Here’s a story I wrote way back in 2010. I never managed to sell it, nor did I try too hard – the fact of the matter was, while the idea for this story had been bouncing around my head for years, I chose the exact wrong time to write it.
As a horror fan, I was disheartened by the zombie craze that hit America around 2010. Suddenly, zombies were everywhere. They became mainstream to the point of saturation, an irony that didn’t escape me as zombies, as archetypes, are meant to represent humanity’s tendencies toward pathological conformity and runaway consumption. I wasn’t alone with being burned-out by zombies, either. Editors were, too, so much that many of them expressly forbade any more zombie stories in their submission guidelines.
That’s how “The Zombie Desk” became a trunk story. I lost all interest in having it published in such a zombie-rich environment. “The Zombie Desk” is also a hard-boiled detective story taking place in the early 30’s. With other zombie genre mash-ups coming out – like the execrable “Pride and Prejudice with Zombies” (come at me, bro) – I knew I’d have to let this story go.
It’s still a fun, pulpy read, though. So, while I may not have wanted it to have a home in the trades, I thought I’d let it live here so that someone may get some enjoyment from it.
The Zombie Desk
By Colin Heintze
You get a lot of strange cases when you work the Zombie Desk. Take last Saturday. That was a weird one. Trust me when I tell you that’s saying a lot.
All three-hundred pounds of Harry burst into my office, puffing like the trip up the stairs had been a quick jaunt up Mount Everest.
“Christ,” I said, “have them send a telegram next time.”
“Don’t take the Lord’s name in vain, you stinking heathen pollack,” Harry wheezed. “Got a new one for you.”
He dropped the notes onto my desk. I looked at them and back to him, wondering if it was a prank.
Harry was big into spiritualism — séances, that sort of thing — so it was no surprise that he showed a bit of clairvoyance.
“No joke, Tom,” he said. “She’s at that address. Medics are checking her now. No serious injuries, but…” he finished the sentence with a shudder.
“You sure this isn’t a gag? Why would a zombie… how could a zombie–”
“Rape a girl? No idea. That’s your area of expertise. You want to know about pickpockets, call me some time.”
“And be responsible for your heart-attack when you have to come up the stairs? No thanks.”
“Wiseguy. Get off your ass and do some work for once.”
I stuck my hat on my head and pulled on my coat. I felt a vague sense of dread. This one, I knew, was going to be weird.
Last Saturday was remarkable for another reason, too — it marked the tenth anniversary of the “Zombie Plague”.
Now, calling it a plague was just a little linguistic laziness. It wasn’t communicable, far as any of the egg-heads could tell. Our boys brought it back from the trenches of Europe, though nobody knew why some people came back and others didn’t. Had a lot of people frightened, at least in the beginning.
Turns out, though, that zombies are model citizens. They can’t get drunk, don’t need food or coal, and have no interest in sex. Other than that, zombs aren’t much different than when they were alive, minus a few fingers and toes. They weren’t the monsters of penny novels.
Of course, not everyone saw it that way. There were riots. Pogroms. Here in town, Reverend Houlle had been howling for their destruction since day one. Fortunately, other than the usual cranks, no one paid him much mind.
How I got this rotten duty is story in itself. Short version: some letters between me and the chief’s daughter became a matter of public knowledge. They don’t call me The Big Pole because I stand 6’3″.
We’re a pretty progressive city. Our police department has a negro desk, a coolie desk… so the big heads got together and figured we needed a zombie desk, too. It wasn’t a bad beat. Most days, I didn’t even carry a piece. Unless they invent a hip-holster for an axe, there wouldn’t be much point going into Zombietown armed, anyways.
But, I wasn’t going to Zombietown, not then. I hopped into one of the department’s cars and made my way Uptown to the nice, ritzy neighborhood where my victim lived. They were as purebred as their poodles up there, nearly every one of them branches on a tree that began on the Mayflower.
I parked at the curb and got out to greet the uniformed officer.
“Tomasz,” he said, offering a hand. We were distant cousins and he greeted me by my Polish name.
“Afternoon, Marek. So, you’re in on the gag, huh?”
“This is serious, Tom. Deadly.”
“Damn. If word of this gets out…”
He nodded. “Can’t say I’m a fan of the zombs, but one thing I can’t tolerate is a mob. That’s why I left Poland, you know.”
“Get something to eat, Marek. You look thin.”
“Sure. One thing, though.”
“The girl’s telling the truth, far as I can tell. But, keep your head up. These people are weird. Maybe not up to your standards, but they’re strange to me.”
I knocked on the door and was greeted by a man who looked like he should be presiding over the Salem Witch Trials. Dozens of crosses covered the walls behind him.
“You’re the detective?” he said.
“Tom Nowak. Are you..?”
“The father, yes. Samuel Crane, pleased to meet you, though I wish it was under better circumstances. Come in. I can tell you what happened.”
“If you don’t mind, I’d rather speak to your daughter.”
“Lizzie is not herself right now. She’s been through a great deal.”
“I can imagine. Still, I’ll need to interview her.”
A woman came up behind Samuel. If Samuel looked like a Salem magistrate, his wife could have been working a loom in Oliver Cromwell’s solarium.
“Mr. Nowak,” Mrs. Crane said. “You must understand, we are a very religious family. It is not appropriate for her discuss these matters with you.”
I shrugged my shoulders, saying, “Mrs. Crane, I understand your reservations, but I’m sure you want to catch the man who attacked your daughter.”
“Man? The man who attacked my daughter? That was no “man”, Mr. Nowak, but an abomination, a fiend fresh from the pit of hell.”
“Still, it’s protocol.”
For about the thousandth time I wished we had a female detective for these kinds of cases. We’re a progressive city, alright — but not that progressive.
Mrs. Crane threw up her hands and sighed, “Fine. If there is no other way.”
“I’m sorry, ma’am. There isn’t.”
Mr. and Mrs. Crane led me into the house. Keeping with the owners, it was an old, colonial affair. The crosses on the walls actually increased the further we progressed into the house.
Mrs. Crane seemed adamant about giving me her version of the events. She had nearly talked my ear off by the time we stopped at a bedroom door. Mr. Crane gently rapped on it.
“Lizzie? We have a detective here. He wants to talk to you. Is that alright?”
No answer. Samuel took a deep breath and opened the door.
She was lying on her bed, face buried in the pillows. I walked up and put my hand on the corner of the mattress, letting her know I was there. No sudden movements, I told myself.
“Lizzie? Can you talk to me a few minutes?”
“It was awful,” said a muffled voice from the pillows. “Just awful.”
I nodded at the parents. They exchanged uneasy glances and closed the door behind them.
“Lizzie? Can you look at me?”
Her face emerged from the pillows. It was red with tears. Other than a small lump on her forehead, she seemed to be unharmed. She was pretty. Beautiful even, the picture of Puritan grace and innocence. A few strands of hair had escaped the bun on her head and dangled over her eyes. She hadn’t changed since her attack. She still wore jade earrings and an exquisite opal pendant shaped like a rose.
“Th-that thing!” she said.
“Tell me from the beginning.”
“I was walking home from church…”
That would explain the earrings and rose pendant, I thought.
“Where was that?”
“Forty-third Street, near the docks.”
“A lot of fishermen hang around that street. Oh, they’re so lewd, so nasty, always making the most vulgar comments.”
“I know the place.”
“So, I took a shortcut through the alley, the one that runs behind the barbershop. I just wanted to walk in peace, to not be subject to their taunts and leers!”
“Is that where it happened?”
She shuddered. “Yes. He came up to me, saying the most disgusting things. He tried to kiss me… I pushed him away. Then, I was on the ground and, and…”
She burst into tears and buried her head under the pillows.
“Tell me what happened, Lizzie.”
“I can’t! I can’t remember! It was all so horrible, too horrible.”
“How do you know he was a zombie?”
“How could I not?”
“Can you describe him?”
“He was… was… oh, I can’t remember!”
She started wailing. I was practically pleading for more information, but she was hysterical. Her parents came in and hurried me out of the room.
“Look what you’ve done,” snarled Mrs. Crane. Samuel was more diplomatic, saying, “Now, now, Helen. He’s only doing his job.”
I made my own attempt at diplomacy and said, “In the meantime, I think you should get a doctor to examine her. We’ll need all the evidence we can get.”
“Unacceptable!” Mrs. Crane shrilled. “It’s a sin! My daughter’s places are not to be viewed by any man, not until she is married.”
“It would help the case.”
“I won’t see her further humiliated. She told you enough, didn’t she? You will find him, won’t you?”
“Honestly, Mrs. Crane, we don’t have much to go on. But, I promise I will find the man… thing responsible for this.”
I would have to, and soon. This case was a powder keg, a vial of nitroglycerin perched on a tenth-story windowsill. If I didn’t have the culprit in a pillory before tomorrow night, the city would explode.
I’d overstated our position to Mrs. Crane just a tad. I told her that I didn’t have much to go on. In fact, I had nothing. I headed over to Zombietown, sighing as I thought about how desperate I must have been to be calling on Gonzo again. I’d been to Gonzo’s a half-dozen times since starting the zombie beat, and it never got any easier.
A lot of people are surprised when they see how clean Zombietown is. After all, there isn’t much in the way of waste, food and excrement being alien to zombie physiology. Clean though it may be, most people can’t go more than a few minutes without losing their lunch. Me, I’m used to it. I’m known here. The citizens smile and wave. I’ve mostly gotten over the sight of their rictus grins and bloated, peeling skin. It’s not a bad beat. Ask the cops who work the negro or coolie beats. They’ll tell you how the streets empty like high noon at the OK Corral when they come around.
Unfortunately, my destination was nowhere so wholesome as a shootout. Moreover, my stomach was rumbling and my bladder pushing against my backbone. Damn Zombietown. Not a single washroom or scrap of food to be found.
I got out in front of Gonzo’s and banged on the door. The looks that passing zombies gave me were mortifying, ones that said “pervert” and “monster”.
The door opened. At first, I thought Gonzo had installed another door behind it, but no — the rectangular mass that so perfectly fit with the doorframe was the bouncer.
“We’re closed,” he said. “Come back tonight.” He was fresh as spring, probably less than a month old. Unless someone was close like I was, they could never tell he was undead.
I flashed my badge. He wasn’t impressed.
“Gonzo ain’t here,” he said. “Come back tonight.”
“Mind if I see for myself, big guy?”
He bent over and dug a finger in my chest.
“I told you twice — with my mouth.”
“Listen, I know what it’s like. You’re fresh outta the grave, you’re stronger than you’ve ever been, you can’t be killed. You’re feeling powerful. But, I’m a cop, so you do what I say, got it? If not, I can arrange a warm bath for you. Ever heard of a warm bath? We heat up milk, just below boiling, fill a bathtub with it. Brother, you should see what it does to your kind. Takes your skin off like wet paper mache.”
Nostrils flared. Two pairs of eyes, one blue, one obsidian black, locked onto each other. Things had gotten all Tombstone after all. I was dead meat and knew it, but didn’t allow those baby blues to spill the secret.
A voice came from the top of the stairs.
“Let him in.”
The doorman, or I should say man-door, turned sideways. I went past him, careful not to show that, between the lack of washrooms and sheer terror, I had nearly soiled myself.
I met my host at the top of the stairs.
“Come in,” the voice echoed through the pallid mask. People said he never took off the porcelain mask, that his face was so hideous it curdled milk, scared away rain clouds, miscarried babies. He beckoned me into his room with a slender, gloved finger.
This was the one place in Zombietown I knew would have a washroom. I asked my host’s permission and tried not to bolt for it. I like to keep up a professional appearance.
When I had finished I sat across from him at his desk. Two girls were on his lap. Each wore enough makeup to supply the cast of a Broadway musical through its second run. Not that I could blame them. Even their most depraved client wouldn’t want to see what lay underneath all that gloss and powder.
“Come to sample my wares?” Gonzo laughed. I scooted my chair a little closer to him.
“Need information. Lose the girls.”
Gonzo waved the girls away. One of them ran her hand over my shoulders as she left. Damned if she didn’t look nearly alive.
Gonzo spread his hands and said, “So, what can I do for you, Detective Nowak?”
“I need some information on a guy, might be a client of yours.”
“What’s his name?”
“What’s he look like?”
“Couldn’t tell you,” I admitted.
“Well, it was nice of you to drop by. Don’t be a stranger.”
“Listen, you greasy little Spanish pimp…”
“How dare you! This is a Gentlemen’s Club, sir! I pay my taxes, just like everybody else.”
I rose from my seat and jabbed a finger onto the mask. I don’t usually try the physical stuff on zombs, especially old ones like Gonzo. Cuff them on the head like you would a normal guy and you stand a chance of taking it clean off their shoulders. Gonzo’s mask, however, was plenty sturdy.
“Your ‘club’ is the lowest, most depraved den of vice in this city. Your clients… Lord, man, I don’t even want to think about it. They only come here because they can do things they never could with a living girl. Sick things. Brutal things.”
“You gonna shut me down?”
Gonzo cocked his head in a way I could only interpret as a smile.
“You don’t have any evidence. Oh, I’m sure you could get it, but it’d be expensive, time-consuming. You know the score as well as I do. City Hall couldn’t give a damn about us in Z-town. Far as they’re concerned, a live nigger is better than ten undead Englishmen. No, long as it stays in Z-town, they don’t ask questions.”
“Sure, but this one didn’t stay in Zombietown. It went Uptown.”
Gonzo’s head cocked again. Curiousity?
“What’d he do, kill someone?”
“Raped a girl of about fifteen.”
“And you think he got his feet wet here?”
“Maybe. All I can tell you is that he’s a zombie–”
“You been smoking grass, detective? Zombies don’t have sex. I know. I’ve tried. Besides, the thing… that’s the first part to go.”
“This wasn’t about pleasure, at least not how we would view it. This was rage. The girl’s parents told me some of the things he said to her. They might disturb even you.”
“It doesn’t matter. I don’t have any zombie customers.”
“You must know something. Think. Someone who hates women, has a grudge against the living.”
“Open the window. I’ll throw a stone and hit one.”
I grabbed my hat and made to leave. At least, I consoled myself, I’d gotten the worst part over with.
“Wait!” Gonzo cried. “I do know a guy who works Uptown. Not really a bad guy.”
“You gotta understand, Detective. When we rise, well, it ain’t pretty. Most of us can’t stand to look at ourselves. A lot give themselves the ole’ Viking funeral. Others go down to the Catacombs and hide from the world.”
“Listen, I’m real busy.”
“But some of us, ones like me, we embrace it. We don’t hide it, we take pride in it. That’s Alvin.”
“Yeah, Alvin. Works at a construction site Uptown, right by the docks. He likes to scare em’. The girls, I mean. See, he was a playboy before his accident. Now, women can’t stand the sight of him, an’ that makes him mad. So, he hides around corners, jumps out at them, that sorta thing. Don’t have him pegged for a rapist, but…”
It was a long shot, but it put Alvin in the area, and gave him something of a motive. A thing resembling a lead was forming.
Gonzo lit a cigarette from a long, slender holder. Of course, he couldn’t enjoy it any more than his silk sheets or the bottles of brandy collecting dust on the shelves. Greed, it seemed, was the one vice that always bridged the afterlife.
I tipped my hat to my host. “Thanks. I’ll look into it.”
“You’ll keep City Hall off my back, right?”
“Like you said, Gonzo. Long as it stays in Z-town, nobody cares.”
It was dusk when I arrived at the construction site. I made some inquiries to the gangs of men filing out of the gate and was directed to the foreman’s office.
The foreman was a florid little Greek by the name of Kosta Siska.
“Mr. Siska,” I said, showing my badge. “Mind if I ask you a few questions?”
The Greek sighed and sat on his desk.
“Go ahead. Not first police to come here. What this time? They get drunk and wreck up a bar? Pull down a street sign? They’re good men, most of them. I always try to tell you people that.”
“I’m looking for Alvin.”
“I have three Alvins on my payroll, sir.”
“The zombie one.”
“Oh, zombie Alvin. I, too, am looking for him.”
“Is he in some kind of trouble?”
“Just need to ask him some questions.”
“Because he is a good boy.”
“Could you tell me Alvin’s family name?”
“O’Leary. Alvin O’Leary.”
Great. A zombie and an Irishman. Might as well pick up a big, pink bow on the way home while I’m handing out gifts to the Klansmen who run the Daily Guardian.
“Why did you say you’re looking for him, Mr. Siska?”
“He didn’t come in to work today. I worry. Never has he missed a day of work. He never eats, never takes breaks, cannot get hurt. Because him, I’m thinking of hiring only zombies.”
Sure, I thought. Give them more reason to be hated.
“What’s Alvin like?” I asked.
“Funny guy. Yes, real funny guy.”
“You ever seen him with any women?”
“Zombies don’t go with women, sir.”
“As friends, maybe.”
Mr. Siska bit his lip and looked away. I’d seen that same look in kids who got caught cheating on their algebra.
“Go ahead, Mr. Siska,” I said. “What is it?”
“I like Alvin very much.”
“He is mean to the girls. All my workers like to say things to the girls, but Alvin…”
“Can you give me an example?”
Mr. Siska quoted Alvin. He wasn’t comfortable repeating the words, and flushed. Hell, I was uncomfortable just hearing them.
“Can you tell me where Alvin lives?” I asked. Mr. Siska shook his head.
“I don’t know, but it is close.”
“How do you know that?”
“One day I saw him carrying a big dresser. Detective, it was huge, maybe six-hundred pounds. Even a zombie couldn’t carry that thing far.”
“Anything else that might be helpful? I need to find him soon.”
“He is a good boy, detective. A good boy.”
They’re all good boys until you find their cellar full of skeletons — and this was one “good boy” who wasn’t going to get away with it. Everything pointed to him. Everything was coming together into a bona-fide lead. I checked my watch. 7:40. I wasn’t going to get much more done. I thanked Mr. Siska for his time and went into the twilight.
I was planning on dropping the car off at the station and taking the trolley home. It didn’t quite work out that way. Soon as I got to Pitkin Avenue traffic ground to a halt. It was snarled, autos and carriages jamming the streets. The air reeked of exhaust and horse droppings.
I got out and stood on the fender. Looking over the line of cars and buggies, I saw the source of the jam.
Damn him for a bastard. Reverend Houlle. The good reverend and his congregation had taken their show on the road.
I started walking towards the rally. The car behind me honked its horn. I put up my hands and gave the driver a look that said “hey, buddy, nobody’s going anywhere for a while.”
Most of the reverend’s followers were working-class stiffs — dockworkers, steelers, the like. It was no surprise that they could have thrown up a stage in the middle of Pitkin Avenue on such short notice.
The reverend was howling about “damnation” and “abominations”, the usual stuff. Funny thing was, he could have passed for undead himself. His skin was nearly translucent, stretched across a frame so bony that, if he stood still, you might mistakenly hang your hat on him. But, he wasn’t frail. By the strength of both his voice and bearing, he looked like he was still capable of getting down in the mud with the stevedores and longshoremen that made up his following. It was part of the shtick. When he wasn’t talking about zombies taking our souls, it was zombies taking our jobs. Reminded me of that guy in Germany, that upstart whose name I can never remember.
I walked to the edge of the rally. Reverend Houlle was in the middle of saying, “…and the accursed dead walk among us, unmolested, ready to strike,” when he thrust a finger in my direction.
The entire mob turned and looked at me. I backed away before realizing that they weren’t looking at me, but past me. What I saw when I turned made me wish I had been the focus of their rage, instead.
There were six of them leaning against the wall that ran along Pitkin Avenue. Every one of them had derby hats, white shirts, and trousers held up with suspenders. A few were indolently flipping toothpicks in their mouths. Dead Boys. The biggest, baddest gang in Zombietown.
I rushed over to them. No need for introductions. We were already well-acquainted.
“Jimmy,” I said to the leader. He was the smallest of the bunch, but I knew from personal experience that he was deadly as arsenic. He had a neat trick of concealing a piece in his hollowed-out midsection. “What the hell do you think you’re doing here?”
Jimmy sucked on his toothpick and sneered, “What, Nowak, can’t a guy an’ his friends enjoy a crisp autumn evening, take in the sights?”
“They’ll tear you apart!”
Jimmy laughed and called over the crowd, “Is what this screw’s telling me right, Reverend? You and your boys gonna tear us apart?”
“In time,” the reverend said softly.
“Hell, why not right now, old man? I’ll even give you odds: your best ten against our six.”
I shoved Jimmy back towards the wall. One of the other Dead Boys drew up to me. He was a mountain of zombie, made the doorman at Gonzo’s look like a housecat.
“What’s the idea?” Jimmy said. “We jus’ wanna participate in the political process.”
“You’re baiting them. I won’t let any innocent zombs get hurt on account of you.”
“Yeah, cause’ kindly Detective Nowak cares so much about us undead.”
“So much that, if you don’t beat it, I’ll arrest you for disturbing the peace.”
“We ain’t disturbing nothin’, they are.”
“Do I gotta teach you how the world works? You’re a zomb. I could tell them you killed Archduke Ferdinand and make the charges stick.”
“So it’s like that, huh?”
I nodded. “It’s for your own good.”
He stood there and stared at me for a few seconds. The mountain at my side didn’t breathe. Creepy thing about zombies number four-hundred thirty-one: they don’t breathe. It’s impossible to tell whether they’re calm as a yogi or about to rip your head off.
“Fine,” Jimmy said. “If that’s how it is… c’mon, boys.”
They walked away, the jeers of the crowd falling at their backs. Jimmy turned mid-way through his retreat and pointed at Reverend Houlle.
“Set one foot in Zombietown, punk. Just one foot…”
“In time,” the reverend repeated. “In time.”
I checked my watch. 9:10. I forgot about taking the car back to the station. Let Harry wail about the breach of protocol. I only lived a couple miles away, and I’d have to be up bright and early to catch Alvin.
It was still dark when I woke up and took the car Uptown. I found a busy intersection near Mr. Siska’s construction site, parked, and waited.
An hour later I saw him. He was sitting in the seat of the carriage, looking smart in his white uniform. And old draft horse was pulling him up the street. I could hear the bottles rattling.
I approached and put my foot on the step. He looked like he might kick me off until he saw the badge in my hand.
“Officer,” said the milkman. “What can I do for you?”
“Sorry to be a bother, but do you deliver to this neighborhood?”
“Yessir. I’ve worked this route everyday for ten years, excluding Sundays, course’.”
“You deliver to every house?”
“Nearly every one, from Thirty-second to Fifteenth, sir.”
“Would you be able to tell me which houses you don’t deliver to?”
The milkman put his chin in his fist. “Hmm. I know Ms. Crowell don’t take milk, doctor’s orders.”
“Here and there, I suppose.”
“Could you draw me a map? I know it’s asking a lot, but it would be a great help to my investigation.”
The milkman fidgeted in his seat. The horse stamped its hoof impetuously.
“I have a lot of deliveries to make, officer.”
So, it was like that. I sighed and took a ten-spot out of my wallet. The milkman grinned.
“I suppose old Bess could handle a brisk trot, sir.”
He produced a sheet of paper and scribbled some crude lines representing streets, businesses, and landmarks. He drew an X on the places he didn’t deliver to, writing down the numbers as best he could remember.
I thanked him and, map in hand, located the nearest X.
It was a nice brownstone, far out of a construction worker’s price range. I made my way to the next one, an apartment building that, as if foreseeing my inquiries, had a sign on the door reading ‘absolutely no zombies allowed.’
I spent the better part of the morning finding, and eliminating, the addresses on the map. By noon I had walked nearly three five and my dogs were barking. I figured I’d check one more place before grabbing lunch.
It was little more than a shack set off from the road behind a fabric shop. By the looks of it there was no running water, no heat, no toilet. Zombie heaven.
I peeped in the window and saw an old oak dresser that must have weighed half a ton. I knocked on the door. No answer. I tried the knob. It wasn’t locked, didn’t even have a lock.
I stepped in and was greeted by a blow above my ear. I was on my feet a moment later, only to lose them again to what felt like a sack of concrete falling on my head. I couldn’t see my assailant, couldn’t see much of anything but stars, but I sure as hell could smell him.
I wished I had brought a piece. Pistols are generally useless against zombies, but at that range I would have stood a chance of setting him on fire with the muzzle-blast.
Instead, another sack of concrete falling on my head, this one feeling like it was dropped from a fourth-story window. The stars in my eyes exploded, things wheeled around, and I fell for the last time.
Harry was pacing around like a lion in a cage.
“That son of a bitch! Don’t worry, Tom, we’ll get him! Every officer in town is on the lookout.”
I pressed the icepack to my head and waved off the attention of the medics. Harry had brought a small army with him, exactly what I’d hoped he wouldn’t do. About twenty uniformed officers stood around me with shotguns slung over their shoulders. The guns were loaded with incendiary rounds. Any curious citizen in the knot of onlookers would know it was zombie we were hunting.
“We’ve got men at the train station, roadblocks on every route out of the city. We’ll get him.” Harry was saying.
I shook my head. Pain flared up behind my eyes.
“You won’t find him,” I said.
“We will. You have my word on that.”
“Only one place a fugitive zombie would go. You know that.”
“Tom, if you think we’re going down there…”
“You’re not. I am.”
“What kind of message would we be sending if an army of cops loaded with hot-shot charged into the tunnels? It would be a declaration of war. No. They know me, at least by reputation. I’m going alone.”
“An hour ago you couldn’t stand unassisted.”
I stood up. It wasn’t the display of fitness I had hoped for. I wobbled. Harry looked at me skeptically.
“No way, Tom. I’m taking you off this case, at least until you can walk a straight line.”
“Can’t you feel it? People are scared, Harry. The city’s a powder-keg.”
“Go home, get some sleep. That’s an order, Nowak.”
I threw up my hands and sighed, “That’s it, then?”
I stuck my hands in my pockets and slouched away. When I was out of sight of the others, I smiled. There was a hardware store nearby. I was going to need a lantern, torch, and good pair of boots. After all, I was going to the Catacombs.
Some wiseass had carved “abandon all hope, ye who enter” on the entrance of the Catacombs.
I was about to enter Zombietown’s Zombietown, the lair of the city’s most bashful, grotesque, and secretive zombs. It was, at one time, an actual catacomb beneath the Jesuit mission, though rumor said the zombs had carved out several more miles of tunnel since moving in ten years ago. Unfortunately, rumors were all I had to go on. No living person had set foot down there for the better part of a decade. Only the mad or desperate would risk such horror, and as I steeled my nerves I wondered which one I was.
The entrance was nothing fancy, just a flight of stairs descending from the ruins of the old mission.
I lit the lantern, tightened the laces on my boots, and took the plunge. I heard tapping sounds in the darkness below me, likely spotters signaling my arrival to the others inside.
No turning back, I told myself. My lantern cast a wide light on the shelves of skeletons, most of them little more than piles of bones draped under the remains of their robes and habits. I hadn’t encountered a zomb yet, though I knew they were out there. There were noises in the darkness. When I heard something scuttling, I switched on the electric torch; the thin beam had better range than the lantern. Every time, it fell on a dark shape that quickly loped out of sight.
The air was cool and dry, the perfect place for the undead. I called into the darkness, “This is Detective Tom Nowak. I’m here pursuing a fugitive. I mean you no harm.”
Muttering in the darkness. Then, echoing from somewhere far below me, “Go away, warm-blood.”
“I will not.”
I walked a few hundred yards deeper. I nearly jumped out of my shoes when a stone collided with the wall near my head.
“Go away, warm-blood!” the voice persisted. “This place is not for the living.”
“I understand that, trust me, I do. But, this is an emergency.”
A woman’s voice this time, “Who do you seek?”
“We will not surrender one of our own.”
“He’s a rapist.”
“You think I’m crazy? You think I’d come down here if I wasn’t sure?”
Suddenly, they were all around me. I saw the gleam of their eyes and felt as my ancestors must have felt seeing wolves stare at them beyond the light of their campfires.
The voices came as a swarm.
“No more warnings.”
“Damn it,” I cried. “You’re not getting it. If I don’t bring in a suspect soon, it’ll be open season on zombies. Give him to me, it’s the only way.”
“We are safe.”
“They cannot harm us here.”
“We will fight them, if necessary.”
I threw the torch down the corridor out of pure frustration.
“You are most definitely not safe here. They’ll come with dynamite, with kerosene. This place isn’t a fortress, it’s a deathtrap.”
The muttering increased to a buzz. There were hastily whispered arguments. After a few minutes, one of the voices said, “wait.”
I waited. After a time, I heard people approaching. I raised the lantern and saw two zombies carrying a third. The third looked like he would be sobbing if only he were capable of the tears.
They crowded around me, dozens of them. A man could get used to a lot of things, but not that. Lipless mouths and hollow eyes regarded me with cool contempt. A woman approached me, half of her face sloughing off the skull. I tried not to gag.
“You find us disgusting?” she said.
“Hey, at least I’m trying.”
“This is why we live here, you know. I hoped to never be looked at again as you looked at me just now.”
She seemed to accept that. “Is this the man you are looking for?”
I dropped to a knee and addressed the blubbering zombie.
“Are you Alvin O’Leary?”
He thrashed in the arms of his captors. It didn’t do him any good. He whimpered, “I didn’t do nothing to that girl.”
“Then why’d you miss work? Why’d you knock me on the pate?”
“I didn’t know you were a cop. I thought you were one of them.”
“Can I sit down?”
The half-faced woman nodded and the two burly zombs released Alvin. Alvin slumped to the ground and moaned pitifully, “The men that threatened me.”
“Why would someone threaten you?”
“Because they knew about the girl.”
“So you did–”
“No! All I did was scare her, tease her a little. I got a lot of anger, I’ll admit it. You try being a rotten-faced eunuch some time. But that’s all! I never laid I finger on her.”
“Her injuries suggest otherwise.”
“I couldn’t tell you about that.”
“What happened with the men who threatened you?”
“I was coming home from working at the site. I took the shortcut through the alley like I always do, the same one where I scared the girl. They was waiting for me there.”
“I don’t know. Rough guys, though. Dockworkers or something. They said I raped that girl. I told them they was dead wrong. They slammed me against the wall. One of them threatened to give me a warm bath. You know what a warm bath is, Detective? It’s when they–”
“I know, I know.”
“Anyways, I tell them they got the wrong guy. They start to get rough. I twist away and run off.”
“Never known zombies to be fast runners, kid.”
“They didn’t chase me. They let me go.”
“I don’t believe you. I’m taking you in.”
I took out the leather zombie manacles. Fresh zombies were strong enough to break handcuffs, and older ones could dig the metal into their wrists until their hands fell off.
Half-face stepped a few paces closer.
“Detective, can’t you see he’s innocent? He’s–”
“Where’d you get that pendant?” I cried. I never would have noticed the opal rose if she hadn’t stepped into the light and forced me to look anywhere but that hideous face.
“This? I had it made for me in Boston.”
“Does anyone else have one?”
“Only my granddaughter, but–”
“The victim. Alvin’s victim.”
The good side of the woman’s face shot a look at Alvin that could have withered grapes on the vine.
“Are you from the Crane side of the family?” I asked. She nodded. “Does she know? Does anyone in your family know?”
Mrs. Crane shook her head. “It would destroy the family.”
“You could tell them. It’s not your fault, you know. No one chooses to be reborn a zombie.”
“They wouldn’t believe me. Not before, especially not now that that damned preacher’s been filling their heads with ideas.”
“Reverend, I should say. Reverend Houlle.”
If Alvin’s blows had felt like a bag of concrete falling on my head, Ms. Crane’s words were an anvil, a grand piano, the goddamn Titanic. The flood of realization almost put me out for the second time that day.
“Are you quite well, Detective?”
I turned to Alvin and shook him by the shoulders.
“The girl, Lizzie Crane is her name. Did you see where she went after you scared her?”
“I-I, don’t know! She ran back the way she had come from.”
I remembered my interview with Lizzie. She said she had been coming from church. Reverend Houlle’s church.
“Alvin, I think you might be innocent.”
He leapt to his feet in exaltation, or at least what passed for leaping as far as zombies were concerned.
“But,” I added. “I’m still taking you in.”
“The next couple hours are going to be important, kid. I may need to make you the bad guy for a while. After that, I’ll need you as a witness.” He tried to stammer a response. I threw up my hand. “Trust me, okay? Ms. Crane?”
“I need to ask you a favor.”
I led Alvin out of the Catacombs and into the fading light of Zombietown. Someone was waiting for me.
“Jimmy,” I said. “Where are your friends?”
“At the war.”
“I don’t get it.”
The pop of pistols in the distance. I looked to Jimmy, begging answers.
“I had to see it to believe it,” Jimmy sneered. “Detective Nowak, going into the Catacombs. You son of a bitch.”
“Jimmy, what’s going on?”
“Like you don’t know! Like you didn’t set this up from the beginning! Like you aren’t leading an innocent man away to be lynched!”
Jimmy let out a howl and charged. I pushed Alvin away and retreated from the onslaught: jab, jab, uppercut, hook, over and over again like Jimmy’s fists were a metronome.
I ducked beneath one of his hooks and reached a hand into his midsection. I pulled the piece out of his torso and fired. After six shots, I’d done a pretty good job of messing up his hairdo and not much else.
I kept retreating, pleading with him for reason. The blows kept on coming, and it would only get worse. I couldn’t stop him unless I crippled or destroyed him. He would never get tired. He could not feel pain. I was better in a stand-up fight, but what difference could that make? All it took was those hands getting hold of me one time…
One of Jimmy’s uppercuts landed and sprawled me in the grass. He advanced on me with outstretched hands, and I remembered thinking that at least they wouldn’t have to go far to bury me.
Alvin let out a cry and ran at Jimmy. His hands were still manacled behind his back, but he managed to put his head down and deliver a hit to Jimmy’s hip. Jimmy spun to the ground and stared up with bewilderment.
“What are you doing, Alvin? He’s going to see you burn!”
“He’s here to help us.”
“Him? That cop, that warm-blood? He acts like he’s our friend, but he works for City Hall, no different than the rest.”
“I believe him.”
“Because. I have hope.”
Jimmy sighed and looked away. I picked myself up, walked over, and offered him my hand. He batted it away and stood up on his own.
“Sorry,” he mumbled.
“We’ll settle that account later. For now, I need to know what’s going on.” Now that I didn’t have a blood-mad zombie swinging at my face, I had noticed the thick columns of black smoke in the sky.
“They’re attacking Zombietown,” he said.
I didn’t need to ask who. I already knew.
“Where are the police?”
“Funny, I was hoping you could answer that.”
“Damn. I need to get to a phone.”
“We don’t have electricity here. Don’t exactly need lights and iceboxes, you know? The only phone I know of was at Gonzo’s, and it’s been burned to the ground.”
Oh, a silver-lining after all.
“Then I need to get out.”
“Like hell. I may not be trying to kill you, but I sure as shit don’t trust you.”
I undid Alvin’s shackles and pushed him towards Jimmy.
“Fine, here’s a hostage, of sorts. I’m going.”
I climbed over the ruin walls and took in the chaos. Half of Zombietown was already a smoldering wreck. Houlle’s mob was smashing, burning, looting, going after every zomb they could find. Jimmy’s Dead Boys had thrown up a barricade across 3rd Avenue, but they couldn’t last long. The mob was lobbing firebombs, fanning out for house-to-house fighting. From my vantage on the high wall, I could estimate that at least ten of Houlle’s group had been killed, probably three times that for the zombs.
I picked up a board I found in the grass and made my way to where the mob was thinnest. I came across a couple of burly fellows smashing the windows of a store.
“Hey,” I said. “Seen any zombs?”
“Not for ten minutes,” one of them replied. “They’ve scattered like the roaches they are.”
“Abominations. May they all burn in Hell.”
“May we be the ones to send them there,” he grinned. I followed his lead and smiled big and malicious.
A few blocks further and I was in the thick of it. As I pushed against the crowd I made sure to pump my fist in the air and chant, “Death to abominations! Purge us of evil!”
From somewhere in the chaos I heard Reverend Houlle’s voice flaming like a firebrand, “…and the beasts have taken an innocent child and used her to satisfy their lusts! I warned you, but you did not listen! How long until it’s your sister, or your wife, or, God save us, your precious daughter? We must cut this cancer from us once and for all!”
A few more blocks and I was alone. I saw a bank and rapped on the window. A balding, shrew-like head poked out from beneath a desk.
I flashed my badge and, with a relieved sigh, the teller got up and unlocked the door.
“Officer, thank God you’re here. There’s some kind of riot going on.”
“I know, I know. Can I use your phone?”
“Of course, sir!”
He took me to the phone. I told the operator where to send me and barked at the voice of Harry picking up on the other end.
“Harry, what the hell are you doing!”
“Tom? Jesus, Tom, you’re alive.”
“Of course I’m alive. Why wouldn’t I be?”
“People saw you in the hardware store buying stuff to go underground. I know you went to the Catacombs, Tom. We all figured you weren’t coming back.”
“You unspeakable ass. Get everyone down to Zombietown. Reverend Houlle’s congregation is turning the place into Belfast.”
Silence on the other end, followed by a deep breath.
“I know. They’re rioting Uptown, too.”
“That’s a diversion. The real target is Zombietown, and they’re burning it to cinders.”
“Tom, I’m sorry.”
“This comes from way up high, the mayor himself.”
“We’re not sending any units,” he said weakly.
“Oh, I see. Some rich Uptown lady gets her evening tea service interrupted, and the mayor sends the marines. But the ghouls in Zombietown are being massacred, and he can’t be bothered to give a damn!”
“Fuck you, Harry.”
I disconnected the call. The teller wrung his hands.
“Did I hear you correctly, officer? You said there is no help coming?”
“Keep it under your hat.”
“Zombies are some of my best customers. I don’t know what I’d do without them.”
“Help’s coming, alright? I’m just gonna have to do it myself. Got a car I can borrow?”
The Teller nodded anxiously.
“Good. After I leave, lock the door and get back under the desk. Don’t move for anything other than the Second Coming.”
I stopped the teller’s Model A at the roadblock. A uniformed officer stepped up to the window.
“Hey, bud, this road is shut down. There’s a riot Uptown — Tomasz!”
Marek reached through the window and pumped my hand, saying, “We all thought you were dead.”
“No such luck. Can you let me through?”
Marek motioned to the screws down the road to move the barricades.
“How are things up here, Marek?”
“Quieting down. Can you believe it, a riot Uptown?”
“Just a distraction. The real action is in Zombietown. It’s being razed to the ground.”
“Bastards. Why isn’t anyone doing anything?”
“They are — me.”
I stepped on the gas and waved at the image of Marek growing smaller in the mirror. Going through Uptown I saw smashed glass and overturned cars. Not much destruction, but the rioters were the dregs of Houlle’s congregation, mostly women, old men, and kids. The real heavy-hitters were tearing up Zombietown.
I got out at the Crane place and banged my fist on the door, hollering, “Lizzie! It’s Detective Nowak. I need to talk to you!”
The door opened to the scowling face of Mrs. Crane.
“She is convalescing right now, Detective. First the attack, now the riot… no, I cannot permit anyone to upset her further.”
I pushed my way past her and rushed towards bedroom.
“How dare you!” she wailed. “Samuel, do something!”
I was already in Lizzie’s bedroom by the time Mr. Crane’s hand fell on my shoulder.
“What is the meaning of this, Detective?”
“Maybe you should ask your daughter,” I said, motioning towards Lizzie. She was sitting on her bed, hands in her lap, looking very small. “Why’d you lie, Lizzie?”
Mrs. Crane flew at me like a harpy in a thunderstorm. She must have rained about twenty blows on my hat before Mr. Crane pulled her away. I jabbed a finger in her direction.
“I’d calm down if I were you, Mrs. Crane. You’ve played with justice long enough, and in this state interfering with a police investigation is a crime. That’s why you wouldn’t let a doctor examine her, because she was never really assaulted.”
Samuel Crane was struggling to take it all in. When he spoke, his voice was cracking.
“Is this true? Did both of you lie?”
The women didn’t speak. Lizzie shrunk into herself a little more. I dropped to a knee and put her hands in mine.
“He didn’t really attack you, did he?”
“He did, Detective, he did!”
“Stop lying to me. People are dying because of you, Lizzie. Real people.”
“Zombies,” she corrected me. “Undead filth.”
“Like your grandmother?”
“I saw her. Talked to her. She’s a zomb, Lizzie. A zomb, and she still loves you.”
Mrs. Crane launched herself at me again, clawing at my eyes.
“Liar! I’ll have you fired!”
Mr. Crane grabbed her around the waist and pulled her away.
“M-mother?” he said. I nodded and turned back to Lizzie.
“She’s the same person, Lizzie. I talked to her for a long time. She sent you flowers for your last birthday. You probably thought some boy at school sent them, but it was her.”
“She’s down there, you know. She loves you. She wants to see you again.” That last part was a bit of fibbing. But, who knew? If Gonzo had survived the battle, maybe he’d be willing to part with one of those masks of his.
“You have no proof!” Mrs. Crane shouted.
I took out the pendant and held it against Lizzie’s breast. The two opal roses glimmered next to each other. Lizzie let out a wail and buried her face in the covers.
“Nana! Oh, Nana!”
“Why did you lie?”
“He was nasty, so nasty. Said the most disgusting things.”
“And you told Reverend Houlle?”
“He was kind to me. He saw me crying, wanted to know why.”
“And you told him.”
“Yes — no. I didn’t tell him I was attacked. That part, he made up. Him and mother.”
I shot a look at Mrs. Crane that could have knocked less formidable women unconscious. The look her husband gave her put mine to shame.
“YOU!” he growled. “This was your doing?”
“Undead filth,” Mrs. Crane said. “Saying such things to my daughter. They deserve everything they get.”
“After this is over, I’m arresting you,” I said. Then, to Lizzie, “You’re a minor, you won’t be charged. But, you have to tell me everything.”
Lizzie sniffled and rearranged her hands in her lap.
“Reverend Houlle asked me to lie for him.”
“What about your injuries?”
“I did those myself, ran into the wall a few times.”
Samuel Crane moaned and sat on the floor. “You have brought great shame to this family.” The women of the household hung their heads.
“We can still fix this,” I said. “But you’re going to have to do something brave, Lizzie. You’re going to have to come with me to Zombietown, tell them that you made it all up.”
Mrs. Crane objected, “I won’t hear of it!”
Samuel had finally had enough.
“Be quiet, woman! Your serpent’s tongue has damned this family! Detective, do you have an automobile?” I nodded. “Good. Lizzie, you’re coming with us. My wife can stay here and think about what she’s done.”
Before Lizzie could give her consent, Mr. Crane and I had her hooked under the arms and were carrying her to the Model A.
The crowd was roiling like the seas off the Cape of Good Hope. We didn’t stand a chance of getting anywhere near the center of the mob until Mr. Crane started shouting “The child! Make way, we have the child!”
People parted in front of us. Those we passed ceased shouting and chanting, falling into reverential silence.
The Dead Boys’ barricade had failed. They had pulled back to 1st Avenue. Zombietown burned.
Lizzie was faint in Mr. Crane’s arms. I heard Reverend Houlle’s voice nearby, still working the mob. I grabbed Samuel by the arm and spun him towards me.
“I can’t go any further, Reverend Houlle knows my face. Can I trust you, Mr. Crane?”
“You can trust me, Detective. I would not bring any more dishonor to my household.”
“Lizzie, you still with us?”
“I’ll try,” she whispered.
“Trying’s not good enough. You can save a lot of lives today, kid.”
With that, I left them and faded back into the crowd. Somewhere near the center, a cheer went up. A ripple through the crowd as gangs of heavy men came carrying a high podium. A few seconds later, Reverend Houlle had mounted the podium and was displaying Lizzie in his arms.
He had a look of exaltation of his face. Somewhere in Zombietown, there was the sharp bark of an explosion.
“Look,” the reverend beseeched the crowd. “Here is the child, the innocent babe so viciously despoiled by those beasts!”
Cheering. Oaths of blood. Houlle crying, “Look upon the face of innocence, ravished by the undead menace!”
“I want to speak,” Lizzie said. Another eruption of enthusiasm from the crowd.
Reverend Houlle made a courtly bow and yielded the podium to the girl. The mob hushed in anticipation.
Lizzie fidgeted. Come on, girl. Don’t fail me now.
“Go home, everyone,” she said. “Go home.”
Bemused muttering. She took a deep breath and steadied her hands.
“The attack, I… I… I made it up!”
“No zombie never hurt me. I’m sorry.”
Reverend Houlle stepped up beside her.
“This child is ill, brothers and sisters. Her ordeal has warped her mind. Do not listen to the ravings of a poor, sick girl–”
“Shut up!” Lizzie screeched. “You were the one who made it all up. You were the one that made me lie!”
An inquiry shouted from the crowd by Yours Truly: “Is this true, Reverend?”
“Yes, I may have lied, but you need to understand, a lie is a lie only if the spirit deceives. And, in spirit, I have told the truth. The truth is, the undead plague is upon us! Those monsters simply bide their time, waiting for the perfect moment to strike! Perhaps this girl was not their victim, but if we don’t solve the undead problem now, there’s no telling how many innocents may be harmed by them in the future.”
This time, the mob didn’t need my help getting stirred up.
“You used that poor child!”
“Two of my friends died in the attack, you bastard!”
Houlle was wheedling, holding out his hands and begging for order. That’s when the first stone struck him.
Mr. Crane raced up the stairs, threw his daughter over his shoulder, and carried her to safety. The reverend was dodging the stones and bricks with more agility than I would have expected from a man his age.
“Brothers, sisters, please!”
A bottle struck him in the head and opened a cut above his eye. Houlle swayed, threatening to fall into the forest of hands grasping for his throat.
Then, I saw him. No telling how I picked out that solitary figure on a rooftop three blocks away. Maybe, like Harry, I had a touch of clairvoyance myself.
He was wearing a derby hat, white shirt, and suspenders. Though I couldn’t identify him from that distance, I knew it had to be Jimmy crouched on that rooftop aiming what looked to be a revolver.
No way, I thought. Impossible shot. He’s good, but not that good. Nobody’s that good.
I didn’t even hear the shot. One moment, Reverend Houlle was imploring the crowd for mercy, the next a spot of red was soaking through his shirt just above the collarbone. His legs gave out and he spilled into his congregation, landing with a thud as his former followers parted to allow his fall.
“I don’t know about you,” a gruff voice called over the mayhem. “But Bricklayer’s Hall 40 has had enough.”
Another ripple of bodies as a throng of masons sulked back towards their union hall.
Bricklayer’s 40 started the exodus. In minutes, the streets were empty. The shame on the rioters’ faces as they left was palpable.
Soon, it was just me, Samuel Crane, and Lizzie standing over the body of Reverend Houlle. I scanned the rooftops. Jimmy was gone. Goddamn if that guy isn’t an honest-to-goodness ghost.
The Clearbrook Home for the Mentally Ill is a good two hours outside the city. Let Harry rend his hair at the expense of me taking the department car — after all, I am the hero of Zombietown, toast of the press, and legendary explorer of the Catacombs. Who knows who it’ll be next week, but for the moment I’ve decided to enjoy the limelight.
The nurse leads me to room 415. I look in the window and see him writhing on the floor and straining against the straightjacket.
“Is that necessary?” I ask.
I nod. The nurse flips a lock of hair out of her eyes and regard me duly.
“I’m not trying to tell you how to do your job, Detective, but it’s not illegal for zombies to take their own lives.”
“It is when they need to stand trial.”
“Really, Detective? Look at him. No way he’s fit to stand trial.”
I do what she asks and take a gander. His eyes are feral, inhuman. He slowly mouths the words, “horror… horror.” For a moment he looks at me through the window. There isn’t a trace of recognition on his face.
“Not my area of expertise,” I tell her. “If you can fix the good reverend, there’s a card every year around Christmas in it for you. If not…” I shrug my shoulders.
“Horror… horror…” Reverend Houlle whispers.
On the way back, I take the long detour through Zombietown.
The wreckage has been swept into tidy little piles. I remember what Mr. Siska said about zomb workers, how they don’t get tired, don’t need food or sleep. This is a nice, tight community. I’m sure they’ll have it fixed up in no time. They might even improve on it.
The residents no longer wave at me when I pass. Nowadays, they take off their hats and bow. Again, I plan on enjoying it; in a few weeks, this whole mess will be forgotten and I’ll be back to being the bad guy.
I don’t bother stopping to dig up leads on Jimmy. Rumor has it he’s gone underground to you-know-where. Long as he stays put, I’m not keen on making a fuss. I’m definitely not going to go down there again, that’s for sure.
I return the car to dispatch and make my way to the second floor. Not even two minutes at my desk and Harry comes bursting in with Detective Clark from the Coolie Desk.
“Got another one for you, your highness.” Harry resents my newfound notoriety. At least he’s gotten away from the Pollack jokes.
Detective Clark sits down across from me. He runs his fingers through his hair and groans. The Coolie Desk. Can’t help but wonder who he’d ticked off to get that rotten duty.
“Tom,” he says. “I need your help. I’ve got this case–”
“You wouldn’t believe what those slanty-eyed bastards are up to this time!” Harry breaks in.
“Let the man talk, Harry.”
“Oh, of course, Your Excellency.”
“It’s the Triad gangs,” Clark says. “Someone got the idea that zombie parts could be used as medicine — ground into tea, smoked out of a pipe, that sorta thing. Chinatown’s being flooded with the stuff. Thing is, we have no idea where it’s coming from. Not from overseas — we’ve had the docks staked out for weeks.”
Now that he mentions it, there have been a few zomb disappearances in the vicinity of Chinatown lately.
I throw on my hat and make for the door.
“Don’t worry, Clark. I’ll look into it.”
I chuckle to myself as I go. Yessir, you sure get a lot of strange cases when you work the Zombie Desk.