Max and Tony watched Father Mitch follow Vin through the produce department, past a bin of potatoes and racks of French bread, until they rounded the end of the aisle and were out of sight.
“You two,” Buddy said, raising his rifle, “head toward the automotive department.”
Tony nodded for Max to take the lead.
Without saying a word, Max led them through the dimly lit aisles toward the service desk. When they passed the pharmacy, Max frowned. The professor’s medicine was so close, yet out of reach. Then he said, “Can we at least get the professor’s medicine?”
“Keep walking,” Buddy said, following them.
When they reached the automotive department, they saw a yellow Hummer through the waiting room window. It sat in a garage bay with its hood raised.
“What do you want us to do?” Tony asked, turning to face Buddy.
“We need a cage built around that Hummer,” Buddy said. He leaned against the counter and smiled. “Like a Mad Max car. Do you know what I’m talkin’ about?”
“I know what you’re talkin’ about but I don’t think Walmart has all the parts we’ll need to do that,” Tony said. He was not as amused with the idea as Buddy was.
“There’s a brush guard already by that Hummer,” Buddy said. “You can start by putting that on, and then we’ll find the rest of what we need.”
“Take us out there to look at it,” Tony said. He looked back at Max, whose eyes were open wide behind his glasses. They seemed to be almost as round as the plastic eyeglass frames.
The door leading to the garage was held open by a rubber wedge stuffed between it and the floor. Tony and Max walked through it and stood in front of the Hummer, next to scattered parts on the greasy floor.
“You’ll have to free our hands if you want us to attach that cow catcher,” Tony said, forming fists with his blood-starved hands.
Buddy reached into his pocket and pulled out a box cutter. He extended the blade and walked over to Max. “Turn around, and don’t move, or I might accidentally cut you,” he said, grinning.
“Don’t worry,” Max said, turning his back and hands toward Buddy.
The plastic strap fell to the floor.
The kid then walked over to Tony. “Turn around.”
Tony turned and faced a row of red waist high toolboxes. He felt his captor quickly swipe the zip tie. For a moment, he wondered if a layer of skin and muscle had fallen to the floor along with the plastic tie. But when he brought his hands around to look at them, the skin was intact. He rubbed his numb hands as he turned back around.
“Get to work,” Buddy said, pointing his rifle at them.
Max looked at the grille guard on the floor and various parts lying next to it. The service tech must have met the same fate as most of the population and wondered off into a zombie fog.
“What’s wrong with you, mechanic,” Buddy smirked. “You don’t act like you know what you’re doing.”
Max’s bony knees began to shake underneath his baggy work pants. Actually, they had never stopped shaking since the pop can had been shot out of his hand. He could not fake being a mechanic, any more than Buddy could fake being a scientist. Max had to think of something to say that made him sound like he knew what he was doing. “I’m not used to working with a gun pointed at me.”
“Why don’t you back off,” Tony said, frowning. “We need space. We can’t work with someone hovering over us.”
Buddy didn’t say anything as he thought for a moment. Then he backed up toward the closed overhead garage door. “I can see everything from here,” he said, acting in control. “If you run or get any funny ideas, I’ll kill you.”
Max shook his head in disgust and knelt down next to the parts as if he was examining them. Indeed, he was examining them, but he did not know what to do with the parts he was looking at.
Tony squatted next to Max and picked up a bolt. He whispered, “Don’t worry, I’ll help you, just act like you know what you’re doing.”
Max stood up, put his hands on his hips, and gave Tony a generic command, “Get the tools we need and bring them here.”
“Sure, thing,” Tony said, playing along. He walked over to the workbench and returned with a wrench and sockets.
Max knelt down in front of the Hummer’s grille and looked underneath at the frame. Noticing some type of brace had already been placed on the frame, he said, “Tony, take a look at this.”
Tony sat the tools down and kneeled on one knee. “They’ve already placed the mounting brackets. We just need to attach the guard. If you get under here with a creeper, I’ll lift the guard in place while you bolt it in.”
Max had no idea what a creeper was. Based on his current experience, a creeper was one of those half-dead people walking around outside. “What’d you say?”
Tony stood and pushed with his foot a long wooden board, with a pillow at one end, across the floor toward Max. Its wheels whirred along the oil-covered concrete. “Lay down on that and slide under the front of the Hummer.”
Max lay down on the creeper and used the heel of his work boots to scoot along the floor until he was under the nose of the car.
Tony handed Max the tools, bolts, and nuts. “I’m going to lift the grille, and then you can tighten it in place.”
Tony lifted the tubular steel frame in front of the radiator while Max helped guide it into place. He bolted it onto the brackets then rolled out from under the vehicle, feeling like a master craftsman.
After Tony and Max had bolted the brush guard to the flat brackets at the top of the radiator frame, they stood back and admired their handiwork.
“Not bad,” Max said, crossing his arms and nodding his head with pleasure.
“Don’t stop,” Buddy shouted at them. “Keep . . .” Then something crashed into the garage door. Buddy jumped away from it and turned around toward the white aluminum bay door. “What the frickin’ hell.”
Then from underneath the creeper, where Max had just been lying, a yellow striped snake slithered out toward Max. Its mouth was wide open and its tongue flicked out, testing the air, as it began biting at Max’s boot.
“That’s a garter snake,” Max said, backing away as the snake continued to attack him. “They’re supposed to be good snakes, why is it attacking me?”
Tony stood on the snake’s body with his boot and crushed its head with the side of the wrench. The body still wiggled and squirmed frantically as if it did not need a head to live.
Another bang rattled the garage door. Tony ran over to the glass front entry door where Buddy was standing, looking out.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Tony said, pushing and pulling on the door handle, making sure it was locked.