He’d seen exactly where the keys had landed. He was no fool. He knelt down to where he could see them glinting from the street light. It only took him a couple of minutes to lay down on his back, grab the keys with one hand and get himself free.

He told himself he didn’t give a shit about walking down Beach Boulevard barefooted, but he had never been humiliated like this. The Agent in Black was one of the most respected officials on the planet. He’d always been treated as such.

He bought a pack of cigarettes and flip-flops from a 7-Eleven. Then, waiting at the bus stop—the bus stop, for God’s sake—he started forming a plan.

* * *

It took him over three hours to get back to the base.

He knew he had to work fast. He needed information. Even more than that, he needed protection. Those two fuckers had taken a lot with them, but they could never have emptied out the base’s considerable weaponry into one vehicle.

Carrying a machine gun in each hand, he walked boldly through the front entrance. He took out a dozen or so crazies, as Carter had called them, before he got to his office. He got out his gym bag and put on his Converse shoes and a pair of socks. The flip-flops went into the trash.

The file cabinet secure, he worked quietly at his computer. It was almost laughable that Carter and Mendoza were unaware of the tracking devices that all military vehicles had. He could calculate their location to within fifty yards.

Cole was slightly surprised to find the car’s location at the Griffith Observatory. Then he remembered that Carter’s brother was a park ranger. Cole was also aware that the observatory was closed down temporarily, due to murder investigations in the vicinity.

He began clicking for news of the area, but froze when he heard the dragging footsteps pass by. As long as I’m quiet. He fought anxiety. But he’d learned a hell of a lot, even from Carter and Mendoza, about how they handled the infected ones. For the time being, he was safe.

The military news was much more informative than the local media. He still had his classified status. He entered his code. Cole thought he was prepared for anything. Nevertheless, he was shocked at the words on the screen.

This was indeed turning into a worldwide pandemic. With chaos everywhere, airports and many government buildings had closed down. Especially in Third World countries. The White House was on lockdown. That made sense. The President of the United States could take no chances. He was in touch with other countries, but couldn’t afford to give aid. All National Guard troops were deployed here in the US, trying to get a grip on the infected. From what the Agent in Black read, it seemed like a losing battle.

He rubbed his eyes. He’d waited all his life for something like this to happen. He had envisioned himself a real hero, taking command, control, and being recognized for it. He was no fool, though. He knew the chances of a recovery from something of this magnitude, and it was next to zero. He knew the world would never be the same again. The world, as he and everyone else on the planet had once known it, had gone bye-bye. How many others realized this? Not many. Not yet.

He was alone. He realized it, and accepted it. He could deal with it.

He did have another agenda. Crazy people never think they’re crazy. Cole didn’t see anything wrong with getting his revenge on the two Navy lieutenants commanders who had so easily outsmarted and humiliated him. They obviously didn’t know who they were dealing with. No one treated him that way. No one.

Cole had no way of knowing who was with them at the observatory, nor did he really care. He didn’t know what condition the place was in, but it was a pretty good choice for refuge.

It was dark; he would wait until morning. He could stay in the office tonight. He would use the time to map out his plan. Didn’t Joe Carter have a teenaged niece? He smiled to himself. By the time he was through with them, they would be kissing his shoes. His Converse, no less. He laughed to himself, but ever so quietly.

Chapter Thirty-seven

I was on my feet in an instant.

“Where are they?” It was dark but the moon gave us a little light.

Carla jerked her head to the south hallway. I heard them moving slowly in our direction. Them, as in the crazies.

Carla pointed in the direction of the offices. “We can lock ourselves in until they leave,” she whispered.

I didn’t like it. I was still thinking of my brother and his friend. She was right, though. If we got in there and stayed quiet, the zombies would move on. Then, come dawn, we could formulate a new plan.

If I could only put a sign on the door for my brother...

But first things first. Get Anna and Jared to safety.

I nodded to Carla. The undead were coming closer. There was no time for anything but to get to safety.

I was up and soon kneeling next to Anna, with Carla by Jared. We tried to wake them quietly, but Anna cried out as soon as she woke up.

“Shh,” I hissed. “Come with me.”

“What...why?” And then she heard them and gasped. Apparently, the zombies had heard her, too.

I could see them now, about twenty feet away. Dragging their feet, head hanging. They  moved in, coming straight for us.

We all had guns. My baby girl ran with her own, swinging it recklessly. Lord help us all. We took off down the dark hallway for the office. Once inside, we locked the door. Now, it was completely dark. Somehow, our movements sounded louder in the darkness. Anna was breathing hard. Could they hear her? I didn’t know.

Then Carla, bless her, turned on her flashlight. Cops always have a good one. So did I, but I’d left it out there. Should have thought of that, dammit.

We could hear them coming, shuffling and snapping their jaws. Jesus, why did they do that? Probably, they didn’t know what the hell they were doing. Mindless. I had nearly been mindless, too. I had nearly been one of them.

We were all frozen, not daring to move. When one of them scratched at the door, Anna flinched and knocked over a set of files on the desk.

Shit.

It was enough for them. More scratching, moans, snarls. I could hear their jaws snapping shut, over and over again. They pushed on the door, actually rattling it.

I thought they would give up and leave, but they didn’t. The door’s hinges rocked a little. This seemed to make them more aggressive, even though it wasn’t us who made that sound.

It was a little crowded in the office, just one desk. It was the only thing I could think of to barricade the door. I motioned to Jared to help me. Carla gave us light; Anna backed into a corner.

We tried to make it quick. In one sweep, I shoved everything on the desk to the floor. Carla had to jump out of the way. Then we pushed the desk on its side and up against the door. Jared and I leaned our backs into the door, holding it closed.

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