It wasn’t just me. I wasn’t the only one who’d thought that the girl in the bed of the body gathering truck looked like Jill. This Maybe-Jill was in filthy cover-alls, with her hair plastered to her head with muck, eyes peering from a face that was dark with grime and exhaustion and sorrow…Real Jill was all bubbly light. But there was still a Jill-ness about the figure.
“JILL!,” bellowed Mike, and he took off running toward the truck. Maybe-Jill’s head turned in our direction and her hand went to her throat, but she didn’t shout back, and she didn’t try to move toward us. Any chance we had of getting a “Yes, I’m Really Jill” reaction from her was lost when the truck suddenly lurched into gear and started its uptown movement again. The movement of the truck caused Maybe-Jill to stumble into the side rail of the truck bed. Her momentum spun her sideways, and she fell into the pile of bodies behind her.
Mike was a sprinter, but he wasn’t a distance guy. Well, he actually wasn’t even a sprinter. As the truck disappeared into the distance, Mike slowed. Then, he stopped. His arms continued to flail briefly, like they were willing to fly Mike to Jill’s rescue even if his legs weren’t up to the job. Then, his arms gave up too, and they put Mike’s hands on his knees to facilitate Mike bending over and gasping for air.
Mike was still frozen in that defeated position, hands on knees, face staring down at the pavement, when Moira and I rolled the hamper up to him. Mike swiveled his head to look at us. I expected to see devastation in his eyes. I expected to see shame marring his features.
What I saw on Mike’s face was triumph. A hand left a knee and plucked a broken slender gold chain from the pavement. Dangling from the chain was a small gold charm that read, “Lex”.
“Oh, hell, it really was her,” I whispered. My heart soared. My blood ran cold. If I’d had balls, I’m sure they would have done whatever it is that balls do when a person is in the grip of powerful, yet conflicting emotions. “Jaye said that prisoners worked at the Burning Pit. I’m thinking they are more like captive slaves.”
“Burning Pit?,” asked Moira. “What is that? Some new gym?”
“We’ll fill you in later,” Mike said. “Let’s get safe. Not a lot of night left. We can rescue Jill tomorrow,” he added. Since no plan we’d made so far had worked out like we’d hoped, I found his confidence absurdly misplaced. I wanted to hope too, though, so I nodded. We rolled on, nearly at the finish line. At least, the finish line for the night.
Mike’s building was a 1970s monstrosity. It towered over the pre-war buildings around it without having the height to be truly imposing. It was about 70% glass. Well, it had been about 70% glass. The lower floors had been spared, but many of the windows on the higher floors had been smashed. A small earthquake wouldn’t have been quite so destructive.
It was the first evidence we’d seen of the birds flying into windows since Kat had mentioned it. It was grim evidence. I wanted to think that one bird had battered itself against all of the windows, too stupid to understand the concept of windows and too stupid to learn, but what we were looking at had to have been caused by multiple birds. Maybe even a flock of them.
Glass crunched underfoot and under hamper wheel as we neared the doorway. A dead giant bird lay splatted on the sidewalk, its neck broken by either impact with a window or, more likely, impact with the sidewalk after a stunned fall.
“Mike,” Moira said, “I sure hope that you closed your blinds before you left home.”
“I honestly don’t know,” Mike admitted. “I get a kick out of stretching naked in front of the windows.”
Moira just looked at him.
“I do close the blinds! I really do! I just don’t remember if I did this time, ya’ know? It isn’t like anybody is going to Spider-Man up the side of the building and climb in the window to rob me. Closing the blinds is optional. Well, it USED to be optional.”
Mike punched his code into the lobby door lock and we pushed our hamper through the doors.