We draw out plans to hit hard and fast, to extract as many refugees as possible and let the helium plant take care of itself. Bertha and Leonid agree that once the conflict starts with the plant that the twitchers most likely won’t pursue. So we stake everything on it, and end the session with the same old words given new meaning. “We don’t do anything, unless we do it together.”
Wind whipping past us, we approach the outskirts of Amarillo at a 30mph clip. The sun dips low in the western sky. It’s almost six o’clock in the afternoon. The day’s still at its hottest, the twitchers at their slowest. But all that will change soon.
Pyotr and Mykola ride in the cab of the truck with Bertha manning the machine gun, like only a fifty year old German woman named Bertha can. Leonid insists on joining me in Leviathan. I’m grateful. I’ll need his marksmanship before this is through. “Bertha knows exactly where the armored Jeffery is and which railway to take.”
“The trick will be to take the heat off them and make it to the refugees without getting dead.”
“No problem, Papa. You just drive. I’ll keep the twitchers off our ass.”
I reach back and squeeze his shoulder, and feel the roots of a love built on something other than fear for the first time since losing Rosalyn. “I know you will.” We rumble over the ruins of a stick frame house blown into the road. Crushing a path for the truck, we barrel onto Buchanan street—going the wrong way on a one way. Funny how some things stick with you. “Now.”
Leonid waves Pyotr off, and the truck obediently slows and turns right into a quiet neighborhood, one known to be mostly twitcher free. Each of my boys has the territorial map of twitcher residences in Amarillo memorized. Fortunately, the twitchers who resided in Amarillo long enough before they turned tend to haunt places of familiarity, providing some predictability to navigating the city. Unfortunately, the events of today have flushed much of what we trusted about twitcher behavior.
“Twitchers! Five o’clock. Four o’clock. Eight o’clock. Lots of ‘em.” Leonid levers a bullet into the chamber of his Winchester ’73.
“Damn. I was hoping most of them would be out of town.”
“Maybe they’re covering all the possible retreats.”
“Maybe so.” I shift my grip on the clutch. “Hold on. It looks like there’s new debris in the road.” I throttle down to jump the curb. That’s when I spot several eyes through a department store window only feet away.
“Got ‘em!” Leonid strikes first, shattering the glass with a .44-40 slug. As soon as he does a swarm of twitchers emerge from the jagged mouth missing the treads by mere feet. At full throttle we bounce around the debris and back into the road, splintering a hitching post along the way. The slower twitchers fall away quickly, but not the faster ones. Round after round Leonid works the Winchester’s lever and burns the afternoon air with powder and lead—every bullet finding its mark.
The rifle’s thunder echos amidst the tall, brick buildings of downtown, drawing even more of a crowd. A block ahead a half dozen twitchers lope straight for us. I grip the double-barrel 12-gauge under the armrest, count to three and pull both triggers at once. A blast of exploding blood foam and sinew envelopes us. A tumbling head deflects off my left shoulder, bruising me, but nothing more. Wiping the mist from my goggles, I nearly miss our turn on 3rd Avenue, and then instantly wish I had.
Wrecked autos block our path, new since last week. Railroad tracks hem us in on the right, and besides, we need to keep heading north. “Hold on!”
“I need to reload.”
“Just hold on. I’m going to get some vodka.” We buck the curb onto the sidewalk and I steer directly for the loading bay doors of Hal’s Garage.
“Papa, what are you—”
Leviathan’s treads crash into the bottom of the doors first, buckling the dry boards and popping them from their support irons in a shower of splintered wood. Then suddenly the floor beneath us gives, and there is nothing but dust and darkness and the sensation of flying.