(15) Oreo's Interrogation

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Calico J has slipped out of the car again. I can still see Patrick in the back seat, hunched down so far, I'm not sure the two women would be able to see him even if it were daytime. He's got his hood up, and I think he's still hugging his bag.

"This one of your group?" says Oreo as he comes back within light's reach of us, with a nod toward Calico J. He's turned off and pocketed his own light again. He's also smiling, but it doesn't reach his eyes.

The answer is obvious, so I don't deign to give it to him. Few survivors would choose to wander the woods out here after dark, and Oreo already knows we're a group of four.

"Oreo," he says, with a nod of introduction for Calico J. "And this'll probably go easier if we can get your names, too. Nicknames. But if you guys are still alive, you already know that."

Behind him, lights in the motel room catch my eye. He's got more than just the two women here, and the spare is searching Vix's room while Oreo's out here talking. I'm suddenly, savagely glad I made off with the notebook and phone. I suspect he was looking for the latter behind the motel, and the fact that he hasn't asked us anything about what we found among Vix's belongings means we're not as buddy-buddy as he's pretending.

Both my companions are looking at me. I'm shocked Calico J hasn't stepped forward and made friends with this guy already; meeting people is kind of his thing. And Ditzy isn't usually the quiet type. They both seem to be waiting for my go-ahead to do anything, a realization that puts my stomach in my throat even as I'm secretly glad for it. The temptation to break this off and leave strikes again. But that would shoot down everything we came here to do, and it's not my place to sabotage that.

"Meg," I say.

Calico J's relief is visible. He and Ditzy both introduce themselves, and then Calico J steps in, as expected. "And that's Patrick in the back," he says, with a nod to the car. "Are you the one I was texting with?"

Oreo's smile turns genuine. "One of two, but I had the phone, yes. Good to meet you! You guys are the first other pro-social group we've found, and the first real humans to actually text us. We've been trying to track down other civilization since we founded the camp, but until you guys, it's just been our current members and a couple of weirdos."

Calico J laughs. "There's a reason there's only four of us. So where's the camp? You told us you were just north of Wakewater; that's still another hour out. Did you walk down? I didn't see a car come in."

"Our van's just up the road. Didn't want to risk scaring you guys off in case you weren't the ones we were waiting for, or turned hostile. We check here pretty often; it's a good landing zone along this stretch of highway. Found three of our members here already, believe it or not."

"Oh cool, like a regular patrol? How big's your area? You said you've got sixteen people, right?"

Something in Oreo's face shadows. "Fifteen now. Your friends here just found the last one."

There's a moment of silence.

"What kind of screening do you need from us?" says Calico J tentatively. "I'd love to talk more, but it's getting pretty late..."

He shoots me and Ditzy a glance that seems more directed at me than Ditzy. It's got that anxious look in it again, like he's waiting for me to chip in. I shrug. On one level, I'm exhausted. On all the others, I'm so tense from finding Vix's body, the phone, the notebook, and then meeting Oreo that I'm ninety-nine percent certain I wouldn't sleep if I was offered a double bed and down duvet within the next hour. Which means Calico J might as well keep making friends. Oreo keeps giving sideways answers, and I probably shouldn't be the one handling negotiations anyway. I'm not a people person. And I'm certainly not as bright a conversationalist as Calico J.

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