The Collectors’ Jazz: Modern by John S. Wilson

By John S. Wilson

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Oh Sweet Jesus,” he moaned into the mask, which promptly fogged up from his sudden exhalation. He stumbled back away from the boiler, back away from those staring, wide eyes and the blackened, peeling features, one clawlike hand raised as if reaching for the manhole. Then he ran for the hatch, trying not to piss his pants. He took the ladder up to the entrance grating platform two steps at a time and jumped over the knee-knocker, then nearly jumped out of his skin when there was a blaze of light and a shout as two figures waved their arms and made ghost noises at him through their masks.

They wanna screw around, let ‘em. He snapped his helmet light back on and consulted the diagram, his breathing again audible in the mask. Start from aft and work forward. Let’s see … where the hell is aft? This way. First space to hit was the aftermost engine room, the hatch all the way aft, port side. Over the next half hour, he physically inspected each main engineering space, stepping through the hatch from Gasoline Alley, shining his flashlight down through the deck gratings three levels down to the bilge, checking for any glint of water.

Shit, look at him. ” “Dead guy,” Benny gasped. It was all he could get out. ” The rest of the guys roared anew as Joe and his helper stripped off their masks, but then the fat man saw the look in Benny’s eyes and put up his hand. ” he yelled. “Benny, what’s this shit about a dead guy? Hey, Benny, calm down. What is it, what is it, hey? Hey, Joey, the kid’s hyperventilatin’. ” The gang stopped laughing and crowded around Benny as he sank down on his knees, his lungs scraping for breath, his mask dangling across his thighs.

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