TIME SPIKE – snippet 33:



            Adrian Luff turned the key, heard the click and gave a little sigh of relief. He hadn’t dared try it any earlier. Getting too anxious had caused more than one solid plan to disintegrate. Using his mirror he checked the hall to be sure the guard was nowhere to be seen.

            It was clear.

            He moved down the row of cells, unlocking each door as he passed it. The men inside were expecting him. None of them made a sound. Instead, they stepped out and fell into line behind him. They carried their shoes. Many of them also carried jury-rigged weapons made from whatever material they had managed to locate. He came to the end of the row less than five minutes after leaving his cell.

            He passed a key to the man behind him and motioned for him to go up the metal stairs to the third floor. The rest of the men followed him to the ground level. The guard had just finished rounds, so he would be at the desk. The idiots still did their paperwork. There was no administrative aide who was ever going to read it, but they did it just the same.

            Howard Earl Jameson looked up just as Luff cleared the last step. He snatched up his radio and keyed the send button, shouting a warning to the other guards. But the radio was dead, of course.

            Luff waved at the guard. Three prisoners moved toward him, blocking his way to the door. The short struggle that followed didn’t last long. Once it was over, the guard lay on the floor, tied up with a cord clipped from a now useless television. His keys were in Luff’s pocket, his flashlight in Luff’s hand.

            “Let’s move,” Adrian said.

            One of the prisoners took off down the cellblock releasing the men on the lower level. These were the men chosen for tonight, and for the months ahead. Most of them were smarter than the average con and all of them had backgrounds that Luff thought would be useful in this new world. And they included, of course, all the men who had become part of Luff’s informal organization.

            That was something Luff hadn’t bothered to explain to Collins. He had let the man think they were being chosen because of their fighting prowess. Collins was another idiot. He couldn’t think past tonight. He couldn’t see they were going to need farmers and soldiers, mechanics and laborers, everything you could think of.

            Collins had insisted the women be spared and Adrian had agreed. What Collins didn’t know was that none of the guards were going to die if Luff could help it. Including the male guards whom Collins obviously expected were going to be murdered on the spot.

            Not tonight, anyway. Not until he discovered who was useful and who was not. Who could make things run. Who could build things.

            Tonight was the easy part.

            The hard part was months down the road. Actually, it was years from now. Running water and sewers and baked bread with jam. Those were the things that gave life a quality Luff wasn’t anxious to live without. He didn’t mind doing it for a while, but he wasn’t going to do it forever. Before he was busted, he had made a good living as an accountant for a manufacturing company that made specialty parts for machinery. He hadn’t worked the floor. He didn’t have those skills, but he knew men who could look at a drawing and two weeks later hand you a functioning machine.

            And that’s what he had to know about the guards they captured, before any of them were killed. Who was working this hellhole because the economy sucked, their old line of work had dried up, and they needed cold hard cash to meet the mortgage?

            Once he sifted through the guards he would go through the prisoners. Some of them would be men of talent who happened to fall on the wrong side of the law. But, prisoner or guard, it didn’t matter to Luff. As long as they had a skill that was usable, they could live. After he knew who was who, who had those talents and skills, then he would thin the numbers, but not one minute before he was sure.

            He motioned for everyone to put their shoes on. If things went right, they wouldn’t have to worry about noise from this point on. When the last man gave him a heads up, he turned the knob on the door and pushed it open.

            He stopped halfway through the door, startled. This was the first time he’d been outside his cell since the Quiver. The fresh air felt good on his skin, and in his lungs. The sky was prettier than he remembered.

            Then he noticed the slight chill in the wind. He had heard winter might be coming. This was late November, pre-Quiver time. Now, no one knew. Everyone just guessed and hoped.

            He moved on. The weather wouldn’t change anything that happened tonight. June or January, it didn’t matter. Tonight he had to take the prison.

            When Collins had approached him with his plan to take command, Luff had agreed. Partly because he preferred being in charge to being incarcerated, but more because he was afraid to turn him down. If Collins succeeded, he’d be the one deciding who got culled and who didn’t.  He might easily decide that there wasn’t any use for an accountant in their new world.

            So, Adrian had agreed. He’d even encouraged the fool.

            He’d had to do more than encourage, soon enough. Collins really wasn’t very bright. Adrian had had to baby him along. Patiently explaining what was needed, over and over. Explaining and arguing. Pushing him to make all the steps, not letting him take any shortcuts.

            Walking through the grounds, moving quickly, using Jameson’s keys as they came to doors that had been left unguarded, they made their way to the armory. The map Collins had given him was good. So was the route. They did not run into one guard from the time they left the cell-block until they stepped into the door of the small block building twenty minutes later.

            “You’re early,” Collins said, frowning at his watch. “Ten minutes.”

            Luff nodded. “It went better than we thought it would.”

            “You took care of Jameson?”

            “Yeah.” Luff looked at the room beyond the entry area. “He won’t be a problem.”

            “I bet not.” Collins chuckled and shook his head. “Okay, the easy part’s over. You and your boys are about to earn your keep.”

            “How many are on duty, and how many are in their bunks?”

            When Collins told him, Luff gave a low whistle. “Are you sure?”

            “Sure I’m sure. Everyone not on duty is beat. They’ve been pulling twelve-hour shifts ever since the Quiver. They’re sacked out in A-block. You send a few guys in there with repeating rifles, and you’ll have them before they’ve had a chance to roll out of their bedrolls.”

            “And the other twenty-four?”

            “You only have eighteen left to worry about. You’ve already got Jameson. Marie Keehn went with Hulbert and I’m right here.” He looked at his list. “Kathleen Hanrahan’s on maternity; she’s just had a kid. And Elaine Brown is still out of it. She’s the C.O. Boyd Chrissman nailed. They’re both in the infirmary with two of the three nurses.” Collins snickered. “Blacklock left the two old crones and took the honey with him. They’re both as old as dirt, and look like shit. But what the hell. I’ll take care of them myself.”

            Luff took the roster and looked at it. “Casey Fisher, she’s their guard. I take it you plan to take care of her, too.”

            Collins shrugged.

            “Okay. You go to the infirmary. But remember, you’re the one who made the rule: none of the women are to be hurt.”

            “Killed,” Collins said.

            “We’ll need the nurses. I don’t want any of them hurt. Are you understanding me?”

            “Not a problem. I won’t lay a finger on either of the nurses.”

            “Or the guards, or the kid,” Luff said forcefully. “You have a job to do tonight. No horsing around. And I mean that. We take the prison tonight. We take it, and then we get ourselves in a position to hold it.”

            He saw the resentment well up in the man, resentment and suspicion. It would be just like the stupid bastard to start an argument in front of everybody. Adrian needed to defuse this, for the moment.

            He gave the big prison guard a friendly clap on the arm. “Hey, man, relax. We’ll party big tomorrow. You want that guard, that Casey Fisher, she’s yours. Tomorrow. Tonight, we’ve got work to do. And the first thing we’re going to do is take A-block. After that, while we mop up, you can take care of the infirmary.”

            Collins nodded, but Luff knew the man had no plans to wait. He was dumb as a rock. Before this night was over they might need those nurses’ cooperation. Luff knew the two women in the infirmary. He had been sent to clean the clinic a few times before the Quiver, and he’d seen them work. They did a good job under pressure, but if they were scared, they’d cave. If Collins hurt that baby or raped one of the women guards in front of them, neither nurse would be any good after that for days.

            Well, this was a simple problem. After Collins turned away, Luff gave Butch Wesson a small hand signal that said: stick close; I have a job for you.

            There really wasn’t any reason at all that Collins needed to stay alive any longer. Adrian was tempted to just shoot him in the back right now and be done with it. But a gunshot might alert the guards sleeping in A-block. And he was leading a bunch of cons. Even though he’d picked them personally, some of them were still a little unpredictable. If they saw the leadership fall apart right in front of them, one shooting the other, they might get their own ideas.

            No, better to do it quietly. By the time most of the cons found out, it would be a done deal—and Luff’s authority would be enhanced rather than undermined.