I had taken my bearings quickly from Google maps before I left the tunnel of the dead. I wanted to come in on the beach, where it was devoid of obstructions like trees, wall, fences and so forth. It was a near miss. I ended up in about four feet of surf. The fact that it wasn’t over my head was the one positive fact that I had to cling to. On the negative side, I was wet—and damned cold.
As Howard had said; some superhero.
I waded ashore. I guess it was all right though. The water had washed away a lot of blood splatter that I had picked up in the tunnel slaughterhouse. And brought me wide awake and alert—an alertness I was going to desperately need facing Moradi.
Once on the beach, I could easily see my path to the reactors. There was only one double security fence in my way—no problem for me of course. I could see the sea-wall to my right. That would be the way Moradi would have approached by boat.
I made my way there now through the twilight, dripping red water.
And building a controlled hate. I imagined Linh, walking by my side.
I hoped he was still there. I hoped I wasn’t too late—to kill.
After getting through the fences, I made my way to the stone sea wall and began to climb. Once on top, I would be able to follow it inward nearly to the containment building. But before I did, I wanted to confirm the presence of Moradi. To do so, I ventured out onto the seawall. I wasn’t too worried about attracting attention. The Cliffs’ personnel were all busy much further inland. The chill evening was wearing on, soon to full darkness. The Sea-wall, the ocean itself, and me, were all dark in color.
So was Moradi’s rubber raft, moored about a hundred yards out.
I had guessed right. Even down to the outboard motor. What did puzzle me was the fact that I could clearly see a person inside the raft. Sitting rear and leaning against the motor. My heart skipped a beat as I realized I might already be too late. It certainly looked, at least at a distance, that Moradi was about to cast off. If that were true, it meant the bomb was already programmed to detonate, and not much to be done about it. I could go back a bit in time for sure, but my nuclear device de-activation skills were absolutely nil. I pulled Howard’s forty-cal Glock with the cyanide bullets and hurried forward to the raft.
I needn’t have worried.
The female sitting in the raft wasn’t Moradi, and she wasn’t alive either. I could see down into the raft from my perch on the sea wall. The body between the motor and the side-wall was stuck, and wasn’t about to move. She had been manning the motor and tiller until the last moment of her life. Several bullets from a .357 magnum had ended her life, and her slit throat hadn’t done her any good either. The Ice Queen was dead. As she had lived—by the sword; almost literally.
Again, lifeless eyes stared at me.
Her usefulness to Moradi was over. So, he had simply disposed of her. Remembering the ravaged homeless guy’s body hanging from a meat-hook in a Detroit warehouse, it was difficult for me to screw up much sympathy for her.
What worried me a hell of a lot more was the fact that Moradi hadn’t bothered to take his revolver or knife with him. I could see both plainly as the Queen’s blood washed over them as the raft tossed in the gentle surf. She had lost a lot of it. Looked like about an inch in the bottom of the boat.
Apparently Moradi didn’t feel a need for his usual armament. I guess he was right. After all, he now had a nuclear bomb. He hadn’t left that behind. That he had taken with him. Now I needed to find out where he was—fast.
I retraced my steps back along the sea-wall and started up a gentle slope toward the huge containment building. It was a long building, but I figured him to want to place the bomb right about in the middle.
I was right.
I could see his figure slowly making his way along the base of the building, bent over slightly from the weight of his suitcase.
I worked through some nearby trees, hoping to get close before he spotted me. He stopped precisely in the middle.
I wormed my way a little closer, moving up a slight slope. I was within a dozen steps when he spoke. Far from thinking him clairvoyant, I could clearly see my reflection in the shiny side of the large suitcase he was working into place. Moradi, and the suitcase were on a fairly narrow ledge at the base of the wall of the containment building. I was slightly above him now. A shallow marshy area about ten feet wide separated us.
“You took a little longer getting here than I would have thought,” he said.
“I’m not as young as I used to be,” I replied.
“You’ve as old right now as you will ever be, Mr. O’Brien.”
“Seems like a good night to die,” I quipped.
“Seems that way to me too, Mr. O’Brien. Glad you agree.”
Now I knew why he had abandoned his precious weapons. “Such as long way to come, Moradi—only to die with your own bomb.”
“It has been a long way,” he said. “Since I was a small child.”
“One that enjoyed pulling wings off flies?”
“No, I was never like that. I was always quite kind to animals, Mr. O’Brien. It was humans I detested.”
“Not necessary for you to know,” he replied. He turned to face me. Black eyes burned from the sockets in his head. I could see his left hand, handcuffed to the carry handle of the suitcase—he and death finally forming an eternal partnership.
“You killed your partner in crime.”
“She was going soft in her old age, O’Brien. Next thing you know she would have been contributing to the widows and orphans fund—and baking cookies for the Church.”
“She created enough of those widows and orphans, she should have,” I observed.
Moradi laughed. It wasn’t a good sound. “Agreed, O’Brien. But I couldn’t have that. It would have been,” He pause, searching for the right word. “Unseemly,” he finished.
“And dangerous,” I added, “if she had turned.”
“Exactly! Couldn’t have allowed a soft heart to upset the old apple cart this late in the game,” Moradi said.
“You’re not a real good man to be partners with, Moradi.”
He laughed again. “Precisely,” giving a tiny bow as he said it. “Speaking of partners, where is your precious Mr. McCabe and Mr. Wahl, O’Brien? I fancied they would be with you tonight—here at the end of all things.”
“McCabe’s busy. Wahl’s dead, Moradi. You men did manage to at least accomplish that.”
“And, did they accomplish anything more?”
“Yeah. They managed to kill a young woman and her unborn child too. Thanks to her, Wahl, and a kindly old man though, not a single congressman was hurt.”
“It was a poor trade then,” said Moradi.
“I agree. The woman was a personal friend of mine.”
“Did she have a name?”
“She did, Moradi. McCabe. Linh McCabe.”
“Her married name,” Moradi said. “I meant her real name.”
“I am glad that Wahl is dead. He vexed me for a long time.”
“I am glad that the slope bitch is dead too, O’Brien. Her and her wretched little slope fetus.”
I raised the pistol and pointed it at his head. “My godson.”
He grinned. “All the better. So shoot, Mr. O’Brien. By all means, shoot.”
“I wouldn’t have taken you for a martyr, Moradi.”
“Hardly. But at this point it doesn’t matter anymore. Cancer, it seems, is no respecter of gods—or demons.”
“What kind of cancer?”
“Not the nice kind, O’Brien. I smoked American cigarettes for years. Another good reason to hate you bastards.”
It was my turn to grin. “A lunger then, going out in a blaze of glory,” I said. Hate flashed in his eyes.
“And a glorious one it will be, O’Brien. You, me, the foolish President, the United States, and eventually, all the rest of the world, dominos falling one-by-one. I may die—but the world dies with me.”
“The world’s survived a few like you.”
“The world’s never seen one like me.”
“The President set things up for you.”
“Indeed he did. His plan was fairly small at the time. A simple gambit to remain in power a little longer. But when your Howard Carter called him and spilled the beans about the watch, the President upped the game by quite a few notches and called in the master.”
“Me. The President is, as you Americans always say—small potatoes. A crook, a terrorist in his own right, and a—what is it you people say?—a grifter.”
“But you are more, right?”
“I am the greatest criminal mastermind of all time.”
“Humble. And to think that at first I took you for an Islamic extremist.”
“You think small, O’Brien. That’s why it was so easy to lure you.”
“Why? It wasn’t for the watch.”
“No. The President wanted that. I couldn’t have cared less.”
“Why me then?”
“The challenge, O’Brien. And the pleasure. The pleasure of seeing a legend fall. I had an embalming table in Detroit all set-up for you. It was a real shame that I couldn’t locate you. We could have visited together and chatted pleasantly for hours—until you ran out of blood that is.”
“Your idea to involve the Russians?”
“Yes it was. I had a lot of friends in their spy network. They did the job of keeping tabs on you for me and freed me up to attend to more important matters. I convinced the President that they and he had the same basic agenda. The Russians wanted the United States. The President didn’t give a shit about it. A perfect match—made in heaven.”
“Or hell,” I said.
“Depends on your point of view, O’Brien.”
“They’re waiting for the Cliffs to go up.”
“Real-life Mongol hordes at the gate.”
“No detonation, they go home empty-handed, right.”
“That’s right, O’Brien. Like thieves in the night—but no worries there.”
“You think I can’t stop you now, don’t you, Moradi?”
“Matter of fact, I don’t think you can.”
“What about my watch?”
“If you had it, you would have used it by now.”
Well, he had me on that one. “How ‘bout I just wade over there and take that damned suitcase away from you? Doubt a dried-up and cancer ridden little lunger like you could stop me.”
“Doubt I could either, O’Brien. That’s why I took a few extra precautions. This bomb is set to go off in just about five minutes, give or take a minute or two. There is nothing you can do to stop it, even if you had the expertise—which I’m pretty sure you do not. The code changes several dozen times per second. Not even your damned watch is that fast. No matter how quick you moved back in time, you could never catch the newest code. The last code, the one that will detonate the bomb, will be delivered by satellite. And not even Johnny O’Brien can fly—that high.”
“My left hand is depressing a pressure switch in the handle of this suitcase, Mr. O’Brien. All I have to do to blow it immediately is relax my grip. So, to make a long story short, O’Brien—you either die in five minutes or so—or in the next split-second. You could never reach me in time to stop me. You could shoot me dead—it stills goes off. I believe that is called checkmate, Mr. O’Brien—is it not?”
He was starting to really piss me off. “Ever wonder why you couldn’t find me in Detroit?”
Moradi looked bored. “Now you will wow me with the fact that you never left the city—isn’t that correct Mr. O’Brien? You time-traveled to a distant past or future and hung out in just about the same spot, invisible to my eyes—correct?”
“I’m not that impressed.”
“You might be, Moradi, if you knew where I was, and when I was. And who I was with.”
“So, I met an old prize-fighter by the name of McCoy.”
“And this impacts us how?”
“He taught me a few things.”
“I wasn’t intending to fist-fight you.”
“And neither was I. McCoy taught me what a man is. He taught me that a man makes sacrifices—for the people, and the things he loves.”
For the first time, I could see a shadow of doubt cross Moradi’s face. “What are you talking about?”
“I’m talking about a guy that made a big mistake—I’m talking about you.”
“I don’t make mistakes. I lured you here. I intended for you to be here.”
“Oh, I’m not talking about that one.”
“I’m talking about the day you blew up the hotel.”
“That was simply meant to scare you—and kill a few more Americans, as a bonus.”
“It did a lot more than that, Moradi.”
“What did it do?”
“It killed me.”
He looked at me like I was a lunatic. His mouth was smiling.
His eyes weren’t.
“What are you saying, O’Brien?”
“I’m saying you made me immortal.”
“You look pretty human to me, O’Brien, standing there dripping swamp water—and plenty alive.”
“Looks can be deceiving, Moradi,” I said as I transferred Howards pistol to my left hand.
“Looks to me like you’re getting ready to make your move.”
“I’m faster than you, O’Brien.”
“You are not.”
“We all die then.”
“No, Moradi. Not all. Just you—and me. I can’t stop you from blowing that bomb—but I can stop you from doing it here.”
I watched his eyes and knew the moment had come. I could sense his grip on the pressure switch relaxing. I Said a silent prayer and moved. I backed up a single second in time and crossed the short distance between us. I was up in his face with my hand closing over his before he even knew that I had moved. I don’t like to brag, but it was a thing of beauty. The Kid would have been proud.
I was about to win the biggest, and last fight of my life.
Moradi was taken completely by surprise. He tried to relax his grip, but it was hopeless. He was a smaller man than me, and cancer ridden. It was no contest. We looked into each other’s eyes from mere inches away, and in his eyes I could see his defeat. I thought quickly where I wanted to go—and as always, in just a twinkling, I was there. Just me, Moradi, and his cursed bomb.
In the Wastelands.
Unlike my previous trip to the same place with Scarface Al Capone, this time I couldn’t quite keep my feet under me. Moradi and I both fell and rolled. He struggled with me as hard as he could. He tried with all his might to relax his grip and tear his hand away. I squeezed his hand onto the pressure trigger with all my might. The bomb was going to kill me, but it sure as hell wasn’t going to kill him.
I was going to do that myself—the last act of my life.
We stopped rolling. I ended up on top. Appropriate. Moradi was about to get screwed by one of his ugly Americans. Moradi’s right hand was locked on my left arm. Despite that, I was able to twist and turn Howard’s Glock toward his body. I looked into the eyes of Satan. I could feel and smell the rancid breath that roiled out of his mouth. I could see the panic and fear on his face. I was glad that I had been the one to put them there. I pushed the barrel of the pistol up and into his diaphragm as hard as I could. I angled it toward his head. I felt him squirm with pain. Adrenalin filled, I pushed even harder as I listened to the pleasant sound of several of his ribs and sternum breaking.
He howled with agony—music to my ears.
I paused for a full second to let him absorb the fact that he was about to die, and then I calmly said; “This is for Linh McCabe—you son-of-a-bitching, cockeyed son of a mother-loving whore.”
And then I pulled the trigger. Sixteen times. All of them. Sixteen cyanide tipped and hollow-pointed bullets coursed through his body, literally chopping it into pieces. One tore off the top of his head. It was a really good look for him. Granted, it was a lot of overkill, and a total waste of good ammo, but given the circumstances, I was more than okay with it. Finally, the gun was empty. The echoes ceased. It was silent. Just me, the bomb and his corpse.
The rather shocked expression on his face indicated to me that perhaps he was more than a little surprised by what had greeted him on the other side.
The slide was locked back. I tossed the pistol aside. Moradi’s dead eyes still looked at up me. That teed me off. I picked up a rock with my left hand and turned his face into a bloody pile of hamburger. Took me a good minute to get it just the way I wanted it.
“That’s from me,” I said simply.
I broke the handcuffs with the same bloody rock.
Finally, I was done. I carefully pried his hand away from the pressure switch, keeping it depressed as I did so. I frantically looked around for something to jam into it, or wrap around the handle to keep it depressed. Of course, here in the wastelands, there was nothing. Just me, the suitcase, and the biggest pile of human garbage I had ever seen.
I stood up—a little wobbly. I looked into a blood-red sky. Fitting. One last look around at the world. Or what was left of it. What it would become. I didn’t know what had happened, or when. I did know though, that whatever it had been, it hadn’t been Moradi that had done it. Some other perverted lunatic perhaps, but not him. I had stopped that. I had stopped him. It gave me a little warm glow inside, here at the end of my life.
Just a little sense of personal satisfaction.
I sucked in my breath. I stiffened my upper lip. I said a short prayer. I stood up as straight and tall as I possibly could. I tried to think of Jan, the woman I had loved more than life itself. Funny thing though. I couldn’t bring her face, and what had been, up before my mind’s eye. What I saw instead was my Maggie, and what might have been.
“Goodbye, Maggie,” I said. “Goodbye, my love.”
Then I relaxed my hand and dropped the suitcase.
My world turned bright burning white.
And then black.
Thanks for reading. We’ll be back shortly with the final Chapter of THE RECKONING.
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