Escape From New Orleans
by Edgar J. Steele
September 6, 2005
Caution: not for children - rough language and graphic scenes
"Warden wants to see you, Plankton." With that, the guard swung the cell door open and motioned toward the door dividing "the block" from "Guard's country."
Snake followed the guard through several corridors and, then, up a short flight of stairs. Knocking on the door at the top, the guard said loudly, "Plankton's here, Warden, just like you said."
The door opened and Warden Tyrone Jones motioned Snake into his office. "That'll be all, guard. You can leave us now."
"I said that will be all. Back to your post!"
The guard shrugged, pulled the door shut and his footsteps could be heard, descending the stairs just outside.
"Here." The warden handed Snake a glass, then poured two inches from the whiskey bottle sitting on the edge of his desk. "Sit down, Plankton."
"Call me Snake." He drained his glass and motioned for more.
Waving him off, the warden said, "We've got a job for you, Snake."
"Figures. That's the only time we ever drink together, I've noticed."
"The President and his daughters were kidnapped by a Black gang while touring New Orleans' French Quarter, which is still under six feet of water. You're gonna go in and get him out."
Snake snorted. "Hell, that's a suicide mission. We've seen the TV footage, down in Commons. New Orleans has been completely taken over by Black gangs. Why, even the Army backed out when they began losing whole squads. Besides, the last two Presidents I saved for you, from New York and Los Angeles, weren't worth rescuing. Shrub is even more worthless. I say, let your people have him. Or, better yet, just make a phone call and have your bro's release him."
"My people? My bro's? Just because the gangs are all Black? You really are a racist pig, Snake. Okay, let's say they are 'my' people, just because they are all Black. What of it? Nobody's clean -- not me, not you, least of all Shrub. It's all about getting what we want. And this is what I want from you just now. Besides, there's a pardon in it for you if you come through."
"That's what you said last time."
"We let you go. It's not my fault that you just ended up back in here, you know."
"I was set up. You know that. I'm beginning to think you guys just keep me on ice here until you need me."
"Well, this time you really have no choice. That drink you just swallowed contained a timed-release toxin which will paralyze, then kill you, in 72 hours if you're not back with President Shrub and hand deliver him to the governor, in time to get the antidote."
"Shit! Why, I oughta kill you right here."
"Go ahead. You won't even live long enough to die of the poison, in that event."
The warden opened his desk drawer, slid out a small box and did something, then tossed the box to Snake. "Here's a special watch we made up just for you. I just started the countdown. Notice that now you have less than 72 hours. Time's a wasting, Snake."
"71:55," the digital readout said, then clicked over to 71:54. Snake placed the watch on his wrist, then jumped to his feet and reached across the desk, grabbing the warden by his shirt front. He forced the neck of the still-open whiskey bottle between the warden's quivering lips.
"Drink it, you bastard. I ain't goin' down alone." Most of what was left in the bottle, no more than a double shot glass full, went down the warden's throat. Snake let go.
"I'll just get the antidote from the Governor as soon as you leave, Plankton."
"No, you won't. That's gonna be the condition of my going in there to get your precious little draft dodger. You don't get the antidote unless and until after I do. That, and the pardon, of course. You know the Governor will agree. Get him on the phone."
And the Governor did agree with Snake, it turned out. "Never did like that whiney little bastard," he said to the aide who relayed the message back to an incredulous Warden Jones ten minutes later.
Snake laced up the high-top combat boots from his prison personal-effects bag, given him at the helicopter pad just outside the prison gates. Feels good to get my riding leathers back on. He strapped on the military-issue knife provided by the uniformed Marine gunnery sergeant standing nearby. "How about guns? You don't expect me to go in there without any firepower, do you?"
The Marine examined Snake as though he had just discovered mud on his too-shiny boot: "When the time comes, Plankton. You'll get plenty just before we drop you off."
"Call me Snake. I'll need a map, too, Sarge - I've never been sober enough in New Orleans ever to know where I was."
"Yes. That, too, Plankton. And more. Just wait. By the way, it's Master Gunnery Sergeant to you."
Snake followed the Marine aboard the chopper within seconds of its arrival, then held on as it took off again. It was spooky how silent the helicopter was, even inside the cockpit. Snake hadn't been aware of it until he caught the first wash off the rotor blades, just before it set down on the pad. And it ran without lights of any sort. Near as he could tell, there were no markings and it was painted a uniform dull black. Inside the cabin, soft red lights provided illumination, so as not to foul night vision.
The only sensation of speed came at takeoff and whenever the craft banked, with Snake pushed hard into the stiff, canvas-covered seat.
"How fast does this thing go?" he asked aloud, to nobody in particular.
The Marine's response came at once: "You don't need to know." Not another word was spoken during the ensuing flight, which saw Snake's watch click down to 69:40. The craft abruptly slowed, then jinked in several different directions, as though flying an evasive pattern.
"What's going on?"
The Marine looked over and calmly said, "We'll be there in a few minutes. Time to get your gear."
"We can't be! New Orleans is at least 500 miles from the prison. How fast does this thing go, Gunny?"
The Marine just looked at him distastefully, then got up and opened a stowage locker at the back of the cabin. "You get a choice of pistols and rifles - do you recognize any of these?"
And he did, all except the oddly-shaped device clearly meant to be worn. That was the first thing the Marine lifted out and passed over. "You'll want this, for sure. It's brand new and top secret. It's called ElectroDart and fires pulses of discrete electric bullets. Kind of like a taser, but no wires and it has a range of 100 meters. You strap it on your forearm. Once turned on, you just flex your forearm muscle to make it fire. Keep your hand down or you'll lose fingers. This pack contains batteries to recharge it."
Snake looked it over, then reached for the stubby H&K .45 Compact and two 9mm Beretta 92Fs. After strapping on a vest packed full of spare magazines, he slung an M4 .223 caliber carbine into the ready position. The Marine followed them up with several more nylon canvas ammo pouches. The weight was becoming impressive in a hurry. "We've got a silenced jet ski in the back that we'll drop as soon as you're in the water. I'll put the ammo packs in the waterproof locker beneath the seat."
Snake stopped threading his belt through the loops of the pistol holsters. "In the water! Wait a minute - I've heard the stories about the crocs."
"Don't worry. We've coated the underside with oil-dissolved mothball paste. They hate the smell. So will you. And here's a tube - you might spread some on your legs and abdomen if you're really worried."
He handed Snake a folding plastic map. "Here's the best we could put together on short notice. It shows all the known hangouts for the three main gangs. We're going to put you down right...here. From there, you're on your own. We've marked the probable headquarters of two of them, the Bloods and the Rolling 30s Crips. They're not what you're after, though. We think Shrub is being held by the top of the food chain, the former Mayor's son-in-law, going by the name Crawdaddy, head of the Ninth Ward Gang. We haven't a clue where they hole up, but most of them have been sighted over here, just south of the French Quarter."
"Finally, here's a radio beacon that you lock onto your ankle. We'll be able to follow you by satellite, wherever you go. When you've got the President and are ready for extraction, push the red button here on the side. We'll have this, or another chopper just like it, hovering over you inside three minutes. Pick a nice, open area, preferably at night and without unfriendlies around. We'll come in with doors open and gunners primed, just in case, though."
"What, don't you want his daughters back, too?"
"Sure, but don't let Ginna or Tonic slow you down by even a minute. Do we understand each other, Plankton?"
Snake watched the silent, black shape of the chopper recede into the dank night air above him, then pushed the start button of the jet ski. He cursed as the engine failed to turn over, then was startled to feel the small craft slowly edge forward through the water-borne debris. He navigated the short canyons, walls lined with dark two- and three-story buildings, finally pulling under an awning that still hung over the entrance of something that proudly claimed to have the "Best Gumbo in the World."
He could hear shots in the distance and saw the dull red glow of fires light up the night sky in three different directions. Standing on the sill of a window with no glass left in its frame, Snake tied the jet ski off to a pipe jutting out beneath the awning, then removed three ammunition belts and the stubby M4 rifle from the compartment beneath the seat.
Jumping down into the darkness of the room, a burst of gunfire tattooed the space he had occupied a split second beforehand. Automatically, he pulled both pistols and sprayed the area opposite the window, getting a gratifying dull thunk onto the wooden floor. Holding his flashlight well off to one side in case there were others, he flipped the switch and saw a dead Black man, pants around his ankles and dreadlocks in turmoil, pistol still gripped in an outstretched hand, lying face down in garbage and candy wrappers.
Behind the dead gunman, on a filthy mattress, the nude body of a pretty blonde girl of about fourteen lay, her eyes wide open and staring vacantly into the distance. Snake started to check for a pulse, then stepped back when he felt how cold she was, just as he caught a whiff of the low stench arising from her body. Rigor mortis had set in long beforehand. Her legs were spread wide. Clearly, the Black had been having sex with her corpse.
At least he wasn't eating her, he thought, though that might have come later. Tales of rampant cannibalism in the no-go zones of the "Big Easy" were legion now, just three weeks after Hurricane Katrina had devastated the Gulf Coast.
No time for this. Snake stood up and crossed to the door, opened it and stepped out into a hallway, strewn with even more trash than the room he left behind. A fetid smell told him that Dreadlocks had been using the end of the hallway as a toilet. You can take them out of the jungle skittered across his mind. A shabby staircase at the other end led to another, then another and then up to the roof. Buildings all along this side of the block had been built right on top of one another, so it was a simple matter to hop down onto the adjacent roof.
Three roofs later, Snake heard the sound of music and breaking glass through an open door leading to a stairwell.
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