River Of Night – Snippet 02
Tom Smith, the leader of this cheerful little band, squatted to look over the wild-eyed school teacher. She glared back silently, red-rimmed eyes perched above a duct tape smile.
“We’ve only got so many of the test kits,” Tom said, shaking his head ruefully. “She doesn’t have any secondary symptoms, so I think that she’s just crackers for a bit.”
Risky looked over from trussing the teacher around the knees. Tom noted that she was a dab hand with the rope.
His plan, the plan, Plan Zeus, had not included schoolteachers, or their students. His team was already supposed to be at one of Bank of the America’s carefully sited and prepared long term recovery centers. In his plan, they were supposed to be coordinating with surviving national authorities and re-establishing the economic framework that would keep their country alive. In his plan, there were supplies, communications, doctors, security, everything that that a well funded investment bank could lay hands on.
That plan… wasn’t.
Instead, the former Managing Director for Security and Emergency Response for BotA was here, stranded with a motley collection of survivors, most of whom had never worked together, lacked formal training and, as they’d just experienced, were still dealing with the emotional shock and isolation of being trapped while all about them the United States, indeed the world, writhed in the final death throes of the deadly global plague.
“Let’s see if I’m right,” Tom said, visually inspecting Bua’s hands and face. They’d learned the hard way about the dangers of a member of their party succumbing to the deadly symptoms of the zombie virus. He kept watching Bua, who’d closed her eyes and started breathing in a more controlled manner. “If she starts itching like crazy, or foaming at the mouth we’ll try a test kit. Otherwise, we conserve what we have. We may need them soon enough and there’s no way to get more.”
He turned to survey the rest of his little band.
“You’re going to have a black eye,” Kaplan was saying as he looked at the other school teacher. He activated a pen light and shone it across his patient’s face. “She tagged you pretty good. Let’s see.”
Emily Bloome might have been an educator too, but that was nearly all that she had in common with her shell-shocked fellow. Bua, Bloome and some of their students had been nearly run over by Tom’s convoy as it had barreled to safety through rogue NYC cops, turncoat mobsters and thickening crowds of infected. Tom had watched her master her fear, keeping her focus on her three young charges. Even during the bad nights in their hideaway, she’d been an emotional stalwart, comforting the kids and organizing quiet activities.
She lowered her hand from her reddened eye, brushed a wing of dark hair back over one ear and glared at the bug-eyed woman next to her on the carpet.
“What the hell, Dina!” Bloome exclaimed, exhaling sharply. Then she looked at her kids, cowering in the opposite corner of the room. She tried to reassure them, saying, “It’s okay guys, Miss Dina is just scared.”
The kids didn’t relax. They’d seen people turn before and had a perfectly rational fear of being close to a possibly incipient cannibal.
“She’s a fucking nutter,” flatly stated Astroga. Cathe Astroga was one of the three National Guardmen who’d joined Smith’s rag-tag band at the last concert in New York City on the night that the lights went out for the last time. The Army Specialist casually slipped a taser back into her cargo pocket. “Damn, I wanted to see if these things still worked. Battery operated, you know.”
Astro, lay off, and go inventory,” said Sergeant Copley wearily, too tired to muster the usual NCO discipline needed to corral his irrepressible subordinate. “I’ll help.”
A seasoned veteran of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Copley had led the patrol that fought alongside the bank team. He’d been glad of the help of Smith’s specialists as well as the extended Smith clan.
“C’mon,” he added, standing to go into the other room. “Let’s go.”
The stocky sergeant chivvied the Specialist out the door in front of him. She paused at the doorway to give Bua a long meaningful look while patting her pocket.
Tom ignored the byplay, which he’d learned was the safest course when dealing with Astroga, who was the junior surviving representative of the U.S. Army and self-proclaimed ‘Global Leader of the E-4 Mafia’. After they filed out, Tom remained squatting on his haunches. He looked at Bua.
“Dina,” he said, getting her attention. “Hey!”
She opened her eyes and looked at him.
“Will you behave if I pull that tape off?” he asked, striving for nonthreatening sincerity. “I’ll listen to everything you say, promise. I’ll even untie enough rope to make you comfortable while we wait to see if this is just nerves. But you have to talk normally, no yelling. What do you say?”
“Mmmmmpf! Mwwwwwwwp – hmmmhmmmmmn! Rumpfh Huuu! Rumpfh Huuu!”
“Yeah, that doesn’t sound like a simple yes,” Tom replied, glancing around. “Kap, give me a hand and we can drag her to the dining room where she can relax and we can still keep an eye on her. Check on her in a half an hour so.”
“Sure thing, Boss,” Kaplan replied, but caught his eye and shot a glance at the back door. “After, let’s talk”
“Now we’re talking!” exclaimed the bearded scavenger as he pulled open a family room cupboard.
“Whatcha got, Ricky?” his companion said, sticking his head into the formerly well appointed kitchen. Both ignored the drying corpse which sprawled in the breakfast nook, partially eaten. From the look of things, it was mostly smaller animals that had been at it. Experience had taught them it was usually the family dog.
“Top shelf! Some sealed bottles of whiskey, rum and some other stuff,” Ricky said, and laid his pump shotgun on the brown swirls of the granite countertop, scratching the smooth finish. “Here, hold this open, wouldja, Freddo?”
“Dunno man,” the second man replied, itching his own patchy facial hair. “Boss was pretty clear. First sweep is still going on for live ones and any zombies.”
“Just one for a nip later then,” Ricky said, selecting an engraved bottle. “I’ll just grab a-“
“Wouldn’t do that. He’ll know,” Freddo said confidently. “You saw what he did to the other guy.”
“He didn’t do anything. He didn’t have to. That fucking ogre did it,” Ricky said darkly.
“Same thing,” came the reply. “You break the rules, I ain’t gonna cover for you.”
“Okay, okay,” said the taller man, conceding the point. He shoved a few bottles back in the cabinet, leaving the others on the counter. “I’ll come back for these when we do a proper gleaning. Let’s clear the upstairs.”
As they moved to the landing they heard a quiet rustle. Ricky put a hand up, and paused. Then he dashed upstairs to find a small dog bristling at him.
“Shit, just a dog,” he said, casually raising his weapon and shooting the animal. Ricky didn’t have formal training. Unlike the Hollywood fiction that perpetuated shotguns’ reputations as “street sweepers”, the weapons still required careful aim. His was bad enough that the shot didn’t kill the pet outright. Instead, he nearly missed and only a single pellet struck home, severing the animal’s spine. The resulting squealing from the mortally injured pet was piercing. Before he could shoot again a small form blurred out of a doorway and bounced off his knee.
“Don’t you hurt Muffie!”
Ricky screamed, and short-stroked the shotgun, so that when he tried to shoot, he was treated to the loudest sound in any gunfight.
A resounding click.
Freddo made a long arm and plucked the child off his friend’s leg. Despite being outmassed by a factor of five, the little red headed boy made a creditable attempt to defend his pet. The kicking and gouging persisted even as the older man pinned him to the wall with one gloved hand.