Murder in Fallout Shelter 17C (Part II)
By Douglas James Troxell
In post-apocalyptic America, Clyde, the overseer of Fallout Shelter 17C, discovers that someone is murdering the women in the shelter. There are only two women left. If the women are killed, the shelter will no longer be able to participate in the country's breeding program and will thus no longer be supplied by what's left of the United States government. Clyde must find the killer or risk becoming another victim of the End of the World. At the end of Part I, Clyde and his assistant, Zeb, had just finished interviewing several murder suspects when an alarm sounded, indicating someone is trying to leave the sealed-off Section IV.
Clyde sauntered down the hall muttering under his breath the entire time.
“Should we...hurry?” Zeb asked.
They reached the Nexus of the shelter where the four sections intersected. Hope stood at the door panel frantically pressing the same button sequence over and over again. Clyde’s pace did not quicken when she came into view. He casually walked up behind her and watched her input the door code repeatedly.
“That’s enough,” he finally said.
Hope didn’t turn around but she did stop pressing buttons. She rested her forehead against the cold, metal door.
“You changed the door code,” she said.
“How did you know what the door code was?”
It wasn’t much of a revelation. The code was 0519. May 19th. The day the world ended. Day Zero. There had been no need to make the code a big secret before they had discovered one of their shelter mates was a psychopath. Clyde assumed everyone knew, which is why he had changed it before sequestering the suspects in Section Four.
Hope finally turned around. Fear blazed in her eyes. “Please. You have to let me out of here. I can’t stand the idea of being used as bait. There has to be some other way to figure out who’s doing this.”
“Where is Wayne?” Clyde asked. “Isn’t he supposed to be guarding you?”
On cue, Wayne turned the corner, dripping sweat, looking frantic. Aileen trailed behind him.
“Hope!” he called. “Hope, are you ok?”
He lumbered toward the nexus but Clyde froze him in his tracks with a raised hand.
“Wayne, aren’t you supposed to be watching this girl?”
“I--I was,” he stammered. “She said she needed to use the bathroom.”
“And you didn’t go with her?”
“I thought she had the right to some privacy. She--”
Clyde ended his thought with a thunderous slap across his face. Everyone’s heart stopped in perfect synchronization as the sound of Clyde’s hand making contact with Wayne’s face echoed in the corridor. Four red finger marks lingered on Wayne’s left cheek.
“These girls,” Clyde said calmly, “don’t have the right to anything. They’re not even people anymore.
They’re a resource--a resource we are quickly running out of. You have been tasked with protecting what remains of that resource. Do you understand?”
Wayne said nothing.
“I understand,” Wayne said quietly.
“Good. These women are not to leave your sight again. Keep them together at all times. One goes to the bathroom, the other goes to the bathroom and so do you.”
There was a knock on the plexiglass in the door leading into the nexus. Marge’s wrinkled face appeared in the window.
“Everything ok over there?” she asked.
Clyde approached the window and offered her his best salesman smile. He despised Marge. He always felt like he was in the presence of his mother when she was around. Marge was the shelter’s oldest resident at 58 and had once been the head of a large pharmaceutical company based in Pittsburgh. She was Clyde’s second in command and the person most of the shelter dwellers went to with their problems and concerns.
“We’re fine over here, Marge, just fine,” Clyde assured her. “Still investigating. Everything ok on your end?”
“Sections One through Four are a-ok--for now, at least. Not sure how long we can go without fresh produce since, you know, you have the greenhouse sealed off from the rest of us and all.”
“I understand. Shouldn’t be long before we have this whole thing figured out.”
She smiled through the glass. She had a salesman’s smile, too. “Sure you want to continue with this whole thing? Seems dangerous for the young ladies over there knowing there’s a killer on the loose. Sure you don’t want to send the ladies over my way while you figure the whole thing out?”
Hope rushed the door, but Clyde pushed her back into Wayne’s arms.
“They’re perfectly safe. Just keep the wheels turning over there. I’ll have this investigation wrapped up soon.”
She saluted and disappeared from the window.
“Is that true?” Aileen asked. “Are you close to finding out who’s doing this?”
Strangely enough, it was Zeb who answered.
“We’re on it. We’re not going to let anything happen to you.” He meant for it to be said to both women, but he only looked at Hope when he said it.
“What he said,” Clyde said. “Now everyone get the hell out of here.”
Section IV’s kitchen area was still and lifeless. It seemed unoccupied at first but Clyde and Zeb spotted Cookie staring into the pantry in the back of the room. He acknowledged them with a quick nod and then went back to staring into the pantry.
“It’s looking grim,” Cookie said. “Word is the other sections are much the same. We’re going to need an infusion of supplies soon or we’re going to be eating paprika and nutmeg for dinner soon.”
“Shouldn’t you be getting dinner ready?” Zeb asked. He was the thinnest member of the shelter community but one wouldn’t know it from his appetite.
“I’m a little lost without my assistants,” Cookie grumbled.
The day before he had had Aileen and Lizzie assisting him with rations and meal prep. Now it was just him.
“Yes, well, you’ll have to make do,” Clyde said. “At least for a little while, Cookie.”
“My name is not Cookie!” Cookie said. “It’s Samaad! I don’t know how many times I have to tell you this!”
Clyde closed his eyes and exhaled until all the air left his lungs. One...two...three...four...five. Then he took a deep breath and spoke. “Yes, well, we’re not here to debate names. We’re here to solve a murder.”
“Ah,” Cookie said. He began counting cans of tomato sauce.
“Did you see Lizzy yesterday?”
He did not elaborate.
“Was she here for her entire shift?”
“Did you see her with anyone? Did anyone come to visit her?”
Cookie moved on to cans of green beans.
“Ok. Who came to see her?” Clyde asked.
“The greenhouse jabroni. Bird. He’s always sniffing around. She made it clear she wasn’t interested but the guy can’t take a hint. He’s always milling about doing a whole lot of nothing.”
Clyde turned to Zeb. “Funny. Bird never mentioned anything about that, did he?”
Zeb checked his notes. “No. But there’s something else.”
Zeb directed Clyde’s attention to a knife block in the far corner of the room. One of the slots was empty. It was the slot for one of the large carving knives.
Clyde pulled Cookie away from the pantry and pointed at the knife block. “Is that knife being cleaned or is it missing?”
Cookie expressed interest for the first time during the conversation. He walked over and inspected the knife block. He looked behind it and sighed.
“Everything is already clean,” he said. “So I guess it’s missing.”
“When was the last time you used it?”
“Anyone besides you been in this kitchen today?”
“No. Wait--yes. The brothers. Thunder and Lightning. They barged in earlier looking for an extra coffee ration. They’re always looking for extra rations. Didn’t have anything extra to give ‘em.”
Clyde smiled. He knew sooner or later things would come back to the Stormin’ Normans. Things almost always did.
Zeb seemed engrossed in his notes again, scribbling away with a strange trance-like determination. Clyde rapped him on the shoulder, breaking the spell.
“You get all that, kid?”
Zeb scanned through his notes clumsily. “Umm--yeah. Every word.”
“Good. Then it’s time we pay Thunder and Lightning a visit.”
“Absolutely. Sounds like there’s a storm coming our way.”
Zeb waited for a reaction. Clyde closed his eyes and emptied his lungs.
The showdown with the Stormin’ Normans was a long time coming for Clyde. Even their living arrangement was a matter of contention. Lightning’s dorm was a converted storage room. He had moved a bunk bed in there and welded himself a chest of drawers out of scrap metal. Even though his older brother, Thunder, was officially assigned to Section II, he was usually seen palling around with his sibling in Section IV. Clyde hoped against hope that he’d catch the brothers in a rare moment of separation. No such luck.
They were playing cards when Clyde and Zeb entered. Clyde recognized the game immediately. It was their own creation. A game they called “Slap a Bitch”. Basically the game saw players taking turns drawing three cards from a deck and trying to match pairs which were then discarded and scored due to some convoluted point system they had created. The twist was that if you suspected your opponent had drawn a queen (which held the highest point value), you screamed “Slap a bitch!” and slapped your opponent across the face. If the accuser was right, the player had to discard his entire hand. If wrong, the accuser discarded his or her hand and got slapped in the face three times as a penalty. All in all, the game summed up the Stormin’ Normans fairly well.
“Guess privacy went out of style with the end of the world,” Thunder said in mid-draw.
“I knocked. No one answered,” Clyde said.
“Maybe that means we didn’t want you in here,” Lightning said. “But I guess that don’t matter if you’re the boss. If you’re the boss, you can do whatever the hell you damn well please apparently, even walk straight into a guy’s room without being invited.”
“This isn’t your room. This room has been designated for storage. We’ve been over this a dozen times.”
Thunder belched loudly and went back to playing cards. He set down a pair of sevens and then nodded to Lightning to draw.
“I need to ask you boys some questions,” Clyde said.
“Yeah, we have some stuff we wanna ask you, too,” Thunder said. Then he screamed, “SLAP A BITCH!” and smashed his open palm into his brother’s face, nearly knocking him over.
“That’s bullshit!” Lightning screamed, tossing his cards down into the center of the table.
“It ain’t my fault your eye twitches every damn time you got a lady in your hand!”
Lightning composed himself and drew three cards to continue the game.
“Were you two in the kitchen earlier today begging for extra rations?” Clyde asked.
Thunder laughed. “That ain’t what we want to talk about, chief.”
“Nope,” Lightning added. “Not our chosen topic of conversation.”
Clyde closed his eyes and exhaled. One...two...three...four...five.
This is part of being a leader, he reminded himself. The main part. Show them nothing. Stay in control.
“Gentlemen,” he began slowly, “I’m conducting a murder investigation. I don’t have time to play games.”
“There’s always time for games,” Thunder said. “Besides, what we wanna talk about is directly related to you running around playing Sherlock Holmes and shit.”
“Is it? Do you have information on the investigation?”
“No,” Lightning said, “you’re still confused. This isn’t about us. This is about you. This is about the list.”
“The list?” Clyde said. “What list are you--oh.” Then he knew. He turned and shoved Zeb toward the door. “I’ll take care of this. Go take a break. I’ll hunt you down when I need you.”
“But--what about the notes?”
Clyde snatched the notepad from Zeb’s hands. Zeb made a wild grab to get it back but Clyde shoved him out the door and slammed it shut. Zeb threw his scrawny body against the door and Clyde had use all his body weight to keep it closed. Zeb pounded on the door, begged to be let back in, begged for the notepad back. Clyde didn’t think the kid capable of such persistence. Eventually the pounding stopped and Clyde heard Zeb scurry down the corridor.
The brothers had continued their card game during the commotion. Thunder was well ahead while Lightning was trying to rebuild his hand. Clyde sat down at the table with the brothers and drew three cards. He tossed a pair of sevens onto the table.
“So what do you know about the list?” Clyde asked, making certain to keep his voice even.
“We know it’s more complete than you’ve been sayin’,” Thunder said.
“And we know the Stormin’ Normans are sitting right on top.”
Thunder slapped Lightning across the face again, but this time it had nothing to do with the card game. Apparently Lightning had gone off-script.
“Ow! What? I thought we were putting all our cards on the table?”
So they had seen the list, Clyde realized. It was true. He had had the breeding list for almost two weeks.
And, yes, Thunder and Lightning were sitting at one and two on that list as the two most suitable breeding partners. That presented a significant problem for Clyde who was already struggling to keep the brothers in line. Being chosen as “studs” carried with it certain privileges including extra rations, a reduced workload, and, the most important commodity in the shelter: power. He wanted to keep the list under wraps until he had a plan to deal with the significant power shift. Now it was too late.
“So you two broke into my room? Clyde asked.
“General maintenance,” Lightning answered.
“Doesn’t matter how we saw the list, we saw it,” Thunder said. “So we’re very interested in you finding out who’s killing our women because we’re anxious to--uh--get with the mating and all. Plus there’s the fringe benefits of being breeders, as you know. We want those, too. Of course, being on that list don’t do us no good if there isn’t anyone left to mate with.”
“So run along, little sheriff,” Lightning said. “Go protect our women. We’ll have a lot more to talk about after you’ve found out who’s axing our lady folk. Consider this the first of many errands you’re going to be running for us.”
“Yup yup,” Thunder said. “‘Cause after this, we’re gonna own you, bitch.”
The move was so fast neither Thunder or Lightning was ready for it. Clyde’s palm sliced through the air and connected with both brothers’ faces.
“Both of you are hiding ladies,” he said.
He tossed his cards onto the table. Thunder and Lightning rubbed the feeling back into their faces before tossing their queens down.
“We’ll talk when things are more settled, gentlemen,” Clyde said.
Back in the hallway, Clyde collected his thoughts and went through several rounds of emptying and refilling his lungs. He scanned through Zeb’s notes to distract himself. It was mostly illegible chicken scratch. He’d need Zeb to interpret most of it. He noticed a dark shadow through the last page of notes. He flipped through several blank pages until he found the source of the shadow.
“Shit,” Clyde said.
Clyde found Zeb hidden away in the men’s bunkroom. Zeb quickly stashed something under the blankets as Clyde entered.
“So--did they do it?” Zeb asked.
“They are guilty of much but murder? I don’t think so.”
Clyde sat down next to Zeb on the bed. Zeb immediately began to fidget and refused to make eye contact.
“I’d like to ask you some questions, Zeb.”
“Did you--did you bring my notepad back?” Zeb asked.
“That’s not what I want to talk about. Not yet anyway.” He pulled out a schedule of the previous day’s sign-in logs. “I was taking a look at yesterday’s schedule and logins. You’re stationed in Section II, yes?”
“And yet you spent a large portion of your day in Section IV yesterday. I assumed that meant you were making a delivery but after checking the delivery logs, that doesn’t appear to be true.”
Each resident of the shelter had to check in and out when passing between sections. It helped Clyde keep track of who was where in the shelter. The log book didn’t see much action on a daily basis. There were so few differences between sections that there was little need to travel beyond the nexus except for deliveries and traversing to and from shelter assignments.
Zeb seemed to be weighing the consequences of answering honestly before he finally responded.
“Umm--no. I didn’t make any deliveries to Section IV yesterday.”
“I didn’t think so. In fact, it looks like you spent your off hours in Section IV yesterday and several other days as well.”
“That’s--yeah. I spend my off hours in this section sometimes.”
The question was a concrete wall. Zeb crashed. He sat on his hands and rocked back and forth compulsively while his pupils fluttered in the whites of his eyes.
“I just--I like it here,” he finally blurted out. “It’s close to the--uh--entrance. Makes me feel like I can breathe.”
Clyde placed his hand on Zeb’s back. He could feel the boy trembling. “I think I know why you come here.”
He pulled out Zeb’s notepad. He flipped past Zeb’s notes to the first drawing of Hope. The sketch was done all in pencil with elaborate shading. She was staring out past the edges of the paper, looking lost and a little sad.
“It’s beautiful,” Clyde said. “Really well done. The other ones, though…”
He flipped to the next sketch. This time Hope lay sprawled out on a beach blankets, sans clothes, under a dark-shaded sun. Her proportions were fairly exaggerated from what Clyde had seen from his own visual inspections.
Zeb said nothing.
“And this last one I found downright disturbing.”
Clyde flipped the page. The last picture was a close-up of Hope from the chest up. She was bare-chested but her eyes drew the attention away from her oversized breasts. Where her eyes should have been were two darkened holes, like the empty sockets of a skull. The pencil had been pressed so hard it had bled through the rest of the pages in the notepad.
“Powerful imagery,” Clyde mused. “You’re obviously very talented. So I guess my only question is, why did you kill those girls?”
Zeb shot up off the bed like he had been sitting on a spring the whole time. “No! Just--no! No way. I didn’t kill anyone.”
Clyde maintained eye contact with Zeb while he reached under the covers. He pulled out a woman’s white tank top. He smelled it.
“Hmm. Nothing like the smell of a woman. I had almost forgotten…”
“Ok. All right. Maybe I am a bit obsessed with Hope. I come here in my spare time to look at her, be around her. She’s the only beautiful thing in this entire godforsaken tomb. I know it’s a little creepy but I swear to you I didn’t kill anyone. Hell, it doesn’t even make sense! Why would I kill the other women if I’m obsessed with Hope? What would I have to gain?”
“That’s what I’m here to figure out.”
The lights in the room flashed three times and a buzzer began to blare “BEEPBEEPBEEPBEEP” over and over and over again. Clyde’s eyes went wide as he recognized a sound he never thought he’d hear.
“What is that?” Zeb asked. “Is someone trying to leave Section IV again?”
“No,” Clyde whispered. “That’s the breach alarm. Something is trying to get inside the shelter.”
This time there was no leisurely pace. Clyde sprinted out of the room.
[To Be Continued Next Month...]