James felt a wave of relief when Tate and Mike unshackled his wrists from the ceiling. The enclosed trailer was still shifting back and forth. He still hadn’t recovered from the enthusiastic beating from Tate. The small room was spinning, James was sure his nose was broken, and he could only see from his right eye.
Without the shackles, James had nothing to balance him. Neither Tate nor Mike had made an effort to catch James as he fell straight to the floor. The bruised young man thought he heard laughing echo through the trailer. He was hoisted onto a bench before he could pass out again.
Tate gave James a few solid slaps, “Come on James, old buddy. We gotta get you ready to go.”
Someone’s voice reverberated, “He can’t even stand. Take someone else.”
James couldn’t sit upright either. He struggled to keep himself from sliding off his seat. Tate apparently took notice and held James’ face against the metal wall. James stopped sliding.
Tate replied, “This guy was with Deborah when we all met. I had a gun to her face, and James was half a kilometer away. He could’ve let me kill her, but he didn’t. Old Jimmy here limped back like the pussy whipped bitch he is.” Tate halfheartedly waved to the other prisoners, “We don’t even know if Deborah knows any of those fuckers.”
James rolled his eye. She knows them better than me.
The same voice answered, “Very well.”
Tate and the larger Mike yanked James to his feet again. As they walked to the back, Tate asked, “How the fuck are we going to take out Gian? He’s got a goddamn cannon on that tank-cart.”
The trailer’s gate opened, flooding the large box with light. James flinched, unable to make out any more faces that he passed. He had heard mention of prisoners, but James had been in and out of consciousness for too long to keep his head on straight. Who else made it?
Overpowering sunlight faded away to a rushing cloud of sand, and behind it was a pickup truck. James had been working on the red rust bucket for years. He strained to make out the driver, but ultimately didn’t recognize her. Fuckers stole our cars. Shoulda guessed that.
Tate yelled over the wind, “Why aren’t we stopping?”
Mike yelled back, “If we stop, we won’t catch up again.”
“Oh yeah. Well what about him? Are we throwing him?”
“No. We’ll jump together, ain’t that right James?”
James tilted his head to look at the broad red haired man, “Can’t.”
Mike shrugged back, “Anyone got some juice?”
Tate almost let James fall so he could shove Mike, “You wanna heal this shit stain?”
“Just a bit.”
Juice? What the hell?
After a moment, Mike held a clear container with a straw up to James’ mouth. The water inside had a white cloud swirling inside of it. “Drink up Jimmy.”
James scoffed, “Fuck you.”
Mike replied with a right hook.
The world hadn’t been steady before, now James felt like a piece of paper in a sandstorm. Someone braced his head, but it didn’t help much. Then he felt them squeeze his mouth shut over a piece of plastic and flood his mouth with water. He wanted to spit it out, but James found that his body was already demanding more.
Pounding pulses in James’ head were slowly fading. Along with the fading migraine, the mechanic’s vision was returning to his left eye. His legs were finding solid ground and breathing didn’t hurt as badly.
He could clearly hear Tate say, “Hey, Mikey, I think he likes it.”
Mike yanked the bottle away, “He’s had enough. I don’t want him too healthy.”
Tate pulled James to his feet, “Good call.”
James twisted his head to peek over his shoulder. He noticed that no one else was letting the sunlight touch them. Squinting, he thought he could make out the prisoners. Linda, Jake and Tess?
Mike’s large palm shoved James forward, “Don’t worry, we’ll chain you up again if you want.”
James wanted to spit back a smartass comment, but stopped himself. He wasn’t as hurt as he was, but James tried to make it sound like he was still in grievous condition. With a continued wobble to his stance, James answered with a hoarse voice, “What did I drink?”
Tate ziptied James’ hands behind his back, and yelled over the rushing wind and sand, “It’s the shit ain’t it? We call it leech juice.”
James tried to puzzle that out, but he was already being forced into a run with Tate and Mike linked under his cuffed arms. From the trailer to the pickup’s hood, it wasn’t a long jump, less than a meter. James felt like the leap was in slow motion and that he would die for every nanosecond his feet were in the air.
Landing with a series of thuds, James had had no way of softening the impact of his torso with the windshield. He groaned and dislodged something with a violent cough. James managed a grin as he realized that Tate was wiping bloody mucus off of his face.
Tate snarled, but Mike was already dragging James over the roof. James tried to look around for his bearings, but every horizon looked the same. Shallow, mostly even dunes rippled in every direction. No vegetation or even rocks to point out. The only break in scenery was the dust trail from the trucks.
Mike and Tate jumped into the pickup’s bed; someone slapped the roof. With that, the truck sped off to the right of the trailer. James sat upright against the tailgate, watching a man with striking blue eyes shut the trailer’s gate. Was he steaming, like a vamp?
A shiver ran down James’ spine. The idea of organized vampires was new to him. Bedtime stories of blue eyed vamps were suddenly rushing back into his memory. If you see a blue eyed stranger in the night, you’ll never see sunrise. James didn’t have much moisture in his mouth, but he still gulped.
The pickup rushed past the truck and trailer. James broke out of his daze long enough to study the vehicle. The eighteen wheeler was in remarkable shape. Searching for rust spots proved futile. He could hear the steady, dull bass-like pulse of heavy duty batteries in the hood as he passed.
James searched the bed of the pickup. His people had stocked the truck with all of the Red Bone tribe’s guns, ammunition, melee weapons, jeep batteries, tools and around a dozen crates of canned goods. Everything was under a tight brown netting adjacent to the cab. James and his escorts stayed next to the tailgate which had been left clear. Surprised they didn’t move this stuff to the big truck.
Staring through the truck cab, James could see another sand cloud ahead. He turned around to see the other truck gradually fall behind. Turning back, James was hoisted to his knees by Tate, who had just drawn a pistol to James’ temple.
Facing the afternoon sun, James looked back to the truck ahead. A smooth white buggy was slowing down. Its black windshield curved from the front wheels to halfway across the roof and curled around the sides just as far. The edgeless vehicle slowed down until the driver was behind the tailgate, but ahead of the dust trail.
James couldn’t see a door handle, and quickly assumed that it opened like a cockpit. He was even more impressed by the single barreled turret that emerged from a seamless hatch on the roof. The mechanic almost chuckled. The gun looked small at first, but James guessed it was either bored for something close to fifty caliber rounds. The barrel seemed to be aimed at Tate.
Mike stood behind James, and a familiar voice sounded through a radio, “Michael, Tate, James, how are you?”
Mike answered, “What the fuck are you thinking? You’re turning on your people for some red eyed stick figure?”
Tate yelled, “Let me talk to him!”
“Not yet kid,” Mike continued, “All right Gian, I’ve been authorized to offer you a trade. Let us have the truck back, then the five of y’all and the four prisoners can claim this here pickup, and be on your merry fuckin’ way.”
Gian feigned enthusiasm, “And we’re free to go? Oh my! You are too kind!”
Mike laughed back, “Neal says you’ll get a six hour head start after the trade.”
“You should’ve started with that. Now I believe you.”
“So we have a deal?”
“Fuck no. You hear me Neal? Fuck you.”
James heard another stern voice answer, “Gian, did you find out the doctor is working for me yet? Or Claire? Or just about anyone else you thought was on your side?”
No one spoke for several seconds. James saw that they were making ground on Deborah’s truck ahead. Now what are we dealing with Deb?
Gian finally responded, “How long did you have Stevens?”
Neal answered, “About a week ago, but I’ll consider last night his official crossover. How does that make you feel?”
Gian paused again, “I am going to kill you.”
“I’ll be waiting Volonte.”
Silence took hold once more. James, still on his knees, looked back and forth between Tate and Mike. Neither seemed to know what to do next.
Mike’s unsteady voice asked, “Orders? Sir?”
“Try talking to someone else.”
“Yes sir.” Mike climbed over the tarp to tap the cab’s rear window, and pointed ahead.
James asked Tate, “So what’s the plan? Kill Deb and those other people to get your truck back?”
“Tate, you seem like an idiot, but I’m guessing you at least know you’re working for vamps.”
“It’s a partnership ass lips.”
“Fair enough. What about this vamp with the shiny mini-tank? Why is he helping Deb and a few humans escape the others?”
Mike interrupted, “Shut up, or I break your jaw.”
James narrowed his eyes.
Mike shrugged, “I don’t have duct tape.”
James stared back at Tate. Come on kid, use your shriveled brain here.
Tate walked behind James and sat down. James watched Gian’s shiny black and white buggy bounce along with the truck. The turret on the roof seemed to be aimed upward at Mike now. James didn’t have much else to do but watch Deborah’s truck get closer.
After a few minutes, James was close enough to see Deborah open the rear gate of the trailer. They made eye contact; time seemed to stand still. James felt like he had just woken from a nightmare, only to dream through another one. He remembered when he couldn’t think of a way to tell Tsara what had happened to Deborah, now it would be even worse the other way. She’ll kill me.
The pickup sped along the side of the trailer, its cab just ahead of the trailer’s rear bumper. Deborah motioned the driver to stop. James saw a little boy latching onto Deborah’s leg. What the hell? She hates kids.
James looked at James, who was suddenly smiling and waving, with his pistol. The boy recoiled after the wave, and James could clearly see how upset Tate was. James spoke only loud enough to Tate to hear, “Yeah, looks like he wants to go back.”
Tate didn’t react, which worried James.
Deborah yelled, “Gian told me about the deal. Who do they have James?”
“Linda, Jake and Tess.” He yelled, but tried to make himself sound weak again.
Deborah nodded to Mike, “How can we trust you?”
The big man shrugged towards Gian, “You have the most fire power here. We just want the truck back.”
“Gian said the kids were primary. Said the man in charge would prefer the truck overturned with a bullet in their mom’s head.”
James raised an eyebrow to Tate. The teenager looked very angry.
Tate joined the conversation, “Mike? Is that true?”
“You heard what I heard man. Gian’s just making shit up.”
Tate kept his pistol on James’ face and stood up. He yelled, “Tommy! It’s gonna be okay bud! I’m going to save you from the scary vampers, okay?”
Before James could react, Tate threw him completely to the floor of the bed, and fired two quick shots at Mike. The big man tripped onto the tarp and flailed for his thigh holster. Tate put another bullet in Mike’s face, and then pointed his gun at the back of the driver’s head.
Two shots seemed excessive, but James wasn’t going to complain. He saw Tate drag Mike away from the rear window and tried to open it to slide in. It was stuck, so Tate shot it and climbed in over the shattered glass.
All James could think was, This kid’s a fuckin’ mess.