It didn't take me an hour to get where I was going and I was itching to get started. However, for our plan to work the way we wanted it to I had to allow time for Abel to get into his position. At exactly 11:30 pm, as planned, I started lighting things up.
It bothered me at first that it was so easy but I quickly decided to not look a gift horse in the mouth. Open a window and climb in here. Crawl under a building there. Wiggle through some bushes and skinny up an old trellis to get to a loose attic vent. Jam a doorstop under a door so it couldn't be pushed open from inside. My strategy was to do what I could to funnel people into the road that led out of town rather than have them running into the woods in the opposite direction. My goal? Controlled chaos.
I came close to being seen a couple of times but was protected by the fact that nearly everyone acted half awake, like they had no energy and less concentration. My best guess, it was due to a lack of a meal for two days running after an already restricted diet. I wasn’t going to complain about their missed meals all things considered but it still went to show how debilitated people were becoming; they were literally starving to death one missed meal at a time.
It had taken a long time for the town to get to that point because of the reserves that the Blue Hats had stored and used to control the people but time had finally run out; the same way it was running out for everyone. People will do crazy things for food when they are truly hungry, including the most debauched imaginable. Food was the new drug and everyone was an addict. I kept reminding myself of that anytime I started to feel the least bit guilty about what I was doing.
It didn't hurt my escapades that I blended in with the townspeople. Abel would have stood out a mile, not so much because of his coloring - though his swarthiness did set him apart - but because of the way he carried himself and the fact, that though lean, he was obviously healthy. I was lean as well and I was healthy too, but you could see it only if you got beneath the layer of dirty I was wearing. I looked rode hard and hung up wet. I hadn't bathed or brushed my hair for a couple of days and I’d been mucking around in a dump; that alone was worth a couple of inches of filth. And my clothes were ill-fitting, stained, and mismatched. I don't know if my own parents would have recognized me at a first, or even second, glance.
As midnight came and went, even as the first alarm were raised, I continued to light fires. I began to hear hysterical calls from the townspeople for Richard to help them as they realized the scope of what was occurring. A couple of the houses that we’d planted napalm in were discovered … but you can’t really scrape off napalm, it leaves a residue that was just as easy to light. And their scraping had actually spread it around even more than what I had already accomplished.
As the cries for “Richard the Lionhearted” increased I saw a crowd being to build around a clump of buildings I hadn't been able to sabotage because of how many people were in them. That told me where the crazy Richard most likely was hold up. The door on the two-story house was blocked by several guards holding the cult followers off. I heard the guards yell that Richard was in consultation with god … little “g” … and deliverance would soon be at hand.
Yeah right. I bet the kook was in there preparing for ye ol’ getaway and would only come out when he could make the biggest impact. I decided to give him a reason to come out on my time and not his.
Using the crowd as cover I made my way over to the building nearest to the crazy Richard and went inside it. While everyone was running outside to see what was going on I snuck inside and then ran up the stairs and then into a converted attic space. Lucky for me it was a historic building and it still had a roof access up there to clean the chimneys. I used the access to climb onto the roof. Once up there, and settled as safely as I could manage, I lobbed a stink bomb threw an open upstairs window of the other building. The first was followed by a couple of smoke bombs of a particularly putrid green that was wasted on the crowd below because of the dark night. All they could really tell was that there was smoke pouring from several of the upstairs windows.
The smell inside was pretty bad if the gagging of the people coming out was any indication. Even the large crowd backed away from the place with several people covering their nose and mouth or rubbing their eyes. Once people started rushing out of the building I threw in a Molotov cocktail through the same open window. Now that stirred things up. At that same moment the first gunfire could be hear coming from Hakim’s side of town.
Briefly my chest tightened as I worried for Abel but I knew we both had a job to do and I had to have confidence in his skills and in my own. I got my first chance to instigate real trouble between the two groups when someone in the crowd below me cried, “Almanzor! It’s Almanzor!! He’s attacking!!”
Boy, and I had kicked the ant hill with the fires. I took a penny bomb and simply tossed it over the side near a knot of people. The subsequent bang had people screaming and carrying on like you wouldn’t believe. One guy even swore up and down, “I’ve been shot! Halp! I’m hit!!”
Then there was a nearby whoosh as an older, one-story, frame house kind of exploded as something still flammable caught. Yowzer. I could feel the heat from where I was on the roof several houses away; I couldn’t imagine what the people closer to the house must have felt; several had been knocked down by the percussion. As burning debris rained down around me I realized I wasn’t in such a good place.
There was another crescendo of noise as someone yelled, “There he is! There’s Richard!!”
I couldn’t tell if it was adulation or anger that made the crowd rush off after a man I barely got a glimpse of before he was swept up by his followers. I used the chaos to get off the roof, which wasn’t nearly as easy as it had been to get onto; the access door had shut and latched at some point. As I exited the building I decided to go ahead and start another fire. I squirted a blob of hand sanitizer where some floor length drapes hung, and then lit the alcohol based gloop and left at a run. I couldn’t stay around to watch but I hoped the sanitizer would stay lit long enough to catch the drapes which were made out of this gauzy nylon stuff that was sure to go up like dry tender and drip fire on the carpet beneath and maybe even catch the papered walls.
I had to jump into a small room that wound up being a bathroom as people started stampeding in the building apparently gathering belongings just in case the fire spread. I felt like saying, “day late and a dollar short” but I was too busy hiding. To my chagrin someone did find the fire upstairs so I was stuck escaping from the bathroom window and nearly breaking my neck and losing an eye by falling into the dead rose bushes below. Lucky for me the scratch at the corner of my eye wasn’t bad but it stung like a son of a gun but the gouges in my buttocks hurt worse after I removed several thick thorns.
I got to a better vantage point and saw that the crazy Richard must have been more charismatic than I thought. He’d started to organize his followers to take the fight to Hakim … I heard something about food and guns and realized that he was really getting them wound up. But all they did was talk, not at all what I wanted them to do. I decided it was time I gave them a little more reason to move rather than sermonize by throwing another penny bomb following by a BB grenade. The penny bomb just made people jump and holler but the BB grenade made a few of them scream in real pain.
The sky was taking on an orange hue as the fires I had started consumed anything they came in contact with. Heat was building. Smoke drifted all over the place and I was beginning to have a hard time breathing without coughing. As I tried to visualize an escape route so I wouldn’t get roasted alive a real enemy for the Richard to take on entered the game. That weird yodeling sound preceded even more real automatic gunfire. People in the crowd around Richard screamed, developed red blossoms on their clothing, and fell.
It was soon apparent that I hadn’t really had a clue what hand to hand combat would mean for me. I was stuck on the far side of the rendezvous point with both Richard’s group and Hakim’s men between me and it … between me and presumably where Abel was waiting. I noticed that too many people were running the wrong direction from where I wanted them to go so I took out one of the real grenades that Abel had confiscated. I shifted my position and then lobbed it at the back of a crowd that had been running for the trail area.
Unfortunately I made an oops and the grenade also took out most of the footbridge that went across the most narrow point of the river that surrounded the town. Abel and I were going to have fun getting back home but I tried not to let that freak me out too much. There were other places to cross if you knew them; we’d just need to build some kind of skiff and a pole to push across using the underwater boulders.
I couldn’t stay in one spot too long and I must have had some bad luck because everywhere I moved to try and get through the battles all around me things would shift and I would get blocked from going the direction I wanted to go. I finally resorted to going around but because of the fires and the spread out nature of the fighting it was more than a short hike. The route took me in the same general direction that some people had started to go … across the only remaining exit from town that a vehicle could have cross.
Instead of crossing the bridge I passed through the thin ranks of people and across towards the Hakim side of things. I’d done just about as much damage as I could on the Richard side and wanted to see if Abel needed some help. The first thing I noticed was that while there were some fires there weren’t near as many as I knew we had planned on.
Sliding into one of these unlit buildings I found that someone had tried to remove the napalm. I left quietly and then went to a similar building and found the same thing. I wasn’t sure what it meant but I knew it couldn’t be good. I wondered where Abel was. Because I was worried that maybe he was tied up in one of the booby trapped buildings I had to search each one before lighting it up using a Molotov cocktail and the slimy remnants of the napalm that had been removed.
It wasn’t too long before I realized that someone had gotten sloppy and simply dumped most of the napalm over the porch rails at each building or beside a set of outside stairs. Well I wasn’t wasting good supplies and smeared it where ever it lay, doing my best to have the fire disappear under a building so that the new mischief wouldn’t be noticed immediately. Hakim or one of his men would know one person had been out and about, but hopefully they wouldn’t think there could be two of them.
I carefully made my way closer and closer to the obvious center of Hakim's camp. Still no Abel. Still no new fires except the ones that I was lighting. Then I saw them … the prisoners. They were lined up along the fence facing one direction and my heart sank.