The Twelve Page 3

LK: (inaudible)

RC: Can you speak up, please?

LK: I don't understand what you want. Why are you asking me these questions?

RC: Because you were there. You're our only witness. You saw nine people die tonight. They were ripped apart, Dr. Kyle.

LK: (inaudible)

RC: Dr. Kyle?

LK: Those eyes. It was like looking into hell. Like falling forever into darkness. Do you believe in hell, Detective?

RC: Whose eyes?

LK: It wasn't human. It couldn't have been human.

RC: Are you still speaking of Mr. Letourneau?

LK: I can't think about this. I have to think about the baby.

RC: What did you see? Tell me what you saw.

LK: I want to go home. I don't want to talk about this anymore. Don't make me.

RC: What killed those people, Dr. Kyle?

(Pause.)

RC: Dr. Kyle, are you all right?

(Pause.)

RC: Dr. Kyle?

(Pause.)

RC: Dr. Kyle?

Chapter 4

Bernard Kittridge, known to the world as "Last Stand in Denver," realized it was time to leave the morning the power went out.

He wondered what had taken so long. You couldn't keep a municipal electrical grid running without people to man it, and as far as Kittridge could tell from the nineteenth floor, not a single human soul was left alive in the city of Denver.

Which was not to say he was alone.

He had passed the early hours of the morning-a bright, clear morning in the first week of June, temperatures in the mid-seventies with a chance of bloodsucking monsters moving in toward dusk-sunning on the balcony of the penthouse he had occupied since the second week of the crisis. It was a gigantic place, like an airborne palace; the kitchen alone was the size of Kittridge's whole apartment. The owner's taste ran in an austere direction: sleek leather seating groups that were better to look at than sit on, gleaming floors of twinkling travertine, small furry rugs, glass tables that appeared to float in space. Breaking in had been surprisingly simple. By the time Kittridge had made his decision, half the city was dead, or fled, or missing. The cops were long gone. He'd thought about barricading himself into one of the big houses up in Cherry Creek, but based on the things he'd seen, he wanted someplace high.

The owner of the penthouse was a man he knew slightly, a regular customer at the store. His name was Warren Filo. As luck would have it, Warren had come into the store the day before the whole thing had broken to gear up for a hunting trip to Alaska. He was a young guy, too young for how much money he had-Wall Street money, probably, or one of those high-tech IPOs. On that day, the world still cheerily humming along as usual, Kittridge had helped Warren carry his purchases to the car. A Ferrari, of course. Standing beside it, Kittridge thought: Why not just go ahead and get a vanity plate that says, DOUCHE BAG? A question that must have been plainly written on his face, because no sooner had it crossed Kittridge's mind than Warren went red with embarrassment. He wasn't wearing his usual suit, just jeans and a T-shirt with SLOAN SCHOOL OF MANAGEMENT printed on the front. He'd wanted Kittridge to see his car, that was obvious, but now that he'd allowed this to happen, he'd realized how dumb it was, showing off a vehicle like that to a floor manager at Outdoor World who probably made less than fifty grand a year. (The number was actually forty-six.) Kittridge allowed himself a silent laugh at that-the things this kid didn't know would fill a book-and he let the moment hang to make the point. I know, I know, Warren confessed. It's a little much. I told myself I'd never be one of those a**holes who drive a Ferrari. But honest to God, you should feel the way she handles.

Kittridge had gotten Warren's address off his invoice. By the time he moved in-Warren presumably snug and safe in Alaska-it was simply a matter of finding the right key in the manager's office, putting it into the slot in the elevator panel, and riding eighteen floors to the penthouse. He unloaded his gear. A rolling suitcase of clothes, three lockers of weaponry, a hand-crank radio, night-vision binoculars, flares, a first-aid kit, bottles of bleach, an arc welder to seal the doors of the elevator, his trusty laptop with its portable satellite dish, a box of books, and enough food and water to last a month. The view from the balcony, which ran the length of the west side of the building, was a sweeping 180 degrees, looking toward Interstate 25 and Mile High field. He'd positioned cameras equipped with motion detectors at each end of the balcony, one to cover the street, a second facing the building on the opposite side of the avenue. He figured he'd get a lot of good footage this way, but the money shots would be actual kills. The weapon he'd selected for this task was a Remington bolt-action 700P, .338 caliber-a nice balance of accuracy and stopping power, zeroing out at three hundred yards. To this he'd affixed a digital video scope with infrared. Using the binoculars, he would isolate his target; the rifle, mounted on a bipod at the edge of the balcony, would do the rest.

On the first night, windless and lit by a waning quarter moon, Kittridge had shot seven: five on the avenue, one on the opposite roof, and one more through the window of a bank at street level. It was the last one that made him famous. The creature, or vampire, or whatever it was-the official term was "Infected Person"-had looked straight into the lens just before Kittridge put one through the sweet spot. Uploaded to YouTube, the image had traveled around the globe within hours; by morning all the major networks had picked it up. Who is this man? everyone wanted to know. Who is this fearless-crazy-suicidal man, barricaded in a Denver high-rise, making his last stand?

And so was born the sobriquet, Last Stand in Denver.

From the start he'd assumed it was just a matter of time before somebody shut him down, CIA or NSA or Homeland. He was making quite a stir. Working in his favor was the fact that this same somebody would have to come to Denver to pull the plug. Kittridge's IP address was functionally untraceable, backstopped by a daisy chain of anonymizer servers, their order scrambled every night. Most were overseas: Russia, China, Indonesia, Israel, Sudan. Places beyond easy reach for any federal agency that might want to pull the plug. His video blog-two million hits the first day-had more than three hundred mirror sites, with more added all the time. It didn't take a week before he was a bona fide worldwide phenomenon. Twitter, Facebook, Headshot, Sphere: the images found their way into the ether without his lifting a finger. One of his fan sites alone had more than two million subscribers; on eBay, T-shirts that read, I AM LAST STAND IN DENVER were selling like hotcakes.

His father had always said, Son, the most important thing in life is to make a contribution. Who would have thought Kittridge's contribution would be video-blogging from the front lines of the apocalypse?

And yet the world went on. The sun still shone. To the west, the mountains shrugged their indifferent rocky bulk at man's departure. For a while, there had been a lot of smoke-whole blocks had burned to the ground-but now this had dissipated, revealing the desolation with eerie clarity. At night, regions of blackness blotted the city, but elsewhere, lights still glittered in the gloom-flickering streetlamps, filling stations and convenience stores with their distinctive fluorescent glow, porch lights left burning for their owners' return. While Kittridge maintained his vigil on the balcony, a traffic signal eighteen floors below still dutifully turned from green to yellow to red and then to green again.

He wasn't lonely. Loneliness had left him, long ago. He was thirty-four years old. A little heavier than he would have liked-with his leg, it was hard to keep the weight off-but still strong. He'd been married once, years before. He remembered that period of his life as twenty months of oversexed, connubial bliss, followed by an equal number of months of yelling and screaming, accusations and counteraccusations, until the whole thing sank like a rock, and he was content, on the whole, that this union had produced no children. His connection to Denver was neither sentimental nor personal; after he'd gotten out of the VA, it was simply where he'd landed. Everyone said that a decorated veteran should have little trouble finding work. And maybe this was true. But Kittridge had been in no hurry. He'd spent the better part of a year just reading-the usual stuff at first, cop novels and thrillers, but eventually had found his way to more substantial books: As I Lay Dying, For Whom the Bell Tolls, Huckleberry Finn, The Great Gatsby. He'd spent a whole month on Melville, drilling his way through Moby-Dick. Most were books he felt he ought to read, the ones he'd somehow missed in school, but he genuinely liked most of them. Sitting in the quiet of his studio apartment, his mind lost in tales of other lives and times, felt like taking a long drink after years of thirst. He'd even enrolled in a few classes at the community college, working at Outdoor World during the day, reading and writing his papers at nights and on his lunch hour. There was something in the pages of these books that had the power to make him feel better about things, a life raft to cling to before the dark currents of memory washed him downstream again, and on brighter days, he could even see himself going on this way for some time. A small but passable life.

And then, of course, the end of the world had happened.

* * *

The morning the electricity failed, Kittridge had finished uploading the previous night's footage and was sitting on the patio, reading Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities-the English barrister Sydney Carton had just declared his everlasting love for Lucie Manette, the fiancee of the haplessly idealistic Charles Darnay-when the thought touched him that the morning could only be improved by a dish of ice cream. Warren's enormous kitchen-you could run a five-star restaurant out of the thing-had been, unsurprisingly, almost completely bereft of food, and Kittridge had long since thrown away the moldy take-out containers that had constituted the meager contents of the fridge. But the guy obviously had a weakness for Ben and Jerry's Chocolate Fudge Brownie, because the freezer was crammed with the stuff. Not Chunky Monkey or Cherry Garcia or Phish Food or even plain old vanilla. Just Chocolate Fudge Brownie. Kittridge would have liked some variety, considering there was going to be no more ice cream for a while, but with little else to eat besides canned soup and crackers, he was hardly going to complain. Balancing his book on the arm of his chair, he rose and stepped through the sliding glass door into the penthouse.

By the time he reached the kitchen, he had begun to sense that something was off-kilter, although this impression had yet to coalesce around anything specific. It wasn't until he opened the carton and sank his spoon into a soft mush of melted Chocolate Fudge Brownie that he fully understood.

He tried a light switch. Nothing. He moved through the apartment, testing lamps and switches. All were the same.

In the middle of the living room, Kittridge paused and took a deep breath. Okay, he thought, okay. This was to be expected. If anything, this was long overdue. He checked his watch: 9:32 A.M. Sunset was a little after eight. Ten and a half hours to get his ass gone.

He threw together a rucksack of supplies: protein bars, bottles of water, clean socks and underwear, his first-aid kit, a warm jacket, a bottle of Zyrtec (his allergies had been playing hell with him all spring), a toothbrush, and a razor. For a moment he considered bringing A Tale of Two Cities along, but this seemed impractical, and with a twinge of regret he put it aside. In the bedroom he dressed himself in a wicking T-shirt and cargo pants, topping this off with a hunting vest and a pair of light hikers. For a few minutes he considered which weapons to take before settling on a Bowie knife, a pair of Glock 19s, and the retrofitted Polish AK with the folding stock: useless at any kind of range but reliable close in, where he expected to be. The Glocks fit snugly in a cross-draw holster. He filled the pockets of his vest with loaded magazines, clipped the AK to its sling, hoisted the backpack over his shoulders, and returned to the patio.

That was when he noticed the traffic signal on the avenue. Green, yellow, red. Green, yellow, red. It could have been a fluke, but he doubted it.

They'd found him.

The rope was anchored to a drainage stack on the roof. He stepped into his rappelling harness, clipped in, and swung first his good leg and then his bad one over the railing. Heights were no problem for him, and yet he did not look down. He was perched on the edge of the balcony, facing the windows of the penthouse. From the distance he heard the sound of an approaching helicopter.

Last Stand in Denver, signing off.

With a push he was aloft, his body lobbing down and away. One story, two stories, three, the rope smoothly sliding through his hands: he landed on the balcony of the apartment four floors below. A familiar twang of pain shot upward from his left knee; he gritted his teeth to force it away. The helicopter was closing in now, the thrum of its blades volleying off the buildings. He peeled off his harness, drew one of the Glocks, and fired a single shot to shatter the glass of the balcony door.

The air of the apartment was stale, like the inside of a cabin sealed for winter. Heavy furniture, gilt mirrors, an oil painting of a horse over the fireplace; from somewhere wafted the stench of decay. He moved through the becalmed space with barely a glance. At the door he paused to attach a spotlight to the rail of the AK and stepped out into the hall, headed for the stairs.

In his pocket were the keys to the Ferrari, parked in the building's underground garage, sixteen floors below. Kittridge shouldered open the door of the stairwell, quickly sweeping the space with the beam from the AK, up and down. Clear. He withdrew a flare from his vest and used his teeth to unscrew the plastic top, exposing the igniter button. With a combustive pop, the flare commenced its rain of sparks. Kittridge held it over the side, taking aim, and let go; if there was anything down there, he'd know it soon. His eyes followed the flare as it made its descent, dragging a contrail of smoke. Somewhere below it nicked the rail and bounced out of sight. Kittridge counted to ten. Nothing, no movement at all.

Three flares later he reached the bottom; a heavy steel door with a push bar and a small square of reinforced glass led to the garage. The floor was littered with trash: pop cans, candy bar wrappers, tins of food. A rumpled bedroll and a pile of musty clothing showed where someone had been sleeping-hiding, as he had.

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