Chapter 17 – Zack – Iteration 144
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Zack looked every direction as he turned from route 356 into the plaza's back entrance. None of the cars appeared occupied as he passed them. His heart beat out a steady rhythm. Zack drove slowly around the outer perimeter of the parking lot, then parked close to the entrance of the grocery store.

I'm ten minutes early. Maybe they're not here yet. Zack kept the truck running in case he needed to escape fast. As the minutes ticked by, he imagined the various ways the Observers could best him. Well, they could taze me and drag me away before anyone objected. They could show up dressed like cops and shoot me. They could call the real cops on me, then wait for me to be released from questioning. They could release Lacey in bad condition and ambush me at the hospital.

At ten o'clock, Zack tensed when a man approached his truck. I should have stopped to buy a weapon. Even a knife would be better than nothing. The man unlocked the door of a car parked next to Zack's borrowed truck, got inside, and drove away. Zack glanced to the clock. It was a minute past ten.

Zack twisted around in his seat, looking in every direction. The only people he saw were carrying bags of groceries to their vehicles. None of them looked suspicious. He sank back into his seat and glanced at the clock. It was five after. They're not releasing Lacey. They just wanted me to come back.

He threw the truck into drive. There were five of them. It was probably safe to assume that one of them would still be at the farm watching Lacey. The man called Ingrid had released him without revealing himself. That left only three of them to worry about.

I don't know the first thing about espionage, Zack thought. He slowly circled the lot a final time and moved to the back entrance, expecting someone to pull out and block him. His truck returned to route 356 without incident. Zack watched his rearview mirror as he drove, but no one followed him.

He decided his course on the fly. He would return to the trailer park, pack a bag, and get lost. The others might release Lacey when he didn't return. Zack tried not to consider the other possibility.

Zack parked beside Lacey's car at their trailer. His keys were with his phone, somewhere on the hellish farm of the Observers, which meant he would need to break a window to get into his own home. He was halfway to his door when a car parked at the back of his driveway, blocking in both vehicles.

Bridgette stepped out of the car. “Get in the car, Hess.”

“Get away from me,” he said as she walked forward.

“It's me – Elza.”

“I don't even know who that is.”

Bridgette reached behind her and pulled out a tiny handgun. “We really messed you up, didn't we? And here I thought we wouldn't be able to leave a mark. Doesn't matter what you remember, Hess. You're getting in my car. Whether I put a hole in your skull first is your decision.”

“You're going to shoot me in public?” Zack backed away from her.

“Doesn't look like too many of your neighbors are home at the moment. Plus, you would be surprised how many people mistake the sound of a gunshot for something else.”

As he backed up, the heel of his foot struck the first of two wobbly steps leading up to his trailer's front door. His best plan was to break down the door and bludgeon Bridgette to death with a frying pan while taking shots from her handgun.

Zack bent his knees, preparing to leap for the door. Bridgette raised her gun, lining the sites up on him. The front door of his trailer opened.

A form swung out onto the top step, large handgun cradled in two steady hands, paused, and fired past Zack. He turned in time to see Bridgette hit the ground, one eye crying a stream of blood. From behind, he heard the sound of a hammer cocking. “Grab her body,” said the woman.

Zack swallowed. “Who are you?”

The woman, short, petite, with black hair, brown eyes, and a distinctive nose, analyzed him briefly before answering. “I'm a girl with a gun. Now grab her body, Zack Vernon.”

The way her gun unerringly moved to center on his face every time he shifted convinced Zack he wouldn't gain much by arguing. He went to where Bridgette lay and bent down. There wasn't much of a mess in the front, but his fingers encountered a disturbing amount of moisture when they slid beneath the body. He stood with it in his arms. “Where am I taking it?”

“Her car.”

“And then what?”

“Then Kerzon gets what she deserves. I'm going to dig a hole, put her in a casket, and pile dirt on top. She's going to spend a few hundred years tearing her nails out on the walls of her shiny metal box.”

Zack dropped the body.

“Pick her back up.”

Zack bent to retrieve Bridgette, then stopped. The woman squatted across from him, the muzzle of her weapon still pointed directly at him. “Pick. Her. Up.”

“You can't bury her alive,” he said. “You can't do that to someone. No one deserves to be trapped in the dark forever.”

The tip of the handgun, so steady, sank towards the ground. “Who are you?”

“Just promise me you won't bury her.”

“Who are you?”

“Zack. I've never been anyone else. I swear.”

The muzzle shook when she raised her gun. “Get in the car.”

“You're not going to take the body?”

“No,” she said. “Just get in the car.”

He glanced around the trailer court. No one had emerged to investigate the sound of gunfire. No one was coming to help him. There was nowhere to run. Zack got into the passenger side of the running vehicle. The woman entered from the driver side.

As she drove around and back towards the exit, Zack studied the blood on his hands. It would vanish when Bridgette revived, but for the moment he was covered. “What are you going to do with me?”

The woman let out a deep breath. “I don't know.”

“Who are you?”

“I'm using the name Quebec Wallace.”

“Quebec like the province?”

“That's right.”

“Are you Canadian?”

“No,” she said.

“Are you Elza?”

She didn't answer.

“I'm not Hess.”

“Tell me something, Zack. Why pull the trick with that robber?”

“It was an accident, Quebec.”

She shook her head. “Let's assume I'm not stupid. Why did you challenge that man? Were you trying to draw other Observers?”

“I didn't know I could come back from a bullet to the brain.”

Quebec watched him from the corner of her eye as she stopped at a light. “We don't die, Zack. Not ever. Not even when it's the only thing we want. Which is why you don't want the others to get their hands on you. Back there, Kerzon wasn't abducting you to bake cookies.”

“I know.”

“You’re lucky I was there.”

Zack glanced to the gun resting in her lap. “So you’re not going to shoot me?”

“I never promised that, Zack.”

“Quit saying my name like that. You might as well be using the other one.”

Quebec reached into her purse and tossed him a set of handcuffs. “Put those on and be quiet. I need to figure out what I’m going to do.”