“I don’t see any movement, sir.” Jessica said over the sat phone connection.
We were on US highway 283, driving due north from Dodge City. The speedometer was solidly on 140 miles per hour and I had to stay very focused on the rough road. The sun was directly over my left shoulder, the bottom edge just beginning to brush the horizon.
Once we’d gotten back up to speed I’d had Katie get the phone out and place a call to Jessica. I wanted to check on the progress of the Bradley as well as see if the weather had let up enough for her to at least get a thermal image of Rachel and the pilot. I asked about the Bradley first and she had taken a moment to locate it as her attention had been focused on Dodge City.
“They’re not answering the FSOC, either. The Bradley is just parked at a small truck stop. The rear ramp is up and it appears to be buttoned up tight.”
We could hear her working the keyboard and mouse as we waited. I can be the most patient person in the world when I’m in a combat situation, but don’t ask me to wait for information. Or for a table at a restaurant. I absolutely despise waiting to be seated and used to drive Katie nuts. Guess that wasn’t a problem any longer.
“What are you seeing, Jessica?” I asked when I couldn’t take it any longer.
“Nothing, sir. I thought I saw some movement around the Bradley but it was just a large bird.”
Katie and I exchanged a glance and she shrugged her shoulders before I had to turn my attention back to my driving.
“Stand by, sir. I’m scanning out from the Bradley in case I missed something.”
I forced myself to be patient and focus on the road. The flat grasslands on either side of the faded ribbon of asphalt were turning a brilliant shade of reddish-gold in the dying light of the sun. I was grateful for the pair of Oakley shades that Katie had found in the car as the glare would have been almost unbearable without them. Katie was sitting with her head turned slightly away from the setting sun, her eyes squinted into slits. That’s fine if you’re not the one driving at a ridiculously fast pace.
“Nothing within fifteen miles of the Bradley, but there are a couple of bodies on the ground back at the truck stop. Didn’t see them earlier because they were in shade under a canopy, but the sun’s angle changed and I spotted them. Both in Russian uniforms, but they’re face down and that’s all I can tell.”
“No other bodies?” I asked, almost afraid of the answer.
“Negative, sir. That’s it. And I don’t think they’re in the Bradley. I did a thermal scan and its engine isn’t hot, so it’s not sitting there idling. The feed was being written to disc so there’s a chance I’ll be able to go back and find out what happened to them, but it will take me a while.”
“OK,” I said. “See what you can find. What about the targets in Idaho?”
“Weather has improved, but there’s still heavy overcast,” she reported a moment later. “Thermal is able to see one target alone, sir. At the edge of a lake. There are nine other heat sources in a loose group a few hundred yards to the target’s front.”
“Only one target?” I asked, feeling a deep sense of dread in my gut.
“Yes, sir. Only one. He, or she, is next to a campfire and is definitely alone.”
I didn’t know what to say as fear for Rachel flushed through me. Katie picked up on it and reached over to place her hand on my shoulder.
“Sir? You still there?” Jessica asked after almost a minute of silence.
“I’m still here,” I said, surprised my voice was as strong as it was when I spoke. “Please keep an eye on the target as well as see what you can find out about the group that was in the Bradley. Where’s my next fuel stop?”
“You turn west onto Interstate 70 in fifty-seven miles, then in one hundred and eleven miles you’ll see a large truck stop. There’s a few infected in the area but it’s the only fuel for seventy miles in either direction.”
“Thanks, Jessica. Call me as soon as you know something,” I said and hit the button on the steering wheel to end the call.
“It might be the pilot that’s missing,” Katie said, trying to comfort me.
Considering the circumstances, that I was upset over the possibility that a woman who might have replaced her was dead, I was deeply touched. And reminded how good of a wife I really had. She’d always been the more thoughtful and considerate of the two of us, usually making sure I was better behaved than I would have been if left to my own devices.
“Or it might be the pilot and Rachel’s dead,” I said softly, unconsciously pushing harder on the accelerator pedal but it was already flat against the floor.
Katie didn’t have anything to say to that. She settled for squeezing my shoulder to reassure me then turned to pet Dog when he thrust his head between our seats.
“You saw our house after I left it?” She asked, trying to distract me.
“Yeah. I was in an Air Force bomber on my way to Los Alamos. Got them to let me take a look. I was going to head home as soon as I was done in New Mexico.”
“Steve told me it burned,” she said. “Was he telling the truth?”
“He was,” I said, nodding. “And that was my first clue that you might still be alive. The roof had caved in from the fire but my truck wasn’t in the garage. Speaking of my truck, how the hell did you beat it up so bad? Even the bumper was missing when I found it at Tinker!”
The sun had set by now and I removed the sunglasses as the Dodge’s automatic headlights came on. What I wouldn’t have given for a set of night vision goggles so I didn’t have to run with the lights on. I’d be able to see better and the Charger wouldn’t stand out against the dark prairie. But I didn’t have one so I kept pushing and hoped for the best.
“Focus on your driving and don’t kill us and I’ll tell you what happened to your truck,” Katie said, still scratching Dog’s ears.