Rust: Episode Ten

Rust: Episode Ten
by Alan Augustson
17 April 2017

The grin on Pike’s face, bruised and bloodied as it was, looked like that of the man who’d been having the time of his life until he was rudely interrupted. Head down, eyes up, in a predatory sort of way, he locked eyes with McMonagal and licked a drop of blood from the corner of a badly swollen lip. Handcuffs and shackles notwithstanding, the three policemen weren’t taking eyes off him for a second as they sat opposite the interrogation room table. One of those three, the same who had been shadowing Felipe Burke, looked especially keen to get these proceedings done.

There was no question in anyone’s mind: Pike was only refraining from taking a good lunge at the CORE man because he was content to do so. For now.

And yet, McMonagal was cool, maybe even somewhat amused himself.

“Mister Pike,” he eventually spoke. “There are four very able police officers in hospital right now, thanks to you, and these fellows remaining don’t look that much better off. In ancient times, you’d have made a fine berzerker.”

Pike sneered. “I have no idea what that is.”

“I’m not surprised. I’m sure the very last history books were burned many winters ago. At least, those outside. Let’s just say that you seem to fight all the better, the angrier you get.”

“Your men should have skipped the foreplay and shot me.”

McMonagal’s head tilted slightly. “Why? We just wanted to ask you some questions.” From an envelope, he placed Mariah’s picture on the table between them. “You know her, yes?”

Pike looked sadly at the girl. “I saw her. One time. We’ve never spoken. She ran past my porch in tears, with a pack of little punks on her tail. I’m guessing it was one of those same little shitheads who turned me in?”

“Of course,” McMonagal nodded. “His family will eat well for a little while. The kids aren’t stupid. Let me be clear: I do not care about your killing of the head of that pitiful little band of thugs; what you people do to one another is of no interest to anyone inside. We just want to ask you about her.”

“I’d never seen her before, or since,” Pike shrugged. “Didn’t even know the girl’s name until you blared it over the screens for days. I was sorry to learn she’d only traded one pack of savages for another.”

“Then why did you intervene? What was your interest in her at all?”

“She’s a goddamn human being, is my interest! She’s a fucking child!” A vein stood out on Pike’s forehead as his anger boiled over. One of the policemen started to raise a truncheon; McMonagal halted him with a silent gesture.

Pike’s voice was breaking as he rambled. “There’s no children anymore, you know that? The boys are all herd animals. The girls just fucking disappear off the streets as soon as they start to sprout. Some don’t even last that long. Or they goddamned off themselves ’cause they know what’s coming.”

McMonagal nodded without expression. “Yes,” he said flatly, “so I’m told. And I’m glad you mention that. There was another murder this week, do you recall hearing?”

“I saw something about that. Another CORE worker. Someone shot him. What’s that to do with me?”

“Just thought you might be interested,” McMonagal droned. “The establishment where Ralph Morgan was found shot… do you know it?”

“I know of it. The First National, by the barriers. It’s a shithole; I know that much. Don’t know what the fuck a CORE man was doing there.”

“That’s a good question. Mister Pike, were you aware that the proprietors at First National were notorious for their role in… let’s say, ‘procuring’… children?”

Pike paled, and his brow furrowed. He looked ill.

“You didn’t know, did you? Hm.” McMonagal drummed his fingers on the table thoughtfully, then removed another photo from the envelope and placed it on the table, waiting for Pike’s reaction. When there only came a shrug, he probed, “The symbol? Seen it anywhere?”

Pike shook his head. “Just on the screens, after Fat Boy lost his head.”

McMonagal nodded. “Well, then. What can you tell me about the so-called ‘Army of the Damned’?”

“Nothing. Is that what the A.D. is for?”

“We’re not sure. It’s a phrase from the rumor mill. It may mean something; it may not. Mister Pike, you’re free to go. These officers will see you safely to the barriers. I trust you’ll contact police if you learn anything new.”

Two of the three officers hauled Pike out of the room, leaving McMonagal alone with his informant.

“What’s this ‘Army of the Damned’ shit?” the cop asked through a squint. “Zebra didn’t mention anything about that.”

Detective Burke is not my only source, officer,” sniffed McMonagal. “And it may be nothing; we’ll see.”

The informant narrowed his eyes doubtfully.

“That will be all, thank you,” he finished dismissively.

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