Breakfast the next day was cold and tasteless, but so was everything else these days.
Arthur had fallen asleep after everyone else and woken before them in the early dawn. He watched them sleep. Jamar had his head propped up in a corner, and Kurisu slept soundly on his chest. Kris lay sprawled on the floor like a dead man whereas Sky had curled into a tight fetal position, her mouth slightly open, snoring softly. The smell of breakfast roused them all.
Between bites, they asked what Arthur planned to do. He told them he would take care of it, and left it at that.
After they ate, they waited. Sure enough, Marko and Ed came for them. With a motion from their guns, the group obeyed moved out. Their captors led them upstairs and outside to the lawn where they were first captured. It seemed fitting somehow.
Most of Tony’s group had gathered there. Armed goons stood alongside children and women, including that plump, gray-haired lady who must have been Molly. They surrounded the perimeter of the yard and stood waiting, like an audience ready to hear a serial killer’s sentencing. It disgusted Arthur even more.
Tony stood in the middle of them all. Marko led the group up to him and stopped only feet away. They weren’t bound, but there were enough guns pointed at them to make running for it impossible.
Tony smiled. “You’ve heard my proposal. You’ve proven your strength and value to everyone here, and I speak for everyone when I say we’d like you to join our group.”
“Are we just supposed to forget about what you did to Kris?” Sky shouted.
“What I did was necessary,” Tony answered. “It’s not what you want to hear, but it’s the truth. I wasn’t about to risk the lives of my own for what sounded like impossible claims. Now that I know of your honesty, things have changed.”
Arthur took a step forward. He was gritting his teeth, doing his best to not punch Tony in the face right now; it’d all be worth it in the end.
“Here’s what’s going to happen: You’re going to give us our guns, unloaded, and let us go. You’re not going to follow us or shoot us in the back, either. In one hour, you’ll go to the park just a few blocks east of downtown.” He looked back at Sky. “You know which one I’m talkin’ about.”
“Ottoman Park,” she sighed.
“Right. Ottoman Park. There’s a big oak tree in the middle of the park. We’ll leave the antidote and instructions on how to make it right beneath that tree. We’ll be an hour away, and you’ll have your miracle potion. Everybody’s happy. Whaddaya say?”
Tony put his hands on his hips and shifted his weight. He smiled politely, like someone had just told him a bad joke. “Tell me, soldier: How do I know the antidote will be there?”
Arthur spread his hands. “You said we’ve proven our worth. You said we’re trustworthy. I guess it’s time you prove it.”
Tony stuck his tongue into his cheek. “And if I decline?”
“Well, there’s no way in hell we’d join ya, so I guess we’d stay locked up in your basement until we find a chance to escape or kill one of your men and revolt. And trust me; we will.” He whispered the last sentence, letting him know it was more than a threat.
Tony nodded. “You’ve got a deal.”
“The fuck?” Marko cried in disbelief.
Tony held up a hand to silent the redhead. “On one condition: You take a radio with you and check in every two minutes. The second you stop talking to me, my boys chase you down.” He unclipped the radio from his belt and handed it to Arthur.
“And if we get out of range?” Arthur said.
“The range is pretty good on these things. The only way you’ll fall outta radius is if you drive away.”
Arthur nodded. “Fine,” he said. “We’re going, people,” he said, motioning to his group.
“What about our guns?” Sky said.
Tony whistled. Two men emerged from the house carrying the group’s weapons. Arthur practically snatched his sniper as it was extended toward him and caressed the scope. He checked the magazine. It was empty, of course. The others checked over their own weapons as Arthur started down the road.
“Let’s go!” Arthur called over his shoulder. They walked east, toward the rising sun.
“What the fuck are we doing?” Sky hissed.
“No one look behind,” Arthur said, ignoring Sky’s outburst. “If they’ve decided to shoot us, we’re already dead; don’t give them the satisfaction by lookin’ them in the eye before they pull the trigger.”
Kurisu whimpered, but they all obeyed.
They rounded a corner, and Arthur’s radio immediately crackled with static. “I hope you’re not getting any second thoughts about our arrangement,” came Tony’s distorted voice.
“Course not,” Arthur grumbled into the receiver.
They walked for five minutes, passing through the downtown area, before Tony checked in again. “Still with me, Arthur?”
“I’m here,” Arthur sighed.
“Glad to hear it.”
Arthur stopped and looked at Sky. “I’m lost now. You’re on point.”
Sky took the lead and continued, taking the group through unfamiliar backyards and alleyways.
“So, what’s your plan?” Jamar asked after Tony’s third radio call. “Are we just gonna drive off once an hour’s up?”
“Well, considering the antidote is bullshit, yes, I think that’s what we’re gonna do,” Arthur grumbled.
“Jesus,” Sky cursed. “These guys are gonna come after us, aren’t they?”
“No way,” Kurisu said. She was only fooling herself.
“No, they’ll come after us,” Arthur noted with grim confidence. “Some of them, anyway.”
“They have families to take care of,” Kurisu said. “Why would they abandon them?”
“Because they think we have the key to their immunity,” Arthur said. “Who wouldn’t claw tooth and nail for a chance at that?”
“So we leave ‘em a note that says we lied about the antidote,” Jamar suggested. “They go home empty-handed, and we peel out.”
“Not likely,” Arthur said. “They saw Kris survive a zombie bite. Ironically, they’ll either think we’re lying about not having the antidote, or they’ll chase us down and kill us outta spite and rage.”
“So what the fuck do we do?” Sky asked, her face panic-stricken.
Arthur opened his mouth to speak, but Tony cut him off. “Almost to the RV there, Arthur?”
Art sighed, grit his teeth, and responded, “We’re still a ways off.”
“Actually, we’re here,” Sky said. The group passed a shed and there it was, just as they’d left it.
“Good. They’ll think it’s farther than it is. Buys us some time to prepare.”
“P-prepare for what?” Kris asked.
“Are we sure we weren’t followed?” Jamar said, looking in every direction.
“No. Now let’s go.”
Inside, Arthur scribbled a note, folded it, and put it inside his jacket. “We need a fake antidote, just to buy us a few more seconds.”
“Wait, we’re actually gonna try and trick ‘em?” Jamar said, dumbfounded. “What’s the point?”
“Don’t question me,” Arthur said.
“How about a water bottle with some dye or something?” Sky suggested.
“Good. Do it.” Sky made to move toward the kitchen, but Arthur held up his hand. “No. You get us to Ottoman Park. Kurisu!”
“We need a fake antidote.”
“Um, okay.” She, Jamar, and Kris went to work, digging through cupboards and drawers looking for something to dye a bottle of water.
Arthur stood behind Sky’s seat as she pulled the RV out of the driveway. “So what’s your plan?”
“I think it’s better you don’t know,” Arthur replied. He took a drag on his cigarette. Without looking, Sky snatched it from his lips and tossed it out the window.
“Why are you being so secretive? Just tell me.”
Arthur sighed. “Just get us to Ottoman Park. Park far away, but within eyeshot of that big oak tree.”
She did as she was told, stopping atop a small crest several hundred yards away from the park. Perfect.
“Your hour’s almost up, Arthur,” came Tony’s voice again. “Will that antidote be waiting for us?”
“This is my last check in,” Arthur said. “Your radio will be waiting under the tree with the antidote.”
“And the recipe?”
Arthur patted the folded note in his pocket. “You got it.”
“Good luck to you and yours, Arthur.”
“Same to you,” Arthur said back without pressing the push-to-speak button. “Wait here,” he told the others. “I’m dropping this shit off.” He motioned to Kurisu, who threw him the “antidote,” which was nothing more than florescent green water. It looked radioactive. She shrugged sheepishly, and he left.
Arthur didn’t take his time making his way to the park. He walked as quickly as his brittle bones would take him. At the base of the tree, he looked in all directions. Seeing the coast was clear, he dropped the radio, antidote, and note at its roots and hurried back. Sky started the RV as he stepped inside.
“We’re not leavin’ yet,” he said. He grabbed his sniper.
Sky stood up. “Arthur?”
All eyes were on him now. “Like I said: We gotta scare ‘em. We gotta make ‘em think we got the ability and the balls to defend ourselves. Otherwise, we end up dead. Or undead.”
“Arthur, what are you gonna do?” Sky said.
The others only stared. He looked at them all before telling Sky, “Wait for my signal, then drive.” He opened the roof hatch, threw his rifle up, climbed through the hole, and closed it behind him.
Lying flat on his stomach and propping the rifle up with his elbows, he peered down the scope of his sniper. He adjusted his zoom and sights to account for the wind and humidity. It had been too long since he used his baby at such a distance. Today Arthur would find out if he still had what it took.
Movement on the horizon. A group of men walked into view, Tony at the forefront. They seemed apprehensive and cautious, guns raised, moving slowly, heads peering in every direction. Sky had parked in a good spot; it was too far away and dark for anyone to make them out.
Someone pointed, and Tony looked. He approached the tree.
Arthur licked his lips.
Tony crouched and picked up a glowing green bottle, then the radio.
He found the note. Just as he unfolded it, Arthur fired, knowing he’d have enough time to read it before the bullet reached its target. Arthur’s body shook with the powerful knockback of the gun, and Kurisu screamed. Arthur watched for what felt like a minute before the shot entered Tony’s skull, splattering his brains and bits of skull against the oak of the tree.
Arthur smiled, knowing his group would be safe after Marko pried the note from Tony’s lifeless hands and read it, quivering: “A bullet to the head; there’s your antidote.”