IV. Maniacs Afire
Arsonists, Druggies, & Rockers: Quite the Chemical Reaction...
Hell Patrol is the only job where Garbage Day is the bloodiest day of the week. For some cotton-picking reason, Commissioner let every Central Region patrolman dump their crook at the Maypole if they didn’t kill ‘em on sight and gave the job to my unit to dispose of all of them. My boys and I get there and we’ve got at least 25 of these some bitches tied up, all wrapped in tissue paper with little pink bailing twine for our usual drawing-and-quartering. And all were still alive.
These were the lowest of the low. The arsonists who wrecked homes, the sadists whose perversions ran riot. Less said about the P.D.0.s, the better. And so on. These were the cats we had to dispose of for the Patrol.
Procedure went something like this: Rory has a ball slitting throats to hurry it all along, and Harry tenderizes the legs so there was no chance they could escape. After everyone has their turn on the sadist’s merry-go-round, I have them chained to the back of the truck in threes, with Harry and Rory hooking one each to their own rides. And we start ripping ‘em apart, five at a time. Like a full house at a Mayan temple being taught hara-kiri for the first time. The sand around the Maypole (which is just a giant ass metal rod in the desert) has been stained permanently by the blood of the damned, and 25 of the suckers being relieved of their limbs and lives turned the patch of land into Martian soil.
Both the boys had black gloves on them, so after we shred the last five, they start stacking ‘em higher and higher. Limbs, torsos, heads they didn’t gleefully crush. Whole kit-and-caboodle in a single pile. Both struck a match off the toe of their boots, and I heard something that sounded awfully promising to my musical ears.
“ALL I HEEEEEAR!”
Perfect pitch, perfect volume, in total unison. It was fucking weird too because it was two totally different voices compared to the record, and yet they pulled off the exact same effect. Rory had this banshee-biker thing happening with this voice, full of rasp and venom, compared to the strong and smooth pipes of Harry. Was also a bit of a psychotic sight to see them singing heavy rock over a pyre of bodies, but then again, we’d all seen weirder.
“That’ll do Scream Queens.” I pull them aside to let the fire work its magic, when, right on time, when we all think we’re done for the day.
“Nic, Harrison, Rory!”
Our most darling Commissioner was back on the mic.
“Yessir,” I reply, lifeforce draining in real-time.
“Latest batch of refuse should be on your data modules. No legitimate name, just goes by ‘Pie Ro.’”
“Subtle fella ain’he?” Harry chimes in.
“Black wolf, 6’ 2”, code J.G.Z. Of particular interest as he has been hitting warehouses across the Central Region, including some of the Am…ambi…ambor…fucking hell.”
Leave it to him of all guys to botch the name.
“We were getting there, thanks. Point is the sonofabitch is torching supply lines that directly impact the war effort. Find him, beat him, burn him, do whatever the hell it takes to get the bastard off General Godred’s case. Last thing we need to give him is another heart attack.”
“Sir Yes Sir,” we saluted. Once we were sure he hung up, I looked to Rory instantly.
“Well Madskins, got your anarchist kit on you?”
I took the maniacal laugh as a hearty “you betcha” before sending us out to our rides. Once we were saddled up, I flipped my mod open once more and…gyah.
He was a nasty looking sonofabitch. Remember the old clay cartoons we used to watch as kids? The ones where they sculpted everything and moved ‘em around shot by shot, and they were all made at the speed of a methadone snail? Yeah, imagine that in real life. Like this wolf’s dimples were sculpted. His fur refused to look real to me. I’m still surprised he hadn’t melted like a Popsicle yet.
Re-goddamn-gardless, after getting the lowdown on our flaming Noid, the time had come to leave the bonfire to finish the job and get down to work. First warehouse up on the docket was Red Sector C. She was quite the sight based on the data mods, but her being the latest victim meant trace elements of anything left would be worth a peep.
“You ever think about what goes through these roach’s minds?” Harry started in over the radio.
“That’s for when I’m old and gray and someone’s therapist.” I chuckled, throwing on a dry British voice. “’Sir, it appears you have torched five houses, killed 20 wolves, defiled at least thirteen of them, and ate two babies…how does that make you feel?’”
“Like I’m fucking serious man.” he cuts in, “I’m not even 20 and I’ve already killed druggies, robbers, rapists, freaks, creeps, and my first P.D.0 was what? Last week?”
“True, but you weren’t the one who killed him.” The girl’s old man made a pretty good mess of that particular shit-stain. Never saw someone burnout on a head like that before.
“Point is, what keeps these fuckers going man?”
In came Rory with the most bafflingly sober thing I’ve ever heard the man say, to this day, bar none.
“It’s the freedom.” he said bluntly. “Ain’t no one to answer to. No feds, no states, no neighbors. Most of the time no folks to speak of. That’s why we’re here. No judge, no jury, just executioners. Only way we even got a record of the crimes is eye witnesses and good neighbors.”
“Or a little revenge for the victims.” I add. “Lotta folks out here wanna do right by one another. We take out the trash who don’t.”
It was all a lovely bunch of philosophizing that clearly struck a chord with young Harry.
So did the crate from out of left field.
He pounced on those brakes quick as he could, but he tore right into that sucker like it owed him money. Rory and I made tracks to rally up alongside the rat rod.
“Yo, Richter, all good Brother?” Rory asked, swinging in shotgun side. Harry’s head made quite the rendezvous with his bike-chain steering wheel, but he was no worse for wear. Only blood Rory had got on his white fur all day was checking the kid over.
“Quit pawing me Mads, I’m fine!” Harry barked. He shook the shock off before noticing something. “Shit’s green!”
Sure enough, that crate was glowing like half a Christmas tree. And when we got out to inspect it, Rory went apeshit.
“Nope, nope, nope. Not happening, not touching, that shit’s Pandora waiting to happen. Don’t want no green gumballs of doom flying ‘round on my watch! No sir!”
Harry smirked. “Last time I’m showing you a movie at my pad.”
“Richter and Mads, pipe it, and dig the smell.” I had a good hunch about what it was, but I wanted the suspicion confirmed. And when Harry and Rory took a whiff, I got just that.
“Shit, Speed, it’s radium!” Rory gasped.
Harry wafted the scent away like smoke. “Betcha this shit was fixing to be fixed. Where’s that crowbar?”
Rory gladly chucked it his way and Harry popped the top.
“I’m no druggie,” he said, “But ain’t no way anybody can smoke THAT just the way it is.”
It was like staring at a pile of green boulders.
“Anyone got a Geiger counter on ‘em?” I asked. Turns out Rory kept one in the kit too, and this time he took to the crate. And once he fired up the counter…nothing.
Harry and I exchange amused glances before letting him finish.
“I’m serious, I ain’t getting no reading. The thing works just fine and she ain’t stirring it.”
“So we have a box of irradiated rocks that are anything but irradiated.” I get to thinking about it. Still sounds absolutely nutty when I think about it, but those were the facts. There was one thing nagging at me about the whole thing though; we didn’t have time.
“Nail ‘er back together and toss it in my truck. We’ll deliver it to the Evidence Depot when we can. Maybe get us some kinda lead on that can of worms. But that shit ain’t our problem for the day.”
The two did just that and held it down in the Hilux’s bed with ratchet straps. With our present secured, we hightailed it right for the warehouse.
Now that right there was a five-alarm mess. Some of the General’s boys were there on-site. Was nice for us to have someone to chat with about the mission for once. I shook hands with the gray who was in charge of the big rig that hauled the salvageables back to Base.
“Nice of ya to take it up,” the trucker said.
“Think nothing of it.” I smiled, “Sorry it happened at all. How’s the Principal, anyway?”
The trucker cracked a hell of a grin. “Godred’s a spring chicken compared to this latest round of recruits. Old man outdid everyone in a one-armed push-up contest.”
Sounded like the Hound in Black alright.
“Talk to us about what could’ve been of value here.” I continued, “We’ll take espionage off the table, but won’t rule it out.”
The trucker had to think for a second, but when he told us what was there that might be worth something to somebody, it told the nuttiest story I’d heard all damn day.
“Lead plating, rail detonators, 200-Proof Synth Vodka, and a genuine ‘34 Ford Coupe, ran like a dream.”
He got a solitary blink from the three of us before explaining.
“The lead plating was for gamma-ray testing, the rail detonators were antiques to be disassembled and repurposed for any number of things, although the General wanted one diffused for preservation. The vodka…wasn’t for public consumption, let’s just say that, and the Ford was just a helluva barn-find the boys in the shop wanted to tinker with. But she was fully functional.”
“Was everything you rattled off here taken?” Harry asked.
The trucker nodded. “The lead was broken off in chunks, two drums of the vodka were gone, a case of the detonators, and the whole car was taken. None of that catalytic converter shit.”
“When?” Rory added.
“Before itinerary and salvage this afternoon.” came the reply. “Staff were too busy putting out the fire best they could, and it’d be hard to sneak a car past the fire tenders once HQ got involved.”
“So, if I was to understand this correctly,” says I, “Someone got himself a little deuce coupe, ‘your finest spirits,’ blaster caps, and something that could be used as a layer of protection.”
Once again, the gray fellow nodded.
“And assuming it’s Mr. Ro behind it all,” Harry starts in innocently.
“Methinks we’ve got ourselves a mad bomber on wheels, wouldn’t you say?” Rory asked to no one in particular.
And, as if God himself descended to answer from on high.
Imagine your favorite volcano times 28, and that’s how the ground felt, grumbling and ripping beneath us all.
“MIND IF WE TAKE THIS ONE!?” I roared over the quaking Earth.
Our stunned big-rigger didn’t mind one bit as we saddled up and booked it for the explosion. And Lord almighty, what a blast it was. Less a mushroom cloud and more of a shrub. A fat fucking shrub of white you could probably see from the ocean.
In my mind’s eye, I was seeing the firefight of the ages, man. Us cats hanging behind burned-out walls, ducking beneath flames trying to nail this guy. Make a real show of things, as ya do on Patrol.
But what we found there wasn’t another torching of a warehouse. In the claymated flesh and fur was Pie…actually, if I have to say that fucker’s name one more time, I’ll open fire my goddamn self, so let’s call him Firestorm. Something rad like that.
So we see our puppet pal Firestorm with what looked like a rocket launcher in hand, but was in truth, what else, but a flame thrower. And boy could he throw flames. It was the throwing of said flames that landed him the grand prize of seeing that Ford go up like the Hindenburg, the bombed-out shell blazing away as he sees us coming up to him. I decide to put my truck’s new PA to the test and declare, as politely as I can from my four neat new little bull-horns on the cab:
“FIRESTORM. WE ARE HELL PATROL. YOU GOT TWO OPTIONS. TORCH YOUR-FUCKING-SELF. OR LET US TORCH YOU FOR THE CRIMES YOU’VE COMMITTED. REGARDLESS, YOU MUST DIE AND WILL—”
And before I could fucking finish, the dude just self-immolated himself. Like a Buddhist monk with too many wars to protest and so little time, he turns the thing in on himself and pulls the trigger. And while his fur was not of clay, I think his bones did melt through sheer exposure. Although we couldn’t get the best look because he had pocketed at least a dozen of the rail torpedoes, and when these detonator caps went off all at once, his body just blew to pieces. The fire consumed him, the caps, the flamethrower, and everything near it. Our arsonist perished probably as he would’ve wanted to.
And there we sat, in our rides, not even a shot fired.
“That Richter,” I says over the PA, “Is why I don’t ask ‘why.’”
The wide side-eye he gave me said it all; he got it.
“Fun’s not over yet!” Rory barked over radio.
As we look into our rear-view mirrors, we see perhaps the most genuinely frightening sight I think any of us had up to that point. Like an army of the dead they rode, sunk-in eyes and greening fur, all matted to hell and back. All driving these rust bucket cars and trucks, whose make and model were long gone to the kit-bashing it took to make them run at all. And all with one set of words spewing from their putrid muzzles.
“GIVE US OUR FUCKING HASH BACK!”
“JUNKIES AT SIX O’CLOCK!” I roar over the PA. And when we whip around to face them, they are just going to town on those throttles and I swear to God, half of them were stark naked. I couldn’t tell as they came careening towards us, but you got that vibe about them. These fuckers weren’t here to play. Neither were we.
I looked back at our hunk of burning crook and chose the easiest trick. After sitting tight, baiting them for a good long while, I cry out “MOVE” and the three of us tear off and out of the way.
The first band of these bitches is gone. Black Cadillac went right over the body and she musta been bleeding gas because that thing went up in an instant.
Then came the rest. Harry and Rory were putting holes in heads left and right, and like any good zombie, that was the trick to them, but the guys whose brains were still behind the wall of the skull knew that I was the cat with the bag. The Bag.
I let them chase me around for a bit before I get them good and hooked. Literally. I slam both boots down on the brakes and get this beaten to hell-and-back Dodge Ram on my hitch before giving the gas a good kick and dragging these nuts along for the ride. I start going right for the flaming Ford and figure a well-placed drift would shake them off into the real Hell. I cut the wheel and work her a little too well. The Dodge went flying into the fire, but my Hilux followed through, capsizing near the flames. And with a hellish blast, she gets righted alright, but not without the caveat of a FLAMING CRATE OF DRUGS.
I floor her into the fifth goddamned dimension, hoping for the crate to lurch back and roll right out of the pickup bed. Which it did…only to detonate on impact and send yours truly tumbling cab over wheels in a front flip that’d make any road warrior proud.
Rory gave me an even 8 on it.
I was still conscious and my truck was still running, but she was as good as out as we lay there upside down. Meanwhile, Rory and Harry were having the time of their life.
“SHOULDA BROUGHT MY LIGHT GUN!” I heard one of the two bark. My money’s on Harry, kid was loaded with consoles growing up.
But these guys just kept wasting dog after meth-addled dog. And it wasn’t until the last rod came barreling into the towering inferno that either realized what had happened to me. Sure enough, Rory and Harry hustle their ass my way and, without missing the damnedest beat, push the noses of their rides up on the passenger side and get me up and over in a second.
“Heya…thanks.” I says, shaking the rush of blood back down my body. “Started seeing colors and shapes I hadn’t since I was a kid.”
“But what about the—oh shit!” It was at that moment that Rory realized what had happened to the evidence.
Harry looked pretty miffed on my behalf. “Shit, sorry it went down Speed. We’ll back you on the eyewitness report at least.”
“Thanks Chief,” I chuckled. “Besides, a big fucking crate of post-nuclear crack ain’t exactly cracking the Enigma code.”
“Tells me one thing though.” he said. “They do drops. Who ever cooks the shit or the people supplying the chef plants it in designated drops.”
“Figure coordinate based?” I ask, the blood making its way down to my torso.
“Only way I could see it making sense.” he nodded. “Shit was legit in the middle of nowhere.”
I stew on it for a bit. “Well, let’s call it progress and call it a day…ring up the Commish and close the case for me. I want to get my head on straight before tonight. Still got a set to play.”
After Commissioner had digested the confusion of not hearing me call in, Harry did a pretty good job of the usual write-up. Back at Doc’s, it took a while for the thing to screw on good and tight, but after a few good beers from the bar’s namesake, my noggin was back in action. I started strumming some chords before the gig, the Rickenbacker rocking the stage even with the gentlest hand.
Rory swung by after getting his kit tuned.
“You guys take ‘Burn,’” I says, “I don’t feel it tonight.”
“Hey, no sweat Nic,” he grinned. “I think we got it. What are you feeling then?”
“If it’s got ‘Fire’ in the title, I ain’t having it for starters.”
Harry strode by, chuckling as he noodled on his Fender. And like a carefully planted instigator, whips out a riff that sends my digits soaring across the fret-board. It’s got funk, it’s got groove, and it moves like a freight train.
“Where the hell you learned that?” I says to ‘em.
“Same record you bummed ‘Lost Johnny’ off of.” he replies. “The first version of it.”
When I realized the album he’d gotten into, I was cracking up like a true drunk.
“Alright my psychedelic warlords, let’s give it too ‘em good tonight.”
The second we hit the stage, the set we served up was heavy, spacey, bluesy and all out mad. Frantic drumming, white-knuckled runs, and some of the nuttiest solos the three of us ever made. And at the end of it all, I saw a group fixing to take on the whole damn world. Or what was left of it anyhow.
And just when it all seemed possible…the competition rolled into town.