One: The Last Man On Earth
This is a stakeout, Carver consoles himself from his spot on the roof. This is a stakeout. It's boring and tense, but boredom and tension are known quantities. Waiting is a job he understands.
It's been more than a day since he saw another human being. It is not possible that everybody is dead, he thinks. There are certainly others who are abiding, just like him. That's what the experts were telling them on all the TV channels, once it became clear that it was too late to move forward with a large-scale evacuation – sit tight. Limit your exposure until the CDC decides how the fuck to deal with this mess. Stay in your homes y'all and wait for us to sort it out. The cable is shut off now, and probably the radio too – his moms didn't keep one in her apartment, so he can't know for sure – and the electricity will be gone soon, but people do what they're told when they're scared, most of the time.
For the first 36 hours of the outbreak, Carver was posted downtown. He was at the quarantine border, at the barricade set up where JFX intersects with Fayette Street, and he did his duty as well as he could. He doesn't want to think about that anymore. Instead, Carver imagines he is his little brother Byron, waiting in stopped traffic, breathing through the cloth of a t-shirt pulled up over his nose and mouth and listening to the slow echo of respiration in the back seat. That connection he must have felt, the knowledge that his mother's survival and his were interdependent in an absolute way they hadn't been since he was an infant. A slow headache establishing itself behind Byron's eyes, a heaviness in his sinuses. Is that what it was like?
There are corpses everywhere. Some are lying the street and in the abandoned cars, but most of them are in the houses, behind the closed doors. Probably in most of the apartments in this very building. Somehow, Carver is still here, and he does not want to come down from the roof. He seems to have run out of adrenaline. His body feels weak. He can do whatever he wants, go wherever he wants, and here he is, belly to the tar on a townhouse in Jonestown, directly above the three-room efficiency his mother moved into when the Flag House Courts closed, almost ten years ago.
He got all the text messages while he was at the barricade. By the time By got her to the hospital, they weren't taking anybody else.
Carver is still not sick, not at all, not even the start of a fever. There is no point in asking why. There never is; he learned that his first year on narcotics.
A tide of trash moves down the barren street with the wind. He has watched probably every dystopian-future movie ever made and this is not no fucking I Am Legend. He doesn't have it in him to pitch golf balls off the top of the Legg-Mason building or whatever. This is a stakeout, but there is no end to the tour.
He's watching, barely thinking, feeling the time go. At least that part is familiar.
Two: The Walking Dead
“I always told Dukie that zombies was real.”
“It's not a zombie, dumbshit,” Carver says, first relieved, then guilty for speaking to a scared kid that way. Like he should talk. Like his own fucking first reaction last night, when he heard the creak of the door leading to the stairs below, wasn't to grab for his service weapon and squeeze off a few rounds at the sound, no questions asked.
It took him more than a minute to recognize the baby-faced hustler who they'd questioned about the Stanfield organization last year. Kid is taller now, rope-thin, and he's had a rough time. It's all over him, in the way he carries himself, and now, in the light of day, Carver picks out other, newer signs. His once-white tee-shirt is stained near the hem with something brown that looks like it could be blood, and one of his eyes and the right side of his face is swollen. His hairstyle is still neat, though, his braids smooth, like he oiled them recently. It's a reminder, Carver thinks. The world hasn't been over for all that long.
Together, they observe the figure down below them on the street, shuffling rapidly down East Lombard in his rags. He is pushing a big stroller, like the kind for two babies, crammed with stuff. A salvage mission. “It's definitely not a zombie,” Carver says, trying for a reassuring tone this time. “Look at him scoot. Man has way more purpose to him then anything out of Night of the Living Dead.”
“So he a fast zombie. There's fast zombies too. Like from Dawn of the Dead.”
He must mean the new version, the Zack Snyder one from 2004. Carver feels old. “He's just a dope fiend. You know what that looks like.”
Randy shakes his head. “He can't still be high. The streets been clear for almost a week. Where he be copping from?”
“Maybe that's what he's looking for.” There's no stash house on this block, Carver is sure about that. He squints down at the lone man, who bears a certain resemblance to Kima's old CI, that stupid fucking scarecrow entrepreneur with his dusty head and his remarkable memory for names and faces. Can't be, Carver thinks, although if anybody was going to survive an Old Testament-style plague like this one, that nigger would be it, him and fucking Keith Richards and the motherfucking cockroaches.
Today, they rigged up the shower curtain from his moms' bathroom as a catchment and Carver brought out all the pots and pans he could find in her kitchen. As far as he knows, the water in the building is still on, but who knows how long that will last. He is building a firepit in the shelter of the L-shaped structure at the center of the roof where the staircase opens out. There's lots of furniture inside they can bust up for fuel, but they've got to be smart about it – Emergency Services ain't exactly picking up on the first ring right now. He has stacked up all the cushions from the couch in a corner, so they'll be more comfortable than they were last night, and he has got together all the blankets and sweaters he could find for when the temperature drops.
“You're making a fort.”
“No I'm not,” Carver shoves at the pile with his foot, watching it spill over onto the tar. The kid just nods, the look on his face carefully absent, and drops his eyes. They both stare back down at the man on the street below, turning the corner now, presenting his skinny back to them.
It's not the CI. Can't be him, 'cause what are the chances? Still, Carver can't help saying his name, quietly, under his breath like a prayer.
“There he go,” Randy says, his voice fond. “He the sidewalk boss now.”
It would take an apocalypse to get that motherfucker clean, Carver thinks. Him and Keith Richards both.
Three: Ghost City
Almost the first thing Randy did this morning was bang on the doors of every apartment down there. Carver waited up on the roof, holding his breath – the only rooms he has ventured inside are his mother's, and only because he knows for a damn certain fact that no one is home. Five floors with four units per, not counting the super in the basement, and Randy didn't get any answers to his knocks. Not a sound. “Seem like everybody's gone,” he said when he came back to report. “Some of the doors is locked though, so ... hard to be sure.” He shrugged then, looking over the edge of the roof toward the harbor, and it occurred to Carver that Randy was being very gentle with him. “Anyway, it should be safe to sleep inside the building tonight. If you want to.”
Did he enter the apartments that were open? What did he see there? Carver doesn't want to know.
He remembers watching 28 Days Later in the theater. He almost busted a gut when Herc pointed out, when the camera panned wide, that one of the containers which the characters had set out to capture rain was actually a spaghetti strainer, full of holes. He chokes down that thought. The sky looks overcast, and they're going to need more buckets and bowels. He should have asked Randy to check when he was doing his visits.
A couple of hours ago, the boy went out to the empty streets to look for food. Now that Carver thinks about it, he probably should have offered to let him take the Glock, fifteen years old or no. Anybody who's left is getting pretty desperate by now. He saw that at the barricade, news of the pandemic's spread on WYPR and WBAL and WRBS in people's cars, fear in their eyes. The ones who wouldn't stop until Carver and his officers shot out their tires The ones who wouldn't stop even then.
He remembers Randy's voice ringing down that hospital corridor last Christmas, those accusations that had followed him home. Carver wonders what he wants to say now. You are police. You never shoot somebody before? These are not the first bodies we have seen.
Or just – what's wrong with you? He's waiting to hear these words.
Fuck that. These are special fucking circumstances. It's not him, it's not about what happened at the JFX on-ramp – it's this whole building emptied and the others on the street, the whole city. Byron and Herc, Kima and that informant of hers too, probably. Avon Barksdale. His moms. Everyone he's ever known except for Randy.
He wishes the kid would get back already.
Four: Cosy Catastrophe
It makes sense to eat the perishables first, so they gorge on black bananas for breakfast, and five or six Oatmeal Creme Pies each. Randy brought canned beans, vienna sausages, bags of chips, a whole pallet of ramen noodles -- toilet paper, even. The loot from some corner store. He carried it up the stairs by himself, box by box, while Carver pretended to sleep in his nest of afghans.
They're playing rummy with an old deck of cards, enjoying the early afternoon sun. “Wait for this one,” Randy says, laying down three kings. “There – tight. Hey look.” He hitches up the blanket around his shoulders and points over the edge of the roof. “Here come the boss again. See down there? He ain't scared.”
“He don't walk like he scared.” The boy frowns, scrunching up the bruised side of his face and Carver hears again what Randy said outside on the street last year with that grim group home rising up over him like a prison, ready to swallow him whole and chew him up.
It's OK. You tried. No need to feel bad.
That was brave of him to say.
They could get used to this spot. Carver wants watch the stars come out over the bay, the way they did last night. He wants to have a bonfire on the roof, a huge one. He wants to teach the kid to play hearts. Hell, he wouldn't mind smoking a jay and listening to some Radiohead up here, like Michael Caine and that other dude, out in the woods in Children of Men, but time is too precious. In the future, people will tell each other stories about what they did, these first days and weeks.
“You want to go in now?” he hears himself say. “It's fucking cold up here.”