Novel Excerpt

Novel Excerpt (236 words)

“Would you like some more iced tea, sweetie?” Ms. Gladys Bombecker stood beside Kip Davis, pitcher and glass in hand. Her high-cut shorts and low neckline blouse were somehow incongruous with her late sixties body.

“Oh, no thank you, Ms. Bombecker. One glass was plenty today.”

This was Kip’s second trip to the house this week. First was the piano tuning. Today it was string replacement – three treble strings had “snapped” after his Monday morning visit. Oddly, the breaks had occurred not at the endpoints, where the piano strings wrap around tuning or hitch pins, but right in the middle, as if they had been cut with scissors.

“Please, honey, call me Gladys. If you’re not thirsty, is there anything else you want while you’re here? Anything?” She moved in closer, blocking out the weak lamplight. Kip’s eyes remained fixed on the tuning pin as he finished winding the final string.

“No thanks, Ma’am, I’m fine.”

“Ma’am? Humph,” Ms. Bombecker turned and muttered as she left the room.

Some clients demanded a certain amount of discretion, but as long as they paid his bill, Kip was more than happy to service their pianos. Backing out of the driveway ten minutes later, he noticed that she didn’t follow him out, waving, like on Monday. Hopefully he didn’t hurt her feelings too badly.

“Yep, another day in the life,” he sighed, and plotted a course for the downtown taco drive-thru.

End
Copyright 2017 by D.A. Donaldson
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I’m Not Crazy

I’m Not Crazy (280 words)

I’m not crazy.

Crazy doesn’t know what it’s doing. Crazy isn’t responsible for its actions because it’s, you know … crazy.

But I knew exactly what I was doing when I stepped in front of that train. I wasn’t trying to kill myself, absolutely not!

It was the bees; I did it for them.

Everyone knows the bees are in danger, but most people don’t know why. It’s complicated. It’s an irregular confluence of magnetic waves, wind velocity and ozone depletion that sends their little bee directional compasses all out of whack, so they can’t find the flowers.

No flowers equals no nectar. No nectar equals no honey. No honey equals a world without honey, and we’re not going to survive long in that environment.

And worst of all is the trains. Wherever they go they stir up unnatural breeze patterns, disrupting Mother Nature’s airflow and generating those insidious magnetic fields, with their steel wheels and their parallel rails — Field Strength equals velocity times alloy ratio over the rail coefficient to the fourth power… everyone knows the formula.

But no one seems to care, so it was up to me.

If I hadn’t stepped in front of that train, it never would have slammed on its brakes, never would have stopped … derailed, whatever. I realize that some people got hurt. OK, killed, and that is very regrettable. It wasn’t my intention to cause any harm. But we don’t know how many more trains the bees can take. The trains have to stop, and the stopping has to start somewhere, and today was the day because there I was and there was the train and, well, I suppose it was fate.

But I did it for the bees.

I’m not crazy.

Copyright 2017 by D.A. Donaldson
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The Weather Hack

Author’s Note: This short story was conceived and written prior to the release of the film Geostorm, which I believe is now in theaters. There are similarities in the general plot, from which I can only conclude that Hollywood hacked my flash drive…

 

The Weather Hack  (1200 words)

First came the hail – sudden, large, and lethal. The devastation was so great across three southern states that National Guard units were dispatched just to help with the bodies. Nothing like it had ever been recorded, and the storm developed so quickly that emergency sirens didn’t go off until the whole thing was over. In the end, close to 3,900 people were killed, one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history. It would be almost a year before everyone understood there was nothing natural about it.

They didn’t call me until months later, after the hurricanes and the lightning storms; after more than seven thousand total lives lost. Then, on a crisp February afternoon, my cell phone display showed “U.S. Government” to the tune of Yankee Doodle Dandy. Did I mention they were in my contacts? They had called once before.

Back then it was some random hacker (still hate that term) who cracked their precious “Hard Shell Digital Armor” that supposedly kept the newly upgraded and unified U.S. power grid safe. I was only fourteen, but winning an international hack competition kinda puts you in the spotlight whether you like it or not – yeah, I really am that good – so Uncle Sam came calling.

I played reluctant until my folks absolutely insisted it was about time I did something constructive. In the end, I agreed to get them out of the jam, and everybody got their electric back. Yee-haw.

But this… this weather thing. People just assumed all the global warming crows were right and we were reaping the whirlwind, so to speak. I was seventeen and more interested in the ladies, quite frankly, than in heading back to some remote, secret computer lab and poking around someone’s digital back-door, but when the Feds claimed that this was right up my alley, and that my assistance was needed (actually they said “required” but I know my rights) my parents were all “it’s your duty” and “people have died” and “save the world” and blah, blah, blah. So I said yes, again.

The U.S. Digital Defense briefing room was smaller than I remembered, and poorly lit. We were all sitting around – me and the military types and the dark-suited agents from who knows what federal department and, of course, the other two consultants. Both of them looked younger than me. This is where we were told that government researchers had developed a weather control technology, and that it had been incorporated into a military satellite – because naturally we have to weaponize every invention that ever came along – and how the control codes had somehow been compromised, etc.

“What we need from you,” said the salt and pepper agent who took over the briefing, “is a plan to regain control of the satellite and shut it down. Then we’ll work on upgrading our security protocols to prevent another hack like this one.”

He was speaking to us three, of course.

“Aren’t you about 7,300 Americans too late for that?” said the kid next to me. He was probably fourteen and, like me at that age, prone to sarcasm.

Ignoring the comment, the agent continued, “Obviously, the satellite’s existence is currently classified, and any information deemed appropriate for public knowledge will be disseminated to the press over the next several days. As long as the three of you are here, no outside contact.”

“I have a question,” I said, raising my hand like a kid in geometry class. “Wasn’t the control software beta-tested for vulnerabilities? It seems like something this dangerous would have been put through the paces a few times before deployment.”

The agent remained impassive. “I really can’t comment on that. Clearly our people felt that the system was secure at the time.”

“Oopsy,” whispered the kid beside me.

I smirked. “I’m Jake,” I said, offering my hand.

“I’m Jeffrey, and this is Bill,” he replied, gesturing to the other teen beside him. “We both just met about two minutes before you walked in. They have our parents put up at some hotel right outside the base.”

“Yeah, I went through that drill before, when I was your age. This time my folks just signed a paper and stayed home.”

We all three followed our liaison to the lab where we’d be working. It was more elaborate than before, with a dozen servers and a huge 84” screen on the south wall, opposite a bank of twenty HD monitors, most of them blank.

“What are these supposed to show?” I asked.

“They used to show various shots from the satellite, until they went dark.” Our liaison was young, probably mid-twenties. Her cute and friendly demeanor seemed out of place in the gray government complex. “They serve breakfast at 08:00, lunch at 13:00, and dinner at 18:00 hours in the dining hall. Directions are posted over there near the doorway. Anything else you need just dial S on the blue phone, that’s me. I’ll meet you after your evening debriefing to show you to quarters. Good luck.”

We wandered around the lab, looking at the latest cool stuff that hadn’t yet hit the consumer market. Finally, as the “old man” of the group and the only one with previous experience fixing government screw-ups, I took the lead in suggesting an approach to the problem at hand.

The traditional back-door method was out, since the back door had been exploited and closed already by the hackers. This would require a full frontal assault, and we agreed that the solar array controls were our best bet. Gain access, rotate the array away from the sun, then drain the power cells until the satellite was rendered dead in the sky. After that we could figure out the regaining control part. So we got to work, shadowed by two government babysitters. I let the kids make suggestions and then pretended to consider them; we even used one or two. Clearly they believed it was a team effort. In the end, I “discovered” a particular approach that did the trick and we completed phase one by dinnertime. Tomorrow we’d have to milk it a little. No sense finishing the job too quickly, now that the immediate danger had been neutralized. More time equaled more money.

And that’s the great thing about working as an emergency consultant for the U.S. government – they pay really, really well. You can make enough fixing one major hack to set you up for a few years, easy, and if you work it right you could be set for life. The trick is having a crisis emerge often enough to build your nest egg, but not so often as to arouse suspicion. That takes a bit of planning, not to mention particular skills. Of course, it helps to have a buddy on the government’s beta-testing payroll, just to ensure that the most difficult to spot weakness is conveniently overlooked. Then it’s just a matter of responding to the call for help and defusing the crisis.

Yep, all in all it’s a pretty sweet setup. Sure, some people got killed this time, but it’s a dangerous world, right? Besides, when the stuff hits the fan it’ll be Uncle Sam that takes the blame, capitalist schmucks. One thing’s for sure, they won’t ever trace it back to me.

Yeah, I really am that good.

End

Copyright 2017 by D.A. Donaldson
Posted in Crime, Fiction, Sci-Fi, short story | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Girl’s Best Friend

Author’s note: I’m not a fan of “noir” fiction, and very little of my writing could be classified as such. This short piece is about as close as I’ve come, and it’s pretty tame by noir standards, I think.

 A Girl’s Best Friend  (800 words)

Eva Corletta walked down the street, her four-inch heels producing a rhythmic click on the concrete sidewalk. Every now and then she would steal a backward glance, but there was really no need to worry, since everyone around knew she was Toretti’s mule.

Undoubtedly the diamonds were stolen, although it wasn’t her job to know those things. No matter, whoever they belonged to would be crazy to make an attempt on them now, here in the heart of Toretti’s territory. Besides, they were tucked safely away in the pouch clipped to her bra-strap, not in her purse.

Rounding the corner near Rico’s Pizza, her left heel went down into the sidewalk grate, and Eva went down with it. As she broke her fall with outstretched hands, the pouch flap popped loose, and dozens of glittering stones spilled onto the concrete, some of them bouncing down into the sewer.

“Merda!”

Frantically she scrambled to snatch up every diamond in sight before any passers-by took notice. Too late.

“Look at that,” a woman walking with her husband pointed at several diamonds grouped together on the ground. They stopped and she bent down.

“Get back!” Eva screamed, lunging for the stones.

“Jeez lady, calm down!” the husband blurted.

She ignored him as she scooped up the diamonds and then half-crawled in a circle, picking up one here, another there, while her knees scraped on the rough sidewalk. After recovering every straggler in sight, she funneled the stones from her hand back into the pouch and closed the flap. Blood oozed down her shins as she resumed her walk at a faster pace.

It had been almost a year, and she had never failed to deliver for Toretti. Right now she didn’t even want to contemplate his reaction if he found out she had lost some of the diamonds. He was all smiles when things went well, and a murdering SOB when they didn’t. Her knees began to throb as she rounded another corner, and she could feel the red wetness now accumulating in her heels. Just two more blocks; she was almost there. A beat cop stepped out from doorway and stopped short, blocking her path.

“Whoa, what happened to you, miss?”

“Nothing, it’s nothing,” she said. “I just need to get somewhere.”

“It looks like something to me.” He was about to key his shoulder mike when a squad car pulled up to the curb. A young sergeant stepped out.

“Whaddya got here, officer?”

“Sergeant, this young lady is bleeding like a fountain. I was about to call for a bus.”

“No need,” the sergeant replied, “I’ll take it from here. Miss, just get into the car. We’ll get you cleaned up and I’ll drop you off wherever you’re going.”

“I…” she started to object, but this one looked familiar, like maybe she’d seen him around Toretti’s. “OK,” she said finally, and moved toward the rear door as he held it open.

They drove on, and she broke the silence, “Do you know me?”

“Sure,” he said, turning another corner.

“How did you know…”

“Look, when things go wrong, word gets out fast. I just happened to be one street over, so it was no problem,” he made another turn.

“I don’t think this is the right way,” she said.

“Change of plans, just in case. Don’t worry, we’ll take care of you.”

The car continued toward the wharf, circling a warehouse and pulling in through a large entryway. Two men approached, one of them opening the rear car door. He was heavy, and bald, with an inch-long scar under his right eye, and he had the smarmy look of someone who tied up loose ends.

“Let’s go, Eva.” his voice was gravel, “we’ll take care of you. First… the diamonds?”

She stepped out of the car and considered running, but no. Her hand was shaking as she reached into her blouse and removed the pouch, handing it to the big man. He nodded to the officer in the driver’s seat before flicking the door closed, and the car backed out.

Eva felt nauseous as the man put his hand into the small of her back and pushed, “Right over there Eva, you can wash up through that door.”

The open wounds stung as Eva began walking, her four-inch heels producing an irregular scrape on the warehouse floor. It had been almost a year – the longest she had ever held a job.

“Over there,” he repeated, “right through that door.”

#

Briana Ricci smiled as she walked down the sidewalk, a brand new Fendi under her arm. Now and then she’d steal a glance backward, but she wasn’t really worried about anyone snatching her purse around here.  Protection was one of the perks of her new job, and by now almost everyone knew she was Toretti’s mule.

End

Copyright 2017 by D.A. Donaldson
Posted in Crime, Fiction, Noir | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment