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|Publisher:||St. Martins Press-3PL|
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.79(d)|
About the Author
James O'Neal is also award winning crime novelist James O. Born. A native Floridian, career law enforcement officer and an acclaimed historian, each of his novels are based on some issue threatening society today. His first novel, The Human Disguise, predicted Florida's tax structure collapsing more than a year before it happened. He has researched near future issues with engineers, scientists, government officials, military strategists, gun manufacturers and biologists.
Read an Excerpt
The Double Human
By James O'Neal
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2010 James O'Neal
All rights reserved.
Tom Wilner watched in silence as each family walked through the entrance to the housing development on the southern edge of the Lawton District, his waterproof windbreaker beading up with droplets from the constant drizzle. His service pistol felt like an anchor on his hip.
Steve Besslia said, "This is a shitty assignment."
Tom Wilner shrugged. "Watching people move doesn't sound that tough to me."
"I know, I know, you don't have any Iranians shooting at you or Bosnian car bombs but just standing here with our thumbs up our asses is boring."
"Do you really want the alternative to boring?" Wilner had seen it and was perfectly content with boring.
"I don't know, Willie," started his friend Steve Besslia. "None of 'em look too happy to be down here."
Wilner cast a sideways glance at the uniformed cop and said, "Would you like it?"
"What'd ya mean? I am here."
"I mean forced to relocate like this. I don't blame them one bit; especially when there are no jobs down here, no entertainment and it's too cold and rainy to even go to the beach."
"Government is paying for the move, providing free housing and a stipend for two years. You and me moved on our own, work sixty hours a week and pay for our housing."
Wilner shrugged. It didn't matter that Florida was no longer the sunny garden spot it had been when he was a kid. He liked it here. This was where he was raising his kids and they had all lived together as a family. For a while at least.
A young woman with brown, stringy hair stomped up to them and looked at Besslia. "You the Nazi assigned to shoot us if we complain?"
Besslia shook his head. "No, ma'am, I'm here to shoot the gators if they try and grab a kid."
The woman's eyes widened. "What kind of hell have they sent us to?" She hurried away, shouting, "Sara, Kenny, where are you?"
Besslia smiled and said, "Used to be the tourists around here that you could mess with. Never thought new faces would be so rare." He looked at Wilner. "At least you don't get those kinds of comments as a detective. No one even knows who you are unless you badge 'em or draw your weapon."
Wilner shook his head. "You know it's not like the old days. Not enough people to cause too much trouble. They're always happy to see a cop; particularly this close to the Quarantine Zone."
Both cops' V-coms started beeping in unison, so they knew it was a police call. Their newest communication units incorporated police radio, video communicator, mail service and a GPS locator service as well as a host of information services available to the police and public.
Wilner flipped his open first and heard the bland, clear, unaccented voice of a dispatcher.
"Any unit in southern Lawton District. Call of assault on or near the Eastern District boundary just north of Miami Quarantine Zone." The message repeated twice more.
Besslia said, "Let's go."
"One of us should stay here as assigned."
"You kidding? When's the last time we got a call like this?"
Wilner looked up at the dark sky. It was difficult to tell day from night anymore. He had not seen the sun in three weeks. He didn't bother answering the patrolman, instead he started jogging toward his government-made issued hive, which was a hydrogen-powered vehicle.
Besslia trailed him, jiggling and clanking his duty gear, his heavy pistol slung low on his leg for easy access while riding his big Hive-bike.
Wilner knew the only populated streets in the area where the assault was taking place and cut under the decaying remnants of the old Interstate 95. He used his V-com to tell Besslia to cover the approach from another angle, shouting, "Steve, cover the back, I got the front door." He punched the accelerator and felt the newly issued vehicle respond well. Sometimes the production hives were sluggish, which earned them the nickname "Hindenbergs." When the government started competing with the private carmakers, the one thing they eliminated was speed and fuel regulators. His tires screeched as he turned onto the unmarked road where several old but clean apartment buildings stood. Most of the residents either had government subsidies to live in such an unpopulated area or worked at jobs in the southern part of the Lawton District. A few were smugglers who specialized in crossing the border into the Miami Quarantine Zone.
As he approached the front of a four-story building he caught sight of a woman jumping up and down, waving her arms.
Wilner jumped the old crumbling curb and brought the big cruiser to a halt next to the front door. Before he was even out of the vehicle, the woman was shouting, "He's killing her, he's killing her."
"Where?" Wilner drew his big, 11-millimeter, police-issued autopistol.
The woman, panting now, gulped out, "Second floor."
Wilner didn't wait for any more information; he was inside the lobby of the building scanning for stairs. He had not grabbed his backup weapon. He now kept an unlawful energy weapon in the car. In the marines they had called the handheld version of the weapon a "flasher" and now that was the street name for any powered, light-beamed guns. Events of the past few months had taught him the value of the extra firepower and the truth was the streets were full of these surplus military weapons.
He took the stairs two at a time and then slowed by the second-floor door. He raised the gun in front of him and caught his breath.
He felt his pulse slow and then he burst through the door. The long, wide hallway was empty so he started moving forward quickly, scanning the rooms, most of which had no doors. About half of the apartments had someone in them. He heard a noise and froze. It came from in front of him. Instinctively he crouched and edged forward, gun up and following the movement of his eyes.
At one of the last apartments with an open door, he peeked around the old wooden frame. Another sound came from inside. In the back of his mind, Wilner wondered where the hell Besslia was. He should have pulled up by now.
Wilner couldn't wait. He slipped into the open apartment silently and slid along the wall, the next room in the sights of his duty pistol. He turned and eased down the hallway toward the open bedroom door. Shadows moved inside the room at the end of the narrow hall.
His pulse increased now as he consciously tried to control his breathing. He paused momentarily at the door, then stepped in with his gun pointed at the figure crouching next to the bed.
The scene stunned him for a second. After all he had seen — combat in Iran, ethnic conflict in the Balkans, murders here and over in the Quarantine Zone — this image froze him.
A man with short graying hair looked down at a naked woman, laid out neatly on the bed with a slight trickle of blood leaking out onto the white sheet from her neck. Wilner couldn't see his face clearly. The shocking part was the loving care with which the killer was now stroking her hair. It had a hypnotizing effect.
Before Wilner could bark out an order to freeze or just fire his gun, the killer's head snapped up and he pounced with incredible speed and surprise, throwing his whole body at Wilner as the gun went off. The bullet flew wide and high and the killer's momentum bounced him off the larger detective, springing him down the hallway.
Wilner, stunned, shook his head clear, took one more quick glance at the body on the bed and followed the killer.
He raced down the hallway after the fast, agile man but as he came toward the front door of the apartment he ducked a chair that flew at his head.
The polymer chair fractured into a few large pieces on the wall just above Wilner's head. Holding one piece, the killer swung hard and knocked Wilner's gun to the old, rotting hardwood floor.
Wilner twisted and threw a low kick into the man's leg, then grabbed a piece of the chair himself and aimed at the killer's head. Instead, he struck the man's shoulder, the jagged edge ripping his old cotton shirt and drawing blood.
The killer sprang back, turned and darted down the hallway to the stairs.
Wilner stood up, a little unsteady, scooped up his pistol and stumbled as fast as he could toward the stairs. By the time he was out the front door he saw Besslia pulling up on his Hive-cycle.
He stepped out to the front of the porch and froze.
At the bottom of the steps the woman who had directed him to the second floor lay on the ground, now still in a soaking wet dress, her arms and legs poised neatly along her body. He saw the blood mixing with a puddle next to her neck. She had the same kind of wound as the woman upstairs.
This bastard was quick.
Besslia was off his bike and running toward Wilner when an old pickup truck thundered from the rear of the building, blasting through the front yard of the apartment building and bumping over the curb into the street.
Wilner raced to his car in seconds. As he jumped in he shouted, "Call it in, Steve. Two dead. Chasing old truck, I don't know the make. Prewar for sure." He didn't wait for a reply.
The tires of his hive screeched as soon as they made contact with the street. He flicked on his concealed blue lights and siren. Not that there were many cars to chase out of his way. In fact he had not used the lights in more than a year.
It took a minute to catch up enough to see the truck's taillights as he headed south. He got on his V-com as he tried to close the distance with the ancient, gas-powered pickup truck.
"Dispatch, this is UPF 536. I'm in pursuit of a suspect headed south on Highway Six." He checked to make sure he had called out the right road. He knew it used to be called U.S.-1 years ago but now it was just called the "Six."
Wilner hoped the call would go to the National Guardsmen on the quarantine border. He figured that was where this guy was headed. With Besslia staying at the scene, there would be no UPF backup for miles around. Wilner's right arm ached where the killer had struck him with the broken chair but it wouldn't help him escape. The UPF detective was pissed.
The truck took a hard right turn, almost flipping on one side. Wilner took the same turn. Just as the truck was coming up on one of the checkpoints manned by the military, the killer swerved hard along the canal. The door flew open and the killer jumped out of the moving truck and rolled into the wide canal.
Wilner slid up behind the truck and hopped out.
National Guardsmen were already firing from their checkpoint on the bridge into the water with their assault rifles, making artificial waves with the volume of fire.
Wilner scanned the surface of the canal, not wanting to get too close to the bullets piercing the water. He saw no sign of the fleeing man. Just the water ripped by rifle fire.
After a minute of sustained fire he heard a sergeant calling, "Cease-fire, cease-fire," to the six guardsmen who were still pointing their weapons in the direction where the killer had last been seen.
Wilner stepped up to the edge of the canal, his pistol hanging in his right hand, pointing down at the ground. All he saw was the dark, muddy water of the last canal in the southern United States with no clue to the fate of the killer he had just chased.CHAPTER 2
Detective Tom Wilner held his badge up high and had already holstered his pistol as he approached the National Guardsmen on the bridge.
A young Latin sergeant stepped down to meet him. "We heard the chase over the general frequency. We were ready."
Wilner said, "You don't usually shoot at people going into the zone, do you?"
"Nope, not unless it's something like this. These boys needed to cut loose."
"Ever see him surface?"
"No, sir. But after the fire we laid down, I don't think we ever will. We had to puncture his lungs and stomach. He'll be dragged by the current until something eats him." The younger man turned his dark eyes up to Wilner. "He really stab some ladies?"
"That's probably why we were okayed to fire. With the new transplants coming in from up north and the Midwest they don't want no mention of this kinda stuff. They got us really cracking down on Quarantine Zone violations too."
Wilner nodded. "Makes us look like the Wild West. They want people to feel safe."
"Safe in Florida? I have a couple of guardsmen who say they've seen more action here than they did in Syria."
Wilner chuckled. "I doubt that."
"How do you figure?"
"Any of them asking to go back?"
Tom Wilner shook his head as he pulled up to the apartment building where the chase had started. Someone had at least placed a sheet over the woman's body in the front of the building. Steve Besslia sat on the stairs to the building speaking to another uniformed cop.
As he came closer he heard the unmistakable voice of the UPF district commander.
"Willie, what happened to the killer?"
"Hey, boss," said Wilner, turning to meet the shorter, fifty-year-old man who had run police operations in the Northern Enclave and Lawton District for the past eleven years shortly after the tax revenues had forced all the police departments to combine and form the state's only law enforcement agency.
"What happened?" His years as a captain in the army in several different wars showing by the impatience in his voice. The thick burn scar on his left cheek was a testament to the combat he had seen.
"I answered the call. Saw a man with the body upstairs. We fought a little and then I chased him."
"What'd he look like?"
Wilner shrugged. "I didn't get any kind of look at him. Shorter white guy. I might recognize him if I saw him again."
"When did this woman die?" He pointed at the sheet-covered body.
"During the chase. The guy was fast, boss, real fast."
"Coming from you that means something." He rolled his fingers in a hurry-up motion. "What happened to this creep?"
"He bailed out in the canal next to the Quarantine Zone and the guardsmen laid down a sheet of fire."
"They got his body?"
"You sure he's dead?"
"Because I've seen too many guys slip away from firefights. I never think it's over until I see a body. I just wanted to check on things here, then I was gonna take Besslia and start searching the canal on both sides."
The commander nodded. "I even brought out crime scene on this one."
Wilner stared in surprise.
"The new policy is to make it at least look more like regular police operations. They figure with more people, tax revenues will increase. They don't want people scared off."
Wilner said, "I'm gonna take a look around before I go search for the killer's body."
"You're the detective on this so you can take charge. I'll send Besslia and a couple of patrolmen to look for the body now."
Wilner nodded and started to walk through the scene. It wasn't like the crime scenes he had watched on old video broadcasts or movies. There was no yellow tape to keep people away. There were hardly any people to keep away. No one wanted to get mixed up in a UPF investigation and no one wanted a criminal mad that there might be a witness. There weren't many cops either. They were spread too thin over an area that used to cover five counties and seven major cities. The climate change and a couple of terror attacks had shifted most of the population north. Away from the borders and as far from the dreadful Miami Quarantine Zone as possible.
The first thing he did was stoop and peek under the sheet at the woman who had flagged him down. She was about thirty, with a pretty face and short brown hair. He knew where the wound was. He touched her cheek and moved her head to see the single puncture wound in her neck. It had to go deep to kill her in those few seconds the killer had to act.
A patrolman stepped up behind him and said, "Did you get him?"
"We'll know in a little bit." The patrolman wasn't squeamish seeing the dead woman. All of the UPF cops, even the women, had been in the service and most, like this guy, had seen combat. A single, clean corpse didn't do much to spook him.
Wilner started checking for witnesses and other evidence inside the apartment building. He positioned a second patrolman at the front of the apartment, which held the first victim. Wilner took a few minutes to see if he could figure out why she was a victim. It looked like she lived alone. He found an identification card for the district hospital. She had been an emergency room nurse. Wilner looked at the photo and then stepped into the room to see her face. He recognized her. He'd seen her in the hospital several times over the last year and remembered her smiling, happy to see cops coming inside, a safety blanket added to the second-rate security guards.
Excerpted from The Double Human by James O'Neal. Copyright © 2010 James O'Neal. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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