Chapter 4 - Entry 3
April 23rd cont.
It was a short drive into town proper as I followed the bus, noticing there were few undead shuffling around and most of the structures had weathered the earthquakes fairly well. A pair of two story buildings marked the town’s southern entrance and I was more than a little surprised to see a banner strung between them that read ‘Welcome Vale Survivors’.
The road was blocked by a barrier spread between the two buildings, whose first floor windows were boarded up securely. Two conex boxes, those large metal shipping containers used by trains, ships and semis to haul freight around the world, sat blocking most of the street with their back ends pushed right up against the buildings on either side. The gap between them was filled by a squat transit bus parked in the road’s center, low to the ground with its windows covered by sheets of plywood. It was moving as we neared, allowing access to the area beyond.
Maliqe and I drove through the metal valley and into the town’s eastern-most Main Street. To the right and left lay brick buildings sandwiched right up against each other to form a long row on either side. Most were two stories tall with little shops and stores below and what appeared to be offices or apartments above. White stucco and darkly stained wooden beams gave the place a German village vibe. Maliqe drove the bus down the street for two blocks, passing side roads blocked by more conex boxes, before bringing it to a stop in front of the huge Millhouse Hotel.
To that point we’d traveled from south to north on the long leg of a T. The five story Millhouse presided over the top of that T like a king before his court. It dominated the town’s skyline and looked every bit the symbol of strength and eternal endurance it had become to the townsfolk with each passing decade.
The lake lay to the right, its view partially obstructed by a small park that served as the road’s end and formed the T’s right side. The rest of town spread out to the left, blocked by a conex barrier identical to the one we’d initially passed. In effect, the townsfolk had created a safe area using the backs of buildings as walls. It was impressive and well organized. I wondered if Maliqe had played a role in it.
People were moving towards the bus as I pulled up beside it and hopped out. Maliqe, her niece and Mary waited at the front while the Vale survivors were ushered to a large tent set up in the street’s center. I blinked in surprise at the sight; the tent was one of those huge affairs used for weddings and there were rows of tables beneath covered in white table cloths. Food was everywhere and a man was actually playing a violin as he wandered around. Streets were clear of debris, ash and vehicles aside from the Humvee and bus. Christmas lights twinkled all over the place.
Unlike the filthy survivors, the twenty or so townsfolk on hand wore expensive looking suits and dresses. None were armed and all milled about with big, bright smiles.
“What the fuck?” I whispered, coming to stand beside Maliqe.
A gunshot rang out behind me and I turned to see a trio of men standing on the other conex-box blockade with rifles in hand. Another fired into the streets beyond and I flicked the safety off my M16. They’d set up scaffolding for access from inside the street and I watched as a man in an expensive suit left the assembled crowed and moved quickly to climb up top for a discussion with the men. His hand gestures and facial expression made it clear he wasn’t a happy camper.
“Is messing with festive mood, yes? That is Travis Lockwood. Owns hotel and half of town. Party was wife’s idea.”
One of the men threw up his arms in obvious exasperation and watched Lockwood climb back down, flicking him off when his back was turned. I chuckled and offered a nod as he passed. The transformation back to civil crowd worker was instantaneous; pissy party organizer to smooth politician in the blink of an eye.
The survivors were being guided to seats at the long tables set beneath the tent and the scent of cooked food made my mouth water. Mary and Marley, Maliqe’s niece, turned as one and expressed their desire to go eat. We watched them leave, Maliqe taking a swig from a hip flask and handing it over before lighting one of her mini-cigars.
“Why are they doing all this?” I asked once we were alone.
“Come.” Maliqe offered in reply, turning to head towards the trio of men atop their makeshift blockade.
The view was dramatically different just beyond the wall. Damaged buildings. Crushed cars. Cracked streets and bloated bodies. Zombies milled about thickly below, stumbling amid rubble and debris.
Two of the men were Hispanic while the third, who approached Maliqe and offered his hand with a smile, was a white guy in his late forties, graying hair sheered short in a tight buzzcut. All three wore jeans and red sweatshirts with the same logo stenciled across their breast; Fargo Construction.
“Jaeger. Be meeting Dave. Dave, she is being Jaeger.”
His teeth were exceptionally white as he smiled, made moreso by the deep tan of his face’s weathered skin. The hand he offered was rough and strong. A working man’s hands.
“Nice to meet you Jaeger. Welcome to beautiful Moodus.” Dave chuckled darkly and introduced the other men, who were both named Manny. Manny One and Manny Two he called them. “Not going to the shin-dig?”
I shook my hand and looked back at the circus. They were living a lie, I knew. Beyond the walls was devastation. The true reality. Inside they were safe and sound. Able to escape facing what the world had become.
“Not my cup of tea.”
“Jaeger is wanting to be knowing why party is had.”
“Recruitment drive. Lockwood and his pampered pals need underlings so they don’t get their hands dirty. He’ll try to convince the survivors that they’ll be safe here. Food, water and shelter in exchange for their work.”
I nodded at Dave’s explanation and watched the festivities for a few moments. “Why are you here then?”
Dave laughed and shrugged helplessly. “Cause damn if it isn’t pretty safe. I was doing construction work just outside of town when Lockwood pulled my crew to help repair quake damage. When the zombies got up, I already had equipment in the area. Dropping the conex boxes had been Manny Three’s idea. Unfortunately he didn’t make it.” He spit a wad of chewing tobacco into the crowd of zombies that was gathering, frowning as he gripped his rifle tighter. “Anyway. Once Maliqe rolled into town, I knew they were going to rescue those college kids. Lockwood’s an asshole but I don't think he means anyone harm. Thought I'd stick around and try to keep people safe.”
“Is being Lockwood’s plan to put wall around place. Clear out fallen buildings. Make town nice and pretty,” Maliqe added when Dave finished.
Much of the area was a mess and I was surprised to see the back of a few buildings had collapsed, leaving only the storefronts facing inside Lockwood’s cleared area. It reminded me of a Hollywood Western’s studio town set.
“Little urban islands, he said. Expand out until they are all connecting.”
“I guess you’re going to get your land then since you made the rescue.” Dave commented to Maliqe, who nodded and smoked her mini-cigar. He flashed me an apologetic grin and explained. “Lockwood’s daughter was one of the survivors so he and Maliqe made a deal. If she rescued his daughter and the others, he’d turn over full ownership of the old fire station and area around it to Maliqe.”
“Part of deal has me keep little road through lake from being bridge for demons.” She grinned, gaze sweeping toward the domain that would be hers. “I am thinking Little Albania, yes?”
The walkie-talkie Dave wore clipped to his belt chirped and a man’s voice carried over its speaker. “Mr. Fargo. Could you please asked Miss Idrizi and her new acquaintance to meet me at the Humvee? Thank you.”
Dave rolled his eyes and spit chewing tobacco again as I arched an eyebrow.
“Is being Mr. Green. Dangerous man. Government. Was staying at Lockwood’s hotel when things turn ugly. Now being security man for hotel. Is snake, yes?” That last added as she clicked off her SMG’s safety and started climbing down.
I sighed and followed along, feeling helplessly swept away in a wave of unfamiliar faces.
Mr. Green was a tall, slender black man with a cleanly shaven head and face. He wore a gray suit and I noticed a slight bulge beneath the jacket as he turned to face us. There was a predatory grace in his smooth, confident movements. I didn’t like it. Or the fact that he had been peering into the Humvee’s back windows while we climbed down from the wall.
“Welcome back Miss Idrizi and welcome to Moodus, Miss….?” He let the question trail off, waiting for a name.
I smiled brightly and offered my hand. “Jaeger. A pleasure to meet you Mr. Green.”
His hand was cold and the calloused palm felt like scales in my grip. Maliqe had been accurate. The man was snakelike. His gaze lingered on my eyes, either trying to stare me down or studying their lack of color. At length he released my hand and smiled.
“Ah. The pleasure is all mine, I’m sure Miss Jaeger. I see you’ve arrived in a military vehicle containing no small number of weapons. Am I to assume you are, or were, in the Armed Services?”
I shrugged and leaned against the Humvee’s blood-splatter fenderwell. “Nope. I’m just an electrician. Found the Hummer already full of guns on the bridge in New London. Just plain lucky I guess.”
“Hmmm. Very lucky. Will you be staying at the Millhouse with us Miss Jaeger, or do you intend to join Miss Idrizi in her venture just north of here?”
Maliqe surprised me by answering, coming to stand by my side and level her white eyes at Mr. Green. “She is being new partner. Second in command, yes?”
The expression of disappointment that crept onto Green’s face was too perfect to be real. “Ah. I’m truly sorry to hear that.” His gaze swept over the weapons visible through the Humvee’s windows before returning back to meet my own. There was a dangerous glint and unspoken threat in his tone. “I do hope you’ll eventually change your mind. We could use your help in our own rebuilding efforts.” A pause as he forced a smile to slide into place before continuing. “Well. I look forward to perhaps working with you in the near future Miss Jaeger. Miss Idrizi, as always, it was a pleasure seeing you again.” And with that he left, not bothering to wait for either of our replies.
“Nice guy. We should kill him.” I whispered just loud enough for him to hear.
Maliqe simply nodded at my half-joke and at that moment I decided she was my new best friend.