Cayo Elina 13
Ricardo kept his face on the road ahead of them as he spoke, a quality Elina found rather peculiar. “So, why are you heading to Miami?”
Eyes never leaving the road he answered, “I’m bringing up the weekly information from Key West.”
“You’ve found a nicer truck.”
“Yeah. I can’t drive the one from Key West up here, the highway is out. Mostly. Did you see that we’re fixing it?”
Elina shook her head, in the bed behind them Paul whined and Gus made soothing sounds that they could barely hear through the window.
“I’m kinda surprised you didn’t see it. We’ve got a crane and everything out there. Guys working around the clock to restore the road.”
“Why bother? Some yahoo will just take it down again. The whole bridge is going to collapse sooner or later anyway. The Florida Department of Transportation isn’t exactly working anymore.”
“Not like it used to, but good roads are, well, important. We’ve got highway 1 cleaned up almost all the way to Miami and north of there up the coast for a ways too.”
“Why not all the way through Miami?”
“It’s…contested. We’ve got Cubans, old USA Navy, even some Germans running around up there now.”
“Germans? You’ve got to be kidding me.”
Ricardo shook his head, “No. They’re German Navy, they were station in Djibouti, that’s on the horn of Africa. They were part of the United Nations effort to cut down on piracy in the Gulf of Aden and up and down the east coast of Africa. They couldn’t get home, the Suez was blockaded, so they sailed around the tip and ran into trouble. They ended up in Brazil, don’t ask me why, I don’t know, but they said something about good relations between their two countries. You know South America is about as bad as it gets now, don’t you? I mean, other than Asia. The whole world is a cakewalk compared to Asia. Anyway, their frigate was damaged coming around the horn, a fucking suicide bomber, like the USS Cole. Can you believe that? I mean, the world is going to shit and some fanatics can only think of killing the people who might actually be able to help.”
Elina shook her head, “This is a pretty long explanation for a short question.”
“Hey, I’m giving you a ride, so you have to listen to my stories, it’s part of the deal.”
“Absolutely. So, their ship has a huge hole in it, their crew is demoralized and, apparently they had to kill a lot of guys in tugboats after the initial explosion. They weren’t too sure the tugboats were bombers too or if they were just coming to help, but they couldn’t take any chances. Brazil was the next most friendly port with good facilities, but they didn’t get much help there. So they moved up the coast, trying to port hop and find some place they could put in for the repairs they need. They ended up in Puerto Rico, where their ship is in a naval base there.”
Elina interrupted him, “Puerto Rico? What about the zombies?”
Ricardo stared at her.
He smiled and continued, “Zed-free, or so they say. But by the time the Germans got there the ship was having engine problems as well. These new ships all need regular maintenance and finding the people who can do it is only getting more difficult. You know the Cubans have launched a few sail boats?”
“Yeah, we ran into one halfway up the coast, which is why we hitched a ride with you.”
“Their ships are slower, but the way things are going.” Ricardo shrugged his shoulders. “So the navy, our navy, gave some of the crew a lift up to Miami to look for the parts they need. Plenty of ships around there, even now.”
“What about Pensacola? The navy had a whole shipyard up there.”
“Can’t say about that. The Germans are in Miami. I’d guess if the navy still had Pensacola, they wouldn’t have dropped them here though.”
They rode in silence for a little ways, then Elina said, “How’d the Cubans get their ships built so fast?”
Ricardo shrugged, “What am I? An investigative reporter? I don’t know anything about ship building and I don’t know much about the Cubans. Other than they are a pain in the ass. If anyone takes out the bridge, it will be them. I think they want it intact too, but for that they need people.”
“Living, guys like you. It’s a small island, if you go invading an entire continent you’re gonna need a lot of people to hold it.”
“Makes me wonder why anyone is bothering. It seems that there is plenty of space around for everyone now.”
Laughing Ricardo said, “Darlin’, there’s the same amount of people, just some of us have changed.” He quieted down and said in a softer voice. “You know, I know who you are.”
“I didn’t hide it.”
“No, I knew when I ran into you in Key West.”
He shook his head and gazed at the road for a moment before saying, “There’s a lot of people on my side who are worried you will join a ‘living coalition’ and band with the Cubans to fight us out of Florida. A lot of zombies who wouldn’t mind making a deal with you for peace or…eliminating you.”
Elina let out a sharp bark of a laugh, “Hah! Well I can assure you of two things, first there is no love for the Cubans where I come from, they killed more of us than you zeds did. Second, anyone coming to ‘eliminate’ me had better mean it, I won’t give them a second chance and if they don’t get the job done the entire island will always be against them.”
“And we’ve seen how those fights go. Ya’ll are bastards when your backs are to the wall.”
Nodding Elina said, “But, again, why fight? Why don’t your boys move up the coast, leave Southern Florida to the Cubans. Like you said, they can’t take much ground anyway.”
“Nothing is ever that easy, there are other factions pressing against us, hemming us in, forcing us south.”
“Maybe we could all join forces to push them back, then you zeds can move north and leave us all alone.”
Both of them stared at each other for a moment then started laughing. Elina had to wipe away a few tears before she could speak again. “Oh, that was good. It’ll never happen. I have to tell you Ricardo, the island would probably be willing to give you assurances we won’t join the Cubans if agree to stop trying to invade us.”
Ricardo shook his head, “It’s not that simple. From what you’ve said you aren’t in a position to join them anyway. Plus we stopped trying to invade you months ago.”
Elina gave him a look that he couldn’t read.
“What?” Ricardo asked.
“You stopped months ago? Maybe some of your boys didn’t get the memo. Three days ago a half dozen zombie landed on the island. As a direct result of that, I’m sitting in this truck talking to you right now.”
“Really? Tell me what happened.”
Elina gave him a brief summary of the last few days, she didn’t see any reason to leave out anything other than their defensive preparation and positions on the island.
Ricardo whistled after he heard her. “No doubt about it, that boat had to come from Key West. Three days ago it was kinda stormy out, wasn’t it?”
“No way a boat the size you mentioned could have made the trip from the mainland. That means we have traitors on Key West…except I’m not too far from the top in the chain of command there and I haven’t heard of anyone missing.”
“Let me get this straight, you, the errand boy running reports up to Miami, are pretty close to the top in the chain of command?”
Ricardo shrugged, “It’s a cush job, I like to get out and this way we don’t have to monitor a courier all the way up the coast to make sure they arrive. Rank has its privileges.”
“You really keep track of zombies who go missing?”
“Not the stupid ones, but we keep the stupid ones locked up in Key West, we only bring them out when we need cheap muscle or defend the place. Yeah, we keep a good eye on the smarter ones, if they go missing we know we have a problem.”
“How many smart ones are in Key West?” Elina tried to make the question nonchalant, but Ricardo only grinned and shook his head.
“Nice try, but we ain’t that good of friends yet. Let’s just say there are enough of us to keep you folks from coming in and taking the place from us.”
“Why would we want to?” Elina asked, genuinely confused.
“You mean you don’t? C’mon, I’m not an idiot, you can’t be living large down there, you need the space.”
“Key West? It’s a dump! It’s been bombed, looted and destroyed. Even if we needed living space I don’t think that would be an improvement.”
“Shoot.” Ricardo sounded disappointed.
“Well, one of the things the leader was thinking of offering you for staying out of the fight was…Key West.”
Elina looked at Ricardo, thoughts were running through her mind quickly, thinking of the space and why the zombies would make such an offer. Eventually she shook her head, “We couldn’t defend it.”
“You could, if you had more people. Like say, the humans from Miami.”
“There was more to the offer, wasn’t there?”
“I’ve probably said enough to be killed for traitor already, but I think I’ll stop there in case I’m wrong. Can I tell them that you were cautiously interested?”
“And I thought I was just hitching a ride to Miami.”
“I’ll take that as a yes, one diplomat to another. Shake on it?” Ricardo held his hand out to Elina across the bench seat.
She reached over and shook it. “Yeah, I have to think to the future, we can’t stay on that key forever, the first hurricane that hit us would wipe us out.”
“Certain zombies have been praying for just such a disaster, it’d clear up the Cayo Elina problem for us without getting our hands dirty.”
“Dirtier, you mean.”
“Yours ain’t clean anymore either, sister.”
They had arrived on the outskirts of Florida City and Ricardo slid open the window to the back of the truck, “You might want to get down below the bed walls there, Gus. Snipers.”
“Seriously?” Elina asked.
“There is a war on, even if Miami is sort of neutral ground right now. For the next few miles the highway passes through some rough areas. It wouldn’t hurt you to hunker down too luv.” Ricardo reached into the green rucksack sitting on the floor in front of his seat and came up with an Army helmet, with one hand he pulled it on and then used his legs to hold the steering wheel while he buckled the straps on with his hands. Elina reached across and held the steering wheel steady.
“I coulda held the wheel!”
“Sorry, I shoulda asked. Now, really, down.”
Elina slunk downwards in her seat and before she could wonder how long it would be before any started shooting at her the windshield shattered under a volley of gunfire.
Ricardo pressed the gas and the truck lunged forward, accelerating through the ‘kill box’ of the snipers had set up.
“Don’t worry, once we get to the 821 exchange we should be safe, that’s only a mile or so up ahead, last time I was here it was a no-fire zone.”
There were a few more shots fired, one of which passed through the passenger side door and through the floor board next to Elina’s leg. She looked pointedly at the holes in the truck.
“What? Like I can do anything about it. These are YOUR people, not mine. Toll road ahead, hang on, they have some sort of crap on the road.”
The truck lurched sideways and then barreled over something in the road. Then the ride became smoother and Ricardo said, “Okay, that wasn’t so bad, check on your friend and pet.”
“Not my pet.” Elina grumbled, pulling herself up so she could poke her head back and see Gus through the rear window.
“You two okay back there?”
“Got shot, upper arm, no problem, but I need a new shirt. Paul’s okay.”
“Yeah, he’s just scared is all.”
“No, I mean that you’re okay!”
“Yeah, just another day.” Gus pulled his shirt sleeve up and exposed a crusted over wound in the muscle of his left arm, he brushed the dried blood and it fell off, revealing a fading scar. “See? No problem.”
Elina pulled back into the cab, “He’s fine.”
“I heard. Shrugging off gunshots now.” Ricardo shook his head, “I know I do it.” He tapped the top of his head, “Except for anything that hits my noggin, of course. But to have regular humans be so blasé about it is just weird.”
“We’re all super heroes now. Except for the super villians.”
“If only that were true. Don’t forget the little people, there are a lot of them here, it’s like they all fled the rest of Florida and ended up in the worst possible place. I don’t even know how they feed themselves.”
“Well, I’ll investigate that mystery and get back to you. You can let us out here, I guess, one spot is as good as another.”
“By the side of the road? We aren’t even in Miami yet. Besides I have just the place to take you, you’ll like it. It’s in Miami Beach.”
“Then I probably can’t afford it.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure, you’ve got some capital, coming from where you do.”
“I’m going to try keeping a low profile. Besides, it’s not like the Council issued me some official paperwork or anything.”
“You are the council, from what I hear, anything you jot down will be official. The place I’m taking you can set you up with paper so you can create something official looking.”
“As long as the place isn’t run by zeds, I don’t think I could sleep well somewhere like that.”
Ricardo’s face took on a crushed look, “So wouldn’t crash at my place?”
Elina laughed and said, “We aren’t that good of friends yet.”
“Well, I got things to do myself, but where I’m going in Miami Beach too, so dropping you off won’t be out of my way.”
“Thanks. For the ride, for the information. For your help.”
“I’m just trying to create some inter-species harmony.”
“I’m not stupid enough to think you don’t have your own agenda, but I suspect you’ve gone out of your way, if not with the ride, then by giving me the information you have.”
“Well, by that same token I have to thank you as well. It’s been an interesting ride Elina. Let’s just not get all ‘thankful’ and leave each other without any acknowledgement of debts or gratitude.”
‘He’s a strange one.’ Elina thought to herself, but she answered, “Fair enough. But thanks anyway.”
Ricardo snorted and drove them to Miami Beach without any other problems. There were no checkpoints to pass through and Elina was surprised at how clean the city looked. The road even appeared to have had some repairs made to them recently. And there were people. Living people, especially in Miami Beach. Elina even spotted a kid, a boy running down the street. He quickly ducked into an open doorway out of sight, but it was the first child Elina had seen in…well over a year.
She whispered, “I thought they were all dead.”
“Hm?” Ricardo grunted, “The kids? Yeah, surprised me too. I’ve even seen a toddler or two, obviously born after Z-day. Don’t be confused though, they are all dead. If they stay here, they’re dead. Don’t forget that.”
“What do mean?”
“We’ll talk later. I’ve got my superiors in my head now, and can’t say anything more. Here we are.” Ricardo stopped his truck in the middle of the street and pointed to the left. “Stay there, you can’t go wrong.”
The street they were on had three story structures on one side with the main beach on the other, the water was barely visible from the road and straight ahead of where they were the buildings began to rise into a concrete jungle on either side of the street. The area they were end seemed to be a demarcation of the old section of town where it ran into the modern. There were lights. The smell of food wafted out of several of the buildings and clusters of people, most of them carrying weapons of some sort, were gathered around food carts on the beach side of the street.
The three story structure they were stopped in front of was white with four square columns supporting arches in front of the main entrance. Above a narrow balcony was a sign proclaiming the place to be “Max’s Café American.”