Authors: Jamie Quaid
The police barricade allowed one of their own to pass but blocked the path of the Keystone Cops rattling after us in their security truck.
“Win one for the Duke!” I crowed, pumping my fist in the air. We rocked!
Leo sent me a strange look. Obviously, he didn’t watch old westerns. Taking my triumph where I could find it, I checked on our patient. Despite all the commotion, Sarah lay still as death. That worried me, but I was no doctor. I’d done all I could do. Except rescue Bill. That burned. Triumph was fleeting.
I glanced out the back window, but the gates had closed. There wouldn’t be any going back in. Telling myself I wasn’t responsible for anyone but myself,
and that I had to focus on keeping my job, I clenched my teeth and plotted how to reach the judge’s office by two.
Leo took a right off Edgewater away from the harbor, as if we really were heading for a hospital. Once out of the Zone, he switched off the siren, swung down a garbage-strewn alley only a policeman would dare drive, and maneuvered us back to the hill and Andre’s warehouse.
I glanced at my watch. One thirty. The judge’s office was almost half an hour away, depending on traffic. Sarah needed help I couldn’t give her. I had to let others save the day.
“I love and adore you, Leo,” I said appreciatively, “but I have to run or get canned. If I bake you a cake, can you take it from here?”
“I can take it from here without the cake,” he said grumpily, parking behind the warehouse. “And if anyone took my license number and I get called to the carpet, you better bring out the big guns.”
Meaning Dane/Max. I didn’t want to ask favors of a man I could barely talk to, but I nodded. “You got it, big boy.” I leaned over, smooched his bristly cheek, and scooted out before he could react. He hadn’t had time to shave or shower this morning, and he smelled like hot male—not a bad scent, all things considered. I tried not to think what I smelled like after a night of partying and a morning of running on terrified. I needed superhero deodorant.
Dashing for my Harley across the street, I ran through a mental checklist: Milo safe upstairs, messenger
bag over my shoulder, blazer and khakis okay for a weekend, ditch lab coat . . . keep computer tablet!
I’d apparently shoved the pretty toy in my pocket while running. Ooooh, cool. Who needed the devil to reward me? I’d rewarded myself for keeping my head on straight.
I flung the lab coat into the shed my Harley leaned against, stuffed the tablet in my messenger bag, and roared off to the office.
Riding from the blacktopped industrial wasteland of the Zone, north on the interstate, and into the leafy suburbs of Towson was like leaving the Sahara for an oasis. They had trees here. Even in September there were buckets of flowers around lampposts and on doorsteps. Businesses thrived. Traffic clogged every major artery. I took a few stone-fence-lined back roads, then zipped my bike down the yellow stripes of the main thoroughfare until I reached the county court building.
I dashed up the stairs and, out of courtesy to my associates, stopped in a washroom. My reflection over the sinks glittered with pink. Damn.
It was already two. I didn’t have time to do much. I doused my armpits, buttoned up, and hit the office at two after two.
Judge Snootypants and his secretary, Miss Goody Two-shoes, glanced up at my entrance. Both donned identical frowns.
“Industrial accident,” I said casually. “You’ll hear about it on the news. What’s the case and where would you like me to start?”
“Reginald is already in the library. Bring us some coffee and file the briefs in my office, will you?”
Okay, here’s where anger management is a good thing. I didn’t visualize the old fart leaping off tall buildings—that’s pretty good, right?
I’d been filing briefs and carrying coffee for weeks. The only time I’d been allowed in the library was to return books. I was damned good, and they were underutilizing my services, not to mention pissing me off big-time by getting me down here under false pretenses.
I practically saluted and marched off to the break room. I’d spent twenty-six years working toward this goal, and I refused to blow it. I was going to be the best damned lawyer in Maryland, at the very least. I just had to prove myself.
Proving that I could pour coffee was not a good starting place. I noted the books on the library table when I delivered the cups, glanced at the names on the file folders, and suggested another case file they might want to check out. Reginald all but snarled at me. Reginald was a Yalie who’d worked for the judge for the past year. He wore a tie even on Saturday and had his hair styled once a week. Jill adored him. I had despised him on sight.
His Honor nodded at my suggestion and told me to pull the book.
I opened it to the case mentioned, set it in front of Snodgrass, and sauntered out in my secondhand blazer, shedding pink glitter across the carpet. I would prove myself one casebook at a time if I had to.
I spent the rest of the afternoon filing and wondering what was happening at home. Lives were at stake and I was making coffee!
I was hot under the collar and itching all over before the judge decided we’d done enough for the day. I was paid by the week, not the hour, so I didn’t expect any reward for my efforts. Telling myself this was just the first rung on the ladder, and that I was making connections to pave my way up, I took the stairs faster than the elevator and hit my bike.
Max’s bike, actually, but he wasn’t here to ride it. Since he’d crashed my car, it had seemed like a fair trade. If I thought too hard about that time, I’d cry, so I just let the wind cool my cheeks and disperse the glitter. I refused to cry anymore.
Rain clouds were moving in by the time I parked the bike behind the house and trotted around to Pearl’s front door. The gloom hid the glittering Disneyland effect. Wondering if I could tolerate the Zone if it turned pink instead of neon blue, I jogged upstairs to hug Milo.
He sniffed haughtily but agreed to eat the fish I chopped up for him. Bill had spoiled him by sending fillets home when he had leftovers. I wondered how Bill was doing in his zombie state and hoped he could somehow sense he had a luscious babe taking care of him.
Saturday night and I ain’t got nobody
wormed its way through my head as I nuked frozen Chinese. The image of a head dancing without a body loomed in my overwrought imagination. That’s the reason
I should never watch musicals. Tunes stay inside my skull, circling and warping and driving me battier. Sleep wasn’t happening with my mind on spin cycle.
I needed to eat before I headed out hunting for trouble, but, remembering my new toy, I dug the tablet out of my bag and turned it on. I could tune in and see what was happening. Seeing the low-battery signal, I realized I’d need a charger. Dang. I should have stolen that, too. Schwartz would be so mad at me. But there was plenty enough juice to get in and change the password to something a little smarter than my name.
I explored its contents while I ate, but I’m no chemistry major. I’d need Paddy to explain the head honcho’s documents and programs. I plugged in a USB drive, backed up the tablet, then cleaned out the crap. My pretty new toy had built-in 4G, so I downloaded my e-mail program on Acme’s dime.
I checked Facebook to see if I had any messages. None. I started fretting about Themis, my theoretical grandmother, who hadn’t left me any messages in a while. When he was in hell, Max had said he had knowledge she was alive and living on another plane of reality, not that it was really proof to me. I’d never met the woman, and she didn’t exist in any database that I could locate, other than a Facebook page for Themis Astrology and Tarot.
But I’d been receiving creepy messages from the Universe, like
Saturn is the planet of justice. It comes around every twenty-eight years to dispense karmic reward and punishment
. I wouldn’t be twenty-seven for a few months yet, so that just felt like bad math on
the planets’ part and I was trying not to worry about that one.
Themis only seemed to drop by when I disturbed the universe’s vibrations with my fury. Could she be one of the zombies Acme had nuked? Idiotic to worry about someone I’d never met, I knew.
I took a hasty shower, returned the tablet and the USB drive to my bag, and jogged over to Andre’s carrying Milo over my shoulder. I reminded myself once again that I needed a bigger carryall for my pet. He had grown way past kitten size.
No one answered the door, so I let myself in. Milo preferred to take the stairs on his own. We clattered down and were met at the bottom by Cora.
“Where’ve you been, girl? Andre is about to send out the National Guard. Calm him down, will you? I’ve got to get home.” Without explanation, Cora departed by the stairs I’d just traversed.
I hoped he wasn’t sending out the Guard for my sake, but I dreaded finding out why our über-cool amoral leader was on the warpath.
I checked the room where I’d last seen Sleeping Beauty. She was still there, with Julius mournfully holding her hand. On another cot lay Sarah, still zonked, still with chimp appendages. I could have used some of those z’s she was piling up, but I wanted to be able to wake up after. I studied her with concern, but for the life of me, I didn’t know what to do if prayers to Saturn Daddy didn’t work.
“Where did the other patients go?” I asked Julius.
“Andre moved them into the warehouse, where the
med students can look after them.” With expert ease, Julius flipped Sleeping Beauty onto her side and began massaging her back.
My bet was that he’d been doing this for a while. I didn’t know whether I had any right to question it.
“Have you eaten? Do I need to cook something?” There was a task I knew how to take on. I’d never nursed a patient, but I’d fed the famished hordes before.
“Lack of food may be part of Andre’s problem. Find out what has him roaring, and then we’ll sort things out.” Julius has the patience of a saint, and his unhurried response proved it.
“If Andre and I tear each other’s throats out, you might regret waiting,” I warned.
He sent me a beatific smile and let me go. I wish I’d had a father like him.
The warehouse was on the other side of the street, accessible by a tunnel at the end of the bomb shelter. I trotted over with Milo at my heels.
I had to follow the sound of voices once I reached the top of the stairs on the other side. The warehouse was a rambling place. Andre used the loading dock as a garage for his Mercedes sports coupe. But off to one side were doors leading to offices and storage rooms and I had no idea what else. Not hearing any shouting or gunfire, I figured it was safe to explore.
I located a high-ceilinged room lined with shelves of supplies. Cartons had been stacked along the walls to clear a place for an infirmary filled with cots. Along with Leibowitz, there must have been a dozen zombies,
with the med students moving among them, checking pulses, making notes, administering IVs. Where in heck had they found IVs? Suspecting illegal pilfering, I didn’t ask.
Andre was on the phone, leaning against a stack of crates as if he didn’t have a care in the world. His silk shirt was filthy and looked as if he’d never completely buttoned it all day. He had pink glitter on his tight trousers. His usually styled thick black hair had fallen across his brow. And even though he appeared cool and unruffled, I could tell he was breathing fire. I’m pretty much the only one who generates that reaction.
He glowered at me, snapped off his phone, and, in a voice that thundered doom, said, “Call off your boyfriend now or he’s dead meat.”
I came all the way over here for that old argument? I was asleep on my feet and didn’t need more crap. I glowered back, said, “Good luck with that,” and, turning on my heel, walked out.
Hell, I’d just strolled through a Magic lab. Andre didn’t have nothing on me.
nowing Max and Andre were growling at each other left me feeling like a bone caught between two dogs. Yeah, the Zone had to be hazardous to our health. But most of the people living and working there would have no lives at all otherwise. Where would a kid who turned invisible live outside the Zone? He’d be reduced to a life of crime. And Sarah? They’d have her in a zoo.
“Damn it, Saturn,” I muttered, “if you really wanted to give me power, you’d give me fairy dust so I could just make everybody happy.”
My head in a muddle, I stomped back to Julius’s kitchen, dumped a bunch of cans into a casserole dish with some chicken I defrosted from his freezer and a
bunch of noodles, and shoved the concoction into the microwave. I threw some frozen rolls into the oven. I’d learned creative cooking while traveling around the country with my mother. I couldn’t guarantee the result would taste good, but it had the maximum number of calories and nutrition and served to distract me from Andre and Max.
My phone kept ringing—chiming church bells this time.
The apartment is not in the Zone
, I reminded myself. My cheap phone had just obviously been infected with magic juice.
I didn’t really believe in magic, but uranium was a dangerously reactive element. Which thought raised an unease that had been niggling in the back of my mind all day—what was in those pink particles? Of course, for all I knew, we’d all be blown sky-high before we had to worry about pink-particle contamination.