Eric fumbled with the buttons on the arm rest of the stolen Nissan. A blast of humid night air hit him. It smelled like charred beef.
“Snow Bunny, can you hear me?” Adrenaline shot his voice up a few octaves.
“Loud and clear, Earth Worm. What the hell happened?” She jumped off the bed and pressed her forehead against the hotel window, searching the Miami skyline as if she could find him.
“You said there were no guards!” Glancing in the rear view mirror had become his latest tick as he navigated the short grid of turns toward the highway. “FYI, there were two freakin’ guards, Snow Bunny! Two!”
“Shit.” Long bit of silence. “Sorry. But, you got out with the samples, right?”
Eric slipped the cool-pack full of vials from his black canvas jacket, tossing them onto the seat beside him.
“Affirmative.” Sarcasm and fear. He cranked up the air. “I think someone’s following me.”
“Earth worm, listen to me.” Her voice was measured, painfully calm. “Eric…the hard part is over. Now you just have to get that evidence to the Sun’s reporter. He’s there waiting. Just keep driving, that’s all you have to do. You know how important this is. You’re the messenger; this has to get out to the public.”
He wiped at his nose, checked the rear view mirror and jerked the wheel hard right, swerving over two lanes and jumping onto I-75 at the last minute. The suspected black van didn’t make it.
“Yeah, the messenger of death.” And then louder, so she could hear him, “getting onto Alligator Alley now.”
“Okay. Good. Anyone behind you?”
“Negative. You know what they’ll do if they catch me, right?”
“They won’t. Just drive. One hour and it’ll be out of your hands. We’re doing the right thing. They are monsters. And Eric…”
“Don’t let those vials break.”
He cranked up the radio so he couldn’t hear the pounding in his chest or the blood rushing through his head. It was almost three in the morning so traffic was light, but still, every time lights appeared behind him, he held his breath until they passed.
The road was a long straight ribbon of blacktop cutting through the Everglades. Metal fencing bordering both sides of the highway flew by in intermitten flashes. He suddenly longed for a couple short months ago when all he had to worry about was passing his Chem. II final.
Ding ding. Eric moved his attention from the road to the dashboard. A tiny red light glared at him.
“What the…?” His heart did a flip flop and almost stopped. “C..c..come in. Snow Bunny? Angela!”
“What, what’s wrong? Are they behind you?”
“I’m almost out of gas.” No response. “Did you hear me?”
“You stole a car that was on empty?!”
“I didn’t exactly have time to check.”
“There are no gas stations on Alligator Alley.”
“Okay, go as far as you can and then…you’ll have to walk. I have to think.”
Eric slowed the car down to 55 mph. He had heard this was the most gas efficient speed. Things were becoming very surreal and he was getting numb from the terror, feeling nothing but the sensation of a cold sweat.
And then he heard it. The unmistakable thump thump thump of a chopper. He knew this was no coincidence. They were looking for him. The car began to putter. Slamming his hands on the steering wheel, he eased it off the road and brought it to rest close to the fence. He killed the lights.
“Angela?” Static. “Angela!” Were they blocking the radio signal? Now he really did feel paranoid. He ripped off the headset and hid it under the seat. Maybe he could save her, at least. Let them think he was acting alone.
As a spotlight from the helicopter came into view, sweeping back and forth like two wicked, alien eyes, his face became slick with tears. This was not going to end well for him.
Grabbing the cool-pack, he opened the door and began to run. When he was out of breath, he said a little prayer and scaled the fence. The top part, being angled down, was a bit difficult, but he soon found himself crash landing with a thud in the tall grasses beside the waterway.
The chopper was close now, but within a few minutes he heard something even more terrifying. Squealing tires, car doors…dogs. He collapsed against the fence. It was over. They would find him and make him disappear. After all this, he had failed.
Two eyes, glowing the color of moonlight appeared in the dark waters before silently submerging again.
He suddenly knew what he had to do. This had to make headlines one way or another. A few infected gators would do the trick. They couldn’t stop that in time to cover it up. He ripped open the cool pack with his teeth and one by one, unsealed the vials and drank them.
Fighting the blinding pain now coursing through him, Eric slid forward until his feet, then his legs and finally his arms were submerged in the warm, murky waters.
He felt the gator only as a violent jerk on his leg, then a wicked roll into the darkness.