Johnny opened his eyes thinking only a few seconds had passed. As his vision refocused, he realized he'd been out quite a while.
First, he was no longer in the power station on 25th and Z. He was sitting down and moving -- passenger seat of a Humvee, he thought.
As his thoughts cleared slightly, he realized he wasn't in a Humvee. Humvees didn't have leather seats, like the one he was seated in. Why'd I think Humvee? he wondered.
"Oh, good. You're awake," a voice came from next to him. "Was a little worried you weren't gonna."
Johnny knew he recognized the voice, but his brain was moving slowly still. He also noticed at that moment that his hands were bound. He felt plastic zip-ties around his wrists, which were twisted not-uncomfortably behind his seat.
Johnny willed his head to turn left. After what seemed like a long time, he finally shifted his gaze over to the driver's seat. Riley was driving the car. It was dark out now.
"How's your head, Staff Sergeant?" Riley asked.
"Hurts," Johnny mumbled.
I'll bet. Steel door smacked into it when the grenade went. Knocked you right fuckin' out, but that door probably saved you from getting blown up."
Johnny forced his head to move around some more. As he looked around the car, it hit him -- they were in Eric's BMW.
"Where are my guys?" Johnny coughed. His brain was starting to clear.
"By now?" Riley asked, checking his watch. "A nice, cozy little shelf in the county morgue, I suppose. Well, except tattoo-boy, that is. He's taking a nap in the trunk. Like the coat?"
Riley held up one of his arms -- he was wearing Eric's leather motorcycle jacket.
"Motherfucker," Johnny spat, swinging for Riley's skull on reflex, forgetting his arms were bound behind him. He simply jerked in his seat. Riley laughed softly.
"Come on, now, Sergeant. No hitting the driver. That's a pretty basic rule," Riley said.
"Where are we, Riley? What's the plan?" Johnny grumbled, shaking the last of the cobwebs from his brain.
"We're in the great expanse of Western Nebraska, man. As for the plan. . . well, that's the reason you're still alive and not resting in a cheap black bag back in Omaha."
"Aw. How sweet."
"Yeah, I know. I'm a big ol' softie. Woulda liked to have brought Alex along, too, but let's face it -- brother was unstable. Psycho."
"Right. Because what you're doing is so sane," Johnny shot back.
"Oh, yeah? What'm I doing, Staff Sergeant? I'm dying to know. What is it you think I've been up to?"
"Well, let's start with the hate crimes -- the indiscriminate and unprovoked murder of Muslims."
"Come on, Sergeant. Don't play naïve. You know I don't do anything unprovoked. Or indiscriminate, for that matter," Riley told him. "And what's with all the big words? Back in Iraq, you said three words per tour."
"We're not in Iraq now. You're aware of that, right?"
"Yes, Deputy. I'm aware of that. This is still America -- for the moment, anyway."
The two men were silent for a long moment.
"I'm having a smoke. You want one?" Riley said, pulling a pack of Marlboro Lights off the dashboard.
"I'll take one. Undo my cuffs."
"Yeah, I'll get right on that," Riley said, smirking and lighting his cigarette. "Look, Johnny. You must be seeing the disturbing trends."
"Such as, before you went over to Iraq, how many Muslims did you see in an average day here at home? None, that's how fuckin' many. Now they're everywhere. Even here, in the fucking Heartland of America. What do you think that means?"
"Not a damn thing," Johnny said.
"Really? 'Cause you've seen what happens when these fuckin' Hajis gather in large numbers, Sergeant. Good men get killed. Brothers."
"No, I've seen what happens when insurgents gather in large numbers. Ain't about being Muslim, Riley. It's about extremism," Johnny said.
"Bullshit. Bull-fucking-shit, Johnny. These motherfucking Hajis want to take over. To institute their law, their customs. You know them. Covert or we'll fucking chop your head off and send it to momma."
"Hey, Riley? The guys we were fighting in Iraq -- where were they from?"
"All over, man. Iraq, Syria, Chechnya, places in Europe."
"And that doesn't tell you something?"
"Fuck yes, it tells me something. Tells me these fuckers are worming their way into every damned part of the world, man. That's why it's up to us -- patriots -- to stop em."
"No, Riley. It tells me that, to get the numbers we were seeing in Iraq, they're having to reach out to everywhere. To all the cells. The little pockets of extremism that don't represent even a tenth of a percent of the world's Muslims," Johnny said, shaking his head.
"Just wait until we get to Denver, man. You'll see. My Intel shows a major cell brewing there. When you see what's really going on. . ."
"Then you'll join us."
"That's what you want? Me to work with you?"
Johnny tried hard not to laugh.
"You. The guy in the trunk, too. I saw that shit he pulled with my cameras and comms. We need a guy like that."
"Because the guys you've got --"
"Yeah, yeah," Riley cut in. "The National Militia guys aren't the brightest, but their hearts are in the right place. They're patriots."
"They're fucking retarded," Johnny said. "Riley, you got a gun? With you, I mean?"
"Yeah. I lifted the one tattoo-boy had on him."
"Good. Use it. Shoot me in the head and dump the body, because it'll be safer for you in the long run," Johnny growled. "Do it. Now."
"Oh, for fuck's sake, stop being a drama queen," Riley groaned. "Civilian life's made you soft and whiny, Sergeant."
"Uncuff me. We'll see how soft I am," Johnny growled.
"Man, you're a hell of a buzz kill tonight. Am I gonna have to knock you out again?" Riley said.
Johnny said nothing -- just stared at the road in front of them. Riley checked the gas gauge and sighed.
"Your buddy forgot to fill up. You gonna behave yourself when I pull over for gas?" he said.
"Only as much as you'd expect," Johnny told him.
"Good enough. You're not going anywhere, anyway."
Riley pulled a wallet from his jacket -- Johnny recognized it as his -- and opened it.
"Well, shit. You don't have much cash on you," Riley complained.
"You're welcome to use my credit card," Johnny said, smiling.
"Yeah. That's what I'm gonna do," Riley laughed. "Use your credit card on 80 west of Lincoln. No one would be able to track that at all."
Riley tossed Johnny's wallet into the back seat and pulled another out of the jacket -- Eric's, Johnny guessed.
"Whoa! Jackpot! See, tattoo boy knows how to roll," Riley said, pulling a stack of bills from Eric's wallet. "You guys are paying this dude too much, man."
Riley folded the bills and stuck them in the hip pocket of his black BDU pants.
"Well, good thing you're not dressed suspiciously."
"What? You dudes in the Midwest don't wear Kevlar vests to go to the store?" Riley said, grinning. "No worries, man. I'm a cop, y'know."
Riley held up Johnny's badge with one hand, then hung it around his neck. He glanced in the rearview mirror.
"Damn, Johnny," he said. "I make a good-looking cop. Bet you get all the chicks with this thing, don't you?"
Riley piloted the BMW off of I-80 at the next exit. Johnny noticed that they were near Ogallala -- almost out of Nebraska. They must have been driving for quite some time.
"Here we go. Can I get you anything from inside? You want some gum?" Riley teased.
"Just shut up and fuel the damn car," Johnny said, sighing.
"Man, you're pissy. You'll cheer up when we get to Denver -- when you see what I got running. Trust me, Sarge -- it's right up your alley."
Riley stopped the car next to a pump and got out of the car. The gas station was totally deserted except for the clerk behind the desk. Johnny knew yelling wouldn't do him any good -- even if the clerk inside could hear him, he knew Riley would just feed him a convincing lie. He'd just say that Johnny was an unruly prisoner he was transporting, and the clerk would believe him -- the badge didn't invite questions.
Instead, as Riley walked into the gas station, Johnny spoke in a normal voice.
"Eric? You awake back there, buddy?"
"Yeah, boss. Did I hear that correctly? Did that motherfucker just jack my cash?" Eric's muffled voice came from the trunk.
"That he did," Johnny said. "Asshole. Hey, Johnny, I know you can't hit a prisoner, but when we get out of this, can I get a free punch to his head?"
"Sure, buddy. If we get out of this."
"Oh, no worries there, buddy. Help's on the way, trust me. I --"
"Quiet!" Johnny hissed, cutting him off. Riley was coming out of the gas station with two cans of Rockstar in his hands. He set them on the BMW's roof, then started fueling the car. A moment later, he closed the gas cap, grabbed the cans from the roof, and got back in the car.
"Here," he said, reaching into his jacket. He pulled out a bottle of Ibuprofen and shook two pills into his hand. "For your head. Gotta hurt like a motherfucker."
Johnny nodded. He opened his mouth, and Riley popped the Ibuprofen in. He cracked open one of the Rockstars and held it to Johnny's lips.
"Go ahead. Stimulants'll help move the painkillers along. Not too much, though. I'm not stopping to let you go to the bathroom."
Johnny took a sip. The stuff was sweet -- almost too sweet -- but it was cold, and it helped his head a little. Riley let him take a few more sips.
"OK. That's enough. This shit'll go right through you."
Riley set the Rockstar in the cup holder, then opened and sipped from his own.
"Look, Johnny. I don't want to fight with you. I want you to join me. You know what I'm gonna have to do if you don't, though, right?"
"Good. Just want to be clear there. Let that sit for a while while we ride, OK? Do that for me before you decide, yeah?"
Again, Johnny nodded.
Riley fired up the BMW and pulled out of the gas station and back onto the abandoned Interstate. They cruised along in silence at 65 miles an hour for a couple of minutes. Riley lit a cigarette, then reached down and turned on the radio. The volume was up pretty loud, and "Chemical Warfare" by the Dead Kennedys blared through the cabin for a second. Riley turned it down.
"Tattoo boy has good taste in music," Riley said.
Johnny felt bad for Eric, who had probably been deafened by the speakers in the trunk. "Hey, what was that band you used to listen to back in the Suck?" Riley asked.
"Texas Death Machine," Johnny answered.
"Yeah, them. They were pretty fuckin' loud. Good, though. Oh, hey -- just got that."
"Sergeant Death Machine. That's where it came from."
"That's part of it," Johnny said. "Oh, hey. Watch the helicopter, there."
"What the fuck!?" Riley yelled, slamming on the BMW's brakes. The expensive sedan skidded to a stop a few feet short of the MH-60 Blackhawk that had seemingly dropped out of nowhere.
"Yeah. That one."
Johnny couldn't help laughing as Riley quickly threw the BMW into reverse. The Blackhawk set down on the road, and men jumped out.
One of them raised an M4 and put several rounds into the BMW's hood. The car sputtered and died. Johnny saw the man's face behind the rifle. He recongized him immediately, though he'd never met the man -- it was Jason Black.
"Looks like you're fucked, Riley," Johnny said.