Friday, February 5, 2016

I think this one is really dead... Part I

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.”

“I won’t.”

“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.

The ruined docks with their giant silent cranes looming up into the mist, like impossibly big spiders, are almost invisible in the darkness beyond the streetlight. Other than the slow oily swish of the harbour waters along the dock front there was no sound. No seagulls even, they avoid the docks these days. Zack prefers humans but he'll grab anything that moves and the seabirds learned long ago that what looks like a dead carcass is best left alone.

It was a bleak depressing place to be sure. A perfect backdrop for Sam Spade though...
"Yeah Mack, that's me walking the docks at midnight, flask of whisky in my breast pocket and .38 in my shoulder holster..." Only I ain't got a .38 just a big bladed shaolin and a claw hammer, and whisky is a long ago memory.

After a drink of the flat metallic tasting water from my bottle I took a bite out of the MRE bar. Something some marketing genius had labelled as "Strawberry Cherries Jubilee", but which mostly tasted like cardboard sauteed in cherry coke. I hoisted my go bag and pulled my fedora down to shade my eyes from the direct semi-brightness of the street light, and started walking along the dock.

I kept close to the wall moving steadily as long as it had no doors. 

The dock facing front of the next building was filled with the black maws of loading bays. Took almost half an hour to reach the end of this massive warehouse. Must have been twenty loading bays, half of them open.

There is a kind of macabre Zen effect to pausing to listen at each black gaping mouth then quickly slipping past, going a couple of gates and pausing at the next open one.

I reached the street that ran up towards the Wall, pausing at the corner to look up like I always did. The Wall was hidden from sight by the mist and there were fewer streetlights on this stretch. Wind blown trash drifts lined the street. This was where Frank's patrol area and mine overlapped and he would have come down here a couple of hours ago, so the sight of a dark lump in the middle of the street was unexpected.

It wasn't there when I passed that morning and there hadn't been any wind to speak off during the afternoon. I watched it carefully from the corner, listening for the sound of something moving anywhere nearby. The silence was total even the sound of the sluggish harbour was gone.


Maybe it was a bag of garbage that had rolled off one of the drifts.

I moved up the street keeping my eyes on the lump, it was just on the edge of the orange circle cast by a streetlight.  I paused beside the closest working light. There were two burned out ones between me and the lump.

I waited. Still nothing scrapping or shuffling in the darkness. I could see that the lump was much bigger than a garbage bag. The sodium light made it hard to tell what colour it was but it was definitely not shiny garbage bag green.

Then it moved!

There was a scrapping sound and the lump jerked.

I was too far away for it to sense me, but I would have to move fast to smash its skull before it could howl and bring any more of the lurking dead out onto the street. I dropped my go bag, hefted by Shaolin and steeled myself to run towards the thing that jerked fitfully on the street.

"Well Spade you better do it and do it quick" I muttered and charged straight at it.

I got maybe ten feet from it and there was burst of motion from the shadow behind what I could now see was a body.

Rats! Starved looking scrawny things, scampered off into the darkness, their beady eyes glaring at me.

I stopped in my tracks and waited. The rats had been chewing on the body and making it jerk. I went closer to check it out.

It was the body of a youngish women, dressed for a night out in a short dress, dark red maybe, hard to tell in the orange light. She was blonde, her head lolled at an unnatural angle, neck broken. Her long legs were wearing nylons and she had high heels on!

Who the fuck wears high heels outside the Wall!

I muttered to myself, "What's a dame like you doing in a place like this?"

In the silence I could hear the rats skittering in the darkness but nothing else. They were anxious to get at their prize. Zack and those he kills are toxic so though there are lots of dead bodies around scavengers like rats get short shrift and learn to avoid the dead, walking or not.

So she hadn't been Zack bit.

I knelt beside her and looked at her ravaged face, the rats had made a mess of her but I could see she had expensive makeup. There was a dark spreading stain on the front of her dress. She'd been stabbed too.

Of all the horrors and billions of dead this world had seen, this was something I thought was long gone.

This was murder.

To be continued...

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