If you’ve never read Afterlife before, click here to go to the first chapter.
Afterlife is a sci fi/western action serial published every other week. Join us in a post-apocalyptic journey through a future where life has become little more than a struggle for survival. However, where there’s life, there’s always hope.
Read the previous chapter here:
Nat decides to stay in Dead Man’s Bluff as sheriff with Bobby as his deputy.
Nat and Alex aren’t happy with Abby’s idea to rob Rennock’s banks with Ace and Annabelle.
Abby sets out for the meeting in North Point, leaving Bobby, Nat, Shelly, and Sera behind.
Check out Afterlife on Goodreads and don’t forget to rate it.
Afterlife, Volume 2, Chapter 18
Nat entered the Crosshairs Saloon, letting the doors flap behind him. Bobby followed cautiously. His right arm was still in its sling, but his left hand hovered over his holstered laser pistol. He still didn’t feel comfortable firing with his left hand, so he hoped things didn’t come to that. The silver star badge over his left breast also made Bobby feel a little uncomfortable. He’d relished his previous anonymity, and now he felt like eyes were on him everywhere he went. At least Nat was with him to soak up most of the attention.
The saloon was mostly empty as it was early afternoon. The poker game was just starting and the piano player hadn’t arrived yet. The place’s owner was Basil Simmons, a tall, thin black man with a gray beard. He was standing behind the bar, glaring at two men seated at the bar who were wearing leather jackets with spiky metal shoulder plates. One had a Mohawk and the other was shaved bald. Bobby noticed the letters “IAO” painted on the backs of both of their jackets in red letters. “Where’d the wench go?” the one with the Mohawk asked Basil. “My hands are cold. I thought I could warm them in her shirt. Or maybe her pants. I’ve got somethin’ else that needs warmin’, too.”
The bald man laughed but Basil was obviously not amused. “She’s hidin’ from the likes of you.”
“The service in this place sucks,” the bald man said as he picked up his half full mug of beer and flung it at Basil’s head. Basil ducked just in time and the mug slammed into a bottle of liquor and shattered it, spraying the clear liquid everywhere.
Basil frowned at him. “That bottle cost over a two thousand dollars. Who’s gonna pay for it?”
“You already paid for it when you bought it,” the man with the Mohawk said, chuckling. He threw his empty mug across the bar and it slammed into several more bottles, breaking them. “I guess you paid for those, too. Unless you stole ‘em.” Of the few people who were in the saloon so early, most started filing out.
“Are you a thief, Basil?” the bald man asked. “Did you steal ‘em?”
“I only see two thieves in here,” Basil muttered.
“You callin’ me a theif?” the man with the Mohawk asked. “You better learn to hold your tongue, you old…” Before he could finish, Nat’s gloved right fist smashed into the side of his face. Bobby realized that it had been Nat’s metal arm as there was a cracking sound and the man flew past his friend and into a table, crashing through it and several chairs. He didn’t get up after that. Bobby wasn’t sure if he was unconscious or dead.
“You’re a sheriff,” the bald man said, backing away from Nat as Basil looked on with fear in his eyes. “You can’t just…”
“Can’t just what?” Nat asked. “The rule is you don’t talk unless I speak to ya.”
“But…” Before the bald man could say anything else, Nat’s metal fist slammed into his face also, and he toppled into several other barstools on his way to the floor.
“Bobby and Basil,” Nat said as he stood over the bald man, who was still conscious and whimpering against the bar. “Go pick that other sack of trash up and take ‘im to the jail for questionin’. This guy’s gonna help me send the IAO a message.”
“What’s the message?” the bald man asked from the floor. Nat drew a hunting knife from his right cowboy boot and grabbed the man’s right hand. He proceeded to slice off the man’s pinkie as he screamed.
“The message is,” Nat said, shouting to be heard over the screams. “If I see any more IAO punks in town, they ain’t gonna lose fingers. I’m gonna take their heads. Now get the hell out of here before I decided to start with you.” The man scrambled up from the floor, knocking down another barstool and ran for the doors at a full sprint.
Bobby couldn’t believe what he had watched, but he was afraid to say anything. Nat seemed to notice him staring. “It’s the only way to deal with punks like them. Make ‘em fear ya.”
“They’ll come after you,” Basil said as he helped Bobby drag the other man towards the door.
“I’m sure they will,” Nat said. “And I’ll be ready for ‘em.” He patted the huge revolver which was holstered on his hip.
The street led through the wealthiest section of Los Demonios, past large homes and mansions, and it stopped at the marble steps of what looked like a castle from the Middle Ages. The building was surrounded by a high wall and the massive wooden drawbridge opened over a moat through which thousands of small fish swam. As Jim Brantley followed Warrick across the drawbridge, he looked down into the crystal clear water. Jim could see that the fish had sharp teeth. “Piranhas,” he muttered.
“What was that?” Warrick asked as the two men entered a lavish courtyard with a fountain containing statues of Greek gods and goddesses.
“This guy has piranhas in his moat,” Jim said. He noticed there were several towering, expensive trees growing in the courtyard, their green leaves forming a canopy overhead that shielded the courtyard from the hot desert sun.
“We’ll have to make sure we don’t fall in, then,” Warrick said.
Once the two men were standing in the marble cobblestone courtyard, the drawbridge raised behind them with several creaks. Seven beautiful women in fancy white dresses entered the courtyard from a door in the central keep. They smiled as they approached Warrick and Jim. All were very beautiful with tan skin and long, full bodied hair. They walked with the grace of dancers. “How may we serve you?” a stunning blonde asked.
“We’re here to see the Duke of Weston,” Warrick said.
“He’s expecting you,” the woman said. “Come with us, please.” Warrick and Jim followed the seven women as they entered the central keep once again. Jim couldn’t keep his eyes off the blonde’s curvaceous body.
They entered an expansive throne room with a red carpet that led down the center. Colorful stained glass windows filled the white marble room with a spectrum of light. Both sides of the carpet were lined with more beautiful women who all smiled at Warrick and Jim as they entered the castle. Jim was awestruck by the sheer number of women in the room, each sexier than the next. There were hundreds. At the end of the hall was a lavish golden throne on which the Duke of Weston sat in his fur coat. Jim thought of the comparatively small office in the IAO headquarters that had once been the Capo’s throne room and was now Warrick’s. He was starting to realize who had the real power in the organization. No doubt Warrick was going to change that. “Welcome to the Duke’s harem,” the Duke of Weston said as Warrick and Jim made their way through the room. His voice echoed throughout the hall. “The Duke couldn’t be happier to see the two of you. We have lots to talk about.” His handsome face wore an arrogant grin. As Jim continued looking around the room, it struck him that there were no armed guards.
Warrick stopped at the foot of the marble dais which was capped by the throne. “I was told you have a gift for me.”
The Duke nodded. “It’s the Duke’s first tribute.”
A woman who’d been standing at the side of the dais walked forward holding a wooden box which she presented to Warrick. The cyborg opened the box and Jim looked in, seeing the largest diamond he’d ever seen. It was pale purple and was at least seven inches in diameter. Warrick closed the box and handed it to Jim. “The Jupiter Diamond,” Warrick said. “To what do I owe such generosity?”
“It’s a welcoming gift,” the Duke said. “Some men who’ve been working with us found it near Carpenter City and brought it here. The Duke already has more money than he knows what to do with, so he thought you could use it to help bolster the IAO’s military prowess. He’s heard you know many of Rennock’s secrets and you’ve been using your knowledge to build quite a surplus of weaponry. This can only help with that effort.” Jim wasn’t naïve. He knew such gifts came at a cost. As he held the box with the diamond in it, he wondered what that cost would be and when the Duke would expect Warrick to pay.
Warrick nodded. “We’ve been stealing weapons and supplies from Rennock since I’ve arrived. We’re weakening him while strengthening ourselves. It’s the classic win-win.”
“The Duke likes how you think.”
“It’s not rocket science,” Warrick said. “So have any of your men heard anything about the people I mentioned to you earlier? Nat Bigum, Abigail Song, or Anna Ballin?”
“The Duke may have some information for you. There’s a new sheriff who’s been causing trouble in a town west of the mountains. Our men haven’t been able to give the Duke his name yet, but he’s starting to have a negative effect on a lucrative gold mining operation we’ve set up there. Beretta’s going out in a few days to check it out.”
“That sounds interesting,” Warrick said. “Keep me posted on that situation. I may have to pay the town a visit myself eventually. What’s the name of it?”
“Dead Man’s Bluff, if the Duke’s memory serves.”
“Dead Man’s Bluff,” Warrick repeated. “Famous for the Moore-Dayton Feud. Very interesting. And what of the other two people?”
“Some of the Duke’s men may have a lead on your Anna Ballin. The Duke will surely let you know if anything useful comes of it. As far as Abigail Song goes, we have eyes and ears everywhere, but none have seen or heard a peep from her as of yet.”
“Very well,” Warrick said. “Now on to other business. I was hoping we could speak somewhere more private.” Jim looked up and down the hall at the rows of beautiful women.
The Duke nodded. He clapped his hands twice and the hundreds of women began dispersing, leaving the throne room through various doors. The Duke stood and walked down the steps of the dais. “Follow the Duke.” Warrick and Jim followed him around the dais and through a door which opened into a narrow hallway lined with more wooden doors. They eventually stopped at a door to the left, which the Duke opened. The two men followed him in. There was a wooden desk which the Duke seated himself behind. Jim and Warrick sat in two of several wooden chairs which faced the desk. The room was lighted dimly and there was a colorful abstract painting on the wall behind the desk which made Jim immediately think of fire.
“So,” Warrick began, “I thought you could fill me in a little more on how this organization of yours works. We’ve been getting regular tributes, but other than that, everyone seems to be doing his or her own thing.”
“We’re all working on our own projects so long as they align with our overall goal of disrupting established systems,” the Duke said. “The organization part is mainly for communication and self-defense purposes. We can operate as a group if need be, but we prefer to allow our members to operate autonomously.”
“I suppose that makes sense,” Warrick said.
“We don’t care what activities our members partake in, as long as they further our overall goals. We dabble in everything from theft, money laundering, and embezzlement to drug dealing and prostitution. And we attack the established institutions of society with any means at our disposal. We basically threw a stink bomb into the bathroom of the world and are waiting to see what happens.”
“Hence the anarchy part of your name,” Warrick said.
The Duke grinned his half-grin and moved his right hand through his curly blonde hair. “There’s good, there’s evil, and there’s us.”
“From what I’ve seen and heard, you have a strong hand in the prostitution business,” Warrick said. Jim thought about the women he’d seen in the castle, especially the beautiful blonde who’d greeted them. He wondered if he’d be able to buy a night with her.
The Duke nodded. “All of the pimps pay tribute to the Duke. Long John receives most of his money from the drug trade. And Beretta.” He chuckled. “Well, he’s our chief executioner. Hired guns and hit men pay him tribute.”
“And the thieves and other criminals pay tribute to me,” Warrick said. “Formerly the Capo.”
“That’s right,” the Duke said. “We all enjoyed our own pieces of the pie, and everyone thrived from top to bottom.”
“And the Capo became a threat to that,” Warrick said.
“He did.” The Duke chuckled. “His insanity caught up with him. We needed him in the beginning. He was a businessman who lost most of his fortune, but he had some decent ideas and lots of followers. When his business went under, he started a group called the Chaos Monks up north somewhere. They were almost like a cultish religious order. For whatever reason, the Capo left them and came here to start a new organization. That’s where the Duke met him. After some time, the Duke began to realize that he was a schizophrenic and his bad decisions were actually what led to his financial issues.”
“Well it’s good that you’re rid of him, then,” Warrick said.
“The Duke thanks you for that. The Duke was already planning to dethrone him, but you took care of that.”
“Well I’m no leader,” Warrick said, glaring at the Duke with his red eyes, “so I hope you don’t think you’re going to dethrone me.”
The Duke shook his head. “The Duke thinks he can work with you as long as you hold to our ideals.”
“Which ideals are those?”
The Duke grinned. “Chaos, anonymity, and autonomy.”
“Those are my ideals also,” Warrick said, “so it sounds like we’ll be able to work well together.”
“The Duke is sure we can, then.” He leaned forward and he and Warrick shook hands.
“Well, I’m afraid Jim and I must be going,” Warrick said.
The Duke smiled at Jim. “You’re a quiet one. The Duke hopes any questions in your mind have been answered.”
Jim nodded. “I’m just working for Warrick.”
“Well,” the Duke said as the three men stood. “The Duke will have one of his ladies escort the two of you out. Feel free to try out any of the Duke’s pleasure houses in town, but all of the women here in the Duke’s harem belong to him.”
“You have good taste,” Jim said as they walked towards the door. He was a little disappointed that it seemed he’d never have a night with the pretty blonde.
“The Duke loves his women. He even has some women locked away in a dungeon downstairs. Those are the ones who never learned to enjoy the Duke’s company.” He paused as Warrick and Jim exited the office. “There are some men down there too. All of them belong to the Duke. His play things, you could say.” Jim swallowed as a sinister look came over the Duke of Weston’s face. “The Duke doesn’t take kindly to those who betray him. They learn to serve him eventually, though. Whether they do it of their own free will or not is up to them.”
Warrick glared at him. “People who’ve betrayed me don’t end up in a dungeon. They aren’t so lucky.”
The Duke smiled. “Good day to you, Warrick Baines.” His gaze fell on Jim. “And Jim Brantley.”
“Good day,” Jim said. He noticed the pretty blonde walking towards him and Warrick with a smile on her perfect face. Now, however, Jim thought he could sense fear hiding behind her charming façade. Fear and a deeply hidden sadness.
The house was built in a glen near the foot of a towering mountain. Bobby turned and looked behind him, where he could see the foothills spreading out towards the desert. He parked his new sand bike as Nat turned off his engine. Bobby was very happy with the shiny silver bike he’d bought from a dealer at a nearby town. It wasn’t easy riding with one arm, but Bobby was getting used to it. He and Nat stepped down off their bikes and walked towards the small stone cottage. “Now I don’t think he’s gonna be nice to us at first,” Nat said. “I don’t expect ‘im to come right out and shoot us, but be ready.” Bobby nodded and put his left hand on the hilt of his pistol.
The door opened and a gruff, middle aged man stood holding a laser rifle. He was overweight and a gray beard covered the lower half of his face. He wore a tan ten gallon hat. “Y’all have come far enough. State your business unless ya want me to ventilate ya.”
“We’ve come to offer your son a job,” Nat said.
“A job?” Richard Dayton chuckled. “My son ain’t takin’ no jobs with no Moores.”
“I’m not a Moore,” Nat said.
“You’s workin’ with’ em.”
Nat nodded. “That’s right. Chuck Moore’s my deputy. He’s back at the jail, though, watchin’ over a prisoner.”
“What do I care about that?” Richard asked.
“Well, the prisoner is an IAO punk. I know you Daytons have been hirin’ IAO members as security around your mines. They ain’t no good, though. They’ll turn on you in a heartbeat. And I’m certain it’s them that’s got this feud goin’ again. It’s in their interests to have you and the Moores killin’ one another off.”
“Why’s that?” Richard asked. His laser rifle was pointed at the ground. Bobby was thankful for that.
“I don’t know why,” Nat said, “but I mean to find out. I wanted one of your sons to come work for me as a deputy. Whichever one’s the better shot. I’ve got a Moore workin’ for me and I wanted a Dayton, also. I figured we could all work together to get to the bottom of this and take out the real threat around here.”
“Listen, sheriff,” Richard said mockingly, “you don’t know squat about what’s goin’ on around here. You let Honest Abe Miller out of jail. Do you know he murdered two of my cousins just a few days ago? And I heard you yourself killed my nephew at Boot Hill. You think I’d forget that? I know a ringer when I see one.”
“A ringer?” Nat asked.
“Yeah,” Richard said. “A ringer. I know them Moores brought you here to even things out a little bit. Nat Bigum don’t show up in some small nowhere town for no reason. They must be payin’ you well.”
“Mayor Coolidge is payin’ me,” Nat said. “The Moores ain’t payin’ me.”
“He’s another Moore family stooge,” Richard blurted. “Just like the lot of ya. Now, you can take your black friend there and get the hell off my property. And next time I see ya, I’m gonna blow your head off. This is a warnin’. I don’t care who ya are. If ya know anything about me, you know I know how to use one of these.” He nodded down at the rifle. “Now, get lost or get dead.”
Nat frowned. “Your nephew pulled a gun on me. If I didn’t kill ‘im, he’d have killed me. It was an unfortunate situation, but I’m sorry for it. It wasn’t supposed to happen that way.”
“I said get lost,” Richard said. “And if I ever see you, any of them Moores, or your gimpy black friend there anywhere near my property again, I ain’t gonna be so kind. If you ain’t on your bikes before I’m done countin’ to ten, I’m gonna start shootin’. One. Two.”
Bobby looked at Nat and frowned. The sheriff turned and started walking back to his bike. When Richard got to eight, Nat was starting his engine. Bobby also started his engine and followed Nat down the road that led away from Richard Dayton’s house.
Though North Point was only about twenty miles southwest of Dead Man’s Bluff, the trip was treacherous and there was lots of impassable terrain between the two towns. The hover truck had to go around mountains, foothills, and towering sand dunes, and sometimes they had to backtrack a little, so it was taking John a lot longer to drive there than Abby had thought it would. They’d recently stopped for lunch and now Abby was watching the dunes pass through the back of the truck. Della and Big Ed had docked their sand bikes on the sides of the truck for the trip through the foothills, but now they were following close behind. Abby could still see the mountains in the distance behind them. As she looked at the fading shapes, she wondered if she’d ever see Bobby or Nat again. She glanced at Ace McCoy, who was seated across from her next to Mark Gonzalez.
The previous evening, Einstein had begun telling her the 762 things that had at least a fifty percent chance of going wrong with her plan regarding Ace and Annabelle. Abby turned him off after he began stating the fourteenth thing. Abby had mostly been tuning him out anyway. Einstein had agreed with her earlier that there was no other likely way for her to come up with over fifty billion dollars. Something had to be done, though. Even with Alex’s money, they’d still be way short. Abby had also pointed out that Rennock would be losing the money while the resistance gained it, so the net difference would be growing even smaller. It was the same thing she’d said to Alex and Nat. Everyone still thought it was a terrible idea, and now Abby was starting to second guess herself. Annabelle had already tried to escape twice. She’d tried to sneak off when they’d stopped for lunch, and she also tried to make a run for it when she stopped to pee. It took both Mark Gonzalez and his wife Jane to subdue her and get her back to the truck, even with her handcuffs on. Annabelle Rose was feisty and uncontrollable. Ace, on the other hand, seemed to be constantly analyzing situations, looking for opportunities. Abby could definitely see the poker player in him as he read people and went over odds in his head. It was only a matter of time before he put some sort of plan together. Still, there were seven armed people in the truck and three others who were constantly keeping an eye on them. Ace grinned at her. Abby didn’t realize she’d been staring, so she quickly turned away. “It’s going to be awfully hard robbing banks without the use of our hands,” Ace said with his strong southern accent.
“Just like it’s hard peeing in the desert without hands,” Annabelle muttered.
“Keep your mouths shut,” Mark said. “There’s no way in hell we’re taking your handcuffs off.”
“I was simply making a statement,” Ace said.
“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” Abby said.
Ace grinned at her. He was a handsome man, if a little old for Abby. His head was shaved smooth and he had a brown goatee and thoughtful green eyes. “We’re very grateful to you for setting us free. You know we wouldn’t do anything to hurt you after you’ve been so kind to us.”
Abby frowned. “I didn’t set you free. Think of it as a prisoner transfer. You were Nat’s prisoners. Now you’re mine.”
“You’re a very gracious host all the same,” Ace said. “Far more gracious than your friend Nat Bigum, at least. I prefer traveling to rotting in a cell and then getting hanged. I don’t think I’d look very good decorating a gallows pole. You’d think Nat would have been nicer to someone who saved his life.”
“I said keep your mouth shut,” Mark said, glaring at Ace.
“It’s been a long trip,” Annabelle said. “You can’t expect us to keep quiet the whole time.”
“It’s what I expect,” Mark said, “and it’s what you’re gonna do.”
Abby looked through the back of the truck once again. Her mind wandered to the upcoming meeting. She was excited about meeting the other members of the Lead Council of the Free Society Federation in North Point. She was especially excited about meeting General Javier Rodriguez, the legendary Hammer of the West. She’d also heard him referred to as the Bull, the Bull Hammer, and the Human Sandstorm. There were so many stories about General Rodriguez that he was almost more of a tall tale than a real man. Abby had heard stories when she was a kid about how his village was marauded by a cave bear when he was ten, and he went into the cave and wrestled the bear into submission, killing it with his bare hands. When he was eighteen and a new recruit with the army, his entire company left an outpost deserted and Javier Rodriguez alone fended off three hundred enemy soldiers. Later, five of his fellow soldiers were injured in a raging battle and Rodriguez singlehandedly saved all of them, transporting them one by one across enemy lines to a medical facility. The last story had actually been verified to some extent by the men Rodriguez had saved, as Abby saw their interviews in a documentary when she was younger. The other stories were probably at least partially fiction. Still, it was said the Hammer of the West had never lost a fight or a battle, and from what Abby knew, that was true.
Abby remembered a time years ago when her father was going somewhere to meet the general and her brother Jimmy begged him to get a signed picture. Jimmy had idolized General Rodriguez, and he hung the picture on his wall. Abby frowned, remembering what Jimmy’s face had looked like as Warrick Baines’ laser blasted through it. She shook off the bloody thoughts and saw Annabelle Rose staring at her. “What the hell are you looking at?” Abby asked. She realized afterward how angry she must have seemed.
“I was just looking,” Annabelle said. “Sorry. There are only so many places my eyes can rest. It was between you, the dirty old professor, and the dorky short guy.” She nodded towards Alex and then Paul, who were seated to Abby’s left and right. “I guess I’ll just close my eyes.”
“Sorry,” Abby muttered. “I didn’t mean to snap at you.” She looked out the back of the truck at the passing dunes once again, wondering how much longer it would be until they reached North Point.
Continue on to the next chapter:
Afterlife, Volume 2, Chapter 19
Abby and her companions arrive in North Point.
The spy contacts Herman Rennock.
Shelly talks with Sera Knight.
Check out Afterlife on Goodreads and don’t forget to rate it.
Check out Michael Monroe’s page on Amazon to find other stuff he’s written.
Like Afterlife on Facebook to find out when the next chapter is posted.
Follow Afterlife on Twitter to get updates on new postings and other news.
Follow Afterlife on Tumblr for access to supplemental material.