Work in progress: River Without Water

This is not what my car chase looks like but I'm putting here 'cos it's cool. Still from Captain America: The Winter Soldier at

This is not what my car chase looks like but I’m putting here ‘cos it’s cool. Still from Captain America: The Winter Soldier at

I posted about this WIP a couple of weeks ago, how I got it back from a publisher with a rejection letter, and that made me take a good long look at the project and what I could do to make it better. Top of the list was that it was too short: 65,000 words instead of the preferred 80,000 or more. One area that needed work was Moss, a minor character who turned out to be a little too minor, and I went right to work figuring out how to expand her story. While I was doing that, I found a way to make a few other characters more interesting, including my primary narrator, Helen Weir. Helen spends a good chunk of this book literally incapacitated, and I wanted to give her a little more to do before that happens, so she doesn’t come across as passive. What to write? How about a car chase and a fight with some bad guys?

I’ve also posted a scene from the sequel to this book, but to recap, the setting is near-future and post-apocalyptic, with a serious shortage of anything mechanical, like cars and guns. A combination of radioactive fallout and the widespread use of pharmaceutical drugs in the years leading up to the bombs has left some of the population with mutations, and these folks are called Hotwires (also the working title for the series). The detectives at the police precinct where Helen works are all Hotwires. Helen has auditory amplifications, the ability to hear things she shouldn’t be able to, although she’s currently on drug treatment to suppress the mutation. Williams, the captain, is a telekinetic. Moss is interesting for completely different reasons, not covered in this scene, and she’s on the run…

(from River Without Water, chapter 10)

I barely finished asking the question when Williams interrupted. “Helen, you’ve got no auditory amp at all now, is that right?”

I looked up and caught her eyes in the mirror this time. “Right. I know. Why?”

“So you can’t give me anything on the people in the car that’s been following us for a mile?”

I turned to look behind us. A few hundred yards back was a black car, two shadowed heads in the front seat. They could have been anyone, if there were more than a dozen or so running vehicles in the whole damned town. “All I can give you is a guess, Captain. And it’s not good.”

“That’s what I thought,” Williams said, gritting her teeth. That was my cue to brace myself with my feet against the back of her seat and hold on to Moss, before Williams made a sudden and sharp left turn down an alley.

Car chases aren’t like in the movies. Not that I remember too many movies, but it seems like you could always see both the cars. When you’re actually being chased you can see your own car and you just keep hoping you’ve lost the other one, but you really have no idea where it is. Williams knows her precinct really well, and she darted through the streets and alleys, avoiding the rubble and impromptu shanties that blocked some of the roads, making sharp turns through unexpected gaps. It was a little harder not to be seen in the areas where buildings had been torn down, and she avoided a lot of the wide open spaces, sticking to places where old apartments and shops were still standing. A lot of the taller buildings are on the college campus, and we ended up on the south side of it, darting down walkways and in a few cases through the partly bashed-in ground floor walls of some buildings. I wasn’t sure we could fit through all these spaces but Williams knows the police car really well, too. I kept an eye out through the windows of the car, especially when we got to the campus. All we needed were gangs chasing us on top of the other car. And I wished to hell that I could hear anything that could help us, but all I heard was the car engine, the squeal of tires as Williams made another sharp turn, and Moss yelping each time we were thrown across the back seat.

Then we circled around a big round building and found ourselves facing the black car on the other side of it. Williams swore and slammed on the brakes, throwing me and Moss into the grating between the front and back seats. She jammed the gears into reverse and spiraled back the way we came. Not before the guy riding shotgun did what his name meant, leaned out of his window, and fired a shot that took out Williams’ side mirror.

“Why don’t we have guns, again?” I shouted.

“Jimmy says he’s working on it,” Williams growled. “It’s not like you can go to the store and buy a new one.” Another shot rang out, the bullet deflecting against the door of the car, right outside where my knee was. “And you can’t go to the store and buy new tires, either. I am not letting them destroy my Goddamned car.”

We zipped across a street that was wide and scarily without cover, and ended up in a run-down residential neighborhood. Williams circled around a few blocks in a random pattern, making her turns slower so the tires didn’t squeal and give away our position with the sound. Then she pulled down her sun visor and slipped a key ring out of a strap on the inside surface. She used her fingers to get the key as far as the grate, then her hair agitated a little and she let go of the key to push it through a hole in the grate. I think the bars widened to let it through, but I was too busy watching out the window behind us to see it clearly. Williams had to slow down a lot to accomplish the TK. The defensive driving probably took too much of her concentration to do both at the same time.

“There’s a blue house on the next street, second from the corner. The house is mostly torn down but the garage is intact and it’s got a metal door. When we pass it, get out, unlock the door. I’ll pull in behind you.” She dropped the key in my lap and I snatched it before it slid off my knee and onto the floor.

I was expecting to see that black car there in front of that blue house with no house, waiting for us, but we seemed to have lost them. For the moment, anyway. I jumped out and ran to the garage door, fumbled with the padlock, and yanked at the handle to pull the door up. It complained about its rusty track until a flash of motion that I had nothing to do with pulled it free, with my hand still attached to the handle. My feet were at least six inches off the ground when I let go. I had just enough time to scramble out of the way before Williams drove into the garage. I ran in after her and tugged the door back down.

“Wait!” she shouted through the window. “I’m locking it from the outside.”

“Outside. Where the guys with the gun are.”

Williams got out and slammed the door in one move. “If they have to rely on a firearm, that means they’re not Hotwires. That’s something, anyway. You stay here and watch Moss.” She held out her hand for the padlock and the key, and traded them for her radio. “There’s another key at the Depot, if you need it. If I’m not back in… let’s say an hour, have Wong call Central Corridor Precinct for backup.” She bent through the gap I’d left under the door and pulled it the rest of the way down from outside.

I looked at Moss, still in the car, and made sure the volume on the radio was down. Then I looked around the garage for anything I could use as a weapon.

We didn’t have to wait an hour. I heard a car engine roar past just a few minutes later. I heard it double back and slow down outside. I wondered what the hell we’d tracked up to the garage door that gave away our position. I thought about Estus and oil on people’s shoes. Then the car sped off again but the tinnitus didn’t go away.

I circled around the car to Moss’ window, gave her the best smile I could work up, and put a finger to my lips. Her eyes were frantic but she nodded. Then I grabbed the heaviest thing I could find, an old fire extinguisher, and stood by the door that led into the house that wasn’t there.

If I could hear things better, I’d have been able to make a better guess about how long it would take shotgun guy from the black car to break his way through that door. As it was I had to stand there for five minutes, my arms straining, the fire extinguisher getting heavier and heavier, only to jolt like I wasn’t expecting it when the door was finally kicked in. I might not have had to hit him three times, once on the arms, knocking the pistol out of his hands, then in the knee, the only target I could reach on the rebound. I had to dodge him as he stumbled and he almost grabbed my leg. Then I got a good conk on his head and he was out.

My arms were shaking as I dropped the fire extinguisher, and I had trouble getting a good grip on the pistol. I managed to pick it up – another antique, a damned revolver – and tucked it in the waistband of my pants, which I hated doing but it wasn’t like I had a holster. Then I nudged the guy’s shoulder with my toe. “Hey. It’s called riding shotgun, not riding handgun.”

I looked up at Moss and grinned, although I didn’t really expect her to get the joke.

©2014 Michelle M. Welch


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