Authors: Dave Rowlands
Jarhead and I sat at another table, a waitress coming around and refilling my cup with a smile. She was missing her two front teeth. Hearing my name called from the direction of the market, I looked up and saw a hand waving as somebody pushed their way through the crowd. I was hardly able to believe my eyes as Redbeard forced his merry was into the caféwith Doctor and The Twin in tow. Viking followed behind them, towering over them.
The Twin threw her arms around me in an attempt to crush the life from me as Redbeard clobbered my shoulder with his fist. Viking's hug was almost as brutal as hers had been. Doctor, by stark contrast, simply bowed slightly with typical Japanese reserve, though he smiled broadly. Glancing questioningly at the machete at my belt, he sat at our table with the others without saying a word.
The Twin asked about Apocalypse Girl straight away, her face full of concern. Her relief was evident when I told her that she was safe and well, with Sister and The Colonel in Alice Facility. It turned out that The Principal had decided to sent a few ambassadors into The Empire. Thinking that Redbeard would be a good choice for dealing with Biker Boss, while Doctor was the clear choice to talk things over with Yakuza Lady, who had taken control of the local Triad organisation.
Knowing next to nothing about the third Boss, The Enigmatic Man, there was no way to determine who was best to deal with him. When The Principal called for volunteers, The Twin stuck her hand up immediately. Viking, he claimed, was only there to make sure their vehicle kept running. In a conspiratorial tone, however, he claimed that Stutter and Nutter had told him that I might need his help.
When Disciple came over to our table Redbeard and Viking would have leaped on him with murderous intent had I not talked them out of it. When Viking asked me why I was travelling with that … person, I told him that it would be better discussed in private. In short order we went to their chosen pub, shuffling up to their room after Viking threw the landlord a couple of teeth for an extra couple of mattresses.
On discovering that our mission was to assassinate The Bosses, Redbeard began to chuckle. He told us that he had wanted to kill Biker Boss on quite a few occasions, though it wouldn't be easy. The man, Redbeard said, was infuriatingly stubborn, wanting only that The School submit to The Empire in every way. He didn't even seem to understand the point of having an ambassador. Or maybe he just didn't care.
Doctor said that he had sipped tea a couple of times with Yakuza Lady, who was a vile woman in every way. He had been forced to watch as she whipped a subordinate to death for spilling the tea on their first encounter. Yakuza Lady, afterwards, had smiled at him, saying that it was especially important to enforce discipline now and apologised for getting a single drop of blood on his shirt. Doctor, who was not one to wish for such things, wanted this woman dead.
The Twin, on the other hand, had not even been able to locate her Enigmatic Man, finding that his minions were nowhere, that every lead turned cold was frustrating the shit out of her. Every time she wanted to give up on the idea, however, she would find a shred of evidence, something that kept her interested, as if it had been shoved under her nose. It was beginning to irritate her. June 21
Year 1 A.Z.
We awoke to someone knocking on the door to our shared room. They would knock a bit, wait a bit, knock a bit more, that kind of thing. Eventually, Viking slammed the door open in a rage, screaming “WHAT?!?!?” to the unfortunate young man on the other side. He handed the blonde giant a piece of paper in a shaking hand and fled as soon as Viking took it.
“What does it say?” Doctor wanted to know. Viking shrugged, handing it to him to translate. I could see the familiarly unknown characters on the paper as it passed my face. Doctor scanned the sheet, his face blank. “I have been invited to tea again, it seems. Lunchtime today. I wonder who she will choose to kill for me today?”
A short while later someone else came knocking. This time the door shook under the force of the blows, Redbeard answering it just before it burst inwards, it seemed. This time an equally crimson bearded individual told him that his Boss wanted to talk. At noon. If Redbeard wanted to stay in New Brisbane any longer, or in fact alive, he was told he needed to be there. Another ten minutes later, a single sheet of paper was slipped under the door. 12:00
base of bell tower
was all it said. The Twin assumed that it was meant for her, wondering if it actually meant she might meet The Enigmatic Man today. I hoped so. It was a way in, and we needed that.
Bored, with little else to do, Jarhead, Viking and I went off to the café. Disciple chose to remain behind at the pub, he said, so that he could make a few plans. To be honest, I was glad to be rid of him, even if only temporarily. His mere presence unnerved me, plaguing me with doubts about everything. It had been honour that made me come here with him, yet his own actions in Melbourne had shown that he had none himself.
We had not long been seated when one of the men patrolling the house at the end of the market strode up, not quite pointing his automatic weapon in our direction, telling us to hurry and finish our coffee because The Puller wanted to see us. I made a show of not hurrying too much, then stood with my friends and we allowed him to march us off into the heavily guarded house. The guard walked us into a large, fully furnished room, ordering us to take a seat on the couch. We did so, the guard wandered off. “Welcome.” A voice came from nowhere. Suddenly we noticed a man seated on the couch opposite. I could have sworn he wasn't there a moment ago. “I know who you are, I know why you are here. I can help.”
The Puller was a small, bald man, perhaps in his late thirties, perhaps his early sixties. It was hard to tell. I told him that we could get hold of teeth on our own, thanks. “You misunderstand me, my friends. I
why you are here. Three of you, at least, though not this one.” He pointed to Viking. “I can help, you know. I can help you kill them all.”
Jarhead asked him why exactly he wanted them dead. “Because, they stole it all away. The Empire was
idea, the teeth were
idea. Even the initial step of cleaning up the Dead was
idea.” He looked at each of us. “The Bosses, they call them, they stole it all from me. I just want what is mine.”
We spent the next couple of hours in the presence of The Puller, who turned out to be a reasonable gentleman, despite his propensity for removing teeth from people. He told us that a bounty had been posted for certain enemies of The Empire, one of which was a swordsman, known for using a katana, last seen in the Melbourne region. Seven hundred and fifty teeth. Then, there was the swordsman's woman. She was worth only six hundred. The Puller told us that he would remain quiet, though he knew exactly who I was.
His guard took us back to our shared pub, just in time for the fights to begin. This contest was a one-on-one affair, simple boxing. Jarhead and Viking both signed up, hoping to test their skills against each other. Tired, I headed up to our room, hoping to use Apocalypse Girl's mobile to get in touch with her, tell her that we had made it safely to New Brisbane and, if all else went according to plan we should be back in a week, give or take a day or two.
I was just putting away her phone after reading Apocalypse Girl's reply several times when Jarhead and Viking tumbled through the door together, bloody and bruised and laughing their arses off. Both held bags of teeth, Viking's slightly larger than Jarhead's.
Year 1 A.Z.
Our room-mates must have come back sometime during the night, as they were there when I awoke, Redbeard sounding like a chainsaw as he snored away in one corner. Doctor looked as though he had not had any sleep. As we were the only two awake, he offered to make tea for us. I accepted, gratefully.
He asked me where my sword was, why I had come here without it. I told him, quite simply, that I had wanted to be as inconspicuous as I could, given the nature of our mission here. He nodded. We talked of other things, after that, Doctor telling me that The Principal had been ill lately, suffering pneumonia in both lungs, though he had pulled through nicely and was recovering.
Viking, bruised and battered, arose while we discussed The Principal's illness, loudly stating that the old goat would recover and outlive us all, without a doubt. Doctor chuckled, telling the blonde giant that we would all outlive him if he allowed himself to get hit that much in a fight. It was amazing that he had managed to remain unbitten as long as he had. Viking laughed heartily, while Jarhead stirred.
With everybody awake at last, we began to lay some plans. Since he was the easiest to get to, we chose Biker Boss as our first target. Redbeard told us that he liked to keep a large amount of Dead on hand, locked up in a fucking big pen on his property. He felt that they would make a convenient distraction for the guards while one or two people slipped inside to take the bastard out.
Disciple told us that he could not go anywhere near the man, as he would recognise him in an instant and know something was wrong. It would, therefore, be up to Jarhead and myself to make ourselves appear useful enough to get inside. If we were able to get jobs as guards, so much the better. Redbeard told us that Biker Boss had a fairly regular turnaround with his guards, as they often got into fights amongst themselves and occasionally one might get himself bitten by one of their Dead. Though, if that happened, they were flung into the corral of the Dead before they rose again.
Redbeard took us to the biker enclave, telling the guard on gate duty that he had found a couple of likely prospects for new blood. Eyeing the pair of us as one might eye meat at a butcher, he spat to one side. “Don't much like the looks of this one,” He said, pointing to me. “This guy, though, sure he's bruised but he's clearly a fighter.” He indicated Jarhead. Redbeard took us through, waving at some people we passed with a smile. Sure enough, a large, sturdy fence ran around the middle of the courtyard. Within the confines of the fence several hundred Dead shambled about, knocking into one another, even occasionally knocking a few over. They were close enough to food to know about it, though they had been so for long enough to appear oblivious to the fact.
As we walked through, some fuckwit was taunting one of the fresher Dead, calling it by name, telling it how stupid it was to get near one of the Dead, because now it is one, that sort of thing. His Dead mate snapped his teeth at the taunter, mere inches away from his nose. The taunting idiot laughed and moved away from his former friend. A second Dead nearby then lunged, tearing into the fool's throat, ending his moronic existence. The nearest two men unceremoniously dumped him over the fence, chuckling all the while. I wondered which one of them would be next.
Redbeard took advantage of the distraction to place a small remote bomb in the corner of the fence, more than enough to weaken that section. With that many Dead swarming around, getting out might be problematic. “I'll set it off shortly after sundown.” Redbeard whispered as he returned to us.
We were led into a waiting area, where Redbeard left us, heading back to the pub. I thanked him for getting us in here, he wished us luck with the job and left with a wink. I pulled the machete from my belt, testing the edge. It was still razor sharp. Jarhead simply sat and waited, showing an outward calm that I would never be able to match as I paced back and forth in the small room.
We were led to see Biker Boss after about an hour or so of being made to wait, by which time I was almost physically aching with the desire to plunge the machete into the man's skull.
He looked imposing enough, shaven head, massive beard that had been carefully braided and hung to the middle of his chest. Then he stood up. The man was half-a-head as tall as Viking, for fuck's sake! “So,” He began in a booming voice. “You two want a job guarding me, do you?” I told him that I thought we did, but clearly he doesn't need any. He laughed, deep, thunderous gales of earth-quake inducing chuckles. “I like to meet all of the new guys personally, that way I know what everyone looks like.”
The building that he had chosen for himself had once been a rather large pub. Biker Boss occupied an office on the top floor, above the bar which still functioned as such. Several of his goons lounged around on the ground floor, drinking, playing darts or pool. He led us out to the stairs down, showing us around a bit. When we reached the bar, he poured a generous measure of whiskey for each of us.
As we clinked our glasses together, toasting our new (temporary) employment, an explosion rocked the building, followed by cries of pain and shouts that the Dead were loose. “FUCK!” Biker Boss thundered, reaching under the bar to grab a pump-action shotgun. “Time to earn your pay, boys!” He shoved us through the doors leading to the outside.
Dead poured from the breach in their corral. Several goons lay on the ground, bleeding from various wounds, most made by gnashing Dead teeth. A few corpses lay on the ground, various fluids oozing from wounds in their heads, but most shambled to whatever was nearest that still had beating heart and warm flesh to rend and tear and devour.
All thoughts of taking out Biker Boss were gone from our minds as we focussed purely on our own survival. Goons and Dead milled about, some shooting, some biting, some smashing heads in. Jarhead and I stood back to back as we put down Dead after Dead, Biker Boss at our side.
Most of the goons were either bleeding, dying or Dead by the time the three of us barricaded ourselves inside the pub that Biker Boss called home. “Well, if we survive this, boys, it looks like you're gonna be my new head of security!” He chuckled in his booming way once again. “We should be getting some backup any minute now, though,”
Jarhead looked at Biker Boss, then at me, the question evident in his eyes. I nodded. The worst part, for me at least. was that I knew I could easily grow to like this huge, charismatic giant. I would regret his death, that much I knew. Bringing my pistol to bear, the doors burst inwards and a sea of Dead took my decision away.