“We’re in the building.” I heard Zemeck’s voice over my earpiece.
I was working my way back to the far end of the casino after spotting Katie and spending some time locating as many more members of the group that was occupying the building as I could find. Roach and two others were still unaccounted for, my final count four short of the sixty-seven that had been spotted on thermal.
There was any number of reasons for the discrepancy. The satellite image was several hours old and people could have left. There were also a lot of private rooms and offices that I hadn’t been able to approach and check without risking being spotted by a sentry. I was thinking about all of these as I heard the radio call and looked up to find a location to tell Zemeck to meet me.
Each of the large banks of slot machines I was moving through was numbered. Large signs stuck up from the top of each group so that they were easily visible and identifiable to the casino staff from anywhere on the floor. Spotting one a few rows deeper into the casino I activated my radio.
“Meet at 42. Four two.” I said in a very quiet voice.
“Four two. Copy.” He replied then the radio went silent again.
Changing directions I began working my way to the rendezvous point. I was far enough away from the concentration of people that I was once again moving quickly from shadow to shadow, pausing every so often to listen. Nearing my destination I dashed to a dark area, shadowed by a row of video poker machines labeled 38, and froze when I heard the sound of a match being struck from the far side of area 37.
Reaching up to my vest I pressed the manual transmit button on my radio two times in quick succession. This would send two clicks to Zemeck, telling him there was a problem and he needed to go still and silent until I gave the all clear. A moment later there were two answering clicks in my earpiece as he acknowledged my message.
I could smell cigarette smoke now as well as see it drifting up into the faint light above the 37 sign. Scanning the area I didn’t see anything other than quiet machines so I moved to the end of the bank with my short rifle up and ready. When I came to a stop I was close enough to hear the burning of the tobacco as what I presumed was a sentry took a drag, a moment later the soft sigh of his exhale clear to my ears in the quiet.
Risking a quick look I leaned out; rifle aimed and finger moving onto the trigger. The man was seated at the far end of the row, four machines away from where I stood. His back was to me as he stared towards the far end of the casino. Not wanting to make any noise I lowered the rifle to the end of its sling and silently drew my Ka-Bar.
When I’d first entered the building I’d not been in a hurry to start engaging the occupants. They could have been survivors who sought refuge from the infected in the security of the big casino. They could have been employees who had just hunkered down. But when I’d found my wife, obviously being held against her will and forced to dress like she was, any hesitation to kill on my part had been removed.
Ka-Bar gripped tightly in my right hand, I took two long, quiet strides and clapped my hand over the man’s mouth as I thrust the blade into his kidney. A deep strike to the kidneys will send the human body into immediate shock, rendering it unable to fight or flee. Pulling the knife free I stabbed in from the side, the eight inch blade slipping between his ribs and piercing his heart.
Maintaining my hand over his mouth I twisted the Ka-Bar to ensure an instant kill then pulled it out and lowered the corpse to the floor. After wiping the blade clean on his clothing and re-sheathing the knife I took a moment to pull the stools away from the slot machines, roll the body against their base, then put the stools back in a neat row. Anyone walking by would easily see the dead man, but from a few yards away, in the shadows, he wouldn’t be readily apparent.
Raising the rifle I scanned the area but came up clear. Two slow clicks on the radio let Zemeck know he was OK to move again and I turned and headed for the 42 sign. I arrived a few minutes ahead of them and took the time to check two rows on either side of the location. Both were clear of any guards and when I moved back to the bank of machines I spotted Zemeck leading Rachel, Martinez and Dog.
“Why’d you come inside?” I asked quietly after Dog calmed down and quit insisting that I pet him.
“Infected showed up,” Zemeck answered in an equally soft voice. We were talking in mumbles, not whispers. The sibilant sounds of a whisper carry much farther and are more easily detected by the human ear than a very quiet mumble. “Too many to fight without retreating, so we came up the rope.”
I turned and looked at Dog who thought my glance was an invitation for more petting.
“He’s a heavy bastard, but at least he knows to stay still.” Zemeck said with a grin. “So what’s the landscape?”
I filled him in on what I’d found, Rachel and Martinez pushing in close to hear what I had to say.
“No Roach?” Rachel asked.
“Not that I’ve seen.” I said. “He could be gone, could be in an area I couldn’t get to, or could be dead.”
She nodded and Zemeck spoke up. “So, what’s your plan?”
I pulled out the sketch Stephanie had drawn for me and spread it out on the floor. With Dog pushed out of the way everyone was able to lean in and see as I pointed out what I wanted to do. Zemeck asked a few questions, but kept nodding his head as I spoke.
“Rachel, will you get to Katie?” I asked, looking up at her. She looked back at me and smiled.
“Yes. I’ll make sure she gets out.” She said, meeting my eyes and still smiling.
“Thank you,” I said, reaching down, drawing my back up pistol and handing it to Rachel. “Hand her this when you get to her. She knows how to use it.”
Rachel nodded again and tucked the weapon into her waistband. We reviewed the plan one more time and when there were no more questions I looked at each of them and thanked them for their help. Zemeck and Martinez nodded, slightly embarrassed. Rachel looked back at me and I could tell she was holding back tears. Martinez noticed too and motioned Zemeck to come with her and give us a moment of privacy.
“I wouldn’t be here without you,” I said to Rachel. “I don’t know how to thank you or tell you how much you mean to me.”
She reached out and took my hand in hers, leaning in and kissing me. It was a slow, soft, deep kiss, but there was sadness behind it.
“Let’s go get your wife,” she said.