Chapter 19 – Zack – Iteration 144
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Quebec escorted him into her room at the Butler Days Inn, then released one of his hands to cuff him to the bed. When she finished securing him, Quebec went to the room’s table, placed her gun down, and retrieved implements from a suitcase already in the room. All without saying a word. She hadn’t spoken except to silence him since the car.

With the assistance of a tiny screwdriver, the handgun came apart in her hands. Quebec drizzled oil onto a rag and several Q-tips, then began to thoroughly scrub the weapon. Her every movement was deliberate in the extreme, almost inhumanly economical.

“What kind of gun is it?”

His other questions had only tightened the skin around her eyes, but she answered this one. “It’s a Ruger Security Six. I’m firing three fifty-seven hollow points through it.”

“Do you have to clean it very often?”

“I clean it after every trip to the range. And sometimes just to help me think.”

Zack looked around the hotel room. Besides two suitcases and the cleaning kit on the table, Quebec had left no mark on the place. “Do you go to the range a lot?”

“Most people would say so.”

“How often do you go?”

Quebec dropped the rag and began to rapidly reassemble her pistol. “I try to put three hundred rounds downrange every week.”

“Is it expensive?”

“Doesn’t matter. I can get as much money as I need.”

“How?”

“Casinos,” Quebec said.

“What, you count cards?”

“I count cards, read expressions, do probability analyses. And when I win big, I make sure it is statistically likely so I avoid notice. Casinos are like ATM’s to me.” Quebec tightened a final screw, loaded six rounds into the cylinder, and snapped it closed with a flick of her wrist.

Now that she’s talking . . . . “So what are we going to do?”

Quebec dug into a suitcase and brought out a slim laptop. “I haven’t decided yet. We should leave the area, change identities, and lay low. That’s what we should do.”

“Then why aren’t we doing that?”

Her fingers drummed on the table. “Because I don’t think I can walk away from them. They deserve the very worst I can do to them.”

“I know.” Zack thought of Lacey, begging him to save her and the baby. “I know they do.”

“But not the darkness,” Quebec said, voice soft. She looked towards him, making eye contact for the first time since the car.

He dropped his eyes. “I don’t know what they did to you, but you can’t do that to them.”

“That’s what they did to me, Zack. Locked me away in the dark. Me and the man I loved. It’s impossible to know how long I was there before the world ended. All I can say is it was too long. Did you know I can’t even ride an elevator? Every time I think of stepping inside, I imagine the thing breaking down and trapping me inside. Try dealing with that in New York City.”

Zack cleared his throat. “Does night bother you?”

“I’m not a big fan of the dark.” Quebec stood and walked to stand beside where he lay on the bed. She held out her wrist to display an analog watch with neon hands and hour markers. “My watch is made with tritium. The hands and hour markers will glow day and night for over ten years.” She undid the clasp and removed the watch. Quebec leaned over him to wrap it around the wrist of his free hand. Her dark hair tickled his face as she fastened it.

“Now you don’t have to worry about the dark,” she said.

When Quebec stood, Zack released a breath he didn’t realize he had been holding. The scent of her, floral fabric softener and fruit body lotion mingled with gunpowder and oil, lingered over him. “Won’t you need the watch?”

Her eyes were steady on him. “I think it’s enough not being alone.”

“I’m not him,” Zack said.

Quebec turned her back on him and went to her laptop. “I’m trying to find their base of operations. It will be somewhere close, but remote enough that no one will interfere with them. They haven’t had much time to set up in the area, so they’re probably squatting in an unoccupied hunting lodge or abandoned building. Do you know of anywhere they could hole up? It would have to be out of screaming range of neighbors.”

“I know where they are.”

Her back stiffened. “You were there? How did you escape?”

“Someone named Ingrid helped me out.”

“Ingrid? Are you sure it was her? Maybe I’ll go easy on her for that.”

“Ingrid was a man.”

“Well, she was a woman the first time we met her,” Quebec said.

“I am not Hess.”

In a sudden motion, Quebec swiped her laptop from the table, sending it crashing to the floor. “You’re not Hess? Then why does everyone think you are? Do you think we’re stupid?” Her voice grew shriller. “There are a million different ways for us to identify each other. We know. So please stop the act. Please.”

“I’m sorry, Quebec.” Zack closed his eyes to block out her pain. “Was he your husband?”

Husband?” She shook her head. “Never my husband. Never. Marriage is what these people do to ease their insecurities. They try to bind love in a contract. We never needed that. You chose me world by world, moment by moment, again and again. We’ve spent lifetimes together. I don’t even know who I am without you.” Quebec wrestled herself back under control. “Who else is with them?”

“Erik. A guy named Drake. I heard them mention someone named Griff, but I never met him.”

“So Erik, Drake, Griff, Ingrid, and Kerzon. I might be able to handle the five of them.”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” he said. “You’re not exactly Rambo.”

“I have enough muscles to pull a trigger. It takes over five minutes to regenerate after a death. If I can surprise them, then my only trouble will be restraining the bodies before they wake up.”

“They were going to bury me in the ground. What if they do that to you? It would be a lot worse than getting on an elevator. And Erik has a few kinks that almost make you want to go underground.” Zack raised his chin. “I won’t tell you where they are unless you promise not to go after them.”

She bent to retrieve her laptop. “I can find them without you.”

“They’re not where you think they are.”

“Then I go back to your trailer and wait for them to pick up their truck.”

“Enough people have been hurt already,” Zack said.

“Your wife?”

“Her name’s Lacey. Erik threatened to cut the baby out of her.”

Quebec looked at him. “Do you love her?”

“I like her most of the time.”

“The baby isn’t yours. Observers are sterile.”

Zack shrugged. “She was pregnant before I met her. What does it matter which body made the baby? Lacey needed someone. Her baby will need someone. Why shouldn’t I do something useful while I’m stuck here?”

The hint of a smile played at the corner of her lips. “What do you see when you look at these people? Do you dream of a better world for them?”

“They make such a mess of their lives,” Zack said. “But they’re happy with it. I don’t understand that. I wish I could, but I can’t.”

Quebec nodded, serious again. “Sometimes happiness seems impossible.”

“Promise me you won’t go after them.”

“Show me where they are and I promise to stay away.”

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