As I prepare to begin work on Fractured: Book 3 of America’s Future, the entire series is getting a facelift. New covers and typos in earlier editions corrected. I’ll also be adding a number of samples of both books over the next few weeks so you guys can get a chance to know what this series is about.
America’s Future was my first series, and Republic did very well when it released in 2007. But the indie book world is a very different animal than it was seven years ago, and these books have been eclipsed by my other novels. So I wanted to dust them off and let folks know about them! So here is the prologue of Book 1: Republic.
Martha Murphy walked her son to his teacher and kissed him goodbye.
Kenny shook away, in a hurry to get into the classroom so he could play with the computer before the day officially started. One step away from her he stumbled, arms and legs splayed out. A keening wail rose from the boy.
Lifting her son, she examined him. His hands were scraped red, and he inhaled great shuddering gasps that expanded his cheeks. His green t-shirt and blue jeans were a little scuffed, but nothing serious. Even so, his blue eyes started to water, and the lower lip puffed out, the preliminaries of an explosion.
“There, there,” she said. “No permanent harm done. Do you still have all your fingers and toes?”
He nodded. His eyes, wide and wet with tears, focused on his mother.
“Are there any big gobs of blood? Any serious injuries? You’ve still got all your head, right?” She gently tapped on the side of his head as she spoke the last words.
This time, he giggled as he responded with a shake of his head.
“All right then, you better get inside if you’re going to have time to play with the computer. I’ll see you tonight, chickpea.”
Kenny didn’t hesitate. If he arrived at school early enough, his teacher let him play on the computer until the other kids arrived. This time he didn’t trip.
Mrs. Hayes, his teacher, put her hand up in the doorway, and said, “Martha, I wonder if you could find the time for a bit of a talk this week. We’ve got some concerns about little Kenny.”
“Of course. Is something wrong?”
“Naw, nothing like that. But, well…we’ve been a mite concerned about his development. Not saying anything’s wrong, but it’s always best to check these things out early. We can talk in detail. How about tomorrow, at three?”
“I’ll be there. Should I bring Ken?”
“Lord, no. It’s nothing serious, Martha.”
Martha nodded, then headed away. Worried about his development. There was nothing wrong with Kenny, he was doing just fine. She would meet with them, and find out what the worry was. Probably because he was a boy, and he acted like a boy, and these days that in itself was sometimes treated as a behavior problem.
Back at the pickup, she squeezed herself into the driver’s seat, and then took a couple of deep breaths. Winded from walking thirty feet. Well, this was her third pregnancy, and certainly the last. Only three months to go. She was so stiff, and really too old to be having another baby. Kenny had come and slept in her and Ken’s bed again, too, sometime after midnight, which had meant a whole night of tossing and turning.
Martha and her husband Ken had debated at length about whether to go ahead with the pregnancy. Their daughter Valerie, born when Martha was just eighteen years old, was twenty-two now, starting her first job as a congressional aide to congressman Al Clark. Valerie was a stern young woman, ambitious and aggressive. Martha was simultaneously proud of her daughter’s accomplishments, and—at least sometimes—secretly ashamed to think Valerie was cold. But facts were facts. She had certainly never let anything as silly as a boy get in the way of her career, but that was the way you were supposed to be these days.
Valerie had been an only child. Then Kenny came along like a shock to the system, and suddenly a newly adult woman an infant brother. Valerie took it easier than either of her parents, who had long ago forgotten the sleepless nights and stress attendant with being a new parent. Now they were doing it again.
Ken, stoic as always, struggled over the pregnancy, then announced that he would support whatever decision she wanted to make. She knew he wanted the baby, desperately. It cost him a lot to hold himself back and let Martha explore her emotions about having another baby in her forties. But in the end, there wasn’t really any question about what she would do. Now, the questions all centered on the baby’s health. The doctors were able to tell a lot, and she had been having the full range of tests since early in the pregnancy. She told herself that if anything serious were wrong, they would know by now.
All the same, sometimes she was frightened.
Her phone rang as she cranked the engine. With a glance at the phone—it was Valerie—she put the headset behind her ear and clicked the talk button.
“Hi, Valerie!” she said, backing out of her parking space.
“Hi, Mom. I just wanted to let you know I will be able to make it next weekend; I got Friday off. What do you think Kenny will want for a present?”
Martha looked both ways at the traffic on Route 340. Traffic was picking up, and over the years, this had become a dangerous intersection. The heaviest fog had lifted, but patches still limited visibility and gave the morning a grey, forlorn cast. A fat raindrop streaked the windshield. One more stop to make, at Haggett’s Mart a couple miles down, then she could head into town.
“I think your best bet are some Ranger Heroes, he’s been playing with those a lot. You can ask about them at the toy store. Just a small one, not one of the big sets—we’re having some of his classmates over for the party, so I expect there will be too many presents as it is.”
“Thanks, Mom. How are you?”
“Well, I’m as big as a house. It’s getting to where I have to ask Mr. Chapman next door for help whenever I need to do any lifting at the shop. And he’s moving along in age himself—I expect one of these days I’ll have him keeled over on the floor.”
Valerie laughed. “You’ve always charmed the guys, Mom. How’s the store?”
“Good, good! About three weeks ago they had some shindig in Harpers Ferry for some diplomat, a Russian I think, and they came into the shop and bought every flower I had! They cleaned us out.”
As she was talking, Martha came to the turnoff for the small convenience store.
“Valerie, I’ve got to get going. Can we talk tonight?” she said as she made a left into the parking lot.
“Okay. I love you.”
Martha clicked the “Talk” button and heard silence. She took off the earpiece and slowly climbed out of the truck.
Haggett’s Mart could only charitably be called a shack, an old, clapboard building that had been whitewashed sometime in the last couple of decades. A single cracked but clean window was crowded with tin cans and a broken neon sign. The parking lot, once paved, had degenerated to mostly gravel and broken pavement, and the gas pumps in front had not operated in decades. The store still did thriving business, however. The chain gas station across town, though clean, well lit, and with lower prices, wasn’t a place to find gossip, and it wasn’t locally owned.
As she walked toward the door she glanced at the headlines on the newspapers out front. All of them were variations on the same theme: “DHS Raids Compound in Maine,” or “Two Agents Killed in Gun Raid.” The Post was dominated by a photo of a wounded DHS agent in full battle gear, a hint of blood on his black uniform.
The news had been all over since yesterday: a team of agents from the Department of Homeland Security had raided a compound in rural Maine. A gun battle ensued, killing two agents and seven of the suspected terrorists. The other suspects were in custody now.
Martha opened the door and waved to the cantankerous old man with thinning white hair and a face full of deep creases and wrinkles sitting behind the cluttered counter. Walter Haggett was pushing ninety, but looked seventy. He still ran his own store, and knew just about everyone in Highview. Walter was usually good for an interesting story or two about goings-on in town, which accounted for the popularity of his store. Certainly the décor didn’t.
“Good morning, Martha. How’s the flower business?” he asked.
“Just fine, Walter. How is the convenience business?”
“Well, if I get any older, it won’t be very convenient for me.” He laughed out loud. The joke wasn’t all that funny, but he said it the same way nearly every day.
“There’s fresh decaf made, Martha. But there’s a price.”
“You talk to that husband of yours, ask him to find me a place in his battalion.”
Walter was a Vietnam veteran, and liked to kid Ken about the computerized monstrosities his National Guard battalion was equipped with.
Martha smiled at the old man. “I’ll talk to him, Walter, but I’m pretty sure you’re past the enlistment age.”
Haggett pursed his lips. “I’m pretty sure I was past the enlistment age forty years ago, young lady. Rules are for Yankees and lawyers. You talk to the Colonel.”
She laughed and nodded, and said, “I will, but you have to promise to let me bring some flowers from the shop when we get some new shipments. Liven the place up a bit.”
“Flowers! What do I need flowers for? Be useless as teats on a boar hog.”
She laughed and walked through the cramped aisle to the back of the store; poured herself some decaf, looking longingly at the regular coffee. As she fixed her cup, she patted her stomach. Only three months to go, she thought.
The bell at the front door rang as she stirred the sugar and cream in her coffee, and someone muttered something up at the counter. She turned and walked back to the front, then stopped and gasped when she saw the man with the gun.
The unfamiliar man—boy, really—was rail thin, in ill fitting, tattered clothes, with dirty shoulder-length hair. His face was gaunt, with eyes that stared out from darkened sockets. His right hand, holding a pistol, shook.
“Come on, old man, just give me the money,” the man said. As he spoke, his whole body shuddered. Drug addict, Martha thought, Or he’s really sick.
Walter grimaced. “All right, don’t get your panties in a wad,” he said, working the register. His eyes darted to Martha, then to something below the register.
With a smooth, quick motion, he reached beneath it and lifted a shotgun to his shoulder.
He wasn’t quick enough. The young man fired twice, the explosions rocking the tiny store. Walter fell backward in a shower of blood.
Martha shrieked, her hand rising to her mouth, and the man jumped and fired again, the muzzle blast bright in her face. She fell backward as if a truck had hit her; her head hit the floor with a loud crack. Dazed, she lay there as the man stepped over her, reaching behind the counter. Then he ran for the front door and out into the fog, leaving behind the sound of the bell ringing over the door.
Her vision was dark, pinpointed, as if she was looking out from a dark puddle of water. Slowly, she rested her hand on her stomach and felt a mass of blood and torn flesh. As the blood flowed from between her fingers, she began to feel the pain.
“Oh my God, my baby.”
The phone. Despite the pain, she struggled for her purse as bright red blood washed across the dirty linoleum floor. Where was the damn phone? The purse fell open, pens and her checkbook spilling out onto the floor. There was her pistol, which Ken insisted she carry. Lot of good it did now that she really needed one.
No phone. Must have left it in the car. She fell back in exhaustion, waves of pain wracking her body, a fog clouding her mind.
What about Kenny? Who was going to pick him up from school?
Martha stared up at the ceiling, thinking of her little boy, and his father whom she’d loved for more than twenty years. She started to drift away into the darkness. A vision of dancing with him at their junior prom a lifetime ago came unbidden to her mind’s eye. He’d worn a white tuxedo, and had given her a matching orchid. Now when she thought of him dressed up, it was always in his dress blues, with the yellow piping of an Armor officer.
Ken—what will you do when I’m gone? Oh, I love you.