“Not bad,” said Tim, standing in the foyer of one of the walk-off houses. “Smells a little musty, but I guess that’s to be expected.”
“It smells a lot better than the Kumar place did,” Kelly said. Their neighbors had driven off, leaving the house unlocked, but the smell from the powerless refrigerator was enough to drive anyone out. Cody rode home and came back with a hand truck; he and Tim rolled the refrigerator out back while the women opened windows in hopes it would air out before Charles and his companions arrived tomorrow. With evening coming on, getting Tim and Sara settled into each of the walk-off houses was now the priority.
Fortunately, the walk-offs had left their furniture behind, and the HOA had tidied everything up in hopes of a quick sale. Tim and Sara both had possessions they wanted to bring, including large quantities of canned goods, but everything fit on a bike trailer and was quickly moved inside each house.
“We should probably go house-to-house tomorrow,” Tim suggested. “Rescue any pets that are trapped inside, get perishable — perished — food out of the houses, maybe help ourselves to whatever people have left behind.”
“What if they come back for it?” Kelly asked.
“Honestly, Kelly — I don’t think anyone who drove off is ever going to come back.”
“How can you know that?” Kelly crossed her arms and glared at the redhead.
“Call it a hunch. But I’ll tell you what: maybe we can just take inventory for now. We won’t take anything that we don’t need right away, but we’ll keep a record so we can get it later if we need it. If people do come back, all we’ve done — for now — is rescue their pets and decontaminate their refrigerators. Fair enough?”
“Good, we’ll start tomorrow. We ’ll go in pairs: you and Sara, Cody and your mom — me and my .38.” He tugged the shoulder holster where he kept his revolver.
“Unless Cody wants to go with Sara,” Tina said. “Why pairs, though? There’s nobody else around.”
“Somebody might be holed up in their house,” Cody said. “My dad was talking about building a survival shelter in the basement, but he never got around to it. But if there’s nobody home, some of the bigger dogs might not be happy about visitors.”
“It’s been several days,” Sara said. “They might not starve to death, but what about water?”
“You know dogs,” Tim said. “They’ll drink out of the toilet. We’ll take bags of dog food with us; we can rip them open before we break in and strew it around if a dog comes at us — that should give us time to get the door shut.”
“They’ll make all kinds of racket anyway,” Kelly said. “I guess we can get started in the morning, but we’ll have to get some dog food first. The QuickFill has some, it’ll save us some time. Cat food, too — I’m sure there will be some cats looking for breakfast.”
“Right,” Tim said. “Okay, I guess we should head to our respective homes and get some sleep.”
“Unless anyone wants to play cards,” Sara said, brandishing a deck. “Five-handed Hearts, maybe?”
“Oooo, cutthroat,” Cody grinned. “Too bad Mom’s not here, she’s a shark at Hearts. Or was…” He looked down.
“I’ve played, but not five-handed,” Tim said. “How does that work?”
“Easy,” Sara told him. “Everyone gets ten cards, the last two go face down in the middle, and the first person to eat points gets them. Adds a little excitement to the game.”
“Maybe we should go back to my house for this?” Tina said. “We’ve got the generator hooked up.”
The generator was running, but the light over the dining room table was on the house wiring. Cody clipped the cord from the hanging fixture over the dining room table, pulled the fixture off the chain, then hung a trouble light in its place. He ran an extension cord from the power strip at the refrigerator and tacked a nail into the ceiling above it to keep the cord out of the way. “The rules are pretty simple,” he said while he worked. “Sara, deal the first hand while I’m doing this, okay? You pick three cards you don’t want and pass them to the person on your right, then pick up the three from the guy on your left. Two of Clubs leads the first trick, always. You have to follow suit that leads the trick, if you have it. If you don’t, you can throw anything you want, except you can’t drop a heart or the Queen of Spades on the first trick. You can’t lead Hearts until hearts are broken — that means someone’s taken a point card — or that’s all you’ve got in your hand. Each heart is one point, the Queen of Spades is thirteen points, and you want to avoid getting points. We’ll talk about running ’em once you guys get the hang of things.” He sat down, picked up his hand, and picked three cards to give to Tina before picking up Sara’s offering. “Ow. You and my mom would have got along pretty good.” He winced and sorted cards.
“And what am I supposed to do with these?” Tina griped. “I thought you were going to go easy on us the first time.”
“As if you gave me nice stuff,” Tim grinned.
“Maybe I can deal with this,” Kelly said. “These first couple of hands are just practice, right?”
“Sure,” Sara said. “Especially looking at what you gave me.”
“Deucy, deucy, who’s got the deucy?” Cody sang. The trouble light swayed gently, throwing strange shadows as they played.
Conversation with Tim Petro