When the Earth Shakes
(link to part I)
“I don’t know where,” shot back Crimp, exasperated.
“You can’t just order a strike for nowhere,” replied Henry, starting to become annoyed.
“I know, smartass. How about a pickup at the corner of Oak Street and Lexington Ave, then?”
“Okay,” he replied. “I’ll be maybe three minutes.”
“Come on. You can do two; it’s urgent.” said Crimp. He hopped a fence to the right and ran to the front of the house, which was three buildings to the left of his own abode. The fence he had hopped was riddled with holes a moment later.
Crimp chuckled, knowing that the soldier was wasting his time trying to shoot the fence instead of pursuing him. He was already twenty yards away.
Not far up ahead, the houses turned into stores, and there was an opening to the building’s alleyway directly before the first storefront. Crimp saw the Snipa soldier coming around the front of the house just as he made it to the storefront. They both fired at each other and missed.
An instant later Crimp was behind the buildings, sprinting on. As he nearly came out the other end, the leader heard the running of the soldier not far behind him. As the other man aimed his rifle, Crimp shot at him and struck him in the arm. It knocked the man’s aim off for long enough for the Shank’s leader to turn left onto the busy sidewalk.
Only fifty yards away was the intersection were he was supposed to get picked up. Crimp booked it, using surprised strangers as cover so that he would be more difficult to spot. He saw Henry’s car off in the distance, driving as quickly as it could towards the intersection.
Behind him, a rifle roared, gunning down some of the people in between the Snipa ganger and Crimp. Crimp looked backwards and tried to get a shot off but couldn’t see what he was shooting at. The car screeched to a stop in front of the leader, but instead of getting in, he ran past and ducked behind it. Rifle bullets tore up the top left side of the car but did not hit anything important. They stopped coming suddenly.
“He needs to reload,” thought Crimp optimistically. He moved from behind his cover, aimed carefully and delivered two shots, dropping the other man. Crimp opened the door and ducked into the back seat of the car. They sped off quickly, burning rubber.
Crimp breathed heavily, and Henry chuckled, knowing why.
“That’s somethin’ ain’t it?” he said. Crimp was about to reply but only chuckled himself, letting off some steam. Henry had curly hair and was quite young, but smart. He had become disillusioned with the world and felt he didn’t have anything better to do than to join the Shanks.
As they kept driving down the road, Crimp had a bad feeling.
“And here’s the police,” observed Henry, all of a sudden. The cherries and berries flashed in their rear view mirror. Henry hammered the gas, went right between two cars, overtook them, and got onto the highway which was just ahead.
The police car was five seconds behind them. As soon as they were on an open stretch of highway, they saw the police car entering onto it as well. It was slightly faster than their own vehicle.
“Too bad they appropriated the military budget to the police,” complained Crimp.
“I guess,” said Henry.
Henry pressed a jury-rigged button which let out a pound of large jacks onto the road. Crimp looked back and saw the police car spinning out, with two flat tires.
“Didn’t take long, did it?” asked the leader. His associate nodded knowingly. They took the next exit and headed back towards Henry’s house, which wasn’t far from Crimp’s devastated building.
“I think we need to double down on the search for their boss. They probably have a big bunker somewhere or something similar.”
“S does?” asked Henry.
“Yep. We have to try harder. Tell your comrades to forget about the laws, use satellite imagery, increase radio and internet monitoring, outsource the labor if they have to, and tell them to comb over all the media reports, even from the little newspapers. Especially from them.”
“Good,” replied Henry. “I can’t remember more than three things at once, though.”
“We’ll be dealing with it soon anyways, so don’t worry about remembering every little thing. We can stay at your place for a moment, but I should get to my second house eventually.”
“The one that’s almost out in the country?” asked Henry, who had only vaguely heard about it.
“Yep,” said Crimp. “That one.”
The car stopped and the two men went inside. The leader loaded his revolver and Henry gave some orders over his radio.
It distressed Crimp slightly that the house had no bunker and didn’t even have reinforcing armor. But it was still better than the alternative; being out in the open.
“I can’t believe the repair company was in on it too,” said Crimp, frustrated. “Do the Snipas own everything?”
“Practically. Everything except what we own.” They looked out the window and saw a police car at a faraway intersection, racing towards where the first one had been, on the highway.
“Do you think anyone’s unaffiliated?”
“Not really, except the newest businesses we don’t have time to deal with.”
“I wonder if we can get the cops on our side,” remarked Crimp.
“Nah, some of ’em are already with the enemy and the others won’t budge. They love their job.”
“Yeah, it was a stupid idea,” agreed the boss. “Well, now that I have no assistant anymore, would you like to be one? Two hundred dollars a day, free food and lodging…”
“Hmm. Sure,” replied Henry, “let me just get some things together. Do you have a radio there?”
“Nope,” said Crimp. Silently, Henry seemed disapproving.
A few minutes later the two were on the road again. When they reached the property, Henry could hardly believe it. The house was just a tiny square. It faced the road directly, at the end of a dead end. Behind it was only wilderness.
“We’re really out there now. Why is this place so small?” laughed the assistant, unable to take it seriously.
“Because it’s just the tip of the iceberg.”
They walked inside and ignored the top two rooms. To the left were two stairs and a heavy metal door. Crimp unlocked a lock on the wall and the door slowly slid to the right. There was gigantic bunker underneath, two or three times larger than the rest of the house, but it was just a single long room.
At the back of the bunker, lights illuminating it dramatically, was a huge milsurp machine gun with armor plating all around, particularly for the firer. It was a modified Navy cannon.
“Is that a 50-cal?” asked Henry. “It’s nice.”
“Nope,” replied Crimp.
“40mm?” pressed Henry.
Henry’s jaw dropped.
“And the whole section of the floor it’s on can raise to the ground level if you hit that switch. Don’t forget the earmuffs.” They were hanging on the top of the armor plating.
On the wall a few feet away was a pair of portable revolving grenade launchers.
“The one on the top is loaded with anti-tank rounds,” said Crimp. Henry raised his eyebrows.
“I suppose this place isn’t so horrible.”
After the tour, the pair set up Henry’s relocated radio. It took awhile, and they ran into some unforeseen technical difficulties, but were eventually successful.
As soon as the radio was running, Crimp messaged some of his contacts and got the word that good progress was being made in the search. They had the base locations narrowed down to just five.
“At the risk of being overly optimistic, I think this might work,” said Crimp.
They watched a sniper on the rooftops over one of the screens, but he merely waited there, seeming to have nothing to shoot.
“All units, avoid 118th ave and Chestnut Street,” he radioed. Someone replied that they were on their way there.
“That was a close one,” sighed Crimp. “They move somewhere different every day.”
“So how’s Susie?” asked Henry.
“Good. I last talked to her yesterday. It seems such a long time ago now, but I suppose it isn’t actually.”
“You like the blondes, don’t you?” asked Henry. Crimp nodded slightly.
“So why do you not have a radio but you still have all your screens here?”
“Money,” replied Crimp.
“I thought money’s no object for you!”
“That’s only what they say on TV.” Crimp winked. For the rest of the day, the Shanks associates worked like horses to find the base.
Early the next morning, Crimp woke Henry up and they started the day’s work. It did not take long before Crimp received a radio report stating that they had probably located the enemy base. It was a primarily-underground building that would take a lot of armament to damage, but it seemed to be the most likely candidate for the enemy HQ.
Just before the boss was about to authorize a strike, though, he received a text message from an unknown number. Warily, Crimp picked up his phone and read it.
Don’t even try to blow up the base; you’ll regret it.
“What the hell is this?” raged the leader, showing the message to his comrade.
Henry shrugged his shoulders.
“Perhaps they’re afraid of you, finally, after they failed with those last soldiers.”
“S actually knows my phone number?” said Crimp, exasperated. “I bought this phone explicitly because it would be hard to track.” He worked himself up to a bit of a rage.
“Did you not call the repair shop with it? Of course they know. Why doesn’t your assistant do these calls? I’m sure they have your voice profile.”
“But the only time I was on TV, they lowered my voice fifty percent,” argued Crimp.
Henry laughed, as he was more of a technophile than the boss.
“All you do is raise it back up fifty percent, and bingo.”
“Uggh. I’m sick of this.”
A message came in from the radio, changing Crimp’s attention.
“This is Blaise. Eighty percent chance that the location is correct. Also, we may have found a weak spot in the fortification. What are your orders, C?”
Crimp thought about it for a moment. Perhaps S was right that he would regret blowing the building up, or maybe he was just fooling the Shanks yet again. Either way, although Crimp couldn’t easily think of what could go wrong if they shot the base up, he knew something unforeseen might happen, and that could have bad consequences.
In a rare moment of indecisiveness, he asked for advice.
“What should I do?”
“Shoot ’em,” replied Henry, simply.
A moment later, Crimp slowly nodded his head and spoke into the microphone. He called his two friends with large cannons.
“We’ll need to use everything we have. Fire,” he said to the first.
On the other side of the radio sounded explosion after explosion. It went on for ten seconds straight. After that, he called the second one and the same events proceeded.
“Whoo!” yelled Henry. Crimp looked happy as well.
“I just wish we could see how well it worked,” the boss said, a tiny bit reserved. “I don’t even have cameras that show that area from far away. It’s pretty much in the middle of nowhere.”
Crimp made a weird expression and cocked his head. A very far-away rumbling noise sounded outside. Crimp immediately ran to the ground level and looked out the window. Almost a mile away, driving on the road as if it were a normal vehicle, a tank was coming towards them. There were five armored personnel carriers driving behind it, slowly overtaking the lumbering machine.
“Oh no,” said Crimp, desperation in his voice. He ran back to the radio and hurriedly put in calls for a strike at the intersection closest to his house.
“We’re out of ammo, we need to reload,” were the replies.
“Damn it all!” yelled the boss. “How did they find us?”
“They must have triangulated your position from the radio calls,” said Henry. “They were pretty obvious. Or maybe they found out what my car looks like from the police who chased us and found it with a satellite overnight. Or maybe-”
“Stop it,” said Crimp, ashamed. After a moment, he gave a command. “Be useful; go shoot them,”
They couldn’t use the machine gun as the rest of the house was currently blocking their line-of-sight, but it was possible to at least use the grenade launcher.
“I have to stay here and radio,” said Crimp, running over to the shelf and throwing the top weapon to his assistant. Crimp returned to the radio while Henry went upstairs and opened up a little gap in the front wall that was specially-made for such circumstances. It was just big enough to poke the barrel of the grenade launcher through.
Pink! Pink! Pink! went the firearm. The projectiles sailed through the air at a high angle and one missed, one glanced the tank, and another damaged a personnel carrier.
Henry shot three more times. He focused all his efforts on the APC’s this time, destroying a pair of them. There were only two APCs left.
“I need more ammo!” yelled Henry. A gigantic thundering sound was made and the corner of the top section of the house was decimated. Henry ran back to the basement, terrified.
“It was the tank, wasn’t it?” said Crimp.
“Yeah,” replied Henry.
“Are you alright?” asked Crimp, eyes focused on the radio.
“I guess,” he said feverishly, picking up the second grenade launcher. The tank fired at the house again, shaking its foundations and destroying the roof.
“I can’t go up there!” said Henry, breaking down.
“Shh,” said Crimp, busy with communications.
“Did you say you’ve reloaded?” he asked over the radio.
“Great. Fire at the Columbia intersection. Now!” said Crimp.
Another tank shell tore up the house, collapsing it on top of the bunker entrance way. There was only one way out now.
Crimp heard the firing of his artillery far away and hoped it had been on target.
“Get up there!” said Crimp, pointing towards the 76mm cannon. Henry ran up and manned the gun. Crimp pressed the elevator button and then joined Henry. Slowly, the floor began to move upwards and the two roof sections split apart, opening the gun platform to ground level. The daylight poured in more and more every inch they went up.
“Let’s hope the strike got them all,” said Crimp, pressing a button which readied the cannon for firing. Since the house was so decimated, they could see some of the enemies up ahead. A piece of the house was still in the way, though.
Henry and Crimp put the earmuffs on. Crimp controlled the cannon and swiveled it to the left.
“Fire in the hole!” said Crimp. The cannon exploded, sending a huge shell through the house, collapsing it further.
“Well, now we can see,” commented the boss. Five hundred yards ahead, troops poured out of an APC. They could see that the artillery strike had demolished the other APC. The tank was still there.
“Damn!” said Crimp, adjusting the controls to point the cannon at the tank. He was angry at the aim of his associates.
He fired, and a huge cloud of smoke poured out of the barrel of the cannon as it shook from the explosion. The shot struck the tank on one of its tracks.
It seemed that the tank was immobilized but still functional.
A few soldiers started to fire their small arms at them.
They heard a thundering sound as a shell from the tank struck the ground right in front of the cannon, shaking everything and kicking up a giant cloud of dirt. The two men coughed and were unable to see anything. Crimp blindly adjusted the aim slightly.
“It’s now or never,” he said.
The boss pressed the fire button and the cannon went off again. They could not tell if it was a hit or not.
In the interim, a tank shell tore into the side of their cannon, sending a giant piece of metal flying off in the distance. Shrapnel from the impact flew off in different directions.
“Oww!” screamed Henry, grabbing his leg.
The haze started to clear up and Crimp noticed their aim had been slightly wide. He adjusted and shot again.
It was a direct hit. The enemy tank exploded in a crimson and ash blast.
“Finally!” said the leader. A few rifle rounds bounced off the armor and Crimp kept his head down more.
“My leg…” said Henry. It was bleeding from shrapnel.
Crimp took Henry’s grenade launcher and shot in an arc from behind the armor, taking out a few soldiers. Henry manned the artillery controls and nearly missed but took out one more Snipa. By the time Crimp was out of ammo, there was only one man left.
“Should we?” he asked. They watched the man run backwards, away from the fight.
“With the 76mm?” asked Henry. “No.”
“You’re right,” conceded Crimp.
Crimp took his shirt off and hastily bandaged up Henry’s leg with it.
“You’ll be alright, but you need to go to the hospital.”
“I can’t really walk,” replied the assistant.
“Lean on me,” said Crimp. Henry got off the platform and Crimp pressed the button sending the artillery back into the ground. Slowly, they made their way back to the car and Crimp took the wheel. They sped off to the hospital, making sure to avoid the road where the lone soldier was definitely still running away.
As they drove, Henry called for the hospital to ready a stretcher in front of the building.
Five minutes later, Crimp and Henry arrived and the nurses put the wounded assistant on a stretcher and wheeled him to the lobby and then the emergency room.
Crimp found an actual place to park, rested for a few minutes, then decided he should see how his friend was doing. The walk to the front of the building felt so normal that it almost made him nervous. For once, he found himself unworried about his rivals. The shock from the recent past had not totally cleared up, but he felt better overall. When he went inside, Crimp noticed a policeman eyeing him from behind the counter. He waited until the cop left and then asked a receptionist, under a false name, where Henry was. The leader walked there and stayed outside the surgery area while the doctors finished extracting a few bits of steel from Henry’s leg.
Crimp used the downtime to calm down, rest, read, and eat five crullers from Tim Horton’s.
He kept in contact with his associates through his phone. It sounded like the enemy was greatly weakened. They found little activity during the next two hours.
Before long, Henry was in a recovery room upstairs. Crimp sat next to him.
“So how did it go?” asked Crimp, wanting his opinion on the recent events.
“As good as it could have, except for your lousy timing with the artillery strike.”
“It’s not my fault,” said Crimp, offended. “I always time them perfectly. I know how long everything takes to make it work. The problem was that they didn’t have precise enough coordinates. I told Jimmy last month to map the streets everywhere out to seven decimal points, but he probably only did five. Lazy shmuck.” Crimp shook his head.
“Well, there’s not much going on anymore. They only found one sniper lately.”
“Yeah,” said Henry. “What are you gonna do now, see someone you know?” He winked.
“Susie?” asked Crimp, surprised.
There was a knock on the door. Forgetting The Rules for a moment, Crimp walked over and opened it.
“Speak of the devil,” he said. An attractive blonde woman with a handbag and a red dress stood there, looking at him. Henry laughed to himself, loud enough for Crimp to hear him.
“How are you, girl? Nice to see you,” said Crimp politely. She undercut the formality quickly.
“S told you that you would regret that decision,” she said, in a biting tone.
“What do you mean? It worked out in the end.” Crimp began to be slightly nervous, and his positive expression faded. Henry stared from ten feet away.
“It worked out for you,” she shot back.
“Do you want me to see you more, or have they bought you off, just like everyone else?”
“Not necessarily,” she replied. “I’m just done with the explosions and the war, and I want to live normally. This is the easiest way of making peace,” she said, quietly. Crimp shook his head hopelessly.
“So what are you here for, then?”
She looked right into his eyes. It was hard to tell what either of them were thinking.
Silently, Susie extracted a pistol from her purse and brought it to Crimp’s head.