CHAPTER 8 – Like A Tsunami
GOLGEN GATE NRA
Jason’s car careened down the narrow road cut into the hillside of the rugged coastline. On his right, the land rose in a steep slope covered with scrub brush too dense to even wade through. To his left, it dropped away at an angle that got steeper as it neared the pounding surf of the strait hundreds of feet below. He fought to keep his mind on the road while pondering their impossible escape from the alien’s laser.
“Beth, there was nothing up there but dust and rocks that could have shielded us or deflected that beam, but I don’t think either one of those could do that. So, why aren’t we dead?”
Emmie turned her head to her father when he spoke, but she had heard him addressing the words of fear, awe, and confusion to her mother and said nothing.
He continued. “It was like an invisible bowl just appeared over us, some invisible, impenetrable force field. But what could have created it? The thing shooting at us? That wouldn’t make any sense. No one else was there but Emmie and me...and that guy that just disappeared, and then popped out again half way down the hill—did he really do that? Did he do something to help us? I don’t think he was even aware of us. Did I do something to shield us? But, what? How?”
On a rocky spit ahead to the left, the white walled ruins of the lighthouse and attendant buildings sent curls of smoke into the sky. They passed more bunkers and steel-doored fortifications, all sealed against intruders and vandals—and refugees. After the road curved northward away from the sea cliffs, a small lake came into view off to the right nestled in a narrow valley with an undulating floor that opened onto the Pacific Ocean at the west end. Scattered about the valley and the hillsides surrounding it were a number of buildings, mostly in small groups but occasional one alone, mostly white clapboard walls with red roofs, all in good repair, and an overall uniform appearance of a military installation of times past. Nothing except numerous old fortifications for gun emplacements burrowed into the hills suggested any military use. Still, most of the buildings and cars he could see, and others only hinted at by columns of smoke, were ablaze. A network of paved roads wound about through the hilly terrain. A green carpet of chaparral had everything green, but, except for a few small groves, the valley was treeless. He spotted a single alien flyer flitting about above a large collection of buildings on the north side of the lagoon, occasionally dipping towards the ground where it ignited more fires.
At the first opportunity to cut back inland Jason turned right where a sign indicated a left would take him to the lighthouse. He was pretty sure that narrowing strip of land would offer scant refuge.
After a couple of curves, they came upon a building near the east end of the lake, a lagoon separated from the ocean only by a narrow strip of beach. Smoke billowed from a large hole at one end of the roof, an apparent single hit by a passing alien that hadn’t bothered to follow up with additional hits. A steeple at the other end of the roof marked the place as a church in its earlier, war years, but the sign at the parking lot entrance declared it was now the Marin Headlands Visitor Center. Two women ran from the entrance and to a car in the adjacent parking lot. He slowed as he contemplated stopping. Others could be inside and needing help. Or he might even find help there for Emmie and himself.
While his eyes were scanning the Center on his left, a pickup came from the right, barreling around a curved side road, and slid broadside onto the road Jason was on and slammed into his right side just forward of Emmie’s door. All Jason could do was hold onto the steering wheel as his car careened over the left curb and nosed into the thick growth of chest-high brush covering the slope off the east end of the parking lot. He couldn’t see it, but he heard the roar of the pickup’s engine and the squeal of its tires as it tore away to the east.
They came to rest with the car tipped forward far enough to cause a real problem in getting out, prevented from rolling and tumbling forward only by the tough wood of the brush that had caught them. It was so thick on both sides they couldn’t open either door more than a couple of inches. A large, brambly bush with heavy limbs prevented Jason from climbing out the driver’s window, so, after he helped Emmie out of her seatbelt, he followed her through hers where more pliable limbs could be pushed out of the way. It was still a matter of wading and clawing their way back out and up to the road. He was relieved to see Emmie had suffered no more than the scrapes and scratches that stung his own hide. There was no sign of the pickup, and the two women had departed in their car, but four other cars still sat unoccupied in the parking lot.
Jason knelt in front of his daughter and gazed into her tearing eyes. She answered his unspoken pleas with a half-smile, a silent sob, and “I’m okay.”
He gave her a prolonged hug, stood and looked around. Several other buildings were nearby, but none all that close. A couple spewed smoke, and another belched flame from every window. He pointed his thumb at the Visitors Center and said, “Let’s see if anyone in there has a Band-aid.”
They followed a circular walkway down to the tree-sheltered entrance beneath the steeple, arriving there just as the door flew open and a man ran out with panic twisting his features. After stumbling and reeling up the curving ramp, he looked back at them, pointed in their general direction with a finger-splayed hand, and opened his mouth as though to say something. But, with wide eyes darting back and forth, the only noise that came out was a grunting, strangled groan. He shook his head and ran on up to the parking lot.
They were just pulling the door open when nearby explosions rocked them. Debris filled swirling smoke erupted from the open doorway. Jason spun and ran with Emmie back to the bottom of the ramp where he could see above the trees just as a lone alien flyer swooped past, its laser flashing. Within seconds, the world about them exploded in noise and heat. The old, World War II wooden structure flashed into flame at the multiple touches of the beam as though struck by bolts of lightning. The beams blinked at the remaining three cars in the parking lot, and then at Jason’s half buried in the brush, and they all burst into flame.
He jumped down to the sloped ground beside the end of the elevated walkway from the entrance and turned to catch Emmie as she leapt after him. He pulled her close and slipped down to huddle in the corner at the base of the foundation. The inferno of the building at their backs raged with blazing brands sailing high before raining down around them. Each of Emmie’s exhalations was one long-winded scream after another, and Jason pulled her closer.
Several brief screams and one prolonged one reached Jason’s ears from inside, but there was little he could to. He huddled closer to Emmie, shielding her from the falling debris and smoking cinders with his body. The sounds of explosions stopped, and Jason looked up. There was no sign of the invader flashing death or turning for another pass. After a bit, when Jason was confident the thing was actually gone and not lurking nearby, he stood up and pulled Emmie to her feet.
“You okay? Are you hurt?” he asked with a quavering voice as his shaking hand brushed her tangled hair and soot covered cheek.
“No. I mean, yes. No, I’m okay,” she sobbed. “I’m scared!”
He hugged her for a moment then helped her back up onto the bottom of the ramp. He scrambled up to join her, and they climbed back up to parking lot level where he glanced at his car perched in its nest of blazing brush fifty feet away. It was just one more hulk of twisted and blackening metal. He let his gaze slowly drift around at the fire engulfed building behind them and at the chaos around them, a battlefield glimpsed through a haze of swirling, choking smoke. Guiding Emmie with his arm around her shoulder pulling her close, he walked her down the road they had been on before the pickup hit them.
Just around the next curve the road ended at a “T” intersection. A sign on the shoulder indicated the left choice would take them to Fort Cronkhite and various other locales in the Marin Headlands. The road to the right would take them to U.S. 101. They went left.
They trudged along beside a wall of thick, wild growth on their left side and gazed at the plume of smoke just beyond it marking the location of the Visitors Center. Other, more distant places sent up columns of smoke that merged into a veil well on the way to blocking out the sky. Just past the blazing Visitors Center, the road curved north across a four-hundred-foot causeway near the east end of the lagoon. Impenetrable head-high greenery all but shielded a shallow, football field-size pond on the east side of the road. Halfway past it, Jason stopped and gazed out across the still water toward the west end of the lagoon two or three thousand feet from where he stood to the narrow strip of beach that separated it from the ocean’s surf.
The road ahead curved back westward just past the lagoon. Just beyond the end of the causeway and across the road from the water was a long, single story building with warehouse doors and a couple of low loading docks across the windowless front. It had taken a few passing laser hits and was burning, although none of the fire had broken through the front wall. Jason pointed over to the loading dock near the east end where a set of wooden steps and a single window suggested an office. He said, “Let’s take five. I need to think.”
Perched on the side of the dock with his feet hanging several inches from the ground, Jason leaned forward with his elbows on his knees and his face in his hands, periodically raking his splayed fingers through his hair. Emmie’s feet dangled beside his. Sounds of the fire consuming the building at their backs just blended with the other, farther sounds of death and destruction that had visited the previously peaceful valley.
Emmie looked at her father, at his blackened face, his scorched hands, his shirt with the front torn open and holes burned in the back and smudged with dirt and ash. Then she looked down at her own hands and clothes that weren’t much better. She fingered a red welt on her arm where a burning board had brushed her as it fell from the sky while she and Jason had crouched beside the last burning building. It stung, but maybe not too bad. She looked beyond Jason at the blazing Visitors Center over the tops of the trees lining the road, and then at the other buildings just beyond it, all ablaze. She looked again at the tear stained and saddened face of her father and threw herself into his arms, sobbing, “Oh, Daddy! We’ll be okay, honest! We’ll be okay!”
At that moment of asserted hope and encouragement, the burning portion of the building at their backs disintegrated in a rapid series of explosions. Stored propane tanks, weakened from the battering they had taken and bathed in flames, went up in a fireball laced with a storm of jagged shrapnel. It blew apart middle section of the blazing structure, which, while absorbing much of the force of the explosion, added its own flying bits and pieces of death.
The concussion hit them like a tsunami, knocking them both forward to land face down in the gravelly loading area. Emmie took a few moments to catch her breath, then stirred, rolled over, and sat up. With ears ringing, she looked around to get her bearings in the suddenly spinning universe, and her gaze landed back on her father’s unmoving figure. With his head turned to the side toward her and resting on his arm cocked beneath it with his eyes closed, his face looked peaceful, relaxed, like he was asleep—except for the stream of blood running down from the side of his head and into and around his ear. She gasped, again unable for a long moment to catch her breath.
Finally, when she could breathe again, “Daddy!”
HIGHWAY 1, MILL VALLEY
Vic shrugged his shoulders and climbed into the front seat of the Bronco, unmindful of the mixed stares of shock and curiosity from people in the cars sweeping past, people that could see the body of the driver lying on the ground. Some had seen Vince’s attack, but few slowed, and none stopped.
Carl and Mandy got into the back seat and held the door open for Crissy, but the girl held back. She looked down at the man on the ground, and she looked at the cars going past. Then she looked at Vince standing beside the open driver’s door, waiting.
Her voice shook. “I’ll stay here. I’ll just walk back to the apartments and see if I can be of any help. Okay?”
“Huh uh.” Vince’s smile was as cold as the passion displayed in the recent murder. “Ain’t nobody gonna run out on me again—ever. You’d better get used to stuff like that.” He hooked his thumb over his shoulder to point at Bronco’s previous driver. “There’s gonna be lots more. Get in—now.”
Crissy started to argue, but under the icy glare of his eyes and the nearness of the body of the man he had so callously murdered, her resolve disintegrated. She climbed into the back seat.
Vince got into the driver’s seat and turned to look over his shoulder. He said, “Carl, there’s some stuff back there behind your seat. See if there’s anything we can use.” Then he dropped the Bronco into gear and pushed out into the westward flow.
The road, now two-lanes, flowed with heavy traffic filling both lanes and moving westbound through the wooded hills of Tamalpias Valley. They were still in the heavily populated western residential district of the small town just west of Mill Valley, so at every intersection, he had to fend off more cars trying to force their way into the stream ahead of him. They passed wrecked cars, frequently burning, every hundred yards or so, grim indications of the panic that drove the stream of refugees at speeds too high for the curving road before the pack caught up with them. Fortunately, there was no eastbound traffic to oppose them and to tie up the left half of the road. Even so, Vince found himself fighting to maintain his position in the right side of the double stream of cars, trucks, buses, bicycles and any other form of transportation that might offer some hope of escape.
Carl called out from the back seat, “Hey, Vince! Look at this!”
He held up a half full bottle of Jack Daniels for Vince to see in the rear-view mirror. He took a healthy swig and passed it up to Vic’s reaching hand. Then he said, “Aside from some hunter type clothes, about the only thing back here that might be useful is...TA DA!” and held up a Colt Python large frame revolver with a six-inch barrel, a twelve-gauge, pump shotgun, and a camp machete in a green, canvas sheath.
“Hey! All right!” Vic’s boyish excitement knew no bounds. “What, no food? Was this the only bottle? Shit, and it’s already half gone.”
Vic passed the bottle over to Vince and turned back to Carl. “Here, let me have the pistol.” He held it up to read the lettering on the barrel. “Colt Python…ain’t that like a magnum?” He kept reading until his eyes got big. “Ooh, yeah—.357! Oh, man, now I am the baddest badass around! I bet I could blow someone’s head clean off with this beast.” He popped open the cylinder and pushed back the extractor rod enough to pull out one of the cartridges. “What’ve we got in here, hollow-points, maybe?” He held it up for the others to see and said, “Well, this is the dumbest looking thing I ever saw, and it sure ain’t hollow. Is this dinky thing even a magnum? I thought they were bigger.”
Carl reached forward and took it from his hand to look at the stubby, flat nosed thing. After only a couple of seconds, he laughed and passed it back. “Nah, man, it just a .38 wad-cutter. Practice ammo. A whole lot less powerful, but a lot cheaper than magnum loads if you’re just going plinking.” He held up a box of cartridges he had found with the weapon and said, “Looks like that’s all they had. Probably didn’t know they’d need something with more punch when they bought these. It’ll still kill for you, but you ain’t gonna be blowing off any heads.”
“Aw, hell, give me the shotgun, then. I never could hit anything with a pistol, anyway. And, I’ll bet Vince would rather have the sword. Eh, Vince? You always did have a thing for wicked looking blades.”
Vic handed the Python back to Carl and took the shotgun and machete. He slipped the machete out of the sheath and held it up for all to look upon. The blade was twenty inches long and black. It flared out to three inches across near the tip before the cutting edge curved up to form a blunt point.
“Hmm...” he mumbled as he thumbed the keen edge. “Good for chopping, I guess, but this stubby end’ll give you problems with stickin’ it in. I’d grind it down a bit to better point, eh, Vince?”
After making a couple of jabs into the air to demonstrate his meaning, he slid it back into the sheath and laid it on the seat next to Vince.
He took the box of shells Carl handed up to him and loaded the shotgun, an older, pump action Remington, putting four in the tube and one in the breech. The chipped and gouged, faded walnut stock had seen better days, like it had been used to hammer in fence posts or something, but Vic only saw potential. “Oh, man! Look what I’ve got! Twelve-gauge, and the shells are double-ought buckshot!” He glanced back at Carl and smirked. “I bet I can take some heads off with this boomer!”
He set the butt of the gun on the floor between his feet with the muzzle pointing up to the roof. He held the upright barrel like the control stick of an old fighter plane and, banking his shoulders left and right to follow the imaginary high G-forces of his high-speed, snap rolls, turns, and dives, and with his thumb over the muzzle like the trigger for the fighter’s guns, made machine-gun noises.
From the back seat came Carl’s voice, “You do know where the safety is on that thing, right? The safety is on…right?”
Vic froze for a moment after which he slid his thumb from the muzzle and eased the barrel forward so the muzzle pointed farther away from his head. He peered down at the right side of the trigger guard then dropped his hand to it for a moment. Grinning sheepishly, he regripped the barrel with his thumb back over the muzzle and resumed flying his deadly, make-believe fighter plane, although with less erratic maneuvering of his make-do joystick.
Vince took a long pull on the whiskey and passed it back to his brother. The alcohol warmed his stomach like a glowing coal, but the warmth soon dissipated, and he grinned at Vic’s antics.
The westbound road became a succession of sharp curves as it made an almost constant gain in elevation. Although heavy growths of trees veiled the frequent precipitous drops along the left edge of the roadway, and a steep bank often rose up past Vic’s window on the right, there was no hiding the fact that they were driving through burning neighborhoods. Vince was concentrating on maintaining his position on the road when the sound of an explosion from nearby brought him around.
Three spaces behind them, a pickup with a camper shell went up in a ball of fire. Then a large Chevy sedan two spaces ahead did likewise, and Vince had to swerve hard to miss it. As he did so, he bounced the small Pinto that had been keeping pace on Vince’s left side flying over the edge to disappear among a forest of saplings. A station wagon loaded with three families up ahead burst into flame and took another car next to it over the edge. Vince whipped around the curves, threaded in and out of the congested traffic whose startled and confused drivers reacted by slowing further. He didn’t have to see the alien flyer overhead to know what was happening.
Driving with as much aggression as he dared, Vince caught up to the cause of the congestion, a small, white pickup with rakes and shovels and bags of clippings.
With a humorless grin, Vince fingered the fresh scratch on his cheek.
The gardener’s truck swerved from one side of the road to the other, swayed around each curve on overloaded springs and worn shock absorbers, and the engine strained to haul the weight in the back. Keeping pace directly behind the pickup was a large Buick whose lone and terrified, silver haired driver hesitated too long with every short-lived opportunity to pass. Between the two, they effectively blocked everything behind.
Spurred by sounds of more explosions, Vince punched the gas and slipped around the Buick on the right side. As the big Bronco went past, Vince gave the car a quick sideswipe, and the driver fought the wheel to keep from going over the side.
The spurt of speed brought the Bronco up next to the left side of the pickup. Before he went past, Vince lurched hard to the right. He struck the pickup with a grinding crunch, and the smaller truck bounced against the rocky cliff. With desperate driving skill and a lot of luck, the gardener fought it back under control as the Bronco shot ahead.
“I’ll get the son-of-a-bitch!” Vic rolled his window down. “Hold `er steady, Vince.”
The man in the pickup watched the barrel of the shotgun emerge from the right-side window of the Bronco and point back at him. His scream cut short, and the horror on his face disappeared along with the left half of his windshield.
The pickup jerked and skidded sideways several yards before rolling over. A can of gasoline from the back burst open when the cab came down on it with a spray of sparks, and the resulting fireball enveloped the entire thing. The still sliding truck scraped its gas cap loose, and the tank’s contents added to the inferno spreading across the roadway.
The panicked Buick driver tried to swerve around the right side of the burning truck, ran up onto the embankment until it tipped sideways and smashed back onto the pavement on its left side. Another pickup, next behind the Buick, jackknifed its oversized travel-trailer and went over onto its side, slid and slammed into the Buick and the pickup, completely blocking the road.
Other cars and trucks smashed into the growing roadblock and plugged the route even more. Some drivers took to the air over the side rather than join those dying in the flames. Thus, the entire flood of refugees fleeing from searing death came to a forced halt. Unable to go forward or back, many still refused to leave their cars. Making repeated passes, the aliens incinerated them in their vehicles while they sat blaring their horns.
“Wahoo!” Vic shouted. “Got ’im! Didja see that, Vince? I got ’im! That’ll teach the sonofabitch to get in our way!”
Carl reached up and slapped Vic on the back.
Mandy sat open-mouthed, looking at Vic’s back.
Crissy huddled low in the seat beside Mandy, her face buried in her hands.
Vince glanced over at his brother, grinned, and, while still maintaining a left-handed grip on the wheel enough to take the next curve, gave him a fist bump.
The road leveled out and followed a bending course past a large grove of trees along the left side and a scrub covered embankment on the right. They passed another steaming car wrapped around another tree on the outside of another curve, another victim of his own panic among the westward flow ahead of the Bronco. As they passed the last of the trees, and the bank on the right side leveled out, an endless surface of water came into view glistening ahead beyond the “V” between the two most distant hills. What must have been a large wildfire raged just out of sight behind the hill on the right. The road continued in a long series of curves through a shallow canyon that got deeper the farther they went. After another mile, the view opened up and a burning forested hill came into view. As they drew closer, he could pick out houses among the growth.
He slowed and looked long and silently at the area, savoring the thrill of anticipation. The Bronco had almost come to a complete stop when, at last, he spoke, “This place might do. Muir Beach, I think.”
Carl spoke up. “But what if those flying saucers come back? It was probably them that started this.”
Vince shook his head and said, “Naw, I don’t think they will. Why would they? It’s pretty well done for, now. There’s plenty back there around the bay to keep them busy for a long time; hell, around the whole world.”
Crissy leaned forward and lightly touched Vince’s shoulder. “Vince, please. Don’t you think those people have enough trouble? Why can’t we just keep going?”
Vince reached up with his left hand and patted hers. “Now, don’t you worry about it,” he said with a wink at Vic. “We’ll just go up there and help those poor people clean up the place a little. Right, Vic?”
“Yeah, man,” Vic snickered. “We’ll clean up. And if anyone bitches,” he patted the barrel of the shotgun, “ol’ Boomer, here, will talk to ’em. Eh, Vince?”
“That’s right, man. You can be the complaint department. You take care of any objections.”
There was still half a mile of curving road before Vince slowed for the turnoff. The burning remains of a building on the corner sent curls and billows of smoke into the sky. After a hundred yards down a single lane road that ended at a “T” right after crossing a small creek bridge, he turned left and followed that only slightly wider road around the base of the burning hill on their right side. The canyon had widened out to a nearly flat floor that looked marshy beneath a growth of willows and other bog plants on the left side. Fallen branches and debris littered the road, and the air swirled with windblown ash like flakes of snow as well as glowing cinders like a storm of fireflies. The road ended at a small, dirt parking lot with the hulks of several cars blazing beside a little, tree lined, grassy park. Just beyond, a sandy beach kissed by breakers of the Pacific, unmindful of the holocaust raging upon the hill overlooking it.
Vince stopped the Bronco where the road angled up the hill. He sat there unspeaking while he listened. The cooling exhaust tic-ticked like a clock out of sync. Flames crackled in houses and trees nearby as the firestorm raged higher up. Far off voices called out, occasionally answered by other, equally plaintive voices, a shouted command, a hollered request, cries for help, wails of anguish, screams of agony. The nearby surf laid a muffled rumble over all. After he climbed out, a subtle flick of his head brought his waiting brother and Carl to his side.
The Bronco sat at the bottom of a narrow, curb-less road labeled “private” by a blackened sign hanging by double chains from the cross arm on a blackened, smoking post. Just beyond the sign, trees of varied shapes and sizes, cedars and junipers, pines, and whatever appealed to landowners, some natural and some placed in clusters by careful landscapers among sporadically spaced homes accessed by winding roads and often long driveways.
Occasional figures moved about, dashing from house to house, staggering haphazardly across a road, wandering, searching.
“Hey!” a voice shouted. “Hey! Hello! Oh, my God!” The voice, a man’s, was quavering, breaking over every word like it took every last bit of strength to project them.
A man, tall and lanky, hobbled down from the porch of a nearby, partly burned house. A large, white bandage covered his head above his eyebrows, and another blood-soaked piece of cloth bound his right thigh. Smudges of soot and gray ash covered his torn and ragged clothing. He called out. “Oh, God, they’re here—help is here!”
Vic and Carl flanked Vince leaning against the Bronco’s front bumper, waiting, watching the man come closer, crying out his thanks to his perceived rescuers. He was elderly, probably over seventy, but, aside from fresh injuries, he seemed healthy enough.
On the hill above them, thickets of pine and oak blazed with the flames twisting and curling skyward in cyclonic fury. Cinders flew and landed in other trees or in thick brush or on another roof, and the fires spread. Here and there amidst the ruin stood occasional homes missed by the fires.
From these fatefully spared areas, the survivors emerged. A second, and then a third person came out of their holes. A couple together—three more, a lone girl and two middle-aged men—all ambled out onto the road and slowly, painfully, down the maze of roads on the hill. More joined them while others sat and watched the exodus.
Some carried meager personal belongings snatched from the path of the flames. Many called out back and forth—inquiries as to the fates of friends and family not present or swathed in bandages. Many cried, some quietly to themselves, others in loud wails, a few hysterically. Some simply gazed ahead, silent, lost in the nightmare fallen upon them, unable to find their way back to reality. Many of the people on the hill were up in years, but with their uniforms of ash and bandages, ages, and even gender, were not always apparent.
The old man staggered to the bottom of the hill, stumbled and fell. He caught himself on his hand thrown out in front to scrape along the rough pavement. It came up raw and bleeding, but his grin never faded. He pushed and forced himself back to his feet and walked the last few feet between himself and Vince with a bearing of proud dignity. He stopped in front of Vince and held out his right hand after wiping off the soot, gravel, and blood onto his shirtfront.
With a deep voice, still shaky, he said, “I’m very happy to greet you, sir.”
Vince gazed up into the man’s face, but he heard none of the kind words. He listened, instead, to echoes of other words, harsh, hateful words spewed by another tall man: “Sin-ridden gutter trash,” “Vile woman unfit for a man’s care,” “Spawn of a whore,” “Satan’s mistress,” and others—oh, so many others. He made no attempt to shake the offered hand or to further acknowledge its presence, and it slowly dropped back to the man’s side.
The old man glanced over to Vic, then to Carl.
Vic’s mouth curved in a nervous grin, and his eyes darted from the old man to Vince then back again. Carl eyed the hill behind the old man. Neither spoke.
“Are there more of you coming?” The old man’s eyes pleaded more than his voice. “We have several people in great need of immediate medical attention. Some are quite serious.”
Still, Vince remained silent.
The old man went on, “Can you tell me, sir, how it goes in other places? We haven’t been able to get any news for some time, now.”
A slow, tic-marred grin worked its way across Vince’s face, and the old man smiled at the prospect of forthcoming information. Then, as the grin became more pronounced, it became more of a grimace. Sparks seemed to fly from Vince’s eyes, and his chest heaved with increasingly heavier breathing. The machete in his hand, previously held flat against the side of his leg, slowly rose.