I was going to wait until my copyeditor had finished her work, but then I decided since my site is about sharing my journey I’d go ahead and publish additional chapters in their original state and then again afterwards. This way there will be something for comparisons sake. Anyway, enjoy. As always feel free to share any comments you may have. Now I’m going to get back to writing book two.
Harlan Grundy slams his front door shut, tosses a white plastic bag emblazoned with the words Shop ‘N Save on the floor. He pauses long enough to unlace his black Doc Martin boots. They’re not regulation, but he doesn’t care.
He’s worn them for as long as he can remember. When he bothers to remember. But remembering is a quality of creatures far less concerned with their immediate gratification than Harlan Grundy.
Besides, apart from a few high-ranking bureaucrats, who’d never be caught dead in a berg like Symes, who in their right mind would tell Harlan what he can or can’t do. The last guy that tried is still slurping his meals through a straw. He kicks the boots off, smirking at the thought.
The coldness of the floor stings his feet through the holes in his dingy socks. He growls a curse. He can have new socks at will, but it’s too much of a hassle. All that paperwork. No, it was simpler to requisition it from a citizen. The problem is few people in this dumbass town have feet as generous as his. He realizes he must do the paperwork soon, be done with it. But that is tomorrow’s problem.
A beefy hand slips into the bag, fishes around a second. Finding his prize, he pulls out the can of soup. He examines it for a moment with the delight of a jewel thief who has just snatched the crown jewels.
He doesn’t know who the sucker was out after curfew, but he doesn’t care. His sole concern is that he’s snagged a free meal. Not that he paid for his food, or even dealt with pitiful e-rations. In fact, his fridge was exploding with more food than the average citizen saw in a year. Tribute from the local black marketeers for looking the other way.
No, the dirty, dented can satisfies him for one reason; it had belonged to someone else, and now it was his.
It takes his pudgy fingers a few tries before he grips the metal ring on the lid and tosses it in the trash. The mass of dishes in the sink doesn’t concern him, he’ll make a citizen take care of those in the morning. He pulls a greasy spoon from the pile, examines it a moment. Then he shrugs, wipes the grime off it on his pants. With a grin, he shovels cold, heavy soup into his maw. He plops down in a weathered Barcalounger with a sigh of satisfaction.
Even after all this time, he still hears the specter of his father’s voice, cussing him out for sitting in HIS chair and braces himself for a blow that will no longer come. But that wasn’t anything unusual. Pa always cursed, called him stupid. And Ma. He’d looked to her for help when he was little. It never came. Mostly she turned her back, her expression saying, ‘better you than me, kid’.
He’d been disillusioned at first, but as time passed, he wore that expression too. Especially when Pa got home stinking of whiskey. That smell meant either he’d be spoiling for a fight or looking for a little something-something. If Ma were home, she’d have to bear the violence of either. If not, well after the first couple of times, he decided he preferred the beatings. But he doesn’t have to worry about any of that now.
He is the king of his world.
And Ma and Pa are gone.
He dismisses the unpleasant thoughts from his head and fixates on the T.V. instead. Manhunt is his favorite show. The pre-show not so much unless they showed a clip of one of his kills. He doesn’t have as many as he wants, nor as many as it takes to get assigned to one of the bigger Wards. But that’s what happens when you live in a small ass precinct like Symes.
Tonight, he lucks out. They’re showing clips from his favorite episode. It’s the one with the retired SEAL from Oroville, Washington. He kills five hunters and disables a few drones before he buys it scaling the northern wall. Watching it now, even knowing how it ends, Harlan feels the same exhilaration as the first time.
He finds himself bolt upright in the recliner, clutching the soup can until it threatens to flatten. He’s screaming, “faster, you dumb bastard, climb faster,” and the lights blink a few times. A distant dull whooshing rattles the windows. He jerks his head towards the lamp. It blinks one last time. Then P.R. Polly is telling him all is goodly.
He wonders for the millionth time how the T.V. stays on when there’s no power. Then his phone is buzzing. He lets the thought go. He stands as the muffled echoes of sirens reach his ears, a stray finger jabbing at the like button. Sighing, he goes to the door, laces up his boots. Time to go to work again.
Harlan knows he should arrive first. Even before the ambulances or fire trucks. He is Block Watch Commander after all and needs to set up the command post for the inevitable investigation. Besides, he’s sure Manhunt isn’t on. Instead, they’re showing some canned footage of the disaster. Sometimes he wonders if the Doe’s have done half the things the Realnews says. Not enough to investigate it or anything, though.
He prefers to be a little late, but he’s tired of the Precinct Commander nagging him about it. Late is a better entrance. Coming in, taking charge of the situation. He likes it best when it allows him to embarrass Kyle. Yes, it’s more fun to let the asshat think he’s in charge. To taste the commendation for service to The Corporation, and then to rip it from his greedy little hands. Just the thought of it makes Harlan chuckle. That’ll show the little wannabe who’s boss.
Kyle wasn’t there at the beginning. Back when people spat on Sons, and they had to meet in secret. Then it was exciting, like a giant middle finger to this entire dumbass town full of dumbass people who acted like they were so nice, so caring. He’d learned the truth. How that care extended only to certain people. People with the right clothes. People from the right families. They would never help a Grundy.
By time any of them extended a kind hand on that terrible night, he’d already decided to make them all pay. And the Sons gave him the means to make good on that threat. It just wasn’t as much fun anymore, not with all the rules that came with being in charge. Not with the pleas of the long dead gnawing at the dark edges of a conscience he didn’t know he possessed. And most especially not with people like Kyle, or the high school jocks trying to make this their home. Be the big shots again. He wouldn’t let that happen.
They’d had their time.
This was his.
Before his SUV rounds the bend, he sees the smoke, smells the acrid odor of burning plastic and rubber mingled with the tang of electricity. He doesn’t see any flashing lights, which means they’re first. Mikey did something right for a change.
“Christ, Harlan, that smells like week-old farts. Close the window,” Mikey says, who has always reminded Harlan of a baboon.
“Yeah, man,” chime in his two hyenas sitting in the back seat.
Harlan isn’t too fond of the smell either, but he’s less fond of Mikey and his crew.
“Shut up, you pussies,” he snaps. The vehicle falls silent.
As they turn the corner the power station comes into view. Harlan lets out a long low whistle. It’s never been much to look at. A bunch of metal transmission towers, wires, some transformers to step down the voltage, and a squat concrete slab of a building for the minimal crew that worked there. This pissant little berg of two thousand didn’t need much power. So, there weren’t ever more than five people working there if you included the Sons security detail. If you could call one poor bastard a security detail.
Harlan knew all about that. It was a crap, boring job. Just a step or two up from disposing of the disappeared. Everyone’s gotta start somewhere, though. And Harlan had worked his way up in less than a year. There were many bodies behind his meteoric rise, but that’s the way of things. Digging through his brain, he recalled the layout of the place, as if there was much to remember. It no longer resembled what it looked like when he’d worked here.
Now the transmission towers bend at odd angles, electrical wires pop and dance on the ground. Small fires burn in the surrounding terrain where the high voltage wires have touched them. A
As Harlan’s squad steps from the SUV A blackened shape staggers from the wreckage screaming for help. A sickening sweet smell almost causes him to hurl. Mikey laughs.
“That’s one crispy critter,” he says.
Harlan looks at Mikey for a second. Not too long ago he’d have found the comment Hi-larious, but not anymore. He covers the space between them in a few steps, punches Mikey square in the mouth. Not because he finds the comment offensive, but because he knows he should and can’t. Mickey wobbles for a second, then he sits down. Hard. Spits out some blood and a tooth or two.
“What the hell,” he shouts over the shrieking of the man.
Harlan stares at Mikey for a second, reaches inside his jacket and pulls out his desert eagle. Mikey’s eyes fly wide. Harlan’s lips twitch a little. He’s always liked the taste of fear, but Mikey’s is sweeter. He drinks it in for a moment before pivoting the weapon towards the screaming man and pulling the trigger. There is the sound of thunder, a satisfying squelch, and the screeching stops.
“Holy shit, did you see his head?” Mikey laughs.
Harlan sneers at him. For a hot second, he feels a compulsion to shoot the bastard. The shrill sound of sirens breaks the spell. Racing towards them is an ambulance, some fire trucks, and at the head a black SUV. It doesn’t have a logo on it, just a couple of small Corporation flags flapping in the breeze, so it’s not more Sons.
It stops a few feet in front of Harlan. A youngish, severe man steps out. He’s in a formal Sons outfit, standing there like he’s posing for a propaganda poster. Something about his posturing strikes Harlan as familiar. He hears Mikey curse; he and his hyenas are already standing at attention. That’s when Harlan realizes he’s looking at the Ward Commander.
“You there,” the Commander shouts at Harlan.
Harlan snaps to something resembling attention. As far as he’s concerned, it’s just another jerk who thinks he has the right to boss him around. He spits out a passably respectful sounding “Sir.”
“No, I don’t think so, not from the look of it. Five men are all the crew that’s usually here.”
“You mean thirty-five,” The Commander corrects him.
Harlan shoots him a quizzical look. The Commander sighs. “John and Jane Doe are mass murderers. Five is not a mass. Go round up thirty more victims, disappear them. Quietly.”
Mikey lets out a Rebel yell. Harlan smacks him. “Just get your ass in the car,” Harlan says. Harlan salutes the Commander, who absently returns it. Harlan clenches his jaw and walks toward his SUV. He has a long night ahead of him. He’s not looking forward to it. It’s not the skull cracking he minds. He’s just not sure half-starved citizens are the right skulls. And he can’t help wondering what the Ward Commander is doing here anyway instead of Precinct Commander Lappidew, or Barnabas Black.
Everyone knows Black is the local power Baron. Gas, electric, oil, crap, even sunlight. You name it, Barnabas has a stranglehold on it. No one tries to muscle in on his turf. Of course, it didn’t hurt that he was honorary Precinct co-commander as well. If someone tried to slice a piece off, they found themselves at a Sons debriefing pretty god dang quick.
Harlan gets in the passenger seat. Mikey and the others are silent, but Harlan can smell the excitement waft from them. It’s people like them that ruined the Sons. Made it harder for people like him to get ahead. Lapdogs that didn’t believe in anything but the violence, willing to do anything their masters asked of them. Harlan knew he wasn’t much better, but he had lines. At least, he thought he did. He’d not found one yet, but he was certain they were there. Weren’t they?