Chapter Ten - The Girl On The 11th Floor

May 4

I was in the main room of the Town Hall, pinning the latest IDs I'd collected to our 'Wall Of The Dead' when Bossbloke walked in.

I gave him a nod, he just stood there and watched me pin up a few more IDs. The 'Wall Of The Dead' now stretches around three quarters of the room, there must be something like 10,000 pieces of ID up there.

"Why do you bother with that?" Bossbloke said.

I shrugged, and kept working.

"Nobody will care," he said. "They're probably all dead, too, these people you think are coming here to find their relatives. You're wasting your time."

I didn't look back at Bossbloke when I spoke.

"You're back early..."

A long silence in that dim room.

"What do you mean?"

I pinned up the ID of a 19 year old girl. Her license said she lived at Wentworthville, on the other side of Parramatta. I wondered if her house had gone up in all those fires. When I found her, she was curled up in a ball in a cupboard. In the last minutes of her life, blood had poured from her nose, ears and eyes. It was like every drop in her body had evacuated through any opening it could find. She was caked in dried blood, like a shroud. Nothing had managed to get into that cupboard to eat her.

The cupboard I found her in belonged to the cleaners of one of the buildings, opposite the Botanical Gardens, we're now 'renovating' for some of the former 'shut-ins' Harold has managed to coax out of the apartments in my building. Too many stairs for them to go up and down in The Imperium. The new building is only eight stories tall. Most of them can handle that. I won't miss hauling their buckets up ten or fourteen flight to the rooftop.

"I mean we usually wouldn't see you again until tomorrow," I said to Bossbloke, "in time for the next meeting."

"That's bullshit," he said. "I'm always around."

I shrugged, nodded, went back to my business.

"I've got stuff for you to do," he said, "you don't have to waste your time with memorials. No-one's gonna care."

I looked around at him. He was standing just inside the main doors, a black silhouette against the blinding midday sun. I didn't need to see his face to know he was smiling.

"I want to do this," I said. "It doesn't matter if no-one comes here to look. They deserve this. We're burning their corpses. There's nothing left but bones and buckles. We can't let them all just...disappear off the face of the earth."

I pinned up two more IDs, another long minute of silence passed.

"I'm around, you know," Bossbloke said. "I'm doing things, for all of you. Like finding those steaks. I don't think you lot realize just how much I've done for you. You'd be living like animals if I hadn't turned up."

Bossbloke rambled on about how he spent his time exploring the streets and buildings around our 'Zone'. You just clean up the dead, he said, "I'm the one putting my life on the line going where you lot are scared to go."

I ignored him. He was full of shit. He knew it. I had no idea why he was trying to provoke an argument, or stir me up.

"Did you have a nice little chat with your friends?"


"After the barbecue the other day," he said, and I could hear the glee he was trying to contain in his voice, like a little kid with a big secret. "You and Johnny and that bookseller and the scientist bloke. Standing around, plotting something. Right? Yeah, that's what it looked like to me. You weren't happy to see me watching you lot. Now why would that be?"

I just wanted him to go away.

"I didn't know we had to get your permission to talk to each other."

"Don't be a fucking smartarse," Bossbloke snapped. He strode across the dim room, his boots snapping down with step, loud in all that silence. I didn't turn around, even when he was practically breathing down my neck.

"Are you my friend, Paul?"

Was my hand trembling, just a little, when I pinned up the driver's license of 33 year old Ainsley Sumner? Probably.

"Are you my friend?"

I nodded, my eyes closed. For just a moment I expected a bullet in the skull, or a hammer to the temple. Or the feel of Bossbloke's hands gripping my chin and the back of my head, before he snapped my neck.

"Of course I am," I said. "We're all friends here, now. There's not enough of us to go making enemies."

Bossbloke broke up. He thought that was funny.

"You kill me," he said, and headed back to the foyer of the Town Hall. "You're a funny fuck. We need funny fucks. There's a meeting tomorrow. Usual time. I found some more steaks, you'll be happy to know. But tell your friends this meeting will be orderly. No shouting from the floor."

I watched him move back out into that sunlight. His shadow grew long and thickened across the rows of seats. Then he paused in the doorway, a black silhouette again.

"We never eat together," he said. "I mean, outside of the barbecues. We should have dinner together one night, Paul. I'd really like that. I want to know more about your life before ED Day. Friends should have dinner together. I'll bring something special to drink. How's that sound?"

"Great," was about all I could manage.

Then he was gone.

Every piece of ID on the wall belonged to someone who filled this city with life. Sometimes when I'm working the Corpse Crew and I find a body, in an office, in a hotel room or apartment, or in a cleaner's cupboard, I start imagining the life that person lived before they died. But mostly I end up thinking about how they spent the morning of ED Day.

* He got on the bus for work feeling ill. He was dead a few minutes after he collapsed across his desk in his office. He was Roger Ainslow, 44. He'd brought a new weekly bus ticket that morning, optimist, and tucked it into his wallet. In there I also found an ecstasy tablet in a tiny ziplock bag. The E was crushed from being sat on too often. Did people in his office know that respectable Roger Ainslow liked to gobble Es? Maybe it helped him stay awake at work. I looked over the pile of papers he had been working on when he died. Columns of numbers and sorting codes, dozens of pages of the stuff. No matter how much paperwork he got through, it just made room in his trays for more. Maybe he died from total fucking boredom.

* She sneezed the tissues in her pockets full of chunky snot, saw a bit of blood, dropped the kids off at childcare, went shopping in the small supermarket in the mall underneath her apartment tower on King Street. She was probably feeling the gut ache, the hot pain shooting through her muscles, the heaviness of her lungs as they flooded with blood and mucus, as she loaded up her trolley from the half-empty shelves. She was dead before she reached the ice-cream fridge, the was next on her list. She was Rami Bradley, 29. The kids in her purse photo looked about three and five. Her trolley was full of canned food and water and toilet paper and candles, she knew what was coming. She'd been busy stockpiling.

* His name was Brett Bennett. He was 36. He was one of the last corpses left on Pitt Street, inside the 'Zone'. When I found his body, he was laying on the stairs of an office block. He was surrounded by pills and pill packets. It looked like he had tried to fight the virus with every pharmaceutical he could get his hands on. Maybe he survived into the afternoon of ED Day. It looked like he had liberated a chemist shop, or five. There was no blood so he probably died from mixing ten different kinds of cold and flu medications with antibiotics. The sun was catching all the little bits of foil from those empty packs of codeine and psuedoephedrine, throwing pindot sparkles up onto the shadowed wall above him. Brett smiled faintly, dead on the steps of a nameless, numberless steel and dark blue glass tower. He didn't work in this building, he had just stopped there on the stairs, on his way to somewhere else, and downed a crapload of over-and-under the counter drugs, desperately trying to avoid catching the death that he would have seen taking down nearly everyone around him.

* On the eleventh floor of the office tower, on the steps of which Brett Bennett had died, I found a girl in the boardroom of some insurance company. She was curled up on the boardroom table. She died with her mobile phone in her hand and an organiser next to her, a daily diary open next to her head. They shut down the phone networks completely before 9am on ED Day. I wondered if she got through to whoever it was she was calling. Maybe her mother, or sister. Her name was Jenny Hunt, she was only 18, she didn't have a business card, just credit cards, store cards, phone cards, debit cards, a travel card. Jenny looked like she died in her sleep. Her work diary showed a day scheduled full of meetings and a conference call at 5pm. No lunch hour, not even a quarter hour break in that schedule, flat out from 8am to 7pm. The growing tide of human destruction from the pandemic did nothing to lighten her work load. The last day of her life. Jenny didn't even get the chance to spend her final hours with her family, or with her friends. She worked until she couldn’t work a moment more. There was no other corpses on her floor. Everyone else had left, or hadn't come into work the morning of ED Day. Jenny had written a message in her diary, and left it open on the table beside her. It read : “I can see people dying down below. I'm not going out there. People scream for help but no-one comes to help them. I feel so sick, I’m so scared, I just want to go to sleep and wake up with Jesus."

We keep thinking our Corpse Crew work will come to an end soon, a few more months, but we always find more bodies.

I was going to write about Chrissie, and the plans we made back in January for what we'd do if a day like ED Day ever arrived, but that'll have to wait for tomorrow.

There are fires burning tonight on the north side of the harbour. Huge waterfront mansions engulfed in flames. The fires lick at apartment blocks. They'll burn for days if the rains don't come.

Go Here To Read Chapter Eleven - The Boy In The Gardens