After the Apocalypse
Chapter 78: Good Timing
by Mark Bollman--> and Steve Donohue
Getting things ready took longer than they had expected, partly because of the sheer volume of supplies and partly because the children weren't happy with the move. In the end, Emily had put her foot down and the children, though unhappy, had pitched in.
As it was, they worked most of the day packaging and preparing supplies for their trip. Dave earned a few points with Timmy when he was able to rig a lift to get things up the stairs. It wasn't complicated, just a flat piece of wood with a couple of cables on the side to help warp it and a winch at the top of the stairs. Still, it promised to be much easier than carrying the nearly half a ton of supplies up the stairs.
After dark, Dave and Joe slipped out to the truck and brought it back in. They drove slowly, with no lights, hoping not to attract too much attention. Luckily, the night was cloudless and the moon reflecting off the snow provided them with just enough light to see. Of course, their tracks were fairly obvious, but they hoped no one would be looking for them. To help obscure them, Jenny fired up her father's truck and drove to a few of her favorite haunts. With any luck, they'd be able to load up without interruption.
They finally finished loading both trucks at about 5:00 am. Joe and Dave wanted to leave right then, but the Coopers were too tired. Emily and Jenny were sleeping alreayd and Timmy, eager as he was to be one of the guys, was nodding on his feet. They finally decided that a few hours of shuteye wouldn't hurt them any. Dave and Joe tossed a coin and Dave wound up with the first watch. With all the gear they'd loaded in the two pickups, they were a rich target.
Dave let Joe sleep for about four hours. Although they'd worked hard that day, they'd gotten quite a bit of sleep the day before. He figured if Joe let him sleep about the same, they'd be able to leave around noon. That would give them plenty of time to get out of town before the Night Razers started their evening patrols. After Joe had shared Emily's revelations with him, Dave had briefly considered simply destroying their tracking stations. Joe had talked him out of it, saying that bad information would be worse than no information at all.
His watch passed without event, and he went down to wake Joe. Joe was still a little groggy, but he took his shift without much complaint. Jenny was also awake and decided to join Joe outside. The two of them sat in silence for nearly an hour, both lost in their own thoughts, before Jenny broke the silence.
"So, do you have a girlfriend?"
"Somewhere," answered Joe, taken aback by her question and at the same time recognizing where she might be headed.
"Well, she wasn't here with me, she was back home in Detroit. I hope she's still there and still alive."
"I see," said Jenny, sounding a little deflated.
"Don't worry," said Joe enthusiastically, "there are plenty of guys your age back at camp. I'm sure one of them will be interested."
Jenny's face suddenly flared red. At first Joe thought it was a blush, but when she had finished cussing him out, he realized he'd hurt her feelings. Before he could even apologize, she stormed off. He started to follow her, then thought better of it.
"Jenny, wait!" he called, but she didn't answer and didn't slow down. He wasn't sure what to do, so he went down to get her grandmother. Emily clucked a bit about her "foolish granddaughter" then pulled on her jacket and boots to go look for her.
"Should I come?" asked Joe.
"No, not just yet," replied Emily, "I'll have to calm her down a little then talk her into coming back."
"Oh," said Joe, not sure what he should do and not sure if he was to blame.
"Don't worry about it Joe. She's just a little emotional what with her parents gone and all. I'm sure I'll find her. She won't have gone far."
"Okay,", said Joe, "but take one of the radios. If you get in any trouble, just call for us."
"I'm sure we'll be fine," said Emily as she stuffed the radio in her jacket pocket absently. "If Timmy wakes up, make sure he doesn't go anywhere."
"Okay," said Joe, a little upset that Emily thought he could be that dumb.
Emily started off, following along in Jenny's trail and Joe couldn't help noticing that she seemed a little unsteady on her feet. He thought about following her, but realized it might scare Jenny off. Instead, he rechecked the lashings on their supplies to make sure they were tight. He knew they were, having checked and rechecked them the night before, but he needed to do something. He hadn't meant to hurt Jenny's feelings, but it seemed like there had been no way out of it.
After a half hour, he began to worry. He went down and woke Timmy up.
"Does your sister have anywhere she likes to go when she's mad or wants to think?" he asked.
"Not really. Sometimes she goes down to look at the water is about all."
"Can you show me where?"
"Okay, I'm going to wake Dave up, so he can watch. You get ready for a hike outside."
Joe woke Dave up and briefed him quickly on what was happening. Dave got dressed quickly while Joe went back outside to stand guard. He and Timmy came up together just as Emily came into view around the corner of the house. She shook her head sadly.
"I'm afraid I can't find her. The best thing to do is probably wait."
"I can find her," said Timmy. "I know where she went."
"Where?" said the three adults, almost in unison.
"She probably went to the flower shop. It was one of her favorite places."
"Show me," said Dave.
He followed Timmy out of the yard and onto the road. Joe helped Emily back down the stairs to the shelter; she must have reassured him ten times in those few minutes that none of this was his fault. He wanted to believe her, but couldn't. After helping her get settled, he went back outside, hoping that Jenny would return soon, but determined that no one would steal their supplies.
Dave and Timmy walked almost a half-mile before Dave stopped him.
"She hasn't been this way," said Dave. "There aren't any tracks."
"Oh yeah," agreed Timmy. "Guess not. Maybe she went to her friend Julie's."
"Julie? Who's Julie?"
"Julie Sumner, her dad's a militia member too. They're probably still in their shelter."
Dave wasn't sure that would turn out to be true, but he didn't have a better idea, so he followed Timmy. The trip took about 20 minutes; the deep snow hampering their speed. Finally, Timmy stopped and pointed out the Sumner place.
Dave was even less certain. It had been knocked almost flat in the attack. He followed Timmy around to the back, where there signs of recent travel. That was a good sign at least, Timmy walked right up to the door which must lead to the shelter. Dave would have liked to be a little more cautious, but the kid didn't give him a chance.
There was no answer. Timmy tried the door, but it was locked.
"Guess they left," he said.
"Alright, let's get back to your place. She's probably already there."
The two headed back to the Cooper's but found only a glum Joe, still on guard duty. Timmy went inside for some hot chocolate and breakfast while Dave and Joe compared notes outside. In the end, they determined all they could do was wait for her to return. Dave went back down to the shelter to try and catch some sleep while they waited. They planned to leave as soon as she showed up.
"Tell me again Julie"
"I've already told you twice. Jenny and her grandma found some strangers and they're leaving with them. She didn't know exactly where they were going exactly, only that it was towards Detroit."
That didn't make any sense. He didn't think much of Emily, Jenny's grandmother, but she wasn't a fool. She had to know that Detroit was unsafe - even if it didn't glow, teh kind of vermin who would have survived there would make the Flock look like choirboys. He decided he needed to make a report to headquarters.
"I'll be back in a few minutes honey; just don't let Jenny go anywhere. We'll see if we can't put a stop to this."
Julie went back into her room to console Jenny. Somehow one of those guys had hurt her feelings pretty bad. She brought her a cola and a cupcake and the two of them sat on the bed eating and talking. Jenny had already been there more than an hour and it looked like she might spend the night. Julie was hoping that would work out - her parents were making her crazy with all their rules and having Jenny around made things seem more normal.
Out of the blue, right in the middle of discussing which of the LFO guys was the hottest, Jenny suddenly sat up straight. "What time is it?" she asked.
Julie checked her watch, "4:00"
"4:00?! How can it be 4:00?! Oh god, my gramma must be so worried. I've got to go!"
"My dad said you should stay."
"I can't stay. I'll be at my house. Thanks for listening."
"What if they take you away?"
"Don't worry, they won't. My gramma won't let them."
At the Cooper place, Joe and Dave were getting ready to mount a major search. They'd started up the trucks and were planning to drive around town until they found Jenny. Timmy was riding with Dave and Emily was with Joe. The time had long since come and gone for her to have gotten over it and they were worried that something had happened to her. She was, after all, only a teenager, and a lot of things could have happened. Joe started his truck and pulled slowly onto the street; he planned to head South, Dave would go north.
As he turned, he reflexively checked his rearview mirror. His jaw dropped at what he saw, Jenny was running up the road towards them. She ran up to the passenger door of the truck, which Emily opened for her.
"Where have you been?" asked Emily, her voice choked with the dueling emotions of anger and fear.
"I was at Sumner's talking with Julie and I lost track of time. I'm sorry," said Jenny, bursting into tears.
"There, there, it's okay dear," said Emily, " It's just that we were so worried about you."
"I'm okay, but I don't want to go Gram; Mr. Sumner said..."
Whatever thought Julie was about to share was lost as Dave started beeping his horn. Joe looked back and saw Dave pointing to the east. There were three vehicles moving up on them quickly. One was the jeep they'd seen earlier, complete with a machine gun mount; the other two were Ford Explorers. Their speed made Joe think they had hostile intent and he yelled at Jenny to get in the car. With Emily's help she scrambled aboard.
Joe punched it and he heard Dave do the same thing behind him. He was glad the road was fairly clear, and the extra weight in the back of his truck gave him good traction. Unfortunately, it also made acceleration even more difficult. He toyed briefly with dropping into two wheel drive for the extra speed, but decided the enhanced traction was more important. He was dimly aware of Jenny screaming at him to stop, but he ignored her. He risked a brief glance at his passengers and Emily said, very clearly, "We'd better get the hell out of here."
If Joe had any doubts, they were erased by the sounds of machine gun fire. He looked in his sideview mirror and saw Dave weaving back and forth on the snow covered road. Judging by the snow he could see erupting around Dave's truck, it looked like the pursuers were trying to shoot out one of Dave's tires. He looked in the rearview and could see Dave, his face a mixture of concentration and joy as he struggled to avoid being captured. Despite the risk, Joe almost laughed. Only Woods would find this sort of thing amusing.
The two of them fairly flew past the Meijer's store doing nearly 45 mph, despite the treacherous conditions. As they started up the long hill that would lead them out of town, Joe pushed down on his accelerator again and heard the engine of the truck react with a satisfying roar. He knew he was at risk of spinning out, but they needed to get ahead of their pursuers. His only hope was that they'd break off pursuit if they got far enough ahead. Even as he reached the peak of the hill, near the old police post, he saw a fourth vehicle. It pulled into the road in front of him.
He was forced to slam on the brakes to avoid it. Even as he did so, he could see Dave doing the same, his truck turning slightly sideways and skidding behind Joe. A wall of snow was thrown up from the tires and for a moment the second truck disappeared. As Joe struggled with his own vehicle, he heard the radio crackle to life next to him.
"Mayday, Mayday, we are under attack and in need of help. Can anyone hear us?" The voice was Timmy's. Joe couldn't help admiring the kid's cool in this situation, even though he doubted they'd find any help. He was very surprised when he heard a second voice crackling to life over the speaker.
"Roger Ghost Rider, this is Maverick where are you." Joe almost lost control. That second voice was Milon. He couldn't remember a time he'd ever been so glad to hear Dave in his entire life.
"We're on 24, just south of the police post. There are four vehicles pursuing us and they have a machine gun."
"Roger. Can you make it to I-69? We're there and we have reinforcements."
Reinforcements? How the hell did Dave know they were in trouble and why would he have shown up with reinforcements. Even as Joe wondered that, he heard Timmy reply "You bet we can," just before there was a loud crash behind him. Checking, he saw that Dave had slid the side of his truck into the fourth vehicle's front end.
Dave struggled to straighten his truck out, the effort further complicated by the continuing fire from the jeep. Joe couldn't do anything to help, but at least he'd managed to put one of the cars out of commission. More bullets were fired, this time a few hit the bed of the truck. It appeared they were giving up on shooting the tires.
Dave got the truck straightened on the road. Ahead of him he could see Joe slow down just slightly. He wasn't sure if Joe was waiting for him or what, but he gave the truck as much gas as he dared and began slowly gaining on Joe and the pursuers. Behind him, he saw a man emerge from the car which had tried to block them in and start shooting with a handgun.
As Dave came up on him, Joe moved to the side to give him a little more room. He exchanged thumbs ups with Timmy as they swapped places. Ahead of them, he could now see the overpass, but there was no sign of the reinforcements Dave had promised. The radio had become curiously silent. He wasn't entirely why Emily had wanted Dave to take the lead, but he didn't have any better solutions.
As he swerved to avoid the bullets, he could see Jenny opening the passenger door out of the corner of his eye. Emily was still wearing her seatbelt and had one hand hooked through the belt of her granddaughter's pants. With the other hand, she reached behind the seat and grabbed a propane bottle. Though she was old, Emily proved less frail than he'd have guessed and she managed to work the bottle free and hand it to Jenny.
In the interim they had gotten even closer to the bridge and the radio crackled to life again, only this time it was Woods.
"If you're going to help, now's the time."
"Roger that. Just get 'em under the bridge."
Joe couldn't belive what he was hearing. He was pretty sure the other guys were monitoring the broadcast too. They had to have heard that. He checked his mirror and saw that the two trucks had broken off pursuit but they jeep was still coming and was actually gaining ground. He saw the machine gun flash and swerved hard to the left. Jenny nearly fell out the open door, but her grandmother saved her. Unfortunately, whatever plan they'd had for the propane tank was ruined as it tumbled out of the vehicle and into the roadway.
The machine gun fire continued and Joe was sure was done for. Some of the bullets ripped into the bed of the truck again, only the sheer volume of cargo saved them. He saw Woods head under the bridge ahead of him. If he could make another two hundred yards, he'd be safe too, but there was little chance of that - the jeep was still gaining and the machine gunner seemed to have found his range.
He heard another blast from the machine gun and even as he swerved right, he saw the gunner do the same. That was probably it. There was no chance of escape now.
Suddenly, there was a huge fireball behind them. It enveloped the jeep and he saw the gunner fall to the ground ablaze. A second later, the jeep itself exploded. He was so shocked, he didn't even have a clue what had happened.
"We got your back Baby!" came a voice from the radio. Joe fumbled for the microphone, but Emily was there first.
Before she could speak, they heard Woods say "Man Joe, dropping that tank was an awesome plan, but who the hell made that shot."
"Dave did." said Lou's disembodied voice. "Now you two get out of Dodge and we'll make sure no one chases you."
Joe couldn't believe it. He'd never known Dave was such a crack shot. He wanted to thank him, but decided to wait and do it in person. He settled back in his seat, as did his passengers. He pulled a little closer to Woods and the two of them continued their convoy to D-A. Several hundred yards behind them he could see the familiar shape of Lou's Explorer following them, a large spot light shining out the back.
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