The guns clattered to the ground. Arthur was the last to let his go, throwing his rifle to the earth. Armed men emerged from hiding spots around them. They prodded Kris and his friends in their backs, edging them toward a house.
“This is a nice rifle,” the man with the dark hair and moustache chided as he picked it off the ground. He looked Arthur over once. “You serve?”
“Two tours,” Arthur grumbled, his hands raised. “I used that very rifle to put bullets between the eyes of men better than you. Do be careful with—” The air rushed from his lungs and he doubled over as one of the thugs blindsided him with a punch to the gut.
“Oh, I’ll be careful, alright,” the man replied, handing the gun off. “Take ‘em inside. And separate ‘em.”
They were marched into a home turned war base. The living room had been stripped and covered with cots, the dining room was lined with tables and plastered with maps, and the kitchen was a barracks full of grubby, silent men who only stared as Kris and the others passed.
The assailants marched them downstairs into the unfinished basement. Arthur was placed into a room by himself, and Sky and Jamar were thrown into another. The men put Kurisu and Kris in a bare room with concrete walls in the corner of the cellar. All left but one man who stood at the entrance, a heavy rifle slung across the front of his chest, his finger not far from the trigger.
“What do you want?” Kurisu asked.
The man didn’t respond.
“We have food, ammo, weapons. Just tell us what you want.”
The man’s eye twitched ever so slightly. Kris felt his stomach drop; he knew Arthur would be furious if he heard Kurisu spill such valuable information. He nudged her and shook his head to silence her.
It didn’t work.
“We’re good people,” Kurisu went on. “We don’t want any trouble. Let us go, and you’ll never see us again.”
Kurisu pleaded for five straight minutes, but she would’ve gotten more of a response talking to a wall. The man stood as still and unyielding as a statue.
Minutes ticked away. Kris spent the torturous time wondering what the bandits could be after. If they wanted his group dead, they would have killed them right away. Somehow he doubted being captured was a better alternative.
His thoughts were interrupted by a commotion outside the room. The guard at the entrance turned and spoke to someone out of sight. “The woman says she has gear.”
“Gear? What kinda gear?” said the hidden person. Kris recognized it as the man with the silver pistol.
“Guns, ammo, food.”
The leader stepped past the guard into the room, the heels of his thick boots clicking on the frigid concrete floor. He squatted in front of Kurisu. She refused to look at him.
“Hey,” he said, snapping his fingers by her face. “Look at me.”
Kurisu, visibly shaken, looked up.
“What’s your name?”
Kurisu said nothing.
“How about give you my name first, hm? It’s Tony. Pleased to meet you.” Despite her flinching, he grabbed Kurisu’s hand and gave it a firm shake. “Now your turn.”
“Kurisu,” she whispered.
“What an usual name. Pretty, though. Listen, Kurisu. My friend here tells me you said you have some equipment nearby. Mind telling me where we might find it?”
Kurisu lowered her head. Tony grabbed her by the jaw and held her face up, squeezing her cheek tight. Kurisu began sobbing.
“I asked you a question, Kurisu. It’s only polite that you answer it.”
“I don’t know! I don’t know!” she cried.
Tony sighed and released her chin. He stood and looked at the guard, who Kris now realized had a sharp knife in his hand. “I was hoping it wouldn’t come to this,” Tony said, sounding disappointed.
Kurisu realized what was about to happen. She screamed and pushed herself back toward the far wall, as if that might save her. The guard strolled toward her, the knife out in front of him. He got closer, and Kurisu’s screams got louder.
Kris could hardly breathe, but he managed to shout, “I-I’ll tell you!”
The guard stopped and looked at him, as did Tony, who stood at the entrance with his arms crossed. He waited for Kris to continue.
“I-I-I don’t know this town, so I-I can’t tell you,” Kris admitted. “But I can show you. I-I-I can take you there.”
Tony ran a hand over his mustache, approached Kris, and squatted down in front of him. “You say you don’t know this town. How is it you have gear stashed here, then?”
“We, uh, just arrived. F-f-from Chicago. We have an RV full of stuff.”
Tony looked to his guard and back to Kris. “You’re not lying to me, are you, boy?”
Kris shook his head so fast his hat almost flew off. “N-no, sir.”
“‘Sir,’ he calls me,” Tony laughed. He clapped his hands and stood. “Very well. You’re going to take my men to your motor home, and you’re going to drive it back here.”
“A-and then you’ll let us go?” Kris dared to ask.
Tony nodded. “Of course. We only need your stuff. Cooperate, and you’ll all go free.”
Kris was thankful for that, at least. What was a bunch of food, weapons, and supplies compared to his and his friends’ lives? Then he remembered those things were their lives, and suddenly he didn’t feel so thankful anymore.
The guard waved his gun at Kris, motioning for him to stand. He did. Kurisu sat in the corner, her eyes glued to Kris. He sensed her apology and her thanks, and he accepted both. He wanted to say something to reassure her, but the guard pressed the barrel of his gun into his back and marched him out of the room.
On the way toward the basement stairs, Kris passed Mr. Caldwell’s room, where he sat against the back wall, one knee up, his arm resting on it, eyes closed, like he was relaxing against a tree in a park on a perfect afternoon. The next room wasn’t as pretty. Jamar and Sky sat side by side, and Kris couldn’t tell who looked more terrified. He caught Sky’s eye, and she leapt to her feet.
“Kris?” she said, stepping toward the room’s entrance before stopping in front of the massive guard blocking her way. “Kris! Where are you going?”
Kris didn’t respond. He didn’t know if he was afraid to admit in a couple hours they’d be defenseless and without food or water or if he simply feared speaking at all with a gun in his back. He tried to smile, to give her some sign of reassurance, but Sky’s panicked expression told him she didn’t buy it. She yelled his name until he was out of earshot.
The guard put a hand on Kris’s shoulder to stop him after they stepped onto the lawn. Kris looked around. The street seemed as abandoned as when they’d first arrived, but he knew now that looks could be deceiving.
Tony emerged from the house with a skinny redhead right who didn’t look a day older than Kris. Tony stopped in front of all three of them and put his hands on his hips.
“Who’s this guy?” the redhead asked. He looked Kris up and down as he chewed loudly on a piece of bright pink bubblegum.
“Ya know, I’m not sure I caught his name,” Tony said, looking at Kris.
“Marko, this is Kris,” Tony answered the redhead, gesturing. “Kris, Marko. And this is Ed,” Tony said, nodding toward the guard from the basement. “He doesn’t talk much.”
Kris risked a glance at him and instantly knew why. Ed was a brute of a man, as dumb as he was big—and he was bigger than Kris.
“Kris here will be taking you two to his RV, where he’s got loads of weapons and food,” Tony continued. He ran his hand over his moustache and placed his hands on his hips again. “Apparently it’s only a few blocks away. Isn’t that right, Kris?”
“When you reach the RV, you will drive it back here, and we’ll let these good people go.”
“Let ‘em go?” said Marko.
“Yes, Marko,” Tony said with a hint of impatience. “We will let them go. Now, Kris,” he said, turning to him, “I don’t want any trouble from you. One step outta line and my boys will drop you like a ton of bricks and bring the next candidate out until we get to your little motor home. Things will go much more smoothly for everyone if you just cooperate now. We clear on that?”
Kris nodded again. “Yes.”
“Good!” Tony clapped Kris on the shoulder and smiled at his two goons. “Well, get a move on, then. You don’t wanna be out here in the dark.” Tony made his way up the porch and stopped. “Oh, and keep your damn radios on this time, huh?”
“We got it,” Marko said, sounding like a scolded child.
Tony opened the screen door to step inside, and as he passed through the entrance, Kris saw a pair of wide, waist-high eyes staring out at him.
Kids. The strangers had kids.