Book: Recovery (2015)

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“What the fuck?”  I said, Crawford and I exchanging glances.

“Someone’s alive,” he said.

I almost said something really sarcastic and mildly disrespectful about him being Captain Obvious then remembered he was a Colonel and I was a Major.  Biting my tongue I shook my head.

“If that door is breached we need to clear the police station first,” I said.  “Make sure we didn’t just release a whole bunch of infected.”

“Agreed,” he said and we slowly turned into the smaller hall.  Behind us the man kept crying out for help.

The dust was clearing and I could see the heavy file cabinet lying on its side, a large rent torn through the thick steel.  The deadbolt had been punched out of the door, leaving a nice hole.  We dragged the cabinet out of the way and lights on, carefully pulled the door open. 

The explosion had warped it and it took some force to swing it far enough to pass through.  Two infected males greeted us, both wearing torn and soiled Oklahoma State Police uniforms.  I was in front and shot them both.

We were in a wide hallway with several closed doors.  Ahead I could see that it opened into a large space filled with cubicles.  A long, chest high counter ran the width of the space, restricting access from the public area just inside the glass doors that were covered with the metal shutters.

I tried the knob on the first room we came to, finding it locked.  This was a wooden door with a standard commercial handle and I blasted it free with a burst from my rifle.  Kicking it open, I scanned but the space wasn’t occupied.  It was only a storage closet.

We gained access to the next room in the same manner, finding the station’s armory.  A row of M4 rifles lined one wall.  Shotguns, pistols and a couple of bolt-action sniper rifles were racked on the other.  A large cabinet occupied the wall farthest from the door and I stepped in and pulled it open.  It was stuffed full of ammo.  Lots of pistol and shotgun, but there were several thousand rounds of 5.56 mm for the rifles.  I’d come back for it.

The next room held an infected male and a body.  It looked like the station commander’s office.  I shot the male and pulled the door closed.

Closest to the cubicles was a large room with tables and chairs arranged to face a small, tabletop podium.  Most likely a training and briefing room.  It was vacant.  Behind the table was a small closet and I pulled it open carefully, standing well back with my rifle up.  But there weren’t any infected, only a pegboard with several sets of keys hanging on it.  Bingo!

I grabbed all the keys and shoved them into the empty pouches on my vest that normally held grenades.  Tucked in the far corner of the closet was a lightweight, wheeled hand truck.  It was folded up and probably used to more easily move boxes of files.  I grabbed it and carried it out to the hall where Crawford was waiting for me.

On our way back to the jail section I stopped and checked all of the dead cops, looking for keys.  I found several sets and discarded the ones that were obviously for personal vehicles.  Pausing at the armory I unfolded the hand truck and loaded it down with five cases of rifle ammo, then balanced three of the rifles on top.  You can never have too much ammo or be too well armed.

Moving back through the damaged door I tugged the cart over the debris on the floor, then turned and headed for where Katie, Dog and Martinez waited.  Dog was happy to see me, giving the stack of loot a good sniff.

“Seeing you walking in with enough guns and ammo to start a small war brings back memories,” Katie said from the far side of the room.  I just shook my head.

“There’s someone alive back there,” Crawford said, bringing surprised looks to both women. 

“How?”  Martinez asked.  “I thought enough time had passed that if you weren’t vaccinated you would have turned.”

“Me, too,” I said, parking the cart by the exit.  “We’re going to go take a look.”

“Careful,” Katie said.

I nodded and led the way back toward the cells.  The man had stopped calling out and for a moment I wondered if we had imagined it, then dismissed that thought as ridiculous.  Maybe one of us, but not both.

Stepping through the last door we stopped next to the iron stairs that led to the second level.  Everything looked the same, but the infected locked in the cells were agitated.  Well, if there had been any loose they would have homed in on the yelling and we’d be able to see them.

“Hello?”  I raised my voice.

“Hello!  Up here!  Help me!”  I looked up at the second level and could see a frantically waving arm sticking out between the bars of a cell at the far corner.

The Colonel and I slowly climbed the stairs, metal treads ringing under the soles of our boots.  When the man heard us on the steps he stopped waving his arm and fell quiet.  The infected didn’t, their hisses and moans sending chills down my spine. 

At the top we turned right and moved along the elevated walkway.  To our right was an iron safety rail painted bilious green.  It was all that prevented a fall to the smooth concrete floor below.  To our left were the cells.  Each was six feet wide and maybe ten deep.  Two stacked bunks were on one wall, a small toilet-sink combo in the back corner opposite the beds.  The openings were covered with heavy, iron bars that were thick with old paint.

Every cell held at least one infected, some of them occupied by two.  We had to hug the safety rail to avoid the grasp of the males who were shoving their arms through the bars, trying to reach us.  Many of the ones with a lone infected also held a rotting corpse that the infected had been feeding on. 

The smell was horrible and brought back memories of an operation years ago when I’d been part of a unit that was sent in to stop a genocidal dictator in a shithole country in an even shittier part of the world.  Our first day on the ground we came across a mass grave that was still open and this was the closest to that throat constricting, bile inducing stench I’d encountered since.

Reaching the cell where the arm had been waving, I aimed my rifle in so the flashlight shone on the occupant.  He was a small man, not much more then five foot eight or nine and slight of build.  In his late 30s or early 40s he had a pasty white complexion and dirty hair down to his shoulders.  He stood there staring back at me, blinking in the light.

I moved the rifle around, checking the rest of the cell, pausing when I saw a body tucked under the bottom bunk.  The man turned his head to see what I was looking at.

“He was infected,” he said.  “The guards were gonna let us out.  Let us take our chances rather than die locked up like animals, but they turned before that happened.”

“How long ago?”  I asked, moving the light back to his face.

“Four days,” he said.  “I’ve been drinking the water out of the toilet and pissing and shitting in the corner.  Thank God you’re here.  Are you the Army?  Please get me out of here.”

“Why isn’t he infected?”  Crawford asked me as if the man wasn’t standing there.

“How long have you been locked up?”  Crawford asked the man when I didn’t respond.

“Just before the attacks, however long that’s been.  Come on.  Get me the fuck out of here.  Please!”

“Can’t have been vaccinated,” I said to Crawford.  “What do you want to do with him?”

“What’s your name?”  Crawford asked him.

“Walker.  Johnnie Ray Walker.  My friends call me JR,” he said.

“And why are you in here, Mr. Walker?”  Crawford asked.  “And before you answer, you’d damn well better tell me the truth.  I’m going to go check the files and if you lie to me I will leave you in there to rot.  Do you understand?”

“Yes sir, I understand.  I got caught with a bunch of guns that didn’t belong to me.”  He didn’t hesitate or try to explain.

“I’ll be back,” Crawford said and motioned me to follow him.

We walked back down the balcony, staying well away from the cell bars and clanged down the stairs into the hallway.

“What are you going to do with him?”  I asked.

“Don’t know yet,” the Colonel said.  “First things first.  Let’s get you on the road then the Captain and I will see what we can find out about Mr. Walker in the files while we’re waiting for Scott to arrive.”

“You realize he just might be immune,” I said.  “If he is they’ll want him in Seattle.”

“Already thought about that.  If he is, he just became the most important man on the planet.  But I think it’s more likely he just hasn’t turned yet.”

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