Kevin was unable to raise Jack on the walkie-talkie. While Sam and Dee loaded up the station wagon with everything useful they could find, Seamus and Cameron cleared bodies from the driveway. Since that had been the main avenue of approach, that was where the corpses were piled most densely. Kevin kept trying to contact Jack, but there was no response. Using Cameron’s binoculars, he could see that what police had shown up were mainly focused on containing the activity at the McDonald’s up the street, which was right next to a liquor store and a bar. The dorms North of there appeared to be civil, just boisterous. There was no longer any visible activity on the quad or by the apartments beyond campus.
After Kevin had been unable to radio Jack for five minutes, the group reasoned that they were probably dealing with a crisis of their own. Cameron looked around for more riot activity, but there was none visible to the South. The house was relatively low, though, and buildings in the Southern part of town were three and four stories, so it was hard to tell. They were unable to get a visual on the Dojo itself, as there was a rather massive church right in the way. They decided that the best course of action would be to pack up and head over. There was too much useful stuff to simply leave behind, but the dead bodies, possibility of revenge, and unknown factor of the police made the house too dangerous a property to maintain. The worst-case scenario was that the Dojo had been overrun, in which case they would get Kevin’s car from the nearby parking garage and try to evacuate as many as possible.
The wagon loaded and the driveway clear, everyone piled in and headed out. Kevin had kept them updated on the police, and they were still occupied at McDonald’s, where a fire had broken out. There was no rush, which was quite fortunate; the station wagon was creaking and groaning under the weight of all the cans, jars, tools, and materials in the back.
Sam steered the station wagon carefully through side streets, trying to avoid main arteries of traffic. The jams had mostly cleared up, with most people either out of work or out of town, but there were still tight knots around the gas stations themselves, despite the price-hike. She pulled in behind the Dojo, in the parking lot that served the pizza joint and pair of bars below. Cameron stayed at the car with his bat, just in case, while the others went to the roof to take a look around.
Jack was still on the roof, fiddling with the walkie-talkie.
“Holy shit,” he said, “You guys fucking made it!”
“Of course,” said Kevin, “Where the fuck have you been?”
“Well, when I didn’t hear from you for over half an hour, I assumed that the mob had just overrun you. So I started playing around with this thing, and - well, Jesus, it’s practically a compact CB! I was able to listen in on truckers talking as they went around town.”
“Fuckin’ A,” said Seamus. Three highways ran together around the town. “Sounds like we’ve got ourselves some news, then. This ought to make for some interesting updates.”
“Oh, you don’t know the half of it,” Jack continued. “Power’s out all over the country. Even parts of Canada and Mexico, though nobody knows how far. Truckers have become like the new, umm, couriers or whatever. Who used to get the news to places before -?” Jack trailed off as he realized that tales from far off lands hadn’t been primarily carried by traveling merchants since the Renaissance.
Kevin finally spoke up. “Look, at any rate, the house is no longer safe. We brought all the gear that we could, but there could be more riots at any time. We need to secure this place.”
“Yeah, uhh, that sounds good,” said Jack, shock sinking in. He was starting to realize that he would probably never read an online news article again.
“OK,” Dee chimed in, her mind racing. “We need to check on the upstairs neighbors and see what their situation is, then secure the entrances. I vote we dismantle the back stairs and snap the inside latch on the front deadbolt so it can only be operated by key. Also, we need fire extinguishers. The exteriors of these buildings are brick, but there’s enough wood on the inside to be a concern.”
“I’ll head inside to do that stuff,” Sam said. “I’m the only one who hasn’t got blood all over me. Jack, is there like a secret knock or something to get in?”
“Yes, it’s two knocks, then three knocks, then two knocks again.”
“OK, thanks.” Sam headed down to the backdoor. Seamus looked at Jack suspiciously.
“Is there really a secret knock?”
“Fuck no. I just made that up.”
Over the next half hour, the group hauled gear from the station wagon up to the roof and sorted out the details of how they’d fortify the Dojo. Seamus and Kevin then kept watch outside while the rest went in to explain what was going on to the others. This time there was full disclosure: the riot, the deaths, the fire, the plans, everything came out. If they were to survive, none of this Cloak & Dagger shit was gonna fly. There were only a dozen or so who hadn’t known, and none of them were really disappointed at missing out on the riot anyway, so the news was digested rather painlessly. Most of them were just focused on riding out the shock of the situation and wanted to be left alone to stare at the air.
Luckily, the neighbors upstairs had vacated. Hopefully, they had also skipped town. It would be a very bad thing if they showed up in the middle of a riot with keys to the fortress. Their apartment was raided, but it didn’t turn up much besides a few cans of food. They hadn’t taken the recycling out in a while, though, and it looked like they drank a lot of bottled water. Sam and Jill set about cleaning the containers they could in order to bottle up more clean water, and thanked their lucky stars that the tap was still running clear. They didn’t want to have to start distilling water just yet.
Jack and Kevin started a rooftop cookout with Kevin’s grill. Nothing was really grill-worthy, but it was the only controlled source of heat they had. Alcohol flowed freely, since apparently the college bars and liquor stores were sufficient to slake the thirsts of the town so far, leaving the bars below the Dojo completely untouched. This was on the edge of the business district, though, and was just as likely a target as the East side once the North and central areas were thoroughly pillaged.
Cameron resumed his position as rooftop scout while Dee and Seamus got one of Kevin’s friends to help with dismantling the rear staircase. Ethan Lawrence was an enormous football player with skin the color of baker’s chocolate, and he was almost able to haul the stairs up by himself after Dee had cut them free with her welding torch. She and Seamus had rigged up a crude system of rope supports beforehand, though, so such a feat of strength - while still impressive - was unnecessary.
The back stairs handled, she turned her attention to the front. Her first act was to reverse the deadbolt so it locked from the inside, then she sheared off the latch on the outside using a wide-shank screwdriver as a chisel. She then got Seamus to help her cut a door-sized rectangle out of the dumpster behind the Dojo, which they cleaned off as thoroughly as they could with mineral spirits and steel wool. The two of them removed the window in the middle of the door, cut a sort of porthole out of the metal rectangle, and bolted a safety glass cover over the circular opening (this was cut from the first window Seamus found which he couldn’t break, a search he rather enjoyed). The two of them then proceeded to remove the outside handle from the door and bolted on the new metal covering. The doorjamb was reinforced by removing all the structural wood and replacing it with pipes bolted right into the brick. The pipe frame was then welded into one piece, bolts and all, so it couldn’t be removed without breaking the whole assembly. Since the door opened out, it now could not be kicked in, pulled off, or unlocked from the outside. The sun had set by this point, so Seamus and Dee went to join the others for dinner and have a couple drinks.
During the booze run, fire extinguishers had been grabbed from the various bars and other establishments in the area. The smoke shop had had three of them. Ten now stood at the ready in various locations around the apartment. Cameron had a feeling they were going to need them when the fires started at about 11:30.
The sixteen-foot ladder from Dee and Sam’s house was sufficient for either getting down to the street or for getting up to the roof above the third-story apartment, which was where Cameron was when he saw houses start bursting into flames. He called down to Dee and Seamus, who were smoking pot with Hank Andrews and Mary Hart, friends of Dee's from the philosophy department. Dee made sure Seamus went up the ladder first, so he wouldn’t shake it when she went up. Dee looked through Cameron’s binoculars.
“Well, shit,” she said matter-of-factly, then giggled. “What do you make of it, Cam?”
“My guess is Molotov cocktails. They’ve been sprouting up quickly, too fast for the fires to be spreading from one house to another.”
“Oh, yeah, fuck. Good call. Hey, isn’t that where all the frat-houses are?”
“Shit, I want to see some Mensa assholes starting fires,” Seamus said, chuckling.
“Yeah,” said Cameron, “LaCrosse House and I think the other sports teams are up in that area. I mean, frat-houses in general are kind of all over, but if I were to pick a frat to pull this shit, it’d be from that area.”
Dee stuck out her tongue at Seamus and blew raspberries.
“You like that, uhh - unvoiced, err, linguolabial trill?” Dee grinned maniacally for being able to say that in her present state of consciousness, and Seamus responded by flipping her both of his middle fingers.
“Not the time,” said Cameron. Had he known there was weed earlier, he would have joined in, but knowing what he knew now, he was glad he hadn’t. He didn’t begrudge them, though; things were probably only going to get worse, and those two had done more work than most anyone else, so why not have as much fun as possible while you still could?
“Well, we can’t do anything about it,” said Dee, “Except worry. And that’s no fun. So let’s just tell everyone to stay inside if they start coming this way, so we won’t draw attention to ourselves.”
“Yeah, you’re probably right.” Still, Cameron didn’t want to get caught with his proverbial pants down. He’d stay up in his crow’s nest until things settled down. If they ever did, that is. “Oh, fuck it. Where’s that bud?”
Hank, Mary, and Sam had joined them on the roof to watch the fireworks. Everyone else was informed of the situation, and some came to see, but then went right back down to keep drinking in a safer spot. The fires were visible to the naked eye, but the binoculars revealed that things weren’t as bad as “assholes throwing Molotovs” sounded at first. It had rained heavily on Friday, so the risk of spreading was fairly minimal, and there were plenty each of open spaces and brick buildings to act as buffer zones.
After half an hour or so, the fires had stopped starting anew, though the existing ones were still going strong. Another few minutes later, a large pickup truck came roaring into view, its high beams illuminating the street for blocks ahead. It was traveling the wrong way down the one way street leading straight from the Dojo, in all likelihood heading for the very bar beneath them. Sam got word down for everyone to head in and shut up. Groans of protest notwithstanding, the people complied. They didn’t want to die in a fire, especially not while drunk.
Sure enough, the truck rode up on the curb and stopped inches from the smashed glass of the bar’s large picture window. Three guys in football jerseys jumped out the back, while the driver remained in the cab.
“Motherfucker,” one of them said, “Looks like someone already got to the place.”
“Well, take a look inside and make sure, will ya?”
“Shut up, Bill, it was your idea to come out here.”
The biggest one spoke up. “What’s the matter, Shane? You ‘fraid o’ the dark?”
“Fuck you, Frank.” Frank put Shane in a headlock and gave him a noogie.
“Shit,” said Sam, under her breath. “Dee, you think -?” Dee shushed her and began to hock up a loogie. She let it dangle a good eighteen inches to aim, but the wind kicked up right after she let loose, causing her to miss her mark. The jocks searched the inside of the bar, then split up to search the others on the block, then met back up at the truck.
“There’s fucking nothing here.”
“Fuck it, let’s burn the shit down.”
“You ‘tarded? We ran outta cocktails before we left campus!”
“Well, fuck, whose fault is that?”
“Yours, you drunk fuck, you threw ‘em all!”
And so on, until they were in the truck and headed East, most likely to the mall and the liquor stores out that way.
The group on the roof breathed a collective sigh of relief. Dee nodded and said, “Yeah, that was him.”
“Who was who? Or whom, rather,” Hank asked.
“Frank Calhoun. Starting center for the football team. He’s a year younger than me, so probably a senior now, unless he got red-shirted and then flunked a year or some shit like that.”
Seamus asked, “What, you know that fucktard?”
“I know all of ‘em. The others were Bill Johnson and Shane Brown. Didn’t recognize the driver, though.”
“Dee, you slut, fucking the football team now?”
“Shut up, Cam. I went to high school with those fuckers.”
“Oh-ho! That ain’t half the story,” said Sam. “Dee an’ Frank go way back. Like, when Dee was a junior, Frank was already starting for varsity. Well, us an’ our friends are passing by the football fields after shop, when Frank starts givin’ cat-calls from where he an’ his buddies are chillin’ after practice. Dee shouts back, ‘You wouldn’t know what to do with me,’ and to make a long shouting match short, Frank bets Dee twenty bucks that if she puts some pads on, he can have ‘er on her back in seconds.”
“And?” Hank was rapt with attention, his default demeanor during story-time.
“Well, of course, Dee fuckin’ accepts, so one of them gives her his sweaty pads, and she’s all like, ‘Ooh, smells like faggot in here,’ which just gets ‘em madder. So they square off, and Frank’s just surprised that Dee knew how to put the damn pads on, but as soon as the guy they picked to call ‘go’ gives the signal, Frank reaches up under Dee’s pads and grabs her tits!”
By this point, the fear of fire having left the group, laughter erupted. Sam’s facial expressions and wild hand gestures were making the story.
“So Dee squeals like - well, like a damn girl, and she rears back, and Frank just fuckin’ topples her, naturally enough. But while Frank’s gloating, Dee just gets up and challenges him to a re-match, saying he couldn’t do it twice. Frank asks if she wants to double it, forty bucks to the winner, she says yes, so he figures he’s got an easy forty bucks. Except this time, when Frank grabs her tits again, Dee just keeps her weight low. Then she reaches down and grabs her own wrists, brings her arms in to lock Frank’s elbows together, and lifts him off balance; then she kinda shifts up under him, pivots and hip-tosses the fucker! Next thing Frank knows, he’s flat on his back with a chipped tooth!”
“So’d you get the money,” asked Cameron.
“Shit yeah, she did! Frank gave her fifty just to shut her up!”
“That’s not quite how it happened,” Dee said, red-faced from being the center of attention. “Frank actually never paid me. That was something Bill made up just to give him shit. He never lived it down, though.”
“Look, great story and all,” said Seamus, “But if the football team’s banded together, this could get fucked up fast. I don’t know how drunk those guys were, or whether they noticed our reinforced door or not. If they come back, we could be in deep shit.”
That night, Dee had a dream. Not exactly a nightmare, she just sensed something looming on the horizon, something large and unpleasant. It had been building up the past few days. It would be here soon, and she had to try to stop it. She woke up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night, and realized that the high-stress environment of the week was probably diminishing the effects of her medication. She made a mental note to check her supply in the morning - she was nearing refill time, but hadn’t kept track of how much she had left. She might need Sam's help to determine whether to up her dosage.
Thursday morning was beautiful. The sun was shining and the fresh air smelled good through the open windows. Dee had slept on the floor with her jacket for a pillow. She was a bit stiff from all of the previous day’s activity, but a few stretches made the stiffness go away. She had no hangover, but went to get a glass of water anyway. It came out a sick shade of yellow-orange. Shit. The fire trucks probably popped the hydrants to put out the fires, or maybe some of the jocks even plowed through them with their cars. She’d have to build a distillery, and probably set up a rain cache as well.
She got out a jug of water and poured some into a coffee mug. Then she grabbed her purse and went into the bathroom to take her pills. Remembering the episode from last night, she observed that her supply was running low, less than a week left. Time to raid Walgreen's. That could also net some water bottles, various other drinkables, and snacks. She could dismantle some of the metal shelving units for parts, too. Unless, of course, the jocks hit up the booze emporium by the steakhouse on the East side of town and torched the whole place hours ago.
A few other people were awake and reading, playing handhelds, or just fidgeting. That was bad. They needed something to do, but things weren’t settled down enough yet to venture safely outside. She would deal with that later. She gently shook Sam awake.
"Hrumph - umm, what's up?"
"Mornin', sweetheart. Hey, I need you to help me with something, OK?"
"Yeah, sure, what is it?"
"Well, my medication's running low, I want to go see if we can re-stock at Walgreen's."
"Ooh, yeah. This would be a bad time for unchecked depression. Don't you know what you take, though? I'm sure you can figure it out."
"Yeah, uhh, that's the thing." Dee swallowed hard and took a deep breath. "Look, we need to talk."
Sam was wide awake. Clearly, it was time to deal with Serious Business.
Cameron, Kevin, and Jack were on the roof, listening to the radio chatter. Cameron asked where the girls were headed. Dee responded that they were heading out to scavenge for supplies.
"Fuckin' A!" Cameron pumped his fist in the air as he jumped to his feet. "I could use something to do." Kevin stretched and stood as well.
"Erm, we actually want as much room for supplies as possible. Sam's gonna run lookout while I raid Walgreen's, and we'll be hauling back cases of drinks and all the entertaining knick-knacks we can get our hands on."
"Oh, that's no problem," said Kevin. "Cam can just ride with me in my car. I could also use a break in the monotony."
"Uh, sure, I guess that works." Dee's mind was racing - she wanted as few people to know about her medication as possible. "OK, better plan! Rosie an' I are gonna hit Walgreen's, why don't you two scout around town?"
"Sweet, I'll bring my binoculars."
"No," Dee said, "We want those here, in the Crow's Nest. Walkies also stay, we'll need them between the roof and the front door."
"Good idea," said Jack. "I'll get Seamus up and put him on the roof, I'm gonna read and run gatekeeper. I'm sick'a listenin' to these truckers gabbing." He paused, reflected, and then slapped his forehead. "Dammit, I'm even talking like them."
Jack disappeared inside, and reappeared minutes later with Seamus wearing only gym shorts and his leather jacket. They went over the plan with him and then Kevin and Cameron readied to break camp. Jack let them out the front door and locked up behind them. Dee and Rosie drove the men to the parking garage to retrieve Kevin's car.
"Now be careful. There won't be any search parties, this town is too small to get lost in but too big to search with our small numbers. Keep your fuckin' heads down and don't do anything stupid. The main spots to hit are going to be the mall and each Wal-Mart, as well as Menards and Home Depot. If things look clear, go ahead and take a look inside to see if you can salvage anything. But do not, under any circumstances, go into the mall. I don't care how safe it looks, the risk of a trap or some other bullshit is just too high, it's such a high-profile place. We clear?"
"Yes, mother," said Kevin, rolling his eyes. Cameron laughed and gave a salute as he stepped towards the other car.
Dee mustered her concentration and started talking. Sam was furious before they had even traveled three blocks.
"ANTIPSYCHOTICS?! Fucking Christ, Dee, why didn't you tell me about this?!"
"I'm sorry, Sam, I just - I didn't want you to think I was a freak or anything."
"Well, I mean - shit! Like, in the first couple weeks, I could see that. But we've been together, what, since fucking high school? It's not like it never came up!"
"I know. I know that. But I didn't know what to say. My parents - my mother - she thought I was a fucking freak, and I didn't want - I mean, for fuck's sake, we had to change states -"
Sam was cradling her head in her hands. "Wait, what are you talking about? You said your dad got a job offer from a friend, and your mother just refused to leave."
"No. My mother was scared out of her mind. I was seven. My dad - he got the offer, but only after telling his old boss, his college buddy, he told him what happened, and then Joe Maher - that was his name - Joe offered him a job. She just - she fucking walked out on us, Rosie. I started taking meds, and then we moved halfway across the country, and then everything was fine. But I don't ever want to feel like that again." Dee was struggling to keep back the tears.
"Dee, honey - listen to me. I'm not leaving you. I wouldn't have over that, and I won't over this. But, I mean - fuck! I love you, but you can't just - look, your mother's a bitch for doing that, and I'm sorry, I really am. But I am not her." Sam took a couple deep breaths.
"I know, Rosie." Tears were streaming down Dee's face. This was the first time Sam had seen her look weak. Vulnerable, at times. Crying, occasionally. Tender, whenever they made love. But never, ever weak. Sam swallowed hard.
"Well, while we're on the subject, is there anything else?"
"No. That's all. That's the only secret I have."
"Well -" Sam searched for words. "I guess that's a relief, in a way. When you said we had to talk, I thought you might have been fucking Seamus or something."
"Pfah!" Dee looked a wreck, but her mood improved somewhat at Sam's joke. "Look, he's cool and all, but I wouldn't - gah, just, no!"
A few moments of laughter were followed by an uncomfortable silence. Finally, Sam spoke again.
"So - I mean, if you don't mind - what exactly, err - what happened?"
"No, it's fine, really." Dee had stopped crying at this point. "It's just, well, it's kind of a long story. Now that the scary part's out there, yeah, you should know. I mean, I want you to know. But, I mean, be more specific."
"Oh. Yeah. I mean, why are you taking antipsychotics? And which ones?"
"Well, they started me off on lorazepam as a kid, but I take clonazepam every day, and lithium. I can still pick up a three-day supply of lorazepam at any time, though, when things get really bad."
"Christ on a bike, Dee, those are some serious drugs. I mean, the lithium's not so bad, it's a pretty standard mood stabilizer, but - shit, why would they put a kid on fucking lorazepam?" Sam was a psych major, and side effects (more specifically, Dee's marked lack of any side effects) were pouring through her mind.
"I was, I mean, it was pretty fucking bad when I was a kid. I was making shit up about past lives and the end of the world, and my mother found me looking up explosive compounds in a chemistry book when we went to the library once. I was four. Even when I was six -"
"Wait, you could fucking read that shit at four?"
"I - yes. I started talking as soon as I had teeth. The doctors, they said I had, what was it, some kind of neurological hypertrophy. My frontal lobe was especially pronounced, but I showed all kinds of signs of increased brain activity. What they think happened was that I learned really fast, but I made shit up even faster. And then I started memorizing the bullshit. Like, at first, I would just tell the doctors all sorts of random shit, but then I got my stories straight and wouldn't let go of them."
"Jesus. What kind of stuff?"
"Past life stuff. I don't know. The lorazepam, it - I can't -"
"Yeah, that's right, it's amnesic. So, like, do you remember your childhood at all, then?"
"A little. Bits and pieces mostly. I remember we had to move around Illinois a lot because I kept starting shit at school until the drugs helped me get a stable hold on reality. I was always really charismatic, but then I just started going back to my whacked-out bullshit and we'd have to move 'cuz everyone thought I was crazy. Finally, in fifth grade, we settled down. Then I met you."
"Oh, God, Dee. I didn't know. I mean, I thought - shit. Everyone really did think you were a freak - I'm - I'm so sorry, I shouldn't have -"
"No, it's OK. You couldn't have known. I didn't let you. It's my fault."
"But - look, I just - I understand, OK? Really. Are we OK?"
They were pulling into the Walgreen's parking lot. They had seen the occasional pedestrian on the way, and even fewer vehicles, but the store itself was deserted, except for a few abandoned cars out front. The entrance was pretty smashed, but there were no other signs of destruction.
"Well," said Dee, after taking a deep breath, "Let's do this."
"I love you."
Dee's heart melted.
"I love you, too, Rosie. I always have. And I always will." There was tenderness in her voice. Vulnerability. Strength. They embraced, kissed, and then got out of the car.
Inside, it looked like a miniature tornado had swept through but left the walls intact. The registers had been smashed, and all the food and drinks were gone. Sam and Dee stepped carefully to avoid slipping on the glass strewn about the floor like gravel. At least the shelves would be easier to take apart, Dee thought to herself.
The girls found the shipping/receiving area at the back of the store, and while it had also been picked fairly clean, there were intact pallets of goods higher up off the ground. Dee got the forklift working, remembering her days at The Home Depot, and brought down two pallets of snack foods, three of bottled water, and one each of sports drinks and iced tea. She then brought the car around to the shipping dock while Sam kept an eye out, then they took turns arranging things in the station wagon, alternating lookout duty. Then they dismantled a couple aisles of shelving and strapped them to the roof of the car with bungee cords. After fitting in all the board games and toys that would fit in the remaining space, it was finally time to check the pharmacy.
Surprisingly, there wasn't much gone. Ritalin, Vicodin, OxyContin, all of those were cleared out. But the women found lorazepam, clonazepam, and lithium in fairly large quantities. They poured the pills into grocery bags and labeled them with masking tape. The engine noise from the front of the store went entirely unnoticed; they were so used to it in their daily lives before. They heard the doors slam after the truck had rolled up to the front, but by then it was too late: they were behind the counter in the pharmacy corner, and there was a clear line of sight down the main aisle from the front of the store to the doors at the back. Dee pushed Sam's head down and motioned for silence. Sam nodded, eyes wide with fear.
"Fuck, looks like they beat us to it, Frank." Now Dee's eyes went wide at the sound of Shane's voice.
"Told'ja we should'a come last night, 'stead a drinkin' 'til sunrise." The driver was out. Maybe they could sneak out and get away before the jocks could pursue - but the wagon was loaded, and that truck had a powerful engine.
"Dammit," said Frank, "Food's gone, drinks're gone, ain't shit left here but fuckin' makeup an' board games!" The girls held their breath in hope.
"An' DRUUUGS!" Fuck.
"Well, Hell, Tom," Bill chuckled. "If you know what does what, you're welcome to it. I'd just as likely poison our asses."
"Nah, my girlfriend was doing her clinicals," Tom replied. "She was telling me how people are using prescription drugs recreationally now, on account of they're legal if a doc says so. I think I can remember a couple of 'em." He was right on the other side of the counter now. "An' shit, even if I can't, we can just grab 'em all and let her sort 'em out!"
Shane hollered and ran clear across the store, then planted his hand on the counter and hopped over in one swift movement. He turned around to address Tom, then his eyes lit up when he looked below the counter.
"Well, lookie what we - holy shit. Dee?"