Authors: Regan Wolfrom
I would’ve liked to try some.
I wasn’t surprised that the first place everyone looked was out of goodies, and I moved down the charred and roofless hallway towards the still-standing wing of the nursing home. That part of the hospital had made it through the fire for the most part, but it hadn’t been treated well by the scavenging.
Graham and I tiptoe around when we scavenge, almost like it’s a crime scene, trying to leave things just as they are. It’s a waste of time and energy to make a mess, and you never know if what you glanced over today will be something to try and come back for tomorrow.
But there are definitely a lot of guys who do things differently, with a heavy duty garbage bag in one hand and a crowbar in the other, wanting to make every place they visit look like the tent cities of San Diego.
All it would have taken was one visit by the worst kind of scavenger to make Lady Minto what it is today. There are holes in walls that serve no discernible purpose; someone just wanted to waste a little time and energy busting through drywall and so they did.
But I had hope for the nursing home; people may have torn through the emergency room nurses’ station and the pharmacy, but there was always a chance that they hadn’t bothered with the old folk’s portion, thinking that they had no need for pills to help them pee or build up their bone density.
Maybe I’d get lucky.
I found a set of wood cabinets behind a desk; it looked more like a pantry than a nurses’ station. The lock on it hadn’t been broken.
Most of the locks I’ve picked are wafer locks, the cheapest of the cheap and the ones you get in most houses and offices. I’ve got a small set of lockpicks on my belt that lets me open a wafer lock in around ten seconds. But the cabinet was secured with something stronger, a heavy-duty tubular locks on each drawer; I didn’t have anything to pick that.
I needed to take a page from the scumbag scavengers. I needed the right tools for the job.
I jogged back toward the emergency ward. I could see the truck in the distance.
I couldn’t see Graham.
I picked up the pace, sprinting toward the truck, jumping over the occasional two-foot pile of debris along the hallway. I ran out to the parking lot and looked around for any sign of him.
Pauline was still there, but Graham wasn’t.
I shouted out a few swear words as I realized that he’d fucked off somewhere. It was a bad time for Graham to start acting like an idiot.
The truck was unlocked; I grabbed the sledgehammer and the crowbar. I made my way back to the old folks’ wing and the locked cabinet, and then I started busting it up, smashing in from the side of the cabinet and jamming the drawers out from the inside. It took some time and a buttload of pushing, but eventually I’d popped each lock and launched each drawer open.
I emptied the drawers one after the other, throwing dozens of boxes and bottles and packets onto the counter. It made sense to take them all; most would come in handy eventually. If I do this job of mine well enough, there will even be a day when Fiona is old and crotchety.
I didn’t want to wait until I got home; I needed to know if there were any heart pills there.
Behind all of the the anti-depressants and sleeping pills I found a bottle of Laneradine. I felt my whole body seize up. It wasn’t very full but it didn’t feel empty. It took me way too long to figure out the childproof cap, my fingers trembling as I pushed and turned.
There were only three left. Three more days of happy heart health. Three more days to live.
I kept looking through the rest of the drugs. They’d be useful, someday, maybe... I could think of plenty of good reasons to stick a few sleeping pills in Matt’s morning coffee.
I made my way back toward the truck with my pack filled with drugs, probably moving more slowly than I should have considering that we still had car batteries to collect. But it was hard to stay focused on the task when I’d just discovered the mother lode but ended up with just three more days of heart pills.
That wasn’t worth much.
Graham still wasn’t back when I got to the parking lot. I gave him a call on the handheld.
“Where the hell are you?” I asked.
“I’m looking for car batteries,” Graham replied. “Looks like we might be too late. Over.”
He was planning on carrying how many twenty-pound car batteries back to the parking lot?
“What’s your location?” I asked.
“Just south of the elementary school. Over.”
“Wait there. Don’t move, alright?”
I climbed into the truck and started driving toward what remains of the English public schools. It was just over a block away, too far for Graham to be wandering off without backup. The whole idea is to have two guys with vests and guns. No matter how well-prepared he looks, one guy might still look like a tempting target to the occasional gun-toting idiot.
Or to a guy with tiger stripes on his helmet.
I heard a gunshot from the south.
I kept going.
I reached the corner of 10th Avenue and turned to head toward Graham and the shot. I couldn’t drive and hold the shotgun, and I didn’t think I’d have much better luck aiming with the SIG.
I kept moving toward where Graham was supposed to be, hoping that he’d taken cover in time; there’s no such thing as being completely bulletproof.
Another gunshot came, and I tried my best to place it. It sounded like a rifle; it wasn’t coming from Graham. Still half a block away, but I didn’t want to get any closer in the truck; whoever was shooting would see me coming.
I stopped the truck.
I grabbed the shotgun and made my way up the sidewalk, keeping my head down as much as I could while I ran.
There were no more gunshots as I came to the end of the block and crossed the road. I bent down behind a white pine, assuming that whoever had been shooting was still to the south of me.
I pulled out my handheld and pushed for Graham.
“I can see you,” Graham said, his voice low. “Hold on.”
I saw movement from a low bush a few metres along the sidewalk. It was Graham, crouched and walking toward me.
And then there was another gunshot.
I saw Graham fall; it looked like his vest may have caught the bullet, but I wasn’t sure.
I pulled up the shotgun and pointed it down the street.
“Stop shooting!” I yelled at whoever. “Do you know who we are?”
I pulled the trigger, aiming at a white-panelled house because I didn’t have anything better to shoot at.
Graham pulled himself over to me and my tree.
“You okay?” I asked.
“It stings.” He pointed to his gut.
“Didn’t get through, right?”
“I don’t think so. It just hurts... I don’t feel like I’m bleeding or anything.”
“We need to get back to the cart,” I said. “Grab your SIG... we’ll take turns with the cover fire.”
We started moving backward as I took another shot. So far they hadn’t replied.
“Where you aiming?” Graham asked.
“That ugly white house.”
He took aim and fired too.
We made it to the collapsed chain-link fence along the schoolyard without hearing another rifleshot.
“I think they ran,” Graham said.
I fired again.
We reached the truck and Graham climbed in the driver’s side. He seemed to be moving pretty well despite the hit to his vest. I hopped in the other side. I opened the window and held out the shotgun as he turned us around, but I held my fire and waited. I kept my barrel trained on 10th Avenue until we’d gotten far enough to the East that I couldn’t see it anymore.
We’d left whoever it was behind.
“Turn left on 14th,” I said.
Graham pointed the truck to the south. “You’re going after him, aren’t you?”
I nodded. “Dead Pauline, crazy guy with a rifle. You do the math.”
I had Graham take us south to 6th Street.
“Wait here,” I said. “Give me fifteen minutes after the first gunshot.”
“Then I head for home?”
“Fuck you. Then you come save me.”
I got out of the truck and made my way along Sixth, leaving the shotgun for Graham. I kept reasonably low, but I knew that so-called Spirit Animals notwithstanding, most idiots dumb enough to take us on wouldn’t be smart enough to see me coming.
I saw him at the corner with 10th Street, loading a couple of bicycles into the back of a pickup truck. He was not much older than Matt, and looked about as stupid.
I was tempted to shoot, but I knew I didn’t need to. I walked up right behind him, to where his hunting rifle was leaning against the bumper of the truck.
I kicked it away.
He turned and saw me and my body armour, and gave me that look that’s often followed by a change of underwear.
“You shot at us,” I said.
He nodded. I liked his honesty.
“Please don’t kill me,” he said. “I... I thought you were the guys who attacked Pauline.”
“Who are you?” I asked. I wasn’t sure if I recognized him.
“Jayden McIvor. Pauline was... she was with me.”
“I didn’t kill her.”
“I know. I know who you are.”
I don’t think he could see much of me. But I guess our yellow-lettered OPP helmets and vests are pretty rare around here. It made me wonder why he’d shot at Graham in the first place.
“McIvor... didn’t you guys leave town already?”
“Pauline and I stayed behind. We didn’t think it was safe on the highway.”
He wasn’t wrong, but the town of Cochrane isn’t any safer for idiots like him.
“I need a ride back to my truck,” I said.
He took a step toward the hunting rifle.
“Don’t,” I said. “I’ll hold on to that for the time being.”
He didn’t argue.
We drove in the young man’s pickup truck back to 14th. Graham was pointing the shotgun out the driver’s side window of our grain truck, training it on the driver long before we were in range.
He kept the shotgun stuck on Jayden while the two of us climbed out.
“Says Pauline was with him,” I said. “Have you two met?”
“I don’t know,” Graham said.
“I’m sure we’ve met,” Jayden said. “It’s a pretty small town.” He turned to me. “Can I have my rifle back now?”
I started to unload the gun; you never pass it back loaded.
“We should bury her,” I said. “We can’t leave her out there in the parking lot.”
“It might not be safe,” Jayden said.
He didn’t sound distraught. All I picked up from him was that he wanted to get gone.
It didn’t sit well with me.
“There’s three of us,” I said. “We’ll be safe.”
“No... it’s okay. I know she’s gone. Burying her isn’t going to change anything.”
“It’s no trouble,” Graham said.
I could tell he was picking up on it, too.
“No... please... I just want to go home.”
“Yeah, okay,” I said. I waited a beat. “So the McIvors’ place was cleaned out. The Marchands took the stove... but I think we have a couple of bottles of homemade wine that your family left behind... and that grand piano.”
I wondered if the McIvors had actually left their grand piano behind. Or if they’d owned a grand piano. Or if “Jayden” knew anything about the McIvors.
“Where are you living now?” Graham asked.
“Does it matter?” Jayden said. “My girlfriend was just murdered in front of me. I just want to be left alone.”
“Right in front of you?” I asked.
I think he knew where I was headed.
“Yeah,” he said. “Outside the motel.”
“And you left her to stumble off to the hospital on her own?”
“Just give me my gun back.”
“That’s not going to happen.” I looked up toward Graham. “Let’s grab the fuel. We’ll leave the truck here for now.”
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Jayden said. “You’re going to steal from me?”
“We’re leaving your truck here, stupid. We’re taking the fuel to keep it from getting siphoned out on you.”
“What about all the stuff I’ve got in there?”
“Don’t worry... we’ll bring along anything of value.”
“There’s no way I’m going to agree to this.”
I sighed. “I don’t know you, kid. Neither does my friend here. So we take you to someone who does. If your story checks out, we’ll bring you and your crap back here.”