Chapter Seventeen

Posted: January 5, 2014 in Chapters, Love in the ZA
Tags: , ,

     Vinnie and Caleb had to help the girl up the stairs; Maddie trailed behind, clutching both baskets and side-stepping blood as it dripped onto the steps ahead of her.

     “Which one is it again?” Vinnie asked, pausing when they’d reached the top.

     “To the left, 206. I’ll get the door.”

     Shifting the baskets, she let them in to her sister’s apartment.

     “Oh, you’re back! I wasn’t expecti-” Jessie’s exuberant greeting was cut off when she realized they weren’t alone. “What the fuck?!”

     The two men ignored her, steering the injured girl toward the sofa. Maddie glanced at her sister as she passed, and stopped dead.

     “Who the hell is that?” Jessie asked her.

     “What the hell are you doing?” Maddie asked in response. Her sister stood in the kitchen, clad only in a towel, an open bottle of vodka and a glass on the counter. “Are you drinking?”

     “Oh.” She at least had the good grace to blush. “It helps, you know, with the hangover.”

     “So does coffee,” Maddie said, not able to keep the disgust out of her voice.

     “It was just one shot,” Jessie insisted. “It’s not a big deal!”

     “Madelyn.” She turned toward Vinnie, who was staring at her impatiently. “We need the first aid stuff.”

     “Okay.” Maddie started to hand him the basket, then snatched it back with a groan. “Shit. All that’s in here is medicine.”

     “You didn’t get anything else?!”

     “I got distracted!” Maddie snapped at him.

     “I might have some things in the bathroom,” Jessie said.

     Vinnie gave her a curt nod. “Go look.” He gifted Maddie with a glare before turning his back.

     Maddie fumed. So she’d only had time to grab cough drops and some bottles of medicine; was that her fault? His basket was full of nothing but batteries, the hypocrite.

     When Jessie pushed past her, Maddie grabbed her arm. “Bandages, okay? Peroxide, if you have it.” She looked her sister up and down. “And put on some clothes.”

     Jessie rolled her eyes and flounced off. Maddie made her way into the living room, settling on the floor to listen to whatever explanation the girl was currently in the middle of giving.

     “-bway. The trains weren’t running, but Dirk, he thought we could use the tunnels anyway. To walk. He said homeless people do it all the time.”

     “That’s actually not a bad idea,” Vinnie said, musing.

     “Yeah, well, the cops thought of it too. We got down there and they were all over the place, saying we couldn’t get off the platforms. Threatening to arrest us. People started screaming and pushing, and a group of us just went for it. Right over the side.”

     “Is that how you got hurt?” Maddie asked her.

     The girl shook her head. “No, that happened once we were in. It was dark down there, except for, you know, the safety lights. We kept bumping into each other, walking on people’s heels. And then…” The girl teared up, her breath hitching in her chest; Caleb reached out to pat her arm. “Can’t we just fix her up?” he asked. “Does she have to do this?”

     “We have to know what happened,” Vinnie said, his voice flat and calm.

     “It’s okay.” The girl reached up to wipe her face, giving Caleb a tremulous smile. “I can tell.” She took a deep breath. “We ran up on some homeless people, I guess. A huge group of them. They have, like, cities down there? In the old tunnels? We must have got turned around, in the dark. They weren’t happy we were down there. Everybody started screaming, and fighting, and somebody grabbed me and, like, bit me. I think it was a person but they had dogs down there, you could hear the growling, so maybe it was a dog. I don’t know.” She wiped away more tears. “I turned around and ran back. To the platform, you know. A couple people followed. Dirk…”

     “That’s enough now,” Caleb said, taking her in his arms. She sobbed against his shoulder. “I can tell you the rest. Just, clean her up. Fix her.”

     “Give me that stuff,” Vinnie said, reaching out for the armful of supplies Jessie held. Maddie was surprised to see her sister; she’d been so transfixed by the girl’s story that she hadn’t heard her come back out of the bedroom. She was relieved to note that Jessie had traded the towel for jeans and a t-shirt.

     “So, what, she called you?” Vinnie asked, starting to work on the girl’s arm.

     “Yeah.” Caleb sat back, still gripping the girl’s hand. “She told me what happened, and where she was. I tried to wait for you guys, but you were taking forever.”

     “We weren’t gone that long,” Maddie said. “Don’t make it our fault.”

     Caleb blushed. “It felt like forever,” he amended. “I had to go get her, so I just…left. I took her to the ER, but she never even got looked at. We were there most of the night. Sick people went in first, I guess.”

     “And Dirk?” Vinnie finished cleaning the girl’s wound and started unwinding a roll of bandages. “Where is he?”

     “We went back to the station. She stayed in the car. I went down there.” Caleb hesitated for a moment, glancing quickly at his friend’s face. “Nobody was down there. Platform was empty.”

     Maddie knew immediately that he was lying. Whatever he’d seen down in the subway, he didn’t want the girl to know about it.

     Vinnie was also skeptical, albeit for different reasons. “You went down there alone? You?”

     Caleb puffed out his chest. “Yeah, man. I did. I’m not-” He shot Maddie a contrite look. “I’m not always a wuss.”

     “Mm.” Vinnie applied some tape to his bandaging job and sat back. “Well, it’s clean, and that should help stop the bleeding. She needs stitches, but that can’t be helped now.”

     “Thank you.” The girl seemed better now that her wound had been cared for, although Maddie still didn’t like the look of her – her face was very pale, her lips colorless. She realized with a start where she’d seen a look like that before. She looks like Jack did. Right before the end.

     Shifting uneasily, she forced her eyes away from the girl’s face. “What now?” she asked Vinnie.

     “Is your stuff packed?” When Jessie nodded, he clapped his hands. “Good. Now, we leave.”

     “There’s nowhere to go, man.” Caleb sat forward. “You know a way out of this?”

     Shaking his head, Vinnie said, “No. Not yet anyway. We’re going to my place.”

     “Can we…” The girl struggled back into a sitting position. “Can we go with you?” When Maddie and Vinnie exchanged a glance, she rushed on. “I know you’re pissed at Caleb, since, like, he stole your car. But he was helping me. We brought it back as soon as we could.”

     When they still hesitated, Jessie stepped in. “If you don’t take them,” she said, “I won’t go.”

     “Jessica,” Vinnie said in a warning tone. “This doesn’t involve you.”

     “The hell it doesn’t.” She put her hands on her hips, defiant. “You said yourself he’s just a kid,” she told Maddie. “And this girl is hurt. What are you going to do, leave them out on the steps when we go?”

     Maddie hung her head. Her sister was right, loathe as she was to admit it. Fine time for her to develop a sense of responsibility, she thought, irritated. She really didn’t want to take Caleb anywhere, given how her last moment of charitable concern had turned out, but she couldn’t see any other option. But the girl…

     “I need a cigarette,” she said suddenly, rising to her feet.

     “You what?” Jessie looked at her, confused. “What?”

     “Vinnie,” she continued, ignoring her sister, “Come out with me?”

     “Oh…kay?” Vinnie followed her to the balcony door. “What’s going on?”

     “Wait a minute,” she said, keeping her voice low.

     “Will you keep an eye on her?” Caleb asked Jessie, gesturing to his friend. “I’m going with them.”

     “No, that’s-” Maddie tried to protest, but her sister quickly agreed to his request. He followed them out onto the balcony, waiting until the door was shut before he rounded on both of them.

     “You can’t leave us here,” he said. “I know you’re still pissed at me, but please. At least drop us at a hospital or something.”

     “I don’t think being pissed is the problem,” Vinnie said, lighting a cigarette and passing it to Maddie. “Is it?”

     Maddie shook her head, watching the paper on her cigarette burn away. Both men stared at her, Vinnie smoking silently, Caleb on the verge of tears. Finally Vinnie said, “You don’t smoke, do you?”

     “Nope.” She brought the filter to her mouth and inhaled, letting out smoke in a cough. Her throat and chest burned. She inhaled again, her head swimming. “It’s your friend,” she finally said.

     “Summer,” Caleb said. “Her name is Summer.”

     “Okay. Well, cleaned up or not, she needs a doctor. Her arm needs more than some peroxide and a band-aid.”

     “I told you, we tried! We sat there all night, and they never saw her. Kept telling me to wait.”

     “She needs to go back,” Maddie insisted.

     “That doesn’t seem to be an option,” Vinnie told her.

     “Well. Well, then….” She looked at Caleb uncertainly, not wanting to have this conversation in front of him. “Then she’s going to die.”

     “No she’s not!” He shook his head frantically. “Don’t say that. We got her fixed up. She’ll be fine now.”

     “You know that’s not true,” Vinnie said. His matter-of-fact tone seemed to set the kid off worse than Maddie’s words had; Caleb collapsed into the metal chair and started to cry. Vinnie raised a brow at Maddie. “I’m surprised to hear you say it, though.”

     Maddie flicked ash, watched it float down to her shoes. “Even without your bullshit,” she said, “I’ve seen two people with bites like that. And they’re both dead. Bill too, and all he got was a scratch. If those homeless people were sick-”

     “It could have been a dog!” Caleb looked up, desperate. “She said there were dogs. A dog could have bit her.”

     “That wasn’t a dog bite,” Vinnie said. “Did you even look at it?”

     The kid slumped. “No. She had it wrapped in a shirt. Wouldn’t let me see it, said it was gross.”

     “Well it’s gross all right,” Vinnie agreed. “I doubt the peroxide did any good. That thing is infected. You should have cleaned it for her last night.”

     “I thought the hospital would do it,” Caleb said miserably. “Like I said, she wouldn’t let me touch it.”

     “It wouldn’t have mattered,” Maddie said, taking another drag. Each one burned a little less than the last. She felt an odd combination of jittery and calm. “I’m telling you, Jack and Chrissy went to the hospital right away, and it didn’t matter.”

     “So what do we do? With her?”

     “I can’t listen to this,” Caleb said. He stumbled back into the apartment, slamming the door behind him. Maddie took his vacated seat, refusing to meet Vinnie’s eyes.

     “Madelyn,” he said, “What do we do?”

     “I don’t know!”

     “Yes, you do.” When she looked up, his hand was on his waistband, where he’d stashed the gun again, under his shirt.

     “You can’t shoot her,” she whispered, horrified.

     His face hardened. “You know what will happen to her. Whether I’m right or not, it’s not going to be pleasant.”

     Maddie remembered Jack, and the four people it had taken to hold him down at the end. This girl, Summer, was much smaller, but who knew what it would be like for her? Caleb wasn’t going to be able to help. Jessie was probably inside downing more vodka right now.

     “Maybe it was a dog,” she said.

     The look he gave her was filled with disgust. “You surprise me,” he said. “I thought you were different.”

     “What does that mean?” She had no idea what he was talking about. “Different how? Why?”

     “The way you kicked his ass,” he said. “When you caught them.”

     “Wait, Jack?” She surprised herself by laughing. “I was angry,” she said. “I hit my cheating fiancé because I was angry, and you think I can shoot some sick girl?”

     He shrugged. “I thought you had balls, that’s all. Guess I was wrong.”

     “It doesn’t take balls to shoot somebody,” she said. “They teach you that in the Army?”

     He reached out, lightning-quick, and grabbed her wrist, startling her into dropping the cigarette. She tried to shrink back but he held her, his grip hard and mean. “Watch it,” he told her, his voice deadly quiet. “Having my tongue down your throat doesn’t mean you can talk shit.”

     “Fuck you.” Her foot shot out, connecting with his kneecap; he let go of her as his leg buckled. “Sticking your tongue down my throat doesn’t mean you can grab me.” She got to her feet, breathing hard. “Don’t touch me again.”

     He rubbed his knee for a moment, wincing, then straightened. She braced herself, and was surprised to see that he was grinning. “There she is,” he said.

     She shook her head. “What’s wrong with you?”

     He took a step toward her, stopping when she moved back and raised her fists. “A lot of things,” he told her. “Keep that anger, sweetheart. You’re gonna need it.” He nodded his head toward the door. “Let’s go in. We can talk more later.”

     Wary, she moved past him and into the apartment, careful to keep space between them. If he grabs me again… But he didn’t.

     “You guys ready?” Jessie frowned when she saw Maddie’s face. “Everything okay?”

     Maddie nodded. “Yeah. Fine.” She glanced over the bar, into the living room. “Are they ready to go?”

     “I think so,” Jessie said. “The girl is tired, but she should be okay.” She lowered her voice. “Those bandages aren’t doing so great, though. She’s already bled through.”

     Maddie grimaced. “Okay.” She shot Vinnie a look. “You want to re-wrap her, before we go?”

     “Lot of good it’ll do.” When she glared at him he held his hands up. “I’ll do it. Don’t hit me again.”

     When he’d walked away, Jessie stepped closer. “You hit him? What the hell for?”

     “Don’t worry about it.” Maddie picked up the baskets from where she’d dropped them and set them on the counter. “You have any plastic bags? We can put this stuff in them, look less like we robbed the place.”

     Jessie pulled some bags out of the cabinet under her sink. “Did you?” she asked, shaking the plastic sack out. “I mean, you leave for food and stuff, come back with no food, no bags and somebody who’s bleeding. I got her story, but what the fuck happened down there?”

     Maddie hesitated for just a moment, then decided, fuck it, it was time for Jessie to know everything. Especially if what she thought was going to happen to Summer actually did happen, and Vinnie pulled out his damn gun.

     “A riot,” she said, tossing things into the bags as quickly as possible. “People are scared. Whatever this flu thing is, it’s fatal, Jess. People get sick, and they die. All of them.”

     Jessie froze, her face slack with shock. “What do you mean, ‘all of them’? Like, all the ones who get pneumonia or something?”

     “No.” She grabbed her sister’s shoulders, forcing her to look Maddie right in the eye. “No. No pneumonia. They just die. They have a cold, and they cough, and then they’re dead. Like the photographer.”

     “Oh. Oh my god.” She brought her hands up, covering her mouth. “Oh my god.”

     “There’s something else.” Glancing into the living room again, she saw that Vinnie was occupied with changing Summer’s bandages. Nonetheless, she dragged her sister into the corner, next to the door. “That guy, Vinnie? He thinks…” Maddie tried to find a way to say it so that it sounded sane, then realized it couldn’t be done. Best to just be out with it. “He thinks the people who die become zombies.”

     For just a moment she thought her sister would be outraged, or horrified by the sheer insanity of such a belief. When she wrenched herself out of Maddie’s grip, Maddie thought the anger on her face was for Vinnie. She was stunned when her sister stepped away from her and sneered. “Seriously, Maddie? Can’t do any better than that?”

     “What?” Maddie reached out, but Jessie evaded her grasp. “What do you mean?”

     “I saw the way you look at him,” Jessie said. “And the way he looks at me. You think if you tell me he’s some psycho freak, I’ll back off?”

     Maddie gaped. “What the…are you serious right now? You think I’m lying so you won’t sleep with him?”

     “He was my date,” Jessie said. “I have dibs.”

     “Dibs?” Maddie shook her head. “You can’t call dibs on people, Jess.” When her sister started to respond, Maddie rushed on. “It doesn’t matter, anyway. That’s not what this is. I’m serious. He believes in zombies.”

     “Everything okay, ladies?”

     Maddie jumped. Vinnie stood on the other side of the kitchen bar, regarding them both with a bemused expression. How much of that could he have heard?

     “We’re fine,” Jessie said, all but purring at him as she leaned over the counter. “Just getting these things bagged up. Are they ready to go?” When Vinnie nodded, she snatched up the bags and stalked away, not giving her sister a backward glance. Maddie watched her go, at a loss.

     “You okay?” Vinnie asked her.

     She nodded. “Fine. Does Summer need help down to the car?”

     “We’ve got it,” he said. “You go ahead.”

     As she headed for the door he came around to meet her, pressing the keys into her hand. Maddie willed herself not to flinch away as he leaned in, putting his mouth close to her ear.

     “You can ride shotgun,” he murmured. “I think you have…dibs.”

  1. Thea says:

    This chapter did not change my original opinion of Summer, which is still KILL HER WITH FIRE. Can’t wait to see if Vinnie actually goes through with it or not before she becomes more dangerous!

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