Wet Work: The Definitive Edition

BOOK: Wet Work: The Definitive Edition
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Table of Contents
Wet Work

by Philip Nutman



Smashwords Edition




Overlook Connection Press

2011 —





| — | —





©1993 by Philip Nutman

copyright renewed 2005


Introduction: The Downward Spiral

copyright © 2005 by Douglas E. Winter


Cover Illustration © 2005 by John Bergin


This digital edition © 2011 by Overlook Connection Press


Wet Work (short story version)

copyright © Philip Nutman 1989

copyright renewed 2005


The Definitive Edition Editorial Consultant:

Brett A. Savory


Published by

Overlook Connection Press

PO Box 1934, Hiram, Georgia 30141


[email protected]


Book Design & Typesetting:

David G. Barnett

Fat Cat Graphic Design



This book is a work of fiction. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, without the written permission of the Publisher.


This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person you share it with. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.


| — | —


To the Memory of My Father

Elwyn Nutman


For my Mother

Who Knew I Would

and to

Richard Matheson

Who Showed a Young Boy

the True Dark magic

of Storytelling

| — | —


The Downward Spiral:

Philip Nutman’s Wet Work

by Douglas E. Winter



This is what we’ve become. Meat writhing with maggots.” 
Apocalypse, then and now: The novel you are about to read had its genesis late in the 1980s, during the halcyon days of “splatterpunk”—a flashfire of horrific fiction that exploited excesses of violence and sex with unrepentant glee. At splatterpunk’s fierce apogee, before its original question (how far could you go?) was replaced by the inevitable one (how low could you go?), writers John Skipp and Craig Spector assembled an anthology known as
Book of the Dead
. Intended as a celebration of the “living dead” films of George A. Romero—and, in the words of its introduction, the aesthetics of “going too far”—the volume remains one of the more memorable manifestos of splatter. Its stories raged, sometimes merely for the sake of rage, but more often against the Reaganite dream of conformity and materialism—and, indeed, against the increasingly safe and commercial genre that was attempting to pass for “horror” fiction.

Book of the Dead
 was published in 1989. Its stories included a gory set-piece by Philip Nutman that traced the lurching path of zombies through the streets of the nation’s capital and straight into the White House. It was called “Wet Work.”

Although it was Phil’s first published story, he was not an unknown to me, or to horror. We had been introduced years before, by a mutual friend named Clive Barker; at the time, Phil was working at the BBC and pursuing dreams of filmmaking. Soon he was living in the United States, writing full tilt for more magazines and comic books than I could count, and it wasn’t long after
Book of the Dead
 was published that he began talking about the next step—a novel. For a while, we had an informal competition going about who would write and publish a novel first, but it was clear that Phil would win, hands down. Something in that short story possessed him. Using it as inspiration, Phil walked into the shadows and returned with the novel
Wet Work
—a compact epic of apocalypse that honored Richard Matheson’s
I Am Legend
while deconstructing Romero’s “living dead” films into a political thriller.

Wet Work
is told from multiple points of view, its central character is Dominic Corvino, a member of the CIA’s killer elite—a covert hit team known as “Spiral” whose specialty is tidying up American messes around the globe. Corvino’s life has been one long dance with death; alone and in his forties, he seems defined by the negating of existence: “He found it impossible to believe in anything but himself and his skills as an assassin. There was no God, no Fate, just the ability to kill and survive.” Yet “behind the cold, distant exterior was a conscience and a strong moral code.” Corvino’s murderous skills are exercised with the deeply held conviction that, in a world shaded with gray, there are still such notions as right and wrong. Above all, he has an inescapable sense of dignity—which, perhaps, is the one thing that distinguishes him from his colleagues: “he was still a man, not a machine with a gun.”

When Spiral is dispatched to Panama, fighting America’s latest war on drugs, Corvino and his cohorts find betrayal, death, and something worse—corpses that walk, seemingly alive. Corvino, the sole survivor, returns to the United States to confront a new world, changed forever by its passage through the tail of the enigmatic comet Saracen. An alien radiation, carried by the comet, accelerates the spread of disease but also resurrects the recently dead, which hunger for the flesh of the living. “From that day on, there would be no rest, no peace… Especially for the dead.”

The zombies have only one ambition—to add to their ranks by making more dead; but their resurrection, and their hunger to kill, is also a strange act of revolution. By neglecting what they had been told in life by the authorities—by refusing to behave—the dead prove more alive than the living, who have only petty vices (television, drugs, booze) to distract them from the futility of their everyday existence and lull them further into sleep. The awakening of the dead threatens to awaken the living; and the response from the nation’s capital is, of course, as American as mom, baseball, and apple pie: “The only way we can contain such unprecedented civil unrest is by force.” And the specific solution is time-honored: “The head, aim for the head!”

This bitter, blood-soaked reality is Corvino’s tormented inner world brought into the light. In the eyes of his masters, the living have little consequence; they are sheep who exist merely to be put to pasture and ruled—and, if necessary, slaughtered. “Democracy had died. . . . Oh, that was rich. Democracy had died. Democracy had been limping along under a weight of lies for so many years he was surprised it had lived as long as it had, only it hadn’t.”

The dream of democracy, of the sheep choosing whether to be ruled, and by whom, is long-buried—”shot in the head by men like him.” In its place is a nightmare that, with the coming of the zombies, haunts even those who are fully awake. “The country’s dying. The world is falling apart. The
old world
. But there’s a new world rising from the ashes. A
New Order
.” Yet when we meet the new boss, he’s the same as the old boss—because the truly ripe and rotting corpse is that of the body politic. “This is what we’ve become,” Corvino is told. “Meat writhing with maggots.”

Nutman scatters his text with self-referential asides that evoke the traditions and talents, many of them filmic, that inspired him. The downward spiral that is the reality of
Wet Work
may parallel the visions of Richard Matheson and George Romero; but there are also echoes of David Morrell and David Cronenberg (particularly when Corvino examines his wound and finds it “sensual in its fatal beauty”). There are other, less serious allusions; among the many characters, you’ll find, by name, two editors of
, one of Phil’s sometime collaborators, and several fellow writers; and, if you’re attentive, you’ll also find me—I’m the “sad-looking guy wearing a black cotton suit jacket, jeans, and a Skinny Puppy T-shirt.” (Although I still have the clothes, these days I’m smiling.)

Wet Work
 differs from its predecessors, however, by taking us inside the minds of the resurrected dead—and offering, in one of its finer moments, the eerie and hypnotic reverie of a dead president, whose brain, despite its misfiring synapses, somehow clings to a stark sense of self-consciousness that is missing from the lobotomized lurchers of the films of Romero and Lucio Fulci. It is here, in the novel’s closing act, that Nutman delivers a final and powerful message about the dark underbelly of the Reagan-Thatcher-Bush era, and its neglect for, and marginalization of, the underclasses: “We are less than human. We’re less than dead.”

The smug indifference of politics reigns triumphant in the nation’s capital, with power its only pursuit. Despite death and destruction, the one true zombie—that shambling and undying monster known as politics—goes on and on and on: 

Two hundred and nineteen years after its birth, the United States of America had fallen as carrion meat to those with a hunger for raw flesh. And as the sun rose above Washington, D.C. on June 4th, he saw a new nation before him—the United States of Hell. In the Oval Office, there was no celebration, no inaugural speech.

It was business as usual. 

Now, as liberty, privacy, and individuality succumb to the machinations of another Bush Administration,
Wet Work
and its zombies are resurrected to offer us that lesson again. We need its wisdom, and so very badly, because we never seem to learn.

Lock and load. It’s time to get wet.


Douglas E. Winter

Oakton, Virginia

May 2003





“You have no idea how important narcotics have been to the Company. They’ve financed major missions off of drug deals. In the 1960’s they even tested LSD on our own scientists. One guy went crazy and threw himself out a hotel window. The deeper in you get, the more you realize how much it stinks. That’s why I got out.”


Ex-CIA Operative







He is dead.

Yet alive.

And like Lazarus coming back from the beyond, opening his eyes and looking with confusion into the face of Christ, Corvino is not aware of what is happening to him.

The first electrochemical impulses dance between decaying synapses. Then, wrapped in total darkness, his body spasms as the second collision of thoughts and memory clips slamdance him into consciousness.

I am awake, asleep




The MacDonald Douglas DC-3 comes in low on its drop towards the tarmac of Washington National as it lowers over the Potomac, the sound of its engines a subsonic scream of metal maintaining space above the ground, the slipstream ruffling his hair as he turns, a voice uttering his name



and he is in his apartment watching TV Dan Rather talking about the unusual phenomena of Comet Saracen strange colored tail debris green blending into




I love you she says Vietnam kaleidoscope opium hash acid

I don’t do that shit—

others stoned immaculate Doors Hendrix paint it black



(paint it…)







reach for the …



so cold

cold here—

in your arms

BOOK: Wet Work: The Definitive Edition
11.52Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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