EARTH’S SURVIVORS AMERICA THE DEAD: LOS ANGELES
Earth’s Survivors America the Dead: Los Angeles is copyright © 2016 Dell Sweet. All rights foreign and domestic reserved in their entirety.
Cover Art © Copyright 2016 Wendell Sweet
Some text copyright 2010, 2014, 2015 Wendell Sweet
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Plague Year One
Cammy sat drinking coffee with Annie and staring down the length of the valley. It was an hour past sunrise. The sun had finally lifted past the mountain tops in the distance, and golden light had spilled into the length of the valley.
“I know you said it was this nice, but no way did you do it justice. Or I’m so damn jaded that I just couldn’t believe it.”
“If you live here, you take it in stride sometimes, I guess. But, coming back this time? Being away after being here, living here… I will never leave again. I don’t care,” Annie said.
The door to the main area of the cave opened, and Candace came out with Lilly and Patty. A second later Jana, Sandy and Bob stepped out. Tom followed shortly after, sipping at a cup of coffee as he and Bob talked. They both said their hellos, Tom bent and kissed Lilly, she had sat on the wall next to Annie, and then he and Bob started down the wide ledge into the valley below. Jana settled down next to Cammy.
Cammy lifted her eyes to Sandy. “How’s our girl?” she asked.
Sandy smiled cautiously. “I want to say okay… I took the rest of her forearm, pumped her full of penicillin. She seemed to tolerate that well. I think she’ll be okay.”
“They say anything at all about how long they think they’ll be?” Candace asked. She looked from Cammy to Annie.
Annie shook her head, as did Cammy. “I think though,” Annie said, “That things were going well. It seemed like things turned up fast… maybe…”
“What was it like?” Lilly asked. “I mean, with so many dead around. How did you manage? We didn’t have that to deal with, and we still barely made it here.”
Cammy shook her head. “I had no direct dealings with it. Bear and Beth… Billy, Mac, David to a lesser extent.” Her voice seemed to choke up for a moment. “Bear and Beth. Those two have no fear. I guess we owe them a lot. They lead us together. That was something I thought would be bad, but they seemed to click.”
“The city… we came from the city. It’s bad there. I mean, the dead are everywhere. They’re different too. When we were in Pennsylvania, Bear and Beth told us that. The dead there were not smart like the dead in New York.”
The door opened, and Arlene stepped out onto the wide stone ledge and sat on the wall.
“The radio here tells us a lot. But it’s tough to believe some of it. They’re stronger than us? Some people are turning without being bitten?” Lilly said. “I know I should let you be… ask another time. I don’t mean to push you.”
“It’s okay,” Cammy said. She sipped at her coffee and then began to talk.
On The Road
Bear and Tim
Bear sat silently with Tim as Mike talked to the young woman a few yards away.
“She’s had it pretty rough,” Tim said.
Bear Nodded. He looked over at the girl talking with Mike once more. “She was one of the ones that tried to kill you guys?” Bear asked in a near whisper. They were far enough away for her not to hear, but Bear pitched his voice low anyway.
Thirty feet away, Mike stared across the fire at the young woman. She met his gaze levelly, but her eyes were still red and puffy and told a story about a long, searching night. Her hands seemed at war with each other, the black fingernail polish chipped and flashing in the muted light.
“It was back at the campground,” Tim told him. “It started in Glennville. That’s where we came from, up north next to Canada…” He looked at Bear.
Bear nodded, and Tim continued.
“So these guys tried to kill us there. They did kill one of the girls that was with Mike and Candace before I was with them. Then they all out attacked us. That was when Molly and Nellie escaped from them. We killed a bunch of their guys when that happened That put us right into it with them as far as they were concerned. Annie?”
Bear looked at Tim and nodded.
“They had made a deal with the people that had Annie. They intended to have her, but she escaped too. So they came to us to try to buy her back. The guy thought Mike would do it.”
“Christ,” Bear said.
Tim nodded. “Not long after that we got away, but they followed us.”
Mike spoke quietly. Too quiet to hear his words, but at his words Chloe’s eyes began to leak once again. Bear fought back the anger that was bubbling just below the surface.
Although there were no words for context, Bear understood she was asking how the others might feel.
“If they forced her, then it’s not her fault,” Bear said. He focused on a patch of scuffed dirt on the ground. Ronnie and Tim seemed to be bird watching. There seemed to be huge birds of prey everywhere now. Two of them floated high in the sky now. He turned back to Tim but there was nothing to say. They would be calling the Nation on the Radios in a short while. Let them know they were on their way back. Let them know about Molly and Nellie. It would be nice to talk to Cammy, find out about Beth. He turned back to Tim once more.
“I’m sorry that your girl had to go back,” Bear said.
“It’s okay,” Tim said. “I’m actually relieved… Especially after what happened with Nellie and Molly.”
Bear nodded and the silence descended once more. He felt used up, out of words. He scuffed at the ground again with his boot heel, shifting gears, pushing the remembering out of his head, wondering what he would say to Cammy, whether Beth would be able to talk.
“Hey,” Cammy smiled. “I thought you were just going to go on sleeping forever.”
Beth levered her arms down to scoot up in the bed and nearly banged the stump of her arm against the side of the bed before Cammy stopped her.
“Honey… Honey… Your arm. You have to be careful,” Cammy told her. She took her under the arms and lifted her gently back into the pillows.
“Oh God,” Beth whispered through her dry lips as she stared down at the stump of her arm. “Somebody chopped off the rest of my arm.” Her eyes came up to Cammy’s own.
“Honey, Sandy had to take it. It was infected,” Cammy told her. She gently pushed her back into the pillows. Sandy appeared over her shoulder with a wooden cup of water. Cammy took it and helped Beth to take a sip. “Easy, Honey, just go slow,” she told her.
Beth cleared her throat and took a larger sip. “Oh my God… I have such a bad headache. Kind of sick to my stomach too.”
Sandy took her hand, and her fingers rested lightly against her wrist for a moment, feeling for her pulse. “The stomach is a couple of things, most likely. I have no idea when the last time you ate is, but I would bet it’s been a few days. Pain killers and penicillin on an empty stomach are tough. I gave you a sports drink when I could get you to swallow, but you need real food. The headache is probably the morphine. You’ve been living on it the last few days. I can give you some aspirin for that.”
“She told me I couldn’t have aspirin,” Beth said as she looked at Cammy. “Said I had to have the Morphine.” She licked her lips for what seemed like an hour and then took another deep sip from the glass Cammy still held.
“She wouldn’t take it at first, true,” Cammy agreed with a laugh.
“Said I had balls… Thinks I don’t remembner… Rember,” she sighed.
Cammy laughed. “Remember… Remember, Honey. Yes. I asked you if you had balls,” she turned to Sandy and her arched eyebrows. “She wanted to take only aspirin after Bear took her arm off.”
Beth nodded. “I did. She talked me into Morphine, and now look at this… I woke up with the rest of it gone too.”
“Only from the elbow down,” Sandy said. “You’re lucky.”
Beth tried a lopsided smile on and then took another sip of the cold water.
“Listen, Honey, you needed the Morphine. You still do, really, and you can still have it if you want it. It just plays hell with your body when you’ve been on it a few days,” Sandy told her.
Beth took a deeper sip that was more like a real drink. “That is really good water,” she said.
Cammy and Sandy both laughed. “How about a sandwich, soup, broth? What do you think you can handle?” Sandy asked her.
“I think I can handle some more water,” Beth said.
“I’m sure you can. And you need liquid. I just want there to be some nourishment in it,” Sandy told her.
“Hot anything doesn’t sound good. My stomach is still off,” Beth said.
“How about some cooled beef broth? Soup? Doesn’t have to be hot,” Sandy agreed.
Beth swallowed, took a deeper drink of the cold water and nodded.
Billy and Pearl
“Bill, Billy… William?” Pearl asked.
“Billy’s good,” Billy told her. “William makes me feel… too high class, I guess.”
Pearl laughed. “It’s not wrong to think proper of yourself.”
The two were walking slowly down through the valley. Billy looked around at the valley. “You came with them? Helped to build this? It’s awesome… really incredible.”
“I would love to say it is so, but no, I was here visiting family, in the states, I mean. I came across country with friends I only met them after the fact. I’ve been here about three months so far. I believe this place began in April. I arrived in June,” she brushed a shock of thick brown hair out of her eyes and looked up at Billy. “I did help to build the second and third barns. The rest has been catch what comes, for all of us really.”
“I could listen to you speak for hours,” Billy said. He blushed a second later. Pearl blushed too and looked up at the clear blue sky and then back down at the stone path they walked. “What will you do?” Pearl asked.
“Well, I’ll wait for Bear to come back. When we left, we really didn’t talk about it. I just don’t know yet.” He looked up at the sky and then back down to the stone flagged pathway. “He may not want to stay.”
Pearl nodded. “And if this Bear of yours decides to go, then you will go with him, I suppose. That man thing. All for one and one for all… follow you to the ends of the Earth?”
Billy laughed, but stopped when he looked back down at Pearl. “I…” He started. She smiled up at him, and he lost his words.
“I didn’t mean to do that to you,” she said. “Take away your words.”
He thought of a dozen retorts but said nothing for a second. “Well, maybe I would have said something dumb. I wouldn’t have meant to. I suck at conversations like this, Pearl.”
She nodded. “Is she your girl? Jamie?” She blushed harder. “You don’t have to answer; it’s really not my business. I’m sorry.”
“No… No… Don’t be sorry,” Billy told her. “Is she my girl?” He looked at her frankly. “No. Probably was once upon a time. In fact was… but I screwed that up, like a few other things I’ve done.” Billy looked away.
“Look,” Pearl told him. “Doesn’t matter. I pry too much sometimes. I know that about me. Come with me if you like. I have to make a patrol. Just the valleys, foothills, takes most of two days to do. I have a truck with four wheel drive, a camping tent that I never use, and I go around and check all the perimeters. Boring, I suppose, unless you like the solitude… the mountains,” She smiled up at him. He towered over her by at least a foot. “I promise, no dead people, at least there never has been. Of course I’m looking for them though, aren’t I?”
Billy laughed. “Just like that?”
Pearl stopped on the path and looked up at him. “Just like that? What did you think, then?”
Pearl burst into laughter, slipped her arm through his and pulled him forward once more on the path. “Rattled you. I did, no use contradicting it.”
Billy laughed after a second. “You did. You did,” he caught up, leaving her arm where it was. “So two days?”
“You’ll love it,” she told him.
“Okay. What do I need to do?”
“Not a thing. No one to say goodbye to?”
“No,” Billy agreed.
“Then we go.” She pulled at his arm. “Come on. I’ll show you the truck.”
Beth sat up on the edge of the bed, got her feet under her and then stood. “Whoa,” she said as she sat back down.
“Slow, Honey,” Susan told her. Susan was on one side, Sandy on the other, Cammy anxiously standing in front. “Take a deep breath or two. Let the lightheadedness pass.”
Beth did as she was told, the lightheadedness passed, and she stood once more. This time her feet felt steady. Her stomach did not flip flop. All three of the other women hovered close by but did not attempt to help her. She laughed nervously and then walked to the door.
“Hmm. A little shaky,” Sandy said. “You feel up to an outside trip?”
“Oh, God yes. Please,” Beth said.
Cammy laughed. “She will never be any sweeter,” she said.
All four of them laughed. Sandy stepped ahead, opened the door to the room, and Beth followed her out into the main cave area.
Beth looked around as she walked through the main area. “I had no idea it was so big.” Her eyes rose to the ceiling some hundred feet above her.
“This is nothing, only the main meeting room. The passages go all through the mountain. It’s riddled with them,” Susan told her.
Sandy swept open the main door, and a cool breeze came in as she did. The four women stepped out onto the rock wall edged ledge and its view of the valley below.
Beth drew a quick breath. “My God, it’s so beautiful,” she said.
Cammy came up behind her and rubbed one hand across her low back. Beth turned and looked at her. “Anything else?” Beth asked.
“No. They’re on the way,” she told her.
“Cammy,” Beth started.
Cammy shook her head. “I know. He told me that he told you, and what he told you was the truth.” She smiled as she finished. Susan and Sandy slipped past them and walked over to the long waist high rock wall that had been built on the edge of the ledge. Beth looked pensive, but allowed a smile to float up from the depths of her worry. She made her way across the ledge and looked down into the valley.
“It’s so pretty,” Beth said. She breathed in the cool, fresh air.
“You are officially off bed rest,” Sandy said.
Beth smiled. Her eyes slipped over to her arm and the thick pad of bandage at the elbow. She sobered, but as her eyes swept back out into the valley, the smile surfaced once more and stayed. Cammy settled beside her and looked out onto the golden foliage of the trees and the tall golden-brown fields of wheat.
“I will never leave here,” Cammy said.
Cammy looked at her. “Do you think this can hold him?”
Beth shook her head, but the smile stayed. “I don’t think a woman or a place can hold Bear,” She said.
Cammy nodded, her face a careful mask.
“Feel up to a short walk down there?” Sandy asked.
“I say, let’s go,” Beth answered.
“You get tired, say so,” Susan told her.
“She will,” Cammy said. She linked one arm through Beth’s good arm, and the four women started down the ledge that dropped down into the valley.
On The Road
Bear dropped to the ground across from Mike, reached over and handed him a hot cup of coffee. He leaned back against a tree trunk behind him and rolled a cigarette.
“On our way?” Bear asked, after he had lit his smoke and taken a deep pull. He let the blue-gray smoke drift from his nose as he held Mike’s eyes with his own.
“Jessie’s up to it.”
“What is it, Bear?” Mike asked. “What’s on your mind?” It was the first time he had ever seen Bear looking uncertain.
Bear shrugged. “A few things I guess. Like, what do you do to keep safe now? I mean, who does that? Are there patrols of some kind?” His eyes held Mike’s own. “The thing is, I cannot imagine life without drama.”
Mike nodded. “You’ll miss it, or you hope to never see it again?” He paused for a second. “We have a patrol. Small, but effective, I think.”
“Hmm. Good question, isn’t it? I don’t know. I think for a short time I’ll be glad not to have it, and then I think I’ll start feeling tied down. I don’t know if I want to be tied down again… ever.” He cleared his throat and then continued. “Have you considered a farther reaching patrol, like a patrol that comes out here, running for the stuff the Nation needs? You know, like making it a fulltime thing. Wouldn’t that make sense? I’m talking about something close to a military outfit. We could fight the dead – that might have to happen – keep them away. There are Army bases just sitting around out here full of weapons. We could get them. We could keep roads open, a lot of things, Mike. I guess I sound kind of crazy, but I think some day the Nation will need it. It will need it, because there will be those who will bring it to us if we don’t bring it to them.”
Mike nodded. There was nothing he could say. Whatever Bear had meant, whatever he was alluding to in the first part of his statement about being tied down, was for himself alone. Mike did not understand it. The second part he did understand. It had been on his mind recently. “You volunteering? I mean, if there was such a thing.”
“Yeah. I’ve thought about it. It feels like a place I could fit,” Bear agreed.
Mike nodded. “We’re going to call soon. We should be able to reach them, let them know we’re coming, if you wanted to talk to Cammy.”
Bear nodded. “I do, but I think I mislead you with that relationship. I meant to straighten that out, I just haven’t found the time to do it. Cammy and I are not together. True, we’ve traveled together awhile, and we even thought about giving together a try. Didn’t happen.” Bear took another deep pull from his cigarette.
Mike nodded. “I guess I just assumed.”
“Yeah. We’re both bad with that. We, neither one, want to say it out. My fault, not yours. But, well, I thought it should be said. I’ll need a place to stay… on my own. Cammy will… I don’t know what Cammy will do, but I’m sure she will not be with me. And the other… the other thing is, well, she wouldn’t be waiting for me or something… if that worried you, as far as sending me out.”
Mike nodded. “Alone then. I see,” he said.
Bear seemed to think. “Maybe not alone, alone.”
Mike raised his eyebrows. “She may change her mind?”
Bear laughed. “No. We talked it over. I meant, well, maybe Beth will be there.”
Bear nodded, seemed embarrassed. He took a deep pull from the cigarette, crushed it out against the sole of his boot and then looked up at Mike.
“What?” Bear asked.
“Nothing, except, I can see it. I can see the two of you together. It fits.” He laughed for a second and then his eyes turned serious. “You mean she would be okay with you doing it? I don’t mean a person has a right to tell another what to do. I mean, well, couples… you let each other know what the deal is.”
Bear looked even more embarrassed for a moment and then laughed too. “She’d probably want to come. Maybe not right away, but, well, we’re a lot alike. I’d like to talk to Beth, Cammy too, when you call. I’ve been worried.”
Mike stood, offered his hand and pulled Bear from the ground with a grunt.
“You need more lead in your ass,” Bear joked.
“Or cast iron,” Mike joked back. They both laughed. “Come on,” Mike said after a moment. “Let’s go find Tim.”
The valley was bright gold in the evening light. The small stream a red-gold thread on the bottom of the valley. The mixed herd of Buffalo and Cows, along with the few Beefalo calves that had been born, were working their way to the barn, grazing on the sweet grass that grew next to the stream as they came.
Sandy stood with Susan and watched. Her eyes were red rimmed, and Susan held one hand tight. Neither woman spoke.
BACK TO THE BEGINNING
March 1st 12:06 am.
Billy Jingo & Beth
Billy knocked back the tequila and waved off Beth as she motioned to the back bar for another. She came over smiling.
“A man that knows when to quit. I like that,” Beth said.
Billy laughed. “A recently acquired habit, I assure you. Shit will bite you if you don’t set your limits,” He smiled at her, hesitated and then spoke again. “So it’s almost over for tonight… Thought you would be singing?” He raised his voice at the end to make it into a question. He knew it was what she wanted. He had heard her sing, there wasn’t an act in the place that could hang with her. She was it, except something wasn’t clicking between her and Jimmy, or maybe it went all the way up the ladder to Harry. Whatever it was Billy was curious about it.
“Curiosity killed the cat,” Beth said with a wide smile as if reading his thoughts.
“Damn,” Billy said. “It’s as if…”
“I read your thoughts?” She laughed. It’s been written all over your face since you came in. I saw you looking at the stage, back at me, back to the stage. It’s not hard to figure it out.”
“Hey, it’s not like I’m some wacko fan, Beth. I just think you are way too good for…”
“If you say it I’ll smack you stupid,” Beth told him. Her eyes were slitted, narrowed and focused. Her right hand had doubled into a fist. Billy had no doubt she meant what she said.
“Peace,” Billy said.
“Not that it really matters,” Beth said with a sigh. “Jimmy knows, and that means Harry knows, and they don’t care… That’s not it. I’d feel for the lame ass that came in here if I was doing a set and had anything to say about my time on the streets… We’ve all been there… At least the interesting ones.”
Billy nodded. “So what is it?”
Beth shrugged. “I don’t know, but I’m hoping Harry will be around later on and I…”
“Hey… Baby, what the fuck with the drink?” A big guy, belly straining at the buttons of his shirt. He smiled but the smile was no more than a rough semblance of a smile. Billy tried to burn him with his eyes, but Beth reached nearly into his face and said. “So you’re done here?”
Her eyes said don’t, he didn’t, but he would have liked to say something to the guy. Instead, he nodded a yes and picked up the change she had laid on the bar. She was talking to the fat guy before he got his change in his pocket.
“See that big guy over by the door,” she asked nicely.
Billy watched the fat guy turn to the door and then back to Beth. “Yeah?” The guy said. There was a sarcastic edge to his voice that made Billy slow down. He wanted to see the outcome.
Don, the big guy on the door had that bouncer six sense and looked over at Beth and shrugged as if to ask is there a problem. She rolled her eyes, and Don left the door and headed for the bar.
“I told you no more,” Beth told the guy.
“And I said I don’t take no orders from no bitch,” The fat guy said. He puffed up, but a line of sweat trickled from under his too black hair and streaked his forehead with whatever he had sprayed on his hair to get the color. He swiped at it angrily. And began to bluster a little more when Don’s heavy hand fell on his shoulder.
“And I missed my workout today,” Don told him as he easily spun him around, “unless you’re it?” Don finished.
“This is a private matter,” The fat guy told him, but there was a quiver in his voice that Billy heard clearly.
“Tried to grab Jill’s breast when she went past him. Jill laughed it off, said he’d been a perfect gentleman all the rest of the night. I said cool, a little fuck up, he’s had too much to drink and so I cut him off.”
Gentleman was a code word for a creep that had been hanging around getting way too friendly with the dancers.
“That so,” Don asked. He had stepped back to give himself some room just in case things took a physical turn.
The guy noted the movement and then he set his empty glass on the bar and put his hands in front of him, palms up. “No interest in trouble at all,” he told Don.
Don nodded at the door. “Time to go home and sleep it off, I think,” Don told him.
Billy watched the guy walk to the door and leave. He looked back to see Don and Beth looking at him.
“You know, this guy is becoming a pain in the ass,” Beth told Don.
“Ha, ha,” Billy said.
“Beat it Jingo. Leave the honey alone. It’s off limits. In other words you ain’t getting none of it.” Billy watched the cloud come over Beth just that fast. She had been teasing, Don probably knew that, but Don had a thing for her and he hated Billy who sometimes did small things for Harry. He didn’t wait for Billy to leave but headed back to the door, opened it quickly and looked out into the lot.
“Probably making sure the guy ain’t fucking up his car,” Billy said under his breath.
“Sorry, Billy. I keep forgetting Don isn’t human,” Beth told him. That made Billy laugh.
“Anyway, I’ll see you around. I’ll be late tonight.”
Billy nodded. “Good luck, Beth.” He turned and walked to the door at the other end of the club. The one that let out onto the front sidewalk.
The night was beautiful, Billy thought as he walked along Beechwood Avenue. He knew pretty much everyone he passed. He had been here for a little over six months having made his way up from Mexico when things had gone bad for him there. Technically he was on the run. Warrants out of New York. Somebody had put two and two together and dug up some prints from a crime Billy had been involved with. He had only found out about it because he had happened to be away from the house when the Feds showed up. His neck of the woods had no municipal police, but even if it had they wouldn’t have come with shotguns and armor.
He had hid out for three days until the word had trickled down to him that it was him they were looking for to hand over to some federal agents from the U.S. It hadn’t taken much to put two and two together. He had managed to get a beat up old Ford pickup truck and then filled-fifty five gallon drums full of gasoline that rode on the back of it. He set off into the desert.
The rest had been easier. Despite the laws and the changes in the U.S. It was pretty easy to disappear here. He had come with a little money, and that had helped. He had worked a series of meaningless jobs as he worked his way up the west coast. Seattle had looked good and so it had held him. That and Beth had come along.
Beth was out of reach and he knew it, but that didn’t stop the fact that he wanted her to be in reach. He had never met a woman like her. So he had stayed. He had watched her arrival from God knew where, some other place in California or Washington probably. He had watched her struggle to survive on the streets: Watched her work those same streets, doing her act in any place she could get into by day, walking the streets by night, and it was then he had seen something else in her. Something hard, some will he himself had that was hard to define, but that hardness in her pulled him to her like a magnet. It was that simple.
He had been working for Harry by then and so he had mentioned Beth to him. He didn’t know how the details had worked out, but a few weeks later when he had noticed she had disappeared from the avenue, he had found her tending bar at Harry’s Palace.
Now, as he walked he became immune to the world around him. He never heard Don until he was on him, had spun him around and dragged him into an alley.
“Hey… Hey! Don… What the fuck, Don… Hey!” But it did no good. The first punch nearly shut him down. The second did. The rest he never knew about.
The wind kicked up along Beechwood Avenue in Seattle’s red light district. A paper bag went rolling along the cracked sidewalk: Skipping over Bobby’s feet where he stood watching the traffic. Money, he thought, if he could get a little money he could be okay. It didn’t have to be a million dollars, just… A few hundred, he decided. A few hundred could really fix him up right… There had to be a way.
He watched the cars slide by and tried to work it out in his head. The problem was he was too far off the edge of down. He needed to be more up, high, wasted to think straight. The brain just didn’t work without the sauce. He needed some good shit, and for that he needed some money. Just enough to get enough good shit to get a good high tonight and maybe a good high tomorrow when it all wore off and the jingle jangles set in? … Maybe, he decided. Maybe. Bobby turned away from watching the cars as the paper bag bounded over his feet and tumbled along the avenue. The diner down the block was calling. Sometimes he had scored in the parking lot, there were truckers, creeps, who knew, but they were in this area for one thing and it wasn’t the food. All he had to do was find the right guy and he’d be set. He looked once more at the traffic and then turned and walked off toward the diner.
New York: Rochester
The sidewalks below him were crowded. John stood at the apex of the steps that led up to the old court house. It was impressive. He looked down at his hands, shifting the small silver canister from hand to hand, rolling it across his palm, treating it as though it were just a small fascination to occupy his mind, when in fact he knew it was something more. He didn’t know what, exactly. He wasn’t paid to know what. Maybe someone up the ladder knew what, he didn’t, and it was likely he never would, but it was something more than just a shiny little object to occupy his mind.
He had done hundreds of these small jobs. Little things. Little things that probably meant nothing in the scheme of things, at least that’s what he had always told himself. A little mental salve to prevent an infection of the larger truth. Little things he never heard a single thing about later on. Little things, but he suspected this time, this job was not a little thing at all. He suspected this was a big thing. He suspected he would hear about this one down the road. He suspected this one would come back to bite him in the ass.
The trouble was, in for a penny, in for a pound. It all mattered. He had taken job after job where he might leave an item on a park bench. Drop off a set of wheels in the middle of the desert. Switch a suitcase at an airport. Little jobs. Little jobs and he had never said no. Never complained about them. Never turned one down. And so here he was about to press the activator on a small, silver canister that might do anything. Anything at all. And was he worried about that? Yes, he was.
It was not so much worry for himself. He didn’t really believe the thing would blow up. He didn’t truly think they would take him out that way, if there was ever a reason to take him out, that was. He quickly shut down that line of thought. He had too much to worry about right now without starting a whole new avenue of doubt.
So, no, he did not believe it would blow up. He believed it would hiss and release a giant cloud of some sort of toxic gas, gases even, he amended. Waste, poison, something, but, if that were the case, how could he safely set it off and not be contaminated himself?
The instructions were to walk to the top of the courthouse steps, depress the red button, and then toss it away. No specific direction, just away. It apparently didn’t matter. And, he thought now, wasn’t this exactly the way some terrorist would do it? Do an attack? A poison gas attack? An unclassified viral attack? He had seen a few movies, this was the way he would do it if he was writing the script. The girl beside him spoke.
“If this is going to take much longer you’re gonna have to pay more. I know I said it would be cool, a fifty, I mean, but standing around here is wasting my time. I got places to be. I got…”
He cut her off. “And you ain’t got no money yet. And if you do want the money then you need to shut the fuck up.” He went back to his self observation. A second later he looked back at her. “Hey, hey,” he soothed. She had begun to pout. Just another street girl with a habit and too much time on her hands to feed it.
“Look…” He waited for her to look at his hand. He held the small vial upright. “Do me a favor, okay? I was looking around because, well because, I want a picture right here. Now all you have to do is push this little red button… Aim at me, it’s got a little camera in there…You can’t see it, it’s one of those new ones, like them spy ones? So all you got to do is point it at me and then press the button.” He held the canister and looked around. She tried to take the canister from his hand and he snatched it away.
“Goddammit, Dude, You want it or not?” She stamped her foot exactly like the spoiled child she was and was destined to always be.
“Yeah… Yeah I do. Just… See that corner over there? The top of the stairs? That little what-do-you-call-it hollow between those two pillars? Wait until I get there and take the picture.” He handed her the silver canister and started away.
“Hey! How the fuck am I spos’ed to tell? There ain’t no screen thingy, what-the-fuck-it-is?”
He turned back and smiled. “Just face it to me and do it. It’s not supposed to have a thing, screen, just do it.”
She turned the canister to her face. It was only about four inches long, maybe an inch thick. It didn’t look like a camera at all. She turned it back to John and clicked the button. Nothing, not even a click. It didn’t work. It was bullshit just as she had thought.
John froze when he saw her push the button, but nothing happened. Nothing at all. She had pushed it just a few inches from his nose. No odor. No vapor he could see. No anything. He pulled it from her fingers and flipped it back and forth. The red button was depressed now and although he tried to work a thumbnail under it to pull it back up he couldn’t do it. He bought it closer to his nose, nothing. No odor. He pressed it to his ear. No hissing. It was a dead. A dud. Whatever it was it did nothing at all. Maybe it had even malfunctioned. He hefted it a few times and then let it drop from his fingers. It hit the stone step below him with a small metallic click, and then rolled away to the edge. It dropped to the next step, but it didn’t have enough momentum to find it’s way across that step to the next. He turned back to the girl.
“You broke my camera,” he told her.
“Did not, and that ain’t no fuckin’ camera anyway. You think I’m just stupid?”
“I do think you’re stupid. You broke it. You broke it and so I ain’t paying you. Fact, you should pay me for breaking my camera! Besides which, you pressed it before it was time. You fucked the whole thing up. I shouldn’t pay you shit. Not a fuckin’ dime.”
“Yeah?” she asked. Her eyes were wet, but they were also hard. She looked around at the crowd. “That’s okay, because you know what?”
“What?” John asked. He smiled. She was stuck and he knew it.
“What is, I’m fourteen. Fourteen. And I bet you if I was to start yelling right now, oh, something like rape. If I was to say Rape!” She raised her voice a little and a nearby couple flashed their eyes at the two and slowed.
John flinched and drew back from her.
“Yeah, see? So, now if I was to do that I bet your tune would be different. I just bet it would.”
“Twenty,” John said. His smile was gone.
“You said fifty. Fifty is what you said, and it should be eighty.” She picked eighty out of a hat. It was three more dimes, and three more dimes was a lot better than five. “It is eighty. It’s eighty because you tried to rape me!” She raised her voice once more and John’s hand plunged quickly into his back pocket. He flipped a fifty and three tens at her from the wallet he quickly pulled free, and she had to scramble to catch the money. Two of the tens fluttered to the stone step below her and she flashed a hard smile at him. The couple that had cut their eyes at them were now stopped and staring at the two of them. A cell phone appeared in the woman’s hand and when John met her eyes there was something there he didn’t like at all. The girl scooped up the money, muttering as she did, and John headed down the stairs two at a time. A few minutes later he had blended into the crowd and was making his way away from the downtown area.
The prostitutes were just beginning to show up in force, waiting for the early morning traffic. Bobby Chambers sat with his back against the wall of an alley: Needle ready, and a speed-ball cooking over a tin of shoe polish. There was a bum sleeping a little further down the alley. Bobby ignored him, watching the mixture in the blackened spoon begin to bubble, melting together.
Two hours before he had been sitting in the diner waiting for his world to end. He had paid for the bottomless cup of coffee the place advertised, but ten cups had done nothing to improve his situation. He was still sick. He was still broke, and he needed something to take the edge off the real world, which had been sucking pretty hard at that time. A trucker had come in and ate his dinner just two stools away from Bobby, but every time he had worked up the courage to ask him for a couple of bucks the guy had stared him down so hard that he had changed his mind.
He had just made up his mind to leave. Even the waitress was staring hard every time he asked for more coffee. The cops couldn’t be far away, when the trucker had reached back for his wallet, pulled it free, took a ten from inside and dropped it on the counter top.
Bobby watched. It was involuntary. One of those things you did when your head was full of sickness and static. Just a place for your ever moving eyes to fall. The wallet was one of those types he had seen bikers use. A long chain connecting it to the wide leather belt he wore. Hard to steal. Hard to even get a chance at. The man stuffed the wallet back into his pocket. Sloppy, Bobby saw, probably because he knew the chain was there and so if it did fall out he would know it. He turned and put his ass nearly in Bobby’s face as he got up from the stool. The wallet was right there. Two inches from his nose, bulging from the pocket. The leather where the steel eye slipped through to hold the chain, frayed, ripped, barely connected. The man straightened and the wallet slipped free. The chain caught on the pocket, slipped down inside, and the wallet came free, the leather holding the steel eye parted like butter, and the wallet fell into Bobby’s lap. He nearly called out to the man before he could shut his mouth. His hand closed over the wallet and slipped it under his tattered windbreaker. The waitress spoke in his ear a second later.
Bobby jumped and straightened quickly in his seat, his heart hammering hard against his rib cage. Busted. Busted and he had shoved the wallet into his wind breaker, double busted…
“Listen,” the waitress continued, “buy something else of get the fuck out. You hear me? Otherwise, my boss,” she turned and waved one fat hand at the serve through window, “Says to call the cops.”
Bobby stared at her in disbelief. He was sure that everyone in the diner had seen the wallet fall into his lap. He swallowed. “Yeah… Okay… I’m leaving,” he said with his croaky voice. Sometimes, getting high, he didn’t speak for weeks. It just wasn’t necessary. When he did he would find his voice rusty, his throat croaking out words like a frog. Sometimes he was right on the edge of not even being able to understand the words. Like they had suddenly become some foreign language. He cleared his throat, picked up the cup of cold coffee and drained it. “Going,” he said.
He got up from the stool, kept one hand in his pocket holding the wallet under the windbreaker and walked out the front door.
L.A.: 2:00 am.
The night wore on. Midnight came and went and the club shut down for another day. Beth worked at cleaning up the last little area of the bar as two of the dancers finished their drinks and hushed conversations, smiled at her and walked away. A short conversation with Don, probably some crude remark, Beth has seen how both of them had instantly stiffened their backs after he spoke. It wasn’t just her, Don was an actual creep. Whatever he had said the two girls chose to ignore it, turning away, making eye contact with Beth, waving as if they had been at the bar talking to her, and when Don looked back to see who they had been waving at they slipped out the door. Don mad his way over to the bar.
“You scared my honeys away,” he told her.
“I think you can do that all on your own,” Beth told him.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Don asked.
Beth frowned and shook her head. Sometimes she wondered if Don even knew what a creep he was. How he made the girls who worked here, her included, feel. “It means that not everyone is always on the same page,” Beth said. She had changed her mind at the last second. She had to work here. Don was the nephew of the owner. Creep or not he was part of the package.
Don looked confused.
“Donny, it means that sometimes you just have to let things happen. Go slow. A girl wants to think it was her own idea to like you,” she told him.
“Yeah… I can see that, but when you need it you need it. Some of these bitches need to be on point.” One finger disappeared into his nose and then he seemed to suddenly remember she was there. “You know, me and you need to hook up. I got …” One massive hand settled onto his shoulder and he stopped in mid sentence.
“Disappear, Donny. I need to talk to Beth right now,” Jimmy told him as he sat down at one of the stools.
“We was just talking, Uncle Jimmy.”
“Right. And now you’re done talking… Unless you’re not? Am I interrupting you?”
Don turned beet red. He laughed to hide the embarrassment. “No… No,” he turned and walked away.
Jimmy turned to Beth. “I guess you’ll have to get used to the kid. He’s a pain in the ass, but he’s my pain in the ass… Load to bear,” He turned and watched Don step out the door to the parking lot. “Donny,” Jimmy yelled. Don poked his head back in the door and looked at his uncle. “Take a good look around out there, make sure the lot’s empty and the girls all got to their cars okay.”
“Okay, Uncle Jimmy,” Don called back. The dopey smile that he usually wore settled back on his face as he stepped out into the darkness. Jimmy turned back to Beth.
“Billy Jingo,” he said.
Beth looked at him.
“I think that kid is bad news for you… Not telling you how you should live your life, just distributing advice… A girl like you, a singer, don’t need a distraction like that. The customers don’t want to see no boyfriend hanging around. Spoils the fantasy that you’re singing just to them.” He held her stare.
“It’s not like that, Jimmy. Billy is a friend only… Lives in the same building.” She had caught the fact that he had said she was a singer. Something she wasn’t yet, unless…
“Uh huh. But he wants you. The kid is like a love sick puppy. If you could step back and look at it you would see it clearly. Are you telling me you are smart enough to handle Donny and you can’t see this Jingo kid has it bad for you?”
Beth shrugged. “No… I know… I know that… But he knows it isn’t going to happen. He knows what the deal is.”
“Good… That’s all I’m saying… But you need to tell him to stay away… Can’t be hanging around while you’re working… See?”
Beth nodded. “I see.”
“Good, cause next week you start as my lead act. I know you…” He stopped as Beth lunged across the bar and hugged him, squealing as she did. He hugged her back, laughing.
She kissed his cheek and then the smile went away a little as one hand cupped the side of her breast. Her eyes focused on his own. “I think we’ll become good friends, baby,” he told her. She nodded as his hand roamed a little further and then trailed away across the flat plains of her stomach. She pulled back. Jimmy wore a crooked smile on his face. “So we understand each other?”
“Yeah,” Beth told him.
“So smile then. Let’s have a drink… On me… Pour us something good, baby,” Jimmy told her.
Beth stepped out into the darkness of the parking lot. She had spent over a month trying to convince Jimmy to let her sing. The Palace had huge crowds every night. Everyone knew that scouts were constantly cruising the crowd looking for talent. More than one act had been discovered at the Palace. Harry knew that and played on the reputation. Singing here could lead to the big break she was looking for. She had gotten her wish tonight, and more than she had bargained for, a relationship with Jimmy. She wasn’t sure how that was going to be defined in public, but in private it was going to be defined as a sexual relationship. He had just defined it for her, she would have to wait to see what the public definition was going to be, but she had a good idea how it was going to be.
Nan, the dancer Jimmy was currently seeing, was going to be upset. Jimmy was not subtle. It had been clear that they had been seeing less and less of each other. She had no doubt that her first night he was going to make it clear she was his. Like a dog marking his territory. She sighed. Off the street but still getting fucked for money. She hated putting it that starkly in her head, but that was the plain truth. She was still selling it, just different terms, better money, better protected. She heard footsteps running behind her and her breath caught in her throat. She turned as the club door that exited to the parking lot banged shut.
“Beth,” Don yelled. “Beth.”
She stopped and waited.
“Uncle Jimmy said I should drive you home… He don’t want you walking.”
She sighed. She had half expected it. Don ran the twenty feet from the door to where she was. She changed direction and walked slowly toward Don’s car. Well, she thought, at least there would be no more bullshit from Don.
Twenty feet away on Beechwood Avenue, the prostitutes were just beginning to show up in force, waiting for the early morning traffic.
Seattle: 6:00 P.M.
Bobby Chambers sat slumped against a wall in an alley off Beechwood Avenue, in Seattle’s red light district. He had been dead for over six hours. The money he had stolen, had allowed him to indulge in his habit for over eight hours with no sleep. The last injection had killed him.
The Cocaine he had purchased had been cut with rat poison, among other things, so that the hype who had sold it to him could stretch it a little further.
The constant hours of indulging in his habit would have killed him anyway, but the addition of the rat poison was all his overworked heart could stand, and it had simply stopped beating in protest.
The alleyway seemed to dip and then rise sharply as a sudden, strong vibration shook the area. The shaking lasted for mere seconds. Dust raftered down from the sky, shaken from buildings. In the silence alarms brayed, and glass shattered; fell from its frame to the streets below. Gunshots punctuated the silences in between the sudden periods of quiet, screams, yelling. Suddenly the ground shook harder, cracks appeared in the alleyway where Willie’s body lay and threaded their way out into the street. Far off in the distance the earthquake shook harder at the epicenter, small booms coming over the sound of destruction as the time wore on. Nearby a building succumbed to the vibration and toppled over into the street clogging it from side to side. Cars rocked on their tires shifting violently from side to side, sometimes bouncing off in one direction or another, or slamming into a nearby car or building.
This time when the silence came the sounds that it carried were different. Weeping from the piled remains in the street. The zap and crackle of power lines as they danced in the street like charmed snake without their handlers.
Bobby’s eyelids flickered, and his hand shot up to bat at a fly that had been examining his nose.
Glennville New York
The first quake had been minor, the last few had not. The big one was coming, and Major Richard Weston didn’t need to have a satellite link up to know that. He touched one hand to his head. The fingertips came away bloody. He would have to get his head wound taken care of, but the big thing was that he had made it through the complex above and down into the facility before it had been locked down.
He laughed to himself, before it was supposed to have been locked down. It had not been locked down at all. He had, had to lock it down once he had made his way in or else it would still be open to the world.
He had spent the last several years here commanding the base. He had spent the last two weeks working up to this event from his subterranean command post several levels above. All wreckage now. He had sent operatives out from there to do what they could, but it had all been a stop gap operation.
The public knew that there was a meteor on a near collision course with the Earth. They had assured the public it would miss by several thousands of miles. Paid off the best scientists in some cases, but in other cases they had found that even the scientists were willing to look past facts if their own personal spin put a better story in the mix. A survivable story. They had spun their own stories without prodding.
The truth was that the meteor might miss, it might hit, it might come close, a near miss, but it wouldn’t matter because a natural chain of events was taking place that would make a meteor impact look like small change.
The big deal, the bigger than a meteor deal, was the earthquakes that had already started and would probably continue until most of the civilized world was dead or dying. Crumbled into ruin from super earthquakes and volcanic activity that had never been seen by modern civilization. And it had been predicted several times over by more than one group and hushed up quickly when it was uncovered. The governments had known. The conspiracy theorists had known. The public should have known, but they were too caught up in world events that seemed to be dragging them ever closer to a third world war to pay attention to a few voices crying in the wilderness. The public was happier watching television series about conspiracies rather than looking at the day to day truths about real conspiracies. The fact was that this was a natural course of events. It had happened before and it would happen again in some distant future.
So, in the end it hadn’t mattered. In the end the factual side of the event had begun to happen. The reality, Major Weston liked to think of it. And fact was fact. You couldn’t dispute fact. You could spin it, and that was the way of the old world. Spinning it, but the bare facts were just that: The bare facts.
The bare facts were that the Yellowstone Caldera had erupted just a few hours before. The bare facts were that the earth quakes had begun, and although they were not so bad here in northern New York, in other areas of the country, in foreign countries, third world countries, the bare facts of what was occurring were devastating: Millions dead, and millions more would die before it was over. And this was nothing new. The government had evidence that this same event had happened many times in Earth’s history. This was nothing new at all, not even new to the human race. A similar event had killed off most of the human race some seventy-five thousand years before.
There was an answer, help, a solution, but Richard Weston was unsure how well their solution would work. It was, like everything else, a stop gap measure, and probably too little too late. It was also flawed, but he pushed that knowledge away in his mind.
While most of America had tracked the meteorite that was supposed to miss earth from their living rooms, he had kept track of the real event that had even then been building beneath the Yellowstone caldera. And the end had come quickly. Satellites off line. Phone networks down. Power grids failed. Governments incommunicado or just gone. The Internet, down. The Meteorite had not missed Earth by much after all. And the gravitational pull from the large mass had simply accelerated an already bad situation.
Dams burst. River flows reversed. Waters rising or dropping in many places. Huge tidal waves. Fires out of control. Whole cities suddenly gone. A river of lava flowing from Yellowstone. Civilization was not dead; not wiped out, but her back was broken.
In the small city of Glennville, that had rested above Bluechip, near the shore of the former lake Ontario, the river waters had begun to rise: Bluechip, several levels below the city in the limestone cave structures that honeycombed the entire area, had survived mostly intact, but unless sealed, it would surely succumb to the rising river waters. By the time the last military groups had splashed through the tunnels and into the underground facility, they had been walking through better than two feet of cold and muddy river-water. The pressure from the water had begun to collapse small sections of caves and tunnels below the city, and that damage had been helped along by small after-shocks.
When the last group had reached the air shaft, they had immediately pitched in with a group Weston had sent to brick the passageway off. The remaining bricks and concrete blocks were stacked and cemented into place in the four foot thick wall they had started. The materials, along with sandbags initially used to hold back the rising waters, had been taken from huge stockpiles within the city, and from the stalled trucks within the wide tunnel that had once fed traffic into the base. There was no way in, and no way out of the city. With one small exception.
The exception was the air ducting. The ducts led away from the city towards a small mountain-peak about a mile from the city. There the ducts merged together, inside a huge natural rock tunnel that had been part of the original network of caves and passage ways. That tunnel culminated deep within the mountain at a remote air treatment facility. There were also several access points where the ducting came close to the surface via tunnels and passageways that ran though the huge complex of caves. And it would be possible to walk through one of the many air shafts to the tunnel, break through the ducting, follow it to the treatment facility or outside to the surface and freedom. It would be difficult, but it would be possible. The end of the trip would bring them to the surface, from there they could go anywhere.