This is Issue #70 of Dead Frontier by Walkerbait22, titled Loud and Clear. This is the fourth issue in Volume 12.
Issue 70 - Loud and ClearEdit
Alexander folds his hands on top of his desk and leans forward to Hiro, who sits across from him. Hiro's face is flooded with confusion. "You like it here, yes?" Alexander begins.
"Yeah, of course. It's perfect here as far as I'm concerned," Hiro responds.
"And you'd be pretty mad if someone were to ruin this for you?"
"Well, obviously. I'd be pissed...wait. What are you saying?"
"I'm saying that there is someone here putting the hotel at risk. And it's possible for you to do something to stop it."
"Are you serious? Who is it?" Hiro asks, eagerness and anger creeping into his voice against his will.
"Cole Pruitt. He's sticking his nose where it doesn't belong. And as far as I know, you're associated with him. I wouldn't mind getting rid of him and the rest of his friends if his behavior continues," Alexander warns.
"Woah, woah, woah. Hold on. I'm not his fucking friend. I don't have anything to do with his little antics. Don't pin any of that on me."
"You don't? Good. Then you wouldn't mind telling him to back off. Unless he wants to ruin the paradise you and your sister have here. And...don’t be afraid to use any means necessary.”
Hiro gives a hefty knock to Cole’s door and pays no attention to the various people passing by him in the hall. Cole opens it a few seconds later, munching on a cracker.
“Oh, hey. What’s up?” Cole asks.
“Up for a chat?” asks Hiro.
Although it interrupts his early lunch with Billie, Cole doesn’t have any qualms with it. He closes the door behind him and offers Hiro a cracker, which is immediately denied.
“You open for a conversation?” Hiro asks, crossing his arms and looking toward Cole.
“We were kind of eating, but--” Cole says.
“It’s not up for debate.”
Cole turns and gives Billie a confused expression. She just shrugs and takes a drink of her water, looking as baffled as he does. “You--” Hiro barks to Billie, “--get out.” He points his thumb toward the door.
She almost spits up her water. “Excuse me?” she asks.
“I need to talk to him. Alone. So go.”
“What crawled up your ass and died a terrible death? Holy shit.”
She pushes past him, not without shooting him a glare, and heads down the hall, leaving Cole and Hiro in the suite by themselves.
“Okay, so you're pissed for some reason,” Cole begins. “What the hell do you want?”
“Do you want to get us all kicked out? The hell are you doing, man?”
Cole wipes his crumby hands on his jeans. “You know?” Cole asks.
“Yeah, I fucking know. Alexander told me all this shit you’ve been cooking up. Sneaking into his office? Do you know how fucking stupid that was?”
Cole’s at a loss for words as he begins to put the pieces together. He recollects his odd conversation with Lucy yesterday as she eagerly tried to get him to give up his detective work, although she’d said she was interested in knowing what was going on as well. And now the fact that Alexander knows about the breach in his office. Someone can’t choose a side...
“There’s some serious shit going on, Hiro,” Cole finally says. “I didn’t know that going in--but there is. And we have to do something about it.”
“You do fucking realize Alexander will exile us? All of us. Me and Tora included. That’s not gonna happen because this place is perfect--perfect--and I’m not gonna have some kid ruining it for me.”
“It’s not perfect. That’s where your misconception is. Alexander’s got you roped in, and you fucking fell for it. I’ll figure out what’s going on, and I’ll fix it.”
Hiro suddenly grabs Cole by the shoulders and pushes him against the nearest wall. Cole feels a sharp pain in his lower back and grimaces. He tries to push Hiro away, but Hiro delivers an amazingly harsh punch to his stomach. The breath rushes out of him instantly, and he doubles over, clutching his midsection.
Hiro grabs him by the collar and forces him to stand straight. Cole tries to inhale, but his breath comes in short, panicked spurts. “You’re not going to fix anything, because there’s nothing to fix,” Hiro seethes.
“You don’t fucking understand--” Cole chokes out, but his efforts are rewarded with another fist to the abdomen and another immediately after, causing him to expell the last of the air in his lungs. Cole’s vision starts to blur slightly, but he tries his best to keep Hiro’s face in focus. The harder it gets to breathe, the more his anxiety rises.
“I don’t know what else to tell you, man,” Hiro says with a shake of his head. He still has Cole gripped by the shoulders. “I finally have a home now. This is my sister’s home now, and I want to protect it. So think about what you want to do.”
"I...I’m doing the right...the right thing,” Cole responds breathlessly.
Hiro scowls, also wearing a look of disbelief. This guy’s really fucking adamant. He forgets the hits to the stomach and delivers a fist directly to Cole’s mouth. There’s a sharp pain in his knuckles and a spew of blood, whereafter Cole drops to the carpet.
“Shit,” Hiro mutters, shaking his pained knuckles. He glares at Cole, not feeling an ounce of regret.
After ten minutes, the impatience takes over and Billie walks the short distance to Cole’s room. She pushes open the door and finds Cole curled up pathetically on the floor, coughing, and a concerning amount of blood dripping from his split lip.
“Oh, God,” she says, quickly kneeling next to him. “Hiro?”
“...Y-yeah,” he responds. “...Is it bad?”
“Let’s just get you to Griffin. You’ll be fine.”
Griffin finishes the last stitch on Cole's lip and leans forward, giving his injured face another close examination. In the opposite corner of the medical room, Chloe watches, concerned, with Billie at her side. "Yeah...he got you pretty bad," Griffin says. "Did you get a good shot in?"
"Griffin," Chloe says with an ounce of annoyance.
"Sorry, sorry. That's not important. But you'll be fine. Some bruising but..." He waves his hand through the air, as if blowing off Cole's injuries. "You're good."
"I'd still like to know why Hiro did this in the first place," Chloe interjects.
"It's--" Cole starts, but stops and winces at the pain in his mouth.
"Careful," Griffin warns. He takes a seat at his desk, getting comfortable in the velvet covered chair.
"It's a long story."
"Guess it's story time then, eh?"
Cole gives Billie a look, and she nods in succinct answer.
After the long-winded explanation of everything seemingly suspicious in the past few weeks, Chloe and Griffin try to figure out what to make of it. They come to no new concrete solutions, except that they're now a part of this inner circle of shady detective work. And they don't know if they really want to be.
A man who managed to get a thick piece of glass stuck in his hand beckons for Griffin, thus sending Cole, Billie, and Chloe out. They travel to the cafeteria and take seat at a far corner of the counter, where a few feet in front of them Joe blends something together, creating an orange colored liquid.
"Should we have told him?" Billie asks. "We couldn't trust Lucy. Why should we trust him?"
"Because..." Chloe begins. "I don't think he'd ever rat you out. I don't even think he'd think about ratting you out."
"Can't take it back anyway," Cole says. "He's a part of this now."
The blender shuts off, and Joe gives them a bright smile. "Hope you're having a wonderful day. Can I get...Good Lord, what happened to your face?"
He takes off his glasses and wipes them down with the hem of his shirt, quickly replacing them afterwards and squinting at Cole's puffy lip and the bruised area around it.
"I was...I fell. In the lot, out back," Cole says.
"Oh, baloney. You don't even have any scrapes on your hands. Unless you thought it best to break the fall with your face. Not the best decision, if you ask me."
"Cole's not the sharpest pencil in the pencil box, I can tell you that much, Joe," Billie says.
"A bad liar at that. I never thought of you as the fighting type. Assumed you were better than that." Cole looks up instantly and questions Joe with his eyes. "Just old Joe's intuition."
"It was a pretty one sided fight," Chloe adds in.
Joe sighs and sticks his hands deep in his pockets. "It's all so stupid. So stupid and childish, you know?"
They're surprised at his sudden change in tone and find themselves listening eagerly. "Am I the only one that's remembered the real problem? Those walking corpse guys? Th-they're still out there, yes? I'm not crazy, am I? And here people are: fighting!"
He begins to gesticulate recklessly, his hands going in different, random directions. "Little childish fistfights. Maybe it was about who gets what at dinner, or--or you scuffed his shoe. I don't know. But I can tell you this: it probably wasn't important. Could have been fixed with a nice, friendly conversation I'm guessing. And we say we're trying to get away from the violence by hiding out in here, but it follows. It always follows and I'm Goddamned sick of it. What's the point? Why can't we just be civil and good when everything is the opposite? It's all so...idiotic." Joe halts his wildly animated hands and takes a breath.
"There I go," Joe says. He looks drained, his eyes displaying the standard exhaustion he’s felt as of late. "Rambling again."
In just a matter of hours the rumors spread, and Tora makes the short journey to her brother’s room, seething internally at Hiro’s irresponsibility and idiocy. She enters without knocking, and he stands from the couch immediately at her presence.
“When will you ever stop?” she demands to know, slamming the door shut behind her. “You promised me you were going to stop with this childish attitude, Hiro, and then you go beat someone up? What’s wrong with you?”
“Nothing’s wrong with me, because now he’s going to keep his mouth shut,” Hiro explains.
“‘Keep his mouth shut...?’ What are you talking about?”
“Alexander told me Cole’s been peeking around where he shouldn’t be, and he threatened to kick us out. Both of us. This was partly for you, you know.”
“And that’s the problem!” she shouts, the exasperation appearing in her voice. “Every stupid thing you do, it’s attached to me, too. I’m tired of it Hiro--I’ve been tired of it my entire fucking life. The world ends, it’s your chance to start over, and you end up getting these stupid delusions and taking your frustrations out on people. You’re an embarrassment, to be honest with you.”
“I’m an...” he begins, seemingly at a loss for words. He glares at her for a few seconds, waiting for her to apologize, never having thought she’d be the one to say something as hurtful as that, but she doesn’t falter. And he won’t either.
“I’m the embarrassment?” he continues. “Really? You’re getting really Goddamned full of yourself, Tora. I think it’s about time I remind you that I took you in when you lost your job. I took you in when Ken left you. I took you in when Miya died. I took you in when you were such a depressed sack of shit you could barely get off of the fucking couch. Me. I had the job and the life and the money, and I’m the embarrassment, while you couldn’t even function like a normal person? Two years of that shit. And I’m the embarrassment when I stood beside you the entire time? Right. So think about that the next time you decide to go run your mouth.”
Those two years she tried to block out, those two years she tried to deny ever existed, come flooding back to Tora in a rush. Her knees go weak, and she’s sure she’s about to collapse, but she leans against the nearby counter for support. She'd like to retort, but the fact that he’ll never know any of the pain she felt, yet he has the audacity to throw it in her face, makes her cover her face and burst into tears.
As Cole slightly limps up the stairs to his room, he hears a voice and footsteps from behind him. "Oh, no. Looks like someone hurt themselves," Lucy says. He turns on the steps, and stares her down. “Not coming to my party then?”
"Are you serious?" he spits at her. "You lied to me and went running to your dad, and now you're mocking me? Just fucking grow up."
"Don't think of it like I'm mocking you. Think of it as a warning. What my dad has going here is amazing, and it took a lot of work on his part. A lot of work. If you manage to ruin that it won't be good for you, or for anyone else you brought here. I promise." Cole glares at her as she walks the other direction, and as he heads down the hall he almost has a heart attack as Duke jumps from around the corner, the black hood of his sweatshirt pulled over his head.
"Jesus!" Cole shouts. "Don't do that. My God..."
"My bad, my bad," Duke apologizes hastily. "But shit, it's a damn shame that slapping bitches is frowned upon. You know some of them really need it."
Cole bursts out laughing at the truth and hilarity of that statement. "You heard that?"
"Hell yeah. The hell she think she is?"
"I don't know, honestly," Cole says as they begin to walk down the hall. Duke has to slow down to match Cole's sluggish pace. "You don't know anything about this Roxie chick do you?"
"Nah. Not before you started snoopin' around. We’ll get it all figured out." He gives Cole a firm pat on the shoulder. “But you’re really not gonna come to the party later? It’ll be fun, man.”
“I look like shit, I feel like shit. Don’t think I will.”
“That’s too bad. If you change your mind, just come on down. We’ll all be there.”
On the rooftop of Tower 1, Billie is on watch duty. The sun has gotten lower in the sky since her time there, shifting from a bright yellow to a pale orange. Now, it hides behind a sleek skyscraper as she sits near the ledge, a sniper rifle leaning near her feet, bored out of her mind.
The door to the rooftop suddenly creaks open behind her, with the thick, unmistakable French accent accompanying it: “Ah, belle demoiselle! They told me you would be up here!”
Billie turns and sees Hector, the young, handsome man with a head full of brown hair walking towards her, a shy smile on his face. “What are you doing up here?” she asks. “I’ve still got another hour.”
“It’s a rather chilly day, no? And I, being the ‘French gentleman’ as you say, have come to take your place, bien sûr!” He grabs the sniper from the ground, leans it against the ledge of the tower, and peeks through the scope.
“Hector, you don’t have to do this. Really.”
“Oh. Such a shame. I think I look quite good with this gun. Very...intimidating.”
“But can you shoot with it?” Billie asks. “That is the most important thing.”
“Eh...I do well. Not as good as you or Duke, of course. But I'm able. Watch closely.” He mutters a few encouraging words to himself as he aims, trying to keep a steady hand as he focuses on the lone infected shambling down a city street. "There is only one...should I?"
"I would advise against it."
"Oh, but I wanted to show you how good I am at killing the corpses! Maybe another day then." He stands up straight and hands her back the rifle.
"I'm scheduled for the next run. You could always tag along and show me then," Billie offers.
"When the day comes, I will not disappoint," he assures. "But that day is not today, and you should not be out in the cold. Lucy is having her party downstairs...go have fun."
"Hm. I think I'll actually stay," Billie says.
"Ah bon? And why is that?"
"I dunno. No reason."
He smiles and leans against the ledge rather precariously. He looks down at the streets below as he speaks. "Do you realize that you, Billie Starr, are something different? I just do not really know what it is...Reserved, yet a friendly, undead killer. You mention of those things, and do not really think them to fit together so well. But with you, they do. Quite the mys-"
He’s cut off by a sudden but faint scream from down below. He leans over the ledge slightly, searching for the source of distress but finding nothing. As he raises his eyebrows at Billie for an explanation and she replies with a shrug, more screams hammer through the frigid air. Hector notices a woman on the ground below run from the front doors of the Hyatt, just a few people following her.
“Come on,” Billie says, and Hector follows her from the roof and down the stairs, that faint sinking feeling in their stomachs nagging at them.
Two Minutes Earlier
The lobby is bursting with people shuffling around a chatting, wishing Lucy ‘happy birthday.’ Cole decides to make the slightly painful trek downstairs and joins in, rather uninspired. He squeezes past people, observing the area around him.
Chloe and Griffin laugh in the corner. Robbie makes wild motions with his hands as he talks to a few guys Cole doesn’t know. Some kids play an unusual game with their hands at a small table. Alec, Devon, and Jake chat with some other teenagers.
In the basement, Marsh stands in front of a door, listening to the groans emanating from inside. He glances at his bandaged hand with distaste, reminded of the excruciating pain when he had to amputate one of his bitten fingers. He needs to be more careful with these infected.
The voices from the party in the lobby are just a hum, but audible. Marsh takes a deep breath and slams his palm against his forehead a few times. “Just do it, Marsh. Just open the door. Simple. Simple,” he mutters to himself. He shakes his head a few times, as if to remove all doubt that this is the right decision. This is the perfect time to capitalize. Perfect.
Before he can question himself any longer, he grabs the handle and pulls the door open. The volume of the groans double as the infected’s excitement rises. They push their way through the doorway, some stumbling and following each other. The smell of flesh from the lobby is overpowering, and their rotten legs absentmindedly lead them to the party.
The door to the lobby is open just an inch, but it’s enough for the infected to push their way through.
- First appearance of Hector.