Monday, July 21, 2014

Part 7



Figuring out how to get him into a closet big enough wasn't the problem.  It was that he insisted that I stay in there with him.

"Oh no I won't."

"Oh yes you will.  No way am I going to let some scrawny, pint-sized, girl-child sleep off on her own when there might be infecteds roaming around.  What?  You're all of twelve?"

"Twelve?!  I'm fifteen!!"

"Well hello Methuselah's grandmaw.  And stop shouting.  I didn't mean to hurt your feelings.  How the heck am I supposed to know how old you are?"

I was mad for about two seconds and then I smiled.  "OK, you just proved it."

"Proved what?" he asked grumpily.

"Most guys would have looked at my chest and seen I'm more than all grown in that area."

Even in the dusk I could see his face go red.  "Aw hell's bells Kid.  Don't start that kind of talk.  And you're not going to distract me.  Fifteen or not you're still not going to ..."

We went back and forth a little while but I gave in since he'd let me fight it out and hadn't tried to make me no matter how much he growled and threatened.

Next morning we split some cold poptarts and powdered sugar doughnuts and chased it with some cheap knock off orange breakfast drink.

"What have you got in that pack?  Aladdin's lamp?  You make a wish and your favorite junk food spews forth?"

Rather than answer him I threw a packet of instant coffee at him.  "You are as bad as Toddie in the morning."

Flipping the brown packet around in his hand he gave me a troubled look.  "Kid, this could bring you a pretty penny on the barter market."

I shrugged.  "I've got more.  It's not like I drink it.  Dad would kill me.  He says I can't have coffee until I'm eighteen."

When I saw Sgt. Watson giving me a funny look I thought back and realized I sounded a little crazy.  I sighed.  "Sorry.  I'm not used to having anyone to really talk to."

"Thought you mentioned you talked to this Sherry chick and that you were in a group of about twenty people."

"OK, let me rephrase that," I said trying to sound like I had some sense and didn't belong on a crazy farm.  "I'm not used to people actually listening to what I say so I could say just about anything and not have it mean nothing."

He grinned a little reluctantly and told me, "My sister the teacher would call that a double negative."

I shrugged.  "Grammar.  It's just not as important as it used to be."

He nodded.  "Maybe not but words can still get you into trouble and out of it.  For instance, don't be so free with that stuff you keep sharing out of your pack; save it for when you really need it.  I'll keep what you gave me and be happy to, but you make sure you keep your mouth shut on the rest of what you got.  We got a tight ship going but we still have troublemakers and no-goods.  No need to create a situation with too much temptation."

No time like the present.  "I never said I was going with you."

He smiled which made me suspicious.  "I figured you might try and pull this.  And no, I'm not angry at you; I would probably feel the same way you do.  Just wait until our ride gets here to make your decision."

It was at that moment that his radio crackled and they said something that basically meant that they'd be there in five minutes.

"Let's pack up this trash Kid and hide it until you can dig a hole and get rid of it privately."

We'd finished that and then there was the sound of a couple of trucks coming down the street.  Big trucks.  I went to stick my head out but Sgt. Watson pulled me back and said, "Not until we know for sure.  Could be anyone.  You need to be more careful."  I shrugged and let him lead.  It was his show.  Besides Moses was always saying basically the same thing.

He picked up his radio and clicked it a couple of times.  Then someone clicked something back.  Then he clicked it again.  And then a voice called, "Hey Watson, where you at?  Got a medic and she sure is anxious to get a look at you.  Allll o' you."

I covered my mouth when I noticed how red Sgt. Watson's face got all of a sudden.  The Sgt. had a girlfriend.  He radioed back to let him know his position and I started edging away.  "Oh no you don't kid.  Just one more minute."

"Why?  You can't talk me into something I don't want to do."

He nodded.  "I know I can't. I'm hoping that someone else can though."

"Not your girlfriend."

"Nope."

I turned as the door that faced the street opened and in walked four people while some others took up positions just outside.  The first in was a long legged blonde.  Even without makeup she looked like she belonged in a fancy magazine.  She had what I was never going to have, but the smile on her face made me somehow less jealous of that fact than I could have been.  There was another woman with her and then the two guys.  One was dressed in military fatigues but the other was dressed in the kind of clothes that the swat team wore.  Then I saw the patch and I jerked my eyes to the guy's face.

I sighed in disappointment and looked away.  I didn't recognize him either.  That's when he said, "What's wrong DeeDee, don't you know me?"

I jerked my eyes back to his face and he took off his raybans.  He'd cut his hair short, a lot shorter than he'd ever had it.  And it was done in a flat top just like his dad's always was. He had a mustache like his dad too only it was kind of puny in comparison.  I swallowed twice before any sound would come out.  "Lee?"

Then he grinned and the hair and other changes didn't matter.  "Have you seen my dad?"  I asked.

Lee's smile dimmed.  "I'm ... I'm sorry DeeDee."

I had promised myself I wouldn't cry and I didn't, but it was a near thing.  "It's not like I wasn't already pretty certain.  But I had to ask.  You know?"

"Sure.  Of course.  I would have done the same thing," he said uncomfortably.

I could feel the others watching and it made me self-conscious.  Still I felt I had to be polite.  "Your dad?"

"He's ... he's working with the National Guard, handles the local security while they handle the overall stuff."

"Oh."

"Uh ... what about your mom?"

"She disappeared in the city."

"My mom too.  She was working at the hospital and ... anyway, what were you doing in the city?  I mean why weren't you at school like the rest of us?"

"Dad said I could play hookie so that Mom and I could go find a dress for the dance."  He just looked at me blankly.  "Homecoming?  Remember?  Or ... uh ... maybe you don't.  I guess ..."

"No ... no I remember it's just ... you mean you went into the city because of me?"

Then suddenly it was just Lee standing there and I was just DeeDee. "Don't be a doof.  Not because of you, because of a dress.  And I found it too.  Would have knock you right out of your socks.  It was mint colored and had only one strap.  But it covered all the vitals so my dad and your mom wouldn't have had kittens or anything."

Quietly he said, "I wish I could have seen you in it."

"You can.  Or you could if I could find something to load my cell phone card onto.  I wanna go home."

The last four words just sort of fell out of my mouth and I started shaking.  And I had to either shake or cry so I just kept shaking because I sure wasn't going to cry in front of Lee Berio.

His eyes widened and he had the nearly panicked look of a guy faced with a crying girl.  Only I wasn't crying so I can't imagine how bad he'd be if I had let the waterworks turn on.  "Oh ... Hey sure.  I'll take you there myself after Dad let's me off duty.  He'll wanna see you.  You bet he will.  A lot of people will.  They want to know where you've been at this whole time.  So do I.  Why did it take you this long to decide to try and come back?"

"We thought people would shoot us if we tried to cross the river," I whispered, trying to push sound around the lump in my throat.  Not answering though wasn't an option.  Moses had programmed that into me pretty good.

"There's nobody manning that check point; hasn't been for a long time."

"There used to be.  I saw it.  They shot at anything that got passed the half-way point whether it was on the bridge or on the river.  Then for a while the waterside area was too dangerous because of the gangs.  Lee, can I not talk about this right now.  I just wanna go home."

I saw Lee look at the woman that was taking care of Sgt. Watson.  The Sergeant and the lady had been whispering.  She looked at me and said, "My name is Maria ... Maria Riccardo."

"You don't look Spanish."

"Cuban believe it or not.  Some of us are very blonde and blue eyed."

"Oh."

"I'd like you to come back and let me check you over at the clinic.  It is kind of routine.  Once you get a clean bill of health you can go with your friend Lee here."

I didn't like the sound of it and it must have showed on my face because Lee said, "It's no big deal DeeDee.  Everyone that comes back from an outside patrol or a salvage run goes through the clinic.  It's SOP so that we don't ... you know ..."

"So you can't hide an infection or something like that.  They don't want any potential puss brains roaming around their precious streets."

The Riccardo woman said, "No.  We don't.  Can you blame us?"

I shrugged.  "No.  Just don't pretend we are going to your clinic to be nice.  You just want to make sure I'm not contagious."

"Alright.  I admit it."

"Fine.  So long as we have that straight.  No fake stuff."

She shook her head.  "No fake stuff," she agreed.

I jumped when Lee tried to take my pack.  "It's mine.  I'll carry it."

"OK," he said putting his hands up in surrender.  "You don't need to make such a case out of it."

Then we heard someone scream.

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