Once outside, in the open, Carla’s anxiety increased as she heard Joe lock the door behind them. This is definitely a mistake....
Meanwhile, the woman, Julie, hugged her. Tightly “Oh, thank you so very much! Come on! We have to hurry!”
Without waiting for them, she took off down the steps.
The Los Angeles Zoo was eerie, even in the daylight.
Jack and Jared decided to walk the outer path surrounding the premises from north to south, passing Jack’s small living quarters on the premises, where he and Anna often stayed.
The zoo was quiet, but not entirely empty. Here and there were the dead. Some were animals, but most were people. Humans and zombies alike. Many of the bodies had been consumed.
The most dangerous animals—the lions, tigers, and rhinoceros—were still contained in their respective cages and areas. Jack breathed a sigh of relief once he realized none of them were on the loose. Even better, they looked fed and had water from the gravity-feed troughs.
But nearly all of the other animals were gone; most of their cages stood open and the gates left open.
“Where do you think they went?” asked Jared.
Jack scanned the area for any sign of life. “I don’t know, probably into the hills.”
“But most of them don’t know how to hunt,” Jared protested. As if he could do anything about it. “They’ll starve.”
“Maybe not,” said Jack, glancing at a half-eaten zombie corpse nearby. A comic mental image of giraffes wandering around the Los Feliz district chasing the undead down vacant streets popped into his head. “Most are friendly. Or, at least, not carnivores. Although, I can’t say a zebra would be trustworthy in a confined space.”
As they made their way back to Jack’s little home away from home, he found it harder to remain nonchalant. Walking over the dead has that effect on a person.
“It will be interesting to see how all of this shakes out,” he said, looking to find a distraction from the carnage. “Maybe this whole thing is, in fact, part of the process. Part of evolution. Maybe Nature needed to do some housecleaning.”
“What, because there’s too many of us?”
The pair stepped around several dead zombies piled on top of one another. Jack noticed the one on top had been shot through the head, and not too long ago from the looks of the wound.
Warily, they scanned our surroundings as they continued their silent inspection of the deserted zoo. Seeing the flamingos eating their special diet clued the pair that someone was indeed feeding animals still.
When they reached Jack’s residence, they cautiously climbed the steps to the door facing the hillside. It was slightly ajar.
Jack and Jared readied their guns while Jack motioned for Jared to get behind him as he pushed the door open.
For the most part, the place was as he remembered leaving it. A couple of blankets were strewn over the couch, though, and the place smelled of coffee.
“Someone’s been here today,” said Jack.
“And they were sane enough to brew coffee,” added Jared, smiling weakly.
Sane tasks, of course, meant a human endeavor. Jack was about to investigate the kitchen when something fell in the bathroom. That door was closed. Jack motioned for Jared to stay back while he slid to one side of the door.
It was then that a familiar voice from the other side said, “Who’s there? Answer me, because if you don’t, I have a shotgun and I’ll blow you all the way to kingdom come!”
* * *
Cole, the agent from hell, prepared to shoot Julie.
He watched her antics to convince the occupants she needed their help. But it wasn’t working. The plan would turn to shit if she couldn’t draw them out. It would be a shame to kill her and have to start over with someone else. However, he was prepared to do whatever was necessary to take them down if he had to.
The door opened and then Mike came out with a woman in a police uniform. Cole lowered his rifle and frowned. He had hoped to trap Joe Carter, as well as Mike Mendoza, in the restroom. He hadn’t thought the lady cop would come. He’d seen Jack Carter and the boy leave earlier. He’d planned on taking care of the woman easily. Slowly.
Still, he could deal with the change in expectations. Cole entered the restroom before they could catch sight of him. He waited behind the door. Soon, he could hear Julie rambling non-stop, which was good because she would provide the distraction he’d hoped for. Hell, she wasn’t letting them get a word in edgewise. If nothing else, he intended to get rid of her soon, just to shut her up.
He closed his eyes and mentally prepared himself for battle.
* * *
Carla and Mike strode quickly to keep up with Julie’s trot. Mike listened to her account of what had happened, how frightened Julie was, and what a miracle it was to have found their help.
Carla shut the noise out, focusing instead on the fiery feeling in her gut. Something was terribly wrong here, but she couldn’t put her finger on it. The woman was obviously harmless and scared, but she was also hiding something. Her annoying chatter was coming out too quickly.
Carla glanced around, seeing nothing out of the ordinary. She turned her gaze back to the woman, Julie. What was unusual about her?
Julie was clean. More than clean; her clothes were brand new. Not a spot of blood or dirt was on them. Among other things, Carla had washed everyone’s clothes after the massacre, but they were still stained brown. How had this woman kept clean, coming all the way up here from...?
They were very close to the restroom now. “Excuse me,” Carla interrupted Julie’s prattle. “Where did you say you came from?”
Julie turned her head back and answered, friendly enough, “Where? Oh, Seal Beach.” Julie didn’t break her stride, and Mike was so caught up with listening to her that it didn’t register.
But Carla pulled back. Seal Beach... Who in the hell would come here from Seal Beach? What ties did she have to this area? If not Julie, was there someone else involved here?
Julie and Mike hadn’t noticed that Carla had stopped moving. They were about to enter the restroom when Carla shouted, “No! Mike, wait!” Carla bolted to catch him before he entered.
Mike looked back, baffled at Carla, as he pushed the bathroom door open. “Jesus, what’s gotten into—”
Mike never saw what hit him, but Carla witnessed it all. Someone swung a rock, bashing Mike’s head in. She cried out and brought her own weapon up.
That’s when she heard a click next to her. Carla turned, swinging her weapon around, but stopped short when she saw Julie pointing the handgun at her.