CRAIS: THE SENTRY
Monday, 4:28 AM, the narrow French Quarter room was
smoky with cheap candles that
smelled of honey. Daniel stared
through broken shutters and
shivering glass up the length of the
alley, catching a thin slice of
Jackson Square through curtains of
gale-force rain that swirled through
New Orleans like mad bats riding the
storm. Daniel had never seen rain
fall up before.
Daniel loved these damned hurricanes. He folded back
the shutters, then opened the
window. Rain hit him good. It tasted
of salt and smelled of dead fish and
weeds. The cat-five wind clawed
through New Orleans at better than a
hundred miles an hour, but back here
in the alley—in a cheap one-room
apartment over a po'boy shop—the
wind was no stronger than an
The power in this part of the Quarter had gone out
almost an hour ago; hence, the
candles Daniel found in the
manager’s office. Emergency lighting
fed by battery packs lit a few
nearby buildings, giving a creepy
blue glow to the shimmering walls.
Most everyone in the surrounding
buildings had gone. Not everyone,
but most. The stubborn, the
helpless, and the stupid had stayed.
Like Daniel’s friend, Tolley.
Tolley had stayed.
And now here they were in an empty building surrounded
by empty buildings in an outrageous
storm that had forced more than a
million people out of the city, but
Daniel kinda dug it. All this noise
and all this emptiness, no one to
hear Tolley scream.
Daniel turned from the window, arching his eyebrows.
“You smell that? That’s what zombies smell like,
brought up from the death with an
unnatural life. You get to see a
Tolley was between answers right now, being tied to the
bed with thirty feet of nylon cord.
His head just kinda hung there, all
swollen and broken, though he was
still breathing. Every once in a
while he would lurch and shiver.
Daniel didn’t let Tolley’s lack of
responsiveness stop him.
Daniel sauntered over to the bed. Cleo and Tobey
shuffled out of the way, letting him
Daniel had a syringe pack in his bag, along with some
poppers, meth, and other choice
pharmaceuticals. He took out the
kit, shot up Tolley with some
crystal, then waited for it to take
effect. Outside, something exploded
with a muffled whump that wasn’t
quite lost in the wind. Power
transformer, probably, giving up the
ghost, or maybe a wall falling over.
Tolley’s eyes flickered amid a sudden fury of blinks,
then dialed into focus. He tried to
pull away when he saw Daniel, but,
really, where could he go?
Daniel said, all serious, “I asked you, you seen a
zombie? They got’m here in this
place, I know for a fact.”
Tolley shook his head, which kinda pissed Daniel off.
On his way to New Orleans six days
earlier, having been sent to find
Tolley based upon an absolutely
spot-on lead, Daniel decided this
was his one pure and good chance to
see a zombie. Daniel could not abide
a zombie, and found their existence
offensive. The dead should stay
dead, and not rise to walk again,
all shamblin’ and vile and slack. He
didn’t care for vampires, either,
but zombies just rubbed him the
wrong way. Daniel had it on good
authority that New Orleans held
quite a few zombies, and maybe a
vampire or two.
“Don’t be like that, Tolliver. New Orleans is supposed
to have zombies, don’t it, what with
all this hoodoo and shit you got
here, them zombies from Haiti? You
musta seen something?”
Tolley’s eyes were bright with meth, the one eye, the
left, a glossy red ball what with
the burst veins.
Daniel wiped the rain from his face, and felt all
“Where is she?”
“I swear I doan know.”
“You kill her? That what you been tryin’ to say?”
“She tell you where they goin’?”
“I don’t know nuthin’ about—“
Daniel hammered his fist straight
down on Tolley’s chest, and scooped
up the Asp. The Asp was a
collapsible steel rod almost two
feet long. Daniel brought it down
hard, lashing Tolley’s chest, belly,
thighs, and shins with a furious
beating. Tolley screamed and jerked
at his binds, but no one was left to
hear. Daniel let him have it for a
long time, then tossed aside the Asp
and returned to the window. Tobey
and Cleo scrambled out of his way.
“I wanna see a goddamned zombie. A zombie, vampire,
something to make this fuckin’ trip
The rain blew in hard, hot and salty as blood. Daniel
didn’t care. Here he was, come all
this way, and not a zombie to be
found. Anything was good, Daniel
missed out. A life of miserable
He looked at Tobey and Cleo. They were difficult to see
in the flickery light, all blurry
and smudged, but he could make them
out well enough.
“Bet I could kill me a zombie, one on one, straight up,
and I’d like to try. You think I
could kill me a zombie?”
Neither Tobey nor Cleo answered.
“I ain’t shittin’, I could take me a zombie. Take me a
vampire, too, only here we are and I
gotta waste my time with this lame
shit. I’d rather be huntin’
He pointed at Tolley.
Daniel returned to the bed, and shook Tolley awake.
“You think I could take me a zombie, head up, one on
The red eye rolled, and blood leaked from the shattered
mouth. A mushy hiss escaped, so
Daniel leaned closer. Sounded like
the fucker was finally openin’ up.
His mouth worked as he tried to speak.
Daniel smiled encouragingly.
“You hear that wind? I was a bat, I’d spread my wings
and ride that sumbitch for all she
was worth. Where’d they go, boy? I
know she tol’ ya. You tell me where
they went so I can get outta here.
Just say it. You’re almost there.
Give me a hand, and I’m out your
Tolley’s lips worked, and Daniel knew he was about to
give it, but then what little air he
had left hissed out.
“You say west? They was headed west? Over to Texas?”
Tolley was dead.
Daniel stared at the body for a moment, then drew his
gun and put five bullets into
Tolliver James’s chest. Nasty
explosions that anyone staying
behind would have heard even with
the lion wind. Daniel didn’t give a
damn. If someone came running,
Daniel figured to shoot them, too,
but nobody came—no police, no
neighbors, no nobody. Everyone with
two squirts of brain juice was
hunkered down tight, trying to
Daniel reloaded, tucked away his gun, then took out the
satellite phone. The cell stations
were out all over the city, but the
sat phone worked great. He checked
the time, hit the speed dial, then
waited for a link. It always took a
In that time, he stood taller, straightened himself,
and resumed his normal manner.
When the connection was made, Daniel reported.
“Tolliver James is dead. He didn’t provide anything
Daniel listened for a moment before responding.
“No, sir, they’re gone. That much is confirmed. James
was a good bet, but I don’t believe
she told him anything.”
He listened again, this time for quite a while.
“No, sir, that is not altogether true. There are three
or four people here I’d still like
to talk to, but the storm has turned
this place to shit. They’ve almost
certainly evacuated. I just don’t
know. It will take me a while to
More chatter from the other side, but then they were
“Yes, sir, I understand. You get yours, I get mine. I
won’t let you down.”
A last word from the master.
“Yes, sir. Thank you. I’ll keep you informed.”
Daniel shut the phone and put it away.
He returned to the window, and let the rain lash him.
Everything was wet now: shirt,
pants, shoes, hair, all the way down
to his bones. He leaned out, better
to see the Square. A
fifty-five-gallon oil drum tumbled
past the alley’s mouth, end over
end, followed by a bicycle, swept
along on its side, and then a
shattered sheet of plywood flipping
and soaring like a playing card
tossed out like trash.
Daniel shouted into the wind as loud as he could.
“C’mon and get me, you fuckin’ zombies! Show your true
and unnatural colors.”
Daniel threw back his head and
howled. He barked like a dog, then
howled again before turning back to
the room to pack up his gear. Tobey
and Cleo were gone.
Tolliver had hidden eight thousand dollars under the
mattress, still vacu-packed in
plastic, which Daniel found when he
first searched the room. Probably a
gift from the girl. Daniel stashed
the money in his bag, checked to
make sure Tolliver had no pulse,
then went to the little bathroom
where he’d left Tolliver’s lady
friend after he strangled her, nice
and neat in the tub. A little black
stream of ants had already found
her, not even a day.
Cleo said, “Gotta get going, Daniel. Stop fuckin’
Tobey said, “Go where, a storm like this? Makes sense
Daniel decided Tobey was right. Tobey was the smart
one, and usually right, even if
Daniel couldn’t always see him.
“Okay, I guess I should wait till the worst is over.”
Tobey said, “Wait.”
Cleo said, “Wait, wait.”
Like echoes fading away.
Daniel returned to the window. He leaned out into the
rain again, watching the mouth of
the alley in case a zombie rattled
“C’mon, goddamnit, lemme see one. One freaky-ass zombie
is all I ask.”
If a zombie appeared, Daniel planned to jump out the
window after it, and rip its putrid,
unnatural flesh to pieces with his
teeth. He was, after all, a
werewolf, which was why he was such
a good hunter and killer. Werewolves
Daniel tipped back his head and howled to match the
wind, then doused the candles and
sat with the bodies, waiting for the
storm to pass.
When it ended, Daniel would find their trail, and track
them, and he would not quit until
they were his. No matter how long it
took or how far they ran. This was
why the men down south used him for
these jobs and paid him so well.
Werewolves caught their prey.
The wind did not wake him. It was the dream. He heard
the buffeting wind before he opened
his eyes, but the dream was what
woke him on that dark early morning.
A cat was his witness. Hunkered at
the end of the bed, ears down, a low
growl in its chest, a ragged black
cat was staring at him when Elvis
Cole opened his eyes. Its warrior
face was angry, and, in that moment,
Cole knew they had shared the
Cole woke on the bed in his loft bathed in blue
moonlight, feeling his A-frame
shudder as the wind tried to push it
from its perch high in the Hollywood
hills. A freak weather system in the
Midwest was pulling fifty- to
seventy-knot winds from the sea that
had hammered Los Angeles for days.
Cole sat up, awake now and wanting to shake off the
dream—an ugly nightmare that left
him feeling unsettled and depressed.
The cat’s ears stayed down. Cole
held out his hand, but the cat
poured off the bed like a pool of
Cole said, “Me, too.”
He checked the time. Habit. Three-twelve in the A.M. He
reached toward the nightstand to
check his gun--habit—but stopped
himself when he realized what he was
“C’mon, what’s the point?”
The gun was there because it was always there,
sometimes needed but most times not.
Living alone with only an angry cat
for company, there seemed no reason
to move it. Now, at three-twelve in
the middle of a wind-torched night,
it was a reminder of what he had
Cole realized he was trembling, and pushed out of bed.
The dream scared him. Muzzle flash
so bright it sparkled his eyes; the
charcoal smell of smokeless powder;
a glittery red mist that dappled his
skin; shattered sunglasses that
arced through the air—images so
vivid they felt like a premonition,
and so real they shocked him awake.
Now he shook as his body burned off the fear.
The back of Cole’s house was an A-shaped glass steeple,
giving him a view of the canyon
behind his house and a diamond-dust
glimpse of the city beyond. Now, the
canyon was blue with bright
moonlight. The sleeping houses below
were easy to see, and surrounded by
blue-and-gray trees that shivered
and danced in the St. Vitus wind.
Cole wondered if someone down there
had awakened like him. He wondered
if they had suffered a similar
nightmare--seeing their best friend
shot to death in the dark.
Violence was part of him.
Elvis Cole did not want it, seek it, or enjoy it, but
maybe these were only things he told
himself in cold moments like now.
The nature of his life had cost him
the woman he loved and the little
boy he had grown to love, and left
him alone in this house with nothing
but an angry cat for company and a
pistol that did not need to be put
Now here was this dream that left his skin crawling--so
real it felt like a premonition. He
looked at the phone and told himself
no--no, that’s silly, it’s stupid,
it’s three in the morning.
Cole made the call.
One ring, and his call was answered. At three in the
Cole didn’t know what to say after that, feeling so
Pike said, “Good. You?”
“Yeah. Sorry, man, it’s late.”
“Yeah. Just a bad feeling is all.”
They lapsed into a silence Cole found embarrassing, but
it was Pike who spoke first.
“You need me, I’m there.”
“It’s the wind. This wind is crazy.”
He told Pike he would call again soon, then put down
Cole felt no relief after the call.
He told himself he should, but he
didn’t. The dream should have faded,
but it did not. Talking to Pike now
made it feel even more real.
You need me, I’m there.
How many times had Joe Pike placed himself in harm’s
way to save him?
They had fought the good fight
together, and won, and sometimes
lost. They had shot people who had
harmed or were doing harm, and been
shot, and Joe Pike had saved Cole’s
life more than a few times like an
Archangel from Heaven.
Yet here was the dream and the dream did not fade--
Muzzle flashes in a dingy room. A woman’s shadow cast
on the wall. Dark glasses spinning
into space. Joe Pike falling through
a terrible red mist.
Cole crept downstairs through the dark house and
stepped out onto his deck. Leaves
and debris stung his face like sand
on a windswept beach. Lights from
the houses below glittered like
In low moments on nights like this when Elvis Cole
thought of the woman and the boy, he
told himself the violence found in
his life had cost him everything,
but he knew that was not true. As
lonely as he sometimes felt, he
still had more to lose.
He could lose his best friend.
© 2010 by Robert Crais