Puck’s a scavenger in the husk of what used to be Los Angeles.
There’s work there. Not much of it honest. She’s been there long enough to know what trouble looks like and how to avoid it. And she knows better than to trust any evergreen who comes making stupid promises. Living comes first.
She’s pragmatic, but that has its own sort of problems. Especially when money outweighs the reasons to say no.
Cover art by: Toni Infante
I FELL OFF THAT BIKE A LOT
MEET THE AUTHOR
This is the area of the site where Randall P. Fitzgerald pretends that Randall P. Fitzgerald isn’t writing Randall P. Fitzgerald’s own biography.
Randall was raised in rural North Carolina and is currently living in Portland, Oregon. He’s trying not to let the constant motion sickness caused by rapidly moving plaid destroy his productivity. Other than that, he writes books. Sci-fi and fantasy, probably. Maybe with some other stuff in there.
Requisite snide remark about Portland out of the way, Randall is continuing to refer to himself in the third person and it makes him sick. He’s going to stop writing this bio now.
KEEP IN TOUCH
There was definitely a gun pressed against her back. It was low, off-center. She hadn’t turned to see the girl who was holding it, but the subtle sounds in the quiet gave her away.
“Don’t move or I’ll pull it.” The girl’s voice was trembling the slightest bit.
Before Puck could answer, a man in his early twenties came out from a fallen wall at the far side of the house she’d been scavenging. He held a gun, low and casual. An older model Chinese pistol, not well cared for. Puck took a drag from her cigarette and lifted her hand up to pull it from her mouth. She blew the smoke out away from the girl so as not to exacerbate things.
“This a robbery?” Her voice was flat, matter of fact.
The girl behind her shifted as the man spoke and Puck turned her head to get a look at her. A short one, close cropped blonde hair, covered in dust like everything else. She had bright eyes, but the way they twitched around destroyed any image of beauty that might have gone with them.
“Yeah,” Puck flicked her cigarette. “Well, what is it of mine you want?”
He nodded his head toward the still standing front wall of the old house. “The car. We want the chip to start it.”
“Then we fucking kill you and take it, one-eyed bitch.”
Puck grimaced. “Not likely either. Well, maybe. But if you pull that trigger…” She motioned to the girl with a thumb. “This one’s gonna die.”
He took his eyes off her just for a half second to look at the girl. It was all she’d get. The gun was holstered under her arm, hidden beneath the frock coat she wore. The barrel wasn’t quite to open air when the man with the gun went wide-eyed, realizing what was happening. He fired, the shot pulled wide to her left and it gave Puck time to bring her own weapon to bear. She pulled the trigger twice in a smooth rhythm as another bullet left the man’s gun. His shot found her chest as her two slugs climbed his leg. He was on the ground, bleeding and screaming with his accomplice joining the noise. Puck had been forced back a step by the impact against her vest. The hit wasn’t so bad. A hard punch in the ribs, but the caliber of the bullet hadn’t been large enough to do any damage. A second shrill scream came as the girl who’d meant to paralyze her drew in another hysterical breath. Puck turned, swinging her gun up and pulled the trigger again. The girl’s face caved away as the force of the bullet dragged her over into a ragged heap.
The man was screaming, though it was different now. He called her name and cursed between agonized groans and clutching at his leg. When Puck started toward him, a wave of realization washed across his face and desperate eyes searched the rubble for the pistol he’d been holding in the seconds before. Puck came over and wordlessly knelt down beside him. She patted lazily at his pockets and he swatted at her.
“F-fucking… fucking… bitch!” He was sputtering and he groaned from the pain in his leg again before screaming the girl’s name.
Puck stood, holstered her gun, and pulled a packet of cigarettes from her pocket. She tapped the pack, put her lips around the one that had presented itself for duty, and pulled the pack away. “So, this go how you were thinking it was gonna go?” She pulled her lighter and lit up.
The man began rolling himself around, looking for the gun again.
Puck looked across from him, out of the hole in the side wall. “Any more of you?”
“Fuck you! Hnng.” He clutched at the rapidly bleeding holes in his leg. “Fuck you, I’ll kill you!”
She tapped on her vest where the bullet hit and raised an eyebrow, shaking her head. She slid her hand over and put it on the handle of her gun, pulling it again from its holster. It was an immaculate piece of work. Old army, chambered in .45 caliber. She leveled the gun at his head.
He snarled. “Do i—”
There was a sharp crack, the punctuation of a bullet firing, and other than the fading echo it left behind the place was quiet again.
Puck kept the gun in her hand and moved to the collapsed wall, poking her head out just the slightest bit so that the darkness of the house didn’t hide anything in the glaring sun. Quick looks showed her nothing. She hadn’t expected much else. No sense in sending two people to a situation like that if you have more.
She turned her attention back to the two dead bodies, holstering her gun and moving first to the man. She patted his body, rolling it. There was nothing but needle tracks and empty pockets. She stood, frowning. The wasted bullets galled her as much as the dull pain in her ribs. She kicked the corpse and leaned past it to grab the gun. Not worth much. She could get it cleaned up, maybe, but the collector market had died years ago and she’d only see a fraction of that anyway.
The girl had a thin silver chain with nothing on it. Worth maybe half what the gun was and less than half as useful to anyone. The same needle tracks showed up again and the story rolled itself into place. They’d fucked up in the Outskirts and got sent out here to rot. As loose an idea as polite society was in the husk, people still managed to run foul of it.
Puck stood and sighed, annoyed. This had been the third house with nothing worth taking and now someone else’s trash had made itself her problem. She walked out the side wall and looked around again, ejecting the magazine from her gun. She pulled four bullets from her coat, replaced the ones she’d used, and returned the magazine to its place.
Another house stood across the sand piled yard, a bit less run down than the one she’d been in. There was no real reason to hope it’d have anything of value but she’d never been able to completely stop that giddy feeling in her stomach. The abandoned fields of homes were like little presents from people who never knew her. Sometimes they were just perfect, through the sheer odds of it all. Most weren’t. That just seemed to make the great ones so much more of a joy.
She circled the house first, checking the windows. Boarded windows meant someone cared enough about the dust creeping in to board a window. There were no boards, but a few glass windows were somehow still intact on the second floor. They were rare in the husk, useless to outside buyers, but currency was currency and some shop owners still seemed to have an obsession with them.
The front door was half stripped of old white paint and the latch still held tight in spite of the years it had sat unused. A firm kick cracked it free of the frame, but the piled sand behind made opening the door something of a chore. Puck kept a vigilant watch as she worked. No more than usual, in spite of the earlier attack. Her system was built to account for those sorts of encounters. Being caught out was an inevitability.
The inside of the house was a stagnant pile of fine dirt. It coated everything, always. The walls, ceiling, everything left in the place. Opening the door disturbed the stuff and it added a taste to the air that Puck hated. She pulled the last drag of her cigarette and tossed it away before moving into the house.
The first order of business was a cursory walk around. It was a reasonable enough place, essentially the same as the four others she’d worked through this morning. The first floor was main room, kitchen, dining room. Sometimes there was a garage, not on this one. They were all clear of anything concerning. The second floor was bedrooms and bathrooms. She started with them. Childrens’ rooms tended to prove especially fruitful. Toys weren’t the sort of thing people cared to grab when emergencies happened and they always sold. Puck could imagine the market. Anthropologist types, historians, rich war enthusiasts with kids.
There were two bedrooms that looked to belong to children. One was an older child, so there were a few consoles. Puck pulled a knife and set about opening them, frowning when she did. Poorly sealed, cheap models. One for multimedia, the other for games. They were full of dust and the capacitors had broken down, leaking and ruining the boards. They were common models as well, but still worth decent money in good condition. These weren’t. She tossed them and moved to the next room.
She was beginning to lose hope until she pulled open a closet door in a purple walled room. It fell from the hinges, kicking up a small cloud of dust. Small because the window was intact here. Which meant the chest she saw sitting inside the closet had potential. No way for the dry to get in meant no way for wet to get out. She popped the tiny toy lock off the chest, unlatched it, and stood back. Flipping it open with her foot she saw a trove of soft, brightly colored creatures laying inside. Stuffed animals. Beautiful. She rushed to the box and pulled them aside, counting as she made sure they were dry and intact. And all of them were. Sixteen all told, each worth thousands. She laughed looking down into the box. They were pristine, the best she’d seen. She fell back onto her ass, and breathed a happy sigh. She wouldn’t have to saw the windows free now.
She closed the box, latched it and lifted it up, taking it to the edge of the stairs before moving to the room that most likely belonged to the parents. A bit of gold jewelry, some jade. Decent enough additions. Downstairs proved far less fruitful. The controller boards for all the appliances were ruined and all the screens in the house were beyond saving.
It was good enough. Puck tucked the child’s chest under her arm and pulled a cigarette with her free hand. She lit it as she moved out the front door, looking to be sure she was still in the clear. The world was still.
There was little room in the car, so she was happy to have such small cargo. As uncomfortable as that often made drives, she couldn’t complain. Manual drive cars were near non-existent and as much attention as it brought to her, the car gave her an edge few could claim.
There was a subtle electric hum as she came into range of the vehicle. She tapped the door on the passenger side and it popped open lazily. The chest was placed inside and as Puck stood to close the door she heard shifting from behind. She spun, putting a hand on the grip of her weapon and saw a young boy, thirteen at the most and Asian. He had a gun far too large for him to ever use and it was pointed at her as best as the kid could manage.
She took her hand away from the pistol and pulled a drag from her cigarette before taking it from her mouth.
“You planning on shooting me?”
The boy looked terrified at the question but managed to shake his head.
“Then put it down.”
He held a moment and then did, looking sheepishly at the ground.
“You with them?”
“I… I was. They said to shoot if it went bad.”
Puck closed the car door and moved around to the driver’s side. “Why didn’t you?”
He started to cry. “I don’t know.”
Puck tapped the driver’s door and it opened. “I would’ve.”
She pulled the door shut and pushed the accelerator. The boy plopped down in the dust at the edge of the house, crying into his hands. Victorville was a long drive and she wanted to be back before dark.