Playing With Fire

Chapter Eighteen

Merle

Patience. Never somethin’ that had been easy for me. Never somethin’ I had found particularly useful neither. How did that sayin’ go? Patience is a virtue? My ass it was a virtue. Anyone who said that had never had anythin’ important waitin’ on ‘em. I was gettin’ pretty damn tired of waitin’ around…of bein’ the good little boy the governor wanted me to be. I’d play his game a little bit longer, but if he didn’t gimme what I needed to find Daryl soon, well then I guess then it would be time to start doin’ things the Merle way.

I rapped my knuckles loudly on the wooden door. There was the sound of a chair scrapin’ against the floor, then the click of a lock before the door swung open. The corners of my mouth tugged up in a forced smile that probably didn’t look too friendly.

“Mornin’, Gov. Word on the street is that ya’ wanted to see me.” I said, keepin’ my tone as conversational as possible. Wouldn’t be too good for my cause to let the Governor know how freakin’ tired I was of gettin’ called to his quarters everyday like he was some sort of god damn high school principal.

He stepped back and opened the door wider. “That’s right, I got somethin’ I wanted to show you. Come on in, Merle.”

I stepped into his apartment, the air already thick and muggy with Georgian humidity. It looked the same as it always did, neat and tidy. His holster, guns still strapped in, hung off the back of one of the kitchen chairs. I pulled out a chair and sunk down into it, stretchin’ my legs out in front of me. My boots were caked with dried mud from our little excursion to the pit of walkers the other day. Flakes of the powdery brown dirt fell to the clean kitchen floor and I felt just a little bit of satisfaction.

“Can I get you somethin’ to drink? Water? Coffee? Whiskey?” He asked, shuttin’ the door and movin’ into the tiny kitchen.

I chuckled. “Ain’t it a little early to be hittin’ the bottle, Gov?” I asked, perkin’ a single eyebrow. It felt like he was testin’ me. I hated that feelin’. I hated playin’ games where I wasn’t the one runnin’ the show. I didn’t give him a chance to answer. “But, nah, I’m good.”

The Governor nodded and sat down at the table across from me. I hadn’t noticed before, but in the middle of the table was a small cardboard box. He pulled it towards him and unfolded the top. He stopped and looked at me.

“You’ve really become a part of Woodbury, Merle. When I took you and Harlow in, I wasn’t sure I was makin’ the right call, but you’ve both proved your worth here.” He said quietly. I shifted slightly in my chair, crossin’ my arms over my chest. “You’re a man who understands how this world works, and I think you’re also a man I can trust. Now I know you’re itchin’ to find that brother of yours, and I’ll follow through on my half of the bargain soon enough. But for now, I wanted to give you somethin’. To show our appreciation for you here in Woodbury, and how much I value you as a part of our team.”

Now I was gettin’ curious. What the hell kinda gift could this man give to me? And for what? For playin’ along with his little Woodbury game. I leaned forward. “Well, I’m just doin’ my civic duty as a good citizen.” I said, my lips curlin’ upwards in a forced smile.

The Governor nodded before reachin’ into the box and pullin’ out the strangest lookin’ contraption I’d ever laid eyes on. It was all metal, a sharp lookin’ blade attached to one end and thick leather straps on the other. I opened my mouth to ask what the hell I was lookin’ at but the Governor beat me to it.

“I had Milton design this especially for you. I don’t pretend to know what it’s like to been through what you’ve been through, but I know it takes one helluva man to be able to separate himself from one of his own limbs. Think of this…as an extension of yourself.” He said with a tight smile.

And that’s when it dawned on me. It was a god damn fake hand…one that looked pretty fuckin’ lethal. He handed it to me across the table and reached out to take it. I could see now it was hollow, with an openin’ on one end for me to slide the stump of my arm into. The leather straps would tighten, securing it to me. I forgot my suspicion for a moment, too curious about my new body part…this little piece of Merle.

“The blade comes off. Figured it probably be best you don’t go wearin’ that part around town. Wouldn’t want to be scarin’ people.” The Governor commented. I glanced up to him watching me closely.

I nodded. “Sure is a pretty lookin’ thing.” I said quietly, still examining it.

“It is. It’ll come in useful too, as far as those walkers are concerned. I had Milton bring in those walkers from the pit you saw yesterday. We’re keepin’ ‘em in a pen on the other side of town. Figured you could put that new hand of yours to use, figure out how it works.” He said, givin’ me another one of his tight smiles. He pushed back the chair and stood up, grabbin’ his gun holster off the back of the chair. “Whaddya say?”

“Sounds like a good time, Governor.” I replied, a small smirk formin’ on my lips as I fitted my new little gadget to the stump of my arm and tied it on. It felt clunky and heavy, sittin’ on the stump of my wrist. It was somethin’ that would take more than a little gettin’ used to.

“Come on, let’s go see what you can make of that new hand of yours.” The Governor led the way out of the apartment and out onto the streets of Woodbury. It was still early, the streets mostly empty except for those who were early risers or had jobs to do. We walked away from the gates of Woodbury, headed towards a part of town I hadn’t spent much time in, as there wasn’t much there.

I followed him down a narrow alley between two old brick buildings. When came out on the other side, there was a tall chain fence with barbed wire spiralin’ over the top. I could already hear the groans of the walkers comin’ from somewhere on the other side.

“Ya’ really don’t think it’s a bad idea to keep these things inside the town?” I asked, cockin’ my head to the side. Didn’t seem so smart to me. If one side of the fence went down or someone forgot to lock the gate, well it wouldn’t take long for these ugly things to over run Woodbury.

The Governor kept his back to me, unlockin’ the padlock on the gate. “It’s far enough away from where we have people livin’. Anyways, these things are kept here for a number of reasons, safety included. Anyone outside these walls tries to come along and snatch Woodbury out from under us, we have walkers on hand to chase ‘em away from the gates.” He grunted, slidin’ open the fence gate. A fence gate that seemed pretty damn flimsy, but I really didn’t give two shits about his methods on ‘safety’. I was still bankin’ on the fact that I wouldn’t be here long enough to care what happened to this place.

He tugged the gate closed behind this, wrappin’ the chain around doors and snappin’ the padlock closed. I could see where the walkers were kept. At least half a dozen of ‘em inside a smaller enclosure. They were gettin’ all riled up, no doubt thinkin’ they were smellin’ dinner. I sneered.

“Milton can get more of ‘em tomorrow. Figured it’d be a good thing to let you try out the new toy of yours on these ones. I’ll try to herd ‘em out one at a time. Keep things under control.” He explained in that smooth voice of his.

I nodded. “Think I’ll be just fine, Gov.” I glanced down at the glintin’ hunk of metal on my arm. Still felt heavy and out of place. I’d get used to it quick, though. I’d have to.

I watched as he took another chain and padlock off the smaller enclosure and pulled open the door just enough to let one of the geeks stagger on out. He slammed the gate back shut as the rest of ‘em pressed up against the chain links, tryin’ to get a piece of him. He lunged out of the way of the reachin’ arms, swiftly kickin’ the released walker in my direction with his heavy boot. Forgettin’ about the easy target behind it, the walker staggered in my direction, a low, animal like grown comin’ from its throat, dried up black gunk staninin’ the sides of its skeleton mouth.

I waited for it to come just a little, tiny bit closer, until the smell of dead flesh hit me and it reached its bony fingers out towards me. I lunged forward, grabbing the walker by the front of its shirt, reaching around behind its head with my right hand and stickin’ the sharp blade right into the back of its skull. It crumpled and I felt its full weight sag against me. I stepped back and let it fall to the concrete. I smirked down at that poor son ova bitch. Didn’t even stand a chance. I wiped the dark colored blood off on my pants before holdin’ up my arm and admirin’ my new body part. It was almost an improvement from what used to be there before.

“I take it ya’ like it?” The Governor asked. I glanced towards him to see him watchin’ me, hands on his waist. He was noddin’ his head up and down in approval. No doubt he was seein’ this as somethin’ completely different than I was…I wasn’t ‘bout to become one of his little lapdogs. He could do whatever he wanted, but my mission was still the same. Find Daryl.

I shrugged. “It’ll do.” I answered. “Better do a few more test runs first, though, dontcha think?” The corners of my mouth pulled upwards in a forced grin.

“However long you need, Merle. Get used to it now before we test it outside these walls.” He said, nodding towards the long fences that kept Woodbury safe. I didn’t answer him. Probably not the best move to let ‘em know I didn’t give a shit about Woodbury. I’d keep playin’ his little game for now.

“Gimme another one.” I answered coolly. I kicked the dead walker out of the way, waitin’ as the Governor pulled open the gate and let another monster come at me. It stumbled towards me with long bony arms outstretched and I took it out just as easily as the first one. Damn, I could get used to this thing.

“So I was thinkin’, Merle, about your brother.” The Governor suddenly called out to me, crossin’ his arms over his chest.

I froze, raisin’ my eyes to meet his. His expression was unreadable. I had a feelin’ he knew that my obsession with findin’ my brother was the one thing he had complete control over me with. I hated that. I went back to wipin’ the end of the blade on the dead walker’s shirt. “What about him?” I asked.

“Well, I know I said I’d give you full use of my men to help you with your search. In exchange for your help in Woodbury.” He began slowly. He took a few steps towards me, away from the loudness of the penned up walkers. “You’ve done good here, Merle. Done everythin’ I asked of you. And that Harlow’s been pretty useful to Woodbury as well.”

“What can I say, Gov? We’re just a bunch of regular, good ole’ citizens.” I said, not botherin’ to cut out the sarcasm.

“That’s the thing, Merle. You both are. Which is why it’s hard for me to tell ya’ right now, that I really can’t risk you takin’ my men out there. It’s been gettin’ too dangerous. I can’t risk that many lives for your cause. You wanna go yourself, I won’t stop ya’. I wish ya’ wouldn’t, though. I think you and I both know the chances aren’t good that your brother is still out there…alive.” He finished, holdin’ up his hands and what I supposed was supposed to be a peaceful sort of gesture. Not even close enough to soothin’ the anger that I felt brewin’ dangerously inside me.

“He’s alive.” I said bluntly, narrowin’ my eyes. I wonder if he knew how easy it would be for me…to just take this nifty little gadget he had given me and ram it into his skull. He’d be dead before he know what hit him. Luckily for him, I had just a lil’ bit of self control left. “And I believe, Governor, ya’ gave me yer’ word…that I would have the help of your men in searchin’ for me. Ya’ really wanna go back on that now?” I asked icily, runnin’ the fingers of my good hand along the sharp edges of the blade.

“Things change. Nothin’ I can do about that now. I know you don’t wanna go on tryin’ to threaten me, though. I’ll let you go out and look for him. Hell, I’ll give you a vehicle and supplies. But I can’t let you risk the lives of any of my people here.” The Gov answered in a low voice.

I could feel the rage boilin’ in my blood. I was a god damn fool to let myself trust him to follow through on his word, even a little bit. Merle couldn’t trust nobody but Merle. Except maybe one other person who had yet to stab me in the back. “Harlow. You give me a ride and some supplies and I’ll take Harlow. You can’t refuse that considerin’ she ain’t one of your ‘people’.” I said, spittin’ out the word ‘people’ like it was some sort of venomous poison.

I watched as he pursed his lips and stared me down for a long minute. I held his gaze unflinchingly. “I guess you’re right. I can’t stop you from puttin’ that poor girl’s life in danger either. You just let me know when you’re goin’ and I’ll make sure to have a car ready.” He finally replied. He brushed past me towards the gate that led back into the main part of town. “You get her killed on your little quest, though, that’s your fault. You’ll live with that, not me. And you’re welcome, by the way.” He nodded once in my direction before turnin’ his back on me and disappearin’ down the narrow alley we had taken to get here.

I spat venomously on the ground, grindin’ my teeth to keep myself from goin’ after him and rippin’ his throat out. I hated men like that, who thought they had even the tiniest bit of power. In the end it would bit him in his own ass. Either that, or I’d just have to take him out first. After I found Daryl. I aimed an angry kick at the dead walker at my feet, before carefully removin’ the stained metal contraption from my wrist, holdin’ it by the metal straps. I headed back towards the town, lockin’ the enclosure back up even though I was half tempted to let the walkers loose on Woodbury. One of these days, I’d win this little power game the Governor was tryin’ to play with. And then I’d get to watch this place burn.



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