I've been running with the headlights off for the last half mile but as I approach the bottom of the last hill I kill the engine and let the old Charger's momentum carry carry me up to the top. I step out of the vehicle and then hop on to the roof. My dad would have cringed to see my heavy boots on the roof of his car, but then he would not have thought so highly of the bullet holes she had gathered over the years either.
I lift my rifle to my shoulder but keep my finger well away from the trigger. I will fire if necessary, but if all goes as planned I won't have to fire a shot. No, the rifle is in hand solely for the high power scope attached to it.
There they are, in the next valley, the caravan I have been tracking for the last two days. It's only an hour after dusk and the moon is nearly full so there is plenty activity down there. They have gathered the twenty or so vehicles in a circle like the old west wagon trains supposedly did and even from this distance I can hear a few of the more exuberant voices and the drone of a gas generator.
I scan from vehicle to vehicle. There is an old school bus that probably carries any children in the caravan. Someone had traded the standard highway tires for beefy all terrain and covered the windows with chain link fencing. That vehicle holds no concern to me but it is nice to see that they took at least a little effort to protect their kids. There is a dually pickup truck towing a long trailer loaded with dirt bikes and quads. Those would be a concern if we were in a sandy desert or a muddy swamp, but here in the grasslands of eastern Montana, not even the fastest dirt bikes before the war could keep pace with the Charger. No, the only vehicles that concern me are the two buggies and the Subaru, any of which might be as fast or faster in the grass if properly maintained. Hopefully I am a better mechanic than any of them.
There it is, in the center of the circle, the reason for my journey, an International 7600. It was once a vacuum truck, sucking out the septic tanks of the country between Houston and New Orleans, but now carries nearly 2000 gallons of crudely refined diesel fuel. It was hijacked 3 days ago and I started tracking it mere hours later. Now that I see it with my own eyes, it is time to make my approach.
I get back in the Charger and fire it up. The engine roars to life as always. Far from stock, it makes a noise that I can recognize from half a mile away, literally. I once won a full tank of fuel on that bet. The man who bet against me got nine of his friends to park their own muscle cars next to mine and we drove five tenths of a mile down the road. Each vehicle fired up three times and I picked my Charger each time. It wasn't until after our little game that I told the guy that I had traded the stock fuel tank and my back seat for a three hundred gallon tank, and I refuse burn that swill diesel like is in the tanker down in that caravan, only top grade gasoline for my baby girl. He was pissed... and financially ruined. Dad would have been amused.
I stay in second gear on my way down the hill, headlights and the KC lights on the roof at full luminosity. I want that engine loud and the lights bright. The more people who gather to see me coming the better. I power slide to a halt about fifty yards from the caravan. The maneuver is partially show to gather more attention and let them know I can drive, but it is mostly to get the car facing away from the caravan in case things go wrong and I have to beat a hasty retreat.
I kill the engine again and step out. I see my boisterous activities has gathered quite a crowd. Excellent. I approach with an M16 rifle on my hip to show I mean business. The M16 is a bluff. I haven't seen a 5.56 mm round in over a decade but most people still remember what a military rifle looks like, and what it looks like is quite intimidating. If shit goes down though, I do have my 1911 .45 on my right hip. A number of times in similar situations I have dropped the M16 and taken care of business with the semi-automatic pistol, but nine times out of ten the fear of the automatic rifle is enough to keep me from ever firing a single round.
“Hello the camp,” I say in a full voice, “Pardon my armed manner, I mean the people of your convoy no harm, but you know in the world we live in it is better safe than dead.” With this statement I sling the M16 across my back. It is a show, if only symbolic, of good faith.
With the lights of the caravan at the crowds back, it is impossible to tell exactly who speaks back to me. “Than pray tell,” I like this guy's style, “what is your purpose amongst us?”
“First of all, with consideration of how precious your time is, I would like to say how much I appreciate your politeness considering the the potential risk a stranger poses.” I pause for a moment not expecting a reply and not being surprised, but my own sense of politeness demands giving a chance for response should one be returned. Receiving none, I continue, “My name is Morgan Black. I am but a simple bounty hunter, tracking a man named Randal Portier. Unless I am mistaken, such a man joined your group only two days ago.”
“What would make you so inclined?” the disembodied voice responds.
“The man I seek only three days ago stole a tanker full of diesel full. That tanker now rests in the center of your caravan. Now, before you become anxious I must tell you, my bounty is for the man, not the tanker.” I pause a moment to let this sink in. “If you deliver onto me Randal Portier, you may keep everything else. Not to seem insulting but that means the tanker and the fuel therein is yours to keep.”
I stop there. Everyone I have ever encountered needs some time whenever I put such a proposal forth. Most think that the main reason a bounty hunter or even a headhunter posse is approaching them is to retrieve the fuel. My boss, Olivier Guilbieu however, is a brilliant man. He realized that to discourage theft, he should always punish the thief. By letting the fuel go to encourage the benefactors to deliver the thieves onto punishment, he could discourage the thieves. Of all the men left in the Americas who run empires as large him, none have as little theft as him. This is the main reason I work for him. He makes my job significantly easier.
I see two of the forms before me stop and converse between the two of them. One of them seems hesitant but the other speaks to him more aggressively. The more passive takes off into the caravan letting me know the more aggressive is the one who has been speaking to me. “Give us a moment, we will gather your man.”
If I was going to breath a sigh of relief it would be now, but there is no way I would show such weakness even in the dark at forty yards.
One of the men who were conversing earlier signals to a couple others and they follow him back into the caravan. The tension does not subside any as the crowd seems to wait for me to do something stupid and I pray that Portier has not made any close friends in the last two days. After a moment I hear a commotion that builds until one man is pushed through the crowd and shoved out away from the others, cursing and spitting at his assailants.
“Randal Portier?” I ask, which shuts him up as he gazes through the dark trying to make out who I am. Of course it's him, so I don't wait for an answer. “I have a warrant for your arrest. You will accompany me back to Baton Rouge for trial and subsequent execution.”
“The fuck I will! I ain't never been ta Baton Rouge, and I sure as hell ain't goin' wit you,” he speaks his lie smoothly as only a man very accustomed to dishonesty can muster in such an intense situation. Unfortunately for him, his dishonesty could not cover his thick Cajun accent.
I chuckle. “Save your lies for the Judge, Portier. You are coming with me.”
“Who da fuck you think you are ta tell a man what he gonna do?”
“I'm Morgan Black.” I can tell by his change in demeanor he recognizes my name. A slight murmur rises in the crowd which I find amusing. Either some of this group is well traveled or my reputation is starting to get out of hand. “I take it you know who I am? Then you should also know that you really are coming with me. In case you have any doubt, I stand before you with a very large gun, and there are several gentlemen who stand behind you and they also appear to be carrying guns, and we have previously come to an understanding which entails you leaving this premises under my escort. Now understand, your level of injury when you do so is entirely up to you.”
I don't think he understood me. I do tend to talk over some people's heads at times, an issue that I am currently working on, but thankfully the man I was speaking to earlier translated my dialogue for me. “He said, you're going with him or we're gonna beat your ass.”
Portier realizes the seriousness of his situation and begins to beg, “You can't be serious, Conner. I brought you that tanker. We had a deal!”
Apparently the man I have been dealing with is named Conner, and he responds while personally escorting Portier in my direction, “We truly appreciate all you have done for us, Randal. That tanker will ensure we make our destination. But you of all people should understand, I have to look out for my people and that man is Morgan Black. I knew it when I saw that Charger. Now, I have no doubt we could kill him to keep you safe, but he would undoubtedly kill a fair number of us first, and in all honesty, none of us like you that much, Randal. You're just not worth it.” Conner delivers this news with all of the inflections of mother explaining to her young child why the other kids did not want to play with him. Quite amusing.
Enraged, Portier attempts to turn and spit on Conner but a quick boot to the backside keeps the poor bastard stumbling forward. Instead, he settles on issuing a string of curses that quite frankly would be below me to repeat.
Once we stood together in front of the Charger, I tell Portier, “Get up on the hood and snap your ankles into those shackles.” There is short chains and shackles at the forward corners of my hood, a leather belt in center and two more shackles on the rack that holds my flood lamps, so that a man when properly strapped in has the blower between his legs and the armor that replaced my windshield as a backrest.
“What, I'm ridin' on da hood?”
“I'd be an idiot to let you ride in the cab with me, besides with the way you smell,” I make a show of sniffing the air around Portier, “you're lucky I don't drag you behind the vehicle. But, if you're a good boy and do as you're told, I'll let you keep your goggles.” He realizes the discomfort of a two thousand mile ride without eye protection and reluctantly complies. He does however, continue his cussing, now with me as his primary target.
With my cargo secure I turn to Conner. “Thank you for your cooperation, and please enjoy the fuel, compliments of Olivier Guilbeau.”
“Oh no, Mr. Black, thank you for taking that asshole off my hands.” That makes me chuckle again. “And I must say, it is quite a treat to see this car in person, again.” He reverently caressed the fender. “I saw your father run it in the Albuquerque race when I was a kid. It's still just as impressive.”
“I'd like to think I have made a few improvements of my own since then,” I respond with a grin. Then I get in the car and start rolling.
The highway is about fifteen miles cross country and I want to make it at least that far before I call it a night. I climb the hill I just descended from and make it nearly a mile when in the spotter mirror on the left I catch a glimpsed some headlights crest that same hill. “What the hell?” I let slip. I know we left the caravan on good terms, well at least for me. Why would they send someone after me. I pull the car sideways so it is easier to watch my pursuers.
The two headlights become four, and then six. This is very odd. And then I hear Portier twist in his chains and then start cackling. He must find something very amusing for me to hear him over the Hemi at idle. “What the hell is so funny?” He doesn't answer so I step halfway out of the car and jab both barrels of my sawed-off shotgun into his left cheek.
Still laughing, though not so intensely, he responds. “It appears you've saved my life, Monsieur Black, and if I ain't mistaken, you'll continue to do so. I do believe the Judge wants 'is bounties alive.”
I get a little rough with the shotgun, “What did you do?”
His twisted grin is so wide I can count all six of his teeth. “Wells, before you showed up I had just finished makin' love wit' Conner's daughter. Sweet lil’ ting, but I should have asked for her ID. Turned out she was only thirteen. I had to slit her throat so she wouldn't go blabbin'.” It is all I can do not to pull the trigger right now, but this son of a bitch was right. When one accepts a bounty for Olivier Guilbeau, one agrees to bring back the target alive or suffer the targets punishment. The Judge likes to dole out punishments personally. “Now it seems, Monsieur Black, you can either turn me over to Conner and spend the rest of your days bein' chased by men just like you, or you get back in that car and you drive like both our lives depend on it, cuz they do.”
As evil as this bastard on my hood is I cannot argue with his logic. I sit back down, kill the headlights and hit the gas. I cut across my former path until I find the tracks I left on my original approach. Even with only the moonlight to see by, I can follow my tracks with little trouble so I know that it will take some serious luck or skill to lose my pursuers.
I follow my tracks for another half mile when I see an opportunity, a line of trees off to the left. I remember paralleling those trees for some time as I came in. There is probably a gully or even a spring fed creek that feeds those trees. If I am lucky, I can split up my pursuers. In my rearview mirrors I can see that they are getting closer. This is my best chance so I veer sharply to the left. The terrain grows rougher under my meaty tires giving us a good shake. A number of times I see Portier bounce clean off the hood and land with a loud grunt. His ass is going to be bruised tomorrow. Ha!
I round the corner of trees and to my approval I was right. The line of trees is thin so I might find a spot I can get back through. I pull a one-eighty so I will be facing my pursuer the trees when he stops his vehicle.
I step out and address my prisoner. “If they win, you die tonight, right?”
Portier grins, “You knows it, boss!”
“And if I win, you die next week, right?”
“So which team are you routing for?”
“Looks like I routin for team Black tonight”
“Good, I need your help.”
In the next ten seconds I instruct Portier and duck behind the back of the Charger just as I see headlights rounding the tree line. The Subaru slides to a halt about twenty yards in front of us with the passenger side towards us. They must think that the Subaru’s speed will allow it to catch up with the buggies if this path turns out to be the false one. A man steps out of the rear driver side door and levels a hunting rifle at Portier.
“Where is he?”
“He ran down to dem woods! He was scairt! Said he ain’t got no bullets!”
The man leans in to his door and has some words with the others inside. They all step out and point their guns in our direction. The driver is Conner, he has a pistol. The other two have a pistol and a rifle between them.
All the while, Portier keeps talking. “Get down there and kill his ass. Left me here for you guys, knowing you gonna kill me. Said it’s me you want. That you’d leave him alone. Fuck that bastard! Spit a fat loogy in his face.”
The men approach but stop at Conner’s signal. He continues his approach, around to the driver’s door, which I left wide open. He peaks in, pistol first and when he sees it clear he signals to his friends to search the woods.
All the while, Portier keeps talking. “I told ya, he ain’t in there. He’s down there hiding like da pussy he is. No wonder he got such a reputation. He runs first chance he gets. Let me outta here and I kill him myself. Use my bare hands. Maybe even my teeth.”
The men cautiously approach the woods, and Conner begins to search my car. I am constantly amazed how no one ever looks all the way around a parked car. It is almost like they think only a child would duck behind the back of a car and so no grown man ever would. They are more likely to look under a car then look behind it. Conner doesn’t even do that. Poor guy, I liked him.
I step up behind him, clapped a hand over his mouth and slide my trench knife between his ribs. It takes him a few seconds to die so I whisper in his ear, “You have my respect. I am sorry I had to do this.”
All the while Portier keeps talking. “Yeah, get down there and kill dat yellow bastard. You hear dat, Monsieur Black. They’s comin’ for ya. Shoot him in da dick for me.”
Portier’s voice covers any noises our scuffle might make. Even still, I have only enough time to sneak over to the Subaru and pull the keys from the ignition before one of them calls out, “He ain’t out hear, Conner... Conner? ...CONNER!?”
I peek over the hood of the car and watched as the three men came jogging out of the woods. “Now,” I shout and Portier flicks the hidden switch I showed him with the hand I freed. All the lights on the Charger came on with the intensity and effect of a flash bang grenade, instantly blinding the men. I would have been blinded too but I was looking at my adversaries, not the Charger.
I open up with my Desert Eagle. Tap, tap . . . tap, tap . . .tap, tap. Double tap, center of mass, with my training I hardly have to think about it. The first drops, dead before he hits the ground. The second starts to react, but both bullets still find him. He will likely bleed out. The third has more time, dives behind a tree, but I am sure at least one bullet made contact, if only a flesh wound.
Portier keeps talking. “Yeah, helluva shot! Go finish it up! I think you winged him.”
The gunshots might attract the attention of the others, so I have to move now. I sprint to the Charger. The one who got away opens fire on me. He is the one with the pistol. Crack, crack, crack. One shot whizzes overhead, one hits the dirt at my feet, and the last bounces off the armored hood of the Charger as I slide behind its cover.
Portier keeps talking. “Hey, don’t be shootin’ at me, ya dumb fuck. I ain’t armed. Don’t let him shoot me, Monsieur Black. You still need me. Go kill dat motherfucker.”
Instead, I slip into the car through the passenger side, fire it up and hit the gas. More bullets bounce off my car but none of them hit anything soft.
I rarely want to enter a violent conflict, for the most part I gain my bounties diplomatically, but if I have to kill, this is the way I like to leave a scene: one injured survivor to tell the tale of how Morgan Black killed three men convincing others that if they pursue, they will probably die too. I am thankful that is how it turned out.
All the while, Portier keeps talking. “Woohoo! You’re one bad mother fucker, Monsieur Black. They’ll think twice to come for us again. I say let’s go back and get dat last one. It’d be easy, you can just run him down. Just imagine this tank hittin’ someone at speed. There be nothin’ left. That’d be fucking awesome.”