Y+28, Day 1:
“You, in the jail,” the voice said over the intercom. Sheriff Del Anderson stood and switched on the voice channel. Del watched the warped video of the shady figure in the hallway outside the Sheriff’s office.
The facial recognition software failed to place the individual. Either the man wasn’t in the system, or he had a vid-scrambler on his body somewhere. Seeing the wristwatch, he surmised the location of the scrambler.
He doesn’t want to be recognized, Del thought. No matter, I can track him down and get his landing info. Tracking the man back, he found a Coal Co crawler as the delivery of the man to Conrad Station, with the useless name John Smith. Unfortunately, Coal Co didn’t fall under his jurisdiction. Lunadyne handled Conrad Station, and Anderson worked for Lunadyne. There were plenty of miners that fit in the category, non-Lunadyne employees. This could be one of them, however. He seemed too clean, lacking the blackened nails that almost everyone who had been on the Moon for over a month had.
“What do you want?” He answered, watching the man.
“Can you let me in?” Asked Smith, but it seemed more like a statement.
“Keep your hands where I can see them and step to the door,” Anderson said, not trusting him for a second.
“Like this?” The man had moved to the door with his hands up and pressing on the door.
“That’s it.” The Sheriff opened the door, pulled the man through and pushed him against the wall. He frisked him quickly.
“Hay man, I ain’t packing if that’s what you are thinking.”
“Procedure,” Del said, lying, since he had no procedures. Satisfied the man wasn’t carrying, he moved back over to the desk and sat down.
“Can I put my hands down now?”
“Yes. Take a seat.” Anderson leaned back a bit, eyeing the man. Obviously, another mercenary, he could see the tattoos that were common with many mercenaries that fought in central Asia. “Now, one more time from the top–what do you want?”
“I need you to let Smitter out of the tank.”
“On what authority?”
“Listen Sheriff, we’re both contractors. You work for Lunadyne. I work for Coal Co. We are both in security. You know the deal.” The man said, never making eye contact.
“Your guy, uh, Smitter, got drunk and tried to open a hatch directly to the surface. I’m fine with him killing himself but taking everyone else it the hab with him is outrageous.”
“Yes, both of us are part of security,” Del Interrupted. “I can’t make an exception for Smitter. I’m trying to ride herd over a hundred miners from Coal Co to prevent them from splitting each other’s skulls on every off shift. Smitter broke the rules. He stays in the tank until I say he can go.”
“Not what I was hoping to hear.”
“Can I get your name?”
“It’s Smith, but my name is not important,” he said. “Now, my boss’s name, you’ll need to know that.”
“So? What is it?”
“Lina Cranston. But now you need to worry about what she has to say about Smitter.”
“I see,” Sheriff Anderson said as the man got up and walked out of the office, leaving Del to his own thoughts.
Damn, not Ninja Cranston. I thought she was in prison.
“Doc?” Asked Del as he entered the clinic, not seeing her in the entry area.
“One minute,” he heard Doc Keller from the next room.
She entered the room followed by a man that Del recognized as Jim Ross, also known as Cooter.
“Hi Del, what brings you here?” Doc asked. “Another hangnail?”
“Hey Doc. Hey Cooter.”
“Hey Sheriff,” said Cooter. “It’s been a while.”
“It has. Did you put back those items that I told you?” asked the Sherriff, remembering the Lunokhod rover he’d removed from its lunar historical site. Del simply asked Cooter to put it back. If no one found it where it shouldn’t be, there would be no reason to think he messed with it.
“Uh huh, I did,” said Cooter. “Are you sure the Russians wanted it put back?”
“It doesn’t matter,” said Del. “Even if it’s from the last century, it still belongs to them.”
“Sherriff,” Doc Keller interrupted. “I’m sure that you didn’t come down here to ask Cooter about his alien conspiracy theories. You have a reason, or are you looking to just shoot the shit?”
“We’ve got a problem,” said the Sheriff.
“Is Trish okay?” Doc asked. “There shouldn’t be anything serious happening at this stage in her pregnancy.”
“No, she’s fine. I meant we as in the Conrad Station we.”
“What’s going on?” asked Cooter.
“We’ve got a problem,” said Del.
“What with the miners?” asked Doc. “I’ve heard the rumors of a strike.”
“Yeah, I noticed a lot more miners at Alex’s last night. They were in such a foul mood, even one of Nils’s wild stories couldn’t cheer them up.”
“Sort of,” said Sheriff Anderson. “I think Coal Co has hired some mercenaries to break the strike before it happens.”
“Del,” said Doc. “You have that look like you’re holding something back–out with it.”
“Sorry,” said the sheriff. “Ninja Cranston is supposed to be leading the mercs.”
“Oh no,” said Cooter.
“I’m sorry,” said Doc. “Who is this Ninja–”
“Ninja Cranston,” Cooter said. “She’s one of the worst.”
“Worst what?” asked Doc.
“You name it,” Cooter said. “They supposedly arrested and dumped her into the brig after a horrific war crime in Central Asia. I thought they threw away the key.”
“They probably did,” agreed the sheriff. “After the west coast seceded, the federal pen was emptied, and they released the prisoners into Nevada. I was with the Marshall’s office. It was pure chaos. We had over five hundred Marshalls in Vegas alone, scouring the city for those prisoners. Most of them were some of the roughest kinds of nasty. I eventually quit and took this job. Trish said it would be much better than the crap I dealt with as a Marshall.”
“Shit,” said Cooter.
“Yeah,” continued Del. “Cranston was never on the watch list. I figured Pacifica had the good sense to keep her in her cage. Hearing she is out makes this situation a hell of a lot more dangerous.”
“Damn,” said Doc. “And I thought we were through with all the bullshit up here.”
“Not by a long shot,” said Del. “Coal Co has doubled down on this.”
“What does all this mean?” asked Cooter. “What do we need to do?”
“It probably means we need an ace in the hole,” said the sheriff.
“What kind of ace?” asked Doc.
“First off, we need to get all the civilians out of here,” said Del. “I think the station is about to get boiling.”
“So, we’re taking them to Gordanville?” asked Doc.
“That’s about the only choice,” said Cooter.
“I agree,” Del said. “Call whomever you need to.”
“I’ll get the prospectors,” suggested Cooter.
“That’s who I had in mind,” said Del. “Carmike, Johnson, Vargas, and the others.”
“What about Alex?” asked Doc. “If we take him out of here, the bar will close, and we’ll have a real mess on our hands.”
“I’ll have to talk with him,” agreed the sheriff. “I may have to deputize him or something.”
“Don’t tell me. You just deputized us!” said Doc.
“If you need it official,” answered Del.
“Figures,” said Doc. “This crap is getting better and better.”
Del walked into Alex’s bar. The minors used Alex’s for the strike against Coal Co.
“We ain’t leaving Sheriff,” said Joe Dubcek, the lead striker. “So don’t ask.”
“We’ll talk about it later,” said Del as he leaned over the bar.
“Haya Sheriff,” said Alex. “Can I get you a whiskey?”
“You know I never touch the stuff,” said Del. “Not since Trish is expecting, anyway.”
“What can I do for you, then?”
“Can we talk?”
“Sure,” said Alex. “I’m assuming you want it to be somewhere other than the bar. Is the storeroom sufficient?”
“Follow me.” They went to the upper deck of the hab housing the bar and into a room on the sunlit side. As soon as Del had shut the door, Alex asked, “Okay, what do you have?”
“I’d like you to evacuate to Gordanville—”
“What else?” Alex held up his hand. “Pardon me for asking. I’m used to someone having more than a few things they want when they ask for something.”
“Well, you’re right. I also need to be made the bartender so we can keep this place open.”
“Huh, which part?”
“Both parts,” said Alex. “In fact, I should have said, ‘hell no!’”
“Alex, there are mercenaries here to act as strikebreakers.”
“So, you expect them to come to the bar?”
“I’m betting that they are. It’s the only place that the breakers can capture the leaders.”
“Del, I won’t leave the bar. You know how much we’ve been through over the years. It’s my part of it.”
“Yeah, I know. But you could lose all of it.”
“All or part, it’s all I have.”
“Well,” said Del. “I can at least cover your financial losses by deputizing you.”
“Oh gee! A lot of good that will do me when I’m dead.”
“It’s all I got, except for my personal guarantee that I’ll do my best to keep you alive.”
“Well, if that’s all you got,” said Alex. “I’m still in. You’ll need more help than you can get.”
“Thanks,” said Del. “Hopefully, we can defuse this before anyone gets hurt.”
“How are you going to do that?”
“Talk with the strikers and make a deal.”
“That sounds more like wishful thinking,” said Alex.
“It is. That’s why I need a few aces up my sleeve.”
“I told you twenty minutes ago we ain’t leaving,” said Joe Dubcek. “There isn’t anything you can say to make me change my mind.”
“How about I get your contract demands?” Del pushed, “Would that do it?”
“No way. Coal Co won’t do it.”
“Look, I’ve got every reason to believe that they are going to try breaking the strike.”
“No way, that’s supposed to be illegal.”
“Who’s stopping them?” asked Del.
“That’s your job.”
“Job or not, they’ve got a group of trained mercenaries coming. I’m just one man. Your safest bet would be to disperse to the Gordonville settlement.”
“We can’t leave,” said Joe. “We’d be giving into Coal Co. They are planning to send their proposal within a couple of days. Unless they met all our demands, we reject, and the strike is on.”
“You’ve formed a Union then.”
“If that is what you want to call it. We’ve all agreed with our original contract proposal. We have the right to bargain, so I yeah. They’ll have to explain why they failed to negotiate. Mercenaries or no, we ain’t leaving.”
“Let me see if I can get your demands met,” said Del.
“That would be a miracle if you do. Coal Co is all kinds of nasty.”
“What do you need from the prospectors?” Cooter asked. “They are ready to assist.”
“I need a few aces in the hole. Something that is sure to convince the mercs we mean business,” Del said.
“I’ll ask around to the prospectors. But I have an idea.”
“Actually, it’s one of Nils’s ideas, but it’s a good one and I recommend we go with it. Though it takes a toll on the system, we might shut down the radiators.”
“What the hell would that do?”
“What is the temperature outside?” Asked Cooter.
“About two hundred last I checked.”
“Exactly. Do I need to explain any further?”
“Shit,” said Del. “That is a hell of an idea.”
“On another note, Sheryl Carson asked about the U.S. Marshall. Any chance they can be called in?”
“I’d like to. But since no actual crime has been committed, they aren’t likely to respond. Once one does, it will be three days before help will arrive.
Del checked his watch, waiting for the call to connect. It always took forever to get a response from Earth. The Lunadyne corporate offices in McKinney were even worse than the security group in Dallas. They never seemed to have time to take a call from the Moon. Finally, someone answered.
“Del, it is good to hear from you,” said the female voice.
“Becky?” Del identified the voice belonging to the human resources representative at Lunadyne.
“Yes, Del. Who did you think it was?”
“Sorry Becky, the lines seem a bit garbled today.”
“What did you need?”
“I need Lunadyne to hire about fifty miners. Their contract should have all the provisions that they have proposed to Coal Co.”
“Oh,” said Becky. “That’s a hell of an ask.”
“Come through on this one if you can.”
“You know this one is going to take an executive level decision? I might get shut down before I get up past my manager.”
“Tell them lives will depend upon it,” said Del. “Hopefully, they will get the hint.”
“You know, I might fail with this one. This is way outside of my paygrade.”
“It’s outside of mine too, but I’m all these people have.”
Del’s phone signaled. He noticed it was Alex before he answered.
“Del, I’ve got a dozen miners here. I also have another set of patrons. One of them wants to talk to you.”
“Put him on,” said Del.
“Sheriff,” said the man.
“We have spoken before, yes. You didn’t take my advice and release Smitter.”
“You haven’t given me a reason to,” said Del, leaving the jail and heading toward the hab containing Alex’s bar. “Besides, I’m sure Smitter is glad that he won’t be getting into the same trouble you’re getting yourself into.”
“You seem an unreasonable man.”
“No, I’m plenty reasonable.”
“Let’s set aside the bull for now,” said Smith.
“I’m all ears.”
Del made his way through the connecting section, leading him to the bar. He could see two rough-looking individuals he took to be one of Cranston’s mercenaries. He noticed one wearing a small headset, noting that the individual was in contact with others.
“Come on into the bar,” said Smith. “We’ll have a drink.”
Del noted the individual waved him through without a delay.
Okay, they are talking to each other.
Del entered the bar. He could see that the miners were pushed over to one corner of the room surrounded by six individuals obviously carrying shotguns. He silently relaxed, realizing these thugs had some sense about them. Shot guns could certainly hurt a person, but they would not likely penetrate the hull unless fired directly into it. Bullet holes and space habitats did not go well together. There were another six thugs scattered around the room, along with several other patrons who had not evacuated the station. He could see that they looked up nervously as Del entered the bar. Alex was seated behind the bar. Smith was leaning over the bar nearby.
“Take it easy, folks. This won’t take long,” said Del, trying to be as confident sounding as possible.
“It all depends upon what you’re willing to do,” said Smith.
“Exactly what would that be?” asked Del.
“As a measure of your good faith,” said Smith. “I want Smitter out of your jail.”
“Yeah,” said a woman in her 20’s armed with a shotgun who was swinging it around wildly.
“Shut-up Williams,” said Smith.
“Yeah,” said another thug, a brutish man, clearly in his fifties. “We all agreed that Smith would speak.”
“You too Quaid,” Smith snapped.
“I need you to let these people go,” said Del. “As a measure of your good faith.”
Smith smiled, tossing the phone back to Alex. At last, we are getting somewhere. Smith walked up, standing a half meter from Del.
“I’ll let you take these three.” He said as he pointed at the table to his left.
“What about these three over here?” Del asked, hoping he didn’t flinch as he pointed to the other three that were not miners. “You don’t need them for what you have in mind.”
“Interesting,” said Smith, as his eyes narrowed. “Big man sheriff thinks he knows what I have in mind.”
“Seriously, you’ve already told me you were contractors for Coal Co,” said Del. “These people are technicians for Conrad Station and hence employees for Lunadyne. By definition, they wouldn’t be part of your contract.”
Smith’s expression did not waver. Del imagined that he was weighing the options.
“You’ll still have the miners,” said Del. “And me. Besides, what would Cranston say if you fucked this up by getting Lunadyne involved?”
“Very well,” Smith said. “You six get ready to leave. You too bartender.”
“No,” said Alex.
“Go with them Alex,” said Del.
“This is my bar,” said Alex. “I leave when everyone leaves. Not before,”
“Stay if you want bartender,” said Smith. “I don’t care. Williams and Quaid, take the sheriff to go get Smitter.”
“I’ll also make arrangements for transporting these people off of the station,” Del said, pretending that Williams and Quaid did not flank him.
“Do what you need to, sheriff,” said Smith. “But Williams will be your new shadow, and she isn’t the forgiving sort.”
“Have a drink with me, sheriff” said Smith as he sat down across from Del.
“I don’t drink,” said Del.
“You will today,” said Smith, waving to Alex. “Set up me and the Sheriff with some Number Eighteen. Bring the bottle.”
“That’s rotgut,” said Del. “Get the good stuff Alex. If I’m drinking, it might as well be the best.”
“Number Twenty-seven coming right up,” said Alex.
“Fuck, it’s been over twenty hours,” said Smitter. “What the hell is taking so long?”
“Shut up Smitter,” said Smith.
“Yeah,” added Williams, swinging around the shotgun. “Put a sock in it.”
“She’s going to hurt someone with that,” said Del, seeing Alex bringing the bottle and two glasses.
“What do you expect,” said Smith. “She’s a rookie.”
“Rookie or no,” said Del. “She shoots somebody. We’ll have more than a minor disagreement over some disorderly conduct.”
“Williams!” shouted Smith. “Holster that damn shotgun before it goes off.”
“Should we do up another dinner?” asked Alex. “Or are we expecting to get out of here soon?”
“Fuck, let’s just have ice cream,” said Williams. “It’s getting so damn hot in here.”
“Holster it!” said Smith again. “Before you shoot somebody.”
“What the fuck is taking so long?” asked Williams, holstering her shotgun.
“We’re waiting for Coal Co to send the contract,” said Smith. “It should have been here first thing this morning.”
“I might have caused that,” said Del, smiling. “Set up dinner Alex.”
“Explain yourself,” said Smith as Alex walked away from the table.
“They aren’t coming,” said Del. Damn, I hope this works.
“What do you mean?” said Smith. Del watched as both the miners and the thugs exchanged glances.
“I intervened,” said Del. “I had someone else buy out their contracts.”
“What makes you think we’ll let them take the new terms?” said Smith, his jaw shifting from side to side.
“First off, it’s up to them,” Del said as he hooked his thumb in the direction of the table of miners.
“What makes you think we’ll take it?” said one of the miners.
“Good question,” said Del. “It’s not like you’re going to receive any better offers in the next couple of hours. Especially from Coal Co.”
“How do we know until we’ve seen it? asked another miner.
“How about an offer that includes everything you’ve been asking for?” said Del. “Could you refuse that one?”
“Hold it,” said Smith as several of the miners began speaking at once, followed by demands for silence from the thugs. “This sounds like a bluff. I don’t think you’ve done anything about this situation. As far as anyone knows, you just made this up.”
“Granted,” said Del. “It could be a bluff. Instead of guessing wrong, call your boss. I’m willing to bet that your contract with Coal Co is now null.”
Smith picked up the phone. Then looked directly at Del. “There will be hell to pay if you are lying to me.”
“Yeah, I get that,” said Del. “Check with your boss. I bet Coal Co is out of the picture.”
“The situation is now far more complicated,” said Smith, almost sneering.
“How the fuck are we going to get paid?” insisted Williams.
“Shut up Williams,” said Smith.
“What are you going to do?” asked Del.
“I didn’t want hostages,” said Smith.
“That makes no sense,” said Del. “You’ve held this whole station hostage for hours.”
“We insured they received their contract, and the strike was over,” said Smith.
“But it was a contract they didn’t want,” said Del.
“That didn’t matter,” said Smith.
“The strike is over,” said Del. “Coal Co is no longer in charge of what happens here. Lunadyne is.”
“It looks like we have hostages,” said Smith. “Else, we don’t get paid.”
“Let me make you an offer,” said Del.
“What?” asked Smith. The other mercenaries moved closer to the table.
“I’ll be your hostage,” said Del.
“Yeah,” said Del. “You don’t need any of the rest of the miners. You control the station, Lunadyne property, and me, a Lunadyne employee.”
“And then an assault team charges in,” said Smith. “No thank you.”
“What assault team?” said Del. “I’m it. Everyone else is techs or staff.”
“Yeah, Smith. Let them go,” said Quaid. “It will be easier than trying to keep our eyes on all these people.”
“I’m tired and hot,” said Williams.
“So am I,” said Smitter.
“I’ll stay too,” said Alex.
“Not this time, Alex,” said Del. “I’ve got this one. You check in on Trish, and let Doc know everything is all right. All I’ll need to do is make the call like I did last time to get a pickup for these people.”
“All right,” said Smith. “Make your call and get these people out of here.”
“Fuck,” said Williams. “I keep turning up the AC in this place and it’s blowing hot air.”
“It’s because you are doing it wrong,” said Smitter. “You should turn it down.”
“How the hell do you know?” she snapped back.
“Shut up, you two,” Smith said as he turned to Del. “Why is it so hot?”
“You’re asking me?” said Del. “I don’t know. I’m just the sheriff. They don’t fill me in on how these things work.”
“You’ve got to know how to use the AC,” said Quaid, looking skeptical.
“I don’t,” said Del. “It’s one of hundreds of systems on this station that I do not know how to use. Something must be broken.”
“Shut up,” said Smith. “All of you. We’ll just wait until this evening. It should cool off by then.”
“Never been to the Moon before?” asked Del. “Have you? Any of you?”
“What does that have to do with anything?” asked Smith.
“You know that night is eight days away,” said Del. “It’s going to be a balmy two hundred degrees outside today.”
“Fix it,” Smith said, taking direct aim with his gun at Del’s chest.
“I can’t,” said Del. “They’ve cut the flow from the radiators, which are over four kilometers distant from here.”
“Who has?” asked Smith.
“Trusted people that have every reason to stop you and what you represent to the people here.”
“I should kill you where you sit,” said Smith.
“Let me boss,” said Williams. “He’s been a pain in my ass since we got here.”
“I should let her,” said Smith, staring directly into Del’s eyes.
Del stared back, hoping not to flinch. This was the moment. Del had a strong hand, but not a perfect one. Smith still had good cards to play, but his anger helped Del.
“No,” said Smith at length, lowering his weapon. He tossed a phone to him. “You’re going to call someone to fix the AC.”
“I can’t,” said Del again, hoping his voice didn’t betray the wildly swinging emotions raging through him. “It will take twenty hours to repair the lines once they are cut. By then, it will be too late. We’ll be dead.”
“I see,” said Smith.
“Let me kill him,” said Williams.
“Shut-up Williams,” said Smith. “He dies, so do we all.”
Del sat silently as the mercenaries talked among themselves. Smith sat across from him, staring at him. Smith’s eyes seemed reddened by the rage that Del had witnessed. Del believed Smith was becoming dangerous. It would only be a matter of time before he broke.
“There is an alternative,” said Del.
“What alternative,” said Smith after some delay.
“I call for an evacuation crawler,” said Del.
“Then what?” asked Smith.
“I’ll take you to Tycho station and let you go,” said Del. “Or at least you’ll let me free. You can find your way back to Earth or wherever you are going. The Chinese or the British aren’t likely to consider you or worry about you.”
“That’s very astute,” said Smith. “They will look the other way. How do you know we’ll let you go from there?”
“I don’t,” said Del. “But mind you, I’m the only one that is getting you out of here. It’s me, or you cook.”
“You cook as well,” said Smith.
“Yes, but I have nothing to lose,” Del said. “So, us both getting out of here alive is the point. I’d appreciate a reciprocation.”
“We will see,” said Smith. “But I’ll consider your offer.”
“Don’t take too long,” said Del. “I doubt Williams can keep cool for too much longer.”
“How much longer,” groaned Williams as the hopper reached the top of its ballistic flight.
“Shut-up Williams,” said Smith, seeming to suffer from the motion. “We’re about half-way through.”
“Yeah,” said Del, also feeling the disorientation.
They stuffed the crawler to the gills with the Mercenaries, Del, and its driver, Cooter.
“Don’ y’all worry,” said Cooter. “Hootie bird has us under her wing to Tycho. Enjoy the ride.”
“Fuck,” said Williams.
“Just don’t shoot anybody,” said Quaid. “Especially the pilot.”
“I’m not,” said Williams. “Smith said stand down. I have.”
“Uh-huh,” said Quaid, his voice betraying the motion hitting his stomach. “If there were any reason to shoot, I think this would push towards it.”
“No need for y’all to be shootin’ anythin’”, said Cooter. “Y’all be at Tycho in no time.”
Del felt his inner ear go whacko. He hated zero‑G and couldn’t believe he’d agreed to a job on the Moon. But work was work–it paid far better than anything equivalent on the Earth. Until the past few days, it had been far safer.
“You aren’t planning to come back,” said Del as he turned to Smith.
“No,” Smith said. “We’ve busted out on getting paid for this, now that Coal Co has backed out of Moon mining.”
“Good,” said Del. “I seriously don’t want to see any of you again.”
“You won’t,” said Smith, laughing.
“What’s funny?” asked Del, irritated by the tone of Smith’s laugh.
“You’ve already forgotten,” Smith continued. “We work for Ninja Cranston. There is always a reckoning.”
“Del, you’ve got to come home,” said Doc. “You have to hurry.”
“On my way,” Del said to his phone. “Cooter just refueled the Hootie Bird and is about to launch. Eta is…”
“’bout a half-hour,” said Cooter.
“A half-hour,” said Del.
“Better land close to Gordenville,” said Doc. “I can’t move Trish now.”
“All good,” said Cooter. “Reprogramming descent now.”
“What’s going on?” asked Del, wishing Cooter would hurry.
“Tilly called me a little while ago,” said Doc. “It’s bad.”
The deck of the crawler suddenly pushed against Del’s feet, knocking him off balance. Hootie Bird was aloft.
The minutes counted like hours as Del watched the Moon surface race by as they lifted toward the top of the arc. What had Cranston done? How did she get to Trish?
“Set me up again,” said Del, as he knocked over the tubed glass containing a fraction of his previous drink.
“Take it easy,” said Alex. “You don’t need to go that fast.”
“Set me up,” grumbled Del. “You serve me, or I’ll have it shipped from Earth.”
“The good stuff?” asked Alex as he reached for the bottle.
“It will do. As long as it makes me numb. This sucked.”
“I wanted to thank you. This could have been bloody. That was good thinking to get Lunadyne to pick up the contracts of the miners. It left Smith without any options, except to let them go. And having Cooter and the prospectors mess with the radiators, genius.”
“You don’t get it, Alex. Trish is dead,” said Del. “And Cranston killed her.”
“But, didn’t Doc say it was complications?”
“I know what Doc said, Alex. Smith made the threat, and I ignored it. I should’ve killed all those fuckers when I had the chance.”
“Many people would have been dead,” said Alex. “Including you.”
“Just keep pouring,” said Del.
Shrugging, Alex poured another.
Granger realized that the whirlwind month had ended as he headed to the Greyhound bus, hoping to see if he could get a trip. According to the sergeant in the discharge barracks, his chances of getting a home trip to Wyoming were next to nothing. He had the Army travel voucher and four hundred bucks in cash–enough to last maybe two weeks, if his luck held.
In the hazy twilight, he made note of the limousine pulled up along the curb. Two men were shouting at each other along its far side. Granger noticed that the larger man had something clinched in his fist, threatening the smaller man. Granger crossed the street quickly and dropped his duffle-bag on the ground behind the larger man. The man turned, holding an eighteen-inch section of two-inch pipe.
“What do you want?” The large man said in a heavy Texas accent. “Mister fancy pants was about to give me a ride.”
“I don’t think he was about to do any such thing,” Granger said.
“Please, I was telling the gentleman that my driver will be just–” started the smaller man, in an almost condescending tone.
“Shut your fast-talking mouth,” the larger man said, raising the pipe.
“I’ll give you a count of one to drop that pipe,” said Granger, smelling the whisky on the other man’s breath.
The large man continued to raise the pipe and stepped toward Granger. Taking a small step forward, Granger rolled the man over his shoulder easily and twisted his arm, forcing the pipe from his grip and dropping the large man to the ground.
“Once more chance, Cowboy,” Granger said. “Take off and pick on someone else.”
The man spat and reached for the pipe. Granger put his foot on his hand, grinding it against the concrete.
“Leave it,” said Granger.
The man stood and then stumbled off, obviously drunk.
“That was quite impressive,” said the shorter man.
“There was nothing to it,” said Granger. “I hope your driver will be along in a minute and you can get out of here.”
“You see, that is the trouble.”
“You don’t have a driver.”
“No, not as of an hour ago,” said the man.
“I take it that Cowboy there wasn’t applying for the job.”
“No, that was an unfortunate misunderstanding.”
“I can drive it,” said Granger. “But I don’t have a limo license.”
“I’ll take you up on that if I cannot find one at the bus station.”
Granger picked up the duffle bag and the pipe. He tossed the pipe into a garbage bin.
“Can I get your name?” asked the man.
“Granger. Excuse me–Army the past couple of years–Stanley Granger.”
“Morris Mason. Good to meet you–what rank did you say.”
“No rank now, it seems. Yellowstone finished that off.”
“Of course, Mister Granger.”
“If I can help you find that driver now, I’m also trying to see if there is any way to get to Wyoming.”
“If you need to get to Wyoming, I’ll see that you get there.
“Thank you, sir, but–”
“Nonsense, you’ve already put yourself in my debt. It’s the least I can do,” said Morris.
“Dealing with Cowboy was not any trouble. It looked like you needed the help.”
“I insist. Let’s go in and see about a driver, Mister Granger.”
The clerk looked bored and didn’t seem to notice them walk up. “Busses are now once a week on Friday–the only destinations are Dallas and Houston,” the woman muttered, not even looking up.
“I am looking for a driver,” Morris said as Granger looked on.
“You’re looking at her, but the bus won’t be here until Friday morning.”
“I actually need the services of a driver,” continued Morris. “Would you be willing to drive us to Dallas?”
“Not unless you got a thousand bucks.”
“Now there is a deal,” Morris said. “Miss?”
“It’s just Sue,” she said.
“That seems steep,” said Granger.
“It doesn’t seem like you’re paying. Does it?” said Sue.
“Quite perceptive, Sue.” Morris said.
“I was serious, though,” she said.
“I didn’t think you were joking,” said Morris. “In fact, if you are ready to go in five minutes, I can raise it to three thousand.”
“Okay, what am I driving?” asked Sue, looking at Granger.
“The limo outside,” said Granger.
“Okay,” she said. “What are your names?”
“I’m Stanley. This is Morris.”
“Morris, the moneybags,” she said.
“Mason,” said Morris.
“Like Mason Oil?” she asked.
“None other,” said Morris.
“Really,” said Granger.
“Who did you think?” Morris asked.
“I really never considered it,” Granger answered.
“Well, now that we are all equally shocked now after an apocalypse, can we get going? I’d like to earn the three grand,” said Sue.