Understanding the importance of setting the tone early in a relationship, Puchard spent the week following their TV Van score close to the storage center. He dedicated himself to shepherding Calpurnia in the ways of her new life, acting as her social director as well as a mentor, supervising her schedule, getting her settled in the small storage unit that served as her new dressing room, always at hand to provide a shoulder – among other things – for her to cry upon.
The nature of their audience being what it was though there was little need for her two companions; no appropriate roles, so to speak, for them in the series Uncle Pooch and his traveling repertory company were casting. So, once Shelia and Misty had gleaned the essentials for operating the equipment in the van, they were ushered upon their way, exited from stage left, with Calpurnia not only forced to witness the final act of their pilot episode but left uncertain regarding her participation until the end, her foray into method acting illustrating to their new star the demands of her role in Puchard’s new production.
The day after the executions Puchard again heard word from his former cellmate Vic looking to schedule another Cook, Vic having just received another shipment of Pseudoephedrine. Of all the things about common daily life that were rapidly being cast into the dust, their Methedrine trade was most assuredly not counted among them; indeed their cooks had continued, occurring every week to ten days or so.
Common to the drug trade, Vic never stated directly what his sources were but, also common to the drug trade, Vic’s ex-con braggadocio practically required him to drop broad hints, all naturally intended to enhance Vic’s stature. From what Puchard was able to suss out, Vic’s position at FEMA had taken him to the evacuation centers run in the northern suburbs and, the biter flu being what it was, this wasn’t something limited to Detroit but spread out nationwide.
Naturally this nationwide network of evacuation centers needed an equally nationwide network of distribution to support it – one of the hints Vic dropped repeatedly led Puchard to believe that some airport in the Pontiac area was seeing regular cargo flights – and, considering the national reach of the Federal early release to jobs program, this meant that there was also a distribution network accessible to the criminal underground.
Puchard even suspected that some quantity of his product was being offered for trade outside the local area along the same network that brought them the Pseudoephedrine – such were the quantities – but that was something that, braggart though he was, Vic would never share. Regardless of the destination of his product though, Puchard was grateful for the trade, the gasoline providing a lifeline to continue their crime spree.
Apart from what he was able to glean about their common business interests, Vic – who was a voluble character even when he wasn’t drinking and sampling the wares – went on at considerable length about the opening of the evacuation centers. As Vic related it, everyone sitting about, sipping from a bottle of Jim Beam after enjoying their samples from the first batch, he was part of a crew tasked with crowd control at some complex of buildings in Pontiac, a collection of multi-story office towers once used by one of the nationalized automakers. Through some sequence of events people began arriving before the preparations were complete, the mob bringing the biters in their wake. The end result was pandemonium as people stampeded up the stairs to escape the brutes, Vic and the rest of the staff beating a hasty retreat.
The agonies of the luckless evacuees were hardly over; at some point in the late afternoon the building caught fire, leaving what must have been thousands, already grappling with the infected, trapped in the upper stories. The blaze quickly became a conflagration, filling the buildings with smoke.
“Motherfuckers were jumpin’ from the fuckin’ roof and windows,” Vic explained, sipping the whiskey. “Couldn’t tell if it was from the smoke or the heat or the biters,” he went on, exhaling, “Fuckin’ bounce when they hit that ground though then lay there, getting’ ripped to pieces by the biters.”
“Fuckin’ A,” one of Vic’s partners muttered, nodding with appreciation at the memory.
“When it rains it pours,” Puchard murmured, taking the offered bottle.
“Rumor went around that one of the parolees was a firebug and set the place to burn,” another of Vic’s partners added.
“Well ain’t that the Devil’s piss,” Puchard droned in reply, dumping a swallow of the Jim Beam in his mouth.
“I always thought it was bullshit, why burn down the shop once they give you the key?” Vic asked, gesturing towards the truck with its load of gasoline and meth precursors.
“Takes all sorts,” Puchard answered, regarding his erstwhile partners with a shrug. Some people, he mused, turning back to his chemicals, no imagination whatsoever.