The Last Town #2:Preparing for the Dead(10)

By: Stephen Knight

“Three, this is central. Roger, we have a call for that address. I was just going to notify you. Over.”

“Central, this is three. I’m on it. Over.”

“What about those kids?” Aguilar asked as Hailey pulled open the door and stepped into the pharmacy. The pharmacy owner cut off his employee as he hurried after Hailey. “You’re letting them get away!”

“Mister Aguilar, I think you have more important things to worry about right this second,” Hailey said, looking around. He spotted a small crowd around the pharmacy desk in back, where customers could pick up their medications. He hurried in that direction, with Aguilar and the clerk in tow. Aguilar was still muttering something about Hailey letting the Indian youths beat feet, but Hailey was no longer interested in much of what the pushy pharmacy owner had to say.

At the end of the aisle, an elderly man lay on his back, his plaid shirt opened to expose his fish-white belly and chest. A middle-aged assistant pharmacist was applying CPR, pushing up and down on the old man’s sternum with substantial vigor. Hailey noticed an automated external defibrillator sat on the carpet next to the two men, and he realized he had left the SUV without grabbing the unit’s AED. Even though it wasn’t necessary at the moment, he still felt a small flush of embarrassment at the oversight.

Hailey pushed past the three or four people standing around, one of whom was Old Man Whittaker’s wife. She held her hands clasped in front of her as if praying, her lips moving silently as her still-bright blue eyes remained rooted on her husband’s motionless form. Hailey turned and motioned for Ernesta to pull the old woman away as he took a knee next to the stricken man and the assistant pharmacist. Ernesta got the message, and she put a hand on the old woman’s arm and steered her away. She stopped ten feet away and dug her heels in.

“Not going any farther,” she snapped, then went back to praying.

“Officer, can you charge up the AED?” the pharmacist asked, puffing a bit from the strain of compressing the man’s chest. “I’ve got to get him some air.”

“You got it,” Hailey said, and reached for the AED. It was a blue Philips HeartStart, the same model that was in the back of his SUV, so he already knew what to do. He pressed the power button and pulled the unit open, exposing the pads inside. As he did this, the assistant pharmacist began mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Hailey had to hand it to the guy. He wouldn’t have wanted to do that himself.

“I’ll … I’ll get the resuscitator,” Aguilar said, and he left the group to head back behind the pharmacy counter. In the distance, a siren sounded. From the tone, Hailey could tell it was another police unit, not the town’s only ambulance.

The AED chirped, and then began issuing verbal instructions on how to place the pads. Hailey didn’t wait to listen to the automated instructions. He began attaching the pads to the man’s chest as the pharmacy assistant finished with his assisted breathing and sat up.

“Okay, let’s shock him,” he said, wiping his mouth.

Old Man Whittaker bolted upright then, startling everyone. Hailey instinctively lurched away, and he fell on his ass, his back slamming into the side of a display. Packages of condoms pelted him, and he wondered if he should pick up a few boxes, in case he met up with Suzy later. The assistant pharmacist laughed and grabbed Whittaker’s shoulders as his wife sobbed.

“Hey, hold on there, fella!” the assistant pharmacist said, laughing again. “Got some juice in you for a guy whose ticker just stopped!”

Whittaker’s head snapped toward the pharmacist, and for a moment, the old man just stared up at him. Hailey pushed himself back to his haunches, and he thought the expression on the old man’s face was odd. Blank, sort of shell-shocked, without any sort of awareness of what had just happened. Hailey wouldn’t be surprised if the old man didn’t remember a thing, and any second now, he was probably going to ask who the hell had been hitting him in the chest with a sledgehammer.

Old Man Whittaker asked no such thing. He just grabbed the assistant pharmacist’s head with both hands and pulled him close, as if to give him a bear hug, or perhaps a kiss on the cheek. Instead, he sunk his teeth into the man’s neck and ripped out a huge chunk of flesh. The pharmacist let out a scream that quickly turned into a gurgle as a small fountain of blood covered his chest and Old Man Whittaker with crimson droplets. The old man actually chewed the flesh in his mouth and swallowed it convulsively before pulling at the pharmacist again, his mouth opening wide, exposing blood-stained teeth. The pharmacist tried to tear himself out of the old man’s grip, mewling like a lost kitten as he pressed his right hand against the horrible wound in his neck. Blood pulsed between his fingers in arterial spurts. The old man hissed and redoubled his attempts to pull the man toward him.

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