As soon as he got the coordinates from Irina, Blanchard had started working with the Navy to re-task a satellite and get a good view of the location. He also got the Air Force to assign a Predator drone to him and it was on station over the ranch at 30,000 feet within a couple of hours. I had left him to it. I could probably draw a map of the area from memory. In high school this was where my friends and I had gone to drink and have fun with our girlfriends. I remembered the area quite well, even after several decades.
Rachel and I had stepped outside after the meeting broke up, and had the first fight of our new relationship when I told her she wasn’t coming with me.
“You’re going to leave me here so I’m safe? That’s absolute bullshit! The only time I’ve been safe since this whole thing started is when I’ve been with you!” She was pissed, standing toe to toe with me, her face thrust into mine.
“Fuck that!” She cut me off without even knowing what I was going to say. “Every time you go off without me, something bad happens. Every. Single. Fucking. Time. I thought I actually meant something to you, but I guess you just see tits and ass when you look at me!”
“Goddamn it!” Now I was getting angry. “I’ve got to go meet some Russians in the middle of fucking nowhere. Anything could go wrong. Vostov could be under duress, forced to set this up so they can get their hands on me. Infected could show up. I need to be focused on the mission, not worrying about making sure someone I care about is OK! Distractions like that are what get people killed.”
“You are the goddamn dumbest smart person I’ve ever met. When we’re together, everything turns out OK. You leave me behind, who’s going to save your ass when you get in trouble? That little shit the President is sending along? And what happens here when the infected break through the fence? You’re going to leave me here alone to deal with that shit?” Tears were running down her face and I thought she was going to hit me. Before she could get that far I reached out and tried to circle her into my arms, but she was having none of it.
“You can really be an asshole. You know that? If you leave me here alone, don’t expect me to be waiting for you when you get back! If you get back.” She wiped tears and started to turn away.
I grabbed Rachel before she could take a step, gripping both of her upper arms so she couldn’t hit me, pulled her close and kissed her. She struggled, twisting and trying to pull away, and I was prepared to defend against a swift knee to my balls. But I didn’t have to, and after a moment she pressed against me and lifted her arms to wrap around my neck, the intensity of the moment becoming passion in the kiss.
We might have stood there kissing for a long time if a Humvee hadn’t pulled to a stop next to us with a squeal of brakes. I broke the kiss, but kept my arms around Rachel, looking over to see who had just pulled up. Two Marines climbed out of the vehicle. Looked like some of the MEU that Crawford had made contact with had arrived. When I saw the Eagles on one of them I stepped away from Rachel, came to attention and saluted the Marine Colonel.
“Jesus H. Christ, sir. I guess the Army is harder up than we thought. Looks like they’ll make an officer out of anything with a pulse.” I dropped the salute and looked at the man who had spoken, a Master Gunnery Sergeant.
“Praise be, we’re saved! When the infected see your ugly face they’re just going to lay down and die!” I retorted.
Neither of us had sounded friendly, and Rachel had taken a step back. Dog had stood up and growled softly in his chest at the two men. I eyed Master Gunnery Sergeant Matt Zemeck, looking him up and down, and he did the same to me. I hadn’t seen him in nearly 10 years, and other than a few more wrinkles and a couple of new scars, he looked the same as when we’d first met in a foreign country.
His unit had been on a mission to - well, never mind what they were doing. They had bad intel from the CIA, as amazing as that may sound, and had walked into a trap and been captured. Most had been captured. Two of them had been killed.
My unit had been in the area and, much to the chagrin of the Corps, had been sent in to rescue them. The rescue had gone off like clockwork at first, then more bad guys had showed up and Zemeck and I had gotten separated with about 200 screaming fanatics between our units and us. It had taken a week, but we’d fought our way out of the country, saving each other’s lives more times than I could count. Time passes and I’d lost touch after leaving the Army. He was about the last person I expected to run into in the middle of the apocalypse.
I’m not a hugger of other men. It’s fine if other guys want to go around pressing their bodies against each other, but I prefer to feel a female form when I give a hug. Unfortunately, Zemeck didn’t agree with me. With a laugh he stepped forward and wrapped arms the size of my legs around me and lifted me off the ground like I was a child. Did I mention he’s one of the largest human beings I’ve ever met?
I remembered one time he had come across a little British convertible sports car that he just had to have, regardless of the fact that he was probably taller than the car was long. Once he finally shoe horned himself into the driver’s seat, he draped his left arm down the outside of the door and his knuckles touched the ground. I think I had hurt his feelings when I couldn’t stop laughing, but it was just too damn funny.
Dog didn’t like seeing me lifted up in the air, standing and growling at Zemeck with the fur along his back standing on end. I reached down and rubbed his head, Zemeck taking a step back. Dog settled down and I kept rubbing his head to calm him.
“Colonel, I suspect you’re here to see Colonel Crawford?” I said, glad to see an old friend but needing to get on with prepping for my flight to El Paso.
“Yes. I was told he’s here in the admin building.” The Colonel answered. I glanced at his uniform and read his name. Pointere.
“I’ll show you the way.” I said, motioning for Rachel and Dog to stay put before turning and leading the two Marines into the building.
“That’s not Katie,” Zemeck said when we were inside.
“No, it’s not.” I said, a lump forming in my stomach.
It had been threatening to start building since I had woken up earlier in the morning with Rachel’s nude body pressed against mine. I had been focused on other things since, but his question reignited my guilt.
“I don’t think Katie survived. I was over my house in an Air Force bird a couple of days ago and there’s nothing left of it. Whole damn city is either burned or empty. What about Chris?” I asked, referring to his wife.
“You know those goddamn annoying talk shows for women where all they do is gossip about celebrities, scream at each other and bad mouth men?” He asked. I nodded my head.
“She was a huge fan of one of them. For the life of me I can’t remember which one. She was in New York with her friends. They had tickets for a taping of the show. She arrived the evening of the attacks.” He spoke with a steady voice, but I could hear the pain he was dealing with.
“Ahhh, fuck. I’m sorry, man.” I said, stopping outside the conference room where Crawford had set up his office. Blanchard saw me and stepped out, welcoming the two Marines and ushering them through the door. Zemeck clapped a huge paw on top of my shoulder, sharing a look with me, turned and followed his Colonel into the room.
Rachel and Dog were waiting for me when I came back outside. In the two minutes I’d been gone, Dog had managed to find a large stick and convince Rachel to throw it for him. When I stepped out the door he was just picking it up and running back to her, changing direction when he saw me and ramming it into my leg. I wrestled the stick away from him and threw it as far out into an immaculate, grassy field as I could. He raced after it and I walked over to Rachel who waited for me with her arms crossed and a storm cloud on her face.
“Alright. You win.” I said, folding her into my arms. She relaxed and wrapped her arms around my waist, burying her face in my chest.
“What changed your mind?” Her voice was muffled by my clothing and vest.
“Just take your victory and don’t push it.” I chuckled, not wanting to let on that I’d wanted her to go along all the time. I’d just been worried that something would happen to her. But the brief conversation with Zemeck had all too clearly reminded me that bad things happen to the people we care about even when they’re somewhere we think is safe.