The Madman of Miramar: Chapter 2
The sky was full of parachutes. Like a biblical plague of locusts. And there was no way of saying it without going French.
Forever ago, back on Sanhok, he had been the first to jump from the plane. He remembered waking up on the C-130 to that smell – a mix of diesel fuel and salted meat. He remembered that moment, drifting between drugged sleep and consciousness; first realizing he wasn’t in his bed, then realizing he wasn’t in his cell. He had anxiously scanned the plane, soaking in the details. The red-light-district glow of the emergency lights. The frayed safety belts buckled too tight to his chest. The other passengers, confused and frightened and angry, many of whom were just now waking up.
He remembered making eye contact with Julie – back then she was just a strange woman with oily purple hair and a look which said she was just as confused as he was.
He had a sense of where he was before he could even remember who he is. Like his personality was downloading over spotty internet. It freaked him out, having to try to remember his own name. Looking at his boots and being unsure if they were his and if he had been the one to tie them. It spooked him bad enough that when the back hatch clattered open and a rush of hot tropical air washed in, he just stood right up, forced down a wave of nausea and went for it.
He waited till he felt he absolutely had to before releasing his chute. Yanked the cord and felt the pull as it opened behind him. He craned his neck to try and get a glimpse of the others. To see where his adversaries were dropping. But his chute occluded his vision and he couldn’t see anyone else. Then he was descending down into a dark thicket of Banyan trees.
Or had he landed in mud?
Not trees – just wet earth up to his knees. He remembered that too. The splash. The sucking feeling as he tried to crawl from the mud, almost losing his boots. But what about the Banyan trees? And the snow…
Why did he remember snow and plastic masks sprayed lime-candy green? There couldn’t be snow in Thailand. So what was he remembering?
It was that chip. Had to be. It had fucked up something in his brain. Or maybe Mal had screwed up his wiring when she did her surgery in the night club. The one with the pink lights and the dancing girls and… had he killed someone in that night club? Had Donna Summer been on the radio?
Shit. He was never good at puzzles.
It didn’t matter – he remembered what came next. How he had pulled himself from the chute, still trying to piece together who he was. How he had staggered through the jungle and the mud and (was there snow?) came out into a clearing and looked up at the blue sky and saw them.
99 parachutes. Might as well have been a thousand. It was a sight he never thought he’d see again.
“How many?” Lunchmeat said, pulling Duncan back to the present. They were watching from the ground floor of the bombed-and-rebuilt Hacienda. Duncan could tell from the way the Czech man was moving his lips that he was trying to count the chutes before they disappeared from view. He was already failing at that – some chutes had already landed on the South East edge of the peninsula; others had crisscrossed in the sky.
When no one responded to his question, Lunchmeat said what Duncan was already thinking.
“And we gotta kill all these people?” He said it not with fear, but with a touch of exhaustion.
“We don’t have to kill anyone,” Mal said. She was giving little attention to the chutes, instead scanning the Western horizon with her binoculars. Duncan figured she was watching that compound she claimed to have seen on the canyon ridge earlier.
“Oh we’re going to have to kill…” Julie said, sitting cross-legged on the floor, a submachine gun in front of her. Duncan watched as she spun it on its side. Like a schoolgirl playing the world’s deadliest game of Spin the Bottle.
“It’s not us versus a hundred of them,” Mal said.
“Ninety-six” Lunchmeat interjected.
Mal shot him a glare. “It’s everyone for themselves. Free for all. Let them kill each other.”
“And what, we just camp out here?” Lunchmeat said, growing agitated. “That’s your plan?”
“I never said I had a plan-”
“Half these people are gonna do the same thing. Grab an AK and sit in a fucking closet or-”
They were talking over each other, both of them nearly yelling now. Julie went back to her game. And round and round it goes, where it stops…
“You wanna play boss, Mal? Good. I want you to play boss. But we’re gonna be sitting in this fake house or something, waiting, and someone’s gonna throw a lit Molotov through the window and then what? I’m not camping out here-
“No, you’re right,” Mal said. It took Lunchmeat by surprise and he seemed to deflate.
Mal lowered her voice, hands up, almost like she was trying to approach a wild animal. “When you dropped on Sanhok, what did you have on your person?” Mal asked.
“What do you mean?” Lunchmeat said. Her tone caught him off guard.
“What did you have? Did you drop wearing Kevlar?”
“You know I didn’t. None of us had shit.”
Mal turned to Duncan, “Did you drop with a Beryl? Or a shotgun?”
She was clearly trying to make a point, but Duncan couldn’t connect the dots.
“No. When we jumped on Sanhok,” she continued, “I had nothing but a poorly fitting jumpsuit. That’s how the game works, right? You drop with nothing.” She pointed up as the last of the chutes disappeared from view.
“That’s where these people are at. They’re hitting the ground, they’re frightened and confused. If they’re anything like I was – like we were – they just woke up from the world’s weirdest nightmare. You remember? The blue light? Half of them are probably just now figuring out their names. You remember that feeling?”
They all shared a look; they all remembered.
“These people are effectively naked. We’re not.”
Julie watched the submachine gun spin around and around until Mal placed her boot on the weapon and stopped it cold.
“Bang…” Julie whispered.
“We’ve got a window, but it’s closing rapidly,” Mal said. “In twenty minutes, who knows how many of these people will have loaded guns. In an hour, they’ll be perched on rooftops waiting to shoot at anything that moves. We have a chance, but we need to move.”
Lunchmeat was nodding. Even Julie seemed excited. “You wanna go for the compound?” Duncan asked.
Mal nodded. “If he’s here, that’s where he’ll be. Waiting to swoop in at the end and… I don’t know, hug it out with the winner or something.”
Duncan had to admit, he liked it. Maybe they were caught in a bear trap of sorts – but shit, if anyone could chew their leg off and keep fighting, it’d be these three.
“Blitzkrieg. It’s bold. We don’t know how many people are up there and it’s miles of Battleground between us and the mountain ridge.”
“Not the way I want to go,” Mal said. “We take the catamaran.”
Lunchmeat groaned, likely still tasting vomit in his mouth from earlier. “How’s that gonna work?” He asked.
“The Russian played us. Maybe he’s been playing us all along. Paramo. Haven. France. Doesn’t it feel like we’ve caught on someone else’s line?”
She took a breath and exhaled slow as she continued. “I didn’t come here to fight in another battleground. We take the Catamaran, sail south around the peninsula. Their eyes are all fixed on the Battleground – we come at them where they’re blind.”
“What’s with you and climbing rocks?” Julie asked, half-smiling.
Lunchmeat gave a reluctant, “I’m in.”
They looked at Duncan – his vote would seal it.
He nodded. Yes, this had come full circle. Yes, there was a pattern here. But maybe the pattern was meant to be broken. Maybe this was all meant to be broken.
Mal was right. After the first flurry of parachutes – the first round of confused combatants scurrying around for cover – it was eerily calm. Duncan’s heart was beating so hard he felt his ribcage might crack; he was ready for anything.
Anything except quiet.
The reality was that Miramar was big. It was a sprawling miles-wide dustbowl bordered by mountains on one side and an ocean on the other; drop a hundred psychopaths on Miramar and shit, it’d take days for them to all find each other.
Which made Duncan wonder: how long do these games last?
When they finally heard something – a far-off burst of machine gun fire followed by a macabre cackle – it was actually a relief. They took cover. They waited.
After a few minutes with no sound of the shooter, they pushed on. They moved quickly; no time to for hand signals or clearing buildings. Mal’s theory was that the longer they waited, the more likely they were going to run into someone decked out in body armor and armed to the teeth. Move fast and maybe they wouldn’t need to kill anyone at all.
She was wrong about that.
They saw the cut parachute first and that’s what saved them. It had blown across an empty boulevard and tangled itself across the remains of a telephone pole. The wind caused it to dance and flap. Not angry – more sad and discarded.
When the tattooed man came at them, they were ready.
He burst from the ruins of an auto-repair shop, looking ridiculous in a pair of khaki cargo shorts, a tattered police vest, and an orange ballistic helmet. In his hands, a sawed-off shotgun. The weapon would have punched a hole the size of a watermelon in Julie’s gut had Lunchmeat not shot him first.
Lunchmeat put a 9mm round in the man’s neck and sent him to the dirt.
They took the shotgun and the vest. Lunchmeat started to gather up the parachute to cover the corpse but gave up halfway through when the wind picked up and he realized he had no sympathy for this man.
They killed another ten minutes later.
They were moving through the shadow of an abandoned oil refinery, one of several on the peninsula, when they heard the unmistakable thwack of a car’s front hood slamming shut. They dropped to their knees, crawled carefully to the top of a small hill and saw it. A 4-door muscle car. It had once been painted a playful coral blue. Now it was mostly rust.
A man, maybe in his 60s, was hunched over pouring gasoline into the car from a bright red can. He had salt and pepper hair tucked under a trucker cap. Guy looked like he could be someone’s grandpa. A decades-old AK-47 had been left on the ground beside him while he refueled.
His partner was a woman, shorter and slimmer. East Asian though it was hard to tell at this distance. She looked like she was supposed to be standing guard but she had her head down, hands on her knees. She looked like a drunk trying to avoid puking. Maybe it was the heat. Or the disorientation from waking up on the plane.
Maybe it was that she had probably killed someone for the first time.
Mal, belly in the dirt, put the man in her sights. At this distance, Duncan didn’t think she’d be able to make the shot.
But she fired and the gunshot thundered across the desert and the old man with the gas can just fell over and started bleeding out.
The woman bolted upright, dizzy now as she scanned the hilltop for threats. It wasn’t clear if she could see them, they way they were backlit by the sun. She turned to the old man and let out a moan, unclear if she should move to his side or take cover. Mal fired another round, missing her and shattering the driver’s side window behind her.
The woman dropped to her knees and threw her hands into the air. Mal didn’t hesitate; she chambered another round and adjusted her aim.
“Mal…” Lunchmeat said, almost a whisper. Duncan couldn’t tell if it was a call for mercy or urgency. Hell, maybe Lunchmeat didn’t know either.
Duncan averted his gaze. He’d seen plenty of people get killed. Recently and also not-so-recently. But he didn’t need to see Mal put a hole in this woman.
Mal sucked in a breath, finger on the trigger. She exhaled slow.
She didn’t fire.
“Someone will have heard the gunshot. We need to move fast,” she said, lowering the rifle.
They descended the rocky hill, guns trained on the woman. She was younger than Duncan had thought. Maybe in her twenties. Maybe. Her skin was dark and rough. It reminded him of leather. She had scars from the right side of her mouth all the way to her ear.
She was young, but this woman had lived a tough life. No question.
The Kalashnikov was still on the ground, almost within her reach. The young woman saw Julie eying the weapon and as if in response, scurried away from it. She kept her hands raised the whole time as if to way see, I’m not a threat! I won’t go for the rifle.
The old man on the ground wasn’t dead yet. Duncan could see that Mal had hit him in the back and tore a hole in his lungs. Right now, they were filling with blood. Duncan could hear it. The wheeze. The wet cough and gag. The man was drowning in the dry air like a fish on the beach.
He spit up something red. Lunchmeat cocked his shotgun to finish him off.
“No,” Mal said. “Don’t draw more attention,”
Lunchmeat lowered the shotgun and shook his head. He didn’t want to let this man – whoever he was – suffer. Somehow that felt wrong.
Julie must have agreed because without making a sound, she knelt down beside the old man. She placed her hand on his head. It felt sympathetic until she pulled out a knife and cleanly slit his throat. Fast and clean.
The woman let out a sob as the first arterial pulse came. Julie rolled him over so they didn’t have to watch the blood fountain.
“You speak English?” Mal said to the woman.
The woman locked eyes with Mal for the first time. Her face changed, shifting from fear to something else. Recognition?
Duncan couldn’t make sense of it but, yeah… this woman looked like she recognized Mal.
She spoke now in a language Duncan didn’t recognize. Wasn’t Chinese. Maybe Filipino? What was their language? Tagalog?
“English.” Mal said, ignoring the old man and the lake of blood spilling out beneath him.
She shook her head, no.
The scared woman looked from Mal to Duncan. That look. Duncan swore it was recognition. She knew something. She kept talking – a crazy person’s mutter really. And in all that babel, a familiar sound.
“She said Slade,” Lunchmeat said.
Had she? He thought he had heard his name. But that couldn’t be.
“No, it was just Japanese or whatever,” Julie said. She looked scared.
“I heard it. Did you hear it?” Lunchmeat asked.
Duncan just shook his head. He didn’t know what she said.
Lunchmeat leaned down into the woman’s face. “Did you say Slade? What did you say?”
The woman recoiled from Lunchmeat, curling up into a ball now, face pressed against the hot desert sand.
And that was that. Any additional attempt to talk to her was over. For just a second, Mal’s face seemed to break and remorse washed over her. She wasn’t happy that she had killed the old man. And now she wasn’t happy because every instinct was probably telling her she needed to kill this woman. This girl, really. A girl who didn’t speak English. Who had probably been locked up in some prison somewhere and hadn’t even realized what she’d signed up for.
“Leave her,” Mal said.
“She’s not gonna last,” Julie said.
Mal nodded. She knew. They all knew.
It felt good to drive. The hot wind rushing through the broken window. Miramar was a bad place – but you drive fast enough and even this bloody dustbowl felt palatable.
Twice they encountered other combatants. First, another jeep headed right for them on an empty road. Mal swerved off into open desert. The jeep didn’t follow. Moments later, they heard the crack of far off gunfire. They assumed they were being shot at, but they were far enough away that they couldn’t be sure.
An hour later, Julie spotted the glint of a sniper’s scope on the roof of a factory. The sniper, whoever it was, never fired.
And then, the ocean.
They ditched the Mirado and made for the beached catamaran. Duncan thought it was a miracle that the boat was still there. He waded in up to his waist and splashed cold water across his face.
It felt good. Mal had been right – he would have just shot his way through a wall of Battleground meat shields and charged up the mountain to that compound. Slammed his head against the door until they opened it or shot him dead.
This was better. Smarter. Let these maniacs fight. Let ‘em shoot each other and die in abandoned buildings. And while Sergei Kalimnick had his eye on the game, they’d be making to pounce.
They were out over open water fussing with the sail when they heard the helicopter.
It swooped in low and fast. Duncan heard Lunchmeat curse and then all he heard was gunfire. The ocean seemed to come alive, a streak of impact hits that churned the water white before the bullets tore the catamaran in half. He heard the boat crack and he stumbled, reaching for the sail and missing.
And then he was underwater. He could just faintly hear the roar of the machine gun before a bullet pierced through his flesh below his knee and he screamed into the endless blue.