CHARGES: Vincenzo Hits The Road
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.