning was a team leader for her squad. She laid on the very top bunk beside the sliding door on the right of the car. It was a cool night and she had her boots and pants off to let her legs breath. She laid on top the sheets with her eyes closed, her hand resting on the mended hand-guard of her AK-74.
Trains were not her thing as it proved difficult to sleep. She rolled over numerous times, trying to find a comfortable position that would will her body into rest. The irritation and constant noise was not helping and all she could do was imagine herself in a proper bunk back at Ft. Pickett.
Facing the wall there came a white light that pierced through the thin cracks between the planks. She watched the light, assuming it was from lamps along the tracks. But the light did not move, fixed upon the single car that held her friends.
Dianna survived twelve engagements in her thirty-two years. She killed scores of Vaticanos in the infantry as she built herself a ladder of corpses to her current station. The experience paid off as she knew what was happening just by the sound of the guns.
Bullets tore through the walls and broke the chains that held her bunk up. She rolled off onto the pile of luggage, feeling the sharp pain of someone’s weapon barrel sticking into her back. More of the platoon leapt to the floor for cover, some vaporized in their beds by the giant rounds.
Groaning and wincing Dianna saw a twitching arm pinned between her bunk and the one beneath it. She grabbed the wrist and yanked the man out. She could feel his blood splatter her legs when the two of them tumbled to the other side of the car, landing on top of the others.
‘Yer okay, man,’ she repeated into his ear as he cried aloud.
Back on the other side, the sliding door rattled open as it was shot apart. When it fell from the train, the white light made the soldiers scatter away to the safety of darkness. Dianna peaked out from the luggage and saw the space before the opening smeared with bits and pieces of her friends. Outside she could see a staggered convoy of Casspir APCs driving parallel to the train like a pack of wolves. It did not take her long to dig out a rifle from the luggage and move into position.
With the man on top by her stomach she had her arms and head around the luggage, pointing the rifle out. The weapon was a Springfield, a bolt-action rifle. Her target was hard to see with the light, but she could make out the shape of a front end and a tire. Dianna steadied her nerves over the loud noises and took her shot.
The gun clicked empty in reply.
She blindly dug her hand back into the luggage, feeling for a stripper clip of rounds. Nothing came of it until one soldier nudged her from behind. He showed her a grenade and the another behind him handed her an M16.
She nodded and the man with the grenade crawled away into the dark. Dianna gently turned the wounded man over onto his back and came into a kneeling position. The wait seemed like hours as more rounds punched through the car. At the side she noticed two more soldiers join her with weapons in hand. She leaned close to them.
‘On my go,’ she yelled into their ears.
A hand touched her from between the luggage and her body jumped into action, the other soldiers following.
With the rounds sailing past her, Dianna charged towards the opening of the car and slid to the prone position. Nearly blinded by the light she trained her weapon on the Casspir and squeezed the trigger, the others coming on line. As soon as the shooting started, the rounds from the vehicle paused and the man with the grenade pulled the pin. He waited three seconds before lobbing it out.
It arced towards the vehicle and hit the hood with a bounce. The blast collapsed the whole front end and the Casspir flipped end over end. The vehicle behind it swerved away and collided with another, causing a pile up.
When Dianna started on the next vehicle alongside the forward car, the rest of the platoon joined in the shoot out. All the while, the Sergeant hoped a Hind would not creep out of the night to finish them off.
6 Minute Viking Story
There were six spears buried in his gut and he yet lived. The Saxons at the end of the shafts trembled as he stood and pulled them closer. He killed two before three ran. He grabbed the last by the neck and laughed until death finally took him. In a world of shadow and darkness he stood alone, looking at his body on the ground with his intestines festooned across the spearheads. He touched his stomach and felt his body whole and together. A gold light shown down upon him and from above descended a woman of ten-feet with a pair of wings at her back. She wore the head of a wolf like a crown and held a great boar spear as she reached out for his hand. He took it and from the earth they ascended in the cosmos, his world growing smaller with every light-year.
He is coming for me, that foul wolf.
I see his cold eyes honing in as he searches the battlefield.
I hear his subtle growl as he spies by visage among the Heroes that battle at my ankles.
‘Odin,’ they praise in their many tongues.
I will never see them after the wolf takes me. Our time in Valhalla will be fond memories upon battle’s end. I know not where I will be, but I hope to see them in my endless sleep.
My brothers battle the hardest fights: Tyr wrestles the red hound Garm, no doubt sent by Hel to battle in her place and Heimdall duels Loki, a fight he has longed for many years. They will die, but not without victory.
My daughters glide about the field on pale horses with shield and spear. I see many thrown and tossed about like playthings under their blades. How perfect they have become.
My sons are the best my wives and I could have asked for: Baldr fights with the grace of a minstrel playing the harp; Hermodr rides Sleipnir as he stacks the enemy upon his lance; Vidar is wild with violent delight; Vali is shy, but his arrows always struck home; and Thor is the best of them.
What more can a father ask of his children?
This was a good day. Though all worlds burn, this is quite an end to our lives. For a moment I pause, gazing into the future one last time. Many die around me, but in my trance I cannot help but smile on the days to come.
These grounds of Vigrid will be soaked in the blood and waste of millions; fine fertilizer for new crops. Sif, in her grief when my boy is felled, will sow many seeds and bring life to this blighted patch of earth.
I see many pyres upon the hills. My friends and brothers will go in peace while the survivors carve out anew. They will follow the plans and restart what is lost.
Hope is yet in reach.
I feel the wolf’s jaws clamp down upon my shoulder, it’s fangs digging through to my heart. The pain is great, but I have no air to voice my scream. He lifts me from the corpse-covered ground and shakes me like a piece of meat. Gungnir, my spear, falls from my hand as I lose feeling in all my limbs.
My sight remains as I fall back to the ground. I hear Vidar struggle before I see him fighting the wolf with only his hands. Gripping its jaws he pulls them apart in a great tear of fur and flesh.
I see tears in his eyes when he comes to me; they drip into the blood upon his face, a proper sob for any warrior. My hearing began to fade as he cries with such passionate sorrow. He holds the back of my head as my vision wanes.
I could not speak, but in the end, there are no more words a proud father can give his son.
The Fall Guy
There were five of them, all dressed in black tactical gear with M-4 rifles.
There was Guy, a young man wearing a Guy Fawkes mask and hearing aides; Dom, another amateur wearing a Scarface mask; Carano, a veteran wearing a Rocky mask; Sean, a veteran wearing a Goaltender mask; and Manny, the leader, wearing a JFK mask.
The Crew sat in the back of a moving van with Manny by the rear doors, his hand resting on the latch.
He looked at his watch.
‘Five minutes. Go ‘head and chamber.’
The Crew relayed the command to Guy in sign language.
Sean let out a tired sigh as they pulled the charging handles of their weapons.
‘Good,’ he said and signed. ‘Let’s get this shit over with.’
Guy signed back.
‘I think we all want this job done,’ said Carano.
‘Don’t be in such a hurry,’ said Manny. ‘If you do it too fast, something will go wrong. Same goes if you do it too slow.’
‘Same goes when you have a girl on your dink,’ said Dom.
Some of them laughed.
‘We got this,’ said Manny. ‘Hasn’t been a single fuck up since day one. We have more money than we can spend—‘
‘More money than we need,’ said Carano. ‘I think there’s enough dough between us to move on, don’t you think, Manny?’
‘Why stop? We’ve been all over the country and not a single pig has caught us. There will always be more banks—‘
‘Yeah,’ said Sean, ‘we get it. Y’know, I like taking my gun out for a rip too, but I always run out of bullets, and that’s when I stop for a breather.’
‘Don’t start this again.’
‘It’s started,’ Guy signed. ‘We want out. We are not pulling another job after this one. You will have to find a new crew.’
‘I got me enough cash to go to school the full four years, twice over,’ said Dom. ‘I don’t need to steal any more.’
‘We don’t even have to pull this job,’ said Carano. ‘We have time. Tell Ricky to drive us back and we’ll never see each other again. It’s too easy.’
Manny pulled up his mask.
‘I’m tired of hearing you shits complain. You got into this thing and no matter what you wanna do after, there ain’t no getting out. I tried to quit after a year, but when I got what I wanted, do you think I could resist getting more? The rush and the cash you take are better than any kind of drug. I’ve been at this for friggin’ two decades and I guarantee you’re gonna keep at it until you’re old and ugly or the cops plug you full of bullets.’ He pulled down his mask. ‘Now shut the fuck up and get ready.’
Manny fixed his gaze upon his watch as the second-hand ticked about the face.
The rest of the Crew looked at each other. Guy placed his hand on Carano’s knee.
‘We are okay,’ she signed.
When the hour struck its mark, the Crew heaved forward as the van stopped with a screech of its tires. Manny pulled the latch and the Crew exited the vehicle.
The building was a monolith of tinted glass on an empty sidewalk. The rest of the boulevard was desolate, no life around the bank, but the Crew that intended to rob it. Manny was the first to reach its revolving doors. They each took a section of the door as they passed inside. There were four marble columns to the left and right. Between them was the lobby floor, sectioned by rope dividers that snaked to the teller stations opposite the entrance in a simple maze.
Manny moved up the center while the others took to the flanks.
‘Everyone the ground! If you’re still standing, you—‘
He stopped himself when he saw the bank was empty, quiet as a graveyard. The others stopped as well.
‘The fuck?’ asked Sean.
‘Maybe they were closed and forgot to lock up,’ said Dom.
Guy patted Carano on the shoulder.
She shook her head.
Manny peered about the lobby, his hands squeezing the rifle as if to brace himself.
‘Somebody set us up.’
The Crew turned to him.
‘What?’ asked Dom, pretending he did not hear anything.
Manny trained his rifle on Dom, the young man flinching with surprise.
‘Somebody set us-the-fuck-up and I’m pretty sure it was you.’
‘Manny, dude, I don’t know what you’re talking about,’ he said putting his hand up and laying his weapon down before lying on his stomach.
He turned his rifle to Sean.
‘Maybe it was you! You were always squirrely; ever sense I dragged you out of Toronto!’
Sean was already lying down.
Manny’s breathing quickened when he saw Guy and Carano on the floor.
‘What the fuck did you do?’
‘Bro,’ said Sean, ‘just…’
‘Be cool,’ said Carano. ‘Be cool and this will end without any problems.’
Manny jerked his head towards the entrance.
Lined up on the sidewalk behind heavy black shields were SWAT teams, their rifles pointed at Manny. Behind them were rows and rows of cop cars.
‘Manny O’Brian!’ blared a man’s voice through a horn, ‘put down you weapon and surrender. Make this easy on yourself and your crew.’
‘Do what he says, bro,’ said Sean. ‘You haven’t killed anyone that I know of so it won’t be such a bad stretch.’
‘He’s right,’ said Carano. ‘Jail is the best option you have right now.’
With a shaking hand Manny ripped of his JFK mask. Tears rolled down his red face as he grit his teeth.
‘Was it you, Gina?’ he asked Carano. ‘Did you sell us out? Did that tough Marine-bitch exterior finally break—‘
‘You fuckin’ traitor.’ He grabbed Guy off the floor and held him towards the cops, his rifle barrel resting on his shoulder. ‘Did this little retard convince you to take us all down? Did he fuck the warrior out of you? We could’ve kept going if you weren’t so god-damn weak!’
‘WE ALL SOLD YOU OUT, MANNY! We’re done of this shit; we had our fill and we want out.’ Gina stood, her hands up as she approached Manny. ‘Do you think you can work us like we’re fucking robots? We get tired and exhausted and after five years we’re ready to cash out. When you wouldn’t let us go we had to make a deal with the pigs. Did you know you’re third on the Most Wanted list? They don’t care if the rest of us make it out of here as long as they get you.’
‘It won’t stop!’ said Manny, stepping from Carano. ‘You’ll go home with all your dough and after it’s gone, you’ll go back to what you know to get more!’
‘Yeah, it’s called PTSD, and I brought it back from Afghanistan. But I got it out of me, Manny; I got better and so can you. Just let go of Guy and give up. I he dies, you’ll go away and die in jail.’
‘Just kill him,’ signed Guy. ‘I will be okay.’
Manny jerked him around.
‘This could have ended back in the van,’ said Carano. ‘We told you we wanted out; we told you we were finished with all this shit, but you had to keep at it. The only reason why we followed you in here was to keep you alive.’
‘Fuck you! You think being in prison is the same as living, you dumb bitch!’
Manny and Carano were only inches away from each other.
‘You’re sick. Some time away from all this will help.’
‘I will be okay,’ signed Guy.
‘I said shut up!’
‘Let him go, Manny. If you want somebody to blame, I’m right here.’ Carano stopped moving. ‘Guy had nothing to do with this. It was all me.’
‘You’re god-damn right,’ he said pushing Guy towards her and pulling back behind his rifle.
Carano was fast, rushing past Guy to Manny as she took hold of his rifle. She twisted it away and shove-kicked him into the rope dividers. As he reeled back Manny drew a pistol and put a round in Carano’s shoulder. She dropped to the floor before the cops unleashed a volley into the bank.
A waterfall of glass poured down in a wave of crystal. The bullets sailed over the Crew and grouped on Manny. He remained on his two feet as the rounds ripped through his body. He staggered back, blood gushing out as his organs were set free of his skin and clothes. He crashed to floor, caught by the rope dividers like a hammock.
When the shooting was over Guy crawled to Carano and held her wound. He pulled off their masks, the deaf amateur on the verge of tears. She smiled back and patted him on the cheek, the cops stepping around them to the fleshy mess that used to be Manny O’Brian.