Harris drove the clunky land tank back towards Anthill. He ignored the camera monitors scattered around the cockpit, no one was around for kilometers and Harris knew it. James had showed him how to operate it, but the veteran scout would’ve been fine without the young mechanic’s insight.
The radio squawked as he yelled into the handle, “Oasis Team, this is Hard Ass! I got raiders moving—” Harris cut the transmission and dropped the handle to the floor. One of the scouts jumped on the radio demanding more information. James had already informed him how he’d track the tank, so Harris wasn’t worried about being found.
For the last decade and a half, Harris hasn’t enjoyed anything in his life. Feeling the absolute power and sense of invincibility inside the tank, the older man could almost remember a time when this drive would make him smile uncontrollably. Too bad.
Harris gathered his backpack, opened the cockpit window, and steered the tank towards a gathering of stone pillars nearby. He narrowed his eyelids for the rushing warm winds and sand as he made sure the control sticks would stay on course. Satisfied, Harris climbed out the side of the cockpit and onto the roof.
Staying low, Harris carefully walked down the backside of the tank. The rear slope almost touched the ground. Harris easily caught his balance after barely jumping forward. Glancing back and forth, he made sure the tank stayed on course as he walked his way over to a nearby hill with more pillars and lifeless white trees.
Before settling in, Harris watched the tank run head on into one of the skinnier stone pillars in the hills. The tank crashed with a thunderous echo and a cloud of dust. Surprised, Harris slightly raised his eyebrows as the pillar leaned forward and gradually fell apart before all the pieces rained over the tank. Harris could feel the earth shake and turned away as the small sandstorm blew over him.
Turning back to the northwest, Harris let his backpack slide to the base of a thick tree trunk. He followed it down by taking a knee and waited for the cloud of sand to settle for ten minutes or so. Harris gauged the distance between himself and the tank, guessing it was about a two minute walk or less.
The veteran scout unbuttoned his pack and removed a black, synthetic rifle stock. Inside the hollowed polymer stock, Harris removed the rest of the rifle and began to fasten the twelve pieces together. Finished in a few seconds, Harris was locked and loaded with five rounds in the clip. He had to squint to use the miniature scope, but after all the hits and bumps it had ever taken, Harris had never had to readjust the sights.
Roughly judging the distance he had driven, Harris figured a rescue party would reach him in an hour. An hour and twenty if they’re cautious. Harris let the rifle rest on the ground and lean against the tree. He also pulled off his faded green jacket and laid it flat on the ground at his dropped knee.
He reached into the bag for a palm-sized, chrome cylinder and unscrewed the cap. Carefully, he shook some jerky bits into his hand and sucked one into his mouth. He let his saliva help soften the already juicy bit of meat to help chew it.
In his back pocket, Harris removed a white dew rag and tied it over his bald scalp. After a few minutes, he tossed another piece of soft jerky in his mouth and worked on slowly chewing it. His mind began to wander, thinking about the several alternate scenarios that could unfold in the midst of his ambush attempt.
His mind wandered to a common thought Harris had been wondering for a while. How did Nati of all people find Daniel? She’s what, twenty-something? Maybe the sheriff’s in her pocket, or anyone else indebted to her family’s bank. That could be half of Anthill or better.
Harris racked his brain for two hours, keeping an eye on the surrounding desert hills and noting the subtle drop in temperature. His blemished black wristwatch read six twelve p.m. Floating above the distant heatwaves, Harris squinted to see the top of a rising dust trail.
Grunting slightly, Harris lowered his chest to his jacket until he lay flat on the south side of his hill. Wonder if Linda’s with ‘em. Any other youngin’ woulda been here in half the time. Aiming at the bumpy horizon, Harris searched for the tank’s tracks and followed them left until his hilltop hid them from view.
By the time Harris inserted his ear plugs, he saw an enclosed buggy enter his scope. The driver had slowed considerably, managing to lose their dust trail. Harris’ scope was accurate, but his vision had blurred in the past few years. Shoulda got glasses. Daniel always thought glasses were cute.
Harris recognized the passenger, Tommy, the scruffy sniper he had chatted with earlier in the day. He imagined the driver was his sniping partner, Didn’t catch her name.
The driver stopped the vehicle nearly straight ahead of Harris. The passenger pressed his finger against his window. Harris imagined he spotted his boot tracks. Good eye.
If they found his tracks, Harris imagined they’d spot his position before too long. Harris clicked off the safety and pulled the trigger. His rifle was a .223 caliber loaded with diamond tipped rounds and more gunpowder than a typical shell.
Harris quickly readjusted from the recoil and saw that both driver and passenger had their heads bowing forward. The buggy resumed to drift forward, appearing to veer away from Harris’ position. There also seemed to be movement in the backseat.
Shit. He ignored the steady ache in his collar bone and strained to double-check the rear window. Harris removed an ear plug and listened. No more vehicles, shoulda checked for that first, dammit.
Killing Daniel had affected Harris more than he ever would’ve thought. Lately, he realized he wasn’t thinking as far ahead as he usually did. Time flew by faster as well, and he was drinking liquor like he was thirty years younger.
A bead of sweat trickled down his brow. Come on, get your head on straight old man.
Shadows were getting longer, and the buggy was rolling further away. “Fuck.” Harris threw his coat on, slung his pack on and started trudging forward. He tried to move slowly enough to monitor the back seat through his scope; still not catching any movement.
Harris put the rifle in his left hand and started a light jog with a steady limp. Goddamn right knee. The veteran closed the distance quickly once the buggy started rolling uphill past the toppled pillar and tank. He made was in the shade of the large hill, amongst the debris, unsure of the closest vamp nest.
He thought back to his final confrontation with his former lover. Was Daniel controlling the feral vamps? Do blue eyes trump red? Harris couldn’t wait to find the next blue eye and find out. He still couldn’t believe Nati found Daniel before himself. The young woman was resourceful beyond her years, connected to more people than Harris ever could. Access to her network was the only reason he did her dirty work so willingly.
Harris had lost count of how many lives he had taken for Nati, Sheriff Cliff and any other high-sitting member of Anthill. Nati had only recently gained enough power to be considered an elite, Harris figured there were a lot more people in town that knew about the blue eyed vamps. Maybe I’m working for the wrong person. Maybe someone else knows exactly where the blue bastards hang their hats.
Changing handlers at this point wouldn’t matter much to Harris. Anthill was just the latest town he’d moved to, and he knew he’d killed more people than its council had ever ordered. Daniel had partaken as well, just two mercenaries with a dream of killing their way to the top. As far as guilt or remorse, any kill to Harris by now was a drop of water in a very large bucket.
He limped his way through the small boulders surrounding the mangled tank. The buggy’s tires had stopped spinning; the front bumper was touching the base of another stone pillar. Harris unbuckled his four-barrel shotgun from his hip. Training it in the center of the buggy, he was ready to snap in any direction as he stepped closer and closer to the vehicle.
Gradually approaching the rear passenger side window, Harris saw someone lying on the seat, fumbling with something on the floor. None of his shotgun shells were designed to shoot through the reinforced resin, so he buckled it back to his belt. He also took his time to roll his earplugs back in.
The young scout was struggling to reassemble his semiautomatic pistol. His barrel was inside the slide, but his spring had somehow been bent all to hell. He was getting close. Harris rose his rifle to his collar and tilted the scope to the side. Loosely aiming through the reinforced window, Harris saw the young man freeze as he made eye contact.
What’s another drop in the bucket?
The shot gently rocked the buggy. Harris rotated his now-bruised shoulder. Through the cracked window, he watched the young man gasp for air and try to aim his disassembled pistol back at Harris. The older scout scanned the horizon as he tried to control his heavy breathing.
Certain no one was around, Harris removed his earplugs and rested his rifle against the buggy. He opened the passenger door and dragged Tommy out to the sand. The exit wound in Tommy’s skull was a little smaller than Harris’ fist. He checked the corpse and tossed Tommy’s knife, pistol and two spare magazines back in his seat. Seeing a pack on the floor, Harris didn’t expect to find much else. After judging Tommy’s boots to be too small, Harris left the body alone.
Harris lifted Tommy’s seat forward and began the long process of dragging the body out of the back seat. Still panting from the jog, the job was taking longer than it should have. Eventually moving the scout out of the vehicle, Harris barely had the energy to search, and nearly kicked the boy for not having anything.
On the driver side, the door’s window was mildly cracked, but completely splattered red with pink chunks. He opened the door to let the driver’s body fall out of the buggy on its own. Between the exit wound and the splatter from the passenger, Harris wasn’t sure if this woman had been Tommy’s partner or not. He thought she might have been wearing the same pants and boots, but he hadn’t been paying that much attention.
Regardless, Harris searched her body and found nothing but a switchblade and extra magazines for her fifty caliber rifle. He tore off the woman’s t-shirt and cleaned off the inside of the windshield and the door’s window. Going further down the door, he noticed the woman’s revolver holstered beneath the door handle. He smudged as much blood off of the piece as he could and ejected the cylinder. Thirty-eight special hollow point, not bad.
Harris wiped off the blood droplets left on the seat and steering wheel before finally getting in. He leaned over and flipped Tommy’s pack open. The scavenger unraveled a clean cloth from a shiny green apple and set it in his lap. He flipped out his new switchblade and began cutting the apple in thin slices.
He reached outside for his rifle and removed the barrel extension so he could fit it on the passenger seat. Then he grabbed his pack and set it on the floor next to Tommy’s. Harris closed the door and backed the buggy down off the hill. He drove back towards the oasis and checked his watch. Few hours before sundown. He knew the vamps would smell his bloody vehicle a kilometer away. Might even help me out.