Carter and Mendoza didn’t need to know that, no. Cole would put on a brave face for them. He’d promised to take them back to the base, to let them help him “sort things out.”

But Cole, the Agent in Black, for that was what he intended to be again, could not ever forgive them for what they had done. He remembered it all. Being blindfolded and handcuffed, he had no idea what was coming. His head forced down into the toilet, the flushing, flushing. The memories of his near-drowning as a child surfaced and utter fear overtook him. Much deeper than what either lieutenant commanders had experienced.

So, Cole had talked with them reasonably...and secretly formed a plan to take command of the base. The three had driven straight there. Cole had slight reservations about being questioned at the check-in point, but oddly, it was unmanned.

He drew them into one of the medical facility rooms, and promised to return with coffee for all.

Before they knew it, Cole had locked them in.

Now they sat, Joe on a bed and Mike in a chair, wondering what to do next.

“This is the thanks we get for saving his life,” Mike said.

“Yeah. What’s he doing, anyway?”

“I don’t know. The place is empty. Bad sign.”

“I bet things got out of control here, and everyone bailed,” Joe said. “Maybe we’re safer in here.”

“I don’t like being locked up, and we’re trained for emergencies.”

“I’ve never been trained for this,” said Joe. “Have you?”

Mike shook his head, face grim.

Joe added, “I mean, how long have we been gone from here? Four, five days? We were lucky enough to be cured. God only knows what could have happened.”

“So, you think everyone here was somehow infected?” Mike asked. “How did this spread so fast?”

“I don’t know,” Joe answered. “Maybe not everyone has it. But you remember how we were...that would be damned scary. Maybe some were infected, and the rest fled.”

Mike considered this train of thought. “Maybe there’s still someone here.”

“I wouldn’t be here, not if I valued my life,” Joe said.

“I didn’t say the living were here. Maybe the...crazies. You know? Maybe the ones in that horrible state of mind.”

They had time to think about this. They had time to become thirsty and drink water from the sink. They had time to search the medical drawers and find what could be used as weapons: a couple of hemostats and even a scalpel. Then they had time to wait some more.

Chapter Twenty-nine

Cole didn’t give the two mongrels a second thought.

Let them starve, for all I care, he told himself. Turnabout’s fair play.

But it was a little disconcerting to find the place empty. He thought it was empty. Sometimes, he thought he heard noises. Scratching sounds.

Just my imagination.

He was in the command room, on the computer. Every communication he read increased his anger. And yes, his fear. Reports from all over the world stated that cities, especially in third world countries were more and more out of control. More and more infected, going crazy. Becoming brainless cannibals. The military was overwhelmed. A United Nations meeting had to be canceled because airports were down, inundated with chaos, fear and murders.

Cole reconsidered his two prisoners. Certainly, they didn’t trust him now that he’d locked them up. But really, he couldn’t command this base alone. Could he convince them to help him?

Except he could not get the drowning out of his mind. He shuddered over and over again. No, from now on, no matter what, he couldn’t trust them.

Never mind that they’d saved his life, he could see that from the communications he read. If Carter and Mendoza could do that to a person, they could be capable of anything. But that could make them an asset. He’d have to think about it.

Then he heard it.

Drag, thump. Drag, thump.

Someone was coming down the hall.

Cole flew to the door, locked it. He peered out the small window in the door. Three of them were coming. They were in Army fatigues but they were...insane. Their jaws snapped wildly, and their eyes didn’t seem to be focused on anything. They were searching. For prey, Cole realized.

Then he recognized one of them. It was Stetson. Cole couldn’t help feeling a little pity for the doctor. Former doctor. At least he didn’t have to worry about the man’s whereabouts.

So, this is what happens if you’re not cured in time, he thought. How Stetson had made it back to the base, he didn’t know or care.

Cole remained still. He watched as they moved slowly, awkwardly down the hallway. Cole remembered that when he was in the weak state, he responded to sound.

One thing for sure, he didn’t want to find out. For the first time in his life, the Agent in Black felt helpless.

Chapter Thirty

Joe had found some metal wiring and was working on the door lock.

He and Mike had decided to get as much ammunition as they could and get the hell out of there. They would return to Los Feliz. Do whatever they could to help. Coming back to the base, they realized, had been a bad idea. But they couldn’t have known that before.

“Dammit,” Joe cursed. “I broke the wire in the lock. Hand me one of those hemostats, would you?”

Mike handed them over. Joe was sweating now. He had one of those feelings. Like being in the ocean, in shark territory and waiting, waiting to be lifted up to safety before being devoured from below. Bitten, torn apart.

“Come on, man,” Mike said.

“You’re welcome to try.” Joe was irritated.

“I’m sorry. It’s just so...fuckin’ creepy here.”

“Well, shut the hell up so I can concentrate,” Joe snapped.

“I mean, we don’t even have any weapons, dude,” Mike continued, now pacing. “How’re we gonna defend ourselves if, you know—”

“Christ, will you clam the hell up? Why don’t you gather up our stuff, whatever you think we need and then...”

Click. Joe sat back, wiped his forehead.

“You did it!”

“Damn straight I did.” Joe grinned. He opened the door a crack.

The three zombies were waiting outside of the door, which had been heavy enough to mask their arrival. Joe instinctively grabbed the nearest hemos, wheeled around to find one of them almost on top of him. He shoved the thing back, hard, but the one-time soldier and now full-time crazy snarled and snapped his jaws. Joe drew back his hand just in time.

Mike was beside his buddy in a flash. The two could barely get a punch in. All these Crazies wanted was to take a bite out of them; the infected had no sense of pain whatsoever.