TNW – Day 47

This is the seventh chapter.
Start at the beginning or read the previous chapter.

Copyright © 2014 by Christian Bergman, All rights reserved.

All people, places, and events are fictional … except when they aren’t.

The Nudist War – Day 47

‘Las Pirañas Humanos’ ran naked through the jungle, traveling in ‘schools’ where they numbered in the dozens. Male and female, they devoured everything in their path and were greatly feared by the tribes people.

~ From the report of Cristóbal de Acuña to the Royal Council of the Indies, AD 1641 concerning the stories told to him by Amazon tribesmen.

• • •

Jess awoke to the sound of someone screaming. “Not again,” she thought as she threw on a robe and ran down the hall toward Eddy’s room.

Tom and Cindy met her in the hallway. “Eddy again?”

They got to Eddy’s door just as he walked out. “Sorry,” he apologized. “5:00 AM, right on time. At least this time she didn’t bite off my nose.”

“What did she bi…? Oh, never mind,” Jess replied.

“Now that we’re all up, why don’t I make some breakfast?” Tom offered.

“Maxine and I will help,” Cindy chimed in.

“What about Wolf?” Maxine interrupted. “He needs to go out first.”

“I’ll take him out,” Eddy replied. “After all, I woke you all up.”

“Agreed.” They responded in unison.

Eddy grabbed a shotgun and went through the ritual of checking the security cameras before heading up the stairs to the roof. The rest converged on the kitchen and began making hot coffee, scrambled eggs, bacon, English muffins, and juice. By the time Eddy and Wolf got back down breakfast was ready.

“It’s a gorgeous day outside. A little colder than it was yesterday. The wind has swung around and is coming in from the north.”

“A perfect day for going to the mall,” Jess replied.

“If you say so,” Eddy answered. “Still keen to get the camera gear?”

“Yes, but we should make up a shopping list first.”

“I thought we were going to finish watching yesterday’s videos?”

“Okay, okay, everyone meet back here in five minutes,” Jess replied. “Videos first, then the mall.”

• • •

MAN felt something wet slurping across his face. “Good morning Maggie. Is it time to get up? Do you need to go out?” Maggie licked his face even more aggressively and barked.

“Okay, okay.” MAN sighed.

MAN got dressed and headed off toward the stairs as Maggie bounded past him. She was already at the bottom of the stairwell by the time he got there. He opened the door and walked out into a grassy, fully enclosed courtyard. Maggie took off like a ‘hairy bullet’, running round and round and round and round the perimeter of the courtyard until she finally collapsed exhausted on the ground. Only then did she attend to her morning duties.

It was near sunrise and the sky was still a dark, dark blue. The air had a definite feel of autumn. MAN looked up to one of the spotters on the roof and asked, “Any activity today?”

“Been quiet both yesterday and today. The weather must be too cold for them.”

“Good let’s hope it stays that way.”

MAN looked at his watch and then at Maggie, “Come on girl, let’s go to the morning meeting.” With that he opened the door and Maggie ran through it and up the stairs, fully recharged. He jogged up the stairs behind her (part of his morning workout).

Mornings at the ‘MANsion’ pretty much followed the same routine: wake up, get dressed, take Maggie out for exercise and potty break, run back up the stairs, feed her, have the 6:00 AM morning meeting, workout, eat breakfast.

Maggie as usual had beaten him into the kitchen and was viciously wagging her tail and whining in anticipation of food. MAN mixed up a bowl of wet and dry food and set it down next to her bowl of water. She dove in as if she hadn’t eaten anything in days. MAN patted her gently on the side and then walked over to the briefing room next door.

His three lieutenants Brad, Ray, and Monica were standing waiting for him to enter. They were in the middle of a discussion when he walked in. “Okay, tell me the plan one more time,” MAN commanded.

Brad spoke first. “Monica and I will grab six people and go out to the airport to check on fuel. We will go in two vehicles, Monica in one and I in the other. We will take the radios with us and stay in constant communication with each other and base. We will be heavily armed, as usual.”

“Agreed,” MAN concurred. “Ray?”

“I will begin going through all of our videos and documenting sightings of Zs; noting time and location of the sightings, makeup of the pack, and descriptions of the individuals. I will also look for lone Zs not related to a pack. I will make sure that the usual spotter and sentry positions are covered.”

“Excellent,” MAN smiled. “Oh, Brad make sure you have someone covering the base radio.”

“Already have that addressed,” Brad replied. “Dave will be handling that.”

“Very good. Then get to it.” MAN left the meeting room and walked to the other side of his penthouse to where his workout equipment was.

Prior to the awakening MAN already had a fairly impressive set of workout equipment. After the awakening he took the opportunity to commandeer additional equipment as he deemed necessary. MAN worked out religiously every day after the morning meeting. His workout consisted of the standard regimen of rotating through the various strength training machines and then 20 laps up-and-down the six flights of stairs. He worked through this despite being in almost constant pain. His reward at the end was a half hour on the inversion table to decompress his spine. When the weather was good he and his lieutenants would sometimes run along the beach road under the protection of several heavily armed escort vehicles. As they ran they would sing a chant which included the verse We ain’t afraid of no Zs.

• • •

When Jess, Eddy, and the Brauns returned from their break, they continued watching the video where they left off the day before, “This is video from my cell phone. The Surf Pack is running toward us.” Jess said. “The Surf Pack is characterized by the tall gray-haired male and the female with the long red hair, who,” she looked at Eddy and smirked, “may or may not be the red-haired female of Eddy’s dreams. How many Zs do you count? ”

“Stop the video,” Tom requested.

“One, two, three … ” They each began counting.”… twenty-two, twenty-three.”

“Do we all agree on twenty-three?”Jess asked. They all nodded. “Okay, twenty-three it is. How many males and how many females?”

“Continue playing the video please,” Eddy requested. “Okay, stop the video. I’d say thirteen females and ten males including ‘Miss Scarlet’ and ‘Mr. Gray.'”

“Does everyone else agree?”Jess asked.

“If we go through and name them all, we will have the correct count anyway, won’t we?” Maxine asked.

And so it went. ‘Miss Scarlet’, ‘Mr. Gray’, ‘Chicken Man’, ‘The Incredible Hulk’, ‘Dolly Parton’, ‘Mo’, ‘Larry’, ‘Curly’, ‘Wonder Woman’, …

“Hey, isn’t that Mahesh?”

“Mahesh?”

“You know, Mahesh, from the Indian restaurant.”

“Backup the video.”

“See?”

“Oh my god, it is Mahesh. I guess it was only a matter of time until we recognized someone.”

… ‘Mahesh’ …

… an hour later. “Thirteen females and ten males,” Jess repeated.

“Now to compare against the video from Eddy’s phone.”

… and another hour later … they reached the exact same conclusion.

“Let’s get still images of each Z and annotate them with their ‘names’. Tom and Cindy why don’t you get started on the archival footage. Eddy and I will make our shopping list.

• • •

Brad and Monica had rounded up their respective teams and had chosen their vehicles – two four-passenger 4×4 pickup trucks. As usual for all of their missions, they had military grade communications equipment, shotguns, machine guns, handguns, and lots of ammo … lots of ammo. Someone had painted We ain’t afraid of no Zs on both sides of the lead pickup. They each performed a radio check with Dave before leaving the compound.

“Come in base. This is Patrol One. Brad here. Over.”

“This is base. Reading you loud and clear, Brad.”

“Base, this is Patrol Two. Monica here. Over.”

“Roger that Monica.”

“Base, this is Patrol One, leaving the compound now. Over,”

“This is Patrol Two. Ditto that. Over.”

“Roger that, Patrol One and Patrol Two. Stay safe out there.”

The two pickups headed out along the beach road toward the Galveston airport. The wind had swung around overnight and was now coming straight out of the north. The temperature was decidedly colder than it was yesterday.

“Patrol Two, this is Patrol One. It’s a beautiful day for a road trip. Keep an eye out for anything out of the ordinary.”

“By out of the ordinary do you mean NOT seeing any Zs? Because that would be out of the ordinary.”

“Roger that,” Brad laughed.

The trip into Galveston was uneventful. Other than the occasional seagull or pelican the road was deserted. Eventually the beach road (also known as FM 3005 and/or the San Luis Pass Road) turned into Seawall Boulevard, which ran on top of the Galveston Seawall. To the right, the seawall dropped steeply down to the Gulf of Mexico. In some places beach sand extended perhaps as much as ten or twenty yards away from the seawall. In others the water lapped directly against the seawall. On the Gulf side visibility was excellent.

To the left were assorted restaurants, hotels, apartments, shops, and other tourist attractions. Any of these places would be an excellent location for Zs to hide in ambush (assuming Zs were capable of planning an ambush).

“Patrol Two, this is Patrol One. The right side is clear as far as the eye can see. Pay particular attention to the left side.”

“Base, this is Patrol One. We are driving along Seawall Boulevard approaching 83rd Street. No hostiles in sight.”

Despite the strong use of military-style radio lingo, no one in either of the two patrol vehicles had ever had any actual military training. Everything they knew they had learned from MAN. Brad had been a Physical Trainer prior to the awakening, although he was an avid weapons enthusiast. Monica had been a Physical Therapist … so coincidentally they were both PTs. She had no prior weapons training, but under MAN she blossomed as a weapons specialist.

“Base, this is Patrol One we are pulling off Seawall Boulevard onto 83rd Street enroute to Scholes International Airport.

“Roger that, Patrol One. Patrol Two come in.”

“Base, Patrol Two here. We are following Patrol One onto 83rd Street.”

83rd Street ran along the western outskirts of Galveston past vacant lots, parks, and baseball diamonds.

“Hey Brad, do you see the activity off to your left? Over.”

“Roger that Monica, looks like heavy nudist activity. Over.”

“Base, this is Patrol Two, are you getting this? Over.”

“Roger that, Monica. Heavy Z activity to your west. Are they moving?”

“Yes, slowly to the north parallel to us. Should we engage? They are pretty far away off in the fields.”

“Monica, this is Base. Negative on engagement. Keep a low profile.”

“Roger that.”

• • •

Jess and Eddy started work on their shopping list, while Tom and Cindy began reviewing the security cam videos. “So what do you think we need?” Eddy asked.

To which Jess replied, “In no particular order: several digital SLR cameras, SD cards, variable zoom lenses, telephoto lenses, tripods, a dash cam. We need to have better image capture capability than we have with our phones.”

“In other words, clean out the camera store. I don’t know, our phones seem pretty good to me.”

“But we ran out of recording space, remember?”

“Point taken,” Eddy admitted. “Now to figure out the safest place to shop. I really don’t feel good about going to the mall, too easy to get trapped. I would preferred an independent camera store or even an electronics superstore.”

Jess pulled up a map on her laptop. “Hmm, let’s see. We’ve got a camera shop here and here.” Jess pointed to the screen with her finger. “And an electronics superstore here.”

Eddy studied the map for a minute.”Let’s try this camera shop first.” He points to the closest one. “Then we will try this camera shop next. Finally if we don’t have what we need we will hit the electronics superstore. Are you ready to leave now?”

“Let me have a quick check with Tom and Cindy first.”

“Okay, meet you back here in twenty minutes?”

• • •

The patrol was now due east of the main airport terminal on 83rd Street, where it intersects Terminal Drive in a wide triangular section of pavement. “Hey Brad, does anyone know where these fuel tanks are supposed to be?” Monica radioed. “Over.”

“Monica, I think I see them off to my left, just north of the main terminal building, beyond the security fence. Can you see the two big above-ground tanks?”

“Roger that. I have visual on two large cylindrical fuel tanks. Now the question is how to get to them.”

“This is Base. Head south to the terminal. Take the road north of the terminal, it leads to the gate closest to the fuel tanks. What is your current threat assessment? Over.”

“This is Patrol One, we see no indication of hostiles. Proceeding with caution. Over.”

“Roger that, Patrol One.” Dave replied.

The two pickups headed south on Terminal Drive and almost immediately turned right into the terminal complex.

“This is Patrol One we have pulled into the terminal complex and are heading west toward the runway. Over.”

“Roger that, Patrol One.”

“Base, we are now pulling up alongside of the terminal building. The gate appears to be closed. No sign of hostiles. We are stopping at the gate.”

“Roger that.”

Zs on the left! Zs on the left!” someone screamed.

As Patrol One passed the terminal, a horde of Zs converged on it from the hidden west side of the building, swarming over the pickup like fire ants or killer bees on some unsuspecting intruder.

Brad didn’t bother with the radio. He yelled “FIRE” at the top of his lungs and began firing his semi-automatic shotgun into the oncoming horde. Monica, in the second vehicle, watched in horror as Zs managed to get in through the passenger side windows of Patrol One while Brad and his team desperately fired out of the driver side. She watched the right side passengers literally pulled from the pickup through the open right side windows. Once outside of the truck, the hapless victims were set upon by multiple Zs and quickly subdued and devoured.

“OH GOD OH GOD OH GOD” Monica screamed. “Hold on!” She slammed the shifter into reverse and stomped down on the accelerator with all of her strength. The 4×4 burned rubber on all four tires as it screamed backwards down the short side road beside the terminal. She missed the dog leg turn, lurched over the curb onto the grass, and slammed into one of the power poles inconveniently located in her path. The force of the collision caused the airbags to go off, temporarily pinning Monica and her front passenger against their seats. The two rear passengers panicked, opened their respective doors, fell out, and ran east toward 83rd Street.

Once the airbags deflated, Monica desperately tried to restart the pickup, but the engine merely cranked without restarting. “Come on, come on. Start damn you.” Zs were now entering the pickup through the open back doors. Monica got out of the pickup and began spraying the back seat with automatic rifle fire. This gave her remaining passenger time to collect the weapons and climb into the bed of the pickup. Monica climbed in with him and they sat back to back firing on the approaching Zs until their ammo ran out.

• • •

Jess returned to the break room at the appointed time. “Ready to go she asked?”

“Yep. Check the security cams. I’ll get the weapons.” Eddy returned in a few minutes and handed Jess a shotgun and a sidearm.

“Why the pistol?” Jess asked.

“Just in case.”

As they stood up and headed for the stairwell, Maxine ran up. “Can I come?”

“It’s not safe for you out there.”

“Why not? I’m as old as Medium Girl.”

“Can you handle a weapon?”

“Yes … well … no … but I can learn.”

“I’m sure you can, but not now. We’ll begin lessons when we get back.”

“Awwwww.”

Eddy and Jess descended the stairwell. At the bottom Jess contacted Tom and Cindy to have them double check the security cams. Eddy looked out the small door window to confirm that the coast was truly clear, then opened the stairwell door and they entered the garage.

He opened the passenger door for Jess and went forward to unplug the car. As he got to the front of the car he froze in terror. “Back to the stairwell now, GO!” He said in a quiet, yet extremely urgent voice. As Jess ran quietly back to the stairwell, Eddy backed slowly way from the car, shotgun at the ready. Only when they were both safely in the stairwell with the door shut and locked did Eddy exhale and start breathing again.

“What was it?”Jess asked.

• • •

Brian came running into the kitchen just as MAN was sitting down to eat breakfast. “Dave, in the radio room, he’s lost contact with the airport patrol.”

MAN swore under his breath, put down his fork, and headed off to the radio room with Maggie hot on his heels.

“Status report!” MAN commanded as he strode into the radio room.

“They’ve been out of contact for about five minutes now. They reported that they had seen heavy Z activity on the way to the airport, but their last contact at the entry gate near the main terminal indicated no sign of danger. … Patrol One, Patrol Two, this is Base. Do you copy? Over. … Patrol One, Patrol Two, this is Base. Come in. Come in. Over. … As I said, nothing.”

MAN spoke to himself as much as he spoke to the other two men in the room, “It will take us an hour to get out to the airport. It seems unlikely that both radios would fail at once, but stranger things have happened. This could just as easily be a recovery mission as a rescue mission. Brian get as many men and vehicles together as you can. Make sure each has an AR, a shotgun, and a sidearm … maybe two. I’ll take the radio. Maggie will ride with me. Dave you stay here and handle the radio. Oh, and Brian, find Ray and tell him to report out front.”

MAN went to his personal weapons locker got out two sidearms, two Automatic Rifles (ARs, also known as machine guns), two shotguns, a couple of bandoliers, and a box of assorted shells. “Maggie are you ready to do this?” Maggie wagged her tail so hard that her hips waggled. “I’ll take that to mean yes. Let’s go.” Maggie was already on her way to the stairwell. As soon as MAN opened the door she was down the stairs and barking for MAN to open the bottom door. “Okay, okay, I’m coming, I’m coming.”

MAN’s pickup was fueled and awaiting him when he walked up, the remaining long range military radio was installed and the whip antenna attached. He opened the driver’s side door and Maggie eagerly jumped in.

Then he stepped back to survey his troops; twenty-four men and women – more than half of the remaining people at the Seaside – four pickups and four sedans. All of the vehicles, including his own, were outfitted with CB radios.

“Men and women,” he began, “we have lost contact with Patrol One and Two who were at the airport on a what we expected to be a low risk mission. We must assume the worst. Eyes sharp, weapons ready. If it moves, shoot it. If it’s naked shoot it. Make sure it’s not one of ours. Check your radios.”

With that he walked over to Ray. “Get everyone else armed and up on the roof. You and Dave stand by the radio.”

He got in his truck and did a quick radio check with Base, then opened a channel on the CB radio. “Everyone stay on this channel. Move out!”

• • •

Eddy and Jess stood inside the stairwell behind the locked door leading to the garage. Eddie was white as a sheet and his eyes were wide. He looked like he had just seen a ghost. In a way he had.

“What was it?” Jess asked. “What did you see?”

• • •

The scene at the airport terminal was surreal. One pickup truck appeared to be abandoned at the main gate to the runway with all of its windows down, yet all of it’s doors closed and locked, the engine still running. It’s front bumper and grill were pressed hard against the gate. It was still in Drive. The other sat in the grass at the end of the short approach to the main gate with its rear bumper wrapped around a power pole and all of its doors wide open, engine off. There was no sign of current activity anywhere. MAN keyed the microphone on his CB radio. “Brian, set up a security perimeter. If it’s naked shoot it.”

MAN cautiously approached the nearer of the two vehicles, Patrol Two. Maggie began to whine. “It’s okay girl, the Zs are gone.” As he got closer he saw that the air bags had deployed. He walked to the front of the wrecked pickup and stopped to observe the tire marks leading from behind the vehicle at the gate to where he currently stood. “She must have had the gas pedal floored.”

He then walked to the open driver’s side door and pushed the deflated airbag out of the way to discover that the key was still in the ‘on’ position. He made a mental note to have the airbags disconnected in all of their remaining vehicles. He tried to start the engine. It cranked but would not start. He then located the electric fuel pump inertia cutoff reset switch. He pushed it in, then tried starting the engine again … VROOM. He made a second mental note to have the fuel pump cutoff switch disabled on all vehicles.

Despite the deployed air bags, there was little blood in the cab of Patrol Two. MAN moved back to the bed of the pickup. This told a different story. There was significant blood splatter on the inside of the bed and on the outside of the back window. Numerous firearms were scattered about the bed, all of them empty. The bed was filled with spent shell casings. Blood soaked clothing littered the bed of the pickup. “This is where they made their last stand.”

MAN followed the tracks of burned rubber back to Patrol One. Here the cab and the pavement around the cab was spattered with blood and blood soaked clothing. He opened the doors to the cab to find the floor littered with spent shell casings, yet he found firearms with rounds still in their clips and magazines. “Patrol One was taken by surprise. Brian, gather up all the weapons and let’s get these vehicles towed back to the Seaside.”

“What about the jet fuel?” Brian inquired.

“Oh, that. Very well, make it quick. Let’s at least do what we came here to do. GET THAT GATE OPEN,” MAN yelled to several people milling about near the runway gate.

“Tanks are full.” Brian reported back after several minutes.

“Thank you, Brian. I hope that Swiss Cheese in Zürich appreciates the death toll it took to get him that information.”

• • •

“What was it?” Jess asked. “What did you see?”

Eddy was deep in thought and it took him a while to answer. “My grandmother’s blanket.”

All of the color drained out of Jess’s face and she suddenly felt very faint. She sat down on the stairs. “How? …” Her mind was suddenly at a complete loss for words. “How did she know where we are? Are you sure it was the same blanket?”

“What do you mean, is it the same blanket? Of course it’s the same blanket. I know my grandmother’s blanket. It was neatly folded in front of the car. Not dumped in a pile on the ground, but neatly folded. Hell, it shouldn’t have been there at all! I feel like I’m stepping into the twilight zone.” Eddy said, recalling the old Golden Earring song.

“Okay, okay. There’s got to be a reasonable explanation for this.” Jess said.

“I don’t know why. There hasn’t been a reasonable explanation for any of the rest of the shit that’s happened in the last six weeks.” Eddy felt like he was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Suddenly it was all too much for him to deal with.

“Come on,” Jess said. “Let’s get back upstairs and look at the security cam videos for last night and today.”

They climbed the stairs back up to the lab and Eddy immediately poured himself three fingers of scotch. Then he and Jess went to find Tom and Cindy to review the videos for the past day.

“Here to check on our progress?” Tom asked.

“No,” Jess replied, “we need to check the security cameras for last night and this morning.” She told him about the blanket.

“No shit?” Tom blurted out. “Pardon my French.”

“Yeah, we’ve all been swearing more than normal today,” Eddy replied.

“And drinking, by the looks of it,” Cindy pointed to Eddy’s scotch.

“I assure you, it’s purely medicinal. Calms the nerves.”

Jess had a suggestion. “Let’s start at last night when we pulled into the garage and watch the garage camera plus all of the cams on all of the roads leading to the garage.”

“This could take a while.”

“Yeah, well we’re not going anywhere until we figure this out.”

• • •

“Why bother to tow these anywhere?” Brian inquired of MAN as he observed people in the process of attaching tow straps to the two vehicles. “These pickups are totaled. They are actually fully drivable although no one wants to drive them. Why not just strip the radios and get the weapons and leave them here. We can always come back for the gasoline if we need it. It’s not as if we don’t have a whole town full of pickups to choose from to replace them.”

“You’re right Brian,” MAN sighed and yelled over to the people attaching the tow straps, “JUST LEAVE THEM HERE. GET THE RADIOS. GET THE WEAPONS. JUST LEAVE THEM HERE.”

MAN opened the door to his pickup and Maggie came bounding over, almost knocking him out of the way as she jumped in. He slid in behind the driver’s seat and picked up the mic on the CB radio. “We’re leaving the patrol vehicles here. We can replace them later. Pull the radios. Make sure we have all the weapons. Let me know when you’re done.”

MAN sat in quiet reverie. Word had just come in that the blood soaked clothing of two more people had been found near 83rd Street east of the airport. This more than likely explained the fate of the backseat passengers in Patrol Two. In the last six weeks he had come to know every man and woman lost today. He tried to imagine what their final moments must’ve been like. He had seen many people die in bad ways during his career as a Navy SEAL and then in private life in black ops, but even he was having trouble coming to grips with the idea of being eaten alive. When his time came he hoped he would have the opportunity to put up a better fight. Maggie licked his face. He gave her a big hug. “Thanks girl, it’s been a bad day.”

The CB radio crackled to life, “Radios recovered. Weapons recovered. Ready to roll.”

“Roger that. Standby.” MAN responded. He looked at the sun and then at his watch. It was already mid-afternoon. Suddenly Maggie sat up to attention. “What is it Maggie?” She began to fidget and whine.

A low deep rumble reached his ears from the southwest, followed by another. “Those were the perimeter explosives.” MAN realized. He switched to the military radio, “Base, what’s going on over there? Over.”

Silence.

Another rumble of an explosion.

Static.

“Come in Base. Come in Base. Please respond. Over.”

Silence.

“GOD DAMN IT DAVE. ANSWER THE DAMN RADIO. OVER.”

Nothing.

MAN took a deep breath and picked up the mic to the CB radio. “Folks we’ve got another situation here. Base is not responding. Looks like our bad day just got worse. Stay alert. Be focused. Let’s roll.”

• • •

Tom, Cindy, Eddy, Jess, and Maxine were studying every minute of the garage video from the time Eddy and Jess got back the previous night.

“What time did the garage motion alarm go off last night?” Maxine asked.

“It was just before we went to bed,” Eddy replied. “About 11:30, I think.”

“Okay, back it up to just before 11:30,” Tom suggested.

“There! Did you see it?” Cindy exclaimed. The others shook their heads ‘no’. “Back it up again. Now watch closely. THERE. Oh, surely you saw it that time.” Again heads shake ‘no’.

“Can we back it up frame by frame,” Tom asked.

“Sure,” Jess replies and she begins to backup the video frame by frame.

“Stop!” Cindy says. “See that blur right there? Back up one frame … and it’s gone. Now foreword one frame. It’s back. Now forward one frame. It’s gone.”

“So, that’s what we have? A small blurred section of one frame? It could be a cat, a dog, a squirrel, a ghost. Who knows?” Tom said, obviously irritated.

“Not likely, I think that the nudists have already eaten all the dogs, cats, squirrels, and rats,” Eddy replied cynically.

“But at least it gives us a time marker, 11:28,” Cindy replied.

“All that assumes that the 11:28 blur was in fact the delivery of the blanket,” Eddy countered. “We still need to review the rest of the video from then up until the time Jess and I went downstairs.”

“Could we at least check the street videos around that time first?” Cindy asked.

“I suggest a division of labor,” Jess said. “Otherwise we really will be here forever. Tom and Cindy will review the street video around the 11:28 event of last night. Eddie and I will review the garage video from 11:28 until this morning.”

“What about me?” Maxine asked. What can I do?”

“Keep bringing us coffee?” Eddy joked.

“I’ll second that,” Jess said.

• • •

The sun had shifted another hour closer to sunset by the time MAN and his troops got back to the Seaside. When they were about a mile away MAN called out on the CB radio to pull to a stop. “Check our surroundings make sure we are safe here, then get some binoculars on the roof of the Seaside and tell me what we have.” MAN himself got up in the bed of his pickup and steadied his binoculars on the roof. He could see nothing.

Then someone called out. “Looks like we have a nudist colony on our roof.”

Man got back in the cab. On military radio, “Base, come in. Please respond. Over.” Still nothing. Then on the CB radio, “Let’s move up a half-mile and see what we can see.”

They moved a half mile closer. Brian and MAN each got up in the bed of their pickups with their binoculars. … NUDISTS.

A defeated MAN got back into his cab and keyed the mic on his CB radio, “Folks we have no home to go to tonight.” His voice started to break, but he got control of himself. “Our only other option is the CDC lab. Follow me.”

Since Jess’s lab didn’t have radios, MAN figured his best approach was to just drive into the garage and set off the alarms.

• • •

The garage alarm went off and Jess and Eddy immediately pulled up the garage security cam on the screen. A convoy of vehicles had just pulled into the garage. The lead vehicle stopped and MAN got out. “The Seaside is a nudist colony,” he bellowed to the microphone, “May we spend the night?”

Jess and Eddy grabbed weapons, turned off the stairway alarms, checked the security cams, and headed down to the garage. They ignored the usual security checks and walked right into the garage to meet MAN, who briefly explained what happened. “Oh, we are so sorry,” Jess said as she gave him a big hug.

“Yes, yes, grab your stuff and please come up to the lab. You are all welcome to share what we have,” Eddy added.

“Thank you Jess. Thank you Edmund,” MAN sorrowfully responded.

Jess held open the door as MAN’s troops headed up the stairs. “Eighth floor,” she yelled to them. “Bang on the door.”

MAN stayed behind until all of his people had entered the stairwell, then he got Maggie. “Heal girl,” he commanded. Unsure of her surroundings she obeyed.

“Just a minute,” Eddy said. He walked to the front of his car, stopped a moment, and them walked back. He followed MAN and Maggie up the stairs locking the door behind him.

As soon as MAN and Maggie came in the door, Wolf ran over to check them out. He didn’t bark but instead sniffed very politely and offered his butt to Maggie to sniff. Maggie looked at him and thought, “What is this? This can’t be a dog. I’ve left surprises for MAN that were bigger than this. But he is polite.” Maggie sniffed Wolf’s butt. “Woof.”

“What kind of, er, dog is that?” MAN asked.

“Wolf is a long-haired Ruskiy Toy, a Russian Toy Terrior.” Maxine answered proudly. “One of the world’s smallest breeds.”

“Well at least he’s friendly … and not too yappy.”

Jess joined the conversation. “The fifth and sixth floors are offices and conference rooms. They should make a good place for your folks and give you some space to yourselves. They have heat and AC, power and hot water and toilets. No showers, but if desperate you can borrow ours. I’m sure you can rig up something for a shower. We’ll try to find some spare keys.”

“Thank you so very much Jessica and Edmond, I, we, really appreciate this. Depending on what we find tomorrow at the Seaside we may need to take further advantage of your hospitality.”

“You’re welcome MAN,” Eddy answered. “I really am so sorry about what happened today, Thank you for finding out about the jet fuel.” Eddy left the room and returned almost immediately. “Here is an extra key to the stairwells. We will try to find or make some more for the rest of your folks. The offices on five and six shouldn’t be locked. After you folks get settled downstairs, come on up and we’ll try to find some food and drink for you all.”

MAN was moved to tears by the generosity but he managed to get control of himself. “Where does Wolf … you know … go?”

“Up on the roof. Maggie probably needs to go. Let’s take Wolf and Maggie up on the roof and get some fresh air.” Eddy replied.

“I’ll make sure everyone is settled downstairs,” Jess interrupted. “You boys take the dogs out.”

On the roof Eddie and MAN climbed up to the heliport while the dogs did their business below. “Good view up here,” MAN observed. “Defendable.”

“We hope so,” Eddy replied, “and we’ve got security cameras there, there, there, and there.” He pointed to the four corners of the main roof.

“No windows above the what, second-floor?” MAN asked.

“Yes, very observant, “Eddy replied. “Designed to be terrorist proof.”

“Nothing is terrorist proof.”

“Hurricane proof?”

“Perhaps,” MAN allowed.

They turned to watch the two dogs playing below. “Looks like they are getting along quite well,” Eddie remarked.

“Agreed.”

• • •

They managed to find food and drink for all of the remaining folks from the Seaside. “At this rate we will need to make another supply run soon,” Eddie thought.

As the guests departed to go downstairs, Eddy got MAN’s attention. “Stay for a while, I have some excellent scotch.”

“I never would’ve taken you for a scotch drinker,” MAN said, surprised.

“There’s a lot you don’t know about me. Jess? … Scotch?”

“Please.”

Man was doubly shocked. “I may have to fully reevaluate my opinion of you two.”

Between the three of them they finished one bottle and began a second.

“You have quite a supply,” MAN observed.

“The Boy Scout motto, Be Prepared, although I was never a Boy Scout,” Eddy smiled.

Three quarters of the second bottle gone, Eddy asked, “does anyone get to call you Matt or Matthew?”

MAN pondered a while and looked over in the corner to find Wolf spooned up against Maggie, both sound asleep. “Starting now you may both call me Matt, but only in private.”

“Okay Matt,” Eddy replied. It felt strange after all this time to be calling him Matt. “It’s a start,” he mused silently. His thoughts turned darker. “He’s been through a lot today.”

“I guess it’s time I got myself downstairs,” MAN said as he struggled to get up. “Come on Maggie, time to go.” Maggie got up sleepily and shook herself off. Wolf never budged.

Jess gave him a big hug and asked, “you’ve had a lot to drink, do you need help getting downstairs?”

MAN shook his head no. “I’m good”.

Not taking no for an answer, Jess instructed, “Eddy, be a dear and make sure MAN, er, Matt gets down the stairs okay. Thanks.”

• • •

When Eddie came back up he went to find Jess. “We need to talk. I think I’m losing my mind.”

“Why so?”

“When I went down to meet MAN, er, Matt, when he got here this afternoon, I went to go get the blanket from in front of my car.”

“And?”

“It was gone. I have no proof it was even really there. I’m beginning to question it myself.”

“If you said it was there, I believe you. It was there.”

“I’m not so sure.”

• • •

>> NEXT: TNW – Day 48

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