James regarded the man in the other cell. His beard was unkempt, his appearance disheveled and his body odor suggested he’d been here for some time. When they shook hands, he’d noticed the look of exhausted determination in his eyes. His hand was calloused, strong and firm. He’d met many types in his military career, and this man was definitely military.
The name Chris Fox meant nothing to James, though the man seemed to think it would. He knew who James was, and who his father was.
“So, how do you know my dad?” James said, still feeling more than a little intoxicated. The straight forward approach was usually the best.
The man, Chris, smirked.
“Your dad’s famous, kid. Anyone in the military knows who he is.”
“He is?” James said, the harsh light above beginning to hurt his eyes. The fluorescent tubing was like a line of miniature suns burning right into his retinas. His head began to pound as well.
“Major Gideon Fitzpatrick? You’re kidding right? Everyone knew about Black Dawn when he set it up. A few of you guys dropped into Afghanistan with the Rangers in 2012.”
“Not me, I was with the Air Force,” James said and felt his stomach begin to burn. He crawled over to the small, metal toilet and coughed into it. Then, with a heave of regret, vomited the last of the alcohol.
“James Fitzpatch, Captain, 510th Fighter Squadron out of Aviano in Italy.”
“You’re psychic too,” James said, attempting to raise his fist in a mockery. Then he dry heaved and lay his head on the side of the toilet. The coolness of the rim was soothing, but it made him think of the biting cold outside. Of the burning A-10. Of Bubbles and Jazz. Then he looked back at the man in the other cell, the sick feeling momentary forgotten.
“Wait, why do you know me?”
“Had a run in with your commander once, Ericsson I believe it was. Plus, Black Dawn is a dangerous group, James. We knew who your father was and who his family was. Where they were.”
“Tell me something, kid. What happens when a private military gets big enough to have its own Air Force?”
“We charge double?”
“You are suddenly as powerful as the National Guard and you’re for sale. You don’t work for the US Government but you have access to our Intelligence and our equipment. That worries some folks.”
“So you had me watched? The fuck for?”
The US government was watching him? It was worried about him? James Fitzpatrick, random A-10 jockey? No, they were worried about my dad. They’d use me against him.
“So the US wanted leverage against my dad? For real?”
“Not the government, James, but they had a hand in it too. No, I’m talking about Kurama.”
“The Pharmaceutical company? The wonder drug bullshit?”
“They had their own private military too, kid.”
“Huh. Lots of people wanting to steal some Aspirin?”
“What Kurama made was a bit more potent than Aspirin.”
James groaned and pushed back off the toilet, suddenly desperately wanting more to drink. This conversation was turning quickly dull and irritating.
The memory of Elena’s hands in his hair came back to him, the sarcastic smirk she wore every time he drank too much. The soothing words she’d say, like “you fucking idiot” and “I hope that drink kills you, otherwise I will.” His dad didn’t get him discharged, he’d done that himself.
“That’s real fucking interesting,” he said. He’d listened to this meaningless shit enough. Who was this guy and why was he in jail and, more importantly, why the hell was he even talking about this crap?
“I bet your dad wasn’t terribly surprised you got discharged.”
That made James pause.
“You got discharged for what? A girl right?”
“Shut up,” James said but something was beginning to bother him. Who was this guy? How the hell did he know any of this?
“Who told them about you?”
“Someone saw, I guess. It doesn’t matter. Shut up.”
“Your dad knew, didn’t he?”
“No.” Yes. James swallowed as another wave of nausea set in. He shut his eyes, willing it to pass. When he did, he saw Elena, her eyes wide with shock as she came out of that meeting room. Her patch was already gone from her jacket. It’d been the last time he’d seen her. At the time he wondered how anyone knew, but she hadn’t been very careful. Anyone could have seen, or suspected.
But he did tell his father. He’d dreaded telling him, ready for his father’s wrath about his stupidity. Only it didn’t come. His father was calm about it all. He said he was happy he’d found someone, but that he should be careful. And a month later, someone found out.
“If you think my dad told them you’re full of shit.”
“James, listen to me. Your dad is a dangerous man, I—“
“Shut up. Who the fuck are you anyway? Why do I care?”
Chris looked at him with eyes hard as stone, but there was fear there too. Concern maybe. Despite his drunken state, James could see it. It was all over his face. He wondered if his own face looked like that the day he’d been discharged.
“I have a daughter. She’s alone, out there, with those things. I need to get back to her. I need your help.”
“Why the hell would I help you?”
“Because your father is going to do something really dangerous. Everything is connected, kid, all of this.”
Chris opened his mouth to say something but the door at the end of the hall banged open. Swift footfalls announced Gideon Fitzpatrick’s entry. He arrived with an abashed looking Holden in tow. He motioned towards James’s cell.
“On your feet, son.”
“Gideon. Did you ever tell your son why he was discharged?”
Gideon didn’t even look at Chris. The cell door opened and he marched in, took James by the arm and pulled him upright. Awkwardly, they stumbled out of the cell with his father glaring at Holden.
“Tell him, Gideon!”
“Dad, he said—“
“The man is a liar, son. He’s from Kurama. His people started this whole fucking plague.”
And then they were moving. James was propelled along the floor and out the metal door. He tried to talk several times but nausea kept his mouth shut. His head was fuzzy, the things Chris said sounding oddly important to him. Kurama. The plague. His dad.
Everything is connected.
They went upstairs out into the cold until they reached the barracks, where his dad deposited him in his room. He fell onto his cot with a groan, Chris’s words bouncing around inside his head. The migraine was getting worse by the second.
“Sleep it off. I’m going to need you soon.”
“Dad, who… that guy… he said… did you know anything about Elena and me? About who told them?”
The room was dark, but the hallway lights were in. In the half-light of the doorway, Gideon Fitzpatrick was cast in shadow. James couldn’t see his face, just a dark silhouette.
“I told you. He’s a liar.”
“Why is he locked up? Who is he?”
“Don’t give him another thought. He’s a traitor and his people made this plague.”
“I thought you said the Carnival did that?”
“No. Kurama Pharmaceuticals made this virus, but the Carnival deployed it. They were in on it together. That man is going to lead us to the people responsible, and we’re going to bring God’s wrath down upon them.”
James felt suddenly exhausted. Sleep was reaching its great, comfortable arms out, pulling him down.
“He said he… had a daughter or something…”
The door shut without an answer. James sank down onto his cot and shut his eyes. Sleep came for him immediately.
His dreams were full of Elena. She was locked in a room, calling out for him. The room had only one door. She was trapped. A pounding came from the other side of the door, followed by the sounds of the dead.
James watched, helpless in his nightmare. He called out to her, but he wasn’t there. He floated outside the room, looking down, a terrified voyeur. The door gave way to a horde of zombies. They flowed in like water bursting from a dam. In an instant they tore into her, drowning out her screams of pain and anguish.
The nightmare did not end, forcing James to watch her die. He screamed endlessly, his fingers reaching for her. He saw that every zombie wore a military uniform with a patch on their arm, a patch he knew very well.