I take off at a sprint along the trail that runs alongside the lake, the battered old punt bouncing along noisily behind me. I figure this route is a better bet than going into the woods. The flat bottomed punt’ll slide easy over the mud and grass but I wouldn’t get far with thorns and scrub catching at the thing if I ran up the trails. The down side, of course, is that I’m a much easier shot for the redneck out here in the open.
I won’t be able to keep this pace up for long. The punt I’m tied to doesn’t feel that heavy to drag now but I know it’ll just keep getting heavier the more exhausted I become.
Two slugs pound into the side of the punt spattering aluminum splinters into the air. I figure he could have easily popped one in me already but he’s having his fun. He’s shooting at the punt to let me know he has me in his cross hairs. He’s using these shots to incentives me get up a gallop and make the chase more fun for him. What a sport. If the tables turn and I get the chance to kill him it’ll be quick and clean.
I’m going at a fair lick when the edge of the punt catches on the branch of a fallen tree. The sudden jerk of the rope sends me flying backwards. I land on my back with a thud that momentarily knocks the wind out of my lungs, and I narrowly miss cracking my skull on the edge of the punt. In the moment I’m lying with my head alongside the hull I see that the redneck’s bullets have been punching large holes into the hull of the punt. Each hole is rimmed with jagged edges, little knives that, if I get enough time, could cut through the rope. I see a long, rough slither of aluminum from a hole made right by the ring at the front of the punt where the rope is attached. I drag the punt towards the fallen tree, jump over it and pull the punt on top of me. As soon as I’m underneath I wriggle round so that I can take hold of the end of the rope near the ring and rub it hard against the jagged edge of the slither of aluminum. The rope is old and half rotted, so cuts easily. In seconds the rope is cut through. I still have my hands tied behind my back but at least I’m free of the punt. I snap off the aluminum shard, gripping it tight in my hand.
Two bullets smash through the hull of the punt into the trunk of the tree next to my head. I slide from underneath the punt and wriggle on my back as quickly and as quietly as I can. I figure the redneck still thinks I’m under the hull, and I’m a sitting duck still tethered to the punt. I’m right. I watch from the nearby scrub as round after round from the redneck’s rifle blows chunks out of the aluminum hull.
I hear him hollering from a distance, ‘Hey Jake. This ain’t no sport. Be a man. Stand up and run…I’ll give you ten more minutes. This time I’ll keep my word, I promise.’
I have nothing to gain by killing this bastard, other than from the sheer pleasure it’d give me. I’m on my feet and moving quietly through the woods in the opposite direction from where I heard his voice, hacking with the shard at the rope binding my wrists as I go. A few minutes later and my hands are free. I circle around the redneck and back towards the cabin. If my hunch is correct, his old lady will be preoccupied right now cooking up junk food for the freak show they call their kids. What’s more, I’ll bet the farm the keys are still in the ignition of the Chev.
The Chev is a dream to drive but I can’t hold on to it. I need to dump it as soon as I can, not just because it’s stuffed to the roof with the redneck’s family crap and has bikes and canoes on the roof but also because it’s riddled with bullet holes. The rear end of the vehicle is like a sieve after Ma Redneck finally got to use the MP5. When she heard the engine fire up she was out of the cabin like a rocket. I’d barely swung the Chev around before I heard the thwack-thwack of slugs peppering the tail gate and smashing the rear window. Luckily for me all the crap heaped to the ceiling in the back saved me from having my head blown off.
I cruise into the nearest point of civilization, a one-horse backwater hole called Shelbourne, time warp city. It’s taken about twenty minutes to get here but I figure I’m okay, the redneck can’t have raised the alarm yet. There’s no cell signal out by the lake, I’ve got his station wagon and the keys to the Harley are still in my pocket.
Nonetheless I need to be quick and cautious. I haven’t got my gun, wallet, I.D. and my picture’s been splashed all over the country as public enemy number one, a cop killer. What’s more, at this point in time I don’t have a friend in the world. If I land in the shit again there ain’t no cavalry troop gonna ride over the hill to save me this time.
I spot a shopping mall on the outskirts of town and pull in well away from the entrance in a quiet spot with no other vehicles around. I rummage through the junk in the back of the Chev and find clean clothes. I also find a Yankees cap, a pair of aviator sun glasses, a thick coat and a scarf. These will have to do to mask my face. I’m wearing the new get up and hunched into the coat when I enter the mall. It’s still early so there aren’t many people about, but those there are heads down and engrossed in the pursuit of their materialistic pleasure. Nobody bats an eye when I walk straight back out through the doors at the opposite entrance. I figure when the word gets to the police that there’s a shot up Chev dumped in the car park they’ll assume I’ve hot wired another vehicle and skedaddled. They’ll have road blocks everywhere in no time at all. So, I figure it’s best to stick close by for a while.
Directly opposite the mall is a hotel, a corporate type, built for high volume conference work. Perfect. The place is heaving when I get there, delegates crammed in everywhere talking business, engrossed in their own little worlds. It only takes a minute to find what I’m looking for, a small room near the business centre with three computers set on separate desk. Two are in use but the third is standing there waiting just for me. I slide into the seat and fire up the search engine. I know I can’t use the SOS or any other internal police databases. I’d need to log on with my I.D. and my details will be red flagged by now. The hotel would be surrounded in a matter of minutes. But I figure I shouldn’t need to do that. Thanks to the freedom of information laws everything I need to know right now is probably in the public domain anyway.
I start with the news. There I am, right on the front page of every site I open. They’ve released my SOS official I.D. head shot. I look quite the tough guy, every inch a cop killer. The blurb underneath tells the reader I’m extremely dangerous and I shouldn’t be approached. At least that part’s the truth.
There’s a big splash about Harvey Keen, the great statesman that he was, and his upcoming funeral. The event is to be attended by everyone that’s anyone in Washington and will take place tomorrow morning at eleven in Harvington Cemetery, an exclusive piece of parkland on the outskirts of the city where the good and the great are planted once they’ve dropped off the twig.
The spin on Harvey’s demise is that someone, the implication being me, broke into his home and murdered his kid, two gardeners and a whole bunch of other people then kidnapped Harvey. The kidnapper later went on to murder poor old Harv in a grotesque and violent way. Boo hoo! The guy writing the fairy story has dug up a bunch of big wigs that knew Harvey. Each in turn eulogizes about the guy, how he was a devoted family man, a war hero and a great public servant who no doubt one day would have risen to the highest office in the land. Not surprisingly there’s no mention of the kid being a Zyg and killing the gardener’s boy, or Harvey’s wife ripping the gardener’s stomach open with a sickle. They’d have the forensics by now and should easily have been able to figure out the truth, what actually happened. The article re-enforces my belief that someone high up in the Fibbies is spinning the facts to put me in the hot seat. The questions are who and why. If I can figure out the who part maybe I’ll find the answer to why. I know Krillik wants me dead, but, since I’ve never met the guy, what is it about me that pisses him off so much?
There’s a picture that catches my eye. It’s a group shot of a bunch of important looking people with Harvey Keen standing at the centre of them all. I look at the faces of the two men standing either side of Harvey. Something happens. I suddenly feel very uncomfortable, cold, sweaty, shaky, symptoms I’ve learnt to associate with fear. I know I need to study the faces of these two men more closely but I don’t know why. I highlight the heads and enlarge them till their three faces fill the screen. The one on the left is wearing a lounge suit, mid fifties I reckon, well groomed. The information at the bottom of the picture tells me he is Ken Proctor, Head of the Intelligence and Security Service. I know immediately I don’t need to claw my way up the hierarchy from Digby Reeve’s boss. This is the man responsible for managing the spin that’s putting me in the firing line. I just know it. Why? Because he’s standing shoulder to shoulder with Harvey.
But it’s the guy standing to the left of Harvey that’s bringing me out in a cold sweat. The blurb tells me he’s called General Terence Riddell, and he’s General of the Air Force, no less, the man responsible for firing the missiles when the button gets pressed. Why does this guy make me feel so uncomfortable? I enlarge the picture so it’s just Riddell’s face that fills the screen. I look at the image. He looks like any other Joe, cheek bones a little more proud, eyes very black, otherwise…
The pain is sudden, blinding and agonizing. It shoots through my head and I clutch my temples, pressing the heels of my hands in hard, desperate for relief. I can’t help myself. I cry out in agony, a low, guttural moan. Images run through my brain at lightening speed, too fast for me to comprehend. I have no idea who or where I am, just an animal in pain, unbearable pain. It disappears as suddenly as it arrived. I’m breathing hard, still pressing the heels of my hands into the sides of my head. My forehead is drenched in sweat and I feel dizzy and nauseous. I’m suddenly aware that someone is talking to me.
‘Are you okay?’
It’s the guy that’s using the computer next to mine. He’s standing over me. I see the guy from the other work station pouring water into a paper cup and offering it to me.
‘D’you want me to ring 911, get a doctor?’
‘It’s okay,’ I say blowing hard to fill my lungs with fresh oxygen to calm me down.
‘I can easily ring…’
‘I said it’s okay!’ I snap at the guy. Then more calmly, ‘It’s okay…really.’
Regaining control of myself I switch off the computer, push back the chair and stand up, unsteadily at first but in moments I’m back in control. I feign a sneeze, loud, nasty, and cup my hands over my nose and mouth. I hunch into my coat and say to the guys through my hands, ‘Got a flu bug coming I think. I shouldn’t have come into work. I better scoot or you guys’ll catch my bug.’
I skedaddle as quickly as I can. I don’t want these guys to take too close a look at my face. Moments later I’m in the corridor outside and heading for the restroom. It’s quiet, no one about. I find a cubicle, go inside and lock the door firmly behind me. I sit on the toilet seat and rest my head in my hands. When I’m confident there is no one else in the restroom in any of the other cubicles I give in and it starts. I have no control over it, me, the big man, ex soldier, detective in the SOS. I’m a man that has seen all kinds of shit, a real tough guy, and here I am sat on the can, crying like a baby.
After a while I stop blubbing and wipe my face with tissues to clean off the gunk. My plan has changed. I still need to track down this guy Ken Proctor. That’ll figure somewhere in my new plan but it’s no longer a priority. I need to find Jane Kreiff again, and her creepy pal Noone. That’s a priority for sure. But the most important thing I need to do is find this guy General Terence Riddell, find him and put a bullet in his head.
Because I recognize him. I know exactly who he is. How the hell I know this I can’t figure out right now.
Who is he?
I haven’t a clue as to how to get in touch with Jane. Normally she finds me, usually just in time to save my sorry ass. I know exactly where I’ll find General Terence Riddell, though. He’ll be right there at the graveside when they pop Harvey Keen into the ground. I know exactly where I need to go next. It’s a bit of a trek back to Polk and it won’t be easy, but old Pop Jefferson’s gun shop will still be a crime scene. That means it’s off limits to everyone but the cops. I know it won’t be locked and barred. Instead it’ll be protected by a couple of rolls of tape printed up with a warning, ‘Police Crime Scene – Keep Out!’ That’s enough to stop Joe public but it means it’s an open door for me. I’ll be able to get exactly what I need from his stock room.
I figure I need to boost a motor cycle for my transport. That way I’ll be traveling alone and the chances of being recognized will be reduced as I’ll have my head covered by a helmet. I leave the hotel and walk along the road towards a diner. As I approach it I see nothing but cars and pick-up trucks in the car park, but I circle round the back to the small staff car park at the rear. There it is, a trail bike, helmet resting on the seat. Perfect. The owner probably won’t know it’s missing till I’m long gone.
I pull up the stand and wheel it out of the car park as quietly as I can. When I’m clear of the building I flip the wiring and the engine’s ready, one kick and it’s purring like a cat. It hasn’t got the guts of the Harley but it’ll handle any rough terrain I might have to cross to avoid any road blocks a lot better than the big machine would. I take back roads and it’s slow going but I reach Polk at dusk. I’m cold and hungry but daren’t risk a diner. I grab a burger and coffee from a Quick-Bite without any problems, and scoot off to a quiet park to eat the meal and wait for dark. It’s chew-sip-think for the next hour. I enjoy the much needed chew and sip, but I’m frightened by the think.
It’s impossible to believe what Noone said to me. I am Jake Redwood and always have been. I remember everything significant about my life, my folks, growing up, my time in the army, getting married and the tragedy of losing my wonderful wife to a Zyg. I know these things happened to me. I know I’m a human. I’m not an alien, a Torp, here to assist in the total obliteration of mankind from the planet.
Yet I instinctively knew the man I was looking at in that picture was Krillik. I’d stake my life on it. How could I have known that? I can’t think of any rational explanation other than that Noone was telling the truth. Am I an alien? Was Jane right? Was it me that called in the air strike on the portal shuttle site? If I am, then why are the memories I have of being Jake Redwood so vivid, my reality? Why are there no memories of my life as an alien?
I finish the last of the burger meal worth eating, screw up the packaging and throw this conundrum into the litter bin with the remnants of the meal. The whole thing is crazy. I’m mentally exhausted and not thinking straight, that’s all. I’m not an alien. It’s too ridiculous to contemplate. I’ll figure it all out later after I’ve put a shell through the head of General Terence Riddell.
I cut the engine of the trail bike at the end of the street a hundred yards away from the gun shop and wheel the machine slowly down the road, taking in everything I see, looking for danger. I feel comfortable by the time I put the bike on its stand in the street outside the store.
It’s a piece of cake breaking into Pop Jefferson’s store, no cops on guard and no one hanging around, just some tape to cut through. Inside I keep as quiet as I can as I go through the guns on display and select the equipment I need. First of all I pick up a Beretta 92FS and a box of bullets. I’ve been feeling distinctly naked without my old one. Next I choose the best sniper rifle old Pop has in stock, a .338 Lapua Magnum with a good scope and a TiTan-TI silencer, not top of the range but it’ll do the job. I grab a box of shells and a gun bag and high tail it out of there before some nosey parker hears me rummaging around.
Back on the street I sling the bag over my shoulder, fire up the bike and head back to the quiet park. I find the remotest spot I can, slide the gun sack off my back and lay it on the ground. Still astride the trail bike I lean down, unzip the bag and take out the Beretta and the slugs. I slide out the clip, open the box of bullets, load it up and snap it back inside the butt but don’t push it home. It’s deathly quiet so I notice the snaps and clicks from me testing the gun’s firing mechanism sound louder than normal. When I’m happy the gun’s in working order I snap in the clip.
In the silence that follows I catch a noise that sends a shiver of fear through my body like a lightning strike. The noise is the padding of small feet on the ground heading towards me at speed. As I turn I just have time to see the Zyg as it hits me in the face full force with its head, teeth biting at my face in a frenzied attack. The sheer ferocity and force of the blow sends me flying backwards, the trail bike falling on its side and trapping my leg underneath it. The creature’s teeth smash through the visor of the crash helmet I’m wearing, its jaws clashing together, its hands tearing at the skin around my neck as the beast frantically tries to eat my eyes.
The body kicks and bucks as it flies through the air, landing on its back a couple of yards away from me. I twist around as best I can with the trail bike pinning me to the floor. I can see the Zyg writhing and bucking, but it’s not dead. It somehow struggles to its feet, blood pouring from its stomach where I’d planted the slug. This one takes the form of a boy about six years old. It’s eyes are blazing with wild fury as it looks at me lying trapped on the ground. The Zyg lets out a blood curdling scream before it leaps at me again.
The slug hits the creature mid air and its head bursts open, showering me with its blood and brains, the remains of its body thudding into the front wheel of the trail bike.
All is quiet again. I can swear there’s more adrenaline than blood flowing through my veins right now. I lie there still for a while, listening for any sounds that might spell danger. Nothing. No cops sirens, no screaming women, no born leader running into the park with a gun to save me. The town is used to hearing screams in the night, the death cry of some poor sucker attacked by a Zyg, some dumb fool that ventured out after dark that got what he deserved for not following the night time safety rules.
After a few minutes I start working on releasing my trapped leg. It takes a massive effort but I manage to lift the bike far enough off the ground to wriggle my leg free. I stand up, slide off the shattered helmet and breathe in the sweet night air. I’ve survived another Zyg attack. I decide it’s nothing more sinister than that, a random night attack by a Zyg on the hunt. I’ve been lucky again, unlucky to be in the wrong place, sure, but lucky to have a loaded gun in my hand at the time…and oh, so very, very lucky to have been wearing a crash helmet.
It’s an hour after daybreak. I find a deserted spot by the river in a country park and check out the rifle just as the sun rises on another beautiful day. I set up a target, an empty Bud bottle I found on the way there. I set it on its side and walk five hundred strides back along the river bank. It takes about ten shots to fine tune the cross hairs on the telescopic sight but when I’m happy with it I’m confident I can put a shell through Krillik’s eye at five hundred yards. I pack up the gun and head for the cemetery.
I take a guess that there won’t be crazy security and it looks like I’m right. I can see where the preparations have been made for Harvey’s burial, the grave freshly dug, a lectern set up alongside it, and a few rows of chairs laid out for the good and the great. As Harvey was an ex military man I expect there’ll be soldiers in their best kit lining up to give him a farewell volley, but they’ll be loading blanks. Apart from a few cops there’ll be no heavy duty hardware around. So, I should be able to get a clean shot in then skedaddle without a SWAT team on my tail before Krillik’s head hits the deck.
I find the perfect spot. It’s a patch of bushes within the rifle’s range, about five hundred yards from where the burial will take place. The woodland is thick and difficult to see into, so I should be able to take my time to line up the shot without the risk of some passer by hollering sniper. The ground is dew damp under the bushes as I lie down and set up the rifle on its bipod. When it’s all set up I check the area through the scope to make sure I haven’t missed anything. I move the barrel from left to right, keeping the scope focused as I sweep through the vista.
Something I see throws me momentarily off balance. There in the corner of the car park the other side of the graveyard is a vehicle I recognize, a beat up old RV. I’ve got company. The question is, ‘what the fuck are they doing here?’
I scan the area through the scope but can’t see hide nor hair of my two erstwhile compatriots. I check my watch. It’s just after nine. It said in the article I read that the service would begin at eleven that morning. Folks are starting to arrive, workmen first, preparing the graveside and decorating the area around the lectern with flowers, then a trickle of dignitaries. I recognize some of their faces, not from recent events but guys I’ve seen in the papers or on TV, politicians, movers and shakers. I sit tight and wait.
I’m thinking like a detective, just like Jane told me to. I figure my target will be last on the scene. Harvey doesn’t have a grieving wife. His little lady tore the guts out of their gardener with a sickle before Jane blew her away. He leaves behind no heartbroken children either. His only child cut the head off the gardener’s boy then chewed his face to shreds before getting her own head blown off with a shotgun. So the funeral cortege will have close friends and relatives of the deceased in the first couple of Limos following the hearse. Krillik, being such an important man, will be in amongst them.
It’s just before ten thirty that the hearse slides slowly through the gates of the cemetery and up to the graveside, a chain of Limos tucked in behind. Now there’s security, guys walking briskly alongside the hearse and the front two cars. They look like FBI at first, but a close look through the scope tells me the two alongside the second Limo are Dreeks. My man is here. I push a shell into the chamber and start to breathe real slow and shallow.
I focus tight on the rear window of the second Limo and spot Krillik. He’s not alone. I recognize the man sitting next to him. It’s Ken Proctor, the head of the FBI. Krillik is sitting my side of the Limo, and Proctor the other. Perfect. I should get a clean shot when he gets out and stands up and should have enough time to take a pop at Proctor as well. One of the Dreeks opens the Limo door Krillik’s side and he starts to shuffle out. There are no obstructions and I have him in my crosshairs. He’s as good as dead.
Then from out of nowhere it hits me. As soon as Krillik’s head is outside the Limo, a scorching pain like white hot needles shoots through my brain. The shock and the intensity are almost overwhelming and I need every ounce of my strength and will power to fight to stay conscious. My head is spinning and I feel I’m going to vomit. I know I might never get this chance again, Krillik at the business end of my gun, so I fight the pain with all my strength.
I grip the stock of the rifle and press my eye against the scope. I see Krillik, now upright, standing beside the Limo, a perfect target. To my horror he is looking straight at me! He raises his arm and points at me, straight down the lens of the scope. He knows exactly where I am. I see the Dreeks either side of him look over to where he’s pointing, pull their guns from their jackets and take off towards me at a sprint. Krillik quickly turns and opens the Limo door, barking orders at the driver. As he leaps back inside the Limo and slams the door closed I squeeze the trigger.
I only have time for one shot before the Limo is on the move, screeching off towards the cemetery gates. I know I’ve made a kill. It was a clean head shot. I saw the bastard’s body jerk backwards and the top of his head fly off. In the quick glimpse I get when the Limo spins round I see blood and brains splattered all across the inside rear window and door. I track the Limo through the scope as it races away, now out of range of the rifle. My blood turns to ice. As it swings onto the road outside, I see Krillik staring straight at me out of the Limo’s rear window, his eyes full of hate burning into mine. Ken Proctor, head of the FBI, lies dead on the seat beside him.
The intense pain in my head is suddenly gone but I barely have the strength to stand up. My attention has been totally on the Limo and my one shot at Krillik. I’m lying flat on my stomach on the ground, the rifle still in my hands. I close my eyes and curse. I had failed. This may have been the only chance I would ever get to rid the planet of Krillik. When I open my eyes again I know it’s time to pay the penalty for my failure. I’m exhausted. At this moment I haven’t the strength to carry on with the fight. I accept my fate as I look up at the two Dreeks standing over me, their guns pointing straight at my head.
End Of Part Nine