Wordlessly, Katarina returned to the Hummer and climbed in.
“Shit,” Dale sighed, but obeyed Nerit. He climbed into the truck with her not minding the drying blood one bit.
Curtis moved back to the Hummer. The young police officer was tense.
When he slid into the other SUV, he hunched down and looked away from Katarina.
Nerit slammed the door shut and backed the truck up slowly.
“She did what I would have done,” Dale repeated.
“It’s not fair that doing something like that can get others killed or kidnapped,” Dale said gruffly.
“Yes, but life is not fair.”
“So the fucking military is out there, huh?”
“Yes,” Nerit answered, following the Hummer, her hands gripping the steering wheel tightly.
“Great. Fucking great. And who do you think controls them?”
Katie ran across the lobby avoiding some of the old timers taking up their morning bingo spots. Her blond curls were pulled up into a ponytail and she was clad in one of Travis’ shirts. Her swelling belly was beginning to pop out the bottom of her tops. Though she felt sheepish to admit it, she loved it. Instinctively, she placed a hand against her stomach as she ran, almost as if she could protect the baby from whatever news had returned with Nerit and the others.
Travis had never returned to bed and she had woken up groggy and disoriented. She had called down to the front desk to find Peggy grumpy and cursing about Travis making her nuts. It was then she found out the two groups Travis had sent out earlier were in route to the fort. After changing her clothes, she had rushed downstairs.
Catching sight of Nerit talking with Travis, she knew instantly the news was not good. Travis’ expression was grim as he rubbed his brow. Nerit looked calm, but her gaze fierce.
“What happened?” Katie asked as she reached them, her voice raw. She feared the worst and the tension in her face clearly revealed that.
“We found the truck and they weren’t in it,” Nerit answered simply.
Katie blinked at the bluntness of that statement. “Were they...was there...”
“They were taken,” Nerit answered. “Apparently by the military. At least Jenni and one other man. We don’t know which of the men it was though.”
“So we lost two people at the hospital,” Katie said softly.
“And the military is out there,” Katie continued.
“How do we know they have Jenni, but we’re not sure about which of the guys they took?” Travis asked.
“Jenni was injured by a piece of surgical equipment she was holding,”
Nerit, explaining quickly what she had observed. “I gave the surgical equipment to Charlotte already so she can try to save Juan.”
Katie felt a little dizzy at the thought of Jenni being hurt, then carted off by some unknown military force. She leaned against Travis for comfort.
His arm snaked around her and he held her tightly, his lips briefly brushing over her forehead.
Ed and Linda walked toward them briskly. Both looked grim and Katie wondered if they were the ones that checked on Blanche.
“A Mercedes packed to the gills with supplies on the side of the road. Ray busted the axle trying to off road it. Maybe he was trying to avoid being seen by Curtis and Katarina yesterday,” Ed answered.
“And what looked like maybe the remains of Ray on the doorstep of the mansion. Gunshot wound to what was left of his head.” Linda shivered.
“There were a few zombies milling around still. Front door was open.
Zombies on the inside. We didn’t go in.”
“We didn’t stick around. No sign of life and once the zombies get you in their sights, they get all feisty,” Ed added.
“Think she got away?” Katie wasn’t sure if she wanted Blanche still alive out there or not. She wasn’t very happy about the choice that had been made the day before, but at the same time it was hard to find sympathy for Blanche.
Ed shook his head. “Nope.” His keen eyes looked toward Travis. “Nope.
Travis squirmed under his gaze and Nerit shrugged.
Linda shook her head. “I don’t feel bad for the bitch. She shot my cousin.
“Justice has got to be fair for everyone or it ain’t justice,” Ed said in terse voice.
“Hey! Hey, Travis! Nerit! There is word the army is coming to rescue us,”
a man said running up to them.
Katie couldn’t remember his name, but knew he had survived with his son in a farmhouse not too far out of town.
“No, they took two of our people,” Travis answered, struggling to keep the edge from his tired voice. He and Ed were still locking gazes.
“Are they coming for the rest of us?” The man looked excited, but anxious.
“They took two of our people and we don’t know what that means,” Nerit answered truthfully.
“Yeah, but they are coming to rescue us, right? They know we’re here now. Our people will tell them where to come to get us. Right?”
A crowd was beginning to form around them as the word spread. Katie clung to Travis, feeling his body leaning heavily against hers. He was so tired and she knew he was not in the mindset to deal with yet another crisis.
“Travis, is it true?” This was Belinda, Juan’s former crush, and she looked hopeful.
“We don’t know. We just know that the military took two of our people. It could mean anything,” Travis responded.
“But if it’s the army, that means we’re saved!” This from an older black woman, clutching her hands together. Her expression was rapturous.
“Where would they take us?” Travis asked the fast growing crowd.
“A place safer than what we got here,” Belinda said, and the people around her nodded.
“This may be bad,” Peggy pointed out. “What if their base isn’t as nice as this. We have a good thing here.”
“Besides, maybe it’s not the army at all. Just rogues. Deserters,” the Reverend added.
Things were becoming very agitated now. Voices swelled as arguments broke out. Some people seemed almost desperate to believe this was good news while others looked dubious.
Katie was one of the doubters. She couldn’t see how someone taking Jenni could possibly be a good thing.
Nerit held up a hand and things quieted somewhat. “The truth is, we do not know the situation. We do not know why Jenni and the others were taken. We just know for sure that they were and that it was most likely a faction of the military.”
“We shouldn’t get overly excited yet,” Travis added. “We’re not sure what this means for the fort.”
“But they’ll rescue us,” someone said persistently. It was Janice, a local.
Her face was flushed and anxious. “They kept saying on the radio they would save us!”
“Take us to where it’s safe,” Janice answered.
“But it’s safe here,” Katarina said, stepping out of the crowd. “It’s safe where we are.”
“But they’ll have real weapons. Real ways of defending us,” another voice said from the back.
Katie noticed it was the newer people who clung to this idea of a rescue more tightly than the townsfolk. Also, the people from larger towns or cities seemed to immediately embrace the idea of the army coming to the rescue.
“What is true is that we don’t know what is happening yet,” Travis said in a loud voice. “And that is where it stands.”
Pulling Katie with him, he moved into the manager’s office, Nerit following.
“I don’t like how this feels,” Travis said grimly, leaning his hands on his desk.
“Until we know what is going on, we need to keep people calm,” Nerit said.
Picking up the phone, Travis dialed Peggy’s line. “Gather the council, please.”
“They’re going to go ape shit,” Katie decided. “The idea of being rescued is going to have people completely nuts.” She leaned against Travis, comforted by the gentle touch of his fingers through her hair and down her neck.
Peggy slipped in the door followed by Curtis. Katarina entered, standing in for Bill. Eric arrived last, wearing his usual khakis and a sweater. He ran a hand over his dark hair as he sat in a chair.
There was a moment of tense silence as they realized how many of the council was missing. Jenni, Juan, Bill...Katie even missed Calhoun whipping out his camcorder.
“Rumor is that the army is coming to rescue us,” Eric said, starting the conversation.