I paced while the Huey was being fueled. Up and down the roof, then when the thought struck me I headed down the stairs and out into the casino. Dog trotted with me but Katie headed for our suite to finish dressing. That was her excuse but she knows me well and I’m sure she was letting me stew and work out the frustration I was feeling.
Making a beeline to the gift shop I pushed in and looked around until I found what I wanted. Besides gambling, Indian nations have discovered that they can sell cigarettes without having to charge state sales tax, at least in some states. As a result they usually have a very large stockpile of cartons of smokes on hand and this place was no different.
There was a locked wire cage, stuffed full of brightly colored cartons. A couple of rounds blew the lock off the door and I yanked it open. Taking some of the cheap, cloth bags embroidered with the casino’s logo I stuffed them full of my brand of choice. I also scooped a few dozen disposable lighters into one of the bags then took the time to open a pack and light a cigarette.
I know, not good for me in any way. But now wasn’t the time to think about quitting. Inhaling, my racing mind slowed and I calmed. With an armload of plunder I headed back to the VIP area, walking slowly and thinking. Dog gave each bag a through sniff, seemingly dejected when there weren’t any treats to be found.
Katie was just coming out of the kitchen with a heaping platter of food when I walked in. She looked at what I was carrying, smiled as she shook her head and headed for the stairs. I fell in behind her, appreciating the view as she climbed ahead of me in the skintight jeans.
Exiting onto the roof I paused to crush out the cigarette, well away from the fueling process, then followed Katie to the Pave Hawk. The side door was open and she set the food down, telling Martinez to help herself. Dog took up a seated position about three feet from the platter, eyes locked onto our meal.
“So, we’re going to go find your friends and go to Idaho in a Bradley?” Katie asked as she picked up some food and started eating.
I sat down in the open door after Martinez grabbed something to eat and returned to monitor the fueling. Tossing Dog a treat I shook my head as I started eating. I could see Colonel Crawford across the roof, pacing as he talked on the satellite phone.
“No,” I said. “That will take too long. If there’s weather coming in, like the Colonel said, they could freeze to death before we were even half way there.”
“Then what? We can’t fly.” Katie said.
“I need to talk to whoever is watching with the satellite,” I said, standing up and heading for where Colonel Crawford was just beginning a new lap around the roof. Before I reached him he ended his call and turned, pausing when he saw me approaching.
“Sir, can you get me on the phone with whoever at Pearl is controlling the satellite?”
He didn’t ask why, just thumbed through a couple of numbers he must have programmed in and hit the “call” button. When it was answered he identified himself and explained he was handing the phone to me, holding it out a moment later.
“This is Major Chase,” I said into the handset.
“Petty Officer Simmons, sir. How may I assist you?” She sounded really young.
“You have eyes on the two people that went down in Idaho, correct?”
“Yes, sir. That’s correct. I’ve got them up on a monitor right now. They’re huddled around a camp fire and look like they’re really cold.”
I took a deep breath, worry for Rachel gnawing at me.
“Do you have my current location?” I asked.
“Yes, sir. Got you,” she said after a few moments. “On the roof of a building with two helos, correct?”
I looked up, involuntarily, as if I could see the camera that was watching me from somewhere in orbit.
“That’s me. Now, can you overlay a road map and plot a route from my location to where they are?”
“Yes, sir. Give me a moment please.” I could hear her typing furiously, muttering to herself as she worked for close to a minute. “OK, sir. I have it.”
“Good. First, how many miles?”
“1,574 road miles from your current location, sir.”
“Can you do a quick scan of the roads on the route? Are they open? Clear of herds or anything else?” I asked.
“Stand by, sir.”
Again I could hear her working, but this time it was nearly five minutes before she came back on. Colonel Crawford had wandered over to get some food while I was waiting. Finding my stash, he hadn’t been shy about helping himself. He returned with an open pack, waving me farther away from the Huey so he could light one.
“Sir, the roads are mostly clear. What I mean by that is in the Denver and Salt Lake City areas there is a lot of congestion. Abandoned vehicles. Wrecks. There are also small groups of infected wandering around both cities, but I’ve adjusted the route to bypass the worst areas. It added twenty-three overall miles but will probably save hours.” She said.
“Excellent. Now what about the large herds coming out of Portland and Seattle? Are they on track to go through the area where our people are down?”
“Yes, sir. They are.”
“How long until the leading edge is in their area?” I asked.
“I’ll need a few minutes to run the calculations, sir. Please stand by.” She didn’t wait for me to say anything, just immediately set to work.
“What are you thinking?” Crawford asked while we waited.
“I’m thinking I’m going to find a fast car and haul ass,” I said. “The rest of you pick up Scott, Irina and Igor, then Martinez flies you to the Bahamas.”
“Good idea,” Katie said from behind me. “But where are we going to find a car?”
Crawford suppressed a grin and walked away. With a sigh I turned to face my wife.
“Not we,” I said. “Me.”
“Unh uh,” she shook her head. “We.”
“Honey,” I started to say but she stepped forward, grabbed the back of my neck and pulled my head down to kiss me.
“We,” she said with a smile, turning and heading back to the Pave Hawk. I don’t think I imagined that she put a little extra sway in her hips as she walked away.
“Sir, are you still there?”
“Thirteen and a half hours, sir. That’s what the computer is coming up with. In reality I don’t think the infected will climb up into the mountains where they are, but once they’re in the area the herd will cut off access.”
“Thank you, Petty Officer. One final thing. Can you send the route you’ve mapped out to this phone? I don’t need a map, just text directions are fine.”
“I’ll send both, sir.”
“Thank you,” I said, ready to hang up but she stopped me.
“Sir, if you call me when you get on the road and let me know what you’re driving I’ll track you. That way if anything changes I can call and give you a heads up.”
“Petty Officer, why you’re not a Senior Chief already is beyond me. Remind me to talk to your CO when this is over.” I said.
“Thank you, sir! And don’t forget to call. I don’t sleep much anymore. You can pretty much always reach me.”