“I was beginning to worry you forgot about the old days.” The Executioner smirks. And again, that little secret between those two is driving me crazy. “I’m impressed you still remember vividly.”
“Since we’re all happy now—the Pillar sips and drinks then tucks in his cigar for the bazzillionth time—“I don’t see why you won’t tell me about who cooked the plague.”
The Executioner laughs, struggling to grip my hand. “Why do you really want to know that, Senior?” His men hold me still now. “You don’t really want to save the world, do you?”
“I’m aware that your men here will not get affected by the plague,” the Pillar says. “All Mushroomlanders are immune to this stuff. But think about it. Who will you sell drugs to if the world dies in the plague?”
The Executioner raises his hand from the knife, as if he had been too stoned to think about this. “Well, you’re right,” he says. “But this plague isn’t about people dying. It’s about something much bigger. A higher concept.”
“Higher than death? I’m impressed.” The Pillar laughs. “But when did we ever care about high concepts, whatever that means? Come on, Executioner, tell me. I promise you I will get back in business and work for you.”
This one seems to catch the Executioner’s attention the most. “You will do that? Work for me again like in the old days?”
“I swear on all the mushrooms in the world.”
The Executioner sighs. “Look, I don’t know who cooked the plague. But I know that someone was asking for it about two years ago.”
“Someone paid lots and lots of Wonderland money, asking for a specific plague. Under no circumstances am I allowed to tell you what the plague really does to people.” This confuses me. There are people in this world even worse than the Executioner? “What I can tell you is that the Wonderlander who’d been asking for the plague had a meeting at the Dodo to pick it up two years ago.”
“The Dodo Company?” I ask.
“Not the company. The place.” The Executioner talks to the Pillar. “You still remember where that is, right?”
“The Dodo. How could I forget? The most obvious Wonderland location on earth, which no one even considers,” the Pillar says. “But I’m curious about this man asking for the plague. Was it Lewis Carroll?”
“That, I can’t tell you,” the Executioner says, turning back to me, the knife glinting in moonlight. “I think the Dodo information is enough. And now that you’re back to working for me, let me enjoy cutting this slave’s fingers and marking her as mine.”
“Of course.” The Pillar bites on his cigar. “Go ahead.”
Stranded, I close my eyes, not knowing if I can take the pain. Time seems to slow down. I can hardly breathe, unable to shake myself loose from the soldiers. Waiting for the pain is even worse than the pain itself.
But then I hear some kind of swoosh.
The soldiers let go of me.
When I flip my eyes open, I see the Pillar’s cigar stuffed into the Executioner’s throat.
It’s really hard to describe what happens from here on.
In the dark, everything happens so fast. Blood spatters everywhere, and the only cause of it is the mysterious Carter Pillar.
First, he stuffed the cigar into the Executioner’s throat, snatched the knife from his hands, and stuck it into his back. Then, using the Executioner as a shield, he turned around and started shooting from a machine gun with one hand.
I duck under the table then crawl on all fours to the other side. Whatever is going on, all I think of are the kids. I come up from the other side and run toward them.
With one sneaky look behind me, I see the Pillar is raiding everyone with one machine gun and using the Executioner as a shield. The Pillar shoots like a professional, his face unaffected, cold like stone.
I gather the kids into the Jeep again and get to the wheel, about to drive away.
Then I look back. Should I wait for the Pillar, who is taking the Executioner’s men all on his own. Is he going to survive this?
Don’t do it, Alice! Just drive away.
For some out-of-this-world reason, I can’t. I turn around and drive through the war.
“Pillar,” I shout. “I’m coming. Hop in!”
Annoyed, he turns around and starts shooting at the men shooting at the Jeep now. “Who told you to come back?”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” I retort. “I should’ve left you here to die.”
The Pillar jumps in, still holding onto the Executioner. The children scream when they see him in the car. The Pillar pulls him to the far side, away from them.
“Where to now?” I shout in the rearview mirror.
“Drive through the mushrooms.” The Pillar pulls out a small device and dials a number. “A chopper is coming for us now.”
I don’t have the guts to ask about the chopper or what just happened. Anything to save us before the machine gun men catch us.
In the mirror, I see the Pillar gently pull a kid’s hand and look at the lost fingers. He pats the kid’s hand and nods. The kid nods back.
I keep holding on to the wheel, chugging through the muddy ground and mushrooms.
The chopper shows up in the distance. The Executioner’s men are still on our tail.
“They’ll land right there.” He points. “Slow down a bit until they do.”
“I can’t slow down with those men tailing us.”
“Figure it out, Alice,” the Pillar roars.
“Alice save us!” the kids chirp.
“Yeah, of course.” The Pillar rolls his eyes. “I kill the bad guys, then it’s ‘Alice save us.’”
We send the kids safely into the chopper, and the Pillar insists bringing the Executioner along.
Once inside, the chopper takes off, evading the showering bullets from the machine gun men. When I turn to thank the pilot, I am stunned to see it’s the Chauffeur.
“You’re supposed to be dead.”
“I suppose I am supposed to be!” he snickers. “I jumped with my parachute. The Executioner had to think you burned all bridges behind you so he’d trust you.”
“So you did all this for him to trust you?” I turn to the Pillar, who is holding the semi-conscious and badly hurt Executioner. “All those games and tricks? But he could’ve shot me dead on the table.”
“I mixed his gun with marshmallow bullets,” the Pillar says, his eyes on the Executioner. “Would you like to go back to your people?” he tells him.
The Executioner, now weakened and helpless, still spits and swears at the Pillar in a foreign language. It thaws the kids off. They tuck themselves in the far corner of the chopper.
“You want me to let you go?” The Pillar hands him a parachute. “Sure. You’re free to go!”
“Just like that?” I say.
The Executioner puts the parachute on and jumps out of the chopper.
“Like what?” the Pillar says, snaking his way through the kids toward the pilot.
“You let him live?”
“Not at all.” The Pillar sits next to the pilot. “I let him fly.”
It takes me a second to get it. A smile forms on my face. “The parachute isn’t working.”
“That’s an understatement,” the Pillar says. “First, it won’t be working. Then, when he pees himself to death in the air, it will start working.”
“And?” I am confused.
“Then I push this button.” He pulls out a remote control and pushes a button. “It won’t work again.”
“And now he dies?” I ask. The Executioner is too far down for me to hear if he is screaming or asking for help.
“Not so soon.” He presses another button. “Now it works again.”
“You’re playing games with him?”
“At this precise moment, he is looking at Mushroomland with all the hope in his heart.”
“And I suppose you’ll push that button and make the parachute not work again?” I am trying to figure this out.
“Nah, it’s not me who pushes the button.” He summons one of the kids and tells him, “You want to punish the Executioner for what he did?”