The Last Driver – Episode 1 – Chapter 4

THE LAST DRIVER_finalebook1

December 23, 2010

Day turned into night as the big rig pulled into a vacant lot. Bernie’s goons rolled up the back door of the trailer. With all three loot bags in the back seat, I backed Veronica out into the lot. I got out and watched as Bernie’s crew went to work on my girl, swapping out one dummy license plate for another and painting her a deep shade of midnight black. Yup, it’s true. Veronica was a brunette for an entire year after that.

In the back of the trailer, Santa One was awake. He removed his beard to reveal a bloody, broken nose. “When do we get our cut?”

“I don’t know,” Bernie said as he hopped out of the trailer. “Probably when Roman decides to give it to you.”

“No,” Santa One said. “Fuck that noise. That job was harder than we were told it was going to be.”

Bernie shrugged his shoulders. “Maybe it was harder…or maybe you boys just aren’t very good bank robbers. But hey, don’t feel bad. Not everyone has what it takes. Lucky for you, Price Town is always taking applications. You three would make great stock boys.”

Santa One stepped to the edge of the trailer and looked down on Bernie. “I want hazard pay. And damages for my nose. That driver was a maniac.”

Outside, I chomped on my toothpick and sighed in response to that comment, but said nothing. My stomach was still gurgling from the tunnel explosion.

“Seems like the driver was the only one who did his job right,” Bernie said. “You’re not in cuffs and you’re alive so..”

Santa One pointed a finger at Bernie. “I don’t want to speak to peons. I want what’s coming to me. I want to talk to the man in charge.”

“Look buddy,” Bernie said. “You’re going to have to take it up with Roman, although a word of warning – the Giacomo family organization isn’t exactly a democracy known for its robust parliamentary procedure, so if you think you’re just going to…”

“I don’t want to talk to Roman,” Santa One said. “I want to talk to the big man himself.”

Bernie guffawed. “You want to speak to Carmine Giacomo?”

“Yeah,” Santa One said.

“God,” Bernie said. “Pal, I barely speak to the top dog myself. You get to speak to him when he wants to speak to you and when he asks to speak to you, you drop to your knees and pray it’s not about something you’ve done to piss him off. So if you think a trio of two-bit hacks are just going to…”

Santa One pulled out his gun and pointed it down towards Bernie, who instinctively threw up his hands. “Whoa, whoa, whoa…there’s no need for…”

“I’m gonna talk to Carmina Giacomo,” Santa One said.

Bernie nodded. “Absolutely. You certainly are.”

“You’re going to take me to him right now,” Santa One said.

“Right away,” Bernie said.

“And my boys and I are going to get what’s coming to us,” Santa One said.

“Sure enough,” Bernie said. “Everything that’s coming to you.”

Santa One returned his gun to the pocket of his big red coat. Meanwhile, I checked out a news website on my phone. The latest headline forced me to break out in a cold sweat. “Over One Hundred Dead and Twenty Still Missing Following Tunnel Explosion.”

My stomach gurgled. I read the sub-headlines. “High Speed Chase Ends in Disaster…White House Calls Attack an “Act of Terror.”

I read on. “Homeland security officials are working in close coordination with the FBI after a daring bank robbery turned bloody…”

Burp. That was it. I thought my guts were empty, but there was more. I vomited all over the pavement. Bernie’s goons were pros. They didn’t flinch. They kept working.

Bernie slapped me on the back. “Aww geeze, kid. You want an antacid or something?”

“That’d be good,” I said.

Bernie said. “Yeah, I don’t have one. I don’t know why I asked that. You gonna be alright?”

“Smoke,” you said.

“What?” Bernie asked.

“That button you gave me,” I said. “You said it would just make a big cloud of smoke.”

Bernie pulled an apple out of his pocket and munched on it. “And a lot of smoke was made…after the fire…that consumed the many brave law enforcement officers who were valiantly attempting to apprehend us and put us behind bars.”

“You said it was just going to be a distraction,” I said.

Without skipping a beat, Bernie said in a deadpan tone, “They all looked pretty distracted to me.”

“And the people,” I said. “All those people.”

Bernie bit off another hunk of people. “Sad? Yes. But I mean…were any of them doing anything productive?”

I turned my head. “Fuck you, Bernie.”

“OK,” Bernie said. “Show me an article that one of those people was a scientist on his way to patent a cure for cancer and you got me. Mea culpa.”

The fixer slapped me on the shoulder. “Until then, get your panties out of a twist and take a Midol, kid. Honestly.”

“The President says its terrorism,” I said.

Bernie bunched up his hands and held them up to his eyes, pretending like he was crying. “’Waaah…boo ho the President says it’s terrorism!’ That’s you. That’s what you sound like.”

“This is serious,” I said.

“When was what we do ever not serious?” Bernie asked. The slightly older man, seven years my senior, stood there, waiting for an answer. I didn’t have one.

I was saved by Santa One. “I don’t have all night,” the dope shouted from the back of the truck.

“I know you don’t,” Bernie said. “You’re a very important man.”

Bernie looked around. “Say, boys?”

“What?” Santa One said.

“Where’s the money?” Bernie asked.

“What?” Santa One said.

“Are you deaf?” Bernie asked. “The money!”

“What do you mean?” Santa One asked.

Bernie removed his had and massaged his forehead for a moment. “I’m…I’m sorry…I just hate that.”

The fixer put his hat back on and looked at me. “Don’t you hate that? When you say something very succinctly with just the right words and someone says, ‘What do you mean?’ as though they don’t understand the meaning of commonly used terms?”

I was too nauseous to respond.

“I’m sorry,” Bernie shouted to Santa One. “When I said, ‘ Where’s the money?’ I meant ‘Abraham Lincoln just fucked your mother and asked your sister for a reach around, but she was too busy blowing Harry S. Truman while your father watched.’”

Typical Bernie.

“Huh?” Santa One said.

“Learn English,” Bernie said. “The question, ‘Where’s the money?’ in common English usage means that I am unaware of the location of the fucking money and I am inquiring to you, my good man, as to any knowledge you may have of the money’s whereabouts.”

“Huh?”

Bernie’s face turned red. “Where’s the fucking money?”

“What do you mean, ‘where’s the fucking money?’”

“Don’t make me do that dance again!” Bernie shouted. “The money! Where is it?”

“I thought you had it!” Santa One cried.

“Oh,” Bernie said. “The nerve of this guy. If I had the money, would I be asking you where it is?”

“I don’t know,” Santa One said.

“He doesn’t know,” Bernie said to me. He turned back to Santa One. “It’s OK. I don’t blame you. I blame the public education system. It’s been turning entire generations of Americans into dummies for years. Go on. Look around for the money.”

“What?” Santa One asked. “You telling me this is my fault?”

“Well,” Bernie said. “Look, I don’t mean to tell you how to do your job, but if I were a bank robber, I’d keep a might tight grip on my loot sack at all times, just saying.”

“This isn’t my fault,” Santa One said.

“Failing that,” Bernie said. “I would be aware of my loot sack’s location at all times. Again, just saying.”

My eyes veered off in the direction of Veronica, where I knew the loot sacks were sitting in the back seat. Moreover, I knew Bernie had put them there so I wondered what he was up to.

“You better not tell Carmine this is my fault!” Santa One shouted.

“There’s no fault yet,” Bernie said. “I’m sure the money’s around here somewhere.”

Santa Two and Three joined Santa One. “Someone loose the cash?” Santa Two asked.

“I didn’t do it,” Santa Three said.

“Give that trailer a good look over boys,” Bernie said. “And I’ll check the car.”

The Santas did just that. They looked in boxes, in containers, everywhere.

“I don’t see it!” Santa One yelled.

Bernie pulled a little black box out of his pocket. It was similar to the one he’d given me. Big red button. The nub of a silver antenna “Keep looking boys. You don’t want to go back to a man like Carmine Giacomo empty handed without at least being able to say you did a thorough search.”

Santa One picked up a case of auto parts and dumped it all over the floor. “Aww, come on! Rip this place apart!”

The Santas joined in, wrecking the trailer.

“Bern,” I said. “What are you…”

“You might want to step back for this.”

Bernie walked backwards, counting out his steps all the while. “One…two…three…”

My slightly older brother figure looked at me. “And we’re walking….we’re walking…four…five…six…”

“Jesus.” I hurried to catch up.

“Seven…eight…nine…Montez?”

Montez one of Bernie’s goons, nodded. He gathered all ten of the fixer’s hired hands and joined us.

“…ten,” Bernie said. He stopped and extended the antenna.

“I can’t find it!” Santa One said.

“Check under that tarp!” Bernie said.

“Which tarp?” Santa One said.

“The tarp in the back!” Bernie said. “There’s only one tarp. I’m sure I saw it.”

Montez and the goons covered their ears. I followed suit.

“God,” Bernie said. “Did I use two pounds of semtex or three?”

Bernie looked around for the answer. “Montez, dos o tres?”

“No se, Mr. Bernie.”

“Aw screw it,” Bernie said as he started walking backwards again. We all followed him. “One…two…three…four…five. Five’s good. Five ought to do it.”

Santa One walked to the edge of the trailer. “Hey! You got the money, don’t you?!”

“Nope,” Bernie said as he extended the silver antenna.

“If you think you’re going to cheat me, you’ve got another thing…”

Bernie pressed the button. Kaboom! Truck and trailer erupted into a massive, all consuming fireball. The flames jumped at least twelve feet into the air.

“Well, if the cops didn’t know where we were, they do now,” Bernie said as he pulled out a pack of gum. He looked at me. “Stick of gum?”

I vomited again. At this point, I had no idea where the puke was coming from. It was like my body had extra barf reserves.

Bernie pulled out a stick of gum, unwrapped it, and popped it into his mouth. He chewed away as he patted me on the back. “That’s OK, kid. Let it all out.”

“I would like a stick of gum, Mr. Bernie.”

“Of course, Montez. Where are my manners?”

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The Last Driver – Episode 1 – Chapter 3

THE LAST DRIVER_finalebook1

March 14, 2050

“People drove cars all by themselves all the time, sweetheart,” I said, still sitting inside Veronica with my granddaughter.   “People drove themselves to the store, to work, to parties…”

Hannah threw her hands up in disbelief. “But how? How would even have been possible for a human to drive a car?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “It wasn’t that hard, really. They gave driver’s licenses to the dumbest people. Anyone with a pulse could get one. Frankly, you were considered a loser if you didn’t drive.”

“I’m not buying it,” Hannah said. “Cars need an AI. They need guidance chips and internal memory banks and precision sensors surrounding the entire vehicle just to make sure they don’t bump into anything. You’re going to sit there and tell me that these great big hunks of steel moving fast on a road with only inches between them were operated by people?”

“Yes,” I said. “Millions of them. All over the world. Everyday.”

“And no one ever hit anything?” Hannah asked.

“Oh, I never said that,” I said. “People hit stuff with their cars all the time. Walls. Pedestrians. Other cars.”

“Why’d they do that?” Hannah asked.

“Beats me,” I said. “Some people just weren’t very good drivers. They’d get tired and make a mistake. They’d stop paying attention and do something stupid. Some people would even get drunk and drive, which never ended well.”

“Drunk?” Hannah asked.

“Intoxicated,” I answered.

“Huh?”

“When people drank too much beer, they’d get sick and woozy and act weird,” I said. “It was called, ‘getting drunk.’”

“But how could people get drunk when there was a beer buying limit?” Hannah asked.

I sighed. “Hun, in those days, people were allowed to buy unlimited beers.”

“Wow,” Hannah said.

“I know,” I replied.

“I have no idea how you all survived if everyone was getting drunk and ramming their cars into each other all the time,” Hannah said.

“Me neither,” I said. “We were lucky I suppose.”

“I still don’t buy it,” Hannah said.

“Buy what?” I asked.

“That people drove cars,” Hannah said.

“You saw it in the movie.”

“You said it yourself,” Hannah said. “That was make-believe. There was no way someone could have driven a car off a cliff, through a helicopter and land on the other side.”

“True,” I said. “But people drove normally all the time. What about that movie about the kid who took the day off? He drove a car in that one. He got his sad friend to steal it from his father.”

Hannah thought about it. “That was make-believe too. The movie people just made it look like he was driving his sad friend’s dad’s car to make the movie more interesting, but he was just pretending.”

“Is that so?” I asked.

“People never drove cars, Grampa,” Hannah said. “You’re just messing with me.”

“Am I?” I asked.

“Yes,” Hannah said. “A human car driver is like a unicorn or a sasquatch or a wiener dog. Fun to think about, but they never existed.”

I pointed at the girl. “Watch it now. The great Dachshund extinction of 2025 is nothing to joke about.”

“Come on,” Hannah said.

“I mean it,” I said. “Those dogs suffered.”

“Yeah, right,” Hannah said. “There’s no such thing as wiener dogs and there’s no such thing as human drivers. Stop pulling my leg. I’m not a little girl anymore.

I reached into the pocket of my tattered plaid shirt and pulled out my keys. They were still attached to Dad’s poker chip. “How much you want to bet I can drive this car right now?”

Hannah rolled her eyes. “Whatever.”

I stuck the key in the ignition. “Get the door, if you please.”

“Grampa,” Hannah said. “If this is going to be like the time you pretended to pull candy out of my ear…”

“Apparently obedient children are as extinct as wiener dogs,” I said.

“Were kids obedient in your time?” Hannah asked.

“Not especially,” I said. “Get the door.”

Hannah grumbled and hopped out of the car. She punched the garage door, rolling it up. She returned to the car. “OK. Let’s see whatever lame thing you’re going to do.”

I turned the ignition over. Hannah jumped as the engine rumbled. We traded glances.

“It’s a trick.”

“Is it?”

“Yes.”

“Hun,” I said. “You’ve seen the inside of a self-driving car. They all have seats that face each other. This one has seats that face the road. Why do you think that is?”

“I don’t know,” Hannah said. “Do I look like an old person?”

I made sure Veronica was in park, then pressed my foot down on the gas pedal, revving the engine. Hannah was astounded. “Wait, you can control the engine?”

I smiled. “Listen to that tiger growl.”

“This is impossible,” Hannah said.

“Is it?” I asked, revving the engine again.

“OK,” Hannah said. “So you can control the engine. Big deal. The sheer number of calculations and decisions that have to be made to move a car – I’m sorry, but it’s all too much for the human brain to process.”

Challenge accepted. It’d been decades since I’d last driven a car. It wasn’t by choice. I was allowed to keep Veronica in my garage as long as I kept paying the renewal fees on my antique car collector’s license, but only self-driving cars were street legal.

I sat there, debating my next move in my mind. If I took the car outside, I risked arrest. Oh well, I was old and the best part about being old is you just run out of fucks to give. This was a chance to be a hero in my granddaughter’s eyes.

“I hope I remember how to do this,” I said.

“You don’t,” Hannah said. “Because you never did.”

“Eh,” I said. “I bet its just like riding a bicycle.”

“A what?” Hannah asked.

“Put a cork in it, sweetheart.”

“A what?”

I slapped my forehead. “Just throw the dirt over me already.”

“Why would anyone throw dirt on you?” Hannah asked.

Ugh. Recreational cycling, wine, and funerals…all things that were lost on young people. Only the higher classes could still get wine, recreational cycling had been deemed an inefficient waste of time and the Order had declared that land was in too short supply to allow spent carcasses to be planted in it. It was cremation or bust.

I put Veronica into drive and ever so slowly, took my foot off the brake, allowing this fine hunk of American Made steel to eek out into the driveway.

Hannah was amazed…thrilled…out of her mind. The look on her face was comparable to what I imagine to what a child’s face would look like upon spotting the aforementioned unicorn or sasquatch…or wiener dog.

“Holy shit!”

“Language, young lady!”

Hannah couldn’t control herself. “Holy fucking shit!”

“The drones will have you hauled you if they hear you talk like that,” I said.

“I don’t care,” Hannah said as she looked around. “This is…I can’t believe it!”

As soon as the car hit the edge of the driveway, I hit the brake. “Well, well, well…don’t you feel bad for ever doubting your old grandpa?”

“I do!”

“Telling me I never drove a car,” I said. “The nerve. You kids today know nothing.”

“How did you learn how to do this?” Hannah asked.

“To do what?” I asked. “Drive a car?”

“Yeah,” Hannah said. “It’s got to be so complicated…did you go to engineering school or get an advanced science degree or…”

“I just took a class with Mr. Ferguson.”

“Who?” Hannah asked.

“Mr. Ferguson,” I repeated.

“Was Mr. Ferguson some type of wizard?”

“No,” I said. “He was my high school driver’s ed teacher. Every teenager had one.”

Hannah grabbed my arm. “They let KIDS drive?”

“When they were just a little bit older than you,” I said.

“Sir,” Hannah said. “You had drunk people and kids driving and everyone was operating a car without an advanced science degree. You lived in some truly messed up times. I congratulate you for living through them.”

“Thanks,” I said.

Soon enough, my time as a hero came to an end. Mrs. Howard, that nosey old battle-axe, was sitting across the street in her drive-way, striking a pose in her finest plus-sized mu-mu, taking notes of everything I was doing in a little journal. God, that bitch hadn’t just drunk the One World Order’s Kool-Aid. She’d licked the pitcher clean. “Happy Order Month” signs were stuck in the ground all over her lawn, as if one wasn’t enough.

I stuck my head out the window. “How are you today, Mrs. Howard? Lovely day, isn’t it?”

The old buzzard made a face like she’d just sucked on something sour. “Uh huh.”

She glared at me and waited for it. Oh, how I hated saying it, but it was necessary. “All hail the One World Order.”

Mrs. Howard stated the return refrain in her weak voice. “Long may it reign.”

I looked around the neighborhood. There were hundreds of small, white, boxy houses all lined up in perfect rows for as far as the eye could see. I turned my head to the right. A sleek, gray, 2041 Yarikazi Finster pulled into the driveway of the house next door. The center door on the right hand side slid open automatically. Mom, Dad, son and daughter all hopped out, looking happy and well-rested.

“Welcome home, Martinez family,” the car’s AI said. “It was a pleasure to return you to your domicile in Residential District 595XTK-Alpha.”

I scoffed. “Residential District 595XTK-Alpha. Please.”

“What’s wrong with that?” Hannah asked.

“I like this place better when it was called Compton. Ugh, the INP is rolling over in their graves.”

Hannah shook her head. “It’s like your speaking English…but not.”

The kids were too excited with a toy they were fighting over to notice me, but Mom and Dad were aghast at the site of me behind Veronica’s wheel.

“Holy shit,” Mr. Martinez said.

Mrs. Martinez’s lower lip quivered. She breathed heavily. She dropped her purse and her finger wavered as she pointed at me. “Warlock!”

Hannah attempted to intervene. “Oh, no. He’s not a warlock. He took a class from Mr. Ferguson.”

“Thing of evil!!!” Mrs. Martinez cried as she gathered up her children and ran inside. “Get in the house! Quickly!”

Mr. Martinez approached the car.

“How you doing, Mateo?” I asked.

“Oh fine, fine,” Mr. Martinez said. “Wow, my old man told me this was possible, but I never dreamed…”

“It’s all under control,” I said. I glanced at Mrs. Howard, then at Mr. Martinez. “I assure you, I’m a fully registered antique car collector, just showing my granddaughter how cars worked in the old days.”

Mr. Martinez looked clueless. “But there’s no history before 2032.”

“Yes,” I said. “So people keep telling me.”

I turned my attention back to Mrs. Howard. She’d picked up her cell phone and had begun dialing.

“Oh, Mrs. Howard!” I said. “Please, there’s no need to call the authorities!”

Mrs. Howard shot me a dirty look and lowered her phone. “Uh huh.”

“Everything’s fine, dear,” I said. “I’m just reliving my glory days. You know how it is. I’m sure you remember when you were young, riding around town in cars driven by your various handsome suitors..”

“Uh huh,” Mrs. Howard said.

“Or when you hit the drive-thru fifty times a day to order the super-size meal you fat…”

I observed Hannah’s quizzical face and realized there was still time for her to avoid becoming a miserable, nasty old prick like her grandfather.

“Drive-thru?” the girl asked.

“Nixing those might have been an improvement,” I said. “I’ll give the One World Order that one.”

“Super-size meal?” Hannah asked.

“Two,” I replied.

Mr. Martinez knocked on the side of the car. “Hey Frank, put this away, will you? It’s creeping me out.”

I nodded. “Sure. Not a problem.”

“And keep it away from my kids.”

“I had no intention of running over your lovely children, Mateo,” I said.

“I appreciate that,” Mr. Martinez said. “Hey, where’s your Order month sign?”

“My what?” I asked.

“It’s Order Month,” Mr. Martinez said.

“Oh,” I said. “I thought celebrating that wasn’t mandatory.”

“It isn’t,” Mr. Martinez said. “But you know, the drones and their questions.”

I smiled. “Right, right. The damn drones.”

“They stop by,” Mr. Martinez said. “They ask me if I know why you don’t have a sign. I tell them I keep putting signs on your lawn for you but they keep disappearing.”

“It’s the kids!” I said. “I swear, the kids…I mean, not your kids, but the kids at large in this neighborhood. They just keep swiping my Order month signs. I don’t know what it is. I’m sorry, Mateo.”

“That’s OK, Frank,” Mr. Martinez said. “I’ll put another one up for you.”

“Oh,” I said. “You’d do that for me? You are a jewel, Mateo. What would I ever do without you?”

“I don’t know,” Mr. Martinez said.

“You’re sure it wouldn’t be a bother?” I asked.

“Not at all.”

“Oh good,” I said.

“Just watch it with the car,” Mr. Martinez said. “I don’t need to be up all night answering the drones’ questions.”

“I know,” I said. “None of us need that.”

The Finster’s AI perked up. “Mr. Martinez, I have received word that your grocery order awaits pick-up at the food depository. If I am not needed here, I will head over there now.”

“That would be great,” Mr. Martinez said. “Thank you.”

The Finster started up, rolled out of the Martinez family’s driveway and down the street.

“In my day people had to load the groceries into cars themselves,” I said.

“Yeah,” Mr. Martinez said. “How was that?”

“It sucked,” I said.

Mr. Martinez headed for his door. “See you later, Frank.”

“Later, Mateo.”

“All hail the One World Order,” Mr. Martinez said as he stepped into his house.

“Yeah, yeah,” I replied. “Long may it reign.”

I looked at Mrs. Howard. “OK, have a nice day, Mrs. Howard! I will now return the car that I remind you, I own legally, and will return it to my garage and there will be no need to tell the drones about any of this!”

I put Veronica into reverse, looked over my shoulder, then slowly backed her into the garage.

Once again, Hannah was floored. “People were able to drive backwards too?!”

“Yup,” I said.

“I can’t even wrap my head around this,” Hannah said. “I mean, the shear number of mathematical computations a self-driving car has to process just to be able to drive backwards…”

“Yeah,” I said. “Or you could just look over your shoulder.”

I parked the car, switched off the ignition and hopped out. Hannah followed and gave me a big hug.

“Aww,” I said as I patted the little girl’s head. “What’s this for?”

“For being the best Grampa ever!” Hannah said.

“Oh,” I said. “OK. I’ll take it. Let’s eat. I’m starving.”

“Me too,” Hannah said. “But you have to tell me more about driving. Did you ever do anything dangerous?”

I laughed. “Of course not.”

 

The Last Driver – Episode 1 – Chapter 2

THE LAST DRIVER_finalebook1

December 23, 2010

Believe it or not, there was a time when I looked like I was fresh off the showroom floor. My hair was thick, lush, and still black on its own. I didn’t need glasses, but I wore a pair of mirrored aviator shades. I don’t know if that made me look cool, but I felt like it did. My generation was very big on personal feelings and frankly, that might have led to the One World Order’s hostile takeover of the planet, but more on that later.

I work a dark leather jacket, paired with a black t-shirt and jeans. A toothpick dangled out of my mouth as I primped myself in the mirror, pushing a curl of hair up off my forehead.

My cell phone rang. I pressed a button on the Bluetooth headset in my ear to answer it. A Bluetooth headset was…no, I’m sorry. I’m staying firm on this. You whippersnappers will just have to figure this stuff out on your own.

“Sup?”

The man on the other end of the call was Bernie Schwartz, the Giacomo family’s fixer. He was a jack-of-all-trades. Whatever needed done, he did it. “Franky Boy. You ready to rock and roll?”

“You know it,” I replied.

“How’s Veronica?”

I answered that question by stepping on the gas. The engine roared, but Veronica was in park so she didn’t go anywhere.

“Hoo-wee,” Bernie said.

“Listen to that tiger growl,” I said.

“OK,” Bernie said. “Just making sure you’re not asleep with some bimbo’s tits on your face.”

“I’d never do that do your mother, Bern,” I said. “Don’t worry about me. I’m more worried about whether you’re ready.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

I ran my fingers over what was, in retrospect, the tackiest piece of bling ever – a solid gold dollar sign that dangled from my neck from a much too flashy chain.   “It means that sometimes you spend so much time worrying about what I’m doing that you forget to come through on your end.”

There was a pause. “That is a scandalous accusation.”

“And an accurate one,” I said.

“Name one time I let you down,” Bernie said.

Off the top of my head, I was able to think of several examples.   I picked the first.

“Armax Freight,” I said.

Another pause. “OK. Name two times I let you down.”

Blam! Blam! Gunshots and screams cut the conversation short. “Shit,” I said. “They’ve fucked up. Just get into position.”

“On my way,” Bernie said. “What’s going…

I cut the call off and looked to my right. Passersby scattered and scrambled for cover as four grown men dressed like Santa Claus (red suits, white beards, the works) ran out of the Davis Street Branch of Avasti Bank. Their handguns were drawn and loot sacks were slung over their shoulders.

The piercing sound of an alarm bell ringing meant the job had been compromised. The Santas had frantic looks on their faces. A guard popped out of the front door and squeezed off three rounds only to get dropped by a shot to the chest courtesy of Santa One.

Just drive away,” I thought. “It’s not your fault Roman set you up with a crew of rank amateurs. Every other crew has managed to get in and get out without killing anyone or setting off an alarm. Fuck these morons.”

A second guard poked out from behind the front door, fired a round, then ducked for cover. The Santas returned fire. I don’t recall if any kids were on the scene but if they were, their childhoods were probably ruined by this sight.

Right now, you haven’t done anything wrong,” I thought. “You’re just a guy in a parked car. You can say you don’t know these clowns. Just…”

            “DRIVE!”

Veronica’s doors were open and the Santas were filing in, all hot and sweaty, full of booze and panic. Santa One took the passenger’s seat, while Santas Two and Three hopped into the back seat.

Santa One was a particularly obnoxious son of a bitch. “PUNCH IT!”

There was no backing out now. My foot hit the gas. Vrroom! Veronica was flying.

Santa One turned around and shouted at Santa Two. “What the fuck did you do?”

“That bitch was reaching for the buzzer,” Santa Two explained.

“Bullshit,” Santa One said.

“As God as my witness,” Santa Two said. “She was reaching for it.”

“So you smash her in the nose!” Santa One hollered. “You don’t clip her! She couldn’t have been more than twenty-five.”

Santa Three intervened. “Oh boo hoo. Cry me a river. Shut up the two of you.”

I checked my rear view mirror. No cops yet. The infighting was getting to me.

“Real professional,” Santa One said.

“Oh, you want to talk?” Santa Two asked. “Why’d you kill that guard then if you’re such a sweetheart?”

“Because he was going to kill you, dumb fuck!” Santa One shouted. “Because you got him riled up when you killed that bitch!”

“Aww, I did what I had to do,” Santa Two said.

“I should have let him kill you,” Santa One said. “But then they would have ID’d you and that would have led them to us.”

The infighting was getting to me. I was used to transporting stoically silent career criminals with ice water running through their veins. These dunces were freaking out like a trio of babies who’d just missed naptime.

I was hauling ass – gunning through intersections, running red lights, cutting off pedestrians, coming inches from smacking into other cars who had the right of way.

“Fuck this,” Santa Two said. “I don’t have to sit here and listen to…”

Santa Three interrupted again. He opened up his loot sack and reached a hand inside. “Boys, come on. Just focus on the positive. It’s going to be a very Merry…”

Boom! A dye pack exploded, turning Santa Three’s face bright purple. “Motherfucker!”

Santa One screeched as though he was about to suffer a brain aneurysm. “You didn’t check for a dye pack?!”

“No one told me I was supposed to check for a dye pack!” Santa Three cried.

Santa One face palmed himself. “He didn’t know. Every shithead who’s ever seen a bank heist movie knows to check for a dye pack but this cocksucker didn’t know.”

“No,” Santa Two protested. “I didn’t know.”

Santa One turned to me. “You believe this shit? He didn’t know.”

I manhandled Veronica’s steering wheel, veering on a hard right turn. “I’m a little busy.”

I switched on my police radio scanner. “All units. Shots fired at Davis Street Avanti Bank.”

An old woman approached a crosswalk with a bag of groceries under her arm. She was about to step onto the street when I blared on the horn. It scared the shit out of her, causing her to toss her bag into the air, sending apples, oranges, cans and bread everywhere. In my rearview mirror, I was able to see her throwing me the middle finger. I didn’t care. I was just happy the old broad lived. I didn’t need that on my conscience.

The scanner squawked. “Suspects were last seen in a late model sports car, red…”

“Don’t think you’re going to be taking anything out of my cut,” Santa One said.

“Fuck you,” Santa Three said. “I was on this job, just like the rest of you.”

“Were you?” Santa One asked. “Because you look like you just fellated…”

I’m sorry. For legal reasons, I’m not able to print which purple cartoon character Santa Three looked like he’d taken a face blast from. Moving on…

“Copy,” the dispatcher said. “Confirmed, the car is an American Made Sidewinder.”

“Fellas,” I said. “If you could all chill out…”

“Very funny, Ted,” Santa Three said. “You should have been a comedian.”

Santa One flipped out and punched the back of Veronica’s passenger seat. I didn’t care for that at all. “You just used my name!”

“Uhh,” Santa Three said. “Did I…or did I use your code name?”

A flashing set of red and blue lights in my rear view mirror caught my eye. “Bigger problems, gentlemen.”

The idiots were oblivious. “Bobby,” Santa One said. “You’d better stop…”

“Whoa!” Santa Three said. “Why you gotta use my name…uh I mean, my code name? Fuck Bobby! Who’s Bobby?”

Santa One leered at Santa Three. “I swear to God I’m gonna come back there and…”

Boom!   The back windshield exploded and shattered, spraying the interior full of jagged little shards of glass. The cops were shooting at us. Three cruisers were in pursuit now.

“Shit!” Santa One said to me. “We’ve got company!”

“I’m aware,” I said.

My nonchalance pissed Santa One off. “Do something!”

“I am,” I said.

Santa Three pointed his gun out the back window and exchanged shots with the cops.

“Unnecessary,” I said.

“Shut up and drive!” Santa Three said. “I’ll take ‘em out.”

Another right brought me to the freeway onramp. I sideswiped a mail truck as I barreled through late afternoon commuter traffic, then took up a position in the far left lane. Veronica was humming well over a hundred miles per hour now. Poor girl. She was getting all torn up. She didn’t quit on me though. She knew I’d fix her right up.

I tapped my Bluetooth and called Bernie.

“Sup?”

“It’s all on you, brother,” I said.

“I got it,” Bernie said before he hung up.

All sorts of sounds ripped up my ears. The world’s most incompetent bank robbers would not stop screaming at each other, nor would they stop shooting at the cops. I didn’t care for the violence. I was used to professionals who never had to fire a shot. Worse, these idiots weren’t able to hit a flashing target held up by a supermodel with big fake tits, so just sprayed bullets and put the cops in a terrible mood.

Guns blazed. Horns honked, courtesy of all the motorists around me who were scared shitless by my moves. Sirens wailed. Tires screeched and then…I heard it…whirring chopper blades. I looked up and to my left. A police helicopter was dogging us.

“Sky Eye here,” came the chopper pilot’s voice over the scanner. “Got a make on the suspects. Heading west on 909. “

“Well that’s it,” Santa Three said. “It’s all over. We’re fucked. We’re so fucked.”

“Nobody’s fucked,” I said.

I looked in the rear view mirror. Tears flowed out of Santa Three’s eyes, staining his fake white beard. “I can’t go to jail, man. I just can’t. Somebody do me right here. I mean it. Shoot me!”

I rarely broke my cool, but this mongoloid made me snap. “Jesus! Have you guys even pulled a job before?”

“What the fuck do you know, you boy band looking puke?” Santa Three asked. “You look like you barely got hair on your nuts and you want to talk to me about…”

BAM! A cruiser swiped Veronica’s left side. Another cruiser was speeding up on the right. The cops were trying to box me in.

“That’s a no,” I said.

“We’ve knocked over ten liquor stores,” Santa Three said.

“And the deli,” Santa Two added. “Don’t forget the deli.”

“There was that hot dog stand,” Santa One said.

“A fucking hot dog stand?” I asked.

“That was more of a snatch and grab,” Santa One said.

“But never a bank?” I asked.

“First time for everything,” Santa Three said.

I sped up, leaving the two cruisers that were trying to sandwich me in my wake. “Fuck you, Roman. Wherever you are, fuck you.”

There were at least a dozen cop cars behind me now, plus the chopper. I’d shaken off a chase before, but these imbeciles had all but invited the National Guard to tag along.

The scanner squawked. “Unit One-One-Four…suspects are approaching the Caldwell Tunnel.”

Another squawk. “Sky Eye here. About to lose visual.”

We weren’t just approaching the tunnel. We were flying into it. It was time to slow down.

“What are you doing?” Santa One asked.

“Don’t worry about it,” I said. The world got a little darker as the tunnel was dimly lit.

“The fuck I will worry about it,” Santa One said as he became the first bank robber I’d ever transported to lose his shit and point a gun at me. “Get some lead in your foot or you’ll get some in your face, bitch!”

“Amateurs,” I grumbled. “Lousy amateurs.”

The tunnel was providing 7,000 feet for Bernie to work his mojo. I was busy bobbing and weaving around cars to pay attention to the lunacy going on around me, though the gun in my face didn’t help the pressure.

“Ted,” Santa Two said. “Maybe just let the kid do his thing, huh? He’s gotten us this far.”

“Stop using my name!” Santa One said.

“Jeeze,” Santa Three said. “Relax. We all know your name. It’s no big deal.”

Up ahead, there was a truck pulling a tractor-trailer. The rig slowed down as I angled myself behind it, keeping time with it.

Santa One waved the gun around in my face. His hand was shaking uncontrollably. “This kid didn’t know my name.”

The back door of the trailer rolled up. A ramp extended out of the back. As soon as it hit the pavement, sparks began to fly.

“Huh?!” Santa One asked. “Did you know my name?”

For this maneuver to work, everything had to be perfect and yet, there were so many distractions – the sirens and flashing lights, the honking cars, Dipshit McGee screaming and pointing his heater at me. I had no choice. I cold cocked the prick right in the face, busting his nose open, sending a spray of blood all over Veronica’s upholstery. Damn it. I knew I’d be scrubbing red stains out for hours later, but at least the dumbass was unconscious.

“Any other backseat drivers?” I asked.

Santas Two and Three shook their heads in the negative.

I slowed to a crawl as I moved Veronica up the ramp. There was only enough tunnel cover left to do this once. One mistake, and it was all over.

Blam! Blam! Blam! Shots tore into Veronica’s hide. I persisted. I made it. Veronica was on board and in park.

“This isn’t going to do shit,” Santa Two barked.

“Yeah,” Santa Three said. “They’ll just follow the truck.”

I reached into my pocket and pulled out a little black box with a red button in the middle of it. I grabbed hold of a silver antenna attached to the box and extended it.

“Oh ye of little faith,” I said.

As soon as the rig was clear of the tunnel, I pushed the button. I expected some smoke but what happened next came as a complete shock. There was a massive explosion, caving the end of the tunnel in, crushing cop and civilian cars alike under the rubble.

I stepped out of Veronica and doubled over, puking my guts out. Once my stomach settled, I caught my breath, only to jump when I felt a hand on my shoulder. I whipped around to see my thirty-year old partner in crime, truly the worst dresser ever. He wore a white fedora with a black band, khaki pants and a tacky Hawaiian shirt – bright red with palm trees and a green parrot on the right side.

“I’m serious,” Bernie said. “Name two times I’ve failed you.

“The Luftenol incident,” I said.

Bernie shrugged his shoulders and took a bite out of a crisp, red apple. “Name three times I’ve failed you.”

 

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The Last Driver – Episode 1 – Chapter 1

THE LAST DRIVER_finalebook1

March 14, 2050

Drivers give up way too easily on their cars, or rather, they used to…back in the day when they still drove them. I recall talk of a car being “totaled” when the cost of its repairs exceeded its resale value. In that case, it was considered best to just buy a new car rather than attempt to breathe new life into an old one. A car would be totaled in an instant by an accident, i.e. a collision with another car, or over the course of a long period of time, i.e. the cumulative effect of years of wear and tear on a vehicle without the implementation of a thorough maintenance plan.

Now there’s the rub. You see, back in the old days, people never understood the fact that with routine upkeep, a solidly built car could be expected to run into perpetuity. Instead, the old drivers of the past would just run their cars all day long, zooming all over creation, ignoring the check engine light, forgetting (or not caring) to replace the oil, filter, brake pads or what have you. It was sad really. Few drivers were as attentive to their rides as I was.

Hell, the first time I got behind the wheel of that cherry red, 1969 American Made Sidewinder, it was love at first sight. Veronica was her nickname and to me, she was much more than just a means of conveyance, a mode of transportation from the proverbial point A to point B. That girl was a close, personal friend. She, and yes, “she” because as anyone born during the previous century will tell you, all of the best muscle cars are girls, got me out of many a jam, so I felt I owed it to her to keep her body young and beautiful, in tip-top showroom condition for as long as possible.

My father had taken a bunch of suckers in a high stakes poker game years back and used the proceeds to buy that special gal. All these years later, I was keeping my promise to dear old Dad. I took care of Veronica. She’d taken care of me in my youth. Even when she just sat there in the garage, she was taking care of me in a way, giving me something to smile about. Just the sight of her made me happy.

Some brief notes: Gambling, or engaging in a game of chance involving the betting of paper money, was once allowed in some areas and illegal in others but if done discretely and everyone involved kept quiet about it, no one got into any trouble, though sometimes people would get mad when they didn’t get their way, get violent and so on. I don’t have time to explain the rules but suffice to say, there were cards and some cards were considered better than others to have and if you had them then you stood a better chance of winning paper money. Paper money featuring the likenesses of American presidents was once used instead of digital credit. Presidents used to be elected by the people (supposedly) to run America. America was once a country. Countries were…no. See, this is the problem with getting old. The older I get, the less people understand what the hell I’m talking about. Explaining one thing just requires me to explain another, so fuck it. Whenever I say something you young people don’t understand, you’re going to have to figure it out on your own. I can’t stop every five minutes to explain things to you.

Where was I? Right. I was in the garage attached to the tiny shit box of a home the government had assigned to me. I was taking care of Veronica for as long as I could. As I squirted a dollop of white wax all over my girl’s hood, a quick palpitation rippled through my heart, leaving me to wonder whether “for as long as I could” was going to be much longer. My doctor told me these feelings were normal for a man my age, prescribed some blood pressure medication and urged me to quit drinking beer and watch my diet. Me? Cut out fatty foods and booze? Please. Fuck that noise.   Like there was much of a reward left at that point for turning my body into a temple at that point.

I rubbed the wax into Veronica’s primo paintjob and envied her. Every last part on a car, from the door handles to the cigarette lighter (Veronica was built during a time when sucking tobacco smoke into your lungs wasn’t considered a vile, treasonous crime against the state) is replaceable. Sure, the older a car is, the harder it is to find a replacement part but this is why cars are better than humans.

Let’s face it. You can eat broccoli all day long, do sit-ups until you puke and run marathons once a week but someday, somehow, you’re still going to croak. Your parts will wear out and they won’t be replaceable forever. A skilled doctor might be able to buy you sometime with a transplant but eventually, one of your vital parts will be deemed beyond repair and you’ll be totaled. The effort to fix you will be too great and the small amount of of life that will be left in you just won’t be worth it.

That wasn’t the case for Veronica. Over the years, I’d sought out the assistance of vintage car collectors and personally sifted through the rotten debris scattered across many a junkyard, all in an effort to keep my girl running. If only human replacements were as easy to find.

I knelt down to polish Veronica’s chrome rims and caught a glimpse of my own reflection. Yeesh. I looked ready for the junk pile.   My hair’s dye job was nowhere near as good as Veronica’s paint job. I felt like I was constantly rubbing that black dye into my hair only to have gray roots pop out a few days later. No amount of wax would rid me of the bags under my eyes and the wrinkles? Sadly, there was no way I could remove my face and bang out the dents with a hammer. Maybe someone will perfect a way to do that and make a killing someday.

Whirrr. The garage door rolled up and a skinny thirteen-year old with unkempt brown hair and a crooked smile waltzed in. She wore a standard school uniform – a pair of white pants and a white polo shirt that read “OWO Academy – Region A – Education District 19.” My little Hannah Banana.

“What’s the skinny, Gramps?”

My back creaked as I stood up. “Ow…the skinny?”

“I head someone say it in an old movie,” Hannah said.

My face contorted in every conceivable direction. “Old movie?”

Hannah opened up her backpack and pulled it out – an early model “X-Tab” tablet computer. By the looks of it, it must have dated back to the early 2010s. Whatever content was on it was definitely not approved of by the One World Order.

“Jesus!” I cried. I ran to the back of the garage and punched a button, causing the garage door to roll down. “Are you kidding me, waving that thing around like that?”

“What?” Hannah asked.

I grabbed the tablet. “Do you have any idea how many years you’ll get in the re-education center if you’re caught with this thing?”

Hannah shrugged her shoulders. “I didn’t think about that.”

“Of course not,” I said. “Young people never think.”

Ugh. I know. I’d become an adult. I wish I could say I sounded like my father but he never did a whole hell of a lot of parenting, so I have no idea where my nurturing side came from.

“Where did you get this?” I asked.

“Billy Allen’s grandpa died,” Hannah explained. “His family went to clean out the house and Billy found it under the floorboards. He said his Grandpa always kept all his best stuff there.”

“You mean illegal stuff,” I said. Suddenly, I found myself relating to Billy Allen’s grandpa. I had my own stash off stuff from my youth that I was trying to keep out of the Order’s grubby little paws.

I proceeded with the interrogation. “Why did Billy give this to you?”

“I traded him my birthday credits,” Hannah said.

I pinched the bridge of my nose, breathed deeply, then exhaled. It was an old stress relief technique my ex-wife had taught me, but it never worked. “You’re supposed to be saving those credits.”

“I know,” Hannah said. “But this has the best movies I have ever seen!”

I smirked. “Does it know?”

Hannah pushed a few buttons and brought up an old black and white gangster flick from the 1930s. I reached into my pocket, pulled out my glasses and put them on. I pushed the specs up the bridge of my nose as I squinted at the screen. My peepers just weren’t what they used to be.

On screen, a flabby faced goon wearing a pinstripe suit and a fedora was spraying bullets from a tommy gun at the police. “What’s the skinny, youse mugs? Youse flatfooted coppers will never take me alive, see?”

“Wow,” I said.

“Can I ask a dumb question?” Hannah asked.

“The only dumb question is a request to ask a question,” I replied. “If you don’t ask a question, you’ll never know the answer.”

“Was the whole world in black and white when you were a kid?”

I grimaced. “Excuse me?”

“This movie doesn’t have any color, see?” Hannah said. “Why didn’t the world have any color when you were a kid?”

I sighed. “You think this movie was made when I was a kid?”

“It wasn’t?” Hannah asked.

“Sweetheart,” I said. “This movie was made when my grandfather was a kid.”

“Oh,” Hannah said. “Well, I don’t know. Everything from long ago all seems the same to me.”

“That’s because your school doesn’t teach you any history,” I said.

“I take history,” Hannah said.

“Oh yeah?” I asked. “What did your teacher tell you about the Twentieth Century?”

Hannah appeared puzzled. “The what?”

“The 1900s,” I replied. “The century before this one.”

Hannah was baffled. “Gah?”

“When does your teacher say history begins?” I asked.

Hannah had an instant answer. The brainwashers behind the Order’s educational system had done a good job. “2032.”

“And what happened before 2032?” I asked.

“Nothing,” Hannah said. “Nothing at all happened before 2032.”

I stared at the little girl. “How old do you think I am?”

“I don’t know,” Hannah replied.

“Older than eighteen?” I asked.

“A lot older,” Hannah said.

“So,” I said. “Something happened before 2032.”

“I figured,” Hannah said. “But my teacher doesn’t like it when we ask about that.”

I stared at the screen and returned to my granddaughter’s original question. “The world has always had color. It’s just that long ago, when people were still learning how to make movies, putting a movie out in color cost a lot of money and people weren’t sure how to do it, so they made movies in black and white.”

My bones ached so I unlocked Veronica and sat down in the driver’s seat. Hannah crawled into the passenger’s side.

“What other movies are on that thing?” I asked.

Hannah smiled. “There’s a movie about a teenager who pretends to be sick so he can skip a day of school and gets his sad friend and girlfriend to go to Chicago with him and his sister and the man in charge of the school try to catch him in the act of truancy.”

“Ha,” I said. “That was a good one.”

“Then there’s this one movie that’s kind of weird,” Hannah said. “There are these two men who murder people for money…”

“Hit men,” I said.

“OK,” Hannah said. “And one of the men dances with the boss’ wife in the beginning of the movie, then he gets shot in the middle of the movie and dies and then he gets breakfast with the other hit man at the end of the film.”

“I know that one,” I said.

“Whoever made it must have been a bad editor,” Hannah said. “There’s a movie about a rich man who dresses like a bat and fights a clown.”

“Epic,” I said.

Hannah’s eyes lit up. “Oh! There’s this one in space where the bad guy wears all black and he has a hard time breathing because he has asthma and an old man gives a laser sword to this farm boy…”

My jaw dropped. “That’s on there?”

“It is!” Hannah cried. “And it’s the best thing I’ve ever seen in my life!”

“You should see the others,” I said.

Hannah looked at me with a hint of glee. “They…made…others?”

“Lots of sequels,” I said. “You can skip the prequels.”

“Grampa?” Hannah asked.

“Yeah?” I answered.

“Why aren’t these movies on the state approved tele-web?” Hannah asked.

“You just answered your own question,” I said. “The state doesn’t approve of them.   The One World Order doesn’t want people knowing how happy people used to be before they took over.”

“Were people happier?” Hannah asked.

“Meh,” I said. “More or less.”

“That’s not a good answer,” Hannah said.

“Let me put it this way,” I said. “People had more freedom, so they had a better chance at finding their happiness.”

“A lot of the people in these movies don’t seem very happy,” Hannah said. “People are always fighting, killing and torturing each other, shooting and blowing people up…usually the fights are over money or the love of a woman.”

“Well,” I said. “Sometimes one man’s pursuit of happiness will be the source of another man’s sorrow. It’s complicated.”

Hannah glued her eyes to the X-Tab.

“Please hide that good,” I said.

“I will,” Hannah replied.

“Tell no one you have it,” I said.

“I won’t,” Hannah said.

“Because we’re only allowed to have tablets with state approved media on them and nothing more,” I added.

“I know,” Hannah said.

“And if anyone ever finds that and asks you about it, just play dumb and tell them it’s mine,” I said. “I’m old. I can take a rap.”

“A rap?” Hannah asked.

“Nothing.”

“I don’t think people were happy when you were a kid,” Hannah said.

“What makes you say that?” I asked.

“Because I found all these songs and they all sound very sad and the photos that go with them all show men with long hair and beards and they’re all wearing flannel and they all look very depressed and…”

I cut the little girl off. “Oh. 1990s music. Skip that if you don’t want to end up suicidal.”

“Grampa?”

“What now?”

“Is this real?” Hanna put the screen under my nose and palyed a scene from one of the old Fast Car Criminal movies. I couldn’t remember which one this was, but had a hunch it was about the seventeenth. Damn they made a ton of those flicks. In this scene, the main character, a grungy, bald headed badass by the name of Roderick Falsetto, drove a sports car off a cliff, saild through the open bay of a Chinook helicopter, then landed safely on top of a mountain on the other side of a valley.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Did stuff like that actually happen?” Hannah inquired.

“No,” I said. “Of course not. Hun, sometimes the movie people would just make up incredible stuff to get people to watch. No one could have ever made a jump like that and survived.”

“I know,” I said. “I figured that out. I mean, did people really drive cars?”

I laughed. “Kiddo, you don’t know the half of it.”

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The Last Driver – Episode 1 – Prologue

THE LAST DRIVER_finalebook1

February 8, 2000

The Second Millennium was over and with it, the Twentieth Century. The 1990s were gone but the styles of that decade lingered. I was thirteen years old and my options were to either don a lumberjack’s flannel shirt, grow my hair long and sway back and forth in a trance while blaring the clinically depressed tones of alternative rock, or turn my ball cap to the side, pop on some clean, white sneakers, a hoodie sweatshirt and a pair of breakaway pants that were one size too big, leaving them to always sag down way too far past my ass.

I chose the latter option. It’s not like either style was great, but the rappers at least seemed like they were having fun. Give me tunes about bitches and beer over sadness and heartache any day of the week and twice on Tuesday.

In my family’s run down home, I sat at the top of the stairs and fumbled around inside my backpack until I found a CD case. It featured artwork for my favorite group, the Irate Nigga Posse, “INP” for short. Mac Daddy Smooth, Infamous Russell, MC Westside and Big Fatty Stax – they invented gangsta rap in the early 1990s and were still going strong, despite an occasional internal beef here and there.

Hmm. Do you people know anything about rap? Alt rock? CDs? Racial slurs? Is this all gibberish to you? Oh well. I’ll talk. You listen. We’ll figure it out together. You’re better off not knowing about that last one anyway.

I’d been ordered to go to my room, but I was too nosey not to listen in. I could footsteps of FBI stooges clonking all over downstairs. They were pulling out drawers, turning over furniture, ripping the whole place apart.

I could only hear two voices. One belonged to that smarmy prick, Special Agent Roy Stratford. The other one was my father’s.

“You know the drill, Wylder?” Stratford asked.

“Yeah,” my old man replied.

“You know you got a right to a lawyer, you can shut the fuck up and you should because anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law?”

Dad had balls. I’ll give him that. “Let’s do this, Barney Fife.”

That line would have been funnier if you’d heard of Barney Fife. I’d barely heard of him. He was a fictional character from before my time. Not important.

“You’re going down for twenty years minimum,” Stratford said. “The U.S. Attorney practically came when I laid out all the shit we’ve got on you.”

“Then what’s this about?” Dad asked. “You here to gloat?”

“We want the cash,” Stratford said.

“Don’t know what you’re talking about,” Dad said.

“Bullshit,” Stratford said. “You’ll never be able to use it. Turn it over and maybe I can talk the Feds into shaving a year or two off your sentence.”

“I’m just a humble mechanic,” Dad said. “Flattered you all think I’m worth so much trouble. Really, I am.”

I could hear Stratford pace about the kitchen floor. “You’d better start worrying about your kid, Marvin.”

“Leave Frank out of this,” Dad said.

“What kind of life is that going to be for your boy?” Stratford said. “Visiting his father in the joint, talking to him on a phone between a piece of plexiglass.”

“Yawn,” Dad said. He was such a baller. He actually said the word, “Yawn.”

“Why don’t you save yourself?” Stratford asked.

“From what?” Dad asked. “I haven’t done anything.”

“Start talking,” Stratford said.

“About what?” Dad asked.

“Not about what,” Stratford said. “About who?”

“And who’s that?” Dad asked.

“You know Goddamn well who,” Stratford said. “Fat ass, pug faced dago, about 900 pounds, looks like that fuckin’ space lizard that gets choked the fuck out by the space princess.”

Dad laughed. “Like I’d ever associate with such a character.”

“You give that son of a bitch up and you’ll wash your hands of this tonight,” Stratford said. “The next two decades of your life or the next two hours in my office, answering some questions and filling out some paperwork. Seems like a no brainer.”

Dad was quiet for bit. Then he responded. “I’m no rat.”

“No?” Stratford asked.

“No,” Dad answered. “Not that I have anything to rat about.”

“Funny,” Stratford said. “That’s not what Guzman said.”

Another pause from Dad. “Who?”

“Guzman,” Stratford said. “Dipshit was snatched up on an unrelated matter. Las Vegas PD found him all coked up in a hotel room with a bag of blow and a dead hooker. He was looking at life until he sang about you and boy did he sing.”

“Never met the guy,” Dad said.

“Oh yeah?” Stratford said. “Funny, he told us all about the Verazano job. You, Guzman, two sawed-offs, two masks, a big payday.”

“Shit,” Dad said. “I live paycheck to paycheck like the rest of America.”

“You think that fat fuck wouldn’t be telling me all about you if he were in your position?” Stratford said.

“I’m sorry, sir,” Dad said. “I don’t know any overweight people.”

“Guzman volunteered you, asshole,” Stratford said. “We didn’t even know dick about you. He pissed his pants and shouted your name. That’s wise guy loyalty for you, Wylder. Be smart.”

The footsteps grew louder. There were some loud mumblings. A stooge cried out. “Sir! You need to see this!”

Things went quiet for a few minutes before Stratford spoke. “Jesus. At least twenty grand here. Where’s the rest of it, Marv?”

“That’s not mine,” Dad said. “You planted it.”

“Yeah,” Stratford said. “Something tells me the U.S. Attorney will be happy to take a look at the serial numbers on these bills. You sure you got nothing to say about your boss?”

“Lawyer, please,” Dad said.

“You sure?” Stratford asked.

“Yup,” Dad said.

“Alright,” Stratford said. “Things will get harder for you from here on out then, but if that’s your choice. Come on, let’s go.”

Seconds later, Stratford walked passed the staircase, his hand on my Dad’s arm. Dad’s hands were cuffed behind his back.

“Hold up,” Dad said as he looked up at me.

“Sure,” Stratford said. “Say your goodbyes…quickly.”

Dad was in his early forties. He was starting to lose his hair and his handlebar mustache was graying. He wore a pair of dirty coveralls.

“Don’t sweat it, kid,” Dad said.

“OK,” I said. I felt like I wanted to cry, but I knew the old man would have been disappointed, so I fought back the tears.

“Oh Special Agent Stratford,” Dad said.

“What?” Stratford asked.

“Would you be a special darling and reach into my pocket?” Dad asked.

“The fuck you just ask me, felon?” Stratford asked.

“Please,” Dad said.

“This better not be a trick,” Stratford said.

“Never,” Dad said.

Stratford was a typical G-man. Neatly pressed suit, shined shoes, standard buzz cut. He reached into Dad’s front pocket and pulled out a set of keys attached to a poker chip keychain.

The agent looked around at his stooges. “Which one of you assholes failed to find this during the pat down?”

Dad smiled. None of the assholes stepped forward.

“Toss those to my boy, will you?”

Stratford did as obliged. I caught them.

“Veronica’s all yours,” Dad said. “Take good care of her, and she’ll take good care of you.”

“Touching,” Stratford said as he lead my father out the front door. “Something tells me I’ll be walking your kid out in cuffs one day too, Wylder.”

“Fuck you, Stratford.”

“Fuck you back.”

I opened my hand. There they were in my palm – a red, white and green poker chip attached to two shiny keys, one for the ignition and one for the trunk. I had no idea how to feel. My father was gone, but I was now the owner of the sweetest ride I’d ever seen. Mixed feelings, I suppose.

I took the INP CD out of its case, placed it into my CD player and pressed play. I put the attached headphones on. The boys were belting out an oldie but a goodie:

“Fuck da man…Fuck da man….”

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Help Me Get Over 500 Facebook Likes

Hey 3.5 readers, BQB here.

My Facebook page is at 482 likes and I’ve noticed the more your Facebook page grows, the more traffic that returns to your blog.

So, yeah, if you could press that like button it would be appreciated.

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Preux chevalier: sans peur et sans reproche

Hey 3.5 readers. BQB here. Rachel Cohen has long provided feedback and encouragement of my stuff on Wattpad, so wanted to return the favor by telling you all about her new blog, “The Pillow File.” Romance, erotica, smutty chick lit…I mean, as a knuckle dragging caveman I don’t get it but I can generally tell if a blog is good or not and I can tell this is a good one. Neat, well written, an overall Sex and the City vibe…if you’re a woman who is into this sort of thing you’ll like this blog so check it out. I’ll admit its funny how I can rattle off stories about zombies and werewolves and crazy things that could never happen. Maybe for an ugly guy it just seems more believable and likely that I’ll fight zombies before I’ll ever find myself in a love triangle. But then again, how many of us ever find true love let alone a love triangle? Perhaps I can see why women like to fantasize about this sort of thing. Anyway, go check it out, give her some feedback. We’ll be able to say we knew her in the early days when she’s on all the talk shows. Plus she has a novel about sexy space vampires I found interesting.

The Pillow File

Today I experienced a darkening of conscience.  I finished everything early, and decided to pick up Tess from school myself, instead of having the babysitter do it, and then go bake cookies at home.  Never mind the freezing rain.  We’d mess up the kitchen and enjoy ourselves and not let the cat and Lily get into the mixing bowl, while the elements raged outside.  So I did all the shopping and headed to the school.  It is one thing to be an idiot.  But to be an empowered idiot is on a whole other damage scale.  

There is a shortcut to the school, and it happened to be blocked.  I would have had to go around and waste ten minutes.  To my right, however, was a sort of little meadow.  I could cut through it in an SUV, dramatically splashing from underneath the wheels, like they do in TV…

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Daily Discussion with BQB – Hollywood is Full of Perverts

Sigh.  This is getting depressing, 3.5 readers.

It’s like everyday now, I learn some celebrity whose work I enjoy is a pervert.  So then it’s like, I’ve been inadvertently supporting a pervert all these years by watching his stuff (I didn’t know!) and then I can’t watch more of his stuff because then I’d be knowingly supporting a pervert.

Bill Cosby – the funny man every kid wanted to be their father in the 1980s.  Pervert.

Louis CK – This one hit me hard because I was enjoying his stuff now.  Plus, he had this whole unique routine.  If you ever watched his show, it was about the fragile male psyche and some of the things men experience that the world may not realize – i.e. women complain of body issues but men who are bald and overweight and not handsome feel sad about how hard it is for them to find women.  Worse, women assume ugly men are perverts that can’t be trusted….so naturally after years of a show where the gist was don’t assume ugly men are bad, he had to go and turn out to be a bad ugly man.  Pervert.

Kevin Spacey – Wowed me in the Usual Suspects, I movie I watched over and over as a kid.  That whole scene at the end where he turns out to have been Kaiser Soze all along.  Oh sorry.  Spoiler alert.  I loved House of Cards.  Now I guess that’s ruined.  I’d invested a lot of time into finding out what will happen to the murderous fictional president Frank Underwood.  Apparently, Frank will be done in by Kevin’s perversions.  Pervert.

Steven Seagal – Loved his martial arts movies as a kid.  He had a move where he’d break the bad guy’s arm and I’d always watch just for that.  Pervert.

Harvey Weinstein – I mean, he’s the big pervert that unleashed the floodgates of pervert accusations.  He was the man behind the films but still, he made a lot of movies and even now I’m seeing films being released bearing the Weinstein Company logo.  His company was behind Pulp Fiction, the film that cemented my love affair with movies.  Sigh.  Pervert.

I don’t understand the pervyness.  It can be hard to be a man.  We’re vain and ego driven and we have a little buddy in our pants that craves more sex 24/7 than the world could possibly ever provide.  Still, I don’t understand this.  I mean, yeah, if you’re not that good looking and suddenly you’re thrust into a world of fame and fortune, I’m sure it can be difficult to be around all of these hot celebrity babes.

Still, come one, surely there will be women who will VOLUNTARILY want to be with a celebrity.

There had to have been a lot of women who wanted to see Louis yank his weenus.  There had to have been a lot of women who would have wanted Seagal to unzip his pants.  Surely there were grown men (repeat GROWN men) of the gay persuasion who wouldn’t have minded a night with Kevin Spacey.  Surely there were women who would have volunteered to get jiggy with Harvey.

Am I right?  Maybe I’m wrong.  Does fame not always equal free access to voluntary sex? I’ve got to believe that it does and these guys just must be pervs who get off on involuntary perversions, i.e. forcing or coercing someone who isn’t down for it.

As a movie lover, I am sad.  It’s like I can’t watch a movie now without wondering whether the star is a pervert.

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Daily Discussion with BQB – How Hard is it For a Movie Mogul to Get Chicks?

Hey 3.5 readers.

So, ever since Harvey Weinstein was exposed as a pervert, it’s got me thinking about how hard it must be to get chicks, even as a super rich and powerful movie tycoon.

Harvey’s fat.  Not good looking at all.  But he was rich and powerful and had the ability to make the dreams of aspiring actors and actresses come true.

I guess my question is this – why did he find it necessary to sexually harass women?

Call me crazy, but I feel like even if you’re fat and ugly and not good looking, if you’re a big time Hollywood honcho, aren’t there still going to be some young, hot babes who would like to be with you voluntarily?  I feel like there would be some hot chicks who would be like, “Yeah he’s fat and ugly but he’s rich and can fly me to Paris whenever I want and buy me stuff and I can live in his nice house and so on.”

I don’t know.  That was the whole point of this blog, to one day become such a rich, well-known writer that hot chicks out of my league would overlook my fatness and ugliness and voluntarily be with me.  If that’s not the case, if you can get super rich and powerful and famous and still need to harass hot chicks then screw it.

Then again, maybe it wasn’t about just harassing hot chicks.  Maybe it was about harassing famous chicks…i.e. scoring the chick the whole world wants to score with.   I have no idea.  I don’t know what was going on in Harvey’s mind.

If you’re a rich and famous person, well you probably aren’t reading this blog but on the off chance you are, tell me, do hot chicks overlook your fatness and ugliness to voluntarily be with you?

By the way before anyone gets bent out of shape, I realize it is wrong to sexually harass anyone ever for any reason.  I’m just wondering why Harvey felt he had to do so when I feel like lots of hot chicks would have liked to have been with him voluntarily just because they like rich, powerful dudes.

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The Last Driver – Episode 1 – From the Desk of Bookshelf Q. Battler

THE LAST DRIVER_finalebook1

FROM THE DESK OF…

 

 

…a World Renowned Poindexter, an Epic Nerdventurer, a Reviewer of Pop Cultural Happenings, and a Champion Yeti Fighter

 

Good day to you, noble reader.

Have you ever felt like the world has passed you by? You’re not sure how it happened. You can’t quite put your finger on when it happened but you have a sneaking suspicion that you’re no longer part of the “in” crowd and never will be again. Your pop cultural references no longer make sense. The beliefs you once steadfastly clung to are considered hokey now. You have a closet full of gadgets that have been rendered obsolete by new technological trends and the only people who are able to join you in quoting lines from your favorite movies have gray hairs popping up all over their heads.

My theoretical “You’re Not Welcome in This World Anymore” greeting card came somewhere in the early 2010s. I’d spent a large chunk of my youth trying to become a writer, only to realize that the old way of doing things (i.e. kiss enough butts until you kiss the right butt) would never get me anywhere, so I gave up and took the most boring job ever, that of an assistant to the assistant to the Vice-President of Corporate Assistance at Beige Corp., the world’s premiere producer of beige products and accessories. Beige! It’s the color to wear when you don’t want to send any kind of message about yourself whatsoever.

The first decade of the new millennium had come and gone. I was settling into the new normal of early thirties life when all of a sudden every jackass and his Uncle Larry started his own Internet media venture and much to my surprise, many of these endeavors did well. YouTubers, podcasters, bloggers, social media sensations, self-publishers – the gatekeepers had been bypassed thanks to emerging technology and it was no longer necessary for creative people to kiss a whole mess of butts before putting their work out to the masses.

Even though I never physically age and I’m a highly trained fighter of vampires, zombies, werewolves, chupacabras and yes, even ill-tempered hipsters, I find myself struggling to stay afloat in this crazy new age. Do-it-yourself media seems like a young man’s game and while it helps to be an allegedly fictional character, this world just doesn’t make sense to a man who was born when that peanut slinging doofus Jimmy Carter was president. Sometimes you just can’t get over the malaise, no matter how hard you try.

While I no longer recognize the new world we live in, there is some good news and some bad news. The good news is that people who used to never have a voice have one now. People are getting involved in civic matters and expressing their opinions like never before, all thanks to social media.

The bad news? It feels as though as a nation we’ve never been divided more (well, except for that time in the 1860s when Americans actually did divide the country up and shoot at each other). We’re more connected digitally than ever, yet we don’t actually talk to one another as much as we used to.

In the old days (the 1980s and 1990s for me), people would talk out their personal grudges. That didn’t mean people were always kind about it, but at least actual, in-person conversations took place. Today, it has become too easy for people to retreat into their own social media bubbles, to focus only on what they want to hear and to label those who disagree as the vile, evil “other.” This trend is dividing our country, noble reader, and people really need to stop hurling verbal bombs at each other over social media and start hugging it out instead. The line for people who want to hug me starts right outside BQB headquarters in fabulous East Randomtown, USA. Bikini models will always be given first priority to move to the front of the hug line.

Frank Wylder, the hero of the tale you’re about to read, is a much older man than I am, but like me, he doesn’t recognize the world he lives in anymore either. Frank’s issues run deeper than long forgotten pop cultural references and outdated technology, although those developments trouble him. The world of 2050 has been conquered by an intrusive dictatorship. The One World Order has eradicated free will and has taken control over virtually ever last personal decision that people used to make on their own. Some folks who would normally pop a brain gasket while trying to make a major life decision find a government managed existence to have a calm, soothing effect. Others, like Frank, miss living in an era where a man could grab life with both hands and ride it into the clouds, or occasionally fall off and crash.

Globalism. Nationalism. We’ve been hearing about these movements a lot on the news lately. Globalists think it isn’t fair that some countries get all the goodies while others go without. Nationalists argue that if Country A is being managed well, then it deserves to keep its goodies and shouldn’t have to give them to Country B which, lets face it, is probably run by an egotistical, self-appointed dictator wearing a ridiculous hat and a uniform with a thousand unearned medals pinned to it who spends all of his nation’s wealth on solid gold toilet seats and hookers, then complains that Country A is the reason why his people are poor. The Globalists might have a point about promoting international cooperation. The Nationalists might have a point that one country’s success doesn’t automatically mean another country’s failure. If only these foes could get together in a room, hold hands, and sing a rousing rendition of Kumbaya.

            I don’t know. Like Frank, I want no part of this hullabaloo. Both sides can duke it out, but if we all don’t start throwing more hugs and less fists, I fear the world of 2050 as described in this serial will become a reality. Ergo, the next time you feel frustrated by a person with an opposing viewpoint, offer a hug instead of an insult and you never know, you might just find yourself with a new friend instead of a despised enemy.

Better yet, go for a drive in a fast car. I love fast cars, 3.5 readers. I love fast cars and conspiracy theories (Biggie and Tupac invented time machines that allowed them to shoot each other) and this serial is a marriage between my two great loves. I wank it whenever there’s a new Fast and Furious movie. What have they made, like 10,000 of those suckers now? Hell, they can make 20,000 more and I’ll still be in the theater gobbling up popcorn and watching those things.

Moreover, I spank it whenever I hear an interesting yet completely unfounded idea about how some tragic event took place (can we ever be sure that an alien dressed like Elvis was not on the grassy knoll?)

Intense car chases and head scratching power plays. All the big time Hollywood moguls really need to stop sexually harassing young starlets for five minutes and offer me a butt load of credits for this dazzling spectacle. Get in on the action before some creative, forward thinking power player snatches this bad boy up. Come on, Hollywood executives. Why coerce actresses into touching your thingy when we can all get so rich off this story that the babes will be lining up to touch our thingies voluntarily?

What do you think about self-driving cars, noble reader? In the early stage of this emerging technology, it’s looking this new form of transportation might change our lives for the better. Sure, we’ll miss being behind the wheel on a nice country drive but you know what we won’t miss – being locked up in traffic for three hours because some dummy got into an accident and mangled himself beyond all recognition. Further, as a chronic late person, I would not mind if my car were to form itself around me while I’m sleeping and begin transporting me to work while I catch up an extra snooze.

Admittedly, I have some pessimistic tendencies. While everyone is looking forward to the day when their car says in a computerized voice, “Relax, I got this!” I’m concerned about the potential for the government to use these contraptions to further the nanny state. Look reader, I don’t want to alarm you, but as we speak, there has got to be at least fifty technicians gathered around in a circle in the basement of a CIA black site, pleasuring themselves in a round robin circle jerk to all the photos you have been posting of your most embarrassing exploits on social media. If that’s the case, then how could any government pass up on the chance to mine the memory banks of self-driving cars for information on where their occupants have been traveling to, who they were with and who they were visiting?

Plus, I just know some health nut will demand that scales be put into the seats of self-driving cars and if the occupant weights too much, his car will tell him he’s too fat to swing by a fast food joint drive-thru. Honestly, that would be a good thing for a lard bucket like yours truly, but I’m willing to eat myself into oblivion if that’s what it takes to preserve free will. Just because I’m exercising my free will in a way that requires me to wear extra strength stretch pants doesn’t mean you all should have to suffer.

OK, enough about me. Let’s get this party started. Tweet, your thoughts about self-driving cars, human operated cars, Biggie and Tupac’s time traveling abilities, government conspiracies and most importantly, the epic serial about to unfold before your very eyes to me @bookshelfbattle. Share more in-depth thoughts on Facebook, where I’m @bookshelfqbattler or stop by my blog, bookshelfbattle.com.

I’m working as fast as I can on Episode Two, noble reader, but I’m just one man. I have a day job to work, ungrateful relatives to take care of, pets to walk, plants to water, cows to milk, pig stalls to muck out, haystacks to bale, karaoke bars to visit, vampires to stake, zombies to put out of their misery, werewolves to gun down with silver bullets and chupacabras to put on goat free diets. I’ll find more time to work on this tale if you keep the encouragement coming.

Better yet, tell a friend about this serial so I could, you know, make some extra dough, or actually, any dough. I heard a rumor once that some writers make money. I’d love to find out if that is true.

What? You don’t have a friend? Try making one. It all begins with a hug.

(Get a notorized permission slip before obtaining the hug.)

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