Salem, Wyoming, approximately 50 miles west of Laramie, 19 February 2010, 1030 hours local; Countdown: 1 year, 11 months, 11 days

Jim Collins was getting tired of the hospital. The smells, the beds, the food, the nurses coming to check on him every fifteen minutes, it was all putting him on edge. No, it wasn’t the hospital. It was the waiting. Jim was ready to go back to a life he hadn’t lived for almost a quarter-century. The thought of settling down with Jeannie by his side brought an odd sense of peaceful satisfaction.

There was a quiet knock at the door. Jim looked up and felt his jaw drop. Of all the people Jim expected to stop by, Chris Roberts was not even near the list. Jim’s friend and Jeannie’s husband had aged well, with only the slightest hints of graying hair and extra weight. The two men just looked at each other for a tense moment.

"Hey Nate, you mind if I come in?" ventured Chris. Jim, still unable to speak, nodded. Chris ambled across the room and dropped into a chair next to the bed.

"You were expecting Jeannie," Chris said in a low voice. It wasn’t a question.

"Yeah," Jim said. There wasn’t any point in denying it. Jim was finished sneaking around and hiding. It was time to get everything out in the open. If he’d done that before, maybe none of this would have happened.

"She isn’t coming Nate," Chris said, "We’re leaving Salem, and she didn’t want to tell you goodbye again. We’re taking care of our daughter. We’re taking her to California to a place that can help her."

"She’s my daughter, I’ll take care of her," Jim snapped, feeling his future slide away from him. Chris’s eyes lit with an old rage, but he controlled himself.

"Stephanie’s not yours, Nate," Chris said, barely keeping his voice under control, "I’ve been her father from the time Jeannie got pregnant by you. I’m the one who raised her, while you were on the run. If you try to take her away from me, I will kill you." Jim wanted to scream at Chris, to demand to be a part of his daughter’s life. It was the fear on Chris’s face that stopped Jim. The fear of a man who had seen everything else slip away and was desperate to hold on to the last precious thing in his life.

"Alright Chris, I won’t," Jim gritted out. Chris stood up and walked to the door.

"You know, I really want to hate you," Chris said as he stopped at the door, "I saw the look on Jeannie’s face when she came to see you. She’s never looked that way at me. Even on our wedding day. She would have left me back then, and she will leave me as soon as Stephanie’s better. I should hate you for stealing my wife." Chris paused. "I want to so bad, but you gave me Stephanie. That girl is my world. You might have a good life with Jeannie in the future, but you’ll never have the joy of raising a child with her." The last sentence came out as a curse. Without looking back, Chris walked out of the room.

Kenn Blanchard joined Mateo Cortez in the parking lot of Salem’s small hospital. The Zombie Strike field team leader was puffing away on a cigar as Kenn neared. Mateo noticed Kenn, but was too deep in thought to do more than nod. Kenn pulled out his own stogie and waited for Mateo to finish mentally processing whatever was going on in that head.

"Not one of our shining moments," Mateo finally said. "Bad guy got away with the artifacts. We managed to royally tick off the colonel, who probably won’t be calling us anytime soon, and we’re probably going to lose Jim." Kenn took a long draw on the Monte Cristo before he said anything.

"Matt, you’re beating yourself up again," Kenn said, "No one died this time. The colonel will calm down. It’s not exactly the first time he wasn’t told everything. Alan got away, but I’ve got a feeling we’ll be seeing him again." Mateo shrugged his shoulders, but didn’t say anything.

"It feels like we’re two steps behind the bad guys," Mateo said after a few moments, "We don’t even know exactly who we’re fighting." The team leader was frustrated.

"Working on that Matt," Kenn said, "Working on that."

####London, United Kingdom, 28 February 2010, 2000 hours local; Countdown: 1 year, 11 months

Simon West poured a tumbler full of his best Scotch and handed it to his guest. The man called himself Castle, although West highly doubted that was his true name. West didn’t care. As long as their business relationship remained profitable, the man could call himself the Governor-General of Australia for all West cared. At least Castle left behind the monster that normally accompanied him. Castle graciously accepted the glass and settled into the plush leather chair.

"So, what do you have for me?" Castle asked, ignoring the usual pleasantries. West slid a manila envelope across the desk. Castle picked up the packet quizzically.

"My man’s most recent report," West said, "Apparently your most recent recruit is a bit on the talkative side. He said some things to Zombie Strike that could expose my man." West was more than annoyed. He had taken great pains to carefully recruit Collin DuBois. It was one of his most cherished accomplishments. Even more than when he killed Big John Summers and ascended to one of the bosses of the London underworld.

"I see," Castle said, "Don’t worry Mr. West. We’ll see that doesn’t happen again. Now how can we make this up to you?" West smiled congenially.

"I would like your help dealing with some upstarts from the Continent that have decided to operate in my territory," West answered. The two men smiled at each other. Both thought they were getting the best of the other man. Only one of them was right.

Zombie Strike Part 5 Chapter 34