This story… this one. I’m not 100% happy with it (I’m not 100% happy with anything, but this one more than others). I read it at my writer’s workshop last night and it generated some good, albeit somewhat extensive, critiques. Namely that I do too much world building (I cut out quite a bit before reading it, too) and the two characters have too similar voices. Both of those are valid issues that I didn’t even remotely have time to address before today, so you’re getting the raw version (and I’m certain that I came across two typos during my read, and now I can’t find them, so feel free to typo hunt).
This is a departure from the mostly horror stuff I’ve been toying with; it’s a move into dystopian future. It is also the start of a non-nuanced, not-at-all complex piece of political commentary disguised as an action piece that is destined to be Mad Max meets Smokey and the Bandit meets Michael Bay. It’s a potential chapter one of a longer piece, but I think it’s going to go to the back-burner in favor of something else (perhaps my favorite “don’t call him an ‘urban’ wizard,” Dominick).
Anyway, it’s faults aside, enjoy!
Juárez: Day 1, 6:32 am
The Courier waited for his delivery, the engine running.
The modified Hellcat was, like its namesake, ready to pounce. He hated to idle,
given how critical fuel calculations were. Stopping for gas even one more time
than anticipated—or worse, running out of fuel—could get him pinched by the
police. These days, that meant summary execution by the side of the road. But
the game was a calculation of seconds, milliliters, and inches. The difference
of 0 to 120 was huge if he had to fire the engine up. Authorities shot first,
rockets moved fast, and this job was hot and likely to attract attention.
About the time he started to think about cutting the
engine, the door to the run-down house opened. A man came out escorting a
smaller figure covered by a jacket across the street to where he waited. The
man fast-walked his charge over to the passenger side of the car and yanked on
the door handle.
The Courier shook his head and pushed a button on the
dash, On the outside of a car, a small slot opened in the door. The Courier
made the universal sign for “pay now.” The escort pushed a stack of bills into
the open slot. The slot retracted, and the Courier counted his fee. The escort surveyed
the empty street.
The Courier picked up his pistol, made sure it was very
visible to the escort, and popped the lock. The door opened, the Fare was
pushed into the seat, and without even a “thank you” for his effort, the escort
slammed the door shut and fast-walked back to the house.
The Courier and the Fare sat in silence for a moment.
“Seatbelt,” the Courier said, breaking the silence. The
Fare jerked in surprise.
“What?” a woman’s voice responded, muffled by the
“Please buckle up,” he replied. “Safety first. Also, you
can take the jacket off.”
A slight hand reached up and pulled the jacket down. The
girl sitting next to the Courier was young; couldn’t have been more than
fourteen or fifteen. “Christ,” he said. “I don’t run kids.”
“Excuse me?” English, accented, but slight. She either
spent some time in an English-speaking part of the world or was educated at a
pricy private school. Both suggested money, and money meant pissed off
“I don’t take kids across.”
“Isn’t the money good enough? And I’m not a kid. I’m
“Still a kid, kid.”
The girl’s face fell. Moisture pooled at the corners of
her eyes. “Please, you don’t understand. I can’t go back to my parents.” Angry
parents, probably monied, confirmed. “I can’t even go back in there,” she
gestured to the house. “I’ve been abused. I’ve been-”
“Save it,” the Courier said. “I’ve seen better.”
“Fine,” she replied in a normal tone, the façade dropped.
“I really can’t go back to my parents. They will kill me, and while I can see
that you’re trying very hard to do
the whole ‘stoic badass,’ thing, I can see through you, too.” He scoffed.
“Money’s good enough, I suppose. And I’d rather not
leave you to someone else. They might not be as professional as I am.”
“I’m prepared to do whatever I need to get to Canada.”
As if to prove the point, she put a hand to her chest and began to unbutton her
“Stop,” the Courier said. “I’m making an exception
running you, but not this.”
“You’re already bending the first rule.”
“Second one’s non-negotiable.”
She relaxed. “Well, good.”
“Contract says your pick-up is in Toronto, so we’ll be
going straight north to Canada, and then…”
“You should go straight to Toronto. That’s fastest.”
“No,” the Courier said, “we most certainly should not go straight through. You clearly
don’t know geopolitics.”
“Fancy word for a driver to use.”
“Courier. Our best, safest
bet is to go straight north to Calgary or Regina, then ease over to Toronto
once we’re safely out of America. Canada’s borders are open to refugees. Hell,
you could even take a bus once you’re there, and save money on me.”
“I don’t have that kind of time.”
“No one ever does. Listen, the idea is to get you to
Canada as quickly as possible, and straight north is it. Oklahoma and Missouri
ain’t safe. Diverting around to Kansas or Arkansas? Even worse.”
“I’ll double your money.”
“That’s ridiculous. I suspect you gave me all you had.”
She reached into her shirt, and he stopped her. “I told you, no.”
“No,” she said, “not that. Try this.” She pulled out a
pendant on a chain. It sparkled with several very impressive looking gemstones.
“Those can’t be real.”
“I assure you, they are.”
“Where did you get that?”
“My parents gave it to me on my birthday.”
“Hell of a present. I got a second-hand Nintendo once,
from a garage sale. Sure you want to be running away? Life like that must be
“Yeah, my parents—my father, really—are the reason I’m
seeking asylum in Canada. Please, I have to be in Toronto in thirty-eight
hours. It takes over fifty to get there through Regina. I checked online, and
it takes thirty-hours to get to Toronto from here, and that’s driving speed
limits. That’s eight hours of extra time even if you drove casually; you ‘Couriers’
are supposed to be fast, right?”
“Missouri isn’t safe,” he emphasized each word.
“All the more reason to drive faster then.”
The silence was painfully long; ironic given his
previous worries about seconds, inches, and milliliters.
“I’m going to regret this. Those,” he pointed to her
pendant, “had better be real.”
She let out a breath. “Thank you.”
He stepped on the brake, put in the clutch, and grabbed
the shifter. “Thank me when we get there in one piece.”
The Hellcat roared and pounced.
* * * *
Courier said, “will either be very easy or very difficult.”
“What makes it easy,”
“If the right bribes went to the right people, we’ll pull in, our
papers will be in order, and we’ll just drive on through.”
“And if not?”
“If not, you find out
why this job costs so much. And we hopefully don’t die.”
“I’d like to avoid
that.” She almost meant it.
“Risking dyin’ must
be better’n what you’re running from.” She responded by staring out the window
watching ramshackle houses race past.
“Right.” He nodded
ahead. “As your unofficial tour guide, I feel like this is the time to point
out that the Wall is coming up. If you want to see it.” She did.
The Wall was immense. She had been a toddler when the
world watched as the Americans fought over whether the Wall was a necessity,
weather it would be effective, and whether it was feasible. When the dirty bomb
went off in Tucson, the debate ended. A state of emergency was declared,
martial law was imposed, and the purges began. Fascism came to America in
earnest, and construction began on the Wall immediately.
A decade later, the
southern border was closed. The Wall stretched two-thousand miles from the Gulf
of Mexico to the Pacific. Everyone moving across the border was scrutinized, or
they were supposed to be, but like any good, corrupt government, officials
could be plied with enough cash.
To cross any other
way was risky, to say the least. Customs and Border Protection had shoot-to-kill
orders. Armed drones thwarted most remote crossings, and scanning technology made
smuggling through commercial checkpoints near impossible. That was, of course,
if the scanners weren’t conveniently in maintenance mode. Harder to pull off, but
Getting across the
Wall, which had been dubbed the “Concrete Curtain” in some circles, was easiest
to do at the civilian crossing points, where inspections were still visual. It
was easier to cloud the guards’ eyes with dollar signs then get a dedicated
scanner to glitch out at the right time.
The great wall of
America was not at all impenetrable, despite its imposing gray profile, and the
Courier knew who to bribe. He brought the ‘cat down to a respectable speed to
merge into the line of traffic.
“Fuck,” he said.
“What?” The Fare was
“Bribes didn’t work.”
“How do you know?”
“The STRIKE squads.”
She looked around.
“There are snipers on
the wall, twice as many visible soldiers
as standard, and that van to our right? Fast assault units trying to be invisible.”
“Are they here for
us.” The Courier shrugged. “What do we do?”
“We don’t do anything
suspicious. We try to get through, as planned, and hope we’re on the all-clear
list. If not, I find out if I can out-drive drones.”
“Drones with TOW missiles.”
“I said I’d find out if I could. I’ve never had to
before.” The Fare sank down into her seat. “I would like to tell you that this
is the hardest part, but since you’re insisting on going straight through the
country to Toronto, that would be a lie.”
The line ahead of
them inched forward, and the Courier followed suit.
“Can we go to a
tagged every car in line. If we turn away and show up at another point, we’ll
be flagged.” They crept forward again, the border a few cars ahead.
“Can you run now? Why
“As cool as the ‘cat
is, she still has to obey the laws of physics, and other cars object to sharing
her space. Second, even if there was a clean run up to the border, as fast as I
can go, we’ll be slag before we get there. If I’m going to try and run, we’ve
got to be at least on the American side. Preferably about a hundred miles in.”
“We have to wait.”
The car crept closer again.
“But we run if it
looks bad when we get up there?”
She looked around outside. “What if,” she asked, “we had
“We’re a little too late for a distraction.”
“Don’t count on that.”
“What do you mean?”
“Three cars behind us is a black SUV. In that black SUV
are agents sent by my parents.”
“Have they spotted you?” They were one car from the
front of the line that was finishing up its visual inspection. Timing was going
to be close.
“I don’t think so.”
“Well,” he said, opening the sunroof, “let’s let ‘em get
a good look at you.” She poked her head out of the sunroof, looked back, and
smiled at the SUV. In the rearview, the Courier saw that the SUV’s driver
noticed and gestured to someone else in the car. She popped back down just as
the Courier pulled up to the start of the line.
Three things happened at once.
The Courier handed over his papers to the border guard
when asked. This was as intended, and if the bribes had worked, nothing in
their paperwork would be off.
As this exchange happened, four men in black suits,
doing poor jobs of concealing the fact that they were armed, exited the SUV and
advanced on the Hellcat.
Finally, as an agent on the passenger side tapped on the
glass for the Fare to roll down her window—which she did—the Fare, with no
trace of an accent, asked, “do those guys behind us look dangerous to you?”
The agent on the driver’s side frowned at the Courier’s
papers, and reached for his radio, when the passenger side agent said through
the car to him, “Johnson, we’ve got a problem, six o’clock.” Johnson looked
away from the Courier’s papers. He handed the papers back to the Courier, his
hand tightening on the grip of his rifle. “Sir, you can go. And you should go fast.”
“Gee,” the Courier replied, taking his papers. “I guess I can do fast.”
The agent pressed the call button on his radio. “STRIKE
team, Delta 10-99, entry Victor Tango. Four targets. Armed and hostile.”
The Courier shifted into drive and was gone. They was a
quarter-mile away before he heard the gunshots receding behind them.
Following the agent’s advice, the ‘cat hit one-hundred
with the rumbling grace that her name implied, leaving the border and the chaos
that they had set off well behind them.
“I’m Carolina,” the Fare said.
“And I don’t like names.”
“I’m not calling you ‘the Courier’.”
“Very American name.”
“So,” the Courier said as the desert yawned before them,
“who exactly are your parents?”
* * * *
It wasn’t just that Carolina had run off, though
that was most of it. If cornered, or drunk, or high, or just in the right mood,
he would admit that he hadn’t wanted the little bitch in the first place. Her
mother thought differently, of course, but mothers always did. He’d wanted a
son, someone to take over when he was ready to step down. Someone strong and
resolute, not the sensitive, emotional child his loins had produced. Girls were
trouble, destined to be shrieking hags. Boys turned into men. Leaders.
That was bad enough.
Perhaps he could have married her off to a worthy successor from one of the
loyal parties in the government or the more influential cartels. But no, she
had to fall in with the Socialists. She had to be public about her disdain for
the State. Her rebellious phase had to be political instead of sex or drugs.
Those, he could have handled (generous application of murder and torture of
non-sanctioned dealers and would-be suitors usually did the trick). She had
quite the following before he killed the State’s access to outside Internet.
Supporters from here to Canada (especially dissident groups in the United
States, a country too big for its leaders to properly crack down on resistance)
had egged this on, and he hadn’t reacted in time.
lieutenant on the other end of the call reported on the failure of his men to
capture her before crossing into the United States. Not only had they failed to
bring home one little girl, they had also managed to get detained by CBP in the
process. He would have to book rooms in America’s president’s hotels at
inflated rates if he wanted to get his men back. And he would, because he
didn’t want their punishment to merely be
rotting in an American prison. He would want to punish them himself.
In the meantime, he had to reevaluate his strategy. The
men he’d sent had been too obvious at the border. Slipping in more would be
easy. The kleptocratic regime in charge of the US was on friendly terms with
his own “democratic” rule, but they were too unreliable. If Carolina was going
to where he assumed she would be in Canada, they would have to cut through the
lawless middle of the country, meaning his erstwhile ally in America would not
be willing to send extraction teams. If anything, they would just send kill
drones or leave Carolina and whoever was transporting her to the savages and
warlords. Santiago almost let it go at that, but the optics of it would be particularly bad, especially with the unrest
in the north of his own country. Carolina was well-loved by easily enraged
fools, and violent crackdowns never played well. His media would have a hard
time spinning it.
No, she had to be brought home, safe and sound. He would
“convince” her to make a very public show of reconciliation and embrace the
State. Sometimes, political theater was easier than slaughtering dissidents,
though admittedly less satisfying.
Santiago made two
calls. The first, to his contacts in the United States Embassy, who would
oversee the proper means to get his men back, where he could deal with them.
There would be a public execution to plan, but he had ministers to see to that.
The second call was
to al old friend.
It was time for
Carolina to come home.