In this “uncannily original” series, the man known as Dewey Decimal works in a near-future Manhattan decimated by terrorism and plague, running dirty operations for the crooked Senator Howard—though he’d prefer to spend his time among the stacks at his beloved New York Public Library (Laura Lippman). When Dewey is tasked with disrupting unrest from a growing group of outcast civilians, and simultaneously given the assignment of protecting a pair of Saudi royals, he is forced to look within and make some impossible choices—and it will put him at odds with his benefactor and the powers that be . . .
“A good time for fans of the likes of Charlie Huston and Charles Stross.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Dewey is an unlikely hero, a gimpy, smart-mouthed loner, obsessed with a brand-name hand sanitizer. His indomitable spirit and his distinctive ghetto-infused, educated patter give Larson’s series its unique and spicy character.” —Publishers Weekly
“One of the finest (and weirdest) thriller trilogies ever.” —Mystery Scene
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Got my right foot dug into the soldier's thick neck when I finally figure out what's chafing me.
Bells. That's what's wrong with this sonic picture.
Buried in the dense industrial drone of the Freedom Tower 3.0 re-rebuild, metallic and huge, cranes and bulldozer treads, the flocks of choppers, the loudspeakers wailing Mandarin like a call to prayer ... Within this cacophony I dig the bells, church bells, consonant clusters, occupying three distinct slots in the stereo field.
Somebody tolling them bells over at St. Paul's. Maybe St. Peter's. South too, probably at Trinity.
Soldier gargling, yank my full attention back to the throat I'm stepping on, the SEMPER FI tattoo and logo, attached to a compact middle-aged white man, here in this rinky-dink trailer/office on-site. Man gags and gulps.
That I can be distracted from this, the righteous killing of the cocksucker who snuffed my main man Dos Mac, this laboriously executed execution ... that a bell can catch my attention is revealing. In that this here event is such a forgone thing, cause I killed this fuck countless times in my head over the last year.
Doing whitey now in a Chinese trailer. When a brother like me told the foreman to scram, best believe he scrum. Now witness Chinaman's hastily abandoned breakfast, some manner of alien donut, herky-jerky bits of office debris, a greasy calendar, Chinese characters reading MISS G-9 BEIJING, a faded nymphet showing us a naked shoulder, winking at the viewer from a lost era, wrapped in that ubiquitous red flag.
To say that such disorder disgusts me would be a gross understatement. Does, however, make me wanna speed this nasty business up. "Getting prepped to merge with the infinite, sarge? Just so you dig, this is really happening and it's happening right now." Say it through the surgical mask, only slightly winded from our brief scuffle. Doubt if I'll need chrome today but I hold my HK45 loose and easy in my reconstructed hand.
Prosthetic metacarpal. As bits of me break off, the government is there with a spare. The perks of the insider. In this case, I had high-fived a moving helicopter. Sure, I got stories.
Gloves on, natch.
White man grimaces, a tooth hanging from his lower lip by a thread of blood.
Balancing my full weight on the man's throat, whip my other brogue clean and hard into dude's kidney. Man expelling air like a burst basketball.
"Find it curious you've yet to ask me why this is going down. Reckon you already know then."
Salt-and-pepper hair shorn military close, character for the Chinese "Infinity" etched into the side of his head per Cyna-corp chic. That older tattoo on the forearm, with that eagle, globe, and anchor ... not unlike my own tattoo, though blurred with age.
Vein in the man's forehead raised, engorged. Gargling suggests he might perhaps speak, I ease up the pressure on Sergeant Ferguson's airway.
Me saying: "Jimmy."
This not eliciting a response, I give him another foot to the gut. James heaves an empty, dry retch.
"Take it down memory lane, be sure you're crystal." Me saying: "Know me, bitch?"
Jimbo nuzzling his cheek against the rotten shitty wood of the trailer floor, nodding, nodding.
"So maybe you're doing that math. To assist. Hearken back, November last. Unarmed black man in Chinatown. Lots of computers, books. Took him out cold blood. You following, shitbird?"
His one visible eye swivels my way, attempting a connection I evade.
"That man was my brother. His name was Dos Mac."
Jim wagging his skull, yes massa, and I peep a sliver of something like hope in those Aryan scopes ... yes sir. Perhaps he can logic his way out to fight another day.
Plenty nuff talking for me.
Step hard, breaking the cartilage of his trachea.
* * *
Grind northbound, shaking it off, already got my Purell out on automatic, eyes strafing the black glass of the Millennium Hotel, WTC 1 V3.0 to my back vibing wrong, vibing too tall, past a low wall of sandbags, armored cars, white shuttle buses sporting Skanska logos, dodging a manhole erupting terra-cotta steam, surrounded by a dozen drones in lemon hazmat gear ...
Well, I ask you now, you think I cherish these sorry situations? This lopsided sadism? Think I get jiggy on the misfortune of my fellow travelers? Not so, y'all, not so.
Dip my hat at the Chinese boys flanking the gate, one of whom commences whistling a Christmas tune. See no evil, gents. I'll settle up with their boss later on, for the short-term rental. And associated cleanup costs.
But listen. Listen, friends. Fundamentally I am a man of peace, a retiring, scholarly gentleman. It's just that this brother also happens to be extensively and expensively schooled in kicking down doors and inflicting pain. So one does what one can, given one's CV. Especially round about these fucking times, where it's do or drown.
No shame in my game.
Full disclosure, to the degree possible with what I got in my skull: I used to be one of these private army heavies. Cyna-corp, though it went by a different name, was my team.
And I bailed. Broke rank. So you can imagine ... makes it complicated cause said crew essentially runs the island.
Yeah, apparently I used to wear those colors. This period of my life is poorly lit, a casualty of the tinkering that went on in my skull at the hands of the doctors at the National Institutes of Health. Allegedly. So as far as Cyna-corp is concerned, I am still AWOL.
Worse still: I allowed the Cyna-corp founder and guiding spirit to be slaughtered right in front of me. Knifed to death by US Senator Clarence Howard, no less. Sad story, y'all. Another time.
Dig, pausing now at the corner of godforsaken Barclay and Church to pull down the mask and flame up a Chinese Lucky Strike. Helps with the Stench.
Swap out used plastic gloves for fresh, squinting skyward at the helicopters, always with the helicopters, as I apply the necessary Purell ... suggestion of a light source through the heavy orange cloud cover would indicate approximately five in the p.m.
Trying to peep my driver. Need to get to Midtown. The senator has taken to leaving the office earlier and earlier.
This Ferguson thing, these were precious moments expended on personal business. More risk than I would generally allow for. But some matters cannot be left unattended. Jungle justice.
Suck three fast lungfuls, plop a blue pill on my tongue, and replace my mask; with the rapid deterioration of the air quality, that's about all my body can take. And with this I am one fine evening closer to death.
I call myself Dewey Decimal.
* * *
From here on out, it's gonna get grim, then grimmer, then it will all stop. And it's gonna marrow-level hurt every moment of the way down.
Devotion to the unimpeachable truth is paramount. Take for instance the recently deceased Sergeant Ferguson. Painstaking months went into determining I had the right guy. Many more hours comprising days of careful, cautious planning vis-à-vis his exit. Margin for error? Near nil — cause any other odds I could not afford nor abide. I go all out — or not at all.
Sure: truths, facts. Some facts are straightforward. Some are blurry, obfuscated. But certain facts hover there, buzzing, not to be ignored. Like these:
The urban splatter once known as greater New York City is mortally wounded, defaced, irreparable. Those with the means, be it private, state, or corporate backing, rebuild the environs according to their needs.
For the rest, we shuck and jive and parry and jab, and do what we can to stay upright — and we watch new Brutalist structures bloom out of the rubble of the dead landmarks.
Why we still press forward is a righteous head-scratcher. But press forward we do.
Blessed be the hopeful, because they are cursed, the most wretched.
Ho shit. How about sarge back there. Figured despite all evidence to the contrary, he still had half a shot. Thinking he could talk a man down. Not so, yo, not so. Not me, pal — I ain't the one.
Gritty. Fucking sand in my pant legs. Always with the sand. I go to shake it out and naturally, once again — nothing is in fact there. Coulda sworn. Phantom sand.
What I been doing? Same as ever: straight ballin'.
Allah be praised, or perhaps despite His best efforts, yes — I'm still on my hustle up in this tar pit. What's more, I got good and plenty of the little things that make this brother tick.
Still got that Purell in steady supply, keeping me squeaky body and spirit. Still got my pills, keeping my heart steady jacking. Matter of fact, I choke one back right now. Still got various chrome, allowing a man to rest easy.
And still got my System. By its rules I am guided and kept. We'll get to that in a moment — hang with me now, I need to know you're there.
Now I track a Chinese Humvee clone as it bounces up Church, wispy dudes in white chem-suits hanging simian off the back. I'm ignored and that's a positive plus. As the Hummie is enveloped by low yellow fog, I meditate on the System.
In the realm of the spiritual, you might view the System as a set of suggestions for negotiating movement, whether through one's thought processes, one's daily activities, or one's environment, all so as to maximize the harmonic.
Left turns STRICTLY prior to eleven a.m.
Frequent and vigorous cleansing with Purell, essential to rational thought and movement.
On a scientific tip we can observe the System, like aspects of quantum physics, only after we become aware of its behavior. Weaving matter with dimensional units, time and physical space, creating a tight braid, a double helix within which is encoded the logic of all things, all structures, all other so-called systems, be they organic or ... be they organic ... be they ...
Twitch. Lost that thread. Damn. My eyelid spasms. Touch the hard bump on the back of my neck. My platinum pearl. Could it be ... what? Growing?
Whisper to it. Talk to the thing, my constant companion: "Gonna cut you, cupcake. Dig you out. Believe that."
Flex tough on the bastard, but never doubt the raw; I lose sleep over the sophisticated nanomechanics lodged in the base of my skull.
Reflexive pat on my vial of Purell. True practice of the System necessarily involves rigorous application of Purell (or, I suppose, any equivalent alcohol gel hand sanitizer (AGHS))
Clean in flesh and thought, clean in bearing and intent. And as mentioned, the practice involves a complex of navigational rules regarding how one skates though one's day.
Left turn. Left turn. Left turn.
The benefits? Countless. And bitches? I'm worth it like Vidal Sassoon.
Was a time folks liked to clown a brother — attending to my mitts as I do every couple minutes, stepping backward in old-timey gear, hating on my exacting attention to detail, my commitment to the library and its Books. And I ask you today: where are said naysayers?
Dead and gone. Or at least gone, which is nigh as good as dead. So who's the clown now?
A surprisingly forceful and noxious wind gust from the ass of the island sideswipes me, rattles a stack of thin metal girders, tagging unattended cranes and diggers as it rushes north, evil smelling and lukewarm. The din of construction roars on, suggesting life, but the visual tableau speaks of nothing but nothing.
Scope Church Street. Bleak as all get out. Thinking my driver has done gotten himself lost. Again. Him being an out-of-towner. Government kid up here from the District, itself sliding back into the swamp, as Ma Nature intended.
I do up the top button on my overcoat, freezing up in here despite the tepid poison air currents, touch my welding goggles, who would've reckoned this late chill, what with the ground superheated, the rivers creeping in, shoreline shifting by the hour ... ?
Where's my motherfucking ride? Suddenly I feel very much exposed.
Nervy of me, having just dispatched a second-tier Cyna-corp officer. Nobody can know. The senator's office would toss me to the dogs. The Corp would clip my balls without a moment's hesitation, and gleefully so. Fuck knows they've been dying for a reasonable excuse to do just that, though my standing with the senator prevents this.
Yeah, starting to feel a touch lonesome.
And yet not alone. I see the soldier now, over yonder. Swaying solo, like myself, on the southeast corner of Barclay. Fellow been giving me the eye-fuck these last few minutes. Racial ID impossible at this range. Probably Chinese. Always a safe bet, especially downtown.
Taking my measure. Dude brings his assault rifle around, I note it's one of them M4 knockoffs — who says the Chinese can't make a extremely high-quality product when motivated? — this soldier adopting a hard stance, an approximation of menace. Could be misreading the sitch, wouldn't be the first time. Safety first. Street all but deserted save this character. Might as well be on the Pakistan/Afghan border, were it not for the construction.
Peeping your narrator, what does a man see? Dark-chocolate flesh pulled tight, shrouded in a trim suit, coat, and hat, Auschwitz skinny, surgical gloves, procedure mask, etc., anywhere from thirty-five to fifty, age being nearly impossible to determine as we careen toward the end of this fucked-up epoch, we're starved and insane, scrabbling at scorched earth, wrestling over tiny bones.
Look deeper and you'd see my moms in there, that Filipino tinge, but to most — black is black is black.
In this climate, human skin doesn't heal like it used to, so this split upper lip I rock is the result of damage inflicted years ago, a loop of reinjury, always moist with fresh red tissue.
This soldier — I'd tell you this individual there is admiring my tie, but I highly doubt he can see much detail beyond my flesh tone, and that's just the raw. Black known to blind even the most observant creature.
Hell. Thinking not for the first time about the wisdom of having a chauffeur at all if he can't set his watch ... yet another concession I make to the senator, against my better judgment. Where is my fucking ride? Get primed to bounce on my own juice, reckon I hoof it or, with my bad leg giving me subtle grief, catch the next domestic military detail headed uptown.
Now shitbird figures he'll step to me. Shuffling across the street, theatrically brandishing his submachine gun.
Means I gotta start paying attention, thus fucking up my monologue. Can't believe I'm gonna have to expend energy on this sorry stray.
Not hearing shit at first over the machines, then: "... stanning." He's addressing me from midway across the boulevard, young, high-pitched Chinglish. "No stanning, you walk ..."
For the sake of form I am lifting my hands, weary now, dangling my laminate, hearing myself switching to Mandarin, my
cracked kisser croaking, "State Department, my brother. Thing to do is cool it down right about now."
Don't dig that his arms are trembling if only cause this can lead to accidents. Must be a fresh import. I lower my face mask, all kindza as-yet- unnamed pathogens no doubt bum-rushing my body, new shit without even a Latin moniker. I shiver, but I suck it up.
Brandish the plastic card, slow and deliberate. "See, pal. That's me right there in the picture ..."
The gunman stumbles over his own kicks — what gives? Comes back at me in his native tongue. I'm hearing him. Yeah, that's right, I'm fluent in Mandarin. And nearly every other language under the sun. An enhancement, your tax dollars at work. Controlled, I have come to believe, by the implant in my neck.
"... State Department, yes, okay," dude saying. "This area, People's Republic, so, ah, you have no ..."
Open my yap to cut these tedious formalities short, and this is when the bells at St. Paul's sound again, disproportionately loud, and I'd be lying if I said I don't near soil myself. Cause it's been an age since we've heard anything like this, the sound resonating so very wrong in this blasted expanse.
Chinese youngblood three-sixties off kilter, nearly throwing himself over, and though my focus is on the church, I notice one leg is shorter than the other on this specimen. A flood of empathy fills my chest, and I am annoyed at this knee-jerk weakness on my part.
Bell tolls four times followed by the impression of silence, even against the incessant industrial rumblings. And this:
There, near the church ... through the haze I can make out a handful of human shapes, bearing ... what? Flashlights? Flares? No. Candles. Actual candles. Battery-powered gear doesn't convincingly flicker and shimmy like that.
Pondering where the fuck a body would rustle up a for-real candle. The gimpy gunman is heading their way, yammering. Apparently I am forgotten, which suits me dandy, me thinking: What's with the bells? Candles?
Then it grabs me, and the scruff of my neck tickles as hairs stand on end.
February 14. Today. Two years gone. Second anniversary of the gutting of the city of my birth, this, the City of New York. The "Valentine's Occurrence."
First anniversary must've blown right past me. Forgive the oversight: a man has been crazy busy not getting dead.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Immune System"
Copyright © 2015 Nathan Larson.
Excerpted by permission of Akashic Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
E-Book Extra: Excerpt form The Dewey Decimal Series,
About Nathan Larson,
Copyright & Credits,
About Akashic Books,