Shannon parked her car with the rear facing the diner’s entrance. Helfron and Kelsey arrived as she was shutting the engine off. Both were terrified and Rance’s crying drowned out all other sounds. The bullet holes in the side of Helfron’s cruiser gave reason to why they were in the state they were. Someone had decided to take a few shots at them at some point in time. The sight of the damaged cruiser rattled Shannon though she couldn’t say why. The combination of her fear along with others began to annoy her more than ever before.
Kelsey ran into the diner, screaming bloody murder. Shannon felt aggravation mixed with annoyance begin to blossom. One look at Rance’s bloody arm made the feelings disappear. The boy had taken a round in the arm. His cries of agony made Shannon’s heart go out to him. “What in hell happened,” she yelled, running to a first aid kit.
“Don’t worry about that,” Helfron yelled, putting the boy on a table. “I’ve got one from my car.”
“What happened?” shrieked Rose, joining them.
“Dirty bastards shot him!” Kelsey was in a panic. Any anger she had at their attackers was overshadowed by her concern for Rance.
“Dumb assholes at a checkpoint fired on us,” grunted Helfron, tearing open Rance’s sleeve.
Rance shrieked louder as the fabric tore away from the clotted wound. Damn thing wasn’t there when we rolled through, going to get the kid, but on the way back… Ohhhh, yeah! Fuckers were military and sure weren’t interested in helping folks.”
They’re shooting people now?” Greg didn’t look at Rance or Kelsey. It was obvious his concern was for Greg Fender alone. “Are they gonna come here and shoot us? Fuck, Dennis. If you’ve led them here, I swear to God I’m gonna…”
Helfron launched himself to his feet and punched Greg in the throat. The blow wasn’t hard enough to crush Greg’s windpipe, but it was enough to make it difficult to speak or breath.
“Be silent, bitch,” warned Helfron, returning to Rance. He grabbed a bottle of hydrogen peroxide from his first aid kit and poured it on Rance’s wound. With practiced hands he wiped the crimson stained fluid from the injured arm. “It’s a flesh wound,” he announced, sounding relieved. “It’s only a graze, but it still needs to be it cleaned out.”
“He’s going to be okay,” asked Kelsey. Her terror fell away like the tears falling from her eyes.
“Yeah, he’ll be fine. Once it’s cleaned, we’ll need to watch it for the next three of four days, changing that bandage often. If not, infection could kill him as soon as any bullet.”
Helfron worked diligently. The further the wrapping process went the calmer Rance became. Finally, Helfron stood and looked around. Through the whole ordeal the only person that hadn’t rushed to Kelsey and Rance was Greene.
Greene sat quietly through everything, staring out of the window. Greene’s attitude worried Helfron. He hoped that his friend wasn’t slipping into depression.
“What in God’s name happened out there, Dennis?” Shannon grabbed Helfron’s arm, turning him to face her.
“I’ll tell all of you about it in a minute.” He jerked his head to Greene. “What’s wrong with Steve?”
“He’s been acting weird since you guys left. He’s all sullen and morose and crap. He acted like I was deserting when I went to pull my car to the front.”
“Guy’s been through a lot. He had to kill a kid five days ago. He’s been brooding on it ever since. Shit, Shannon. It wasn’t even what you could call a kid any more. Damn thing tried to take a bite out of him.
‘Killing a kid is hard, but if it’s you or someone already dead then the choice is easy,’ was what she wanted to say. Instead she said, “What are we going to do then?”
“I don’t know.”
They looked at Greene while they spoke. At one point, Greene turned his attention not to them, but through them.
Greene’s gaze broke after a few seconds and then he approached them. His face was no livelier than the zombies he’d previously encountered. “So what’s the dill, pickle?” His attempt at humor was as weak as his enthusiasm.
“Everyone to me,” said Helfron, waving everyone to him. All moved toward him with the exception of Greene. “That means you too, buddy. School circle here.” Helfron leaned over to Rance, who was sleeping in Kelsey’s arms. He gave a gentle kiss on the boy’s forehead before speaking.
He waited till everyone’s eyes, including Greene’s blank ones were on him. “The situation is as follows. As you’ve guessed the shit has hit the proverbial fan. Rance took a round from a checkpoint that I believe was rogue. As much as it pains me to say this, from here on out we are on our own. Just because someone is wearing US military uniforms doesn’t mean we can trust them.”
“You can’t judge all by one,” Rose said, arms crossed defiantly. “Just ‘cause one shot at you don’t mean all are bad. You could’ve made a wrong move on them.” Rose’s belief that all military personnel were good guys had gotten to Helfron.
“Shut up, Rose. What I saw was a rogue unit. Protecting people doesn’t include pulling families out of a vehicle, shooting the males and children while putting the women aside. I saw it with my own two eyes and I swore to God I wasn’t going to let anyone do that to me and those under my watch. You want to believe that all soldiers are knights in shining armor, you go ahead. But do it on your own time, not mine.”
Helfron’s retort snapped Greene out of his stupor. “You’re shitting me, Dennis. No way that happened.” Unlike Rose, his words were more from disbelief than a that-would-never-happen stance.
“It happened, Steve,” Kelsey said in soft tones, cradling Rance. “There were some trucks blocking the road and some more came out of nowhere, blocking the rear once you got there. They tried to block us in, but we got away. We saw…” Kelsey’s breath hitched in her throat. She regained her composure. “They pulled a man out of the driver’s seat and shot him, and two little boys. One boy was no older than Rance, and those soldiers dragged them all out of the car and shot them. It happened, Steve. It happened.” She slammed a fist on the table and Rance whimpered.
“We ran like our asses were on fire. We got the hell out of there, and they started shooting at us. They must have winged Rance while we were making our turn around.”
“So what’s your plan,” asked Shannon matter of factly.
“We’re getting the fuck out of here,” said Greg in a raspy voice. He hadn’t bothered rising from where he’d fallen. “That’s what we’re gonna fucking do.”
“Shut up, dumbass or I swear to God I’ll punch you until you can’t speak ever again.” Deidre had been listening carefully to what was being said. She didn’t want her intelligence gathering to be interrupted by Greg’s whining.
Helfron spared a disgusted glance to Greg. “Lady’s right. Shut up, nut sack.” He looked one by one to the others. “I figure we can hole up here for a couple of days. Let things cool down outside. Best case is that order will be restored. I doubt it will be, but who knows. Worst case is we stay here till the power goes out, and all information services go dark. We can fortify this place in case of raiders or zombie freaks. Not like we’re hurting for food or anything.”
“When do we start on this plan of yours,” asked Greene.
“Now. If you have weapons, I suggest you get them. We’ll turn the back part of the kitchen into a fallback area slash armory. Greene, plan’s changed so let’s bring those cases inside.”
“Yeah, okay,” answered Greene, shrugging. “I feel safer staying with Shannon anyway.”
Helfron looked quizzically between Shannon and his partner. He had no idea how to take what he said. “Whatever. Just help me move the weapons and munitions inside. Hoo-ah?”
“Ooh-rah, boss.” Greene’s Marine grunt wasn’t motivating at the least.
“Be right back,” said Greene to Shannon.
“I’m going to lay Rance down in the office,” said Kelsey. She carefully picked Rance up and moved to the office in the back of the diner.
“What was that all about,” asked Deidre as she walked up beside Shannon.
“I don’t know,” Shannon answered, knowing what the question really meant. “If we have our soldiers shooting at us we’re in it deep.”
“Not that. What Greene said. Maybe your little show of strength scared him.”
“What strength?” Shannon tried to look shocked at Deidre’s statement.
“You know, the strength you used to pop that slide back. Very impressive, girl.”
“It wasn’t that hard. Rose is just old is all.” Shannon would’ve normally looked for an escape from that kind of conversation or a way to redirect it. Now, she felt an odd inescapable pinch to share her secret.
“Modest, aren’t you? That slide was damn near rusted to the frame. There’s been a time or two that I’ve even tried racking it back. Maybe you just had some leverage, yeah?”
“Maybe.” Discomfort replaced the urge to tell on herself. Shannon was beginning to look for anyway to escape from Deidre. She began to hope for shots to shatter the diner’s front windows to distract Deidre.
“Look, why don’t you unload whatever you have in your trunk. The way you parked says you’ve got something you want inside so you’d better get on that.” Deidre winked at Shannon before disappearing into the kitchen. Moments later Shannon smelled the sharp tang of the Marlboro cigarettes Deidre smoked.
Shannon looked at her car, trying to decide how best to get her weapons stash into the diner. There was no denying that the end of secrets was at hand.
This work is copyrighted and may not be copied in whole or in part without the written permission of the author, Jason McKinney.