by Chris Henry
Dieb found Dingo in tent city reclined on a cot. He stood at the entrance of the tent and studied his new partner. Dingo was short, but somewhat stocky. His feet were shod in worn army boots, and a pair of tarnished dog tags lay on his chest. Dieb entered the tent and kicked the cot, stirring the boy from his rest.
“Uuuhn, fuck, what?” he groaned. He peered at Dieb with bleary eyes for a few moments, then blinked the sleep away. “Who the fuck are you?”
“Jack sent me. We’re going out,” Dieb replied. He pulled a pistol from his rucksack and handed it to him. “This is yours.”
Dingo took the pistol and weighed it in his hand, checked the chamber and then the sights. “This is army. Where’d you get this?”
“From the army.”
He laughed, sat up, and stared at Dieb. “How do I know Jack sent you?”
“Ask him. Waste his time.”
Dingo laughed again, and shrugged on a coat. “Rather not do that I guess,” he sighed and pulled a cigarette from his pocket. “What’s the job?”
“Get a grinder, we’re breaking into a locker.”
“The Corpse. We leave soonest.”
Dingo gathered more food, and scrounged the largest rucksack he could find to carry the haul back. He was reminded that they had no idea what was in the locker, but remarked, “Better to have, than to want”.
Dieb would have preferred to make the trip alone, or at least with someone quieter than Dingo. Ten years his junior, Dingo was incessantly chatty. The observations, and endless complaints made Dieb reconsider their arrangement. Out in the country-side noise wasn’t an issue, but Dieb was worried about The Corpse.
The two slipped out of the Shadows and into the night. It was unusually busy, and the sky about the Tracks brighter. Sirens blared in the distance. Something had roused the city, and the police and military were out in force. Clouds had opened up and a torrent crashed down on the roof tops, washing the filth and blood and garbage into the gutters. One of Jack’s girls ran by with a large bundle and her head down. She gave Dieb a startled look before she ducked into the shadows.
“Stick close, follow the alleys.” Dieb pulled the hood up on his coat and stepped into the rain. He moved quickly, staying in the darkness. Police were out with roadblocks set up to keep the rabble out of the Tracks.
“Shit,” Dingo whispered, “Busy out here tonight.”
“Yeah,” he sighed, “Busy.” The two weaved through the alleys and narrows, moving outward to the great wall. They sat in the rain and watched the patrols move along the perimeter. Everything within 20 feet of the wall was lit.
“Five minutes,” Dingo tapped on his shoulder. It took Dieb aback, he hadn’t expected Dingo to catch on quickly.
Dieb pointed to a large crack in the wall. “There. That slab moves.”
“Next pass, I’ll go through.” That’s twice in as many minutes Dieb was surprised by Dingo. Jack had a lot of talented thieves and boxers, even the odd working girl. But this Dingo had some talent. The patrol passed, and he waited a few moment until they were around the bend. The cacophony of the city covered his steps as he crossed the brightly lit ground. A slab in the wall gave way with a push, and Dingo slipped through. After a moment, the slab was pushed back into place. Five minutes later, Dieb followed. They were out in the world.
Five hours into their trip they stopped to make fire and food. The rain that permeated every part of the Greylands seemed to stay away from the dead countryside.
“Thank Christ we stopped,” Dingo moaned as he dropped the rucksack to the dirt. Even empty, it was heavy. “I am starving!”
“Make the fire then,” Dieb snapped, instantly regretting it. Dingo didn’t even react, he simply set to work on the cook fire. Dieb watched him work quickly, pulling dry tinder from a plastic box and sparking it. They heated the tinned meat, drank clean water, and rested. The sun threatened to break over the ash-grey horizon.
“I gotta ask,” Dingo said while he spat pieces of meat, “Why’d you bring this to Jack?”
“Why’d you bring this to Jack? You ain’t in the Shadows, and he doesn’t like outsiders much.” Dieb remained silent and continued to chew, his eyes fixed on the small cook fire. “What ‘bout Bosner?” Dieb prickled visibly, and looked away from the fire to stare at the coming dawn.
“Don’t like him,” he replied.
“No one likes him,” Dingo laughed, “He’s a prick.”
“Had a deal once. We are not on speaking terms these days.”
“Ain’t a lot of people who’d consider Bosner a ‘speaking terms’ type. I get it, you don’t like to talk about -”
“My sister,” Dieb interrupted. “Got sick. I went to him, said he could find medicine. Favour for a favour. He didn’t keep his end, she died. I shot at him.”
“Yeah… that would put someone in Bosner’s bad book,” Dingo mused, “My family died during the big food riots. I joined the army to avoid starvin’. Didn’t really help.” That was the cold reality of it all: Greylands took whomever it wanted.
“We should move. We can reach the Corpse by early evening, get some sleep. Move in during the night.”
The countryside between the Corpse and Greylands was largely barren. The odd sad tree dotted the landscape. Most of them had been cut down for fuel or housing material. Occasionally a column of smoke would rise from the horizon to mark a cluster of hovels. They often chose high ground for the best view of trouble.
They pressed forward, and by late afternoon Dingo was standing on the far side of The Corpse’s aqueduct. Dieb stepped up to the edge of the great ditch, and slid down the side to the bed where he stood and waited. He looked up at Dingo impatiently and beckoned.
“Uh… is this safe?” he called down while he leaned over the side. The side was steep, far too steep to climb back out.
“Oh. Wait! Seriously?!”
“‘Yes’ you’re serious, or ‘yes’ it’s safe!” Dingo swore he saw Dieb smirk before he turned and walked towards a drainage pipe. With no options left, he stepped off. His decent wasn’t as graceful as Dieb’s; about halfway down the slide, he turned and began to roll sideways down the bank. He lay there a moment before he picked himself up and followed Dieb, rubbing his side.
“You’re alive. It’s a miracle.” Dieb chided dryly. It almost didn’t sound like a joke to Dingo, but he was pretty sure it was supposed to be funny.
“Ha ha fuckin’ riot that was. Promise me that’s the end of the excitement.”
“I landed on my gun,” Dingo replied as he prodded his ribs. The ruck sack dropped the floor of the drainage pipe, and Dingo began to pull at his clothes, lifted his shirt and regarded a growing bruise on his skeletal rib cage with a lopsided frown. “S’pose I broke something?” he questioned, and received no answer. Dieb was asleep before he’d even touch the ground. Dingo’s lopsided frown grew.
Dieb kicked at his boots again and roused him for another dreamless sleep. “Shit watchman,” he joked. Dingo groaned, stretched and winced, and pulled a bent cigarette from a crushed packet.
“Plan?” Dingo groaned while he nursed his ribs.
“Up and out, then to the store,” he replied while he stared down the dark pile. From his bag he pulled a hand-cranked flashlight and powdered it up. Dingo pulled on his rucksack, checked the gun, and fell in line.
The two emerged from a collapsed section of the sewers, and climbed up into the street. The clouds from the day had burned off and left them with a rare and unfortunate moonlit night. Dingo stubbed his cigarette. They picked their way quietly through the streets by the moon, ears perked for any sound. Navigating the Corpse wasn’t difficult; the widest street was the main artery, and the landmarks rarely changed.
They reached a corner and Dieb raised his hand call a stop. Down the street to their left a small cook fire burned, a pair of men sat around it. The fire was in front of their store, and Dieb’s heart sank a little. He’d have to find something in the Corpse to make the trip worthwhile if this didn’t pan out. The more time in the Corpse, the more likely he’d find a grave. Dingo’s rucksack thumped lightly on the ground as he unloaded. With a light tap on Dieb’s shoulder, he crept out into the street and slinked forward. A heavy, curved blade glinted in the firelight.
At the fire, one of the two snored loudly, the other was half awake. His head bobbed rhythmically, the tell-tale nod of a man about to lose the battle with sleep. Dingo approached with the blade raised, grabbed the man by the scalp, pulled his head back, and swung hard. The heavy blade cleaved into the man’s torso and nearly severed the shoulder entirely. While Dingo wrestled with the lodged blade, Dieb bounded up lightly, and drove his own machete into the snoring man’s chest. He looked up at Dingo, who stared back without expression. Dingo pulled the blade free and wiped it clean against the dead man’s pant leg. Dieb opted to leave the grim totem lodged in the body, and headed into the store while Dingo dragged the two bodies away from the fire.
The locked door remained untouched, which left Dieb uneasy. Two men to guard an unknown trove seemed foolish. The others were probably looking for tools, he reasoned, and would be back eventually. Dingo joined him, and handed him a grinder. They hooked it to the flashlight battery, and Dingo cranked furiously. The high powered grinder was quick, but it drained the battery quickly. They got seconds of cutting time in exchange for minutes for cranking. The lock clattered to the ground, and the two shoved the great door open. A flashlight beam skittered across the ground and revealed muddy footprints. Dingo clanged the door shut behind them, and dropped the barricade bar against it. The beam crossed the walls, and stopped on a switch; Dingo stared at it, then flicked it. Shockingly, a single bare bulb sparked to life, and illuminated the room in a harsh, white light.
Dieb groaned, “I don’t like this.”
They stared at a great cork board; a familiar map was tacked to it: Greylands. Familiar landmarks were circled, and numbers written beside them. Buildings in both the tracks and the slums alike were marked. Dingo pulled the map down and shoved it in his jacket pocket. Dieb tapped Dingo on his shoulder, and pointed to a stack of crates against the far wall. At least ten of them, all olive green and weathered, but not dusty like he expected. The many muddy prints around the crates showed signs of industry. The two stared at the crates, then each other. Each crate was adorned with the same phrase:
DANGER: HIGH EXPLOSIVES