Bookbinder met us coming down the drive way when we were halfway up the hill. We filled him in on the encounter with Frye while we walked up to the house.
“Sir, may I speak freely?”
“Of course you can, you can always speak freely around me Charlie,” I said.
“I’m not sure that was a good idea, he represents a significant asset to us, if we are allies.” It was odd for Charlie to question me. I liked that he was feeling free to do so, but it was very out of character for him.
“Charlie. He has to have known about that horde for days. We know he’s been watching this place. I know he’s been studying us. Hell, he watched me at the high school, listened to our radio conversation, and didn’t lift a finger to help.”
I pulled a notebook and pen out of my shirt pocket, and jotted down some ideas as I filled the others in on what we needed.
“We’re low on every type of fuel. In Culpeper there’s a propane distribution plant. It’s the priority, we need propane today. We just used up the last of our diesel, but we don’t technically need diesel for a couple of days. Least important of the top priorities, we’re going to need some gasoline,” I said.
“That doesn’t seem impossible,” said Charlie.
“Oh, there’s always more,” I said. “After we fill up all the fuel tanks, then we head across town.”
Charlie started writing notes on his own pad as I continued, “On the north side of Culpeper there is a tractor trailer repair facility. It must be a hundred thousand square feet, you can’t miss it. It’s a gigantic steel building with somewhere around fifteen repair bays. That building is going to be full of tools and supplies. I know for a fact they have a tow truck with tools to do roadside repairs on big rigs. Then, if they can’t fix them on the road they can tow them back to the shop. I’m pretty sure there we can find supplies to fix the tires of the plow rig down on the highway. It’s got at least 4 blown tires.”
“Do we really want to fix that one? We could just get a new one,” said Marshall.
“It seems easier to strip the wheels off another truck, and I like that one. I’d like to beef it up a little, build some protection for the tires and driver, but that truck is already halfway there. Seems silly to start over and have to source a new plow, and new frame.”
“Got it. Vic likes the old beat up truck that almost got him killed,” Marshall said.
Ignoring that last barb, I continued, “The third objective is to secure any medical equipment and supplies we can find. I’m not ready to go to the hospital yet, but there is a plastic surgery center in town, and several drug stores. We’re going to need antibiotics and pain meds, but we’re also going to need cough syrup, aspirin, band aids, splints, and casts. I want to clean one of those places out too.”
“We’re gonna have a lot of competition for places like that from groups of survivors, mate. Do we know if there are any other groups, besides Frye?” Asked John.
“I don’t know about any other groups, but I’d assume there are. Maybe at some point we leave a message somewhere with how to contact us,” said Leo.
“That’s a good idea Leo. Maybe we could leave a radio and a note behind or something. If you need medical attention, go to the top of cedar mountain and broadcast at noon on channel 12,” or something like that.”
“I think it’s something to consider,” she replied.
“Charlie,” I continued. “Regarding the medical equipment I’d like you to take charge of delegating to fire teams as you see fit. I’d like you to personally oversee the big rig repair facility, while the four of us go after the propane. The propane facility is half a mile from a minimum security prison; I’m worried about the number of zombies that could be in that facility. Without power holding the doors shut, it wouldn’t be too hard to get out of there. Plus securing that propane facility means we’ll be able to maintain ourselves throughout the winter, while we refit the property with wood stoves and repair the fireplaces. Two hundred years of progress since this house was built, and we’re going back to the beginning.”
Charlie delegated M3; Leon Scott, Adam Jacobsen, Scott Humphries, Mark Shoenfeld, and Gary Burbank to the CVS, and M5; Shannon Johnson, Gordon Baker, Andrew Gallard, John Grieco, Kenneth Leuty to the plastic surgery center. M5 was to take the f350 crew cab dually, and M3 was assigned a pair of Ford Explorers.
“Charlie, tell me about Leon Scott and the two guys leading M5” I asked, wanting to get to know the men a little bit.
“Leon is average height, about 5’10”. He’s strong, and in good physical shape. He has 5 years active military, and 2 years in the reserves. He’s been training his team pretty hard, they’re really coming together. I need them to get some field experience. The CVS should be relatively free of undead, and there are several ways in and out of the parking lot.”
“Good call there, Charlie. That’s why you’re a great leader,” I said.
“Shannon Johnson is young; he was almost finished at the academy to be a state trooper when all this went down. He knows his way around a weapon, and is a good, smart kid. I put Gordon Baker with him because Baker has 32 years experience as a law enforcement officer. He was a sergeant in the state police, when he retired. Anyone with that much time in law enforcement that’s only a sergeant either did something crooked or got in some sort of trouble.”
“Can we trust baker? Do we trust someone with a crooked past?” I asked.
“He’s a good man, but I think Shannon is the one to be making quick decisions. Baker is there to offer guidance and temper him. They also need some operational experience. Baker is in good shape, and can still outrun half the people here, so he’s got some discipline.”
“How long until the fire teams are ready to roll?” Marshall asked.
“They’re gearing up now. They were on rotation to go out house clearing today. If we didn’t have any other orders, we were going by standing orders, secure useful items, keep food coming in, keep training.”
“Ok, how about your team? We’re going to be spread out throughout the town. I have a special assignment for your team.”
“We can be ready in 5 minutes, Sir, anytime, anywhere. What are your orders?”
“I want you and your men to check out the State Police Barracks. This is a recon mission only, do not engage any hostiles, enter only if the area is clear and secure. I want their armory, I want their communications equipment, the FM transmitter on their roof plus all the radios in their cars, I want vests and automatic weapons, and I want their SWAT truck. Your secondary mission is to provide backup to m3 or m5 as quickly as possible.” I said
“As I see it,” I continued, changing the topic. “We have at least 2 major players in the area. I’m not certain about Frye; he could be up to anything, so I’m looking for any information on him, what he’s doing, where he’s going, and how many people he has.”
“Do you think he’d attack us?” Asked Bookbinder.
“I’m not sure. I’m not sure we have anything he needs, and I don’t think he’s bloodthirsty, just slightly underhanded. I’m pretty certain I pissed him off though.”
“You have a knack for that, ya dink,” said John with a grin.
“Secondly, I believe a smart zombie had to have organized that huge horde of walkers we killed. If there is, he’s going to be pissed,” I said.
“Once again,” started John.
I cut him off, before he could call me a ‘dink’ or a ‘drongo’ again. I think a ‘drongo’ is worse than a ‘dink,’ but I still haven’t quite nailed it down. “It’s now 9:30, the four of us will be ready to roll in an hour. I’d like for you, M1, M3, and M5 to roll before 10:00, so in case any of you need backup we can swing by on our way in,” I said to a nodding Charlie. “Stay in radio contact, and try to conserve ammo. We’re getting low again unless you score something pretty major at the state police barracks, we need to stay fast and stay quiet, escaping attention.”
Charlie and I stood up, and the rest of the table followed. We shook hands, and Charlie left quickly with the mission notes we’d scribbled. He was a good man, I’m not sure I could handle all the details that he deals with.
The four of us left to go gather our gear. Bookbinder had his teams on constant alert. We were slightly more lax up here in the main house, something we should probably learn from him. It took me five minutes just to find clean socks. Soon after that I was geared up and ready. It took just over fifteen minutes. I rationalized that by telling myself if life depended on speed, I could wear dirty socks.
Since I had a few minutes, I used a few to play with Max, it was likely that I wouldn’t see him until after bedtime, and I cherished my Max time. Today we worked on a puzzle with characters from the movie Cars, and then played with his Buzz Lightyear and Woody action figures.
“Daddy, I love you. If you see the army man again today, you shouldn’t talk to him. He’s very mad. Why’s he so mad?”
“Well, he wasn’t honest with me, he lied. I believe he tried to hurt me, so I punched him in the nose,” I said plainly.
“Daddy, we don’t hit friends, even mean friends,” scolded Max, his face very serious.
“I know buddy. I made a bad decision; it wasn’t the right thing to do.” I said. “I have to go to work now, and get some propane so Gramma can cook supper. I’ll be back tonight, but it won’t be until after your bedtime.
“Ok, but watch out for the badguys, they’re looking for us.”
“Max, can you tell me how you hide us? Can you tell me how to hide myself?”
“Sure, Daddy, it’s easy. You just turn your colors off, and they’ll think you’re one of them.”
“Oh, Ok.” I replied. “I’ll see you tomorrow, but I’ll be home tonight while you’re asleep Ok Maxmonster?”
“Ok, I love you.” Max said, giving me a huge hug.
The four of us were pretty intimidating figures walking out of the house together at about 20 minutes after 10. John bristled with guns; I think he added another gun to his vest every day. Leo with her short swords crossed over her shoulders and batons at the small of her back. Marshall carried his pair of sledge hammers with the heads riding on his shoulders, the shortened handles down his back in an X under his pack, and a shotgun sticking out of the top of his pack. I swear he got physically bigger when he got infected, or more specifically as his body fought off the infection. He was always tall, at about six four when we were younger, but I think he was close to 7 feet now. His pants were all too short, I think that’s why he’d cut them all off into shorts.
I tried my best to fit in, my abilities were less useful in combat, so it was hard for me to feel quite as badass as my companions must. I carried my Sig in a thigh holster I took off a zombie at the high school and Sammie, my trusty 30.06 scoped hunting rifle, strapped to my back. Somehow, somewhere John had found me a bunch of twelve round magazines for it. At the last minute I stuck a hatchet in my pack, handle up. I didn’t have a go-to hand to hand weapon, but I felt like I should have something. We loaded up in my favorite yellow Jeep Wrangler, and headed for town, the huge 36 inch super swampers humming as we drove down the road.
We parked the jeep about half a mile from the propane depot. It had two 250,000 gallon tanks behind the building. The whole property was surrounded by an eight foot high chain link fence topped with another two feet of razor wire.
We all had our usual packs on, but by now we were in good enough shape to jog the distance without too much trouble. I’d suggested that we carry bolt cutters, but from the look Marshall gave me I let the subject drop.
When we got to the propane depot, Leo offered to run a quick circuit around the perimeter.
“Watch out for bunnies,” I said with a smirk.
She shot off, and before I finished chuckling, she was back.
“There are 2 zombies, each in the cab of a truck. I don’t think they are able to figure out how to get out of the truck. I didn’t spend a lot of time looking in the windows, but I didn’t see any inside the building as I went by. There is a group down the hill out in the field to behind the depot, but they’re a quarter mile off, if we can avoid guns or excessive noise they shouldn’t give us any trouble.”
Marshall reached one hand forward and crushed the Master Lock padlock in his fist, the chains fell apart and we opened up the gates, closing them behind us. I was reminded of that old TV commercial where they shot a Master Lock three times and it still held. Clearly they hadn’t designed that lock to be Marshall proof. I looped the chain back around the fence; it was enough to make it look like it was still locked before we headed towards the office.
We spent several minutes quietly tapping on the window glass and softly knocking on the doors before we decided the place was clear. Both doors to the office were locked, but one of the high windows was slightly cracked open. The bottom of the window was about even with the top of my head. While Marshall was on the other side of the building, I got my fingers in and slid the window the rest of the way up. When Marshall got around to my side, he laced his fingers together and squatted down. I put my foot in his hands and he practically launched me into the building.
I came down on the inside on my head and saw stars. I sat up, legs out in front of me feeling all over the back of my head for blood. It took me a couple of seconds to shake off the dizziness.
“Sorry!” was his loudly whispered apology from outside.
Eventually able to get to my feet, I unlocked the door, allowing the other three into the small office. There was a payment window at the end of the little lobby we were standing in. To the right was a showroom. There were hundreds of gas appliances, from wood stoves to gas logs, to ranges. There were even propane powered refrigerators. In the back of the showroom I found what I wanted, 3 large heaters that didn’t require venting the exhaust to the outside.
Leo and John moved off towards the back warehouse, while Marshall and I headed towards the office. I was hoping to find the lockbox where they kept the keys to the delivery vehicles. Marshall and I found a medicine cabinet sized steel box mounted to the wall by the back door. He really was getting strong. He braced his thumb against the door of the key cabinet, and his four fingers against the wall, and literally flipped the door open with just his thumb.
“Showoff,” I said.
“I was trying to be quiet!” he replied.
Inside there were six sets of keys. Two of them were large Volvo keys those had to be for tractor trailer rigs. One of them was a ford key. I grabbed all 3 sets, hoping the ford key was to a pickup. I’d forgotten that this place had such an extensive showroom, and was excited about the prospect of picking up energy efficient, reliable heat for the housing above the barn.
“John, Leo, do you copy,” I said into the throat mic of the radio on my belt.
“Tookes, what is this, the military?” Joked Leo.
“Right… Shut up. Seemed like the thing to say,” I said. “Do you see any large generators back there? What about vent-free heaters?”
“Right-o mate, there’s about six gennies and a dozen heaters back here,” was John’s response.
“Alright, you two figure out how to get the loading dock doors open, Marshall and I will find a truck and get it backed up to the dock.”
Marshall and I headed for the back exit. I hit the breaker bar on the door in stride. I felt a little extra resistance as I plowed the door open, causing a zombie in the remnants of a gray pinstripe suit to go stumbling backwards. Before I could reach back to pull the hatched I grabbed for this trip, Marshall shouldered past me knocking me around behind the door and smashed the thing with a huge hammer. The hammer liquefied the creature’s skull, making a gruesome dull wet thud. Bits of brain and skull splattered the inside of the door. The corpse was launched backwards by the power of the blow, landing on its crushed head. Its legs flipped up over its head, folding it in half with a crack of its spine. I could smell the putrid gore like the whiff of a rotten fart running down the door and the wall next to me.
Marshall had cut the handles of his hammers off halfway, sanded the ends, and stuffed a thick nylon strap through the handle. He was now holding a hammer in each hand, and stepped out into the yard. I let go of the door, and watched it swing shut.
“Shit, where did they come from?” I asked.
“I don’t know, but I got this,” replied Marshall confidently. “I’ve been working on a new trick.” He started swinging one hammer by the nylon strap, spinning it so fast it made a low bass whirring noise, like those Australian noise makers. John called it a didgeridoo once when I referred to it as a boomerang on a string. At that same time he referred to me as a drongo. Still not sure what that means.
In one smooth motion he let the hammer go, and watched it smash through the faces of four zombies in a row, completely decapitating the first three, and caving in the skull of the fourth. The corpses fell backwards against each other like dominoes, landing in a heap of vile flesh. He switched his other hammer to his right hand, and began spinning it like he had the first. Marshall used his left hand to pick the corpse of the smash-faced zombie up by one foot. He let out a soft grunt as he slung it into the group of undead staring at us with that same vacant hunger-lust in their eyes. There was a line of them steadily streaming through a hole in the fence behind this group.
I heard a crash behind us, as the fence caved in on the other side of the yard, and another group headed towards us from behind.
“Leo, John. We’re going to need some help.” I said into the mic, drawing my hatchet and pistol.
“Aww shit, Vic. It’s only a few,” complained Marshall finishing a golf style swing, which launched the top jaw and most of the skull of a zombie over the fence.
“Only takes one.” I said.
“Not for us. Well, maybe for you.”
Leo and John got the door to the loading dock open at the other end of the building. John was holding a cardboard box full of cheap five dollar buck knives, still in the plastic packaging. He threw the first knife, package and all at the farthest zombie from us. When the package hit the zombies head, the knife kept going, slicing through its container and entering the brain stem of the zed. He threw six more packages, dropping six more zombies the exact same way. At the same time, Leo took off in a blur. The easiest way to follow her was to watch the heads flying in the air in the wake of her destruction. It reminded me of a combine harvesting corn, shooting out the ears into a hopper behind. This was her go-to method of undead destruction, running down the line faster than they could grab for her, kukri extended at neck height, lopping their heads off as she ran past.
“Hey Leo,” yelled John. ”I bet I can get that one before you!” He said throwing a packaged knife with deadly accuracy at the walking corpse of an old lady wearing only a long tee shirt style nightgown. On the front of the nightgown was a picture of a cat, sitting down on a rug. The caption read “The best cure for insomnia is a furry friend.” She wasn’t wearing any undergarments, but should have been. In life she must have weighed two-fifty or better. Her tits sagged to her waist.
Not to be outdone, Leo poured on a burst of speed from clear across the grounds. She chased down the flying knife, reached up and plucked it from the air while she was running, then speared the old lady through the middle of her forehead on the end of a short sword. She lifted the handle of the curved blade, splitting the old lady’s face as the corpse slid to the ground, forever unmoving.
“Not fair!” yelled John. He threw the last seven knives in one quick movement, including the cardboard box. Each knife flew straight and accurate, out of the box. Each blade buried itself in the forehead of its target.
“Jesus, John, how hard do you have to throw those knives to get them to stick in their foreheads?” I shouted, almost laughing. In unison the corpses fell to their knees and then toppled forward all at the same time. Three of them came to rest face down with their heads inside the empty cardboard box.
“Catch those, Leo!” he laughed.
While John and Leo were playing with the first group, Marshall smashed through all the undead in front of us, and was wading through a sea of bodies towards the gap in the fence. He bent down and retrieved the hammer he’d thrown in his empty left hand, and then brought the two hammer heads together. I’m sure the sound of two giant heat treated high carbon steel hammer heads clanging together with that much force would had been deafening, except that there was a head between them to absorb the blow. The skull exploded in a circle outward from the head in all directions, launching gore twenty five feet in the air. Marshall had an almost perfect line of gray matter and blood from his crotch to his forehead.
About halfway to the broken segment of fence he stopped at a pallet of propane tanks, the kind for regular gas grills. He picked one off the stack with one hand and hurled it like a football into the crowd of zombies. The 25 pound tank pushed a crowd of undead backwards towards the hole in the fence.
Feeling fairly useless, I walked around towards the front of the building, stepping over parts, the carnage was really amazing.
My radio crackled in my ear “Tookes, this is Bookbinder; we’re coming up that way. I can see your location from the top of the police headquarters; there is a group of 200 or more heading your way. What are you guys doing? This horde was heading towards us, we had to do a little shooting. They stopped mid-step, turned around and started walking towards you. “
“I don’t know, I said, we’re being fairly quiet. We’ve got about 150 here we were killing hand to hand.”
His reply was short, “You took on 150 hand to hand?”