Book: Recovery (2015)

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The flight back to the small town, I never learned its name, was quick.  Martinez gave the steel communications tower a wide berth as she brought us into a hover before slipping sideways and landing on large concrete pad with a big yellow “H” painted in the middle of it.  An orange windsock on a tall pole had been lazily shifting in the morning breeze but went taut from the powerful wind of the Huey’s rotor.

We’d seen roughly a dozen infected males from the air, stumbling about and turning their blind eyes towards the sky when they heard us.  I had noted from the air that there was a rolling gate that could seal off the entire area within the fence, but it was open when we landed.  Releasing Dog and removing the mesh harness from his body I jumped onto the concrete and brought my rifle up.

“I’m going to go close that gate,” I said as I scanned the area.  “Find us a way inside and I’ll catch up.”  I didn’t wait for a response, just took off at a trot, Dog at my side. 

We ran along the eastern edge of the building, which was brick construction.  The wall was taller than it had looked from the air.  Tall enough for there to be two internal floors.  There was not a single break for a door or window and it took a moment for the significance of this to dawn on me.  This was probably a jail, too.

“Martinez,” I called on the radio as I ran around what I thought was the front corner. 

It was actually a change in the design of the building.  I was now next to the front part of the structure and it was narrower than the rear and no more than a single story.  There were also windows spaced evenly.  This must be the administrative area.  Finally clearing the front corner I could see the gate across a large, asphalt parking lot that held a few cars.

“Go for Martinez.”

“I think this rear area is a jail,” I said as I ran.  “Don’t go in without me.  There may be a lot of infected inside.”

“Copy,” she said.

The gate was set twenty yards back from the road and there were already half a dozen males making their way towards the opening.  Picking up the pace I made it to the gate at the same time as the leading three.  Dog surged forward and leapt, taking the closest one to the ground as I drew my Kukri and waded in.

Two fast slashes and mine were down.  I turned around to see Dog standing over the body of the one he’d killed, looking at me and wagging his tail.

“I got two.  You’re slacking,” I said to him.  He ignored me and trotted over to pee on a small bush.

Grabbing the edge of the gate, I pulled and rolled it along the metal track set into the pavement.  It squealed and protested and was hard as hell to move, probably rarely having been used.  But I got it closed, the three remaining males banging into it when they arrived a moment later.

There wasn’t a lock on the gate, or a chain or any other way I could see to secure it.  Knowing I’d be driving out in a short amount of time I decided it was good enough and headed back across the parking lot.

“What’s your location, Captain?”  I asked over the radio.

“West exterior, about a third of the way from the front.”  She answered immediately.

Changing directions I ran down the front of the building and turned the corner.  I could see my group standing a dozen yards from the side of the building, waiting for me.  All of them had their rifles up.  Dog and I covered the distance quickly and I circled behind them and came to a stop between Crawford and Katie.  A heavy steel door set into the brick wall was standing open.

“Did you open it?”  I asked

“Negative,” he answered.  “It was open when we found it.  Haven’t seen or heard any…”

He stopped speaking when Dog lowered his head and growled, attention focused on the opening.

“Well, guess that answers that question.  Ready?”  I asked.

Everyone acknowledged they were and we moved to the outside wall next to the door.  Crawford and I stacked up just like we had when we cleared the rooms at the casino.  Dog was next to me and Katie and Martinez were watching our rear so we could focus on the entry.

A soon as we moved against the wall I could smell the stench wafting through the open door.  It was the sickly sweet smell of rotting bodies overlaid with the odor of human waste.  I wasn’t happy to note that the lights were off but there wasn’t a solar system here to fix before I went inside.

Turning my flashlight on, I swiveled into the side of the open doorway on my knee, Crawford right behind me with his rifle over my head.  We were looking into what appeared to be an intake area for prisoners.  Nothing was moving.  The Colonel tapped my shoulder to let me know he wasn't seeing anything from his higher point of view so I stood and we moved quickly.

I scanned to the left as he checked the right.  Still no threats.  The area was small, hard benches with steel rings for securing handcuffs lined the perimeter.  There was an interior wall that looked like it was reinforced, solid up to five feet then ballistic glass with wire mesh the rest of the way to the ceiling.  A wide door stood open a few inches, the glass reflecting our lights so we couldn’t see what was beyond. 

There were dried splashes of blood on the walls and floor, the once shiny tile littered with shell casings.  Someone had fought back here.  Katie and Martinez followed us into the room and would stay here to make sure nothing came in behind and surprised us.

I gestured at the door and Crawford and I stacked up and repeated.  Moving through the opening we found ourselves in a long hallway with several rooms down either side.  It ended at a steel and reinforced glass door, which was also partially open.  Dog, at my side, growled as we stepped into the hall.  I glanced at the Colonel to make sure he understood the significance and he nodded back.

Moving slow and quiet we approached the first door.  It wasn’t actually a door, just an opening in the wall that let into a small room.  An infected male wearing a filthy guard uniform was bumping around behind an “L” shaped bench, unable to find a way out.  A round to his head ended his efforts.  The rest of the room was clear.

The second opening was to a short hall that stopped at a heavy door with another reinforced glass window.  The door was locked but peering through the glass I could see into what looked like the part of the building set aside for the police.

Continuing, I shot two more males dressed like guards before we finished clearing all of the rooms in the hallway.  As we approached the door at the end of the hall the smell got much worse and Dog emitted a long growl.  This time I didn’t need his ears and nose to tell me there were infected ahead.  I could hear the low hissing and growling of males.

We passed through the door into the main jail area.  It was two stories as I’d suspected from the outside.  There was a large central area that was open all the way up to a high ceiling, three of the four walls lined with barred cells.  The second level was more cells with a narrow walkway running the perimeter.  A set of iron stairs immediately to my left served as access to the upper level.

Skylights set in the ceiling lit the area.  It wasn’t exactly bright, but bright enough that I didn’t need the flashlight.  Clicking it off to save the battery I kept scanning the area.  The sounds of the infected were all around us but there wasn’t any movement.  Stepping to the row of cells on my right I turned the light on and aimed it through the iron bars.

An infected male, wearing an orange jumpsuit, stood in the back corner of the small space.  A body dressed the same lay on its back in the middle of the floor.  It had been torn open, the internal organs feasted on.  What a hell of a way to go, locked in with no escape when your cellmate turns.

I glanced at the Colonel who just shook his head then made another scan of the area.  Not seeing any infected outside the cells I didn’t have the desire to go look at all the poor souls who’d been locked up when they or their cellmate turned.  It must have been horrible in all the prisons and jails throughout the world.  We moved back into the hall, staying quiet. 

Leading the way, I took us back to where Katie and Martinez were waiting.  I called over the radio before we reached them, letting them know we were about to step through the door.  They had taken up positions on opposite sides of the room, rifles trained on the exterior entrance.

I had an idea of how to get through the door into the police station, but we hadn’t checked the public entrance to the building.  Maybe it was unlocked and we could just walk in.  Stepping back out into the morning sun, all of us headed for the front corner of the building.  Pausing when I reached it, I stuck my head around to survey the area.

The gate was still closed and there were now close to a dozen males and three females pressing up against it.  I wasn’t concerned about the males.  I was a little worried that when we showed ourselves the females would quickly figure out how to slide it open.  Not that there were enough of them to really present a threat, but I didn’t know how many more were in the area and would show up if they began screaming.

Making my decision, I signaled for my group to hold in place.  Dropping to a knee I brought the rifle up and quickly dispatched the three females.  When the last one fell I stood and started to lead the way but stopped and turned back.

“Martinez.  Stay here at the corner and keep an eye on that side door we just came out of.  Be sure you can see us, too.  If we can get in through the front I’ll call you.”  I didn’t want to leave access to the jail area unwatched and have to clear the whole area again.  She nodded and stepped a few yards away from the corner so she could see both directions.

Moving quickly to the front entrance I tried to peer through the glass doors.  The sun was too bright and all I could see was my own reflection.  Pulling on the handle, the door opened easily.  I looked through and didn’t need to go any farther.  Heavy steel shutters that rolled down from the ceiling were in place, completely sealing off this way into the building.  If the Bradley had been there it wouldn’t have been hard to breach, but...

“Coming back to you,” I called to Martinez and let the door swing closed.

Back at the corner I explained what I wanted to do.  All of us were going to move back into the prisoner reception area.  Katie, Dog and Martinez would keep watch on our rear.  Crawford and I would force our way through the door into the police station.

Back inside I took a few minutes to search the different work areas until I found some duct tape.  I had expected it to be there.  I doubted there were many military, police or fire facilities that didn’t have at least one roll of the damn indispensible stuff rattling around.

Going to the small hall that led to the door I needed to break through, the Colonel took up station out in the main corridor to guard our backs.  Not that we hadn’t cleared the area but we hadn’t checked every nook and cranny.  There could well be infected loose in the building that we hadn’t found in our cursory inspection.

Tearing off a long strip of tape I secured my last fragmentation grenade directly over the heavy-duty deadbolt.  I stood there looking at the door for a moment, concerned that it might be strong enough to withstand the blast.  I needed something to focus the energy towards the lock and prevent it from freely expanding away from what I wanted to destroy.

Back in the hall I motioned for Crawford to stay put and stepped into one of the other small rooms.  This one appeared to have been used for fingerprinting incoming prisoners and the sparse furniture was large and heavy.  Grasping the top of a solid looking file cabinet I tried to tilt it away from the wall.  I could barely move it.  Perfect.  If I could just get it out of this room, across the hall and into position.

Waving Colonel Crawford in with me, I quickly explained what I was doing.  He nodded, made a quick check of the hall before slinging his rifle, then helped me tilt and lift the cabinet.  This wasn’t one of the cheap, thin walled units you see in many offices.  It was constructed of heavy gauge steel and had a long locking hasp running its full height.  An iron rod could be dropped through the hasp and padlocked, securing all of the drawers.  Once locked, you pretty much needed a cutting torch or explosives to get it open.

The damn thing weighed a ton, or felt like it did, and by the time we carried it ten yards and got it in position both of us were panting and sweating.  Stepping back, I was happy with the results.  We had shoved the edge of the cabinet against the body of the grenade and it would do a good job of concentrating the explosive force onto the deadbolt.

I waited until Crawford was back out in the main hall, safe around the corner before reaching behind the file cabinet and yanking the pin out of the grenade.  I turned and ran to join him.

“Fire in the hole!”  I alerted Martinez over the radio as I turned the corner.

The grenade detonated with a bass thump I felt in my chest and the soles of my feet.  The solid door and heavy file cabinet had muted much of the blast, exactly as I’d hoped.  Stepping back into the short hall I couldn’t see much because of the dust and debris floating in the air.

I was heading forward to see if my idea had worked when the Colonel called out to me.

“Major, you should come hear this.”

I joined him, looking in the direction he was facing.  I didn’t hear anything at first and started to ask what he was referring to, then held my breath when I heard it.

“Help!  Help me!  Who’s out there?  Help!”  The voice was coming from the area with all of the cells.

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