‘It’s October twenty. That’s the day after October nineteen,’ Sansa stated.
‘Really?’ Camilla asked.
‘Where is Miss Livia?’ John asked.
‘She didn’t feel very well and she asked me to sit with you until she felt better.’
‘Can we have the morning off?’ Steven asked.
‘No you can’t.’
‘What will you teach us?’
‘Will you tell us a story?’ Sansa begged.
‘Yeah! With a bear or a wolf!’ John said.
‘The three bears, the three bears!’ the children cried out.
Camilla searched her brain. What was that story about? What did the bears do and what would Pete and Hank do?
‘Don’t you like wolfs better? I know I do,’ she tried.
‘Wolfs, wolfs, wolfs!’
Will they let Caroline live if they come out triumphant? Camilla thought. Will they hurt Sansa and the two Sarahs? What will they do to Martha and me?
‘With big teeth! Rrraaawww!’
‘Mr Wolowitz is much better at that Johnny.’
‘I will be too when I have a beard!’
John’s remark combined with his expression as well as her own anxiety made Camilla laugh so hard she fell of her chair. The children were silenced for a moment, but when their replacement teacher continued to laugh, they started giggling.
‘My, aren’t you having fun!’ Livia observed on entering the room.
The children told their teacher that miss Camilla was about to tell them a story. And could she please, please still do that? Camilla nodded reassuringly at Livia who looked at her worriedly.
‘All right. But after that we’ll work on the name tags.’
The children nodded. Sansa claimed to make miss Camilla’s name tag and the boys challenged her. Livia raised her eyebrows at them and they fell silent. ‘Once upon a time…’ Camilla started.
If Howard hadn’t known better, he would have believed that Penny was genuinely disappointed to learn that Pete and Hank had left to go scavenging, taking Marlene with them.
‘What about Nigella and Bill?’ Penny inquired.
‘”Asleep” in their RV. They told Pete to tell us that they didn’t want to be interrupted, if you know what I mean,’ Moses said.
Henry, who stood nearby, smiled at this reminder of his sister’s happy marriage and Howard, who’d thought it strange that Bill and Nigella wouldn’t care to greet them, felt reassured by this.
Moses went through the list Howard had handed him. He commented the goods they’d brought in exchange for the RV but he agreed with every replacement for the items they couldn’t deliver. It didn’t take longer than five minutes before the deals were sealed. Penny handed Rose’s giant of a brother Mitch, who’d said he’d worked with chicken, a short manual on how to take care of the six animals they’d brought. Mitch sheepishly thanked her.
‘I appreciate that you want to be on your way and my son and I like to return well before it gets dark. As you’ll remember Pete wants us to leave this place today. Therefore I already checked the RV. It’s in very good shape, George always took care of that.’
‘Oh well, I’d –‘
‘I’d be insulted if you re-checked,’ Moses interrupted Howard.
Penny and Howard shared a glance.
‘Well,’ Howard said, ‘On our way here we travelled the same road as the last time but we spotted a herd of zombies at a distance and we’d rather take another – longer – route on the way back. You’re right Moses. We shouldn’t waste time.’
The road ahead was empty.
‘Such a beautiful day to take a tour,’ Howard said. ‘And with just the two of us we can sing at our hearts’ desire.’
Penny, knowing that Howard wasn’t as gay as he pretended to be, looked behind her. The jeep driven by David, Moses’s son, rounded the corner they’d just taken. She waved at him and he returned the gesture.
‘The RV should have appeared now,’ Penny said after a few moments.
‘How many people did you count?’
‘Apart from Pete, Hank, Marlene, Bill and Nigella everyone was present. Children as well.’
‘So we’ll have to fight five at most,’ Howard said, checking the mirror. ‘Oh look, there’s the RV.’
‘I doubt Bill and Nigella will fight us. I’m more worried about Pete’s likeminded friends.’
‘Nothing we can’t handle,’ Howard confidently said. He softly started singing Both sides now but he let the song die away halfway.
Missy awaited the train of cars at the home-made stop sign.
‘No one’s following the RV,’ she told Penny and Howard, having gotten this piece of intelligence from Tom. Howard got out and walked to the parking lot. The second jeep obediently stopped next to Missy too.
‘Hi, I’m Melissa Cooper.’
‘Pleased to meet you. I’m David Collins.’
‘Had a good journey?’
‘Yes, all went well.’
‘Great, could you park in front of the building please?’
After inclining his head by way of a greeting David was off. Missy braced herself for any danger coming from the RV. Its driver smiled at her but his eyes remained cold.
‘Hello, I’m Melissa. Could you park the RV on the parking lot next to the police station? We stored some tires there but there’s room left. Howard will guide you.’
The driver nodded. As the RV turned left, Missy looked up at the tower, where she knew Tom to be. She looked at the conifers next to the parking lot where Leo stood hidden. Seeing movement from the corner of her eye she turned her gaze to find Sharon, supposedly busying herself with a laundry rack, waving at Randall who was welcoming David. Moses got out of the RV, unaware that three good shots were following his every move. Talking amiably Howard walked Moses to house zero.
Nothing happened. Missy, wearing a brand new Kevlar vest underneath her clothes, felt as if an exciting scene in a film was interrupted by a commercial. A zombie shuffled toward her. She used her hand-bow to finish it but this normally satisfying deed barely made her feel less tense.
‘I’m so glad the RV arrived safely,’ Penny said with a grateful smile. ‘Want a drink, something to eat?’
‘I can make you a snack,’ Raj offered.
‘We have to leave straight away,’ Moses said.
‘Are you sure?’ Howard asked. ‘I hoped you could meet our boss. He and most others are in the fields now but - ’
‘Give him my regards,’ Moses interrupted. ‘We really have to go.’
Moses addressed his son: ‘Or we will have to track the group again, like the last time.’
David nodded. ‘Took us a while to find them then.’
‘Those are our remaining goods?’ Moses asked, gesturing at the boxes in the hall.
‘All yours,’ Howard said.
Sharon’s sweet alt drifted downstairs as she sang a lullaby.
‘How many people do you have here right now?’
‘Just the six of us Moses, children excluded: they are having a nap.’
‘You’ve got a great place here,’ David said as he picked up a box.
‘Thank you,’ Penny said. She bent over to get another box and Randall offered a hand as well.
‘I’ll attach this lucky charm to the RV,’ Moses announced as he held up a ribbon with a little bell attached to it, ‘and then we’ll leave.’
When his father was out of hearing range David said that his old man was superstitious.
‘Nothing wrong with that,’ Penny said. David, so she noticed, was relaxed. He chatted along while carrying boxes and he even flirted with Missy. What if, she thought, he was the brain behind Pete and Hank?
As they waited near the jeep for Moses to return, Randall wondered aloud who would be so lucky as to live in the RV.
‘Getting crowded in the building huh?’ David guessed.
Raj joined them, and handed David four apples Penny had gathered from the referend’s garden. ‘Here you are, for on the road.’
‘From what I could see of that RV it’s great!’ Raj said.
David grinned. ‘I guess you’ll have competition,’ he told Randall.
‘Get in David. Let’s go,’ Moses cried out from a short distance.
Penny used two arrows to shoot a zombie that was coming from the park.
‘I’ll take the wheel,’ Moses told his son who was walking over to the driver’s side. David obediently seated himself in the passenger seat and his father got in as well.
Penny bent over next to Moses, who was checking his watch.
‘Thank you for bringing the RV here. And for the charm. We can always use good luck. Could you please give my regards to your people and especially to Bill, Nigella and Letitia?’
‘I will. Goodbye.’
David followed Penny’s gaze to his father’s right hand.
‘Dad: the keys!’
After handing Penny the keys to the RV, Moses slowly took off. His son waved at Penny and the others. The four of them followed the car until they reached the parking lot. Howard went ahead to get their toys from underneath the conifers. Penny remained on the road to wave at the car that speedily moved away. For a moment she thought that all the preparations they’d made were overdone. Perhaps the whole point of bringing the RV here had been to get to know their location in case they ever needed a doctor or a dentist.
‘But that isn’t bloody likely, now is it?’ she whispered.
Martha and Duane had brought plates and cutlery to the meeting room where they’d set up the buffet. Martha had planned to question the boy but while he talked freely all Martha had learned so far was that since he’d become a young adult at turning fifteen he felt there was a gap between him and his younger buddies Alex and Michael. At least the boy’s chatting was distracting. It wasn’t until they’d almost reached the kitchen again that Martha managed to sneak in a question.
‘How I got here? Miss Penny found us. Us being aunt Maud and uncle Alonso and Sansa,’ Duane said as he opened the kitchen door. ‘We’ve lived here for as long as she has. Anything I can do ladies?’
‘You could cut the leek,’ Cynthia replied.
‘Those carrots need to be cleaned?’ Martha asked. On Cynthia’s affirmative nod, she set to work, after taking Duane’s cue and washing her hands again. Caroline, having finished cleaning potatoes came to help her.
‘Have you been here for a long time?’ Martha asked.
‘My James and I lived in the house across the road. When the zombies came, Wyatt showed up at our doorstep and invited us to come with him. I told James to get Sarah and Alex, who happened to stay with us, I got Cyril, the cat, and the emergency bags I’d secretly packed – ‘
‘You packed bags Mrs N?’ Duane asked.
‘When a normally sane man like Wyatt starts building a wall round part of his property, I think something’s up pumpkin. I may be old, I’m not senile.’
Duane laughed. ‘Cool!’
‘Did anyone ever leave the safety of the wall?’ Martha asked.
‘We had some people here three years ago who stayed for a night and left the next day for they didn’t like our rules.’
‘Rather they didn’t want rules at all. They now live in the Wise settlement,’ Cynthia said.
‘No rules there?’ Martha asked in a small voice. There hadn’t been many rules at the travellers’ community except for “Obey Pete and Hank”.
‘Dan Wise went to school with my eldest son. He’s a good lad, but he can’t stand authority. Our scavengers drop by there once in a while. There’re sixteen people living there now, four children among them. Somehow they make it through.’
‘Only because Penny supports them,’ Cynthia said.
‘No one was made to leave this farm?’ Martha urged.
‘There was Mr Chip. He ruined things and he got kicked out,’ Duane said.
‘So sad,’ Caroline commented.
‘Why?’ Martha asked. ‘Didn’t he deserve getting kicked out?’
‘Oh he did! He was an aggressive manipulator and a thief,’ Caroline said. ‘But still, I kept hoping he’d find his way.’
‘Oh you,’ Cynthia affectionately said.
‘That’s it? No one else was sent away?’ Camilla asked.
‘Well, Bert left,’ Caroline said, ’but that’s because he fell in love with Debra who lives at the Torsvik farm.’
‘If I’d been him I would have persuaded her to come over here,’ Duane commented.
‘Maybe she didn’t want to?’ Martha suggested, anxious to learn there might be another reason why this Bert had left. She had a room with a lock on the inside: it was paradise but would there be a catch? And would a simple lock protect her from Pe-. Stop thinking about that, she told herself.
‘Debra likes it at the Torsvik place. Bert still comes here once a week: he’s one of the people bringing the children to school.’
Caroline sighed deeply. Those who’d known her longer expected her to speak of her James, but she said: ‘Oh I wish someone would bring us some news.’
Moses’s lucky charm didn’t hung at the door but underneath a window that stood slightly ajar. Howard pointed it out to Penny. She raised her eyebrows and gestured at her bag, all the while chatting about how exciting it was to have the RV and that she wanted to go in. Howard made a reassuring gesture. ‘Don’t you think we ought to wait for the boss to return before we have a look inside the RV?’ he loudly said.
‘Oh common. It’s ours now and I want to see it,’ Penny whined.
‘All right,’ Howard said with a resigning sigh.
Penny looked around to see if her team was ready. She then put her new mask in place, unlocked the RV’s door, set it ajar, and threw in a tear gas grenade.