The Combat Zone
From the 1960s well into the 1980s, there was a section of downtown Boston known as the Combat Zone. This was the city’s red light district, the place where Bostonians and tourists could take a walk on the wild side. Washington Street was the Zone’s main drag. Along Washington, between Boylston and Kneeland streets, you’d find a hive of peep shows, adult book stores and toy shops, X-rated movie theaters, bars, and liquor stores. Prostitutes cruised LaGrange Street, and the area was filled with strip clubs with names like the Naked I, the Teddy Bare Club, the Pussycat Lounge, and the Pilgrim Theatre. (I wonder what the real pilgrims, Puritans that they were, would have thought of that!)
The Combat Zone in the 1980′s
The Combat Zone got its start in the early ’60s, when the city decided to tear down the existing red light district at Scollay Square to build Government Center, now home to City Hall, Suffolk County Court, and other official buildings. At the time, urban renewal didn’t get rid of the adult entertainment district; it simply moved to Washington Street. The newly established district was dubbed the Combat Zone for two reasons: the soldiers and sailors who roamed its streets on leave, and the violence that made the area notorious.
The Combat Zone was a sleazy, yet exciting place. Sex and violence were in the air. Biker gangs, off-duty military personnel, prostitutes, businessmen, showgirls, and undergrads roamed the streets. Lurid stories hit the headlines. In 1974, a drunken Congressman climbed onstage with a stripper at the Pilgrim Theatre, ruining his chances for a presidential bid. A Harvard football player got knifed in 1976. A medical school professor became infatuated with a 21-year-old prostitute, embezzling money to support her and later, when she wanted to end the relationship, brutally murdering her.
As downtown real estate became more desirable, the Combat Zone began to shrink. The Boston Redevelopment Authority encouraged more mainstream businesses to populate the area. Office buildings and luxury condos replaced peepshows and bars. Emerson College and Suffolk University both expanded into the area. Three hundred million dollars went into a massive complex that includes a Ritz-Carlton hotel and a Loews cineplex. Money cures seediness—the Zone became respectable.
In my Deadtown series, a mysterious plague has turned 2,000 Bostonians into zombies. (These zombies aren’t the kind you’d encounter in a horror film; they retain their minds and personalities and can contribute to society. Yet they’re monstrous, and people fear them.) The plague’s quarantine zone has become Deadtown, where all of Boston’s paranormals—zombies, werewolves, vampires, and other creatures—are required by law to live. One of those paranormal residents is Vicky Vaughn, a shapeshifter who kills other people’s personal demons for a living.
Even though it’s smack in the middle of downtown, Deadtown is separated from the rest of Boston. Checkpoints control who can leave and who can enter. The block between the checkpoints into Deadtown (on one end) and human-controlled Boston (on the other) is a no-man’s land. Immediately after the plague, the businesses that filled that block were abandoned. Humans wanted to get as far away from the plague as they could. With time, after the plague virus mutated into something no worse than a bad cold, a few establishments opened up in that block. These are “monster bars,” where humans and the monsters can mingle without venturing fully into each other’s territory. A new Zone was born.
Bostonians now call the area between the checkpoints the New Combat Zone. What else could it be? It’s in roughly the same area, and it has the same sense of dangerous excitement. Denizens of the Zone spend time there for many reasons. For humans, just as in the old days a visit to the Zone is a chance to take a walk on the wild side. Humans can get close to Deadtown without setting foot over the border. They can gape at vampires, zombies, werewolves, like they’re at some kind of paranormal safari park. Some humans hope to pick up a vampire, to experience the mellow, sensual high caused by the mild narcotic in vampire saliva. In the Zone, they can do so without fear that the vampire will take more than the legally allowed pint of blood. That’s because the Zone is patrolled by the Goon Squad, who make sure that vampires obey the law.
Paranormals visit the Zone for other reasons. It’s a chance to get out of Deadtown and relax. Vampires cruise the monster bars for blood donors. Werewolves stop there on their way home from jobs in the city. Vicky goes because the place where everybody knows her name is Creature Comforts, a bar run by Axel, a hairy, seven-foot-tall knuckle-dragger who’s definitely not human (but no one’s brave enough to ask him what he is). She might meet her vampire roommate for a Bloody Mary, or spend time there with her werewolf lawyer boyfriend.
Each book in my series has scenes set in Creature Comforts and the New Combat Zone. It’s a place where normal rules don’t apply. A place where anything could happen, where the wild side might just rise up and take a bite out of you. Come and take a walk with me there. Or, if you’re not in Boston, where do you like to go when you feel like a walk on the wild side?
Bloodstone, the third novel in Nancy Holzner’s Deadtown series, is now available. For information on Nancy and her books, visit her website. You can also find Nancy on Facebook and Twitter, and blogging with other fantasy authors at Dark Central Station.
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Nancy is giving away a combined total of 5 books to winners during her blog tour for Bloodstone! Winners have their choice of a signed copy of Bloodstone or either of the two previous books, Deadtown or Hellforged! To enter simply fill out this:
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