"The Good, the Bad, and the Dead" by John Beechem

Mitchell Rhodes sat counting aphids.  One of his roles in the grow-house was to keep its eco-system in balance.  If the number of insects, plants, or fungi was lopsided, he’d have to use pesticides, and he didn’t like that.  Beneath the cool light of an LED bulb, Rhodes finished his count.  The row of plants had an average of 0.6 aphids each, well within the acceptable range.  The egg plants and bell peppers nearby helped to repel them.  He used his pen to scratch his scalp, leaned back in his chair, and looked around. 

Each small grow house was made from a converted subway car.  Each car focused on a different family of plants or a single crop.  They stretched for more than a mile. The subway had become the community’s new home.  “The community” (always in lower-case) was the informal name of the Brooklyn Republic, a few tens of thousands survivors who'd hidden underground ever since the outbreak.  In one and a half decades, they'd created a new home among the subway tunnels, sealed off from the outside, a harsh surface-world infested with the living dead.

A knock on the door ended Rhodes’ reverie.  The entrance opened and someone looked in.  “Mr. Rhodes, may I have a word with you?”

“Come inside, and close the door behind you.  You’re letting moisture out.”

“Of course, my apologies.”  The man wore a crisp gray suit with black pinstripes.  He had the smell of a politician about him.  His thin smile split his lined face, and gray had begun to creep into the hair around his temples.  Otherwise, his mane was dark brown, his skin pale, body tall and lean.  “Allow me to introduce myself, Mr. Rhodes.  I am Christopher Warwick.  Councilmember Warwick.  I’m your representative for the Brooklyn Republic.”

“I don’t remember voting for you,” Rhodes continued making marks on his clip-board. 

Warwick looked down at him.  He appeared to be in his mid-thirties, dark of skin and hair.  Well-built, had the look of an athlete.  When he wasn't engaged in surface explorations as a member of the Brooklyn free Militia, he devoted most of his time to the grow-houses.  Ninety-five percent of the Republic’s food was grown or raised underground, and it was due to the efforts of men and women like Rhodes who made it possible. 

“I see you’re not for small talk.  Okay, I’ll get right to the point.  I have a group of scientists synthesizing a new drug.  They think it could be used for bites, to prevent infection, perhaps even reverse it.”

“You mean bites from the infected?”

“Of course.  The infected, the walking dead, zombies, whatever euphemism you want to use:  those deceased bodies reanimated by viral parasite, HX-27, a.k.a. the zombie virus.  Your feigned ignorance is tedious.  The point is these scientists need a drug they don’t have.  I know you’re planning a surface raid soon.  You and your motley crew always are.  Think you could find it for me?”

Rhodes let out a sound that was part laugh, part sigh.  In his deep baritone, he rumbled, “What’s in it for me?”

“A lot.  A whole lot, for you, your crew, for our entire community.  For you personally, I could think of any number of things:  food, weapons, drugs, vitamins.  Whatever you want.  If this experimental medicine is a success, everyone involved will be rich beyond their wildest dreams.  Even if it’s not, I’ll make the trouble worth your time.”

Rhodes pondered for a moment.  Warwick waited patiently, his gaze focused on Rhodes’ dense, wooly mane, the sheen of his skin under the LED lamp.  His mind considered other options in case he declined. 

“I’ll do it,” Rhodes finally spoke. “But I have conditions.  Yours will be a secondary objective.  Our own mission comes first.  Second, I pick my own crew.  Third, our business is strictly confidential.  And finally, if I find out you’re fucking with me…well.  I don’t need to say what happens then.”

“Likewise, Mr. Rhodes.  Neither of us is to be trifled with.”

The pair nodded, and shook hands.  Warwick’s grip was surprisingly hard; Rhodes’ exuded a determined strength.  They shared no pleasantries, but made arrangements for communicating details.  One of Warwick’s underlings would deliver a file containing details for the proposed operation.  Rhodes was to share the information with no one except for the other members of his crew, then burn the file once the mission was complete. 

After Warwick left, Rhodes tried to shift his concentration back to the business of the grow-house, but he couldn't focus.  Instead, he went back to his chambers to wait for Warwick’s correspondence.  After an hour of reading and a meal of baked beans cooked on a hot-plate, the file finally arrived.  It contained the precise whereabouts of a drug, Delphinium Hydroxide Pseudoephedrine, or D.H.P.  The drug’s name came from its active ingredient.  According to the file, it had been developed as an experimental vaccine for H.I.V., a disease whose importance had diminished in the aftermath of the zombie outbreak.

The medicine had been in clinical trial at Brooklyn Medical University, known in the community as BMU.  Retrieving it would be fairly easy; the only drugs that were difficult to find in pharmacies were opiates, but that challenge had been eased by the growth of poppy in the community grow-houses.  Rhodes examined the file in detail, but discovered no reason to be suspicious.  His instincts told him not to trust Warwick, but that had more to do with his own prejudices than anything in the realm of fact. 

Rhodes began to call together the squad he planned to bring with him.  Tracking them down was sometimes tedious using land-lines, but there was no cell phone reception in the abandoned subway tunnels his community occupied.  Luckily, they could still be used in the field.

Rhodes called Dr. Neal Hester first.  Dr. Hester was his medical officer, a resident at the time of the initial outbreak.  Now in his forties, the man was still in excellent physical condition due to a strict diet and exercise regimen.  He was also an excellent marksman.  Next, he spoke to Ms. Latisha Freeman.  Latisha was his technical officer, adept at lock-picking, hacking, and equipment.  She also controlled communications, keeping her team in contact with the community.  Phil Eastman was in charge of demolitions and munitions.  His father was an NYPD officer and survivalist; he taught Phil everything he knew and now lived in a remote cabin in the Catskills.  Finally, Rhodes tracked down Sylvia Ramon, a woman whose assault and rape as a teenager had inspired her to become a master of hand to hand and small arms combat.  She could be a little wild, but that was good sometimes.

“Ladies and gentlemen. Good to see you again,” Rhodes welcomed them.  His cigar smoke drifted through the light of a projector he'd connected to his laptop.  It's display lit a white sheet hanging on the wall. His cloud of smoke pooled with the haze created by the joint Ramon, Hester and Eastman were passing back and forth; Freeman’s cigarette added a hint of menthol.  For this reason, he'd installed an exhaust fan in the room years ago. 

“Good to see you, boss,” Eastman said.

“Yeah, yeah.  When do we get to waste some fuckin' Z’s?  Been gettin’ edgy lately,” Ramon said, wiping her machete with an oil cloth and inspecting its edge.

“I’ll get to that. If you’ll let me.”  A shrug from her shoulders told him it was okay to move on.  Rhodes tapped a button of his laptop, and a satellite image appeared.  “This is the intersection of West Lafayette and 64th.”  Another click.  “This is an abandoned drug store and pharmacy.”  Click.  “And this is a bottle of neo-natal vitamins, the primary objective for our mission.  Ramon, remind your less educated colleagues what neo-natal vitamins are for.”

“Babies,” she explained.  “They’re for women having babies.”

“I knew that,” Eastman scoffed.

“Shut up, Phil.  Go on, Mr. Rhodes,” Hester prompted.

“Thanks, doc.  As we know, the U.V. lights and tomatoes in our diet have eliminated the need for gathering so much of vitamins C and D.  But these neo-natals are crucial for lowering infant mortality.  Of course, if you see anything else useful, you're welcome to grab it, but we don’t want to make our packs too heavy, because we’ll be making one more stop.”  Rhodes’ finger tapped one more time.  “Brooklyn Medical University, better known as BMU.  There’s an office in the Cooper building we need to visit.”

“Rhodes, we cleared Cooper a few months ago.  Remember that stash of morphine?” Freeman reminded him.

“Thanks, Latisha, but we’re looking for something else this time.  We’re going to acquire an experimental drug called D.H.P.  I have a source representing a group of concerned scientists who want to synthesize this drug into something we can use.  It was made to fight H.I.V., but my source says the eggheads in R&D can turn it into a drug that could prevent the zombie virus, perhaps even cure it.”

Ramon let out a low whistle.  “I’m sure you realize,” Rhodes continued, “that this could be our most important mission ever.  Not to mention the payment we’ll receive for recovering it.  The reason it’s not our primary objective is because this whole operation is hush-hush.  No loose lips.  That means ‘shut the fuck up’.  Got it?" They nodded, except Ramon who rolled her eyes.

"Hell, this might be the job that lets us retire, but first we need to bring the drug back, and come back ourselves.  I don’t need to remind you what happened to John Jakes.”

“Christ,” Ramon muttered.  “Johnny.”

“The mission starts at 0500, tomorrow, Friday the thirteenth of October, in case you haven’t been keeping a calendar.  We rendezvous at the steps leading up to Piedmont station.  Come armed, come ready.  Any questions?”

                                            *  *  *  *  *  *

The light shining into Piedmont station blinded them for a moment.  Eastman led the squad up a long stairway, and Rhodes brought up the rear.  They heard the clack from the metal doors being shut behind them, then the grinding of a lock.  Even after they put on their shades, it still took a minute for their eyes to adjust to the intensity of sunshine.  It was good they waited, because Freeman spotted a runner as soon as they reached the top of the steps.  “Eastman, watch your three,” she spoke. 

“On it,” he replied.  The man drew a .45 Magnum, aimed, and blew the zombie’s head clean off.  “Any others?” The rank smell of decay filled the air.

Dr. Hester scanned the perimeter with his scoped rifle while the others looked around.  “Just some walkers, but they’re not too keen on us yet.”  A few corpses upwind shuffled aimlessly.

“Good,” Rhodes said.  His companions lowered their guns and began walking from the stairway.  The Brooklyn autumn was bursting in color, and uncollected leaves shuffled with each footstep. 

A loud, gibbering of word-like noises erupted behind them, and the squad turned just in time to see another runner leap from the the top of a bus stop that had been hidden from view.  No one was able to raise their guns in time, but Ramon brought up her machete and split the zombie’s skull.  “Bindejo…” she cursed, and wiped its black blood on a few fallen leaves. 

“That’s why we always need to check our perimeter thoroughly,” Rhodes told them.

“Yeah?  I didn’t see your eyes on our six either,” Eastman growled through clenched teeth. 

“Cool it.  He means from now on,” Freeman told him. 

“Freeman,” Rhodes asked, “where we headed?”

Latisha checked the GPS app she'd installed on her cell phone, one of the “smart” models popular a couple of decades ago.  It worked, so that meant somewhere people were still in control of the commercial satellites, at least a few of them.  Her own community activated and maintained a half-dozen cell phone towers in Brooklyn.  According to the GPS app, their destination was four miles northeast, on the edge of Williamsburg.  “This way,” she announced, and led the squad east along the shadows of the rowhouses. 

Every few blocks, Dr. Hester used his sniper rifle to take out runners who would come sprinting from hundreds of feet away.  A few curious walkers were handled by Ramon’s machete, Eastman’s hammer, or Freeman’s katana.  Rhodes wielded a trench knife, but engaged in hand to hand combat only in emergencies.  Once, walkers came in four directions, threatening to swarm, but Eastman found some high ground and dropped a couple grenades that took out the entire group.  The explosion vibrated in their chests, and the ashes tasted bitter.

Eventually, they found the sign for the drug store above a couple sliding doors that led inside a concrete building.  The entry glass had shattered.  “Flashlights,” Rhodes reminded them.  They each turned on lights attached to the barrels of their guns, and tactical head-lamps that shined in the direction of their view. 

Rhodes pumped his shot-gun with and announced, “I’ll take point.  Eastman, bring up the rear.  If you need to use a frag, tell us.  I don’t want to have to pick shrapnel out of my ass tonight.”

“Got it, boss.”

Rhodes entered the drug store's dim interior.  Glass crunched with each measured step.  A few shuffles and groans could be heard coming from the darkness.  “Good. They’ve been hibernating.  I want a pincer sweep down the sides.  We’ll corral them in the center, wipe them out.  Remember to watch your six, and don’t forget to keep an eye out for each other.”

Rhodes and Ramon walked down the left side of the store; Eastman, Hester, and Freeman took the right.  They moved down every aisle, prodding each sluggish walker toward the middle of the store, and eliminating the more eager ones with blade or hammer.  Each member of the militia packed long, collapsible metal batons that could be used to push walkers from a distance.  Those waking from hibernation usually didn’t put up much resistance.  Sleep was better than starvation, but their repose became a disadvantage when they were in the militia's way.

“Mmm, baby food,” Freeman murmured.  She tossed a couple glass jars into a messenger bag strapped around her shoulder.  “Dessert.”

“They grow pears now,” Hester told her.  “Fresh ones.  They transplanted a couple trees from the surface to a tunnel on the west-side.  You don't need to eat puree.”

“Yeah,” Freeman scoffed.  “Only a carton of cigs or twenty bucks a pear.  Baby food’s cheaper.”

Ramon’s machete sunk into another skull.  “Don’t bother me.  I know how to haggle.” Black blood dripped from her blade. 

In a few minutes, they'd huddled the zombies into a mass of bodies in a broad aisle that separated both sides of the store.  “Phil, we’re ready,” Rhodes told him.  

“Frag out!” Eastman warned.  The heavy metallic clunk of the grenades preceded the explosions by a few seconds. 

“All right, mop ‘em up,” Rhodes ordered.  A few gunshots and blade-strokes were all it took to destroy the rest.  “Damn, that’s a hot mess.  Good work, everybody.”

A gun-shot rang out from the front of the store.  “Fuck!” Eastman roared, and fell to the ground.  He held his left arm against his body, and fired a pistol with his right, aiming wildly in the direction of the bullet that had struck him.  The clap of the shots became a primal war-beat.

“Everyone hit the floor!” Ramon yelled. 

“Doc, check him out,” Rhodes said. 

“On it.”

A few scavengers had been attracted by the noise from their weapons.  They wore badly worn clothes, and some carried pistols.  One held a rifle.  Others carried knives, chains, metal pipes and other improvised weapons.  “Cons,” Rhodes hissed, “by the look of them.”

“Come to get their revenge,” Freeman warned. 

“I’ll make 'em wish they’d stayed gone,” Ramon brought around her AR-15 and rolled out of cover, firing as she walked across the center aisle, blasting everything in front of her, including any cons caught in the path of her bullet storm. But then three shots hit her torso, and she went to the ground. 

“Damn!  They got Sylvia,” Freeman cursed. 

“How many left?” Rhodes asked. 

Freeman brought up an extendable mirror from her pack.  “Four,” she whispered.  “Coming this way.”

Rhodes raised his fingers, counting silently.  One.  Two.  On three, he nodded.

They turned into the aisle, and let loose.  Both barrels of Rhodes’ shot-gun blasted into them, and one who avoided the brunt of the buck shot was brought down by a pair of Freeman wielded in each hand.  “God damn...” Rhodes sighed. 

“Uh, boss?  No wounds,” Doc Hester helped Ramon back onto her feet. 

“What the fuck.” Rhodes gasped.

Ramon giggled.  “Kevlar,” she explained.  “Got it from a police station a few weeks ago.”

Rhodes slapped her hard across the face.  "You got a death wish, take care of it on your own time.  Otherwise, you stay in cover 'til I order you out.  You don't get to die without my permission." 

Silvia's eyes burned.  She touched the side of her cheek, but said nothing. 

Rhodes asked the doc, "How's Eastman?"

“Not bad,” Hester assured him.  “The bullet went right through his left bicep, but it didn't strike the bone.  The wound'll be weeping.  For a while, at least. I disinfected it, wrapped him with a bandage, gave him a coagulant, but it’ll be a while before the bleeding stops completely.”

“Damn it, why couldn’t you get it through the skull so we could’ve just left you here?” Ramon cursed.  “They can smell blood for miles.”

“You need to shut up,” Freeman told her. 

“You gonna make me?” Ramon challenged.

“I just might.  You front like a scared little boy.  Got anything to back it up with?”

Ramon stared up at her.  Freeman didn’t flinch.  Rhodes moved between them and pushed them apart.  “Enough bullshit!” he swore.  “We got a mission to worry about.  Ramon, I don’t need to hear anything out of your mouth except ‘Yes sir, no sir,’ for the rest of the mission.  Anything else, I take your rations for a week.”

Ramon stayed silent.  “Ain’t so tough now,” Freeman muttered. 

“Same goes for you!” Rhodes barked.  “Now c'mere, and help me look for those damn vitamins.”  He brought Freeman with him behind the pharmacy's counter.

Ramon sat on the floor next to Eastman and Doc Hester.  She lit an LED lantern she carried in her back-pack and set it on the floor in front of them.  The others turned off their gun and head lamps to save battery.  Ramon brought out a joint she'd tucked behind her ear, lit it, and inhaled.  Smoke left through her nose, and she held it out to Eastman. 

“Thanks,” he said, and took a hit.  “Doc?”

“You’re god damned right,” Doc said, and took a long drag.

“You know,” Eastman spoke, “Rhodes is under a lot of pressure when we're out here.  You oughta lay off him.  Latisha too.”

“How the hell else am I supposed to have any fun with 'em?” Ramon asked. "You knew I was just fuckin' with you."

“Any more fun, you’re gonna end up down a zombie’s throat,” Doc Hester told her.  “Good shit, by the way.”

“Thanks,” she said.  “Got a couple plants growing.  Rhodes ain’t the only one gotta green thumb.”

Rhodes and Freeman returned.  “Got what we came for,” he told his crew.  “Now let me hit that.”  Rhodes held it between his thumb and index finger, and inhaled.  “Freeman?” he asked as he held the smoke in.

“Thanks,” she took it, drew in 'til she nearly singed her fingers, then flicked the roach onto the pile of bodies nearby. 

“Hope everyone feels a little better now.  Gonna be a bit of a hike to BMU, but Freeman found a route through the subway.  Not in the settled tunnels, but there’ll be less zombies than here on the surface.”

Ramon, Eastman, and Hester rose, and they walked back outside into the bright chill of autumn.  Around the corner, Latisha led them to another subway station, and they began their descent back into the darkness. 

The unsettled subway tunnels were restless.  Hibernating zombies woke and clawed against the glass of the locked cars.  A few windows shattered, but so many undead tried to pull through at the same time, the group passed them by before any got a chance to pursue them. 

They trekked five miles through the tunnels until they climbed back up to the neighborhood near BMU.  The afternoon sun burned their eyes, so they put their glasses back on and explored the campus.  Walkers in scrubs shambled around the grounds, but by then Eastman’s wound had stopped bleeding and Hester had changed his dressings, so they weren’t swarmed.  Instead, they simply eluded the zombies, and any that too curious or unavoidable were taken care of. 

Cooper Building was unlocked.  This was a good sign, because if any scavengers had cooped themselves inside, their mission would only get bloodier.  Rhodes brought his group up the steps of the building, and Freeman led them toward the experimental lab. 

“In here,” she pointed.  The lab's door was emblazoned with an orange bio-hazard symbol.  Latisha examined the entryway.  “An electronic lock.  And there’s no power.”

“Can you hack it?” Rhodes asked. 

“Yeah, give me a minute,” she told him.  Latisha brought a crowbar from her pack, and pried off the metal panel protecting the lock's mechanism.  Next, she used an ignite socket, a makeshift device that could power the lock and let her to open it.  “Now it just depends on how much time it takes to crack the security code.  Shouldn’t be long.”

In a few moments, the door unlocked, but an alarm began to howl. Red lights flashed in the hallway.  “God damn it!  Shut it off before we’re swarmed!” Rhodes bellowed.

“I’m trying, but I've been shut out.  They must have an emergency generator on stand-by to power the security system,” Freeman said. "I'm must've triggered it when I powered on the lock."

“Christ,” Ramon uttered.  “We’re fucked.”

“Not yet,” Eastman said.  “Doc, help me barricade the staircase.” 

“On it.”  Hester broke off the leg of a chair and placed it between the doors' handles, bracing them shut.  Then the pair pulled a couple of book-cases, full of texts, over to block the doorway.  They tipped them, and laid them side by side on top of each other.  “Should buy us some time at least.”

“Good,” Rhodes said.  “Alright, only one way from here.” 

Rhodes opened the door to the experimental lab, and a zombie in a biohazard suit came rushing out.  It caught a double-blast of buckshot from his shotgun, and then Rhodes pulled the door shut again, but not before he saw that the room was crowded with undead.  The alarm continued to blare, and Rhodes peered out the window.  Already a swarm of walkers surrounded the entire structure.  Behind them, a  thundrous beating began against the door leading up from the stairwell. 

“Looks like we’re in the middle of a shit sandwich,” Ramon remarked.

“Get ready to take a bite,” Eastman told her.

"Phil, how many grenades you got left?” Rhodes asked.


“Take two, and pull the pins when I signal.  I’m gonna open the door, you’ll toss them in, just a few feet.  We let them blow, then go in, guns blazing.  Don’t stop killing until they’re all destroyed.”

“Or we are,” Ramon offered as an alternative.

“Take point, Ramon,” Rhodes instructed.

“Glad to,” She held her machete in one hand; her other gripped the AR-15 strapped to her shoulder.

“Everybody got their head lamps on?” Rhodes asked.  “Alright, let’s do this.  Three, two…” Rhodes pushed the door open, Eastman dropped his frags, and pulled the door shut.  A muffled boom boom echoed, then Ramon ran into the room, swinging her machete and spraying lead.  The rest of them came in behind her. 

The waves of dead seemed endless.  Old professors in lab-coats, students in scrubs, scientists in sealed bio-hazard suits torn open by hunger; all surged forward, and all fell.  The group formed a tight circle near the entrance of the room and continued firing. 

“Ramon, Freeman, Hester, re-load.  Latisha, pour it on,” Rhodes ordered.  The clack of dropped magazines could be heard, then the click of re-loaded weapons.  “Okay, our turn,” he said, and put another couple shells in his shotgun, the rungs of the trench knife still around one fist in case any zombies came too close.

“Think their thinning out, boss,” Eastman yelled over the gun blaze. 

“Keep shooting!” Ramon hissed. 

Behind them, the door into the lab opened, and five runners charged in.  The group retreated behind an overturned desk, but not before one of them took a chunk out of Eastman’s thigh.  He screamed, and fired his Magnum until the one who bit him was only a puddle of fluid and flesh, but the ragged bite that had torn through clothes and skin made his eyes go wide for a moment. 

“I’m a dead man,” Eastman whispered. 

“Not yet,” Rhodes countered.  “If we recover the D.H.P. and bring it back to R&D, they might be able to give you a cure before you turn.”

“Not likely,” Eastman chuckled grimly.  He pulled himself above the desk and fired back into the remaining crowd walkers still pushing themselves inside.  For a moment, they struggled against the crowd that had formed, frustrating their endless hunger.


“Lock the door behind me?” Eastman asked, and climbed over the bodies back out into the hallway, firing the his last bullets.  Freeman and Rhodes held the door shut against the swarm while Freeman punched buttons on the security key-pad.  The lock clicked shut.  A muffled explosion rumbled through the door.  Then silence fell like a veil.

“Jesus Christo,” Ramon murmured, making a sign of the cross. 

“Let's mourn when we get back,” Rhodes told them.  “We still got a job to do.  Freeman, come with me.” 

Freeman followed him back into the lab’s synthesizing room, and the pair found what they were looking for.  It was fairly plain; just a white bottle with a typed label.  Inside, it was filled with white caplets.  “A lot of trouble for a bottle of medicine,” she said.

“If it does what it's supposed to, it'll mean a lot more than that.”

Freeman nodded, and walked out the lab's entrance.  She swore she saw Ramon wipe tears from her face, but couldn’t be certain.  “We got it,” she told them. 

“Alright, everybody.  Hard part’s over,” Rhodes said.  “According to intel, there’s another stairwell from inside this lab that leads up the roof.  We’re going to call in aerial extraction.  Paramedic helicopters  running out of Brooklyn General.  One of 'em will bring us back to Piedmont."

His words were met with a cold silence.  Ramon led them through the door to the stairwell, hacking through the skull of a zombie that was only a crawling torso. Hester shuddered and cursed.

“Ramon, you think you could give me some of those greens you got growing when we get back?” he asked.

“I got you, Doc.”

The door leading out from the stairwell hadn't been locked.  When they got out onto the rooftop they could see why.  A rope made out of lab-coats still hung, clinging to a ventilation pipe.  It led back down to the street below. 

“Freeman, radio for extraction,” Rhodes ordered.

“Already on it,” she responded.  Freeman erected a small portable antenna, and began speaking into a C.B. radio.  Ramon turned a small generator crank that kept it powered.  Doc Hester lit a smoke flare, and held it out to his side.  Rhodes walked over to the ledge of the building and looked out.  Zombies still swarmed, trampling each other, enraged by the scent of living flesh.  He spit off the ledge, and turned back to the group, shaking his head. 

“ETA, five minutes, boss,” Freeman announced.

Rhodes nodded, and pulled a flask from the inside of his pack.  “Was gonna save this until we got back, but I guess this is as good a time as any.”  He unscrewed the lid, and poured some kind of liquor onto the roof.  “For Phil.  And John Jakes.”  Then he took a swig, and winced.  “Mmm, mmm.”  He passed the bottle to Doc Hester.  “Ain’t no bathroom swill neither.  That’s some fine Kentucky bourbon.”

“Thanks, Rhodes,” Doc Hester took a long pull, and passed it to Freeman as he wiped his chin.  Freeman drank, winced, and passed the flask to Ramon, who passed it back to Rhodes after drinking some herself. 

Rhodes took another sip, screwed its cap back on, and returned it to his pack.  In the distance, they could hear the hum of a helicopter's blades.   Hester began to wave the smoke flare back and forth.  The helicopter turned, and approached.  As it hovered overhead, a rope-ladder dropped, and Ramon gripped it, pulling herself up followed by the others. 

Once they were airborne, Rhodes brought the flask back out.  He passed it around, and asked the machine gunner if he'd like to finish it off.  The pilot nodded his approval, and the gunner grinned, and drained the flask.  “Thanks, hoss.”

Rhodes looked out at Brooklyn, laid out beneath them for miles.  The evening sun cloaked half the city in shadow, while the other half burned bright.  The autumn leaves made it seem like the whole city was on fire, and Rhodes imagined it was so. 

“The walkers can have the whole god-damned thing.”

                                                         *  *  *  *  *

Warwick met Rhodes after the de-briefing.  He smiled and laid a black briefcase out onto a table.  He unclapsed it with a click, click then opened it wide.  Mason jars full of psilocybin mushrooms, blotter acid, vitamins, sardine cans, five marijuana blunts, a large bag of cocaine, and a few bottles of antibiotics were nestled inside. 

“Payday,” Rhodes said, rubbing his palms together. 

“Just the tip of the iceberg, Mr. Rhodes,” Warwick promised. “That drug you recovered is going to make us rich beyond our wildest dreams.”

“They already synthesized a cure?” Rhodes asked. 

“Only a cure for melancholy,” Warwick told him.  “Delphinum Hydroxide Pseudophedrine is a necessary ingredient for synthesizing methamphetamines.  D.H.P. is the most pure source of pseudophedrine we could find, ever since the scavengers and meth-heads ripped off all the drug stores for cold medicine.  We burned through our supplies weeks ago, but now our scientists can break it down, and we’ll synthesize our own.”

“You sent us on a meth run?  You were fucking with us the whole time?” Rhodes seethed.

“I told you I’d make it worth your while.  The lie was simply meant to salve your conscience.  You’re the best soldier the Republic has, but you have some very inconvenient scruples.”

“I lost a good man out there.  Don’t you remember what I said would happened if you fucked me?!” Rhodes gripped Warwick’s throat with one meaty hand.  Warwick choked, and pressed a pistol against Rhodes’ stomach.  He released him. 

“I’ll forgive you for that, Mr. Rhodes," Warwick spoke in a ragged breath.  "I'd heard you lost a soldier even before you told me.  You have my sympathies.  Certainly the contents of this briefcase is a small consolation.  And only a small taste of what's yet to come.”

Rhodes stared at Warwick with a look of pure hatred.  “I’m only asking for your silence.”  Warwick continued.  He brought the pistol back down to his side.  Rhodes walked up to him, and stared into the pale man’s cold blue eyes.  In a single movement, he brought up his trench knife and tore through Warwick’s bowels.  Warwick fired his pistol three times. 

                                                         *  *  *  *  *

Ramon heard three shots from inside her room.  She tucked a beretta into the waistband of her sweatpants and opened the door of her subway car.  She looked up and down the tracks, but no one else was around.  Rhodes car was next to her own, so she knocked on his door.  No answer.  She tested the lock, and it was open, so she slid it wide and pulled herself inside, her gun held out in front of her. 

“Rhodes, you okay?”  She entered and found Rhodes and Warwick bleeding on the floor.

“Ain’t that a damn shame,” she muttered, looking into Rhodes glassy eyes.  She closed them with her fingers and made a sign of the cross, kissing the beretta when she finished.

She looked inside the briefcase, understood its contents, closed its clasps, and picked it up.  Warwick wimpered on the floor, begging her for mercy.  Ramon ignored him.  She took one quick glance around the room and found Rhodes' trench knife resting on a table.  She picked it up, took it with her.

"I best be ramblin' on."