Who likes sharing the road with idiots? I know I don’t, though I’ve found yelling at the windshield until bits of my lungs are expectorated on the glass seems to have no effect. It’s obvious the police are stretched to the max with real crime and don’t have time to correct minor infractions of traffic etiquette.

I have a solution. Let’s create a squadron of NFL referees in zebra-striped cars to patrol our streets and issue penalties for egregious violations of road courtesy. These infractions would not be paid for in monetary fines, but rather in the one currency people seem to value most: time.

Here is my list of violations and suggested punishments. Feel free to add your own.

Pass interference – An infraction occurs when a driver fails to get their lazy, stupid ass out of the passing lane when faster traffic approaches from the rear. Violators will be flagged and forced to return to their starting point to resume their journey.

Holding – Maintaining a speed BELOW the posted limit even though unimpeded by traffic. Violators of holding penalties will be forced to drive in circles in a Costco parking lot for twenty minutes on a Saturday afternoon.

Illegal use of hands, hands to the face – Any use of an electronic device, such as a cell phone, GPS, radio, or vibrator, while driving. Violations will result in a penalty of one-point-five miles, or half the distance from home, whichever is greater.

Clipping – A clipping penalty is incurred when the driver wanders the hell over into a lane other than the one they are using. Their car is placed at the spot of the foul and they will be ridiculed in public before being allowed to proceed.

Delay of game – Failure to execute an expeditious transit of an intersection for any reason. Violators will be left on the side of the road with two flat tires and no jack.

False start – If, while stationary at stop light, a driver jerks forward because the light next to them changed from red to green, thereby causing others to jump forward, they are guilty of a false start. Punishment will include loss of start when their light changes.

Personal foul, unsportsmanlike conduct – A driver commits a personal foul if they buy a bigass vehicle they can’t properly operate because a.) they are a small woman and operating a big vehicle gives them a false sense of power, or b.) they are a male and have a small penis. Evidence of this personal foul will be a.) any failure to adequately and correctly park said monstrous vehicle in a timely and forthright manner between the lines painted on the parking lot, b.) tires big enough to house a family of four, or c.) inability to see over the steering wheel.

Feel free to add your own penalties. We’ll be back, right after this commercial break…

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And we’re willing to pay for them. Kind of.

Click this–>link<–and follow one or all of eight different independent authors (me first) and you’ll be entered into a drawing to win a $100.00 Amazon gift card. The more you follow, the more chances you will have to win.

No spammy email from us either.

Simple, right?

 

My Vocation Summary

Posted: January 1, 2019 in The Write Stuff
Tags: , ,

…Or what I did in between bouts of adulting during 2018.

In the arcanum of Amazon lore, mythology states the greater the number of titles an author publishes, the greater their odds of being served up by the Amazon Wizard of Logarithm during browsing sessions by potential readers. More titles, more views. More views, more clicks. So in 2018, I tried my hand at self-publishing, converting a number of previously-published short stories to singles on Kindle Direct Publishing. The rights on these stories had long expired in the venues where they were previously published, so I snapped on some free covers and posted them to Amazon at 99-cents each, not that I expected them to sell as much as I wanted the boost in title count.

Mr. Scamper’s War, Dave’s Aliens, Government Waste, and Mitchellsville are all now available from my Amazon page. I can’t say whether or not the additional titles have helped, but I like to think they haven’t hurt.

2018 also saw the publication of Earning It, a short story in the anthology To Be Men, published by Superversive Press. I enjoyed the hell out of writing this one; the story flew out from my fingertips as fast as I could type.

Another short story I loved writing was picked up by Dark City Mystery Magazine. White Powder Cowboys tells the story of two cops on deep night duty who pull over more trouble than they bargained for. I had a blast writing this one, my only internal conflict being whether or not to leave the ending ambiguous or clear everything up.

The publisher of April’s Fool and I came to an amicable divorce related to current and future titles. I removed April’s Fool from publication and signed a three-book contract with Red Adept to re-release April’s Fool and to publish May Day and June Bug. I’m really excited about this as I was able to rewrite a chunk of gawky prose in Fool that had bothered me from day one, fixing some obvious new-writer weirdness. The new release is in the hands of the editors and I hope to see the cover and publication dates soon.

2018 saw the publication of Yeager’s Getaway, and I admit I struggled a bit to get this one out the door. The story required a lot of research–everything from the top speed of a Cobalt A40 yacht to the distance a North Korean-made surface-to-air man-portable heat seeking missile could track and kill a jet aircraft. (Yes, I’m paranoid that my browser history will one day land me in a black-site prison somewhere in an unnamed country.) I also wanted to pay homage to the US Marine Corps and their sacrifices in Vietnam. I believe every hindsight historian of note, from Ken Burns to Mark Bowden, has done a disservice to the Vietnam veteran, painting them as pawns at best, fools at worst.  In Yeager’s Getaway, I tried to give the USMC vets a stage of their own, so they could have a voice, rather than one built from anti-war politics by armchair historians.

If the early reviews are any guide, the work was worth the effort.

And late in 2018, I wrote “The End” on a novel I’m calling Judge Shivers, which is a fun little tale about a modern-day wizard transported back to the American West of 1887. Calico John Shivers is a quarter-Irish, quarter-Chinese, quarter-Cherokee, a quarter-black and 100% a bad ass. Facing a lack of magic, bigotry, and a slew of enemies, Shivers is in trouble up to his neck and will have to overcome six-guns and long odds to get back home. I hope to see this novel picked up in 2019.

Beyond that, I’m looking forward to seeing what stories I can share in 2019!

Happy reading,

Scott Bell

January 1st, 2019

 

 

The Joy of Living with a SPW*
(*Self-Proclaimed Wit – aka The Wife’s Burden)

Living with a Self-Proclaimed Wit is like owning a dog that chews your favorite shoes to ribbons every third Tuesday, or with a cat that shreds your curtains. It’s a constant struggle between affection and reaching for a blunt object. Example:

Spouse says: I’m running to the store.

SPW: Okay, but wouldn’t it be faster to take the car?

*cue moderately exasperated sigh*

The SPW has no control over the impulse toward wittery. Or is that wittibility? Ensconced upon the throne of smirkiness, the SPW’s reflex action is to pun, and pun hard, much like a boxer counter-jabs. Example:

Spouse: I’m going to hop in the shower.

SPW: Much better to stand still; hopping in the shower is dangerous.

See? It’s like breathing. Normal input is received, smart-assery is expelled. Many people believe this a character flaw, or a defense mechanism, to which the SPW responds, “You mean like a gate latch?” (De-fence mechanism…Get it? A mechanism for a fence? *cue heavy sigh*)

Sometimes, on rare occasions, like three times a day, the SPW’s reflex action gets him into trouble. Example:

Spouse: I’m going to go pick up my mother.

SPW: Remember to lift with your legs.

Stay tuned for the next post, titled The Joy of Living Alone.

 

Here’s some news.

Available now, White Powder Cowboys, a short story published in Dark City Mystery Magazine.

Pre-Order for immediate delivery to your Kindle on November 6th: Yeager’s Getaway. Send me an email at snapshooter4hire@gmail.com if you want to get an advanced e-book in exchange for writing an Amazon review.

Yeagers-Getaway-500x800-Cover-Reveal-And-PromotionalAbel Yeager has settled into a life of domestic bliss with his lovely wife, Charlotte. He’s left the violence and bloodshed behind to concentrate on being a good father and husband. For their long-delayed honeymoon, Abel and Charlie take a Hawaiian cruise. They’re looking forward to hiking volcanoes and sightseeing, once they meet up with Victor “Por Que” Ruiz and his new love, Dr. Alexandra Lopez.

Their idyllic vacation explodes in violence when a group of Hawaiian separatists, incited by a foreign power, rip through the islands, leaving blood and destruction in their wake. When Charlie is caught up with a group of hostages held by the terrorists as human shields, Abel is forced back into warrior mode.

The Hawaiians are supported by a few dozen foreign special forces soldiers, modern gear, and plenty of munitions. Abel has the help of three septuagenarian Vietnam veteran Marines and his pal Victor. Outnumbered and outgunned, Abel will stop at nothing to rescue his wife.

Releasing November 6th, 2018, Yeager’s Getaway.

A Honeymoon… Abel Yeager Style

Abel Yeager has settled into a life of domestic bliss with his lovely wife, Charlotte. He’s left the violence and bloodshed behind to concentrate on being a good father and husband. For their long-delayed honeymoon, Abel and Charlie take a Hawaiian cruise. They’re looking forward to hiking volcanoes and sightseeing, once they meet up with Victor “Por Que” Ruiz and his new love, Dr. Alexandra Lopez.

Their idyllic vacation explodes in violence when a group of Hawaiian separatists, incited by a foreign power, rip through the islands, leaving blood and destruction in their wake. When Charlie is caught up with a group of hostages held by the terrorists as human shields, Abel is forced back into warrior mode.

The Hawaiians are supported by a few dozen foreign special forces soldiers, modern gear, and plenty of munitions. Abel has the help of three septuagenarian Vietnam veteran Marines and his pal Victor. Outnumbered and outgunned, Abel will stop at nothing to rescue his wife.

Here’s a bit to get you started…

 

 

Diamond Head, Oahu, Hawaii

Saturday, 8 May

1340 Local Time

 

Kanoa Ino had chosen the meeting place to serve a purpose. Diamond Head Lookout presented a panoramic vista of Honolulu and Waikiki Beach and, by extension, modern Hawaii. Used in countless scene-setting shots for televisions and movies, the view represented an iconic image, instantly recognizable. High-rise condos, hotels, and offices. Smog and exhaust fumes. Blue ocean to the left. Rolling surf.

He could picture the scene in those distant resort hotels lining the beach: groups of island women in fake grass shorts swishing their asses to the sound of a tinny ukulele, mocking the spiritual hula kahiko dance, while fat, lobster-broiled mainlanders gawped at them… and men in anklets of grass, whirling lit torches, as if the Samoan fire dance was of Hawaiian origin instead of imported shtick canned and repurposed for the titillation of tourists.

Bobby Palakiko leaned his crossed arms on the rail next to him. “Aloha, Kanoa. You are looking massive as always.”

“Aloha.”

A stiff breeze off the ocean fluttered Palakiko’s Born Hawaiian T-shirt and flattened his cargo shorts against his spindly legs. Salty black hair whipped away from his comb-over. Next to Kanoa’s towering height and powerful physique, the diminutive old man seemed to be a different species. Tourists milled around the two of them like a constant flow of brightly colored beetles, oohing and aahing at the view or screeching at their hyperactive children. Adult haoles and their offspring bumped into Kanoa, heedless and unapologetic as they huffed along the concrete path.

An Asian tourist in a white, short-sleeved shirt stood slightly apart from the crowd. A pair of binoculars dangled from his neck. Kanoa kept his gaze away from the prim little Asian so as not to draw attention to him.

Sunlight glinted off Palakiko’s Ray-Bans. “A beautiful day.”

Kanoa shaded his watch with a palm, checking the time. He let the silence linger. The old man waited. A faint permanent-press smile creased his lips, as if everything in this world—including Kanoa—amused him.

He won’t smile for long.

“Did you hear about the Akaka bill?” Bobby offered at last. “It has a chance this time, I think.”

“It will fail. Again.”

“We will achieve the same status as Native Americans. You’ll see.”

“And earn the right to live on a reservation? Maybe sell beads to the haole?”

“Always such a downer, Kanoa. You should learn to relax. Aloha, brah.”

“This”—Kanoa spread a broad palm to include the world around them—“is what one hundred twenty-three years of aloha have wrought—a world full of haole, white Americans, yellow Japanese, black Africans, and sheet-wearing Muslims—massed on the beaches, bobbing in the waves, oiling themselves with suntan lotion. Snapping selfies, eating, drinking, puking, and pissing. Taking everything of value. Leaving nothing but trash… trash and money. Always money. And we’re complicit in own degradation, prostituting ourselves for the price of a color TV and a case of Miller Lite—Hawaiian culture whored out three times daily with a matinee on Sunday. No, brah…” He sneered the word. “The time for aloha has long passed. It is time for Kūkaʻilimoku.”

Kanoa tracked the old man’s expression with his peripheral vision.

Palakiko sighed. “We are a people of peace—”

“And peace has killed us, old man!” A gaggle of Japanese ceased their chattering and gave Kanoa sideways looks at they edged past. Kanoa glared, and they hurried on. Time to show some fire. “Our language, dead. Our people, slaves. Our culture, gone. The imperialist conquest is complete, and all your hand-wringing does is salt the wound with a little more white-man guilt, which they will appease by offering us platitudes and half-measures, as always.”

“Why again with this argument, my bruddah?”

“We are tired of waiting.” Kanoa glanced at his watch. “My men are ready to do battle. Hawaii for Hawaiians, now and forever.”

“Your men?” Palakiko smirked. “What is the name these days? The Niho Niuhi—Teeth of the Tiger Shark? Whatever. Listen, my giant friend. The movement won’t allow you to tear us apart with violence.”

“I don’t need your blessing, Bobby. My men are ready, and Ku will bless our struggle with victory.”

The old man tilted his head back to match Kanoa’s stare. The crow’s feet radiating out from around his sunglasses deepened. “What do you mean?”

“The Anglos have not listened to us. They annexed the islands illegally, by force, for the benefit of the sugar barons. They have ignored us ever since. Raped our land. Destroyed our people. Beguiled us with bullshit promises. For too long, we have waged peace and begged for scraps. No more. Kūkaʻilimoku demands blood. The Niho Niuhi will honor him with it.”

“An ancient Tiki god demands blood? Did he send a text or what? You been smoking some primo weed, brah.”

“We are tired of waiting. Bumpy promised us things would change, yet even he sits and talks instead of doing things. Nothing changes through peace. Nothing. Aloha!” Kanoa spat over the railing. He checked his watch again.

As if to punctuate his expectoration, a fiery flash blew out from the side of a beachside skyscraper, followed by a dirty-white billow of smoke. Seconds later, a flat crack traveled up the coast. A rumble followed, vibrating the air. On the heels of the first explosion, a sequence of four more blasts shook the distant skyline.

“The targets just hit,” Kanoa stated, “were the Marriott Resort, the Hilton Hawaiian Village, the Ala Moana Mall, the Outrigger Reef Resort, and the Hyatt Regency Waikiki.”

Tourists crammed the guardrails of the overlook. They shouted and pointed. Many held up cell phones to record the wounded buildings as they were wreathed in brown fog. It was too far away to hear the screams of the injured, although the wail of alarms drifted to Kanoa’s ears, thin and remote. Bobby Palakiko gripped the rail, more to keep himself upright than anything else, Kanoa suspected. The old man seemed frail enough to blow away on the wind.

“Those were the first shots fired,” Kanoa continued. “The Niho Niuhi will rain blood throughout these islands, and we will keep bringing the pain until all the haoles have gone. Hawai’i will again be ours.”

Palakiko’s head cranked around as if on rusty bearings. Gape mouthed and pale, the old man regarded Kanoa and, without a word, collapsed in a dead faint.

Kanoa spared a quick glance at the Asian tourist dressed in white. They exchanged minuscule nods. Phase One, complete.

via Working Stiffs by Scott Bell

Quote  —  Posted: July 18, 2018 in General Topics of Interest

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America, When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

Why is it?

Posted: June 7, 2018 in General Topics of Interest

Why is it when the sign says “2 Left Lanes Closed Ahead” it always comes as a surprise to some people when they reach the barricades?

Why is it called social media when many of the people you meet there are not social?

Why is it people use jogging strollers? I see those people running around and I think, “That kid’s not getting any exercise at all.”

Why is it women use so much toilet paper?

Why is it the last little bit of soap lasts longer than the three-quarters of the bar that came before it?

Why is it “10 items or less” is so confusing?

Why is it people who are not reading always want to talk to the person who is reading?

Why is it some people continue their cell phone conversation while using the restroom? (Do they think the person on the other end of the line can’t hear their farts?)

Why is it people know more about Kim Kardashian than the Constitution?

Why is it twenty-five cents is a quarter, but ten cents is not a tenth?

Why is it people who build homes on the sides of volcanoes seem so shocked when lava wipes them out?

Why is it people complain about politicians but keep voting for the same ones?

Why is it people who scream the loudest about their open-mindedness have the least tolerance for divergent opinions?

Why is the US government spends $42-billion on foreign aid, yet can’t get you a passport in under four to six weeks?

Why is people have so many questions, but so few answers?

What’s under a buck? Deer balls. Oh, and Working Stiffs.

51nd3C30GeL__SS140_SH35_

Excerpt:

The line at the clinic stretched along the sidewalk for half a block. Located on Wentworth, on the opposite side of the street from Chang’s store, the clinic occupied a building that retained traces of the original Chinatown architecture. Faded, ratty signs written with complex Chinese characters decorated nearly every storefront. We joined the line in front of what was once a US Post Office, closed like the rest of them. Somebody had spray painted the words, Sorry, the rent check was in the mail. Under that, another tagger added, All postal employee termination notices sent by email. Thank you, USPS.

A faded-out For Lease sign hung in the window, taped inside the glass. It had been there for all six years I’d lived in the neighborhood.

“What time did you say your appointment was?” I asked Chelle.

“Ten.”

I reflexively glanced at my wrist before I remembered my IT service had disavowed all knowledge of me after the sixth disconnect notice. I asked a chubby guy ahead of me for the time.

“Nine forty,” he said from behind his surgical mask. I nodded my thanks.

“Damn, Chelle, we’ll never make it on time.”

“I told you to hurry up and get ready.”

My part of getting ready had taken all of ten minutes, thus screwing up the atomic clock by which Chelle ran her life.

At least we had nice weather for standing in line. Late April in Chicago was hard to beat, mid-sixties, blue sky, a few fluffy clouds . . . What more could you ask for? In February we’d be standing out here turning to popsicles. The homeless and unemployed were out in force, droves of them meandering, begging, pilfering and picking through the trash lining the gutters. In other words, doing whatever it took to get through another great day in the Windy City.

Speaking of popsicles . . . My stomach grumbled, reminding me two pickles for breakfast was a rotten trick to play on it. I eyed Chang’s front door and considered creative credit terms: zero down payment, two pocket spending limit, and a forever repayment term. Penalties may apply.

I didn’t see the dead woman until she was almost on us. A Revivant, shuffling along the line of patients, handing out paper flyers. Female, about twenty or so when she died, dark-skinned and slender. Pretty once, I supposed, with a good figure, full lips, and dark, almond-shaped eyes. The owners had dressed her in a sexy maid’s outfit with high heels and a higher skirt; the light breeze brushed it above her panty line every few minutes. The nanos running through her were having a hard time managing the heels, and she scuffed forward in wobble-steps in a parody of a sexy sway.

My empty stomach bubbled with acid.

“I hate those things,” the guy with the mask mumbled.

“Yeah, me too.” I accepted the flyer the Revvie handed me without looking at her. “They creep me out.”

The man’s mask crinkled when he grimaced. “What I want to know, how do they make them look so alive?”

The line had grown behind us. A couple of dropouts from the School of Morons had joined the tail a few minutes ago and entertained everyone with a steady stream of obscenities laced with curse words. Hey, I’m no saint when it comes to foul language, but still, there are limits, right? The taller of the two mental giants shouted out, “Woo-hoo, lookit dis fine bitch!”

“I hear dead pussy’s mighty cold,” his running buddy claimed.

Both of them were racially ambiguous teens (their parental gametocytes swam in a diversity stream) decked out in trendy grunge clothes and wearing the flat-brim, Amish-style hats favored by the discerning hoodlum. Without squinting, I could count another score of hoodlums exactly like them within a two-block radius, poised like IEDs, waiting for the unwary so they could explode with uncontained violence.

The taller one, in a Bear’s T-shirt, cupped the crotch of his basketball shorts and shook it. “Hey, Dead Mamma, izzat true? Lemme see how cold yo pussy is.”

His buddy, in a green T-shirt and plaid boxers, reached out and clamped a hand on the dead woman’s breast. “Oooh, Sanjay, you should be fillin’ dis. It fills goooood,” he crooned.

The Revivant woman stumbled and would have fallen hadn’t the one called Sanjay grabbed her around the waist. Her dull expression never changed. She wobbled in place the way a drunk might, if you squinched your eyes and pretended she wasn’t dead and reanimated with a gazillion tiny machines running along her arteries.

“Fly-er, sir?” she dead-panned.

The morons laughed and pawed at the woman’s chest, clawing at her top.

I ground my teeth and looked away. Don’t get involved in fights you can’t win. That was my creed, and I planned to stick to it. My new friend with the mask caught my eye and grimaced. His expression said: Look at what the world’s coming to when dead people can’t even walk the streets. Tragic.

The line crept forward a few feet, and I tugged at Chelle’s hand. She didn’t budge.

“Look at those two,” she hissed. Staring at the twins from Stupidville, her jaw set in a hard line, Chelle sounded mad enough to chew nails and shit steel wire.

“Yeah, I see ’em. Let’s go.” I tugged her hand again, but she refused to budge.

“That’s disgusting!”

The twins had the Revivant woman’s outfit yanked down to her waist and were commenting—loudly—on the size, quality, and firmness of her breasts.

“C’mon, Chelle. It’s none of our business.” I pulled a little harder. It was like trying to move a fencepost. “Chelle . . .” I used my stern voice. “Don’t start—”

“Hey, fucktards!” Chelle barked. “Leave that woman alone!”

“—any trouble.”

The fucktards in question snapped to attention and pinned Chelle with twin feral stares. Werewolves, scenting new prey.

Sanjay shoved the Revivant. She fell in the street, landing awkwardly on her butt, hard enough to make me wince even though I knew she felt no pain. Her breasts bounced, and the flyers she carried scattered across the pavement.

“Who you callin’ a fucktard?” Sanjay demanded. “You wan’ me come up dere and split you open?”

Chelle glared at me with an Are you just gonna stand there? challenge. Her eyes narrowed when I failed to immediately leap into my Superman unitard and smack some ganstah ass. She snarled at Sanjay instead and pointed at his crotch. “You’d have to get it up first.”

That did it.

Sanjay and his buddy stalked forward past a line of suddenly disinterested, blind, deaf, and mute people. I was not ordinarily a violent person. The reason I avoid fights: I learned at an early age everyone in an eighteen-square-mile radius—including grandmas and small children—could beat the dog snot out of me without breaking a sweat.

I gave Chelle a nice knowing you smile and prepared to die.

“Hey, Sanjay, look . . .” I started forward, hands spread in supplication. “You know they can’t treat it here, right? This clinic doesn’t do that kind of medicine.”

“Da hell?” Sanjay’s eyebrows twisted together in a knot. He and his pal were close enough, I could smell the stupid rolling off them in waves, like the smell of unwiped ass.

“They can’t fix burst testicles,” I said and kicked him with maximum applied force in the nutsack. When you don’t fight well, you learn to fight dirty.

Sanjay folded like a cheap lawn chair. Which left Fucktard #2 to take the lead in beating the shit out of Mean Joe Warren. Within half a second, I ate three punches in a row, all of them hard enough to rattle my brain and loosen a few teeth. The world spun—Look! Pretty colors!—and tilted under my feet. Legs wobbling worse than the Revvie on high heels, I bumbled around in a dizzy circle for a lost moment in time, then whap!-thud!-smack! Three more punches knocked me to the ground.

Pretty ground. Concrete. Old chewing gum. I like it down here. I think I’ll stay.

Some other Joe Warren living nearby reported that Chelle had taken a piece of the action and was going all Loud Bitch Kung Fu on the green-shirted gangster, shrieking and clawing and kicking and spitting. Probably biting too.

I hoped she had her tetanus booster.

This all happened from far away, in a distant galaxy, with swirling stars and muted sounds. The other Joe told me the female Revivant had gotten to her feet and was wandering away. Her maid’s outfit hung from her waist, leaving her topless. She didn’t seem bothered. (“Fly-er, sir?”)

“Bye-bye,” I muttered, my breath blowing dust and candy wrappers away from my face.

A shadow eclipsed the sun and a pair of black boots stopped in front of my nose. The soles were really, really thick.

Whap!

The dull, meat-like thud of hard object meeting soft skull sounds like nothing else. Once you’ve heard it, you never forget it. The gangster fell on the other side of the black boots. His right eye appeared to bulge from its socket and there was a crease on that side of his head.

I forced my blurry vision to track upward to the source of that sound. A couple of years later, I found the top. Black boots, as noted already. Black pants bloused into the boot tops. Belt with a hardware store and armory attached. Black shirt with bright blue patch on the sleeve. Badge. Riot helmet.

Homeland Security, to the rescue.

Yay.

Night-night, Mr. Police Officer.