"So where is he?" asked Cooker testily, " 'cause if he ain't coming, I'm out of here."
"He's coming," said Starling confidently. He spoke with an assurance he did not feel.
"Well he better," said Cooker. On the edge of a cool breeze he was sure he could smell the tantalizing whiff of gasoline from the vast dump in the Cap.
"Sure would be a shame if he didn't," said Harvey. In a pool of light thrown by the fire he worked diligently at assembling some nasty little bombs out of the ingredients he had snatched that day.
"Why would it be a shame?"
"Because I want to see if these little babies work." He had packed black powder and blasting caps into heavy glass bottles. He had found a clearing strewn with the containers and he was making the most of the materials at hand. Harvey sniffed deeply at the neck of an empty bottle. A faint scent lingered there.
"Hey, Starling," Harvey asked, "can you read?"
"Read me what is written here." He passed him the bottle and Starling squinted at the faded label.
"Martell Cognac," he read slowly, "fondee 1715."
"Well, Martell Cog-nac smells like a fine drink to me . . ."
"1715. Jeez," said Starling, "how long ago do you s'pose that was?"
"A while back," said Clara vaguely.
"What's this one say?" demanded Harvey.
Starling held it close to the fire. "Leroux Blackberry Brandy."
"Smells good too."
"So what are we going to do?" said Sister Jamie suddenly.
"Yeah, are we going to sit here all night?" Sister Lynn surveyed the group.
"I think Bonner's got himself caught and that means he got himself killed," said Sister Kay matter-of-factly.
"Do you really think he's dead?" asked Sister Brenda.
"If he's caught, he's dead."
"Leather can't kill Bonner," said Starling vehemently.
Abruptly, the two Mean Brothers who had been following the conversation, got up, shouldered their weapons and headed into the darkness.
"Where the fuck are they going?" demanded Cooker.
"I think they're going to get Bonner," said Jamie, "and I think we should tag along."
"Yeah," said Clara, "Sisters, let's move it."
"Starting," said Cooker, "you and Harvey going?"
"You assholes," said Cooker, "he's dead already."
"If he's dead, I have a score to settle with Leather," Starling's voice floated back from the dark. There was a note of determination in Starling's voice. The tall smuggler meant what he said.
"Well," said Cooker standing up, "I come this far . . ."
Bonner blinked his eyes to clear his head and immediately wished they had not taken him alive. His hands were bound firmly behind his back and a Stormer stood on either side of him. He looked around the room.
It was a vision out of hell. He was standing in a huge marble room, fronted by columns that looked out onto a huge rectangular pool of water that dimly reflected the the flames of Leather's eternal flame. The room itself was lit by a dozen burning braziers that threw off a smoky light etching long dark shadows on the smooth walls. The room was filled with the first citizens of the Slavestates: all the tax-generals, the ranking Radleps and Stormers, the torture squad, and all had brought a dozen hangers-on. Jojo stood to one side. Every eye was on Leather. He sat in his throne which dominated the room. The throne was a huge statue of a man, seated in an enormous marble chair and it took up the central part of the chamber. Reclining on a dozen cushions in the marble man's lap, lay Leather. Three members of his harem, young women, naked to the waist, sat on either side of him ready to cater to his every need. Leather stretched luxuriously and beamed down at his court. Above him, in the shadows, the sage face of the great marble statesman looked down sadly, as if the evil and depravity he was forced to witness was an affront to his wise stone eyes.
"Well, Bonner," said Leather, "you're going out in style." Leather's deep voice boomed through the great space.
"I shot you," said Bonner. "Bullets don't kill the Leatherman," shouted a courtier.
"You know, Bonner," said Leather, "he's right." "You're flesh and blood," said Bonner. "Maybe . . . maybe . . . But those wise old ancestors of ours came up with some pretty fantastic inventions."
Bulletproof vest, thought Bonner. He had heard of them, but he had never seen one. He doubted that they existeduntil now. It contravened the rules of nature, the rules by which the world now lived: nothing was bulletproof. It was just like Leather to get hold of one and then exploit the cult of his own immortality.
"You been causing a lot of trouble, Bonner. I heard about Drexy. I heard about New York, the island . . . You are a pain in the ass . . . Now I hear that Marxie and fifty Radleps are missing. Did you have anything to do with that?"
"Oh, you're going to wish you hadn't said that," said Leather as if he was scolding a little child. "My Radleps are going to put on a bigger show than even they planned, right, boys?"
From around the hall, the rasping coarse voices of the Radleps were raised in a chorus of menacing assent.
"Who you travelling with, Bonner? And where are they? Sure you're pretty good, but not even you could mess with Marxie and fifty of my boys and get away with it. Who is crewing with you?"
"You don't really think I'm going to tell you, do you?"
"Not right away, no. But we'll get it out of you." Leather clapped his hands and a woman came forward carrying with her Bonner's Winchester and the holster with his three blades. Leather examined them expertly.
"Nice stuff. They'll look good in my collection . . . How many men you figure you've killed with these things, Bonner."
"Whoa, that's pretty tough talk. Scares the shit out of me." Leather laughed and the courtiers laughed with him. "You know, in a few minutes when I start to kill youstart, I saidbecause the finish is quite a ways offI'm going to do it with these." He held up Bonner's equipment. "We're going to carve you up a little, then I'm going to blow your fucking head off. Then it's game over, I win."
Bonner wasn't afraid to die. But he was damned if he was going to die at Leather's hands. He would rather be brought down by the lowliest street worker back in Chicago than go out in a grand and painful ceremony in the center of Leather's throne room.
"So, you're the big, tough president of the Slave-states. The meanest, baddest man on the whole continent," sneered Bonner. "Sure, it's real easy for you to kill here and now with all your pieces of shit body guards around. Big brave man. Come on, Leather, how about a fair fight? You and me. No Radleps, no Stormers, no bulletproof vests . . . just the two of us . . ."
Leather laughed. The courtiers laughed. "That was always the trouble with you, Bonner. You're stuck in the old world. Or what you thought was the old world. A fair fight . . . 'Fair and square' I think they used to say. That world is gone and if you had realized ityou and that cunt of yoursyou wouldn't be here now. You were dead in the Outriding days, Bonner. You wanted to build the old world. What you never knew was that the old world never existed. Sure, they had rules and codes and regulationslaws. But those people were the same ones who bombed the shit out of each other. But you couldn't see that, could you, Bonner? No, I'm not going to give you a fair fight, Bonner, because there's no such thing, a fair fight is the one you win and it doesn't matter how you do it. Winners and losers, that's what it conies down to. I'm the winner, you're the loser . . ."
Leather looked at Bonner. "They can understand this" he gestured toward the crowd "how come you can't? Bonner, you and me could have had the whole continent. There would be no Hotstates, no Snowstates ... All of it could have been ours. But you had to ... I don't know, fuck it up, I guess. Now you've got to die. But first, a little entertainment." He clapped his hands.
Two Radleps entered the chamber dragging Dara between them. She was limp, her long dark hair falling down in front of her face. She was clad only in a light shift, that rode up to mid thigh as the Radleps pulled her to the center of the chamber. As she was brought in the crowd started hooting and whistling, their catcalls filling the air.
Bonner felt every muscle strain at his bonds. His eyes blazed with hate, his stomach churned as if he had been kicked.
"Show her," ordered Leather.
The Radleps dragged Dara before Bonner. Her chin rested on her chest, so one of her captors yanked on her hair, snapping her head back. Her eyes were closed so the Radlep slapped her, tearing the delicate skin of her lip. Her eyelids fluttered open. For a second she didn't recognize him. Then their eyes locked together and Bonner could feel her gaze on him. She stared, her blue eyes filled with pain, with fear and with hope . . .
"Save me," she whispered, as the Radleps pulled her away. Bonner felt tears well into his eyes.
Dara was dragged to the platform that stood at the base of the throne. Leather stood.
"I'm first, Bonner." He climbed down from his throne, loosening his pants as he went, "then every body will get a turn."
Bonner looked away as Leather whipped away Dara's scant covering. Her long, white, muscled leg' seem to gleam gold in the light cast by the crackling braziers. A Stonner grabbed him by the jaw and forced his gaze back onto the rape.
"He gonna fuck her," he said. "You gonna watch."
But Dara had not given up. As Leather advanced on her, she scissored her legs, brought her knee? back to her chest and then, with every ounce of strength she could summon she kicked at his exposed crotch. Her heel slammed into Leather, crushing the softness of him against the hard ridge of his pubic bone. Leather yelped and fell backwards, holding himself in both hands, screaming in his pain:
"Okay. That's it. Take her, beat the rucking bitch to death. Cut her, kill her . . ."
Instantly, a dozen people were on her, Radleps, tax-men, anybody, pounding her, torturing her de-fenseless body. In a matter of seconds her pretty. fragile face was a mass of blood.
"Bonner!" she screamed. He closed his eyes as a. torture squadsman approached with a blade. Dara's attackers stepped back as if deferring to the master. She dragged out the last syllable of his name, her voice arching into a long, tortured, inarticulate cry that begged, pleaded, beseeched him for salvation. Her scream filled his head with the searing intensity of hot oil and every fiber of his being flared up in a crescendo of unalloyed pain and anguish.
The two Stormers on duty outside the fuel dump never saw the Mean Brothers. They died with the sound of the crack of their own bones filling their ears. Bonner's force sprinted up the long wide flight of steps into the domed ruin and found themselves in a huge round room. It was crammed with oil drums. In corridors running off the rotunda they could see rows of gasoline cans, orderly as a rank of soldiers, running down the long hallways for what seemed like miles. Harvey crashed into a few rooms off the corridor: more drums. "Holy shit!"
"Can you blow it?" demanded Starling. "Can I blow-it? A fucking dog could blow it. The question is can we get clear?"
Cooker looked like a man who had been allowed a glimpse of heaven. He stood staring about him like a man in a trance. He sniffed deeply. The sweet fumes smelled as good to him as home cooking. He tried to say something but found his words caught in his throat.
"You and the sisters take as many barrels as you can and roll them down the steps. I want them steps soaked in gas." They jumped to his command. Harvey started kicking over fuel drums until the round room was awash in gasoline. The bluish green fluid belched out onto the smooth marble. The fumes rose, choking.
"Means. Go down the hall; open as many drums as you can." The Mean Brothers nodded and lumbered down the long corridors. They swept open two giant doors and found themselves in a vast room ringed around with heavy mahogany desks. A balcony overlooked the huge space. Every inch of the room, including the massive raised lectern that stood against one wall, was covered in gasoline drums. They raced to the platform and began knocking open the containers, starting a waterfall of gasoline, coursing down over the woodwork.
Harvey appeared at the door. "Okay, Meanies, out!"
The Mean .Brothers paused to kick open a few more cans, then followed Harvey to the exit.
Back in the rotunda, Harvey made sure everybody was there. "Okay, out, everybody out."
The sisters and the rest sloshed through the gasoline lake and out onto the slick, wet steps. "Move it," screamed Harvey, coughing and choking on the dizzying gasoline. The crew sprinted down the stairs and into the park that fronted the gas dump. "Keep going, keep going," Harvey urged.
He followed but stopped in the cracked street before the huge domed building. He withdrew one of his little glass bombs. He leaned back as far as he could, then whipped the bottle as far as he could up the steps. Before it landed he was off and running, through the tangled green strip trying to put as much ground between him and the dome before it went. With a sound like a wind from a hurricane the gas on the outside stairs went up: "Whup."
Harvey felt the heat of the flames wash over him, singeing the hair on his head, the green slash suddenly illuminated by a huge black and orange fireball.
Just then, the dump went. It sounded like the end of the world. Harvey skidded in the grass and stopped. He had to watch. This was the biggest explosion since the bomb and he had caused it. A blast of flame like a tidal wave washed over him and he burned in a flash as bright as day.
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