"You got a map or something we can look at?" asked Patty.
"Sure, I use this." said Antonio as he pulled out a handful of loose pages from a local Mapsco guide.
"Here is where we are. I don't mark it on the map in case I loses the map or something. I mark places where there might be food or water like this. And over here are places I don't go cuz of FEMA or DHS is there." he added as he pointed out markings on the maps.
Patty looked at Antonio after that last comment before speaking.
"Okay, we need to figure out a few things. First, how to get to Brad's house and then the girls home and see if their families are still there or otherwise. Then, I have to determine the fastest way for me to get across town and over to Fort Worth and beyond. It's more than fifty miles." she said.
"Fifty miles on foot? The way I have to move around that's gonna take you a month." said Antonio.
"I wish we hadn't lost the bikes or could replace them. I would like to go back to the tollway and see if those guys left our bikes behind." said Patty.
"No chance. Bikes are worth their weight in gold these days. 'Sides, if they didn't someone else did after they left. It's how things go around here." replie Antonio.
Patty sighed and kicked herself internally for walking into the ambush.
"Antonio, what was it you said about the local police are holding things downtown and the hospitals?" asked Patty.
"Yeah, here's how it works. The police were out on the street the first few days after the lights went down. They let some parts of town go up where there was too many bad guys, so they blocked those areas off and held on to the rest. There was a police station near where I stayed and there was a bunch of cops there. They had these old cars they took from a car museum so they could get around."
"Then DHS and FEMA showed up about three days after the Blowup. They didn't do nothing for the city except take what they wanted. They took the airports over and started bringing in big planes and helicopters. Then they spread out and hit gas stations and took the gas and diesel. After that, they put guys with guns around different things. Water towers, power stations, I don't know, just funny places that didn't work no more. All I know is if you get near the DHS or FEMA, they gonna shoot you, no questions asked."
"Then things got bad 'cuz there wasn't no more food in the stores so the police gave up and let folks start fighting over nothing. The police crowded around the hospitals and the police stations and downtown, I heard, and let the rest go. Folks started figuring nobody was gonna stop them so now little gangs got eat up by bigger gangs and they is all getting their piece of the city. And that's where we at now." finished Antonio.
"How did you hear about all this? You couldn't have seen it all?" asked Patty.
"With this." he replied and pulled a 60's era transistor radio out of his pocket.
"Does that work? Where did you get it?" asked Patty.
"What is it? Like a MP3 player?" asked Candace.
Antonio ignored her, "I found it in a desk in another office building. It had batteries and it worked. City was broadcasting on a station downtown, giving the news and talking about what FEMA and DHS are doing, like nothing. Station went dead a few days ago and now I can't get nothing except static."
"Where did you live before this, Antonio? Where did you go to school?" asked Catelyn.
"I went to Pearce, you know that school?" he replied.
"Sure, I knew a girl I played volleyball with who went there." said Catelyn.
"Well, that's where I went. I was going to be a senior next year and probably the starting quarterback, than this happened. I stayed in an apartment with my daddy's second wife and her two kids." he said.
"What happened to them?" asked Candace.
"Hell, I don't care. She kicked me out 'cuz there wasn't enough to eat, but that was a bunch of **it. She was sending her two boys out to steal food from the neighbors or from the only store in the 'hood. That woman was a big old fat lady and she was always stuffing her face. When they said go, I got. They probably dead now." Antonio replied.
"What about your dad? Where's he?" asked Patty.
"He left about a year ago. Went to go find a job somewhere and told me to be a man now cuz he couldn't look out for me no more." he said.
"I'm sorry, what about your mom?" asked Patty.
"She died when I was six. I had a Granmama that used to send me a birthday card every year, but she died a long time ago. Just me now." said Antonio.
"I am so sorry, that is so sad." said Candace about to cry.
"Hell, yall be trippin. I ain't got nobody to answer to or haul around wit me. Look at you. Got Brad shot up and you all held up together. Alls I got to do is run, hide and stay outa sight." he laughed.
"So when is it safe to move around and when can we go?" asked Patty.
"We can go now, but you got to help him and we got to move careful. South of here it ain't so bad cept for home folks taking pot shots at black kids. With you in front, maybe they won't shoot." he replied.
"Let's get Brad up and get ready. Antonio, I want to get to where Brad lives as soon as we can. If his family is still there, they can take better care of him than we can." said Patty.
They woke Brad up and he came around groggy, but cognizant of his surroundings. He did not have a fever and the bleeding had stopped so Patty changed his bandages after painfully cleaning the wound once more. Brad claimed he could walk, after gratefully drinking down some luke warm tea with plenty of sugar along with two ibuoprofen. He was dismayed to know he could not carry or fire the M4 or any other rifle, but faced the facts of his condition.
They turned out the lights in the conference room and once again following Antonio, made their way to the front of the office building. Antonio took them to the far side of the offices and showed them where the bathrooms were and the breakroom he had already looted. While the toilets did not work, they had not been used which allowed everyone to relieve themeselves and get somewhat cleaned up.
Afterward, the went out a different door and Antonio carefully described how to get around the city.
"First up, night time only bad folks is out. Most of them walk around with a flashlight or some other kind of light and make a lot of noice so they's easy to avoid. Just get in the shadows or behind something and they'll pass you by." he advised.
"What do they do at night?" asked Candace.
"Hit houses where people live. They look for lights, or the smell of food cooking or the noise, you know like people arguing or kids playing. They used to hit places with generators, but there ain't no more gas for those so they have to look harder now." he replied.
"Next, stay out of the street. Anyone can see you if you walking down the middle of the street. Also, don't go where the power and lights are on. Lights means police or FEMA. Both will shoot you dead after dark."
"Finally, if you need something, like food, water or other stuff, go look where nobody else is. Looky here. The first week I got kicked out, I went over to the grocery store, Target and Walmart looking for food and so was everyone else. I looked under the shelves, out back and there wasn't nothing but other people wanting to kill you if you found something."
"So I went over to this shopping center that didn't have no food stores or restaurants. I went into an office store and found a whole stack of bottled water, sodas and snack food. Nobody else looked there yet so it was all mine. After that, it was kinda easy. I went to where nobody else did and I still find food." he said.
They went slowly along the street in front of the office building they exited westbound. Once, they heard a crashing sound from a building across the street. Antonio pushed them all toward a row of bushes and from there, they watched in the moonlight as four or five figures stumbled out of an alley laughing and tripping over each other.
"Did you see the look on his face..."
"stupid ole man.."
"That chick was fine.."
"I ripped my new shirt.."
"Man, that place smelled.."
And their voices faded as they wandered east down the same street the group was on.
"See what I told you? Fools just making noise up and down the street. They be dead in a few days.. who cares?" whispered Antonio.
They planned on following this street until it ran into the university. From there, Antonio said it was safe to cut across the sport fields to a place he knew that was safe to hide during the day. They would continue doing this until they made it a few miles to the outskirts of Addison, an upscale community tucked into North Dallas. Among the office buildings and popular restaurants, sat an improbable airport with an 8000' runway and where the DHS had set up its headquarters in the area.
An hour later they reached the campus and fortunately, did not run into anyone. They took fifteen minutes to rest and check Brad's dressings, but did not dare use a light. Brad nodded at Patty's questioning and said he would be fine and to keep going, but she knew he was tiring.
It took another two hours, including a hair raising fifteen minutes as they hid under a pedestrian bridge from a group of dangerous looking young men who had been trashing the university dormitories in a search for supplies and victims, but they managed to make it to an abandoned golf driving range. There, in the offices, they were able to take refuge as the sky began to lighten.
The office was small and featured a long counter on one end of the room where golfers could purchase passes or coupons to use the range. There was a couple of coolers long emptied and a snack bar in the office, also cleaned out. Antonio went into the bathroom marked Ladies, and after a few moments, came out with a partial case of bottled water and a box of assorted candy bars and chips.
"Stowed it in the ceiling last time I was hear. Chocolate might be melted, but it works all the same. I got stashes like this all over for when the pickings get lean, no whata mean?" he said.
They all drank the water gratefully and each had something from the snack box. Patty checked Brad's bandage and needed to clean and change it again. She also gave him two more antibiotics from their supplies. Then she peeked through the blinds and looked onto the course and the sun's rays crested the horizon.
The grass had overgrown most of the range and the ground was still littered with abandoned golf balls and trash. In a few years, if things stabilized, this area might make a good grazing pasture for livestock. Patty imagined cows grazing between the rusted yard markers occasionally finding a prehistoric Titlist among the grass. The world would adapt and move on.
When she turned around, Antonio was practicing a quick draw with the .357 magnum from his waist band. Patty stepped forward with a smile and said, "Here, let me show you how to do that." Once she had the revolver, she dumped the rounds and held it, butt up in Antonio's face.
"You want to kill yourself, feel free, but I don't want a bullet in my head or in these kids. This is a gun, not a toy. Don't ever fool around with it again, got it?" she said.
"You crazy, lady. Get outta my face. Maybe you can find you way home with out me. Outta my way." Antonio said crossing the room to his stuff.
"Chill out, we had a deal." she responded.
"You don't yell at me. No b**ch yells at me. I don't care who you are." he snapped.
"No b**ch yelled at you, I did." said Patty. "Chill out."
"Shut up. I don't need this cr*p" he said.
"Nope you don't. But is this what you want to do with your life? Wander around hiding in ladies rooms, living off M and Ms and old cokes?" she asked.
"Get offa my.." he said.
"No, I won't. Not until you hear me out. You could do something with your life. You could go along with us for awhile. See what's out there, we did. We've traveled more than two hundred miles, seen a lot of things, done a lot. It's a big world out there, Antonio. Now, you want to go scuttling around like a crab in a big circle around your old apartment, that's your call. But don't you want to live?" said Patty. Then she handed the revolver over to Antonio which he hesitantly took from her hand.
"Hang on." Patty said. She went to her pack and fished out the shoulder holster the contractor had worn the pistol in previously.
"Might as well take this, too. Make you look like James Bond." she said with a smile.
"Um, yeah, okay. I gotta go to the bathroom." said Antonio and he opened the office door and went outside carrying the pistol and the gunbelt.
Brad stood up gingerly and went and stood next to Patty.
"Did you really mean that?" he asked.
"I'll say or do whatever it takes to get you kids home and me back to Elena."
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