MINUTEMEN: THE CRUCIBLE
Chapter Twelve: “An evening with Rachel Lynch”
Black Rose Bar
City of Boston
United North American Protectorate
October 19, 2552
Night before invasion of Earth
It was illegal to look that good in the Black Rose bar. It was sacrilege. The establishment simply did not deserve the beauty that was casually strutting through the front door and over the bouncer’s jaw. Autumnal red hair, meticulously blown and teased with an artist’s touch, sashayed and swayed along the middle of her back. A short black dress drew attention to her figure without being obnoxious or desperately showy. Subtle jewelry caught the dim light of arcade games, a dingy vending machine, and a single fritzing holo panel that was doing its level best to broadcast the Boston Bruins game.
To the clutches of blue collar Bostonians gathered in islands of bar stools and the midday drunks hunched over the horseshoe-shaped bar, she was gliding over the dark stained hardwood floor. The three attractive girls at the top of the horseshoe turned around on their stools to stare at incoming Aphrodite. A petite young girl with short blonde hair and a look that screamed preparatory schooling took a courageous sip of her martini, spilling a few drops on her jeans and making her curse softly. After dabbing at the drops with a cocktail napkin, she turned her attention back to the gorgeous redhead.
“I thought you were going on a date.”
“I am,” Rachel Lynch replied, a sly smile forming in the corner of her lips. The bartender was already standing at attention when the Boston College Junior perched herself on her bar stool. She could not be sure, but Rachel could have sworn the barrel chested barman was holding his breath. She put her elbows on the bar and leaned forward, craning her graceful neck to examine the arrangement of bottles, even though she knew the layout by heart. The bartender looked like he was about to pass out.
“Vodka soda,” Lynch said, locking eyes with her server. “Make it cheap and hard.”
The bartender’s legs buckled ever so slightly as he turned to fetch the beverage. Rachel now turned to face her friends as they threw her mildly disapproving looks.
“That’s just not fair to the new guy,” the blonde said, swirling her olive around in the martini glass as the rest of the attractive girls in the group turned back to their conversations. “So when’s this date?”
Lynch glanced at the ancient clock above the bar. “Should be…any minute now.”
Each of the girls turned as one and gave their well-dressed “bestie” a collective sideways glance. Blonde spoke for the group.
Rachel nodded, avoiding eye contact and draining her cocktail hastily.
“R. Lynch! You’re breaking the rules!”
Lynch spun in her bar stool and stared at the ceiling tiles with feigned exasperation. “Am not.”
A striking girl with long, wavy, raven black hair fixed pleading eyes on Rachel and reached to put a soft, manicured hand on her arm to get Lynch’s attention. “R. Lynch. We. Like. This. Bar. We like that no one else from BC comes here. We like that us girls can be ourselves where no one can find us, and no strange guys hit on us. We like drinking here for next to nothing. You’re breaking rule number one: no boys, and rule number two: don’t dress to impress.”
Rachel shot a look at Raven like she had just been stabbed in the back. “I am not that dressed up,” the Boston College Junior declared.
All the girls swivled on their barstools like a Broadway musical chorus line. Their eyes flitted across the bar and locked on to the only cute boy in the entire establishment: a moderately built bar back sporting a backwards Boston Red Sox cap with a shock of red hair slipping out from underneath it. He was casual to the point of scruffy and shier than a nun at Mardi Gras. He was the girls’ favorite target. Their voices turned to honey while his knees turned to jello.
“Seamus,” Raven and Blonde cooed, “Seamus Conner, come here.”
Seamus looked over his shoulder, a schoolboy being called on in a class he never studied for. He seemed to be taking a second to answer the Sirens’ call. Finally, he stammered, “Yeah?”
“It’s all right,” Rachel said in a reassuring tone. The Irish import flipped a bar towel over his shoulder, thought better of it too late, then grabbed it again and began nervously wiping his hands as he approached.
“Seamus,” Blonde took over, “is Rachel overdressed?”
Seamus looked over his shoulder, then quickly examined the other rough-looking patrons around the bar. He looked at the girls uneasily and responded as if he detected a trick question. “…We don’t really have a dress code here.” His face was doing its best to match his hair.
“When Rachel walked in,” Blonde prodded, “did you notice her?”
“Oh hell yes,” Seamus blurted out, realizing simultaneously that he had indeed said those words and he was indeed staring at the girl in question. These thoughts caused a four-car pile up in his mind, and as the mental conflagration blazed, the young bar back beat a hasty retreat to a phantom emergency that had to be tended to immediately. The rest of the girls turned to Rachel with serene satisfied looks on their faces. Rachel was quietly amused.
“It’s not nice, or fair, to pick on Seamus.”
“Rach,” Blonde said, perfectly plucked eyebrow raised, “we’re picking on you.”
Evacuated City of Boston
October 20, 2552
Rachel jumped with a start, jerked out of her thoughts by Tim McManus’ voice. The handsome, brown-haired, hazel eyed Harvard Junior looked up at the tired girl from his position next to the Warthog and tilted his head in concern. Rachel shook her head, putting on the grey jeep cap that she had been wringing in her hands a few moments before.
“Nothing,” Rachel said with an unconvincing smile, “just zoned out, is all.”
“Must be nice,” McManus said, unconvinced. He tossed up a large white object to the now unencumbered Rachel. “Here, stow that for me, will ya?”
Rachel examined the large, white and red painted plastic octagon. “What is this?”
“It’s a medkit,” Tim explained, pulling himself up into the Warthog next to Lynch, “Cap wants them out and ready to use as soon as we hit the target.”
“That wasn’t a worrying conference at all,” Ron Parsons added as he tossed his Battle Rifle in and hopped aboard behind the pair, “there’s a pretty good chance that the gang could use our captured COMs to listen in on us. Maybe our tech guys’ll be able to block the compromised units, maybe they won’t. In the meantime, recon thinks the windows are boarded up so they won’t shoot out at us, and they don’t think Winter Hill has rocket launchers.”
Three more soldiers entered the vehicle with the kids as the transports activated their engines. Though not deafening, it was definitely a sound that got the students’ adrenaline going. The two Warthogs accelerated into combat turns and bounded back into the obliterated city of Boston. Ron sighed and checked the magazine in his rifle. “This should be fascinating.”
“All units be advised on updated coordinates,” Master Gunnery Sergeant Gus Reynolds said in a clipped tone, “Rendezvous point is now 1167 Commonwealth Ave. The, uh, Black Rose bar in case you need a visual.”
“What?” Rachel asked to no one in particular, bolting upright in her seat. “Why are we going to the Black Rose?”
“Uh,” Tim gave a sideways look at Rachel, “best guess, that’s where they traced the signal?”
“Well what are they going to do when they get there?” Rachel asked, eyes getting wider by the second.
“Calm down.” Tim said, putting his hand on Rachel’s shoulder. “What’s the big deal?”
“They—it—the Black Rose…I used to go there all the time.”
Ron Parsons turned around his seat and fixed a look at Rachel that asked if she was kidding. “You used to drink at Black Rose.”
“My girlfriends and I…it was like our secret place. No one else from Boston College went there.”
Parsons nearly guffawed. “That’s ’cause the Black Rose is a Winter Hill bar. I wouldn’t go in there.”
“They weren’t like that!” Rachel insisted, voice rising testily. “They were always nice to us, all the time.”
“Look,” Ron said, putting his hands up in defense, “don’t take this the wrong way, but you’re a good looking chick and you all tend to travel in packs. If a bunch of hot girls wanted to drink in my clubhouse, I’d make ’em feel right at home, even if I was a bunch of murderers and drug runners.”
“Take that back!” Rachel yelled, startling Tim and Ron.
“Whoa!” Tim said, putting a hand on Rachel’s good shoulder and calming her down. “What’s with you?”
Lynch shook off Tim’s hand angrily and stared darkly out at the passing apocalyptic neighborhood, refusing to believe that the people who were so kind, sharing, and considerate could be capable of the things she had read in the news. “Just—just leave me alone for minute.”
“Captain,” One of the soldiers said over the COM, “In case we have to block COMs, what’s rules of engagement on arrival?”
“The Winter Hill gang was an organized crime group until they took UNSC Marines hostage. Protocol says they’re Innies now.”
“Innies?” Ron asked.
“Insurrectionists,” Tim explained, turning over his shoulder. “Rebels. Terrorists. Bad guys. You don’t read military thrillers?”
Ron shrugged. “Never enough character development.”
Captain O’Shea came back on the COM. “It’s full assault, weapons free the moment we get there.”
“Wait!” Rachel blurted out, instinctively joining in on the communications channel. “They’re not insurrectionists!”
“The law says otherwise,” O’Shea responded curtly.
“But, by law you’re all deserters,” Lynch said, disbelief creeping into her voice.
“I don’t think I like your tone, miss,” The Captain said coldly. “but if you think those sons of bitches won’t shoot the first thing that walks in the front door, then I’ll be happy to let you take point.”
“Christ, Jack,” Gus said from the lead Warthog, concerned. “Take it easy.”
“No, we’re not ‘taking it easy,’ any more,” Jack growled, glaring out his front windshield as though he were looking at his XO, “Everyone, listen up. I’m sick of playing by the rules and losing time and men every time we do the right thing. I won’t let Ibanez or anyone else die because they tried to help innocent people. If I have Innie supporters on my Warthogs, I want you off now. Switching COM traffic to command transmissions only. Cease chatter.”
The Captain turned over his shoulder in the passenger seat and looked hard at Rachel, who was nearly pouting at this point. “I can understand you might have some kind of rapport with these men, but they are not the people you think they are. I’m sorry. I know it’s hard to accept with everything else that happened today, but it’s the truth.”
Rachel retuned Jack’s look as the rushing wind whistled over their heads and chilled them through their body armor. “I think I need to stay out of this one,” Lynch said loudly, blinking against the wind.
O’Shea nodded, helmet bouncing slightly as the Warthog bumped over a crater. “Fair enough, but there’s an off chance I’ll need you to talk to these people. Wait for our all clear then enter.”
Black Rose Bar
October 19, 2552
The girls had to hand it to Rachel; she had picked a winner. He walked into the Black Rose in a dressy but understated outfit. His square tie was tied expertly and hung at exactly the right length, the triangle lapels of his gray wool blazer stopped just an inch or two below his chiseled jaw. He looked every inch of the huge Boston College hockey posters hanging around the campus and the city. The senior defenseman looked slightly confused as he took in his surroundings and compared them to his getup, but once he saw Rachel at the bar, he brightened considerably and he put purpose back into his stride.
Rachel knew he had arrived the minute Blonde stopped speaking mid-sentence and stared behind Lynch. The BC Junior smiled out of the corner of her mouth and whispered, “He just came in, didn’t he?”
Blonde was still dumbstruck, “You didn’t tell me you were on a date with—?”
Lynch’s friends forgot about their rules as he made up the distance between them. Rachel offered her cheek as he took a place at the bar next to her, taking an extra few seconds to shake hands and introduce himself to the rest of the group.
“James Madigan,” the hockey star said, offering a hand that only yesterday had pummeled Boston University in an exhibition game. Blonde did her best to affect disinterest, but her tongue betrayed her.
“I know who you are!” Blonde stammered, instantly realizing what she had done. She occupied herself with her martini as the rest of the girls followed suit, stealing glances with the subtlety of a fifth-grader.
Madigan turned to his well-dressed date with a look of amusement. “When you only told me the address,” he said, eyebrows up and making a show of looking around the faux wood paneling, “I thought it was some new trendy restaurant or something.”
Rachel laughed, and the room seemed to brighten. “James,” she said, patting the muscled arm of the athlete condescendingly, “I don’t know if you checked lately, but we’re college students. The last really good meal I had was back home on fall break, and my parents paid for it. This,” Lynch said, gesturing grandly around the meager furnishing and twirling expertly on her bar stool, “is much more my speed.”
“And it’s hard enough to keep up with these ladies,” a ruddy-faced, balding Irishman with multiple tattoos and the body of a longshoreman interjected, taking position behind the bar with a smile and refilling Rachel’s drink. He offered a large friendly hand to Madigan. “Frank Walsh. Owner; operator. Welcome to the Black Rose, Mr. Madigan.”
James shook hands with Walsh and glanced, surprised, at Rachel. “Thanks, Mr. Walsh.”
“Please! For a certain first round pick for my beloved Boston Bruins, it’s Frank.”
Madigan chuckled appreciatively. “It’s a long season, Frank. I’d be lucky to play for Boston if I’m not pressed into military service.”
Frank popped open a beer and took a generous swig, wiping his mouth with a bar rag and pointing the bottle at James. “Ain’t nothin’ in this world that’s luck. Don’t you worry about them jarheads stealin’ you from my Bruins. You’ll wear the black and gold, sonny,” Walsh slid a shot of Martian whiskey to the burly player with a wink, “don’t you think otherwise.”
The three clinked vessels and took a long drink, enjoying the moment and feeling the warmth of the alcohol course through them. “Now,” Frank said, popping another beer open and nodding at the gorgeous redhead across from him, “what’s it gonna be?”
“Did you eat?” Rachel asked her date, who responded no with a shake of his head. “Excellent!” Lynch said with delight, bringing her palms together as if to start a ceremony. “What do you say we go one for one?”
Both Madigan and Rachel’s friends all looked at the well-dressed girl with disbelief. James composed himself for a second before answering. “Not to be rude,” he said, still trying on the words for size, “but you…want to go drink for drink…with me.”
Rachel nodded enthusiastically, smiling. The BC hockey star shook his head, then shrugged off his blazer and loosened his tie. “All right,” he said in a near-resigned tone, “but I warned you.”
Lynch absent-mindedly tossed her hair over her shoulder and downed her drink, slapping it against the sturdy wood and wiping stray drops with the back of her hand while signaling Frank with the other. “You certainly did,” she replied coyly.
Evacuated City of Boston
The two Warthogs raced west down the street toward the gleaming, black painted façade of the Black Rose. A third ‘Hog fishtailed into view up ahead and flew along the deserted road to meet up with O’Shea and Reynolds’ vehicles.
“This is Delta,” one of the soldiers announced from the third Warthog, “are captured COMs blocked?”
Captain O’Shea put a hand to his throat. “Captured COMs are blocked. Go ahead, Delta.”
“Delta standing by for orders.”
“Move your team into position at the rear entrance, Delta. Wait for my signal, then breach and clear.”
“Wilco. See you inside.”
Delta’s Warthog then slipped out of sight, skidding expertly into an alley and continuing to the bar’s rear. The rest of the vehicles braked to a hard stop in the middle of the road, relieved to see that recon had been right about the boarded and blocked windows. They left the business end of a M41 mounted chain gun pointed directly at the front entrance.
“Quick thought, Jack,” Gus said as he and his driver jumped out of their transport and scanned the area, “we could ping the hostages’ transponders and get their location inside the bar and leave the heavy lifting to the M41.”
“No good,” O’Shea said as he and the others disembarked and crouched by their Warthog. “We can’t be sure they haven’t packed that place with refugees and I wouldn’t put it past them to use ’em as human shields. Nope,” Jack sighed quickly, “this one’s on us.”
Gus nodded. “Copy.”
The COM chirped in the leaders’ ears. “Delta, in position.”
Jack put two fingers to his throat. “How’s the alley looking?”
“Clear. Waiting for your go.”
Jack nodded. “Stand by. We’ll give peace one shot.” O’Shea tapped a Private First Class on the shoulder to get his attention. “Open Ibanez’s COM unit for a second,” he instructed, hearing a quick tone in his ear to let me know the channel was opened. The Captain fixed his gaze on the façade of the bar and spoke loud and clear over the COM.
“This is Captain Jack O’Shea to all Winter Hill members holding my Marines. This is your first and last warning. Bring my Marines out, unharmed, and return the refugees to us immediately. If you do so, you will be allowed to leave peacefully. If you do not comply, you will be killed.”
A soft hiss of static followed the declaration. Rachel peeked over the cover of the Warthog with pleading eyes, deathly afraid of what was about to happen. The answering beep of Ibanez’s COM reply made her flinch.
“This is Frank Walsh. We killed your Marines five minutes ago,” the disembodied voice said very matter-of-factly, “you come in here and you’ll get the same.”
Rachel felt the air leave her entire body as she slumped against the side of the troop transport. She was looking through a tunnel, head down and in utter disbelief of what she just heard. The innocent faces of the men who poured her drinks, joked with her and her friends, looked out for her and hailed cabs so she would not have to go outside alone, all those faces were now shattered, marred with the red blood of murder.
For her, it was the final straw, the very last thing she held on to that had not been destroyed. With just that sentence, everything she knew had changed. All that was left were two boys she had only known for hours, and though they were closer than any of them had imagined, Rachel Lynch felt achingly isolated and alone. She looked off into space, sitting on the cold concrete as Gus Reynolds marched past her to lead the other half of the soldiers.
Master Gunnery Sergeant Gus Reynolds’ face was fixed with barely controlled raged as he held up his data pad to the soldiers in front of him. Rachel looked up slowly as Gus got his team’s attention. The imposing ex-Marine stabbed a finger at a pulsing red dot in the middle of a wire frame schematic. “Check your pads quick and memorize that signal’s location, that’s where this Walsh motherfucker’s hiding. Mind your corners, and don’t take chances in there. It’s one in the chest, one in the head, and you drop every single one of those Innie fucks ’cause you’re the best. You get me?”
Tim, Ron, and the rest of the men nodded gravely. Rachel could not find the strength or desire to protest. The life she led only hours ago had finally ended. All that remained was the present with no assurances about the immediate future.
Jack’s voice became low and dark as he opened the COM and pointed two fingers at the front door. “Stack up. Prepare to breach.”
There were no shouts, war cries, or vengeful declarations. The sheer efficient movement of eight men moving silently toward the building was scary enough. They broke off into two teams of four, Ron and Tim were at the rear of each team’s stack. The gunner at the M41 swiveled slightly to the left, fixing his sights on the hinges of the front entrance. He looked down at Rachel for a moment, aware of the shivering girl on the ground for the first time.
“You might want to cover your ears,” the gunner offered. Rachel never heard him; she was numbly crawling on all fours to the corner of the troop Warthog, watching what might very well be the end of every friend she had left.
From her spot, Rachel watched as one of the soldiers took what looked like an aerosol can and sprayed a light gray foam along the hinged side of the large, red, wooden door. The foam hardened into a bulging mold as the soldier jammed what looked like a stainless steel meat thermometer into the substance. The eight black and grey clad warriors pressed themselves hard against the wall as the COM chirped open.
“All teams, breach.”
The two gray molds exploded outwards with surprising force, making Rachel flinch and put more weight on her bad shoulder than she wanted to. She cringed with the shock of pain and fought to keep her eyes focused as the two teams moved in swiftly, staccato flashes of their weapons creating a strobe light effect and giving Lynch instantaneous snapshots of what little she could see of the interior. Cracks and bursts of weapons firing could be heard, accompanied in rhythm with muffled shouted instructions.
Rachel watched breathlessly, heart rate skyrocketing as questions flew through her brain. It was maddening to have to wait for the all clear; the redheaded Boston College student did not even know if the all clear was ever going to be called. Rachel rose up from her position and caught sight of a first aid kit stashed away in the back of the troop ‘Hog and stared at it for a moment, paralyzed with instructions to stay put and the voice in her head screaming for her to get into that building.
“Fuck it,” she said aloud, grabbing the bag and running as fast as she could into the firefight. The Warthog gunner’s surprised exclamation did nothing to keep her there. Her legs churned cement and she gripped the heavy pistol in her good arm as the gaping black hole of the Black Rose bar became ever larger. She squeezed the grip in her moistening palm and swung her arm to the left, recalling vaguely some trivia that right handed enemies would hide to the left side of a door to get the drop on intruders. She flew across the threshold and left the last of Boston’s sunlight behind as the darkness engulfed her.
“Wha’s yer trick?”
Rachel looked bemused at Madigan, who was now completely laying his face and chest on the surface of the bar, a sizeable pyramid of shot glasses, highball glasses, and beer mugs next to him. “What do you mean?” Rachel asked with a smile, her speech a little fuzzy but nowhere near as bad as the intoxicated hockey player’s. James pointed unsteadily at Lynch, seeing three of her and taking a guess at which one was talking.
“You…must haf a supah power.”
“Yep,” Rachel said, “I do. Do you want to know what it is?”
Madigan, head resting on the bar like a pillow, nodded slowly.
“I have super hearing,” she leaned over and whispered into James’ ear. “Do you know what my super hearing heard last week in the trainer’s room?”
Madigan only gurgled; an indication, Lynch assumed, to continue. She stroked the hockey stud’s thick brown hair reassuringly, her words dripping with honey.
“I heard you talking to your boys about how you could ask me out and fuck me on the same day. I believe the phrase you used was ‘no contest.'”
Lynch looked cheerily over her shoulder at her friends, who, just hearing this news for the first time, looked fully prepared to rip the jock apart. Rachel nodded calmly at her best friends and teammates, staying their hands. Madigan, deep in a haze of alcohol, did not seem to appreciate the point.
“Is ’cause…’cause yer hawt.”
“I know, I know,” Lynch said as she went back to her drink, still talking in a sickly sweet voice. She stared straight ahead, only occasionally looking over at James. “I clean up well, I like to hang out, and I’m a pretty great lay. That’s something you’ll never get to experience with me, and if you ask me out again, I’ll tell all your buddies about the time a hundred twenty pound girl drank you under the table, you got me, stud?”
James nodded as best he could, though it was more like dragging his chin toward his chest. Rachel smiled sweetly and reached inside her bag.
“Great! And just so you don’t forget,” Lynch took out a large black permanent marker and took off the cap with flair, “I’m going to write down a few reminders. On your face.”
For the next five minutes Rachel and the girls took turns signing the unconscious hockey player’s face with their names, slogans, and all shapes and sizes of male genitalia. Once they were done, Blonde stumbled for a half-step.
“Whoa,” she said, holding on to the bar for a second, “Rach, how are you still standing? I’ve never seen you do that.”
Lynch shrugged and waved at Frank, who jogged over from watching the Red Sox playoff game on the holo panel, bottle of vodka in hand. “What’ll it be?” Walsh asked with a half grin.
“We’re gonna kill the bottle,” Rachel replied with a mischevious look, taking the bottle in hand and upending it, taking a long pull. Her friends stared on, bug eyed, until one of them grabbed it and took a sip. They put the gleaming glass vessel down and wagged their finger at the gorgeous mastermind.
“There’s no vodka in this,” Blonde said, thoroughly impressed. “You planned this.”
“Yep,” Lynch said confidently. “You know me; I like to win.”
Frank poked Madigan and cleared his throat. “So what do I do with this piece of work?” He asked, tilting his head toward the back of the bar. The Black Rose was made up of the horseshoe shaped bar, assorted raised circular tables, and a pool table dangerously close to an old basketball arcade game in the back right corner. On the right side of the bar were the bathrooms, the left side had a door marked, “kitchen.” Frank Walsh pointed a meaty thumb backward at the kitchen door. “I got a private space we can stash ‘im in,” he winked theatrically at the girls.
The girls laughed. “Is that where you keep the bodies, Frank?” Rachel asked, egging him on.
“Under lock and key,” Walsh said, making a show of sizing up the BC defenseman, “he won’t bother you any more.”
Rachel patted Frank’s hand and smiled at him as she turned around toward the front door. “You’re sweet, Frank, but I think we’ll throw him in a cab. Wouldn’t be very ladylike to kill him, would it?”
Frank nodded amicably. “Reckon not.”
Rachel never even considered the slickness of the Black Rose’s floor, so she was surprised when she slipped on the blood pooling by the front entrance. Pure luck and a rush to turn an exam paper in was the reason the Boston Collegian was wearing sneakers and not heels, but the slippery surface of the hardwood and the energy of Lynch’s entrance would have made a mockery of any footwear. Luckily, the fall caused a soldier’s knee-jerk reaction shot at the girl to miss high and wide.
“Hold fire!” Jack O’Shea roared, looking like he was about to punch the nervous ex-Marine. His attention turned to the sprawled out girl and he marched across the space to give the intruder a begrudging hand up. “Rachel! You want to get yourself killed?”
This is blood, Rachel thought, frantically wiping her hands on the white med kit. I’m in the Black Rose and I just fell in blood. Lynch turned around and let her eyes adjust to the darkness. She immediately wished she had not run into the fray.
The fight was over. Jack O’Shea and his men had wiped out the Winter Hill gang. In front of, behind, and draped over the bar were the bodies of Boston’s last major criminal element; stolen and smuggled UNSC weapons lay by their limp hands and were being collected by various soldiers. Rachel saw several men she recognized and one or two she might have known had their faces been intact. Lynch was suddenly very afraid of the soldiers who had saved her life several times today.
The redhaired college student looked up from the floor and into the face of Tim McManus, who looked just as spooked as she did. Rachel did not even think, she only felt so relieved to see one person she knew who was alive that she jumped at the Harvard Junior and smothered him in a vice grip of a hug. A perplexed Tim patted the attractive survivor on the back and looked at Ron Parsons with a look of vague panic. Parsons only shrugged and resumed stripping a gang member’s pistol of ammunition. Everyone stopped what they were doing when the Captain approached.
“Rachel,” O’Shea said, sliding a fresh magazine into his customized Battle Rifle and pulling down his balaclava, “I need your help for a second.”
Lynch put a stray strand of hair behind her ear, realized she had marked herself with blood in the process, then decided to deal with it later so she could answer the Captain who had killed every single patron in her favorite bar. “Yeah,” she said, swallowing hard, “what do you need?”
“We took a prisoner in the kitchen.”
Gus Reynolds looked up from stripping a criminal’s assault rifle, “Lucky fucking coward. Bastard was wearing Ibanez’s body armor.”
O’Shea silenced his XO with a raised hand, then returned his attention to Rachel, gesturing toward the kitchen door. “Winter Hill’s notorious for concealing their leadership. This guy wouldn’t be wearing armor if he wasn’t important, but he didn’t have Ibanez’s COM on him. I need you to identify him and see if you can get anything out of him.”
“I’m not gonna torture him!” Lynch blurted out, panicked. Jack immediately put his strong hands on her shoulders.
“That’s not what I’m asking you to do,” he said, his voice level and incredibly calm for someone who had just killed several humans in the middle of the invasion of Earth. “We just want to know his name and maybe he’ll talk to you instead of us.”
Rachel nodded, then looked back at Tim and Ron. O’Shea anticipated her question.
“No, they can’t come with you. I need it to be as few people as possible.”
“O—OK,” Lynch replied, following behind Jack as they disappeared behind the swinging door misted with blood. Everyone else was left to his own devices.
Ron Parsons motioned for Tim to follow him to the horseshoe shaped bar at the back of the room. Tim, eyes still on the kitchen door and wondering what was happening in there, slowly followed behind. Ron leaned against the bar and, struck by inspiration, reached behind the bar and grabbed two bottles of beer that were still somewhat cold. He passed one to a grateful Tim McManus and the two new soldiers took a sip in silence.
“You shoot any of ’em?” Ron asked.
“Nope,” Tim said, trying not to look around the bar, “you?”
“Nope. Kinda glad I didn’t.”
Rachel was shocked at how many gang members were strewn around the kitchen with no apparent casualties to O’Shea’s men. Lynch could not help but ask the question.
“Did any of you—?”
“One Delta wounded, one of Gus’ got hit, too.” Jack answered, never breaking stride as they entered the kitchen. “The one bit of luck we’ve had all day.”
The stainless steel kitchen area was a wreck. Pots, pans, and all sorts of utensils were tossed around, and pools of blood were collecting by drains, fed by splatters and mists of red on the clean white walls. As they turned the corner of one serving station, Rachel felt herself go rigid and she took a step back. She had been anticipating and preparing herself for this moment, but now that she was here, it was completely different. There, on his knees, wearing torso armor with a bullet deflection in the center of his chest, was Frank Walsh. As shaken as Rachel was, Frank was worse.
“What the fuck are you doing here?” Frank demanded, his ruddy face almost bright crimson. This was not the same man that Rachel had conspired with not twenty-four hours ago. She hardly recognized him. Lynch felt O’Shea looking at her, and she turned to face him.
“You know him?” O’Shea asked. Rachel nodded, and Frank fought against his restraints.
“Don’t tell him anything! You don’t know who he is!” Walsh began shouting. “You don’t know what he and these fascist bastards are going to do to you! You owe me, Rachel Lynch! You owe me!”
For half a second, Rachel actually wondered whom to trust. Then, just as quickly as doubt entered her mind, she remembered that this man in front of her had killed five soldiers who were putting their lives in jeopardy so she and innocent refugees might live. Frank read the conflict playing across her features and played his last card.
“You tell him who I am,” the burly bar owner growled, “and I’ll kill you. I promise you that.”
Rachel took off her jeep cap and looked Frank in the face. It was time to show her friends that she was not afraid to put her life on the line, either. “His name is Frank Walsh. He owns this bar, and yesterday he mentioned something about having a room in here where he keeps bodies.”
Frank’s head quivered with rage. Rachel wondered if it would actually explode. Instead, the Winter Hill gang leader let out an animal cry of rage and yelled at the top of his lungs, “Kill them! You hear me? Kill all the refugees and the Marines! Do it! Do it now!”
The Captain did not waste a second. As soon as Walsh started to open his mouth, Jack marched over to the leader, grabbed him by the collar of Ibanez’s armor and began dragging him across the kitchen back to the bar.
Tim and Ron had moved on to their second beer as ex-Marines continued to search bodies and pilfer booze from behind the bar. They loaded material into sacks, packs, whatever they could stash provisions and supplies in. The two friends leaned against the bar, feeling weary and drained. Ron chuckled to himself.
“She hugged you.”
“She hugged you. She was happy to see you.”
Tim took a longer pull from the beer. “I guess.”
“Cut the shit, Timmy. You got feelings for her. She’s hot and you came back for her when she was trapped in a burning building. Don’t have to be a professor to figure this one out.”
“Harvard seems like a year ago.”
“Yeah.” Ron finished the last of his beer and tossed it over his shoulder, listening to it smash on the floor behind him. “She likes you too, dude. Hold on to that one. She may be able to hold her own, but females are gonna be in short supply real soon. Protectin’ people now’s a matter of life and death.”
Before Tim could reply, the door to the kitchen slapped open and Jack O’Shea tossed Frank Walsh into the middle of the room. Gus Reynolds and the rest of the soldiers in the bar looked at their CO for instructions.
“This is Frank Walsh,” Jack said with venom. “Strip the armor, keep him restrained on his knees, but do not—do not—shoot him. Our boys might still be alive.”
Rachel and the soldiers of Delta team turned the kitchen upside down trying to find the room that Frank had bragged about the night before. The fact that he was actively trying to give instructions to someone only gave more urgency to their search as they scoured high and low. Frustrated and angry, one of the soldiers kicked a dishwasher with tremendous force and to everyone’s surprise the dishwasher nearly flew backwards into the wall. Where the dishwasher once stood, a flat wooden trap door now appeared. Everyone now took a step back as Captain O’Shea entered the room, pointing a gauntleted hand at the plank as the walked toward it.
“There’s no time,” Jack said as he gripped a piece of rope attached to the trap door. “Get ready to flash and clear.”
A member of Delta instinctively readied a grey cylindrical grenade in his hands, prepared to throw on the go order. In one smooth motion, Jack jerked the trap door open and the other man tossed the flash grenade inside. O’Shea immediately shut the door tight as the loud bang clapped against the planks and a flash of light escaped through two of the looser slats.
With no hesitation, Delta nearly jumped into the abyss, tactical lights switched on and yelling in their loudest, most intimidating voices for everyone to get down on the floor. It was over in seconds, and Rachel did not hear the sound of any gunfire whatsoever. She strained her ears to hear anything, having no idea how far down the room could be and unable to see anything underneath the kitchen. Suddenly, Jack’s voice echoed from what sounded like forever away.
“Rachel! We’ve got a prisoner! I need you down here now!”
Lynch nearly slipped on the moldy wooden stairs as she scrambled down to meet up with Captain O’Shea and the men. The vague odor of mildew invaded her nostrils and she sneezed instinctively, losing her tenuous grip on the ladder and falling the remaining distance to a hard packed earthen floor. She got up as soon as she could, shocked that such a large earthen cave could exist in this day and age in this city.
The ceiling was nearly ten feet tall, over thirty feet long and twenty feet wide. The walls were bare brick and the ceiling was some kind of wood, Rachel guessed pine. From what little should could see, a few wooden crates dotted the space, but with Delta’s flashlights moving rapidly across the wide space, Rachel could not get her bearings and felt very disoriented. The darkness was truly frightening, an inky void that covered Rachel from head to toe.
She could not shake the feeling of heat coming from nearby and took several hesitant steps forward. As one of Delta’s weapons moved with Rachel’s movement, it swept across the faces of the missing refugees, very much alive but trapped behind the bars of what looked like a rudimentary holding cell.
Lynch let out a shrieking yelp and fell backwards, tripping over something and landing hard against the packed earth. Immediately, four lights focused on her and she could hear O’Shea’s voice barely filling the acoustically dead space.
“Dammit,” the Captain grumbled, “that’s De Vere.”
Rachel scrambled to her feet and stumbled backwards to the far wall. “Dr. De Vere’s—she’s dead?”
“That’s frustrating,” Jack said, backlit from his comrade’s weapons. He leaned down and checked her vitals, sighing heavily. The leader of the survivors turned and walked away from Rachel, racking the slide of his suppressed M6C. “Tell me who this is before I kill him.”
As the beam of O’Shea’s tactical flashlight settled, Rachel was shocked to see the light fall across the terrified face of Seamus Connor.
“Wait!” Rachel cried out. “Wait! He’s not one of them!”
Jack did not even bother to look over his shoulder. “We found him with guns, and he hasn’t told me where to find my Marines, Rachel. This is how it’s going to go.”
Seamus’s face contorted in confusion as he squinted against the light. “Rachel?” Connor stammered. “Rachel Lynch?”
“Seamus!” Rachel shouted, running to his side and squinting at Jack with pleading eyes. “Captain, whatever this looks like, Seamus wouldn’t hurt anyone. You’ve got to believe me.”
Jack was unconvinced. “Where are my Marines, Seamus?”
Connor was a nervous wreck, his voice breaking and on the brink of tears. “I’ve been trying to tell ya! They’ve put ’em inside the wall with me brothers!”
“Where?” O’Shea demanded. Connor pointed a shaking finger over his shoulder, where a stack of crates stood, blocking the wall.
“F—Frank said if I didn’t do what I had to when the time came, he’d blow up my brothers and the soldiers.”
Jack and two soldiers immediately shoved the crates aside, revealing a large metal door in the middle of the brick wall. As Jack tapped on it, everyone in the secret basement heard a sound that made their hearts leap with joy.
“Cap?” Harold Ibanez called out, his voice muffled behind the heavy metal. “Anyone?”
An audible release of tension could be heard and the sound of hands clapping on shoulders sounded against the hastily constructed walls. O’Shea shut his eyes with a quick prayer of thanks. “Damn good to hear your voice, Ibanez.”
“You too, sir.”
O’Shea motioned for a Delta soldier to help him with the door. “We’re going to get you out of here.”
“Wait!” Ibanez shouted. “The door’s rigged. We’ve got three kids in here; brothers, last name’s Connor! They say they’ve got a guy on the outside!”
O’Shea looked behind him at the lanky figure of Seamus Connor. The boy looked two parts relieved and three parts petrified. Rachel put her arm around the former bar back and nodded at the Captain, vouching for the kid.
“It’s an amateur device, Cap!” Ibanez instructed him. “Any one of us could defuse it from outside.”
Two minutes later the heavy door swung open and both soldiers and brothers had a tearful, joyous reunion. Ibanez and the Captain shared an embrace as Seamus and his three younger brothers joined in a mass of tears and smiles. Despite all this, Rachel did not feel like she could keep it together. The extremes of emotions, the certainty that someone she had trusted had killed those who tried to save her and then threatened to kill her, the sum of the parts was just too much for the young college co-ed to process. The man was willing to let children die so he might get out alive. She turned in a circle in the dark and finally found Seamus.
“Why?” Lynch asked, tears forming in her eyes, “why did he do this?”
“Frank Walsh is not the person you think he is,” Seamus said, anger starting to glow in his eyes. “He doesn’t operate with reason. He kills indiscriminately. He could have stopped this whenever he wanted, but the only thing the man wants is death.”
Rachel shook her head, unable to come to grips with this. All her mind could do after so much strain was lock on to the fact that she had an outlet for the pain, loss, and fear she had felt today. She had a target, and that target was sitting right above her, going nowhere until Captain O’Shea said different. Everyone’s doing something about their problems, Rachel thought, now I can, too.
Without so much as a warning, Rachel marched to the kitchen ladder and began climbing it with rage-fueled energy. Jack caught it just in time.
“Free those refugees and get me solutions for getting them to South Station!” Jack shouted over his shoulder as he ran after Rachel. “Ibanez, you need to come with me right now!”
The trip up the ladder and through the kitchen took Rachel less than a minute. She nearly took the kitchen door off its hinges as she burst through it. It took her two seconds to find Frank Walsh on his knees in the middle of the floor, where the soldiers had him at gunpoint. They had just removed Ibanez’s armor and were about to cuff his wrists as she marched across the space with her fists balled and chest heaving with anger. Tim and Ron barely had time to react to Lynch’s sudden entrance before she was on top of Walsh.
“Why?” Rachel screamed, putting her weight behind a furious punch that connected brutally with the side of the unarmed prisoner’s face.
“You could have stopped this whenever you wanted! You stupid! Fucking! Liar!” The surprisingly strong girl had to be pulled off the man by Ron and Tim as the Winter Hill gang leader laid on his back, breathing heavy, blood running down his nose, forehead, and ear.
“Grow up,” the gangster muttered, glaring at the Boston College co-ed. “This ain’t a world to live in.” His eyes now flew around the room, staring at the soldiers with absolute certainty. “You think you’re saving yourselves? You’re never getting out of this city! You’re going to die here! For nothing!” In his vindictive declaration, he never saw Rachel wrestle her way out of the kids’ grip and he certainly never saw the raised leg coming at him at full speed.
“Shut up!” Rachel yelled at the top of her lungs, driving a leg full of anger into the criminal’s chest. All of the soldiers could hear the wet crack of the man’s ribs breaking as he tumbled into one of the ex-Marines. In the confusion, the soldier fumbled with his M6C side arm, and the last member of Boston’s last gang took his chance with zeal, snatching the weapon and leveling it at the completely exposed girl’s exhausted body.
Rachel had never had a gun pointed at her before. Even though she had witnessed unimaginable carnage first hand all day, seeing the bleeding, broken, crazed criminal point that gun was the scariest thing Lynch had ever seen. Her muscles locked up and she instinctively shut her eyes tight.
“No!” Tim shouted reflexively, bringing his modified Battle Rifle up and squeezing off a three round burst in no direction in particular. Luckily, he had been right next to Lynch and was facing the action as the pistol came up. Two of the three rounds smacked into the gangster’s exposed chest and pushed the pistol to the leader’s right. McManus’ lucky shot was immediately followed by a barrage of fire from the soldiers, tearing into the criminal with dozens of rounds and filling the room with a echoing blast of sound that faded away just as O’Shea and Ibanez reached the scene. Jack put a hand to the side of his head in disbelief.
Tim glared at Walsh’s body, enraged at the coward’s final act. Before he or anyone else could say anything further, McManus’s eyes flitted down to the M6C lying in the limp hand of Frank Walsh and noticed a very faint trail of smoke wafting lazily from the barrel. Confused and afraid, Tim jerked his head toward Rachel and visually scanned her body armor in a panic. Lynch returned his look with equal confusion until she looked past Tim, eyes opening wide in shock. The color left Tim’s face as he heard the unusually shaky voice behind him.
“Uh…guys…?” Ron Parsons asked hesitantly, withdrawing his hand from the right side of his chest and revealing his gloved palm glistening red with fresh blood. As the group rushed toward the blonde cafeteria worker, Ron’s legs went slack and he collapsed on his side, still looking at his hand in bewilderment, hitting the dirty floor with a heavy thud.
Filed under: Minutemen | Tagged: Black Rose, boston, boston college, covenant, crucible, halo 3, hockey, jack o'shea, Minutemen, ODST, rachel lynch, ron parsons, science fiction, tim mcmanus, Winter hill, woody tondorf |