White stopped the car at the gate guard’s gesture. He rolled down the window as the guard approached the side of the car, his military ID ready in hand.
The guard took the ID, looked at it, and handed it back. He saluted. “Sir.”
White tucked the ID into his wallet, dropped the wallet into the car’s cup holder, and returned the salute.
“Sir,” the gate guard said. “Orders. All personnel are to report to their units immediately on arrival.”
White looked down at himself, still clad only in a swimsuit. “Do I have time to change, sergeant?”
“Orders say immediately, Sir.” The sergeant smiled. “Uniform of the day is whatever you’re wearing right now.”
“I see. Thank you, Sergeant.”
The gate started to open and the sergeant saluted once more. White returned the salute before putting the car in gear and proceeding onto the base.
“Sounds serious,” Amber said from beside him.
“With that tsunami?” White stopped to let a base shuttle cross through the intersection, then turned to follow it. Other cars joined them, coming from the direction of base housing. “They’ll want everything they can get to help.”
Ahead, the bus pulled up to its stop and people began to pour out. White eased the car around the bus and turned into officer parking. Ignoring the parking spots, he stopped in front of squadron office building and put the car in park.
“I’ve got a suit here.” He unfastened his seat belt and opened the door. On her side of the car, Amber mimicked his action. “You might want to bring my other one. Who knows how long it’ll be before I can get home.
Amber leaned toward him. He leaned across the center console and kissed her. “Love you.”
“Love you too, sweetie,” She said. “Be careful.”
“Avoid the edges of the air,” White said with a smile. “Don’t worry. We haven’t left one up there yet.”
He got out of the car and ran up the steps to the squadron office. Behind him, Amber rounded the car and slid into the driver’s seat.
“Bye, Daddy!” Bobbi called from the back seat.
White paused, his hand on the building door. He turned and waved. “Bye, Punkin. See you soon.”
“Remember to pray for Daddy, sweetie,” Amber told Bobbi.
White grinned as Amber drove off. Search and Rescue no doubt. Supply drops maybe. Lots of flight hours but a piece of cake. It wasn’t like anybody would be shooting at his bird.
Crncevic swore softly. Next town, he promised himself. Next town he’d get the bus’ radiator fixed. For now he had his sleeves rolled up while he poured water into the radiator.
Flashing blue and white lights drew his attention away from the radiator. He set the water can down and rolled down his sleeves. After wiping his hands on a rag, he adjusted the celluloid collar at his throat. He scowled. The ecclesiastical garb defiled him. But needs must in the Dread Lord’s service.
The crunch of gravel on the shoulder of US Highway 12 heralded the deputy’s approach.
Crncevic pasted a smile on his face. “Deputy.”
The Deputy looked the length of the bus, an old school bus painted a neutral gray. White lettering spelled out “St. Sebastian’s Cloister” on its side. He peered into the engine compartment. “Trouble?”
Crncevic waved at the engine compartment. “Radiator. If I can just get us to the next town…Roundup, isn’t it?”
The deputy nodded.
“Well, then, I can get it fixed and we can proceed on our way.”
“You’re a bit off the beaten path, aren’t you? What brings you out this way?”
Suspicion, Crncevic wondered, or just curiosity?
“The tsunami, of course.”
The Deputy cocked his head to one side, the question plain on his face.
“We’re on our way to help with the relief effort.” Crncevic waved down the road. “We didn’t want to interfere with the official relief convoys so we stuck to back roads and–” He spread his hands, indicating the stopped bus. Looking up at one of the acolytes looking out the windshield at him, he made an unobtrusive gesture with the fingers of his right hand before dropping his hands to his sides. “–here we are.”
The Deputy nodded and leaned in to take a closer look at the radiator and its overflow tank. “It’s a piece yet to Roundup and you’re still awfully dry. I’ve got a water can in my cruiser. Let’s get you topped up and back on the road.”
“That would be most kind, Deputy.”
While the deputy went back to his cruiser, two of the acolytes, dressed in simple black robes, emerged from the bus. “Eminence?”
Crncevic raised a finger in warning. “Brother Padraic, Brother Simon, is there a problem?”
The acolyte to whom Crncevic had assigned the name Brother Padraic, caught his breath then said, “No, Father. We simply wished to stretch our legs for a bit while we’re stopped.”
The two walked toward the rear of the bus as the deputy returned with a five gallon can. They nodded amiably as they passed the deputy who nodded in return.
At the front of the bus, the deputy popped the cap on the can and started pouring it into the radiator.
While the water glugged into the radiator, the two acolytes returned.
“How can I thank you, Deputy?” Crncevic said.
“Oh, my pleasure, Father.” The deputy shook the can as the last of the water ran into the radiator. “Glad to help.”
The first genuine smile of the encounter spread across Crncevic’s face. “Oh, you have helped indeed,” he said as the two acolytes stepped up to the open door of the bus, “more than you can possibly imagine.”
As Crncevic’s nod, “Simon” pivoted and pressed a stun gun to the back of the deputy’s neck. As the deputy stiffened and fell, the two grabbed his arms while other acolytes boiled out of the bus.
From within his own clothing, Crncevic removed a ceremonial dagger. He held it out to one of the acolytes.
“Over there,” he said, nodding in the direction of a hollow that would not be visible from the road.
“The Dread Lord rises!” The acolyte whispered as he took the dagger.
“Dash cam,” Crncevic said to another acolyte. He pointed to the police cruiser. “Pull the memory completely. Don’t just erase the file. Then soak everything with gas. We’ll burn it with the deputy when we’re done.
The acolyte nodded.
From the hollow, the deputy’s screams began.
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