We drove all day, stopping only for brief meals and to let Tony vomit out the window. After he threw up for the third time, he was able to sit up and carry on a conversation for brief periods. The first words out of his mouth were “I’m never drinking again” and “I sure slept well. How ‘bout y’all?”
We drove until nightfall, taking it in turns to both drive and harass Tony. We pulled into a Hampton Inn to spend the night at around ten, and drew straws to see who would sleep in the car. We did this not to save money (together, we were worth more than what most people make in five years) but to guard our stuff. We had around twenty-five guns in the car, and a supply of ammunition for all of them, and weren’t taking any chances. I ended up getting the short straw, and sprawled out on the back seat. I couldn’t sleep, and ended up staring the lights of the trucks on the freeway and thinking. Were we really doing the right thing? Was this all a hoax? Were we all just crazy?
I thought until midnight, and then fell asleep against the window, waking up at six with a horrible crick in my neck. I dragged myself into the hotel to get breakfast, and after paying at the front desk, was surprised to see Tony eating by himself. He looked up when I sat down. “Morning.”
“Hey, dude. You feeling better?”
“Yeah. Took a couple Motrin, and I feel damn near human now. Great party.”
“Like you’d know. You left halfway through.” Tony grinned.
“Shut up,” I laughed, “You’d already drunk the town dry; I can’t see how you remember anything at all.”
“Maybe I’ve just got a big brain. One thing I do have, though, or did have, was one heck of a hangover. I haven’t been that drunk in years.”
“Bull. Eat your bacon.” We ate until Phil and Ryan came down, and then sat around talking for another half hour.
We left around seven-thirty and continued our drive to the middle of nowhere.
Several long hours later, we had arrived in the tiny nothing of Cazador, Alabama. We pulled into a gas station to look for a better map, but had no luck.
“Let’s get out of here,” Tony said, jumping into the driver’s seat, “These people give me the creeps.”
Phil grinned, “At least they’re not vampires,” he joked. Phil was completely unashamed of his curse, and often made jokes about it.
We followed a crummily-maintained state road for several miles, and finally turned off down a tiny gravel road, ignoring all the signs promising violence if we proceeded any further.
We finally pulled up to an open gate in a chain link fence that was topped with razor wire. There was a small awning next to it, and a person was sitting in a chair under it, listening to a large black radio. The figure stood up, and revealed itself to be a stunningly beautiful woman with a long mane of blond hair. Tony’s jaw dropped open, and when he recovered himself, he grinned at me. “I think I’m going to like this place, dude,” He said gleefully, and then began to hum .38 Special’s Fantasy Girl.
“Get a life, you moron,” I replied derisively as the goddess walked towards our car, but I secretly agreed with him. If all Hunters were like this, or even some of the, we were accepting a very nice occupation.
Tony rolled the window and introduced himself with typical flair and sensitivity before the woman even had a chance to speak: “Well, hey there! You ever seen one this big? Van, I mean,” he smirked, “Lot of, uh, man in here, wouldn’t you say?”
The woman regarded him with a cold expression. Tony continued, “Now, I don’t really know my way around here, but I do know that you and I need to get to know each other much, much better. What do you say?”
Ryan, Phil, and I all rolled our eyes. Typical Tony.
The woman’s expression changed to glacial. “Not interested,” she replied stiffly, “You see,” she continued, her voice becoming pleasant, “I don’t date women.”
Tony looked shocked, and the rest of us tried to suppress laughter. The woman looked past Tony to me. I was in the passenger seat up front. “How can I help you?” she asked.
“We’re here for the new class,” I replied quickly. This woman did not seem like the kind I wanted as an enemy.
“Drive straight on in and park in front of the biggest building. Leave all your luggage in the car; it’ll be dealt with later. I’m Holly Newcastle by the way, good to have you.”
“Thanks,” I replied, “We’re glad to be here.” With that, Tony put the car in gear and drove forward. As his window came up, we all burst out laughing.
“Way to make a great first impression, man,” Phil choked. Ryan agreed.
“That was smooth, man, real smooth,” he managed to get out between snorts, “Inspiring to watch.”
I was laughing too hard to speak.
Tony looked sulky. “The heck with all you guys,” He said huffily, “The heck with you.”
We parked in front of a giant, fortress-like building and walked towards the front door, still laughing. As we went, I noticed that the license plates on the cars already filling the small lot were from as far away as Washington, North Dakota, and California. Dang.
We entered the warmth of the fortress and walked up to a reception desk, where an older, grandmotherly woman was sitting in front of a computer. She was cleaning an enormous revolver. This threw me for a loop.
“Excuse me, ma’am,” I said, resisting the urge to call her grandma, “We’re here for the-”
“Yes, I know,” she cut me off. “My name’s Dorcas, it’s my job to know everything around here. Go down the hall, big double doors to the right. You those four crazy boys who killed a vampire?”
“That’s us,” Ryan replied.
“Good work, sonny. Very nice. I only wish I could have been in on the action; vampires always put up a right entertaining fight.”
“Okay . . .” Ryan said, sounding slightly unnerved at Grandma Dorcas’ violent tendencies, “Thanks.”
“You’re certainly very welcome. Now scat.”
We practically sprinted away. “I tell you, man,” Tony whispered once we were out of earshot of the reception desk, “The women here are freaking nuts!”
I grinned as we walked into a large, cafeteria-style room. “You and Dorcas should hook up,” I whispered back, “Your chances are better with her than with Holly.”
Tony glared at me, “I’ll get her,” he hissed, grinning, “Don’t you worry, I’ll get her.”
We took some seats in the back of the room. It was about half full, with around fifty men and women there already. Everyone was talking quietly amongst themselves. Nerves were clearly running high.
Finally, I heard a voice bellow for everybody to quiet down. Earl Harbinger was standing at the front of the room, with the hulking Pitt behind him, along with Holly Newcastle and a few others.
“Thank you. Ladies and gentlemen, thanks for being here. I’m not a speechmaker, so I’ll just say a few things. First, my name is Earl Harbinger, and I’m the Ops Director here at MHI. I’ve got a couple of announcements, so listen up. All the luggage in your cars will be taken to the barracks. Any guns you have in the cars will also be moved there. There’s one barracks for men, and one for women. You’ll be roomed based on the order you got here. Carrying is allowed on MHI property, but we’d prefer that as Newbies, you stick to handguns for now.
“You’ll notice I called you Newbies. That’s what you are now, or at least until training is over. Training is over when I say it is, and then you’ll be assigned to a position somewhere in MHI. The best of you will go to Hunter teams, but there is no shame in not being on an active team. Everything we do here is important.
“Right, that’s all I got. Let me introduce Raymond Shackleford, President and CEO of Monster Hunter International.”
A very old man stood up at this. He was tall and gaunt. A black patch covered his left eye, and the skin on that side of his face looked had obviously been horribly burned at one point. His hair was thick and white, and had been neatly combed. He wore an obviously expensive, dark Italian suit. He walked slowly, one foot slightly dragging. Most alarmingly, though, he had a stainless steel hook instead of a right hand.
Most of us started to clap politely, but he waved a hand, “I’m not a politician,” he boomed. “Now . . . Welcome to Monster Hunter International. My name is Raymond Shackleford . . . the Third. You can call me sir, Mr. Shackleford, or Boss.
“Now. I’ll be very blunt with you: We are short handed, and the monster problem is out of control. We are spread thin, with only small teams of experienced Hunters scattered around the country trying to put out fires. On the bright side, with so many attacks, it certainly makes finding and recruiting foolishly brave people like you so much easier.” He gestured at us with his gleaming hook.
“Every single person in this room was contacted after they survived some sort of monster encounter. That means you are already special. Also, we invited double the number of people that are here. Most of those decided not to come. That also makes you special. However, many of you will wash out of training, or get kicked out if we don’t think you’re up to par. Don’t get hurt feelings; There is neither shame in being kicked out nor deciding this job is not for you. Talk to Dorcas, we’ll write you out a nice fat check for your time.
“Now, you might wonder who will be teaching you. Your teachers will consist of experienced Hunters. Listen to them carefully. Read everything they give you. You need to understand monsters better than you understand yourself.
“Training will last until Earl decides that you’re good enough. After that you will be assigned to your duties. Some of you will be assigned to actual Hunter teams. Every employee will be paid bimonthly according to your position. Any PUFF your team earns will be shared by the whole company. It’s profit sharing. Don’t think this means you won’t get your fair share, because you will. Our business is monsters, and business is booming.” He smiled coldly at this.
“Thank you for coming. I can honestly say I look forward to working with those of you who make it through our training process. It will be very hard. Earl here is very unpleasant, but it’s for your own good.
“Thank you for your time. That’s all I have to say.”
The old man shuffled off the platform, and the room shot to its feet as one and applauded. The tough, plain-speaking, sharp-as-nails man had impressed us all deeply.
Harbinger stood up again and yelled for quiet. “Grab what you’ve got and come with me. I’ll show you where to dump your gear and then we’ll get started.”