We were going so fast I blasted through a tiny town before I even realized it was there. I had seen a small stand of trees on the horizon, approaching very fast, and hadn’t realized they marked the edge of a few small buildings. The Dodge roared through at such a high rate of speed I wasn’t able to tell what any of them were.
I had zeroed out the trip odometer when Katie told me we were 104 miles from the turn on US 183 and I gave the instrument a quick glance. 102 miles. Less than two to go, and at our current rate we would cover that in less than a minute. I hit the button to cancel the cruise control, the speedometer quickly swinging down until I put my foot on the gas to hold us at 80.
“Did that town we just went through have gas?” The extreme speed we were maintaining was consuming fuel at a ferocious rate.
“I don’t know. We went through too fast,” Katie answered, leaning sideways to see the gauges. “Wow! We’ve really used half a tank already?”
“Yep. First, give me the distance to our next turn once we’re on 183, then call Jessica so we can have her find us a gas station within the next hundred miles.”
Katie grabbed the sat phone and started scrolling through, checking the directions that had been texted to it. Ahead I could see the intersection and the crashed vehicles I had been warned about. Lightly tapping the brakes I steadily brought our speed down, slowing more when I realized I’d have to drive onto the dirt shoulder to get around the wreck.
“187 miles due north to I-70,” Katie said, pressing and holding the speed dial button on the phone. I reset the odometer as the phone began ringing.
“I’m watching you turn north, sir.” Jessica answered as I maneuvered around the crash. “I’ve scanned ahead and you’ve got wreckage at 52 miles and again at 131.”
I pressed the accelerator to the floor and the Charger leapt ahead with a roar of exhaust.
“Thanks,” I said. “I’m going to need fuel within the next hundred miles, then probably about every two hundred after that if you can start working on spotting gas stations for me.”
“No problem, sir. Stand by and I’ll find your first one.”
We were back up to 140, but the new highway wasn’t as smooth as the last and I had to pay more attention and make almost constant corrections to the steering wheel to keep us in a straight line.
“At the site of the first wreck you come to, sir. There’s a small, independent gas station less than a quarter of a mile farther down the road. If you call me while you’re refueling I’ll have the next one spotted for you.”
“Thank you, Jessica. How are the targets doing?” I asked, referring to Rachel and the pilot.
“Weather’s getting really bad at their location. I’ve lost them on thermal for the moment due to the thickness of the cloud cover. They were moving before I couldn’t track them any longer and I think they were headed for a lake. That’s the only thing in their direction of travel that makes sense. They actually moved deeper into the mountains.” She said.
“OK, thanks. Call me if anything changes.”
“Will do, sir.” There was a click and a beep and she was gone.
“How cold do you think it is there?” Katie asked.
“Too cold to not be wearing anything other than a flight suit. Hopefully that pilot paid attention when he went through survival training.” I pressed harder on the accelerator but we were already going as fast as the on-board computer would allow.
“So what happens when we find them?” Katie asked, scratching Dog’s head.
“What do you mean?”
“What happens? What do we do? Where do we go?”
“I don’t know,” I answered. “I haven’t thought that far ahead. Just been focusing on getting there before the weather, or something else, kills them.”
“What are you going to do about Rachel?” Katie asked. “That woman is in love with you if you hadn’t noticed.”
“I noticed,” I said. “And I don’t have a good answer for you. I haven’t exactly had the luxury of time to dwell on the subject.”
“Well, you’d better give it some thought. Her heart is already broken. Whatever you say to her just be sure you aren’t being an unsympathetic jerk.”
I gave Katie a quick glance.
“What?” She asked.
“Just not the reaction I expected from you. That’s all,” I said.
“What did you expect?”
“I’m not really sure,” I answered. “Just not compassion for the “other woman”.”
“You really don’t get women do you?” She asked, shaking her head. “This isn’t like she was someone who tried to take you away from me. The world ended. No, it didn’t just end, it crashed down around her ears and you were her knight in shining armor. You saved her life and have been keeping her alive for quite a while now. Of course she fell in love with you, and you developed feelings for her.
“I don’t blame her one bit. And I hope you understand I don’t blame you. It hurts, knowing that you have feelings for her, but I’m not some silly little high school girl that’s going to go off the deep end about it. If I put myself in her shoes I understand how fragile her emotions must be when it comes to you. All I’m saying is that I don’t want to see her get hurt any more than she’s already been.”
I wanted to reach across and take Katie’s hand, but our speed on the rough road dictated that I keep both of them on the wheel. All these years of marriage and she could still surprise me.
“I love you,” I said softly, genuinely touched by what she’d just said.
“And I love you,” she answered, reaching out and placing her hand on my shoulder. “I know you’ll handle this as well as anyone could.”
“Now you’re full of shit,” I said, laughing. “When have you known me to handle anything diplomatically?”
“Just be honest with her. But for God’s sake think about what you’re going to say before you say it. Some times you’re way too blunt with your honesty.”
We fell silent after that, quickly covering the distance to the next wreck. The terrain was so flat I could see it well before we reached it. Backing off the throttle I let the car’s speed bleed off until we were below a hundred, then used the brakes to slow us to no more than thirty. After the blistering pace thirty miles an hour felt slow enough that it seemed I could open the door, step out and walk.
Steering around the abandoned crash I spotted the first infected we’d encountered since leaving the police station. Three males stumbled down the middle of the road, heading in our direction. I imagined the Dodge was making a hell of a racket when I pushed it up to its top speed and they had probably heard us coming from a long way off.
“There,” Katie said, pointing at a small, one-pump gas station a short distance down the road.
I avoided the infected and accelerated slightly so we’d get to our stop with plenty of time to spare before they arrived.
“I’m going to get the fueling started. I’ll be under the hood connecting the pump to the battery so you and Dog keep a sharp eye out.” I said as I turned into the station and stopped next to a large plate that covered the port for the underground storage tank.
“As long as I get a potty break while we’re stopped,” Katie said, popping her door open.
She stepped out and immediately pulled the back door open to let Dog join her. I would have preferred to leave the Charger running and not take the slight risk that the car wouldn’t start when we were ready to go, but running flat out is truly tortuous on an engine. The oil needed to be checked. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to find it low after covering 150 miles in just over an hour.
I released the hood and trunk, and as I grabbed the tools to open the storage tank Katie began firing her suppressed M4. It took her several shots to put all three of the males down but I wasn’t about to criticize her marksmanship.
Opening the tank was simple, taking less than thirty seconds. Running back to the open trunk I pulled out the larger hose and fed several feet of it into the hole in the pavement. Connecting it to the pump I then attached a smaller hose, which was shoved into the Dodge’s fuel filler neck.
Power cable for the pump in hand, I leaned under the hood and yanked the black plastic cover off the battery’s negative terminal. The pump had two wires, red and black, bundled together with each one ending in a large metal clamp that looked like the ones on the ends of jumper cables. I attached the negative first then clipped the red one into place.
The pump vibrated noisily as the impeller began spinning without any resistance. It didn’t take it long to prime and start sucking fuel, the two hoses jumping and twitching like snakes as the gasoline flowed. Finding the end of the oil dipstick I pulled it out and not having a towel, wiped it clean on my pants leg. I stuck it back in, waited half a second, pulled it out again and peered at the thin strip of spring steel.
The level was still good and the oil didn’t show any sign of burning or breaking down. While I was doing this Katie fired two more shots and I looked up to see another male that had wandered around the corner of the gas station drop dead to the ground. Trusting her, I walked around the car checking each of the tires to make sure they were holding up. I didn’t even want to contemplate having a blowout at 140 miles per hour.
It took less than three minutes to fill the Dodge, fuel gushing out of the filler neck the only warning that the tank was at capacity. I was momentarily surprised, accustomed to it taking a long time to fill up any vehicle at a gas station, but the pump I was using was powerful and moved a lot of gas very quickly. Removing the clips from the battery it spun down and I ran around to pull the hose out of the car’s tank before gravity began siphoning out what I’d just put in.
I got everything drained as best I could and returned to the trunk. Slamming the lid I turned when Katie fired another shot quickly followed by three more. A female had been sprinting at us from behind the wrecked cars we’d passed. She was still alive, Katie’s bullets having punched into her torso and breaking her hip. She squirmed on the ground, crawling her way towards us.
“Stay by the car while you’re going,” I said, raising my rifle and drilling a round through the female’s head.
Dog trotted to a small wooden fence and lifted his leg while Katie squatted by the front corner of the car. Both of them were done quickly and I took a moment to relieve myself where I stood. Sometimes it’s downright convenient to be a guy.
Katie put Dog back in the rear, sitting down in front and closing her door. Once they were in the vehicle I climbed in and shut my door. The car started easily and a moment later we accelerated out of the gas station.