Bonner came down the valley in the trail of Roy and Buggy. But before he entered the environs of the Rich Man's power he turned off, shot through the old college town of Davis and headed out for a small town called Dixon.
Dixon was a farm community, a long way from everything and home to some good friends of Bonner's. He hadn't seen them much and he hoped they were still operating the way they did in the old days.
Bonner and the Sisters motored down the main street of the small town. The stores were shuttered, of course. Stores had ceased to exist once The Bomb had been dropped. Now things were sold for barter or slates in a bazaar. People liked to get slates—crude pieces of gold, no two the same shape or same weight, but you couldn't eat them or shoot them or run you car on them, so people tried to get hold of other less portable, but equally valuable commodities. Up here in Dixon they made food, took it right out of the earth. No one had messed with them much, because Dixon was home to a very tough bunch of riders.
Bonner and the Sisters had ridden to the far side of town before he got what he was looking for. He was looking for a man with a gun, preferably aimed at him.
"Okay," said a voice from the top of a barn, "let's hold it right there."
Bonner looked up. He could feel the Mean Brothers tensing at his side. The Sisters stopped alongside him.
"Great," muttered Clara, "the man takes us all the way and he leads us straight into an ambush."
"Hold it, Clara," said Bonner, holding up his hand.
"What's yer name, stranger?"
"Now come on, Matthew," said Bonner, "I'm no stranger."
The man looked down from his perch. His eyes narrowed. "Land of Goshen! It ain't ... Holy Moses it is. Bonner!"
Matthew almost jumped off the roof of the barn. Bonner got out of his car and and the two men embraced warmly.
"Is Brother Luke gonna be glad to see you!" exclaimed Matthew.
"He still lead you maniacs?"
"Course he does. Gimme a ride-on that thing and I'll take you to him."
Matthew climbed up into the car and squeezed in next to the Mean Brothers and Gracie. "Good day, ma'am," said Matthew, "you wouldn't happen to be unclean, would you?"
"What the tuck is that s'posed to mean?" demanded Gracie
"Matthew wants to know if you're married. If you aren't married he thinks you're unclean at your age," explained Bonner.
"Men?" said Gracie, "me? Fuck, no."
"Oh," said Matthew, "still consorting with harlots, eh Bonner?"
"Fraid so, Matthew."
"Gonna burn, Bonner. Gonna burn."
"Bonner," demanded Gracie, "what is this freak talking about?"
"You'll see, Gracie, all in good time."
Bonner took his crew a little further down the road and turned off where Matthew told him to. They drove through some green fields planted with something that Bonner thought might be lettuce. Ahead of them they could see a large ramshackle collection of farm buildings. It was plain that when the group had outgrown one they built another until the whole area was covered with low wooden buildings. There were vehicles scattered all over the place. And kids. Lots of kids.
At the sound of engines a large number of very robust-looking men and women poured out of the buildings.
Men on the roofs of the buildings held guns at the ready.
But a man who was plainly the leader elbowed his way through the crowd saw Bonner and dropped to his knees.
"Praise the Lord," he said, dropping to his knees, "it's Bonner . . ."
"Hey, Luke," said Bonner, pulling the handbrake tight and getting out of the car.
"I don't believe it," said another man. "It's Bonner!"
"That's right, Solomon."
Luke tossed an arm over Bonner's shoulder. "I had despaired of ever seeing you again."
"C'mon," said Bonner, "you knew I'd be back."
"Thought you'd been called to your reward."
"Not yet," said Bonner.
"And you brought some sisters."
"How does this doom freak know who we are," growled Clara.
"Careful," said Matthew to Luke, "they're unclean. Least, this one is." He nodded toward Gracie.
"How would you like my unclean fist to knock your teeth out?"
"Welcome, sisters," said Luke. "And welcome . . . uh . . ."he said, looking at the Mean Brothers, "brothers?"
"Luke," said Bonner, "I am pleased to present the Sisters. Good friends of mine. And—" He gestured towards the Mean Brothers. "Some close friends of mine, the Mean Brothers. We always travel together. I'd be lost without 'em."
"You're lost without Jesus," said a voice from the crowd.
"Sisters, Meanies, I'd like to present the toughest bunch of fighting men this side of the mountains." He pointed to the assembled multitude. "Meet Bullets for Jesus."
"Omigod," said Clara.
Even the Mean Brothers looked puzzled.
All of Bullets for Jesus could fit into the barn that stood in the middle of their compound. Luke herded Bonner, the Means and the Sisters in ahead of him, sat them at a long table and ordered that food be brought in for them.
The food reminded Bonner of the fare he had received at the tables of the inhabitants of Almost Normal, the last real town on the Continent, now deceased. The food was homegrown and robust, hearty. Good bread, a nourishing soup, a thick cut of beef . . . The Mean Brothers ate and ate and ate until the good ladies of Bullets for Jesus despaired of filling them. What they didn't know was that the Means would keep on eating as long as food was put in front of them.
Finally, Bonner had to intervene. "Meanies . . ."
he hissed, "knock it off."
The Means stopped eating. Refusing to even finish the food that was on the platters in front of them.
But the Bullets for Jesus weren't like the men and women of Almost Normal. Those people had been ordinary, hard-working, folk who had never done a violent thing in their lives. Bullets for Jesus tended to be a little on the rough side. They had their religion but their religion didn't say anything bad about slaying the infidel. Going by Bullets for Jesus' very wide interpretation, a lot of people—mostly the people they didn't like—fell into the category of infidel.
"So," said Luke, "Brother Bonner, what brings you and your companions to our little comer of the world?"
"The Rich Man," said Bonner.
There was a murmur of disapproval from the crowd that was watching the new arrivals eat.
"Love of money is the root of all evil," said a Bullet named Mark.
"What's your quarrel with the Rich Man?" asked Luke.
"He's got Seth. Some of his riders roughed up a friend of mine. A girl."
"Bonner's took himself a wife?" asked a woman, her eyes aglow.
"No," said Bonner, "she lives with me. In Chicago."
"Sodom," said a Bullet named Gabriel, although he harbored some secret and pleasant memories of a couple of good times spent at Dorca's. He had entertained a lot of the women-for-hire that frequented that establishment.
Luke nodded. "So you got your reasons. Brother Bonner. But let me tell you something, things are bad down in the city. Rich Man's got his problems."
"I don't care about his problems," said Bonner. "I just want to get Seth and get out."
"Yeah, but getting in is gonna be a lot harder than you think. Rich Man is fighting a war. He ain't in no mood to let a rider looking for revenge go snapping at his ass."
"That's why we've come to Bullets for Jesus, Luke. I need help, 1 need it, the Sisters need it . . ." Luke rubbed his chin. A lot of men in the barn smiled. They were ready to ride out at a moment's notice. Luke didn't look so sure.
"Gimme strength. Lord," said Luke quietly. Then he shook his head. "Brother Bonner, there ain't nothing 1 wouldn't do for you. But we got ourselves an understanding with the Rich Man. He don't bother us, we don't bother him . . ."
"But Brother Bonner's enemy is mine enemy," said a woman, folding her arms across her breast. She looked disgustedly at Luke.
"Be quiet, Sarah."
"Rich Man's an infidel," shouted someone else.
"We always knew that, Wayne," said Luke.
"Well, we always known that and that's a sin on our soul," said Wayne, "we know there's an unbeliver down there in Bay City and we ain't done nothing about it. Lord ain't gonna like that. We gotta sacred duty to convert the infidel."
Luke looked pained. "Now, brothers and sisters, you know that there ain't a man who takes his religion more serious than 1 do. But I got a responsibility to you, my flock. We start fighting the Rich Man and we're gonna be fighting for the rest of our lives."
"So?" said a Bullet named Amos. He was bored. There was a time when Bullets for Jesus had spent all their time out on the road—crusading, they called it. That was how they met Bonner in the first place. This farming life, man, it was dull.
"I'm sorry, Brother Bonner, we just cain't." Luke looked miserable.
"Prick," muttered Belle.
"No, that's okay," said Bonner, "we didn't have any right to come busting in here expecting to give up your peaceful life to help us in a fight that you don't have any part of. We started this thing, we'll finished it."
"You're welcome to rest up here. We got some spare gas and bullets . . ."
"That's kind of you, Luke."
Bonner and the Sisters spent the rest of the day going over the engines of their vehicles and checking their weapons. They figured they would move out early in the evening and go into the Bay City under the cover of darkness.
A Bullet wandered over to Clara as she checked her bike over.
"Say, Sister," said the man, "have you found Jesus?"
Clara blew on the point of the plug she held in her huge mitt. "Why? Is he lost?"
"No, but you might be. Embrace the Lord, sister."
"Why? What's in it for me," asked Clara suspiciously.
"Eternal life, sister."
"Please, mister, anything but that . . ."
The Bullet sensed that Clara didn't have it in her heart to accept the Lord just yet. He left her alone from then on. But his missionary zeal was not quite exhausted. He decided he would take a crack at converting the Mean Brothers. They stood behind Bonner's car, holding it up while he crawled around underneath checking the gear box that he had tortured for the last two thousand miles.
"Hello, brothers," said the Bullet, "they call me Abraham." The Mean Brothers smiled and they kept one hand each on the car while they shook with Abraham with the other.
"Have you found Jesus?"
The Mean Brothers looked at one another. Jesus? Jesus? They shook their heads. They couldn't place (he name. Maybe if Abraham told them what outfit he rode with? If not, if they ran into this Jesus character they would be sure to tell him that Abraham was looking for him.
As twilight came on, Bonner led his force out of the Bullets for Jesus camp. They were laden with food and ammunition. What the Bullets couldn't give in the form of manpower they made up in supplies.
"The Lord goes with you," shouted Luke.
"Thanks for everything," said Bonner.
It was about a four-hour drive down to the outskirts of the Bay City. They got there in the dead of the night and looked down from the heights.
"So?" said Clara.
"I say we head in . . ."
"Yeah, let's get this thing over with."
Bonner rocked the gear shift and was about to slide his car into first when he paused.
"Whaffor?" demanded Clara.
"There's something we have to do before we head down into the city,"
"Take care of that." Bonner pointed to the very crest of the mountain.
"What?" asked Clara peering into the gloom.
"See," said Bonner, "the tower."
Clara's eyes fixed on the tower and she winced. "Jeez . . ."
"Christ, Bonner, what is that thing."
"I know what it is, I just don't know how it happened to be here . . ."
"That's okay," said Clara. "I'm not in the mood for a history lesson. Fuck, it's awful tall."
Tall it was. Standing on the bluff above Bay City was a three-legged metal tower. It was a weird, spiky-looking thing, made out of nothing but metal. There were no rooms, no windows, just tall pieces of metal that ran straight up into the sky. On the very top were some wide, round, shallow dishes that pointed in three or four different directions.
Bonner knew that there was a platform on the top of that thing and unless he was very wrong, the Rich Man kept it staffed with a bunch of lookouts—they would spot him and the sisters coming down into the city before they traveled a mile. The guys up there probably had a flare or something to alert the entire city to the arrival of the intruders.
"We're going have to go up there and make sure that those boys don't cause us any trouble."
"How many you figure are up there?"
"Hard to say."
"We all go?"
Bonner, the Mean Brothers, and the Sisters made their way across the wind-blown grass to the barbed wire fence, long since trampled flat, that surrounded the the base of the tower.
A rusted, bent sign lay flat on the grass. Bonner caught a glimpse of it as they crept past. SAN FRANCISCO/
BAY AREA MICROWAVE TRANSMISSION TOWER . . .
They stood at the very base of the soaring mass of metal and looked straight up. The tower seemed to recede into the black sky. It was so tall they couldn't see the top.
"That's a helluva climb," said Clara.
Bonner nodded. He circled under the legs of the tower. There were metal ladders welded against each huge metal pylon.
"I say the Sisters go up one leg, I'll go up one, the Mean Brothers the other one."
"Sounds about right," said Clara.
"Got it. Means?"
The Mean Brothers nodded.
The three parties went to their respective legs and started climbing.
Before the Mean Brothers put a foot on the rungs of the ladder, they placed their shovel and their axe in their mouths, clamping down hard with the giant teeth. They climbed the tower with their weapons sticking out on either side of their faces, like pirates.
Bonner climbed quietly. After he had traveled the first seventy-five feet from the ground he paused and listened. He knew where the Mean Brothers and the Sisters were and he could, if he strained his eyes, make out a couple of dark shapes inching up the ladders. But he couldn't hear them. Bonner figured that the lookouts on top of the tower assumed that no one would ever climb up there to get them. He hoped they felt safe, because safe men got complacent . . .
But he was wrong. The lookouts had taken some precautions to make sure they weren't surprised.
Stacked on the next twenty rungs of the ladder were hundreds of rusty tin cans. Bonner looked up the ladder. The cans, row upon row of them, were neatly arranged in ranks. Knock them down and you'd raise the alarm. Bonner hoped the rest of his team had seen them. He swung off the ladder, out onto the thin X-beams that ran from leg to leg, supporting them. They were a lot harder to climb. There was no ladder. Bonner had to climb up them, pulling himself hand over hand as if he was climbing a rope.
The Mean Brother that was leading the way up his ladder came to his collection of tin cans and stopped on the ladder. He looked out at the X-beam and, like Bonner, figured that was the way they were going to have to go.
As he swung out onto the the beam, the tip of his axe knicked the tin-can alarm and two cans teetered and fell. The lower Mean Brother hooked his feet on the rungs of the ladder and dropped straight out into space. When he was at a ninety-degree angle to the tower he caught up with the falling cans. He grabbed them, one each in his hairy paws. Then he used the muscles in his incredibly powerful legs to reel himself upright again. He crushed the cans against the ladder and followed his brother out onto the X-beam.
The Sisters had an alarm on their ladder, too. They too went around it.
Bonner climbed another hundred feet or so and then stopped and looked out. He could make out the outlines of the entire bay. Far away in the distance he could see the shadowy outline of the big bridge. One of the two tall towers that supported the span leaned at a crazy angle toward the bay. Bonner hoped he wasn't going, to have to climb that tower too during his sojourn in Bay City.
He was cold. The wind was coming off the ocean in gusts. They whipped around his head and made his eyes water. Sometimes they came in so powerfully that he thought that the rushing air would tear him from his perch. He had to grip with all his might, fighting to maintain his handhold.
But most of all, he was cold. The wind seemed to go straight through his clothes to chill his bones. He had to keep moving. He looked up the ladder. There was still a long way to go.
The Sisters were cold too. Clara gazed up the iron staircase she had yet to travel.
"How tall is this motherfucker?" she hissed into the wind.
"Too tall," said Belle, who was right below her.
The Mean Brothers weren't cold at all. They hardly noticed the wind and the only thing that annoyed them about the height of the tower was that it took a long time to climb and that meant it took a long time get to the top and that meant that it would be a while before they got to do any fighting.
Bonner stopped. He couldn't be sure but it seemed that about midway up on the Sister's leg of the tower, there was a platform, a handkercheif-sized pulpit. Crouched on it, it seemed, was a man. Bonner nodded. They posted a lookout half way up just to make sure they weren't surprised. He remembered that he was in the main city of a region at war. When people were threatened from outside, they took precautions. But people were people. The guard was asleep.
He would remain asleep. Forever.
Bonner slid a knife out of the holster on his thigh and keeping one foot and one hand on his ladder, swung off the metal and threw a knife across the wide space. He didn't hear the knife slice into the soft passageway of the man's ear and thence directly into his brain, but he saw the sleeping bundle slump. He hoped that one of the Sisters picked up his knife on the way by.
The Sisters got to the platform and rested there a minute. They looked curiously at the dead sentry.
"How in the hell do you s'pose that happened?" said Belle.
"Who dunnit?" asked Sheila.
Clara pulled the knife out of the man's ear and showed it to them. "Who the fuck do you think?"
The next hundred feet passed without incident.
Bonner was nearing the main platform. He stopped every few feet to listen for the murmur of voices. Before he got up there he wanted to have some idea of how many men he was likely to be facing. But he could hear nothing but the whistle and scream of the cold wind.
He was right under the base of the platform now. Directly above his head was a trap door. On the other side of that were the lookouts. Very gently Bonner put his weight against the outline of wood. Nothing gave. Damn, he thought. The door was firmly bolted from inside.
Bonner looked across at the others. He was a little ahead of them. It was up to him to find a way around the locked trapdoor. He had to admit it. There was only one way . . .
The platform projected out over the ladders by a good six feet. To get on top, Bonner was going to have to crawl out on the struts that held the platform in place and climb out and over the overhang. He looked down. It was a very, very long way. He made his way out into the thicket of struts and felt along the bottom of the platform. He had to find some sort of hand hold. He leaned out as as far as he dared and at the very furthest extension of his grasp he felt what he was looking for. It was a piece of gutter that projected out six inches from the base of the platform, meant to carry rain water away from the iron legs of the towers itself. The question was, would it hold his weight? There was only one way to find out. He laid one hand firmly on the water spout and launched himself out into space.
He hung buffeted by the wind for a second or two and then, to his horror, felt the rusty metal of the gutter tear almost in two. Bonner jammed one hand into the spout and hooked on the inside, holding onto the base of the platform proper. His arms were aching so bad that from second to second he didn't know how long he'd be able to hold on. His legs were dangling in the void and he could feel his grip giving way. He had to get a foothold, he had to pull his legs in, fasten them on something so he could get the dead weight of his body off of his hands.
He swung his legs to his left and they kicked up against the side of the wall of the platform. He didn't care how much noise he made. His legs swung back through the arc like a human pendulum, but before they had come to rest he tried again. He could feel his fingers uncurling. His feet caught on another gutter. His boots pushed off the metal and Bonner dived over the top of the platform and landed with a thump that he was sure the world could hear.
That platform was huge. It took up the entire base area of the tower, maybe an acre in size. There was a cozy-looking house built in the middle of it. A dim light showed through a window. Around the roof of the hut was a widow's walk. From which flapped a few wind-whipped flags. But no lookout was to be seen.
Bonner dashed across the platform and opened the hatch over the Sisters' ladder. He sprinted over to the Mean Brothers' hatch, in time for a huge fist to smash through the wood and then feel around for the bolt. That, thought Bonner, was one way of doing it ...
It was then that Bonner noticed another ladder, set in the side of the platform wall that led up to the top of the rim. It hit Bonner. The walls of the platform were extremely thick. The lookouts were inside them. There must be windows set in them at intervals.
Bonner climbed a ladder and found a hatch at the top. He tried to open it. Locked. He slid a knife out of his holster and gestured to a Mean Brother. The Mean joined him, and Bonner knocked on the hatch. A few seconds later, there came the sound of a bolt being slid back. The hatch opened.
"I told you. Billy, stop bothering me . . ."
The Mean Brother reached into the hole and pulled the man out by the hair. Bonner cut his throat and he dropped him back down and slammed the hatch.
They did more or less the same thing with the three other lookout posts that view the other points of the compass.
Sheila insisted on garotting one of the men. Belle worked her magic with her lead pipe and the Mean Brothers strangled the the last man.
They were about to leave when the door of the cozy-looking rest area opened and a man rang a bell next to the door vigorously.
"Okay," he yelled, "watch change. Get outta them holes, you fucks ..."
A few men were streaming out of the little house, yawning and stretching. Bonner and his crew could have left unnoticed, but they wouldn't be halfway down the ladder before the warning would be raised.
"Why do we have to do this, man?" said a lookout, "the Snowmen is as good as beat."
"We gotta do it," said the man who rang the bell, "because the man told us to."
"Makes no fucking sense. Them Snowmen have been sliced up good by them ugly fucks from back east."
"Rourke, just do what you're told, okay."
Bonner was already leading the Sisters and the Means across the wooden floor of the platform.
"Who the fuck are those guys?" inquired Rourke, pointing at the darting shadows that were headed his way.
Bonner winged a knife into Rourke's chest. A concentrated stream of blood shot from the Rourke's mouth, soaking the wood a good five feet from where he stood. He slumped over.
The man who rang the bell—he seemed to be some kind of officer—reached for a giant-handled gun in the holster slung low on his hip. Belle swatted him in the face with her pipe, crushing his nose and knocking a mouthful of teeth around like snowflakes. But the man insisted on trying to bring the gun to bear. Annoyed, Belle took it away from him, aimed at his heart and pulled the trigger. The magnesium flare traveled the six feet from the end of the gun barrel to the man's chest and tore through the man's chest. Once inside him, it ignited. It looked like the man had been turned on as if he was some kind of lamp. Flame darted from the gaping hole in his chest, lighting the platform as bright as day. The ball of magnesium burned its way around the man's chest cavity and the pain was so great that he jammed his hand through the hole in his body as if trying to get hold of the the burning ball and remove it as if it was a bee sting.
The Mean Brothers were swatting a couple of men around with their weapons the way dogs and cats play with rats and mice before killing them. The Mean with the axe tired of the game—all his victim tried to do was run away—so he hit him in the neck with his heavy weapon.
The Mean with the shovel got bored too, so he knocked his man to the ground and then kicked him to death. The Mean with the axe looked on enviously. He wished he had thought of that.
Web Site Contents
(Unless Mentioned Otherwise) ©2012
By Atlan Formularies, Post Office Box 95, Alpena, Arkansas 72611-0095