We didn’t ride lightning in; that was too conspicuous. We glided in while cloudstepping under the cover of night. Fortunately, there were no crowds, so we didn’t have to worry much about being spotted.
Natalie and I landed, the jolt sending fresh pain through my thigh and hip, and it felt like my stitches popped again. I reached a hand over the wound, and felt at them. Two stitches had come free, but the rest held, and I didn’t start bleeding again.
Natalie also groaned, her free hand clutching at her ribs. Her other arm had been immobilized by improvised splints and a sling made from a tee shirt. We both could use actual medical attention instead of the poor first aid patching we had done, but there wasn’t time, and there was no way to know if it was safe.
I leaned on her as much as she leaned on me because the crazy amount of painkillers were making us fuzzy-headed. We hobbled our way toward the yellow sign of Andersen’s Truck Stop, featuring both hotel and diner. Inside, we rang the bell for the night service while we leaned against the counter. A cheery guy named Willis came up.
“We’re here for the conference,” I said. “We need a room for the two of us.”
“Of course, sir. The storm chasers, right?”
I nodded. “Y-yeah.”
He started typing away at the computer, taking all the information I fed him. Next to me, Natalie coughed hard into her hand, and I could see the pain on her face. I also caught sight of the red spray into her hand. Fortunately, Willis didn’t.
She quickly wiped it on her jeans as I slipped my card to Willis, trying to keep him from seeing how bad a shape we were in.
“Well, you’re all set Mr. and Mrs. Hawkins. You’re in room 212.”
“Thanks,” I said, taking the hotel key cards. I tried to walk more erectly, tried to support Natalie more, but I wasn’t too successful.
“Did you tell him that?”
“Tell him what?”
“That we’re married.”
“No. He just assumed, and do we really care at this point?”
She gave a slight shake to her head.
We both wanted to ride the elevator up to our rooms where we could get some sleep and lick our wounds, but there wasn’t time. Instead, we shambled past to the bank of elevators down the hall to the conference room. We knocked in no specific pattern.
“Private party,” said someone on the other side.
“We’re here for the Dailey Special,” I said.
“Not what, who.”
The door opened to reveal a disheveled Wally, whose normal three-piece suit was scorched on the left side. A chunk of suit was missing over his ribs, showing burned and bubbled skin.
“Reilly, Natalie. Shit, we thought you two were dead. Get in here.” Other than the burn, he still seemed like Wally.
Only eight other people were in the room. Delphine, Kate, and Rich were the only ones I recognized, but everyone looked wounded. We took up chairs at the big table, there were plenty. Fortunately, someone had the foresight to order pizza, complete with soda. I pulled a couple of slices over, beginning to devour them. The food would help the healing.
“So,” Wally said, “we got our asses handed to us. So bad we had to call a safe harbor. I sent word for some reinforcements, but it’s going to be a little while. Anyone got any ideas on what to do about all this?”
No one spoke for several minutes.
“This is really good pizza,” I said, finally.
A murmur of agreement came from the others.
I reached for another slice, feeling another stitch pull.