“No, it is my fault. I should have realized what was going on with those two. If I had given them that damned Hummer-”

It was then Bill entered the room, interrupting. “Travis, the bitch is awake. Want to be there when I question her?”

Travis stood up slowly. “Yeah. I do.” He kissed Katie and she wiped his tears away. He regretted pushing her hand away and stroked her cheek softly, begging for forgiveness with his eyes. “Let me know if anything changes.”

Katie nodded, her eyes full of love and desperation. “Of course.” She sat back down, Jack at her side.

Travis walked out of the room feeling the fear and anxiety in that room still clinging to him.

Maybe it was the way she spit out a tooth onto the table or the way she kept laughing at them, but Travis could not see Blanche as human anymore. The longer they questioned her, the more insanely confident she seemed in her lying tales. She barely looked like herself with her swollen and bruised face. Jenni had done a real number on her and Travis was glad for it.

“Look, she attacked me and killed my husband! She’s a crazy spic,”

Blanche shouted at them. “I just want to go home! Give me my Hummer and let me go home!”

“Blanche, we know that isn’t true. You took Jenni hostage. We know the truth.” Bill’s voice was even and very calm.

“Do you really? Do you? You know, I think you’re too stupid to know the truth.”

Despite Bill’s quiet persistence, it soon became evident that Blanche was not about to divulge anything but her version of the story.

“Blanche, we know you had this set up. We know you have been doling out your own special justice,” Bill said shortly, finally close to being angry.

She just laughed in his face. “You stupid fucks. You have no freaking clue what is going on. You think you’re so smart, but you’re all just a bunch of dumb rednecks. I don’t know how I ever let Stephen drag me out here with you morons.”

“Is that why you decided to kill off a few of us undesirables before striking out to your own promised land?” Travis could feel his temper rising. He wanted to smash her arrogant face into the table.

Blanche smirked. “Do you even realize who I am? You are all so beneath me I shouldn’t even waste my time talking to you. You can’t even see how dangerous that stupid spic is. Look what she did to my face!”

“What did you do to Calhoun? He’s missing.” Bill glowered at Blanche, his doughy face flushed red with anger.

“Really?” Her bloody, swollen face was a terrible parody of a clown.

“Is this really all about the Hummer? Is that damn car why you killed two people, including your own husband?”

Blanche stared at Bill, slightly smiling. “Exile me. Send me home. In my Hummer.”

Travis shook his head and walked into the corridor. Bill followed in silence. Travis looked grim and pale and Bill just looked tired.

Travis shrugged. “Send her home. Let the bitch go rot in her mansion.”

Travis set his jaw grimly. “And not in the Hummer. Fuck her and that car.”

“I’ll send Curtis and Katarina out with her then.”

“Good. I don’t have time to deal with her. We’ve wasted enough time on her. We need to get hospital supplies to save Juan’s life.”

Bill arched his eyebrows and adjusted his belt nervously. “Really? A hospital?”

“I know. I know they’re death traps, but...” Travis faltered. “I gotta do something.”

“I’m in. I’ll go.” Bill shrugged slightly. “We need more supplies anyway.”

“We’ll discuss this later! Just...get the word out that we’re doing this.

“Meeting in an hour in the dining room, okay?”

Travis walked away, rubbing his neck, wishing to God he could restart the day. Instead, he went to check in with Peggy.

* * * * * Katie could hear the arguing through the door and had a good idea what it was about. Her eyes hurt from crying and she felt a little sick to her stomach. She had left Jason and Jack to wait for Jenni and Rosie to come out of Juan’s room while she went in search of her husband.

Peggy hadn’t been at her regular haunt at the front desk, so Katie had gone on down the hall to the old hotel manager’s office. Now, the voices on the other side of the door were getting louder.

The second she opened the door, the people inside went quiet. Travis was leaning against his desk, glaring at Nerit and Peggy. Bill was standing with his hands on his belt, glowering at Travis. Eric was seated, legs crossed, cleaning his glasses while looking quite pensive.

“Your fool husband wants to go out and get himself killed and leave us without a leader,” Peggy answered, her voice harsh with her frustration.

“Why should I ask other people to go out into the deadlands and risk themselves if I’m not going out myself? Huh?”

Katie looked at her husband and raised her eyebrows. “I thought it was settled that you weren’t going.”

Throwing her an annoyed look, Travis flung up his hands.

“Your most trusted advisers and good friends are telling you that you need to stay.” Eric donned his glasses and looked up. “Don’t you think you should listen to us?”

Picking up the volunteer sheet, Travis shook it at the co-conspirators.

“We have only seven people on this list.”

“Katarina and Curtis wanted to go, too, but they’re getting rid of Blanche,”

“I would go, but I’m needed here,” Nerit added.

“And I would have no idea how to handle myself out there,” Eric admitted, reddening slightly.

“Linda I can understand going because she’s Juan’s cousin. Lenore and Ken have me surprised, but they’re good people. Who is Dale?”

“The big guy that was rescued the other day. Has long hair and chops,”

“That’s kinda weird, him volunteering,” Travis said, obviously perplexed.

“He told me he wants to get involved and he might as well start now.” Bill shrugged. “I think he’ll do fine.”

“Okay, I guess.” Travis returned his gaze to the piece of paper. “Felix always volunteers. I’m a little surprised by Roger though. Should Roger be going out?”

“He does well on scavenging runs,” Nerit pointed out. “He’s competent.”

“He is probably going out for Jason,” Katie added. “They’re pretty close.”

“They are always working on defensive weapons together.” Nerit sat down slowly, settling the sniper rifle at her side. “What is your point in scrutinizing the list, Travis?”

“I’m closer to Juan than all these people except for Linda. I should be going out there. He is my best friend!”

Katie stepped toward Travis, her hand reaching for his. He had already pushed her away once today and though he seemed ready to do it again, he relented and let her take his hand. “Travis, we all know you care about Juan. I know what it feels like to be helpless in the face of death, but you are needed here. Everyone in the fort knows you’re willing to put your life on the line. You helped bring weapons back to the fort, you helped clear the hotel, you helped bring down the bandits. That is why people trust you.”

“She’s right, Travis. If you’re trying to prove anything to us, you don’t have to.”

“Eric, it’s not about proving anything to you guys. In fact, the Travis Fan Club in this fort freaks me the hell out! It’s about...” Travis struggled with his emotions. “It’s about me. How I feel. I want to help my friend. I want to help save him.”

Katie ran her hand gently over his hair and let it rest on the back of his neck. He looked toward her, his expression anguished. She could feel tears filling her eyes, but she struggled not to let them fall. “We understand more than you realize. But we need you here. You may not like it, but you’re our stability. You make us believe we can survive and flourish in this world. It may not seem like much to you, but it’s everything to us.”

“Listen to your wife and stop being a bullheaded idiot,” Peggy said shortly.

“She’s right. If you were to die out there, do you know what that would do to us?”

Travis stared at Peggy angrily, then shook his head. “Dammit.”

“And don’t say one of us can take over. We got our job to do and none of us can do what you do.” Bill crossed his arms over his chest.