Y’all ready for this? Here’s a sneak peek at Working Stiffs, coming sometime in March. Unless stuff happens and then, you know, whatever…
Chapter 1: First Class Felony
The three dead guys on the freight elevator had a personal odor reminiscent of vomit with an undertone of road kill.
“You freaks need to stand in the rain, you know that? Take a shower.”
My formerly-living companions swayed with the motion of the elevator, but kept their thoughts on hygiene to themselves. One of three, his name tag read “Larry,” belched—an editorial comment or random gas bubble? Hard to say.
Sixty-seven more floors of asphyxiation. Why their owner didn’t wash down his
Revivants was a mystery. They didn’t decay like regular dead people; it they did, body parts would be strewn around the city like the remnants of a jihadi bomb factory.
Take shallow breaths.
I adjusted my stolen waiter’s jacket to hide Grandpa’s old, bullet-firing pistol. The weapon made my pants sag. Since I quit eating anything more solid than tomato soup prepared from ketchup packets, everything—including a sudden change in barometric pressure—made my pants slide down.
Dampness blotched the jacket’s red sleeve from the cold sweat off my forehead. C’mon, Joe, pull it together.
Two of the Revvies rode in silence. Larry, the talker, vaguely resembled a classic comedian from the early 2000’s. The hell was his name? A funny guy, I’d caught some of his stuff in all the old bootleg videos Grandpa made me watch.
Unlike Jay, Larry knew only one joke.
The dead comedian leered over my shoulder and, in a zombie voice, moaned, “B-b-bbrainssss!”
“That wasn’t funny the last six times you said it. You’re not a zombie.”
Larry laughed, a sound like an old gas-powered car trying to start on a cold day, “Hhnhhhnh-hhnh.” He wore a unisex coverall, once brilliant red, now faded to Pepto Bismol pink.
The nametag curled, unstuck at one corner.
“Keep your day job,” I grumbled.
The elevator shuddered and clanked to a stop—the damn thing was older than Grandpa Warren’s firearm—and the doors ground open. Larry, hit of the graveyard comedy tour, stayed aboard and bared his gummy teeth in a grin. Since Revvies didn’t eat, I refused to speculate on what might be stuck in his incisors.
The two silent dead guys scuffed away in their worn shoes, heads canted to one side in that odd zombie-walk favored by the revived. Larry stayed with me on the empty elevator.
Me and the Walking Dud.
“Whoever programmed your nanos for comedy needs to be punched in the throat.” I hit the up button and focused on the groaning doors.
The gun poked my testicles. Grimacing, I resettled it, finger most definitely off the trigger. The gun hadn’t been fired since the second Ms. Clinton administration, but now was not the time to test it. Wish I’d thought of that before I left Ding’s apartment.
Thirty more floors.
I tugged at the damp collar of my white dress shirt with its built-in bow tie.
“Shut up.” I stalked over and stabbed a finger in Larry’s chest. “Just shut up, okay? Every time I look at one of you, you know what I see? I see failure, asshole.” I poked the gaping Revivant again. “I never would have been put in this spot if it wasn’t for you!” I shoved
Larry and he swayed in place but didn’t fall. “Fuck it. Why am I even talkin’ to you?”
Larry grinned, his keyboard teeth spackled with mortar. “Hhnh-hhnh-hhnh.”
“Yeah, very funny. You don’t have to eat, don’t have to sleep… just work all day long without even a piss-break. You make people sick with your germs; give them fucking brain tumors…Steal their lives.” My mouth snapped shut.
And how stupid am I, lecturing a corpse.
The elevator shuddered to a stop, the P button flickering on the panel. The penthouse.
I adjusted the pistol and waited for the doors to part. They chunked open, showing a dingy white service corridor. Another pink-suited Rev waited by the doors, placid as a cow, carrying a black plastic trash bag in one immobile hand.
“Tah-rash,” it said.
The newcomer handed Larry the bag as I stepped around them.
“T-rash,” Larry repeated. He leered at me, churned out another creepy laugh. The doors closed on his grinning pumpkin face, shutting Larry away. Gears clanked, a spark flared, machinery whirred and the elevator started down.
The remaining undead janitor wasn’t as chatty as Larry. He rotated in an old man shuffle and tottered toward the door at the far end of the service corridor, his coverall yellowing under third-rate LEDs lighting the corridor. Who used LEDs anymore? Spared every expense, these guys.
Which is a good thing.
The financial straits of modern America in the year 2051 should work in my favor. For once.
Two doors flanked the service corridor on either side. One bore the label Mantenimiento.
The other read: Seguridad. Security. Spanish language labels in Chinese-owned buildings. ¡Bienvenidas a los Estados Unidos! Foreign spices seasoned the melting pot, sometimes creating a tasty stew, sometimes a belly ache.
“Well, let’s find out if this works.”
I fished the preprinted finger cot—it resembled a short condom—from my waistcoat pocket and slipped it over my thumb. Gingerly. Tearing it now would be bad. I had lifted the molded fingerprint from a Revivant in Moline, the former security chief of the Huateng Tower. Programmed to pick tomatoes, he kept trying to get back to the field, becoming more anxious the longer I held him down in the back of my van.
Which sounded pretty freaking sick, right?
When I let him go, he hustled off in jerky little steps, head cocked to the side, like the actor in the latest V-Real remake of Rain Man III.
“Thanks, Chief. I hope you’re enjoying the afterlife.” I placed my covered thumb against the biometric and held my breath. “All right, guys. Did you reprogram the locks, or were you having a sloppy day?” Buzzz-click. “Yes, baby! Score one for cheap and lazy.”
I palmed the door to the security room, one hand on the pistol in my waistband. If they left a human guard to watch the cameras . . .“Nope. Too cheap for that. Heh-heh.”
Monitors glowed. Light flickered. Computers hummed. Air circulated.
The main display fluttered to life when I pressed my fake thumb against the reader on the desk. Locking down the passenger elevators sucked up thirty seconds. Deactivating and memory-wiping the surveillance nodes took only a few minutes. The remaining building security devices went down one-by-one. Activating the signal-damping field required a little more time, but everything seemed simple enough. Tap-tap. Done.
Easy as pie. My Comp Sci minor, aborted upon my departure from college, would serve some use. At least I could find my way around a server.
“Time to get a little payback,” I murmured, dragging the antique pistol from my
waistband. Joe Warren, gunslinger.
The damn thing was heavy. Steel and lead and grim death, all in a hand-sized package. Bright nickel finish, wood handle adorned by a stylized S&W medallion. A revolver, grandpa said when he showed me how it worked.
I settled the revolver in my waistband and buttoned my jacket over it.