River Of Night – Snippet 09


“Get your ass in here, Biggs!” Loki said, holding the door for a man with heavy facial tattoos. “You were supposed to be here fifteen minutes ago!”

“Hey, its all good, ‘migo!” the smaller ex-con smiled ingratiatingly, as he slid by, looking up at the much taller man. “Had to sort out a little situation over at the Rec Hall, is all.”

Biggs hitched suggestively at his belt as he leered at the table before hooking an office chair with his ankle and plopping into it.

“Enough!” Harlan Green ordered briskly. “This place is not a democracy. All you took my deal. You joined our association on my terms. There will be discipline. Discipline means being on time.”

Harlan ignored Biggs’ prison yard patter as he consulted his wristwatch. The Patek Phillipe had a tan leather band that clashed with the adjacent bright red circlet of woven hair. He frowned and removed the watch before admiring his wrist again. Content, he then opened the notebook PC at his elbow. Around him, most of the meeting participants sat patiently.

They damned well should. They owed him their lives. Harlan had engineered the entire plan that had led to this meeting.

He’d built on his successful, initial recruiting session of prisoners from the State Penitentiary bus that had mysteriously crashed in a conveniently remote area. Those volunteers became his cadre, and helped with each successive round of interviews. With one exception, each person at the head table was a hand selected, carefully screened product of American prison system. Not all of his initial recruits had made it this far. There had been some breakage.

One doesn’t engineer a borderline catastrophic bus crash, let alone three or four, without casualties, naturally.

Speaking of which, Biggs hadn’t stopped talking yet.

“Mr. Loki, if Mr. Biggs doesn’t shut up by the time you draw, shoot him in the head,” Harlan ordered.

Loki made a lighting draw from his chest rig and was on target a shade after Biggs’ mouth clopped shut. The huge man preferred a big pistol, and his H&K Mk23 actually appeared to be a normally sized pistol in his oversized hands.

The violent elimination of one of the inner circle wasn’t unknown, but no one had been culled in this manner in weeks. Everyone sat a little straighter. The men on either side of Biggs leaned away from him in involuntarily reflex. 

“And if he opens his mouth again other than to answer a direct question from me,” Harlan said, “you may shoot him without warning.”

“Done, Mr. Green.” replied Loki, his voice rumbling menacingly.

No one, and probably not any four of the inner circle, could take Loki in a straight up fight. Since Harlan had carefully avoided recruiting prisoners with shared gang affiliation or other documented ties to each other, he was confident that no one would stick their neck out for a relative stranger. By the time that they knew each other well enough for that to become possible, they would either have accepted his leadership or been excused

Thus, if Biggs opened his mouth he would die.

Harlan didn’t feel particularly strongly about it other way, as long as Biggs stayed quiet. None of the candidates meant to become his lieutenants meant especially much to him, apart from their utility. All of them were sociopaths; they’d been chosen for that very quality. That meant that they shared, to a certain extent, his lack of empathy for other people. However, they were also prone to rash action and could give in to their baser desires at inefficient moments.

That’s was fine, as long as it served his purpose. Otherwise, bang.


He didn’t feel bad about it, of course. They’d all been dead men in the supermax prison, so really he’d practically saved their lives, hadn’t he?

From a very early date, it was obvious to Harlan that the H7D3 was a weapon. It became equally clear that the targets of the plague were broadly distributed and that barring some biological breakthrough, the disease was going to progress until it burnt its way across the entire planet. He ran some simulations through his own statistical models using datasets which he accessed somewhat entrepreneurially.

Yes indeed, the disease had showed every sign of winning. Harlan was a little jealous. Quite jealous.

Since it wouldn’t do to be caught in the biological trap set by whoever it was, he intended to leverage the conditions surrounding the fall of the American system. That would require a team.

He would supply the brains.

The team would provide loyalty and muscle, but the right sorts.

Timing had been tricky. Too early and the law enforcement infrastructure would remain distressingly intact. Too late and both his recruits and his, well, call them his additional conscripts might be infected.

Once Harlan had equipped himself with sysadmin permissions inside in the Virginia Department of Corrections system, he’d scanned the general population and special holding areas of the supermax prison for candidates.

He had defined a specific profile. Sociopathic, but able to compensate somewhat. Intelligent, but not necessarily genius level. A record of some success, but not too much. Demonstrated capacity for violence tempered with control. In short, capable subordinates which he could both motivate and reliably direct.

A simple Python script had narrowed thousands of names to a hundred or so. Creating prison transfer orders of those carefully selected inmates was equally straightforward.

Loki had been the real jewel. Formerly Senior Corrections Officer Gilmar Hadolfsen, his name had popped up on one of the database searches that Harlan had performed when scanning for the correctional staff that he wanted to keep off the transfer buses.

The senior prison guard’s profile had been intriguing. His records reflected complaints of excessive force, suspicion of organizing and participating in no-holds cage fights with the prisoners and he had been the focus of several unfruitful internal affairs investigations. He had prior military service and time as a private military contractor, linked to third party rendition operations. A deeper search of his personal records and finances had strongly suggested that he was enjoying income outside the scope of his official prison salary. That degree of moral flexibility blended intriguingly with capability.

On a whim, Harlan had included him on the first set of recruits.

It turned out that they had some shared interests.

Which had worked out surprisingly well.

Though less well for most of the rest of that particular shipment.

“We’re poised for growth,” Harlan said, lecturing a very still audience, a few still eyeballing Loki’s rock steady pistol hand. “We have the basics of what we need to establish ourselves as a successful replacement for local government. Each of you will have a territory and a team. Within your assigned territory you will rescue those that can provide useful work, or fight or… otherwise contribute to our plan. Our priority is to identify any surviving civic structures and replace them. We’ll also organize the logistics necessary for food, clean water, sanitation, resupply and ahem, recreation.”

This time there were a few low chuckles. Even Biggs smiled. With his mouth closed.

“Those logistics will rely on vehicles, fuel and clear roads,” Harlan said, gesturing to the table that they shared. Gas station maps, cartographic maps, even a framed map of the regional voting districts were layered underneath pages of notes and a loose digital tablet. It was all about information. Information, control and vision.

He had vision, and to spare.

“We’ll organize labor forces to clear at least a single lane on every major road everywhere that we take and hold territory,” He looked at each person on his immediate staff. “For the nonce, you will principally work in pairs. Later, you’ll own and boss your own crews. Right now, we’ll continue to work in relatively close proximity to each other and we’ll grow our labor pool. Questions?”

“I got one, Mr. Green,” Eva O’Shannesy said, raising her hand even as she spoke. The sole woman among the senior crew, she was snake quick and perhaps more prone to violence than the rest. “Do you got a place where you plan to set up shop or is one spot as good as another?”

“That I do, Ms. O’Shannesy,” Harlan replied matter of factly. “Eventually, we’re going to need select a long term base that is both defensible and has access to important resources. Fortunately, we’ll have several options to explore soon enough. Meanwhile, mobility and productivity will remain our focus.”