Time: 8:57 am
Location: En route to St. Vincent
In the months since her college graduation, Joyce Kwok-ne-Purley has served as the city’s emergency manager, whiling away the hours in a Bermuda Triangle of city, county and federal bureaucracies at Fire Station No. 1. Most of her effort has gone into compiling contacts, procedures and protocols into a three-inch-thick binder, which is sitting open on the passenger seat of her city-issued Crown Victoria.
When she’s being perfectly honest with herself, Purley knows Santa Fe’s puny size and relatively remote location hardly put the city in FEMA’s high-disaster-risk column. That may also explain why a 23-year-old like herself is trusted with orchestrating the entire city’s survival strategy.
Purley glances in the rear view at her passengers: The city’s public information officer, Laura Banish, bundled up in a hot pink ski jacket, runs her tongue over her new braces while she thumbs her Blackberry; Mayor David Coss sits bent-backed to keep his head from banging against the roof. Purley hopes her eyes don’t betray her excitement. As alarming as the epidemic alert from the hospital is, she can’t help anticipate the opportunity to finally prove her mettle.
She throws the transmission into park at Galisteo and St. Michael’s, which is blockaded by two sheriffs’ cruisers and Sheriff Greg Solano’s Ford Explorer.
“How did you beat us here?” the mayor asks, lifting himself from the back seat.
“We got a call from the Reporter,” Solano says
“Those reporters are fast,” Coss replies. “Zombies? You’re sure they’re not just those kids who spook tourists on the Plaza once a month?”
Solano hands the mayor a pair of binoculars. A quarter mile away, a dozen figures seem to be idling around like dementia sufferers—doctors in scrubs, patients wearing tie-at-the-back robes. One pathetic individual crawls on his elbows, trying to drag a wheel chair still strapped to his ankles.
A shriek pierces the air and the group whips around to see Banish frozen in abject horror as a grubby, bloody hand with a goat’s head tattoo reaches around her blond locks. A second hand, marked with an angel’s head, slaps against her face and fish-hooks her mouth. Then a head, crowned with spiky hair, rises up from behind and plunges teeth first into the back of her skull.
Banish and the corpse previously known as ER tech Mike Ranft, collapse to the ground. Purley, Coss and the sheriff look up from the blood puddle spreading on the ground and take in the new arrival. He’s a heavy set middle-aged man with a federales-style mustache who, with a bird-gloved hand, twists out the end of the golf putter he just embedded in the back of the zombie’s skull.
“We need to get her to the hospital,” the mayor’s voice trembles.
“I wouldn’t recommend it,” Vasquez says. “There’re at least another dozen of these things blocking the doors, and about 50 inside who are about to turn. Mike, here, was fine an hour ago.”
The sheriff suggests they blast their way through, but Coss immediately pulls rank and vetoes that option. Whatever they’ve become, these people are still citizens. There could be a cure.
Purley has never seen the mayor so furious and, well, jurisdictional. A spasm shoots up her arm and it takes her a beat to realize it’s the vibration of her cell phone. On the other end is Tim Manning, director of the state’s Department of Homeland Security—telling her she and the mayor need to be at the Emergency Operations Center so they can move from Level 3 observation to Level 2 activation.
“Seal off the area, if you can,” the mayor says to the sheriff as they pull away. ”But don’t shoot unless you have to.”
The sheriff nods and waits until the Crown Vic disappears down the road to say aloud to no one in particular, “How are we going to pull that off?”
A hundred thoughts swarm Vasquez’ head—his work on the railroad rights-of-way, his herding of poultry, the Santa Fe National Cemetery he sped past on the way from Española—and suddenly he’s having one of those moments of epiphany that only come to engineers.
“Sheriff,” he says. “I think I’ve got a plan.”
“Who are you?” Solano asks.
“Ed Vasquez, Department of Transportation.”
Time: 9:45 a.m.
Location: St. Michael’s Drive underpass
On the other end of the line, Santa Fe Undersheriff Robert Garcia is scribbling so hard, so fast, that if Solano took a breath for just a second, he’d hear a sonic boom burst through his Bluetooth earpiece.
“I want every available deputy called in. I want every former deputy, retired police officer, military veteran, buffalo hunter, Olympic javelin thrower you can think of pulled into service. They step in the door, they’re deputized. You got me? If anyone’s worried about their families, they can deposit them at the county jail. Tell ’em if they can’t avoid engagement, beanbag bullets first, live rounds only under threat of immediate harm.
“Council’s going to have a field day with me, but I want this confined to the city limits—block all major roads out. Then I want them to commandeer any large vehicle they find—big rigs, tractors, buses—no, strike that. Keep the buses handy in case we need to evacuate. I want every intersection, parking lot, drive-in blocked on St. Francis, from 285 to Cerrillos.”
A procession of fire engines and squad cars descend from the St. Francis Drive off-ramp and flip around the intersection.
“Get someone combing the Net for some intel on zombies,” Solano says. For the first time since he dialed headquarters, he pauses to listen. “Yes, zombies. OK, I don’t know if they’re zombies or not, but they’re sick, infected people and only a shot to the head will stop ’em.”
As Vasquez and Solano board the sheriff’s Explorer, the sheriff gestures for the confused firefighters to set up their hoses.
“Put this all into a plan with anything else you can think of, and make it happen as you write it. I’ll see you in 15.”
Solano drives faster than he barks orders. Vasquez watches the dashboard clock, clicking his tongue to count the seconds. Zombies or not, there’s one sure advantage the humans have over the monsters: speed. They pull off the highway after exactly eight minutes and 12 seconds.
“Hey, hold on,” Solano says as Vasquez jerks the door handle clumsily with his glove. The sheriff retrieves a thumbnail-size badge from his front shirt pocket and presses it into Vasquez’ hand.
“I usually give ’em to kids, but it’s all I got,” Solano says. “Under Section 4-41-10 of the statutes of the state of New Mexico, I hereby appoint you a special deputy. You’re a ‘respectable and orderly’ person, right? Can’t give you a firearm, though.”
Vasquez smiles and lifts his putter.
EXTRA: Download Sheriff Solano's Zombie Defense Plan!