Driver wouldn’t quit screaming. It was a hoarse, gargling wail that had no business being as loud as it was. Marc’s spineitched with the intensity of it. His hands clenched and unclenched the Ford’s steering wheel.
“Can you please shut him the fuck up!?!”, he yelled. The van shuddered as he tried to push the accelerator through the floorboard, putting as much distance between Santa Rosa and the Econ-O-Line as possible.
“I’m trying!”, Edmund shouted back, his voice thick with rage and disgust. “It’s not like I can shove a fucking rag in his mouth!”
Marc grimaced involuntarily. Most of Private First Class Chris Driver’s lower jaw and tongue had been blown off by a .50 caliber round. A round that had been meant for Edmund’s head.
They had pulled into a Circle K just outside of Santa Rosa, New Mexico. Edmund jacked a round into the chamber of his nine and shoved the gun into the front waistband of his jeans. Marc winced. He had personally witnessed the doctor down an even twelve beers in a relatively short period of time. It was no stretch of the imagination to picture him accidentally shooting himself in the crotch.
“Easy there Dr. Ed”, Marc cautioned. “I’d hate to see your balls become a statistic.”
Campion shrugged and waved his hand dismissively. “You let me worry about my balls.” He pointed at the gun in Marc’s hand. “The question is do you know what you’re doing with that?”
Marc nodded. “I grew up in the country, man. They teach us how to handle our firearms in Sunday School.” He chambered his own round and winked at Edmund. “What I need is a place to conceal it.” He was still wearing the dingy, white t-shirt and sky blue sweat pants he had been issued at Teresa. His feet were bare and he hoped to cover them before trudging through the broken glass in the back of the van.
“Fuck!”, Edmund swore. He began rubbing his bald spot with the palm of his hand. His eyes were squeezed tightly shut, accenting the pained expression he wore.
Marc laughed. “Are we deep in thought Edmund”, he asked, “or are you just trying to shit a genie?”
Edmund neither stopped rubbing nor did he open his eyes. “Fuck you Bucky.”, he answered absently.
“I can just stay in here.”, Marc offered, holding the nine millimeter out toward Campion. “Driver can pump the gas and I‘m…”
“Dr. Campion, sir!”, Driver interrupted from behind the van’s partition. “We have reached our objective, sir! Do you wish for the private to fuel the vehicle, sir?”
Edmund opened his eyes and stopped massaging his head. He looked blearily in the direction of Driver’s voice. For the first time since Marc had awakened, Campion looked drunk.
“What I would like, Driver“, he spat. “Is for you to shut the fuck up and let me think! Now sit still like a good Nazi and let the big people talk!”
“Yes sir, Dr. Campion sir!”, the private responded and fell silent.
Marc waited a beat before trying again. “Like I was saying…”, he began.
This time Edmund cut him short.
“I want you with me Bucky. You may not know it but you have become a very valuable commodity. I’d feel much better if you were where I could keep my eye on you.” Campion gestured toward the front of the van with his head, a shushing finger on his lips.
Marc nodded at Edmund, suddenly feeling the weight of the three beers he had drank heavy in his bladder. He began to shuffle from foot to foot, mindful of the bits of broken beer bottle strewn about the cargo area.
Edmund produced a small, green spiral notebook from the back pocket of his jeans. With a pen procured from the pocket of his lab coat he jotted a quick note in the spiral, yelling, “Driver! Why in the fuck aren’t you pumping any gas?!?”, as he wrote.
Private Diver exited the van with a quickly barked, “Sir, yes Sir!”
Edmund shoved the notebook into Marc’s hands, and once again placed a solitary finger to his lips. The four word he had hurriedly written seemed more than a bit redundant.
“I DON’T TRUST DRIVER!!!, was printed there in big, block letters. Marc sighed and rolled his eyes.
Edmund affected a hurt look and said, loudly enough for their driver to overhear, “C’mon Bucky, you can use my shoes. I’ll treat you to some jerky.”
Campion slipped the worn, white, Nike cross-trainers from his feet and kicked them at Marc. Under normal circumstances Marc would have balked at sliding his bare feet into another man’s shoes. This time he did it without thinking. If it meant he got to take a piss, he was all for it. He had also begun to think that something to eat wouldn’t be a bad idea either.
Marc held the nine millimeter out towards Edmund again. “Have we decided what to do with this?”, he whispered.
“Fuck it!”, Edmund muttered angrily and grabbed the gun from Marc’s hand. He shoved it into the waistband of his jeans next to the other nine. “If anything happens, stick close to me.”, he hissed,
“Happens?”, Marc asked. A note of exasperation had crept into his voice. “What exactly, do you expect to happen Dr. Ed?”
Campion shrugged and buttoned his lab coat up to help conceal the guns in his pants. “The Superflu has created a lot of bad…feelings amongst the populace. Bush began rationing fuel a couple of weeks ago to discourage travel and”, Edmund paused and thought for a moment before he quoted, “ ‘the spread of this test to our nation’s faith and resolve’, is how I believe he put it. A lot of gas stations have become the focus of the American people’s frustration with a bad thing that is about to become much worse.”
“Bad enough that we need to head into a Circle K like we’re about to liberate it?”. Marc immediately regretted asking the question. He seriously needed to piss.
Edmund snorted. “Since Wednesday of last week there have been eleven separate incidents where demonstrations outside of filling stations have degenerated into full on riots. Fifteen deaths and three times that many injuries have been a direct result of these disturbances. One station was set on fire and took out six city blocks in Detroit before it was brought under control.” He looked at Marc, managing to seem both smug and scared at the same time. “I prefer to err on the side of caution.”
Marc pushed past Campion and flung the windowless rear doors of the Econ-O-Line wide. He leapt out into blazing New Mexican sun. Turning to face Edmund, his eyes slits against the relentless brightness of the day, he yelled, “C’mon out Ed. I think the rioters all called in sick with the flu.”