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Now available for pre-order from Amazon, Working Stiffs. Here’s a look…
Chapter Three: I Can Quit Anytime I Want.
Coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee. Where was the fucking coffee?
We had coffee yesterday, didn’t we? I rummaged through the last cabinet in the kitchen, the one where we kept the dishes, as if the packet of coffee might have snuck under a chipped plate or snuggled down in one of the three mismatched cups. All the other cabinet doors hung open, having been raided, pillaged, and left for dead.
No coffee in the plate cabinet, either.
It’s a law—federal, state, and natural—when in doubt of an object’s location, ask the woman. “Chelle!”
“Joe!” Her voice came through loud and clear from her permanent place of residence in the john. In a three-room government apartment with Xerox-copied walls, we did not need an intercom to communicate.
“Where’s the coffee?” While the question traveled across time and space, penetrated Chelle’s hard crust of annoyance and generated a response, I checked under the sink. Nothing except for a bottle of liquid soap (so old, it had cemented itself to the cabinet floor), some Drano, a can of unopened greenish powdery substance (for cleaning?), and an empty box of scrub pads.
Somebody should throw that out.
My guest post for A New Look on Books
Our heroes, stuck on a boat with a ten-ton nuclear…
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At a time when civil liberties have been eroded and unemployment has exceeded Great Depression levels, nano technology provides the ability to reanimate the recently dead. Far from zombies, but nothing like their former selves, “Revivants” are a ready source of cheap labor able to perform simple, routine tasks. Great news for some sectors, but for many, the economic and social impact is devastating.
Enter Joe Warren—an unemployed college dropout, who is self-absorbed and disinterested in the world’s problems. All Joe wants is a job, food on his table, and a cure for his girlfriend’s lingering illness. What Joe gets is a stint in jail with a bunch of self-proclaimed freedom fighters, and forced to become an informant by federal government agents.
Joe is forced to examine his me-first attitude, and in the process learns that some things just might be worth fighting—or dying—for.
Release Date: March 21st, 2017!
(Ask me how to get a free Advanced Review Copy in exchange for an Amazon review.)
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.
Download a free sample of my latest, April’s Fool, here. Now available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble.com, iBooks and other odd places in the interwebz.
Yeager’s Law is now reduced to $4.99 for the e-reader version. That’s a WHOLE DOLLAR less than before.
And Yeager’s Mission is locked and loaded.
If it weren’t for bad luck, esteemed Texas Ranger, Sam Cable, wouldn’t have any luck at all. Cable wakes up next to controversial US Senate candidate April Marie Fortney. She’s dead. Trouble rolls downhill from there. All eyes are focused on Cable, who finds himself smack dab in the middle of a fervid racial divide, […]
Release day price of $2.99 for your Kindle. Hit the link and buy, buy, buy!
No links to Amazon yet, but I wanted to announce the release date of April’s Fool, coming out October 31st.
When Sam Cable, Texas Ranger, is assigned to protect a volatile and controversial candidate for US Senate, April Marie Fortney, his life is turned into a daily dose of hell on toast.How could it get worse? He finds out when he wakes up next to her dead body. With no memory of how he got there.The spotlight focuses on Cable as he races against an impending indictment, highlighting him as the newest poster boy for an intense and divisive national debate on racial relations. Cable digs through a web of conflicting motives, politically-driven ambition, and the sordid past of the murdered woman, desperately seeking the truth before time runs out.His only ally? A feisty FBI Agent named Rita Goldman, whose sense of justice is as profound as her lack of field experience. Can a rookie FBI Agent help prove his innocence? Or will she be the one to bury him?
Here’s a sample of the first chapter…
“Trouble follows you, boy, the way a bad smell trails a fart.” – Capt. Les Marshall, Texas Rangers
The day started rough.
I woke up.
No shock there. I woke up in a bed most mornings.
But this bed felt…wrong. Really wrong.
I cracked one eye open. A dead woman stared back. Bulging eyes fixed on my nose at point-blank range. Her bloated tongue stuck out, like she was blowing a raspberry from beyond the grave. A white stocking was wrapped around her throat.
Strangled, my keen detective powers deduced, followed closely by, I was sleeping with a dead woman.
“Gah!” I rolled away, churning out of bed and hitting the floor in a full-body flop with a half twist.
Carpet. Tan. Tight weave, industrial-grade.
It smelled of hotel room.
April Fortney’s hotel room was my guess, since Fortney lay dead less than four feet away.
I was supposed to protect her, not let her get killed.
Man, I was in trouble.
I lay on the floor of the Hyatt, studying the tan weave, trying not to think of hotel carpet viruses crawling into indecent places. My stomach churned and I worked at keeping the puke inside, where it belonged. My knees hurt from whacking the floor.
How the hell did I get here? What happened last night? Nothing came back to the big screen when I racked up last night’s movie show. I didn’t remember visiting Mrs. Fortney. Or going to bed with Mrs. Fortney.
And as sure as God made galoshes, I didn’t remember killing Mrs. Fortney.
One thing at a time. Observe some clues, Ranger Cable. Make some deductions.
Clue one: I was naked. As born, butt in the air, not-a-stitch on, naked. Did I get that way on my own, or did I have help? Somehow, the thought of being undressed by a total stranger, without being conscious of it, or a willing partner in the act, freaked me out like nothing else so far.
I shivered, slick-coated in cold sweat.
Clue two: I was sick as a poisoned dog. Winos in gutters looked better than I felt…Hell, dead winos in gutters looked better than I felt. Gripping the carpet seemed the only good way to stay anchored and keep the room from spinning. Either this was the mother and father of all hangovers, or my system was working through a heavy-duty, Costco-sized dose of knock-out drops.
“Well,” I told the tan carpet, “it sucks to be me.”
I winced, remembering the dead woman on the bed. Sensitive. Real sensitive. April Fortney started the day murdered. It sucked much worse being her. So maybe it was time to quit feeling sorry for myself and figure out who killed her.
I executed a clumsy push up to my hands and knees, pausing in a four-point stance before gathering strength for a climb all the way to up. Using the bed for leverage, I took it slow and easy and grunted to a standing position. The room spun, but I held on, arms out for like a tightrope walker.
My clothes lay over the back of the easy chair, next to the bed. Some care had been taken to set everything out, as if arranged by a loony butler after staging the crime. (The butler did it!) Even my boxers were folded.
My boxers were folded?
“Well that tears it,” I muttered. “I sure didn’t undress myself. Who the hell . . . ?”
A man can’t think without his pants on. It’s a known fact. I reached for my under drawers, but the floor tilted and I flopped into the chair. The hammer of my gun prodded me in the butt cheek. I dug the weapon out of the cushions, still in its clamshell holster, and set it aside.
Getting dressed turned out to be a pretty big chore, what with the room sliding around. My hands shook so much I had to feel for the buttonholes with the patience of bum fishing for a nickel in a storm drain. My Dockers were wrinkled from yesterday’s wear, and my button-down shirt with the Texas Ranger badge looked like a victim of a hard night.
I stuffed my feet into my dress boots and tried standing again.
All my gear, including my pistol, went back on my belt where it belonged. I checked the chamber of my .45. Still one copper-jacketed slug in the pipe and seven of its buddies stacked in the magazine. Good thing I hadn’t gotten around to writing April Fortney’s name on the tips. Somebody might take that the wrong way.
I left my cream-colored Stetson on the dresser at the foot of the bed. My head didn’t want to support the weight. The only thing missing was my cell phone. A quick pocket check, followed by another slow trip to the floor to look under the bed and dig through the chair cushions confirmed my cell phone was AWOL.
Now for the hard stuff.
Mrs. Fortney, former judge and most recently candidate for the U.S. Senate, lay flat on her back. She was naked but for a garter belt with one white fishnet stocking still attached. The other stocking garroted her neck. The bright white lingerie contrasted with her Starbucks latte skin in a way that would have been sexy, if she wasn’t dead.
Her eyes bulged from a bloated face. I leaned over for a closer look and found petechiae—burst blood vessels typically caused by strangulation. Her distended tongue had a blue tinge. She’d been dead more than a few hours.
I was being set up. That much was clear. They—whoever they were—did a good job on me. Probably refugees from Syria and polar bears in Siberia knew how much Fortney and I hated each other.
Whoever strangled her had to be strong enough to hold her down and twist the stocking around her neck with sufficient force to choke her to death. It would take either a very powerful man or woman. Given my height and weight, a jury would take one look at me and say, yep, he’s a big’un. He must’ve done ‘er.
That left only opportunity. As her bodyguard on the campaign, I had 24-7 access to the candidate. By virtue of the job, I had to be close to her. Nobody would question my stopping by her room at any hour of the day or night. Hell, I even had a room key.
”Which wraps up the trifecta of criminal justice, folks,” I said aloud in the hushed room.
I know I didn’t kill her. Even with a blank spot in my memory, the idea of murdering a woman—up to and including someone as disagreeable as Fortney—made me sick to my stomach.
So what happened?
I anchored my feet next to the bed and captured a mental image of the entire scene before I moved anywhere.
Standard Hyatt suite. Mrs. Fortney’s room, 1412 from the number on the bedside phone. King-sized bed. Easy chair. Small dresser with white Stetson, two empty glasses sitting in wet rings. One with lipstick on the rim. Mirrored closet, partially open, women’s clothing hanging there. The candidate’s suitcase upright in the corner. A large open area near the window, with a table, sofa and chairs.
I couldn’t see in the bathroom from where I stood, so I watched where I put my feet and circled around the foot of the bed.
Nothing in the bathroom except a ton of cosmetics. Wadded towels piled in one corner. The inside of the tub was dry. At the vanity, I used the tip of my gun barrel to push the faucet lever up and drank directly from the spout, sucking down enough water to submerge a whale.
Caught a glance of my reflection and nearly shot myself, just to put me out of my misery. I looked bad. Patriotic eyes—red, white and blue—pasty skin and a red crease on my cheek from pressing into the pillow. Sweat-matted blond hair, trimmed short, but long enough to stick up on one side.
An actor in a bad zombie movie.
I shuffled back to the bed and did the thing I’d been avoiding up till now. I looked at the body.
April Maree Fortney, age 42. African-American female, fit, good skin. Except for the ligature around the neck, I could see no marks on the body. I wasn’t about to move her to do a more thorough inspection, as Crime Scene pricks get fussy about disturbing evidence. Ever since CSI came out, they all thought the investigators worked for them.
She lay flat on her back, hands by her sides, palms up. Head turned, brown eyes focused on the place where I recently laid. Lay. Lied.
She had a tiny, distinctive mole on the left side of her nose, high up. No mistaking who she was. I lifted an arm and it was pliable, but cold. Dead maybe six hours? The bedside clock read 8:22. The red LED was lit next to the AM mark. So call it between midnight and two o’clock in the morning.
The murder weapon—a white stocking—had bitten into her neck and remained pinched there, twisted into a granny knot at the side. The attacker had been strong enough that the hosiery had squeezed deeply into the flesh of neck. A small amount of bloating almost buried the white material in a ring of flesh.
Several strands of Mrs. Fortney’s hair were caught between the stocking and her neck, like the killer slid it over her head and twisted. Probably held her down with his body weight.
Or it was a really big, strong woman. Crime fighters must not be sexist pigs and assume all killers are ment.
I leaned close to inspect the stocking and noted a trace of dark red, almost brown, on one of the loose ends. Blood? That would be a good guess. The itching on my pinkie finger finally registered and I held up my right hand.
As if splashed with ice water, my face went numb. On the inside of the joint, right little finger. A small cut.
“How much you want to bet that’s my blood on the stocking,” I whispered, awed by the depth, breadth and width of the pit of shit I was in. “These people don’t miss a trick.”
My heart thumped in my chest, hard, and new sweat prickled my skin. Swallowing with a dry throat, I checked over the rest of the body, just to be thorough.
Gravity had flattened her breasts, but not as much as I expected.
Nothing unusual on the ribcage, the stomach . . .
“Huh,” I grunted.
Judge Fortney had trimmed her pubic hair into a tiny V-shape, clippered close. Who would have guessed? Then again, who would have guessed she owned a pair of fishnet stockings and a garter? I would expect leather, and a whip, not something soft and feminine. And where was the matching bra? There didn’t have to be one, but its absence seemed strange.
Legs, feet, everything else looked as normal as a dead woman’s body could look.
She’d urinated when she died.
That did it for the examination of the victim. And the person who discovered the body?
Last thing I remembered was having dinner in the hotel bar with some of the campaign staff around eleven o’clock. After that . . . blank. At six-four and two hundred and ten pounds it’s not like any little old ladies carried me in here. Even one guy would have struggled, considering he’d have to knock me out and drag me through a hotel full of surveillance cameras.
There should be CCTV coverage of every hallway. Whoever entered this room would have to have passed at least one camera. As the Judge’s security detail, I had visited the control room and seen the set up. All digital recording, high resolution video, with over thirty cameras. Something had to have shown up on one of them.
“Be a good place to start,” I said.
I had already taken too much time piddling around the crime scene. Calling the local law enforcement types, with me standing there, a finger firmly implanted in my butt, didn’t seem the best choice, even though it was the only choice I had available. I wanted at least some clue as to how I got here, but it looked like that wasn’t going to happen.
A loud pounding at the door made me jump. A powerful, no bullshit voice followed. “San Antonio Police. Open up.”
Icy spiders crawled over my skin. The killer was being very thorough, getting the cops involved before I could sneak out.
“Just a sec,” I hollered. I frowned at the late April Fortney. Things looked bad for me, but still worse for her. Somebody framed me for her murder, but they killed her. A woman I was sworn to protect.
“This ain’t right,” I told her. “You may be past caring now, but I’m not gonna stop until I take this bastard down.”
I left her and reached for the door.
One of the best things to happen in my writing career was meeting Scott Bell over five years ago. He’s taught me a lot, and I will be forever grateful. Witty, charming, hilarious, and not bad…
Source: Author Interview – Scott Bell
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