Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Old and Treacherous (Teaser)

Eugene, Oregon

Wilson said, “Reilly here will be your contact.”
Hull glanced at the kid, who was so full of himself he looked as if he might go off like a firecracker at any second.
He nodded. “Reilly.”
The kid mirrored him. “Hull.”
“He’ll give you whatever you need to get rolling.”
Khadra said, “I need to go to the loo.”
Hull looked at her. She might, but that’s not why she was going. She was giving Hull room to check out Reilly. He gave her a flicker of a grin.
“And I have business to which I must attend,” Wilson said. “Show Hull around,” he said to Reilly.
After Wilson was gone and Hull and Reilly were alone -- more or less, since every room in the building was wired for sound and video, including the bathrooms -- Hull said, “So, what’s new since I left?”
Reilly smiled, as only the young and truly ignorant can.
“Well, things have changed a little since your time. We have, like, running water and flush toilets and electricity and all.”
Hull smiled in return. Had he ever been that young and full of himself? Probably worse. Well. Might as well set the tone for this now. “Really? Wow. I’m impressed. You’re a computer guy, right?”
If Reilly was any cockier, they could draw his blood and make it into Viagra. “Yeah, I am.”
“Ever heard of the online game, The Man Who Never Missed?”
Reilly blinked. “Yeah. I play that one. First-person shooter.”
“What’s your high score?”
The kid was smart enough to sense the trap, but still sure that he was God’s gift to the future. Even so, he hedged it: “I can get through Level Fourteen.”
Hull’s grin increased. “Not bad.” If he’d been any more condescending in his tone, you could use it to etch glass.
“What the fuck do you mean, ‘Not bad?’ That’s a solid score, better than ninety percent of the players out there!”
Hull shrugged.
“What are you saying here, Hull?”
Hull picked up a yellow sticky pad and a pencil from the desk, wrote something on the pad, handed it to Reilly.
Reilly stared at the pad is if it had turned into a trilobyte in his hand. “No fucking way!”
It was the total number of enemy troops that Khadaji, the VP shooter in TMWNM took out by himself. The only way to know that was to finish the game, which had fifteen levels.
“You use the cheats?”
Reilly looked uncomfortable. He couldn’t see where Hull was going with it. That he even knew the name of the game was unexpected. That he claimed to have finished the sucker? You could see the disbelief in Reilly’s eyes. “Couple times.”
“Remember the URL where you got them?”
Reilly pulled out his iPhone and tapped the screen. He looked at the device.
“Scroll down to the bottom. Who does the credit list for the advanced cheats?”
“Olra Hülse. So? Somebody from Sweden? Norway?”
“Reverse the letters in the first name.”
The light began to dawn on the kid’s face, and Hull had to admit he was enjoying the view. “Tap in your German dictionary and look up the last name.”
Reilly keyed the iPhone’s screen. A few seconds went by as the phone’s language ap found the dictionary. Reilly typed the name in with his right thumb and forefinger.
There came the sun ...
“Motherfucker,” the kid said.
Hull grinned. “Running water, flush toilets, electricity and all. My, my. Not like in my day, where we had to hike fifty miles to school in the snow. Uphill. Both ways. Fighting off attacks by dinosaurs.”
“I get it,” Reilly said. He could barely keep his voice civil. “You made your point.”
Hull figured, what the hell, might as well get the rest of it out of the way. Sooner or later, the kid had to learn, and he was sure that was why Wilson had stuck him with Reilly anyhow.
He said, “You want to try me, don’t you? Go a couple rounds and see if all the hype is real? If an old fart like me has anything left?”
Reilly grinned, but lost it quickly, then said, “No, nothing like that.”
“Wilson told you to walk on eggshells around me?”
“He allowed as how I need to mind my manners. Show proper respect.”
“You look fit enough,” Hull said. “Which way is the gym? Let’s go dance a little, hey? See you can lay a hand on me like you think you can.”
Reilly almost bounced up and down he was so excited. “Follow me,” he said.
As soon as he turned his back, Hull clocked him. It was a good hit, a solid hammer fist to the temple, not too hard, just enough to stagger him. While Reilly was trying to figure out what the fuck had happened to him, Hull moved in, did a sweep using his knee, and held on so Reilly wouldn’t hit the carpet too hard. Even so, he smacked it pretty good. He was a big kid, and Hull didn’t want to pull something trying to make the landing too easy. The knee was bad enough, he didn’t want to screw up his back, too.
Reilly lay there, stunned.
Hull backed off a couple of steps, turned a chair around, and straddled it.
Reilly faked being groggy a couple seconds after he recovered. He tried to be subtle about it, but it was easy to see. He gathered himself, muscles flexing to leap. As he rolled up, Hull lifted his weight and shoved the chair in front of the younger man --
Reilly tried to avoid it, almost made it, but tripped, sprawled, and by the time he rolled up again, Hull had his revolver out and pointing at the floor between them.
“Bang,” he said, his voice quiet. “You’re dead. And I could have shot you as soon as you turned your back on me.”
Reilly eased up. He shook his head.
Hull looked at him. “Are we done?”
Hull reholstered his weapon. “Now you you know, right?”
“Yeah. Reilly rubbed at his neck, didn’t say anything else.
“Old and treacherous beats young and skillful every time, kid.”
“One-on-one in the gym -- "
“Not ever gonna happen. I’m creaky, slow, and too old to dick around with a jock like you. If I knew you were coming heavy, I’d shoot you in your sleep the night before. If I didn’t see you until you got close, I’d do something else. I know your teacher, and I know he told you we don’t do fair here. We aren’t duelists, son, we are assassins. Best case scenario, your target dies without ever knowing you exist. If you want to square off in the ring, join a boxing club, or take up Mixed Martial Arts. That’s not what we do.”
Amazing how fast the “we” came back. Just like that.
Reilly blew out a sigh. “Yeah. I know.”
“That’s only part of it,” Hull said, “You gave me something. A gift.”
Reilly looked at him.
“A while back, there was a big-name movie star on the set of a film. They were doing a scene, and somebody off-camera was moving around. It distracted the star, and pissed him off.”
“I heard about that. Lost his cool, blew up at the guy, screaming, cursing.”
Hull nodded. “Right. The actor is calling the guy seven kinds of motherfucker and asshole, telling people trying to calm him down to shut the fuck up, threatening to get the offender fired. Went totally ballistic.”
“Yeah. So ... ?”
“So the actor comes across as a prima donna. A short-tempered asshole. He’s apologized all over the place, mea culpa, no excuses, and that’s probably the end of it. Couple rounds on the late night show monologues, done. America loves to knock the high-and-mighty off their perches, but they also are willing to forgive ‘em and let them climb back up if they beg properly.”
Reilly nodded.
“But -- say you are on the set of his next movie and you want to pull his chain? Knock over a light during a scene, break his concentration, he might lose it again. He gave half of America the tool, and somebody out there might be in a position to use it someday.”
Hull said, “You are smart, fit, trained, and dedicated. You should go far -- if you don’t shoot yourself in the foot. You wanted to see how good I was, and you found out more than you wanted to know. But it was an easy lesson. I could have killed you. There was a time when I might have, and justified it to myself or anybody who asked, like stepping on a bug.
“Don’t give anything away about yourself unless you have to, kid. In this business, that’s a bad idea. If you want to get rid of me, shoot me in the back when I’m not looking. But don’t offer a stand-up fight, because while you might win it, it won’t ever get there if it is up to me.”
“Got you.”
Maybe it took, maybe it didn’t, it was hard to tell with young ops.
“Good. Let’s move on. Show me what intel you have on Milos.”


Chris Huning said...

Tease is right! I want more. I look forward to reading the rest whenever to chance arises. I not a big fan of tie-in novels, so new stuff by you is hard to come by. As it is I am off reading some of your old out of print stuff that I missed on the first go 'round (stellar ranger just now). I may just have to break down and start in on the tie-ins :)

Worg said...

Pretty interesting. Good dialogue. I'll buy it.

Bobbe Edmonds said...

This is pretty good, but the kid is a bit unbelievable. I mean, who on Earth is that cocky, self-assured, arrogant and full of himself?

Oh, wait a minute...

Steve Perry said...

Well, it is fiction, so I can indulge in hyperbole.

Or not ...

Edwin Voskamp said...

I really like the first half. Where it starts with the hidden reference to Christian Bale it just gets too preachy (wordy, long) for my taste.

William Adams said...

Interesting, especially the bit about the computer game --- have you been playing any of the new crop of games? Or been approached about licensing any of your worlds for such?

I've especially been enjoying the Wii that I got for the kids for Christmas-last, in particular the light-gun games --- First thing I did after getting it was make a Wii Zapper out of Legos, then started making wooden ones and handing them out at work to co-workers along w/ copies of _Link's Crossbow Training_.


Steve Perry said...

Hoping to get life imitating art. There was a game deal for TMWNM in the works -- in limbo now. Maybe if the books sells, it creates a demand ...

Edwin --

On second thought, you are right. Through the magic of computer wizardry, that sequence is now shorter and tighter. Better?

steve-vh said...

"self-assured, and full of himself?"
Bobbe, you've already met my son.

Michael Bourgon said...

Steve, I hate to say this, but it needs to be shorter. The bit with the first-name-backwards, fine, but googling-with-an-iphone... too much, it's almost like you're saying "hey, I know the current lingo". In 10 years it'll be horribly dated. The fact that there's an MMO they both play, fine. But it needs to be trimmed - as a cameo it's cute, but you keep bringing up bits about it. The bit about Bale is mostly fine; once the book comes out it'll be history, as opposed to the "commenting on current events" vibe. But it needs trimming. There's all sorts of good points, but it's a bit rambling (much like my post).

I hate criticizing it, since I've been reading you since 87 or so (it makes me feel old too). The fight at the end is fine, and I like the part about being too old to do the leg sweep. And I'm looking forward to seeing the whole thing.

Steve Perry said...

Michael --

Taste is taste, but for my money, it's not too long. As chapters go, it's short, and the sequences with Hull and Reilly run 1400 words, mostly dialog and action. The kid smarts off, the old man bats him down intellectually, then physically.

If you think you are a hot-shot gamer and you find yourself talking to the guy who wrote the cheats for a game you like? C'mon -- that would shut me up.

TMWNM as a game is only going to resonate with my fans. Given the sales figures on those books, there might be a few people who actually haven't read them ...

A static scene that runs more than 4-5 pp is probably too long, but this is broken up -- four people in the room, then two. Dialog, then action, then an act-out. Pacing-wise, I'm good with it.

Hull is teaching the kid a big lesson, from two directions, and it needs weight. The kid has been told all this, but it isn't real until it is demonstrated.
I get to show that here -- the old fart is a better gamer and still capable of kicking the kid's ass.

The iPhone stuff? Maybe it'll be dated ten years from now, but so what? Book isn't going to be one for the ages -- I'm writing for next year's audience, and there are a lot of them who haven't gotten a smart phone yet.

Nah, I trimmed the Bale stuff, Edwin was right about that. Rest of it? Plays for me.

Edwin Voskamp said...

Steve ...

Through the magic of computer wizardry, that sequence is now shorter and tighter. Better?

Yup, better. The length of the scene as a whole and the length of the individual elements and their balance works for me.

I would like him to demonstrate what the kid gave him, rather than abstractly talking about the movie star. Sort of showing the kid, rather than telling the kid. But him doing it this way shows him in a certain way, which may be what you are trying to do: part of the age is tbe talking.

Dave Huss said...

The only thing that doesn't ring true is that a truly mean bastard like your describing would probably not do a whole lot of talking. Just smoke the smug son-of-a-bitch and if he survives it, maybe he learns. It's a thing of texture I think. I'm not much for all of the bullshitting back and forth. Without,,,, makes for some awfully short books I would expect.

Steve Perry said...

Well, bullshitting back and forth is what I do best ...

Besides, Hull is mellowing in his old age. Once, he'd have done worse.

J.D. Ray said...

I didn't read this soon enough to get in on the original (untrimmed) post, but I have to say I agree with Michael about the length. There just seems to be something clunky about it.

As a technologist, I hate when authors toss around product names. It locks the title into a time frame, as Michael said. Were it me (and it's not), I'd just say "phone" instead of "iPhone."

I imagine Hull like Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven. That's a great example of an old man teaching a kid about the differences between what he thinks he knows about a nasty bit of work and the reality of the same work.

Of course, I'm a relatively young kid who periodically asks your advice on writing, so that should be taken into account here... ;)

Steve Perry said...

What kind of car does Clint Eastwood drive in his most recent movie? Anybody?

Stephen King uses brand names throughout most of his work, and deliberately so. It goes to specificity -- if My Hero using a gun, what kind is it? I named those names -- the Ruger, the K-frame, the SIG, nobody mentioned those. I offered the cars' names, Toyota, Ford, Caddy.

If Buddha is eating cereal, which is a better description -- a sugary kids' cereral or Frosted Flakes?

Naming the phone, the car, the computer, these are reality tags put in for precision. If they date the book, that's not a problem, it's not science fiction but a contemporary thriller, and if it gets printed and sticks around, in thirty or forty years, it'll be a period piece. And I'm not writing for the ages, I'm writing for now.

If you say "She had a gun." that will work. But it's dull.

Steve Perry said...

Oops, a mea culpa here -- my previous comment made reference to other named items in the new book. Save for that snippet I posted here a while back, nobody has read any of the preceding seven chapters, so the guns and cars stuff I referred to doesn't play.

It's there, but you didn't see it it. Sorry.

Steve Perry said...

Hey, you know what? I'm gonna cut that whole section about the movie star out -- I got another bit I like better ...

Edwin Voskamp said...

You know what they say: show, not tell!