Chapter 15 – Aftershock

“I’ll stay!” I shouted as the other guys ran for the truck, carrying Phil with them, “Leave your guns and gear! All of it!”

They complied, stripping off their battle vests and throwing weapons to the ground. Tony jumped into the truck and turned it on while Ryan lifted Phil into the back and slammed the tailgate shut. “Go!” he shouted, pounding on the window. The truck took off with a roar, leaving a twenty foot long patch of shredded grass behind him.

“Godspeed, guys,” I said to the sudden silence, “Hope you can think up a good alibi.”

I was walking towards the pile of dropped gear when I heard something. I stopped and looked around, scanning my surroundings. I paused and listened, seeing if the sound would come again. It did.

Helicopter.

“Oh, crap,” I muttered, breaking into a run, “Oh, crap, crap, crap,” The last thing I wanted to happen was to be discovered in the middle of a field with enough weapons to take on an army. I ran past the weapons to the tree where the deer stand was, where I pulled a giant duffel bag from under a bush. I ran back to the weapons and began shoving them in. I remembered the crossbow and ran out to get it. The helicopter was louder now and I swore again.

I crammed the crossbow into the bag, ran to the tree, grabbed another bag, and jammed the still-hot flamethrowers into it. As I did so, some idle part of my brain decided I’d be sorry I did this later. Burning metal in a cloth and rubber bag? Bad idea.

Hefting the two bags in my arms, I began an awkward jog through the woods. If I could just get to Josh’s cabin before the police arrived on the scene, I’d be good . . . They’d definitely have spotlights, though, so I’d have to be careful . . . Would they have FLIR, too? I hoped not. I’d just have to be really still in the cabin and not turn on anything.

Suddenly, the helicopter burst over my head. I swore and ground to a halt, fully expecting to be fixed in its spotlight. To my great relief, though, it continued over my head and turned on its massive searchlight, bathing the field where we had fought in light. It then began to fly a searching pattern over it and the surrounding area 

I worked out a pattern. Every time the light passed over the forest where I was, I froze. When it passed, I sprinted as fast as I could. Using this system, I made it to the cabin in less than half an hour, right as sirens began to echo faintly in the distance.

I frantically unlocked the cabin door and threw myself in, dropping the bags to the floor. I then dragged myself over to the couch and collapsed, my heart hammering. That had been close.

The next morning, after a sleepless night, I moved all the weapons and ammunition to the basement of Josh’s cabin. I moved the shoeboxes of ammunition as well, hiding the whole mess under a dirty tarp. When I tried the same treatment with the bag containing the flamethrowers, I discovered they had melted it and fused it to the floor. Oh well. I ripped it off and hid them as well.

I dug out my cell phone and speed-dialed Tony. He answered after an interminable period of ringing.

“Who is it?” He sounded very tired and not a little irritable.

“Me. What’s going on?”

“Todd? That you? Thank God, we thought you’d been arrested.”

“Nah, I’m fine. I hid out in Josh’s cabin. I hid all our stuff, too, back behind the hot water heater under a tarp. How’s Phil?”

“He’s . . . okay.”

“What the heck does that mean?” I asked irritably. I was in no mood to play games. Fighting undead and dodging flying law enforcement makes me a little edgy.

“Just that. We told the doctors some big cat had got him; that we didn’t see what it really was. They bought it and rushed him to surgery. We were really worried, because we knew that if he died, what with it being night and all, he’d resurrect right then and we’d all be doomed.”

“Yeah. But how is he?”

“Stable. He’s all bandaged up. They wanted to report it to Animal Control, but we didn’t want any branch of any kind of government hearing about this. We’re not letting the frigging MCB near him.”

“What’d you do?”

“Stole the memo and flushed it down the john. They didn’t notice.”

“Good thinking. Anyway . . .”

“Yeah. Phil’s good, he’s conscious and everything. They said he can go home in a few weeks. You working on that PUFF stuff?”

I had in fact been working on it overnight. “Uh-huh, I am. I was having trouble getting the tissue samples, but there was some gunk on a crossbow bolt and my knife, so that should be good.”

“Great. Hey, listen, I gotta go. I’ll come up and get you around lunch, ‘kay?”

“See you then.” I hung up. With nothing left to do until lunch, I finished up the PUFF form and boxed it up in an old shoebox. I addressed it and slapped a stamp on the whole business, and then occupied myself by trying to hit bugs on the wall with some dimes in my pocket.

Tony showed up an hour late. “Where were you?” I asked as I climbed into his new Ford Mustang, “You’re late.”

“No, really? There were friggin’ State Troopers setting up roadblocks all around, I had to take back roads to dodge them, and even then I still got stopped once.”

“Oh.”

We rode in silence to the hospital, where we went in to see Phil. “How are you, man?” I asked, sitting down by his bed, “You look like crap.”

He grinned. “Feel fine, though,” he replied.

“Are you okay with . . . all this?” I gestured towards his neck, and he touched his wrappings absentmindedly.

“I’m . . . adjusting. I’ll deal with it.”

“Cool. By the way, I just sent the PUFF forms in. Y’all ready to be rich as kings?”

Everyone grinned. “Heck, yes,” Ryan said, “Any idea how much?”

“No clue. Gotta be a lot, though.”

We shot the breeze until lunch, and then we headed to the cafeteria and ate.

The next few weeks passed slowly by. Nothing new or exciting happened, except for the substantial PUFF check that arrived in the mail for a staggering $350,000. We celebrated by smuggling a large flask of Jack Daniel’s into Phil’s room and drinking to our collective healths. Split four ways, it broke down to $87,500, and we were all over the moon at that.  

Tony’s toilet job on the memo appeared to have done the trick, and no MCB showed up during Phil’s hospital stay. When his stay came to an end, we celebrated with a steak dinner, after which we went out to Josh’s cabin to retrieve all our weapons and ammunition. After we returned from Phil’s, we went to my apartment, and had all just sat down when the doorbell rang.

I got up, grumbling a little, and checked the peephole. There were two men at the door, one enormous and the other of average build. They looked fairly normal, but I wasn’t taking any chances.

“Tony!” I hissed, “Come here.” He got up and looked as well.

“Think they’re MCB?” he asked uneasily, checking the peephole again.

“Dunno. Could be. Let’s just leave it.” We returned to the sitting room and explained the situation to the others in whispers. We sat in silence, but five minutes later, the men were still there.

“Heck, let’s just open it,” Tony finally said, “We can take them if they try to kill Phil.”

“Yeah,” Phil said quietly, laughing nervously, “And if worse comes to worse, you guys can just shoot me and I’ll kill everyone in the room.”

I smiled grimly at this as I walked down the front hall, unconsciously checking my Kimber under my jacket as I went. I unlocked and opened the front door.

“Whatcha need?”

“Hello, Todd Dimholdt?” The smaller man spoke.

“Who’s asking?”

“My name is Earl Harbinger. I represent a company known as MHI. May we come in, please?” The men hadn’t budged but I still felt uneasy.

“Depends. Who’s he?” I nodded towards the larger man. They seemed friendly enough, but we weren’t taking any chances as to Phil’s safety. It was a simple matter to stick a silver-shooting handgun under your shirt, and I was a little wary.

“My name’s Owen Pitt. Owen Zastava Pitt,” the giant replied, sticking out his hand. I didn’t take it, and he lowered it after a second’s pause. “Friends call me Z,” he added cheerfully.

I looked them over again. “Fine. Come on in.”

I stepped aside to let them in, and followed them to the living room. I noticed that everyone was keeping their gun hand somewhere near their concealed weapon. I stepped into the dining room and grabbed two extra chairs. “You can sit here,” I said plunking them on the floor and reseating myself, “Now. What do you want?”

“Thank you, Mr. Dimholdt,” Harbinger replied, seating himself and scanning the other stone faces in the room. His gaze stopped on Phil, and his expression changed slightly. “Ah! You must be Mr. Carroll. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

“Likewise,” Phil replied shortly, looking slightly uneasy. Earl looked unfazed by Phil’s rudeness, and then he turned to his companion.

“Pitt? You want to do the honors?” At this, the tension in the room rose slightly. My arms were crossed over my chest, with my right hand in my jacket, resting on my 1911. Ryan stiffened and Phil’s hand drifted casually towards his waistband. Tony crossed his legs, the better to access his ankle holster if the need arose. Pitt noticed all this and smiled disarmingly.

“Whoa, guys, chill. We’re not here to cause trouble. We’re aware of your . . . situation, and we have an offer.”

None of us budged. These strange men had us on edge. Harbinger sighed and spoke up. “Will you folks please calm down? Look, we know both who and what you are,” he said, nodding towards Phil as he said this, “We are not affiliated with the government in any way and are not here to harm any of you in any way. We just have a proposition to make.”

No one moved for a moment, and then we all relaxed and sat back in our chairs. Harbinger nodded approvingly. “Thanks folks. Okay, Pitt. Go.”

Pitt stood up. “Mr. Harbinger and I represent a company known as MHI, or Monster Hunter International. We deal with monster or undead threats both foreign and domestic. We’re a for-profit business, and most of our income comes from PUFF, but we’re also paid by whoever we’re working for at the time. I’m quite sure that you aware that this is quite a lucrative business.”

We nodded, grinning slightly.

“At any rate, it’s also dangerous and requires a lot of manpower, so we’re constantly looking for new Hunters, as they’re known. Because of your recent . . . escapades, you’ve shown up on the PUFF lists, and a contact we have in the PUFF office referred you to us.

“So! It boils down to this: We would like to offer you a job with us. You’re obviously well-aware of the dangers in this, but there are also plenty of upsides. PUFF money for one, and simply the thrill of hunting and the satisfaction of defending sheeple.”

Owen grinned as he delivered his last line, and then he sat down and appraised us. “What do you think?” he asked us, “Interested?”

There was silence in the room as we all considered this offer.  

I knew my answer. “Heck yeah,” I said, and Tony agreed, using a slightly saltier phrase. Ryan and Phil were both nodding as well.

Owen shook our hands, looking pleased. “Great! Thank you, gentlemen.”

Harbinger dug something out of his wallet and stood up. “Here are some business cards for you,” he said, handing out several green cards, “Next training class starts in two weeks, and we’ll need you at our base in Alabama by that time.”

I took my card. “We’ll be there,” I said, already grinning at the thought of killing undead for a living.

Tony took his card as well. “Lookin’ forward to it,” he said.

“Good.” Harbinger shook all of our hands as he and Owen headed for the door, “Welcome to Monster Hunter International.”

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