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Hola Amigos.

Man I’m in a generous mood this month, let me tell ya.  You may recall the novella I published back in November:

What Lurks Between

From a place beyond reality, it comes to consume the world.

For Barry, getting a transfer to a new position as an electrician aboard the Ketcham Space Station summed up his professional life perfectly: just one dead-end job after another. Little did he know that job put the fate of the world in his hands.

Waking up at home with no memory of how he got back from the Station, Barry soon finds that he brought something back with him. Something hungry. Now he has to stop it. Somehow.

I made What Lurks Between exclusive with Amazon for a few months to take advantage of a new feature of their KDP Select program, to see how it works.  It didn’t work out at all.  So I was all set to just yank What Lurks Between from KDP-S and spread it out everywhere in the ebook-verse, but then this month we had good results from a few giveaways and I rethought that.

So, What Lurks Between will remain exclusive to Amazon for another 3 months.  And we’re doing a freebie special on it – today and tomorrow, 27 and 28 February.  Because I love you all and want you to be happy.  And because I want you to read it and…please listen to this because it’s key…leave reviews (even, or especially, bad ones…as long as they’re honest) on Amazon and Goodreads.

Sound like a good deal?  I think it does. 

So go pick up a copy on me.  Have fun, and don’t say I never did anything for you.

😉

The Pericles Conspiracy – Chapter Twenty-Seven

Clearly I’m not back on my usual schedule yet.  Sorry about being late, but here is chapter Twenty-Seven.  Have I mentioned the book is also available for purchase?  I think I may have.  It’s available in ebook and trade paperback from AmazonBarnes and NobleKoboSmashwords, or  iTunes.  Anyway, let’s get to it.   Read (whether here or via your own copy) and enjoy.

That’s an order.  🙂

The Pericles Conspiracy Cover

Chapter Twenty-Six

Negotiation

Pedro could hardly be considered a man, at least to Jo’s way of thinking.  He was maybe twenty-five, with the kind of baby-face that made her doubt he had to shave more than twice a week.  He had the tanned features and dark hair one would expect from the Central Americas, high cheekbones in a round face, and dull brown eyes.  His jeans, complete with a multitool in a leather pouch, work boots, and simple collared shirt gave him the look of a working man, but when Jo shook hands with him, his palms were smooth like a person who spends little time at manual labor.

But for whatever reason, Malcolm deferred to him.  As much as he deferred to anyone, anyway.

“The famous Captain Ishikawa,” Pedro said as he released her hand.  “I’d say it’s nice to meet you, but,” he glanced at Malcolm and frowned slightly, “frankly we could all have done without that honor, I think.”

Jo scowled, but Malcolm spoke before she could fire back.

“That’s not fair, Pedro.  The NSA was watching her, yes, but we knew that.  They followed me back to the House from her place, not her.”

Pedro’s frown deepened a little, but then he sighed and nodded.  “Of course.”  He looked back at Jo, managing, if not a smile then at least less of a frown.  “My apologies for my rudeness.  Will you sit?”

He gestured toward the center of the room, where a leather-upholstered couch and a pair of stuffed chairs clustered around a coffee table that was inlaid with a standard-sized display and control pad.  Jo nodded and selected one of the stuffed chairs.  As she sunk into its comforting embrace, she surveyed the room more closely.

It was located on the second floor of the Ortega Building, then down a long corridor from the lift and around a corner to the right.  As she followed Malcolm down the corridor, Jo was struck by the generic decoration of the place as well as by its emptiness.  Doors to a number of offices lined the corridor, with placards announcing Chiropractors, Lawyers, Accountants, an Artist’s studio, and a Catering Service – though Jo presumed they did their actual cooking elsewhere.  But no one else entered the corridor at all.  It was the middle of the day; surely someone else besides them had work to do.  But Jo never saw anyone.

Pedro’s office – who knew if it was his, or a shell company’s, or what, but Jo thought of it as his anyway – bore the label “McKenzie and Velaquez, Architects” on its placard.

The door had opened as they arrived, and they were greeted by a man and a woman dressed in workout clothing, as though they were going to the gym, except that they wore pistols in shoulder holsters and the woman carried a hand-held weapons scanner.  Malcolm they let enter without comment, but they subjected Jo and Raúl to the weapons scanner and a pat down, even after Jo surrendered her plasma pistol.

All that to get here, to meet with this kid.

He knew how to decorate, Jo had to admit.  The central area of the offices, where they sat, had hardwood floors that were covered by several rugs that hailed from Persia, unless Jo missed her guess.  A few paintings of nature scenes and wildlife hung on the walls, their colors matching those of the rugs and the upholstery of the furniture perfectly.

“First thing’s first,” Pedro began.

“Yeah,” Raúl said, “Where’s my money?”

Pedro blinked.  “I was going to suggest we have a doctor look at your arm, actually.”

“Oh.”  Raúl flushed slightly, embarrassed.

Pedro tapped the control pad.  A moment later, a man walked into the room from further back in the offices.  He was tall, just over two meters, and carried himself with a professional air that was enhanced by his sport coat and tie.

“Is the patient here?” he said, then seeing Raúl, and his arm, he smirked slightly.  “Of course.  I’m Doctor Connors.  Will you follow me please?”

Raúl nodded and stood again.  He paused to look back at Pedro before following the Doctor out.  “Don’t forget my money.”

“Don’t worry, Mr. Ramirez.  You’ll be fully paid for your trouble.”

With another nod, Raúl left the room.  A few seconds later, the sound of a door shutting from the back of the offices confirmed his departure, and Pedro turned a baleful eye on Malcolm.

“What the hell, Malcolm?” he said, his tone less civil now that Raúl was out of earshot.  “I can understand you bringing her into this.  But him?  We can’t trust him to keep his mouth shut!”

“There wasn’t much choice at the time.  And then afterwards…”  Malcolm spread his hands.  “What did you want me to do, ditch him, injured, where the NSA would pick him up?  They would never believe he wasn’t with us from the beginning, and you know what that would mean for him.”

Pedro frowned again, then looked down at the coffee table and nodded.  “You are right, of course.  Well,” he perked back up with a quick inhalation and directed his gaze at Jo.  “We’re in quite a pickle here, Captain, because of your new friends up there.”  He gestured toward the ceiling vaguely.  “And your other friends in Geneva.”

“I would not call them my friends.”

Pedro smiled faintly.  “No, of course you wouldn’t.  Regardless, since the raid, more than half of the people in our organization have vanished; either they left town or they decided they’ve have enough, and we’ll never hear from them again.  Or they’re dead or caught.  Between that and losing our base and equipment, it’s been a difficult couple weeks around here.”

Jo frowned, troubled.  “I had the impression your organization was larger than just this cell in Quito.”

“Oh it is,” Pedro replied.  “Problem is, I don’t know how to get in touch with the others.”

“Come again?”

Pedro looked down at the coffee table, abashed.  Malcolm spoke in the intervening silence.

“There is not much communication between the branches, for obvious reasons.  The branch leaders know who the other branch leaders are, but aside from that…”

What was this, amateur hour?

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Jo said, exasperation making her tone sharp, biting.  “You never put together a contingency plan, in case you lost one of those leaders?”

“Of course we did,” Pedro replied, flushing with what Jo hoped was embarrassment, though it could just as easily be anger.  “We did not, however, plan to lose both the branch leader and her second.  Now, with Becky taken and Lars dead…”  He left the rest unsaid.

Jo blinked.  She had not realized that Lars was the second; he looked like just a guard.

“So you’re telling me we’re screwed.”

“Not in so many words…”

“There are emergency contingencies,” Malcolm interjected, “but they take time to work.  We put a message out to the other groups as soon as the raid happened.  But it will take another week or so before we hear back from them; they have to revamp their security, move to their alternate safe locations…”

“Ok,” Jo said.  “So we get some new terminals up, redo the presentation, and line up the press.  By the time that’s ready to go, the others should be up and ready for it, in case we need support.”

The two men looked at her silently.  She began to get a sinking feeling in her stomach.  Like there had not been enough hits already.

“What?”

Pedro cleared his throat and looked at Malcolm, almost pleadingly, Jo thought.

“The NSA took all of our data storage units in the raid, Jo,” Malcolm said softly.

“And you don’t have a backup.”

“We do.  The problem is, its location is a tightly held secret….”

“And only Becky and Lars know where it is,” Jo finished.  “Shit.”

The two men nodded.

Unbelievable.  This really was amateur hour.

“Well, gentlemen, I wish you would have been more open about your little organization’s planning abilities earlier, before I decided to pick the side that’s doomed to failure.”  Jo leaned back in the chair and pressed her fingers to the sides of her temples.  She was beginning to get a headache.  “What do you propose we do now?”

There was a long silence.  Too long.  One of those two had better say something that approximated a plan soon, or Jo was going to lose it.

“I think at this point we need to consider the Pericles issue a lost cause and…”

Jo rose from her seat in a towering fury.  “Don’t even think about going there, Pedro!”  She jabbed her index finger at his face, and he recoiled, his eyes widening in surprise and, she hoped, a bit of fear.  “I didn’t throw away my career, my livelihood, and risk getting killed or thrown in prison over this just so you candy-asses can throw in the towel at the first sign of trouble!”

Malcolm cleared his throat, “Jo…”

She shot him her best “I’m the Captain, I’m pissed, and you better shut up and do what I say” look.  His mouth shut with a satisfying click of teeth and he sunk back in his seat a little.

Jo looked back at Pedro.  His wide-eyed stare had given way to an expression of chagrin.  He refused to meet her eyes.

“Well?”

Pedro swallowed, then shook his head.  “It’s not a matter of not wanting to do anything, but without…”

“Without Becky you’re impotent.”

Pedro grimaced.  For a second, Jo thought he was going to contest her statement, but then he just nodded.

“Well.”  Jo crossed her arms over her chest.  A plan was beginning to form in her mind.  It was ludicrous.  Insane, even.  But these were desperate times, and maybe they called for a little insanity.  “In that case, we’ll just have to get Becky back.”

The look of stunned incredulity on Pedro’s face was priceless.

*  *  *  *  *

I hope you enjoyed this chapter of The Pericles Conspiracy.  Stay tuned in a few days for the next chapter, or, if you don’t want to bother waiting a couple months to read the rest book, you can always go buy it (it’s available in ebook and trade paperback) from AmazonBarnes and NobleKoboSmashwords, or  iTunes.

The Pericles Conspiracy – Chapter Twenty-Six

I flew back to San Diego from Tokyo yesterday, and spent the day getting re-acquainted with the family and (mostly) adjusted to the new time zone.  So I didn’t post the chapter as scheduled.  Sue me.  But I haven’t forgotten y’all.  Here’s chapter Twenty-Six.  As always you can totally go buy the book if you like it (it’s available in ebook and trade paperback) from AmazonBarnes and NobleKoboSmashwords, or  iTunes.  I won’t be mad if you do.  🙂

The Pericles Conspiracy Cover

Chapter Twenty-Six

Transit

Jo felt like a new person when she walked out of the bathroom.  The new jeans were slightly tight, but that was not so unusual with denim.  The t-shirt was loose and comfortable.  She took a moment to brush out a few tangles in her hair, which as always reminded her why she kept it short, while she studied herself in the mirror over the sink.  Could be a lot worse; the design on the t-shirt, a dog with its tongue lolling out in a grin, was not what she would have picked, but beggars cannot be choosers.

“What did your contact have to say?” she asked, looking at Malcolm’s reflection in the mirror.

She immediately wished she had not said anything.  He gave a little jerk and blinked; her question must have awoken him.

“Not much.”  He paused then, suppressing a yawn with the back of his hand, stood up and moved his arms back and forth vigorously, getting his blood flowing.  “We lost several good people in the raid, and almost all of our equipment and data.  We’re still trying to pick up the pieces, but it’s hard to stay in contact with everyone.”

Raúl peered at Malcolm intently, curiosity on his face, but he remained silent.  Smart guy; you could learn a lot by just shutting up and listening.  Sometimes more than those around you think you have.

Jo put the brush down and turned to face the two men, frowning.  “Surely there was more to it than what I saw the other night.  I thought you said they had people all over the world.”

Malcolm gave a half-shrug and spread his hands in a gesture of helplessness.  “It’s complicated.  When we lost Becky and Lars, we…”

A knock at the door cut off his words.

Malcolm’s face, bone-weary a moment ago, hardened as he turned to look out the peep hole – no security cameras in this place.  After a moment, he relaxed, the sudden tension leaving his shoulders as quickly as it came.

“It’s our guy.”  He reached for the doorknob, then paused and looked back at Jo and Raúl.  “Isaac can be a bit oversensitive sometimes.  A little touchy.  Just be careful what you say to him.”

Jo crooked an eyebrow at him.

“You’ll see why,” Malcolm said.

Then he opened the door.  Jo immediately understood what he meant.

 *  *  *  *  *

Isaac would have been tall, but he stood with a stoop that left him only slightly taller than Jo.  From his wrinkles, deep enough to be almost cracks in his face, he was getting on in years, pushing a hundred-ten, maybe a hundred-twenty.  He had hair only on the left side of his head.  It was thin, stringy, and gray.  The right side of his head was a mass of burn scars, stretching from his neck, halfway down his jaw, then up to his temple.  Where his ear should have been was just a hole.

Jo could understand why he would be touchy; it must be horrible going through life so disfigured, and he would scarcely want it pointed out.  Why had he not had reconstructive surgery?  It was easily obtained, and inexpensive.

But then, inexpensive for some was a king’s fortune for others.  Perhaps he lacked the money.  After all, he wore simple, almost non-descript clothing.  Or at least, at first glance it was simple.  But when Jo looked closer it became clear his cloth was high quality.  The kind of quality that is satisfied to abstain from flashiness in favor of simplicity and functionality.  A subtle musky odor surrounded him, faint enough that Jo almost did not notice it, but effective enough that it perked her interest almost before she realized what was happening.

She was forced to re-assess her initial impression.  Isaac was a man of some means, but he preferred not to show it.  Intriguing.  Who was he, really?

“Hmmph.”  Isaac spared Malcolm barely a glance, instead giving first Raúl and then Jo a thorough look-over.  “That’s her, huh?  Thought she’d be prettier, the way you go on about her.”

Malcolm flinched slightly, then flashed Jo an apologetic half-grin.

Isaac pursed his lips for a moment, then nodded slightly to himself and looked past Jo toward Raúl.  Isaac sized him up then held out a small satchel to Malcolm.  “Patch him up and meet me downstairs.  I’m double-parked,” he said.  Then he turned and walked away, toward the stairwell leading down to the Motel’s parking lot.

“Abrupt, isn’t he,” Raúl said.  From his tone he was not sure whether to be amused or angry.

Jo could relate.

Malcolm wasted no time, but hurried over to the bed and upended the satchel.  As first aid kits go, it was bare bones.  A few bandages, some gauze, and a small spool of medical tape.  But it did have a pair of stainless steel plates to use as a splint, and within a few short minutes they had Raúl’s arm done up far better than it had been.

Malcolm stepped back from Raul and took a second to admire their handiwork, then cleared his throat and turned toward the door.  “We’d better get moving,” he said, over his shoulder.  “He might just leave without us.”

It took a minute to gather their meager belongings and make their way to the parking lot.  Isaac already had his vehicle started.  He sat in the driver’s seat with the window rolled down.  As they approached, he stuck his head out and scowled at them.

“They’re not paying me by the hour.  Get a move on.”

He was certainly a pleasant fellow.

Isaac’s car was small, more a coup than a sedan.  Whoever got in the back seat was going to be crammed in tightly.  But there was no help for it, so Jo pushed forward the passenger seat to climb in.

“I’ll take the back, Jo.”

She looked at Malcolm incredulously.  “With your long legs?”  She shook her head.  “I’ll be fine.”  Then she climbed in.

Malcolm took a moment to settle up at the Motel office, then they were off.

Very quickly, Jo began to regret not taking Malcolm up on his offer.  It was not the tight confines of the rear seats that got to her; Raúl was skinny, so even though they were forced to sit close to each other by the car, they did not have to get that close.

No, the problem was Isaac.  Or rather, the fact that he never even considered activating the automatic navigation system, and he drove like a madman on a race track.  He took corners much faster than he should have, pressing her and Raúl into each other.  And he tended to brake suddenly.  Throughout, he spewed curses at the other drivers that would put the saltiest of starliner pilots to shame.

Before long, Jo began to feel bruised from the constant rocking around and getting shoved into the side of the car, or into Raul’s bony shoulder.

And poor Raúl.  He must have jarred his injured arm a dozen times or more by the time they finally stopped in front of a nondescript commercial building on the west side of town.

The building was three stories tall and square, with stucco siding and a flat roof.  Thin windows that reminded Jo of arrow-slits in a medieval castle marked the building’s levels, and a single pair of swinging glass doors set in the center of the first floor offered entrance.  A sign over the door read “The Ortega Building”.  There was a small sign to the right, which presumably listed the various organizations housed there.  Taken as a whole, the building could have been removed and set down in any commercial block of just about any city without causing any comments at all, except about the mechanism required to move it.

Jo could see why the organization, or the underground, or whatever they called themselves, would choose this place to re-organize itself.

“Well, here we are.”  Isaac took the car out of gear and looked over his shoulder at Jo.  “Hope you know what you’re doing, girl.”

Irritation, born from the ride and amplified by his tone, flared up.  “I can manage just fine, Isaac,” Jo replied, not trying to keep the acid from her tone.  “But thank you for your concern.”

He silently met her gaze for a few seconds, and Jo could almost see his wheels turning.  Then he surprised her.  He shook his head and chuckled.  His smile made his disfigured face suddenly bright, and the glimmer of youth shone from his eyes for a moment.

“Watch out for this one, Malcolm,” he said, nudging Malcolm with his elbow.  “She might give Pedro a migraine.”

Malcolm just shook his head and got out of the car.  Jo and Raúl followed as quickly as they could, with all the twisting and contorting that maneuver required.

No sooner were they out than Isaac drove away.  Jo felt certain he was still laughing to himself.

*  *  *  *  *

I hope you enjoyed this chapter of The Pericles Conspiracy.  Stay tuned in a few days for the next chapter, or, if you don’t want to bother waiting a couple months to read the rest book, you can always go buy it (it’s available in ebook and trade paperback) from AmazonBarnes and NobleKoboSmashwords, or  iTunes.

The Pericles Conspiracy – Chapter Twenty-Five

Holy crap it’s Tuesday evening in San Diego.  This converting from Japan time to US Pacific time bit is killing me.  Absolutely killing me.  Good thing I’m flying home on Saturday.  🙂

And I just realized I missed my Saturday update as well.  I truly suck.  *sigh*

Ok, well, on to the next chapter then, and as always you can totally go buy the book if you like it (it’s available in ebook and trade paperback) from AmazonBarnes and NobleKoboSmashwords, or  iTunes.  I won’t be mad if you do.  🙂

The Pericles Conspiracy Cover

Chapter Twenty-Five

No Tell Motel

Malcolm’s words hit Jo like a prizefighter’s punch.  She recoiled, almost feeling a pain in her gut as their impact landed home.  He could not mean he would just cast her to the winds!  Not after she had…

Jo looked back into Malcolm’s eyes and felt a chill.  No, he would not cut her loose.  But his associates would feel no compunction about doing so.  She was in almost as delicate a situation as when those aliens came aboard Pericles.  One wrong move and it could all fall apart.  But this time, there would be no getting out of it, she was sure about that.

“What do you want to know, Malcolm?”  Her voice sounded wooden, defeated, to her ears.

“Everything.”

In a fit of snark, Jo was half tempted to tell him about the time she had cheated on her math test in third grade.  But she knew better than that.  All the same, she could not completely prevent a little smirk from twisting her lips.

Malcolm raised an eyebrow.  “I’m serious, Jo.”

“I know.  I just had a random thought is all.”  She took a deep breath and nodded.

It took a half hour or so to tell Malcolm about everything that had happened.  She started with meeting Reynolds at La Chupacabra and ended in the Parque when she fought off DiStefano.  Malcolm listened attentively, nodding in appropriate moments and affecting surprise – genuine, Jo was sure – several times.  Finally she came to the end and he leaned back, gingerly she noticed, against the back of the couch.

“I never believed you were on Gagarin,” Malcolm said.  “But I didn’t suspect…”  He shook his head and blew out a deep breath.  “I’m sorry you had to go through that, Jo.”

She blinked, surprise stealing her thoughts for a moment.  When she found her voice, she only managed to blurt out, “What?”

Malcolm gave a little half-shrug.  “Do you think I could wish that on anyone?”

Jo shook her head, not trusting herself to speak again just yet.

Malcolm smiled slightly.  “I suppose I can understand why you agreed to cooperate.  Given the same choice, I cannot say I would have done differently.”  He leaned forward again, resting his elbows on his knees as he looked intently into Jo’s eyes.  “So why did you change your mind?”

The question hung in the air for a minute before Jo answered.

“That’s the wrong question, Malcolm.”  His eyebrow quirked upward, but Jo continued before he could say something else.  “I did not change my mind.  I simply allowed myself to accept the decision I made after you dropped me off at home.”  She looked away from his piercing eyes, toward the blank vidscreen on the wall opposite the beds.  “I could intellectually understand why Chandini and the others took the actions they did, but I knew in my heart it was not right.  And once our new friends up there learn what happened…”  She pointed toward the sky and left the thought unspoken.  There would be hell to pay once the aliens found out what had been done to their helpless ones.

Malcolm nodded.  “Fair enough.”  He stood then, his long limbs bearing him quickly from the couch and toward the door.  Jo gave a start of surprise, at the fact he had moved as much as from the rapidity of his activity.

“Where are you going?”

“Out.”  Malcolm looked at her gravely.  “I need to make contact with my people, figure out where we can all meet to determine our next move.”

“That can wait.  You need to rest, too.”

He shook his head.  “I’m ok.  And no, it can’t.”  Malcolm smiled again, and this time his smile was more genuine, warm.  “Get some rest, Jo.  I’ll be back in a few hours.”

Then he slipped out the door.  Jo had more than half a mind to get up and follow him; the rest of her screamed out in outraged annoyance at being left in such an impotent position.  But fatigue weighed down on her.  She was going on two full days with only a few restless hours of sleep.  The command decision-making part of her brain, honed through years of training and study, whispered to her that she was in no condition to be making good decisions right now, and she would need to be if she was to help Malcolm in this.  Beyond that, she did not know any of the people he would have to contact.  And if he was right, her presence, before he had a chance to smooth things over, might just make a tense situation untenable.

All that flashed through her head in a few seconds.  It hurt – not physically, but it hurt her ego – to admit it, but the best thing to do was to let Malcolm deal with things for the moment.

And to get some sleep while she could.

Despite the objections of her ego, Jo felt a deep, relaxing satisfaction as she reclined on the bed.  The mattress was lumpy, stiff, and probably half her age.  But just then it seemed the most comfortable thing she had ever felt.

She acknowledged the irony of that sentiment with a small inward smirk, then she drifted off.

 *  *  *  *  *

Jo awoke slowly.  At first it did not register to her where she was.  She was in a bed, and it was damned uncomfortable.  But a bed where?  She stretched, feeling her back pop slightly as she moved joints that had become stiff from the mattress’ lumps.  Then she sat up and looked around, and it all came rushing back: the events of the previous night, their predicament with both the authorities and the underground, everything.  It was almost enough to make her lie down again and go back to sleep.

The thought seemed to generate aches of protest from her back and neck, though.  So instead, she stood up.  Slowly.  She really was sore in the middle of her back; she must have slept wrong.

“Those mattresses suck.”  The words were muffled, as though the speaker could not enunciate properly.

Jo turned her head to see Raúl in the back of the room.  He wore nothing but a towel wrapped around his waist, and he was brushing his teeth at the sink.  He had more muscle tone than she would have thought, as scrawny as he was.  Whatever points that might have won him vanished, though, beneath the weight of an ugly-as-sin tattoo that dominated the left side of his chest and upper abdomen.  Really?  A dragon?  He could not come up with anything better than that?

Jo shook her head and snorted out a half laugh.  The reflection of Raul’s eyes in the mirror met hers and he grinned before spitting out a mouthful of toothpaste.  Jo pointedly looked away.

“Where did you find a toothbrush?”

Raúl gargled some water before answering.  “The front desk has a few odds and ends for sale.”

“Really?”  Jo was surprised.  That was the sort of thing one expected from a more upscale hotel, not a dive like this place.

“I know, right?  Who would have thought?”

Raúl finished up at the sink and walked out into the room, where he stripped off his towel and bent over to pull his pants on.  Jo turned her back on him; that was something she definitely did not need to see.  Instead, she picked up the plasma pistol from where she left it on the nightstand and tucked it into her belt at the small of her back.

“So what’s Robert’s deal?” Raúl asked.  “Or Malcolm?  Which is it?”  He sounded curious, but his words also had a probing quality to them, as though he was hunting for some lever he could use to his advantage here.

Jo rolled her eyes, but did not look back at him.  “Malcolm.”

“Ah.”  There was a brief pause, punctuated by the ruffling of fabric.  “It’s safe to turn around.”

Slowly, with no small amount of trepidation, Jo turned back toward Raúl.  Thankfully, he was true to his word, and almost dressed as he had been last night; he was lacking his shirt still but at least he had his pants on.  His expression was amused as he met her gaze again.

“I would not have figured you to be so shy,” he said.

Jo snorted.  She did not need to answer that, so she just changed the subject.  “How’s the arm?”

Raul’s amusement faded as he looked down at his arm, which hung limply at his side.  It must have been a bitch to shower and get his pants on with the broken limb hampering things, but clearly the shirt was not going to happen without help.  “Hurts a bit less.  I can move my fingers a little, but…”  He gave a little helpless shrug that ended in a wince.

“Here, let me help you with that,” Jo said.  She stood and picked up his shirt.

Getting Raúl into the shirt was a delicate operation that involved a lot of grunting and muttered curses.  Jo winced sympathetically as she helped guide the broken arm into its sleeve, but Raúl managed to be at least slightly stoic about the whole thing.  After the shirt was in place, Jo grabbed one of the bath towels and helped him create a makeshift sling.  It was not much, but it would do until they were able to find real medical attention for him.  Although where that would come from, Jo had no idea.

“How did you get into this line of work, Raúl?”

He sniffed softly and shrugged.  “Which line of work is that?  I don’t normally do high speed chases through the city, if you know what I mean.”

Jo just looked at him.  After a moment, he lowered his gaze.  “Yeah.  Well, I never was very good in school, y’know?  But I could tinker.  And I knew computers.  People just sort of started asking me to do little things here and there for them.  Before long, it became a steady business.”

“I see.”

Raúl shook his head, his eyes flashing with…irritation?  Jo must not have succeeded in keeping the disapproval out of her tone.  “Most of the stuff I do is legit.  But sometimes someone like Robert…Malcolm…needs a little somethin’ extra.  It pays a bit better, so I figure no harm no foul, right?”  Raúl sighed, sank down onto his bed, and leaned forward, his eyes focusing on the floor.  “After last night, tho…”  He shook his head.  “No way I can go back to legit work now.”

Jo winced.  Another person hurt because of her secret.  The numbers were beginning to add up.  “I’m sorry,” she said softly.

Raúl looked up, surprised.  “What you got to be sorry for?  I knew what I was getting into soon as Malcolm mentioned the tracker.”  He grinned again.  “Not the first time I’ve had to duck to avoid the long arm of the law.  I’ll be ok.”

“I hope so.  But this is…”

The doorknob rattled.  Jo spun toward the door, her heart in her throat.  Behind her, Raúl leapt to his feet.  She could feel his tension almost as acutely as her own.  Jo glanced around quickly, and just as quickly ruled out flight.  If it was the authorities at the door, there was no way they could make an escape.  She flexed her hand around the grip of the plasma pistol, and waited.

The door opened and Malcolm stepped into the room.  Tension flooded out of Jo in a rush.  She let out a breath she had not realized she was holding and took her hand off the weapon.  Behind her, she heard Raúl blowing out a breath as well.  Malcolm looked quizzically at the two of them.

“Expecting someone else?”

“Just thought for a second you were the Feds.”

Malcolm’s eyebrow quirked upward.  “They don’t know the ID I’m using.  We’re clean, for the moment.”  He smiled then and kicked the door shut behind him.  Only then did Jo notice he carried two large bags.  She recognized the name on the side of the bags: Lerotte’s. A high-end department store.

“Doing a little shopping?”

Malcolm nodded.  “You had to leave quickly.  I figured you could use some clothes.”

Jo’s eyes widened and she grabbed the bags away from him.  She pulled their contents out and spread them on the bed, her spirits rising higher every second.  Two pairs of jeans, three t-shirts, two nicer collared shirts in subdued colors.  A light leather jacket.  Socks.  A pair of sneakers; those would be much better than the dress shoes she wore to the meet in the Parque.  And undergarments.  All in her size.  Finally, down at the bottom of the bag, were deodorant, lipstick and blush, a hair brush, and soap.  Real soap, not the crap cheap motels throw in the bathrooms.

She looked back at Malcolm, a surge of emotion welling up.  Right then, she could have kissed him.  A part of her mind recalled how good he was at it, all those years ago.  She suppressed that thought ruthlessly, but not before she felt a little flush run through her.

“Thank you,” she said, feeling it was a bit too little to say.

Malcolm returned her smile with one of his own.  “I hope I remembered your size correctly.”  He settled down onto the couch and leaned back, weariness written all over him.  “I managed to make contact with my colleagues.  They’re sending a guy over to pick us up.  He’ll be here in half an hour,” he glanced at Raúl and added, “with a first aid kit.  That should get you through until we can get you to a doctor.”

Raúl made a little half-shrug, then sat on the edge of his bed.

Jo stood and grabbed fresh underwear, a pair of jeans, and a t-shirt, and was mildly annoyed to realize she was grinning almost like a schoolgirl as she did so.  “In that case, I’m going to go change.”  She paused, then grabbed the soap and deodorant as well.  “And take another shower.”

*  *  *  *  *

I hope you enjoyed this chapter of The Pericles Conspiracy.  Stay tuned in a few days for the next chapter, or, if you don’t want to bother waiting half a year to read the entire book, you can always go buy it (it’s available in ebook and trade paperback) from AmazonBarnes and NobleKoboSmashwords, or  iTunes.

FREEDOM!!!!!!!!!

*insert Mel Gibson yell*

*cue the Braveheart music*

 

Right.  Now that we have that out of the way, something special’s going on this weekend.

Brother In Law (600x900)

 

I liked the cover so much, I wrote a great story for it (yeah I know the story came first.  Roll with it).  I liked the story so much, I decided to make it free 15-16 February (that would be this weekend, in case you’re away from your calendar).  🙂

So go pick it up.  Have a fun read on me, because generosity.  Then leave a review (even if you hate it) and pick up something else, because that’s what nice people do.  🙂

 

And don’t say I never did anything for you.

🙂

The Pericles Conspiracy – Chapter Twenty-Four

Sorry I’m late with this one.  Tuesday morning, I hopped onto a plane for Japan.  We’re giving some training to one of the Navy units here for the next week or so, a not infrequent occurrence in my current job.  So I’m now sitting in lovely Yokosuka, and the time difference is still messing with me a little.  Right now it’s a little before 7 am on Friday the 14th, but to folks in San Diego where I live it’s afternoon of the 13th.  Fun.

So anyway, my time traveling threw the chapters schedule off.  Sorry about that.

So let’s get to the next chapter, shall we?  As always you can totally go buy the book if you like it (it’s available in ebook and trade paperback) from AmazonBarnes and NobleKoboSmashwords, or  iTunes.  I won’t be mad if you do.  🙂

The Pericles Conspiracy Cover

Chapter Twenty-Four

Under The World

The ladder went down a bit less than five meters before ending on a concrete landing.  Jo stepped away from the ladder and shined the flashlight around.  She stood in a small alcove off the main sewer tunnel.  The tunnel itself was maybe four meters across and two and a half high.  Narrow walkways ran along each side of it, with the main flow-way for the storm water in the center.  Every so often, Jo saw narrow spans crossing the flow-way, allowing access across the tunnel, for maintenance, no doubt.

No one else was in sight.  Not that she really expected there to be, but the NSA Agents had been very savvy to date.  Jo did not put it past them to think of looking in the storm sewers for their quarry.  Speaking of which…

“All clear,” she called up.

Raúl made a few grumbling noises as he lowered himself down onto the ladder.  Making the descent one-handed took him quite a bit longer than it had Jo.  But once he got low enough that she could help him with his balance, things sped up.

“Hurry up,” Malcolm called down from above.  “They’re coming.”

In response, Raúl let go of the ladder and dropped the last meter to the ground.  He stumbled as he landed, almost falling over onto his bad shoulder before Jo grabbed him.  He flashed her a small grin of thanks then slid out onto the walkway in the main tunnel.

Above, Malcolm dropped the board they used to pry up the manhole cover down into the tunnel.  Then he quickly descended the ladder, pausing only to move the cover back into place.

“Turn out the flashlight,” he whispered harshly when he reached the bottom.  “They might see the light through the holes in the cover.”

Jo complied, and they were plunged into blackness.  Faint, almost imperceptible light streamed through the cover holes, but it did little to alleviate the gloom.  The soft trickle of water flowing down the central flow-way in the tunnel combined with the sudden pounding of Jo’s heart made an uncomfortable harmony as they waited there in the black.

Then other noises intruded on that harmony.  Jogging footsteps and voices, muffled and almost inaudible from having to pass through the cover.  The noises got louder and Jo slowly found she was able to understand a little of what the voices were saying.

“…can’t have just vanished.”  That sounded like Agent Moore.

“They didn’t come out at my end,” replied a deep male voice, probably belonging to her unwounded comrade.

“Bollocks,” Agent Moore replied, and a metallic clang rang out, as though two pieces of metal had struck each other.  She sounded frustrated; Jo took a certain satisfaction in that.

There was a long silence, then Agent Moore said, “Keep looking.  They have to be here somewhere.”

The voices gradually trailed away, growing impossible to understand again.  Then, after several moments, they faded completely.

Jo let the breath she was holding go in a long exhalation and was comforted to hear Malcolm and Raúl do the same.  Her eyes had adjusted to the faint light while they waited and she could just make out Malcolm’s features where he stood at the base of the ladder.  Their eyes met and he nodded to her; she thought she saw a smile on his lips.

When she flicked the flashlight back on, the smile was not present.  All business, Malcolm stepped out of the alcove and looked both ways down the tunnel.  After a moment’s consideration, he turned left.

“This way,” he said.

“Do you spend a lot of time in the sewers these days, Malcolm?” Jo asked.

He snorted.  “Hardly.  But they crisscross the city and allow movement without being seen so some of my acquaintances have taken to using them from time to time.  If we can get to the areas they use, we ought to be able to make contact.”

“And you’re sure that’s the right way?”

Malcolm looked back at her and shook his head.  “No.  Flashlight?”  He held out his hand to her.

Jo shrugged and passed the light over to him.  If he was going to lead the way he would need it more than she.  Malcolm accepted the light with another small nod, then set off down the tunnel in his brisk, quick walk.  The flashlight’s illumination quickly faded, leaving Raúl and Jo looking at each other in growing darkness.

Raúl shrugged.  “Beats being up there,” he said, with a gesture toward the ladder.

That much was certain.  Jo hurried to follow Malcolm and tried not to think about what might be lurking in the darkness beyond the light’s glow.

The next several hours were a nightmare.  Not so much because of the oppressive darkness, though that was not pleasant.  Or the occasional sounds of scurrying animals – rats, Jo thought, but who knew.  Or the ubiquitous smell of pooling water and mildew, and other more foul scents that Jo managed, through a herculean force of will, to not quite ignore.  No, the worst part was not knowing where the hell she was.  Jo could handle the others, but that ignorance ate at her more and more as time went by.  Even if she had climbed up a ladder and stuck her head out, Jo felt certain she would still have no idea at all.  That ignorance left her helpless in Malcolm’s hands, and it was just infuriating.  She was not used to being helpless.  The fact that, over the last week and a half, she had felt more helpless than in command certainly did not help matters.

So Jo felt more than a little relief when, at the junction between two identical tunnels – really they could have been any of the dozens of tunnels they had traipsed through all night – Malcolm stopped and sighed, his shoulders slumped in defeat.

“Forget it,” Malcolm said, his voice thick with fatigue.  “We must have turned the wrong way.  I’ll never find them down here.  Let’s find a place to lay low, and we can try again in the morning.”

“Hell yeah, man,” Raúl said as he pushed his way past Malcolm and Jo toward the nearby alcove and ladder.  “I’ve had enough of these stinking tunnels.”

Jo was inclined to agree about the tunnels.  But where were they going now?

“Do you have a place in mind, Malcolm?”

He nodded.  “There are plenty of little motels that don’t ask many questions and aren’t strict about checking IDs.  That’s mostly where I’ve been for the last couple weeks.  Since the raid we can’t trust any of the old safe houses.”

Jo frowned and nodded.  That made sense.

A few minutes later, Malcolm pushed the manhole cover back in place and they surveyed their new surroundings.  The street was free of traffic and lined by just a few low, unlit buildings that were spaced well apart from each other.  It was still night, but a faint glow on to the east, beyond the mountains, announced Dawn’s approach.  They must have spent longer in the tunnels than Jo thought.

“Where the hell are we?” Raúl asked.

“My guess is somewhere in the south side,” Malcolm replied, “past the Spaceport.”

“Great,” Jo muttered.  South of the Spaceport, the neighborhoods became progressively less safe.  Though Law Enforcement did their best, some of the neighborhoods had become overrun with gang activity in recent years.  Most people who did not have to go there did not.

There was nothing for it but to follow the plan though, so they set off down the street.  Three blocks down, they came upon a seedy-looking motel.  Just as advertised, the proprietor did not look very hard at them or ask for their IDs.  He simply accepted a few bills from Malcolm without comment and handed over an electronic room key.

The room was tiny and smelled of a mixture of old trash, urine, and smoke.  Two tiny beds stood against one wall and a couch, ratty and looking like it was barely able to hold together, sat beneath the room’s lone window.  In the back of the room, a counter with a sink was mounted to the wall, along with a standard sized mirror.  Adjacent to the sink was a door leading into a small bathroom.

Jo winced just looking around the place, but at least the bathroom was marginally clean.

“I’ve seen worse,” Raúl said in a nonchalant tone, though Jo noted an expression of distaste on his face, too.

“I just hope the shower works,” Jo replied.

She felt covered in grime and sweat.  It reminded her of the horrible few days she spent as the NSA’s guest.  She shuddered as the memories came back.  No need to go there.

A small pile of towels rested in a rack on the wall next to the sink.  She picked one out, went into the bathroom, and turned on the shower water.  Then she closed the bathroom door and proceeded to wash her cares away.

Or at least her dirt.

She emerged from the shower several minutes later feeling refreshed and at least slightly more human.  The concept of putting on the same grimy clothes she had been wearing gave her pause, though.

It flashed through her head that she should have planned things out a bit better.  Somewhere in the back of her head she knew going into the encounter at the Parque that she would not go through with it.  She should have listened to that part and packed a bag or something.  Never mind the unrealistic logistics of it all, she spent several moments chastising herself before forcing herself to stop; she was just delaying putting those clothes back on, and there was no choice in the matter.

When she stepped out of the bathroom into the main room, Raúl was already curled up on one of the beds.  He was fast asleep, though he murmured and wiggled from time to time.  Once he groaned, probably from the pain in his arm.

Malcolm sat on the couch resting his chin on his fist and clearly fighting sleep.  Seeing her, he gestured toward the second bed.  “Take the bed, Jo.  I’m fine with the couch.”

Jo thought about protesting, but the couch truly was a rickety setup.  At least the bed looked halfway comfortable.  She sat down on the edge, facing Malcolm.  Their eyes met and they were silent for a moment.  Malcolm looked tired, harried, but determined.  Jo did not want to think about how she looked; she had avoided looking in the bathroom mirror for that very reason.  It could not be good, though.

The silence weighed on her and she looked away, past Malcolm toward the window.  “What’s the plan?”

Malcolm shrugged.  “That is the question, isn’t it?”  His expression became severe, nearly a scowl.  “The organization has been…disjointed…since the raid.”

Jo felt a surge of guilt even though she knew the raid was not her fault.  All the same, Malcolm had lost friends, either to prison or to the morgue, the night he had brought her to meet them.  What did he think about that?

Almost as if he was reading her mind, Malcolm added, “People are not going to be happy that you’re involved again, Jo.  If this is going to work, I need to know everything that’s going on with you.”

Jo swallowed.  “Malcolm, I didn’t…”

He held up a hand and she fell silent.  “Frankly, Jo, after last night I’m not sure how much I can trust you, and I know you.  If you don’t give me something to tell my people that will help them feel comfortable with you…”  He trailed off.

“What?”

Malcolm did scowl then.  He took a deep breath and said, “They may just decide to cut you lose, let you take your chances on your own.”

*  *  *  *  *

I hope you enjoyed this chapter of The Pericles Conspiracy.  Stay tuned in a few days for the next chapter, or, if you don’t want to bother waiting half a year to read the entire book, you can always go buy it (it’s available in ebook and trade paperback) from AmazonBarnes and NobleKoboSmashwords, or  iTunes.

The Pericles Conspiracy – Chapter Twenty-Three

You guys ready?  It’s time to strap yourselves in for another chapter of The Pericles Conspiracy.  We’re now about a third of the way through; it’ll take a few more months to reach the end.  As always, if you don’t want to wait you can go buy it (it’s available in ebook and trade paperback) from AmazonBarnes and NobleKoboSmashwords, or  iTunes.

The Pericles Conspiracy Cover

Chapter Twenty-Three

Over The Roof

The words hit Jo like a ton of bricks.  Get arrested.  Yeah right.  Agent Moore and her colleagues had no interest in arresting them; that was obvious from DiStefano’s remarks.  Removing them from the picture?  Absolutely.  Arrest and trial?  No way.  Not anymore.

“Like hell,” she said.

Turning back toward the front of the store, Jo crouched down behind a fallen shelf and took aim with DiStefano’s pistol.  At least go out fighting.  It would be a useless gesture, no doubt, but it was something.

A small part of Jo’s mind wept for lost opportunities.  If she had just stuck to the deal she would probably be home by now, and off on Agrippa in a few weeks.  Back to her normal life, with these troubles far behind her.

And the government would continue the alien egg program to its ultimate conclusion.  Sooner or later, the creatures would learn what happened.  These sorts of things always came out.  When it did, there would be no containing their anger.  Jo imagined the rage humanity would feel if the tables were turned; it would be murderous, and entirely justified.  Such a betrayal of their most helpless ones could not be forgiven.

But almost worse than that, Malcolm would be imprisoned or, more likely, dead.  And it would be her fault.  She could try to justify it by thinking of her own predicament, but in the end it would have come down to the fact that her friend was dead because she betrayed him while he was trying to do something she now agreed was morally and ethically right.  There was no way she could live with that.

So she took her place and silenced that part of her mind.  She did not regret her choice.

Malcolm crouched beside her and she passed him the other pistol she had taken from DiStefano.  He smiled faintly and settled down to wait with her.

“Never thought it would come down to this,” he said.  “I just wanted to blow the lid on it, not…”  He trailed off and shrugged.  It did not matter now, did it?

The shadows of the agents’ movements on the other side of the van grew larger.  Jo could hear their footsteps, slow and cautious but relentless in their approach.  They would have to climb over the van to get at them; that was something at least.  The store was narrow enough that the van, lying on its side, blocked most of it off.  Fallen shelving and displays took care of the rest.

“I think we can hold them off for a while,” Jo said.  “They’ll have to come over the hood, because of how the ceiling is sagging…”

She blinked, her train of thought stopping as she looked back at the sagging ceiling.  Then the column, nearly falling over where the van plowed into it.  Son of a bitch.  There were other columns throughout the store.  Some were damaged, most were intact.  And the building the store occupied was just one story tall.  Hope surged back into her.

“Malcolm, the columns!”

Malcolm looked quizzically at Jo, then followed her gaze to the columns.  His eyebrows rose high onto his forehead.  He was an engineer; he saw it immediately.  Raising his pistol, he took aim and looked back at her from the corner of his eye.

“On three?”

Jo nodded and sighted in on the bent column near the van.

Malcolm counted down.  Jo saw Agent Moore’s face appear over the side of the van the moment he reached three.  She dropped back to the ground as Jo and Malcolm opened fire.

Jo’s column went first.  It was already all but destroyed by the van’s momentum and only took two shots from the plasma pistol to give way.  Malcolm’s was undamaged, so Jo shifted fire to help him.  Their combined fire reduced the column in a few seconds.

They stopped shooting and waited.

The agents on the other side of the van were shouting something, to each other or to them, Jo did not care; she paid them no heed.  She watched as the second column buckled, then fell over, and felt a thrill of victory.  A low groan issued from the ceiling as members that were not designed to hold the total weight of the ceiling and roof above were suddenly required to by the loss of the columns.  The ceiling began to sag a bit more and for a moment Jo’s feeling of victory began to fade.  Maybe it would hold up after all.

Then it all came tumbling down in a roar.  A huge cloud of dust billowed up as ceiling tiles, beams, cross braces, lamps, electrical wiring, insulation, roof shingles, and all manner of other materials fell.  The collapse went on for a full minute, and then there was a sudden quiet, almost deafening in its own right after the sound of the collapse.

Jo took a deep breath and found herself coughing as she got more dust than air into her lungs.  Beside her, Malcolm was in a similar state.  She could not see Raúl, back against the wall.  Or anything else either; there was that much dust in the air.  But she could hear him.

“Holy shit,” Raúl coughed out.  Jo was inclined to agree with him.

Gradually the dust cleared and Jo was able to see the extent of the damage.  Her gambit had worked even better than she hoped.  The ceiling had fallen in across two-thirds of the store on their side of the van.  Rubble filled the space between them and the hole, but it looked to be climbable.  Better still, Jo could see the night sky through the hole in the ceiling.  They could get out.

“It worked,” Malcolm said.  He almost sounded surprised.

“Did you have any doubt?” Jo replied.  She stood up and dusted herself off, then started forward toward the debris pile and the hole leading to freedom.  “Come on,” she said.

Behind her, Malcolm chuckled.  “A little,” he said.  Jo looked back to see him grinning.

Raúl had a tough time of it, with his broken arm.  But Malcolm was able to help him over the worst of the debris.  Getting up onto the roof was another matter.  Jo had to lie down on the roof and take his hand, then pull hard while Malcolm gave him a boost from below.  Raúl was skinny, but he still outweighed Jo by a good twenty kilograms or so, and the angle was awkward.  For a moment, she was not sure she would be able to get him up, even with Malcolm’s help from below.  But finally he managed, and Malcolm quickly pulled himself out as well.

Looking over the top of the building toward the street, Jo saw Agent Moore and her two companions coming out of the building, coughing loudly.  One of the agents’ legs was twisted and stiff, clearly broken.  Agent Moore and the other man had their arms over his shoulders, supporting him as he stumbled toward the street.

They slowly lowered the injured agent to the ground, then Agent Moore turned to look back at the building.  She mouthed what could only be a curse as she surveyed the damage.  Then she looked up and froze as her eyes met Jo’s gaze.  Her eyebrows rose and her lips compressed into a thin scowl as she raised her pistol.

Jo dropped into a crouch and cursed.  “To the back!” she said, grabbing Raúl by the shoulder – his good one, fortunately – and propelling him toward the back of the store.  Malcolm followed as balls of heated plasma began firing over the front edge of the building.

Fortunately, the angle was too acute for Agent Moore or her uninjured colleague to get a good shot at them.  Even more fortunately, the shop buildings lining the street were set one against each other for most of the block, so it would take some time for the agents to get around back to find them.

A narrow alley ran between the back of their building and the back of the next street’s shop buildings.  A dumpster sat against the wall of their building, and Jo was annoyed to see a door in the back of the building across the alley.  And every other building she could see.  Of all the rotten luck.  Muttering under her breath, Jo lowered herself down onto the dumpster, which thankfully was closed at this hour of the night, then reached up to give Raúl a hand in doing the same.

In moments they were on the ground in the alley.

“Ok now what?” Jo asked.

“Now,” Malcolm said as he looked quickly back and forth down the alley, “we find a manhole and get down into the storm sewers.”

Jo blinked.  “You’re kidding.”

“No way man.  Fuck that,” Raúl said.  He was looking pretty haggard, and Jo could not blame him for not wanting to do any more climbing.

“You don’t have to come,” Malcolm said, giving Raúl a level, icy look.  “It’ll probably be better for you if you don’t, to be honest.”

Raúl snorted.  “Yeah right.  Do I look stupid to you, cabrón?”  He pushed himself forward, thrusting his jaw up at Malcolm.  “Even if I trusted you not to sell me out if you get caught, you owe me.  For the job and for the van.”

Malcolm shrugged and turned away.  “Fine.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

He set off walking down the alley.  Jo hurried to follow.  After a moment, she heard Raúl follow as well.

“We’ll need flashlights.”

Behind her, Raúl spoke up.  “I have one.  Never leave home without it.”

The alley widened between two smaller buildings.  Off to the side, not far from the back door on the building on the left, was a manhole cover.  Malcolm stopped before it and crouched down.  Jo and Raúl joined him.

“The hard part,” Malcolm said, “is getting it open.  We’ll need something to pry it up with.”

Jo frowned and looked around.  Aside from dumpsters here and there, there was nothing in the alley that looked as though it would be useful for that.  “I’m not sure…”  The sign on the back of a door one building over announced it as a lumber store.  That brought a smile to her face.  “Wait here.”

Jo hurried over to the door and tried it.  Locked.  The lack of hinges meant it opened inward.  Maybe she could kick it in.  Jo stepped back and took a deep breath.  Then she kicked as hard as she could, striking the door just below the doorknob with her boot.  The door did not move.

“Impressive,” Raúl said as he stepped up next to her.  He smirked at her and reached into his pocket.  “Step aside,” he said.  He crouched in front of the door and pulled a small piece of metal out of the inner pocket of his jacket.  He inserted the metal piece – a lockpick, Jo assumed – into the keyhole and began working it around.  After a minute or so, Jo heard a soft click and the doorknob turned.

Raúl grinned and pushed the door open, swinging his arm wide in a grand offer for her to enter.

Jo rolled her eyes.  “You’re quite a character, Raúl.  Good with tech and with a lockpick.  I would not think those went together.”

“You would be surprised, señorita,” he replied.  He opened his mouth to say something more, but a ruckus down the far end of the alley drew his attention.  He shrank back against the alley wall.  “Shit, I think they’re coming.”

Jo blanched.  Even if he was wrong, there was no time to dilly-dally.  She ducked into the store.  It only took a moment to find what she needed.  When she emerged from the store and hurried back to Malcolm’s side, he gave her an incredulous look.

“I was thinking more like a prybar,” he said.

“Beggars can’t be choosers.”

He shrugged, conceding the point.  The piece of wood she picked out was about a meter long and two centimeters on a side.  It just barely squeezed into the little hole on the side of the manhole cover.  Jo and Malcolm took hold of the board and pushed down.  A sharp cracking sound issued from the board and for a moment Jo thought her bright idea was going to fail completely.  Then the manhole cover moved upward slightly and they were able to slide the board further in, allowing more purchase.  Shortly, they raised the cover enough that Malcolm was able to bend over and get his fingers under the cover’s edge.  From there it was a quick process to slide it aside.

Jo wiped her brow, panting from the exertion, and looked between Malcolm and Raúl.  “I’ll go first and help Raúl down.  I’m not sure I could move the cover into place anyway.”

Malcolm nodded.  Jo sat on the edge of the manhole and dangled her feet into the blackness below.  The hole opened beneath her like a gaping maw and she had to push aside a surge of fear.  Raúl handed her his flashlight, which helped, but still there was something about the descent into the sewer below that seemed creepy.  Swallowing hard, Jo kicked her feet around until she found the ladder rungs built into the side of the shaft, then she slid slowly downward.

*  *  *  *  *

I hope you enjoyed this chapter of The Pericles Conspiracy.  Stay tuned in a few days for the next chapter, or, if you don’t want to bother waiting half a year to read the entire book, you can always go buy it (it’s available in ebook and trade paperback) from AmazonBarnes and NobleKoboSmashwords, or  iTunes.

One Heck Of A Deal

Hi folks!

Before I put of the next chapter of The Pericles Conspiracy, I thought I’d tell you about a great deal going down.  Today and tomorrow, Short Story 10-Pack, my new release, is on sale.  For free.

Because I love you all, and want you to be happy.

🙂

Aren’t I nice?

So go on over to Amazon and pick up a copy.  You’ll be happy you did.  And when you’re done reading it, whether you love it or hate it, please leave a review.  Because every honest review helps.

🙂

Sunday Publishing

I think I mentioned it before, but this year I’m setting aside Sunday as my official “working on publishing” day.  I had prepped Short Story 10-Pack last Sunday, but didn’t hit publish until Friday for reasons I spelled out before.

Well, this Sunday, before the Super Bowl, I did some more publishing work.  Two of the shorts in the 10-Pack had not been published before, so I worked on covers for them and put them up.  Observe.

Memory Cover (600x900)

The Memory Of Justice

In the future, mankind outlawed capital punishment. Instead, the worst convicts had their memories erased and new personalities implanted. Then the authorities set them up in a far-away place and left them to live out their lives. This process worked well, to everyone’s approval. Except for the families of the victims.

Brother In Law (600x900)

Brother In Law, Brother In Blood

A great hero can come from a humble past. Great love can bloom from the embers of conflict. And sometimes the two can happen at the same time, to the near ruin of both.

 

Both stories are up on Amazon, for $0.99.  I’m keeping them exclusive to Amazon for a while, since I put the 10-Pack in KDP Select as one last experiment with that program (I keep saying that).  Some kind soul already bought The Memory Of Justice and left a very nice review of it, so that’s a promising start.  🙂

On a final note, I think the cover to Brother In Law is my favorite, and IMHO the best, of all the covers I’ve made to date, with the exception of The Pericles Conspiracy.   What do you guys think?  Pretty nice, huh?

Right.  That’s it for now.  Until next time.

The Pericles Conspiracy – Chapter Twenty-Two

Another Tuesday, another chapter.  This is getting so…routine.  🙂  Poor you, you get to read a cool book on a regular schedule.

And now, strap yourselves in for another chapter of The Pericles Conspiracy.  We’re now about a third of the way through; it’ll take a few more months to reach the end.  As always, if you don’t want to wait you can go buy it (it’s available in ebook and trade paperback) from AmazonBarnes and NobleKoboSmashwords, or  iTunes.

The Pericles Conspiracy Cover

Chapter Twenty-Two

Against A Wall

“Son of a bitch,” Malcolm swore, and he floored it.  The van surged ahead, but the pursuing car was smaller and probably souped up with a law enforcement motor.  They were not going to outrun the agents, not in this rig.

Malcolm took a right hand turn so quickly that the passenger side wheels came up off the road momentarily.  Jo slid into the van’s wall, jarring her sore shoulder, and winced.

“Be careful, Malcolm.  It won’t do us any good to crash!”

Malcolm blanched and sent her a reproachful look.  Raul’s look was more speculative.  Jo gasped as she realized what she had just done.  Stupid, stupid!  It’s not like she had not been in stressful scenarios before.  Why was she losing her cool this time?

The answer came to her as soon as she asked the question.  She had been in hard situations before, even a few life-or-death ones.  But she had never faced a high probability of arrest and incarceration before.  Sure, she had been arrested just a couple weeks ago, but she had not really believed any harm would come to her when it happened.  This time…

That was no excuse, though.  Malcolm had not told Raúl his real name for a reason, and she had just blown it for him.  She flushed in embarrassment as she gave Malcolm an apologetic look.  He did not see it, though; he was focusing on the road.

He made another right hand turn at the first intersection, but did it slower this time and under more control.  Jo noticed the pursuers entering the last intersection as the van completed the turn and blanched.  The agents almost certainly saw them.

Malcolm turned to the right again at his first opportunity and Raúl said, “Whatchu doing, man?  You’re just making a circle.”

“If we’re lucky,” Malcolm replied as he jerked the wheel hard to center the van on the road before flooring the accelerator again.  “They’ll miss at least one of these turns.  If that happens, they’ll continue on and we’ll be going the opposite direction.”

Raúl snorted.  “Don’t matter, man.  They’re probably calling in the local cops for help.”

Jo snorted and Malcolm shook his head.  “No they’re not.  They want to keep this under wraps.”

Raúl looked inquisitively at him and Jo could see he was doing some figuring in his head.  It would not be a big stretch to put two and two together.  He just might decide it would be worth it to turn them in, maybe get a reward.  Jo flexed her fingers unconsciously, the way she used to do before starting a sparring session with her father.

“It didn’t work,” Raúl said, his tone one of near panic.

And he was right.  In the rearview, the pursuit car rounded around the corner and sped toward them, making up ground at an alarming rate.

Malcolm swore under his breath and glanced at Raúl, then Jo.  “Any ideas?”

Jo shook her head; she had nothing.

Raúl pursed his lips in thought for a moment then pushed himself out of the seat and slid past Jo into the back of the van.  “I might have something back here that can help,” he said.  He began opening one locker after another and hurriedly sifting through the contents.  “It’s here,” he murmured.  “I know it’s here.”

“Help him,” Malcolm said, but Jo was already on it.  She went to the the lockers on the other side of the van from Raúl and started looking inside them.

“What am I looking for?”

Raúl replied, “Looks like a thick magic marker, except it has a button on one side and a transmitter element at the end.”

Jo blinked.  “A transmitter?”

“It sends out a burst of electronic noise that’s tuned to disrupt a car’s computer systems.  Cops use it to avoid high speed chases.”

Jo shut the locker and moved on to the next one.  “You mean like we’re in right now?”

“Yeah.  Wonder why they haven’t…”

Raul’s words were cut off by a loud crunching sound as the van shuddered and spun off course.  He and Jo fell to the floor as tires squealed, a motor revved, and Malcolm shouted a curse.  The van continued to skid.  Jo looked forward and saw, through the windshield, a hardware store on the side of the street.  They were heading straight toward it.  Malcolm clawed at the wheel, but only managed to turn the van a fraction of the amount needed to avoid crashing.

They hit the storefront a few degrees from broadside, smashing through the display windows with a loud crash.  The van tilted, then rolled over onto its side as impact absorbing foam flowed from the walls and ceiling.  All Jo could see was pink foam, the only sounds were the squealing of the van’s steel body as it slid further into the store and repeated crashes as it knocked over display cabinets, countertops, and machinery.  Then there was another tremendous crash and the van stopped.

 *  *  *  *  *

The foam absorbed the worst of the impact, but as she got to her hands and knees Jo nevertheless felt bruised and battered all over.  Raúl lay in a heap in front of her, his left arm bent at an unnatural angle.  From up in the cockpit, Malcolm groaned softly.

Jo got to her feet and staggered over to Raúl.  Her movements were slowed by the foam as much as by pain.  She had to force her way through the stuff.  Supposedly it would dissolve in a few seconds, now that the collision was over, but for the moment it was a serious impediment.  Finally she got to him and crouched down.

“You ok, Raúl?” she asked as she felt for his pulse.

At her touch, Raúl jerked up to a sitting position.  “What the fuck…” he began.  Then he let out a strangled cry and doubled over, clutching at his broken arm.  “Hijo de puta,” he muttered through clenched teeth.

“Can you stand?  We need to get out of here.”

He nodded and Jo helped him to his feet.  It was beginning to get easier to move; the foam must have begun to dissolve.

“Malcolm, can you move?” Jo called.

In response, Jo saw two feet rise out of the foam and begin kicking at he windshield.  Once.  Twice.  Three times.  Then the bottom – or rather the passenger side – of the windshield popped out of its frame, leaving a gap they could probably crawl through.

Good enough.

Jo put her arm around Raul’s shoulder and helped him forward while Malcolm got to his feet.  He took in Raul’s condition at a glance and grimaced.  Then he slipped through the gap in the windshield and pulled it out a bit further from the other side.

“Let’s go!” Malcolm hissed.

Jo helped maneuver Raúl through the opening.  As broad as his shoulders were, it was a tight fit.  He ended up jarring his bad arm on the way out, and for a moment there Jo thought he would either pass out or refuse to go on.

Then Malcolm, who had stood up to look over the van toward the street, hissed, “They’re almost here.  Move your ass.”

That was apparently all the encouragement Raúl needed.  He gritted his teeth and began moving again.  Jo helped him with a vigorous push that left him sprawled on the ground, then followed him out.

The store was a wreck.  No big surprise there, but the destruction was still impressive to look at.  Shelves were toppled, products smashed.  A column had smashed the rear portion of the van and was itself split and leaning over at an acute angle.  The ceiling, about three meters tall elsewhere in the store, was sagging around the pillar; it clearly had been a load-bearing structure.

Jo straightened and looked over the the hulk of the van.  And cringed.  The sedan that had been pursuing them was a crumpled hunk of metal wrapped around a light pole on the other side of the street.  One person lay sprawled on the sidewalk, where he had apparently been thrown from the sedan on impact.  The remaining passengers, three of them, were clawing through slowly dissolving foam and out the sedan’s windows.  Two were strangers, but Jo recognized Agent Moore without difficulty.

“What happened?” Jo breathed as Malcolm helped Raúl to his feet.

“They came up faster than I expected and rammed us,” he replied.

Agent Moore and one of her companions made it out of the car.  He took a moment on his knees to catch his breath, but she was up on her feet in a flash, plasma pistol clutched in both hands, the barrel pointing toward the street for the moment.

“Ngubwe!  Ishikawa!  There are more units on the way.  You can’t escape, so come out with your hands up.”

Jo found herself sliding her hand to the small of her back, where she had tucked DiStefano’s weapon.  If Agent Moore thought she was going to just surrender – a certain death sentence at this point – she was sorely mistaken.

Malcolm’s hand on her shoulder stopped her from pulling the weapon.  “Not like this, Jo.  Come on, out the back.”

Jo nodded and the men moved out.  She waited for a moment, just long enough to see the third agent make his escape, then she turned to go.

She found Malcolm and Raúl at the back of the shop.  They looked distressed.  It only took a moment to figure out why.  There were two doors in back.  One led to a small office, the other to a bathroom.  There was no rear entrance and, at first glance at least, no windows either.

“Oh no,” Jo breathed.  She looked over her shoulder.  The streetlights outside cast long shadows from the three agents as they approached the overturned van.  They were getting closer.  It would take a moment for them to climb over the van, but then it would be all over.  “What do we do?”

Raúl leaned against the wall and winced, then shut his eyes and shook his head.  Malcolm’s eyes went to the ground and he sighed.

“I guess we get arrested.”

*  *  *  *  *

I hope you enjoyed this chapter of The Pericles Conspiracy.  Stay tuned in a few days for the next chapter, or, if you don’t want to bother waiting half a year to read the entire book, you can always go buy it (it’s available in ebook and trade paperback) from AmazonBarnes and NobleKoboSmashwords, or  iTunes.