The Mongers, Part 6
Their knobby tires crunched over the hardpan as they raced toward what they had taken at first to be small hills but were turning out to be mountains much farther away. As the bikes chewed up the distance, Butch wracked his brain trying to come up with some sort of a plan. Not easy when he had no idea what they were walking into in the first place. He briefly considered hiding the bikes once they were close and walking the rest of the way, but he was sure they’d be spotted long before they were within walking distance. Even now, looking at the craggy peak, Butch could imagine a lookout monitoring their progress through a pair of binoculars as the rest of the raider camp readied their weapons.
“This is stupid.” He thought to himself. There was no way they were going to get their stuff back. Part of him was surprised they weren’t being fired upon already. He thought of the powerful sniper rifle he’d kept stashed away in the truck. The one he’d sworn to himself he’d never sell. If the raiders turned that on them, they’d be easy pickings. Still, what he’d said to Jacob about them being dead without their truck hadn’t been a lie. That truck was their livelihood in more ways than one. Sure, being traders was a good business, but more than that, it made them welcome at most of the settlements they came across. Having items to trade literally opened doors to them which would remain shut if they showed up empty-handed.
He supposed they could find a new truck and start over, if they could keep from starving in the meantime. That was a big if. Still, Butch couldn’t see how to approach the raider camp without dying. A full assault was out of the question. They had neither the firepower nor the cover they needed for something like that. They only had one chance of getting anywhere near the camp without being gunned down first. Even then, it was a huge risk. Still, it was the only thing Butch could think of. He pulled in his clutch and slowly applied the brake to avoid sliding in the dirt. The two bikes flanking him did likewise.
“What’s up, Boss?” Bear asked.
“Rat, Nut. Sling those guns across your backs.” Butch ordered.
“But what if they start shooting?” Nut asked.
“Then we’re dead either way. Let’s just hope they won’t if we look friendly enough. If we show up looking for a fight, I’m sure they’ll be happy to give us one.”
“I don’t like it.” Nut said, doing as he was told anyway.
“I didn’t ask if you did.” Butch barked, a little too harshly. “Look, I don’t like it either, but I don’t see any other chance we have. Just put on your friendliest smile and be ready to empty your mag if negotiations fail.”
Butch looked at Rat, who already had his rifle slung across his back. He nodded, first to Bear, then to Gut as he put his bike back into gear.
They approached the craggy mountains slowly. Warily scanning the rocky outcroppings for anyone who might be laying in wait for them. Butch could feel his muscles throbbing and realized he’d been tensing for the inevitable gunshot ever since they’d crossed into rifle range. He consciously tried to relax them, but as soon as he stopped thinking about it, they’d tense back up.
Butch felt the air cool as they passed into the shadows of the mountain. He stopped his bike and dismounted. The others did the same. They found themselves at the mouth of a funnel leading to a narrow canyon between what were actually two mountains standing side by side.
“I don’t like this, Boss.” Rat said nervously. “It looks like a…”
“A trap. I know. But unless you’ve got a better idea, we have no choice.”
“Well, I’ve been thinking about that.” Nut chimed in. “What about that thing Rat wired up. What’d he call it?”
“A failsafe.” Rat said.
“Yeah. What about that failsafe thing?”
“Jesus Nut. Do you know what that thing does? If Rat presses that button, the truck, and everything in it, blows up. Including Bertha.”
“Better than letting these assholes get their filthy hands on her.”
“So you’re telling me we came all this way, just so we could vaporize the whole thing without even trying to get it back? Is that what you really want to do?”
“Well, you asked for ideas.”
“Fine. Let me clarify. Does anyone have any GOOD ideas?”
The rest of the group stayed silent.
“Okay then. Here’s the plan. Gut, Bear, and I will see where this canyon goes. We’ll keep our guns holstered.”
Gut and Bear exchanged a look at this but said nothing.
“Nut, I want you to follow us with your rifle, but try to stay out of sight. Keep your distance, but stay close enough to cover us if need be. Got it?”
Nutcase nodded, but the look on his face said he didn’t like the idea.
“What about me?” Rat asked.
“You’re staying here with the bikes. I want you to be able to make an opening with your rifle if they box us in. If things go bad, I want you to blow the truck, jump on my bike, and hightail it back to the school, got it?”
Rat nodded solemnly.
Without another word, Butch headed down the canyon path with Bear and Gut flanking him. None of them said a word. Soon, the sheer walls of the mountains pressed in on them. Even though they tried to be as quiet as possible, the crunching of their footsteps echoed off the rocks, making them feel like someone was following them. Here and there were shadowy holes in the rock face. Butch assumed they were cave entrances and eyes them warily, waiting for an army of raiders to come boiling out of them, but none did. Still, from time to time, he could swear he heard sounds coming from them that weren’t their own echoes.
Finally, the path began to widen as the sides of the mountains retreated from each other and they suddenly found themselves at the mouth of a box canyon. At the far end, sitting in a battered lawn chair, sat an old man. Smoking a pipe. He felt Bear going for his pistol and stopped him.
“Well, well, well. Look what the cat drug in.” The old man said with a chuckle that turned into a wheezing cough. “Looks like they done got you too, didn’t they?”