“How was the journey, Inspector Waddell?” said the mayor. “Any problems?”
He was a short, hefty man with a hearty smile and weathered complexion you only got from years of hard graft out on the fields.
Waddell appreciated that he’d come all the way out to the main perimeter gate to meet him and told him so. Folk weren’t as hospitable as they’d been before the whole world had gone hell, ruined by those bloodthirsty monsters that’d eat their own kin. He couldn’t blame people’s wariness, but if they let those dead bastards change how they lived, then they’d won.
That’s why when the call came for trained detectives to travel from settlement to settlement, investigating cases of suspected murder in the unit they’d nicknamed the Rabid Response team he’d jumped at the chance. Not many cops had answered the call (most of them were dead) but he was proud to do his job again. Someone had to uphold the law or lawlessness would rip the heart out of New Scotland, one of the few countries to survive the hell on earth that had kicked off for Waddell when a man walked into his police station in Glasgow screaming about being mugged and his pals trying to eat him. Sergeant Mullins, the poor bugger who’d been on desk duty that day had tried to help the guy when he’d collapsed by using CPR. How was he to know the dead man would come back and chew on his face?
Four men couldn’t pull the bastard off Mullins and they’d all got bitten before what used to be a man had been shot dead. Waddell had been on a call out and had missed the carnage that followed but he’d heard it all over his radio. He’d been lucky. They’d lost most of the station that day.
He returned the Mayor’s smile. “The journey was fine, Mr Mayor. Thanks for asking.”
It had been considering the way things were. The journey had taken them a day and a half by road (helicopters tended to attract the dead bastards), but the scenery was pleasant enough, if you ignored the rabid former humans wandering around the hills and glens, groaning and holding their heads because their withered bodies were screaming out for human flesh. In fleeting moments when he forgot what those wretched things had done, he’d pitied them. Then he’d come across what was left of some of the people who’d decided to leave the safety of their settlement to venture out on their own, and all sympathy was consumed by rage. He wanted every last one of those things wiped out until none were left standing.
It was only February, but already he was investigating his fourth suspected murder case. What was left of 25-year-old Mona Donald had been found outside the gates by one of the settlement’s security teams.
She’d been identified by her wedding ring and the fractures she’d suffered to the fingers on her left hand two weeks before her death. The local doctor had noted at the time that the injury was consistent with her hand and fingers being forced back until the digits snapped. Mrs Donald claimed she’d been working in the community garden at the time when she’d reached for something and over stretched. There’d been no witnesses, but there never were to lies.
Now he had to figure out whether the woman had been murdered or had been so depressed she’d taken too many sleeping pills (the doctor who doubled as the pathologist had told them over the radio that they’d found enough of the half digested pills in what was left of her stomach contents to fell a rhino) and deliberately lain down outside the gates to die. That wasn’t an unusual occurrence. People hankered for the old days. They got depressed. They took their own lives, or let those things take their lives from them. Some survivors even genuinely believed that if they sacrificed themselves that their relatives would somehow be returned to them. God seemed to have abandoned them, so superstition took over.
In one of his first cases, Waddell had discovered that families had been sacrificing their first born to the ravenous dead believing if they did that they’d be left alone.
But, the festering dead were used to murder people too. Victims were deliberately incapacitated and abandoned outside the gates to die. Motives ranged from a lack of food to jealousy over work assignments to adultery.
It was Waddell’s job to figure out whether Mona Donald’s death was premeditated murder or suicide. It was a responsibility that weighed heavily on him, because the consequences were something he couldn’t turn back from, but someone had to do it.
He was accompanied on this case by DC Brian McKeith, a tall rake of a man with less meat on him than a stick of celery. It was his first case since the whole world went to hell and he was worried the young lad didn’t have the stomach for it and would be out of touch with the new realities of policing in this new world.
“The journey was fine,” he told the mayor. “If you could make sure our security guys are watered and fed, I’d appreciate it.”
“No problem, detective. What little we have we share, especially with men such as yourself.”
He nodded. “I appreciate that, sir. Can you take us to the husband?”
The mayor led them to a shed where a man’s feet were shackled to the floor and his hands tied.
In the old days, Waddell would have demanded the suspect was released immediately and taken to an interview room where he’d be fed and given something to drink, as well as offered legal counsel, but these days tied to a chair in a shed was as close as they got to a jail cell. There weren’t any prisons or police cells. There simply weren’t the resources.
Jack Donald was a beast of a man with a thatch of dark curly hair and huge slabs for hands that would have been banned from an all you can eat buffet during the days when they had such things.
His eyes narrowed when Waddell and McKeith walked into the shed. His eyes reminded him of a rat..
“Whatever they say I did, it’s no true.”
His voice was pure Highlander. Thanks to the terrain, the bulk of Scotland’s survivors were from the higher lands. It’d been easier land to defend from the encroaching seething mass of inhumanity.
“How did your wife break her fingers, Jack?” There was no preamble, Waddell got stuck in.
In the old days, they’d days to break suspects, but darkness would be falling soon. Next to him, McKeith recorded what was said in his notebook.
The man scowled at them. “How should I know? The wummin had always been so clumsy. Always walking into things, the silly cow.” His face was smug and his tone dismissive. He was far from the grieving husband. And, unlike most folk who were grieving, he spoke of his wife in the past tense. Maybe he’d no trouble coming to terms with the fact she was gone because he’d killed her?
“What was she doing outside the gates? Fancy a wee stroll, did she? Fancied being bait?”
“I don’t know, do I? Who knows what goes on in their minds?”
There was something about the way he said it that made Waddell’s teeth clench, but he managed to keep his tone level. “Did you drug your wife and put her outside the gates, Jack? You can tell me. I’d understand. I’m married.” He leant in close. “There’s been times I’ve thought about doing the same thing. Freeing myself once and for all. There’s so many opportunities now for men of our calibre to start again. To be free. Is that what happened?”
He spoke like he was talking to a pal. He knew this guy was guilty – he could spot a sociopath from a mile off – but he needed to be sure.
“Did you drug your wife, Jack? Wouldn’t have been a bad way for her to go. She’d be asleep and feel no pain. It’d be like putting a dog to sleep. It’d be a kindness really.”
He was eyeball to eyeball with him now. Not even the rancid stench of the man would make him back off. He sensed a breakthrough was coming, so he hit him with a sucker punch. “How did your wife get over the wall without any help? I heard she was scared of heights.”
He was lying about the fear of heights bit; winging it.
When he looked at Jack Donald he knew he’d hit the spot. The guy was sweating.
“I guess she was…er, sleepwalking. Folk do weird stuff when they sleepwalk.” He stumbled over his words.
McKeith perked up his ears and excitedly scribbled in his notepad.
“I know you did it,” said Waddell. “The doctor said he examined you and found fresh scratches on your arm. Scratches consistent with a woman trying to grab a hold of you.” He paused to let his words sink in. “I know you did it, Jack and I’m going to make sure Mona gets justice.”
The man had a dirty big smirk on his face and his ratty eyes glistened. “So what if I did help her on her way? You can’t send me to jail. There is no jail.”
“You’re right there, Jack. We don’t have the resources, which is why we have to be creative.”
Next to him, he could see the cogs turning in McKeith’s brain. “We can still dish out punishment.”
The arrogance drained out of Jack’s face faster than ice melted into a hot drink.
“What you talking about?”
The arrogance had gone, replaced by fear. It had a smell: sickly sweet like urine, tinged with sweat and something primeval.
“Tell me, was your wife completely zonked our when you put her outside the gates? Was she conscious? Did she beg you to help her? To take her back inside to safety?” His eyes drilled into the suspect’s. “That’s how you got the scratches.”
He received a bored glance in return.
“Did you stand around and watch as they ripped into her?”
He reached over and poked the guy in the ribs. Considering food was in short supply, the guy was well padded. “Did that make you feel like a big man?”
The man glared at him, eyes steady, unmoved. He really didn’t give a shit about what he’d done because he was convinced he wouldn’t pay for his crime.
He turned to the lad. “Brian, leave us for a minute.”
The young detective gave him a baffled look then closed his notebook and scuttled out of the shed, confusion etched across his features. He’d need to get used to the new realities of policing, but he didn’t need to experience it all at once.
“What are you gonna do, Mr Detective? Beat me up?”
There was a rusty old fire extinguisher in the corner. He’d seen it when he’d come in. He lifted it up and without a word, smashed it into Jack Donald’s head. There was an almighty crack and the guy’s head lolled back.
After checking he was out cold, he cut him loose and his body fell like a brick onto the wooden floor. Now he needed McKeith’s help. Well, he couldn’t lift the guy by himself.
When his colleague came back into the shed, he stared at the unconscious man. “What have you done?”
“What I had to do, DC McKeith.”
He motioned towards an old roll of carpet. McKeith hadn’t understood why he’d insisted on bringing it. “Now, help me roll him up in this.”
The young cop hesitated. “That’s an order, son.”
McKeith helped him, all the time protesting. After Waddell checked the coast was clear, they took an end of the carpet each and carried him out the shed.
They came to the wall at the back of the settlement. It was an old farm wall that had been bolstered to improve security with barbed wire at the top. But he didn’t really care if a murderer got shredded. He’d get more shredded where he was going.
“Come on, Brian. Help me get him over.”
Brian stood there with his jaw hanging open. “But, gov isn’t this murder?”
He hit the younger man with a serious stare. “Christ, lad. What else are we meant to do? It’s the Wild West out there and it’ll be like that inside the gates too if we don’t give the appearance of keeping law and order.”
“But, gov, we’re meant to be the good guys. Not the criminals.” He was breathless. “If we do this its murder.”
The big guy’s arm somehow came loose from the scraggy old carpet he’d been rolled up in and he had to shove it back in. it would have been comical if they hadn’t been in a hurry to get the job done.
They didn’t have much time. “Move yir backside. Now.”
He didn’t have any time for this. The area guard was due back in 3 minutes. Waddell had been timing how long it took the guy to cover his area.
“Just think about what you’re doing, gov.”
He held McKeith’s gaze. “I have Brian. It’s not just the good guys who survived the worst day in human history. So did killers, wife beaters, thieves and kiddie fiddlers. It’s down to folk like us to rid the world of these scum bags.”
He glanced at Brian. He still had that disapproving look on his chops.
“What’s the alternative? That we lock them up in a cushy prison somewhere, where they get fed and watered without contributing to the rebuilding of society like the rest of us?”
He stopped talking and fixed his colleague with a beady stare. “This way, we get rid of a murderer and we don’t waste valuable supplies on the likes of Jack Donald.” He rolled up his sleeves. “Now gives us a hand, or take a long walk. This work isn’t for everyone, lad.”
The young cop kept quiet as he helped him to lift the unconscious man over the wall.
Once they were done, he turned to the young detective. “Not a word to anyone, son. If anyone asks, the man got free and ran off on us.”
It was funny how since this all began, a lot of suspects were making a run for it.
When Jenny Thomson‘s not coming up with new slants on the zombie apocalypse, she blogs about writing at http://ramblingsofafrustratedcrimewriter.blogspot.co.uk/
Dead Bastards, her Scottish take on the zombie apocalypse was published as an eBook in 2012 by TWB Press and will be out soon in paperback.
She also came up with the Die Hard for Girls series of books – Hell to Pay and Throwaways are out now. How Kirsty Gets her Kicks, about a one-legged Glasgow barmaid who goes on the run with a gangster’s cash and gun after killing one of his goons, is coming soon from Snubnose Press.