The national bestselling author of Redzone and the Legion of the Damned novels continues his “gripping and intriguing”* post-apocalyptic story about an L.A. cop in a mutant-filled world...
2069, Los Angeles. Decades after a bioterrorist attack decimated the population and left many of the survivors horribly mutated, the “norms” have forced mutants into dangerous areas known as red zones. And the tensions between the two groups are threatening to boil over...
LAPD detective Cassandra Lee is known for her single-mindedness, and right now, she’s got only one goal—track down the Bonebreaker, the man who murdered her father. But her quest for justice is derailed when LA comes under attack.
The Aztec Empire, a Central American group determined to take back the U.S. territories that their Spanish ancestors once controlled, has led a mutant army into California. Suddenly caught in the middle of a war, Lee must put all her energy into keeping her city safe while unearthing the political secrets of LA’s shady mayor. And with the Bonebreaker hunting her down, losing focus even for a second could mean death...
About the Author
William C. Dietz is the national bestselling author of more than forty novels, some of which have been translated into German, Russian, and Japanese. His works include the Legion of the Damned novels (Andromeda’s War, Andromeda’s Choice) and the Mutant Files series (Redzone, Deadeye). He grew up in the Seattle area, served as a medic with the Navy and Marine Corps, graduated from the University of Washington, and has been employed as a surgical technician, college instructor, and television news writer, director, and producer. Prior to becoming a full-time writer, Dietz served as director of public relations and marketing for an international telephone company. He and his wife live near Gig Harbor, Washington.
Read an Excerpt
Praise for William C. Dietz
Ace Books by William C. Dietz
SUNDAY SCHOOL TEACHER Misty Roker was having a nice day until her students found a body behind St. Patrick’s Church. Roker was in her classroom, putting instructional materials away when sixteen-year-old Emily Stills burst into the room. “Miss Roker! A man is lying in the parking lot—and there’s something wrong with his face!”
Sunday school was over, but the children’s parents were still attending Mass, so Misty instructed Emily to remain in the classroom while she went out to investigate. A playground had been built behind the church and was surrounded by a fence. The children were gathered in front of the gate that opened into the parking lot, clearly looking at something. She clapped her hands. “Go inside, children . . . Emily’s waiting for you.”
When the children turned, Misty could see the worried looks on their faces and felt the first stirrings of concern. She had assumed that a drunk had passed out in the parking lot. That would require an explanation, but she could handle it. Now, based on the complete lack of chatter, Misty sensed that something worse was in the offing.
As her charges filed inside, Misty approached the gate. The man was lying a few feet away, eyes wide open, staring up into the bright sunlight. That was when the nurse noticed the facial discoloration, the swelling, and the hundreds of tiny stitches that ran around the circumference of his face. What the heck?
Misty opened the gate and knelt at the man’s side. She felt for a pulse. The results were unequivocal. The man was dead—and had been for some time.
Misty fumbled for her phone, dialed 911, and reported the find. “My name is Misty Roker. We have a man down behind St. Patrick’s Church. He’s unresponsive, cyanotic, and I can’t detect a pulse.”
The dispatcher promised to send an aid unit and, as Misty waited for the medics to arrive, she noticed the white envelope. It was protruding from the man’s shirt, and when Misty pulled it free, she saw that Father Benedict’s name was written on it. Deep down Misty knew that she shouldn’t open the envelope but curiosity got the better of her. So she took it out, opened the unsealed flap, and looked inside. That was when Misty saw the five one-hundred-nu notes and a single piece of paper. She read what was typed on it:
Dear Father Benedict,
This man has gone to a better place. His name is Joel. Please use the money to cover his burial expenses.
Misty frowned. Alcmaeon? What kind of name was that?
A siren could be heard in the distance. So Misty stuffed the note back into the envelope—and slid it back into Joel’s shirt. The EMTs arrived a minute later, along with a police car. The medics went through the motions of checking Joel out, but he was dead, and all of them knew it. The envelope went to a patrol officer who was careful to hold only the edges of the object before sliding it into a larger envelope. Then, after taking Misty’s name and contact information, he turned her loose. Sunday school was over.
• • •
Cassandra Lee and Lawrence Kane were looking for a condo. The decision to live together had been made during a recent vacation, and now they were looking at condos in Santa Monica, an area that both of them liked.
But they were very busy people, which made finding the time to tour properties difficult. And, now that Kane’s home was up for sale, the task was that much more urgent. Which was why they’d toured two different possibilities that morning and were about to discuss them over lunch.
The restaurant was called Mac’s and was located about a mile away from the famous Santa Monica Pier. It had large windows that looked out over the highway to a sandy beach and the pale blue ocean beyond. “So,” Kane began once they’d been through the buffet line, “what did you think?”
Lee nibbled on a huge strawberry. It was delicious and gave her an opportunity to stall. Even though they’d been through a great deal together, they hadn’t known each other for long, and she wanted to give him a considered response. “Well, the first place is the larger of the two, and I liked that. But it needs a new kitchen.”
Kane had a straight nose, even features, and was wearing a white polo shirt over jeans. He nodded. “True . . . And the head chef needs a good place to perform his culinary miracles. It might be fun to do a reno. Then we could have the kitchen exactly the way we want it.
“How ’bout number two?” he inquired. “It’s smaller but it comes with two parking slots plus a place to keep your bike.”
Lee’s Harley Road King Police Edition motorcycle was a problem, since most condo buildings provided only two parking places, and she hoped to keep the bike nearby. Lee was about to respond when her phone began to dance across the table. Kane made a face. But Lee was on call and had to answer. “Hello, Detective Lee.”
“Sorry,” Deputy Chief Jenkins said. “Life sucks.”
“No kidding. What have you got?”
“Something weird,” Jenkins said. “That’s why I called you.”
“Screw you,” Lee replied. “And the horse you rode in on.”
Jenkins laughed. “Somebody dumped a body in the parking lot behind St. Patrick’s Church.”
“Okay,” Lee said. “But that doesn’t qualify as strange. Not in LA.”
“True,” Jenkins admitted. “However, based on a preliminary evaluation by the coroner, this guy probably died as the result of a botched face transplant.”
“That is weird,” Lee agreed.
“Oh, but there’s more,” Jenkins added. “The dead man is B. nosilla positive.”
Lee was surprised. The John Doe was a mutant! Thirty-one years earlier, back in 2038, a terrorist called Al Mumit (the taker of life) had turned a spore-forming bacteria called Bacillus nosilla loose on the world.
The bioengineered bacteria was delivered to Kaffar (unbelievers) all around the world by 786 Shaheed, or martyrs, each of whom had been selected because they had light-colored skin, were elderly, or only a few months old.
The results were even better than what Al Mumit had hoped for. Billions fell ill as Bacillus nosilla spread, and of those who contracted the disease, about 9 percent survived, with slightly better odds in developed countries. And of those who survived, many went on to develop mutations. Some of the physiological changes were good, but many caused disfigurements or were lethal.
“Patrol officers responded,” Jenkins put in, “and they found a note on the body. According to the person who wrote it, the deceased is named Joel. But that isn’t a whole lot to go on. Head over to St. Patrick’s and collect what information you can.”
“I’m on my way,” Lee replied.
“Yanty will meet you there,” Jenkins said. “I’ll see you in the morning.” Lee heard a click.
Lee looked at Kane as she put the phone away. “Sorry, hon . . . Gotta go.”
Kane had been through it before. He smiled. “No problem . . . Let me know if you’ll be home for dinner. If you had to choose between the condos we looked at today, which one would it be?”
“The larger one,” Lee replied, as she took a final sip of coffee. “It had an incredible view of the ocean. There’s a room for your office—and a kitchen reno would be fun.”
“And your bike?”
“There’s bound to be a storage unit somewhere nearby.”
“That’s very nice of you.”
“I can be nice,” Lee said as she got up from the table. “Sometimes.”
Kane laughed. “Shall I get a box for your food?”
“Please,” Lee said. “I’ll call you.” And with that, she left.
Because Lee was on call, both of them had driven to Mac’s alone. Her vehicle was a so-called creeper, which was street slang for an unmarked car. Except that most creepers had not only been tagged a dozen times but often bore the letters TIACC. “This is a cop car.” Her sedan was no different.
Lee’s vehicle was equipped with a rarely used nav system. She’d gone straight into the police academy after college, graduated near the top of her class, and spent four years as a patrol officer prior to being promoted to detective. And, like most street cops, Lee knew the city like the back of her hand. She took 10 East onto National Boulevard, which morphed into Jefferson Boulevard, which delivered her to the church with a minimum of fuss.
St. Patrick’s was a large building with a green roof and towers that were somewhat reminiscent of the Spanish missions only with a more modern aesthetic. That’s Kane talking, the voice in her head said. Since when did you care about architecture?
So? Lee answered. That’s how it is when you have a relationship with someone. They rub off on you.
Or they come to own you.
That’s bullshit, Lee thought, as she pulled in behind the church. Maybe you would like to spend the rest of your life with a bunch of cats. Personally, I’d prefer a man.
“This is 1-William-3. I am Code 6. Over.” There was no need to say where she was since the dispatcher could see the creeper’s location on the computer screen in front of her.
Church was over, and only a few cars remained in the parking lot. The body had been removed by then, but a police cruiser was still there, as was the middle-aged crime-scene investigator everyone called “Moms.” She was busy taking pictures of the area while the bored patrol officers looked on.
Detective Dick Yanty had seen Lee pull in and made his way over to meet her. He was balding, wore wire-rimmed glasses that had a tendency to slide down his nose, and was wearing the usual plaid sports coat. Technically, both of them reported to Lieutenant Brianna Wolfe. But Yanty and a detective named Prospo had been assigned to work with Lee on the Bonebreaker case, “the Bonebreaker” being the name the media had bestowed on the serial killer responsible for killing Lee’s father and eight other cops over the last sixteen years. “Hey, Lee,” Yanty said. “Does this suck or what?”
“It sucks,” Lee agreed solemnly. “So what, if anything, do we have?”
“First there’s this,” Yanty said as he handed her a sheet of paper. “It’s a copy—so don’t worry about prints.”
Lee read it:
Dear Father Benedict,
This man has gone to a better place. His name is Joel. Please use the money to cover his burial expenses.
“Alcmaeon? Who the hell is that?”
Yanty pushed the glasses up onto the bridge of his nose. “What did you do while you were in college? Everybody knows who Alcmaeon of Croton is.”
“That’s bullshit,” Lee replied. “You ran a search on it.”
Yanty grinned. “Yes, I did. It seems that Alcmaeon of Croton lived in the fifth century B.C.—and was one of the most eminent medical theorists of his time. Although he spent most of his time writing about medical stuff, he studied astrology and meteorology, too.”
“So he was a nerd.”
“That’s interesting,” Lee said. “And it seems to support what Jenkins told me.”
“The coroner thinks Joel might have died of complications following a botched face transplant. We’ll know after the autopsy. But try this on for size . . . The hack who botched the operation felt guilty about Joel’s death. So he dumped the body here along with some money to pay for a burial.”
“And signs the note Alcmaeon because he or she identifies with the old goat for some reason,” Yanty put in.
“Exactly,” Lee said. “And how much you wanna bet that the perp is Catholic?”
“Perhaps,” Yanty replied cautiously. “But maybe Joel was Catholic—and the doctor knew that.”
“Good point,” Lee said. “How ’bout video? Do we have any?”
“Yes,” Yanty replied. “The church is equipped with a full-on security system, so we might get lucky. A guy named Mike agreed to work on that. Come on . . . Let’s see if he found anything.”
Lee followed Yanty through a small playground and into the church. They found Mike in a nicely furnished office sitting in front of a monitor. He turned to look over his shoulder as they entered the room. Lee assumed that Mike was a parishioner. He had mocha-colored skin, a buzz cut, and serious eyes. “I have it,” he announced. “At least I think I do.”
“This is Detective Lee,” Yanty said. “You sound doubtful . . . What’s the problem?”
Mike nodded to Lee. “They say a picture is worth a thousand words,” he said. “Watch this.”
So the police officers stood behind Mike as he started a black-and-white video clip. Lee could see a time and date stamp in the lower left-hand corner of the screen. It read: 05/12/69 04:12.
As the three of them watched, a white box truck drove into the lot behind the church, did a U-turn, and came to a stop. Lee expected to see someone get out, open the back, and remove Joel’s body. They didn’t. The truck drove away. And there, lying on the pavement was the corpse. “Damn,” Yanty said admiringly. “That was slick!”
“The perp cut a six-foot-long hole in the bed of the truck,” Lee said. “And it had to be left or right of the drive shaft.”
“And that means he or she’s done this before,” Yanty commented. “Or plans to do it again.”
“Precisely,” Lee said. “Mike, can you zoom in? If so, I’d like to take a look at the license plates coming and going.”
It turned out that Mike could zoom in, and he proceeded to do so. The results were disappointing to say the least. There weren’t any plates. “So we have nada,” Yanty said. “Shit.” Lee was in full agreement.
Lee managed to clear the crime scene by three and made it home by four. Except that the condo didn’t feel like home after what had taken place there a few weeks earlier. But Lee was determined to ignore that . . . And Chef Kane helped her do so by serving cocktails, tossed green salads, and some crusty sole. Then it was time to sit on the deck and watch the sun go down. “We need a view like this one,” Lee said as she sipped her coffee. “What a great way to end the day.”
That led to a discussion of all the properties they’d seen over the last two weeks and how to rank them. Later, as Lee lay next to Kane, she thought about the way her life had changed. There were things to look forward to now—and a person to share them with. That was new, and for the first time in a long time, Lee was happy.
Lee had never been good at getting up in the morning and was often late for work until she moved in with Kane. Now, every morning began with a kiss on the forehead or a pat on the bottom, depending on what part of her was available.
As Kane went out for his morning run, Lee took her shower and got ready to leave. Then they had a cup of coffee together before going their separate ways. It was a ritual and one Lee looked forward to. So she was standing in the kitchen, and Kane’s coffee was ready when he returned. He was dressed in a tee shirt, blue shorts, and running shoes. “You’re right on time,” Lee observed. “A shrink with OCD . . . Someone should write a paper about that.”
“A cop who breaks all the rules,” Kane countered. “Someone should write a paper about that. And maybe I will.” They laughed.
Kane took a sip of coffee and gestured to the small flat-screen TV that sat on the counter top. “So what’s in the news this morning?”
“It sounds like peace could break out at any moment,” Lee replied. “The Aztec ambassador is going to meet with a representative from the Republic of Texas later today. And our Secretary of State will be there, too.”
• • •
After the plague had struck, hundreds of thousands of people were declared communicable, some mistakenly, and herded into hastily organized “recovery” camps. Eventually, the recovery camps became “relocation” camps as untold thousands were loaded onto trucks and sent east. The sudden influx of mutants caused the “norms” in bordering states to flee west—and those who were B. nosilla negative were allowed to stay.
Other parts of what had been the United States went through a similar process, resulting in so-called red zones, where mutants lived, and the green zones, which belonged to the norms. It wasn’t long before zones and collections of zones gave birth to nation-states like Pacifica, which consisted of Washington, Oregon, and California, and the Republic of Texas, which incorporated Idaho, Utah and Arizona.
Meanwhile, south of the border, a new Aztec Empire had been born. In many ways it was a long-delayed reaction to the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which brought the U.S.-Mexican War to an end on February 2, 1848. Having won on the battlefield, the United States could dictate the terms of a settlement that allowed it to acquire more than five hundred thousand square miles of valuable territory, including what became the states of California, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and parts of Wyoming and Colorado for the paltry sum of $15 million. A settlement that still rankled more than 220 years later.
And that was why the newly formed Aztec army had crossed the border halfway between San Luis and Nogales a few months earlier and had been slugging it out with the Republicans ever since. And there was the very real possibility that Pacifica would be dragged into the conflict since the Aztecs were determined to take California back. “I’m glad to hear that everybody’s at the table,” Kane said. “Maybe they can work something out. How about you? Will this be a normal day?”
“I hope so,” Lee replied. “I’ll call or text you if things go off the rails.” Lee gave him a coffee-flavored kiss followed by a wave as she headed for the door.
Lee knew that there were a number of people who would like to kill her, including the Bonebreaker. So she was careful to scan her surroundings as she left the condo, entered the elevator, and rode it down to the parking garage. The car appeared to be undisturbed, but appearances could be deceptive. Lee removed a handheld GPS and cell-phone detector from her bag, turned it on, and circled the vehicle. If a tracker had been placed on the sedan during the night, the device would warn her. None had.
Lee got in, started the engine, and drove to a restaurant called Maria’s, where she ate a breakfast burrito before completing the trip to work. The LAPD’s headquarters building was known for its angular appearance—and cost $437 million old bucks to construct back in 2009. Unfortunately, the façade had been damaged by a rocket attack in 2065 and was still awaiting repairs.
Lee entered the ramp that led to the parking garage, paused to show her ID, and continued down until she located an empty slot. Then she rode an elevator up to the sixth floor, which was home to the Chief of Detectives, her staff, and about sixty detectives. All of whom occupied the maze of cubicles generally referred to as the bull pen.
Of the larger force, only twelve men and women were members of the elite Special Investigative Section (S.I.S.) charged with getting the city’s most dangerous criminals off the street. That was the unit Lee belonged to—and she made it to roll call with a minute to spare. The conference room was about half-full, which was typical, since five or six detectives were out of the office at any given time. But both Yanty and Prospo looked glum. Probably because they knew something that she didn’t.
Lee plopped down next to Prospo and was about to interrogate him when Jenkins entered the room. He had black hair, startling green eyes, and brown skin. He was dressed in a nicely cut gray suit. “I wish I could say ‘good morning,’” Jenkins said soberly, “but I can’t. All of you have met Cheyenne Darling—and are cognizant of the relationship she had with Deputy Chief McGinty.”
Like Lee’s father two years earlier, Deputy Chief of Detectives Ross McGinty had been murdered by the Bonebreaker and his body dumped next to the Hollywood Freeway. Most of him anyway . . . The Bonebreaker liked to keep his victims’ extremities.
Furthermore, Lee knew that although McGinty and Darling had been lovers, they didn’t live together because he feared for her safety. And McGinty, like her father, had been subject to bad dreams and bouts of depression.
“Darling was visiting friends yesterday,” Jenkins continued. “And when she came home, a package was waiting for her. It appeared to be from her sister, so she opened it. And there, nestled in shredded packing paper, was Chief McGinty’s left femur.”
Lee heard expressions of disgust and anger from all around her as she remembered what had been sent to her. It was meant to hurt and had. Fortunately, with Kane’s help, she’d been able to recover. So she knew what Darling was going through. “We need to find this asshole,” Jenkins said grimly. “How ’bout it, Lee? Have you got anything new?”
“The Bonebreaker was active during the Vasquez investigation,” Lee replied. “We know that because he was posing as Detective Lou Harmon. And we’re pretty sure that he was wearing a latex mask that covered his entire head.”
Harmon had been murdered by the serial killer years earlier, and by posing as the dead detective, the Bonebreaker was demonstrating his superiority over everyone in the LAPD. All of those in the room knew it. What they didn’t know was that in order to prevent more murders by another killer, Lee had been forced to interact with the Bonebreaker. It was a decision that could get her fired.
“So,” Lee continued, “we’re in the process of contacting all of the companies that manufacture, distribute, and sell full-head masks to see if we can identify him that way. Odds are that the Bonebreaker has an extensive collection of masks, so who knows? Maybe we’ll get lucky.”
“Let’s hope so,” Jenkins said. “Meanwhile, the forensics people are going to run every test they can think of on the femur.”
“How is Ms. Darling doing?” Lee inquired.
Jenkins made a face. “Not well. What about the face case? How’s that going?”
Lee and Yanty provided brief reports and were told to “Stay on it.”
Then it was time for other detectives to sit on the hot seat while Lee thought about the day ahead. She was working on another Bonebreaker lead as well. One she couldn’t tell anyone about, because if she did, they’d find out that she’d been in communication with the very person she was supposed to bring in.
Finally, after the usual reminder to catch up on their paperwork, the detectives were released. Lee went back to her desk, where she worked her way through thirty-nine e-mails before slipping out of the office.
It took less than fifteen minutes to drive to Chinatown and the walkup apartment that Ebert Keyes called home. The relationship went back to the point when Lee had arrested Keyes for hacking into the state’s social support system—and reclassifying himself as fully disabled. A change that increased the size of his monthly payment by three hundred nubucks.
He’d been released after serving six months of a two-year sentence, and now he was out on parole and working as a freelance “troubleshooter.” Was he hacking on the side in order to supplement his income? Probably. But Lee hoped not.
Lee took advantage of being a cop by parking the creeper in a truck zone. Then she called in: “This is 1-William-3. I’m Code 6. Over.” If someone, Jenkins for example, wanted to check on her movements he’d be able to see where Lee had been. But he had no reason to track her movements. Not at the moment anyway.
The response was a predictable, “Roger that, 1-William-3.”
If the area hadn’t been especially prosperous before the plague killed off half the population, it was even more depressed now. At least half of the stores Lee passed had faded FOR RENT signs hanging in their windows.
But according to the neon sign out front, the Sue Yong nail salon was open for business and appeared to be thriving. Lee stopped in front of the nondescript door next to the salon and pressed the intercom button. There was a soft whirring sound as the camera mounted over the door zoomed in on her. Then she heard a click as a lock was released.
Lee pushed the door open and was careful to close it behind her. After that she had to climb a narrow flight of worn stairs in order to reach the second floor. Lee knew there was a freight elevator at the back of the building, but Keyes took pleasure in forcing able-bodied people to exert themselves.
Once on the second floor Lee was confronted by a steel fire door complete with a waist-high gun port. To say that Keyes was cautious would be an understatement. But that was understandable given where he lived—and the type of people he dealt with. Lee pushed another button, was rewarded with a click, and pushed her way into the chaos that was Keyes’s apartment.
A winding passageway led through piles of electronic equipment. Some of the computers were intact and some had been gutted for parts. Eventually, she emerged into the open area where Keyes spent most of his time. He had an unruly head of hair and was seated with his back to her. Sunlight struggled to penetrate the filthy windows.
Though classified as a norm, Keyes had been born without legs. But in postplague Pacifica, people assumed that anyone who looked different was a mutant and therefore dangerous. That, plus an innate shyness, meant that Keyes lived alone. He was working at a parts-strewn workbench that ran the width of the front wall. “Have a seat,” he said without looking around. “I’ll be with you in a second.”
Lee looked for a place to sit down. There was no option other than a toilet with grab bars on both sides. The rest of the furnishings consisted of an unmade hospital bed, the sliding power lift Keyes could use to hoist himself in and out of the chair, and haphazardly mounted flat-panel TV screens. There wasn’t any kitchen, which explained why so many empty take-out containers were stacked on a table. Lee watched a cockroach emerge from a flat pizza package and make the four-inch trip to a box labeled, SHANDONG TO GO.
Keyes turned at that point and realized that she was still standing. He had a full beard to match the hair. “Sorry . . . I don’t get a lot of visitors. . . You’ll find a chair over there.”
Keyes pointed, and Lee saw he was correct. A cardboard box full of junk sat atop an old straight-backed chair. She went over to retrieve it. “There,” Keyes said, as she sat down. “That’s better. So how’s the law-enforcement racket?” The wheelchair made a whirring sound as it swiveled her way.
“It’s never been better,” Lee replied. “People are lining up to get arrested.”
“But no Bonebreaker?”
“No. Not yet.”
Keyes had a tendency to tug on his beard when he was thinking. “I’m sorry to hear that . . . Especially since I don’t have any good news for you. I ran a reverse trace on the e-mail address you gave me but ENOB8 led to a dead end. It looks as though the Bonebreaker is making use of an onion router that directs traffic through a network of volunteer-run relays. Thousands of them. And that makes his e-mails impossible to trace. I’m sorry.”
Lee’s spirits fell. She’d been hoping that Keyes would pull a miracle out of his technological hat. “So that’s it? There’s nothing we can do?”
“No,” Keyes answered. “Maybe the government could identify his real IP address. But I don’t have the necessary resources—and for some reason, you can’t bring them in on this.”
It was a very perceptive comment, and Lee knew that her lack of an adequate response would confirm his suspicions. “Okay,” she said. “What do I owe you?”
“Nothing,” Keyes replied. “I’d still be sitting in the slammer if you hadn’t gone in front of the parole board. So I owe you.”
“That’s bullshit,” Lee replied. “But it’s nice bullshit. Thanks for trying. Speaking of your parole, how’s it going?”
Keyes grinned. “Are you kidding? Take a look around. It’s perfect.” Both of them laughed. After two or three minutes of small talk, Lee promised to stay in touch and left.
Having struck out on the Bonebreaker lead, it was time for Lee to turn her attention to the so-called face case. There were thousands of box trucks roaming the streets of LA. So Yanty had chosen to focus his attention on the handful of surgeons who specialized in face transplants. Was one of them moonlighting? Were the doctors aware of any suspicious activity? And was anyone performing legit operations on mutants?
In an effort to develop leads, Lee, Yanty, and Prospo were going to interview all of the face-transplant specialists in LA. The first doctor on Lee’s list was on the staff at the UCLA Medical Center in central LA, and Dr. Mary Kottery had agreed to see Lee during her lunch hour.
With that in mind, Lee wanted to be on time, so she pushed hard to make her way through the midday traffic. It had been worse back before the plague, or that’s what the old-timers claimed, but Lee found that difficult to believe.
With only ten minutes to spare, Lee pulled into one of several parking lots associated with the medical center. Like so many of the city’s structures the boxy buildings looked old and worn. Still, everyone agreed that the hospital was one of the best Pacifica had to offer. After hiking in from the parking lot, Lee had to pass through multiple layers of security before gaining access to the main building. And since Lee was carrying two pistols, she had to show her ID to five different people before being cleared through.
Then began the equally demanding task of going up to the third floor and navigating her way through a maze of hallways to reach Dr. Kottery’s office. A receptionist invited her to sit down, and Lee had to wait for fifteen minutes before the surgeon arrived.
Kottery was a tall, thin woman, with wispy bangs and the precise movements of a bird. She wore baggy scrubs and was quick to apologize. “I’m sorry to keep you waiting, Detective Lee . . . This morning’s surgery took longer than I thought it would. Please . . . Let’s go into my office. Do you mind if I eat my lunch while we talk?”
Lee assured Kottery that she didn’t and sat across the desk from the other woman as she tackled a complicated salad she’d brought from home. Another person might have found it difficult to scan the postmortem photos and eat at the same time but not Kottery. “That looks like a transplant, all right,” the doctor said as she examined one of the pictures on Lee’s tablet. “One that went horribly wrong.”
“So do you know anyone who might do something like that?” Lee inquired. “Have you heard of illicit face transplants?”
“The simple answer is no,” Kottery replied. “But you said that he was B. nosilla positive, correct?”
“Well, our ability to communicate with doctors in the red zone is somewhat limited,” Kottery said. “But we know that facial disfigurements are common over there. So if one of our surgeons had some success, word of that would spread, and there would be a lot of pent-up demand.”
Lee frowned. “So he or she might be performing such operations on a regular basis?”
“It’s possible,” Kottery allowed. “But remember . . . A transplant is a very complicated process. That means that the person you’re looking for would have a lot of accomplices, including doctors, nurses, and technicians. And they would require all sorts of supplies, not to mention HLA typing, which is used to match the donor with the recipient. Otherwise, there’s a possibility that the recipient’s body might reject the transplanted tissue.
“Then the team would have to tackle the surgery itself. And since they would be connecting nerves, arteries, and veins, that would require a high degree of skill plus a well-equipped surgical suite. And this takes us back to what I mentioned earlier. Perhaps Joel died at the hands of a quack. But there’s a second possibility, too . . . What if a highly organized group of people operated on two dozen patients? And had only one or two failures? That would represent a pretty good success rate. Oh, and by the way,” Kottery added. “If this is a larger operation, then where are the donors coming from?”
That was a very good question and one that Lee continued to consider as she returned to the office. After entering the cop shop, Lee convened a meeting with Yanty and Prospo to share the essence of what Dr. Kottery had told her. Then all three of them went to work on the new lines of inquiry. What if Kottery was correct? What if Joel’s death was the exception rather than the rule? That would mean that the people who ran the transplant business would be looking for donors. Where were they coming from? And what about the HLA typing Kottery had mentioned? Were the criminals using a commercial lab? There were lots of questions but damned few answers. So Lee was busy right up to 5:00 P.M., when she noticed the time and put in a call to Kane. “One hour,” she promised. “I’ll be there at six.”
The whole notion of coordinating her life with someone else was new to Lee. It was confining in some ways—but pleasurable in others. She wasn’t lonely for one thing . . . And making Kane happy made her happy. That was a revelation.
Lee left work and drove home. Traffic was bad, but she knew that drinks would be waiting, along with a pretty sunset. She made it to the condo in a little more than half an hour and was out on the deck shortly thereafter.
Once dinner was over, Lee took care of the dishes while Kane went off to return phone calls from his needier patients. Then it was time for some TV, a bit of snuggling, and bed. It took Lee a while to fall asleep. And when she did, there were dreams of thunder . . . Except that as she awoke to a bright flash of light, she realized that it wasn’t a dream.
As Lee lay there, she heard a series of overlapping booms and wondered if they were part of a thunderstorm. So she rolled out of bed and made her way out onto the front deck, only to discover that something completely different was taking place. The Pacific Ocean was pitch-black except for flashes of light out on the horizon.
Then came the rumble of what sounded like a freight train passing overhead followed by an explosion off to the east. That was followed by another flash of light and a loud bang as one of the high-rise apartment buildings to the south took a direct hit. Part of the building crumbled into the street and flames appeared in the wreckage. Then Lee knew what she was looking at. Naval gunfire! Enemy ships were shelling the city of Los Angeles.
Kane appeared next to her. “Oh my God,” he exclaimed. “The Aztecs . . . It must be the Aztecs. We’re at war.” Sirens began to wail, alarms began to beep, and the shells continued to fall. Suddenly, everything had changed.
HAVING BEEN ASSURED that the seven-ship task force sailing up the West Coast belonged to Argentina, and would remain well offshore, Pacifica had been content to let the armada pass. Now they were about to pay for their stupidity. Admiral Juan Carlos Barbaro felt the Tenochtitlan lurch to port as both batteries of the battleship’s sixteen-inch guns fired. A flash strobed the blackness as six two-thousand-pound rounds were launched into the sky. Barbaro knew they would travel twenty-three miles before falling on the city of angels. Except there weren’t any angels in the city, just norms, thousands of whom were going to die. And for good reason.
Los Angeles had been founded on September 4, 1781, by Spanish governor Felipe de Neve, and was made part of Mexico in 1821 following the Mexican War of Independence. Then, at the end of the Mexican–American War in 1848, all of present-day California had been purchased via the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, thereby becoming part of the United States of Mierda (shit). Why? Because Mexico had no choice, that’s why. After being defeated, Mexico was forced to enter so-called negotiations. Negotiations conducted while troops from Los Estados Unidos controlled the country’s capital.
The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo established the Rio Grande as the southern boundary for Texas and gave the U.S. ownership of California, plus land that would eventually became New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and Utah along with parts of Wyoming and Colorado. All for fifteen million old dollars. Just the thought of it filled Barbaro with rage. Pero la venganza es dulce (but revenge is sweet), Barbaro thought to himself. Now is the time to claim that which is ours.
But it wouldn’t be easy. The beast that hid behind the name Pacifica was very well armed. And Barbaro knew that the first onslaught of shore-based aircraft was about to hit back. And there would be lots of them.
Unfortunately, Barbaro didn’t have an aircraft carrier to support his ships. That meant the task force would be forced to rely on surface-to-air missiles and antiaircraft guns to defend itself. The night lit up in a dazzling display of firepower as a Vulcan 20mm Gatling began to fire. Then one of Barbaro’s lesser ships took a direct hit from an enemy missile, and a momentary sun lit the night. The Battle of Santa Catalina had begun. Would Barbaro die before the real sun could rise? Quite possibly. But it would be worth it.
• • •
Lee looked up as a jet roared overhead. It was flying low and was gone a second later. Then a flash of light strobed the surface of the ocean, and she heard a distant boom as something exploded. A ship? Yes, that seemed likely as streams of red tracers probed the night sky. “Come on,” Lee said as she touched Kane’s arm. “Grab whatever is most important to you and let’s get out of here. There’s a good chance this building will take a hit.”
“I hope not,” Kane said, as they went inside. “That would be bad for real-estate prices.”
Lee smiled in spite of herself as she went into the bedroom where she dressed for work. Her normal “look” consisted of a tee, jeans, and combat boots. She wore a .9mm Glock in a shoulder holster under her left arm—and a .357 backup on the back of her belt. She was about to close the dresser drawer when she saw the old .45 semiauto.
Kane was packing a bag on the other side of the room as she turned in his direction. “Here . . . Take this. And here’s a spare mag. They belonged to my father. Every whack job in the city will be out on the streets, and you might need some protection. Where will you go?”
“I’ll be at St. John’s,” Kane replied. “I’m on staff there, and they’re going to need all the help they can get. Shrinks included. As for the .45, I’ll take it. And thank you.”
Lee smiled. “You’re welcome.”
“There’s one more thing,” Kane said as he shoved the weapon into his waistband. “Something I’ve been meaning to say for some time now.”
The lights went off for a second and came back on. Lee saw the look in his eyes and felt a sudden stab of fear. She pressed a finger against his lips. “No, darling . . . Don’t say it.”
All of the people who had loved Lee were dead—so she was a bit superstitious where the “L” word was concerned. “That’s nonsense,” Kane replied. “I love you and refuse to die until I’m a hundred years old.”
Lee entered the circle of his arms. “You promise?”
“I promise.” They kissed, but not for long, as a shell landed somewhere nearby and caused the windows to rattle. As the embrace came to an end, Lee went back to packing. A second outfit, toiletries, and all the ammo she had went into an overnight bag.
Lee’s cell phone chirped madly, and she knew why. Every officer the LAPD had would be called in to help cope with the crisis. Never mind the safety of their loved ones. They would have to fend for themselves. That went with being a cop.
Rather than drag things out Lee said, “Take care, hon . . . And one more thing . . .”
Kane looked at her. “What?”
“I love you, too.” And with that, she left.
Once in the parking garage, Lee threw the bag into the backseat. Then, rather than take the time to check for trackers, she slid behind the wheel and started the engine. The next step was to switch the grill lights on and activate the siren before pulling out onto the street.
There were lots of cars, most of which were northbound. So many that some drivers were swerving out into the southbound lanes, causing head-on collisions. As Lee drove south, she saw that there were pedestrians, too. Some had nothing more than the clothes on their backs, while others wore packs or were pushing grocery carts loaded with belongings. Meanwhile, flashes of light lit up the horizon, and Lee could hear the dull thud of overlapping explosions as the dispatcher dealt with calls. “No, 3-Victor-4 . . . I can’t dispatch backup to your location. I suggest you disengage and pull back. We have reports that enemy troops have invaded the Compton area. They are mutants, repeat mutants, so all units are advised to don class-one protective gear.
“Yes, 2-Mary-8, I have that. You are Code 6 . . . Be careful out there.
“No, 2-Ida-7, do not return to your station . . . The Los Diablos gang overran it fifteen minutes ago. There were a lot of casualties.”
And so it went. Lee gritted her teeth as she weaved in and out of traffic, swerved onto sidewalks when that was necessary, and had to push a stalled vehicle off to one side in order to clear an intersection. The driver was out of his car yelling at Lee as she drove away.
Then the streetlights went out, traffic signals stopped working, and the already chaotic situation became even worse. All bets were off as drivers began to use their vehicles as battering rams or fired weapons at each other. Most of them seemed to be intent on accessing one of the freeways, which, based on what Lee had heard over the radio, were so congested that traffic had come to a stop.
After switching streets numerous times, Lee found herself on West 1st as she approached the point where she would pass under the 110. That was where she had to stop for a police barricade manned by four heavily armed patrol officers. A sure sign that a state of emergency was in effect. The county had plans in place to deal with every possible catastrophe, including plagues, earthquakes, and war. And all of them had one thing in common. The area between 101 to the north, South Alameda St. to the east, West 6th Street to the south, and 110 to the west was to be sealed off and to remain that way until further notice.
Among the buildings inside that zone were city hall, LAPD headquarters, the Metropolitan Detention Center, and the Department of Water and Power. All of which would be critical during the days ahead. Lee killed the siren and had to wait as the patrol officers refused entry to a family searching for a place of refuge.
As they were forced to turn around Lee was allowed to pull forward. The street cops were dressed in riot gear, which meant Lee couldn’t see the officer’s face as he came up to the driver’s side window. “ID please,” the policeman said politely.
Lee understood. Just because she was driving a police car didn’t mean that she was a cop. She held her ID case up for the patrol officer to see. He nodded. “Where are you headed?”
“Yeah, that’s what I figured,” he said. “Don’t bother. It took a direct hit. The survivors are moving over to the Street Services Garage.”
“How many casualties were there?”
The man shrugged. “A lot . . . But it would have been worse during the day.”
Lee thanked the officer, passed under the freeway, and entered an area of relative calm. There were no traffic jams or columns of terrified refugees in the secured zone. In fact, the streets were nearly empty.
Lee was only vaguely aware of the Street Services Garage and took two wrong turns before she found it. Her headlights panned across a stretch of chain-link fence as she turned into the driveway. That was where a police sergeant and three civilians stood waiting.
The cop motioned for her to stop and demanded to see some ID. He appeared to be fortysomething and looked tired. After eyeing her badge, he waved to a civilian. “Hey, Joe . . . Fill this vehicle with gas and park it with the creepers.”
Then he turned back to Lee. “Leave the keys in the ignition. If you have personal items in the car take them with you. We’re creating a car pool, and chances are that you’ll get a different vehicle the next time out. How’s it going outside of the zone?”
“It’s hell out there,” Lee replied as she got out.
There wasn’t much light but she could see the concern in his eyes. “This will be hard on Francine and the kids,” he said. “I sent them north. I hope they make it.”
Lee swallowed the lump in her throat as she pulled the suitcase out of the car. “Thanks for being here, Sergeant,” she said. “We’ll get this sorted out.”
He nodded. “I knew your father,” the sergeant said. “He’d be proud of you.” And with that, he was gone.
Lee was unexpectedly moved and had to hold back the tears as she towed the bag toward the dimly lit building. She could hear the rumble of a generator coming from somewhere nearby—and knew that the rest of LA’s critical services would be running on backup power, too.
As Lee opened the front door and went inside, she found herself in something that resembled a madhouse. The lights flickered occasionally. The dispatcher she’d heard earlier had been patched into the intercom system, everyone seemed to be in a hurry, and there was no rhyme or reason to the way things were laid out.
It appeared that the Street Services personnel had been displaced by the police department. Entire departments were being run from cubicles, each of which was identified by a hand-printed sign. As Lee towed her suitcase down the center aisle, she saw sheets of paper labeled, CENTRAL TRAFFIC DIVISION, COMMUNICATIONS, MOTOR TRANSPORT, JAILS, and yes, PERSONNEL. To do what? she wondered. Handle vacation requests? Then it came to her: Someone had to keep track of all the cops who had been wounded or killed.
Lee paused at a desk labeled, AIR SUPPORT. A woman wearing a blue flight suit was typing on a laptop. “Excuse me,” Lee said. “I’m looking for Operations. Specifically the Central Area’s Detective Division.”
The pilot looked up. She had short red hair and a spray of freckles across the bridge of her nose. “It’s farther back . . . Just past the ladies’ room.”
Lee smiled. “The perfect location . . . Thanks.”
A civilian was pushing a cart loaded with coffee and pastries down the aisle, and Lee marveled at someone’s resourcefulness as she followed the wagon past a tiny first-aid station. Then, as the cart took a left, Lee spotted Jenkins directly ahead. Much to her surprise, he was dressed in a suit and looked fresh as a daisy. His face lit up as he saw her. “Lee! You’re okay! That’s wonderful. And you’re just in time. Follow me. The meeting is about to start.”
Lee was about to ask, “What meeting?” but was looking at his back by then. So all she could do was follow Jenkins to the end of the aisle and into a room labeled, EMPLOYEES ONLY.
It was easy to tell that the space was an employee lounge. Lockers lined one side of the room, an old refrigerator purred in a corner, and a huge corkboard dominated the wall on the right. It was home to a montage of safety posters and HR bulletins.
The fourth wall was made of glass and looked out onto a dimly lit parking garage filled with the trucks and other pieces of equipment that the Street Services people used to do their jobs. But more notable from Lee’s perspective was the presence of Chief Corso who, much to her amazement, was wearing a pistol on his hip. We’re in some deep shit if he’s packing a gun, Lee thought to herself. I wonder how often he goes to the range.
Corso nodded to her, and as Lee looked around, she saw that Mick Ferris was among the ten or so people in the room. Ferris was normally in charge of the SWAT team, and the two of them had worked together before. He had a young-old face, a military-style buzz cut, and a lean body. He smiled. “Hi, Lee . . . And welcome to the team. We’re going to need people who can handle a weapon.”
Lee was about to ask for more information when Jenkins cleared his throat. “All right . . . Let’s get to it. Chief Corso? Over to you.”
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Really enjoyed this book. It was, essentially, a crime drama in a different setting. But, it kept me going to the end!
Great characters. Story was easy to follow. First time for reading this author and will be looking for more of his books to read. Enjoy books whose main characters are strong women.
Jumping into this series at book 3, I did have to play a little bit of catch up trying to delve into the meat of the story. Thankfully, I found that groove quickly with little transition. The story begins with Cassandra trying to track down the Bonebreaker but LA soon finds itself under attack by the Aztec Empire. That means Cassandra Lee is caught up in a war between the mutants and the citizens of LA with the Bonebreaker hot on her trail. Dietz drafts this tale in such a way that you feel the stunning dystopian world viscerally. The action is fast and furious with not much time to take your breath. Mutants, mayhem and evil master minds Graveyard: The Mutant Files a cross between criminal minds and a scifi movie marathon. If you are looking for action, mystery and suspense in a world that will jump out and grab you, Graveyard: The Mutant Files is the book for you. I received this ARC copy of Graveyard: The Mutant Files from Berkeley Publishing Group - Ace in exchange for a honest review.