Authors: Charlie Huston
Joe Pitt 1 - Already Dead
I SMELL THEM BEFORE I SEE THEM. All the powders, perfumes and oils the half-smart ones
smear on themselves. The stupid ones just stumble around reeking. The really smart ones
take a Goddamn shower. The water doesn't help them in the long run, but the truth is,
nothing is gonna help them in the long run. In the long run they're gonna die. Hell, in
the long run they're already dead.
So this pack is half-smart. They've splashed themselves with Chanel No. 5, Old Spice,
whatever. Most folks just think they have a heavy hand at the personal scent counter. I
close my eyes and inhale deeper, because it could just be a group of bridge and tunnelers
in from Jersey or Long Island. But it's not. I take that second breath and sure enough,
there it is underneath: the sweet, subtle tang of something not quite dead. Something
freshly rotting. I'm betting they're the ones I'm looking for. And why wouldn't they be?
It's not like these things are thick on the ground. Not yet. I walk a little farther down
Avenue A and stop at the sidewalk window of Nino's, the pizza joint on the corner of St.
I rap on the counter with the ring on my middle finger and one of the Neapolitans comes
He looks blank.
--The pizza, what's just out of the oven?
--Tomato and garlic.
--No way, no fucking garlic. How 'bout the broccoli, it been out all day?
--Fine, give me the broccoli. Not too hot, I don't want to burn the roof of my mouth.
He cuts a slice and slides it into the oven to warm up. I could eat the tomato and garlic
if I wanted to. It's not like the garlic would hurt me or anything. I just don't like the
While I wait I lean on the counter and watch the customers inside the joint. The usual
crowd for a Friday night: couple drunk NYU kids, couple drunk greasers, a drunk squatter,
two drunk yuppies on an East Village adventure, a couple drunk hip-hoppers, and the ones
I'm looking for. There are three of them standing around the far corner table: an
old-school goth chick, and two rail-thin guys, with impossibly high cheekbones, that have
fashion junkie written all over them. The kind of guys who live in a squat but make the
fashion-week scene by virtue of the skag they bring to the parties. Just my favorite brand
of shitdogs all in all.
The Neapolitan is back with my slice. I hand him three bucks. The goth and the fashion
junkies watch the two NYU kids stumble out the door. They push their slices around for
another minute, then follow. I sprinkle red pepper flakes on my slice and take a big bite,
and sure enough it's too hot and I burn the roof of my mouth. The pizza jockey comes back
and tosses my fifty cents change on the counter. I swallow, the molten cheese scorching my
--I told you not too hot.
He shrugs. All the guy has to do all day is throw slices in the oven and take them out
when they're ready. Ask for one not too hot and you might as well be requesting coq au
vin. I grab my change, toss the slice back on the counter and take off after the junkies
and the goth chick. Fucking thing had garlic in the sauce anyway.
The NYU kids have crossed the street to cut through Tompkins Square before the cops shut
it down at midnight. The trio lags behind about eight yards back, walking past the old
water fountain with
Faith, Hope, Temperance, Charity
carved in the stone above it. The kids reach the opposite side of the park and keep
heading east on Ninth Street, deeper into Alphabet City. Great.
This block of 9th between Avenues B and C is barren, as in empty of everyone except the
NYU kids, their trailers and me.
The junkies and the goth pick up the pace. I stroll. They're not going anywhere without my
seeing it. What they want to do takes a bit of privacy. Better for me if they get settled
someplace where they feel safe, before I move in.
They're right on the kids now. They move into a dark patch under a busted streetlamp and
spread out, one on either side of the kids and one behind. There's a scuffle, movement and
noise, and they all disappear. Fuck.
I jog up the street and take a look. On my left is an abandoned building. It used to be a
Puerto Rican community center and performance space, before that it was a P.S. Now it's
I follow the scent up the steps and across the small courtyard to the graffiti-covered
doors. They've been chained shut for a few years, but tonight the chain is hanging loose
below the hack-sawed hasp of a giant Master lock. Looks like they prepped this place in
advance of their ambush. Looks like they may be a little more than half-smart.
I ease the door open and take & look. Hallway goes straight for about twelve yards then
hits a T intersection. Dark. That's OK. I don't mind the dark. The dark is just fine. I
slip in, close the door behind me and take a whiff. They're here, smells like they've been
hanging out for a couple days. I hear the first scream and know where to go. Up to the
intersection, down the hall to the right, and straight to the open classroom door.
One of the NYU kids is facedown on the floor with the goth chick kneeling on his back.
She's already shoved her knife through the back of his neck, killing him. Now she's trying
to jam the blade into his skull so she can split it open. The junkie guys stand by,
waiting for the pinata to bust.
The other kid has jammed himself in a corner in the obligatory pool of his own fear-piss.
His eyes are rolling around and he's making the high-pitched noise that people make when
they're so scared they might die from it. I hate that noise.
I hear something crunchy.
The chick has the knife in. She gives it a wrenching twist and the dead kid's skull cracks
open. She claws her fingers into the crack, gets a good grip and pulls, tearing the kid's
head open like a piece of rotted fruit. A pomegranate. The junkies edge closer as she
starts scooping out clumps of brain. Too late for that kid, so I wait a couple seconds
more, watching them as they start to eat, and listening to the other kid's moaning go up
another octave. Then I do my job.
It takes me three silent steps to reach the first one. My right arm loops over his right
shoulder. I grab his face with my right hand while my left hand grips the back of his
head. I jerk sharply clockwise, pulling up at the same time. I feel his spinal cord tear
and drop him, grabbing the second one's hair before the first one hits the ground. The
chick is getting up off the kid's corpse, coming at me with the knife. I punch the second
junkie in the throat and let him drop. It won't kill him, but he'll stay down for a
second. The chick whips the knife in a high arc and the tip rakes my forehead. Blood oozes
from the cut and into my eyes.
Whatever she was before she got bit, she knew a little about using a knife, and still
remembers some of it. She's hanging back, waiting for her pal to get up so they can take
me together. I measure the blank glaze in her eyes. Yeah, there's still a little of her at
home. Enough to order pizza and pick out these kids as marks, enough to cut through a
lock, but not enough to be dangerous. As long as I'm not stupid. I step in and she thrusts
at me with the knife. I grab the blade.
She looks from me to the knife. I'm holding it tightly, blood spilling out between my
clenched fingers. The dim light in her eyes gets minutely brighter as something gives her
the word: she's fucked. I twist the knife out of her hand, toss it in the air and catch it
by the handle. She turns to run. I grab the back of her leather jacket, step close and jam
the knife into her neck at the base of her skull, chopping her medulla in half. I leave
the knife there and let her drop to the floor. The second junkie is just getting back up.
I kick him down, put my boot on his throat and stomp, twisting my foot back and forth
until I hear his neck snap.
I kneel and wipe my hand on his shirt. My blood has already coagulated and the cuts in my
hand have stopped bleeding, likewise the cut in my forehead. I check the bodies. One of
the guys is missing a couple teeth and has some lacerations on his gums. Looks like he's
been chewing someone's skull. Probably it belonged to the clown I took care of a couple
days ago, the one with the hole in his head who tipped me off to this whole thing. Anyway,
his teeth aren't what I'm interested in.
Both guys have small bites on the backs of their necks. The bite radius and size of the
tooth marks make me take a look at the girl's mouth. Looks like a match. Figure she bit
these two and infected them with the bacteria. Happens that way sometimes. Generally a
person gets infected, the bacteria starts chewing on their brain and pretty soon they're
reduced to the simple impulse to feed. But sometimes, before they reach that point, they
infect a few others. They take a bite, but don't eat the whole meal if you get me. No one
really knows why. Some sob sisters would tell you it's because they're lonely. But that's
bullshit. It's the bacteria compelling them, spreading itself. It's fucking Darwin doing
I check the girl's neck. She infected the others, but something infected her first. The
bite's been marred by the knife I stuck in her, but it's there. It's bigger than the
others, more violent. In fact, there are little nips all over her neck. Fucking carrier
that got her couldn't decide if it wanted to just infect her or eat her. Whatever, all the
same to me. Except it means the job isn't done yet. Means there's a carrier still out
there. I start to stand up. But something else; a smell on her. I kneel next to her and
take a whiff. Something moves behind me.
The other NYU kid. Right, forgot about him. He's trying to dig his way through the wall. I
walk over to him. I'm just about to pop him in the jaw when he does the job for me and
passes out. I look him over. No bites. Now normally I wouldn't do this, but I lost a
little blood and I never got to eat my pizza, so I'm pretty hungry. I take out my works
and hook the kid up. I'll only take a pint. Maybe two.
The phone wakes me in the morning. Why the hell someone is calling me in the morning I
don't know, so I let the machine get it.
This is Joe Pitt. Leave a message.
--Joe, it's Philip.
I don't pick up the phone, not for Philip Sax. I close my eyes and try to find my way back
--Joe, I think maybe I got something if ya can pick up the phone.
I roll over in bed and pull the covers up to my chin. I try to remember what I was
dreaming about so I can get myself back there.
--I don't wanna bug ya, Joe, but I figure ya gotta be in. It's ten in the morning, where ya
Sleep crawls off into a corner where I can't find it and I pick up the damn phone.
--What do you want?
--Hey, Joe, busy last night?
--I was on a job, yeah. So what?
--I think ya made the news, is all.
Fucking NY1. Fucking cable. Can't do shit in this city without them poking a reporter into
--What'd they call it?
Gruesome quadruple homicide.
--Looks pretty sloppy, Joe.
--Yeah, well, there weren't a lot of options.
--Uh-huh, sure, sure. What was it?
--This thing I'm working on, brain eaters.
--Yeah, shamblers. I hate the Goddamn things.
--You get 'em all?
--There's a carrier.
--Carrier huh? Fucking shamblers, huh, Joe?
I hang up.
It's not like I didn't know leaving the bodies over there could cause trouble, I just
thought they'd sit till I could clean things up tonight. Now the neighborhood's gonna be
crawling with cops. But that's the least of my worries just now, because the phone is
ringing again, and I sure as shit know who it's gonna be this time.
Uptown. They want me to come uptown. Now. In broad daylight. I put on the gear.
In winter this is easy, just wrap up head to toe, pull on a ski mask and some sunglasses
and go. I'm not saying it's comfortable, but it's easy and you stay inconspicuous. I'll be
OK once I get to the subway, but it's four blocks from here to there, and once I get
uptown it'll be another few blocks to their offices. It's those blocks between the subway
stations and the front doors I worry about.
I know a guy wears a white delivery-boy outfit with white latex gloves, a big wide-brimmed
white cowboy hat, and zinc oxide all over his face. It keeps him pretty well covered, but
even in Manhattan he gets looks. Me, I use a burnoose.
I pull on the boots, baggy pants and shirt, then the robe. The headpiece always gives me
fits and I have to relearn how it wraps every time I do this. Once it's on and feels like
it won't unravel and fall off, I slip on white cotton gloves, draw the veil across my
face, put on my shades and head out. Sure I get eyeballed a bit, but who gives a fuck, no
one can see my face.
What I do care about is getting to First and 14th fast as I can. Even with all this cover,
even with it being white and reflecting the sunlight, even though it's only four fucking
blocks, I'm still getting the shit burned out of me by the short-wave UVs. And this isn't
like the cuts I got last night that close right up and are gone in the morning. This hurts
like hell and is gonna take days to heal. And if a patch of bare skin should happen to get
hit by some direct rays? Well, I just need to be careful that doesn't happen. So I walk
fast and think about aloe and ice-water baths while my skin gets roasted and my eyes tear
up behind my shades and I make it to the station and rush down the steps to the
sweltering, but dark platform.
The uptown guys are making a point. They could say what they need to say on the phone.
They could wait for dark to rip me a new asshole, but they want to make me burn a little.
They want to flex and teach me a lesson for getting sloppy. That's what's on the surface
anyway. The real reason they're doing it this way is because I still haven't joined the
Coalition. And the truth is, I haven't joined exactly because of shit like this. But I did
get sloppy last night, and someone is gonna swing for it. So I'll fry a little to keep
them happy and to keep myself alive. Because I don't want to die. Except, oh yeah, I'm