Chapter 29

Nathan and Denise walked over to the Shaws’ home and found Carol tending her tomato plants alongside the house. She walked over to the sidewalk and greeted them.

“It’s so good to see you,” she said, giving Nathan a hug. “And you must be Nathan’s sister Denise, right?”

Denise brightened, surprised that this woman already knew her name. “That’s right.”

Carol motioned back toward the house. “You’re probably wondering why I care about my tomatoes when the world is falling apart around us, but it keeps my mind off things.”

“We completely understand,” Nathan said. “We’ve got things on our minds, too. Our parents went to Los Angeles to help some relatives, but we’re afraid they’ve caught the Black Flu. We haven’t heard from them in a couple of days.”

“Oh, that’s terrible,” Carol said. “Is there anything I can do to help?”

Denise shifted a little. “Would it be possible for me to stay with you? I’ve been alone for a few days now, and it’s a little scary.”

“Absolutely,” Carol said. “Let’s go inside. Besides, Aaron wanted to talk to you, Nathan.”

They found Aaron in the kitchen, and after sharing their news, Carol started helping Denise settle in. “You can stay in Marie’s room.”

“Is Marie your daughter?” Denise asked. “The girl Nathan really likes?”

“Yes, that’s her,” Carol said, winking at Nathan. “Hopefully Marie will come home soon from Chicago, but I know she’d be happy to have you stay in her room. Let me show it to you.”

As they moved down the hall, Aaron motioned to Nathan. “Let me show you the garden. The tomatoes are starting to get taller.”

Nathan got the hint, and they moved outside to avoid being overheard by potential eavesdroppers. They began walking through the garden when Aaron turned to Nathan and said, “I’ve got some news about Marie. She left her apartment and abandoned her internship a few days ago. She seems to be hiding in a building along the shore of Lake Michigan.”

The information took Nathan by surprise. “Hiding? What makes you think that?”

“Well, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what’s she’s doing,” Aaron said. “At first I was afraid she’d been kidnapped, but she’s definitely alone. No one else with a chip has entered that part of the building. She moves around enough that I know she’s alive, but maybe she’s got the Black Flu.”

“Have you told Carol?” Nathan asked.

“I did share a few things with her, since Marie won’t answer our phone calls. My feeling is that things got really bad there quickly after the president’s announcement and so Marie took off. When we talked to her a few weeks ago, she mentioned a museum she had visited on Navy Pier, and it looks like she’s now in that same location. I’m guessing she has barricaded herself in there.”

“What can we do?” Nathan asked. “I’m willing to go there and find her.”

“I knew you would say that, but it’s terribly risky,” Aaron said. “The government has been tracking a Chicago gang leader named Brix who has been operating in that part of the city, and it appears his followers are already looting stores and burning buildings near where Marie is. We’re really worried it could turn into a civil war there within days.”

Aaron looked at Nathan’s anguished face and added, “Don’t worry, Carol and I have made our peace that Marie might never come home.”

“Well, I haven’t,” Nathan said fiercely. “My car is still in my dad’s garage. I’ll drive all day and all night if I have to.”

Aaron looked Nathan straight in the eyes. “Are you that determined? Would it interfere with your Church assignment?”

Nathan shook his head. “Right now my only command is to follow the Spirit in helping the Saints who aren’t in the camps yet. Marie certainly falls in that category.”

Aaron couldn’t help getting misty-eyed. “Okay, you’ve convinced me. Let me show you something that will make your trip a lot easier.”

He pulled a gadget out of his pocket that looked like an iPhone, but a little thicker. He held it out to Nathan, who took it and examined it. “Is this a newfangled phone?”

Aaron lowered his voice. “No, it’s a chip tracking device. The only people who have them so far are members of the CCA. I smuggled this one out last week. Thankfully this first model has a flaw—the government forgot to make the tracking device itself to be traceable, so no one will know you have it.”

“I like that,” Nathan said. “What exactly can it do?”

Aaron took the device back and touched the screen. “It has several functions, but there are two that will really help you. It can track an individual, and it also can detect when someone else with a chip is nearby. So you’ll be able to keep track of Marie, but you’ll also be able to check if anyone is following you.”

“This is great, but didn’t the president say the government is setting up checkpoints at the state borders?” Nathan asked. “How will I make it without getting caught?”

“If you stick to the back roads you’ll be all right. The president’s announcement came as a surprise to nearly everyone, and so they’ve hardly started implementing those programs. It was more of a scare tactic to make people stay in one place until they can get a handle on this disease.”

“That’s a relief, but something else just dawned on me,” Nathan said. “My car gets great gas mileage, but I’ll never make it that far. What should I do for fuel?”

Aaron pulled out his wallet and handed Nathan a stack of $20 bills. “Cash is still king, especially at the gas pump. The prices are getting crazy, but with no one traveling, the station owners will be happy to have a customer. Plus, I’ve got some five-gallon cans in the garage you can put in the trunk.” 

“Wonderful,” Nathan said. “I’ll get the house key from Denise and then bring my car over here.”

Aaron started to get a little emotional again. “Thank you, Nathan. I was hoping you would come by soon. We’re running short on time. This Black Flu has been bad on the nation, but there’s something coming down the pipeline that is going to inflame things even more. They told us at work that the government is going to stop providing welfare and unemployment benefits soon.”

“Oh boy. Don’t they know what that will spark?”

“They do, but they don’t seem to care. Their attitudes are so callous that they’re actually looking forward to people killing each other in the streets. I’ve heard it referred to as a ‘population decrease.’ Then they expect things will settle down and we’ll get the nation back on track.”

“Whoa,” Nathan said. “That’s some pretty dark thinking.”

“It is, but it’s also reality,” Aaron said. “Along those same lines, they also see the disease as a great way to balance the books on Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. They know there’s going to be a temporary economic crunch because there won’t be as much tax money coming in during the crisis, but then those entitlement programs will suddenly be in a lot better shape if millions of people are no longer on the rolls.”

“That’s barbaric,” Nathan said. “But after what I’ve seen lately, it’s not surprising. Even though there’s still enough food to go around, people already seem eager to cut each other’s throats.”

Aaron nodded grimly. “That’s exactly why we’ve got to get Marie out of Chicago.”

“You get me started, and I’ll find a way,” Nathan said.

“We’ll figure out a route for you before you leave. Staying on smaller highways will be your best bet, because for the most part there’s nothing but a few rural towns and farmland out there. The government will be focusing on the cities first.”

“How far is it to Chicago?” Nathan asked.

“It’s about 1,500 miles from here, so you’ve got quite a drive ahead of you.”

Nathan shrugged. “This is for Marie. It’ll be worth it.”