Fighting the Dead:The Last Town #4

By: Stephen Knight

“So we can’t leave the town open. Every day we do, we run the risk of something happening to us. To you. To your families. We’ve got to think about cutting ourselves off now, while we can still pick the time and manage things without having to fight off a panicking mob.”

Booker didn’t like the sound of that. “So what’s your solution to this, Barry?”

“Like I said in the plan, Max. We need to break the highway on either end of town. Make it so no one can get in.”

Booker shook his head. “No. No way. We’re not doing that yet.”

“The longer we wait, the more difficult it’s going to become,” Corbett said. “When we finally seal the town, we can’t have outsiders here. We don’t have the—”

“Barry, no way,” Booker said, raising his voice. “We can’t close the town. Not yet. It’s not time.”

Hector turned toward him. “What do you mean, ‘not yet’? You don’t plan on actually going through with his plans, do you?”

“I thought that was decided,” Gemma said.

“It was,” Booker said reluctantly. “It is.”

Corbett raised his hands. “Then I don’t see a problem. Let’s get to it.”

“No, Barry. It’s happening too fast,” Booker said. “We have obligations, to the town, to those who need to pass through, even to the state. We can’t start chopping up a highway and deny access. There’s no other road here people can use. What are we expecting them to do, hike over the mountains to get to where they need to go?” Booker pointed toward the room’s western wall, in the general direction of Mount Whitney.

Corbett nodded. “If they don’t turn around and head back to wherever they came from, yeah. That’s exactly what I’m saying we do. Listen, we’ve had this discussion already. The people caught out in that traffic? Not our problem, Max. It’s regrettable, and it’s unfortunate, and it’s even sad. There are families out there, people who are just trying to get somewhere safe. But we can’t help them. We can maybe save the town and the people who live in it, but we can’t save everybody else while doing it.”

“You mean, save yourself,” Hector said.

Corbett fixed him with a withering glare. “If saving myself was all that I was after, then the only wall being built would be around my property. And I’d probably put up a nice tower, too—just to watch you try and figure out how you could survive on your own, Mister Aguilar.”

“Barry.” Gemma’s voice was reasonable and well modulated. “Barry, what do we do if the zombies come here and there are still people outside? Do we take them in? Do we turn our backs on them?”

The question interested Booker intensely. He looked at Corbett, but for once, the rangy billionaire didn’t seem to want to give a direct answer.

“It’s my hope those people will have moved on,” Corbett said.

“But what if they don’t?” Gemma pressed. “What if they can’t?”

Corbett clenched his teeth. “Then we let the chips fall where they may.”

Hector made a satisfied noise and crossed his arms, a sardonic smile forcing the ends of his mustache upward.

Gemma didn’t seem satisfied with the answer. “I don’t know you very well, Barry, but that answer doesn’t seem to sit well with you.”

“Should it?” Corbett asked. “Nothing about this sits well with me. But this is the hand we’ve been dealt. We’re going to have to turn a cold shoulder on a lot of people. It’s going to be dirty business, but we have to get on with it.” He looked at Booker. “Now. Weapons training. We need to start bringing the rest of the town in on this. We’ll need an open meeting—people need to know what’s going on, and why we’re doing what we’re doing.”

“A lot of folks are curious,” Grady said. “My officers are being asked a million questions.”

“Then let’s give them some answers,” Corbett said. “I’d advise we let Gary Norton handle the public side. He’s better at that kind of stuff than I am, and he’d be a good backup for you, Max.”

Booker leaned back in his chair. Letting Norton take some of the heat was appealing, just in case things abated. But there was no way he’d be able to avoid most of the blowback; he was Single Tree’s mayor, after all. No one was holding a gun to his head and forcing him to enact Corbett’s plan, though he did figure things might come to that if he outright declined to join in the fun.

“I’ll consider that. But you’re right, we need to advise the townspeople about what’s going on. We should call a meeting for tomorrow night.”

“Tonight would be better,” Corbett said.

Booker frowned, and looked at the clock on the wall above the door. “Barry, it’s almost five o’clock now.”

Corbett nodded. “Better get on it.”

“Preposterous!” Hector said.

“Cluing in the town is preposterous?” Corbett responded.

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