For those who might be interested, the first book of my new post-apocalypse trilogy is out. I’d planned on making it one standalone, but I found I had too much story left to tell. Typical, eh? Not that it really matters, whenever I write a standalone, folks seem to ask for a sequel, so I’m basically screwed no matter which way I jump. 🙂
Anyway, Charges is a story of one man’s travels after a mass corona discharge fries all of Earth’s electrical grids. As you might expect, chaos ensues! This is pretty much my first time out writing about an everyday, average guy with no real special skills, so it was a challenge in that department. Hopefully, it works.
Interested parties can steer their browsers toward: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B012ESK1KY
Every story needs a villain, and in Charges it’s a cop-killing sociopath named Roth. While detestable and uncompromising when it comes to hunting down his quarry, Roth is also a smart guy who knows how to play people so they do his bidding. He has a cold charisma that keeps him going when killing will not. After a global EMP event, the United States of America is just the kind of place for him: A disintegrating nation where the truly murderous can finally succeed at what they do best.
After three days without power, the Pennsylvania Federal Penitentiary reeked of feces, sweat, urine, and garbage.
Even for a man of Roth’s considerable discipline, it was difficult to endure the deteriorating conditions. The heat and humidity seemed to grow daily, and the lack of running water meant there were more than a few full toilets. The guards and civilian employees had been delivering buckets of water to use to flush the commodes once a day, but that had ended when one of the inmates had tried to escape. He’d been shot dead, but the result was that the prison staff refused to expose themselves to danger on a daily basis just to flush some toilets.
So Roth and the others were subjected to the mounting stench of piss and shit. If the prison staff had thought that would make the convicts compliant, they had failed miserably. Angry shouts and taunts ripped through the cell blocks, as prisoners alternately threatened and pleaded to be given water. Several shouted that they still had rights; others yelled that they would be happy to rip off the warden’s head and shit down his neck.
Then, some of the convicts died from heat exhaustion, right in their racks. As the temperatures inside the cell blocks rose into the nineties, with humidity levels to match, the older or weaker simply expired. Roth lay in his rack, sweating and trying not to puke his guts out from the infernal stench.
Once a day, the prisoners were released from their cells for food in the equally hot and miserable cafeteria. Half the time, the chow was approaching inedible—poorly heated, definitely never refrigerated, and entirely bland. The food inside the penal system was downright lousy in the best of times, but the loss of power hit things like food preparation especially hard. Roth was sure it wouldn’t be long until he and the rest of the prison population were receiving stripped Meals Ready to Eat, which was probably a step in the right direction. Like every other man in the prison, Roth was sufficiently institutionalized to eat the mystery meats they put in front of him, but he would never learn to like it. Something like an MRE could only increase the fun factor, even if the worst entrees were served twelve months past their shelf life.
They would shuffle into the large commissary, take whatever they were given, and get thirty minutes to eat. After that, they got an hour of yard time. Before, being in the yard always made Roth feel a bit weak and helpless. He was at the mercy of the general population, which was random at best, chaotic at worst. Once, he had watched the guards shoot a white man dead as he rammed a shiv into a black man’s neck over drug money. It was wasted effort—the black man died, too. But the guards basically didn’t give a shit, which suited him fine, as Roth didn’t give a shit about them either, and if he ever had the opportunity, he would kill as many of them as he could.
On the afternoon of the eighth day after the lights went out, Roth and fifteen of his block mates were led to the commissary. As was the custom, they allowed the black inmates to enter first. There was no free seating. The protocol was you simply grabbed your meal and sat down in the next available space. The whites, blacks, and Latinos never mixed if they could avoid it. Only the Asians, of whom there were four that Roth knew of, would cross racial lines, and when they did, they chose to sit with the whites. But other than that, it was bad news for the races to mix, especially the blacks and the whites. If one white had to sit at a table of blacks or vice versa, that person was forbidden from speaking. It was the way things were. Roth knew that if he spoke to a black man during a meal, it could mean a severe beating from the other whites or worse. The pecking order had to be maintained.
The new kid, some wild-eyed murderer and drug dealer named Blackie—a funny name, since he was practically an albino—would have to sit with the black crew. Usually a seventy-seven-year-old man called Stewie would volunteer for the duty, but Stewie was one of the guys who had up and died in the heat, so Blackie was nominated. Roth was sure his name would make him popular with his new dining companions.
Meals were prepared by other convicts behind gated windows that allowed for no contact. In years past, Roth had been told that one could barter for extra rice and no meat, or an extra hair-thin sliver of corn bread. But that contact had been closed off. Unless you had a friend who knew you on sight, you got the same tired shit as everyone else did. Like the rest of the convicts, Roth worked for a living. He made forty cents an hour as a groundskeeper, mowing lawns, pulling weeds, shoveling snow, and anything else that needed doing. With that money, he was able to procure foods from the commissary that were preferred alternatives to mystery meat and unspiced fare like rice, mashed potatoes, and the absolutely revolting chicken casserole. But that had ended on day four of the power outage. There was nothing left to buy. Roth had no choice but to suck it up and deal with it.
He took his plate of cold mystery meat—supposedly chicken fried steak, but even rats and roaches wouldn’t eat it—and moved to the table next to the black sheep squadron. As he walked past, one of the black inmates, Rollo, gave him the stink eye. The rotund man with protruding eyes and a severely receding afro hated Roth for reasons that remained a mystery. Roth suspected it was because Roth had an education, a master’s degree in political science. Or perhaps it was because they were both cop killers, but Roth had murdered more law enforcement officers in three years across twelve states than Rollo had managed in a lifetime of murders in the south. Professional rivalry.
“Bitch, yo ass mine,” Rollo hissed.
A prison guard stood at the head of his table, looking down at the black sheep squadron and poor Blackie as they wrestled with the day’s feast. “Knock that shit off, or you’re headed for isolation,” the guard said.
Rollo had just come off a year of separation from the rest of g-pop, so he just stared down at his plate and tried to cut into the chicken fried steak with his plastic knife. Roth ignored the comment. If Rollo came after him, he wouldn’t leave the fight in one piece. Roth knew he didn’t look like much—six foot two and very thin, with a balding head and graying beard—but he didn’t get into the penitentiary system by accident. And he hadn’t gotten there by killing defenseless innocents, like one of his white associates did when he sprayed a school bus with a semiautomatic rifle then boarded it and finished the job with a nine-millimeter handgun. Roth had been incarcerated for killing fourteen armed law officers and severely disabling almost ten more in his spree before the long arm of the law had caught up to him.
Ah, the good times.
When the Ohio State Police managed to corner him, Roth didn’t resist. He became totally compliant and surrendered without issue. Not because he was frightened and didn’t want to die—David Elliott Roth had no issues with death. Death was going to find him one way or the other. He didn’t choose to enter into a gun battle with the state police because he knew that he would have the opportunity to kill again one day, and that was more precious to him than anything. Prison, he believed, was only a temporary condition.
As he sat down with the rest of the men at the second table, he was surprised to find there wasn’t a guard standing over them, watching them eat. He looked around as he tore open several packets of pepper and sprinkled their contents onto his food. Only the black and Latino tables had guards, which left the two tables of whites unmonitored.
“Looks like we finally get some privacy,” muttered Harley, a broad-shouldered biker with a nasty scar rippling up one side of his face. The mark started at his jaw line and finally petered out somewhere inside his bushy right eyebrow. The knotted tissue had made his eyebrow curl up like a question mark lying on its side. His long hair was streaked with gray, and Roth had learned he’d killed two men in a bar fight somewhere in Oklahoma while riding with a biker gang.
“Yeah, wonder what’s up with that,” Toombs said. He was a slow-witted southern boy from Alabama. Unlike Harley, his hair was high and tight, and on someone so pale and bone-thin, it gave him the appearance of being a dirty Q-Tip. “Heard some o’ the staff been leavin’.”
“Yeah? Where’d you hear that, Toombs?” Roth asked.
“I dunno. Just heard it.”
The problem with Toombs was that he heard a lot, and most of that was inside his head. He was bat-shit crazy, but like almost everyone in the lockup, he wasn’t a very nice person. Toombs liked to kill people as much as everyone did, and even though he definitely had a host of mental health issues and would have been better served in a mental institution, he had found his way into the US penal system. But if what the living, breathing Q-Tip beside him had said was true, it sparked a small flame of hope. Fewer guards means more chances to make it over the fence, he thought, as he cut up the chunk of tough mystery meat. He forked some into his mouth and chewed quickly so that he didn’t have to taste it for long.
“What’re you smiling over, Roth?” Harley asked, his voice a low rumble. “It’s like you enjoy the food, dude.”
Roth hadn’t realized he was smiling until Harley mentioned it, but he kept the potential rationale for glee to himself for the time being. To be free… to kill.
Despite the power failures, work still had to be attended to. Roth and his cohorts were to mow the yards inside the fence. Another group from the adjacent work camp would attend to the fields outside the wire. They were certified as lower risk than Roth and his fellows, still federal criminals but of a lesser variety: embezzlers, larcenists, and thieves who had managed to cross the punishment zone from state crimes to federal. Roth thought that they had it easy, and he chafed at the gutless wonders outside the wire receiving such light treatment.
The big Bobcat mower had an electric ignition system, but that was of no use anymore. Roth had to use the pull starter to get it going, and that worked just fine. He filled the green mower with gas, checked the oil, then primed the engine. As he was getting ready to start it, Blackie stepped into the utility shed. His face was made shiny by a sheen of sweat.
“Hey, Roth. Heard the niggers talking about stuff at lunch,” he said.
“Oh yeah? Then you shouldn’t believe whatever you heard,” Roth said. “You know they’ll say things that can lead you to trouble.”
“Dunno, man. They said that Pittsburgh is on fire. Some sort of riots going on there. And that a lot of the guards have vanished.”
That got Roth’s attention. He looked through the shed’s open door, where two armed corrections officers stood a few feet away. They were talking to each other while keeping their eyes on another group of prisoners weeding the small flower beds that surrounded the penitentiary. Usually, one guard would keep eyes on Roth as he prepped the Bobcat. After all, he had access to fuel and other chemicals, things that could conceivably be used as weapons. But the guards seemed distracted.
“Tell me more,” Roth said quietly, handing the gas can to Blackie. “Act like you’re filling up the mower.”
Blackie took the can and tilted over the opening in the fuel tank, spilling a little gas in the process. Roth grimaced. That would need to be wiped up before he could start the Bobcat.
“Three guys in their block didn’t show up for work today, and supposedly, the niggers overheard another guard saying he was taking PTO for the next few days,” Blackie said. “So that’s like an entire shift in that wing that’s gone, man.”
Roth considered that. Given that there were guards missing from the commissary, it kind of made sense. That the blacks discussed it in front of the guard standing at their table was a little odd, but meal times were one of the few times they could talk as a group. And though many of them were as dumb as bricks, Roth knew for certain that Rollo was anything but. While the balding black criminal was loathsome, he knew how to work the system, so their conversation had likely been in shorthand.
“How is it they let you hear this?” Roth asked.
“Roly-poly Rollo wants to talk to you, man,” Blackie said. “Asked me to pass it on to you.”
Roth raised an eyebrow. “Oh, really? What does he want to ‘talk’ to me about?”
“Hey, Roth! You done in there?” one of the guards shouted as he walked toward the utility shed. “What’s the hold up?”
“Blackie spilled gas on the mower,” Roth said, picking up a rag and wiping off the tank. “He’s a stupid fuck. This is what I get for asking him to do something for once.”
“Hey, I was just tryin’ to help, man!” Blackie said, sounding genuinely hurt.
“Stop fucking around and get to work,” the guard snapped. His uniform had dark sweat patches under the arms.
“On it,” Roth said. When the guard turned back around, Roth asked Blackie, “Where does Rollo expect me to meet him?”
“Yard time,” Blackie said. “Wants you to keep it cool and on the down low. Also wants you to tell the rest of the guys that this is business, nothing else.”
“Yeah, we’ll see about that.”
“Roth, move your ass!” the guard yelled. He stepped inside the shed, frowning behind his sunglasses and mustache. “What are you guys talking about in here?”
Blackie looked at Roth with disgust. “He’s just telling me what a stupid fuck I am, like usual,” the younger man said. “All I did was spill a little gas, trying to help him out!”
“Then stop trying to help, and get your ass out here!” the guard ordered. “Roth, move it! Now!”
“Sure thing,” Roth said, keeping his expression as vacant as possible though it was almost impossible for him to overcome the urge to take the guard out, right then and there. He knew how to do it, even though the man was armed. Roth could gain control of the weapon and drill the second guard in the right eye before she could do anything. But he didn’t know exactly where the tower snipers were positioned or who they were covering, and that meant he could be popped the second he stepped out of the shed. He vented some frustration by savagely yanking on the Bobcat’s pull starter. It took three hard tugs, but the green piece of shit’s engine finally sputtered to life.
Soon enough, he thought, glancing up at the guard as he grabbed the big mower’s handles and engaged the drive gear.
Roth, along with Harley and a huge white con named Chester, approached the gang of black prisoners hanging out in their corner of the yard. They came to a halt several feet away, acting as if they were having a conversation amongst themselves. It wasn’t much of a ruse, but it was the best they could come up with; Roth definitely wasn’t going to meet with Rollo alone. It wasn’t that Roth didn’t think he couldn’t handle his fellow inmate in a fight, but he knew Rollo would never try him mano a mano anyway. He’d show up with friends, just as Roth had brought a couple of his own.
After a few minutes, Rollo detached himself from the group and sauntered over to where Roth stood a few feet from his two guys. He asked Roth for a cigarette, a remarkable breach of etiquette. Roth had one last crinkled pack of Winstons, which he never smoked but used to barter with. A single cigarette could get a man a lot of things in the big house. Roth shook one out and handed it over, keeping his face blank and expressionless.
Rollo took it and eyed Harley and Chester for a long moment. “Maybe we can do this without an audience.”
“You don’t want an audience, send someone else,” Roth said.
Rollo considered that. “Heh. Okay.” He turned and looked through the fence behind him. The work camp crew had already finished their work, who were staring back at them. “We gonna make a break,” Rollo said. “World’s gone to shit. No power anywhere. Heard the sun did that shit, man.”
Roth didn’t say anything. He’d heard the same, and he understood the ramifications of a gigantic EMP burst that could have fried the entire world’s power grids.
“Guards, they be leavin’. Staff, they be leavin’. Soon, they’ll just lock us up in our cells, and that be it. We’ll starve. Or die from the goddam heat. They ain’t gonna let us go, and they can’t take care o’ us. So we need to break outta here before they put us in our cages and leave us to rot.”
“So what do you want from me, Rollo?”
“Brothers can’t do it alone. Need some help. You’re a smart fuck; you do the math.”
“So what’s in it for me?” Roth asked.
“You get to kill as many o’ the guards as you want. And after that, we go our own ways. I got people to see on the outside. Not gonna waste a second of it messin’ with you.”
Roth didn’t believe that for a second. But it didn’t matter, not right now. If Rollo and his band were able to get enough action started to make it outside, then the risk was worth it. Besides, while Rollo might make promises he wouldn’t keep, Roth would do no such thing. He’d kill Rollo the second he had a chance.
“So what’s your plan?” Roth asked.
“You good with a gun, right? I hear you’re like some kinda superman with a gun.”
“Yes,” Roth said. “I’m good with firearms.”
“You military or somethin’?”
Roth shook his head. He didn’t see the need to give the guy any more information.
Rollo shrugged his shoulders. “’Kay. Don’t matter. What if I get you a pistol? You any good with that?”
Roth slightly inclined his head toward one of the guard towers. “See that guy up there?”
“With a nine-millimeter, I can hit him twice in the right eye from where we’re standing right now, and do it on the move. Then I can turn and take out the second tower. Less than two seconds. But the ground needs to be clear. I can’t work like that with guards coming at me on the ground. Give me enough time to clear the towers, then I can clear the ground. But the towers have to go first.”
“You serious?” Rollo asked. “You’re really that good?”
“I did the same thing in Colorado, with two cops standing above me on high ground. They had me in sight, and were drawing down on me. I took them both out. Less than two seconds,” Roth emphasized. “If I couldn’t do it, I wouldn’t put myself in the position where I’d have to try.”
Rollo nodded. “’Kay, man. I feel you. You let us take care of the ground work. You hit the towers. It’s gonna happen out here, obviously. Maybe not tomorrow. But soon. You need to keep up with things. Get your boys lined up. We gotta work together to get control of the yard then the rest of the prison long enough for us to get out of here.”
“We gonna spring everyone?”
“You want to take time to do that?”
“No. I don’t.”
“There’s your answer, then. Stay sharp.” Rollo looked down at the cigarette for a moment then flicked it at Roth. “Here. I don’t want your cancer stick.”
“Might as well keep it, Rollo. I’m not going to touch it after you did.”
Rollo’s thick lips curled up into a feral smile. “You got nerve, boy. That’s why I come to you.” He turned away and headed back to his group.
From the corner of his eye, Roth had seen one of the guards in the towers watching the entire exchange, but he and Rollo had kept their faces angled downward as they talked. No lip reading was likely to have occurred, and without power, they didn’t have to worry about electronic surveillance.
“So what was that all about?” Harley asked as Roth sauntered back to them.
“We might be getting out of here,” Roth said.
“Well, either that, or a lot of us are just going to get killed.”
Charges drops tomorrow.
In this excerpt, Tony Vincenzo decides it’s time to leave New York City and set out to return to his family. The Big Apple has been disintegrating over the past few days, as food and water supplies are exhausted and lawlessness begins to take hold.
The morning was cool with low humidity. The scene hadn’t changed much since the previous day. The street was full of litter, from broken glass to discarded boxes and old newspapers. The tang of smoke hung in the air, along with an unpleasant after note of sewage. Without pumps powering the city’s septic system, sewage control was going to be a problem, a situation that wouldn’t improve with time.
The other folks in the lobby followed him outside. The wheels of one shopping cart squeaked as a man shoved across shards of shattered glass. Vincenzo stepped out from beneath the tower’s frayed awning. Every ground-level shop or dwelling had suffered from vandalism. The only thing that kept the vandals out of Metropolitan Tower was the thickness of the glass. The building had been constructed with an eye toward keeping out undesirables, and so far, that had worked. Vincenzo didn’t figure that would be a lasting condition, however.
“You should come with us,” the blond woman said from behind him. Her voice sounded pale and weak outdoors.
Vincenzo hitched his backpack up on his shoulders and adjusted the set of the pistol beneath his shirt. “You guys take care of yourselves.” He didn’t look back.
He set off down Fifty-Seventh Street, heading west. Glass and other debris crunched beneath his hiking boots, the sound echoing off the faces of the darkened buildings that lined the boulevard. He heard the others pushing off in the opposite direction, headed for Sixth Avenue, while he advanced toward Seventh. He could see figures moving through the gloom, pushing shopping carts or wheelbarrows, hauling wagons, or carrying empty backpacks and duffel bags. Some even had fabric shopping bags from Whole Foods, hoping to fill them at the aid station.
As he drew nearer to the intersection, he saw several NYPD officers standing on the northern corner, regarding the approaching humanity that swelled up from downtown. The officers were clad in full riot gear, and many of them had Heckler & Koch personal defense weapons. He didn’t know if they were fully automatic—in the movies they were, but he had no clue about them in real life—but they had expanded magazines that held more than thirty rounds. A few of them also held mean-looking shotguns. Those guys were ready to shoot it out, and after what he had seen the morning before, he didn’t blame them.
Vincenzo thought about approaching them for more information, but their body language indicated they weren’t open to a casual chat. They kept their eyes on the people emerging from the buildings around them, weapons held low but at the ready. Vincenzo pressed on, crossing the intersection as more and more people began to fill it. He was amazed at the volume of people, and it seemed to increase with every step he took. He had to bob and weave around individuals to get across the street. Things weren’t much better on the sidewalk. More denizens of New York City were emerging from their abodes, clogging the sidewalks and street as they moved toward Seventh Avenue to cut north to Central Park. He felt like a lone salmon swimming upstream. It took twenty minutes to make it to the middle of the next block. By then, the street traffic had thinned a bit, and he was able to get to Broadway without further incident.
A ripple of gunshots sounded in the distance. Vincenzo had no idea where they had come from, but he hitched up his backpack and picked up his pace. The pressure of the Beretta in his waistband provided a small measure of comfort, but he knew if push came to shove, he’d have to move fast to pull it out of the holster. The Pax Wholesome Foods at the corner of West Fifty-Seventh and Broadway had already been thoroughly looted, but a steady stream of people moved in to pick through the destruction. Some of them—mostly men—regarded Vincenzo with dark eyes as he hurried past. He could feel the weight of their collective gaze. He knew they were interested in discovering what might lie inside his backpack.
A young boy stood on the opposite corner, crying for his mother. Two days ago, Vincenzo would have stopped and tried to help the kid. The big city was no place for a boy to wander around by himself. But Vincenzo just kept going, trying to reconcile the conflicting emotions he felt at turning his back on a four-year-old boy clearly in need of assistance. I have to get to my family. I have to get to my family. I have to get to my family.
The mantra was enough to give him the necessary strength to keep moving, to keep putting one foot in front of the other. The heavy gazes from the others in the area added enough charge to stop him from diverting course. He fairly plunged across Broadway, continuing his trek westward, trying to stay alert but at the same time avoiding any eye contact with anyone. He shot a few furtive glances over his shoulder as he headed to Eighth Avenue. No one was following him, but the crowd outside the ransacked store was growing. And then, a scuffle broke out as several men went at each other, drowning out the boy’s plaintive cries. One was a beefy Wall Street type swinging a two-thousand-dollar golf club like a knight in a swordfight. Vincenzo didn’t stick around to see how the guy fared.
Ahead, he could see the looming glass expanse of the Hearst Tower, a forty-six-story building crouched over a six-story stone base. The triangular frame had already lost a great deal of its luster, as several dozen windows had been broken. Smoke oozed from the upper floors. Apparently, Manhattan’s greenest office building had become one of its greatest polluters, thanks to a fire which had apparently broken out. He smelled ash and cooking meat, and he wondered if he might not have found a silver lining in the cloud of doom that had descended over the city: the chances of there being any new issues of Cosmopolitan hitting newsstands seemed very low.
More glass crunched under his boots, and he noticed that some of the shards were still quite large. He slowed down, checking his footing. The last thing he wanted was to slice his foot open on one of those gleaming daggers. There was blood splattered in places. Clearly, others hadn’t been as careful, and they had paid a price for it. A Mister Softee ice cream truck lay angled across the street. Ravaged by looters, the wreck reeked of spoiled milk and melted yogurt that had turned rancid in the heat. Some people were still peering inside the vehicle, despite the fact that whatever was left would likely only give them an award-winning case of botulism.
The Walgreens near the corner of West Fifty-Seventh and Ninth Avenue had been severely looted, but it still attracted a great deal of attention, despite the presence of a dozen NYPD officers at the corner. They watched as people swarmed through the store, some of them sitting astride motor scooters that apparently still operated. There was nothing left to protect—the store had been picked clean. Across the intersection, the Morning Star Restaurant had met a similar fate, as had the bodega next door. The people of Midtown West were like vultures picking away at the corpse of New York City, and the NYPD seemed either powerless or unwilling to do anything about it.
Vincenzo knew he had made the right decision. To remain in New York merely invited death.
It took almost 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 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 Fifty-Seventh, he had felt bottled up, restrained and vulnerable. In the more open areas that lined the westernmost side of Manhattan Island, he might be a bit safer. 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 so close to the Hudson River. Vincenzo lifted his khaki Polo cap and ran a hand over his short hair. His palm came back covered in sweat. He needed to halt his march for a few minutes to drink some water and apply sunscreen.
Hiding in the leeward shadow of a dead tractor-trailer, he started to reach for the Hydro Flask but checked himself. It was still cool to the touch, thanks to its substantial insulation. He had a long day ahead of him, and drinking the cold water now would mean less later. Instead, he reached into his knapsack and pulled out one of the plastic water bottles. Keeping alert, he unscrewed the cap and drained the water quickly, gulping as fast as he could. People moved past on the highway, heading in either direction, but they kept their distance. He rubbed sunscreen across his face, arms, and the back of his neck then took another moment to smear more on his ears and the bridge of his nose. He put the sunscreen back in the knapsack and considered the empty water 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 one 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 rear of the truck when movement to his right caught his eye. Vincenzo stepped back immediately, his hand going for the Beretta, as a tall white man stepped into his path. The guy wore faded jeans, a yellow T-shirt, expensive designer sunglasses, and surprisingly, a multi-colored Rasta cap that either restrained several decades of dreadlocks or held a small immigrant family. Vincenzo realized that he could be flanked by someone who had rolled under the truck trailer, so he ducked down and checked. No one was under there. He straightened as the man came around the trailer, a huge grin on his face.
A white Rastafarian, Vincenzo thought idly. Only in New York.
“Hey, there. How ’bout sharing some of that water?” the man said. “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.”
“Yeah, but you’re a bit closer.” Still smiling, the man lifted 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. He charged forward and rammed into the taller man, driving him into the ground. The Rastafarian tried to pull the Glock from his belt, but Vincenzo trapped his arm beneath one 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!” Vincenzo 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.
The Rasta writhed beneath him, blood pouring from his nose and lips. “Stop, man! Stop!” Vincenzo continued punching and swearing, as the Rasta’s head bounced up and down on his thick cap full of blond dreads. The man went slack, and his eyes rolled up in his head. Vincenzo punched him four more times then stopped, gasping and sweating. The Rastafarian wannabe gurgled a bit but didn’t move.
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 Vincenzo and taken everything he 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. He looked around, but no one was approaching, though some people had to have noticed the fight going down, even behind the hulk of the trailer. Vincenzo put the gun to the side then rolled the man over. He found another magazine with thirteen nine-millimeter rounds in the Rasta’s back pocket. He shoved it into his knapsack then picked up the Glock. No way in hell was he 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’d shot one before, so he knew it was a single-action with only a trigger safety. All he had to do was squeeze the trigger, and it would fire.
He rose on shaking legs as the would-be Rastafarian drew up into a fetal position. Vincenzo gave him a light kick, nothing major—he didn’t have the energy to wind one up, anyway.
The man grunted and brought his hands up to cover his face. His bent sunglasses fell off 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’s voice was as unsteady as his legs.
“Not going nowhere, man.”
Vincenzo kicked him again, 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 necessary. 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 the guy’s 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. Vincenzo had been in about three fights in his life, including the current one, so he hardly had a wealth of experience to draw upon. Things could have gone sideways very quickly, and it wasn’t as if he’d gotten out of it unscathed. His left hand hurt like hell, but he didn’t take the time to inspect it. He could still wiggle the fingers, so nothing was broken, but his hand would likely be one big bruise before he made it to the GWB.
He backed away from the Rastafarian, who remained on the ground, leaking blood and moaning. Vincenzo kept the Glock in his right hand, trying to look everywhere at once. As soon as he felt it was safe, he turned his back on the Rasta and started running 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. A few people regarded him with cautious eyes. Vincenzo didn’t make eye contact with anyone, just took an inventory of who was where. Anyone could be an enemy, from a street gang to a gaggle of housewives pushing baby strollers, and there was no shortage of either.
The Glock looked a bit old, but it was operational. The pistol used the same ammunition he carried for his Beretta, so at least he now had a backup piece. Glancing back, he saw three people making their way toward the Rastafarian, who was on his feet and leaning against the concrete Jersey barrier, a hand held to his face as he tried to staunch the flow of blood from his nose. The three newcomers wore the same kind of knit hat as the one who had accosted him. Vincenzo decided it was time to put some more distance between them, so he turned back around and set off.
And that about does it for now. The book goes on sale for real on October 30, but feel free to pre-order right here.