I’m glad I finally got to show you all the fantastic cover art for my upcoming novel. I’ve ordered proofs from the printers, and they are in the mail. Once they show up, I’ll sign off on them as long as they look good. Let’s hope so!
In case you have missed the chapters so far, here are links to them:
Chapter 5 is one of my favorites. It was the first one where I felt like I was really onto something with the story. I hope you enjoy it!
As always, the chapter below, and entire novel, are copyrighted.
— — —
Safety Nation by Logan Riley
I listed out of the bedroom, bleary-eyed. My head felt like the receiving end of an anvil. An awful racket came from the living room. It was much louder than the usual noise.
A dog rounded the corner separating the living room from the kitchen. It was squat and pudgy with a flat, wrinkled black face. Its body was tan colored. Its tail was curled twice over, and its eyes looked like they were about to pop out of its skull.
It raced toward me at full speed, its butt nearly dragging across the floor. An incredibly long pink tongue flapped from one side of its giant mouth. As the dog neared, it didn’t slow down. It careened into my shins with a thud.
The dog jumped at my face, going almost three feet straight up. It tried and failed a second time. Springs must have been attached to its feet. Then it decided something more fun awaited elsewhere. It skittered around me a final time, and ran full speed back to the kitchen.
My troll-wife was sitting in her usual spot. “When did you get a dog?” I asked.
“Oh . . . they delivered it half an hour ago.”
“What is it?”
“Oh . . . a dog.”
“I know it’s a dog. What kind of dog?”
There was no response. She was entranced by the pulsing light of the TV.
I went into the kitchen. Water and dog food were strewn about the floor. Several stuffed dog toys had been dissected, their cotton innards tossed about. In the center of the floor was a coiled up turd. The dog sniffed it, growled, and barked.
“You’re barking at your own shit,” I said.
The dog looked at me with a vacuous smile. For a moment it resembled Huxley. Then, the dog shot off, racing back to the living room.
“You want to help me clean up this mess?” I called to my troll-wife.
No response. It was just as well. She would only make it worse. I was the only one that did anything around here. Cleaning, cooking, laundry, maintenance, I did it all. She was a worthless slug.
I got a broom from the closet and began to sweep. I took slow breaths as my head pounded harder. My eyes ached. Every muscle in my body was taught. “Stupid dog,” I muttered under my breath.
Dogs were supposed to improve health. A study revealed that pet owners had lower blood pressure and stress levels than non-pet owners. Therefore, it was deemed safer to own a pet, and it became mandatory to have one. People were allowed to choose a dog or a cat. Later, another study came out that revealed cat feces carried bacteria that can harm unborn fetuses. So, every cat was rounded up and euthanized. Did former cat owners have less stress after the government killed their pets?
After I swept up the mess, I went back to the bedroom, showered, and dressed for work. I was looking forward to getting out of the house more than ever. As I was leaving, I said to my troll-wife, “If the dog makes a mess, can you clean it up?”
“Can you walk him so he doesn’t go in the house?”
I lowered the brim of my hat as far down as it would go. With all this talk about safety, the government had forgotten one thing: it wasn’t safe to live with a troll. Sooner or later, one of us was going to snap.
By the time I arrived at Sex Detail, Huxley and Lowery were already working. They scrutinized the electronic map. The black swath of dead pixels had grown bigger in my absence.
“How nice of you to join us,” Huxley said.
“Welcome back,” I said to Lowry.
“Thanks,” she said.
“Okay, time to get to work,” Huxley said. “We’ve got a serious crime going down tonight. If we pull this off, we’ll be all-stars.”
I wasn’t sure what he meant, but I knew he was wrong. Nothing Sex Detail did made any difference.
Huxley continued, “My informant is going to meet us at midnight, here.” He pointed to an intersection in the northeast sector of the city. He dragged his finger to a forested area beyond the city’s border and drew an imaginary circle around it. “Then we’re going to follow him to the party which is at an undisclosed location. But it should be somewhere in this area.”
Huxley turned around and looked the two of us over. He placed his hands authoritatively on his hips and puffed out his chest.
“This is a big one. We’ve gotta do this one completely by the book. That means no fucking around. You think you can handle that, Smith?”
Huxley went on like he was a general addressing his troops, and we were a thousand soldiers hanging on his every word.
“There should be anywhere from eight to twelve perpetrators. So, we’ll need to take three vans. We’ll each drive one. I’ll take the lead, of course.”
“When are you going to enlighten us with what we’re doing?” I asked.
“I was getting to that. My informant notified me of a huge safety violation. It happens on the same night every month. It’s going to take everything we’ve got to pull it off right.”
“Is this even a real case?”
Huxley thrust his finger in my face and screamed, “Don’t fucking question me! I’m in charge! One more outburst like this, and I’ll have you working Sewage Detail, shoving chemicals up your ass!”
“Whatever you say.”
Huxley looked at Lowry. Her mouth was agape. He took a step back. He adjusted his tie and cleared his throat. He ran both hands over his hair. The accumulated grease kept it slicked back. When he finally collected himself, he spoke as if nothing happened.
“My informant is very reliable. But he only agrees to work with me as long as he remains anonymous.”
Lowry raised her hand and, in a sweet voice, said, “I have a question.”
“Go ahead,” Huxley said.
“Could you give us a few details? Like who we’re arresting?”
“Of course, my dear,” he said pleasantly. “It’s a swingers’ party.”
“It’s a big sex party. Couples go there and swap partners,” I said.
“How . . . interesting,” she said faintly. I had expected her to be appalled or taken aback, but she was intrigued.
“Like I said, there could be a lot of them, so we’ll each be taking a van. And be sure to have your weapons charged and ready,” Huxley said.
Huxley stepped toward me and, in a low voice, said, “By the book, Smith.”
I replied with a single nod, and we departed.
Our caravan of three large black government vehicles was obvious. Anyone trying to avoid us would have seen us a mile away. Huxley’s van was in the lead, Lowry’s was second, and mine brought up the rear. When we reached our destination, we parked in a neat row along the curb. To the right was a public park, flooded with bright lights. It was empty.
Huxley got out of his van and entered the park. I stayed put and watched. Huxley waited in the grass, just off the sidewalk that serpentined through the park. He stood in the darkest spot he could find, although he was still partially illuminated.
Parks had been found to be safer, from both crime and accidents, if they were brightly lit. Every city was like this, bathed in bright artificial lights that were always on. Night was almost indistinguishable from day. One had to look at the sky to determine if the moon or sun was out.
Five minutes later, a man approached Huxley. They exchanged a laughable secret handshake and conversed a few minutes. Huxley probably felt like a secret agent. When they finished talking, the man disappeared and Huxley returned to his van. He didn’t let Lowry or I know what was going on. So much for going by the book.
A car drove by the caravan. Huxley’s van pulled out and followed it. Then Lowry went. I started the engine and pulled away from the curb.
We drove for half an hour, winding our way out of the city and into the forest beyond. Here, it was truly dark. Without the city lights, the natural darkness seemed doubly powerful.
Our caravan pulled off the highway and rolled along a gravel road, moving deeper into the forest. Huxley’s voice came over the radio, “Okay, everyone, kill your lights. Once we get over this hill, there’ll be a house on the right. That’s the place.”
I turned off the van’s lights, something that would be impossible in a civilian vehicle. The caravan slowed to a crawl. My eyes adjusted to the murky blackness around me, and the world gradually came into view.
As we crested the hill, I saw the building. It was just like every other suburban house, only in the forest. How did they get it out here?
The caravan stopped, and we exited our vehicles. The lead car, driven by Huxley’s informant, continued down the gravel road. It was soon out of sight, swallowed by the darkness.
The three of us convened in front of the middle van. Huxley squatted as he prepared his equipment. Lowry squatted near him, copying the pose of her superior. I continued to stand.
Huxley brought his binoculars, set to X-ray mode, to his eyes and inspected the house. Lights were on inside, but heavy curtains concealed what was behind them. Huxley started to breathe heavily. He licked his lips. “Yeah. Oh, yeah. This is the place, all right.”
Lowry and I exchanged a disturbed glance.
“Yeah, yeah,” he went on. “These guys are some big perverts. Real nasty.”
Huxley started fondling himself. Lowry stood up and inched away from him.
“Did he do this last night?” I asked in a hushed voice.
“He was a creep, but not this bad,” Lowry whispered.
“Sorry. He’s usually like this.”
“I’d hate to see what he does when he’s off the clock.”
I stifled a laugh. The more I hung around Lowry, the more I liked her. I hadn’t met anyone else with the same sense of humor as me.
“I guess you shouldn’t have requested Sex Detail.”
“Why? I haven’t had this much fun in a long time.”
Huxley, meanwhile, was still lusting at whatever he was seeing. He was so enamored, he hadn’t noticed our conversation. Overcome by curiosity, I took out my own equipment, and decided to take a look.
There were ten people in the house. Their figures were transformed into multicolored amorphous blobs. Even so, it was easy to tell what they were doing. Somebody’s head was moving rhythmically in front of someone’s lap. Somebody was bouncing atop someone else. There was a large blob of three people in one. The others were sitting on the furniture, resting. I put the binoculars away.
“See anything good in there?” Lowry asked.
“Good? Absolutely not.”
“Hey! Keep it down!” Huxley whispered excitedly. “You’re gonna blow our cover!”
We stood for another few minutes until Huxley was ready. He turned to us and said, “Here’s the plan. I go in through the front door. Lowry, you come in after me. Smith, you go around to the other side, and catch anyone trying to go out the back door.”
I walked to the rear of the house. Inside, I heard the steady thump of music, the occasional laugh, and a woman moaning happily. I pulled out my weapon and felt its weight in my hand. I looked down at it, and my headache grew stronger. I slid it back into the holster. My headache improved a bit.
Suddenly, there was a bang. Huxley had kicked in the front door. “Safety Inspectors!” he roared. “Down on the floor! Freeze!”
A woman screamed, followed by the sounds of a scuffle. Something heavy fell over, and the droning music was silenced. Shattering glass. Heavy footsteps running through the house. A man shrieked in pain.
The stomping footsteps came closer. I backed away from the door. The door flew open, and banged sharply on the side of the house. A woman, completely naked except for a pair of running shoes, raced out. She saw me. Her eyes grew wide and her pace slowed. One, two, three steps past me. She looked away. Her pace quickened, and she sped into the forest.
A man came out next, wearing only an undershirt. He didn’t look at me or slow down. A moment later, another naked woman with a fat, jiggling belly ran out. Both of them disappeared into the darkness.
I waited a few moments. It didn’t look like anyone else was coming. I could hear the sounds of the struggle within the house more clearly now. I decided to go in and lend a hand.
I knew the layout of the house instinctively. It was exactly the same as every other house. The kitchen was first. It was empty. I moved into a connecting hallway, also empty. The living room was next. Six people were here, none of them handcuffed. They sat on the floor, covered in sweat, smelling of liquor and sex, and hanging their heads in shame. The stereo was smashed and a table turned over. Broken bottles littered the floor. The carpet was soaking up spilled wine.
I turned right, moving into the bedroom. Lowry and Huxley were there. Each had their weapon drawn, aimed at the lone remaining offender. He was naked and holding a tall brass floor lamp. The shade was gone, and the bulb broken. He brandished it like a weapon.
Huxley told him to put it down. Lowry took a step toward him. He took a slow swing at her. She jumped back gracelessly.
“Last chance, asshole! Put it down!” Huxley screamed.
The offender said nothing. His eyes darted around the room, looking for an escape. He swung the lamp at Lowry, quicker this time, but still missed. Lowry was spooked and gave the offender and opening. He dropped the lamp and punched her in the stomach, doubling her over. He wrested the weapon from her hands, and shoved her into the wall. She thumped to the floor.
“Eat this!” Huxley growled.
Two probes leapt from the muzzle of Huxley’s weapon. They arced over the offender’s shoulder. They buried themselves in the window curtain and discharged. The electric pulse set the curtain ablaze.
“Holy shit!” Huxley cried.
With no means of defending himself, Huxley watched as the offender took careful aim. I could have drawn my own weapon, I had plenty of time, but I wanted to see what would happen next.
The offender fired. The two probes hit Huxley square in the chest. His body filled with electricity. He squealed as he seized and dropped to the floor. The offender threw his weapon down, and turned toward the hallway. His eyes opened with surprise; he was not expecting to see me standing there.
He charged at me like a bull. I side-stepped and stuck out my foot. He sailed through the air, and crashed head first into the wall. His skull left a substantial crater in the drywall. He flopped onto the floor. I put two fingers on his neck. He still had a pulse. “Buddy, you’re going to have one hell of a headache tomorrow,” I said.
I hurried into the bedroom, and ripped down the flaming curtain. I stamped it with my feet until it turned to ash. Next, I helped Lowry to her feet. “Are you okay?” I asked.
“Aside from a stomachache, yeah, I’m fine.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t get here sooner.”
“Don’t be. If you had intervened, I wouldn’t have seen that.” She nodded toward Huxley who was twitching unconsciously.
Lowry brushed herself off. She retrieved her weapon and holstered it. She used her handcuffs to lock together the ankles of the offender who had given us so much trouble. We went into the living room to inspect the others. Everyone was still there. Some of them were shaking.
“How’s this for your second night on the job?” I asked.
“Not bad. Seven’s a good catch. You get the other three?”
“Must have missed them.”
It took us ten minutes to get everyone packed into the vans. By the time we finished, Huxley had woken up. He staggered outside, rubbing his sternum. He was embellishing, letting us see how much he suffered. “You get that son of a bitch?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I said.
He went from van to van, scrutinizing the offenders. He counted them all before turning to me. He narrowed his eyes and asked, “Why are there only seven?”
“What do you mean?”
“There were ten. Where are the other three? Weren’t you guarding the back door?”
“Oh, them. They overpowered me.”
Huxley fell silent. He walked a few paces toward the lead van, but then turned back, saying, “You know what, Smith? I’m citing you for insubordination and dereliction of duty.”
I climbed into my van. I wasn’t interested in what he had to say.
“Are you listening to me?!” he shouted, red-faced.
I shut the door and started the engine. I pulled away from the caravan and made my way down the gravel road. In the rear-view mirror, I saw him jumping up and down, arms flailing. He looked like a cartoon character. It was then I realized my headache was gone.
— — —
To be continued!