The rip off

November 15, 2011
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The glint of the desert sun crept from the tan, metal engine hood into the Wolf’s interior. Alp took a hand off the wheel, squinting as the bright light poured through the windshield. He kept a steady foot on the gas pedal despite the nervous gut feelings telling him to bring the vehicle to a stop. As the Wolf chugged up the sand dune, Alp glanced back to ease his worry of stalling out the only transportation for miles around. There lay a set of tire tracks winding back down the slope, already beginning to fade, disintegrating under the incursion of the desert wind as it swept unhindered through the empty valleys and ridges of the Sahara.
No sputtering noises, no sand spewing from under the tires. The engine hummed comfortingly, occasionally letting out a growl. The noises failed to wake up Valentine, who was resting peacefully in the back seat, his thick beard and goggles obscuring his face. A shambly, bolt action rifle lay across his lap, held together with duct tape. The tan paint job was beginning to wear off the tape, and the worn shade of metal peeked out from the edges.
Caesar slept in the front passenger seat, one foot up on the dashboard with his rifle against the door. They were suppose to have their eyes open, being observant. But for the past day, things had been pretty…uneventful. No signs of the dead, no signs of trouble. Nothing that gave Alp a reason to be stressful. Maybe to go the extra mile and say that Alp felt peaceful. But the idea of peace, at least in Alp’s personnel perspective, wasn’t what it used to be. A steady run of peace, void of bumps and bruises, made Alp uneasy, like teetering on the edge of a cliff. Kind of like the stress of his ride stalling out in the middle of no man’s land.
Just as the Wolf reached the crest of the dune, the full brilliance of the sun broke into view and flooded the cabin with a luminescence that even Alp couldn’t but help to notice as wonderful before bringing his goggles in front of his eyes. He put the vehicle in park, and turned his attention to Caesar. “Welcome back to earth” he stated sarcastically as Caesar awoke and blinked his eyes several times, turning away form the sun. He kept them closed at first, feeling for his own goggles that dangled around his neck.
“Real ****** funny…” He groaned.
“Quit complaining, you’ve got a job to do” Alp replied nonchalantly.
“Yeah, yeah, no rush.” The seat creaked as Caesar slowly made his way from the front to the back of the Wolf. He rolled back the canvas cover on the roof and stuck his head out, then stood up completely. “I wish you could be getting this great sun that I’m getting over here. And the view is just…just gorgeous.” His mouth curled into a grin as he brought a pair of binoculars to his eyes. “We’ve got some…uh…s*** over there, some s*** over here, a nice little palm tree- isn’t that pretty…yeah, we’re in the middle of a giant bowl of ****** sand.”
“Stop messing around and just…tell me something I don’t know,” Alp retorted drily.
“What you don’t know? You’ve got noooooo sense of humor man, and its ****** irritating sometimes.”
Caesar wiped off the lenses a little, a look of dissatisfaction across his face. He stuck his head back down in the Wolf. “Hey, old man, toss me some water.” He nudged Valentine in the leg with his boot.
“What…what the hell do you need?”
“Water, water.” Valentine reached down under the seat and brought out a small canister, unscrewed the lid, and took a sip.
“Andele, andele!” Caesar chanted. “Can you just give me the damn bottle?”
Valentine glared at him, his eyes staring up from his thick eyebrows. They were already beginning to turn grey. Valentine was in his 60’s, but that didn’t show in his shooting. Alp wouldn’t have wanted anyone else as a marksman.
Caesar focused his attention back on the landscape, and Valentine stretched his arms before facing Alp. “Plan?” Alp chuckled a little and then turned around in his seat.
“Caesar?”
“Hey, theres nothing to see, okay? Its barren out here.”
“Do I need to replace you?”
“F*** no, not with the old man. You wanna come up here and take a look? I’m telling you, we’re alone.” Alp struggled out of his seat as Caesar came back down inside and forcefully handed off the binoculars. Despite having goggles on, Alp had to squint as he stood up and took in the view. He could see for miles into the distance, the haze of the sun and heat dancing at the horizon. Raising up the binoculars, Alp saw nothing different from Caesar. This truly was a dead landscape. A couple trees, no signs of life, no vehicles or settlements. No walkers.
Off in the far distance however, there seemed to be a curtain, a cloud of tan and orange, just a shade darker than the gold of the desert. A mirage perhaps? Alp was doubtful. He announced his sighting reluctantly, as he knew this only meant a little more debate and less progress. “Got something” he proclaimed.
“Please, don’t try and humiliate me” Caesar grumbled.
“I’m not humiliating anyone.” Alp kept his eyes on the cloud. Valentine spoke up: “Sandstorm? Maybe its just wind.”
“I’m no weatherman, but its too light and small for a sandstorm. Not enough wind either.”
“Distance?”
“Anywhere from 2-5 miles.” Alp finally lowered the binoculars and stretched his neck. “Well,” Caesar said, “Its not right on our doorstep, so I say we shrug it off and drive a little farther.”
“Then what?” Questioned Alp.
“Then? I don’t know, go back to New Carthage?”
This caused Alp to stoop down back into the cabin. “Are you serious?”
“Well, its better than out here.”
“But what do we have back there? I thought you were dead set on leaving!”
“Yeah, but its not like we did anything wrong. I mean, why not go back?”
“Do you know what we are to them? Cowards.”
“And why do they matter? You and I know thats not what we are!”
Valentine spoke up: “Because thats what we need to be right now. Thats what we are to the rest of the world. And whether you like it or not, we have to keep it that way.

(Prior to above events)

The patterned canvas tents flapped gently in the wind, displaying their shabby various hues and tones that had weathered away under the incessant nagging of the sand and grit. At one time, they had been bright and colorful. But not today. New Carthage had seen its fair share of brutality, but the will to surpass it was lessening.
Under the canvases sat the Tollman. He had a real name, but no one bothered to mention it. It was one of those long, complicated names that came from the East. The language that his name belonged to had all but vanished from the cities’ knowledge, swept away by the tide of death and destruction that had once engulfed the world only a short time ago. But the Tollman hadn’t been given his notorious title for nothing. He earned it, indeed he did.
The Tollman knew how to carve a living out of the hospitable, post-apocalyptic world that he resided in. He sold goods, but not just any goods. He sold weapons. The only commodity that people desired more than food in the town was a good, solid, gun. Some people would even sell you their children for a reliable one. His prices were usually exorbitant, but it all dependent on what you wanted to buy. Ak’s were the cheapest, principally because they were the most numerous and easiest to acquire. You could go with an old kalashnikov from the scrap heap, a newer variant with composite furniture and various scopes, grips, and barrels, or mix and match anyway you wanted. The Tollman wasn’t just a salesman, he was an engineer. But most of all, he was an opportunist. He knew that a gun made a man feel powerful, and that self-confidence was always a good selling point. Why try to buy or barter for food when you could point a gun at a woman’s head, or her child’s head, and she would give it to you? The Tollman had learned from experience.
Then there was the side of the Tollman that people failed to recognize. Even more likely, they tried to ignore it once it crept into their minds.
The Tollman was a psychopath. It wouldn’t show itself the first time you met him, but if you had continued dealings with him, you’d probably pick up on the subtle hints that this man was as cold and unforgiving as an icy wind. He barely spoke during his transactions with the townspeople and the local militia, and his eyes darted around when he did speak. He calculated cost and value in small, swift, hand movements before giving the total to the customer. Then they would be on their way, and he would return to his tent.
People had tried to steal from the Tollman in the past. Now, there wasn’t anyone left willing to steal from him. The daring ones were dead, their bodies rittled with bullet holes and left out in the dust. A few noteworthy ones had even tried to use the Tollman’s weapons against him; they never figured out that all of his inventory was unloaded with the safety on.
Besides his nefarious reputation in the town, the Tollman was supposedly known abroad among the leaders of other settlements. Sometimes he would be gone for days at a time, leading an expedition to a crash site or survivor settlement that had recently been ravaged by the dead and razed to the ground. These were prime roving grounds for the Tollman and his associates. Weapons ranging from assault rifles to mortars to rocket launchers could be salvaged from the desolate graveyards that had once been a town or caravan. There were never any survivors, the Tollman always made sure of that. However, on one rare occasion, a naked man with skin charred black had somehow managed to find his way to the town, and raved about a figure clad in black, seemingly the physical embodiment of death itself, who had killed his friends when they approached him for food and water. The charred man had collapsed of exhaustion several hundred yards back and was spared discovery by the Tollman. His last words accounted that his friends had been forced to stand in a line, and the black figure had shot each on once with a rifle. He then picked a different gun, thoughtfully selecting one from his pile like a artist selecting paints, and proceeded to prop up and shoot the captives again, once each. At that point, one was dead and the other was bleeding out. One more shot rang out through the desert as the Tollman picked out a large, western, fifty caliber rifle. The remains of the bodies were burned.

Alp was thinking about all of this. He had assembled the best possible profile of the Tollman as he thought he could. Now it was time to put his plan into action. He needed some weapons, one of which the Tollman might actually have. But he didn’t have any cash. He just had a box.
But what was in this box was not just outrageous, it was so outrageous that it might actually prove effective against someone with the psychotic nature as the Tollman. He would never see it coming, and even if he did, how could he possibly fight it? This had worked on several others before, but this would be the trust test. Alp tightened the grip on the box of magazines and proceeded towards the tent. Caesar and Valentine watched from the shadows of an alley.
Approaching the tent was more stressful than actually talking with Tollman himself. He emerged from his tent before Alp had a chance to announce his presence, and led Alp right over to the stalls of stacked weapons.
“A couple of these will do” Alp mused. He eyed a couple of ak’s with plastic composite stocks and grips. These were the good models.
“Classy, aren’t you?” The Tollman seemed to grin under his black garb.
“And two of these” Alp gestured towards some western model marksman rifles, with adjustable stocks and modern sights. Probably American made. “I’m also looking for something a little…bigger” Alp let the last word roll off his tongue.
“RPG’s are in the back” Replied the Tollman as he turned around, making little motions with his hands. He had failed to make eye contact with Alp once.
“I’m talking 4 wheel drive big. I know you have it.” Alp was being assertive. Hopefully not too assertive.
“You’re not that type of class,” the Tollman retorted, “you need some cash for that s***.”
“Will these do?” Alp opened up the lid of the box. The Tollman stopped his hand motions, and gingerly took a step towards the contents. Alp had never seen someone change character in such little time. You can interpret a lot from someones’s body language, and the Tollman’s eyes showed he was interested.
“Where…” the Tollman tried to find words, “where did you find these…” He picked up the first magazine in the stack. His eyes were greeted with the fading image of a slim women in her 20’s, her breasts barley held still by a thin lace bra. Above the image was a title in red lettering: “PLAYBOY”. The Tollman’s eyes then drifted down the page, towards the model’s legs, tantalizingly spread open. His own legs began to tremble as if he was sick. Alp just stared in satisfaction.“If you’re done now,” Alp slowly pulled the magazine back, “I’d like to see your inventory.”
The Tollman turned around silently and began swiftly walking to the back of the stalls, towards a shade shabbily constructed out of sheet metal. He stopped abruptly and fumbled with the door handle. Alp was about to open it for him when the door finally gave a light sigh as it creaked open, nearly falling of the hinges. Alp stopped before entering, and gave a quick look back. Valentine and Caesar were still anxiously watching from the alley.
The Tollman quickly hit a light switch rigged to the wall and the drafty room began to glow. Sitting in front of them was a stripped down vehicle, a western humvee with the doors, windows, and roof removed. A large, canvas tarp was rolled up and strapped down to the rear roll bar on the top of the vehicle. Gas cans filled the rear cargo area, and the main compartment had seating for four. The entire thing had once been painted a light shade of tan, but the uniform coloring had been patched up with splotches of green and red.
“So…this is it?” Alp walked around the vehicle, stooping down every so often to examine the underside. He really had no idea what the hell he should be looking for. That was Caesar’s job as a mechanic. Unless the engine itself dropped out onto the ground, Alp was pretty clueless about automotive transportation.
“This…this is the best I’ve got” the Tollman stuttered.
“And the gas cans….they’re included?”
“Yes, they are.” The Tollman paused and waited for Alp to say something. When he didn’t get a response, he continued rather nervously. “This isn’t any old jeep. This is a military grade Wolf. You won’t find a better one for…anywhere” he quickly finished up.
Alp wasn’t really paying attention. This could have been made out of wood and powered by coal for all he cared, as long as it got them where they needed to go. But the Tollman didn’t have to know that. As he continued his false examination, he tripped over a large object on the ground. He touched it, and felt cool metal against his palm. He lifted it up with some strain, and set it on the cargo bed. “Is this included too?”
The Tollman jogged over and took a look at the heavy, belt fed machine gun Alp had tripped over. “Oh yes…thats, funny, thats actually from a tank, but I guess…you know, it might not really fit…” the Tollman was sweating heavily at this point. He had started to realize how much of his product he might be giving away for a couple of magazines. But his eyes drifted towards the box again; scratch that, he thought, a ****** BOX of magazines. Ones that could bring him a lot of pleasure. A drop of sweat dripped lazily down into his eye, and he awoke from his short day dream to find his customer trying to mount the machine gun onto the top roll bar.
“Theres a rail up here I can screw it on to” he exclaimed enthusiastically. “You got a screwdriver?”
“Uh, yes, I’ll bring one right away.” Right away? C*****, what was he turning into, a maid?
The Tollman headed back towards the workbench, having already forgotten what he was suppose to get. He could shoot him-that was it! J***s, why hadn’t he just done that earlier? Shoot him like all the other insignificant meat sacks and be done with it!
“Hey, a screwdriver would be nice!”
****in *****, he was gonna get it now. Coming into his shop, ordering him around. The customer’s sense of persuasion was mortally misguided. He would find that out the hard way. The Tollman’s hands were still searching aimlessly around the workbench for some kind of tool that had been requested. His back was hunched like some kind of disformed entity, shrouded in black cloth. His anger was reaching a boiling point, his eyes darting rapidly, straining to find the solution at the workbench, the source of his rage, the goddamn mother****in-
“Screwdriver!”
In an instant, the Tollman whipped his body around and drew a pistol from his garb, ready to fire at a moments notice. Alp, who had come down from the Wolf to approach the Tollman, held the magazine box in his hands. His eyes were steady, looking straight into the Tollman’s eyes, not the gun. The Tollman found this quite disappointing.
“I got it on, no need for that….screwdriver.”
The Tollman just stared, the barrel of the pistol still pointed at Alp’s face.
Alp began to remove the lid off the box, and slowly moved towards the workbench.
“All of them,” he started, “are yours. Do what you want.” He gently placed the box down, and noticed that his assailant’s gaze had left him and focused on the contents of the box. He put his hands back up, and proceeded to cautiously pace away, until the Tollman’s back was facing him. He took a quick look around for the keys, and discovered them in a small tin box next to the Tollman’s receipt desk, along with small slips of paper containing dates, names, and prices. When he wheeled back around towards the Wolf the Tollman was holding one of the magazines in his hands, slowly flipping through the pages. There were no sounds other than steady breathing. Alp hopped into the cab and jammed the keys into the ignition. It took a couple of starts, but the Wolf finally lurched to life with a triumphant grumble from the engine and a puff of some from the exhaust pipe. Alp floored the petal and smashed through the thin sheet metal walls of the shack and towards the stalls. Valentine and Caesar had taken the opportunity to collect some rifles and explosives, and threw themselves into the cab as Alp drove by. Behind them, the flimsy shack collapsed around the Tollman, who stood silently with his profit, his pistol on the ground.





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