When a sudden, unexplained spasm of violence rocks the country from coast to coast, when our military is hijacked and the new POTUS is MIA, the survivors of a vicious EMP attack will be left to wonder if this is the start of a new world war, or the last chapter of humanity itself.
Burned out DEA agent, Fiyero Dimas, is drowning in problems: an unrelenting job, a difficult marriage and a teenage daughter with suitors of the worst kind. Then there’s the cartel he just double-crossed and the “incident” at the high school. To say he’s in way over his head is the understatement of the century. And that’s before society tunneled into ruin.
Eliana Gutierrez’s niece is stolen by the Guatemalan cartel and swallowed into the dark world of human trafficking. Eliana must use the deadly trafficking lines to trek up through Mexico and into America in search of the only person she ever really loved. Under the cover of a post-apocalyptic nightmare, Eliana will risk life and limb for the child, but will it be enough?
The Age of Embers is a post-apocalyptic survival series written inside the universe of the best-selling The Last War series. This high-octane, edge-of-your-seat thriller chronicles the harrowing journey of ordinary people trapped in an encroaching dark age.
NOTE: Although this series has very little swearing, some scenes contain the kind of brutality one might experience in the world of human trafficking, or a post-apocalyptic nightmare.
BOOKS IN THE COMPLETE AGE OF EMBERS SERIES:
- Age of Embers
- Age of Hysteria
- Age of Reprisal
- Age of Exodus
- Age of Defiance
Release date: March 10, 2019
Publisher: River City Publishing
Print pages: 446
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The Age of Embers
You never know when your life is going to crumble. Or how far you’ll fall when it does. Before I took a job with the DEA and turned my life into the catastrophic mess it is now, back when I was just a beat cop working the streets, I watched a woman and her poodle walking down the street. I was in a police cruiser and she wasn’t in the best of neighborhoods at the time. My partner pointed her out. I was already watching her, wondering what she was doing.
“Does she even know where she’s at?” my partner asked.
I shrugged my shoulders a lot back then, so that was my answer. There was nothing outwardly special—nothing to draw any real suspicion—but I remember getting the sense that she was lost in her own world, or perhaps, caught in a daydream.
“Holy cow, man,” my partner belted out as we drove by her, “she looks just like the dog!”
I remember laughing about it back then. The woman was walking a poodle, and my hand to God, they had the same hairdo, the same body shape.
That was years ago and I don’t know why I’m suddenly thinking about this woman and her dog right now. Honestly, there shouldn’t be any reason for it. But here I am, thinking about my partner who at the time told me dogs sometimes resemble their owners. I dismissed it then, but now I wonder if he wasn’t on to something.
Everything started out well and good in my life, but then I grew up and through myriad decisions, most of them ill fated, I ended up here, in the back of some dark parking lot at night on the wrong side of town with a smoking gun in my hand. There’s blood everywhere and three corpses lay shot and sprawled out before me.
But at least it’s cold.
Chicago is supposed to be freezing this time of year but it’s not as cold as it could be. The air has a sharp, bitter edge to it, but tonight it feels good on my face. It feels so good I almost take off my jacket thinking it will feel just as good on my beaten body.
I take a mental inventory of my injuries.
It’s not pretty.
My face was pummeled by fists and feet, my ribcage, arms and legs kicked into oblivion. Flexing my hands, I see the split flesh. It happened right after I took a boot to the mouth. That was the shot that really pissed me off.
Pressing my tongue against the side of a sore tooth, it feels a bit loose. Of course, that’s probably just my imagination.
Head on a swivel, my senses returning, my eyes dart from window to window of the neighboring houses. Even though a lot of bad things go down on this side of town, people still peek out their windows at the sound of gunfire.
Me? I just want to know if there are any witnesses.
It’s dark outside, I tell myself. The parking lot’s deep, there are no street lights and people have been shooting at the rats all night long. Not that I blame them. Chicago is officially the rat capital of the United States, so there’s that…
Now is the time I start thinking about the lady and her poodle, and now I know why. Now that I’ve shaken off the beating, now that I survived what would have surely been my own death, I start to wonder, can a man resemble his city the same way dogs sometimes resemble their owners?
These are the kinds of things guys like me must think about after committing murder.
The truth is, I live in one of the most dangerous cities in America—a city I both love and despise, a city I vowed long ago to protect. But Chicago has fallen into such moral disrepair, and it’s so riddled with crime, the logical part of me fears there is no turning back.
Am I the same as this city?
That’s what I can’t help wondering.
Looking down at these DTO scumbags, these bone-thin cartel gangsters, I know the part of me who loves this city will beat myself to death upon its rocky shores to protect it, even if it means I must become a monster to do it.
“I am the monster,” I mumble under my breath. That much is clear to me now. But am I irredeemable? Have I completely gone off the rails?
God, I think maybe I have.
I’ve never killed anyone before. Not on purpose.
The sound of boisterous voices startles me. Sharpens my senses. It’s hard to say how far away they are because it’s late and before they arrived, the block was a pressing silence in the night. These kids, there are maybe three of them, they are heading this way.
Curse words and laughter fill the air. One of them either throws or kicks a glass bottle down the street; it bounces a few times, then breaks.
It’s time to do something about these bodies.
The first is the worst. He’s the heaviest, the most awkward to move. As I hoist and wrestle him into the back of the trunk of my DEA issued deep cover beater—a purple 1970 Plymouth Barracuda—I come to terms with the fact that anything redeeming in me is about to be stamped out.
The first body goes in easy. These aren’t big men. They’re practically kids. But even kids in a trunk this small take up space. Too much space.
One of the loudmouths heading this way, he’s going on about his girl’s fat ass and how it’s the same as her mom’s fat ass and blah, blah, blah. His buddies are laughing. Someone shatters the night with a loud and lasting burp, followed by more laughter and insults.
The first two bodies fit in the trunk, but the third isn’t even close. Putting a move on it, I drag one of the guys out, then pull the other one right up to the taillights. The spare tire needs to go. When I have it, I see it’s flat anyway. I hurl it into the bushes at the edge of the parking lot where it hits a chain link fence making an unwanted ruckus.
The bodies go back in much easier. By now the voices of the approaching clowns are so close I expect to see them any moment. That’s when I hear them peeing. Rather, they’re peeing, and I hear them talking about it.
Just down the street a dog starts barking and the guys taunt it with whistling and mocking dog calls. Man, I hate guys like this. I close the trunk lid, but the third body is sitting too high. I start bouncing my weight on the lid, trying to get it to shut.
For a second, I stop and let the reality of this moment sink in. I’m an undercover DEA agent who just killed my crew. I had no choice, but still. I try to muster up some feeling about this, but nothing comes about. Don’t I at least feel bad for what I’ve done?
Good God, I don’t.
This unresponsive emptiness, this inability to summon even an iota of empathy—above all else—really should concern me. After what I’ve been though, after what I’ve survived, it’s also no mystery as to why I feel nothing.
I maneuver the bodies around, arranging limbs, turning heads, tucking and pushing and grunting and using more than a few colorful words for fuel. Better. Once I get the trunk lid shut, it still won’t latch in place. I lean on the metal with my full bodyweight, give it a good rocking, then feel it catch and hold.
“Freaking hell,” I grouse like some angry old fool.
Turning and leaning against the back of the car, everything hurts. I can’t leave yet. If I do, I’ll drive right by those loudmouth clowns and they will be witnesses at my trial.
Climbing inside the muscle car that’s nearly a half century old and acts every year of its age most days, still unsure of the right way to get rid of these bodies, I grab my phone, consider the lateness of the hour, then step back out into the cold, shut the door and dial my lieutenant.
The trio of ruffians finally appear. These kids can’t be more than thirteen, each and every one of them pimp-stepping like there’s some underage taint nearby—a pack of gangbanger groupies with pants too tight, bras pushed too high and makeup worn way too heavy. Instead they get me. Some thug with a beard and messy hair and that hard cartel look making a phone call in the most suspicious place ever.
My brain tells me it’s dark. But is it dark enough? They probably can’t even make out the details of the old ‘Cuda, other than the deep purple paint job and the ghetto chrome rims.
Won’t matter if they can, I’m thinking.
Guys like this, on this side of town, they don’t call the cops for any reason. But these are tough kids. Kids with a few new hairs on their chests, or under their arms, or on their balls. So they front. They run their mouths loud. They eyeball guys like me as if they’re going to do something. I get back in the car, slide my gun off the seat and hold it at my side where they might be able to see.
The phone finally rings through.
Xavier Reed picks up.
“I can’t think of any good reason you’d be calling me at this hour,” my lieutenant and good friend says.
He sounds awake, but slightly peeved. He’s a newlywed to a gorgeous black girl, Giselle, and the two are in love. God only knows what I interrupted…
“It’s Fiyero,” I say when he answers, eyes still on the guys walking, brain still rattled from my first triple homicide. When the trio of clowns continue on out of sight, never having seen me, I feel my eyes clear and my attention return.
“I know who this is,” he hisses into the phone. “Are you high?”
I clear my throat and say, “Why would I be high?”
He breathes a sigh of exhaustion. Yeah, I definitely interrupted something. “Why are you calling, Fire?”
He asks me this because, as a deep cover DEA agent, I’m breaking protocol. What he might already know—what he should be suspecting at this minute—is that something is really wrong. You can say a lot of things about Lt. Reed, but if anything, the man has rock solid instincts and an iron constitution. The problem is, he’s a by-the-book kind of guy. He’s learning though, but what will he do with this?
“I snapped, man,” I finally admit. “I think I blew my cover tonight.”
Now he’s quiet. I can already see him in my mind’s eye, wiping a free hand down the front of his face, the same as he always does when the heat starts to gather.
“Give me the details,” he finally says.
“My daughter called on the emergency phone at the wrong time.”
“She never calls.”
“You gave her your DC line?”
“No, she doesn’t have my deep cover line.”
“Then what does any of this have to do with you blowing your cover?”
Pacing the beaten asphalt lot, the evening chill finally settling into my bones, I look at everything and nothing.
“Well then?” Xavier asks.
In the background, I hear Giselle telling him to come back to bed. Her voice is as enchanting as she is beautiful, and for that, I know I should let him go. Then again, Xavier’s a good looking black guy who can handle himself just fine. He’s smart, crafty with his words and competent enough in his social and political world to land a dime like Giselle.
I’m not jealous because I have a beautiful woman of my own, but a lot of the guys run their mouths when he’s not around. They let their insecurities and their crappy ass lives cloud the fact that Xavier is extremely good at his job. He’s also loyal to a fault. A champion of the agency. A blind servant to the Law Enforcement Oath of Office.
“I screwed up,” I admit while chewing on my molars. My mouth feels so dry, I gather up some saliva, spit into the darkness. Is this cottonmouth? “I brought my emergency phone to a buy, not my DC line. So when she called, I was at the buy.”
Xavier huffs out a breath. The agitation is building. “You moron,” he finally growls.
I close my eyes, touch my eyebrow, bring back a bloody fingertip. “I know,” I confess, low and reluctant.
“Why would you do that?”
Standing in this darkened parking lot in West Chicago just one block over from the 4400 block of Monroe—one of this city’s most hazardous neighborhoods—none of this is lost on me. I run a hand through my hair, stroke my beard, open my eyes to the night sky.
At this point, I’m just spreading blood all over myself and I have nothing to say. My face is a crime scene. Now my head’s one, too.
“I’m just so tired of this life,” I hear myself say. “These people, man…they’re not human. And now my daughter calls the phone I thought I left in the car.”
“So Brooklyn called you? That’s the big problem?”
“Yeah, I guess. I mean, right now, yeah.”
“I don’t know, X.”
My body is at odds with itself. I’m sweating bullets out in the cold of night, but inside, I’m burning up. Am I having a heart attack?
Am I cracking?
“Are you in trouble, Fire?”
My stomach drops, plummeting so low I start to wonder if I’m going to be like one of those rookie cops who pukes the first time he sees a mutilated body. Everything in me wants to tell Xavier I crossed the line, see what he can do about keeping me out of jail, but I don’t want him shouldering this burden. I don’t want to shoulder this burden.
“One of the guys, he snatched my phone from me, listened to the message. He had a gun in my face.”
“Which guy is that?”
Manny is—rather he was—a vicious little tweaker. His paranoia made him dangerous; his bad attitude made him unlikeable. He was good though. Good enough to grab my phone and listen to my daughter’s voicemail when no one normal would have even given it a second thought.
“What did he do?”
“Smashed my phone, called me a liar. I went in single with no kids. That was the deal. That’s what I told these guys because there’s no way I’d ever give them leverage.”
“We can spin this,” he says.
“No, we can’t. Brooklyn didn’t call me Dad, she called me Fiyero. Not a name any of these knuckle draggers have ever heard.”
“Oh, boy,” Xavier says, letting out a low breath. “This is bad.”
“Kids who don’t love their parents stop calling them Mom and Dad and just start calling them by their given names. Brooklyn clearly doesn’t like me.”
“You’ve been deep cover for eight months. We talked about this.”
I find myself pacing.
“I never should have agreed to this. What was I thinking?” I ask, raking a hand through my hair out of habit, still not caring where the blood gets.
“So they know your real name, but they don’t know Brooklyn’s your daughter?”
“This job,” I mumble, feeling myself starting to unravel. I stop pacing, lean my belly against driver’s side door, rest my forearms on the roof because I’m both physically and mentally wiped. Looking over the ‘Cuda’s roof, out into a darkened field of weeds and past a chain link fence, I say, “I’m so sick of this job.”
“You have problems, Fire,” Xavier says, so calm I start to worry. “You had problems with the family when you started this job and you’ll have them when you retire out. It’s the nature of our work.”
“This isn’t helping, though. This job.”
“You have crappy genetics. You said so yourself. The DEA likes you because no one else really does and that’s why you’re so good on the job. You have single-minded focus.”
“You don’t understand…”
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