Day 349, 1009 hours
Bridgend Industrial Park, Bridgend, SCMike's Outfit
Mike walked out onto the roof of the main building at TRC Oil, following Silas. The day had already been an eventful one out in the woods, but now it seemed the action had moved into town. The first thing he noticed was how warm it was even five stories up. It was hard to believe it was the middle of November and the temperature had to be in the mid-70s. It had been much cooler this morning when he and the others got up before dawn to do some hunting. Already he’d shed his coat and watch cap. But that was fall here in the Deep South. He turned his attention from the weather to the situation at hand. Dave, who was supposed to be providing overwatch while they fueled up the vehicles, had sent Silas to get him. Another stranger in town. Ever since the episode with Los Dementes, that immediately put everyone on alert. Even though Art still pushed a policy of hospitality -- with caution, of course -- most of the group were wary enough to just let folks wandering through be. Only in special circumstances did they approach. The last time was the guy Art found in the bakery on Highway 99. He chose not to stay, and no one really regretted it in the least. If they looked to be trouble, the group kept watch until they left or other actions were needed.
“Sure it was one guy?”, Mike asked Silas as he slipped the Savage off his shoulder. He’d selected the 7mm Remington to go hunting with rather than his M1A.
“That’s what he said. We watched him for ten...maybe twelve minutes. Didn’t see nobody else.” Dave was standing on the northwest corner of the building, peering towards town with a pair of binoculars. A cigarette dangled from the corner of his mouth.
“Where is he?”, the former teacher asked.
“Over in the park...sitting on the swing sets,” Dave replied and pointed. “Looks like he found himself a bottle of hooch and is makin’ tha best of it. Lucky bastard.”
Rollins Park was roughly 250 yards away, across a trailer yard and an overgrown field. Once it had been Bridgend’s largest recreational center. It had a playground, a walking trail, a bike path, several picnic areas, and even a couple of interpretive kiosks located underneath fancy gazebo-type structures. The basketball courts were popular for the teenagers before the outbreak, and Mike had been many times taking Emily back and forth to tennis lessons. Now, it was just another sad piece of a crumbling society. Mike dropped to one knee and used the steel rail along the roof’s edge as a rest for his rifle. Using the powerful Nikon scope, it only took him a couple of seconds to spot the man. He was a big fellow, barrel-chested with almost no neck it seemed. He had a huge salt-and-pepper beard with hide much of his facial features. The hat he wore had half of the brim pinned back, similar to what an Aussie might wear. The gray overalls and coat he had on were filthy...much like his general appearance. Just as Dave had said, the stranger had found himself a liter of some kind of brown liquor. In Mike’s crosshairs, he drank...he swung...and he sang.
Dave chuckled again. “Takin’ a break from tha end of the world. Hell...it’s five o’clock somewhere still.”
“He looks like a dirty Santa Claus without the outfit,” Silas chimed in. He’d brought a smaller pair of binoculars with him. “I don’t see anybody else.”
“Nor do I,” Mike replied. He scanned all along the park that he could see and even gave a few of the buildings further down the road a good looking-over. “I guess that’s his big-ass backpack there on tha merry-go-round. I don’t even see a weapon.”
As was his way, Dave picked the wrong moment to play instigator. Mike had become his favorite target over the last couple of weeks, although no one was certain why. Mike figured it was because Dave saw him as a threat, both personally since the former teacher-soldier never backed down from him and to his supposed position in the hierarchy of the compound. While everyone else had lauded Mike’s contributions to saving the Warehouse, Dave had singled him out for blame. He had been quick to point out that Mike had brought both Samuel and Anna back to the compound, which inevitably lead Los Dementes to their door. It was pure bullshit, but Dave continually grumbled about it to whoever he could -- whether they were in agreement or not. In typical Cleyburne fashion, Mike had ignored him for the most part. But Dave was becoming more and more vocal, plus more personal in his attacks on Mike’s character. “So whatcha gonna do…Mikey
?”, Dave taunted. “We lettin’ this one pass or you gotta bring him home too, huh? Maybe he ain’t gotta gang of maniacs that’ll want ta come play with us.”
Mike took a deep, cleansing breath but didn’t move from his spot. It didn’t work. Dave was in desperate need of being put in his place. Art was only going to be able to keep the peace so long. “I’ll go down and see if he’s just passin’ through,” he finally said...much more calmer than he was feeling. He stood up, walked over to Dave, and practically threw the rifle into his chest. “You think you can cover me and Silas from here...or do I need ta ask Camila to do it?” It was a deliberate shot at the mechanic’s chauvinistic nature. The two men exchanged hateful looks before Mike decided the playground antics were a waste of time. They were on a collision course and it was just a matter of who flinched first.
He’d left instructions for the others to join him and Silas once the vehicles were refueled. They took the Subaru and drove up to the park, which was on Long Branch Road near the junction of Highway 215. Even in the newer cars diesels were a bit loud, so Silas cut it off and coasted the last 50 yards or so. Mike got out and looked around. He didn’t see any other people -- living or not -- lurking about. He decided to take a page from Art’s book and approach the man in a more non-threatening way. That meant leaving the heavy firepower in the car. Between the .45 and the khurki, he should be able to handle anything that popped up. Besides, Silas would be there to back him up. Dave...well, he wouldn’t count on him even if the shit did hit the fan. “OK...nice ‘n easy. Why don’t you take up position by tha gazebo. It’s good cover and ya should be able to watch me and the road from there. Don’t approach till I give ya the ‘all-clear’ signal.”
“You got it. Be careful,” Silas said in a low voice. He crouched over and trotted off.
Mike eased his way over to the playground. He decided to approach from the side instead of from behind. While the later choice gave him the element of surprise and more evasion options, it could also startle the man and trigger unnecessary conflict. Plus, Mike would have a better view of what the man was doing coming from the side, whether he was armed, and so forth. He paused by a big azalea bush. The stranger was even bigger up close. He had to be six-five or six-six and well over 350 pounds. The “gray” coloring to his attire was actually duct tape, which was wrapped around every stitch of clothing. Toss in the beard and the hat, and he was quite the sight. He was steady knocking back swallows of Southern Comfort, poking the ground with a home-made walking stick, and singing. Actually, slurring would have been a better word. Mike could still make it out, however -- I Drink Alone
by George Thorogood. He then took a better look at the man’s backpack. It was one of those heavy-duty expedition types, bright red and well-used. It was backed to the gills and had all kinds of necessities hanging off it. A small frying pan. A lantern. A fishing pole broken into three sections. An industrial respirator. The only weapon he saw was an old hatchet that had been sharpened numerous times and needed a new handle.
One final look around revealed no dangers. “Howdy. Hope I’m not disturbin’ ya,” Mike said as he casually walked nearer. His hand wasn’t too far from the pistol, regardless.
The stranger kind of jerked his head back and pushed the brim of his hat up with the end of the bottle. He stared at Mike for a moment before giving him a big, dopey smile that even the scraggily beard couldn’t hide. “Hello, young feller! You’re not dis-s-strubing me...at all! I saw this-s-s park and well, where I come from parks are people places. No...w-w-wait,” he stammered, holding up a finger. “Not people, dang-nabit. Public
! Public places. You aren’t going to...uh...run me off, are you? My cats are barking pretty good. Ah...hell. Cats...don’t bark, they...uh...mellow or something. It’s my dogs! That’s it...my dogs paws toes-thingies are barking.” He took another quick gulp off the liquor and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “I’s...found this here libation (making the ‘b’ sound like a ‘v’) over at the s-store over yonder, “ he pointed east, then west, “...no, yonder...with the big red cir-r-rcles. You wanna drink?”
“No...thank you,” Mike said, a little amused. Besides being somewhat loud, Grizzly Adams there didn’t seem too dangerous. The store with the big, red circles was the liquor store on Highway 215. By state law, any business that sold liquor had to have them displayed.
“That’s good!” He cupped one hand against his mouth, like he was going to tell a secret. “Cuz...like I’m a real stingy bastard s-s-since...hell...you know.” He took a real long pull off the bottle this time. Mike didn’t even want to imagine what this guy’s liver looked like. “You must be...a local, right? You aren’t loaded...with gear ‘n s-s-stuff.”
“Yes sir...I was born and raised here in Bridgend. I’m Mike, by the way.”
“Mike? I’ll be damn. Had a…*hic*...brother named Mike...was an asshole, though. I w-w-won’t hold against you, though,” he grinned. He stood up out of the swing and staggered a bit. Once he had his balance, he wiped a really dirty hand against his pants and stuck it out. “My name’s G…”
The high-velocity bullet struck the stranger almost dead-center. The big man’s eyes went wide as the bottle slipped from his hand. Like a tree being felled, he tipped to the right and seemed to take longer than normal to fall. A small cloud of dust kicked up when he hit the dirt. The sound of the shot echoed through the park. Mike only saw the man topple from the corner of his eye; he was already diving for cover. The merry-go-round wasn’t the best thing to hide behind, but it was the closest. He was busy trying to get real small under the rusty metal and drawing his pistol. The shot had definitely come from the south. With his heart pounding and his eyes frantically searching for dangers, he waited. No more shots. No other sounds save the squeak of the swing’s chain. He lifted his head and chanced a quick peek. There wasn’t anyone in sight. His mind was now racing, but he already had a feeling who had fired the shot. Don’t jump to conclusions yet, Cleyburne.
“Mike! Mike...you OK?”, Silas called as he peered around the gazebo.
“Yeah. Ya see anybody?”
“Not a damn soul. Sounded like it came from the oil mill, though.”
“That’s what I think, too,” Mike frowned. “Sit tight for a minute. Let’s make damn sure…”
==Hey. You two assholes still breathin’?==, the walkie-talkie crackled with Dave’s voice. ==Mike? Silas? Yoo-hoo…==
“Dammit, Dave...was that you?”, Silas asked angrily into the radio’s microphone.
==Yeah. Pretty good shootin’, wasn’t it? Oh. Ya’ll clear by the way. Be down in a minute.==
Silas clammered to his feet...dusting himself off and cursing under his breath. Mike, however, didn’t move. He waited until he thought Dave would be down out his perch, then he crawled out from under the merry-go-round. His fist was clenched hard around his .45. It was time he and Dave had a little heart-to-heart to clear the air between them. But not here. Holstering his weapon, he walked over where the dead pilgrim laid. Another nameless face with wide, dead eyes stared up at him. Rolling his shoulder, Mike picked up the man’s walking stick...and stabbed it through the corpse’s temple. “Grab his stuff,” he told Silas coldly. “Tell the others to head home. I’ll be in the car.” His mind was churning, as it often did when trying to figure out the best way to deal with a man like Dave Truett. As skilled as he was with things that moved, his attitude and hostility towards Mike and others had addressed...and now. They’d pussy-footed around the matter for too long now.Thirty-minutes later…
Back within the relative safety of the Warehouse’s confines, Mike and Silas’ returned made a little stir among her residents. Everyone was busy with chores -- whether it was splitting wood or washing clothes or clearing the fence of stray walkers, just to name a few -- and the daily forage parties returning was a pleasant distraction. Mostly people wanted to see what they’d brought in, like they were traveling salesmen. Each of them had a list of three or four items they would request for those scavenging supplies to keep an eye out for. Some where simple things, like Terri’s notebooks...while others were a little hard to come by, like Tommy’s harmonica. Similar to the postman of a past life, everyone gathered around to see if they’d gotten something delivered. Charlie, Jenny, and little Taylor dug through the red backpack they’d recovered, while Mike leaned against the Subaru with a hand on his hip. He was quietly glaring at the main gate, waiting for the others to return as well. Silas, perhaps sensing something was about to go down between the two men, disappeared into the Warehouse...most likely to find Art. But even Bridgend’s wise leader couldn’t stop what was about to happen, and in fact, was partially to blame. He tolerated Dave and kept Mike pacified instead of letting the inevitable occur. Now the animosity had grown to the point where words didn’t matter. A few minutes later, the Chevy pickup carrying the others came through the gate. Mike rapidly approached the driver’s side, even before it came to a complete stop. Dave hopped out and shouldered his rifle with a smug little smile. That was all the reason Mike needed and he grabbed the mechanic by his dirty shirt and pushed him against the bed of the truck.
“Hey! What tha fuck, man!? Get ya goddamn hands off me!”, Dave barked angrily.
“Shut up, asshole,” Mike fired back through clinched teeth. “I’m tired of your shit...and your little threats. Let’s finish this here and now.” Face flushed with hot rage, his eyes pierced right into Dave’s sockets.
“What tha fuck are you on? What shit? What threat?”, he replied...trying to play innocent but failing miserably. He shoved Mike back, but the smaller man kept a firm grip on that dingy shirt and couldn’t be shed. Like everyone witnessing the action, Charlie knew this was coming. Yet he made an effort to break them up, and pushed himself partially between them.
“You two...stop it! Mike...don’t,” he pleaded and struggled. The young man couldn’t match either of them for strength, much less control them both. For whatever reason, he chose to latch onto Mike’s arm and began trying to pull him away. Tommy was the next to get to the fight, and he grabbed Mike’s other arm seeing that he was the one initiating most of the fight. Unlike Charlie, Tommy had plenty of strength but still had to wrestle to get them separated.
“What da hell’s wrong wit da two of youse?”, he demanded. “Stop it! Stop it, I sez!”
“You shot that man in cold-blood and you know why,” Mike spat at Dave and struggled mightily against the people holding him. “It was a warning to me. Admit it.”
“I don’t know what in the hell yer talking about,” Dave said smugly. “What I saw was a man making a threatenin’ move toward you. Hell, I was trying ta save yer life...and this is the thanks I get? Fuck you, Cleyburne. See if I cover yer ass again, boy.” It was the man’s taunting demeanor and snarky grin as he tried to turn the tables that pissed Mike off the most. Of course, he knew that’s what Dave wanted. Dickheads like him lived to stir up trouble and get under people’s skin as their own sick version of mental bullying. Playing real mind games was lost on a punk like Truett -- he was like a newbie poker player thinking he can sit at the big table and outwit the old gamblers. Thing about that was...someone would eventually call your bluff after you push all-in.
“Oh don’t worry, chickenshit. There won’t be a next time,” Mike answered with an evil grin of his own. That was just enough to get the rise out of Dave that he wanted. The big man threw down his gear and charged Mike, obviously since he was being restrained and was such an “easy” target. But it was just a ruse to suck him in closer, and before Dave got two good steps Mike struck first. Using Tommy and Charlie’s bodies as leverage, he lifted both legs, drew them back, and double kicked the pain-in-the-ass mechanic right the chest. The impact pitched him backward, where he slammed into the side of the pickup. Dave staggered forward again, desperately trying to get air back into his lungs. Mike followed that up with a vicious kick to the stomach that sent the big man down onto his knees. He folded his arms across his upper body, trying to protect himself from more blows. The next shot was a thrust kick to the side of his head from Mike’s combat boot, and Dave pitched over into the dirt face first...unconscious. Mike, however, wasn’t finished. There was only one rational conclusion to take care of the “Dave problem” once and for all. People like him weren’t made for society, at least not a moral, fair one that they were trying to rebuild. He had to go. Everyone here knew it, including Art, but no one wanted to take on the responsibility of doing what was needed. Mike was Dave’s primary target because he was Truett’s primary threat, and once he’d gotten the teacher/soldier out of the way, nothing was going to stop him from taking over or running the Warehouse into the ground. To finish Dave he had to first get loose, so he swept the feet out from under Tommy with his leg and snatched his arm free as the older man fell. He then reached over and grabbed Charlie by the collarbone, pinching the nerve that ran along it. It was a terrible pain to experience, but not a lasting one...and it got Mike’s arm free. Maybe it wasn’t the best time or place to do this, but Mike took that shot to be a final warning. Pulling his combat knife free, he had no reservations that this was the right thing to do.
“That’s enough, Mike,” Art growled as he stepped in between the two men. “This isn’t happening.”
Cleyburne stopped and glared at the Warehouse’s leader. There wasn’t a stitch of fear in his face, but obvious concern. “You’re putting everyone here in danger by letting him live...you know that,” Mike fumed. “Including your daughter.” It was a cheap shot to incite a reaction to convince Art right here and now. Under normal circumstances, he would have never resorted to such a tactic...but this issue had to be settled once and for all for the safety of the group. “If he’ll murder a stranger standing two feet from me it’s just a matter of time before he goes after those that he thinks are a threat. I’m not going a lose a single night’s sleep wondering if that asshole will slit my throat in my sleep or shoot me in the back tomorrow. He’s never going to let this go...so step aside.”
“No. I wanna know why he killed that fella and not you, if what you say is true,” Art replied stone-faced.
“You’ll have to ask him that, but playing devil’s advocate isn’t going to work anymore. There’s more than just our lives that are at stake,” Mike countered.
Art shoved one hand into his pocket and rubbed his beard with the other. “I let you at him...we’re no better than he is. This ain’t the way we do things, Mike. World’s a shitty enough place as it is without us being at one another’s throats. We get everyone together, listen to both sides, and make a better decision. We all got enough blood on our hands, partner. Emotions are too high right now, and I’m not letting you kill Dave right here in the middle of the compound.” There was a long, tense pause. Everyone was gathered around watching what was happening now. Some had passive looks on their faces...some had confused or concerned stares. Mike could feel their gazes, but he was more concerned with Art and Dave, who was just now starting to stir again. Should he push the issue? Would Art actually try to stop him? The older man wasn’t even armed and probably wouldn’t be that problematic to go through. But that wasn’t the point. The point was that Mike had a lot of respect -- almost fatherly -- for Art and considered him a friend. He was trusting the younger man not only to not hurt him...but also do what he asked. Mike pondered on it until his head started to hurt and his conscience started to eat away.
Sighing deeply, he put the knife back in its sheath. I hope you’re right,
his eyes seemed to tell Art. He stepped over Dave’s prone body and stripped him of the Savage and his pistol. He handed them over to Charlie, turned, and walked past Art. “Don’t expect Dave to give you the same considerations,” he warned and quickly vanished into the Warehouse.