Quake, p.36
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       Quake, p.36

           Richard Laymon
 

  So far, they'd been lucky. But she was afraid that the luck wouldn't last. It doesn't have to last much longer, she told herself. We're almost to the school. Just a few more blocks. Could be real soon. Half an hour, maybe. Earl, in the lead, turned around and walked away. Barbara quickly glanced over her shoulder. Nothing. Just a few feet of alley, and the street they'd raced across a couple minutes ago.

  'What is it?' she asked.

  'Nothing.' He grinned at her. 'Enjoying the view.' She looked down at herself. Her blouse was untucked, she hadn't bothered to refasten any of the buttons that had come undone since she'd handed over her bra to Pete. Only the button at her waist remained fastened. Plenty of her skin showed between the blouse's open edges. Not her breasts though. Nothing showed that should be of much interest Earl, especially since he'd seen everything when she was in the pickup truck.

  'Made ya look,' he said.

  'Go to hell.'

  He grinned. 'We're there.'

  'You're not kidding,' Pete muttered. He was walking close to Barbara's side, the rifle across his back. He looked tired and feverish. He also looked as if he might be getting ready to throw up.

  'I don't get it,' he said.'What?' Barbara asked.

  'It's been getting worse. It wasn't like this…, none of this really bad stuff was happening…, just since…, about when we were at Lee's.'

  'It was pretty bad before,' Barbara said, remembering way back to the kid who'd snatched her purse, who'd shortly afterward been killed for his bicycle.

  'It wasn't like this,' Pete told her.

  'That's right,' Earl said. 'I'm the living proof. Back in the good ol' days - like this morning - all they did was beat you shitless and steal your clothes. He grinned. 'I didn't get screwed or killed. I still got my scalp, my teeth and my dick. The difference a few hours makes, you know? I tell ya, we're in hell.'

  'Are not,' Barbara said. She didn't like to hear that kind of talk. 'That's bull, and you know it.'

  'Something is sure going on,' Pete muttered.

  'Yeah,' she admitted. 'God knows, I've noticed.'

  'It's like they aren't human, any more - the ones doing this stuff.'

  'I bet they weren't any great prizes to begin with,' Barbara said.

  'They probably didn't go around butchering everyone in sight,' Pete said.

  'Or bangin' everything that has a hole,' Earl added. Barbara scowled at him, then met Pete's haggard gaze.

  'I think what's happened, is that they're just…, doing what they wanted to be doing all along. Only they just didn't, most of them, because there was stuff in the way. But now there's nobody to make them stop. The quake…, it knocked all the barriers down. You can't exactly dial up the cops, you know? So anything goes. And more and more of them are taking advantage of it. Doing whatever they wanta do, and the hell with everything.'

  'Welcome to hell,' Earl said.

  'It's not hell,' Barbara insisted. 'It's a bunch of your typical everyday assholes doing what comes naturally. The problem is, now they're running amok because they figure they can get away with it.'

  Pete was staring at her. He looked as if his nausea had receded. He looked almost amused.'What?' she asked.

  He shrugged. 'Where'd you get that?'

  'Where'd I get what?'

  'What he means, Banner, is he's amazed by your grasp of the situation. Like he didn't know you had such depths. I always knew you was deep. You're a regular hole.' he laughed.

  'Shut up,' Pete snapped at him.

  'Relax. I called her a hole, not a twat. Don't you know a compliment when you hear one?'

  'Just knock it off. And why don't you…'

  Three quick booms stopped Pete's voice. Earl flinched. 'Shit! Those were shots!' They hadn't come from very far away. Barbara whirled around and reached under the back of her blouse. As she pulled the forty-five out of her shorts, Pete unslung his rifle. Instead of more gunshots, she heard engine noises. The loud, blatting thunder seemed to come from up the last street they'd crossed. When a white car skated sideways and leaped into the alley, Barbara knew it wasn't the source of the thunder. The car was long and low and wide. A Lincoln? After the squeal of its tires, it rushed forward with an urgent but well-muffled roar. Behind its windshield, a woman gripped the steering wheel with both hands. She was looking back over her right shoulder. Someone grabbed Barbara's arm and yanked it so hard that she stumbled sideways and almost fell. But she kept her eyes on the mouth of the alley. The thunder came. Bikes. Fat-wheeled hogs - two of them side by side, three more, two after that - seven choppers kicking up gravel and tilting as they turned, their riders hunched low, some with firearms aimed at the fleeing Lincoln. Outlaw bikers. Barbara stumbled sideways, dragged by the hand. But it stopped pulling when a big metal dumpster blocked her view of the action. With a glance, she saw that it was Earl clutching her arm. Pete, his back against a garage door, was sinking down to a squat, scowling fiercely and swinging the muzzle of his rifle toward the alley. She heard two more gunshots. She jerked her arm free and rushed forward, halting at the corner of the dumpster and peering around it as the Lincoln came speeding up the middle of the alley. It'll miss us, Barbara thought, unless the gal swerves in the next second or two… The two bikes at the head of the pack were tight on the Lincoln's tail.

  'Back here,' Earl gasped, and yanked her by the hair. This time, she did fall. As the Lincoln sped past, she dropped against Earl. He caught her under the armpits, and held her up. Straggling to stand, she watched the gang blast by. The lead biker raced up alongside the Lincoln and snapped off two quick shots. But not at the driver, though she would've made an target. At the front tire. Though the bullets missed, whinging off the alley, inches away from the tire, the big car suddenly lost control. Brakes shrieking, it cut hard to the left. It went sideways, then smashed through an old aluminum trash bin and slammed into the corner of a garage. The stucco caved in. The front of the car crumpled. The driver fell forward, then rebounded. Barbara couldn't tell whether she had hit the steering wheel or been saved by her safety belt. She seemed to be all right, though. She turned her head to look over her shoulder, made a terrified face at what she saw, then turned her attention to the dash. Her car must've died, Barbara thought. 'Come on,' she muttered. 'Get it going. Go!' But the car just sat there as the bikers flanked it and dismounted. When they shut their engines off, the thunder abruptly stopped. Barbara heard the whinny of the car. It had died, all right. The woman was trying to start it again so she could get the hell out of there. But one of the bikers, the one who'd shot at her tire, already striding toward her door. He was lean and like a cowboy. He wore a shiny, black Nazi helmet. On the back of his denim jacket was a skull-and-crossbones emblem. His jeans hung low on his rump. He held a revolver in his right hand, down by his side.

  Barbara felt a dull punch against her upper arm. She pulled back.

  'Come on,' Earl whispered. 'We're getting outa here.'

  Pete, nodding at her, was standing again, his back to the garage door.

  'We'll cut through,' Earl said.

  He led the way, hunching low, rushing past Pete and apparently heading for a gap on the other side of the garage. Pete waved her to get moving. I'm coming. Just hold your horses. Gotta see what's… With the other bikers close behind him, blocking some of Barbara's view, the lanky one demolished the side window of the Lincoln. Moments later, the door swung open. The woman was pulled out, screaming, and vanished completely as the pack closed in and took her down.

  'Leave her alone!' Barbara yelled. Yelled as she broke into a run. Ran because she knew she was too far away, had to get closer to take control and save the woman - near enough to hit what she aimed at if it came to that.

  'Barb!' Pete shouted. 'No!'

  Yes, she thought. As she charged at them, she wished she hadn't yelled. The yelling hadn't stopped anything. At first, she thought that nobody had even heard her. Then a couple of the bikers at the outside of the cluster looked back, saw her, and turned around. One of them, wi
th a face a lot like the skull on the back of the leader's jacket, grinned at her. He was missing teeth. The other was fat and bearded, and wore a Viking helmet that looked like a tin bowl with horns. His eyes seemed to light up when he saw Barbara dashing toward him. He rubbed his hands together. I'm coming at them with a gun, she thought, and they look like they're glad to see me. 'Cause your shirt's wide open, idiot.

  Just as she thought that they might not try to shoot - wouldn't want to ruin her looks - the cadaverous one put up a weapon that looked like a sawed-off shotgun. Barbara had no time to halt and take aim. Lifting her arm, she pointed her pistol at him and fired. And watched the Viking helmet fly off the head of the guy. At least Skull-face was distracted. Looking around, he glanced at his fellow biker, who was now stumbling into the others, a hole in his forehead. Barbara skidded to a stop. She braced herself and readied for another try at Skull-face as he leveled his shotgun. Before she could fire, a sharp blare pounded the air. She pulled her trigger. At least I'll take him with me. Waiting to be hit by the blast from the shotgun, she realized that the shot had come from behind her. Skull-face fired into the air as he was knocked off his feet. She risked a quick look back. And there was Pete by the garage door. He hadn't gone anywhere. What he'd done was shoulder the rifle and join the battle. A battle that ended very fast. The other side got off a few shots. As many as Barbara, maybe. She had hardly begun to fight when the slide of her gun locked back and nothing would make it shoot any more. Pete had Lee's rifle, some sort of military thing that fired very fast and held a lot of ammo. A lot. The storm of bullets tore down all the remaining bikers very fast. Incredibly fast - before they could do much more than quit brutalizing the woman and turn around to see who was killing them and throw back three or four quick, wild shots. When it was done, all she could hear was a high-pitched ringing sound as if someone had struck tuning forks and held them to her ears. Those in front of her were sprawled about in positions that mostly looked awkward and uncomfortable. A few were moving slightly: here, a knee lifted; there, a head turned, a foot kicked; one man, in a fetal position, twitched and jerked. Nobody was crawling or trying to get up.

  'You okay?'

  She turned. Pete was now standing beside her. She nodded. Looking him up and down, she saw no sign that he'd been injured in the abrupt gunfight. But she asked, 'How about you?'

  He shrugged. 'Okay.'

  'My God, you sure got 'em.'

  He wrinkled his nose and said, 'Yeah. tried not to hit the woman.'

  'We'd better check.'

  Pete nodded. He started walking forward, and Barbara stayed at his side. As they stepped between a couple of the Harleys, he muttered, 'I can't believe did this.'

  'You did fine. We couldn't just let them kill her.'

  'I couldn't just let them kill you. What were you trying to do, commit suicide?'

  'I just wanted to stop them.’

  'You stopped 'em, all right.’

  'There she is.'

  The woman, surrounded by the dead or badly injured bodies of her assailants, was sprawled face-down on the ground. Her arms were crossed over the back of her head. A biker had fallen forward across her rump. Halting near the shotgun dropped by Skull-face, she called, 'Lady?'

  The woman didn't move.

  'Lady? It's okay, now. We're here to help you.' Still, she didn't respond.

  'Oh, man,' Pete muttered. 'I bet shot her.'

  'I don't think so,' Barbara told him. The back of woman's cream-colored blouse was spattered with blood, not sopping. Though a sleeve had been ripped from blouse's shoulder, Barbara could see no holes.

  'Why don't you wait here?' Pete suggested.

  'I'll come with you.'

  'Some of these guys aren't dead.'

  'I know. What'll we do about them?'

  'Just make sure they don't try anything, I guess.'

  She glanced at the Colt in her hand. 'I'm all out. How about you?'

  Pete shook the rifle slightly as if testing its weight. It's not empty yet.'

  'Are you sure?'

  'I've got one ready to go, I'm sure of that. It might be the last, but…'

  'Yo! Compadres! My oh my, what have you done?' Glancing back, Barbara saw Earl come striding them. She quickly fastened a middle button of her blouse. Then she crouched and picked up the sawed-off shotgun.

  'Fine shooting, Pizzaboy.'

  'Why didn't you just keep running?' Pete asked. He was watching Earl's approach, so Barbara kept her eyes on the bikers and the woman.

  'I waited for you, but then heard all the gunplay so I came back to help out.’

  'Yeah, right.'

  Earl laughed. 'Not really. Just wanted to see who won. And see who was doing what to who, if you know what mean. Looks like you sure cleaned house. Hey, Banner.'

  She looked at him. He had halted on the other side of Pete. Grinning, he raised a hand in greeting. 'Aren't ya glad I'm back?' he asked.

  'Thrilled.'

  'Now you guys're killers, just like me. Feels good, don't it?'

  'Shut up,' Barbara told him. 'Looks like ya missed a few.’

  'They aren't missed,' Pete said.

  'Aren't dead, either. Want me to take care of 'em for you?'

  'Just leave everyone alone,' Pete told him, and walked in among the bodies.

  'Give you a hand,' Earl said, starting after him.

  'No,' Barbara said. 'Stay where you are.'

  'What's your problem?'

  She ignored him. 'Pete, why don't you take all the guns and stuff away from them? I'll keep you covered.'

  Nodding, he slung the rifle behind his shoulder. 'What about the woman?'

  'She can wait. I don't want you getting killed by a "dead" guy. It happens all the time in the movies.'

  He looked back and smiled at Barbara. 'You're some kind of an expert on playing possum, aren't you?'

  Though she returned Pete's smile, the reminder of the time in the pickup truck made heat rush to her face. 'Yes that's me.' In a loud voice, she said, 'Any of you hear me, I'll blast anyone who makes a sudden move. Nobody answered. Nobody moved.

  She wondered if all the live ones had either passed out or died in the past couple of minutes. Not likely.

  'Careful,' she said.

  Wandering slowly among the bikers, stopping over bodies, Pete crouched again and again to pick up weapons. He only went after those in plain sight: handguns and knives that were still clutched in hands or had fallen to the pavement; knives sheathed on belts. He stuck the guns into the pockets of his trousers, and pitched the knives away. But he disturbed none of the bodies. He seemed reluctant to touch them at all, much less frisk them or turn them over. Not exactly a thorough search, Barbara thought. I wouldn't wanta touch them, either. But, my God, if one of them comes up with a gun…

  'Do you want to go in and help?' she asked Earl. 'Thought you'd never ask 'Turn 'em over, make sure they don't have anything.'

  'Never fear, Earl is here.' He pointed at Skull-face. 'Dead.' He pointed at the Viking. 'Dead.'

  Pete, now standing above the woman, looked up and asked, 'What's going on?'

  'Earl's double-checking things.'

  'Maybe dead.' Earl kicked a body in the head.

  'Hey!' Barbara yelled.

  'My way of checking.' He smiled down at the corpse and pronounced, 'Dead.'

  'For the love of God,' Pete said.

  'Just turn them over, Earl.'

  'If they're dead anyhow, why bother?'

  'Stop kicking them in the head!'

  'Okay, okay. Don't wet your pants.' The next biker was face down. Unlike the two that Earl had kicked, this one still wore a helmet. The back of the black T-shirt had a few holes in it and looked awfully bloody, but Barbara noticed that one arm was tucked out of sight beneath the body.

  'Be careful of that one,' she warned.

  She worked the shotgun's pump action, and took aim. 'Okay, turn him over.'

  Earl stepped to the other side of the body and glanced at Barb
ara. 'Make sure you don't shoot me with that thing.'

  'I'll try not to.'

  Crouching, he reached over the body. He grabbed it by the shoulder and hip. Then he pulled. It came up, rolling onto its side. The hand had a gun in it. Big surprise, Barbara thought. She saw the pistol start to come up, muzzle rising toward her.

  She yelled, 'No.' And fired. Blasting apart the face guard and the face behind it, blowing the helmet off. The pistol leaped out of the biker's hand. It fell, clattered against the alley pavement, and Earl snatched it up. Barbara cocked the shotgun. 'Put that down,' she said.

  'Yeah, right.'

  'Do it,' Pete called. His rifle still hung down the back of his shoulder by its strap, but he'd already pulled one of the guns from one of his pockets and pointed it at Earl. Earl glanced back at him, then faced Barbara and shook his head.

  'Hey, this sucks, you know? All this shit and I'm not supposed to have a gun?'

  'Put it down,' Pete said.

  'Come on!' Though keeping his eyes on Barbara, Earl spoke loudly enough to be heard by Pete, too. 'I could've had yours back at the pickup, and you know it. I could've taken both of 'em and even shot off both your asses if I'd wanted to! But I didn't. 'Cause I'm not the bad guy around here, you know what mean? I'm on your side.'

  Pete tilted his head to one side and shrugged at Barbara.

 
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