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"The novelty of a blind protagonist who 'sees' through artificially induced eyesight lifts this debut sf action-adventure a cut above most of its subgenre." —Library Journal (January 2013)
"Action packed and tense, Knuckleduster delivers on so many levels. . . . The reader is kept guessing right up until the explosive climax. A first-class novel." —Simon West-Bulford, author, The Soul Consortium
"There's plenty of room here for a sequel, or several, and that's a perfectly good thing." —Booklist (January 2013)
"Knuckleduster is an exciting thriller with plenty of twists and turns. Highly recommended." —Midwest Book Review
"Post, a talented writer, creates strong characters in a believable dark setting, forced to accept the unacceptable. . . . Readers will anxiously await Post's next effort." —www.SFRevu.com
"The exhilarating investigation grips readers with a pulp fiction excitement as [Brody Calhoun] battles some nasty adversaries while thinking his paranoid friend is insane." —www.GenreGoRoundReviews.blogspot.com
At ten to eleven, the man tucked his phone into his peacoat pocket, ground out his smoke on his boot heel, and marched across the littered avenue. Without a line to wait in, he walked directly up to the bouncer, shouting over the bone-shaking bass leaking out through the front doors. It was the music du jour, lonely cowboy country with a mismatched undercurrent of scattered percussion. "Cover?"
"Ten," the heavily tattooed doorman replied for the hundredth time tonight. As the man withdrew his jigsaw card, the bouncer sized him up. Lanky, built like a basketball player. Close-cropped hair the color of mud, a wave in the front made crooked from a cowlick. A long narrow face with a week's worth of coarse black growth. Familiar.
It took the bouncer a second before he remembered him from a month before, asking questions, starting a fight, and beating a man half to death. What was it that he used for a weapon? It was what everyone knew him by. Blackjack? Tire iron? Sock full o' dimes? No, the man used a fist armored across the fingers with black metal—a knuckleduster. But it was in the middle of his name, like a heavyweight's fighting moniker. Something "Knuckleduster" Something.
Something "Knuckleduster" Something held up his jigsaw card between his first and middle finger with a posture that read nothing but impatience.
With inked hands, the bouncer ran the card through his device, waited for the screen to show something other than an hourglass. Before the verification bleat sounded, confirming that the cover charge was accepted, a gust of recollections hit him.
He shot to his feet and extended a flattened hand toward the man, barring him entrance. "Hey, buddy. We don't want any trouble in here tonight. Got a whole slew of guys who wanna just take a load off and not be bothered, okay? Besides, one of you and God knows how many of them, you really think that'd be such a good idea, make trouble?"
The man just stood there. "What's that thing tell you?" he asked after a moment, nodding at the device in the man's hand.
The bouncer looked into his eyes, seeing them close up now. He saw a dark brown hue and confirmed something else he thought he noticed earlier—the whites appeared to be tinted ever so slightly the color of pumpkin skin. Weird.
The man repeated his question, slower this time, about what the device had told him.
"N-nothing," the bouncer said, stammering, coming out of his transfixion on the man's eyes. "The bossman didn't spring for the good ones, this just takes the ten bucks and makes sure you're twenty-one or older," he shook the device as if that could suddenly improve its engineering, "and it don't tell me nothing about no one who comes in here." Realizing he was saying too much, he shut up.
"So if I were to ask you if a friend of mine was here tonight, you couldn't tell me?" the man asked.
"And if for whatever reason, something happened here tonight ..."
"Bossman says this is a place where people shouldn't feel like they're being watched," the bouncer answered, nearly quoting the bar's owner and his vision for this particular watering hole verbatim. It took the bouncer a second before divining what the man with the odd eyes was implying by asking that and just as he opened his mouth to spit a lie to try and cover his tracks, he was cut off.
"Just want a drink," the man said, his voice low and even.
"You're not here to rough no one up? You nearly killed that guy a month ago." He flashed back on that bloody scene—the guy wheeled out on a gurney with a broken arm and a shattered jaw. Ugly stuff.
The man smiled, showing a row of straight, tall teeth, shook his head. "Quick splash of the hair of the dog and I'm gone. Scout's honor."
Sure, the bouncer could turn away anyone he deemed unfit to drink in the establishment. But times were hard, and his boss had told him that unless they were naked and carving symbols into their bodies with broken glass, let them in. Hell, let the crazies in too; they liven up the place. He gave the man his jigsaw back.
"Fine," the bouncer said, curling his paw until just the thumb stuck out. He waved it over his shoulder and stepped aside. "Go on ahead. But if you start any shit with anybody, slick, those knucks of yours will be going in my pocket."
"You betcha." Whatever his name was smirked and entered the bar. The place was packed.
The noise was overwhelming and claustrophobia inducing. One song went into the next with barely a breath of time between. Heavy club music with obscene lyrics and then more of those remixed country songs. Brody studied the endlessly shifting mass of dancers under the strobes, lasers cutting swaths of colored light over their sweat-slicked bodies. The lights and constant movement of the flailing crowd gave the sensation that the building itself was moving, flipping end over end, spiraling through zero gravity, and the people weren't dancing but fighting to keep stability on an untrustworthy surface.
Brody stood far from the dance floor at the back wall and watched the crowd for fifteen deafening minutes. He grew accustomed to the layout of the place—where the exit was, where the staff were stationed. He took in as many details as possible on every person in an attempt to cross-reference them against what he knew about Jonah Billingsly, which was little. He had a spotty description, something about an old tattoo that was faded to a blotchy mess and he also knew what the man had done, but who looks the part of the abusive boyfriend?
The bar's AI must've gotten wind that someone had been inside for more than ten minutes and still hadn't ordered a drink. A woman, accumulated in translucent blue and aggressively topless, bleated at him: "Hey, sugar, how's about a tall boy? They be only fifteen buckaroos for the next ten minutes."
Brody waved off the holo and the woman disappeared, seemingly folding in on herself, gone to pop up elsewhere to pester and jiggle at someone else.
He moved his gaze from one corner of the place to the next, passing briefly over the lady- boys with their sparkly attire on the dance floor. An angry drunk who beats his girlfriend to unconsciousness weekly probably isn't much of a dancer, Brody assumed.
He watched the group at the bar instead: men clad in stained overalls. Dockworkers, possibly. They pounded dark beers and slammed shot glasses of stuff that even they, the hardworking manly man consortium, would finish with watering eyes. Brody didn't know what Jonah did for a living, Marcy was foggy on that detail, but he was pretty sure there was a good chance he was among that group.
Brody decided to see if they'd cough up info if he acted like a lonely drunk looking for conversation. Adopting a waver, he made his way to the overall-clad horde, deliberately stepping on one of their steel-toed work boots. He apologized profusely, making sure to let his eyes swivel loosely in their sockets, feigning deep intoxication. "Hey, hey—sorry about that, man," he slurred.
The guy pushed his knitted cap off his eyes to better size up the saboteur of his fun. When the man turned into the blasting pulses of light, a hard face, puffy and ruddy, presented itself to Brody, complete with knitted brow and a thin, splitting set of lips so chapped they appeared burned. He seemed to be actively mulling over whether or not to make the shoe scuffing a big deal. This melted away when another beer was set in front of them and Brody slapped his jigsaw down on the bar to pay for it.
The bartender scanned the card with a handheld device and walked off without ever having touched it.
"Again, I apologize, my man. I do."
"It's no big deal. They're old boots anyway." The dockworker clapped Brody on the shoulder and raised the beer and took a deep swallow.
All the while, the man was unknowingly being scrutinized. Marcy, the woman with the swollen-shut eye who contracted Brody, had mentioned the tattoo on her boyfriend's wrist that once said her name but now looked like an out-of-focus bar code. As the man lifted his stein to polish off the beer with a second gulp that made his throat bulge, Brody saw it peeking out from under the stained cuff of his overalls. It was easy this time. No asking around, no getting false leads, no paying for information. The first goon he approached was the one he was sent here to find. Sometimes things just worked out. It didn't matter what Jonah and Marcy used to be like as a couple, if they'd ever been happy. What mattered was what Jonah was now: a mean drunk, a man who hit women. Brody sometimes thought of himself as the sum of an equation, this plus this equals him, a living result to bad actions.
Brody dropped the impersonation of a happy drunk, regained his posture, and felt his heart stumble into its new rhythm, suddenly awake, pumping fast.
The dockworker noticed Brody still standing there, his demeanor shifting as well, cascading into easily read hostility. He set the beer stein aside, foam still clinging to the inside of the glass. "Not that kind of place, Nancy."
"You Jonah?" Brody asked, ignoring the taunt.
The dockworker squared up the cap on his head. "That's right."
"So you get a kick out of it, then? Is that why you do it?"
"What's that?" Jonah asked and pulled one lumpy hand from the rubber-lined pocket of his overalls. Bruised knuckles, a swollen wrist—evidence he'd recently been hitting something hard. Like a woman's skull.
There was a boa constrictor that lived off Brody. He wore it day and night. With the sight of Jonah's bruised hand, it tightened. It was looped over his shoulders innocently enough when he met Marcy or any other woman at the community center. Like a lei placed around the neck, an added kiss on the cheek, harmless. But slowly, as he got to know more about this man from the battered girlfriend, the cold skin of rage knotted around Brody's throat.
It reached that point now, the fever pitch of preoccupation. He had even been having dreams about Jonah all week as he patiently bided his time until Friday night when he knew the guy liked to go out for drinks after work with the boys. Which, more often than not, ended with Jonah staggering home and putting a few fists to Marcy.
Not this time, Brody decided. He'd let Jonah drink, let him get good and loose and foggy- eyed. But before he settled his tab and took that angry walk home to dispense some undeserved punishment on the woman he supposedly loved, Brody would detour him, rearrange things, and put him on a new course. Instead of sleeping it off in his shitty apartment after giving his dying girlfriend another few slaps, Jonah would be lying in a hospital bed with plenty of time to think about the downward trajectory his life had taken up to that point.
"She's sick," Brody said.
Jonah's eyes narrowed. "You know my girlfriend?"
"Those three days she was gone? She was at the community center, sleeping on a cot, eating cold soup. We met, talked."
"You a caseworker? Come here to tell me I drink too much, that I shouldn't beat my girlfriend when the bitch is costing me an arm and a leg with all her goddamn medication?"
"No. She asked me to give you this." In one quick motion, Brody pulled his hand from his coat pocket, the knuckles all wrapped in a flat piece of metal, and hammered it into Jonah's cheek.
Jonah's head snapped back, his cap falling off. The man was stunned, drunk enough that his reflexes were poor. He took a step forward and swung with his right.
Brody ducked and gripped Jonah's elbow, using the forward momentum to move him away from his pack of friends. Their attention had been grabbed certainly, but not one of them came to his rescue. They held their beer steins by their glass handles and gaped, wordless.
When those on the dance floor noticed the two men fighting, they ceased their gyrations and shuffled aside. Some continued to dance at a safe distance, apparently too moved by the particular song to give two drunken idiots the time. Others gawked openly. A few took bets with a series of manic hand gestures to one another. A finger on Brody, an open palm representing fifty big ones.
Brody made quick work of Jonah, threw a few punches when he could easily sneak them in, always jabbing with the brass knuckles.
Jonah swung wildly. His sweeping passes pulled him forward and made him stumble in whatever direction he thought Brody was in. Cursing and hissing and drooling, Jonah was drunk enough to be seeing double. Clearly Jonah knew he would not win this one. Something was fueling him—seething contempt perhaps—even if he hadn't landed a single punch yet.
Brody threw a right hook and connected with Jonah's mouth. The clang of metal on teeth must have been audible to his friends at the bar.
Jonah took the pop to the teeth like everyone did. A punch to the cheek, the gut, the chest—those definitely hurt, but you could take quite a few of them before it dissolved your will to continue. A good blow to the teeth with a knuckleduster? That staggered any man. Jonah covered his profusely bleeding mouth and began coughing. The pink mist was caught in the jittering flash of the club's strobe display, looking like the slow-motion video following a well-placed sniper bullet.
He stood by while Jonah bent at the waist and spat teeth to the floor. The other dockworkers watched, giving each other the elbow and scowling. There was consideration in their eyes: maybe they should get involved. None of them took a step away from the bar and their drinks. Brody read in all their alcohol-pinked faces that Jonah was an asshole, one who very much had this coming.
"Don't do it again," Brody reminded him. To clarify. "Okay?"
"Yeah, okay, fine ... just don't ... hit me again, okay?" Jonah slurred.
The victimizer had gotten a taste of his own and was now repeating lines picked up from those he had beaten. Brody wanted to continue until Jonah was a moaning heap of broken bones on the floor, gripping his belly, his face—hands seemingly moving on their own, unsure where to apply pressure next since everything hurt.
But as Jonah bent there, gripping the knees of his pants and spitting blood onto the floor, Brody felt the snake release its binding grip from his neck. It had been sated. It had slowly unknotted and slid off when the final blow was delivered. It had gone and left in its wake a lingering thirst. In the vacuum that the desire to beat and maim was a conscience trying to sound its call up from somewhere deep. Telling him to stop. Refrain. Think. Resist. Marcy wanted you to give Jonah the same treatment he gave her, his conscience tolled. Not kill the son of a bitch.
Brody unclenched his fist. "So we're agreed?"
"Yeah." Jonah choked. "I won't do it again. I fuckin' promise."
"Peachy." Brody removed the sticky knuckleduster from his sore fingers.
Everyone cut a clear path for him as he marched to the door. He stepped outside and immediately fired up a cigarette. As he peered down at the flame illuminated in his cupped palms, 01:59:59 flashed in small red digits in the corner of his eye. He'd have to be home soon.
He noticed the bouncer sitting there on his stool, arms crossed, one eyebrow cocked. Brody took the heavy piece of metal from his pocket and offered it to the burly young man. The knuckleduster was tacky with blood. "I suppose I owe you my merit badges."
The bouncer stared at the reddened object resting in Brody's palm but made no motion to fetch it. "No, thanks," he said, slipping his cell into his jacket pocket. "But I called you a ride."
Just then, mixing with the lights that hung under the awning of the bar, came swinging beams of red and blue. Standing in place, hands in pockets, Brody watched a squad car approach down the desolate avenue.
The squad car parked, and a figure emerged from the passenger seat. Wearing a fedora and a pinstriped slate-on-charcoal suit, Detective Nathan Pierce got one look at Brody and shook his head.
"Boss?" the other officer asked.
"Go get us some statements."
The officer headed inside.
Detective Pierce drew near with a casual stride and announced, "Brody 'Knuckleduster' Calhoun."
Excerpted from Knuckleduster by Andrew Post Copyright © 2013 by Andrew Post. Excerpted by permission of Medallion Press, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted February 11, 2015
Posted April 23, 2013
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