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Authors: Arthur Bradley

Madness Rules - 04 (4 page)

BOOK: Madness Rules - 04
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“It’s times like this I think God is punishing me,” he said, slowly entering the building.

“I thought you didn’t believe in God.”

“I don’t, but that doesn’t keep Him from punishing me.”

She tilted her head sideways, trying to make sense of his strange logic.

Tanner reached the broken beer bottles and pushed them around with his foot. A big smile crossed his lips.

“Well, what have we here?”

A single sixteen-ounce bottle of Straub lager remained intact. He bent down and carefully pulled the bottle free from its unlucky brothers and sisters.

Samantha watched him from the doorway, occasionally glancing over her shoulder. She seemed especially nervous.

“What is it?” he asked.

“I don’t know.” She turned and studied the street. “It feels like someone’s watching us.”

“You see anyone?”

“No, it’s just a feeling.”

“You get that feeling often?” he said, walking past her toward the tractor.

“Not really.”

He glanced around as he stuffed the bottle into a side pocket on his pack.

“You’re not going to drink it?” she asked.

He patted the bottle. “Only got the one. Figure I’ll save it for a special occasion.”

“What kind of special occasion? Like your birthday?”

“Yeah, something like that.”

“So… when is your birthday?”

“Christmas Day.”

“You’re pulling my leg.”

“Nope. I’m a Christmas baby. My mother always said it’s the reason I’m so sweet and lovable.” He carried his pack to the truck and set it on the wooden boards lining the bed. “What about you, Sam? When’s your birthday?”

Samantha looked at her feet as if embarrassed by the question.

“It’s in May,” she mumbled softly.

“May what?”

“May 10th.”

Tanner furrowed his brow. “That’s in like two days.”

She shrugged.

“And when were you going to tell me this?”

“I don’t know. It’s not important anymore.”

He turned and faced her.

“Not important? You’re going to be turning ten years old.”

“Twelve.”

“Like I said, twelve years old. That’s a big day. If you’re not back at your mom’s by then, we’ll try to do something special. Maybe find us some Ding Dongs and a candle.”

“That sounds … nice,” she said, making a funny face.

He smiled and ruffled her hair.

“We’ll figure something out.”

She smiled too. “Okay.” She looked up at the huge touring bike sitting on the back of the truck. “What should we do with that?”

“We keep it.”

“Why?”

“Insurance, in case we break down or run out of gas. It’s got two seats and enough room for our packs.”

“But aren’t motorcycles dangerous?”

He laughed. “We’re wandering a wasteland of zombies, criminals, and wild animals and you’re worried about a motorcycle.”

“Aha! So they
are
zombies.”

“Just a figure of speech.”

He swung the truck door open and climbed in, fumbling with the ring of keys until he found the right one. Samantha climbed up beside him. He gave the key a turn and, after a moment, the engine turned over. The fuel gauge was barely above the empty line.

“We’re not going to get far unless we can find some gas.”

She bounced up and down on the seat a few times.

“I don’t like this truck, anyway,” she said. “The springs are poking me in the butt.”

“So quit bouncing on them.”

“I’m just saying that it’s not as comfortable as our last car.”

“Maybe not, but it’s better than a tractor. Baby steps, darlin’.”

Tanner popped the truck into gear, and they eased out of the gravel parking lot.

CHAPTER

3

Lincoln Pike stared at himself in the small cabin mirror. His reflection was clear but slightly warped because of a bow in the polished glass.

“President Lincoln Pike,” he said in a regal voice, as if introducing himself to a room full of admiring subjects. He liked the sound of it.
President Lincoln Pike
. It sort of rolled off the tongue like a witty compliment to a beautiful woman.

He smoothed back his mane of salt and pepper hair, admiring its thickness and vitality. His mother had told him that a man with a full head of hair will go places that a bald one will not. And by God, she had been right. He had gone all the way to the top. Admittedly, it was to the top of a nation that was a shadow of its former self, but that in no way took from his ascension. He was, at least in his own mind, the most important and powerful man alive.

He closed his eyes for a moment, replaying the past week. His spy, and clandestine lover, Yumi Tanaka, had murdered President Rosalyn Glass. Cut her throat, as he had heard it told. Pike couldn’t imagine why Yumi had done something so drastic. She had always hated President Glass, but she also understood that killing her would be the end of everything they had built together. All he could surmise was that Yumi’s actions must have been driven by necessity. That likely meant that she had killed the president to protect him. Yumi was, if nothing else, loyal to a fault.

He had desperately wanted to see the president’s butchered body but could never quite find a way to make the request without it sounding weird, disturbed even. Then without warning, General Carr had had the body cremated and her ashes dumped from a military C130 like sewage from a jetliner—which in retrospect, seemed fitting enough.

Pike had, however, gone to see Yumi’s corpse in Mount Weather’s small morgue. Her cold body lay stretched out, naked under a white sheet, and he remembered feeling embarrassed for her. But shame was not the only thing he felt. There was also pain that reached deep into his gut. Only with her passing did he really begin to understand how important she had been to him. Yumi was quite simply the love of his life. She was an evil bitch to be sure, but she was
his
evil bitch.

General Carr had choked the life out of his beloved. Oh sure, the doctors had some complicated terms for the rupturing of her trachea, but the hard truth was that when Carr was finished, her throat looked like a crumpled soda can. He remembered gently touching the purple indents of the general’s fingers on her soft flesh and wondering whether Yumi’s last thoughts had been of him.

 Emotion suddenly threatened to overwhelm him, and he swallowed hard to keep the vomit from forcing its way out. He shook his head, quickly opening his eyes and staring once again into the mirror. He forced a smile. Yumi didn’t matter anymore. She was gone, and he had to accept that even the most powerful man in the world couldn’t bring her back. As for General Carr, he would pay for what he had done. Not today perhaps, but eventually. If it came down to it, Pike would personally sharpen the knife that found its way into the general’s vicious heart.

“Revenge,” a voice whispered from behind him.

President Pike spun around.

He was alone.

He held his breath and listened. There was a slight tapping as people walked down the metal corridor outside his room, the high-pitched whine of water flowing through old copper pipes, and the incessant ticking of a clock hanging on the cabin wall. But no voices. Had he said the words himself? Sometimes that happened. Thoughts became words. Sure, that was it. He smiled and let out the breath, turning to face the mirror once again.

Yumi’s reflection stared back at him.

Pike stumbled away from the mirror, trying to force a scream. He managed only a soft gasp, like that of a man being strangled with a rope. He squeezed his eyes shut and slowly reopened them, certain that the apparition would disappear.

She didn’t. Yumi Tanaka stood about five feet behind him, an understanding smile on her face.

“You’re—you’re dead,” he stuttered, afraid to turn around and face her.

She held a finger to her lips.

“Quiet, or they’ll hear you.”

He slowly turned, once again confident that Yumi would vanish as quickly as she had appeared. And once again, she didn’t. As impossible as it was, Yumi was there with him.

“What are you?” he breathed.

“What kind of greeting is that?”

He studied her. She certainly didn’t appear to be a ghost. He couldn’t see through her, and there was no unusual chill in the air. He reached out and touched her shoulder, unsure if his fingers would find flesh or simply pass through her. She felt solid and warm.

Pike’s heart hammered violently against his chest.

“My God, you’re alive. How’s this possible?”

Yumi stepped forward and laid a palm against his cheek.  Her hand felt warm and loving, like it always had before.

“You can’t be,” he whispered. “You just can’t be,” he said more emphatically, pulling her hand away from his face. “General Carr killed you. I saw your body.” He swallowed again. “Your throat.”

She pulled his hand to her mouth and kissed his fingers.

“What you saw doesn’t change what you see now. Does it?”

The question was far more important than he realized, because in that instant, his mind had to make a decision on whether to accept or reject the impossible. And once made, that decision was binding.

Tears formed in the corners of his eyes.

“You’re here. My God, you’re really here.”

She smiled and kissed his hand again.

“Yes, lover, I’m here.”

Pike rubbed his fingers gently across her soft lips, struggling to make sense of what was happening.

“You’re in my head, aren’t you?”

Yumi stepped closer and slipped her hand down between his legs.

“Does it feel like I’m in your head?”

“No,” he managed in a husky voice. “But how can this be possible?”

She squeezed gently. “You needed me, so I came.”

“Am I going mad?”

She shrugged. “Does it matter?”

Pike shook his head. “Just don’t leave me. Not ever.”

“I’m not going to leave you,” she said softly. “I’m going to help you.”

 

 

“Mr. President, did you hear me, sir?” The voice was that of Tom Pinker, the Secretary of Homeland Security. Pinker was a small, serious man with a powerful voice and a stare that kept people talking long past the point when they should have stopped.

In addition to Pinker and President Pike, Jack Fry, the Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, General Kent Carr, the Secretary of Defense, and the newly appointed vice president, Andrew Stinson, were at the table.

Pike brought himself back, leaning away from Yumi’s strong hands as she kneaded his shoulders.

“Of course I heard you.”

“Yes, sir. As I was saying, progress continues to be made in establishing the New Colonies.”

President Pike found the term “New Colonies” to be particularly fitting, given that the cities would act in a way much like the nation’s founding colonies. Not only would they provide people with functional cities in which to live, they would also give the government a population to govern. The first three cities being readied for habitation were Olympia, Washington; Norfolk, Virginia; and Denver, Colorado. They were chosen not only because of their geographical diversity but also because together they would allow for ship and rail traffic.

“And when will they be ready?”

“Our best estimates are six weeks for Olympia, two months for Norfolk, and a full four months for Denver. The good news is that everything’s ahead of schedule.”

“There’s no good news to be found here,” said Pike. “The country is a cesspool of crime and violence. All we’re doing is offering a few safe havens in a nation that used to be the most prosperous place on earth.”

“Yes, sir, I only meant—”

“I know what you meant,” Pike said, holding up a hand. “Let’s move on. I’ve asked Vice President Stinson to work with the Treasury Department to reestablish the country’s monetary system.” He turned to Stinson, a pudgy little man whom he found to be not only weak but so thoroughly enamored with his meteoric rise to office that he lived in constant fear of making a mistake. In short, he was the perfect vice president. “Andrew, tell us what’s being proposed.”

“Yes, Mr. President,” Stinson said, clearing his throat. “It should be no surprise to anyone that the dollar is no longer considered a viable currency.”

“Explain ‘no longer viable.’”

“Simply put, no one wants to conduct trade using dollars.”

“I thought it was the strongest, most respected currency in the world.”

“The dollar was certainly admired for its stability, but the strength of any nation’s currency is tied to its financial health.”

“Which is currently in the toilet.”

“Uh, yes sir, that’s one way of putting it.”

“Where does that leave us? We’re sure as hell not converting to the yen or ruble.”

“No sir. Those currencies have also been completely devalued. Rather than adopting an existing currency, a consensus has been reached to use a gold-backed currency.”

BOOK: Madness Rules - 04
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