Saturday snippet

I’m going to try to post more of my writing from time to time, as many of you seem to enjoy reading it.  It’ll be drawn from work(s) in progress, to give you something to anticipate.

This morning’s snippet is from the sixth volume of the Maxwell Saga, to be titled “Venom Strike”.  The protagonist in this chapter is a former Spacer and Warrant Officer in the Bureau of Security of the Lancastrian Commonwealth Fleet, now a private detective.  He’ll later work with Steve Maxwell on what he discovers.

The rain grew steadily heavier as the autobus moved out into the suburbs. By the time it reached the terminus where it would turn around to head back into the city, the last of the daylight had left the sky. The night was rent by flashes of lightning, and the windows trembled to the boom of thunder. Tom stayed in his seat as the few remaining passengers disembarked, hunching their shoulders against the rain and muttering curses. No new passengers boarded before the bus commenced its return journey towards the center of town. Tom relaxed a little. He could now be fairly sure that no-one aboard the autobus had been following him.

Twenty minutes later, he got off the bus on a street lined with strip malls. Cheap eateries, pawnshops and used clothing stores vied with each other for the meager income of the workers living in the run-down low-rise apartments and tenements behind the malls, interspersed with a few individual dwelling units and duplexes. Tom paused to get a quick meal at a take-out stall, not because he was hungry but to gain time to survey his surroundings. He hurriedly shoveled the food out of the box and down his throat, not bothering to taste it as his eyes scanned all around him. He made a mental note of a robocab rank across the street in case of need. A block further down the road a nightclub was already blasting the evening with a thudding bass beat, noisy groups of teenagers jiving under the awnings of the adjacent shops in the strip mall as they tried to persuade the bouncers to admit them.

He tossed the empty container into a garbage can as he walked down the road towards the tenements, dimly lit by intermittently working streetlights. The driving rain pounded on his hat and face and ran down his overcoat in streams, soaking the bottoms of his trousers and his shoes. He cursed softly as drops of water dripped from his hair, creeping past the upturned collar of his coat, finding their way into his shirt, running down his back, making him shiver. He consulted a map on his comm unit and made his way deeper into the maze of side streets. Only an occasional vehicle passed, most of them autovans making their last deliveries of the day, bumping over the badly-maintained, rutted road surface. In this area there’d be few private vehicles, he knew.

He turned a corner and glanced down the road, counting building numbers. More than half of them weren’t clearly posted or illuminated, as required under municipal regulations, and the street’s lights were all out; but he could see enough to estimate that his destination should be in the next block. He set off towards it.

As he approached, a small van coasted silently to a halt in front of him at the head of a narrow alley separating the two blocks. It wasn’t showing any lights. Moved by a sudden impulse, Tom shrank into the doorway of an apartment building, peering out into the gloom. He saw the van’s interior light come on as two doors opened on its far side. Three figures got out, closing the doors behind them. The driver remained behind the wheel, power unit still humming gently, watching his companions as they walked down the block. Tom took advantage of his preoccupation to move closer, crouching behind a dumpster on the corner, wrinkling his nose in distaste at the smell coming from the garbage inside.

The three figures stopped outside a small house, glancing at the illuminated ‘327’ on the postbox at the gate. Tom suddenly realized that it was the same address he was seeking, even as they drew black objects from their pockets. One opened the gate and they filed through it towards the front door of the house. What the hell do I do now?, Tom asked himself feverishly as his hand went to his overcoat pocket, coming out with his silenced pulser. If they’re also armed, there’s no way I can take on four of them!

He waited on tenterhooks behind the dumpster, straining his ears. He thought he heard a door open, followed by a couple of muffled thumping sounds and a scuffle… then silence. The van driver continued to peer down the street, his hands below the level of the window so Tom couldn’t see whether he was holding a weapon. Better assume he is, he cautioned himself grimly. I doubt those other three were taking calling cards out of their pockets.

Three seemingly endless minutes passed, until one of the shadowy figures reappeared at the gate of the house, holding a flat object wrapped in what looked like a plastic garbage bag. He hurried down the sidewalk to the van. As he approached, he called softly, “We got them both. Here’s the painting. The others are checking to see if there’s anything else worth taking.”

The driver replied, through the open window on the far side of the van, “Put it in the back, out of the way. Don’t want anyone sitting on it, do we?”

The other laughed as he walked to the back, fumbling with the catch on the cargo door. Tom moved to the rear of the dumpster, watching as he lifted the plastic-wrapped object, which looked to be about half a meter long by a third of a meter wide, and laid it carefully on the floor of the load compartment. As he straightened and reached up to close the door, Tom stepped silently out from behind the dumpster and clubbed him hard behind the ear with the butt of his pulser. Without a sound, the figure folded forward. Tom grabbed him and laid him silently on the roadway, then closed the cargo door.

The driver hadn’t noticed anything over the noise of the wind and the rain. He was still staring down the sidewalk towards the house, paying no attention to the rear of the van. Tom moved soundlessly down the side of the van until he was at the driver’s door. He shifted his feet to be sure of his balance, then reached for the handle and yanked the door open suddenly.

As the driver started in surprise and began to turn his head, Tom reached inside with his left hand and grabbed his collar, hauling him halfway out of the door as his right hand came down. The butt of the pulser thudded hard between his eyes, and he moaned aloud, trying to bring up his hands. Instantly Tom hit him again, even harder, in the same spot. His eyes rolled up and he slumped, only his seatbelt holding him inside the van. Tom reached over his limp body and pressed the catch, releasing the belt, allowing him to tumble out of the seat onto the road.

He glanced through the van towards the house. The two remaining figures were coming down the path from the house to the gate. There wasn’t a moment to lose. Tom jumped into the van, slammed the door, and gunned the still-running power pack.

With a squeal of tires on wet pavement, the lightly loaded van jumped out of the alley, lurching over to one side as Tom hauled the wheel around to head back in the direction from which he’d come. Through the open windows on the other side of the van, he heard shouts from behind him, followed by several muffled popping noises. The rear window shattered, spraying shards of safety glass in all directions, and a hole suddenly appeared in the windscreen in front of him as a pulser bead blasted the length of the van.

Tom ducked, keeping his foot hard down on the accelerator, and hauled the wheel over again. The van lurched into another side street. He twisted left and right through a few more streets, trying to head in the general direction of the main road, cursing to himself as adrenaline coursed through his veins. It had been a long time since he’d last been under fire. I’m getting too old for this crap, he told himself bitterly.

“Venom Strike” will be published in early 2020, God willing.



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