Saturday, September 15, 2012

The first chapter of my new novel. It's not quite finished yet, but I'm hoping to whet some appetites. Thanks for reading, and all comments are welcome.
Wayne C. Grantham


The old man raised the rifle, aiming it at a coyote trotting along the dry stream bed. The moon was nearly full, but only the creature’s movement made him visible. The air smelled of dust and scrub oak. The wind was still. The man moved his finger to the trigger. The movement of a large object across the clear sky, causing a momentary eclipse, caused him to pause. He moved his trigger finger away and snapped the safety on with his thumb, pointing the rifle in a safe direction. He raised his eyes toward the movement.
      It was the strangest-looking aircraft he’d ever seen. It was absolutely silent. No, there was a slight hum, very low. The craft came from the south, from Baja, now unofficially known as Freestate California. It had to be that. No such machine existed in California, nor would it be allowed. It was square and blocky, looking more like a wheel-less truck than an aircraft. Against the not-quite black sky, he could see a bluish glow on the underside of the craft as it gradually descended in a northerly direction.
      Screw ‘em, he thought, I ain’t sayin’ nothin’. He shifted slightly to be able to watch it better. “Not a God damned thing.” He muttered.
      The hunter turned back to his task, but the coyote was gone.
      As the craft continued its descent, it lined up over an unpaved road, barely visible in this light, between growths of brush. Panels slid away and automotive-type wheels dropped into place. The craft touched down on the road, skidding a little as the tires oriented themselves and came up to speed. As the sound of a diesel engine rose from the vehicle, head and taillights flashed on and a vehicle looking exactly like a battered military surplus HumVee rumbled and jounced along the road. In the distance, he could see the taillights turn onto a rural highway toward the city.
Valerie MacDougal, an auburn-haired, thirty-year-old woman who would be beautiful but for the hard, no-nonsense look in the frown lines around her eyes and habitual tension around her mouth, snapped the steering yoke into its place on the dash for surface driving. She drove along the mountain highway toward the final glow of the sunset over the ocean too far away to be seen.
She wondered why Willie wanted to meet her in Logan Heights. He usually met her in a park or at a beach. Logan Heights. A poor neighborhood with light to medium commercial. Ok during the daylight, but very unpredictable at night. It was a place where no one flinched at the sound of gunfire unless it was close. She would have to watch herself, alone in that part of town.
She entered the urban part of San Diego on an old freeway which had seen better days. The HumVee bumped over broken and uneven pavement, damaged by many years of heavy use and poor maintenance. All of San Diego’s freeways seemed to deteriorate year by year. It actually seemed worse now than it was before she started on her annual vacation to her Freestate home only a month ago. Many of the freeway’s lights were out, and not a few of the light poles had been knocked down by collisions, and pushed off the shoulder rather than repaired. An occasional car lay stripped of saleable parts, pushed off the side of the road.
As she took an unlit ramp off the freeway and dropped onto the city streets, she had to hunt for street signs. Few signs were intact and fewer street lamps were working. Finding the street was made even more difficult by the moisture in the air, causing a light fog and heavy dew forming on the windshield. She used her vehicle’s spotlight to look for street names, and was happy she had a good overview knowledge of the layout of the city. San Diego, with its hills, canyons and cul-de-sacs, was an easy town to get lost in.
      As she turned down a dark street in an area comprised of strip complexes full of light industrial buildings, she saw a building number on a corner of a building above a faded For Lease sign. She turned the HumVee into the lot and parked in front of an upholstery shop which was flanked by vacant shop spaces. She clicked everything off and checked her pistol, then replaced it in her belt holster. She waited.
      Shortly, a battered sedan entered the parking lot. She recognized it as Willie’s “work” car, but it parked fifty feet away in a very dark part of the lot. Why did he park way over there? Stupid, she thought. She waited for a few minutes for Willie to appear, then decided she’d better find out what’s going on.
      She threw a trenchcoat over her shoulders, more to cover her gun belt than to keep her warm, and walked toward Willie’s car. Eyes active, she stayed in the shadows and kept her hand on the pistol on her hip.
      A window blew out of an office beside her. Valerie dove behind a nearby parked car, her handgun in her hand, safety off.
      ‘You idiot!” Zeno Horiuchi banged his fist savagely on the hood of the car. “All you did was tell her we’re after her! Go! Both of you!”
      Two younger thugs began advancing under the cover of masonry planters and the few other cars in the lot.
“I’ll try to flush her out!” One of the thugs fired a shot at the car Valerie hid behind. The exploding bullet blew the tire away and damaged the wheel and fender of the car.
      “Freestate tech. Who--“Valerie muttered, then leaped through the blown out window into a machine shop, through which she made her way among metal cutters and lathes. She was showered with sparks, curly metal cuttings and debris as an exploding bullet hit a drill press behind her. She tripped over a box of parts and banged her elbow against a lathe. She threw the bar aside and banged out the back door, then ran along an unlit alley behind the row of businesses.
      As she got clear, she turned to see three gunmen emerging from the rear of the machine shop. None of them was Willie. They traded shots as the chase moved along the rear of the long building. Valerie climbed onto a parked car to help her get over a block wall. She paused to take an aimed shot, hitting one of her attackers in the abdomen with an exploding bullet. He tumbled to a stop, trailing blood and entrails for ten feet; his screams deteriorating to groans as the fight left him behind.
      As she hit the ground on the other side of the wall, she found herself in another alley behind another light industrial building. No where to hide. She ran. She hadn’t gone thirty feet when an exploding bullet took her leg off at the knee. Rolling as she hit the pavement, she took a careful shot and killed the second shooter and crawled behind a trash dumpster.
      What the hell’s going on? She thought. They can’t get the stuff they want without me. She looked at the blood pulsing out of the mess that had been her leg. Too much blood; they’ve killed me. She felt the clean coolness of a slight breeze playing through her hair. She looked up, between the dumpster and the masonry wall. The low clouds and fog obscured the stars. She wished she could see the stars.
Several armor piercing rounds went through the dumpster, one hitting her in the stomach. She felt for the pain below her ribcage. Her hand came away bloody. The foul, greasy smell of the contents of the dumpster became a welcome sensation. Even the pain in her belly was welcome, considering the alternative. Weakening, she slumped against the wall. A thin man with a hawk face stepped around the dumpster, covering her. He kicked her weapon away.
The man paused to observe her condition. She looked straight back at him. She imagined she could see the bullet inside the barrel of his weapon.
“Goodbye Val,” he said simply. He backed a few steps away from her, keeping his handgun leveled at her midsection.
“Last time I sell bullets to you, Bastard.”
He fired into her chest, blowing it apart.