“Carter and Mendoza?”
“Yeah, them,” said Stetson. And he told Cole his plan. Cole, despite feeling like hell, grinned.
It was a hell of a plan.
* * *
The 605 Freeway was finally clearing up when Joey’s cell phone rang. His heart skipped a beat with the hope of his brother contacting him. The call was from a restricted number.
His brain was feeling fuzzy again. He knew he shouldn’t pick up, but decided to anyway.
“Hello?” he said. Even to his own ears, Joey noticed his voice sounded harsh, almost guttural.
“Don’t hang up,” said a voice.
It was him, thought Joey. The Agent in Black.
“I want to talk to you.”
“Where are you?”
“Never mind that.”
“I can have the phone traced.”
“Then I’ll toss it out the window.”
“You are driving.”
Lieutenant Commander Joseph Carter considered the question, then said. “I’m going to turn myself in.”
“And Lieutenant Mendoza?”
“He’s on his own.”
“I honestly don’t know.”
“Very well. I don’t want you to turn yourself in. Not yet.”
“What do you mean?”
And the Agent in Black told Joey the plan. A few minutes later, Joe Carter got off the freeway and, instead of heading to the naval base, he continued on toward Sunset Beach.
It had been a helluva day.
Earlier, my brother, Joey, had turned himself in—although he’d let his infected friend run off.
Worst idea ever, I thought.
Exhausted and feeling increasingly ill, I’d gone to bed early to try to sleep it off. But sleep never really came, and my chaotic dreams were weird, filled with frightening images. Bloody images. I was a killer in my dreams. Unstoppable, uncontrollable.
Jesus, I thought as I lay on my simple cot in the small room that connected to the equally small living room, where I heard the TV on. I checked the time. Just after midnight. I checked my texts. Carla had news. She was coming right over. That had been twenty minutes ago.
I swung out of bed and plodded out to the kitchen.
“You look like hell,” said my daughter.
“I love you, too.”
I made some coffee. My head felt dull and sluggish. The cut on my hand felt inflamed. I ignored my hand and concentrated on the coffee.
I hadn’t heard from Joey since he’d told me he was turning himself in, but neither had I expected to. For all I knew, my poor brother was strapped to a medical table somewhere, being poked and prodded and tested. That thought alone made me feel sick. I reassured myself that he had made the right choice. At the very least, he wouldn’t be shot by some trigger-happy cop. And, hopefully, they would give him real help. Perhaps they had already found a cure.
I sat in a recliner next to Anna. I was about to sip my coffee when my stomach turned. I set the cup aside, suddenly nauseous.
“You okay?” Anna asked.
I nodded. No, I wasn’t, but she didn’t need to know that. She had enough to worry about these days. I said, “Anything on the news?”
“About the outbreak? Nothing.”
I figured it would be only a matter of time before the news about the infection and space rocks would spread. It was hard to keep infected people under wraps.
With Joey now turned in, a very big part of me just wished that this whole damn thing would blow over. Or go away. But my own sickness made that impossible. The burning in my hand made that impossible.
I pushed aside the thought and got up and looked out of the kitchen’s small window. It was late and Los Feliz was quiet.
Headlights shone around the corner. Carla was here. “Anna, I’ll just be right outside.”
I hesitated. “Are you going to be okay?”
She rolled her eyes. “Geez, Dad. I’ll be right here. No one’s gonna come get me.” She went back to flipping through the TV channels.
She was right, of course. I stepped outside just as Carla got out of her patrol car. She looked beautiful in the moonlight. I was about to hug her, when I stopped and dropped my hands to my side.
“What, no hug?” teased Carla. She smiled, but I saw the slight hurt look on her face.
“I’m not, ah, feeling well,” I said.
“The flu?” She was about to reach up and touch my cheek, when I pulled back. “Maybe it’s better not to touch me.”
“I hardly think—”
“Please don’t,” I said.
And now I thought that Carla caught the urgent tone in my voice, and perhaps even the hidden meaning. She stared at me for a long moment, then reached down to my hand, where I had received the cut after punching Mike the day before.
She lifted my hand up and studied it closely. The cut was far, far worse. The skin around it was red and swollen. Bluish veins had begun spreading away from the cut.
The color drained from her face. “Where did you get this cut, Jack?”
I didn’t say anything. My brain felt cloudy. Thoughts seemed impossible to form. In fact, they were getting harder and harder to form as the hours piled up.
“You’re infected, Jack. One of them bit you.”
“He didn’t bite me.” I explained to her about the punch, the bloody lip, the cut from a tooth.
I held up a hand. “I don’t want to talk about it. Not now.”
“When? When you’re attacking your own daughter? Me? When you’re chained in your own cellar?”
“I don’t know what to do, Carla.”
“You need help.”
“We’ll find you help.”
“We will, I promise.” I wanted to change the subject. A part of me wanted to to ignore the problem altogether. Except that wasn’t me, of course. I never ignored problems. Hell, I made a living as a park ranger by seeing problems and fixing them,.
What’s wrong with me?
I inhaled and, before Carla could say anything else, I said, “Why did you come tonight?”
“Jack, you can’t just pretend—”
“I’m not pretending anything, Carla. Just not right now, please.”
She studied me, studied my hand, then reluctantly said, “It’s about your brother.”
My heart literally jolted. “What about my brother?”