Travis tried to remember how did the T. S. Elliot poem ended. Didn’t Stephen King quote it in one of his books?

This is the way the world ends This is the way the world ends This is the way the world ends Not with a bang but a whimper The fort was abuzz with people talking about Blanche being the Vigilante.

It was a consensus that she must have had help, but that she was the mastermind. Case closed.

Travis rubbed his brow and looked up as Ken rushed up to him. “Did you find Ray?”

“No. And Calhoun is gone, too. We can’t find him anywhere. He was supposed to help with some wiring today and never showed up. Juan sent me to find him right before that bitch shot him,” Ken answered. His eyes widened and he pressed one hand to his throat. “Shit, Travis, think she offed him? Ed said Calhoun was acting weird this morning. He was all muttering stuff about the Whore of Babylon right before that biker guy left.”

Travis shook his head, exhaling slowly, trying to keep calm. “Keep looking. He’s a wily, old man. He could be anywhere. I can’t see Blanche and her goons taking him out that easily.”

“Yeah, but she hated his guts,” Ken said, tears glimmering in his dark eyes. “Yesterday, Calhoun stepped on her boots, and she shoved him into the wall. She’s a psycho bitch. I refused to do her hair because she’s so mean!”

Travis rubbed his brow slowly. “Just keep looking. Hopefully, we’ll find him and Ray and figure out what the hell is really going on.”

Katarina strode by, her rifle slung casually in her arms, as Ken departed into the crowd. She just merely shook her head at Travis as she passed and moved through the crowd on her way to another part of the building.

Curtis, looking nervous and very young, appeared next to him. “I’m hearing he’s at death’s door.”

“Yeah,” Travis said softly. How where you supposed to react when your best friend was dying? He wasn’t sure. He just felt strangely numb, yet angry.

“I can’t believe it was Blanche and her goons all along. Guess we should have seen it?” Curtis shook his head. “It’s kinda obvious now. She’s one messed up bitch. Always been a mean one.”

Travis sighed and rubbed his face again. “Yeah, I suppose. But everyone just thought she was a spoiled bitch...not a dangerous one.”

With a nod of his head, Curtis agreed. “What are we going to do with her and Brewster? And Ray if we find him?”

One of the older black women, who’s name eluded Travis, stepped out of the makeshift clinic and motioned for the next person in line. They were using a lot of blood donors to try to save Juan.

The crowd parted automatically for Nerit as she moved toward Travis. He noted her slight limp, but knew better than to ask about it. Nerit’s yellowish white hair was in a tight bun on her head and she looked fierce.

“No sign of Ray. I suspect he went over the wall. Dixon says he swore he heard a car start up in the distance. I have a feeling this little group had some contingency plans.”

“We should send out patrols then! Round his ass back up.” Curtis looked fierce and very bloodthirsty. His hands were clutched tightly at his side and he kept pivoting back and forth on the balls of his feet with agitation.

“Won’t do us any good, will it?” Nerit’s gaze was cold. “We’ll just set his ass back outside the wall again.”

“We have Blanche and Brewster. I think that is sufficient.”

Travis looked over at the Reverend and his prayer group. “Nothing is sufficient anymore,” he said bitterly.

“We gotta go after him and find out what was going on!”

“Curtis, it’s obvious what was going on. Blanche wanted her damn Hummer back.” Travis shook his head. “And she was stupid and crazy enough to kill for it.”

“It was more than that, Travis,” Nerit said in a low voice. “It was a grandiose move on her part to make a point.”

“And what was her damn point, Nerit? That the Hummer was hers?”

Travis glared at Nerit, trying not to direct his anger at her and failing.

Nerit shrugged. “She is clearly not sane. And how can we anticipate or understand the actions of the insane?”

Travis rubbed his face with both hands, growling with frustration. “I should have given them the damn Hummer!”

“It may not have satisfied her, Travis. Maybe this is all about revenge for not treating her as she believed she should be.”

“She was just a freaking beauty queen,” Curtis exclaimed. “Who happened to marry a rich guy! She weren’t no damn Queen of England.”

“All this arguing is pointless. Juan is dying. Ray is missing. Calhoun is nowhere to be found. There are two dead men in the garage. And that bitch is unconscious. And none of this makes a bit of freakin’ sense!”

Travis whirled on his heel and stalked off. He didn’t want to talk about any of this anymore. He didn’t even want to deal with it anymore, but he had to. For Juan’s sake.

He walked into the room where Jenni sat trembling, sobbing, and whispering to Rosie in Spanish. Katie stood up and came to him. He allowed himself a brief moment of comfort in her arms.

“Ken thinks Blanche did away with him. Maybe she did. I don’t know.

This is so fucked up.”

Rosie looked pale and her mouth was clenched shut. She and Jenni were holding hands, united in their fear and grief. “My son is strong. He’ll come through.”

“I have no doubt that Juan is determined to live,” Travis answered.

Jack was under Jenni’s chair, his sad eyes looking at all the humans.

Jason was on guard duty and Jack had come to be with Jenni. It was almost as if he knew she needed him. Travis leaned down and petted the dog’s head.

Charlotte entered the room, covered in blood, looking tired. Letting out a desperate, horrified gasp, Rosie grabbed Jenni in her arms. Both women looked on the verge of collapse.

Travis straightened and reached for Katie’s hand. She clutched it tightly.

Travis forced the words out. “How is he?”

Charlotte let out a long sigh. “Stabilized. For now. We actually stopped the bleeding and have him on transfusions. I have some ER experience from my nursing days and I managed to get him stable. The bullet is still in him and it definitely collapsed a lung. I used an empty pen as a tube to get it re-inflated, and Belinda is manually pumping air into his lungs. I have Peggy looking for an oxygen tank she swears she has in storage. He has lost a lot of blood, and I don’t know what other damage is in there.”

“Is he going to live?” Rosie whispered.

Charlotte licked her lips, then said, “I did my best with what I have. But the bullet is still in there and there is risk of infection. He’s also in shock and we’re treating him for that.”

Jenni pulled away from Rosie. “I need to go to him. He needs me.”

There was a moment when Travis thought Charlotte would deny Jenni, but then she nodded. “He probably does. Just don’t get too hysterical in there. Keep it calm. Keep it soft. Encourage him to fight. He’s not conscious, but he may hear you.”

Rosie and Jenni held each other hands tightly as they went into the next room where Juan lay. Jack followed to the door and whimpered when the door shut, cutting him off. Katie moved to comfort the dog as Travis looked at Charlotte.

“I need surgical tools and resources we don’t have,” Charlotte answered truthfully. “I need to get that bullet out. I need equipment to monitor him and keep him alive. I need medications to fight infections.”

Travis nodded. “Okay, get me a list. We’ll get it.”

“There is a small hospital about fifty miles from here. Real small. It’s a possibility. It’ll be volunteer only”

Katie stood up, looking fearful. “Travis, you can’t go.”

“Why not?” His voice sounded harsher than he meant it to be.

“The fort needs you to be our leader,” she answered. She ran her hand over her belly. “And the baby and I need you.”

Sitting down hard in a chair, he covered his face. He felt tears on his cheeks, and he whispered, “I can’t just sit here.”

“Katie is right. You’re not the only one who cares about Juan.” Charlotte looked weary as well as anxious. “We can’t afford to lose our leader.”

“Travis, no!” Katie moved toward him, reaching out to comfort him, but he pushed her hand away.