Monday morning, Ciera had left on a prisoner transfer to Pittsburgh, a murder suspect, she’d said. “We dropped him off just fine and got a hotel for the night, planning on driving back Tuesday. I woke up close to noon with the most godawful headache I’ve ever had. I’ve had some crazy hangovers, but this was just nuts. And Workman, my partner, he was gone.”
I nodded and started relating how I’d found Kevin dead.
“No, I mean gone-gone. Like he’d taken the van and split.” She sat on the couch and started scratching Minion, who didn’t complain a bit. “I haven’t heard from him since. Tried calling him a couple of times that day but he was either ignoring me or…” She sniffled once, twice. “Tried calling my folks. We haven’t exactly been on good terms since I came out and it didn’t get any better once Hannah and I started dating. Couldn’t reach either one of them.”
I sat next to her and hugged her, unable to think of something more appropriate at the moment. “Where do they live?”
“Almost to Erie. At least I think so. Like I said, not exactly been on good terms. I don’t think I’ve talked to them in almost three years.” She sniffled again. “So after that, it’s just been me trying to get back here. The hotel was in Monroeville, just outside Pittsburgh. I walked down to their Police Department and found a couple of guys alive and still trying to keep order. It actually wasn’t that hard for them because so many people were—well, you know. They let me have one of their old patrol cars and I started heading this way. Got into a wreck just outside New Stanton. Came around a curve too fast and couldn’t stop in time for the cars that were already wrecked in front of me. My phone went flying out the window and shattered when it hit the ground, so I haven’t even been able to try and call Hannah.”
“I talked to her a couple of times Tuesday, then again Wednesday. She was going out of her mind trying to reach you.”
“I know the feeling,” she whispered. “It’s usually about a six-hour trip from here to Pittsburgh. Maybe six-and-a-half to the main jail where we do transfers. But it took me five freaking days to make it back here. It took me a day just to get beyond New Stanton. God, I need a cigarette.” She looked over at me. “You don’t smoke, do you?”
I shook my head.
She shrugged. “Hannah’s been after me to quit. I was going to quit when I finished this pack.” She scoffed. “She have anything else to say when you talked to her?”
“Not really. She was still trying to get in touch with you, her mother, and her other sister.” I told her what I’d learned in Gettysburg and mentioned that Hannah and Monica were helping each other out. We seemed to have the thought at the same time. “Monica.”
Monica’s apartment was in much worse shape, with several smears of blood on the wall, like someone with a cut hand was using the wall for support. The living room and kitchen were in disarray, but we didn’t see that much of her clothing was missing. That realization did not comfort us.
We straightened up the apartment while we talked about our next move. Staying here had its merits, but so did going back to Ciera’s apartment in Norristown, about twenty miles away. We decided to stay, mostly because Hannah’s place had two bedrooms, and if she had left voluntarily, it made sense that she’d come back here rather than go to Ciera’s place. We didn’t really talk about how long we’d be here but I hoped it wouldn’t be long.
We didn’t find Hannah’s phone or the gun Ciera had given her.
Three hours later, we were back at Hanna’s apartment, and fed. Along the way, we’d speculated about where Hannah and Monica were, where Karen and Ben might have gone, and what might have caused the die-off. By the time we finished dinner, we hadn’t really come up with any decent theories about anything.
We spent most of the rest of the evening surfing the web. The internet hummed along at a surprisingly busy pace. CNN didn’t seem to have much of anything on the air, but kept the website updated, as did the Associated Press. The federal government was still pretty much in shambles from what I read. With no one left in the normal presidential line of succession, the few surviving members of Congress were arguing about who the senior representative was and whether that person should automatically become Speaker of the House. The implication to that decision was that the Speaker of the House would, by default, become the next president. That was far beyond my pay grade and honestly, pretty low on my priority list. I wasn’t sure that the federal government needed to survive, at least not in the way it had existed before.
The main AP website had a summary of conditions that they had verified throughout the country with subheadings for each state and links to stories, where they had information to share. The Gulf coastal states were poorly represented in those sections.
Different states seemed to have been affected drastically differently. Populations in the Rockies and the Appalachian Mountains apparently had a higher survival rate than populations closer to sea level. That seemed to track along with my very limited observations. Most of the small towns I’d passed through in Texas, Louisiana, and parts of Missouri were pretty empty. But I had definitely noticed more people surviving the closer I gotten to Doylestown.
I looked over at Ciera. “So where do things stand as far as your job? Are you going to go back to work?”
She set her laptop aside and rubbed her face. “I don’t know much except I know I’m not going back to work until I find Hannah. Not as long as I know she’s alive.”
I told her what had happened in Jasper.
She shook her head. “Yeah, that kind of shit doesn’t surprise me. We’ve got some pretty sketchy people working in our jail too, and I can easily name four or five that might do something like that.”
“You even going to check in with them and let them know you’re alive?”
“Maybe.” She sniffled. “Haven’t decided yet. Not even sure who’s alive over there.” The day’s emotional roller coaster caught up to me a few minutes later, and I yawned. I left Ciera to her laptop, took Minion outside for a walk, then headed to bed.