Joe goes looking for a helping hand and mistakenly gets arrested with a group of freedom fighters. The only cause Joe wants to fight for is Joe, but federal agents coerce him into spying on the Children of Liberty.
When Joe reluctantly infiltrates the protest group, he finds something he never expected or wanted. Friends. And he discovers that maybe there are things in life worth fighting-and dying-for.
|Publisher:||Red Adept Publishing|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.78(d)|
Read an Excerpt
First Class Felony
THE THREE DEAD GUYS on the freight elevator had a personal odor reminiscent of vomit with an undertone of road kill.
"You freaks need to stand in the rain, you know that? Take a shower."
My formerly living companions swayed with the motion of the elevator but kept their thoughts on hygiene to themselves. One of the three, whose name tag read "Larry," belched — an editorial comment or random gas bubble? Hard to say.
Sixty-seven more floors of asphyxiation. Why their owner didn't wash down his Revivants was a mystery. They didn't decay like regular dead people; if they did, body parts would be strewn around the city like the remnants of a jihadi bomb factory.
Take shallow breaths.
I adjusted my stolen waiter's jacket to hide Grandpa's old bullet- firing pistol. The weapon made my pants sag. Since I quit eating anything more solid than tomato soup prepared from ketchup packets, everything — including a sudden change in barometric pressure — made my pants slide down.
Dampness blotched the jacket's red sleeve from the cold sweat off my forehead. C'mon, Joe, pull it together.
Two of the Revvies rode in silence. Larry, the talker, vaguely resembled a classic comedian from the early 2000s. The hell was his name? A funny guy, I'd caught some of his stuff in all the old bootleg videos Grandpa made me watch.
Unlike Jay, Larry knew only one joke.
The dead comedian leered over my shoulder and, in a zombie voice, moaned, "B-b-b-brainssss!"
"That wasn't funny the last six times you said it. You're not a zombie."
Larry laughed, a sound like an old gas-powered car trying to start on a cold day. "Hhnh-hhnh-hhnh." He wore a unisex coverall, once brilliant red, now faded to Pepto-Bismol pink. The nametag curled, unstuck at one corner.
"Keep your day job," I grumbled.
The elevator shuddered and clanked to a stop — the damned thing was older than Grandpa Warren's firearm — and the doors ground open. Larry, hit of the graveyard comedy tour, stayed aboard and bared his gummy teeth in a grin. Since Revvies didn't eat, I refused to speculate on what might be stuck in his incisors.
The two silent dead guys scuffed away in their worn shoes, heads canted to one side in that odd zombie-walk favored by the revived. Larry stayed with me on the empty elevator.
Me and the Walking Dud.
"Whoever programmed your nanos for comedy needs to be punched in the throat." I hit the up button and focused on the groaning doors.
The gun poked my testicles. Grimacing, I resettled it, finger most definitely off the trigger. The gun hadn't been fired since the second Ms. Clinton administration, but now was not the time to test it. Wish I'd thought of that before I left Ding's apartment.
Thirty more floors.
I tugged at the damp collar of my white dress shirt with its built-in bow tie.
"Shut up." I stalked over and stabbed a finger in Larry's chest. "Just shut up, okay? Every time I look at one of you, you know what I see? I see failure, asshole." I poked the gaping Revivant again. "I never would have been put in this spot if it wasn't for you!" I shoved Larry, and he swayed in place but didn't fall. "Fuck it. Why am I even talkin' to you?" Larry grinned, his keyboard teeth spackled with mortar. "Hhnh-hhnh-hhnh."
"Yeah, very funny. You don't have to eat, don't have to sleep ... just work all day long without even a piss-break. You make people sick with your germs, give them fucking brain tumors ... steal their lives." My mouth snapped shut.
And how stupid am I lecturing a corpse?
The elevator shuddered to a stop, the P button flickering on the panel. The penthouse.
I adjusted the pistol and waited for the doors to part. They clunked open, showing a dingy white service corridor. Another pink-suited Rev waited by the doors, placid as a cow, carrying a black plastic trash bag in one immobile hand.
"Tah-rash," it said.
The newcomer handed Larry the bag as I stepped around them.
"Tah-rash," Larry repeated. He leered at me, churned out another creepy laugh. The doors closed on his grinning pumpkin face, shutting Larry away. Gears clanked, a spark flared, machinery whirred, and the elevator started down.
The remaining undead janitor wasn't as chatty as Larry. He rotated in an old-man shuffle and tottered toward the door at the far end of the service corridor, his coverall yellowing under third-rate LEDs lighting the corridor. Who used LEDs anymore? Spared every expense, these guys.
Which is a good thing.
The financial straits of modern America in the year 2051 should work in my favor. For once.
Two doors flanked the service corridor on either side. One bore the label Mantenimiento. The other read: Seguridad. Security. Spanish language labels in Chinese- owned buildings. ¡Bienvenidos a los Estados Unidos! Foreign spices seasoned the melting pot, sometimes creating a tasty stew, sometimes a bellyache.
"Well, let's find out if this works."
I fished the preprinted finger cot — it resembled a short condom — from my waistcoat pocket and slipped it over my thumb. Gingerly. Tearing it now would be bad. I had lifted the molded fingerprint from a Revivant in Moline, the former security chief of the Huateng Tower. Programmed to pick tomatoes, he kept trying to get back to the field, becoming more anxious the longer I held him down in the back of my van.
Which sounded pretty freaking sick, right?
When I let him go, he hustled off in jerky little steps, head cocked to the side, like the actor in the latest V-Real remake of Rain Man III.
"Thanks, Chief. I hope you're enjoying the afterlife." I placed my covered thumb against the biometric and held my breath. "All right, guys. Did you reprogram the locks, or were you having a sloppy day?" Buzzz-click. "Yes, baby! Score one for cheap and lazy."
I palmed the door to the security room, one hand on the pistol in my waistband. If they left a human guard to watch the cameras ... "Nope. Too cheap for that. Heh-heh."
Monitors glowed. Light flickered. Computers hummed. Air circulated.
The main display fluttered to life when I pressed my fake thumb against the reader on the desk. Locking down the passenger elevators sucked up thirty seconds. Deactivating and memory-wiping the surveillance nodes took only a few minutes. The remaining building security devices went down one by one. Activating the signal-damping field required a little more time, but everything seemed simple enough. Tap-tap. Done.
Easy as pie. My comp sci minor, aborted upon my departure from college, would serve some use. At least I could find my way around a server.
"Time to get a little payback," I murmured, dragging the antique pistol from my waistband. Joe Warren, gunslinger.
The damned thing was heavy. Steel and lead and grim death, all in a hand-sized package. Bright nickel finish, wood handle adorned by a stylized S&W medallion. A revolver, Grandpa said when he showed me how it worked.
I settled the revolver in my waistband and buttoned my jacket over it.
"How far do you think he'll get?" Homeland Agent Maravich used his pinkie to circle the inside of his nostril.
Across the street from the Huateng Tower, in what was once the Magnificent Mile Marriott but was now a deserted hulk harboring junkies, alkies, and lice, Agents Ramirez and Maravich followed Joseph Warren's antics on a portable vid screen. Scratchy audio buzzed from tiny speakers. An inset window indicated the subject's position in real- time and read out his vital stats in a tiny scroll at the bottom.
"Far enough to hang himself." Ramirez leaned over the monitor, set up on what was once the circular bar in the Marriott's lobby. He refused to let any part of his body other than the soles of his shoes touch any surface in the derelict building. Water dripped and things skittered in the dark corners of the open space, long since stripped of fixtures and covered in a layer of filth deep as cake icing.
A team of six TAC officers in full gear held position near the boarded-up entrance. A chain hung from a hole in the plywood, its lock a thing of distant memory. The glut of street people lurking in the lobby had slunk away like feral dogs when Ramirez and his fellow agents shoved open the damp and rotting barrier and flashed lights around the interior. Ramirez perceived them hovering in the shadows the way a ship's captain sensed bad weather over the horizon.
"So what is it about this dingleberry?" Maravich studied the small screen, his Eastern European ancestry evident in the flat planes and angles of his face. "This Warren guy, he ain't much."
"He's going to get us in."
"Warren is the only person I've ever seen get close to MacCauley who wasn't one of her fanatics."
"And you think that's enough?"
On the screen, Warren accessed the security door, and the camera view switched to inside the room. Ramirez smirked as their subject tapped his way through the building's security features.
"There's more to Warren than meets the eye," he told Maravich. "He's a survivor. I get a lever on him; he'll do what we need."
"You say so." Maravich shrugged. He snorted and spat across the bar. "I think the guy's a chump."
"He is. But he's our chump. He'll get us in, and we'll run down these terrorist fucks once and for all. These assholes think they can tear down the foundation of this country and destroy the United States government. I will not, under any circumstances, allow that to happen. If I have to sacrifice a hundred Joseph Warrens, it'll be a small price to pay."
Robbin' Hoodie Strikes
BACK IN THE CORRIDOR, the cool air chilled the sweat beading on my forehead. The door at the end of the hall led to the Salón de Baile del Pueblo. Ballroom of the People. The Huateng Tower: one of a few downtown skyscrapers still in use, an icon of the disparity evident between one block and the next, or, as I like to think of it, a proctologist's big middle finger sticking into the asshole of downtown, squeezed all around by cancer. The site touted a banquet room with elegant dining tables, a dance floor, gleaming silver and gold accouterments, and stunning views of downtown Chicago. The Haves arrived in armored limos and were escorted inside through bulletproof glass corridors so that none of the Have-Nots' cooties would touch them. Ballroom of the People. Yeah, right. What a joke. It should be named Ballroom of the Rich People.
There was no lock on the interior door from the service corridor. A lock would prove too challenging for the Revivant service staff.
Steamy air, smoky griddles, and the shouts of cooks and waiters greeted me on the other side. The kitchen staff barely glanced at me as I wove through them and shoved open the swinging door to the people's ballroom. Kitchen sounds dropped off, and a solid wall of voices, music, laughter, and clinking silverware slapped me in the face. Wall-to-wall people, elegantly dressed and sumptuously fed, crowded tables draped in linen. They lifted glasses filled with sparkling wine and toasted their mutual success and beauty.
I recognized an A-list actress whose most recent V-Real grossed over seventeen billion dollars. It involved interspecies sex with dolphins, I think.
At another table, a sloshed Democan Senator, Illinois's very own Hernando Martinez de Soto, eye-fucked the cleavage of the teenage hardbody next to him (I think she was an Olympic Nude Volleyball champion) while his wife glared puñales calientes at him. From the solar eruptions flaring from her eyes, it appeared the Democan Uniparty would have a vacancy to fill next term.
At the far end of the room, a low stage featured a spotlighted podium stationed in front of a blue velvet drape. On the drape, a graph glowed, gaudy white letters in Godzilla-sized font.
Renascentia, Inc. Where Death is but a Stage
Below that, with eye-watering visual effects, the text repeated the phrase:
Congratulations Renascentia Team for 10 years of Revivals and Rebirths. Thanks to you, being dead doesn't mean you have to stop living.
A table flanked the podium with twelve of the High and Mighty arrayed like a parody of the Last Supper mythos. The Jesus Christ figure in this tableau sat to the right of the podium — my left — and lifted a dainty forkful of veganibbles to his gene-spliced, ultra-handsome face.
Twentieth-generation Kanyakubja Brahmin. CEO of Renascentia. Creator of the Revivant Nanobot.
Progenitor of the undead labor force. That stole Chelle from me. And started a chain of events that left me broke, homeless, and alone.
I felt like a Revvie myself, disconnected from my legs and moving in a haze; a shaking, buttery mess sliding around islands of merriment and witty conversation. The gun tugged at my britches; I had to keep my hands stuffed in my pockets to stop it from sliding into my crotch again.
The murmur of conversation bounced off my ears without penetrating.
"— then Daniel said —"
"— that's a great place. It has an underwater pool —"
"— cute dress! Where'd you —"
At the stage, the guy at the end of the head table frowned at me when I stepped up next to him. He made a sour face and pointed at his empty wine glass. His expression turned to shock when I said, "Get your own damned wine."
No tip at this table.
Jamil Yamadut never looked up from his plate of organically grown protein slices, sautéed with what resembled lawn clippings from a well- tended garden. The food left on his plate represented more than I'd eaten in a week. My stomach growled, and dizziness fuzzed my eyesight.
I sniffed up a lungful of air and stepped to the podium. As soon as I did, the AV system activated, and doll-sized replicas of me appeared in the middle of every table. The sight froze my jaw in the standby position, like an actor in a home V-Real, paused in mid-sentence.
Is that really what I look like? Hell, a Revivant dragged behind a bus looks better.
Two hundred guests saw a guy in a badly fitting waiter's tux, pasty white and glistening with sweat, standing at the podium with visibly trembling hands.
"I, uh ..." My voice reverberated around the room, bounced back and trailed off into a high-pitched squeal. Unbelievable. Two hundred years of technology and they still can't eliminate feedback. "I ... wait, no." Concentrate, Joe. "This is a stick-up!"
Grandpa was my live-in babysitter. We must have watched a thousand shows where people rode horses and shot it out in dusty streets or rode smoke-pouring autos and rattled off tommy guns. I steeled myself to be as ruthless and brutal as those long-ago actors — something unheard of in this day and age. Thanks for the education, Grandpa. I repeated it, louder. "This is a stick-up!"
The audience failed to react. A mild titter ran through the room. The clinking of silverware continued, some diners seeming not to notice, so involved in their own conversations even the threat of a man holding a gun ...
Note to self: Next time, draw the gun first.
"What are you doing?" Jamil Yamadut demanded. He rose partway from his seat, a napkin in one hand. "I did not order a comedian."
Really? Well, you should meet Larry.
"Laugh at this, Pilgrim." I tugged the revolver from my waistband after two tries — it snagged, of course — and pointed it at Yamadut's face. I'd never seen eyes get that big and round. "Now sit back down." Facing the audience, I said, "This, gentlepeople, is a stick" — I cocked the hammer, which required more effort than I expected — "up!"
I pointed the shiny Smith & Wesson at the ceiling and depressed the trigger.
The gun bucked so hard, I nearly dropped it.
Holy Mother of Unnatural Breeding!
Nobody told me how loud the thing would be. If a pair of brass cymbals had clapped my head, my ears wouldn't ring any worse. The shrieking and startled shouts of the dinner guests came from a deep pit, though I could read their expressions well enough. Most people looked only slightly less freaked-fucking-out than I.
"Okay, people, pay attention," I yelled. My magnified voice replicated across the Ballroom of the People, twenty miniature Joe Warrens repeating after me. I retrieved my bit-stick from my pants pocket. The balance reading on the side, in glowing red numerals, informed me I had point-one-six bucks in my account. "Everybody get out your bit-sticks, bit-jewels, and other bit-currency devices. See my stick?" (I choked down a laugh.) "Key your balances over to me. If I don't see an acceptable number on this screen in ten seconds, the prick with the grass stain on his chin gets the next round through his head." I pointed the weapon's dead weight at Jamil's face again. "My receive code is 115698." I repeated the number three times.
"Are you insane?" he hissed.
"Yes, Jamil, I'm crazy as glue." I giggled. Really. I did. Twenty miniature Joes giggled with me. Get control, you idiot. I made an instant change in plan; the guy's healthy, well-fed face really got under my skin. "Get ready for a little trip, Yama-dope. You're coming with me."
Excerpted from "Working Stiffs"
Copyright © 2017 Scott Bell.
Excerpted by permission of Red Adept Publishing, LLC.
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
One | First Class Felony,
Two | Robbin' Hoodie Strikes,
Three | I Can Quit Anytime I Want,
Three Months Ago,
Four | Medical Malpractice,
Five | Answer My Questions Three,
Six | A Series of Seriously Fucked Up Events,
Seven | The Government is my Shepherd and I Shall Not Want,
Eight | Jailhouse Rock,
Nine | You Say Terrorist, I Say Tomato,
Ten | Where I Get on Agent Ramirez's Christmas Card List,
Eleven | Death and Taxes,
Twelve | Necessity is the Mother of Groveling,
Thirteen | Bad Boys, Whatcha Gonna Do?,
Cops and Robbers,
Fourteen | In Which Things go to Shit Again.,
Fifteen | When the Lights Go Out in the City,
Sixteen | Secret Agent Joe,
Seventeen | Roses are Thorny Bitches,
Coituum More Capra,
Eighteen | Thoroughly Mordant Millie,
Nineteen | If Zombies Attack, I Just Have to Run Faster Than You,
Magnus Imperium Sugit,
Twenty | Shoot Low Sheriff, They Might be Wounded,
Twenty-One | Frenzied Ferret Fu,
Twenty-Two | The Bare Truth,
Twenty-Three | The Path Not Taken,
Tempus Fuckus Fugit,
Twenty-Four | It Ain't No Picnic,
Twenty-Five | The Secret Rebel Base,
Twenty-Six | Why Me?,
Twenty-Seven | The Truth ... Will Get You Shot At.,
Twenty-Eight | Retreat? Hell, Yeah!,
Twenty-Nine | Hello Again ... Naturally,
Thirty | Fight the Government, They Said. It'll be Fun, They Said,
Thirty-One | Stand for Something, or Fall for Anything,
Thirty-Two | I'll See Your SNAFU and Raise You a Clusterfuck,
Thirty-Three | Hangman's Coming Down From the Gallows,
Thirty-Four | Tanks for the Memories,
Thirty-Five | I've Been Working on the Underground Railroad,
About the Author,
Also By Scott Bell,