“Every day there are more of them and fewer of us.
This doesn’t end well for the
It started with the mysterious radio broadcasts, strange clicking sounds that meant nothing and yet seemed to be more than just random noise.
Then, without warning, the zombies disappeared from the streets of El Centro, and a stranger rolled into town, sporting a neck wound that would have put any ordinary man in the ground.
Lt. Charlie Collins doesn’t know what to make of these strange turns of events, nor of the disturbing news coming out of Pendleton, news of an imminent civil war. All he knows is that something strange is going on, something big, and in all likelihood, something bad.
If the zombie hordes rise up now, who can stop them?
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Dead and Dangerous
Ruby Collins stood at the window of her room on the 7th floor of the Gulf Coast Hotel and looked out on the becalmed waters of the Gulf of Mexico. It was late evening, the sky turning a deepening blue, the sun’s last rays reflected as spun gold off the smattering of cloud cover and as molten lava off the water. To a soul less troubled, the vista might have been beautiful, breathtaking even. To Ruby it was sea and sky, no more engaging than the tub of rusty water she’d just bathed in.
She’d been in Galveston for nearly two months, drifting here from Plano. Before that she’d been in Nevada, Colorado, Utah, one filthy, ramshackle town after the next, none of them discernable from the other.
This place was different in only one respect. There were no barriers here, no razor wire, no lookout posts. Galveston didn’t need them. The island had only one access road, secure that road and you could keep the Zs out without too much trouble. The human scum got in though. In Galveston, they outnumbered decent folk ten to one.
Ruby turned from the window back to the room, a faded replica of what had once been a luxury suite. She crossed to the bed, picked up her Katana and carried it to the bathroom. There she removed some loose tiles and slid the sword into the space she’d carved out of the rotting brickwork. She couldn’t take the Katana with her to work. She wasn’t about to leave it lying around for some junkie to steal and then hock for a five-dollar twist of PCP.
The sword hidden, she walked to the door, opened it and stepped out into the shadowy expanse of corridor. Reaching into the pocket of her jeans she removed a small square of card and slotted it between door and jamb as she pulled the door shut. Then she padded across the threadbare carpet, stepping lightly, making hardly a sound. The hall smelled mildewed and stale and Ruby’s sensitive nose picked up other scents – unwashed bodies, human waste, the eye-watering stench of spicy cooking. This place was a long way off from its heyday as Galveston’s premier hotel. Still it was better than the fleshpots of the Strand or the listing cruise ships docked at Pelican Island. At least this place was quiet. Well, mostly quiet. Ruby could hear a dog barking, a baby wailing and a couple involved in the heated exchange as she walked to the end of the hall.
She let herself onto the fire escape via the emergency exit beside the long- dead elevators. Three minutes later she was crossing the jungle that had once been the hotel’s leisure area. Now the lawns were overgrown with weeds that ran to shoulder height and the palms had been reduced to matchwood by the last hurricane. The swimming pool had been turned into a swamp, complete with a particularly mean-tempered alligator. Ruby veered away from the pool, picked up one of the crisscrossing paths and worked her way to the low wall separating the hotel from Seawall Avenue.
It was nearly full dark by the time she stepped onto the tarmac.
The night creatures were already out. Garishly dressed hookers jostled for position at the corner of 19th and Seawall. Pushers competed with them and with each other for the clientele drifting past in dilapidated golf carts, the main mode of transport in these parts.
Ruby turned north on 19th. The expanse of road cut through a valley of decrepit buildings. The sidewalk was dotted with fires, either contained within 50-gallon drums or built directly onto the cracked and blackened paving. Bowed figures huddled around those fires, pitiful, misshapen creatures, more closely resembling Zs than humans. They followed Ruby with their eyes but they knew not to mess with her. A few of them had learned that the hard way.
Ruby continued north. From an alleyway came the acrid ammonia reek of a crystal meth lab. The drug was cheap and ubiquitous in Galveston.
There was a commotion in the road ahead, a couple of black and white Galveston PD golf carts had pulled up to the curb and the officers were laying into vagrants and addicts with their telescoping ASP batons. Ruby crossed to the opposite side then cut across Avenue N to join up with 20th. That would take her directly to the Opera House where she worked.
It was going to be busy tonight. Saturday nights were always busy. And they always meant trouble.
Ruby knew that she wasn’t late, but she didn’t argue. Duquette was head of security at the Bucket of Blood, the massive club, cum casino, cum whorehouse where Ruby worked security. The job wasn’t exactly her idea of fun, but it beat ten kinds of crap out of her other choices. Cage fighting paid better, but she’d long ago grown tired of killing Zs for sport. Besides, it only took one or two fights before none of the bookies would offer odds against her. When that happened she was out of a gig.
Her other options were assassin, drug runner or comfort girl. She’d had plenty of offers in each of those professions. She was never going to accept any of them.
She crossed to her locker, flipped open the steel door and removed her black Teflon vest. The word ‘SECURITY’ was stenciled across the back in large yellow letters. She shrugged into the vest, clipped the press-studs together, fixed the Velcro strip across them. Around her, the other members of the security team – Brando, Flax, Cochrane and some new guys – were doing likewise, talking among themselves, wisecracking. Ruby knew few of them by name and preferred it that way.
“Hey Ruby,” a soft voice said. Ruby looked around the door of her locker and faced one of the few bouncers she did know. Alex was a six-foot-eight man mountain of pudgy flesh, a moon-face that rested on a set of broad shoulders sans neck. He was sweet. Unlike the rest of the crew he wasn’t the touchy feely type. He hadn’t tried it on with Ruby and so she hadn’t needed to kick his ass.
Ruby flashed him a smile.
Duquette’s intervention mercifully relieved Ruby of the need to make small talk.
“Listen up, people!” Duquette repeated, as the hubbub of voices died down. He waited a while longer after they fell silent, more to show who was boss than for any other reason, Ruby thought.
“We’ve got us a full house out there tonight,” Duquette said, delivering his usual speech. He was as big as the rest of the men. His voice though, was a breaking adolescent squeal courtesy of some Saturday night surgery to his vocal chords back in the days when he’d still been working the floor.
“I don’t have to tell y’all that it’s Saturday night,” Duquette continued. “I don’t need to tell y’all that most of them punters are going to be drunk and spoiling for a fight within the next couple of hours.
“Zero tolerance on shit tonight, gentlemen. Anyone touches the girls, anyone gets tetchy at the craps tables, anyone so much as spills his drink on Mr. Pipe’s fine carpet and he’s out of here with a fractured skull. Y’all got that?”
“And y’all carry your ASP’s tonight. No exceptions. That means you, Ruby.”
A deep-throated chuckle ran through the ranks. Ruby said nothing, placed her hand on the baton chipped to her belt. In the five weeks she’d been employed at the Bucket, she’d never had cause to use it. Still, if that was what the boss wanted.
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