By: Walter G. Esselman
It still pained Liberty that she had lost her favorite knife back in the City of Angels. The knife was probably still stuck in the eye of that dead zom.
And finding an adequate replacement had been tougher than she had imagined. A good zom-killing-knife had to be long and thin, to get through the eye and into the brain. The knife-under-the-chin thing wouldn't pierce the brain, unless you were using a sword.
But would such a knife have been useful in this extremely delicate matter anyways. She sheathed her new one and went to her leather boots.
As she leaned over, she caught a whiff of them and recoiled.
"Uggh," she said to herself. "Next time that I'm on the mainland, I either need to get a new pair of boots, or a ton of some Dr. Scholl's Febreezey stuff." She considered that. "Or, maybe just napalm."
Liberty took the boot knife. The blade was smaller, and thus better suited for the job. She returned to her private bath on the yacht. A ship which they had found abandoned.
As she sharpened the blade on a whetstone, the former librarian pondered how lucky they had gotten. Not getting eaten by zoms, or weird alien-birds, had already been a plus.
Sitting on the edge of her very own bathtub, Liberty examined the blade, which looked nice and sharp. Still, she wished she had found a pair of scissors.
Focusing all her attention, she began the extremely delicate work of some landscaping.
Liberty stepped out of her room and fought back the urge to change again. She had only managed to scrounge three dresses for tonight. And she really wanted to wear a dress. She hadn't worn one in awhile, not since she had walked out of her library and was almost eaten by a zombified police officer.
Memories of those confounding first days started to flood in, and she looked down at the intricate tattoo sleeves on her arms. Embedded in the Japanese style were the names of those that had not made it. One name stood out, 'Jamie'.
Liberty immediately stopped herself and pushed back hard.
"No," she said. "You've already cried enough about losing them."
Some days, like today, that talk worked.
Stepping away from her room, she moved swiftly through the yacht on slippers that could pass for shoes.
In one of the rec rooms, Liberty reached her new favorite couch. She screeched to a halt.
A blistering anger rose swiftly.
"Where are my books," she hissed.
Liberty shot forward and searched the room hard. Cabinets were swung open. But, her tiny collection of books the precious few that she had scrounged from the mainland were gone. She resisted the urge to get her sniper rifle, but only just.
Moving into the hallway, she nearly collided with Colin.
"Whoa!" called out the 11-year-old in surprise. He looked up with a grin on his face. "Hey! Watch where you're "
Then he saw her. Instantly, he stilled as she looked down at him.
"Um, hey ," started the boy, eyes dropping.
Liberty realized that the dark-skinned boy was afraid, and for a second, she was worried that someone had threatened him. Then, she realized that Colin was looking at her, or rather her feet.
Taking a moment, Liberty took a deep breath and made herself relax a little. She opened her eyes to see Colin looking cautiously up at her.
"You okay?" he asked softly, worriedly.
Liberty made herself smile. It was a little forced, but there. "Sorry. I just I didn't mean to worry you."
"What happened?" asked Colin.
"Something is missing," she said.
Then, Liberty pulled him into a quick reassuring hug.
"What was that for?" asked the boy.
"More for me than anything else," admitted Liberty.
"Okay," said Colin, uncertainly. "So, what's missing?"
"Those books we brought back," said Liberty. "You haven't seen them, have you?"
Colin blinked. "They're in there." He walked past her, into the rec room. Suddenly, he was back at the door. "Hey! What happened to your books?"
This time, her smile was genuine.
"I don't know," said Liberty. "I do know that they were there last night."
"And why are you wearing a dress?" asked Colin, quickly shifting gears.
"I ," started Liberty, but she suddenly felt embarrassed. "Um, let's find my books, then I'll tell you."
"Okay," shrugged Colin. He walked out into the corridor and looked around. "Where do we even start?"
Liberty looked around herself. This was not a small ship.
"Well, let's check the nearest rooms first," she said.
Shortly, she came out empty-handed and stopped, cocking a hip.
Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed Colin was looking at something really hard. At first, she didn't understand what was that interesting, but then it hit her.
Her heart thumped. A part of her wanted to snap, but she quickly realized that this was not a city street. This was an eleven-year-old boy, and she needed to do this right.
"It's okay to notice, but try not to stare too hard," said Liberty with gentle reproach.
"What?" asked Colin in surprise. "I mean I wasn't "
Liberty turned with a gentle smile. "It's okay. Really."
"I'm I'm sorry for staring too hard," mumbled Colin.
"You weren't," said Liberty. "But that was just extra advice. You're going to start noticing girlsunless you like boyswhich is okay too, because "
"Definitely girls," said Colin quickly. "Actually though, since I'm you're well, kinda-parent, you probably shouldn't stare at me," said Liberty uncertainly. "I mean "
"Oh!" cried out Colin as he jumped around her to continue searching. "Did I tell you that Dr. Tagg and I did an autopsy on a seagull?"
"What?" asked Liberty in surprise. She decided to let him change topics. But she did need to talk to Tagg and Uncle Danny, and soon.
Unaware of her thoughts, Colin kept going. "Yeah. It just fell over dead, and a sailor was going to throw it overboard, but Dr. Tagg stopped him."
"I can imagine the look on the sailor's face," chuckled Liberty.
"I dunno. But Dr. Tagg said that he was worried that it might be in-fect-tious," said Colin, having a little trouble with the word. "Which means it could spread a disease."
"Sounds dangerous," nodded Liberty.
"That's why Dr. Tagg made us 'suit up'," said Colin.
"He had me get into a yellow plastic suit with plastic gloves and boots, which were a little big," said Colin excitedly. "Then he taped down the hands and ankles, so that it was a complete seal."
"Wow!" said Liberty sincerely. "He was serious."
"He said that we needed to be careful, so we also put on little masks ," began Colin.
"Surgical masks?" asked Liberty.
"Yeah! That's it! Then a plastic face shield."
"He didn't want to leave anything to chance. So, did you find out why the bird died?"
"No," moaned Colin. "We looked at all the organs. But Tagg said that the heart didn't look right, so he " The boy stopped. "Are those wine bottles?"
Liberty looked down the corridor and saw that, lined up against a wall, were indeed wine bottles.
They walked quickly forward. Merlot, Pinot Noir, and more were spread like a trail of breadcrumbs.
Down the hallway, at the end the wine, was a stack of books. In fact, Liberty's books. She stopped outside a small walk-in with glass doors.
"Um, Uncle Danny," called out Colin tentatively. "You might want to run. Like, now!"
And then the boy backed up a bit.
This made Uncle Danny turn around.
"Mija?" asked the Big Mexican in surprise, her James Patterson book in his hand.
From the reaction of both guys, Liberty realized that she must be looking scary again. She dragged down her anger and took a moment to speak.
"Hi," said Liberty in a calm voice. "We were looking for my books."
"Ah!" said Uncle Danny. "I thought that I could get it done faster but I ran into a snag."
The peanut gallery, Colin suggested. "You might even want to jump overboard, an' swim for the Fleet. Just sayin'."
Liberty turned to the boy. "Yes, I was unhappy when I first saw that my books were gone, but now, I see that there might be more to this."
"Unhappy?" scoffed Colin. "You were scary mad."
Uncle Danny leaned out of the room and looked at the boy. "'Scary mad'? You mean our Liberty?"
Colin nodded quickly.
Uncle Danny looked back at her. "I'm sorry. I was going to surprise you, but time got away from me."
Liberty held up a hand. "It's okay." And then she looked into the small room and saw the wooden racks for holding wine. "Why are you in the wine cellar, or whatever it's called."
"I couldn't sleep ," started Uncle Danny.
"Again?" asked Liberty in concern. "You should see a doctor on the carrier. Maybe they have something for that, like Ambien."
Colin as he wandered up, now that he had deemed it safe.
"That's what my mama took," said the boy. At the mention of his departed mother, the boy's face fell.
Liberty reached out and pulled the boy into a side hug. She looked back up.
"So, yeah," said Liberty. "If the doctor thinks Ambien, or whatever, is safe, we can pick more up, once we're on the coast."
"Maybe," shrugged Uncle Danny. "I just I hate taking medicine."
"But a good night's sleep is important too," said Liberty, usingwithout realizing ither 'Mom' voice.
"True," agreed Danny.
"Anyhow," said Liberty quickly. "What got you thinking about my books and the wine room?"
"The sea air," replied Uncle Danny. "Not being able to sleep, I thought about borrowing one of your books. But then, I realized that the sea air is literally just going to kill'em."
"Oh my Gosh," said Liberty in surprise. "I didn't even think about how moist the air is."
"And this," said Uncle Danny waving at the wine cellar. "Is climate controlled."
"The wine?" asked Liberty.
"At first, I wasn't sure if it'd work," said Uncle Danny. "I mean, if this was all stocked with Domaine de La Romainee-Conti, or Vina Cobos, then I'd have to think of something else but this " He gestured at the wine. " is lucky to be in the hallway."
"Can I have some?' asked Colin.
"Maybe a sip later," said Uncle Danny. "But only if it is a good wine."
"What's the difference?" asked Colin.
"I can't give you crappy wine," insisted Uncle Danny. "That'd be like feeding you horse meat."
"And you know wine? "asked Liberty curiously, who hadn't recognized the wine names.
"I was a sommelier in a past life," smiled Uncle Danny.
"A what?" asked Colin.
"Someone at a fancy restaurant, who helps the guest pick their wine," said Uncle Danny. "I only did it at first to help my friend Pepe, and because it paid more, but then I got a real taste for it."
"You'd be a scarywaiter,"said the boy.
Liberty looked down. "Colin, that's not nice,"
"He's right though," said Uncle Danny.
"See!" said Colin with vindication.
Liberty gave Uncle Danny a hard look. "You're not helping," she said.
"You're right too," admitted Uncle Danny. He turned to Colin. "She is too, about you saying that I look scary. I mean, I like it, but some people might take offense."
"So, you want me to just shut up," said Colin in a pout.
"Mi abuela explained it this way," said Uncle Danny. "She said that there are outside thoughts that you can share, and inside thoughts that you really shouldn't share, maybe ever."
"So saying 'you're scary' was an inside thought?" asked Colin.
Liberty looked at the boy. "Well, you're really saying that, because of the way he looks, that he can only do certain jobs."
"Like rob places," said Danny.
"And making assumptions can lead to trouble," said Liberty.
"Like what?" asked Colin.
"Pepe," said Uncle Danny.
"Your friend?" asked Colin.
"Yeah. Before Pepe had the restaurant, he was a security guard," said Uncle Danny. "And he really wanted to do a good job. So, when he saw someone in a tattered coat come in, he kicked them out, a little forcefully."
"Oh no," said Liberty.
"What?" asked Colin in confusion.
"It was the CEO, who always dresses down," explained Uncle Danny, and Colin laughed. "Luckily, the CEO had a sense of humor, or Pepe would've been in big trouble."
"You know," said Liberty thoughtfully. "Having this wine might help open some doors with other ships. In case we need their help or want to trade."
"Maybe," said Uncle Danny, and she looked at him questioningly. "If it's an okay wine, that'd be okay. But I don't want to give any bad wine." He looked at the boy. "Giving bad wine is terrible etiquette."
"What's ed-eh-cat?" asked Colin.
"How we behave with each other," explained Uncle Danny. "How we treat others is important." He looked back up at Liberty. "However, when we're on the mainland, we might look for some good stuff."
Uncle Danny leaned back and looked at her dress with curiosity.
"And why, mija," asked the Big Mexican. "Are you dressed to the nines?"
"What?" asked Liberty and Colin as one.
"I mean, why are you dressed so ," began Uncle Danny when a voice called out from on deck.
"H hello?" it said.
Colin cried out. "That's Tagg!" And he was off like a shot.
With a huge dollop of amusement, Uncle Danny looked from the disappearing boy to Liberty.
"Shut up," muttered Liberty to her friend, and she went after Colin.
Uncle Danny trailed behind.
"You don't have to follow," said Liberty repressively.
"Oh yes," said Uncle Danny. "Yes, I do. I need to see if this cabrón is not some bum, unworthy of you."
"It's Tagg," she grumbled.
Liberty was perturbed, and oddly embarrassed, as Uncle Danny walked beside her, whistling aimlessly.
Before they came upon the two, she could hear Colin talking excitedly to Tagg.
" and Liberty got scary mad, but then she saw that Uncle Danny was putting everything in the wine cellar, except that it's not in a cellar, so I don't know why they call it that, but Uncle Danny wants to put her books in there," said Colin breathlessly.
Liberty put her hands-on Colin's shoulders, and the boy looked up at her.
"Take a deep breath," she smiled. "You're going to pass out, talking so fast."
"It's okay," said Tagg, good-naturedly. He had a barrel chest that stretched his white shirt. He wore a textured-knit tie, possibly from the 70's. The Doctor of Medicine was about to say more when he really saw her. Dr. Miles McTaggert's jaw dropped open. "Um ah "
"What're you looking at?" demanded a booming voice.
Everyone turned to Uncle Danny.
Colin whispered. "See. He looks scary."
"Shush sweetie," said Liberty, though she quite agreed.
But the Big Mexican was focused on the doctor.
"Wha what?" asked Dr. Tagg.
Uncle Danny moved slowly forward, like the tide coming in. "You. You got a job?"
"Wha what?" asked Tagg.
"A job," continued Uncle Danny testily. "A source of income. I need to know that you're not one of those guys, who'll lay on the couch all day, expecting his woman to wait on him."
"Wha..," started Dr. McTaggert. "Um, besides being well, the doctor for all of you, I am trying to find a cure for the zombie virus. Is that what you mean?"
"Do you have a car?" asked Uncle Danny.
"I borrowed a boat to take us tonight," said Tagg.
"Do you know that you have shaving cream on your ear?" asked Uncle Danny.
Tagg tried to wipe away the cream, but on the wrong ear.
"Okay, that's enough," said Liberty to the Big Mexican. "You've had your fun."
"Hey," said Uncle Danny defensively. "Excuse me for trying to make sure that he's an okay guy."
"He's a very okay guy," said Liberty warmly. "And he's taking me to dinner on the carrier."
"As in the carrier of our little fleet?" whistled Uncle Danny. "Fancy living."
"The captain invited me and Tagg to a little dinner," said Liberty, and then she lowered her voice conspiratorially. "It'll probably just be food out of a can."
"Well that's okay," said Uncle Danny, with more cheer. "Me and miho can see how many books we can put in the wine cellar. But I might need to drop by Home Depot, next time we're on the coast."
"Whatever you need," said Liberty indulgently. Stepping away from Colin, she went up to Tagg. One finger swiped away the shaving cream from his ear. "Ready?"
Tagg, not trusting his voice, just smiled and nodded quickly. Taking his arm, Liberty left with him.
Colin's brow furrowed. "What was that?"
Uncle Danny grinned happily. "Come on miho, it's boy's night tonight. Gonna watch an action movie."