“Well, you’re welcome to stay,” Ed finally said.

“Yeah. I know that. But it’s time to move on. I can’t stay long in one place. My nature don’t permit it.” Rune felt that was explanation enough.

“I understand. I’ll see about getting the gates open for ya.” Ed moved off.

Rune straddled his bike and tugged on his thick leather gloves. The braid of white hair fell over one shoulder as he zipped up his leather jacket and made sure to keep his neck covered. As he finished getting ready to head out, he sensed someone standing near him.

Looking up he saw a woman with short brown hair smiling at him. Her long black dress flowed to her shiny black boots and ornate jewelry decorated her neck and wrists.

“We’ll let you know when it is time to head back,” she said in a clear, melodic voice.

Rune slowly bobbed his head, mesmerized by the woman. “Okay.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

“Okay.” Rune noticed that the edges of her figure blurred slightly. Still, he swore he could touch her if he tried.

Ed stepped through the apparition and she vanished. “Get ready. We’ll open the first gate and once you’re inside, close it, then open the second.

Area is clear of zombies, but be careful. Got Katarina, the sniper, watching out.”

“Gotcha. And thanks, man.” Rune clasped hands with the older man, then gunned the motorcycle to life.

“You’re always welcome to come back.”

“I think I will head back one day. Kinda...got that feeling.” He pulled on his goggles as Ed nodded his head and walked on.

Once free of the gates, his bike roared down the abandoned streets of Ashley Oaks, away from the fort and into the deadlands.

4. The Whore of Babylon For once, Jenni dreamed blissful dreams. Secure in Juan’s arms, she slept deeply and did not awaken once.

Juan left early in the morning, leaving her to sleep in. Jenni briefly remembered him kissing her lips before sliding out of bed. She also remembered him kissing her again before he left. When the alarm clock went off two hours later, she groggily climbed out of the bed, naked and disoriented.

After a long hot shower, she pulled on her work clothes and fussed with her hair. The night before had been wonderful and she felt amazingly at peace. Juan was too wonderful for words and she couldn’t help but be happy.

The knock on the door startled her and she walked over and flung it open expecting to see Katie. Instead, it was Blanche.

Blanche smiled at her. “Hi, spic,” she answered.

Jenni never saw what hit her, but suddenly the world swirled into darkness and she felt herself falling.

* * * * * The two men with Blanche pulled Jenni up off the floor and half-carried, half-dragged her down the hall. Blanche walked swiftly behind them, her hand gripping the kid-sized baseball bat she had used to club Jenni. Her husband was cowering near the service elevator down the hall, and she gave him a fierce look.

“Yes, Stephen” she said sharply.

She was very sure. After all her hard work the last few months, she was damn sure. Things would have gone much better if that idiot Shane hadn’t gone after the lesbian, but oh well. Blanche had been paying Shane, Philip and three of their buddies in money and sexual favors (she always did like it rough). In return, the men stored food and supplies at her mansion in preparation for her return. The fort never realized how much the men had diverted to her old abode. Then Shane screwed up, leaving her to make do with his three lackeys. They were simple men who worked on the salvage runs when they weren’t working on new construction. After Shane had called the wrath of the fort down on his head, Blanche had kept a tight reign on her three remaining minions. She liked to think of them as minions. It empowered her.

“Ray, go get Juan. Meet us in the garage near my Hummer,” she said to one of the men. He was the scrawniest of the three, but amazingly good in bed.

“Gotcha,” he said, and hurried off.

“I don’t understand why we need her,” Stephen said in a voice that made her want to claw his eyes out.

Blanche was good at manipulating people and she had done her best to keep herself and Stephen isolated from the rest of the fort. It allowed her to plan her return to the mansion without much interference. Stephen had been the easiest to manipulate. God help the poor man, but he really did love her.

“Because, her spic boyfriend controls the gate and if we have her with us, he will do what we say.”

God, he was a total idiot. The only thing he was good for was managing her money and making more of it. He definitely had not done anything to help her out during these hard months at the fort. He had tried to get Travis to give them the Hummer and supplies behind her back, but he had failed, of course. He was lucky he had not brought the fort authorities down on them or ruined her plans. That had nearly happened when Linda, searching for the Imotrex, almost found the contraband the boys had been smuggling to Blanche. The scene she had to make afterward to cover up had been ridiculous, but it had worked.

“Then we let her go?” Stephen asked.

“Of course not. I need someone to clean the mansion,” Blanche said with a laugh.

The service elevator opened and they stepped inside. Brewster and Johnson flanked her, Brewster holding the unconscious woman under one arm. Blanche straightened her dress a bit and checked her shoes. She was wearing snake skin boots with her dress and she admired them with a sigh. Soon she would have all of her lovely things back.

The doors snapped open to a back hallway and they moved swiftly through it. Stephen followed, clutching their bags. He was at least good for that.

Pushing open a back door, she stepped into the small courtyard between the hotel and the newspaper building. The new wall rose up enclosing the courtyard and blocking her view of the town, but she didn’t care. She was done with this shit town.

Johnson ran ahead of them and opened up the doors to the newspaper office. He had picked it open the night before and it swung open on freshly oiled hinges. Blanche strode confidently inside and walked down the long narrow hallway, barely paying attention to the old offices. Again, Johnson ran ahead and opened up the door to the loading dock that was now used as a garage. Her Hummer sat there, beautiful and waiting for them among the rest of the shitkicker vehicles the fort vermin had collected.

Stephen rushed over to the board where all the keys hung and grabbed the ones for the Hummer. At least he was good for that much, Blanche thought bitterly.

“Pack the Hummer, get ready to go,” Blanche said tersely. “And do what we planned, okay?”

“Hey, once we’re out of here, what are we doing with him,” Brewster whispered to Blanche.

“I’ll take care of him. He’s deadweight in this world.”

Johnson handed Blanche the revolver with the silencer she had specifically requested from her mansion. She took it with a smile.

“Keep to the plan,” she said.

The door on the far side of the room opened and Juan walked in with Ray. Ray looked nervous, but Juan looked almost frantic. Blanche wondered what the hell Ray had told him to get him down to the garage.

“What happened? Is she okay?” Juan asked as he drew near. “How did she get hurt?”

Blanche calmly pressed the muzzle of the silencer against the underside of Jenni’s chin.

“We’re leaving and you’re opening the gate,” Blanche said coolly.

Juan blinked, taking it all in. He looked sharply at Ray, who backed away, ducking his head. “What the hell is going on, Ray?”

“We’re leaving,” Brewster said in his loud booming voice. “And you’re letting us out.”

“You could have just asked,” Juan hissed at them.

“Oh, like you would have let the Hummer go,” Blanche said mockingly.

“This is about your fucking car? Travis said your husband was all crazy to get it back.”

Blanche just laughed. “It’s about my fucking treatment around here. I am taking my car, my men, and I’m going home.”

“Fine, but you can’t take her!”

“I’ll give her back to you once we’re through the gate. I’ll leave her off on a corner somewhere in town and you can hurry your little ass out there to get her before the zombies do,” Blanche assured him.

Of course, it was a lie. Blanche had come to hate Jenni about as much as she hated anyone. She was going to enjoy making the little bitch her...well...slave. She wasn’t sure why she hated her so much, but it was probably because everyone seemed to adore the fucking crazy spic.

Blanche nodded and shrugged. She flipped the safety off. “Now, I have no problem shooting her if you don’t do as I say.”