I grabbed the sat phone and Katie, Dog and I jumped out of the Dodge. Taking a moment to set the phone to silent, I scanned up and down the abandoned street. There was a stiff wind blowing. Little swirls of dust, leaves and trash skittered along the pavement. Other than those sounds it was absolutely silent. Eerily silent. I still wasn’t used to this new world of ghost towns and cities.
“How about in there?” Katie asked, pointing at the bank building.
I shook my head. “Too easy to wind up on an upper floor and get trapped,” I said. “Besides, that’s one of the first, obvious places I’d search.”
The wind shifted and the stench of cow shit blew across me. As I continued to survey the area I remembered that a third of the beef consumed in America came through Dodge City. Or had come through, I corrected myself.
“There,” I said, pointing at a single level building on the far side of the closest intersection that took up most of the block. We set off at a trot, Dog running to catch up after lifting his leg on a tree growing through a grate set into the sidewalk.
The building looked old, or at least old as far as American buildings go. It had probably been built in the late 1800s or early 1900s. It had a high roofline despite not having a second story and currently housed a local department store. Signs for men’s suits, women’s dresses and shoes for the entire family festooned the windows fronting the sidewalk.
If I was right it would be a maze inside with lots of hiding places and the building was large enough that I had no doubt there would be multiple exits. Coming to a stop at the double entrance doors I tried to see inside but the bright sunshine turned the glass into a mirror. All I could see was a reflection of the three of us and the street we were standing on.
Pulling the door open I gave Dog a few moments to sample the air. He immediately growled, letting me know there were infected inside. I paused for a moment, debating. The large store was well suited for hiding, but I didn’t have time for a protracted battle to clear out infected.
But bypassing this building and finding another one by no means guaranteed it wouldn’t be full of infected. We needed to get ourselves under cover quickly. The Russian helos were fast approaching.
“Infected,” I mumbled, stepping across the threshold with Dog at my side.
Katie followed, letting the door swing shut and bump against her back. My rifle was up, scanning, and I whistled loudly. I wanted to draw the infected to me and get this over with.
The sound of a rack of clothes crashing to the floor caused me to spin to my left. Two males were bumping their way through the maze of shelving and freestanding racks full of women’s wear. I shot both of them and rescanned, not seeing anything.
There was no power and while the sun streaming through the windows provided plenty of light at the front of the store, the back half was lost in deep shadows. I activated the night vision scope on the rifle, but while the interior appeared gloomy to my day adjusted eyes there was too much light for the electronics to perform their function and I shut it down.
Dog was on alert, ears up straight as he pressed against my leg. Despite the tension in his body he wasn’t growling. Trusting him, and wondering how the hell he could tell a live infected from a dead infected by smell, I began moving deeper into the store.
We slithered our way amongst the round, chrome display racks that were jammed full of hanging clothes and seemingly arranged to prevent anyone from easily walking through the area. I’ve never understood why clothing stores do that, and it was always one of my pet peeves whenever I went shopping with Katie.
Towards the back of the store there was a set of swinging doors and I carefully pushed them open, pausing so Dog had time to give the air a good test. He stayed quiet and Katie and I moved into a stock area. Very little of the light made it this far and I was able to scan the large space with the night vision scope. Confirming that Dog’s nose was right, I headed for the back wall where there were several tall stacks of boxes.
To either side of the immediate area were two exit doors, both with alarmed crash bars on them to prevent someone from opening them without setting off a siren unless they had a key. Using my Ka-Bar I popped the cover off the one to my right and cut the wires leading from the battery, then slapped the housing back in place.
Pushing on the crash bar the door lock released without an alarm and I looked out on a narrow alley and several vehicles as well as a couple of large dumpsters. Repeating the process on the other door I saw that it opened into a small alcove off the alley. A rusting iron ladder attached to the outside of the building climbed up to the roof.
I now had two exits that could be used if needed without tripping an alarm. I was hoping the Russians’ last view of me had been the car heading west, out of town, and they’d just keep on going. But I wasn’t going to count on it. I needed to be ready if they started a door-to-door search.
I didn’t think that was too likely as the manpower required would be significant. Each of the HIND helicopters could only carry a maximum of eight soldiers in addition to the flight crew, and as far as I knew there were still only two helos hunting me.
“Call Jessica and see what the Russians are doing,” I said to Katie as I began stacking boxes to create a hiding place for her and Dog.
“No signal,” she said a minute later.
“Then don’t worry about it,” I said without stopping what I was doing. “Not worth going outside.”
It didn’t surprise me that the phone couldn’t pick up a signal. Satellite communications, whether phone, data or TV is actually a very low powered signal and it’s rare that you can connect without direct line of sight to the orbiting antenna. I usually roll my eyes and change the channel when I see a TV show depicting someone standing deep in a building, talking away on a sat phone.
“What are you doing?” Katie asked, tucking the phone away and moving closer to watch as I picked up a heavy box of Levi’s.
“Making a cave for you and Dog to hide in,” I said without pausing.
“And what are you going to be doing?”
“Hopefully, nothing. But if they start moving into town and searching for us I’m going to do what I can to discourage them. It’s me they really want. If our theory is correct and Steve cut a deal with them I seriously doubt they’re going to worry too much about fulfilling their end of the bargain.” I said, stepping back to admire my handiwork.
I had restacked most of the boxes, leaving a small space open that could hold Katie and Dog. Once they were inside there were a dozen more boxes I’d stack into place and unless someone tore the whole mess apart they would be invisible.
“You are NOT sacrificing yourself for me!” Katie stepped in front of me and grabbed my arm. “We can fight together.”
“Honey,” I said, looking down into her eyes. “I’m not planning on sacrificing myself. But they may find me. And if they do it’s better that they find just me. They won’t look too hard for you, if at all, once they have me. If you’re with me, they get both of us. If you’re not, you’ll probably get away. Call Jessica and have her get a message to Colonel Crawford in the Bradley. Then get on the road to Idaho.”
I held up the keys for the Dodge. Katie looked at me for a long time before taking the keys and putting them in her pocket. Throwing her arms around my neck she pressed herself against me and kissed me. Hard.
“You do not get yourself caught,” she said in a hard voice when the kiss ended. “I don’t want to be without you ever again. Rain fire on these fuckers. Do whatever you have to do, but come back to me!”
I pulled her back against me, both of us looking up at the ceiling as the whole building vibrated from two helicopters passing low overhead.