One of the first associations Puchard renewed upon his release was with a convict from his old cell block in Milan State Prison, a career criminal named Victor. Like Puchard, Vic was set free in the first wave of releases, Vic’s release coming the week before Puchard’s. After one particular deal, the two sharing stories with the false conviviality typical to ex-convicts, Vic asked Puchard if he had been contacted by FEMA Correctional and Resettlement Services.
“Never followed up,” Puchard demurred. “Figured to find more productive uses for my time,” he added, gesturing at a baggie full of Methedrine.
“Well, they called me,” Vic told him, “It seems like they need people to man Evacuation Centers.” He paused, beefy arms held out from his stocky torso, puffing his muscle-bound body up further, “It looks like I’m going to be a screw.”
“You sure it’s not some job babysitting biters?” one of Vic’s companions asked.
“No fucking way,” Vic replied, “I’ve already talked to someone who went into the interview, they’re looking for staff to man Evacuation Centers. So it looks like I’m going to have the inside line to all that government cheese, not to mention the evacuated snatch,” he added, grinning stupidly and smacking his lips lewdly.
Puchard nodded noncommittally; everybody likes to make themselves out to be more than they are, he thought guardedly, especially in the criminal underworld. “One likes friends who have friends,” he murmured in tepid agreement.
“Fuck yeah, let’s keep in touch,” Vic agreed, bending forward at the waist and giving Puchard the thumb-high handshake embrace common to ex-convicts, his fat hand slapping Puchard on the shoulder.
It turned out though that Vic wasn’t mistaken or exaggerating; he did indeed receive a position with FEMA helping prepare the Evacuation Centers. Immediately upon beginning his position, Vic formed up with other FEMA staffers of similar inclinations and together they began to sell pilfered supplies – mainly food and gasoline – on the black market. Puchard became their preferred trading partner due to his supply of meth and other stolen drugs and, once Vic and his compatriots figured how to secure a supply of pseudoephedrine, they moved into cooking meth, a trade which became incredibly lucrative once the Evacuation Centers opened.
“God Bless Jamal Hussein Jeantel,” Puchard commented after their first Cook, regarding the 400 odd grams of Methedrine piled in front of them, “So glad I voted for him, both times.”
They met the following morning at their usual location, a parking lot off of the intersection of Telegraph and Lone Pine Road. Puchard and his kiddos sat there for nearly an hour before Vic finally arrived, driving a van bearing the markings of the Pontiac Public Schools.
The van pulled up next to Puchard’s truck and parked. “How you doing, brother?” Vic greeted as he climbed out the passenger seat, running his gloved hand over his bald pate.
“Just capital,” Puchard replied, gesturing grandly to the morning outside the windshield, “Enjoyin’ this beautiful morning, waiting to see my favorite public servant.” Vic laughed, reaching through the open window to shake hands. “So what do we have on our dance card this time?” Puchard asked as Jonathan got out of the truck to load the gas into the bed.
“Another convoy,” Vic told him as he opened the sliding door, revealing four five gallon cans and an equal number of two liter bottles, all filled with gasoline, “In three days.”
Puchard nodded; once the Evacuation Centers were up and running, their expanded its franchise, moving into the area of convoy robberies. It turned out that one of the primary fruits of Vic’s meth trafficking within the FEMA organization was information, in particular information regarding the flow of supplies between the various FEMA locations.
“A hard or soft delivery?” he asked; Puchard and Vic classified their robberies according to the likelihood for violence, ‘soft’ robberies being staged affairs with convoys manned by Vic and his people where Puchard simply showed up and off loaded a portion of the manifest, leaving behind a burning vehicle and the dead bodies of one or two of the less reliable guards for appearance’s sake.
“Hard this time,” Vic answered. “Can your people handle it?”
Puchard shrugged, thinking. The ‘hard’ robberies were quite different affairs, the convoys manned by people unknown to Vic, resistance certain. Puchard almost never took on these jobs directly, instead passing word to other gangs in exchange for some portion of the score. Although FEMA never seemed too concerned with the losses – being the Government, Puchard thought, they had supplies to spare – there was still the danger of resistance, the government agents just as likely to counterattack out of boredom as they were to flee out of apathy.
“I’ll leave them word and they’ll either bite or they won’t,” Puchard replied nonchalantly.
As profitable as their trade was, Puchard was always cautious in his dealings with Vic; he always arrived to the meets early and left late, taking a circuitous route, watching the skies for helicopters, never approaching in a straight line from the Hotel and when he parked he always stationed two kiddos outside the vehicle, watching to make certain that no one from Vic’s vehicle attached any tracking devices to Puchard’s truck.
“Anything else?” Puchard asked passing a packet with 20 grams of cut Methedrine out through the open windows.
“Now that you mention it,” Vic replied, arching his eyebrow with a vulgar expectation. He began walking to the back of his van, Puchard exiting his truck and following him.
Vic pulled the rear doors open, a stack of perhaps ten black vinyl body bags heaped in the back. Vic began slapping at the bags. “They should be on top,” he told Puchard, as he rolled the bags about, manhandling them by their carrying straps. “Sound off, girls.”
The sound of muffled screams came from the pile and two of the bags began moving. Vic reached in, unzipping them and pulling out two women, gagged and bound, dressed in tattered and bloodied underwear. One was Black, medium build, the other White, slightly taller. It was difficult to determine their age; both were badly beaten and filthy besides, the White woman’s hair matted with vomit. “A little coffee and cream for you this morning,” Vic announced, rubbing the stubble on his scalp as he grinned proudly.
“These girls have been kept in body bags with biters?” Puchard asked skeptically, curling his nose at the stench from the open bags.
“Only way I can get ‘em out,” Vic explained. “But most of the dead aren’t biters anymore. They’re just people killed in fights over food and other vague shit.”
“How rude,” Puchard commented dryly.
“Hey, at least it gives me a reason to get out for my meets,” Vic replied, “Bad news for them though.”
“Always is to the people concerned,” Puchard remarked eyeing the women.
Puchard was hardly surprised by the battered women standing before him; all of the gangs traded in human chattel on occasion having women that they wished to dispose of, either stray survivors they came about in their scavenging or hangers on from their own gangs who had grown tiresome through over-familiarity. For the most part these new Slaves came to them in an understandably sorrowful state these being no exception, appearing thoroughly wrung out, now stinking from their time in the body bags. “I don’t have anything to offer for them,” Puchard told Vic skeptically.
“Oh, don’t worry about it,” Vic declared, shaking his head. “These two were just guests at a party that got a little out of hand. Couldn’t have them showing up at the Medical Check in this condition so it’s time to set these birds free.” He shrugged. “Either that, or we’ll just use them for target practice at the dump,” he added casually.
“In that case,” Puchard announced, leering at the bound and petrified women, his malformed teeth bared in a carnivorous smile, “I always have space in my heart for wayward women.” He nodded gallantly and motioned for Jonathan to load the women into the back of the truck.
Puchard stood, regarding Vic with a casual studiousness; he always had the distinct impression that, apart from the immediate ends of their odd dealings, Vic was feeling him out for some future refuge, hedging his bets against the future as it were. Of course such was completely out of the question; no need for another rooster in the hen house, Puchard mused, watching Jonathan chain the women to the tie downs in the bed of the truck.
Vic said farewell and drove off, bearing his load of corpses to wherever he dumped them. Puchard and Jonathan returned to the cab of the truck, waiting for Vic’s van to disappear before signaling to the kiddos watching the vehicle to return. Then they began their meandering journey back, stopping along the way, taunting their captives by attracting the odd biters to the bed of the truck, speeding off only as they were about to descend on the weeping and terrified women.