Saturday, April 18, 2020

The Exquisite Corpse for Lockdown Noir: Part Six

Welcome to the next -- and final -- section of the Exquisite Corpse, continued from yesterday.

Art by Tom Leins

Special Announcement: Tomorrow, a free download of the entire story will be made available.
And now, the conclusion ->


When Brandin was about 15, he saw Apocalypse Now with his best friend. The wide angle shots of the Air Cav pushing through the sky, Hueys raining hell down on the bad guys, all while “The Ride of the Valkyries” roared. It gave him chills. Literal chills. He was 17 when he joined the military and trained to be a pilot. Two tours in Afghanistan as a co-pilot on a Chinook really wasn’t what he imagined when he was a teenager. Mostly it was boring and bureaucratic. His commanding officer, a holy roller from Alabama, prayed to his God that they would just leave and nuke the shithole country. At first, Brandin wholeheartedly agreed with his Colonel. Over time, though, he realized Afghanistan was really full of just people trying to make it through. He watched from above as people went to work, farmed, flew kites with their kids.

He began to set the bird down on the ridge as best he could, but he was having a hard time concentrating. He just watched a shitshow develop below him. It was worse than anything he saw in Afghanistan. When the dumb-ass hicks came roaring up on their bikes, a deep pit opened up in his stomach because he knew what was coming. And when the guy in the back got on his com and said “You’re a go,“ all Brandin could think about was that each of those dumb motherfuckers had a life. And at least the mercs signed up for the risk, the adrenaline, the huge salary... but the bikers, they were just stupid rubber-neckers.

Brandin stole a glance to where the woman stood, the rifle loose and comfortable in her grip, a man tied up at her feet, and thought who the fuck raised that one, that crazy bitch? He took a deep breath, levelled the bird out, and set it down easy as you please.

Once the bird settled, his boss tapped him on the shoulder and mouthed the words shut it down. Brandin did what he was told.

His boss unbuckled, stepped out. 

Brandin was alone. 

The slowing rotor noise becoming a whisper deep in his guts. It sounded like his wife’s voice: “Go home.” He spun his wedding ring on his finger. Once. Twice. He thought about the baby growing in her belly. The things he would teach his child and the things he would not. 

Then he looked up and saw everything going to hell.


No one had mentioned to the Corpse Grinders that firing on a helicopter was bad form. The sparks flickering off metal, tiny bits of shrapnel glittering. The young man stepped from the back of the helicopter onto the ground, motioned for the pilot to lift off, then walked towards Joyce.

Vivian Marchand emerged from the Himmler wreckage, steadied herself on the vehicle’s frame with one hand, then lifted a rifle with the other.

April looked at the man from the helicopter, who was walking towards her mother. “It can’t be,” she said. “It can’t.”

Will Souterrain blinked, moved his jaw about, blinked again. His head throbbed, his neck ached, and he twisted his wrists to loosen the blade in his watch.

Joyce stood still, the man from the helicopter walking towards her, the man sporting a lumberjack beard and a maroon tracksuit, but a young man she knew just the same.

Vivian rested the barrel of the rifle on the frame of the upturned Himmler and grinned, knowing that Joyce, for whatever reason, had stopped moving. She had the woman in her sights, and attempted to say “not so fast,” but it came out as “farf fo farf” through the blood and pain.

April was still watching the young man in the lumberjack beard and tracksuit walking towards her motionless mother.

Will Souterrain had the blade extended between his ring finger and pinkie, sliding the edge back and forth, nearly free of the ziptie.

Behind the Himmler, scraps of mercenaries and bikers chased after each other for no reason other than momentum.

The man in the lumberjack beard spied Vivian’s movement at the Himmler, pulled a pistol from his waistband, and sent a flurry of rounds at the vehicle. Joyce dropped to the ground. Vivian crouched behind the vehicle.

The young man covered the distance to Joyce, pushed her behind him, and handed her a pistol.

“What are you doing here?” she asked.

“Heard it’s a nice place to get away from everything,” he said.

She smiled. “Used to be.”

Will Souterrain had gotten to his feet and stood behind April, looking for his next move.

Vivian Marchand needed a better view and rose just long enough for Joyce fire once, an incredible shot, that put her back down, this time for good.

Will Souterrain shrieked. “That woman just killed your mama, chere.”

April spun, sent a heel into his knee, and said, “That woman is my mother, dipshit.” Souterrain fell to the ground. April kicked him in the face for good measure.

The land below was littered with bodies, looking like a smaller community theater production of that Tolkein movie with the big battle where the handsome elf slides down the elephant’s trunk. In fact, April had just watched that movie with the man walking toward her with her mother.

“Ronald?” she asked.

“Hey,” he said, “about that ride back to my dorm.”


The plane had touched down at a secure facility, but Joyce had no idea what state they were in. Probably still in the U.S., though for all she knew, it could have been Canada.

“And you have no idea where Samson is now?” Joyce asked Ronald, seated across from her in a windowless conference room.

“No,” he said. “Cleaning crew accounted for everyone else. No Samson.”

“And Souterrain?”

Ronald poured himself another cup of coffee. “Should be two floors below us on the holding level.”

“Get anything out of him?”

“Just that he got a message from Vivian, calling in a favor.”

“Which was?”

“That Vivian’s daughter was in danger, to protect her from Dario and bring her to a location.”

“He thought April was Vivian’s daughter?”

“So it seems.”

“That’s the craziest thing I’ve heard all day,” Joyce said.

“That is the craziest thing all day?”

Joyce smiled. “It’s kind of dull in the country, you know.”

“So what’s next for you?”

“Next? I’m not even sure what just happened.”

Ronald shrugged. “Best we can tell, someone approached Dario about your time in Kampala.”

“My time?”

“All of you. There’s been a power shift over there and someone is attempting to clean the slate. They found Dario first, flushed him out of hiding through some online backchannels.”

“Let me guess. Someone followed his dating profile?”

“Something like that,” Ronald said. “He ran to Vivian, and Vivian thought it might be Samson pulling the strings.”

“Samson? Really?”

“There’s no figuring. And he’d have known where you were or at least knew the agent we had watching you.”

“Watching me?”

“Both of you, actually. Guy at a gas station.”


“Yeah. Benny. So Samson gets clumsy coming after you, Vivian escalates the situation by bringing in your daughter. Seems Samson had convinced Vivian that you were still communicating with Kampala.”

“Why would he do that?”

“Playing his games. Seeing what he could find out,” Ronald said.

Joyce nodded. There was a knock at the door. Joyce and Ronald looked over to see a guard standing there.

Ronald nodded to the guard, who stepped aside and allowed April to walk in, hug her mother, then sit down next to her.

“They told me you were watching over me all this time?” April said, before Ronald could manage anything.

“Just the last year or two,” Joyce said.

Ronald tilted his head. “And how did you know that?”

“I still have some contacts.”

Joyce, Ronald, and April looked back and forth to each other, as if they were watching some slowly developing tennis match, back and forth.

Finally, Joyce broke the silence. “So all this was because someone in Kampala wants to get rid of us?”

“Or find something you know or take back something you’ve removed from there. There’s no telling at this point.”

“So me, Samson, Vivian, Dario, and Souterrain,” Joyce said.

Ronald nodded. “Souterrain is downstairs, Vivian and Dario are in the morgue, and Samson is in the wind.”

Joyce put her chin in her hands. “That just leaves…”

“Yes,” Ronald said, sliding a manila folder across the table to Joyce.

April stood. “So when do we leave?”

“We?” Joyce asked.

“That’s the next step, isn’t it?” April asked. “We go from defense to offense?”

Ronald stood, managed a few words “Well, actually, the plan is…”

Joyce stood, picked up the folder. “The plans haven’t worked so far.”

“She’s got a point,” April said.

“I guess I was hoping you’d want to help,” Ronald said. “What do you need?”

Joyce smiled. “A gun and a bottle of whiskey.”

April turned to the door. “Like my mother always says, ‘Just keep moving.’”


The authors (not in order of appearance) of this grand entertainment -- which began here -- have been:

Nick Kolakowski, Steve Golds, Richie Narvaez, Andrew Case, Beau Johnson, R. Daniel Lester, Terri Coop, James Hannah, Dan Fiore, Scott Adlerberg, Alec Cizak, Jason Beech, Eryk Pruitt, Jason Butkowski, S.A. Cosby, Michael Paul Gonzalez, Jerry Bloomfield, Tom Leins, Steve Weddle, E.A. Aymar, Seamus Heffernan, Matt Phillips, Ben LeRoy, Chad Rohrbacher, and Lein Shory.

Come back tomorrow for a free download of the complete story in PDF format.

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