“I’m hoping like hell,” I said to Mike as I sawed him free from the pole, “that the other pole sitter over there is Moira.”
Mike pulled a gag from his mouth, gulped air, and licked his dry lips with a dry tongue. “Yes,” he croaked, “it’s Moira.”
“Where are the pets, Mike?” I didn’t want to ask, but I had to ask. Lexington had been with Mike, and I’d dropped Bethel’s carrier for Moira to grab while Trish was hustling me off to commode prison. My hopes for Jill’s cat and my dog were so faded that I could have read a newspaper through them.
“Under the platform,” Mike croaked. “We left the carriers and acted like the backpacks were all we had. They took the backpacks. They were glad to have the stuff. They didn’t look for anything else.”
Mike was untied enough that I could leave him to finish freeing himself. Jill nearly had Moira sawed off the pole, and I almost smiled to see Moira’s red, outraged face. But, our party wasn’t complete. I might never be complete again, if Bethel wasn’t under that platform.
I jumped down to the ground and threw myself onto my belly. I crawled past the bleeding guards. One reached for me, and I kicked his hand. He yelped and stopped grabbing. It was dark under the platform, but not so dark that I was totally blind. I saw some lumps way toward the back, and I cursed that I had so far to crawl. It would have been much faster if I asked Mike where to look under the platform instead of diving right under, but I was stupid with fear and renewed hope.
After an eternity of crawling, which I do not recommend because adults are not meant to crawl, not even Army guys, I reached the lumps. They were the pet carriers. I was so close to the back edge of the platform that all I had to do was roll a couple of times and I was out in the air with the bags. I unzipped one, and Lexington popped out his head and blinked at me. I shoved his head back down and zipped him in.
I unzipped the other one and no head popped out. I couldn’t bear to look. I knew Bethel was in there. I’d felt her familiar little pudgy weight when I’d grabbed the bag, but she wasn’t moving. I blindly, but gently stuck my hand in. She bit me. My heart soared. I had my dog back.
I let the pets pee. I’d had a bathroom break, and I knew they needed one, too. Lexington did me the incredible favor of peeing immediately and not running away. Bethel farted around for a second before she peed. Then she tried to run away. But, she was fat, so I caught her easily.
I elected to climb onto the platform and walk back rather than crawling. Although, I’ll confess that I was so tired and stupid that I did nearly crawl back. On the platform, I saw Mike and Jill removing the last ropes from Moira. Then, Mike and Moira simultaneously wrapped Jill in a bear hug. Jill stood awkwardly stiff at first, then her arms came up from her sides and she returned their hug, but just for a second.
“Jill,” I said, “Jill, here’s Lexington.” I handed her the pet carrier. She unzipped it and looked inside. Her drawn face glowed back into beauty again as she smiled at her cat. I knew that we owed Jonathan for at least some of the crap we’d gone through that night, but we also owed him for the return of Lexington. I made a mental note to not kill Jonathan when we saw him again. Or to kill him nice, if we had to kill him.
As we all stood there having our moment of reunion and mutual relief, I realized that I could see faces clearly. The sky was getting lighter. We had to get to shelter before full daylight. The only thought I had was Mike’s apartment. If we ran like hell and didn’t encounter any difficulty, we could make it.
Of course, we immediately encountered difficulty.