Since I've had to bail on The Cloud series for now, I'm working up a new novel to stand alone. This is the opening chapter of The Last Chosen, an action thriller (still nailing down the exact genre). Frank's the hero. I've tried to hint at every element of his personality and background, sometimes overt (his attention to detail, work-ethic), sometimes subtle (references to weaponry used indicating military and police background). As always, need honest and brutal, but fair, feedback. Your opinions are always important and appreciated!
WARNING: Graphic language appears below.
Frank Bishop arrived early. He usually did. Traffic into downtown wasn’t an issue except on the weekends. Frank only worked weekends when he needed overtime. He’d worked a lot of weekends recently.
Frank had already replaced his civies with his uniform by the time the off-going shift started arriving. They entered by ones and twos looking tired. Each greeted Frank in turn. None could quite meet his eyes. He greeted them back. And didn’t take it personally. He made them nervous. Like death standing in the room with them. Not far off, either.
Robert arrived, the last of the swing shift crew, dragging D’ante behind. Poor kid looked dead on his feet. Not that Robert looked much better. Working the light rail was a bitch. Uniforms attracted angry people like flowers brought bees.
“How’re things, Frank?” Robert asked, stripping his uniform shirt off.
“They’re going,” Frank said.
“Chemo all set?”
Frank gave him a glance, a nod. “Monday.”
“Give it hell,” Robert said.
“You gonna kick that lymphoma’s ass, Frank?” Billy called from his locker. Billy’s gut pushed out from his uniform shirt like a strange pregnancy.
“It’s leukemia, dipshit,” Robert said.
Frank lips curled in a slight smile.
“Well, saw-ry, boss,” Billy said, hiding his face in his locker.
“Frank’s a tough motherfucker,” Angel said. The thin Mexican dreamer had worked with Frank the longest. His accent was thick. His head wasn’t no matter how he tough tried to talk. He was six months from a master’s degree in teaching. Then he’d say goodbye to this shit job and be in the classroom. That’s what he told everyone, anyway. “He don’t take shit from nobody.”
“You learn how to talk like that in school, Angel?” Jake asked. “Or was that your mom.”
“Hey, get off mom’s,” Angel retorted. “I don’t wanna have to get back on yours.”
Guffaws broke out, Jake’s loudest among them.
“Seriously, brother,” Angel said, dropping the heavy accent. “We’re going to miss you around here.”
A chorus of yeahs with a fuckin’ A thrown in.
“I’ll miss this place,” Frank said. “Maybe not you guys…”
He got another round of laughs.
Robert came over, sat next to Frank. He put a hand on Frank’s shoulder.
“Seriously, man,” he said. “We’re rootin’ hard for you. This isn’t your last day, okay?”
Frank pulled the Seattle Mariners ballcap from his head, revealing smooth scalp beneath it. He’d shaved it in anticipation of losing it, just to get used to the feel.
“Bobby,” Frank said. “This isn’t something people come back from.”
D’ante, half-stripped of his uniform, looked over. “Hey man, you gotta think positive. You gotta have hope. Miracles happen.”
Robert sighed, shook his head.
Frank’s eyes fell on the photo taped to the interior of his locker. Mary and Vicky.
“Miracles died with God,” Frank said, not bothering looking at the twenty-year-old.
He grabbed his cloth beanie, slapped the locker door closed, then headed for the exit. From the hall, he heard Robert chewing D’ante’s ass up one locker and down another. He wanted to tell Robert not to bother. Why ruin the kid’s hopes? But then, hope never amounted to anything anyway. He left them behind and went to the staging office to get his night started.
Frank punched in the code for the key box, took his usual key 4, then secured the box again. He had his choice among the five patrol vehicles but why break seven years of habit on his last night?
Outside, a few stars poked through Bellevue’s light pollution. Not a cloud in the sky. Miracles might be dead but wonders never ceased. Four was parked beneath the light pole nearest the door, just where it should be. Angel knew Frank’s choice and never missed a beat in providing it. A double tap on the fob unlocked all the doors on the Ford Escape. Frank opened each one in turn, driver’s, passenger’s, finishing at the hatchback, where the clipboard and paperwork waited, also as usual.
Frank took a blank Vehicle Inspection form from the notebook tucked into the side panel, attached it to the clipboard, and made a second tour of the Escape, jotting down every irregularity. After noting a minor scratch across the PacSec logo on the passenger door that hadn’t been there yesterday, Frank checked off the form, signed it, and put it in the Completed Forms section of the notebook. Satisfied, Frank resecured the SUV and returned to the office.
Inside, he collected his standard Motorola and affixed a lapel mike. A battery check showed full charge. Frank grabbed an extra from the charger. Never be without a radio. It had been drilled into him early, in a different career. He never forgot. A freshly charged Maglite and the night shift android cell with tour tracking software completed his gear.
Back in the car, he queued the mike on his radio. “Dispatch, patrol 4.”
“Standby, patrol 4,” Susie’s voice came back.
Frank started the Ford and settled in for the wait. Shift change occurred across all staff promptly at eleven. The dash clock confirmed his watch’s reading of 11:01. Susie would just be sitting down, logging in. A minute clicked passed before Susie piped back in.
“Patrol 4, go ahead.”
“Patrol 4 at base. Mileage 144,000. Fuel at 3/4. Beginning patrol.”
“Copy, patrol 4,” Susie said, all business. When next she spoke, her tone had softened, unlike her normal radio voice. “Hey Frank. Everyone here asked me to say how sorry we are. We’re going to miss you.”
Although against company regulations for radio chatter, Frank didn’t correct her. He knew his departure and, more, the reason behind it, had hit people hard. No one liked to be reminded of life’s mortality.
“Thanks, Susie,” he said instead.
“We’ll all be praying for you,” Susie said.
Frank shook his head. He keyed the mike, released it without speaking. No use making a bad situation worse. He took a breath, released it, then keyed the mike again.
“I’m sure I can use all I can get,” Frank said. He returned to business. “Departing base for Expedia.”
“Copy, patrol 4,” Susie said, tone returning to normal. “Base to Expedia. Stay safe out there.”
Frank smiled. Most dispatchers offered similar sentiments. As though patrolling parking garages on the night shift offered anything other than boring driving.
“Will do,” he replied through his smile. “4 out.”
Frank drove out from base to I-90 and took the westbound on-ramp. He pegged the cruise control at 60 and settled the company vehicle into the center lane for the trip from south Bellevue across Lake Washington. At the interchange on the west side, he took the feeder to I-5 north, bypassing his three downtown patrols. Changing up the patrol order was as ingrained as always keeping a spare battery. For the rare occasion that it mattered, Frank wanted to be unpredictable to any criminals with an eye on his properties.
Frank left I-5 and took 50th west. This would take him to Elliott Bay through Ballard instead of downtown, another tactic he used to stay unpredictable. South on 15th brought him across the drawbridge and into Elliott Bay. As usual, he waited ten eternities for the Galer Street Flyover light to let him turn left. On the other side, he radioed the start of his first patrol. Susie came back with her usual crisp acknowledgment.
The Expedia Complex, once home to a biotech company, dazzled the eye with its rich outer decor and lush landscaping. Frank had only seen it twice in the three years he’d been coming here. All the money and time spent beautifying the place meant zilch once the sun went down. Still, three parking garages needing patrols meant he kept a job when others might not.
Frank drove each floor at the posted 5 mph limit. 20 cars occupied space enough for over 3,000. Frank recognized all but one but since it was parked in with the other personals of the on-site security, he bypassed it. At each designated tour point, Frank exited the Ford, used the android to take a picture and record his presence, then resumed his patrol. A lot of co-workers complained about the tour system. Frank used the opportunity to stretch his legs. 43-year-old legs needed a hell of a lot of stretching. His co-workers would find that out. Eventually.
Finding nothing amiss, he used his personal cell to call the on-site security office. The company android had no call features, just data programs. The GSOC (Global Security Operations Center) supervisor answered, offered her own words of comfort and farewell, and accepted his all-clear report. She wished him a speedy recovery. Frank thanked her and hung up. The last of the well-wishers until morning shift change.
Finished with the site, Frank crossed the flyover and turned south on Elliott. Elliott took him directly onto Denny Way for his second patrol, a 5-story public garage. He arrived just after midnight and used his magnetic keycard to bypass the ticket arm. Once inside, he radioed his arrival.
Cars filled the first floor, late night city visitors and bar hoppers mostly. He stopped, hit his tour point, then coasted serenely through the garage’s empty middle floors. On five, year-round residents of a nearby condo building parked their vehicles. Frank splashed the light from the Ford’s door-mounted spotlight on each car carefully. At one million candlelight power, it erased every shadow. Frank knew the tenants noticed; he’d received two dozen calls and letters of appreciation from the tenants who saw him working from their building two blocks away. Frank hit his tour mark at the elevator lobby on five, radioed out, left.
He finished his first full run by hitting the parking garages on 3rd then the Boren Avenue public garage serving Swedish on First Hill. Afterward, he took his first break sitting in the Ford. He ate a protein bar, drank water, and scratched absently at the pheresis bandage. The catheter dimple itched for days after treatment. Much as he didn’t look forward to chemo, at least he wouldn’t have a catheter line shoved in his neck like some weird technological vampire.
He radioed his break finished and his destination as the garage on 3rd. Never repeat the order of patrols. Another tactic to stay unpredictable. He drove down Seneca to 3rd, took a right, went past Pike, and turned into the garage on his left. He immediately saw something amiss. The lights were out.
Frank knew the power was on but looked around just to be sure. Every building surrounding the garage remained lit. The bar across the street sent out thudding waves of bass. He called dispatched.
“Go ahead, 4,” Susie came back.
“Arrived 3rd Avenue garage,” Frank said. He glanced at the gate arm. The red light on the card reader still shone. “No lights on. Power for the gate arm is working. No power outage in vicinity.”
“Copy, 4,” Susie replied. A short silence followed. Patrol 1 tried to break in. Susie snapped for him to stand by. Frank sighed. Patrols should know better. Don’t interrupt comm traffic. “4, proceed with patrol. Use caution. We’re contacting maintenance.”
“Acknowledged,” Frank said. He knew damn well maintenance wouldn’t bother answering the phone at 1:20 am. No matter. He had his spot. He could light up a building ten blocks away with it. “4 beginning patrol. Out.”
Frank tuned out Patrol 1’s immediate radio chatter and badged himself into the garage. He rolled through the ground floor without hitting the tour station. He’d be writing an incident report anyway. He’d explain the discrepancy there. While full of cars, the level had nothing else of note. Same with the second and third levels except no cars. As soon as he crested the ramp to four, Frank night took a sharp left turn away from routine.
Someone had smashed a Toyota parked near the ramp. The front end was folded in like it had hit a power pole at a significant rate of speed. The windshield was a webwork of cracks. The passenger door hung open, drooping toward the concrete. The other was simply gone. The car itself lay askew of its parking spot by about three feet. Someone had tooled it bad. Frank stopped the Ford and called dispatch.
Frank cued the mic several times. It chirped as usual but nothing came back. Only the open hum of a dead line. While he stared at the base unit, checking the channel, he caught movement out of the corner of his eye. He looked up in time to see a shadow flit across the passenger side-view mirror. It disappeared into the dim recesses of the central garage before he could make out any details.
Frank’s alert level increased. He scanned the entire area around the patrol vehicle, even shifting the transmission into reverse to use the back up camera. Nothing but darkness around him. The lights of the city seemed to fall flat against it, leaving the garage in total shadow. Even the Ford’s high-intensity LED headlamps looked diluted.
Frank felt familiar anxiety building up, something not felt in a long time. The surge of adrenaline just before the shit hit the fan. Whether carrying a AR-15 in the sweltering heat of Afghanistan or a 9mm during a chilly Seattle rain, it never changed. He welcomed it like an old friend long thought dead.
His eyes told him nothing so he powered the driver’s side window down three inches. Faint heavy bass from the bar below drifted in. Something else. A grunt, then a cry. Someone in pain. The cry turned into a scream that cut off mid-utterance. Then, a sound he didn’t understand at first. Metal on metal, like pipes banging together. It sounded familiar but his mind couldn’t make the connection. The sound came from the passenger side, deeper within the structure. Frank checked his surroundings one more time, then fully lowered the passenger window. Huffing sounds. Grunting. People fighting. More clanging sounds. His mind came up blank again. Frank knew what the noise was somewhere. He just couldn’t find it. Another cry, again cut off. Then, a woman’s scream of pain.
That jolted Frank into motion. He dropped the transmission into drive, switched on the spot, and gunned the gas. The sounds were coming from the other side of the concrete divider wall. He’d have to go to the end of the structure and come around the back side.
As the SUV lurched forward, a figure dashed across the headlight beams. It happened so fast with Frank so absorbed in listening, he nearly missed it. All he caught was a male, hunched over, carrying a metallic object in one hand. Seeing what the man carried finally unlocked his brain’s attempt to solve the metal sounds. Also why he couldn’t figure it out. It just didn’t seem plausible. Not in this day and age.
The man carried a sword.
The SUV reached the end of the row. Frank slowed, turned the wheel, and guided it around the concrete divider. The sweep of the Ford’s lights illuminated a chaotic melee 30 feet ahead. For a moment, Frank could only stare, his foot leaving the brake, allowing the Ford to coast forward unchecked.
In the center, a woman standing with her back against the concrete divider. Surrounding her, six figures moving in a dancing half-circle. The woman held a sword in her right hand. She raised the other. He heard a sound he placed immediately: the coughing belch of a large-caliber handgun being fired through a professional-grade silencer. One of the six fell, joining three other bodies lying in various poses of death. The remaining five recoiled. Frank saw four of the five carried blades as well, though none as long or bright as the woman’s.
As the brightness of the spotlight hit the group, they froze as if on cue. Heads turned. Frank saw snarls of anger on the assailants. When he saw the woman’s face, Frank stamped on the brake hard enough to lock his seatbelt.
Dark hair flowed down her back, raven in the harsh light. Bronze skin. Smooth, gentle face. Slim build on a tall frame. It couldn’t be.
“Mary,” escaped his lips in a sigh.
He no longer saw the sword. Or the gun. He saw only the woman he loved, surrounded by attackers ready to kill. Frank slammed the transmission into park, unlatched his safety belt, and opened the door. He had to save her. What happened in the intervening years didn’t matter. That she hadn’t aged a day didn’t matter either.
Nor the fact that she’d been dead for 13 years.