We kept driving east until I was reasonably satisfied that we were clear of the worst of the danger presented by the city. A sign ahead said we were five miles from a junction that would take us back to I-40. I had been wondering if anyone had sent a helicopter to look for us since we were now severely overdue, but with the state of affairs in Little Rock I expected everyone had bigger problems on their plate.
Rachel had played with the navigation while I drove and it was looking like she had found a route that would bypass the chaos behind us. The problem was that it took us way south of where we needed to be in the event the Colonel had dispatched searchers. I suspected he was getting pretty tired of sending out search parties.
The compromise I’d arrived at was to find a place for Rachel, Dog and me to shelter for the night. If by morning we hadn’t seen or heard any sign of a SAR flight, we’d take the new route and keep working our way west. Now the problem was going to be finding a safe place to spend the night. Not that the big Lexus with its cushy leather seats wasn’t comfortable, it was, but I really wanted to stretch out. I can, and have, roughed it with the best of them, and sleeping in the SUV could hardly be considered “roughing it”, but it still wouldn’t be as good as getting my exhausted body completely horizontal for a few hours.
Rachel and I had discussed my plan and she was in agreement. I think she would have agreed to any plan that let her get some sleep. From the corner of my eye I kept seeing her head slowly tilt forward until it suddenly tipped and she’d jerk herself awake. Dog was the only one of us that seemed alert, his head thrust between the two front seats, eyes bright and ears straight up.
We reached the junction and I slowed, reading the small forest of signs that occupied all four corners of the intersection. There were ads for tourist attractions, restaurants, truck stops, a strip club and motels. A motel would be the ticket! It looked like all of them were back along I-40, so I turned north and drove the short distance back to the Interstate.
When we reached the junction with the freeway, it looked like every other Interstate exit in the middle of nowhere across America whose sole purpose was to serve weary travelers. There were four gas stations, a large truck stop, three fast food restaurants and two motels. Everything was dark and as I pulled to a stop to survey the area I couldn’t detect any movement.
I gave it 10 minutes, sitting there idling and waiting. After the time was up there still wasn’t any movement. No infected males slowly stumbling towards us. No females pounding on the glass. No razorbacks slamming into the vehicle. This was about as good as it was going to get.
“Which one?” I asked Rachel.
“That one.” She pointed at the motel on the far side of the Interstate. It looked the same as the one that was closer to us, but I didn’t bother to ask her why. I’ve been married a long time. You learn when to just go with the flow.
Driving into the dark parking lot I steered the SUV in a semi-circle so the headlights would sweep across the front of the building. The motel was a local enterprise, not affiliated with any national chain, or at least not any chain I was familiar with. It was a one story building that formed an “L”, 25 rooms bracketing the parking lot on two sides. There were four cars sitting in the lot, only one of them with Arkansas plates.
At this point, four cars most likely meant a minimum of four infected. If we were lucky they had been killed before turning and there weren’t any infected to deal with, but I never count on being that lucky. I pulled the Lexus over so it was facing the office, which had a small extension behind it. The manager probably also lived at the motel, explaining the Arkansas license plate.
When I pulled up the headlights lit the interior through the glass door. Having already seen us, three infected females were pressed tightly against the glass. They were obviously a mother and her daughters, the two girls not even teenagers yet. Rachel caught her breath when she saw them and I muttered a curse.
“Let’s try the other one.” I said after a long, quiet moment of looking at the small family. I really wasn’t in the mood to shoot a couple of little girls, even if they were infected. Rachel nodded and I spun the wheel and took us back over the Interstate.
The other motel was part of a chain, Motel 6 if it matters, and they hadn’t left the light on for me. It had a lot more rooms and three stories. All of the room doors faced the parking area and I repeated my semi-circle with the headlights. Half a dozen doors standing open. An even dozen cars were sitting in the motel’s parking lot, all of them with out of state plates. There was a small road that ran around the back of the building and I slowly eased us around the corner to see what was back there. Dumpsters and a couple of old, beat up cars with Arkansas plates.
“What do you think?” Rachel asked, sitting up straighter and looking around.
“I think I’m rethinking the idea. I’m tired and not making good decisions, but if we go into one of those rooms and even a small herd of infected show up, we’re trapped. This is block construction and there aren’t any windows on the back side. The only way out of a room is through the front door.” I said slowly, looking around.
“But would we be easier to find sleeping in this? If we’re in one of the rooms and quiet, they won’t know we’re there. Just like the house we stayed in back in Atlanta. That big herd just passed us by.” Rachel said in a quiet voice.
I sat there thinking about it for a few moments, then decided she had a good point. I made another circle with the Lexus, scanning for anything approaching. Satisfied it was all clear I put it in reverse and backed up to the only open door on the first floor, getting our vehicle as close to the room as possible.
We stepped out and I led the way, rifle up and ready, Dog by my side. He was quiet and calm, which reassured me, but I still took my time approaching the pitch black room. Dog stayed quiet and after a couple of moments of listening I clicked on my flashlight.
The room was small but surprisingly clean and the furnishings were moderately new. And it was empty. Dog trotted ahead of me, stuck his head into the bathroom then came back and sat down in front of me. If that’s not confirmation that there’s nothing to worry about, I don’t know what is. I still checked the bathroom. Just in case Dog was slipping.
My guess was the occupants of the room had left in a hurry. There were so many possible reasons that I didn’t bother to even think about them all. They had left their luggage and clothing behind, as well as all their toiletries on the small bathroom counter. I waved Rachel inside and retrieved our packs from the Lexus. By the time I made it back into the room and closed the door, Rachel was already in the bathroom with the door shut.
I heard her test the water, which was still on, then a minute later the toilet flushed and the shower turned on. I stood to go tell her to turn it off, afraid the water flowing through the pipes would make too much noise, but changed direction and quietly stepped outside. I couldn’t hear anything, took a quick look around and went back inside, bolting the door and wedging the back of a chair under the knob.
Taking the flashlight off my rifle I set it on one of the night stands, pointing at the ceiling and turned to its lowest power. It gave us enough light to see, but wouldn’t be visible from outside with the heavy curtains pulled tightly closed. I sat on the edge of the bed and slowly started unlacing my boots. I had briefly thought about getting in the shower when Rachel was done, but I was too damn tired. I just wanted to sleep. Wanted some relief from all the aches and pains that were the results of injuries over the past month.
A couple of minutes later I heard the water shut off. A few moments after that the bathroom door opened and Rachel appeared, completely nude. Water on her skin glistened in the light as she walked into the room, her long hair wet and dark. I caught my breath and stood up to meet her, staring like a teenager the first time he sees a girl without her clothes. Yes, I’d seen Rachel nude before, several times in fact, but it’s different when someone is naked because they want you to see them that way.
Rachel moved to me, not stopping until her body was only a few inches from mine. Smiling, she looked me in the eye and placed both her hands flat on my chest. Her eyes were huge, drawing me in so that nothing else in the world mattered. I was having a hard time breathing.
“I’m very tired, but I can probably stay awake for a few more minutes. Probably about long enough for you to shower and come crawl under the covers with me.” She went up on her toes, leaned her head in and gave me a soft, lingering kiss on the lips. I think I forgot to breathe for a few minutes.
My head was spinning with emotion and desire. First I hadn’t been breathing, now I was nearly hyperventilating. I was even hearing voices. Rachel was still smiling and starting to step back toward the bed when the voice spoke to me again.
“Dog Two Six, Boomer Three. Do you copy?” The signal was weak, partially cutting in and out, but I finally recognized Captain Martinez’ voice and remembered I still had my radio’s earpiece stuck in my left ear. Are you fucking kidding me? Now?
“Dog Two Six copies.” I said, my voice husky and filled with emotion. “Good to hear your voice, Boomer Three.” I lied, looking at Rachel with a sad smile.
She was still smiling, but now there was a sardonic quality to it as she turned and walked into the bathroom. She paused; giving me a good, long look at her body, then softly closed the door. Dog sat up and nuzzled my hand, got his ears scratched, belched and lay back down.