In the bathroom Brigid O’Shaughnessy found words. She put her hands up flat on Spade’s chest and her face up close to his and whispered: “I did not take that bill, Sam.”
“I don’t think you did,” he said, “but I’ve got to know. Take your clothes off.”
“You won’t take my word for it?”
“No. Take your clothes off.”
“All right. We’ll go back to the other room and I’ll have them taken off.”
She stepped back with a hand to her mouth. Her eyes were round and horrified. “You would?” she asked through her fingers.
“I will,” he said. “I’ve got to know what happened to that bill and I’m not going to be held up by anybody’s maidenly modesty.”
“Oh, it isn’t that.” She came close to him and put her hands on his chest again. “I’m not ashamed to be naked before you, but–can’t you see?–not like this. Can’t you see that if you make me you’ll–you’ll be killing something?”
He did not raise his voice. “I don’t know anything about that. I’ve got to know what happened to the bill. Take them off...”
"Hey Spade, wake the fuck up! It's your watch."
I opened my eyes and looked up at a very ugly mug, owned by one Sergeant Lewis.
"Christ Sarge, you always wake me up at the good bits! She was just..."
"Stow it! I don't want to know about yer 'good bits'. Frank's back and being checked out so you're on deck, get a move on."
I swung my legs off the bunk and sat for a second, trying to clear my head, watching the broad back of the Sergeant as he limped down the corridor, his roughly patched uniform a sickly green in the harsh fluorescent light.
It was quiet in the station, very quiet. The only sound was of water dripping from the leaking pipes. A tinny sound like nails dropping into a bucket. Better than that god awful howling Zack makes. I could still hear it in my head a demented screeching like a hurricane blowing through a smashed pipe organ.
I headed to the mess and grabbed my Go Bag, didn't bother to look in it. Was always the same, a water bottle, some old MREs left over from the Gulf War, a shriveled apple, and maybe if I was lucky a chunk of home made candy or, wonder of wonders, a bit of chocolate.
Opening my locker I took out my Shaolin, a combination axe and shovel, and an ordinary claw hammer which I slipped into my belt holster. I grabbed my coat and hat. I was proud of that hat. I'd found it in a ruined consignment store, an honest to God fedora, not one of those pansy ass trilbies, but a hat worthy of Bogey himself. It was getting a little battered but so far it had brought me enough luck that I still had a head to wear it on. Every little bit helps on patrol.
Frank was standing in the tank, naked as the day he popped out swearing from between his mother's thighs. Doc was giving him the once over. Making sure he hadn't been bitten and was hiding it. Standard protocol now, too many stations and whole enclaves had been destroyed by some bastard figuring he would be the one in a million who didn't turn after being Zack bit.
Frank sees me and grins. "Enjoying the view Spade?"
"Naw, you ain't my type, how'd it go?"
"Damn quiet, nothing from here to the docks. If Zack's about he ain't moving. Enjoy your stroll. If you see any dames bring 'em back to the party."
"What and share them with you guys not a chance!"
Always the same banter, if I was in the tank getting checked I'd say the same thing and get the same response. Odd how rituals like that make walking out into the night, when you might never walk back in, somehow feel like a normal work day.
The gate closed behind me with a thud and clunk. Not a clang, just a thud, a dull lifeless sound. I always figured it should sound more like a movie prison gate, a loud rattling clang, more fitting given that the station is as much a prison as it is an army base.
Behind the station block is the Wall, a pile of shipping containers five high, stretching off into the misty night on either side. Slicing through the buildings and warehouses clustered at the edge of the docks. Behind the wall is what's left of the city, couple of thousand people holed up, like an anthill that's been dumped in a bucket. Nice digs in the world the way it is now, but nothing like what was here before Zack shambled up out of the sea.
I stood and let my eyes adjust to the darkness, there were still a few streetlights glowing dimly but their pools of watery sodium light were spread pretty far apart, the darkness between them seemed impenetrable until my eyes got adjusted.
Doesn't pay to walk into dark spaces, if Zack's there he can get a grip on you before you can see him. Zack doesn't need to see, he seems to be able to hunt as well in the dark as the light. Bastard things.
My patrol route followed the street ahead down to the docks, maybe a half mile of old warehouses and empty lots where all those shipping containers used to be piled up.
I took out one of my hoarded cigarettes and lit it. The tobacco is grown in town and it has a rank, dead fish kind of smell, but it does have nicotine. Pulling my fedora down and my jacket collar up I trudged off down the street, being careful to pass from misty light pool to misty light pool. You have to pause before passing any open doorways. You stop and you listen. You listen for the scrapping shuffle Zack makes. Zack sometimes stands in clumps and groups slowly shifting around, hardly moving at all so you have to listen carefully. They're dangerous cause they'll all start to follow you if they sense you going by. They'll let out that horrible howl to call more while they're at it.
Stuff of nightmares that is.
I'd walked this same patrol for months, so I knew where all the bad black spaces were which let me move pretty quickly in the open. The street ends on the docks proper. There are a few more lights here stretched along the buildings, glowing a sickly orange in the mist that always hangs about the docks at night.
There's a spot I liked especially here, maybe a hundred yards further along the waterfront. An old fashioned streetlight, an original from the fifties probably, and a rusty wrought iron bench with a little patch of weedy grass around its feet. They're in front of a long cinder block wall with no gates or anything, covered in faded graffiti. I figured somebody put them there to break up the grey monotony. I leaned against the streetlight and lit another cigarette. Imagining myself as "Sam" Spade, private detective, waiting for a beautiful dame, or a shifty contact, gangster, or corrupt businessman. "There are eight million stories in the naked city." as the old TV narrator used to say. Yeah, the mean streets of those old days were bloody paradise compared to the mess the dead have made of them.