The quest: countdown to armageddon: book 6

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  Countdown to Armageddon: Book 6    THE QUEST

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Darrell Maloney

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is a work of fiction. All persons depicted in this book are fictional characters. Any resemblance to any real person, living or dead, is purely coincidental. Copyright 2015 by Darrell Maloney

 

 

 

 

 

This book is dedicated to my brother, Randy Maloney, who passed away a few months ago.

 

Randy was strong and forthright, like the character in this book who shares his name.

 

He was also one of the finest men I’ve ever known. I miss him and love him so very much.

 

You’d have loved him too.

 

Randy, this is for you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE STORY THUS FAR…

 

     Scott Harter was nothing special. Just an ordinary guy living in the suburbs with a typical family and a dog named Duke.

     If anything set Scott apart from everybody else, it was his extraordinary luck. All his life, he seemed to be in the right place at the right time. He’d started his business at just the right moment, getting in early on what would become a booming self storage industry. He seemed to know when and how to play the stock market so that his money grew at a steady pace.

     It was also his good luck that drove him to dig inside a storage locker when its renter defaulted on his contract.

     What he found in the locker didn’t make much sense at first. Some old maps of the heavens. A lot of literature about the Mayans. And a journal, left behind by an old college professor who’d seemingly vanished from the face of the earth.

     Scott read the journal. And the more he read, the more concerned he got.

     “The Mayans never said the world was going to end,” the old professor wrote. “They said that December 21, 2012 started a new era. An era they called ‘the last period of progress.’”

     And then Scott found the answer he’d been looking for. It turned out the Mayans could predict solar flare activity. They discovered that solar storms, like most other things in the universe, run in cycles. Just as earth had seasons of increased storm activity, so did the sun.

     But unlike earth, which has a hurricane season each year, the sun’s storms happened less frequently. Every two hundred years, give or take a few.

     And just as the Mayans had seen the planets and their moons without the aid of telescopes they also knew, beyond all reason, that the cyclic solar activities around the year 2020, give or take a few years, would cause unfathomable damage.

     But with the mysterious professor’s notes and the research Scott did at the library, he had the tools he needed to prepare for the inevitable. He had the know-how and the drive. What he didn’t have was the time.

     A big problem, as Scott saw it, was that the Mayans weren’t very specific. The professor said that the solar storms cameaboutevery two hundred years. He’d commented in his notes that it was akin to predicting on which day the first snowstorm of the winter might come. It was obviously coming. But pinning it down far ahead of time was just a little bit harder.

     Scott enlisted the help of his girlfriend Joyce, and borrowed heavily from the bank to purchase a section of land in the hill country above San Antonio. It was far enough away from the city to be safe from the turmoil that would engulf the urban areas. It was also rural enough to be able to grow crops and raise livestock.

     For the better part of two years, the pair worked against the clock, praying each day that the EMPs would hold off a little longer, until they were finished.

     Finally, their compound was ready to occupy. They’d prepared a large field for growing crops. Enlarged a small playa lake and diverted a stream to fill it; then stocked it with fish.

     They’d built a tall security fence around most of the compound, to hide the fact that they were keeping cattle, pigs, chickens and rabbits on the inside.

     And most importantly, Scott built a huge Faraday cage, the size of a two car garage. Inside the cage he’d placed the small things they’d need to carry on the lives they’d become accustomed to. The television sets and microwaves and video games.

     And the important things, too. Batteries. Spare parts to get their vehicles running again. Spare pumps and transformers and surveillance cameras.

     When the solar storm finally happened, it sent electromagnetic pulses toward the earth at half a million miles an hour. Everything, from flashlights to vehicles to pacemakers, stopped functioning.

     The world around Scott and his loved ones was going mad. In the cities, people were outraged at the electric companies for not getting the power back on. The water was no longer flowing, and people were getting desperately thirsty. They were angry and looking for someone to blame.

     Even the police and fire crews were almost powerless, and having to resort to riding commandeered bicycles to help those they could get to.

     All the ugliness of mankind came out. The looting started, and then the violence. Buildings were set on fire and cars were overturned. The decent people holed themselves up in their houses. The bad roamed the streets, looking for whatever they could plunder.

     At the compound, the group of six was safe. But there was a lot to be done.

     Things went relatively smoothly at the compound.     They transitioned into a farming and ranching lifestyle. With the help of Tom Haskins, their one and only neighbor, they learned to plant and harvest crops, and how to care for livestock.

     Scott developed a close friendship with a San Antonio police officer named John Castro. A war hero, John fought hard to join the SAPD despite leaving half a leg in the burning sands of Fallujah. And he was fighting equally hard to save the city he loved.

     Scott and John talked frequently by ham radio. Scott learned that San Antonio was decimated. Few would survive the waves of starvation and suicides. Bodies were stacked in the streets and burned until they were merely piles of ashes and bones.

     But that wasn’t all. The decomposing bodies had created a pneumonia-like plague that was sweeping through the cities. It was treatable only with massive doses of antibiotics, and was ravaging what was left of the population.

     John was sure to be infected eventually. He was out among the masses every day, trying to restore order and to bring his city back from the brink. But he was desperate to get his wife and two girls away from the city.

     Tom Haskins went to work on a Walmart truck abandoned by the side of the road since the blackout. He was able to get it running, and seventy two boxes of unprocessed wheat were added to the load of food.

     Tom and Scott took a harrowing trip back to the city and dropped the load. In exchange for the food, they brought back something even better: John’s wife and daughters.

     Then John came down with the plague. He went into a coma because he was allergic to penicillin and couldn’t be treated using the normal protocol. San Antonio was out of an alternative antibiotic. But Tom was able to find some in nearby Junction.

     Scott made a second run to San Antonio, to drop off the medication that would save his friend’s life.

     Unfortunately, Scott didn’t make it back safely. In fact, he didn’t make it back at all. He was ambushed by a gang of thugs who shot him and left him to die.

     Scott recovered fully, but in the process was exposed to the deadly plague sweeping through the city. Although he showed no symptoms, he was told he could be a carrier. And that old people and infants were especially susceptible to the infectious disease.

     He opted to stay away from the compound for the few months to a year it would take for the plague to dissipate, instead of endangering his newborn grandson. In doing so, he relied on the men and women he left behind to make do without him.

     And he volunteered to help his new friends in the San Antonio Police Department try to regain order in the city.

     The SAPD was decimated and down to just a few officers. They were resorting to desperate measures, and one of them was recruiting good men regardless of their backgrounds. There was no more police academy. Scott had to learn on the fly, by watching his partners and mimicking their tactics.

     Luckily, by this time most of what the police did had nothing to do with enforcing the laws. Most of their duties involved helping the few survivors continue to survive.

     Scott wore the uniform with pride. He knew it was only temporary, and he’d never be a “real” cop. But he was making a difference, and it gave him a sense of accomplishment while he waited for the “all clear” that would allow him to return home again.

     Scott, still in San Antonio, was talking to his family via ham radio when he heard shots ring out. “We’re under attack!” Joyce shouted.

     Ninety miles to the south, Scott and his friends were too far away to be of immediate help. But like the cavalry of old, they were on their way and flying fast.

     They arrived at the compound in the waning minutes of the battle, and were able to help finish off the attackers. Scott and John brought Robbie and Randy, two fellow officers and friends, along for the fight.

     But the damage had been done. Scott’s girlfriend Joyce was killed instantly when she was struck in the forehead as the battle raged.

     The group cried as one. It was a dreadful loss.

     Scott and the others had to watch Joyce’s funeral from afar. They were still carriers of the deadly plague and therefore couldn’t come into close contact with any of their loved ones. It made the pain even harder for Scott to bear.

     As it turned out, the gang which attacked the compound was infamous around the Kerrville area for their brutality. After Tom and Scott put the gang’s bodies on display as a warning for others to steer clear, word got around Junction. City leaders decided that grizzled old Tom Haskins might just be the man tough enough to clear the other gangs out of Junction and Kerrville and clean up the towns.

     Tom was offered the job of sheriff, and reluctantly accepted.

     Back in San Antonio, Scott was deemed experienced enough to be given a new partner of his own. Named Rhett Butler, the rookie quipped, “Hey, what can I say? My mom was a bigGone with the Windfan.”

     Scott laughed out loud in disbelief when he learned that Rhett had managed to find and marry a girl named Scarlett.

     Rhett and Scarlett quickly became two of Scott’s closest friends.

     They were with him when he stepped on a piece of wood with a protruding nail.

     “Oh, it’s nothing,” he said, until his foot became infected and he had to seek medical care.

     As it happened, Scott was treated by Becky, the same nurse who’d brought him back from the brink after his gunshot wound some months before.

     Becky was an angel of mercy. Not only did she clear up the infection, she also helped him grieve, and taught him to deal with Joyce’s death.

     In the process, Becky’s love for Scott, there since their first encounter but never acted on, grew stronger.

     The story ended as the plague started to dissipate. Scott was called aside by the police chief and given the first good news he’d heard in awhile.

     “You’ve become a fine officer, Scott, and you should be proud of the work you’ve done for the city of San Antonio. I wish I could keep you around longer. But I know you’ve got loved ones up north of here who need you worse than we do.

     “We expect the FEMA people to issue an all clear within a few weeks. You need to start making plans to go back to Junction and rejoin your family.”

     It was the news he couldn’t wait to hear. But he was conflicted. He now loved Becky and didn’t want to leave her behind. But she was filling a key role as a head nurse in one of the busiest hospitals in Texas. It was also one of the hospitals that was most understaffed.

     “If I pull you away from here, your co-workers will have to work even harder. And they’re being run into the ground already. But please understand, everyone else I love in the world is up north in the compound. I’ve got to get back to them. I’ve just got to.”

     Becky countered, “I’ve already talked to the hospital staff, and all the other nurses agree it’s best for the long-term to let me go.”

     “Meaning what?”

     “In Kerrville, twelve miles from the compound, the old community college has been boarded up since the blackout. They used to teach nursing and medical courses there. They still have the equipment and materials, and they can be used once again. The unemployment situation in both Junction and Kerrville is dreadful. People are out of work and clamoring for something to do.

     “I’m going to reopen that college. Only instead of Kerrville Community College it’ll be called the Kerrville School of Medicine. I’ve already talked via ham with the state licensing board. They’re up for it, provided one of their members reviews and approves the curriculum and testing material.”

     But not everything was rosy.

     One of John Castro’s oldest and closest friends, Robbie Benton, had been driven mad by the monotony of collecting and burning bodies day in and day out.

     He wrote in a private journal, “This isn’t what I signed up for when I became a cop. I think it’s time for me to start generating some dead bodies of my own.”

     Robbie was also driven by his attraction to John’s wife Hannah. For years he’d been trying to insert himself into the family’s lives, so that when John was assassinated by an unknown thug, he could step in to comfort them. And to become Hannah’s new hero.

     And now, Book 6 of the series…

 

 

THE QUEST

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

-1-

 

     Robbie knew that John Castro was a creature of habit. At the end of every shift, John took his rookie partner home, then radioed in to tell SAPD dispatch that he was calling it a night.

     As soon as Robbie heard that radio call, he knew that John was just a few minutes away from his location, and headed toward him.

     Because John was a sentimental man with a flair for the romantic, and a deep love for his wife.

     And he loved to make her smile.

     So every night when he was on his way home John stopped to pick a few wildflowers for Hannah.

     And he always, without fail, stopped at the corner of South Ellison Drive and Marbach Road.

     It seemed to have just the right combination of Hannah’s favorite flowers.

     And after all she’d done for him over the years, it really wasn’t much of a gesture.

     So he’d continue to do it until the first frost killed the delicate flowers and rendered the plants dormant for another season.

     Robbie was still on duty, having just gone in an hour before. The SAPD overlapped their shifts by an hour so that the outgoing crew could brief their replacements on pertinent information regarding hot spots and troublemakers.

     He wondered, for a moment, whether he should be the one who should drive by and find John’s lifeless body.

     Then he decided that no, he’d let someone else do it.

     Marbach Road was the dividing line between Robbie’s patrol area and someone else’s. He wasn’t sure who was on duty in delta sector on this particular day. His mind had been on other things at the standup earlier and he’d forgotten to see which of delta’s officers were coming on.

     But it didn’t matter much. Eventually whoever it was would drive down Marbach Road and see John’s cruiser parked there, the lights still on and the engine still running.

     They’d stop out of curiosity, and it wouldn’t take long for them to find John’s body in the middle of the field.

     By that time, Robbie would be far away, on the opposite end of his sector, talking to residents who could later place him miles away from the scene of the crime.

     As soon as the alarm went out over the radio, of course, he’d scramble to the scene. Just like every other SAPD officer on duty.

     The chief of police would be there too.

     Robbie would ask the chief if he could go along on the notification.

     “I’m a close friend of the family,” he’d say. “I can offer them some comfort and answer their questions after you leave.”

     He would also be in the thick of things as the murder investigation of John Castro began. And he would make damn sure it headed in a direction away from him. In the absence of a homicide unit or an internal affairs unit, Chief Martinez would likely tell his patrol officers to hit the streets. To talk to the citizens, and to ask them if they’d witnessed anything.

     Or knew of anyone who had some type of grudge against the fallen officer.

     Of course, no one would suspect Robbie. He was the epitome of what the SAPD and the city of San Antonio sought in its policemen. He was hard working and dedicated. The first one to volunteer for the really tough jobs. Friendly and helpful to the city’s citizens. He tried to portray himself to the people not as a hardened cop, but as one of them. A man who spent some of his days off helping to restore an Old Catholic church in downtown San Antonio.

     Robbie smiled the smile of a truly demented man.

     Maybe he’d talk to Chief Martinez. Maybe he’d tell the chief that he was taking John’s death particularly hard. Because John was his best friend in the world.

     Maybe he’d talk the chief into letting him, Robbie Benton, take over the homicide investigation himself.

     “No one wants to get this creep more than I do,” he’d tell the chief. “I know I’ve never investigated a homicide. But neither has anyone else on the department, since no one in the old homicide division made it.

     “You know I’m tenacious, Chief. What I lack in experience I make up for in determination. You know me, Chief, and you know I can do it.”

     Once in charge of the investigation, Robbie would make sure someone else took the fall.

     Someone like a homeless drifter, perhaps. Or a known marauder.

     Someone who would disappear without a trace before he could stand trial and profess his innocence.

     Oh, but there would be plenty of evidence to convict him in absentia. Robbie would make sure of that.

     A rogue cop can always buy eye witnesses.

     All he had to do was offer up the illegal drugs and weapons he confiscated but never reported.

     Now Robbie laughed out loud at the irony of it all.

     If his plan played out, he would not only be placed in a position where he could exonerate himself. But by solving the case he’d be a hero in Hannah’s eyes.

     In his heart, as well as his twisted mind, he knew that sweet Hannah would soon be his.

     It was just natural that Hannah, upon hearing of John’s death, would gravitate to those friends who’d been so helpful to her and her girls in the past.

     And Robbie’s would be the first name on that list.

He’d be at Hannah’s side through the whole ordeal.

     He’d even conjure up some phony tears at John’s funeral.

     He’d allow Hannah to comfort him in his moments of grief and despair.

     Eventually he’d share her heart.

     And then her bed.

     And hopefully not in that order.

     Robbie smiled as John sauntered through the wildflowers, without a care in the world, collecting the best ones he could find for Hannah.

     Then Robbie caught himself. He had to get used to showing no joy at John’s demise. From now on it was merely disgust or rage.

     He lined up his shot. Center mass on the side of John’s head. Leading him a bit, but not too much.

     There, in plain view in his scope at ninety yards, was the obstacle standing in his way.

     He took a deep breath, let half of it out, and very gently squeezed the trigger.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

-2-

 

     Scott had been back home in the compound for several weeks now. It had been a glorious homecoming, and he was glad to be back.

     But soon there would be others missing from their midst. For Sara and Tom, as unlikely a team as there ever was, would soon be setting out on their own adventure.

     To find Sara’s mother.

     No one wanted to see them go. Sara had joined their numbers at the last minute, on the day the earth went black, because she had nowhere else to go. She’d lied to Jordan and said her parents were out of the state to escape a brutal home life.

     Despite her deceit, though, the others harbored no ill will toward her. They knew she’d been desperate, and saw the opportunity as her one chance to run. So they welcomed her into their fold and made her one of them.

     They understood something else as well.

     They understood that once she learned her mother was out there somewhere searching for her, that she had to go. She had to go find the mother she once thought was complicit in her abuse. The one who, she found out later, was in reality a second victim. The mother she forgave, and now felt a need to protect.

     Oh, they didn’t want her to go. They knew that the world was still a dangerous place.

     They would worry about Sara each and every day, just as they’d worried about Scott when he’d been stuck in San Antonio all those months.

     It would give them some peace of mind, though, knowing that Tom Haskins planned to accompany her on her journey.

     Tom had met with the Kerrville city council on three different occasions.

     The first was to request an extended leave of absence from his duties as Sheriff of Kerr County.

     The council asked, “How long would you expect to be gone?”

     “I don’t know. We don’t know where the woman is. If she left the city, and we followed her trail, it could take weeks. Months, maybe. I just don’t know.”

     Tom met with the council the second time to hear their decision.

     None of the members wanted the sheriff to go. They liked him personally, considered him a friend. And there was no doubt it was his toughness as a sheriff which had cleared the city of the gangs of marauders that had ran roughshod over Kerrville in the early days of the blackout.

     But it was because they thought so highly of him that they decided to support his cause.

     They wouldn’t be able to call themselves his friends if they had refused him.

     And he’d be sticking his neck out for a young girl he didn’t even know three years before. That gave them even more reason to admire him.

     So they would give him his leave of absence.

     But there would be stipulations. There always were in such cases.

     “We still have a duty to protect the citizens of Kerrville and Kerr County,” they told him. “Before you leave we want you to take whatever steps are necessary to keep the marauders from coming back.”

     It was a reasonable demand, and one that Tom had planned to do anyway.

     He met with the council the third and final time with Deputy Paul Swenson at his side.

     Tom stood to address the council in their chambers.

     “I’ve known Deputy Paul his whole life. I helped change his diapers when he was but a pup. I coached his little league team and was there at his high school graduation, whooping and hollering with the rest of his family. I taught him how to tune up his car and helped him overhaul his first engine.

     “Paul is like a son to me. I know his strengths as well as his shortfalls. And I know he is capable of protecting the city and the county in my absence.

     “Yesterday I gave Paul a promotion. I asked Judge Harvey Bailey to swear Paul in as undersheriff of Kerr County.

     “The title sounds a bit funny, I know. But it’s there, in the county charter. The charter says I am authorized an undersheriff to act as my assistant, and it grants me the authority to select him myself.

     “I’m leaving my wife and other people I’ve come to love in his hands. And I know they’ll be safe there.”

     The men were asked to wait in the hallway while the council voted on his request.

     The mayor himself stepped into the hallway a few minutes later to give them the news.

     “It was unanimous. No one in there wants to see you go. But everyone understands it’s something you feel you have to do. Good luck, my friend.”