Fighting the Dead:The Last Town #4

By: Stephen Knight

Max Booker didn’t have time to even do a face palm before Hector Aguilar exploded.

“Everyone needs to learn how to shoot?” the pharmacy owner said, his eyes wide and incredulous behind his glasses. “What lunacy are you talking about? This is a town full of people, not jack-booted thugs!”

Corbett stood before the council table in the meeting room, hands in his pockets. He wore jeans and a long polo shirt. He favored Hector with a frosty glare before he pulled his right hand out of his pocket. Booker thought for a brief moment that he might pull his .45—Booker knew the man was armed, had seen the tell-tale bulge of a big pistol tucked into a holster in the small of his back—but instead, Corbett merely pushed his own glasses up his nose.

“The dead apparently need a very specific injury in order to stop attacking,” the billionaire said. “That is, a shot to the head. Anywhere else doesn’t bother them. Might slow them down some, but won’t stop them. Head shots are the only guaranteed way to put them down for the count. Sounds easy, but it’s not, especially if the shooter is under stress, in an uncomfortable position, and isn’t properly trained.”

Hector laughed. It was an unpleasant sound. “So you think that arming the people and training them to kill is the answer?” He laughed again. “My God, you are a lunatic. Tell him, Chief.”

Chief Grady stirred a bit at the end of the table. “Mister Corbett, I understand what you’re saying, but I’m not sure that a lot of our people are qualified or able to handle firearms.”

Corbett’s face swiveled to lock onto Grady like a turret on a battleship locking onto a target. “The Second Amendment doesn’t seem to cover that particular detail, Chief.”

“That’s not the point!” Hector almost shouted. “This is a peaceful place to live, and you want to turn it into a right-wing police state!”

“Chief, I think the answers regarding who can or cannot possess a firearm can be found in the California Firearms Law Summary released by the attorney general’s office,” Corbett continued, ignoring Hector. “If there are people who are mentally incompetent or who might be precluded from possessing a firearm due to previous criminal activity, I have no problem denying them access. On the other hand, folks who aren’t in a restricted category should be allowed to learn how to defend themselves, their fellow citizens, and the town. Remember, they’ll be shooting at the walking dead, not live people.”

“But we don’t even know if these people are actually dead!” Hector snapped. “No one has proven anything to the contrary! These are very, very sick people who need our help!”

“Hector, you saw an attack yourself!” Gemma Washington said, turning toward the mustachioed pharmacy owner. She sat between Hector and Chief Grady. “You were there—was Wally Whittaker still alive when he attacked Lou?”

Hector rolled his eyes. “Of course he was still alive! How else could he have bitten Lou?”

Corbett looked back at Grady. “Chief, what’s your take on that?”

“I’m not a doctor.”

“No, but you’re a policeman.”

Grady fidgeted a bit in his seat. “Listen, I’m not qualified to say—I didn’t see him drop. When I got to Hector’s he had already attacked Lou, and he was going after Hailey, so I did what I had to do. He was definitely dead afterwards, though. That much is for certain.”

Corbett waved the issue aside. “All right. To continue, anyone who wants to learn will need instruction on how to handle and use firearms, as well as specific defensive tactics. It’s going to take a long time to get all the fortifications made, so folks will have to train up on what we have now, then be retrained with what we’ll have in the future.”

“About some of those plans,” Booker said, speaking for the first time since the session had begun, “are you set on partitioning the town?”

“I am. It’s the safest bet. If there’s a break-in, we’ll need to be able to shrink our perimeter and still keep everyone safe.”

Hector snorted. “So not only do you want to put up walls around the town, you want to put them up inside. That’s simply ridiculous.”

“I have to say, I’m not much of a fan of it either, Barry,” Booker added.

Corbett smiled thinly. “No? You’ll think differently when a bunch of slobbering, flesh-hungry ghouls are chasing your ass down Main Street, Max.”

That pissed Booker off. “Hey, I don’t deserve that attitude.”

Corbett held his smile, then ran a hand through his salt and pepper hair as the two men in his security detail stirred, uneasy at the suddenly contentious tones. Corbett looked away from the table and took a few steps to his right, then turned back to the council. “Listen, by tomorrow all the trenching will be complete. We’ll reinforce the sewer and gas lines and the water mains, then we’ll begin erecting walls all around the town. It’ll take two or three weeks to complete. By then, we’ll probably start seeing the effects of what’s been happening in the larger cities. Everyone’s going to be fighting for resources. Things are going to get very, very hairy. Not just competitive, mind you—but outright dangerous. And that’s before the zombies get here. If you’ve been watching the news, New York is totally down for the count. The entire Tenth Mountain Division is trying to take northern Manhattan, and they’re getting shut down. Boston is starting to destabilize, and so is DC. Los Angeles is about to go the same way, and there’s activity in Vegas, and it’s not the usual high-stakes game. All this means there’s going to be a mass migration of frightened, panic-stricken people. They won’t have any way to take care of themselves, not over the long term. Too many people have gotten used to all the modern conveniences. Right now, supermarkets are running out of food. There are no more food or fuel or water deliveries, outside of what the utility companies can keep pumping out. When a man’s family is starving, cold, sick, he’ll do anything to take care of them. Anything.

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