The Race – Chapter 19

Vince watched the first monitor. Still no video feed. He briefly wondered what Zeek and Don were doing down there, then sorted through the keys on his ring and unlocked one of the steel cabinets against the wall.

Boxes of ammunition for the assault rifles were stacked at the bottom along with Kevlar tactical vests and tear gas grenades. Vince shook his head. Zeek had all sorts of fantasies about how it could go down, and he’d prepared for them.

Well, so had Vince. He grabbed the duffel bag sitting on top of the ammunition, then closed and locked the cabinet. He set the bag in front of the blank monitors and opened it. Just over two million dollars in cash, used bills sorted into stacks of twenties, fifties, and hundreds. It was seed money from contacts Vince had made, investors who had seen very early trials of the Munchies and wanted in. They were waiting for the first batch of infected arrivals, the first course in what was going to be a very long, very profitable meal.

Vince knew that was going to happen no matter what. What happened between now and then, well, that was anybody’s guess. But if things got hairy he’d cut the power to the tunnels, grab the duffel, laptops, and syringes, toss it all in his car and drive away. Then try not to think about what Zeek and Don were going through waiting for him to bring the elevator up.

He’d considered spreading gasoline around and tossing a match, but the last thing he needed was a bunch of enthusiastic volunteer firefighters hacking around. No, the mines would eventually go silent again. Everything down there would die and rot, maybe dry out like mummies. If anybody ever found it they’d wonder what the hell had happened. It would be an epic mystery.

Not my problem, Vince thought.

Then the first monitor flashed once, again, and the feed came up.

Zeek was a few inches from the new camera, his hands somewhere behind the lens working. He was sweating and his pupils were huge. He kept looking over his shoulder toward the long, black tunnel.

Don stood behind him. He had something in his hand but it was too small to identify. Vince closed the duffel and slid it to the side so he could lean in for a closer look. It was a syringe.

Vince frowned. “The hell?”

He hurried to the shelves and checked the racks. Two syringes were missing, one green and one orange.

“Motherfucker,” he told the empty slots, then went back to the monitor.

Zeek was talking into the camera, even though he knew there was no sound. He was near panic, spittle landing on the lens as he pointed back at Don, who waved and pressed his back against the tunnel wall so Zeek could slide past him. They eyed each other like jungle animals.

Don shooed Zeek further away. Zeek edged a few short steps, his eyes and the barrel of his assault rifle turned toward the dark tunnel. He jutted his head forward and turned it to the side, like he was trying to see and hear further into the mine without actually moving in that direction.

Don watched him for a moment, then turned to the camera. He had a smug, crooked grin on his face as he held up an empty syringe.

“What are you doing?” Vince murmured.

Don nodded to the syringe and mouthed a word: “Green. Green.”

He pretended to bite along the cylinder like it was corn on the cob.

“Munchies,” he mouthed. “Munchies.”

“Yeah,” Vince said to the empty room. “I get it. What the hell, Donny?”

Don pointed at Zeek, then jabbed a finger into his own neck. Held up the empty syringe again.

“No, you did not,” Vince said. “Tell me you did not do that.”

Zeek glanced back at the camera. That was all it took.

“Jesus,” Vince said. “You did it. You killed both of you, Donny. You fucking idiot.”

Don was pointing down, underneath the camera, mouthing: “Elevator. Elevator. Up. Bring me up.”

“You can go to hell,” Vince said.

He briefly considered his options. Bring Don up, talk him off whatever ledge he was on, then get Zeek up so they could shoot him full of orange before the feeders got to him. Then they’d still have to deal with Don being a liability, which Don might be slightly aware of at this point.

Or grab the stuff, get in the car, and go. Everything else would sort itself out.

Vince had his hand on the duffel, half the weight lifted when doubt slipped in.

Did he know enough to keep the operation going? Would he be able to find another guy like Don?

Or Zeek? He was dumb as a stump, but even that had its own primal intelligence and usefulness. He didn’t know a damn thing about how to move money or talk to people, but he got shit done. A rare talent these days.

“Dammit,” Vince said. He let the duffel drop and leaned into the monitor again.

“Up,” Don mouthed. He held up a splayed hand. “Five seconds. Five seconds.”

He stepped beneath the camera and out of sight. Vince pictured him standing in the elevator, tapping his foot impatiently and checking his watch.

Five…

Four…

Vince stood up. Maybe he could bring Don up but keep him locked in the elevator. Point the rifle at him and tell him to get his ass back down there, give Zeek the shot, then they could talk.

Zeek took a step toward the elevator. Don’s hand came into the bottom of the frame, finger pointing. Zeek froze.

Three…

Two…

Don’s hand pulled back. Two milky eyes reflected the infrared light from deep within the darkness of the tunnel. They blinked and came closer.

Zeek fired once, twice, and scurried back along the wall. He fell into the elevator.

The eyes bobbed as they came closer. Whatever it was, it was loping close to the ground, like it was four-legged.

Vince couldn’t look away. His mouth was open and his eyes widened. He caught a glimpse of a human face as the thing came into the arc of the infrared light, then a wet clump of dirt hit the camera. It splashed across the lens and blocked everything except for a tiny slash near the right edge of the monitor. Something blurred past the gap and was gone.

“Jesus,” Vince said. “Sorry guys.”

The money and laptops took both hands. He’d come back for the syringes. He carried the duffel and computers up the short flight of stairs, through the rickety storage buildings with the evening sun slanting through the holes and catching the dust motes. When he got to the door he saw the heavy steel bar in the brackets, holding it shut.

“Ah, hell,” he said. It wasn’t a huge pain, but Zeek had always hurried ahead to get the bar for him. Goddam Zeek. Vince set the duffel and laptops on a rusted gangbox and lifted the bar. Maybe there was a way to put it back into place as he left, one more thing to keep people out for as long as possible.

He was thinking about this when he pushed the steel door open and somebody hit him in the face with a frying pan.

And then you said: