Anna took a deep breath. “I guess that’s true. But I know you will all take care of me.” She meant the drowning cure, and they knew it. “Daddy, if you could do it—and Uncle Joe and Mike—then I can do it, too.”

The great hall was silent. Jack was about to speak when Anna raised her hand. “It’s the only way to be sure. I mean, if you cut off my ear,” she couldn’t believe she was actually saying that, “then we still won’t know. The waiting period could be slower. And in the end, it still might not work. I want both of my ears. I want to live as a whole human being.” She paused, looked each of them in the eye. “And, so, I choose the water cure.”

Chapter Six

After dinner, the group locked up the observatory to go get more food and supplies from Jack’s Los Feliz home. Covering each other as they scurried to their respective cars, they took out six more zombies.

Filthy business, thought Jack. How many had they killed now? Dozens, certainly. Dozens and dozens.

The trip down to the house was mostly uneventful. They swerved around a handful more of the infected gathered over what appeared to be a dog carcass.

When they reached the house, everyone piled in and locked the doors and windows after doing a perimeter and interior sweep.

Home sweet home.

* * *

“I’m going alone,” Carla was saying. She gave Jack that ‘I dare you to argue’ look. He hated that look, and stepped closer to her. They were alone in the kitchen; the others were upstairs watching a DVD movie. The cable was out, but the electricity still worked. For now.

“But why?” he asked.

“I already told you why. I want to see what’s happening out there, Jack, and I can do it better on my own. I don’t need someone breathing down my neck. Besides, you should stay with your daughter.”

“She’s in good hands with Joe,” he said, indignantly. He suddenly felt a premonition that if she left, he’d never see her again. “Let me come with you. Please.”

Carla sighed. “I need this time to myself. It will help me wrap my head around what’s happening. Besides, it will give me a chance to see if I can learn anything new.”

“I get it. And I want to come with you—”

“Accept you’re ignoring that I want to be alone.”

“Being alone, in these times, is a bad idea!”

“Just a couple of hours,” Carla insisted. “I have my radio, and you have one. I just need an hour to clear my head.”

“Where are you going?”

“The station.”

He took a seat in the kitchen. Defeated. “All right... fine. But I want you to tell me when you get there, what’s out there, and call me again when you leave. Okay? Is that too much to ask?”

Carla knelt before him, smiling lovingly. She took his hands and kissed them. “I’ll be back before you know it. Thank you, Jack.”

He waited for her to leave the house and then ran upstairs. Everyone was gathered in his bedroom watching Rush Hour. Singing along with the “War” song.

“I’m going with Carla to check out a few things at the police station,” He told Joe. “Be back in an hour or so.”

Jack’s brother muted the movie. “You want some company?”

“Naw,” Jack answered, smoothly. “I’m just going with her while she gets the latest news. We’ll be fine. Got your radio on?”

Joe nodded and watched his brother carefully as Jack gave him a fake smile and left.

* * *

The Los Feliz Police Department parking lot was empty.

Carla frowned at the lack of staff cars. She’d seen increasing numbers of people walking around dazed—more than double the number of zombies she’d seen on the drive just a couple of days before. She parked, checked her gun and got out of the car.

The ever-present front desk officer was noticeably missing from the lobby. The halls were lit, but empty as well. “Hello?” she called out. The last thing she wanted was to surprise a colleague.

She moved cautiously down the empty hall closest to her. There was a small holding tank to the left. Three men sat inside, but when they saw her, they jumped up. “Hey! Hey, Officer!”

She paused in front of the cell.

“You gotta get us out of here,” one of them said, a young man with a stubbly beard. “It’s not safe. We’re locked in here, and there are some seriously screwed up crazy people out there! Ya know what I mean?”

“You’re safer here,” Carla answered with police-like authority.

An older, disheveled man said, “Miss Officer. I don’t want to contradict you, but—”

“Watch out!” It was the younger man who yelled. Carla’s ears pricked at movement behind her. She spun around.

“Taylor?” She barely recognized the officer. He didn’t know her either; he moved toward her slowly, his arms hanging down by his side, the pose she had come to dread.

“Move back, Taylor. This is an order.” He didn’t obey, dragging his feet. She backed up, careful to avoid reaching distance of the inmates. “Stop!” she said again.

Taylor kept coming. Carla couldn’t believe what she was about to do. He was a young deputy with a wife and kids. Operative word: was. Carla raised her gun and aimed for the head. When she pulled the trigger, Taylor’s forehead disappeared and he fell to the floor in a heap.

The gunshot resounded throughout the building. The two prisoners began to whimper.

Stay calm, she told herself. It’s all right. She was about to address them when she heard someone else in back of her. She whirled, still holding her weapon up.

Sergeant Manning trotted down the hall, concern written on his face. “Carla! What are you doing here? I thought you’d disappeared like the rest.” He looked down at the corpse. “Oh shit. Taylor, too?”

Carla felt her lower lip quiver. She thought of the picture Taylor had shown her recently of his wife and two little girls. “I had to do it,” she heard herself saying. “He was going to kill me. It was self-defense.”

“You did what you had to do.” He stepped over the body, shaking his head as he looked down. “Let’s go to my office. It’s safe in there.”

Carla let out a pained sigh. “What’s going on around here?”

Manning glanced at the inmates, then motioned for her to follow him. While the prisoners begged again to be released, she left the holding area to follow the Sergeant. He led her to his office. A desk radio nearby played oldies. Manning locked the door behind her as she sat down. She felt like sobbing but held it in.