Bowie woke to the sounds of a struggle coming from the Chick-Fil-A kitchen. The grunts and curses of a fight to the death.
He froze, and slipped down under the table, hoping that nobody would see him. If they killed Noah, maybe they wouldn’t know he was there. He hoped to hell it wasn’t another of the Cartel’s goons looking for him. He peered nervously in the direction of the struggle and noticed Noah’s Glock sitting on the bench, abandoned. It was his lucky break. If he could just reach it, without being seen, at least he’d have some chance of defending himself.
Bowie braced himself, noticing the burning from the wound on the side of his face. He felt sick in the stomach, thinking back to the night before and realizing just how close he’d come to being killed. He couldn’t let it happen again. He had to man up and survive. He forced himself to sit up, then began to inch forward, then stopped when Noah suddenly appeared behind the counter, wiping the sweat from his brow. He was holding what looked like a pair of black trousers triumphantly in his hand. Bowie watched him in confusion. What the hell is he doing? Noah looked around briefly, then disappeared through a door at the back of the kitchen, forgetting to take his gun.
Seizing the chance, Bowie rushed to the counter and snatched up the Glock. We weighed the unfamiliar object in his hands, surprised to find it heavy and awkward. He’d presumed it was very light and easy to hold, from the way Noah had waved it around. He examined the gun carefully. Where is the safety? He wondered, there should be a safety. He tried to recall the way cops had fired them in the Netflix shows he’d seen as this was the first actual gun he’d ever held. He guessed it would just fire when he pulled the trigger. After all, that was what Noah had done last night in a murderous rage.
Grasping the Glock tightly in both hands, Bowie moved slowly around the counter, afraid of what he might find there. He didn’t get far before he stopped, gaping in horror at the man on the floor. No, he thought. It couldn’t be. This Deplorable asshole had murdered a man just for his pants. A Latino. A person of color and an innocent bystander to boot. Fucking cold blooded, murdering White Supremacist asshole.
He’d put up with this half-wit because he was only a kid, probably pushed into the fighting by his hillbilly relatives.
Even when Noah had nearly killed him, he’d still been willing to forgive and forget, but this was too much. It had to end here before more innocent people died. He heard water splashing in the back room and relaxed a little, knowing there was a bit more time before Noah would appear. But Bowie reminded himself, he had to do this. Just to make up for the hell he’d helped to unleash on America. Just one small act to prevent more killing. He braced himself by the bench, holding the gun out, ready waiting for the splashing to stop.
Finally, there was movement in the back room, Noah’s footsteps on the floor, approaching. He held the glock out at the ready. As soon Noah’s surprised face appeared in the doorway, he pulled the trigger hard. Inadvertently squinting, expecting the gun to kick. Click. He opened his eyes. Noah was much closer, still moving forward. An annoying, stupid grin on his face. Bowie jerked the trigger again, Click. Then again, Click. He sank to his knees in defeat, dropping the useless gun on the floor.
“There’s some drinks in here, want a coke?”
“What?” Bowie looked up, incredulous. This guy was a real cold blooded killer. He was just standing by the body of his victim, casually looking into the refrigerator
“I said you want a coke. Or it looks like there’s some orange juice…”
“How could you?” Wailed Bowie, his voice an active higher than normal.
“What?” Noah had a stupid surprised look on his face.
“You killed the kid for what? For his pants?”
Noah looked stunned. “Is that your problem? You thought I killed one of your Commie pals?” He shook his head. Bowie glared at him. He looked back at Bowie in disbelief, “Really? You thought I killed a kid for his pants?” He pointed to the kid’s head, “Look how dry the blood is. Go and feel him, he’s as stiff as a board. Look at his stomach starting to swell up He was dead before we got here.”
Bowie looked at the body, puzzled. “Who then?”
Noah shrugged, handing a can of coke to Bowie. He cracked open his own and took a sip as Bowie watched. “He must have got caught in the crossfire. Poor bastard.” He screwed up his face, “Why would he come to work in the middle of a war?”
Noah walked over to the cubicle casually and sat down, looking down at his new pants while he brushed them with his hand. Bowie slunk onto the seat across from him, looking at the Glock.
“Why didn’t it fire?”
Noah held up the magazine, the stupid grin back on his face. Then his eyes went up to Bowie’s wound and Bowie instinctively brought his hand to it, wincing with pain. Noah fished in his jacket pocket, found nothing, then tried another pocket searching for a minute. “Here you go.”
He brought out a small first aid kit and pushed it across the table to Bowie.
Bowie gingerly began to open it and looked at the different containers, screwing up his face. He looked at Noah.
Noah groaned, “All right. Lean over here.”
Bowie leaned over, flinching as Noah swabbed the wound. “Well, you’re the one who did it. I’m just glad you’re not a good shot.”
“Don’t push your luck.”
Bowie couldn’t believe the attitude of this kid. He showed very little remorse for anything.
But he was extremely grateful to have him around. He shuddered as he remembered how he’d very nearly shot the guy.
“I’ll have to teach you to fire a gun,” murmured Noah, while he dressed the wound. “We might need to defend ourselves sometime soon.”
“You’re not worried I’ll shoot you?” Asked Bowie
Noah laughed. “You wouldn’t have hit me if I left the magazine in it. Unless I was on the ceiling. You have to learn to squeeze the trigger, not jerk it.”
Bowie scowled. Noah packed the first aid kit away, grabbed the gun from the table, stood up and downed the rest of his coke. He belched, then said,
Bowie followed him through the doorway and into the desolate street. Smoke still hung in the air, but they could now barely hear the sounds of fighting. They started off down the rubble strewn street in the direction they’d been walking the previous night.
The first body was only 20 yards from the Chik-Fil-A, a soldier in the US uniform, a big beefy guy who looked barely 18. He lay arched over a pile of rubble as if he’d been blown backwards onto it, his face a mask of agony, a gaping wound in his chest. Bowie stared for a just a second and began vomiting. He spewed up the coke he’d just finished then dry retched for what seemed like an eternity as Noah waited, his finger on the Ar-15 trigger, nervously looking around. When Bowie finally stood back up, he handed him a bottle of water he’d taken from the restaurant.
“You’ll get used to it.” Noah reassured him, “You’ve got no choice.”
“I don’t want to get used to this,” said Bowie, still very distressed. He wished he could turn back time. If only he had stood up and resisted the Cartel.
There were many more bodies in their path, soldiers, militia, the occasional civilian. They tried to ignore them, focusing their attention on the street straight ahead.
“So this virus was really made in a lab?” Noah asked, breaking the silence.
“What?” Bowie studied him. Typical of this dumb kid, in the middle of all this horror, this desolation, he wants to talk about the virus.
“Yes. It was.”
He thought back to his meeting with the director and the script editor.
“You’ve got to rewrite this.” The Editor had said as he stared intently at Bowie through his thick framed glasses. Bowie wondered if he somehow thought they looked trendy. He couldn’t imagine why someone would wear something looking so intrusive on their face, especially a face as gaunt as the Editor’s.
“What part of it?” Asked Bowie
“Well you have people dying in the streets, it’s not going to be quite that bad. In fact it won’t be much worse than the flu.”
“So then we have to lose the lockdowns too.”
Bowie looked confused, “But you say the virus is like the flu?”
“More or less.”
The Director cut in, he was an older man with a gravel voice. “Unfortunately, we don’t have much control that part of it, and your Chinese counterparts… Let’s just say they are… unimaginative.” He played with his diamond studded cuff links. “We have to work with what they give us, unfortunately.”
“We do like your idea of the raw bat, being the origin though.” Said the editor, a smile creasing his thin lips. “A nice touch. Very ghoulish.”
Bowie stifled a laugh. He’d thought that idea was a bit wild. But he was finding that his wildest thoughts were often the ones they used. He sat up attentively.
“Okay, so everybody’s going to be locked down because of a flu-like virus?”
“The sky is green,” said the Director, sounding like marbles in a cement mixer.
“Yes, indeed,” said the Editor. He leaned forward to Bowie, “make no mistake, Bowie, this fascist President is so bad, that even the dead will rise up to vote him out of office. We need the lockdowns. We want widespread postal voting.”
“Yes, they can’t exactly walk into a polling booth.” Added the Director.
“The dead?” Asked Bowie, then he answered himself, “No, that would be more of a zombie movie.”
“It’s tempting, “added the Editor with a little smirk.”
“They say it kills mostly older people,” said the Director thoughtfully. “So use your imagination with that one.”
“Nursing homes,” said Bowie thoughtfully. The Director tilted his head quizzically. “Could the infected people be put in nursing homes?” Asked Bowie, “for isolation?”
“Now you’re talking,” said the Director, a fat finger pointing at Bowie. “I knew you had it in you.” He shrugged, “But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter that much. We write the statistics. Half the people who die of anything can have this wretched disease. I’m just annoyed that they couldn’t come up with something more potent. More…”
“Visually alarming?” suggested the Editor.
“Yes, like the bubonic plague. Blackened corpses dumped on doorsteps across the country. Something to stamp an image of terror into the hearts of the population.” There was silence as they all pondered that idea.
Bowie broke the silence: “All the stores will have to close,” he said, thoughtfully. “They’ll go bankrupt.”
“You catch on quickly,” said the Director, a broad grin creasing his chunky face. “But not the larger chain stores. They’ll pick up the extra business. Make sure you write that in – the department stores will stay open.”
“Are they part of your group?” Asked Bowie, absentmindedly, then he froze. He knew he’d gone too far. The room was silent and the Directors eyes had grown an icy shade of black. The Editor fumbled nervously with his papers.
“I’ll expect a revised script next week,” he said, his darting grey eyes strangely magnified through the lenses.
“It’s almost December, and we’re kicking off the next series in January. We’ve got some great things coming. You’re part of a very creative team of writers. Much better than any we’ve had in the past.”
“Thank you, sir,” said Bowie, standing with the other two men. They walked him to the elevator.
“How’s the Continental?” Asked the Director.
“It’s a fine car, Sir. I’m really enjoying it.”
“I’ve always liked Bentleys” said the Editor, smiling thinly.
Fumes from the smoking shell of a car brought Bowie back to the present. He shuddered as he remembered the rocket hitting his Bentley.
That beautiful creation, the highly polished black paintwork and chrome. The luxurious leather and walnut coachwork, the powerful W-12 engine. There one minute, a smouldering twisted mess, the next. The blast was intended for him and sometimes he even wished he had been sitting in the vehicle. He wouldn’t have had the humiliation of being hunted down on foot by the Cartel’s goons, to be saved by a junior redneck. He knew the goons would be everywhere, even in the ranks of the militia.
“Why did they want to leave the big chain stores open?” Noah asked
“Wha…?” Bowie wiped away a tear. “Well everybody had to buy food from somewhere.”
“But why not the small stores? Wouldn’t you have less chance of catching the virus in a small store, with fewer people?”
“It was never about saving people from the virus.” Said Bowie impatiently, beginning to tire of the questions.
“So it was about sending all the small businesses broke?”
“Oh shit!” The tension in Bowie’s voice alarmed Noah. He followed Bowie’s gaze and shuddered. About 100 yards in front of them, swarming through the rubble, were a pack of black-clad shapes.
Like leaping vultures, they went from body to body, stripping them of anything worthwhile. Bowie looked around frantically, spotting an open doorway just a few feet away. Noah had seen it too and they moved in unison through the doorway. It opened into the small foyer of an office building, the marble floor strewn with glass and debris. Furniture overturned. Bowie followed Noah to a large broken window facing the street, where they lay down, peering out.
“Anti Fascists” whispered Noah. “Shouldn’t they be at the front, fighting our guys”
Bowie snorted, “Why?”
“You’re the writer, you tell me.”
“I didn’t write any of the riot stuff, other writers did that.”
“Did they screw this up too?”
Bowie sighed, “I think they were retired before the war broke out.”
“Retired, Suicided… it’s all the same.”
“So their pawns went off the chessboard?”
“I guess you could say that.” He was interrupted by bursts of automatic weapons fire and shouts. Bowie peered out the window again, nervously. Several black clad figures crowded around a body in uniform, kicking it. One fired a volley of shots into the dead man again.
Bowie closed his eyes, tightly. He wanted to be away, anywhere but here.
“When did you lose control of them?” Asked Noah in a low voice, looking nervously out the window.
“I think after the election.” He shrugged, “It happens. it just takes on a life of its own. You have keep motivating all the pieces on the board, or they don’t act the way you want them to.”
Noah snorted. “How do you motivate these animals to stay quiet.”
“That’s the problem.”
The band of black-clad hooligans began to file past their hiding place. Then one of the hooded figures stopped level with them, turning his head in their direction, his gaze resting on their window. Both men ducked down instinctively. Bowie could hear his heart thumping furiously in his chest. No, please, he thought. Anybody but these. He imagined being dragged out and slowly beaten to death by the whooping mob. They were so drunk on blood lust, that no amount of reasoning would save a victim. A shout came from further down the street and the sound of running feet echoed through the rubble. Running away from them. Bowie released the breath he’d been holding.
All was quiet, aside from a loud metallic click next to Bowie’s ear, as a firearm was cocked. He instinctively turned and saw a black clad figure holding a huge silver cannon at Noah’s head. Bowie instinctively flinched, raising his hands. Noah seemed frozen.
A tough female voice commanded, “Put the gun down slowly and put your hands in the air or I’ll blow your fucking head clean off.”