Fiction Friday: The Boltcutter – the Quarry

The Boltcutter: The Quarry

Deng and Reno arrived at the Old Quarry a few hours before dawn. None of the itinerants and refugees who worked the rock with their dented and battered tools slept there, and no one worked through the night. On the side of the tall hill that overlooked the city, and which was known in the local language as the Mountain, the Old Quarry would allow the Boltcutter to see them from about one hundred different perches and put a bullet in them, if that’s what he wanted.

Broken stones and jagged boulders flanked the rough dirt path that had brought them. Gravel crunched under the wheels of the Landcruiser, and its lights revealed no grass and very few bushes or stunted trees. The Mountain displayed green on the side that faced the city. Here, its business end, one saw no beauty, unless one considered the gouged earth and gray stone beautiful.

They sat in the Landcruiser, engine off but headlights on. Reno checked his weapon under an interior light. He had traded the MP7 for a suppressed Steyr TMP. It didn’t have the tactical sight, but Reno figured he’d be using it in close and personal situations where the iron sights would do fine.

“I am done.” Deng exhaled slowly, his balled fists resting on the steering wheel. “A dead NSS agent in my room, it does not matter what Alor decides. I can never come back.”

“No. That’s not how this will play.” Folding the stock, Reno slid the TMP into his messenger bag and put that at his feet. “You didn’t do this. You weren’t even in the country.”

Deng turned to him, a slight squint as the muscles around his eyes tightened. “What do you mean? How will we get out of this?”

“Not we, you.” Reno smiled. “No one from the NSS has seen you. There’s no record of you entering the country. John’s getting a flight to Nairobi. He might already be wheels up. Once we clean up this mess, you use his out. I can drive into Uganda, or I can head east to the next state capital and charter a flight. The record will be of me getting in and getting out.”

“And you think they will believe that?” Deng shook his head, looking down. “No, I don’t think so. I have spoken to people.”

“Yeah, but not on your cell, nothing the NSS can get a grip on.” Reno leaned back in his seat, tilted his head up and pinched the bridge of his nose. The stimulants had him awake and aware, but he was starting to feel fuzzy around the edges. “When this is all done, John can have a word with the NSS about bringing you in as a contractor, some kind of assignment that also benefits the NSS. We clean the slate, get you in good, and this can go away.”

“You think John would do that?”

Reno met Deng’s gaze. “Yeah. He’ll do that. He knows you and he trusts you. I hate to say it, but it’ll mean you owe him, and as good a guy as he is, he’s still a spook. He’ll collect. But he won’t fuck you. He’ll play it straight. He’s about the only guy outside of this truck that I can say that about.”

Deng didn’t reply, but slowly turned as a figure moved into the headlights’ field. Reno didn’t reach for his weapons: if this guy had wanted to put them down, he wouldn’t have made himself known, wouldn’t have sauntered in from out of the night while he watched them with undisguised disdain. He held his suppressed carbine with its PSO-1 scope – a modded, suppressed SR-3 Vikhr all right – loose but ready.

The two carefully exited the vehicles, hands always visible. This guy walked casual, but Reno didn’t want to test him.

“You’re Reno and you’re Deng.” He didn’t question, he stated. He stopped about three metres from them. He looked relatively non-descript. He had a scruff of whiskers, something resembling a beard, and hair cut short and neat. Maybe a little beefy, but Reno would put money that this guy was Somali, not Ugandan.

“They call you the Boltcutter, I hear.” Reno touched one of the pockets on his vest and raised his eyebrows. The Boltcutter nodded, and Reno drew out a battered package of cigarettes. He offered.

The Boltcutter’s thin lips warped on one side. “You’re trying to get on my good side, yes? I know you don’t smoke. I know a lot about you. When John said you wanted to meet, he warned me. He said if you didn’t walk away from this meeting, he would come and kill me himself. John does not make empty threats, so I guess there is a debt. I asked some people, and they had much to say. You are both interesting men. Why did you come back?”

Reno still held out the pack of cigarettes. “John didn’t tell you?”

“He told me I would not like it.” The Boltcutter’s lips parted ever so slightly to reveal the teeth behind them.

“We came back for a job, for a promise.” Deng pointed. “For you.”

“Then that is unfortunate.” The Boltcutter stepped forward, letting his Vikr hang on its tactical sling, and he took one of Reno’s cigarettes. “You’re going to fail at your job.”

“You don’t think we will kill you?” asked Deng.

“John is a Company man, yes, but he’s not one of them.” The Boltcutter lit his cigarette, drew in and released a long breath. “I am three things the Company does not like. I am a contractor, I am black, and I am African. In Mogadishu, two years ago, I expected to die because of that. John got me out. He brought me here. If he sent me to you, he did not expect you to kill me. Because he sent me to you, I’m not going to kill you.”

“But someone is going to die,” Deng said. “For this to end, someone has to die.”

The Boltcutter unslung his rucksack and reached into it. He pulled out a file folder. “This one? This spy? Samuel Chol?”

Reno held out his hand. The Boltcutter passed the file to him. “He’s already dead.” Reno leafed through the file. “Now we have to make everyone believe Alor did it.”

This caught the Boltcutter’s attention. “David Alor? Major General David Alor?”

“This should not surprise you.” Deng had retrieved another file from the Landcruiser. “He was your target.”

The Boltcutter didn’t respond, but chewed on his cigarette. Deng and Reno rifled through the two files, taking pictures from NSS agent Chol’s files and using them to replace photos in Alor’s file on the Boltcutter.

Reno glanced up at the Boltcutter, who watched them as he exhaled smoke. “So do I call you Ahmed? Do I call you Okema? What do I call you?”

He spit out some tobacco leaf before answering. “What does Major General Alor call me?”

“Qassim,” Deng said. “Ahmed Hussein Qassim.”

The Boltcutter laughed. He didn’t bother to watch them as he threw up his arms, laughing, and walking in a tight circle. “Ahmed Hussein Qassim?” The words came during breaks in his laughter. “Ahmed Hussein Qassim? Do you know Ahmed Hussein Qassim?” He stopped when neither answered. He pointed to the hood of the Landcruiser. “Samuel Chol. Samuel Chol is Ahmed Hussein Qassim. He worked for the North many years ago. He was one of theirs. He was security service. Now he is here, part of this country’s service and being called Samuel Chol, but he is Qassim.”

Reno and Deng quickly regarded each other, then Deng picked up the Qassim file and took it to the Boltcutter. “This is you. This is who Alor said you are.”

Interrupting his levity, the Boltcutter considered the file contents. He muttered as he did, the cigarette dancing in his mouth. “Qassim. Qassim. This.” The page the Boltcutter tapped had contacts, locations, sightings. “This is me, but these are Qassim. These are Chol.”

“Alor used Qassim’s background to give us reason not to question the mission.” He picked up the Chol file. “And this? Is this fantasy? Where did you get it?”

The Boltcutter looked from Deng to Reno, then shrugged. “I have a man in the NSS. I have more than one, but this one man, he can get me files and information.”

“What about tonight?” Deng asked. “When you mentioned Chol, did he speak? Did he tell you Chol was dead?”

With the cigarette spent, the Boltcutter dropped it to the ground and crushed it underfoot. “Nothing. The NSS do not know.”

“There was a team.” Reno scratched the back of his head. “There was a team at the site and they wouldn’t have waited so long before making an entry. Maybe twenty minutes at most. I can’t imagine they would just walk away when Chol didn’t respond. They were in place for an entry and to deny us a safe exit.”

“The NSS did not know.” Deng dropped the Qassim file back on the hood of the Landcruiser. “Maybe Chol still works for the North.”

“Or the rebels,” the Boltcutter offered. “It makes the NSS worried. They see spies everywhere.”

“Yeah, well, that’s the business isn’t it.” Reno tapped the Qassim file, then looked up to Deng. “This might actually work. If Chol just disappears, it can’t hang on you. If not, we plant this with Alor, and it’ll give the NSS what they want: a traitor.”

“You know where he is,” Deng said to the Boltcutter. “Alor. You know his home and his guards.”

Crossing his arms over his chest, the Boltcutter nodded. “I do. John did not tell me to help you. When I tell you where he is, you will go kill him. I will be out of a job.”

“This is going to end, and it can be surgical or a huge fucking mess,” Reno said. “We need to bury Alor, it’s the only way we walk away from this. There are ways to get to him, but not tonight and not before he’s figured out we’ve gone rogue. John’s out. He’s heading to Nairobi. If there’s a charter or a UN flight out, he’ll be on it. The ops’ scrubbed. You know Alor’s going to have to go, one way or the other. Maybe he’ll lead you to more connections, maybe not, but after tonight he’s going to be wary. If you want this op to run, you need to kill us both, because we won’t stop until we or Alor are dead.”

The Boltcutter reached into Reno’s shirt pocket and took the pack of cigarettes. He took one then stuffed the pack in his own pocket. He lit the cigarette and took a long haul on it. He exhaled, watching Reno the whole time. “You going to make this right with John after we are done.”

“I’ll make it right.” Reno collected the files off the hood of the Landcruiser. “We need what you have. We need to know what we’re getting into, and we need it within the hour. If we’re going to hit him, it needs to happen before sunrise.”

No sense of urgency propelled the Boltcutter. “There is not much time to plan. What if he is not at home?”

“Then we are right fucked.” Reno tossed the files into the passenger side of the Landcruiser. “We’re not asking you to make the assault with us, just give us what you have.”

“I did not think you were really ready to die.” Another cigarette disappeared under the Boltcutter’s boot. “But it seems you are. Okay. I am interested. I have a place we can plan, and then we will try to kill Alor.”

You can find part one of “The Boltcutter” here.

You can find part two of “The Boltcutter” here.

You can find part three of “The Boltcutter” here.

Look for more Friday Fiction here.

Posted in Fiction | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Glorious Canada Day

Happy 148th birthday to my favourite country on the planet . . . and beyond.

I’ve been all over the world, but there’s no place I’d rather be living right now with my family than Canada, and especially the nation’s capital of Ottawa.

Enjoy our day, my fellow Canucks! And to those who are Hoser-challenged, I still love you. Have a beer for the anniversary of the founding of our friendly little socialist-democratic middle power.

Posted in Personal | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Freaks And Geeks

I’ve only recently started watching Freaks and Geeks, the TV series from 1999 that ran for one season. It’s about going to high school in 1982 (pretty sure that’s the date, given that the Who’s farewell tour is part of the plot of one episode). As someone who attended high school in the 1980s, there’s a lot with which I identify. I think there’s a little bit of fudging of memories of fashion, as I recall the disco/leisure fashion trend had long since died by 1982. Still, the issues of identity, of the exclusionary politics of various cliques, and of the sense of inferiority that often drove those politics match my memories.

It’s amazing how many of the actors went on to very strong careers, from James Franco and Seth Rogen to Jason Segel and Linda Cardellini. Having such strong performers lends a lot of believability to the episodes. Not that this is needed, because although there is some willing suspension of disbelief required considering the continuous cascade of events affecting the main character, the events themselves are entirely plausible. The characters are completely credible, and just when you think they’re going to go afterschool special, it turns out that no, no one has actually learned a lesson here, but they know what they are expected to say and do in order to avoid punishment or get their way.

The only season of Freaks and Geeks is available on Netflix in Canada, and if you haven’t seen it, you really need to check it out. Especially if you remember the 80s.

I give Freaks and Geeks 4.75 pop culture references out of 5. It’s a great series that sometimes strains plausibility but never breaks it.

You can read more about Freaks and Geeks on Wikipedia or IMDB.

Posted in Review | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

You Aren’t Special . . . Yet

If you are planning to sell your writing, you need to remember that you are not a special snowflake. I know you’ve heard that a lot, but it’s important to understand it. It’s important to understand that you need to follow “the rules” you may have encountered regarding writing.

We all know that there are no real “rules.” There are exceptions for everything. However, I think a good rule of thumb is that these exceptions are for other people, not for you. In most cases I’ve seen, the rule breakers are already established. They get to break the rules because they followed them, got published, made money for a company, and now that company gives them latitude to break the rules.

These days, the rule breaker may also be self-published. If you are going to self-publish, you can do the same, but you better hope you really are talented, because most readers have little patience for rule breaking unless they already trust the writer.

And that’s the thing. Once you prove yourself, prove that you can tell a good story, readers and publishers will accept your rule breaking – as long as you continue to tell a good story.

I’m reminded of being at an art gallery with a very good friend of mine who studied art history. I questioned him about modern art, art I could not understand. He explained to me how the artist had made a name for himself with the kind of art I would recognize, and then expanded into the more abstract, modern stuff. The artist proved he had talent, and then he could get away with breaking the rules.

The rules exist as a hurdle, a hurdle you need to clear if you want to sell your short story to a magazine or collection, or to get a publisher or agent to look at your novel. If you are an amazing talent, this might not apply to you, but it’s a good bet it does.

Prove you are a professional before you reveal you are a special snowflake.

Posted in Articles, Writing | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Jurassic World

I’ve been pretty lucky recently to be able to get out and see movies. My wife and I had the chance to see a movie on Sunday, and she expressed an interest in Jurassic World. It’s not a movie I had on my list of movies to see in the theatre, but our window of opportunity was pretty limited, and Jurassic World fit into it, so that’s what we saw.

I enjoyed Jurassic Park and saw both of the sequels, but I none of them in the theatre. I wasn’t desperate to see Jurassic World either, so I went in with pretty low expectations. I will say that I think it delivered on excitement and shocks, even if it had a fair number of problems.

In its defence, I would say that the actors all did well with what they were given and the special effects were pretty cool. I don’t think this will change the face of movies the way the original did, but both my wife and I thought the dinosaurs were well done. The action scenes were existing and the scenes in which the dinosaurs threatened characters had real tension.

That being said, this movie asked me to suspend a heck of a lot of my disbelief. The big bad of the movie was more than a little over the top in its abilities and intelligence. The characters were pretty much all stereotypes with only cursory attempts at providing depth, and other than the Alpha male (seriously, Chris Pratt is the Alpha male, he said so himself), everyone else is there to be stupid or to learn from the Alpha male. Other than the executive that needs the Alpha male to help her realize her Beta-ness, the rest of the main cast are men. Of course, those men are no better than the Beta female, since they too live in the shadow of the Alpha. At least in Jurassic Park, the Laura Dern character could hold her own with the Sam Neill character (the only characters I know by name are Hammond and Ian Malcolm . . . so sue me).

Chris Pratt has enough charisma to get away with such a superficial character, and he is likeable in the role, which is a saving grace for the movie. Still, I would have liked a little more diversity (at least this time there are two somewhat significant characters of colour, rather than the one from the original . . . though that one was Samuel L. Jackson) and I certainly would have liked better written characters. This is once again a movie in which only the hero can be intelligent and capable and everyone else is there to remind us how intelligent and capable the hero is. And while the villain character in the original was a bit of a caricature, the bad guy in this one is a full-on moustache twirler – though Vincent D’Onofrio does do it with gusto.

So in the end, I have to give Jurassic World 3 genetically superior psychopathic dinosaurs out of 5. The action and tension are there, but the script is weak, as are the stereotypical characters.

You can read more about Jurassic World at IMDB or Wikipedia.

Posted in Review | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fiction Friday: The Boltcutter – the Service

The Boltcutter: the Service

At least three of the watchers Deng attributed to Alor remained within sight of the safehouse. The “merchant” had closed up shop and how sat in front of his store, conversing with the two “mechanics.” He seemed much more comfortable around them than he had with shoppers – and those came from his community, did they not?

In the darkness, illuminated only by light escaping from a few doorways and windows, Reno couldn’t verify the watchers on the unfinished building remained. He assumed they would.

“There is a nightclub that backs onto my apartment.” Deng pointed to an area of bright lights, some of them coloured, beyond the unfinished structure. “There is a tree that we can climb that can get us within jumping distance of my balcony.”

“A nightclub will be bright.” Reno scratched at his stubble. He hadn’t slept well on the flight in, and had just popped a modafinil stimulant. He’d pay for it later, but he needed to stay alert and he didn’t imagine he’d get a chance for a nap any time soon. “I’ll be an easy mark.”

“It is a favourite destination of NGO and UN whites, even after being declared off limits many times,” Deng said. “We will blend in well.”

They left the Landcruiser. Reno had the SIG knock-off in his waistband and the HK MP7 in his messenger bag. In a secluded area out away from the main populace earlier, he had zeroed the Elcan reflex sight, but had done a quick job, fearful of burning through too much ammunition. Deng had his Browning and the Uzi in his field rucksack. Deng led the way, staying on side streets and alleys, flanked by rough one- and two-story buildings of poured concrete or wood and plaster. The poured concrete ones were the most recent, but their workmanship meant the wood and plaster ones would likely last longer. The two dodged stinking piles of refuse and the occasional recumbent figure.

Reno heard the nightclub almost as soon as he got out of the Landcruiser. The pulsing music grew louder, and the Christmas lights along the walls of a compound ahead of him left him in little doubt as to the origin. Deng paused at the last crossroads before reaching the nightclub. They would be in sight of anyone in the unfinished building as they entered the compound.

“Stay to the right.” He gestured along the main road that led to another intersection and the fulsome illumination of the gate, guarded by four men armed with AKs and a smaller, lithe man Reno guessed to be Ethiopian or possibly Somali. “We’ll have our backs to Alor’s men as we enter.”

Reno followed Deng’s lead. He had never forgotten the absolute darkness he had encountered in the bush, far from ambient light and noise, relying on the sounds of movement and even unfamiliar smells to identify danger. The city had once been like that, but many establishments had bought generators and the government had even set up a very primitive power grid. The city had more light, yes, but the darkness still held court in so many parts of it.

At the nightclub, Deng spoke to the guards in the local Arabic dialect, a lingua franca left over from the occupation by the North in the past. The lithe gatekeeper used broken English, soliciting money and warning about trouble. Deng paid and the two entered. No one searched them. That seemed incautious at best given the ethnic tensions that had come with the latest civil war. Still, that gatekeeper probably knew his business much better than Reno.

The nightclub consisted of a small wooden structure – perhaps it had once been a residence or business of some sort – from which flowed both the libations and the music. Christmas lights hung from trees within the courtyard, creating a luminous web above a collection of plastic patio furniture at which revellers sat and the dancefloor on which they gyrated. Most of the males were white and most of the females local. Reno had seen the same in every country touched by war or disaster into which the international community poured. Society warped even more than the local economies. Desperate people made desperate choices with which they learned to live.

More than a decade previous, Reno could have been one of the men. He had not been chaste during his first contract, but losing two different women to war – even if he had not really considered his bush wives as his spouses or partners – changed that. It changed his perception of it. He couldn’t say it troubled him more than any of the other acts he had undertaken in those days, but it did trouble him.

The locals working at the bar and clearing the tables barely noted Deng and Reno – a curious glance, a moment’s appraisal, then nothing more. The two followed the wall to a corner, not dark but not as brightly lit as the rest of the courtyard. Deng jerked his thumb upward, and then began to scale the tree. Plenty of footholds and handholds allowed Reno to scamper up behind him.

If anyone in the nightclub noticed, nobody remarked on it.

Deng dropped to a balcony on the building backing the club’s courtyard. Fashioned to look like stone, it felt rough and Reno assumed concrete, like every other new building in this city that had been almost uniformly huts and wood back in 2006. The balcony doors were wood with windows, but the glass in those windows had a grid of metal wire running through them. You could shatter them, sure, but it’d be easier to just force the door off its hinges or smash the lock.

Deng didn’t need to do either. He drew out a key. His first attempt didn’t work. Reno started to feel exposed. He drew his Chinese SIG, watching the courtyard though the intervening branches and leaves. Deng finally had the lock. The doors didn’t open immediately, and he had to put some weight into them to get them to swing inwards. They groaned in protest.

Little of the light from behind them filtered into the room. Reno made out some rudimentary furnishings, what he took to be a kitchen to his right and a doorway into a bedroom or toilet on his left. Deng took a step in.

“Stay where you are.”

The voice spoke English with a local accent. Reno thought he could make out the speaker sitting in a chair in the middle of the room. Reno kept his hand at his side, hoping the poor light would hide his sidearm.

Deng straightened. “What are you doing in my house?” He spoke with the mixture of distaste and civility one might use with an unwelcome guest, but generally not with a burglar.

“This is not your house, Abraham Deng.” The figure in the chair shifted. “You do not exist. You are nothing here.”

A light turned on then, a hooded lamp on a table beside the chair in which the figure sat. A big local, his head shaved bald, his white shirt and blue pants immaculately pressed, trained a Glock 17 semi-automatic pistol on the two. Reno didn’t know him. He pivoted slightly, putting his left hand up in a show of shielding his eyes from the light while trying to block the intruder’s view of his sidearm.

“You were talking with the CIA, Mr. Reno.” At least this stranger pronounced the name correctly. “You both met with Major General Alor. What is his connection to the CIA?”

“You are NSS, the security service.” Deng hadn’t moved, arms easy at his side, his untucked shirt hiding the Browning at his back in a holster on his waistband. He could get to that, but not the Uzi in his rucksack.

The stranger didn’t respond to Deng. “What is the connection between Alor and the CIA?”

“Ask him.” Reno kept his body turned, hiding the knock-off SIG. “Or ask the CIA. The NSS has some connections there, I’m sure.”

“Is that what your friend told you?” The stranger’s eyes narrowed. “Did he connect Alor to us?”

Whether he meant to or not, the stranger had confirmed he was NSS. Reno’s jaw tightened. Dealing with a rogue general with ties to terrorists had its difficulties, but in the end he was rogue, and his course of actions limited. The NSS liked to disappear people. It liked to torture. One couldn’t really call it an intelligence organization because it didn’t seem to care about collection. The NSS cared about intimidation. It cared about politics.

“John didn’t even mention the NSS.” How much to tell? How much did this guy know? “Alor wants us to find someone and I thought the CIA could help.”

The stranger leaned forward. The barrel of the pistol moved to his right, straying off target. His finger, though, remained on the trigger – forget discipline. “Who are you looking for?”

“Don’t you know?” Deng crossed his arms at his chest. “Isn’t that why you are here?”

“You don’t get to ask questions.” The stranger snarled the words out. Did frustration come so easily to him? “You can answer my questions here or at headquarters. We have a deep basement.”

He’d like that, no doubt. Reno decided to stoke the fire, see if the stranger would make a mistake. “And you are going to take us in yourself? What if we don’t go quietly?”

That brought the gun around to Reno. “I have plenty of help. I think you know that or you would have come in the door.”

“Is it money?” Deng pointed to the closed door. “I have money. I have it hidden. You can have it.”

As Deng started for the door, the stranger rose. “Wait. Don’t move.” The stranger took a step to intercept Deng, his attention off Reno. “What are you–?”

Reno lunged forward, bring up his sidearm. The stranger started to turn back to him, his Glock low. He started to bring it up, but Reno was within reach and grabbed the stranger’s wrist. Reno had his own pistol trained on the stranger’s head just above and between the eyes. The stranger wouldn’t relent, struggling to bring his gun around. The Glock discharged. The sound of it filled the small room, made Reno wince. The stranger pulled his arm back, dragging at Reno. The chance he would get his weapon free or knock Reno off balance forced a decision.

Reno fired once into the stranger’s face then slightly lowered his aim and put two in the man’s chest.

Smoke and stench lingered after the collection of detonations which had left both Deng and Reno slightly stunned. For less than a heartbeat, Reno watched the stranger fall to the ground, then he moved. Kicking away the Glock, he knelt beside the figure. Putting his knock-off SIG to the stranger’s temple, Reno checked for a pulse. Nothing. Deng put his hand over the stranger’s nostrils and mouth.

“Do you think they heard?” Reno began rifling through the stranger’s pockets and patting down the body.

Deng went to the bedroom door. “Maybe. Someone surely did. We have little time.”

Reno jammed a wallet, a small notebook, cell phone, loose bills, and two Glock magazines into his messenger bag, then deposited the recovered pistol along with them. Deng exited the bedroom with a large kit bag over one shoulder and another rucksack in his hand. Reno went to the lamp and turned it off.

“I don’t suppose you have NVGs in there.” Reno didn’t expect an answer. They couldn’t afford the light whether or not they had nightvision equipment. A light in the room made them lovely targets.

Going to the balcony, Reno jammed his SIG into his waistband and extracted the MP7. He could see some interest in the night club, but mostly apathy. Then the two mechanics came into sight, moving through the crowd, chased by the skinny gatekeeper. Reno couldn’t see the two guards who had been on the gate, but since the mechanics each carried an AK, he figured the guards were paid off, disinterested, or dead. The mechanics ignored the gatekeeper and made directly for the tree Deng and Reno had used to access the balcony.

“Our friends have figured out our exit.” Reno opened one of the balcony doors, swinging it all the way in, giving him access to the balcony and a clear line of sight.

Removing a suppressed Heckler & Koch MP5SD submachine gun from the kit bag, Deng dropped his packs to the floor and went to the entrance. Removing the iron bar that braced the door, he poked his head out. “We’re clear here.”

“Won’t be out front.” Reno sighted the MP7, waiting for the first head to pop up. Would he take the shot? No, not initially. He hadn’t wanted to kill the stranger, and he frankly didn’t want to kill these guys, unless they forced him.

Deng collected his gear. “We go to the roof. It is better than this place.”

Reno followed Deng out the door. “Completely agree.”

The centre of the building was open like a courtyard but with a roof. A metal walkway framed this enclosed courtyard on the second floor, with stairs beside the main entrance, directly across from Deng’s doorway. A ladder off to the right led to the roof. Plaster had once covered the smooth concrete walls, but it remained only in small, dirty patches.

The two moved as quietly as possible. None of the other residents came out to investigate. With the civil war in its second year, gunfights in the capital had lessened in frequency, but the populace likely remembered well what happens to curious cats. No one came through the main entrance. Reno could appreciate that. Why make an entry when you can lie in wait for your adversary to exit into the open?

Deng went up the ladder first. Reno swept the courtyard, the main entrance and Deng’s doorway with the MP7 shouldered, sighting through the Elcan. Deng wrestled with the access cover. It hadn’t seen much use. Reno slowly inhaled through his nose and exhaled through his mouth, controlling his breathing, cognizant of his heart rate. The stimulant he had taken may have kept him alert, but now with adrenalin also filling his veins, it was like he had drank a pot of espresso.

The hatch gave, and Deng disappeared through the opening. Reno let the MP7 hang from its sling as he clambered up the ladder. Deng closed the hatch as soon as Reno had exited. He lowered it carefully, quietly. Reno moved to the front of the building, keeping low. The roof had a low wall running along its edge, and Reno kept below that. On his side, he raised the right side of his head high enough to see over the lip of the wall. He couldn’t see the merchant. Deng stayed at the hatch, so Reno crossed the roof to view the construction site.

Reno had a hard time making out the figure on the unfinished building’s roof, but he was fairly certain that was a rifle barrel trained on the entrance. From the angle, Reno couldn’t tell if the man on the second floor remained there or had joined the merchant doing whatever the merchant was doing – Reno assumed that was covering the entrance. Deng now crouched at the rear of the building, and Reno joined him, keeping watch on the hatch.

“Sniper on the roof, two guys probably covering the entrance.” Reno spoke in a low voice.

Deng gestured to the back of the building with a nod of his head. “Our two friends who came through the nightclub didn’t go to the balcony but are waiting inside the grounds. I don’t believe any one is ready to make an entrance. The man in the apartment could have been their commander.”

“Or they’re waiting for someone to come and take charge.” Reno relaxed, though he still watched the hatch. “I’d say we’re still on a clock, though. The longer we wait, the worse this is going to be.”

“Are you good at long jump?” Deng started toward the side of the building opposite the construction site. “There is a ladder on the side of the tenement beside this. If we jump to the roof, we can get to the ground and the truck.”

Reno considered the size of the gap. Maybe two metres. It couldn’t be more. They built them close in the capital. “Yeah, I can do that. Can you with your–?”

Deng had not waited. Taking a run, he easily vaulted over the gap, landing with a thud and a grunt, but rising and waving Reno on. Reno had to stand upright, even if it outlined him. A crouching run wouldn’t give him the speed he needed. He slid the knock-off SIG into an interior pocket of his messenger bag, selected safety on the MP7, then made his run. He focused on the other roof, slightly lower than Deng’s building as he leapt. He made it with maybe 30 centimetres to spare. A bit close.

The two waited, crouched back to back, listening. Both swept their surroundings with their weapons. Several heartbeats passed. Nothing.

“And now?” Reno asked.

Deng went to the metal ladder bolted to the side of the building. “Now it is time we introduced ourselves to Boltcutter.”

You can find part one of “The Boltcutter” here.

You can find part two of “The Boltcutter” here.

Look for more Friday Fiction here.

Posted in Fiction | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Description Comes Later

I am the first to admit that I am not good with description. My first drafts are often like scripts with dialogue and character action but very little setting description. In the past, I’ve struggled to force myself to include the description as I’m writing, and it always slowed me down. Sometimes it scuttled my efforts completely. Then I had the chance to speak with Guy Gavriel Kay during a reading at the Eden Mills Writers’ Festival (I think this was 2000, but I honestly don’t remember).

Mr. Kay spoke of his technique of adding details in second and subsequent drafts. This made total sense, but I didn’t adopt it at first. I’m an impatient guy, and I wanted everything that needed to be in the story in the first draft.

But Mr. Kay was not the only writer who uses this technique, and it became apparent to me that I could get a first draft finished faster by focusing on the aspects of the story that came easiest to me. I generally have to go through five or six drafts – even after the story is “completed” – before my writing is ready to share. It made sense to use those various passes to add texture.

Basically, the idea is to push through and get a story done. Once that is done, I generally leave a story or chapter to sit for a couple of weeks. This divorces me from the story somewhat and helps – but does not totally alleviate – the problems of knowing what I want to say but not getting it onto the page. Getting away from the story helps me to come to it fresh and see it with eyes closer to those of a reader.

During that first edit – which I always do with printed copies, as I still have issues editing my own work on a screen – I make notes of where description should go. When I am finished making corrections, I go to those areas noted as lacking detail and include what description I think is necessary. Rinse, repeat, until you think it’s ready to share. That doesn’t mean ready for primetime, it means ready for eyes other than yours to poke holes in it.

Trust me, critiquers will absolutely help to point out areas in which the sense of place is lacking, and that means you need to put something in there, some level of description.

And try to avoid the problem of putting in too much description.

Hey, no one ever said this was going to be easy.

You can learn more about Guy Gavriel Kay here.

You can learn more about the Eden Mills Writers’ Festival here.

Posted in Articles, Writing | Tagged , , | Leave a comment