“And what are you going to do?” asked Becks, somewhat warily.
“I’m getting the Jeep home. Now get out.”
She looked like she wanted to argue with me. Luckily for my blood pressure, she didn’t do it. “Come on, Alaric,” she said, taking the shaken Newsie by the elbow and tugging him out of the Jeep as she climbed out of the backseat. “Let’s get some walls between us and the idiots.”
She didn’t have to tell him twice. I’d never seen him move that fast. Becks and I exchanged a semi-surprised look as the van door slammed shut behind Alaric’s retreat, and I actually laughed before waving her to follow him.
“Go on,” I said. “I’ll be fine.”
“Sure thing, boss,” she said, and turned to go.
I waited until she closed the door and I heard the van’s engine turn over before starting the Jeep again. We were cutting it pretty close; I could hear the approaching moan of the hunting mob before the rumble from our vehicles drowned it out.
Good for ratings, George offered.
“Like that means anything?”
She didn’t have an answer to that. Dave pulled the van back onto the road, such as it was, and I followed.
It was after midnight in London according to the clock on the dashboard. Bad, but not too bad, especially not when you’re talking about professional blogging hours. “Time delay broadcast for editing0em"d. My headpiece beeped to signal that my personal cameras were now being fed into a buffer, rather than recording live. Not as good for ratings as a live feed, but the only way to get even the pretense of privacy. I could delete anything I didn’t want hitting the Internet. “Phone, dial Mahir.”
“Local time in London is approximately twelve thirty-seven A.M.,” said the automated operator, with mechanized politeness. “Ms. Gowda has requested that calls be held until eight A.M. local time.”
“Ms. Gowda doesn’t have the authority to block my calls, as I am, in fact, her husband’s boss,” I said amiably. “Please dial Mahir.”
“Acknowledged,” said the operator, and went quiet, replaced by the faint beeping of an international connection in process. I hummed under my breath, watching the abandoned California countryside rolling out on either side of me. It would have been pretty if not for, y’know, all the dead stuff.
“Shaun?” Mahir’s normally smooth voice was blurry with exhaustion, making his British accent stand out more than usual.
“Mahir, my main man! You sound a little harried. Did I wake you?”
“No, but I really do wish you’d stop calling so late at night. You know Nandini gets upset when you do.”
“There you go again, assuming that I’m not actually trying to piss off your wife. I’m really a much nicer person inside your head, aren’t I? Do I give money to charity and help old-lady zombies across streets so that they can bite babies?”
Mahir sighed. “My, you are in a mood today, aren’t you?”
“Been monitoring the boards?”
“You know that I have been. Or was, until I went to sleep.” I also knew he’d called up the numbers the second I got him out of bed, because that was how Mahir’s mind worked. Some men check their wallets; he checked our ratings.
“Then you know why I’m not in the mood for sunshine and puppies.” I paused. “That expression makes no sense. Why the hell would I ever be in the mood for puppies?”
“I could go with sunshine, though. Sunshine is useful. It should really be ‘sunshine and shotguns.’ Something you’d actually be happy about.”
“How’d the footage go over?”
There was a pause as Mahir adjusted to the fact that I’d suddenly decided to start making sense. Then, clearing his throat, he said, “We’re getting some of our highest click-through rates and download shares in the last six months. There have been eleven outside interview requests, and I think you’ll find as many, if not more, when you check your in-box. Six of the more junior Irwins have already been caught on the staff chats trying to figure out whether this means you’d be willing to do a joint excursion.”A pause. “None were hired during your tenure as department head.”
That meant they knew me, but had never worked with me in the field. I sighed. “Okay, so I won’t shoot them. What’s the worst headline?”
“Are you quite sure you want to do this while you’re driving?”
“How did you—”
“You’ve gone to time delay, but there are still quite a few people watching you through the van’s rearview window camera, hoping to see you get attacked again.”
Of course there were. “There are days when I really think I should go be an accountant or something.”
“You’d go mad.”
“But no one would be staring at me. What’s the worst headline, Mahir?”
He sighed, heavily. “You’re sure?”
“All right, then. ‘Shaun of the Dead, Part Two.’ ” He stopped. I said nothing. He must have taken that as a cue because he continued: “ ‘Shaun Phillip Mason, the world’s most well-known and well-regarded action blogger (known as an ‘Irwin’ to the informed, named in honor of a pre-Rising naturalist with a fondness for handling dangerous creatures), returned to the field today after almost a year of full-time desk duty. Does this mark the end of his much-debated ‘retirement,’ a career choice made during the emotionally charged weeks following the death of his adoptive sister, Georgia Mason, a factual news blogger? Or does it—’ ”