This article is part of the Eastwood series.
"This is the spot," I declare and pop the road flares. I toss the hissing red flares onto rocks in a rough circle around us. Our faces are pink and angular in the bright light.
"Leave me," says Sondergaard. "I'm the only one-"
"Shut up," I say. I don't even look at him. I squint at the city, and up at the sky, searching for whatever comes for us. I can almost hear the buzz of something in the air, but it's hard to tell with the rumble of the fires. Might just be my mind playing tricks.
I hope it's the helicopters that find us first, but we're not in luck. A few short minutes after the earth mover's crash landing, vehicles begin to turn off of the road and drive towards us across the open field. They form up into a spearhead, with a big, red pickup truck in the lead. There is a man standing behind the cab. He's holding a megaphone.
"Stay here," I say to Pike and Vargas. I walk towards the approach trucks. Hands down, but out to my sides. They see me and pull up short, engines rumbling. Jeremiah Childs stands tall in the back of the lead pickup.
He laughs at me as I step into the beams of the headlights. His men bristle in the pickup trucks and open-topped cars. They've been after us all night, and even in the shadows behind the lights I can see the hatred on their faces.
"You're a brave man," shouts Childs over the rumbling engines. "I'm sorry to say that your story ends here, tonight. That's the way of the Wild Times. A higher power is at work."
The wind howls and swirls dust into the beams of the headlights. Only a dozen paces separate me from Childs. Our minds are on different planets. Jeremiah Childs has gone over completely. If there was any reasoning with him before, that time has passed.
"What do you think that gun you have is going to accomplish?" he asks.
"After all you people put us through? Maybe I just feel like shooting you."
I draw on him, the iron sliding out smooth. I've practiced the move before, raising the gun and pulling the trigger without aiming, knowing where that bullet is gonna end up. One shot, loud as a drum, one bullet, born from fire, and the shock of the equal and opposite reaction traveling up my arm. Childs jerks back and to the side, folding at the waist and sliding head first out of the truck. Ungraceful. Pathetic. Dead before he touches the ground.
I reckon that's just about it. I can hear a helicopter coming in, maybe to pick us up, maybe just to grab Sondergaard and leave us, but it doesn't matter. It's too far away. The Children have twenty guns on me and I'm out in the open. I don't even try to get out of the way or throw myself down. I'm dead and I know it.
A gray cross appears in the sky above the Children, only visible at the last moment. They can't see it over their heads, coming straight down on them by the rounded tip of its nose, no sound save for the faintest rush of air in that final instant. It ain't God. It's Quincy's drone. He wasn't allowed to bring in ordinance so he brought me this.
The Air Force drone crashes nose-first into the red pickup truck. It destroys their trucks, wipes out the Children, and obliterates every worldly trace of Jeremiah Childs.
I'm knocked over by the force of the explosion. My shoulder and arm don't work anymore. They don't hurt, just hang limply at my side. My shoes are on fire. Pike and Vargas drag me away from the burning wreckage, kicking out the fires, their voices fading like interference on a radio. Everything is shaken up inside my skull. My egg is beat, as Three C used to say. Pike lifts me to my feet. Pain explodes in my limp arm and shoulder, but I manage to get my legs beneath me.
"What the hell just happened?" shouts Pike.
"Quincy," I say. "He just saved our lives."
Two helicopters descend through the smoke. They are ultra-modern designs with tapered bodies and enclosed tail rotors. They land on either side of us and disgorge teams of heavily armed men and women in blue patterned gear. Their arms are marked with the Sentinelle fleur-de-lys. Their guns are down, but there' no arguing with them. Sondergaard manages to sit up for them. Pike and Vargas raise their hands. I'm able to raise one of mine.
A trooper steps forward, lowering her rifle, unsnapping the ducted gas breather from over her nose and mouth. Beneath the mask is the flawlessly beautiful face of Eva Kayembe. She gestures at my limp hand.
"Do you intend to shoot me, mon ami?"
I'm still holding Bennett's gun. Nothing in my arm is working. I can't even drop the pistol.
"All out of bullets," I say.
I take a step towards her and end up stumbling into her arms. She catches me and holds me on my feet, walks me back to the helicopter. Her team loads Sondergaard into the other helicopter. Pike and Vargas are allowed to come with me. The door closes and the rotor pitches up as the helicopter lifts into the air. Through the window I can see the burning wreckage of Corpus Christi spread out beneath us. Eva is beside me, watching me watch the city, but it doesn't matter. We lost. Paine is going to get his man and I have to tell Maria Spinoza's kids why their mom is in a fucking box.
Eva takes off her glove and reaches out to me in the engine-sick darkness within the cabin. Her fingers wrap around mine.
"It is over now," she says.
"No," I say quietly. "It keeps on going forever."
I'm haunted by a recurring vision of a skeleton flipping me off. To avoid seeing this terrifying image in bumper sticker form, I pay someone with a blank bumper to drive in front of me at all times.
Cons: causes bad nightmares. I used to have to eat beef until I passed out to have these kind of terrors, but this machine does it for me every time I fall asleep inside it.
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