The Race – Chapter 17

Zeek checked the AK-47 to make sure a round was chambered and the magazine was seated securely. He grabbed three more off a shelf and stuffed them into his belt.

“Get the cameras working as you go,” Vince said, “so I can make sure things are good down there.”

Zeek hefted the canvas bag full of tools, cables, and replacement cameras and handed it to Don, who frowned.

“Cheer up, doc,” Zeek said. “You get to go on a real adventure. Something to tell Trisha about when she wakes up, get her all hot and bothered.”

Don held the bag like it was going to explode. “I’m not going down there.”

“Donny,” Vince said, “somebody has to watch Zeek’s back while he’s fixing the cameras.”

Zeek patted the AK. “You do know which end of this is the dangerous one, right?”

Don looked back and forth, waiting for them to crack and tell him they were just kidding. They didn’t. “You can’t be serious, Vince. Why don’t you go?”

“Look, it’s just a business decision, plain and simple. Out of the three of us, I have the most knowledge of the entire operation. I know a lot about what Zeek does, a bit about what you do, and a shit ton about what I do. I have the whole picture. We hit worst-case scenario, I’m the guy who can keep the plane in the air.”

“You don’t know anything about what I do,” Don said.

“Maybe so. Classic case of not knowing what I don’t know, right? Blissful ignorance. Either way, you’re going down with Zeek.”

Don dropped the bag at Zeek’s feet. “He can take care of himself.”

“Goddam right I can. But the situation down there is unknown. We got feeders running around breaking shit. Weren’t for that, I’d go alone no problem. I’m not infected, so they wouldn’t even notice me. But this is new. This guy, the husband…”

“Dave,” Vince said.

“He’s causing trouble, doc. You say we need to know what happens between these folks.” Zeek nudged the bag with his boot. “This is the only way. You’re the one who wanted the cameras in the first place. Seems like you ought to carry some weight over it.”

Don stuck his hands in his lab coat pockets. He felt the two syringes. They were oddly reassuring. He fought the urge to take them out and look at them. “At least give me the other gun.”

“Sorry pal,” Vince said, “I need that up here. Just in case.”

Zeek grinned. “I’ll let you hold mine if and when the time comes.” The smile disappeared. “But seriously, tell me if you’re gonna shoot. We’ll both go deaf from the sound of this damn thing down there.”

Don lifted the gear bag. “You’ll keep an eye on Trisha?”

“Of course,” Vince said. But he’d hesitated, just for a beat.

Zeek shook his head. “Jesus.”

Vince rattled the door of the mine elevator open. “I’ll leave the car down there until you get the first camera working. Then give me the all-clear and I’ll bring her up.”

Zeek stepped into the wide cage. Don followed, his head down.

“You okay Donny?” Vince said. “Awful quiet.”

“Yes,” Don said. “I’m just thinking about contingency plans. Lots of variables down there.”

He was actually thinking about what Vince had said about knowing what everyone in the group did. The meaning behind it. Vince thought everyone else was expendable. Of course Zeek was—he was basically a hammer that could talk—but if Vince thought he could run the operation on his own, without Don’s expertise, his research and development…Don remembered the look Vince and Zeek had shared when he’d talked about taking Trisha shopping. Like they’d agreed on something.

“You’re gonna be fine,” Vince said. “Zeek will take care of you.”

He closed the door and sent the elevator down.

Zeek sniffed, hawked deep in his throat and spat on the worn wooden floor. Cold gray stone climbed on the other side of the steel fencing. The sole bulb in the elevator briefly painted it with light, then returned it to darkness.

“Be ready,” Zeek said. “No idea what’s gonna be on the other side of this door when we hit bottom.”

“Zeek.”

He turned and saw the two syringes in Don’s palm. He scoffed. “I don’t know doc, anybody down here gets close enough to stick, I think we’re already screwed.”

“The green one infects you,” Don said. “The orange one cures you.”

Zeek frowned at him. “Yeah, I know. One of them things gets blood on me, you hit me with that Orange Crush pronto. Shit, you shoulda brought more than one though.”

“I just want to make sure you understand,” Don said.

He dropped the gear bag in front of Zeek. When Zeek looked down, Don pulled the cap off the green syringe and stuck it in the side of his neck.

“Ah!” Zeek bolted away from him, eyes wild. He hit the far side of the elevator and slapped a hand against his neck. “What the fuck!”

He brought the rifle up and pointed it at Don, who held the orange syringe. The cap was off and his thumb was on the plunger.

“You hurt me, I dump this on the floor. It’s the only thing that can save you.”

“What’d you do that for?”

“You tell me.”

“Huh?” Zeek rubbed at his neck and tried to squeeze the chemicals out.

“You and Vince were going to leave me down here, weren’t you? I bet he’s just waiting for a signal from you, then he’ll put Trisha in the elevator and send her down too. Then you go up and we’re both dead.”

Zeek stared at the orange syringe. He took a quick step forward.

Don pushed the syringe and shot a burst of fluid onto the floor. “I’ll dump it. Stay back.”

Zeek slumped into the corner. “Hell, it ain’t personal, doc. And it’s your own fault. You became a liability.”

“Is that what Vince told you?”

“More or less. Can I have the shot now?”

Don gaped. “No, you can’t have it now. I’ll give it to you when we’re both alive and well on the surface of the earth. After I have a serious conversation with Vince.”

The elevator started to slow.

Zeek was sweating. “But man, they’re gonna smell me. They’re gonna smell me, doc, and they’re gonna come for me.”

“Then I guess you’d better work fast.”

And then you said: