With no electric lighting or natural light from windows, it’s pitch dark when we open the door leading into the basement stairwell. Bringing up the rear, I watch as our party noisily makes it way down the steps, their footfalls and nervous chatter echoing off the cinder block walls. In spite of my prior coaching, the group is practicing little in the way of effective noise or light discipline. Numerous lights and batteries were found in the police station offices, so we’re each now equipped with a functioning flashlight, and every single person feels compelled to use theirs. Flashlight beams are constantly flickering in people's faces and sweeping in every possible direction. And just about everyone is continuously (and pointlessly) reminding someone else to hush before they themselves voice aloud the next new thought or observation that pops into their heads.
As we emerge from the stairwell into the basement corridor, I see that only Francis, at his usual station walking point, is focused on any threats we might encounter, cautiously and systematically sweeping the corridor head of us with his flashlight, now zip-tied to the barrel of his shotgun. Mercifully, he finally snaps and chastens the group into silence.
“Shut yer mother-fucking yaps, people!” He hisses in exasperation. “Either that or somebody grab a bullhorn ‘cause there might be one or two zombies down here that still don’t know we’re comin’! And Zoey - Zoey! Don’t shine that thing in my face! Have you noticed that every time anyone talks you shine it right in their face?”
“Sorry, Francis!” Zoey professes with a grimace, shrugging her shoulders. Then whispering: “Note to self: do-not-blind-every-single-person-who-is-talking. Got it!”
Walking just behind Francis with her light trained studiously on a folded paper diagram is Lottie, directing our progress. “There should be a hallway leading off to the right up ahead; we need to get to the northeast corner of the basement.”
The last doorway, which according to Lottie’s diagram opens into the utility room housing the ‘overflow/inspection tank’, is locked. And not with the normal lockset found elsewhere in the building, but a heavy duty padlock and an armored hasp. “Somebody didn’t want the janitors poking around in this room,” Francis observes sarcastically. "Gee, I wonder why?”
“Think you can get through that with your axe?” Lottie asks looking at the metal door, door frame and lock dubiously. “That looks pretty heavy duty.”
“Hold up, guys!” Zoey whispers urgently. “Think I got a key here for that padlock.” She produces a heavy keychain laden with keys. “From the police chief’s desk,” she advises us. "Figured as long as we're poking around a police station run by a crooked police chief, we'd probably be interested in any keys he kept in his desk." Peering closely at the massive padlock blocking egress, she consults the key ring and then selects one. “Try this one, Francis; it’s the only one that says “MasterLock”.
“No, think about what you’re asking, Zoey,” I say, shouldering my way to the front rank and racking the bolt on the M16. “Francis is on point and you know that. So if he’s unlocking the goddamn door, who’s covering him if there’s a zed waiting on the other side?”
“Oops,” Zoey replies sheepishly.
“We need to stop relying on luck and start doing things by the book,” I announce. “This has been a long day, people. And I’m proud of each of you for everything you’ve done so far. But let’s get through this last part with no losses, OK?“
Silence from the group.
“I should have made this crystal clear earlier, but I didn’t. So I apologize to each of you. But I’m not going to apologize anymore for talking like a soldier. Because from this moment forward, that’s what each of you are. From when you first set foot out of a safe house in the morning until we lock that door behind us at night, you’re all soldiers on duty and the lives of the people next to you depend on you understanding that you are absolutely in the fight of your lives. Are we clear on that?”
"I said are we clear on that?"
“Yes, Bill,” comes the reply in a chastened, disjointed chorus.
“Good. That means you keep your goddamn flashlights out of each other's faces. It takes twenty minutes for the human eye to become fully dark adapted, and about two seconds of bright light to reset your vision back to ‘blind as a bat’. And no idle chit-chat anymore when we are in a hostile environment. Not only are you potentially giving away our position, but every thought you devote to what you’re going to say next is a thought not spent on looking out for zombies.”
“And you’re all armed now, so let’s make damn sure the only things we shoot are the enemy. Donovan, that means you get your goddamn finger off that trigger or I’m taking that rifle away from you. Look where you got it pointed; you stumble on a crack and you’re going to shoot Lottie in the calf! We are not engaged at the moment so everyone except the man or woman walking point should have their weapons on safe and your fingers out of those trigger guards. There’s going to be zero friendly fire incidents, understood?”
Again, a grudging, sullen communal response: “Yes Bill.”
“Alright. Francis you stand over there so you’ll have the first quadrant in your field of fire as soon as the door opens. I’m right behind you practicing trigger discipline. Donovan, you may move to the back of the group, unsafety your weapon and cover our rear. OK, Zoey, unlock that door and then step aside.”
There are, of course, no zombies in the next room. But the point is made, and we enter safely due to circumstances beyond blind, stupid luck.
Lottie's suspicions about the police chief's designs on the Shake 'n Bake are all but confirmed when we first spy the inspection port. A circular composite disk resembling an undersized manhole cover, it lies on the concrete floor next to a matching hole, and two heavy duty power cords snake into it. Someone has been in the trunk line recently, and has been running power to some kind of equipment within the tunnels below.
With no functioning plumbing, the three foot wide trunk line is bone dry as we crawl along, single file, in the darkness. Lottie advised us it runs only forty feet, but it seems much longer than that as we make our way on hands and knees, slowly, awkwardly. Whether due to my harsh lecture or the oppressive confines of the narrow tunnel, no one needs to be reminded to remain quiet as we slowly work our way northward. Finally, the trunk line opens up into the damp, inky darkness of the main sewer tunnel. In the dim light of our flashlights, scrupulously directed ever downwards, we spread out along a slipperly, narrow stone service walk just inches above a swiftly flowing stream of dark, filthy water.
“It just started raining again when we came down the basement stairs,” Lottie advises. “But most of this is run off from the rains earlier in the day. If it keeps up outside, I imagine this water level is going to rise at least a few inches. We might get our feet wet on the way back.”
We’re already wet from the walls of sewer tunnel, seeping moisture and slick with mold and the accumulated slime of a hundred years of human refuse. The stench is overpowering. In the reflected light I see the expressions on everyone’s faces are uniformly grim and wrinkled in disgust. I direct my flashlight beam down the tunnel leading to the west. The light is largely diffused by a dense strata of fog that is visibly flowing along in the darkness, just like the fetid current running beneath our feet.
“This is the way, right?” I ask Lottie, my voice echoing ominously in up and down the tunnel. The question is a mere formality; as the two power cords we’ve been following for the last several minutes disappear into the darkness in that direction.
Lottie looks up from the folded schematic in her hands, already starting to disintegrate in the dampness. “Yep. About sixty feet down this tunnel, the Shake ‘n Bake trunk line will lead off to the north. It’ll be big, so no way we can miss it, even in this fog. But it’ll be on the opposite side of this tunnel, everyone. So we’ll have to jump or, um, wade across to the walkway on the other side.
“OK, people,” I instruct. “Stay sharp and no one fall in. Francis, take a break and cover our rear. I’ll be on point for this next stretch.”
Last edited by majorhavoc
on Mon Aug 20, 2012 9:54 am, edited 3 times in total.