CHARGES: Slugging It Out On The Joe DiMaggio Highway
In this excerpt, über-producer Tony Vincenzo has elected to leave Manhattan as the entire New York City area threatens to crumble. Roving gangs are already threatening the citizens, raping and pillaging and burning their way across the city–even in Vincenzo’s neighborhood of Billionaire Row, running from east to west across the base of Central Park. The NYPD is becoming less capable of keeping a lid on things, and after unwittingly attending a full-on food riot the day before, Vincenzo has decided he needs to get out of the Big Apple while he still can.
Some general story notes. There are no zombies in this book, and the lead character isn’t a well-trained Special Forces troop. To that end, Vincenzo’s a different kind of lead character for me. He’s not a great guy–as a matter of fact, he’s a jerk, based off a pastiche of people I’ve interacted with in Los Angeles when I lived there in 2002-2003. (If you find you might need a suitable parallel, check out the leaked emails from Sony Pictures and think Scott Rudin.) Vincenzo’s very much into himself and his work and his money and his fame. Now, for the first time in his life, he has to think of others: namely, his wife and kid, trapped in Los Angeles while he was setting up their new home in New York. Two days prior, all they had to do was board a chartered jet to join him, but that’s no longer happening. A mass corona discharge from the sun has melted all the electrical power grids, plunging the entire world into the Dark Ages. Gone are the cheap, easy luxuries Vincenzo had grown accustomed to. No airplanes. No cars. No internet. No smartphones.
The only things Vincenzo has that might see him through across the darkened expanse of the United States are an illegal pistol, a backpack, his pissy attitude, and his hiking boots.
It’s going to be a very long, long walk.
Usual disclaimers apply: first draft stuff, unedited, no guarantee that what you read here will make it into the final product.
It took the better part of an hour-and-a-half to make it to the Joe DiMaggio. The roadway was clogged with cars and trucks that had been rendered inoperable from the electromagnetic pulse event. Bicyclists and pedestrians wended their way through the still river of sheet metal and fiberglass. Vincenzo crossed over Twelfth Avenue and moved over the northbound lanes, heading for the jersey barrier in the middle of the roadway that separated the northbound lanes from the southbound. His feeling was that he would make better time over there, and that the sight lines would be less restrictive. All during his journey down West 57th Street, he had felt bottled up, restrained and vulnerable. In the more open areas that lined the westernmost side of Manhattan Island, Vincenzo believed he might be a bit safer. Though certainly warmer—without the shadows cast by the skyscrapers of midtown, the sun’s rays beat down on him directly. The temperature was rising, as was the humidity, especially this close to the Hudson River. Vincenzo lifted his khaki Polo cap and ran a hand over his short hair. His palm came back saturated with sweat. He needed to halt his march for a few minutes and take down some water and apply some sunscreen.
Hiding in the leeward side of a dead tractor-trailer, he reached into his knapsack and pulled out one of his water bottles. Keeping alert, he popped the cap and drained it quickly, gulping the water down as fast as he could. People moved past on the highway, heading in either direction, but they kept their distance long enough for Vincenzo to quaff his water and catch his breath for a moment. He rubbed sunscreen across his face, arms, and the back of his neck, then took another moment to hit his ears and the bridge of his nose, as well. He replaced the sunscreen in the knapsack and considered the empty bottle. Normally, he would have just tossed it—plastic bottles probably weren’t going to be a rare commodity, at least in the short term. But not having it when he needed it might be troublesome. He placed it in the knapsack as well. Repositioning his backpack once again—his shoulders and lower back were beginning to ache—he pressed on.
He was walking past the back of the truck when movement to his right caught his eye. Vincenzo stepped back immediately, his hand going for the Beretta as a tall black man wearing faded jeans, a yellow T-shirt, and a huge, brightly-colored rastacap that either restrained several decades of dreadlocks or held a small immigrant family. He checked behind him, realizing that he could be flanked by someone who just rolled under the truck trailer. With that thought in mind, he ducked down quickly and checked. No one else was there.
He straightened as the black man came around the trailer, a huge grin on his face. He wore expensive designer sunglasses.
“Hey there, how ’bout sharing some of the water?” the man said, with a light patois. “I saw you, you got water in your bag, huh?”
“I don’t think so,” Vincenzo said. “Head for an aid station. They’re all over the city.”
“Ah, but you be much closer,” the man said, still smiling. He lifted up his shirt, revealing the butt of a black pistol. “Let’s not make it tough now, huh?”
A bolt of fear goaded Vincenzo into action. Without thinking, he charged forward and slammed into the taller man, driving him into the ground. The Rastafarian tried to pull his Glock from his belt, but Vincenzo trapped his arm beneath his knee, pinning it in place. He warded off the Rasta’s clumsy attempts to strike back with his free hand, then pummeled the man in the face, slamming his fists into it again and again.
“You fuck!” he screamed, with each blow, letting loose with left after left while he held the man’s free arm at the wrist with his right. He leaned forward, putting as much weight behind the punches as he could, and the Rasta writhed beneath him, blood pouring from his nose and lips.
“Stop, man! Stop!” he cried. Vincenzo wasn’t having any of that. He continued punching and swearing, looking down at the Rasta as his head bounced up and down on his thick cap full of dreads. He went slack as his eyes rolled up in his head. Vincenzo punched him four more times, then stopped, gasping and sweating. The Rastafarian gurgled a bit, but didn’t otherwise respond to the temporary cease fire. Vincenzo stayed where he was, trembling in fear.
Holy fuck, this guy was going to shoot me!
He realized that was probably an overstatement. More than likely, the man was just flashing the Glock in an attempt to cow Vincenzo into submission.
Or, maybe, he would have killed him after taking everything Vincenzo had.
Vincenzo shifted his position slightly and reached under his left leg. He pulled the man’s hand off the Glock, then removed the weapon from his waistband. Putting it aside, he looked around—no one was approaching him, though some people had to have seen the fight gone down, even behind the hulk of the trailer beside them. Vincenzo rolled the man over, and the Rastafarian moaned slightly. Vincenzo found another magazine in the man’s back pocket, full of thirteen rounds of nine millimeter. He took it, and shoved it into his knapsack, then picked up the Glock. No way in hell he was going to leave an armed man behind him. He patted the man down, but found no other weapons. He regarded the Glock for a moment. He was inexperienced with that type of pistol, but he’d shot them before, so he knew it was a single-action weapon with no safety. All he had to do was squeeze the trigger and it would fire.
He rose on shaking legs as the Rastafarian slowly drew himself into a fetal position. Vincenzo gave him a light kick, nothing major—he didn’t have the energy to wind one up, anyway. The Rastafarian grunted, and brought his hands up to cover his face. His bent sunglasses fell off his face and clattered to the asphalt beside his head.
“Please, man…no more! No more, please!”
“Stay the fuck down or I’ll kill you,” Vincenzo said. His voice was as unsteady as his legs.
“Not going nowhere, man,” the Rasta said, a whimper in his voice.
Vincenzo kicked him again, this time out of spite more than anything else, and the Rasta responded with a satisfying yelp. Vincenzo stepped over him cautiously, Glock in hand, ready to use it if he needed to. His heart was still hammering in his chest, and he could hear the roar of blood in his ears. He was almost too afraid to move, but he knew he needed to get the hell away from the Rasta before any of his friends showed up looking for him. Not only that, he’d been extremely lucky. He’d gotten the drop on the bigger man purely by chance, not by design. Vincenzo had been in about three fights in his life, including this one, and he hardly had a wealth of experience to draw upon. It could have gone sideways very quickly, and it wasn’t like he’d gotten out of it unscathed. His left hand was hurting like hell, but he didn’t take the time to inspect it. He could still wiggle the fingers, so nothing was broken, but it would likely be one big bruise before he made it to the GWB.
He crept away from the Rastafarian, who did as instructed and remained on the ground, leaking blood and moaning slightly between split lips. Vincenzo kept the Glock in his right hand as he scuttled away, trying to look everywhere at once. As soon as he felt it was safe, he turned his back on the Rasta and started running to the north. His pack slewed from side to side on his back, and he realized he was probably making a scene by running through the dead traffic while holding a pistol. Just the same, he kept it up until he had put a good five hundred feet between him and his fallen opponent. Chest heaving, he drew to a halt and leaned against a plumbing van. Another visual sweep of the area revealed no one nearby, but those in sight regarded him with cautious eyes. Vincenzo didn’t make eye contact with anyone, just took an inventory of who was where. Right now, everyone could be an enemy, from a street gang to a gaggle of housewives pushing baby strollers… and there was no shortage of either.
He looked down at the Glock. It was a model 19, which Vincenzo had fired before. It looked a bit old, but when he handled it a bit, he decided it was operational. He double checked the second magazine he had lifted off the Rasta, and as far as he could tell, it was in fine shape. The pistol used the same ammunition as he carried for his Beretta, so at least he now had a backup piece.
He looked south, and saw that three other people were making their way toward the Rastafarian he had beaten down. The man was on his feet, leaning against the concrete Jersey barrier, a hand held to his face as he tried to stanch the flow of blood from his nose. The three newcomers were blacks as well, and they wore the brightly colored knit hats Rastas favored. Vincenzo decided that it was time to put some more distance between them, so he turned to the north and set off.