By E. J. D’Alise (Disperser)
Copyright 2004 – 2013
The next week passed quickly. Joshua, Ed, and I made some tough decisions regarding the prisoners. There was no way around dealing with the two who had shot civilians. I had no qualms about the fate of one of the prisoners, but I could have gone either way with the other prisoner.
In earlier times, and different situation, the choices available to us might have included something in between death and freedom. Instead, they were executed.
I asked for volunteers for a firing squad made up of town people, as I did not want to burden my own men, or Ed’s, with the task. Seven of the town’s residents eventually agreed to perform the execution, but as the day approached, some backed out. They might have been willing to fight, but executions were not in their make-up.
A woman by the name of Irene stepped forward and volunteered to be the sole executioner. I looked at her for what even to me seemed a long time; whatever experiences had shaped her life, this was no killer. She just recognized something that needed doing, and she knew she had it in her to go through with it.
The executions were carried out outside of town, and the two prisoners were buried on the spot. The families of the people the two had killed were required to be present. To the end I hoped they would intercede, and ask for the prisoners to be spared. But they just watched in silence, and turned away once it was over.
Irene turned to me, and asked to be included in the group heading out; she did not think people in town would look at her the same way after this. She looked to be in her fifties, but in reasonable shape. “I’m ex-army,” she added, “although I’ve not been in combat. I do have some training, and I’m willing to fight.” I nodded, and we walked back to town in silence.
Seven of the remaining seventeen prisoners asked to remain in town. The townspeople had to agree to it, and after much discussion they did. Three of those seven were wounded, and still at the compound. They would be transferred in town as soon as their condition permitted. All of the ones who had asked to stay had been housed with townspeople since their arrival. I assumed the townspeople knew what they were doing.
That left ten prisoners, three of which were also wounded and housed at the compound. One of them was Clay, who was still in critical condition and unconscious. Dr. Carlin was cautiously optimistic of her chances.
The other two wounded were a couple. Not married, but a couple just the same. I spoke to BJ about them, as well as the other prisoners, and interviewed all of them. BJ helped by providing insight into the personalities of those who had survived our attack.
My choices were limited. We could probably absorb a few after being thoroughly vetted, but the risks were great. I could probably count on BJ, but Clay was an unknown. According to her brother, she was a believer. She really thought the Cardinal’s efforts would bring about order to a landscape of cruel gangs. Plus, we had shot her. No telling what that would do to her mindset. I hoped her brother’s influence would sway her and at least make her receptive to a different point of view.
But the immediate problem were the remaining eight. There was no question of executing them, and releasing them at a time when we were about to embark in multiple military actions was also out of the question. Our little world had gotten much larger, and most of it was vulnerable to people with some military training. A small determined group let lose near us could easily occupy more resources than I was willing to commit.
The couple and the radio operator were the easy choices. Based on my interviews, BJ’s input, and Jim’s assessment, they were to be given the opportunity to join the camp. Their movements and freedom would be curtailed for a while, but they posed a low risk. The rest, including the ones held in town, but minus Clay, were brought to the conference room in the compound.
I eyed the five in turn. Two were nervous, one relaxed, and two were hard to read.
“Under normal circumstances you would all be dead.” I began, keeping my voice flat and matter of fact. “Were it not for me giving my word to BJ, that might have still been an option.”
More of the prisoners were now looking worried, with the exception of BJ and a father and son team who looked on stoically.
“I will keep my word, but you people pose a problem I must address. I can’t leave you here, I can’t leave you in town, and I can’t let you go.” I fixed on the father and son. “So you will all be traveling with us. We have supplies to haul, chores to do, animals to tend. When we are traveling you will have escorts; when we camp you will be restrained and under guard.” I paused and looked around, trying to gauge the mood.
I leaned on the table and looked at each as I spoke my next words. “Make no mistake; my word is only good until you become a problem. Any attempt, any action, anything at all I perceive as posing a threat to any of us, and there will be no recourse, and no hesitation to my response.”
A young man raised his hand. I nodded, and he spoke as he used his hands to motion to the others. “Are we all to be prisoners for life? Are we to be slaves until we drop dead or you decide we are not useful anymore? Because if that is the case, you might as well execute me now . . . “
He stopped as I drew my revolver, cocked it, and pointed it at him. He focused on the barrel, and licked his lips. He ventured a quick look at my eyes, and then back down to the unwavering barrel pointing at his chest.
“Lesson one . . . never show fear. Look at me in the eye, control your breathing, and don’t give me the satisfaction of letting me know you are afraid for your life. Act like you know I can take your life, but have no right to do so.” My words caused him to snap his attention to my face, and locking his eyes on me.
“Lesson two . . . never volunteer to die; someone might take you up on it, and you are too young to make that decision.”
I laid the revolver on the table, letting the hammer down as I did so. I leaned back on my chair. “No, you will not be prisoners for life. But do you, or any of you,” I continued looking at each one of the prisoners “have any other suggestions as to what I should do with you? And even if you did, can I trust it’s not motivated by revenge? Perhaps I killed your brother, or your best friend in town. Perhaps you just hate my guts. Whatever the possibility, it’s not something I’m willing to gamble my or anyone’s life on.”
The stoic son spoke; that surprised me, as I would have bet the father would be the alpha of the two. Perhaps he was, and preferred to lay back.
“What are your plans? Where are you going?” I looked at him for a moment, trying to find a reason why I should not let him know what everyone already pretty much knew.
“We are going to hit every town between here and the Cardinal, free them up, set them up on their own, and eventually take the Cardinal out. The secondary objective is to set up and leave operational a standing army whose sole charge will be to ensure no gang, or other wannabe dictator, will ever control these towns. Each will pledge to run to the defense of the others, each will have elected governments, and all can start to plan on cooperating and scratching out a better living than they’ve had in the past seven years.”