Chapter 12

LACEY . . .

Feeling tight and on edge, Lacey sat straight and tall in the passenger seat, scanning the highway ahead and twisting to check out behind as they sped n orth along Route 35. Her right hand rested on the .45 semiautomatic cradled in her lap.

They'd left before dawn with Carole at the wheel. The Parkway route had been considered, but rejected. It was a wider road, but offered fewer options sh ould they run into any Vichy. Route 35 was local, but it wasn't as if they h ad to worry about traffic lights or anything, and it allowed them to turn of f on an instant's notice. That was good; the sun was rising into a cloudless sky, which was not so good. Lacey would have preferred a cloudy, rainy day.

Better yet, foggy. Anything to cut the visibility.

As she spotted a sign that said HAZLET she felt the Fairlane surge forward.

Joe - apparently he'd played around with cars as a teen - had identified this on e as a '57 Fairlane; he'd checked the engine before they'd left and proclaim ed it "hot," mentioning a four-barrel carburetor and other car talk she coul dn't follow. She leaned left to catch a look at the speedometer.

"Ninety?" she said.

Carole nodded. She was dressed in some hideous mauve nylon warm-up she'd fo und last night in a neighboring house. "The road is straight and level here, and the sooner we get there, the better."

"I'll drink to that."

Carole nodded. "I don't know much about cars, but this one handles beautifu lly."

They merged with Route 9 and headed over a tall bridge. After that it was de cision time.

"Turnpike or stay on 9?" Carole said.

Tough question. Lacey did not want to run into any Vichy.

"Let's think about that," Lacey said. "The closer we get to the city, the thic ker the Vichy will be. But if I were a Vichy, the last place I'd look for some one traveling would be the Turnpike. It's too open. So I'd concentrate on the back roads."

"You're assuming they think that far ahead. The ones I've met so far haven't been too bright."

"But Joe said they were pretty well organized in the city. Someone with brain s is probably calling the shots. I vote Turnpike."

Carole took a deep breath. "All right. Turnpike it is."

They followed the green-and-white signs and got on the New Jersey Turnpike North at Exit 11. They kept to the outer lanes.

As they roared along, Lacey felt herself starting to cook in the sunlight po uring through her side window. She rolled it down a few inches; that helped for a while, but soon she was perspiring.

She was wearing plaid cotton comfy pants and a red V-neck sweater over an extra-large T-shirt she'd found - it came from some restaurant called Pete a nd Elda's and apparently was a prize for eating a whole large pizza. Event ually she removed the sweater.

"If it gets much warmer we'll have to put the top down."

"I don't think that would be wise."

"Why not? Afraid of developing skin cancer in twenty years?"

Gallows humor. Even Carole smiled - a rare event these days.

Lacey pulled the T-shirt away from her skin and caught a whiff of herself.

"Damn, do I ever need a shower!"

She'd tried to bathe in the ocean but it was freezing.

"Wouldn't you love to be able to take a bath?" Carole said. "I'd give almost anything for one."

"Me too." Lacey decided Carole's cage was due for a gentle rattle. "You know, I wish I believed in the soul. I'd trade mine for one good hot shower."

"Don't talk like that," Carole said.

"It's true."

She glanced at Lacey. "You'd sell your soul that cheaply?"

"We're talking hypothetically here, and no, I wouldn't sell it that cheaply.

I'd want at least three hot showers - long ones.

Carole looked as if she were about to reply when she glanced in the rearvie w mirror. Her expression tightened.

"Oh, no."

Lacey turned and looked through the convertible's plastic rear window. Two longhaired men on motorcycles had just roared out of a rest stop and were closing in on them. They wore dirty cutaway denim jackets and brandished pistols.

Vichy.

"Damn. Sorry. I guess I made the wrong call."

She reached down to the postal bag on the floor by the back seat - next to their stock of mylar napalm balloons and the canister of chemicals Carole had picked up from the town's water treatment plant - and came up with a s awed-off ten-gauge shotgun.

"Well, I was hoping this wouldn't happen, but at least we're prepared."

One of their pursuers raised a pistol and fired a round over the top of the Fai rlane.

"A warning shot across our bow," Lacey said. She worked the shotgun's pum p to chamber a shell. "Let's see how they like - "

Carole grabbed her arm. "Dear God, I just thought of something! What if the y shoot into the trunk?"

"Joe can handle a bullet or two, as we've already seen."

Her grip tightened. "I'm not worried about the bullets so much as the holes they'll make. The sunlight will come through and - "

"Shit!" Three good minds planning this trip and not one of them had thought of that.

Another shot - this one whined past Lacey's open window. She stuck her hea d out and waved her empty hand. The biker on the left grinned and pointe d toward the shoulder.

Lacey pulled back inside. "Pull over. But take your time. And when you thin k you're going slow enough, start putting the top down.

Carole looked at her. "Top down? Wh - ?"

"Can't explain now. And speaking of top down ..." She began pulling off her T-shirt.

"Lacey!"

"Just trust me."

She'd given up bras long ago. As the car decelerated, she released the roof catches and tucked the .45 into the postal bag. Then she climbed into the re ar. She laid the shotgun in the sling between the back seat and the roof com partment.

She began slipping out of her pants. She still liked to wear panties but she removed those too.

The roof started to rise. The wind swirling around her body felt good as sh e knelt on the back seat, gearing herself up for what was to come. One of t he Vichy, pistol at the ready, pulled his bike up along the driver side and looked in, probably checking out the number of occupants. When he saw Lace y his eyes went wide and he let out a whoop.

As he dropped back, Lacey said, "As soon as we stop, get out of the car and start yelling at me to put my clothes on."

"Why don't I start right now?"

"Listen to me. I want them to see that you're not armed - they'll for sure kno w I'm not. I want them off guard. So just act mad and like you think I'm cra zy."

"I'm sure I can handle that," Carole said.

The roof was three-quarters down when the car stopped. Lacey stood and th rew her arms wide.

"Guys! Am I glad to see youl Where the fuck you been hiding?"

The Vichy pair looked at each other, stopped their bikes half a dozen feet behi nd the car, and sat staring. Both still clutched their pistols.

"Not as glad as we are to see you, little lady," said the red-bearded one on t he left. "And I do mean see you."

He gave his buddy's arm a backhand slap and they both laughed.

Lacey heard the car door slam behind her and Carole's voice cry, "Lacey! You put your clothes on right this instant!"

"Who's she?" said the other one who'd twined his salt-and-pepper goatee into a triad of greasy braids.

"Just some lezbo I hooked up with."

Redbeard grinned. "Lezzie action. Awright!"

Braids set his kickstand and got off his bike. Lacey noticed he had PAGANS written across the back of his cutaway. She also noticed the bulge behind h is fly. Good. All that blood flowing away from his brain.

"Lezzie, huh?" He took a step toward Carole. "No such thing. She just ain't met the right man yet."

Oh, but she has, Lacey thought.

"Never mind her." Lacey crawled out on the trunk lid and seated herself cros s legged, giving the two Vichy a panoramic view. Braids suddenly lost intere st in Carole. "I'm the one in need of a little male tail, if you know what I'm saying. Been too damn long since I had a guy to do me right."

"Well then," Redbeard said, getting off his bike. He adjusted the bulge in hi s pants. "This is your lucky day. You get a double dose."

"Hey, I ain't got nothing against a three-way, but I need one guy to start me off right. You know, get me juiced up. Who's got the biggest dick? I want th e best-hung guy first."

"That'll be me," said Redbeard.

Braids snorted. "No fuckin way!"

Here was the tough part. She had to time this just right or the whole situat ion would go to hell in a heartbeat. Lacey clapped her hands and forced a gi ggle. "Oh, this is so cool! A cock fight! Show me! Show me! Show me! I'll be the judge! No-no, wait! I'll be the package inspector!"

Laughing, the two men holstered their pistols and began fumbling with their flies. With a shaking hand Lacey reached around, pulled the shotgun from the boot, and fired at Redbeard first. The recoil almost knocked her off the tr unk and into the back seat, but the blast took Redbeard full in the chest, s lamming him back through a halo of his blood and into his bike. Some of the scattering shot caught Braids in his arm and he spun half around, clawing at his pistol. Lacey regained her balance and her grip on the sawed-off. She q uick-pumped another shell into the chamber as she slid off the trunk to the ground, then pulled the trigger, catching Braids in the left side. His shoul der, neck and cheek exploded and he went down in a spray of red.

Lacey pumped one more shell of double-ought shot into each of them -  didn't want them talking to anyone - then took their guns. She tossed the shot gun and the new weapons onto the back seat.

"Men," she said, reaching for her clothing. Loathing welled up in her. "No wonder I gave up on them. They're such assholes."

She pulled on the panties and comfy pants first. As she was shrugging the Tshirt over her head she found Carole glaring at her.

"What?"

"You shouldn't have done that."

"Killed them? What was I sup - ?"

Carole shook her head. "You shouldn't have called me a lesbian. That wasn't right."

"It was just something to distract them, set little triple-X fantasies spooling through their heads."

Carole slipped back behind the wheel. "Still, just because I've forsworn m arriage doesn't mean I'm a lesbian. A vow of chastity means no sex with me n or women."

"I know that, Carole." She dropped back into the passenger seat and slamm ed the door. "Takes one to know one, and my gaydar doesn't so much as bee p with you."

Carole glanced at her. "You're... ?"

"Yeah."

"Does your uncle know?"

"Sure does. He doesn't like it but he accepts it. Too bad you aren't, Carole.

You're kinda cool."

Carole's face reddened as she put the car in gear.

Lacey laughed and gave the nun's shoulder a gentle punch. "Only kidding."

And she was. With the memory of Janey still so fresh and haunting, she coul dn't think of being with anyone else. Not yet.

"This isn't going to be a problem for you, is it?"

Carole shook her head. "The convent had its fair share. It was no secret beh ind the doors. They kept to themselves, and I kept my mouth shut. God will b e the final judge."

"I guess I have nothing to worry about then," Lacey said.

She turned and looked back at the two men sprawled in their pooling blood a nd felt nothing.

"Why don't I feel anything, Carole? You've killed your share of Vichy. Do you - ?

"I always got sick afterward - at least when I had to ... do it myself... by h and. But what you just did doesn't bother me so much. Perhaps because it was n't close work ... or because it was you doing it instead of me. I know they had to die but..." She sighed. "Nothing in my life prepared me for this, La cey. I was raised to be merciful - I'm a Sister of Mercy, after all - but I don't believe the undead or their collaborators deserve any mercy from us. I've decided to leave that to God. He can decide."

"Kill 'em all and let God sort 'em out. Right." Just how Lacey felt.

"Perhaps. Still... I can't ignore the fact that the Vichy are still human bei ngs. No matter what awful things they've done, they're still God's children, and I can't help thinking that if maybe someone had got to them early enough and showed them the grace of God's love, their lives would have been differen t."

Lacey shook her head. "Sorry. Can't buy that. Some people are just plain ev il. They're born bad and they stay bad all their lives. They're like termit es, undermining your house. There's no accommodating them, so if you don't want to wake up with your house reduced to sawdust, you exterminate them."

"That's what they are to you? Bugs?"

"Worse. Bugs don't have a choice in how they act."

Lacey knew she hadn't always been like this, but something started dying wi thin her when Janey had gone missing; her parents' empty, bloodstained hous e had pushed it closer to the grave; Uncle Joe dead with his throat torn op en had administered the coup de grace. She couldn't imagine herself feeling anything but murderous loathing for the creatures, human and inhuman, who'd been a part of all that.

Carole hit a switch and the top began to rise.

"Leave it down," Lacey said.

Carole looked at her. "I don't think that's a good idea."

"It is. Think about it. You heard Joe: All the females of childbearing age ha ve been trucked off to farms to be breeders. That leaves nothing for the cowb oys between their stud times at the farms. They're horny as all hell. If they see two women in an open car they'll be more likely to ask questions first a nd shoot later, don't you think?"

"You also said we'd be less likely to run into trouble on the Turnpike."

"That was just a guess. This is based on the fact that these guys - as the tw o back there on the ground prove - think with their dicks."

Carole closed her eyes for half a minute - Lacey couldn't tell if she was thin king or praying - then hit the roof switch. The top settled back into the boot.

"I hope you're right."

After that, Carole kept the pedal to the metal, hitting one-twenty on the long straightaways through the flatlands by Newark Airport. The still, silent airp ort streamed past to the left, the equally still railyards to the right. Like running through an industrial graveyard.

The big road remained eerily empty except for one other car, half a dozen la nes away, headed in the opposite direction. Whether friend or foe, Lacey cou ldn't tell.

Then the roadway lifted and the Manhattan skyline hove into view to the ri ght, pacing them as they raced along. The gap where the Trade Towers used to stand caused an ache in Lacey's chest. The hijackers and their victims were long gone, and now most of the survivors were probably gone as well.

And Islam ... Islam was gone too.

Good riddance. Lacey had no use for any religion, but she'd found Islam's treatment of women particularly offensive. A mongrel religion, cobbled fro m pieces of others and strung together by adolescent sex and power fantasi es. Good fucking riddance.

A lump built in her throat as she thought about what her city had suffered.

She'd thought nothing could be worse than the Trade Tower attack, but then the undead had come ...

A few minutes later they were passing through Union City. She saw t he weathered old sign, UNION CITY - EMBROIDERY CAPITAL OF THE WORLD, and shook her head. Union City wasn't embroidering a thing these da ys.

"I can't believe this," Lacey shouted over the wind whistling around and b etween them as they coasted down the Lincoln Tunnel helix. "We made it wit hout being hassled again."

Carole glanced at her watch and shook her head. "Forty-five minutes. That m ust be a record."

"And that includes the time we lost with those two motorcycle yo-yos. It's l ike everybody's on vacation."

"I think we might be able to take credit for some of that," Carole said. "Af ter what we did in the Post Office, I'll bet they've drawn their collaborato rs closer - doubling the guard and measures like that. The upside of that is a n easier trip getting here; the downside will be a much more difficult time accomplishing what we came here to do."

"Every silver lining has a cloud, right?"

Carole nodded as they threaded an E-ZPass lane and aimed for the tunnel's center tube. "Always."

Carole turned on the headlights as they entered the dark, arching maw, and just then a siren howled behind them. Lacey jumped in her seat and looked a round at the flashing red lights atop two blue-and-white units that had app eared out of nowhere.

"Police?" Carole said.

Lacey eyed the cars. First off, the NYPD was long gone. Second, the four sha ggy-headed silhouettes crammed into that first unit didn't look anything lik e cops. Probably an equal number in the unit beside it.

Eight Vichy. . . she doubted the tactics she'd used on the two bikers would f ly here. As if to emphasize that point, one of the occupants in the lead cop car held an assault pistol out a rear passenger window and fired a burst into the air. The bullets shattered some ceiling tiles and the pieces rained on t he cop car, denting the hood and cracking the windshield. Lacey spotted a fis t flying in the rear of the car. Someone wouldn't be trying that again.

The following unit pulled alongside the first, high beams flashing on and off. Lacey rose in her seat, exposing herself to the glare, and waved.

"What do we do?" Carole shouted over the roar of the wind, Her expression was tight.

"Your turn."

"My turn? For what?"

"To show a little titty."

"What?"

"Yeah. I did my part, now you do yours. I'll take the wheel and - "

"Not on your life! Just shoot at them. We don't have to worry about sunlight leaking into the trunk while we're in here."

Lacey thought of that assault pistol that had fired a moment ago, and wonde red if there were more of them in the units. She didn't stand a chance agai nst that sort of firepower. Then she looked down and saw the napalm balloon s.

"Slow down a little," she said as she crawled into the rear. "Here we go agai n."

She crouched on the back seat and pulled off her T-shirt, then she grabbed a napalm balloon in each hand.

"What are you doing?" Carole said.

"I'm about to play hide and seek. Just be ready to burn rubber when I tell yo u."

Could she get away with something like this again? If they were half as ho rny as she thought they were yeah. Maybe.

Taking a breath, she pressed a balloon over each breast, plastered a big grin on her face, then rose to her knees.

The left blue-and-white swerved as the driver hit the siren again and a cou ple of hands popped out the windows to wave the horn sign. The right unit d id the same.

She pulled the balloon off her left breast and held it high.

The sirens wailed again.

She bared her right breast and held that balloon aloft.

Another wail.

She tossed both balloons at the cars.

"Hit it!" she yelled as she dove for the seat.

The last thing she saw as the tires screeched and the Fairlane leaped forwar d was one balloon splattering harmlessly on the pavement and the other break ing against the grill of the right car. The front of the car exploded, rocke ting the hood toward the ceiling, and then Lacey was down, flat on the rear seat. The explosion kicked them from behind like a rear-end collision. A wav e of heat rolled over them for an instant before they left it behind.

Lacey peeked over the back of the rear seat in time to see the burning unit sidewipe its companion. The second bounced off the wall with a shower of spa rks, then slammed into the first as someone's gas tank exploded. The second car flipped then and landed against the first. Amid the agonized screech and groan of metal grinding against concrete and asphalt and tile, both slid to a halt across the tunnel roadway in a single, twisted, flaming mass.

Lacey shook her head. Wow. Powerful stuff.

She thought she saw something moving, a flaming man-shaped thing crawling out a window, but she couldn't be sure. Suddenly a third explosion rocke d the mass. The other gas tank, she guessed.

Lacey tugged her shirt back over her head and climbed up into the passenger seat.

"That's it! The last time I strip down for these animals."

"Let's hope so," Carole said. "By the way, that was an amazing piece of indi rection."

Was that a note of genuine admiration Lacey detected in her voice?

"Thank you. And my compliments to the chef on that napalm." Lacey pointed ah ead at the splotch of brightness ahead in the dark of the tiled gullet. "Loo k. The light at the end of the tunnel."

"More Vichy there?"

Lacey grabbed the shotgun. Her stomach crawled. How long could their luck last?

But to their amazement, the Manhattan side of the tunnel was deserted. Gas ping with relief, they swerved left and roared into the concrete box of an enclosed above-and-below-ground park-and-lock lot on 42nd Street.

BARRETT . . .

Neal kicked a piece of blackened metal from the wrecks and sent it spinnin g across the scorched pavement. He tugged on his beard.

"What the fuck?"

"What the fuck is right," Barrett said. "All seven guys gone. Just like that."

Franco was going to be pissed ... if he found out.

The relief crews had arrived on the Manhattan side at noon to find smoke bil lowing from the middle tube. They'd waited till it tapered off, then drove i nside. This was what they'd found.

Lights from the headlights of a couple of cars illuminated the twisted mess of metal. The ceiling and walls were scorched black for hundreds of feet in both directions.

"You think it was a hit?" Neal said.

"You mean like what happened at the Lakewood Post Office. I don't know. See any bullet holes?"

Neal shook his head. "Not a one."

Neither had Barrett.

Two carloads of cowboys reduced to crispy critters. It looked like one car ha d plowed into the other, smashing it against the side of the tunnel. Barrett visualized a bent side panel, showers of sparks, a gas cap tearing off, then kablam!

What had they been doing - drag racing through the tubes? Assholes. One car w as supposed to be stationed at each end of the tunnel, but this wouldn't be the first time they'd got bored and hung out together on the Jersey end. He'd caught them at it before and this was probably another instance. Most o f these guys had the attention span of a gnat.

"Well, without bullet holes in the cars - or what's left of them - how could it be a hit? Must have been an accident. Caused by terminal stupidity."

Barrett ground his teeth. He had to get out of this job. He had to take the ne xt step. Get turned. He'd go crazy if he had to spend another nine-plus years with these assholes.

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