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Cayo Elina 28

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“He was stealing from us. I woke up and he was pawing through our stuff. Paul was just watching him do it. Stupid dog.” Elina tossed a chunk of meat down to Paul, who was sitting on the floor begging from her as she ate.

Gus had relayed her request to Max and by the time Elina had come down he had a plate of plantains, topped with strips of beef and hard grated cheese. Elina destroyed the first plate and demanded another. Max looked at Gus, only to be rebuked by Elina, who said she was fine, just hungry.

Max had coffee too, real stuff, hardly cut at all, he claimed it was genuine Folgers, but to Gus it had the taste of inexpertly roasted stuff they had been drinking since they arrived. ‘Of course my memories are two years old, maybe the ‘good stuff’ wasn’t as good as I remember.’

Elina had finally stopped wolfing down her food midway through the second plate, which she pushed between her and Gus. Both of them were picking at it periodically and feeding other choice bits to the dog.

Hector was at Gus’s back and behind him was Ricardo. Gus had filled Elina in on what had happened as she ate. She hadn’t yet commented directly on anything he had said, only arched her eyebrows when he mentioned Ramon’s visit and Gus’s plans to fly to the naval base in Pensacola.

“So it’s in Jacksonville, it’s still a good plan.” Gus said. Perry had modified Gus’s plan to fly to Pensacola, directing them instead to the much larger base in Jacksonville. “They have an airfield too, so we should be okay. Probably everyone will come out of this looking good. We fight off the Cubans, the Germans get home, Perry gets out of port. We relocated to Key West and we get to be heroes. The weak link is the helicopters. The maintenance has been, well, less than optimal.”

“So we might crash?”

“No, nothing that drastic. Perry is having them inspected; we might just take one, instead. Which will suck.”

“What do you see, Gus?”

Gus ducked his head, casually glancing around him before leaning in, “It’s complicated. There are a lot of variables and I can’t accurately piece things together yet.”

“Too many paths?”

Gus nodded, “And no one I really trust to watch my back as I travel down them.”

“I’m awake now. We could go back to the room…”

“How are you feeling?”

“Not so hungry, but you mean…inside?” When Gus nodded Elina continued, “I feel different. You ever swallow something wrong, like so it twisted your throat and made you ache?”

“I guess, yeah. Look, Elina, you don’t need analogies for me, I’ve lived through it.”

“I know, but I feel like there’s a pain in my chest that’s just not quite right yet. It hurts. What do you think Ramon’s angle is?”

“I think he bit off more than he could chew. I think he was going to screw us and leave us for dead. I think he realized we may be against him, but we’re familiar enemies and the Cubans….they aren’t manageable or familiar.”

“You’re giving him a lot of credit. I’d fucking rip his head off.”

Gus pulled back from her, surprised at Elina’s choice of words. “That’s pretty harsh from you.”

“My eyes have opened too, Gus. I thought we were pretty stable down there, safe even. But we get fifty miles away and I find out there’s not one, but three competing factions who are planning to deal with us after they deal with each other.”

“Three?” Gus asked, slightly confused.

“Oh c’mon, Gus! We got the zombies, the Cubans and the old U.S. Navy! And from what Ricardo says there may be more than one faction of zombies too.”

Ricardo leaded out from the bar and nodded, “True, Phil’s faction is small fry compared to those further north or west.”

“But, but…” Sputtered Gus, “You can’t count Perry as a faction, he wouldn’t…” Gus stopped, realizing that indeed Perry might deal with the island after the other threats were taken care of. “But we’re citizens! He’d have to support us!”

Ricardo gave Gus a pitying look and then sauntered off to stand by the beach door.

“I’m not that naïve!” Gus called to his back.

Glancing over his shoulder Ricardo said, “Naïve? No, you’re just a hick from the island dealing with the big city people, boy. What do you expect? Everyone thinks you’re easy to manipulate and so far we’ve been right.”

Blood rushed to Gus’s face and Elina placed a warning palm on his arm, “He’s baiting you and fighting about it won’t make him wrong. Everybody here wants something. We can be kingmakers.”

“We can?”

“They all want us, they do and if they can’t have us, they want us dead so no one else can have us. They’ll keep you running so you can’t glance ahead to see what’s coming at us and we have to be smarter than that.”

“I still can’t believe that Perry…”

“You shoulda heard him.” Ricardo’s voice cut across the empty bar.

“What?”

“When I was there, getting worked on. You shoulda heard him talking. He was hoping you’d help him out, come up with a plan that could work. You think they hadn’t thought about going up the coast before? Oh, maybe not to help the German’s out, but that base has weapons and maybe a ship or two that could be salvaged…if it weren’t for all the zombies running around. Phil wouldn’t help him, I thought about it, but I know my limits with the more powerful dead up that way. No, Gus, Phil has been planning to use you since he heard you were in town. Which was the same night I dropped you off, because I told him myself.”

“Geezus, I am a rube from the country.”

“No, you’re not. You just think the best of people. Besides, we both know that of all the people involved in this mess, if any of them will help us, it will be Perry. The Cubans just want us out of the way, same with the zeds. Perry, he probably has another agenda that we don’t know about, but even I don’t think he’d go out of his way to screw us over.” Elina said.

“So what do we do now?” Gus asked

“We go back to the room. You settle down for a long period of meditation. Then you answer your own question about what we’re going to do.” Elina said.

Hector spoke from behind Gus, “I’ll watch outside your door to make sure nobody bothers you.”

“Maybe Max can give us a different room? So we don’t have to clean the old one up?” Elina asked as Max mopped up the spotless bar a few feet from them.

Scowling, Max said, “Sure, nothing Ann Marie likes more than cleaning piss and shit off of the sheets. I’ll put you three doors down from where you are now.”

When the arrangements were made and their possessions moved Gus and Elina went inside their new room. Hector had been playing with Paul, getting the dog to fetch and sit and beg, so when the other two went inside the dog stayed outside with him. “He’s trained or something.” Hector told them, “Probably a guard dog too.”

“Just a family mutt.” Gus said under his breath as they went inside the new room. It smelled like smoke and old flowers.

“Where do you want to do this?” Elina asked.

Gus pulled the chair out from the small desk near the window. Sitting down he leaned back and then got up and pulled the chair close to the bed, this time when he sat down he put his feet up on the bed. Closing his eyes he said, “You know, I really thought things would be different.”

“It’s like fishing, you never know what you’ll pull out of the sea.”

Gus snorted his disagreement. “I should know.”

“You’re not God.”

Pulling out his worn notebook Gus set it down beside him on the table.

“What’s that for anyway? I thought you had a grand plan for it?”

“I do. I’ll tell ya when I get back.”

“Good luck, Moley.”

Gus travelled into the future.

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