I. Dead Men Tell No Tales
Three of Hell Patrol's Toughest Ride Out on a Strange Killer...
Nothing is more thrilling to me than letting loose. On anything really. I mean really sinking your claws into it. A good riff, a good song. A worthwhile victim. Something that you can just get your fangs deep in and say, “goddamn does that feel good.” Suppose that’s why I joined Hell Patrol, and why I spent my younger years as a lawman. Capping crooks and slaying sinners. Not to say I’m any cleaner than most.
Hell, my body count beforehand wasn’t anything to sneeze at, but at least I got some good tail in. More importantly, my shit was all above board. The kind of files that come across that damned digital desk of mine are the kind of stuff that’ll make the sternest man’s stomach turn inside out. I learned my limits early on, Rory ralphed his first day, but strangely enough, I think Harrison’s the first to not be phased by it at all, not by a long shot.
That’s why I kept him around.
We were hammering out a set in the morning at Doc’s when we got a call in over the radio. The three of us were rocking so damn loud we missed the first call-in. Rory was getting his double-kick-drum thing honed, and between my Rickenbacker and Harry’s Stratocaster, it’s a miracle we hadn’t rocked our solar joint of choice, The Spot, off its foundation. Doc was always a good sport about letting heavy acts like ours play there, God bless him. Plus, that kind of fast-and-loose playing was how we got our codenames. Back in those days, I was “Speedfreak,” Rory was “Madskins,” and Harry was “Richter.” What a trio we made for.
Back then, Harry wasn’t bad for his young age, though I wasn’t much older. I wanted to find some way of getting him out of the hardened shell he came to me in, but I was sure enough time in the band would make Harry come alive for sure. It had worked well so far, so I was just praying it’d keep.
The moment we finished the song, all we heard was the white noise of the joint and a loud, static-muffled “HEY ASSHOLES” shooting from my hip. I got a “Yessir” out before busting my godforsaken gut. Rory got a kick out of it too, and I swear that was the first time Harry must’ve laughed in millennia. Once we pulled ourselves together, I set my bass down and let the Commissioner spin us the order.
“Nic, Rory, and Harrison,” he went, “We got a real rotter for you. Name’s Marion Lansing. 5’ 7”, brown fur. Wanted for, among other things: theft, arson, the slaying of at least ten civilians, and two families. Last known photo should appear on your data module in your rides. Code’s J.T.R. If you don’t nail him on sight, take him to the Maypole to fix him.”
“Thank you Chief,” I answered, “Over and out.” I turned to my troop, adjusting my denim vest and shifting my bullet belt.
“Well Metröpolis,” I says, “Ready to mince this bastard?”
“You want him done or well done,” Rory asked, twirling his sticks.
“I hope you realize we aren’t eating him afterwards,” Harrison quipped.
“I’ll have him burnt to a crisp after a good tenderizing,” I shot back at the pair of them, “Madskins can do whatever he wants with him after. Beat him, burn him, eat him, fuck him, or if he’s feeling extra depraved, season him with a little coriander. Point is, we’ve got a killer to put down. Let’s nail him good.”
“Yes Nic sir” was their unanimous response.
Now that right there, that simple little phrase…whew LORD! That was the kind of stuff that hits the spot. Makes a man feel good to be in command.
I tipped my hat in kind and we all locked up our gear for that evening. If we were good about it, the whole affair could be fixed up in the day. I was sure it would, but I was never sure about the how’s. Not worth worrying about in my books. If it’s mortal, that means you can end him with a shot or two or a swift stomp on the gas. If you felt like really fucking him up, you’d do both. The hard part was finding him.
We all dove into (and in Rory’s case, onto) our rides as we left Doc’s. My truck, God bless her, turned over on the dime. I got a good look at the character on my mod in the glove box.
“Just as I thought” were the first words out of my mouth. Dude looked demented. Like out of his head, coked-up and meth-fueled bad. Scars on his snout, sunken-in eyes, scraggy fur coat. Like a dead man walking.
I waited on my crew to get their engines running good and hot. Rory got his black beauty of a chopper up to snuff in a cinch. The bike was a real hellion, good enough for the Ambiorixians, but Rory’s minimal discipline made him more suited for my kind of work. Either way, that bike wouldn’t be serving time in ol’ Principal Godred’s Force. Still don’t know how the hell he could ride around bare-chested, white-as-a-cloud, on a beast that could clock 300 in the blink of an eye, but then again, Rory was always this anomaly of nature, so questioning shit like that always got futile after a point.
Harry revved up that honey of a rat rod the Old Man and Lady worked with him on. Whew Lord would I kill to work her to the frame. But I’ve got my old gal, my beautiful blue beefcake whose gotten me through thick and thin, so I probably wouldn’t need to be let behind the wheel of his rod. He also wouldn’t let me touch her ‘til he was good and comfortable with me as a commander. The early days as a unit weren’t rough, but thawing the man out was quite the task.
By the time we all had our shades on, I knew it was time to get shit done.
“Let’s hit it Boys!”
Bike, rod, truck and all tore away into the desert, with a good idea of what their prey for the day would be. The file on module stated last place he was seen was somewhere between the central region where we lived and the North country. He was miles away from the Force’s base, so he wasn’t doped-up enough to lose his wits. Godred’s a good man, but he suffers no fools on his turf.
I figure he’d probably be around the Ruins, where a lot of the scavengers prey on unsuspecting rides. I knew a couple of old burned-down houses that would be right up his cold, crooked alley.
“Speedfreak to Richter,” I says over the radio.
“Coming in chief,” came his slick voice, the buttered-up tones of a true leather-laden delinquent, “What’s the scoop?”
“Smart money’s on the ass being up by the Ruins. Burnout City, USA. Big Rod ever tell you about that one?”
“Not much that I can remember.”
“Oh c’mon, sure ol’ Duellin’ Rod had a war story or two to tell.”
“Well…Pop said something about Haven and A.C.E.S’s men doing a number on a settlement,” he replied, “I remember him and Ma going over it on his off-time after they fought off the worst of the forces. Too late to salvage anything if you couldn’t guess.”
“Beach Babe Bette got any relations from there?”
“Friends of the family,” he said dryly, “Used to come to the waterhole before I was born. The parents would collect some of the water, purify it, and the kids would go swimming. Apparently loved Ma’s truck, would pet the damn thing like he was her prized pony or something. But I mean, hell, I remember being six myself and it really is hard to beat that lemon-colored party barge…None of ‘em made it though. That’s why Dad had to break the news.”
“Well keep your eyes peeled behind those shades, population might’ve grown by one. Over and out.”
I hung up the talkie and turned over to Rory who was bucketing along driver’s side. I put on the biggest voice I had to cut clean through all three of our machines.
“WE’RE HEADING NORTH MADS! TO THE RUINS! BURNOUT CITY, YA DIG?”
Rory’s right thumb shot out of those fingerless gloves of his as he gave a nod.
“RIGHT ON MAN! KEEP THE BLACK BEAUTY ROLLING!”
He revved her up just for me and started pulling ahead. I went for the radio to hail Harry one last time.
“One last thing Richter.”
“Put those Size 10 steel-caps of yours to good use and try to keep up.”
I let him hear my white boot kick the throttle down to the floor over the radio. Finally got another smile out of him. Came with a shake of his brown head, but at least the kid had loosened up all the way. Even better, he got that rat rod running good and mean for me. The three of us were neck-and-neck all the way to those badlands, wind whipping around us all the way. Kept everyone clear-minded for what was to come with some sly banter on the radio. Talking songs, chicks, and the like. Harry could talk for ages about his girlfriend alright, that was for sure. When you have fellas like this Lansing hopped up out of their skull, they don’t come in easy. Not by the longest of shots. And that kind of crazy will get to any man.
We were just ten minutes shy of high noon as we made it to our scenic destination. Luscious desert plains, homely burned-out shacks, those wholesome blackened mountains in the distance. Y’know, the postcard kind of stuff. The entourage came to a halt outside of one particular building. Two-stories. Okay, maybe it was more like one-and-a-half. Was red once, you could see it underneath the charred siding and wood. When we got out of our saddles, I remember Harry coming up to me with a soft grimace, only words he had on him were “I think this was theirs.”
If he was still here, he at least would have heard us rolling in, so I knew stealth wasn’t quite a cut-and-dry option. Wouldn’t hurt to keep our approach on the downlow regardless.
“Look at it this way Gang,” I says in a hushed tone, “We’re strapped, we’ve got our wits about us. Let’s each start walking through, checking out each building. A lot of these are single-story, so there isn’t much to worry about as far as nooks and crannies he can squeeze into.”
My men nodded, and thus, the search was on. I had us split up to cover more ground. We fortunately wouldn’t be too far from each other, but we would still have a short jog between any one of us. Call it a give-and-take type of deal. I started on the house before us, Rory was one door down, and Harry two. I swear to God, we tore the whole town up, down, and back again.
Not even a strand of fur.
And given his state on the file, dude could probably make a blanket out of the shit he’d be losing on the run. I would have given up, but the hunch still hadn’t left me. He might not be tucked away nice and neat in any of these holes, but he had to be in the area.
“Well, where the hell could he be hiding,” came the obvious question, Harrison’s patience wearing thin.
“Simple,” I says, “He’s not. He’s also in scavenging land. Scavenging land means rides, rides means a getaway. People dump their old rods here all the time, lots of times they don’t even drain the tanks.”
Harry looked skeptical, Rory too. Can’t blame them, the only problem of living in an open-air blast furnace like ours is the fact you have so much space between everyone and everything. Would take a lot of convincing, and even all my wandering before joining the Patrol wasn’t cutting it for them. That’s when things took a turn my way.
We looked over to the horizon East, and lo and behold, here came a real clap-trap type of machine. She had the shell of a muscle car, but was lacking that crucial detail; the muscle. Frankly sounded like a Model T tripping balls. And I damn well knew it was him because the moment all three of us locked eyes on that beat-up Nova, he did a 180 on a dime and started bolting back for the East. That was our cue to give chase.
My Hilux came alive and shot right after him. Rory and Harry followed, and soon our armada was in full pursuit. Catching up to him wasn’t all that bad; we all knocked our gals up three gears to get there, but we got there. Harry and I came alongside Lansing, and with Rory at his back, he was effectively boxed in, the only way being forward. I turned to him. About as pretty as his picture. Those beady eyes were certainly a sight to behold, and I wasn’t wrong about that nasty coat of his. On the mangier end of these killers he was. The denim at least gave him some Starkweather charm. I didn’t have too much time to observe though, had to start bellowing out my warning.
“YOU’VE GOT THREE OPTIONS. THE EASY WAY. THE HARD WAY. AND THE BATSHIT WAY. EASY IS GETTING CAPPED HERE AND NOW. THE HARD IS LETTING US RUN YOU RAGGED ACROSS THE DESERT. THE BATSHIT IS WHEN YOU GET US GOOD AND PISSED.”
No sooner do I finish than this guy starts knocking the Nova up against the rat rod and my truck. Back-and-forth back-and-forth like he’s going to somehow shake us off. I see his leg go for the brake and I give Rory the signal to clear the man’s way. Lansing was quick on the draw; fortunately so were we. Harry and I slid back in unison, rubber screaming across the sand, brake pads clamped down tight on the discs. In the heat of our gliding, I drew my revolver and squeezed off two shots right at the wheels. That Nova went spiraling out of control, rolling over and over and kicking up a mighty storm of dust in its wake. With the ride busted to hell and back, we finally got our man of the hour out into the desert sun. He crawled slowly out from the wreck. Hurt, but strangely unphased.
I would have gone and knocked the guy over myself, but Harry beat me to the punch. I saw his wheels lock up just before hitting Lansing, the bastard having only made it about two yards out from his wreck. Within seconds, Harry had him wedged under his front wheels, holding him down good and firm.
Kid was a real natural.
“A little something my Old Lady taught me,” he winked behind those shades of his.
Now our freak was relatively defenseless. Relatively in that he still had the peashooter in his greasy mitts. Rory came over with his bike to fix that and looked Lansing over like he was the most succulent slab of meat this side of Haven.
“Good job Richter, my man,” the white wolf snickered.
At first, the young buck gave him the cold shoulder. What for was anyone’s guess. It was business and nothing more to him I imagine. Fortunately, the spirit of the catch had some allure, and Rory finally secured a fist-bump out of him.
“Hold him steady for me,” he cheekily intoned.
Rory put every ounce of weight his bike had on the wrist of the apprehended Lansing and burned out something fierce. That Harley was spitting out the kind of smoke only a Newport factory could dish up. He got the killer’s peashooter off of him, that Lady Colt was long gone to the sands of the Wasteland, but something well and truly puzzled him.
“He ain’t screaming,” Rory said.
“A bit morbid of you Man,” Harry mused, “That part of your whole thing?”
“I mean, yeah,” came the reply, “But you’d expect that kind of pressure to get, I dunno, something out of him.”
Rory rolled off to survey the number he did on his wrist. I mean, the bone was still there, and only the bone at that. I could see that from the cab of my truck. I didn’t quite relish in the job the same way Rory did, but I got what he was saying. I brought my gal over and got out, crouching down by our target.
I took another good look at Lansing. He wasn’t dead, that much was certain. The way he spat at me showed me he was lucid enough. I gave him a sweet pat on the cheek before popping him a question.
“What is it that got you killing Man?”
I tipped my shades down to the edge of my snout. I figure eye contact wouldn’t hurt.
“The best fix of my life,” he coughed, his voice hoarse as all hell, “Best got-damned fix of my life.”
“So good you party ‘til you pop one off on a guy or ten? Just for kicks?”
“Better believe it.”
He slammed his hand around my throat. Dude lost every ounce of fur and flesh on that wrist of his, and he had the grip of an iron vice. I could hear his torso crunching up against Harry’s wheels as he leaned forward.
“Shit feels good going through you, so good I ain’t even feeling what your friend tried on me. I ain’t even feeling a thing when I do it. I ain’t feeling my hands on that bad little throat of yours. And it feels GOOD!”
I had a pretty thick neck but I didn’t want his nails putting that to the test. I took both hands and threw his arm off of me. That finally got his hand to come off. The bone snapped as the limb hit the desert floor. Still no scream. The three of us were taken aback, and it didn’t take much for Harry to get testy.
“Look, let me just put the hammer down on him, will ya?”
Harry revved his rat rod up. I could hear those Size 10s loud and clear now.
“Nuh-uh,” I says, “Gotta press him on something.”
I turned my attention back to Lansing; creep could only cackle at the sight of his putrid stump.
“What you running on,” I pressed, “The usual; meth, coke, speed?”
“Radium you black sonofabitch,” he snarled, “Ever touch the stuff? Looks like you could do for a rock or two.”
Well it was rich coming from someone the color of shit, from his rotten eyes to his rotten fur, but when I set the comment aside, it all came together for me at once. Cats from the Old World had a thing for the stuff way, way back. Watches, meds, cosmetics. He must be a true believer who picked up an ad or two about it. I don’t know how he’s ingesting it, or how they’re cooking the stuff to give him this high, but Lord have mercy was he running on those irradiated fumes. Must be a new racket in the Wastelands. We’ve got enough irradiated everything all these years out.
So, first order of business: kick him in the head for the insult.
Damn did that one feel good.
Second order of business: take advantage of his decomposing body, for it was clear as day that this fellow was well on his way to becoming a total ghoul.
In a flash, I had my men take my Maypole chains and jury-rig a setup. Harry hooked the chain on his left arm to his hitch, Rory got his right arm hooked to his rear fender, and made sure his Harley was dug in good for what was about to happen. With his two legs pegged to the ground and Lansing pulled taught in all directions, I got my truck in line, and revved the Old Gal up. I got one more good look at him, his chest with the tire’s impression etched into it, and his stump still bleeding his rancid blood.
“Marion Lansing,” I announced, “This one’s for the lives you claimed in your little hopped-up tear. The least I can assure you: you’re the first man who ain’t gonna feel a thing when it happens. Whether I like it or not.”
All he did was cackle in that horrific voice of his.
All I could do was drop her hammer.
Took a while to clean my truck, the Old Gal hadn’t seen a mess that bad in ages. I also had it fixed so the three of us could go through rapid decontamination, the rides included. Seemed like the toxins were all internalized, but when his innards went a-flying, I didn’t want to take the chance. The way he was just crumbling like that and all. At least Rory was thrilled by the display, Harry less so. When I told the Commissioner about the whole sordid affair, he seemed quite content.
“Another good job Ridgefield,” he said, his grand old voice booming over the radio, “Any leads on this radium racket?”
“Not that we can figure,” I says, “For all I know we just took out the radium kingpin of the region. I’m sure he could find the metals for the shit somewhere in the Central. We’ve got radioactive deposits of all sorts of shit lying around. Besides, y’know Vice ain’t my specialty. I dig it on tape though.”
“Suppose we’ll save it for another day then,” he concluded.
“The Boys and I have a set to play tonight, so let’s make it a mutual rain check then. Speedfreak signing off.”
We got back to Doc’s, and by the time we were on, the place was packed, the booze were making their rounds, and the good stench of cigs was in the air. I was jacking up my mic to the height I liked as Harry tuned and Rory got his kit in order. Once ready, I gave a good smack to the mic and slung my bass on.
Crowd does their thing, going wild and shit.
“Back from taking care of business, and thought we’d give y’all a headache or twenty. We are…we are Metröpolis! And we’d like to kick the evening off with word to the wise: ‘Dead Men Tell No Tales!’”
And like that, we were off to the races. And that thrill rocketed down my back with each note and every word. No radium rackets or doped-up crooks in my head, just a couple-hundred doses of metallic dopamine.
The same thrill that came at practice, the same thrill that came during the chase, and the same thrill that came when me and my Old Gal dished up a little thing called frontier justice. Bad, bloody, and brutal as a bitch. But above all: thrilling.
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