Without Warning Part 53

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"Okay, thanks guys. Send in the secretary of state on your way out, would you? Thanks for your efforts anyway."

The two men excused themselves and departed.

The president gazed out over the gardens of the former governor's mansion. They had recovered well as the environment had returned to normal. Better than normal, actually. The total collapse of the world economy had given the planet a breather, but at a terrible cost. He'd actually heard that some of the deep green nutjobs in the all-powerful state legislature next door had been saying that on balance, the Disappearance was a good thing.

Of course, they never said so on the record. They'd be lynched. But he didn't doubt for a minute that some of them thought as much.

He tidied the scientific reports and pulled over a tottering sheaf of folders dealing with the expatriate population. Most Americans still lived overseas, and tending to their needs and the demands of their host governments was about half of what he did nowadays. The Brits were looking for territorial concessions, pressuring him to give up the U.S. claims over the Antarctic oil fields. The Australian prime minister wanted him to visit to "discuss" the future cofunding arrangements of the Pacific fleet.

A dull pain was growing behind his left eye when his personal secretary burst into the office.

"Mr. President! Mr. President! You have to come, sir. Right away!"

"What's up, Ronnie?" he asked, suddenly worried.

Two Secret Service agents bustled past her into the room and demanded he come with them immediately.

"No, G.o.ddammit, I won't. What the h.e.l.l is going on?"

"We need to get you away from here, right now, Mr. President, we'll explain on the way."

"Oh, no, you don't." President James Kipper jumped up from his desk. "I'm not going anywhere with anyone until you tell me exactly what is happening right now."

"It's the Wave, sir," cried Ronnie. "It's gone."

The excitement will continue in the next book, AFTER AMERICA.

Coming in 2010

from Del Rey Books


You know who you are. All the unusual suspects. My editors and publishers, who put up with so much. Cate. Bri. Jono. Betsy. And all of the serried ranks behind them, too. Marketing mavens, publicists (Hi, Annie!), cover designers. I loves y'all. A big tip o' the propellor beanie to Russ Galen, too, for making me think this idea through properly before he went and sold it.

Then there's my family, who put up with so much. Jane, Anna, and Thomas. Every book I promise to be a bit less monstrous come deadline. Every book I lie. And there's all those friends and neighbors who stepped in at crucial moments to help get me off Planet Parenthood long enough to get a few more pages written. My parents, Jane's mum Pat, and a swag of uncles and aunts helped out there, too. They all put up with so much.

For this book, there was also the hard-chargin' crew at Clayton Utz, the rockingest little great big law firm anywhere, anytime, who put up with so much from me as their writer-in-residence. I'm still not sure why. I guess they're just cool. While on that topic, the happy funsters at Avid Reader in West End also, possibly unwisely, gave me some valuable writing s.p.a.ce while I was itinerant by virtue of renovations. My thanks. I was pretty well behaved there though, so I guess, for once, they really didn't have to put up with too much.

There's Murph-or Mr. Murphy to you. Mister S. F. Murphy of the great state of Missouri-who put up with so much as my princ.i.p.al researcher and at one point even graduated to coauthor for a couple of pages in one particular battle. I owe him for pulling my fat out of the fire so many times it just ain't funny. Which reminds me to thank my good friend Mr. Andrew Mc-Kinney of the Texas bar, who provided Lord knows how many thousands of dollars' worth of free legal advice re. the line of succession, among other things. Add Mr. Steve Sterling, for some timely advice on what the end of the world really looks like And finally there's my blog buddies. The Burgers. Too numerous to name the guilty parties. And man, do they put up with too much, especially as deadline closes in and all they get, day after day, is entry after entry b.i.t.c.hin' about how tough I got it. Luckily, they're a ferociously disrespectful bunch of scurvy dogs and they don't let me get away with much. I bounce a lot of ideas off them. Get them to do a lot of unpaid research. And generally take them way too much for granted. But I'd be lost without them.

As always when I write my acknowledgments, I can't help but feel that I've left someone out. I really shouldn't do these late at night with a drink in hand. Whoever it is that I've forgotten this time, my apologies. Drop into the blog and tear me a new one. I'll give you a cameo in the next book.

Here is an excerpt from

John Birmingham's next novel,


the sequel to Without Warning

Coming from Del Rey Books

"These are no banditos," Miguel said quietly. "They are road agents."

He pa.s.sed the night-vision goggles to the Mormon, Aaronson. They were an excellent tool, he thought. It would be well worth stopping in the next large town they might pa.s.s to salvage a pair from a hunting supply store or an army surplus outlet. He could easily make out a wealth of detail around the Hy Top Club, a slumping structure of old wooden slats with a broken-back roofline and a half-collapsed awning dropping down over a front veranda.

"Road agents?" said Aaronson, also quietly, although without whispering. "Is there a difference between these bandits and any other?"

Miguel took back the NVGs and resumed his surveillance of the old nightclub, or dive bar, or whatever it had been. It was the only place in Crockett displaying signs of life, but the agents who had attacked the Mormons' party, stolen the better part of their Longhorn herd, and ridden off with half a dozen of their women were doing their best to push back the darkness. The small town may have been a mausoleum, haunted by the seven thousand souls of those who had Disappeared here, but you would not have known it if all you could see of Crockett, Texas, was the Hy Top Club of South Cottonwood Street. It roared with life: rude, vicious, drunken, and barbarous, but life nonetheless. Miguel estimated the road agents' fighting company at twenty strong, give or take, and in addition to the six Mormon women they had taken, there appeared to be another seven or eight camp wh.o.r.es with them. All of them were female, but some were not really old enough to be called women. About the age of his own daughter, Sofia, he thought with a glare that was hidden by the absolute darkness of the night.

"The banditos are all from the south," he explained to Aaronson. "They raid into Texas, but they do not base here. Some say they are sent by my old friend Roberto Morales. I once knew him, you know. Before he became so famous."

He smiled at the frank disbelief on Aaronson's face. It was discernible even by starlight.

"I joke, of course," Miguel continued. "He was not my friend at all. But I did know him for a short while, long before he knifed Hugo in the back. Whatever the case, the banditos, they come and they go, taking what they can and doing their best to avoid Blackstone's troopers. If caught, they are hung ... what is the word ... summary?"

"Summarily," Aaronson corrected him. The man's face writhed with warring emotions: anxiety, fear, impacted fury, all of them barely contained by the need to remain hidden from the men who had taken everything from him. Screams intermittently reached them in their hiding spot, a thicket of loblolly pine and pecan trees a block west of the club. Miguel could sense the Mormon tense up every time. He wondered if Aaronson was able to recognize any of the ragged, terrorized cries and prayed that he could not. It would be too much for any man to bear. Certainly if his own daughter or wife were being held and abused by such human filth he doubted he would be able to remain calm and detached.

Such thoughts, however, could only lead to questions about exactly how his family was doing on the road to Corpus Christi, so he suppressed them with an act of great will.

"For banditos, Blackstone's Texas is a hard country," he explained patiently. "Deadly, if they are caught. For these men, however, not so much."

He jerked his chin in the direction of the Hy Top, which was illuminated by fire burning in oil drums. Rock music thumped and howled from inside. Gringo music. Crunching guitars and pounding drums to drown out all but the loudest wailing of the female prisoners. He stilled his sense of outrage, which was considerable, and regarded the scene with a heart crusted in salt and black ice. The camp followers were easy to tell from the Mormon women. Although just as likely to be struck or kicked or even dragged into the darkness by the road agents, they did enjoy a noticeable freedom of movement not granted to the newest captives. They also enjoyed the privilege of kicking down on the Mormon women. As he watched through the NVGs, two of the camp wh.o.r.es delighted a small number of agents by tripping one of the captives after she had delivered a tray of beers outside. They fell on her, pinning her struggling form to the ground, as one sat on her face and shook her a.s.s, laughing and yelling something that Miguel couldn't make out, but which he was certain could only be a cruel and unusual taunt. It reduced the audience of road agents to helpless laughter.

Lying on the thick carpet of pine needles, he felt Aaronson go tense and start to move. Miguel reached over and grabbed the man's upper arm, digging into the flesh with fingers as hard as rail spikes.

"No," he said firmly but quietly. "Now is not the time."

"But... they're ... that's Jenny Booker over there. Willem's betrothed."

Miguel drilled the tip of his thumb into a nerve bundle beneath Aaronson's bicep. The Mormon was not a soft man, but the pain would be excruciating, and it overwhelmed any other considerations. When Miguel was certain he was subdued again, he let go.

"I am sorry, Aaronson, but if you move against them now, she will die. Possibly all of your women will be killed. And not quickly. The agents will make sport of it. We must wait. The others will not move until we report back, and we need all of them."

Aaronson was silent for a moment allowing more screams and reports of debauchery to reach them from South Cottonwood Street.

"This is intolerable," he said at last in a weak, broken voice.

Miguel nodded in the dark.

"For you, yes. We should withdraw for now, back to the meeting place. I can return and watch the agents' camp by myself. It might be better anyway. I need to move around them, and I want to scout out the field where they have left the cattle. We must find out how many of them are on guard there, and I can do that without being caught. Probably. You, probably not. Let us go then."

He took one last look through the night-vision gla.s.ses. Two Mormon women, battered and bloodied, were being dragged by a pair of overweight road agents toward a steel door attached to the back of the Hy Top Club. Miguel watched the agents throw the women through the opening. One of them stood in the door, unzipped his fly, and relieved himself in the dark room. The stream caught the firelight and twinkled in the green haze of Miguel's night-vision goggles.

"What do you see?" Aaronson asked, his hand out for the goggles.

"Wait," Miguel replied. He watched the agent give himself a wiggle and zip himself up. Laughing, both agents slammed the door and kicked against it a few times. Only then did they put a padlock onto the latch.

Without allowing the poor man another second to think about it, Miguel was up, drawing the Mormon to his feet and exiting the overgrown lot from which they had been conducting their surveillance. The agents had set them- selves up in a poor area of town, southwest of the main business center. He thought perhaps that even before the Wave it would have been home to the poorer folk of Crockett. Many of the houses that still stood looked small and mean, especially on the western side of Cottonwood Street, where remnant forests covered the hills and fields. A good deal of refuse and rusted machinery lay where it had been abandoned in gardens and driveways long before the inhabitants Disappeared, but fire and looters had not ravaged this area as completely as it had the town center and some of the more affluent neighborhoods. Nor-to judge from the scenes he had witnessed-had the Hy Top Club been relieved of its liquor supply in the years since the Wave swept away its clientele.

He pondered that.

Perhaps one of the road agents was a fortunate local, someone who had been out of the country in 2003. Perhaps with the army in Iraq? If so, he could have led his comrades here after they had attacked Aaronson's people. In the post-Wave world, a little local knowledge could often be a very precious resource.

The two men retreated carefully through the darkness. This far from the club, with so much scrubland in the way, not much light made it through from the burning oil drums, but the stars twinkled with cold brilliance high above and a half moon laid an opalescent glow over the ruins of the town, allowing them to pick their way through. They took it slowly, retracing their steps of an hour before, finally emerging into a small open area where the surrounding forest of hickory, elm, and sweet gum gave way to knee-high gra.s.s and a few thin saplings. In twenty years, thought Miguel, it would all be forest again.

Aaronson whistled, a trilling call like a night bird, and five silhouettes rose from the gra.s.s in front of them. Miguel was impressed. Had he not known the Mormons were secreted in the little glade, he would not have spotted them unless he was especially alert. He recognized the out- line of Willem D'Age as the man spoke in a low, anxious voice.

"What have you seen, Brother Aaronson? Are our women alive? Are they well?"

"They are alive, for now," said Miguel, before the other man could start a panic among his fellows or tell D'Age anything that might send him into a righteous fury. "And they will stay that way if we keep our heads about us. Come. Gather round."

The group, all men-although two of them were barely old enough for the designation-cl.u.s.tered around the returned scouts. Miguel demurred to Aaronson, who delivered a competent report of what they had observed. He managed to contain his obvious distress at the state of their women and shaded the details to spare his comrades. Nonetheless they could not help themselves.

"So these animals, they have taken the women as chattel?" asked D'Age.

"They treat them very roughly, brother," said Aaronson.

"Then we should go now and release them from this veil," piped up another voice, high and reedy. "We shall lay the Lord's vengeance on them for their trespa.s.ses."

The speaker was young, and Miguel recognized him as one of the boys, Orrin. He was waving around a military a.s.sault weapon, and Miguel could tell, even in the starlight, that every line in his body was tensed up and quivering like a bow drawn too far and held too long. Miguel reached over and placed his hand over the lad's where it gripped the front end of the rifle: some sort of carbine, as he remembered.

"Boy," he said quietly but with great firmness, "this is no game. We shall kill these men tonight. Or they shall kill us. It is not play. Put your weapon away until it is needed. Until blood is the only end."

Miguel hoisted his own rifle, his much-loved Winchester, and held it in front of the youngster.

"This gun has been leveled at five men, Orrin. They are all dead now. Do you understand? That is how serious tonight is. I have never pointed this gun at a man and failed to take his life."

Not only the overexcited Orrin fell still, but all of the men around him.

"Good," said Miguel. "Then we can prepare."


JOHN BIRMINGHAM is the author of Final Impact, Designated Targets, Weapons of Choice, He Died with a Felafel in His Hand, The Tasmanian Babes Fiasco, How to Be a Man, The Search for Savage Henry, and Leviathan, which won the National Award for Nonfiction at Australia's Adelaide Festival of the Arts. Birmingham is also the recipient of the George Munster Prize for Freelance Story of the Year and the Carlton United Sports Writing Prize. He has written for The Sydney Morning Herald, Rolling Stone, Penthouse, Playboy, and numerous other magazines. He lives at the beach with his wife, daughter, son, and two cats.

Copyright 2009 by John Birmingham.


(published by Del Rey Books).


Weapons of Choice.

Designated Targets.

Final Impact.

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Without Warning Part 53 summary

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