The plan was simple. As far as Dillon knew from the last text sent by the now deceased, sloppy-tittied Melody, Riverside was planning a final, desperate assault on the left flank. This plan was re-enforced by a strategically placed text from Cindy at roughly 2 a.m., using her vast knowledge of emoticons and the word 'like.' It was a risky maneuver, but it seemed to have been successful, and complete blackout from Melody might have aroused suspicions in Dillon. Besides, at that point, everything was a risk.
A quick examination of Melody's correspondence with Cityside indicated that she had been using a code, Pig Latin. Cindy wondered out loud whether that was simply a decoy, that the real code had to be much more complex. Riverside all looked at Melody's corpse and silently agreed that Pig Latin had, in fact, been Melody's idea of devilish cleverness.
During the night, Mack and his remaining Riverside troops would gather their weapons and stealthily sneak up to the right flank barricade. Only Mario and Mark would stay behind at central base. Cindy and Samantha would remain hidden near the left flank. Thirty minutes after dawn, ideally allowing the still alive Carl sufficient time to send a text confirming that Cityside had gathered their forces on the left flank, Cindy and Samantha would start intentionally making noise, the artificial sound of the Riverside forces advancing. Minutes thereafter, Mario and Mark would start hurling ammonia balloons, aiming directly over top of the kitchen and then working to the left, all the way against the wall. After the first sound of splattering, Cindy and Samantha would start lighting debris on fire and throwing it onto the gathered Cityside militia. For Mack and his troops, it was simple, and horrifying. They would traverse the right flank barricade and kill any fleeing Cityside soldiers. They were the clean-up crew. The sweepers.
As the sun was just beginning to make its presence known, Mack was eating half of a granola bar and twelve skittles, his rations. He wondered if it would be his last meal. If nothing else, it provided a slight distraction.
As the time approached for attack, there had been no communiqué from Carl. Sadly, Mack had not expected to hear from him. If he had been Dillon, he would have harshly interrogated Carl and then killed him. It was the only intelligent option.
Thirty-one minutes past dawn. Mack could not afford to be hesitant. His troops might lose focus, confidence. Cindy and Samantha might retreat, fearing, or hoping, that the plan had changed. Dillon might attack or get suspicious. Mack sent the text to all of his troops. "Punch the clock, bitches!"
Silence. Sweat was dripping from Mack's nose. Still, silence. Scared at first about the fight to come, he was now scared that the attack would not start soon enough. His fears, thankfully, were relieved. He heard the obvious rattling of garbage cans and tapping against desks, perhaps too obvious. Whispers started to sound from Cityside. Nothing discernible.
The first ammonia balloon crashed forcefully against the far wall on Cityside. Mario, apparently, was really jacked up. The sounds of splattering continued in rapid succession after that. The scent of ammonia started to fill the air. From his vantage point, Mack could not see Cindy and Samantha throwing fiery debris on the left flank. He had to wait to see the first flame shoot up along the wall to the ceiling. He was stunned by the ferocity of the flame. The screams of agony and shouts of orders spread throughout Cityside just as quickly as the fire.
Mack looked back at his troops and simply nodded his head. They had all draped themselves in yellow caution tape in the hope of being able to recognize one another through the fire and smoke. They were ready. Mack charged over the barricade and everyone followed.
As expected, chaos ensued. The killing, for the most part, was easy and even on occasion welcomed by several of the enflamed Citysiders in excruciating pain. On the other hand, the intense heat and agony did cause several Cityside troops to fight with unbridled fury and complete recklessness. Casualties escalated quickly. There was no time to think. To take stock of things. Only to kill and keep killing.
Mack finally lowered his wooden spear, still breathing heavily, only because he could not see anything left moving. He noted several Riverside troops left standing behind him. That was good news certainly, but he did not have time for good news.
Mack could not feel secure in his apparent victory until he saw the body of Dillon. He continued his advance into enemy territory and stepped over the immense dead body of Bill Heller. After losing his battle to Arnold Garvey, God rest his soul, Bill was unable to move. He must have simply lain awake as the fire stalked him. Most of the fires had extinguished or were at least dying down. Still, the smoke and steam coming from the bodies made it difficult to see anything.
Mack felt the warm slimy hands reach around his neck without any warning. He screamed terribly. Though he had been acting the part of a soldier, he was not one. And he was then proving it. He moved frantically, waving his arms about, as though he were being attacked by wasps. Mack dropped his wooden spear and tripped over Bill Heller's body, falling awkwardly to the floor. This reaction, cowardly and desperate, did serve to dislodge the hands from his neck.
Mack scrambled to his feet. He pulled out his pocketknife and stared through the smoke frantically. He couldn't hear anything over the sound of his deep breathing. Slowly, the figure who had attacked him started to emerge. Dillon was shakily stumbling toward Mack. But not the same Dillon. Not the real Dillon.
Horribly burned, barely conscious, Dillon stood before Mack. He reached out his hands, and even vaguely threw a punch. Mack just stood there. There would be no final showdown. Dillon was all but dead. Mack found himself admiring the fight in his opponent. His eyes were hardly open, his skin tarred and bleeding. Regardless, this was war. And it was time.
Mack stepped forward and plunged his knife into Dillon's heart. Dillon did not make a sound beyond his final exhale. His head fell on Mack's shoulder as his arms swung around him. It gave the appearance of a final embrace. In reality, Dillon was simply dying.
Dillon's body finally fell to the floor. Mack stood there alone. For the first time, he examined and appreciated the carnage. He still felt no emotions whatsoever, which ironically made him sad. After taking a few moments to collect himself, Mack walked out of the death-ridden Cityside back to his right flank.
Mack saw only three of his Riverside troops still standing. He quickly considered that it had all not been worth it, considering how far beyond fifty percent of the coders' workforce had been eliminated. There were no winners, only survivors.
Mario looked strong and ready. He was a worthy soldier. He was holding up beside him, Marie Munza, an octogenarian grandmother of nine. She had a blood-soaked bandage wrapped around her left thigh. But she had survived, amazingly enough. And then there was Cindy. She was using a mop to turn over burnt bodies, checking for signs of life. A weak moan came from the body at her feet. She did not hesitate. She pounced on the body, stabbing it in the mid-section with her wooden spear.
Mack was suddenly very aware of Cindy. She had transformed seamlessly from coward, to survivor, to fighter. Content with her kill, Cindy stood and looked over her petite shoulder at Mack. Mack held her stare. He saw that she was aware of the change in herself, and was excited by it. He suspected that she was also seeing a change in him, for he must have transformed under the extreme circumstances. And he knew that he would be taking her home that night and having lots of sex.
Cindy and Mack joined Mario and Tina.
"Well done, people. Well done, indeed. Are there any other survivors? Mark? Samantha?'
What remained of Riverside nodded 'no' as the realization of it all came over them.
"Right," continued Mack. "What about Carl? Anyone see Carl?" The response from the three Riverside troops was the same. "Well, we need to find him, dead or alive. He's the reason the four of us are still standing here."
"Actually, your collective lack of competence and ambition is the reason the four of you are still standing here."
The Riverside troops turned and saw who had to be Carl trying to remove the various chairs and office furniture that entombed him. Mack and Cindy rushed over to him and started to help uncover Carl.
"Carl! I can't believe it," exclaimed Cindy. Mario and Marie remained by the barricade smiling, as Marie's leg injury made it too difficult for her to move.
"Carl, buddy, good to see you. Damn good to see you. How the hell are you alive?" questioned Mack.
"Still suspicious of me, are we, buddy? Well, the thing is, you did such a great job beating the crap out of me, that Dillon bought it. Only he still didn't trust me entirely."
"I was sure that he would kill you."
"Thanks, buddy. You didn't tell me that before I agreed to your plan. Anyway, I take it the plan with Melody worked. He buried me over here and stationed his troops on the other side. I pretended to object but was relieved, obviously, knowing the real plan. I would have been burned alive otherwise. And I suspect that was unpleasant."
"Bill Heller certainly didn't look too pleased. Damn, buddy, I'm glad your alive." Mack and Cindy started to reach for Carl to stand him up.
"No! No! No! Stop it. Stop it right there. I may not have been killed, but Dillon did order that my right ankle be crushed." Mack and Cindy looked down at Carl's lower body and saw his foot horrifically dangling at the end of his leg.
"Mack, buddy, don't worry about that now. Seriously, stop looking at it. The expression on your face is making me queasy. How are you guys doing?"
"Well, buddy," Mack responded, "truthfully, I'm a bit hungry." Mack was desperate to bring levity to the situation.
"Oh, well, here. Why didn't you say something?"
"What's this," Mack questioned.
"I wrapped up a peanut cracker before I was so rudely escorted out of Cityside. I'm a nut reactor, peanut allergy, remember? I guess I wanted a way out in case Dillon tried to break me, for my sake and yours. That was my poison pill. Suicide."
"Nice thinking," Cindy responded.
"You guys, you need to see something. Check my pants. Actually, Cindy, if you don't mind, check my pants. No offense, Mack."
Cindy reached into Carl's front pants pocket and removed a crumpled piece of paper. She handed it over to Mack. He read it aloud so that all could hear. In sum, it was a memo from the board of partners of the law firm to Peter McGee, the coders' boss. It indicated that fifty percent of the coders were not to be fired, but one hundred percent of the coders were to be fired.
Peter McGee was tall and bony. He had the sort of demeanor and mannerisms that tended to arouse hostility in people, even ones who didn't know him. He walked with pronounced, long strides that suggested that each of his feet weighed thirty pounds.
"Dillon's scouts found it in Peter's administrative assistant's desk drawer. They were looking for food while we had control of the kitchen. But found this instead."
"Son of a bitch," Mack responded. "Son . . . of . . . a . . . bitch!"
"Mack, calm down. And listen. Dillon was just as pissed as you are. As we all are. He put his intelligence team on it. According to their official report, Peter makes four times as much money as each individual coder. Dillon's plan was to eliminate Riverside first, as you were . . . "
"As we were," corrected Mack.
"Right. As we were a more imminent threat. And then he was going to take out Peter. According to his intelligence, Peter never made it out of his office before war began."
"What are you saying," asked Cindy.
"If Peter is killed, four coders keep their jobs. It's the economics of it all. Fight for your job. Fight for your livelihood. Who's to say that didn't include Peter? The only difference is, he opted on psychological warfare. He pitted us against each other. He just messed up the timing."
The Riverside troops appreciated the sentiment. They looked around. They looked at each other. They looked at themselves. They were five, not four.
"Don't worry, everyone. Stay calm. There is a simple solution for all of this."
The Riverside troops looked at Carl. They were remorseful.
"Look," continued Carl, "I hate this job. I don't want this job. I am now crippled, more so than any of you. It's an easy answer." Mack and Cindy stood and took a few steps back to hide their emotional reaction to the way of things.
"This has to happen," Carl concluded. Mack assumed that he knew what Carl was talking about and turned back to look at his friend. He started to realize that his assumption was wrong. Incredibly wrong. Carl had picked up the wooden spear dropped by Cindy innocently. He was placing the point of it on his chest and raising his off hand to pound it into his body. Mack was stunned.
"Carl," Mack asked with purposeful calm. "Carl, what are you doing?"
"This is the way it has to be, Mack."
"Carl, what are you talking about?" Mack asked a bit more anxiously.
"There's five of us left, Mack, and only room for four. Someone has to go."
"Carl," Mack finally exclaimed. "Carl, wait! Please! Listen. Just listen. Put this all in its original context. It's a job. It's a layoff. It's a firing. It was not meant to be a war." Carl started practicing his death strike. "Carl! Listen. Please, just listen. If you want it to be the four of us who keep our jobs, that doesn't mean you have to kill yourself. You can just, you know, quit. Or volunteer to be fired. It doesn't have to be this way."
"I hear you, Mack. You are a good friend. A bit naive, but a good friend nonetheless. I will miss you. But, as my pop used to say, man I will miss him, 'Putting a bow on a pig don't make it bacon.' Now, do me one last favor, Riverside. Knock down Peter's office door over there and scalp that faggoty big bird douche bag."
Despite Mack's screams and the objections of the other three Riverside survivors, Carl punched the wooden spear into his chest. He briefly struggled and winced in pain, and then died.
Mack was terrified. He could not believe that his rational objections landed on such deaf ears. His friend, who did survive and should have continued living, was dead. By his own hand, no less. How far things had gone. How far they had come. It was unimaginable. All of it. Mack fell to his knees and placed his hands over his face.
It was Cindy, of course, who finally approached Mack and placed a comforting hand on his shoulder. He reached up without looking and placed his hand on hers. It felt good. It felt warm. He had not felt warm since he was sitting in the disturbingly warm toilet stall before the whole ordeal had started. Yes, Mack considered the mass killing of his co-workers an ordeal.
"Come on, Mack. We are not done here yet," Cindy whispered into Mack's ear. He wanted to grab her and take her away from the office. He wanted to run and flee and hide forever and start a new life, and, of course, have lots of sex with her. But, nonetheless, he knew that she was right. His friend retardedly died for a retarded reason. As such, he had to see it through.
Mack stood proudly. Cindy stood by his side. They approached Peter McGee's office door. Mario and the severely wounded Marie Munza joined them valiantly. No words were spoken. They all knew what had to happen. There was no need to devise or announce a plan.
Mack stared defiantly at the office door. There was only one thing left to say.
"Riverside, troops, co-workers, friends. Let's go bag us a douche!"
The four remaining, proud, Riverside elite burst through Peter McGee's door. They were self-assured and tenacious. The fact that Peter McGee was starving and terrified, hiding under his desk, meant nothing to them. The Riverside four took down Peter McGee, the Lord of the Firings. And they made certain that the police, the paramedics, whoever came to piece together the events of the firing, would have to piece together Peter McGee's body like a jigsaw puzzle.
The Riverside four had won the day. They had earned the right to stay alive. They had earned the right to keep their jobs. Their mindless, soul-sucking, crappy jobs. The Riverside four, nonetheless, denied this reality. All that mattered was that they had won.
Many things have been said. Many wars have been fought. Many things have been said about wars that have been fought.
"It is not truth that matters, but victory."
-- Adolf Hitler