Nicholai awoke to the sound of voices outside. They were mostly male voices. There was some shouting, but mostly the tones were conversational. He lay on the mattress and looked at the inside of his van. There were makeshift shelves, made from milk crates, which were filled with comic books. Each edition was inside a plastic cover with acid free cardboard inside to maintain its shape and prevent curling.
The grass was still dewy when he stepped outside the van and started toward the center of camp.
“May I bring you something to eat, sir?” said one of the new recruits.
Nicholai shrugged, and the recruit was off in search of food.
As he neared the center of camp, he passed small groups sitting on the ground. Many of those he passed said, “Good morning, sir.” He did not respond to their greetings.
There was a single table in the center of the camp. The table was covered with food, mostly canned food. There was also coffee, and it looked like maybe even orange juice. There were also plates of cooked meat. He tried not to think about where the meat had come from.
“Here you are, sir,” said the recruit who had approached him earlier. Nicholai was offered a plate of food and coffee (creamer, no sugar), just the way he liked it.
The discussion focused on their current prey.
“There’s only two of them, and the woman’s pregnant,” said one of the men at the table, a muscular blonde of average height in his early twenties. “Should be no problem.”
“Then why didn’t you get them yesterday,” said Nicholai. The blonde flushed, and started to open his mouth.
“That’s an excellent question,” said the man at the head of the table. He was short, with a slight build, dark hair, and dark eyes that made most people uneasy. Everyone went silent when he spoke.
His name was Daniel.
“So,” said Daniel, turning to look at the blonde, “Why don’t we have them now?”
The blonde went pale and began to stammer. He mumbled something about them getting lucky.
Daniel got up, and slowly approached the blonde. “I can’t hear you,” he said.
“They got lucky,” said the blonde, in a shaky voice.
Daniel took a matte black, semi-automatic handgun and pointed it at the blonde’s temple.
“Maybe you got sloppy,” said Daniel.
“Please,” said the blonde.
There was a loud report, and Nicholai felt a warm mist against his skin.
“Somebody clean that up,” said Daniel as he walked away.
No one said anything for a moment.
“Served him right,” said one of the men at the table. Others exchanged nervous glances. Nicholai forced himself to stay at the table and finish the food on his plate. He said nothing.
After breakfast was finished, Nicholai went back to his van for his gear and set out to track the two who were the subject of the morning’s discussion. He knew that he was allowed his position, and allowed to live, because of his abilities as a tracker.
It also helped that he had a reputation as dangerous, which he had gained early on. This was a result of the first mission he was assigned.
Daniel told him to “Teach them a lesson,” and Nicholai was pitted against a settlement of fifty, and the results… The results had earned his reputation as ruthless.
He stayed in the trees as long as he could, then he skirted the empty parking lot and cut across empty backyards. There were clotheslines with sheets hanging on them in one yard, bright plastic children’s toys in another. The only sounds were from birds and the wind.
The RV was parked in a driveway, but he recognized it. The outside was slightly faded, and there was a satellite dish, and a couple antennas on the roof. The man was sitting on the front porch, smoking a cigarette. The woman was not in sight. She was probably in the house.
This man was unnaturally thin and wore a mask. This was the man who had eluded the search party of the night before.
Nicholai watched the house for hours, hidden in the yard next door by a privacy fence and unpruned shrubbery.
The man eventually went inside, and began to pack the RV. It looked like most of what he took was food.
The woman came outside eventually. She was pretty. She had unruly red hair to her chin, a nose ring, and tattoos on her arms and back. She was obviously pregnant.
Nicholai watched them finish packing, get in their RV, and leave before returning to the camp to report on his observation.