Copyright © 2014 by Christian Bergman, All rights reserved.
All people, places, and events are fictional … except when they aren’t.
The Nudist War – Day 44
He rounded the corner only to see Jess on the ground, covered in blood … As Eddy moved toward Jess, a crazed naked woman came running around the corner and lunged at him. Eddy didn’t wait for introductions. He unloaded two shotgun rounds into her, but she kept coming. A third shot to the face dropped her at his feet.
• • •
“Urrrrargghh glurrrppp … urrrrargghh wrrraccch.” The sound of vomiting came from the behind the restroom door.
“You okay in there?” Eddy asked. It was 4:00 AM. Dr. Edmund Hillary had been up since midnight after getting a much needed six hour nap. He had just come out of the lab to get some coffee and empty his bladder (not necessarily in that order).
“Urrrrargghh … yeah … urrrrargghh.” A few minutes later Jessica emerged wiping her face with a wet towel. “Need more Ondansetron.” she muttered and staggered over to the medicine cabinet. “May as well take more Ibuprofen while I’m here.” She opened both bottles taking a pill from each and washing them down with a swig from a freshly opened water bottle. “I’m going back to bed,” she muttered and headed back to her cot. Eddy was used to this by now. The main side effect of the Interferon was nausea and vomiting, hence the Ondansetron.
“External power is back up,” he said. … No reply … “I’ll tell her later,” he thought.
• • •
Eddy’s relationship to Jess was like that of a kitten to it’s mommy. He was full of energy. She was mellow. He was always pouncing on her with bad puns and good natured verbal jabs. She was long suffering and tolerant. Early on they had developed a special bond. Now that it was just the two of them rattling around in the empty lab complex. He doted on her constantly.
Earlier that morning, just after 2:00 AM, the external power had come back on. The complex had been running on its standby generators for about a day and a half since they lost power. “Good to know that someone is still working at CenterPower,” Eddy thought, not sarcastically – more of a “thank God someone is still alive at CenterPower.” These days one never knew. With the power back on again, the generators shut down automatically to save fuel. Jess had been fretting about running out of fuel, so this would be very good news.
Eddy pulled up the CenterPower website on one of the laptops and discovered: one that the website was actually up, and two that their section of the power grid was back on line. “Thanks for thinking of us,” he thought. As an afterthought, he clicked over to the “Contact Us” page and sent them an email. “Thanks for getting the power back up to the CDC Special Circumstances Complex on Galveston Island. We were getting worried. How are things with you? (signed) Dr. Edmund Hillary, 555-438-9355.”
“Wonder if we’ll get a response?” he thought to himself. “What the heck …” Eddy searched through the list of phone numbers and started dialing. Report an Electric Power Outage … no answer. Report Downed Power Lines … no answer. Report Electricity Theft … no answer. Billing office … no answer. Eddy sighed, “oh well, it was worth a try.” He glanced at the clock on the computer. 4:26 AM. “Doh!” he exclaimed out loud. “I’ll try later today when someone might be awake.”
Almost as if on cue, the laptop began to ring with an incoming Skype call. “That was fast,” Eddy thought, somewhat rattled. Then he realized he hadn’t given CenterPower his Skype address. It was the WHO office in Zürich. He instantly recognized Heinrich Mueller’s face on the screen, “Guten tag, Heinrich, how are things at World Health Organization this morning?”
“Not so good I am sorry to say. We have made no progress isolating the HZV virus. To make matters worse, new cases continue to present daily. The death toll from the virus is now almost fifty percent, not counting victims of the diseased. Thankfully our power, water, and communications infrastructure is still intact. Food, though, is beginning to run short. Those of us remaining are having to make do with less and less. What about you?”
“Well … the good news is that we still have power, water, phone, and Internet, although we did just lose power for about a day and a half. I hope that is not a sign of things to come. We still have access to plenty of canned and dry goods, if I make the supply runs … and by we, I mean Jess and I. The bad news is that I suspect that the U.S. death rate is greater than yours, but I have no exact figures. This is based on the updates we get from the CDC and anecdotal evidence from our contacts across the country. We have had no progress on correlating HZV resistance to MS. Of course our only MS reference is Jessica. Feedback from the CDC is inconclusive.”
“Any clue as to why you never got sick?” Heinrich asked.
“No more idea than why you never got sick,” Eddy replied.
“Any news from Atlanta?”
“We have a scheduled conference call with CDC Atlanta later today. There was no progress last time we talked.” Eddy paused … “So, to what do we owe the honor of this call? Surely it’s not just to exchange pleasantries.”
“We need more nerve and brain samples from infected victims.”
Eddy pondered the impact of that statement; wondering how he could be involved; waiting for ‘the other shoe to drop’.
“Hello, Dr. Hillary, are you still there?”
“I’m still here. Why? Aren’t the Austrian samples good enough?”
“We think we are seeing an interesting mutation. We need samples from a wider population. We hope you will be able to assist us.”
“How do you propose we send you these samples? FedEx and UPS aren’t exactly picking up and delivering anymore.”
“We have a long range jet at our disposal. We can fly to Galveston Airport with a single refueling stop at the airport in Gander Newfoundland, which is currently disease free. We would need to refuel at Galveston. You would need to confirm the availability of fuel at Galveston for us, otherwise we might need to fly into Hobby or Bush airports. Either way we would need you to confirm the availability of fuel.”
“Hmmm,” Eddy pondered. “Yeah, I suppose I can do that. But that’s not what concerns me. How do you want these … samples … prepared for shipment?”
Heinrich paused, “we need them alive.”
Eddy processed what he just heard, not believing he had heard or understood it correctly. “Please repeat.”
“We need the samples alive,” Heinrich repeated, “at least four, more if possible. Male and female.”
Eddy whistled low. “You’re serious aren’t you?” Fervently hoping this was a bad joke.
“Deadly serious, I’m afraid.”
“And how, exactly, do you propose we capture, restrain, and transport four raveningly hungry Zs?”
Heinrich paused, “That, I will leave to you. Can you get help? What about the army or police?”
“What army? What police? There is a small group of survivors who have taken over the Seaside Hotel, maybe thirty or forty people. Maybe I can get them to help. How soon do you need these samples?” Eddy asked.
“Sooner is better. You ought to confirm the fuel first. We may be able to send help to capture the samples.”
“OK, I’ll know more after our meeting with Atlanta.”
“I understand,” Heinrich Mueller replied. “Auf Wiedesehen.”
“Goodby.” Eddy closed the connection and looked at the time. It was a little after 5:00 AM. “It’s going to be a long day,” he thought. “Guess I better catch some …” Eddy stopped short and laughed out loud. “I guess this gives a whole new meaning to the phrase catch some Zs.”
• • •
Five hours later …
“Wake up sleepy head, your alarm has been going off for the last five minutes.” Eddy opened his eyes to see Jessica’s face looming over his.
“Ummmffff,” was all Eddy could muster at the moment. “What time is it?”
“Ten thirty-five,” Jess replied. “What time did you get to bed?”
“Five-ish.” Pause … “We need to catch some Zs.”
“OK, so go back to bed. Atlanta doesn’t call until after lunch. Catch all the zees you need. I’m finally rested up and can hold down the lab while you sleep some more,” Jess said in a motherly tone.
“I talked to Heinrich this morning. He needs brain and nerve samples. They need to be alive. We need to catch some Zs, males and females, two each, more if possible.”
Jess’s face went pale as the full implication of what she just heard finally registered. “How?” She was too unnerved to even remember to swear as she collapsed onto a nearby chair. All of Jess’s courage, regarding Zs, came from the semi-automatic shotgun she carried every time they went outside. Ever since the awakening, she was quick to fire first (and second) and ask questions later. The thought of having to get up close and personal with a live Z again was more than she could deal with at the moment.
• • •
The virus hit Galveston without warning on what was later determined to be Day 6 of the pandemic. Over a third of the city fell ill with the flu, filling all of the hospitals and clinics on the island and the mainland. By the second week the sick were told to stay home and avoid contact with others. Since Galveston was one of the first outbreak sites, there was speculation that it had come ashore on one of the many cargo ships frequenting the Port of Galveston.
• • •
Seventeen days ago…
Jess and her team were researching the H17N10 bat flu, but had been in close contact with Atlanta regarding the new mystery illness that was sweeping the country. Up to now there were no reports of anything out of the ordinary, just severe flu-like symptoms with an occasional lapse into coma. Most of Jess’s team had called in sick or were staying home in fear, leaving Jess and Eddy alone in the lab. Jess made daily calls to her staff to check in with them to make sure that they were okay. All of them answered the phone or returned her calls – except for Ruth Mertz. Jess had not heard from her in almost a week. “I’m really worried about Ruth,” Jess confided to Eddy, “I want to run over to her place and see if she needs anything.”
“I’ll go with,” Eddy replied. As they rode the elevator down to the parking garage, Eddy volunteered to drive. Once in the garage, they made their way over to the electric vehicle charging stations and Eddy walked up to the only car there. “Hop in while I unplug her,” he said as he opened the passenger door for her. Jess went to get in, but the passenger seat had two gun cases leaning against them. “Sorry … shotguns,” Eddy apologized as he put them in the back seat. “I was planning to go to the shooting range, but things got crazy and I was too lazy to take them out of the car.” Eddy had lately developed a fascination with firearms, and shotguns were first on his list. He already had an assortment of double barrel shotguns, both side-by-side and over-under, and had just acquired a 12-gauge gas-operated semi-automatic shotgun.
Jess got in and adjusted her seat belt as Eddy silently backed out of the space. Eddy shifted into forward and just as quietly, the car zoomed out onto the road in front of the garage. “Pretty zippy isn’t she,” Eddy commented as he powered the silent car up to and over the speed limit. The sun was setting and the roads were eerily deserted. A light fog had moved in from the Gulf, depositing a light film of water on everything. Eddy turned on the windshield wipers. “Which way to Ruth’s?” They drove along the empty streets oblivious to the occasional movement in the shadows just outside the range of the headlights. Suddenly Eddy stomped on the brake and the car screeched sideways to a stop. “Did you see that? What just ran in front of the car?” Jess shook her head, she had seen nothing. Eddy collected himself, straightened out the car, and proceeded down the road.
“Ruth’s place is just up ahead on the right.” Jess put on a surgical mask as a precaution. “Here it is. Stay in the car. I won’t be more than a minute.” She got out, closed the door, and walked off toward the apartment complex, disappearing into the swirling mist.
Eddy was bored. He reached around into the back seat and pulled one of the shotgun cases up into the front. It was getting dark, so he flipped on the interior lights. “Let’s see, ” he muttered as he opened the case and took out the semi-automatic shotgun. “She really is a beauty,” he thought as he admired his latest acquisition. He opened up a box of #4 buckshot and absentmindedly began to load his new toy. A dog barked somewhere in the distance, then shrieked as if in pain, then silence. Eddy didn’t notice, he was too enamored with loading the shotgun. “What is taking her so long?” he wondered. More dogs barking off in the distance. More yelping and howls of pain. This caught Eddy’s attention. “Something’s got the dogs stirred up tonight,” he thought. Eventually the barking and howling came to a stop. Eddy rolled down the driver’s side window and listened intently. He heard nothing but eerie silence coming through the fog. The hair on the back of his neck stood on end. “Something’s wrong,” had barely crossed his mind when Eddy was shaken by a blood curdling scream, followed by “EDDY … HELP!!!”, followed by another scream. It was Jessica.
As if in slow motion Eddy slid out of the driver’s seat and stood up, mist swirling around him, shotgun in hand. He was chambering a shell as he spun to face the direction of the screams. Planting one foot in front of the next, he ran through the fog eventually reaching reached the main gate. Another scream. Time slowed to crawl. He took the stairs two at a time. “EDDY!!!!” The plea was now even more desperate, as if that were possible. He rounded the corner only to see Jess on the ground, covered in blood, fighting off a long haired woman. Eddy swung the shotgun around and drove the butt into the woman’s face. The woman, only mildly stunned, turned her attention to him. She lunged. Eddy fired. BOOM. The shotgun blast echoed on the terrace. Blood splattered on the wall behind her. She kept coming. Eddy fired again, this time point blank at her face. BOOM. Blood and bone and brain bounced off the wall and ceiling, raining down on him.
“Who? What? … What was that?” Eddy yelled.
“Ruth,” Jess shrieked hysterically.
Jess was covered with scratches and bite marks … and bits of Ruth. The surgical mask she was wearing was spattered with blood. Both of her arms had been clawed and bitten as she tried to defend herself. Her clothing was soaked in a mixture her blood and Ruth’s. The door to what must have been Ruth’s apartment swung on its hinges. A man ran out of the apartment, leapt onto Eddy’s back, and sunk his teeth into Eddy’s shoulder. Eddy swore in pain and flailed around wildly trying to knock the man off of his back. Unfortunately his attacker had a vice-like grip on him. Eddy repeatedly slammed his back against the wall trying to dislodge his attacker. Eddy finally dropped to his knees using the balcony railing as a ‘spatula’ to scrape off his attacker. It took several attempts, but with the help of the railing he eventually pried the attacker off of his back. The unknown assailant fell to the ground below. As Eddy finally moved toward Jess, a crazed naked woman came running around the corner and lunged at them. Eddy didn’t wait for introductions. He unloaded two shotgun rounds into her, but she kept coming. A third shot to the face dropped her at his feet.
“Can you walk?” Jess nodded yes, as he reached down to grab her hand to help her up. “Get back to the car … RUN!” They ran frantically back to the car through the deepening fog. Everywhere around them shapes stirred in the shadows. Eddy opened the door for Jess and helped her in, then ran to the driver’s side and got in. He stomped on the brake, hit the “Start” button, shifted to forward, and stomped on the accelerator. With a screech of rubber and the low whine of the power inverters, the car rocketed away. Eddy checked the rear view mirrors. Dark shapes were chasing after them.
Eddy ran some evasive maneuvers to make sure that no one had followed them and headed silently back to the complex. He drove once around the perimeter to make sure they were alone. Inside the garage he pulled up to an EV charging station and reloaded his shotgun before getting out of the car. Listening carefully for any sign of intruders, he plugged in the charging handle, then went back to the passenger side and helped Jess out. “Can you take this?” he asked as he reached into the back and handed her the empty shotgun case. She nodded yes. Then he grabbed the case with the other shotgun and they made their way to the elevator. The elevator had no call button, but was instead activated by the security card Eddy carried on a lanyard around his neck. After what seemed like an eternity, the elevator arrived. Once inside, Eddy held the security card to the card sensor inside the elevator until it beeped and glowed green, then pushed the button for the lab floor.
When the elevator door opened, Eddy rushed Jess into the small lab infirmary. He cleaned and dressed her wounds … mostly bites and scratches … and then poured each of them two fingers of scotch from his private stash. “Ice?” he asked.
“Please,” Jess sobbed, trying to get control of herself.
“What the hell just happened back there? Were those people?”
“I … I had just walked up to Ruth’s apartment and noticed that the door was ajar. I called out to her and the next thing I knew she was on top of me. I think she was trying to … to … eat … me.” Jess finished her scotch and poured another.
“And … the guy who jumped me?”
“Dunno, boyfriend maybe? Better let me look at your shoulder. You’ve got a nasty bite.” Jess pulled off Eddy’s ripped shirt and began to scrub the bite. ” I think they were trying to eat us.”
“Sure seemed that way to me,” Eddy winced as Jess cleaned and dressed his shoulder. “One thing’s for certain,” he leaned over to pat the shotgun, “I’m not going anywhere anymore without one of these babies!”
Jess finished cleaning Eddy’s bite and put a bandage on it. They sat quietly sipping their scotch. “You OK?” Eddy asked.
“I guess so. I mean, I hurt. I’m still pretty shaken up. Ruth was always such a nice person. Did you have to shoot her?”
Eddy sighed, “she was trying to eat you. I didn’t know what else to do. And then that guy … and the crazy naked bitch. What the hell is going on?”
“Let’s turn on the TV, ” Jess responded. They walked back to the break room. Eddy switched on the flat panel display on the wall and brought up a local news channel. … ‘ming in from all over the city. Mayor Holloway has declared a state of emergency and is asking everyone to stay home and lock their doors. We go live to our correspondent at the Mayor’s Office …
Eddy changed channels. … here at Gulf Coast Guns and Ammo. The place is a madhouse. People are buying anything they can get their hands on: shotguns, rifles, pistols, hunting knives. They are already out of shotguns and shells and are fast running out of everything else. Sir, excuse me sir, why are you here. … Get that camera outta ma face. You behind the counter … hand me a box of hollow points. Hell, just give ’em all to me. … So there you have …
Next channel. … here LIVE from Galveston Island where just a few minutes ago there was a shootout between the police and an angry mob. In the distance you can still see the flashing lights of the police and EMS vehicles. Unconfirmed reports suggest that six officers have been taken to local hospitals in critical condition with bite marks and flesh missing from their faces and bodies. What? Behind us? There appear to be a number of people running toward us. Is she naked? Get the camera on this. What are you doing? Get off of me. (screams) …
Jess and Eddy spent the night and early morning on the break room sofa frozen in horror watching the world they knew torn apart. By 4:00 AM all of the local stations had gone off the air. Eddy switched to cable news, which had just begun to pick up on the story. Exhaustion and alcohol finally washed away the adrenaline and they fell asleep propping each other up on the sofa.
• • •
Day 44 – Afternoon …
The conference call with Atlanta was uneventful. Eddy relayed the request from Zürich for the live Zs. Atlanta told him to do what he could. Eddy said he would do his best. Atlanta briefed them on efforts to determine if existing treatments for MS offered any protection from HZV in uninfected subjects. The results were inconclusive. Both Eddy and Jess agreed afterward that it was an hour of their life they would never get back.
“So what are our chances of getting help from the Seaside Hotel folks?” Jess asked.
“All we can do is ask,” Eddy replied with a loud sigh. The thought of having to deal with MAN again was more than Eddie could handle just now.
• • •
Matthew Augustus Nobel, or MAN as he demanded he be called, was an alleged distant relative of Alfred Nobel (of Dynamite and Prize fame). As Eddy was quick to point out, MAN was no prize, but he definitely had an explosive temper. An ex-Navy SEAL, MAN was the victim of one too many missions, bar fights, car crashes, and motorcycle wrecks. At sixty-five years of age he was still in incredible shape, sustained by daily workouts, but he lived in almost constant pain. As he was fond of saying, alluding to the science fiction classic Dune by Frank Herbert, “I don’t know what I did to piss off that third stage Guild Navigator, but I am most definitely living my life out in a Pain Amplifier.” Living in constant pain meant that MAN had a low tolerance for fools and an equally low opinion of almost everyone else. It was his way or the highway, except that you weren’t given the choice of the highway.
MAN commandeered the Seaside Hotel sixteen days ago, as the initial awakening was taking place. A long time resident of the Seaside, he set about turning it into his own private fortress. Starting with his personal arsenal, he quickly implemented an ATF survival strategy by judicious “visits” to local mini marts, liquor stores, and gun shops during the early hysteria. As MAN explained it, the ATF strategy … stockpiling Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms … meant that he had all of his vices covered while providing himself with highly liquid assets and the means to protect them. He was less worried about the diseased than he was about healthy people plundering his hoard, and he wasn’t much worried about healthy folk.
After the hysteria of the initial outbreak, MAN discovered a couple dozen people hiding out in the Seaside. He took them under his wing after laying down his conditions and getting their pledge of obedience. The survivors were just thankful to have a safe place to sleep and someone to tell them what to do. Word got around of MAN’s fortress and eventually some thirty or forty survivors came to call it their home. Under MAN’s supervision, the Seaside became a highly regimented bastion of safety. Armed guards protected the first floor entrances that could not be sealed up and snipers patrolled the roof. Marauding Zs were shot on sight. Daily supply raids kept food, medicines, and toiletries in supply. The ATF stockpile continued to grow. The Seaside Hotel slowly acquired a new name … The MANsion.
• • •
Eddy picked up the phone and autodialed the front desk of the Seaside. It rang and rang … no answer. “Oh come on,” Eddy swore under his breath, “I know you’re home, where else would you be?”
“Well?” Jessica asked.
“And you were expecting …?” Jess said, mocking him.
“I was hoping that this time they would answer the damn phone. I mean it’s not like someone is going to call them about starting a newspaper subscription or changing their phone service for Christ’s sake. I’m the only one who ever calls them.”
“Maybe they’re busy?”
“Doing what?” Eddy sniped back.
“How should I know? Maybe MAN has them on a mission, ” Jess replied.
“His name is MATTHEW!” Eddy refused to call him MAN. “The man’s name is Matthew. What kind of a stupid name is MAN?”
“I know they’re his goddam initials!” Eddy was loosing his temper. “Pick up the phone,” he cursed as he slammed down the phone and immediately redialed. Still no answer. “Rrrrrrrrrr,” he growled. “I do not want to go out there.”
“Oh, just go, the fresh air will do you good. I can hold down the lab until you get back,” Jess offered.
“Right.” Eddie walked over to the closet and pulled out his favorite semi-auto shotgun, a box of shells and two bandoliers. He refilled the bandoliers first, followed by the shotgun and its buttstock shell holder. “I’ll be back in time for dinner,” he quipped, chambered a shell, and headed for the stairs.
They had disconnected the elevators soon after the initial outbreak. Stairs were easier to watch, listen to, and defend. The doors to the stairs had sturdy bolts and hinges – and could be locked from either side. Eddy reached the stairway door and looked through the small square mesh-reinforced glass window. He then put his ear to the door and listened intently. When he had determined that the “coast was clear”, he took out his keys, unlocked the door, stepped quickly into the stairwell, and then relocked the door. Guarding his forward approach with the shotgun he stepped quickly down the several flights to parking garage. Just outside the garage exit, he picked up the intercom phone on the wall and called the lab. “OK, I’m at the garage. What is the status?”
“Nothing on the security cams,” Jess replied. “Have fun. Oh, and say ‘Hi’ to MAN for me.”
Eddy winced at the name MAN. “Roger that,” he replied and hung up the intercom phone. He unlocked the door and was into the garage in a flash, locking the door behind him. He ran to the electric car charger bays, unplugged his car and jumped into the driver’s seat, setting the shotgun, stock end down, into the passenger side foot well. Seconds later he was silently speeding out into the late afternoon sun.
• • •
Jessica finished taping down the zipper flaps of her isolation garment and began to tape down the cuffs of her gloves and booties. “OK, that’s done. Now for the head gear …” as she put on her helmet, face mask, and forced air filtration system. She stepped quickly though the outer door into the air lock, then through the inner airlock door to the lab. Once inside the lab she began prepping samples for another DNA sequencer run. As she did, she also brought up a different security camera on each of the laptops and monitors in the lab. She cycled through the views until she saw Eddy’s car zipping along the beach road on its way to the Seaside Hotel. The high resolution camera clearly showed the surf lapping gently at the beach beyond the road and a pack of Zs running on the beach like a bizarre track team. Jess subconsciously began humming the theme from Chariots of Fire. The Z track team was an odd mix of men and women spanning several generations. Most were completely naked, though some still wore the occasional shirt or dress. They appeared to be running just for the fun of it, but on closer observation it became apparent that they were unsuccessfully hunting sea gulls. Jess mused on whether this might be the same pack she saw chasing down the border collie two days ago. She continued to watch the Zs with morbid fascination long after Eddy’s car had disappeared from view.
• • •
Eddy sped silently along the beach road in the late afternoon sun. It was a beautiful day. The sky was a clear dark blue. The fall air was cool, yet the sun on his face and arms was warm. The day was nice enough that Eddy had rolled down the windows once he was on the open road and relatively safe. He enjoyed the smell and feel of the salt air and admitted to himself that the fresh air was in fact just what he needed. Up ahead on the beach, running in the same direction he was driving, a pack of Zs seemed almost at home. On another beach, at another time, they might just be a group of nudists out for an afternoon jog. Eddy slowed down to watch them, marveling at their beauty. The Zs looked for all the world like lean healthy athletes competing in a mixed gender, multi-age Greek marathon. He took his foot off of the accelerator and his car silently paced them. Between the sound of the surf, the whisper quiet of the electric car, and their intent focus on the seagulls ahead of them, the Zs paid no attention to him. This detente between the Zs and Eddy seemed to last forever until Eddy noticed several of them pointing at him. “Uh oh, time to go,” Eddy muttered as he stepped on the accelerator. Quick as the Zs were, his car was quicker.
Periodically glancing in the rearview mirror, Eddy quickly accelerated up to 100 mph. One of the perks of the HZV outbreak was that speed limit enforcement was a distant memory. One could drive as fast as one wanted just about anywhere, any time. The only danger was impacting a fast moving Z crossing the road. Throughout the island, someone with a sense of humor and can of spray paint had been changing pedestrian crossing signs into Z crossings.
In the far distance, Eddy recognized the rapidly approaching outline of the Seaside Hotel. At 100 mph, he closed the gap in a few short minutes. He took his foot off the accelerator and coasted the remaining distance, breaking only at the last minute. Surrounding the Seaside was a makeshift outer wall of cars and trucks that had been jockeyed into position to provide an outer safety perimeter. Beyond the cars, the Seaside had been transformed into an ad hoc fortress. All of the windows on the first three floors had been securely boarded up. Furthermore, each balcony on the first three floors was completely filled with objects that further protected the boarded-up glass doors. Refrigerators, dish washers, and washer/dryers were positioned to further impede access to the lower rooms. Cars had been placed against the boarded-up glass doors on the ground floor. On the roof and upper balconies armed watchmen and snipers stood, scanning the surroundings with binoculars and spotting scopes. Anyone or anything approaching the Seaside was known well in advance of their actual arrival.
Eddy stopped the car and got out, leaving the shotgun in the car. He would have no need of it here. He walked up to a gap in the cars closed off by a chain link gate. “Tell Matt that Dr. Edmund Hillary is here to see him,” he yelled up to the nearest guard, six stories high, standing on a balcony. No reply. “I said, tell Matt that Dr. Edmund Hillary is here to see him.” Still no reply. “Hey you, are you deaf,” he yelled louder. “I said …”
“I heard what you said,” the man yelled back. “Aint no Matt here.”
“Fine, tell Matthew that Dr. Edmund Hillary is here to see him,” Eddy replied.
“Aint no Matthew here, either.”
Eddy grimaced and tried a third time. “Tell MAN that Dr. Edmund Hillary is here to see him.”
The guard disappeared back into the hotel room. After an interminable length of time the guard returned. “MAN is busy. Come back tomorrow.”
“When?” Eddy yelled back.
“Come back tomorrow,” the guard repeated, then turned and walked back into the room out of site.
“When?” Eddy repeated, his voice getting hoarse. No answer. “Shit,” he swore out load. This was why he hated dealing with MAN. “Oh well, at least it’s a nice day for drive,” he thought as he got back into the car and pulled onto the main road. When he reached the pack of Zs on the way back he didn’t bother to slow down. At 120 mph they were a blur in his peripheral vision.
• • •