Lawrence Lanigan sat on the hood of his newly acquired HMMWV cleaning his fingernails with his pocket knife. As he flicked the crud from the blade of his knife, he watched a lone figure trudge wearily in his direction. Three of Lanigan’s men stood, rifles at the ready, eyes peeled watching for any sign of trouble. Lanigan didn’t expect Marcus Schmidt to cause any trouble, but it never paid to be careless.
Schmidt’s daughter lay in the back of the HMMWV her wrists and ankles bound and a strip of duct tape over her mouth. The girl’s hair was tangled and greasy. She stunk of body odor and human waste. She hadn’t bathed since before her kidnapping nor had she been afforded regular restroom breaks during her confinement. Her degraded physical condition was exacerbated by dehydration and hunger while her emotional well-being had been diminished alternatively by unwanted attention and neglect.
Her father was completely unprepared for what he was about to discover.
As Schmidt made his way to the top of the hill on which Lanigan sat, Lanigan spoke to his men, “Get her out of the Hummer.”
One of the men snickered at Lanigan’s use of the term “Hummer”. The other two gave him matching glares that spoke volumes.
Lanigan’s armed forces were a rag-tag group. Some were former military or law enforcement. Many had no law enforcement or military experience or training. A few were family men. Most either had no families or had lost them before, during or shortly after the crash. All of them had come to be a part of Lanigan’s group because they were desperate to survive and had no interest whatsoever in living in one of the FEMA camps dotting the landscape.
The snickering man had been single prior to the crash. He was 32 years of age, slightly overweight with a bad complexion. In his previous life, he had been a low-level computer programmer who loved first-person shooter video games, sugary, caffeinated energy drinks and heavily flavored potato chips. His somewhat lopsided “preps” for a zombie apocalypse had put him in a relatively good position to survive the crash. However, when his pre-packaged food ran out things became more desperate. Eventually, he came across a few of Lanigan’s men and joined up, contributing his extensive weapon collection to the greater good.
The other two men on the team were both former law enforcement officers. One had been divorced, with no kids, prior to the crash. The other lost his wife and daughter in one of the FEMA camps a few weeks after he had taken his family to the camp in hopes of survival. The man’s wife and daughter simply disappeared from the camp one day never to be heard from again. Lanigan’s group initially appeared to offer an alternative refuge and a sense of purpose to the two men, but they had quickly become disillusioned.
As they stood next to the HMMWV watching a broken man struggle toward them, the distaste in their mouths was almost palpable. Neither man was sure how much longer he could stand to be a part of Lanigan’s crew, but there weren’t many alternatives.
The two former law enforcement officers gently removed the teenage girl from the back of the HMMWV. When they got their first good look at her condition both men were shocked. They had not loaded the girl into the vehicle nor had they been in contact with her during her time with the group.
Surreptitious exchanged glances spoke volumes.
Schmidt finally arrived at the top of the hill and caught a glimpse of his daughter. He was obviously taken aback by her condition. He started to move toward her, but Lanigan slid off the hood of the HMMWV to cut him off.
“Welcome, Mr. Schmidt.” Lanigan blocked Schmidt’s advance.
Schmidt’s mouth opened and closed but no sound came out. He swallowed hard and then tried again to speak. The combination of shock and slight dehydration prevented it. His daughter struggled weakly against the iron grip of the two former cops.
“How about a drink?” Lanigan held out a plastic water bottle.
Schmidt took the bottle and unscrewed the sealed cap. He could hardly believe that anyone had unopened bottled water. Lanigan’s resources must be vast, indeed.
“Feel better?” Lanigan asked.
Schmidt nodded and took another drink, looking at his daughter. She looked down avoiding his gaze.
“Good,” Lanigan smiled. “I believe we had a bargain. As you can see, we’ve delivered your daughter.”
“Yes, yes, I see,” Schmidt replied.
“Your turn. What did you find out?” Lanigan probed.
Schmidt tried to remember the details of the story he had been given by the Johnsons. The sight of his daughter made recollection difficult.
“I … uh …” Schmidt struggled to get the words out.
Ultimately, Schmidt broke down and spilled everything he knew. All he wanted was his daughter. The Johnsons didn’t matter. Nothing else mattered at that moment. His little girl needed her daddy and he was going to do whatever he could to bring her home safely.
“Very interesting.” Lanigan rubbed the stubble on his jaw. “They’re in much better shape than I thought. No wonder our hard probe team didn’t come back.”
“How many of them did you say are ex-military?” Lanigan continued to push Schmidt for details.
“Quite a few,” Schmidt couldn’t recall exactly. “Most of the men across the community seem to have done some sort of military service. Those that haven’t served grew up hunting. They can shoot and they understand military tactics.”
“I wouldn’t recommend taking them on,” Schmidt grew a bit more confident. “The risk just isn’t worth the reward.”
“How about you let me decide that?” Lanigan gave Schmidt a hard look.
“Sure … sure,” Schmidt’s confidence wilted like a flower, “I was just … trying to be helpful.”
“I’m sure you were,” Lanigan’s voice cracked like a whip as he drew his pistol and put a round into the center of Schmidt’s face.
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