Sitting at the counter of Ryder’s Diner, Marcus downed cup after cup of coffee, staring blank-expressioned at the 50’s décor.

A patrolman sat next to him, his leather police-issue jacket and duty belt scuffed and frayed, the service pistol distressed with bare metal showing through the finish.

Marcus spoke first. “Much action this week, Phillips?”

“Just the usual old timer, dope fiends passed out in alleys, the regular rotation of armed robbery and thefts of high-dollar items, keeping the whores and pushers off the main drag,” Phillips said, “What about you retired neighborhood guys? Any troubles?”

“Nope. Nothing we can’t handle.” Marcus dropped a real on the counter and said, “Keep the change Marcy. I’ll see you around, Phillips.”

There was a nod between the two men.

Marcus cut his way through one of the last cold winds of the season down the sidewalk. He moved past the derelicts, the opium addicts, the whores, the runaways, the itinerant workers, until he came to a quiet side street and started walking towards the river.

At ease, his mind wanders back to that fateful day more than 15 years ago.


0400 hours.

Another fire mission radioed in for the 2nd Pennsylvania Light Foot Regiment, and the 11th Dragon Guns obliged, dropping high explosive shells in the neighborhood around Independence Hall.

“You know, Lieutenant, I really feel like shit doing this,” Sergeant Phillips told Lieutenant Sears.

“You ain’t kidding, Sarge. But that’s why they holed up around there.” Lieutenant Sears called over the radio to his spotter Private Lee, “Yo! Lee. We on target?”

Lee turned from his binoculars and spat out a stream of brown juice. “Sure looks like it, Lieutenant. But it doesn’t look to be doing much. The Red Guards are entrenched in low-lying ground between the buildings.”

Lieutenant Sears turned to Sergeant Phillips. “Have the men stop and save our rounds for the final push. All we’re doing is wasting shells and giving the Red Guards a debris shower.”

Sgt. Phillips yelled, “CEASE FIRE! CEASE FIRE!”

And the guns fell silent.

“You know, I wish we had some air support, Lieutenant,” Sergeant Phillips said.

“They won’t be freed up until tomorrow. Maybe they’re tied up with a final assault on Manhattan and Brooklyn,” Lieutenant Sears said. “I wish these idiots would give up; we’ve got them surrounded.”

“I guess they figure we ain’t regular army,” Sergeant Phillips shrugged.

“I just have this weird feeling,” Lieutenant Sears said.

0534 hours.

Captain Davis entered the firing pits and approached Lieutenant Sears’ lean-to.

“Priority mission, Lieutenant: we’ve received word that a British naval strike group is en route to relieve the Red Guards. We need to finish this before daybreak. Get your men in their MOPP and use all the Lewisite we’ve been holding.”

“That’s 180 fucking shells!” Lieutenant Sears blurted out.

Ignoring him and continuing, the Captain said, “Your fire mission is as follows: set target to Independence Hall, using air bursts to deliver Lewisite chemical munitions on the Red Guard holdouts.”

Lieutenant Sears asked quietly, “Sir, you’re sure?”

Sergeant Phillips looked equally stunned, putting his hand to his mouth in shock.

Captain Davis said, “Is this clear? Highest priority. Radio me when ready.”

“Alright, Sergeant, you heard the man. Get the boys suited up and the chemical shells ready to go and dialed in,” Lieutenant Sears ordered as Captain Davis disappeared behind a ruined building.

0556 hours.

After a flurry of activity, the 11th Dragon Guns were assembled and waiting. Lieutenant Sears called HQ, “Captain Davis, Dragon Guns are assembled and ready to carry out fire mission. Are we cleared?”

There was a pause; static over the radio. Then, “Dragon Guns, this is Captain Davis. You are green and cleared to begin fire mission. Go!”

Lieutenant Sears turned to his battery and cried out, “Dragon Guns, we are a-go. Fire first volley!”

Six guns roared in unison.

Lieutenant Sears radioed Private Lee, “Report.”

“Sir, shots over target. Air burst effective, 50 meters above target area. Wind dispersion minimal. All good,” Private Lee reported back.

Lieutenant Sears barked out his final order for the night, “Dragon Guns, FIRE FOR EFFECT! ALL OF IT!”

All along the Delaware River, other batteries fell quiet as the Dragon Guns delivered volley after volley of chemical death.

Private First Class Walker let out a whoop and screamed, “War crime time!”

Private Shaw, lost in the moment, started delivering a hellfire and brimstone soliloquy, “Death be not proud. For though some have called you mighty, we have come in the name of the LORD as His right hand to deliver His wrath and justice upon the iniquitous. His wrath falls from the heavens as the stars on judgment day to cast into that lake of fire all the sinners. The waters turn to blood, the air to smoke, the earth to cinder. And know ye damned at this hour are LOST FOREVER!”

0632 hours.

Lieutenant Sears called over the radio to Private Lee, “Forward Observer, report.”

The signal was clear. Private Lee come over the airwaves in a very soft voice, “All shells burst over target, wind dispersion minimal,” and paused before continuing, “maximum effectiveness. Red Guards driven from their entrenchments. Sir, there are people everywhere in the streets. Some are still crawling; not many, but some. The streets are thick with bodies. There must be…there must be…thousands. Over and out.”


The next day, Marcus was at the park at daybreak, not contemplating the graffiti, nor the concrete, nor the friendly pigeons. He was watching the shadows retreat before the coming morning light. His mind wandering over the better part of four decades.

For hours, he sat, nipping at a bottle of sake.

Denise showed up at her usual time, 0900 hours, and said nothing.

Before she could sit down and start her ritual with the crackers and pigeons, he spoke, “You don’t remember me, but I remember you. Your hair color and Michigan accent reminded me. Halloween 2004 University of Delaware campus costume party.”

Denise stopped, stunned. “I—sort of, there was a boy. We were freshmen. Was that you?”

“We met there, hooked up, and dated for like a week before you moved on to other things,” he said.

“Ma—Mark?” she stuttered out.

“Yes. Marcus Sears. Captain Marcus Sears, retired. The Butcher of Philadelphia, Boogaloo Badass.”

“I remember something about it. I was in Texas until the Cartel invasion; the violence became too bad. What happened?” she said.

Marcus looked her in the eye and said, “Oh? I got my chemistry degree. Didn’t use it for years. Enlisted in the Army National Guard for a stint, went over to Afghanistan and had a thoroughly unremarkable military career. Got an OTH discharge. Then the Boogaloo happened.”

Denise shuffled a little. “I’m sorry that happened to you.”

“What does that mean?” He looked away. “You know, I tried for a while to get in touch with you. Remember Facebook? Unanswered messages until I gave up after a few weeks. I heard stuff, like how you ‘dated’ the entire football team. I guess the parties and fun times were more appealing than living your life. Sums up my dating history; always lacking in fun. Never married, no kids. Just some shit life in this wreck of former country.”
“It just never seemed like the time,” she started. “The Recession, Trump, the war…”

Marcus cut her off. “No one to help. I remember when my mom died. It had been two days. They left her for two days in her wheelchair in that shit hospice. Sitting,” his eyes bulged, “sitting in a puddle of her own piss. I was too busy, working two jobs. If there had been a wife, or half-grown kids, someone, even a serious girlfriend. But no. Just me by my lonesome. I remembered that when we had to deal with the Red Guard of Philadelphia. Eventually, I got some real bad payback. That’s all I ever really had, because we all get there at some point, right?”

Denise didn’t say anything; she just sat down and began feeding the pigeons, nodding at what he said.

“Let me tell you a story,” he began. “It was the day after we had gassed Independence Hall. The Brits turned back and we were mopping up. My unit was packing our arty at the head of the Ben Franklin Bridge. We hear this whimpering coming from on the bridge and Private Lee points to this dog, a yellow lab crawling towards us, making his way through the rubble. Poor dog; eyes swollen and crusted up, blisters everywhere, hair falling out. But he was making his way to the nearest sound of humans. Us. Well, Private Lee loses it and starts screeching, ‘We have to help the doggo, we have to do something!’ At the word ‘dog,’ this poor mutt pricks up and pushes on towards us. I say, ‘No, dog’s contaminated and dead anyways.’ But Private Lee breaks down in tears. Finally, I got the doggo in the sights of my M4 and put it out of its misery. That’s how I ended the Battle of Philadelphia: having to waste a dying dog.”

Denise looked up at him for a moment and then looked away, tears in her eyes. “Why would you tell me that?”

“I don’t know. Because fuck it; you can never go back.”


For all installments of “The Untouchable,” click here.

Previous installments:

  1. Part 1