Jamie walked back to her motorcycle, smiling wider than expected. She’d been able to salvage a can of gasoline from all the cars, dealing with another two zombies at range with her bow, before making the find of the century: an ambulance.
Intact and still locked, she’d busted in the window to get to the back, where she found several bottles of aspirin, basic antibiotics, and Percocet, along with a host of other drugs that she could trade for back at town. She’d filled a blood-stained backpack with her ill-gotten gains before slinging it over her shoulders. The walk back had left her time to pick through the cars for anything of use, searching vehicles full of the stench of death and rot. She found a variety of knives and survival gear, along with boxes of ammunition.
She didn’t use a gun, preferring the silence her bow would deliver when making a kill shot, but she knew men and women who ate through ammo faster than they did food. The backpack, heavy with supplies, fit beneath the seat of her motorcycle, granting her the ability to drive unhindered. Pulling a buck-knife she’d liberated from the skeleton of what had to have been a hunter in life, she revved her motorcycle's engine before speeding off down the highway, opposite the crowded turnpike.
Turning off at the exit towards Babcock, Jamie argued with herself on whether she should go to Three Colleges before crashing for the night. With what she had for trade, she could guarantee a place to stay with one of her many girlfriends. But she’d have to stay overnight, as the dead grew more active once the sun went down. And she’d have to watch out for hungry vagabonds and thieves if she were to stay in town. Not that she was worried about her bike; the Military Police there would recognize it in an instant.
No, she was worried about whoever she stayed with getting robbed.
The people of the town had made many overtures at Jamie to stay there, to go out and fetch supplies for them with their groups so they all could benefit. But she saw how the people lived in squalor while the Commander took hot showers three times a week. She saw the healthy MP’s reporting in for their immunizations and check-ups while women died during childbirth.
The world had gone dark in more ways than one. Jamie knew of four towns in the greater San Antonio area, the closest being the one she traded with the most. None of them knew of her nest in the Barnes & Noble at the mall, not even her lovers. Some of them often pressed her to stay, saying they would take care of her. These were invariably the men who thought of Jamie as a defenseless little girl.
She humored them mostly because they were attractive, but dumped them once they got “clingy”. No, the ones she really cared for were her girlfriends.
At Three Colleges she had a girlfriend with a little boy who she’d taken a shine to. Jessica, the boy’s mother, was a young black woman in her mid-twenties who worked on cars and other “machines of the past”. Despite the death of the modern world, people were dragging what they could out, using vehicles and generators sparingly. The Riverwalk in downtown San Antonio had rigged several hydro generators, using the slow-moving water for power.
Jamie would trade with them if they weren’t so oppressive about check-ups for all inbound traffic. Three Colleges was based on an old biker bar, which served as the town hall and tavern, several additions to the old building making it to where travelers could rent rooms. Seeing as they were the only fortified city off a highway, they saw fifteen to twenty survivors a week, not counting Jamie.
Slowing down as she approached the gates in front of the wooden wall that surrounded Three Colleges, she felt the glare of a dozen eyes roam over her, searching for any sign of infection.
“It’s me,” Jamie called out, causing a few crows to fly away from the sudden noise. “I’m coming in for the night, have some stuff for trade. Good stuff.”
A lantern lit up, the sudden flare of dark light catching on the dung held in the glass contraption illuminating a face, one that was frowning. Jamie internally groaned but kept her mask on. Quiet words were exchanged from the tower overlooking the area and the groan of wood could be heard, someone descending the stairs slowly as the gates opened, four MP’s dressed in camouflage with crossbows rushing out to surround her.
Jamie knew the drill and put her hands behind her head as she swung her leg over her motorcycle. One MP, a younger white guy with a buzz cut, stepped up.
“You have any hidden weapons on you?” He asked, trying to sound authoritative. His scratchy voice betrayed how nervous he was.
She had a reputation.
“Just a buck knife strapped to my forearm, inside my jacket. Do you want me to pull it out for you to inspect?” She asked, knowing he would take the time they didn’t have to ask the question.
“Um, yeah. Yeah, hand it over.” He said after thinking.
Slowly, she rolled back her sleeve and pulled the eight inches of stainless steel off her forearm, offering it to the young soldier with the handle facing him. He looked in her eyes before taking the knife, studying it as if it were an alien artifact.
“This is where you pat me down to make sure I have nothing else and that I haven’t been bitten,” Jamie said, bringing the attention back to her lithe frame. Her tight jeans hugged her body tightly, guaranteeing that there were no weapons hidden in there. Still, Buzz Cut stepped up, lowering his crossbow to begin patting her down. He spent a little time lingering on the sides of her chest and the curve of her ass, but he walked back and nodded to someone up in the tower. He handed her knife back silently, eyes locked on her as she re-sheathed it.
“Stand down,” Ordered a raspy voice as a plume of smoke floated into the light. “Let her in so she can show us what she offers, hmmm?”
Jamie took her motorcycle by the handles and walked it through the gate and into the bustling town. They paved the roads with small one-room huts built from scrap wood and old doors sitting at every corner. Corrugated tin walls held the roofs, thatched material from the thick grass that grew around the town, up at an angle, allowing for a chimney to be present in every home. Ever since the Darkness, the winters had become longer and harsher, the normally warm clime of Southern Texas succumbing to the chill brought on by nightfall.
Several people were walking around, two men carrying a sheet of recently hammered metal to brace the wall with by the looks of things. One soldier held a harsh expression on his face, arms crossed over his broad chest, revealing a faded hawk tattoo on his right forearm. Jamie walked up to him and plastered on a fake smile.
“Good to see you, Lieutenant,” she greeted. He merely narrowed his eyes further before turning and walking off, shouting orders for his soldiers to get back to their posts.
“Nice to see you too…” Jamie muttered as she wheeled her motorcycle over to the machinist shop, where a pert bottom was sticking out from under the hood of a Jeep. Feeling playful, Jamie reached out and slapped the woman on the ass, earning a curse as the woman banged her head on the hood in surprise.
“Martinez, you sexist piece of shit, what have I-,” Jessica said, a handkerchief covering her head and wrapped around her neck to catch the sweat she was accumulating from working over the heavy engines. “Jamie? Jamie, is that really you?”
“Who is Martinez? Do I need to have a talk with him about going after my woman?” Jamie laughed, crossing her arms.
“Oh, c’mere you!” Jessica threw herself into Jamie’s arms, both laughing before their lips crashed together, tongues wrestling for dominance as Jamie allowed her hand to wander to pinch Jessica’s rear, earning a surprised squeak from the woman and allowing Jamie a chance to breathe.
“Where’ve you been? I know, I know… you won’t tell me. But it’s been five weeks since I last saw you, what took you so long from coming back? Amy has been a mess worrying about you and Zack has been asking for you too.”
Zack, Jessica’s son, often referred to Jamie as “Mommy Three” as Jessica and Amy were in a steady relationship, one that Jamie occasionally barged in on for a few days’ worth of lust-driven urges, family feelings, and time spent just being around loved ones.
“Well, I’ve been busy scavenging, as always, and the pickings have been slim. Riverwalk held off a siege of the undead about a week ago, when I was there. Must have been three hundred of the fuckers, all hammering on the walls to get in.”
“Oh my god… Are you all right? I mean obviously, you’re all right, they let you in, but do you need to talk or anything?” Jessica gasped. “Stop by the smithy, Amy is busy fixing some farm equipment over there. She’ll flip if the first she hears from you is when you show up at dinner tonight.”
“I have to see Brandon first,” Jamie said, earning a chuckle from Jessica.
“Invite him over too, we can send Zack to the neighbors for a night so we can all have some alone time.” Jessica waggled her eyebrows.
Jamie laughed, blushing faintly at the mention of what the four got up to when the doors were closed. “I’ll pass along the message. You know where he is?”
Jessica shrugged. “The MP’s have him working over their soldiers all the time. Seems they can’t go a day without one of them getting hurt. I know whenever he comes over all he does is talk about stitching someone up, at least before Amy and I tackle him.”
“You two are incorrigible,” Jamie laughed as she walked out to her motorcycle, opening one of the side bags. Fishing out a teddy bear, she tossed it to Jessica, who merely looked at it curiously. “It’s for Zack. I noticed his last one was getting kind of worn out.
Figured you could give it to him as a surprise, make it a little more special.”
“Oh… thank you,” Jessica said, holding a hand over her heart. “I’m sure he’ll love it. He’s in school now, but they finish at dusk, so he should be home before the sun is down.”
“Nice. Now onto business,” Jamie said, waving over her motorcycle. “I need you to give me a tune up. I plan on making some rough rides in the coming weeks and need my girl working perfectly!”
“That’ll cost you,” Jessica said, grabbing a rag to wipe down her hands. “We don’t have a lot of spare parts, and what we do have the MP’s are pressuring us to turn over.”
Jamie frowned. “Sounds like the MP’s aren’t acting in your best interests nowadays… how hard are they leaning?”
Jessica rubbed her arm while looking at anything but Jamie. “Um, hard, I guess. Mike has already sold them a lot of our lot as is, but they’re claiming that they need more so that they can do excursions on their own instead of relying on scavengers like…”
“… like me, yeah I got it.” Jamie sighed. Before lifting the seat of her bike to retrieve the backpack. “Listen, you do me this solid and I’ll see about getting you into a different town, one not run by MP’s.”
“You mean it?” Jessica asked, looking at Jamie with a gimlet eye. “You know that I come as a package deal with Amy and Brandon, right?”
Jamie leaned forward and kissed Jessica on the cheek. “Wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m on good terms with Riverwalk, and they have a more caring attitude towards the little people if you catch my drift. Stringent on health checks, but they’re always looking for new folks to help with their numbers.”
“That sounds wonderful,” Jessica said.
Jamie hoisted the bag on her shoulders and waved at Jessica. “I’ll see you tonight, ‘k?”
Jessica was already bent down examining the bike, her eyes focused on the assembly. She waved Jamie off with a promise of dinner later. Jamie rolled her eyes and made her way towards the tavern just as the rain drizzled down, an ominous roll of thunder giving Jamie goose pimples. She shook them off and walked up to the door of the tavern, opening it up with a tug.
The inside was lit by the foul-smelling animal dung lanterns so prevalent in Three Colleges, with twenty odd farmers already seated at the long tables that had decorated the establishment before the Darkness. The long wall of coolers held nothing but dry goods now, and the occasional harvest that the town had. There were countless bags of peanuts, all held in mesh bagging designed for potatoes. Further down canned goods could be seen, and a clipboard detailing what they had in stock and when it was taken.
Something the MP’s had insisted on having.
Jamie walked up to the bar where the snow-capped, ruddy–faced old man who owned the place stood talking with one farmer, laughing at a joke he just told. Old Stewie’s eyes moved from the farmer to Jamie, widening as he took in the sight of her.
“Jamie! Who told your sorry hide that you could come slinkin’ back into my bar again?” He demanded, his voice even. “Last time you were here you put three men in the infirmary!”
“Eh, you know how it gets Stew,” Jamie shrugged, knowing all eyes were on her now, “those guys were pigs who wouldn’t take no for an answer, ya catch my drift?”
Stewie stared hard at Jamie for a few moments before cracking a smile. “Yeah, they were drifter scum. How ya been, Jamie?”
Jamie accepted the awkward hug over the counter from the older man before slinging the backpack onto the counter. “I’ve been busy! Got plenty to trade, assuming you can cover what I offer.”
“We’ll see about that,” Stewie said with a smile, pouring short glass mug full of amber liquid. “Here, try the newest batch, fresh from the tank.”
Jamie lifted her glass to Stewie before sipping at the foamy mixture. Hoppy yet sweet… she kind of liked it. “Not bad. How much of it do you have?”
“Barrels. The Covey’s have taken to brewing instead of taking up an honest job. Means my tavern has more to sell then mead and watered down ale, though the MP’s aren’t too pleased with them.”
“Oh yeah?” Jamie prompted, leaning on the counter while sipping her drink.
“Yeah, they cut the Covey’s rations in half to persuade them to work an honest job,” Stewie rolled his eyes. “Half of the recruits are in here every night enjoying the fruits of their labor, one would think they were providing a vital service.”
“So, the MP’s control the food now?” Jamie asked, quietly looking around the tavern, which had fallen silent at her question. The gathered farmers, mainly a group of older men with a few kids amongst them, stared at her with grim glares. “What else are they sinking their talons into?”
“Now Jamie, I don’t want to have it getting out that I’m badmouthing the MPs…” Stewie held up his hands.
Sipping down the last of her drink, she slammed the glass on the counter and laughed.
“You’re right!” She exclaimed before unzipping her backpack. “Let’s barter, shall we?”