Thursday, September 29, 2011
One by one, Cleve, Johnny, Sara, and Tim rolled up in front of Sunlover’s Solar. Cleve and Tim took up positions on either side of the strip building, covering Sara and Johnny as they pulled up. Sara was unarmed, at her insistence, but Johnny had his carbine slung over his shoulder. Morning was bright and warm, a perfect early fall day. As usual, a single white pickup whispered to them in the parking lot; others rolled north and south on Buford Highway. An overhang shaded the storefronts, but the sun reflected off the windows and doors of the trucks.
Sunlover’s had a small window; Sara peeked in and saw a few displays but no movement. She gave the door a try. “It’s locked.”
“Figures,” grumbled Johnny, watching the street. “The most important place we’ve looted so far, and the first one we’ll have to break into.” He stepped out to catch Cleve’s eye. “It’s locked, Cleve! Now what?”
“Johnny, come down here. Cover me while I check out the back door. Sara, go over to Tim’s corner and help him watch.” They split up.
Tim stood watching the driveway to the back; it was wide enough for a transfer truck. The next strip building squatted on the other side, uphill beyond a few shrubs in a four-foot landscaping island. Sara jogged to the corner.
“Watch my back,” Tim said.
“Above or below the belt?” she laughed.
He gave her a wary smile. “Good thing I didn’t tell you to watch behind me.”
“But that’s what you want, right?”
“Yeah.” She shifted to his side to watch the back lot.
After a quiet minute, Tim spoke: “You been doing okay?”
“Sure. I walked to my job at the Saver-Mart most days. Riding a bike’s a little different, but you get used to it.”
“Yeah. But I really meant, with all… all this.” He waved his hand at the street.
“Well, those trucks ain’t been what I wanted to look at the rest of my life, but I’ll get by. I’m keeping Ashley now, so I’m doing something useful. What about you?”
Tim sighed. “Has it really only been a week since I found Rebecca? It seems like a lot longer than that.”
“A crisis does funny things to time. That’s what my kin in New Orleans would say. They should know, they were there for Katrina.”
“Ow. I’m sorry.”
“Me too.” She put a hand on his arm.
“Thanks. You know? Maybe… it’s better this way. Sure, I’d rather she lived long enough for us to find her, but it would have been awkward, being around her all the time.”
“Oh yeah. We’d have been checking out each others’ new interests, and probably approving them. Or not.”
“Wow. ‘Up in each other’s bidness’ is what my family called that. That wouldn’t have gone well.”
“Tell me about it.”
Johnny poked his head around the corner in the back. “Hey! The back door was unlocked, we’re about to go in. Meet us up front, but Cleve said not to stand where anyone inside can see you from the window.”
“Okay!” Sara answered. “C’mon, Tim… Tim? What is it?”
“I… I could have sworn I just saw someone ride by on a bicycle.”
“Going north. On the other side of the road.” Tim pointed then walked down the storefronts, watching the street and in front of him.
“Did they see us?”
“I don’t think so. They didn’t look this way.”
“We’ll have to be careful going back, then,” Cleve said. They stood inside Sunlover’s, watching the traffic through the window while Sara looked at the displays.
“Eco-Mergency 2000,” Sara read aloud. “Portable power at home or away from home.”
“I don’t think they saw us down here,” Tim said. “He — I think it was a he — didn’t even look our way. He would have had to look over his shoulder to see me, anyway.”
“GridFree — When you’re ready to cut the cord, or when the cord isn’t long enough. Ha. Cute. Optional RV mount available.”
“So do we do anything different going back?” asked Johnny.
“I don’t guess so,” said Cleve. “We just have to be watching for places where someone could jump us.”
“Ask about our fall special: free delivery and 50% off installation. Hm. Sounds tempting. I bet they didn’t expect all their installers to drive off, though.”
“Looks like we’ll have to deliver them ourselves,” Tim said. “Nice displays. I guess the merchandise is out back?”
“Yeah. And I still can’t get outta the habit of flippin’ the switch,” Cleve grinned. “They must have one of their systems up on the roof, ’cause the lights actually came on. ’Bout gave me a heart attack!”
“You put down the doughnut, maybe you won’t get a heart attack,” Sara laughed.
“Babe, why you gotta go there?” Cleve grinned. “Nah. I think I’ve lost five pounds already, and it’s only been two weeks. The end of the world is gonna gimme back those fifteen years I was gonna lose!”
“Hey Cleve,” Tim said, still watching the window. “I just thought about this. Were any of you guys downtown smokers?”
“Damn… you know what? I don’t think any of us smoked. I used to, had to put ’em down at the end of ’08. I swore if we got a black president, I’d quit… and damn if it didn’t happen. Then the world had to go and end!”
“Stands to reason,” Johnny said, after the laughter died down. “The trucks would’ve ‘picked up’ on that right away. ‘Drive off, we got smokes.’”
“Picked up? Tell me you didn’t just say that!” Cleve fanned the air in front of his nose. “Y’know, we’ll never get this stuff loaded if we sit here shootin’ the breeze. We can do that at home. Johnny, you watch out front. We’ll bring the bikes around back and load up.”
“Beats liftin’ stuff,” Johnny laughed, patting the carbine. “You want me to shoot first and ask questions later?”