The Last Gathering
It was already past noon, when the green station wagon pulled in at the back of the Wherehouse. All of the other Dreadniks, save one, had already returned.
Jon gestured Peggy, Edward, and the Longstreets to follow him to the planning table; the one with Woodrow’s chalk diagram of Finorio Braneegan’s Car Dump still visible on it.
“I need everyone down here!” Jon called out, “I have an announcement to make!”
Jon turned to Mike and Callie, “Let me do the talking.” he said, as one by one, the Dreadniks began to join them at the table.
Corrina and Kitty sat side by side at the bottom of the stairs, thick as thieves, as usual. Corrina spotted a piece of crumpled paper stuck to Kitty’s sneaker with gum.
“You got some crap stuck to your shoe, Kitty.” she told her.
Kitty stood up and lifted her foot up to her back. Corrina unstuck the paper and used it to remove the gum. “There you go, it’s off.”
Kitty didn’t bother sitting down again; she headed to the planning table to see what was going on.
Corrina was about to toss the paper, but recognized that it was Rynza Adreynac’s stationary. Curious, she removed the gum and was about to uncrumple the note, when Kitty turned back and called her. “C’mon, Corrina! Quit lollygagging!”
Corrina tucked the note in her pocket for later perusal, and went over to the table, where everyone else was already seated. The note, however, was not alone in her pocket. It shared that space with the syringe of undiluted Tulaxiffan in it.
Corrina took a seat at the table like the others, ready to hear what Rynza had told the Longstreets; and if Jon even suggested that they join the Dreadniks, Corrina was quite ready to kill the Callie shank right then and there.
Jon surveyed his assembled invidium. “Are we missing someone?” he asked, “Where the hell is Rak?”
The Dreadniks looked around at each other.
“He never came back?” Wes asked.
“He’s probably still out pounding.” Kevin said, “You know how he is, sometimes he loses track of time.”
“Don’t tell me he went out alone again.” Jon said, “Woodrow, aren’t you supposed to be his partner?”
“Not that that matters much!” Kitty said.
“What do you mean?” Jon asked.
“Kitty, SHUT UP!” Woodrow said. He knew where this was going.
“Let her speak!” Jon said, “What did you mean, Kitty?”
“Everyone knows that Rak and Woodrow go off on their separate ways after just a few blocks.” Kitty said, her voice giddy with the unbridled joy of troublemaking, “Then they join up again at some point on the way back, to fool you into thinking they’ve been working as a team.”
Jon put his fingers to the bridge of his nose and crinkled his eyes shut. Woodrow braced himself for the unavoidable (and probably well-deserved) tongue-lashing.
Instead, Jon opened his eyes and said: “You know what? I’m not dealing with this right now. As for Rak, one of you can fill him in when he shows up.”
Woodrow looked relieved. Kitty looked disappointed.
Jon continued: “As you all know, we went to go see Rynza, to see what she had to say about Mike and Callie’s mother. Well, she had a lot to say. First of all, their mother isn’t here in Metromax, but...in another city.”
Corrina’s head perked up. She liked the sound of that.
“What city?” Dom asked.
“Doesn’t matter. Another city in another state is all you need know. More important, Rynza said that Mike and Callie’s father has followed them here, and knows they’re with us. He has joined forces with Mallacharr to find us all. Rynza says that for the good of the group, Mike and Callie must leave Metromax City. Today.”
It took all of Corrina’s self-control not to jump and cheer at that moment. The shank was leaving!
“And I’m going with them.” Jon added.
Corrina felt the air get knocked out of her. Nor was she the only one. The other Dreadniks looked at each other and at Jon with shock.
“WHAAAAT?!” was all Corrina could say.
“Jon, are you crazy?!” Bear asked in disbelief, “We need you! You can’t just up and take off! What are you thinking?!”
“Up to now everything I’ve done has been for the group,” Jon replied, “This I do for me. The Dreadniks will still have you, Bear. You can lead this invidium as well as I can. You and Dom together.”
“Why are you doing this?” Dom asked.
Jon struggled with how to best answer that question, and decided only the plain unvarnished truth could: “Because I love Callie, and I want to be with her wherever she goes.” he said.
Corrina thought she was going to have a heart attack. She clamped her hands over her ears to keep from hearing Jon’s traitorous words; words that should have been only hers to receive, and treasure forever.
“If you care for my happiness,” Jon continued, “You’ll let me go.”
“NOOOO!!” Corrina stood up and shrieked, “YOU’RE NOT GOING ANYWHERE!! YOU DON’T LOVE HER! YOU LOVE ME! ME!!”
The room fell silent. Everyone was looking at her.
Corrina’s face went deep red as she realized what she had just said out loud. In her humiliation, she forgot all about killing Callie, and ran off up the stairs. Kitty ran after her.
That was when it happened.
Through the open windows of the Wherehouse, they all saw a congregation of frain vehicles screech to a sudden stop in front of the building, and in the back.
Mallacharr’s frain sweep had arrived.
Chaos erupted as frain swarmed into the Wherehouse. The Dreadniks scattered, time seemed to slow to a crawl, and many things happened at once.
Jon, Dom, Woodrow, and Wes (though not all at the same time) threw themselves at the frain to give the others a chance of escape, and were thus the first caught.
Kitty and Corrina ran up to the third floor. They were on the roof in no time, and headed down the ladder. No frain were at that side of the building as it had no doors or windows, and they had not yet caught sight of the ladder.
Kitty and Corrina made it down safely, and fled.
Bear, Spencer, Kevin, and Peggy ran up the first floor stairs to do likewise. At the end of that line, Peggy looked back to see the frain closing in behind them on the stairs, so she hurled herself at them, creating a tangled logjam of bodies falling backward down the staircase. By the time some of the frain managed to get past this and up to the roof; Kevin, Spencer, and Bear were already down the ladder, and on the run.
Meanwhile, inside the Wherehouse; Callie rammed her knee to the groin of an officer trying to manhandle her into submission. As he collapsed, she grabbed his dropped baton and gave him a good whack. She then ran over and used it to club the shin of an officer that had Mike in a headlock. The frain yelled with pain, and released Mike. Together, the Longstreets weaved and dodged all the way to the kitchenette.
Edward got there at the same moment, having just escaped a tall officer by hunching down and running between his legs. The three closed and locked the door behind them.
Mike opened and looked out of the kitchenette’s small and only window. It was close enough to the edge of the building that Mike could see the wagon at the back, surrounded by frain. Thing was, none of them were looking their way.
Mike and Callie hoisted Edward out the window with no problem. Callie slipped through lithely as well, even as the frain inside started breaking down the kitchenette’s door. Mike, however, got stuck halfway through. He looked at Callie and Edward, “Leave me.” he said.
Callie and Edward looked at each other, and then at Mike.
“No.” they replied.
Elsewhere, Jon, Dom, Wes, Woodrow, and Peggy were led outside, their hands cuffed behind them. They were to be put in the back of the frain’s prisoner transfer wagon.
Jon shouted “NOW!”, and each of them lifted a foot, and brought it down hard on the toes of their keepers. They shrugged off the hands of the frain upon their moment of pain and surprise, and ran off in five different directions.
“AFTER THEM!!” came the wholly unnecessary shout, as the frain dispersed after them.
At that same moment, Callie and Edward pulled Mike out through the window. The frain ran inside, seconds too late to grab Mike, saw the three now outside, and ran back out to get to them.
Mike considered a run to the wagon, as it had been left unguarded when the frain dispersed after Jon and the others; but there was no way to reach the wagon before the frain ran out the back door and intercepted them.
The wagon was lost to them. Mike let it go.
“Run like hell.” he said instead.
And they did.
In the end, the frain managed to recapture four of the five handcuffed runaways (Woodrow somehow gave them the slip); and after all that effort, and the element of surprise even, those four were the only ones they had to show for it.
“ONLY FOUR?!” Mallacharr yelled at his frain officers, as he surveyed the aftermath on site at the Wherehouse. He had just arrived, and had expected to see Dreadniks piled inside the prisoner transfer wagon.
“Those kids fought like sailors, sir!” one of the bolder officers complained, “And they ran like cwarnas!”
Mallacharr rubbed his hands over his face.
“Well, I guess four is enough,” he muttered to himself, “It’s not what I was hoping for, but it’ll have to do.”
“Uhhhh sir…” one of his lieutenants spoke, “If it’s any help, one of the four we caught is the leader of the group.”
“The Grash kid?”
Mallacharr lightened up. “Yeah, I think that might just be enough to impress the Vignach.”
He turned to go, then remembered something and turned back.
“I almost forgot!” he said, “Was there a Michael or Callindra Longstreet among the captured?”
“No sir,” the lieutenant said, looking at his clipboard, “Just Grash, Hansen, Goreth, and Spyre. That, plus some beat-up old station wagon we impounded that was on the premises.”
“Damn.” Mallacharr muttered, “Longstreet is not going to be happy.”
Inside the frain’s prisoner transfer wagon, the four captured Dreadniks sat.
“Well, that went well.” said Dom.
“At least the others got away.” Wes added.
“Bear will lead them now.” Jon said, “She’ll find them all and find a safe place.”
“And what do WE do?” Peggy asked, “Besides end up in Ragginarck?”
“We stay alert,” Jon replied, “Sooner or later, a window of opportunity always opens.”
Mallacharr returned to his office. The phone rang.
It was Charles Longstreet, and after Mallacharr answered his initial question, he became rather vocal.
“The information you gave us was correct, but your kids and several of the Dreadniks escaped our sweep.” Mallacharr tried to explain.
Longstreet hung up on him.
Mallacharr put the phone down. He didn’t care about Longstreet or his kids. He had got what he wanted, and the Vignach had been satisfied with the result.
Mallacharr finally had some elbow room, with which to elbow that Nandehl bitch out of his way. The sooner the better.
Charles Longstreet banged his fist on the table.
“They didn’t get them!” he shouted.
He and Rak were in Longstreet’s room at the Caprice Motel. From there Longstreet had called Mallacharr to inform him of the location of the Dreadnik’s hideout; to no apparent benefit.
Longstreet walked over to Rak, who sat staring into space.
“Where will the remaining Dreadniks go, now that they’ve lost their hideout?” he asked.
“There’s lots of places they could go,” Rak said, his voice lifeless and dull, “Some old hideouts that are still usable.”
“Come with me,” Longstreet said, “You are going to show me these places until we find them.”
The two left the motel, got into Longstreet’s stolen car (the one with MACATTO INSURANCE writ on its sides), and drove off.