Canyon:The Traveler Series Book TwoBy: Tom Abrahams
“We had a couple of thieves, a woman and her boy, working for us here in Abilene,” Skinner explained. “They ran away. We caught the boy. The woman found her way to some land we hadn’t cleared.”
“We know about the boy,” said the bald general. “General Roof told us about your plan to send him to Lubbock. We didn’t know about the woman. She’s still missing?”
“Yes,” said Skinner. “She is. I’m calling you because—”
“Stop there.” The leathery general stroked his unshaven chin. “Why was there uncleared land? Didn’t your bosses clear everything months ago? I thought I remembered you telling us that.”
“Yeah,” added the bald general. “He told us that. Skinner, you told us you’d acquired all of the outstanding land in your triangle.”
“I thought we had,” Skinner said. He pushed the cigarette into the ashtray and put it out. “There was this one plot, maybe forty or fifty acres near Rising Star that we ain’t got.”
The leathery general scratched his head. “So what’s the problem? Go get the land and get the woman.”
“That’s the thing.” Skinner looked at his reflection. He pulled his shoulders back and lifted his chin. “We done gone there. We sent a posse to get the woman and kill the man who owns the land. He killed ’em.”
“So send more men,” said the bald general, scratching his scalp.
The leathery general picked his front teeth, digging at the space between the center two. “And?”
“He killed them,” said Skinner. “Well, I think he killed ’em. So I personally sent one of my bosses to clean it up. He took a half dozen or so men. They been gone a day now. I ain’t heard from them. I’m thinking he got them too.”
The bald general leaned in, staring into his camera. “One man?”
“Is that an answer, Skinner?” the bald general asked. “My signal’s choppy. Did you give me an answer?”
The leathery general chuckled. “He gave you an answer.”
The bald general tapped on his screen. “Who is this one man?”
Skinner cleared his throat. “We call him Mad Max.”
“From the movie.”
“I know what it’s from.” The bald general raised his voice. “It’s stupid. You’re stupid. You’ve wasted who knows how many men on some woman thief. Then you call us at the butt crack of dawn to ask us how to handle it.”
“I’m not asking for advice.” Skinner stuck out his chin, his eyes unblinking. “I don’t need your advice. I’m giving you a heads-up about what’s going on.”
The bald general grimaced. “Sounds to me like you need advice,” he grunted. “You can’t kill one man? I’m disappointed in you, Skinner.”
“I can’t say I’m too impressed neither,” added the leathery general with a digitized shake of his head. “You best clean up this mess right quick. And you better make an example out of this Mad Max.”
“Understood. I’ll let you know as soon as it’s done.” Skinner glanced at the empty box on the screen. “You’ll fill in General Roof?”
“We’ll tell him what an incompetent you’ve become, if that’s what you’re asking,” replied the bald general before he punched out of the call.
“He’s on his way to Lubbock already,” said the leathery general. “He said you already made the arrangements.”
“Yes,” said Skinner. “He had to go there anyhow, I’m told, to check on inventory. I figured we could send a message by having the boy there and letting everyone know—”
The leathery general frowned and ended his call without saying anything further.
“Computer, off,” Skinner said. He pulled on a pair of jeans, his boots, and a long-sleeved T-shirt. He slid his hat, cigarettes, and lighter from the bedside table and walked toward his kitchen. The pale pink light of predawn hadn’t yet begun to peek through the windows. It was still dark. Skinner knew this was going to be a long day. He needed some coffee and another cigarette.
JANUARY 3, 2020, 4:27 PM
SCOURGE -12 YEARS, 9 MONTHS
It was dark, which Battle tried to sell to Buck as a mixed blessing. True, it was harder to see their enemies. It also was harder for their enemies to see them.
The intermittent pop and rattle of gunfire was steadier now. Battle could see the flashes in the distance as the percussion bounced off the densely packed buildings.
“We’re screwed,” Buck said. He was slurring his words. His eyes were barely open. “I’m screwed. It’s like I can feel the life oozing from my body.”
“That’s the drugs,” said Battle. “You’ll be fine.”
“If I survive this,” Buck said, “I’m getting out. I’m done fighting other people’s wars. I’ll fight my own.”
Battle checked his GPS, hoping he’d find a new, alternative route he hadn’t discovered the previous fifteen times he’d checked. “Your own war? What does that even mean?”