Book: Recovery (2015)

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Katie and Dog were settled and as long as they remained quiet I thought they’d be safe, even from a stray bullet.  The boxes were heavy, filled with stacks of tightly folded denim jeans.  I was hopeful that if things went really sideways the multiple layers of tough fabric would stop a round.

The HINDs had roared overhead at high speed and I was confident that my ruse had worked.  They had lost access to the satellite imagery and were continuing on in the last direction they had seen me traveling.  But how long before they realized they were pursuing nothing and came back to Dodge City?  It wasn’t much of a stretch to think they would figure it out.

Moving through the store I pushed out into the bright afternoon.  A run down two-story office building was across the street from the department store and that’s where I’d already decided to wait for them.  If necessary I could draw them away from Katie’s hiding place.  If they caught me, well I’d lie my ass off and tell them she was dead, killed by an infected.

Maybe they’d believe me, maybe not.  But soldiers are the same everywhere.  None of us like to search buildings for an enemy in hiding.  That is probably one of the most dangerous activities one can undertake.  Your target has the advantage of already having taken up a position where they can sit and wait, nice and quiet.  You, on the other hand, have to move, checking every little nook and cranny and hoping you don’t get shot in the back of the head as you walk past their hiding place.

I was counting on being able to convince them there was no need to search farther.  If they actually got their hands on me, that is.   They would want to believe me.  Want to get the hell out of Dodge, no pun intended, without starting a building-to-building search.  But I may have been being too optimistic.

There was little doubt that each of the Russian helos was loaded down with Spetsnaz troops.  They would be every bit as skilled as I was, and probably just as motivated to do their jobs and do them well.  They wouldn’t be Special Forces if they weren’t.  The best-case scenario would be if I could stay hidden until they reached the conclusion that I wasn’t in the area.

If both HINDs were fully loaded that would mean sixteen soldiers on the ground.  A lot against just me but not very many to start clearing buildings.  Dodge City wasn’t a large town by any means, but it was large enough to swallow up sixteen men on foot.  To mount an effective search they really needed twenty times that many as well as ground support vehicles.

The front door of the office building was locked up tight and I didn’t want to blast it open with my rifle and leave evidence that I’d broken in.  Moving around the side I froze when I spotted four males slowly bumping along amongst some parked cars.  They hadn’t heard or smelled me and were far enough away that I didn’t feel the need to put them down.

They were moving slowly, away from the building, and I gave them a few minutes to open some room before proceeding to the back wall.  Another alley ran behind the buildings.  Pausing, I poked my head around the corner, not pleased when I saw three females.  Fortunately they were moving down the alley away from me. 

I quickly checked on the males but they were continuing on their path.  The females were far enough away that I could have probably slipped into the alley and found a door without them noticing, but I couldn’t count on whatever entrance I did find being unlocked.  So I stayed right where I was, head constantly swiveling as I kept an eye on all of the infected as well as the entire area around me.

The town was deathly quiet, the sighing of a stiff wind the only sound other than the occasional bump of a male as he made his way through the parked vehicles.  I was listening hard, afraid that at any moment I’d hear the sound of heavy helicopter rotors approaching and would be forced to move before I was ready.

If that happened there were reasonable odds the females would notice me and come charging.  I didn’t want to leave bodies on the ground or a pack of infected pounding on a door I’d gone through.  Either would be like a neon sign to the Russians telling them to check that specific building first.

But then, maybe our theory was all wrong and they were just going on some unrelated mission that happened to bring them across our path.  Yeah, right.  And tomorrow I was going to wake up at home in bed with Katie and find out this whole thing had been a dream.

Standing there, waiting for the infected to clear the area, I tried to think of a way I could use them against the Russians.  But every idea I came up with was quickly dismissed.  The females finally turned a corner and after a last check on the status of the males I slipped into the alley and moved along the back of the office building.

A plain, steel door was set into the block construction of the wall and the knob turned freely in my hand.  Pulling the door open slowly I looked through the opening from the side, rifle up and ready to fire if anything moved.  It wasn’t well lit inside the room but there was enough light leaking in from the windows facing the street for me to be able to thoroughly scan without needing the night vision scope.

The walls were lined with cheap plastic shelving, which sagged under the weight of the boxes stored on them.  Other than that the room was empty.  Stepping inside, I quietly pulled the door closed behind me.  Keeping my attention to my front I fumbled behind me until finding the deadbolt and engaging it, then setting the lock in the knob.

Walking deeper into the building I wished for Dog, wanting his nose to warn me of any infected that might be lying in wait.  But it was just me, on my own, so I moved forward very slowly.  I spent ten minutes satisfying myself that I was alone on the first floor before climbing the creaking stairs to check the upper level.

By the time I reached the second floor landing any infected in the building would have been waiting for me.  Every tread of the staircase had creaked and popped as I’d climbed.  The sounds were loud in the quiet of the abandoned building.

Even though it should have alerted anyone or anything and brought them running to investigate, I still exercised the same caution in clearing the upper level as I had the one below.  Getting sloppy because you think there’s no danger when you haven’t verified it’s clear is a great way to die young.  Once I was done, without finding anything to cause me problems, I relaxed and lowered my rifle on its sling.

The noise the stairs produced when walked on determined that I would stay on the ground floor.  They were just as noisy going down as they had been going up, and even though I knew I was alone in the building I breathed a sigh of relief when I reached the bottom. 

I spent a few minutes checking out the businesses occupying the floor.  A small CPA’s office took up the left rear corner, the front half of the level housing an unidentifiable enterprise.  There were several desks, each with a phone and stacks of papers, but I didn’t care enough to try and figure out what they did.

The entire right half of the first floor was a small animal Veterinarian.  A long, laminate counter separated the entrance from two small exam rooms and the slightly larger storage area I’d entered through.  The reception counter was chest high, probably so dogs couldn’t jump over it, and there was a small gate that prevented open access between the public and private areas of the office.

I settled into an office chair, pulling the lever and lowering it with a hiss of the pneumatic cylinder.  With the seat all the way down I was able to sit comfortably and see over the counter and through the front windows.  I had an unobstructed view of the department store where I’d left Katie and Dog.

Several stand-up cardboard displays lined the surface of the counter and I arranged them to provide more concealment from anyone looking in.  They marketed personalized tags for dogs and cats, microchips to identify your pet, a brand of pet food I’d never heard of and one of them sold a variety of different colored dog whistles.  I glanced at each, returning my attention to the street, then looked back at the whistles.

I’d recently had my hearing checked because Katie was concerned over how loud I would set the volume on the TV.  My hearing had been fine, I just like it that way.  Anyway, I’d wound up in a conversation with the technician performing the test.  He had been a medic in the Army, which was what started us talking.

We chatted about various things related to the military then he’d gone over the results of my hearing test with me.  I don’t know if he did this for everyone but he went into a lot of detail about how humans lose the ability to hear high frequencies.  The eardrum grows larger and stiffer with age and can’t respond like it could when we were kids.

He went on to explain how children and teenagers can hear a dog whistle, but adults over the age of about twenty can’t.  I hadn’t thought about it since that appointment but now it made me wonder.  The infected experienced a lot of subtle physiological changes, not the least among them being enhanced hearing. 

Did it all have to do with the nervous system, or could there be some changes to their ears?  Could I call them in with a dog whistle, the same way the tone transmitted by the Russian satellites could attract them?  Reaching out, I pulled one of the whistles off the display as I heard the faint sound of approaching rotors.

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