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Total Secession

Total Secession

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Total Secession

542 Seiten
5 Stunden
Sep 5, 2012


Grant and Litz are two Federal prisoners serving long sentences in a Florida penitentiary when suddenly they find themselves freed—a fiery political movement is dissolving the Federal government and soon all 52 States will become independent nations. According to strict guidelines, some Federal prisoners are being released early but they’re branded with the popular slur “Marielitos.”

Grant and Litz, now Marielitos, head for their homes in the Northeast, hoping to rebuild the lives that they ruined years before. The America that Grant and Litz travel through is changing and paranoid, dark and fragmented. Everything they see, everything they must do to make it farther and farther north hints at a grim homecoming for both.

Awarded the Bronze Medal in Foreword Reviews' Book of the Year Awards.

"Connell offers a tough but touching futuristic thriller. Full of fury and feeling, sure to interest fans of crime novels, thrillers and alternate futures."
-- Kirkus Reviews

"Total Secession is a tour de force of speculative fiction. The plot takes many detours, but they are enjoyable ones for readers, especially those who enjoy lyrical use of language."
-- Foreword Reviews (5 out of 5 stars)

"Total Secession is a dialogue-driven book packed with strong characters, lots of description, and a heady attention to local lingo and dialect reflected in speech; the ultimate result providing a realistic account of the human condition."
-- The Midwest Book Review

"There's a lot to like in Total Secession. Connell is a talented writer with a gift for metaphor and characterization, and he populates the oft-pulpy narrative with a variety of colorful characters and action-packed sequences."
-- BlueInk Review

Sep 5, 2012

Über den Autor

Award-winning writer Adam Connell is the author of several works of science fiction and speculative fiction. He was chosen by Kirkus Reviews as an "Author to Watch." His first novel, Counterfeit Kings, was lauded by Publishers Weekly, who said, "Struggle for identity and self-sacrifice are just a few of the powerful stories beneath an action-packed surface plot that provokes as it dazzles." His next novel was Lay Saints, selected by Kirkus Reviews as a Best Book of 2012, in 4 categories. Lay Saints was also chosen by Barnes & Noble as one of the Top 5 SF Novels of 2012. Some stellar reviews: "The engrossing result feels like an ESP-themed mash-up of The Sopranos and The Wire as scripted by Quentin Tarantino. A stylish reimagining of the psychic mystery genre." -- Kirkus Reviews (starred review) "Fans of the genre will find a lot to like here--particularly the snappy dialogue and solid world-building." -- Publishers Weekly "Connell's Lay Saints is the perfect blend of literary fiction and genre fiction. It's original and unpredictable but also character-driven and deeply thought provoking. This is a story that works on multiple levels--and should appeal to multiple groups of readers." -- Explorations, The B&N SF/F Blog "Adam Connell's Lay Saints is a sleek homage to noir with a fantasy twist. His style is in turns reminiscent of Elmore Leonard, Chuck Palahniuk, and William Gibson, but his voice is all his own. It's sleazy, it's violent, it's honest, and it's a damn good read." -- BlueInk Review (starred review) "Lay Saints, with its realistic and complex cast of protagonists and the added bonus of wild talents up for exploit, is a powerful read that is gritty, honest, gripping and unpredictable. Any who enjoy noir detective stories, explorations with New York City underworld settings, and a touch of science fiction injected into complex social and political interactions will find this an absorbing read, impossible to put down." -- The Midwest Book Review His third novel, Total Secession, was released in September 2012. It was the recipient of the Bronze Medal in Foreword Reviews' Book of the Year Awards. Some stellar reviews: "Connell offers a tough but touching futuristic thriller. Full of fury and feeling, sure to interest fans of crime novels, thrillers and alternate futures." -- Kirkus Reviews "Total Secession is a tour de force of speculative fiction. The plot takes many detours, but they are enjoyable ones for readers, especially those who enjoy lyrical use of language." -- Foreword Reviews (5 out of 5 Stars) "Total Secession is a dialogue-driven book packed with strong characters, lots of description, and a heady attention to local lingo and dialect reflected in speech; the ultimate result providing a realistic account of the human condition." -- The Midwest Book Review "There's a lot to like in Total Secession. Connell is a talented writer with a gift for metaphor and characterization, and he populates the oft-pulpy narrative with a variety of colorful characters and action-packed sequences." -- BlueInk Review Connell's fourth novel, The High Hunt, is the first book in a planned series called The Orion Guild. In brief, the plot of The High Hunt is this: A planet's distress call for hunters to track and kill an infected herd of beasts brings the universe's most effective marksmen. Most come to hunt, some come to betray old enemies, and one comes intent on murder. Named by Kirkus Reviews as a Best Book of 2013: SF/F Some stellar reviews: "Energetic, edgy sci-fi with a Game of Thrones bent." -- Kirkus Reviews "Connell fearlessly explores the baser instincts of humanity in this gritty, concisely constructed sci-fi adventure." -- Foreword Reviews (5 out of 5 stars) Connell lives with his wife in Westchester, NY. His Web address: His Facebook address: His Twitter handle is: @AdamConnellSF He is currently preparing Counterfeit Kings for release as an eBook. He's also in the research phase for his fifth novel, due in 2015.

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Total Secession - Adam Connell

Total Secession

By Adam Connell

Smashwords Edition

Copyright 2012 Adam Connell

Cataloging-in-Publication Data is on file with The Library of Congress

Cover Art Copyright 2012 Miguel Ibarra

Smashwords Edition, License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.


Table of Contents


Short Note to My Readers


Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8



About the Author


for Paul Goat Allen, stalwart


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Short Note to My Readers

On occasion in fictive dialogue, the letter ending a word is dropped. This is known as eliding or elision. The most commonly dropped letters are G and D. An apostrophe usually takes their place. Two examples: going to goin’, and around to aroun’.

I have chosen to forgo the use of this apostrophe convention. Total Secession is a book driven by dialogue. A few characters are from different parts of the U.S. and, when talking, don’t always have perfect speech.

Sometimes these same characters don’t elide their words. And then sometimes people who rarely elide their words will do so — depending on their mood or the situation.

Thus, the elision in Total Secession’s dialogue isn’t uniform 100 percent of the time. I believe that these inconsistencies better mimic how real people speak, and in all instances I have striven for realism.

My decision regarding elision and apostrophes was not born out of laziness, nor is it revolutionary — see Thomas Cullinan’s excellent novel The Beguiled, 1966. I found, as Cullinan did, that without extraneous apostrophes, a book reads more quickly. Fewer distractions. It creates a smoother flow, which any good writer wants.


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When the new skinhead came onto the Yard he walked with a rocking gait like he was made of Roman candles, eager for that first spark to ignite him, show this prison what he was capable of. He wore a tattooed crown of thorns comprised of intricate, interlocking swastikas thick and thin, sharp and blunt. Because they were prison tats, the swastikas were blue, etched into his scalp with the cheapest, most common ink available: from Paper Mates or BICs or Pentels.

He could tell that everyone was watching him, and that was good. The blacks from their bleachers on the left, the Latinos from their bleachers in the center. The openly gay and transvestites and transgenders from the right. Behind him, cruder bleachers in disrepair for the unaffiliated prisoners.

On the far far right the handball game had stopped. The half-court basketball game was interrupted when one player noticed the skinhead and held on to the ball.

That was very good.

At the gym by the courts, weights were quickly racked, barbells dropped.

Everyone was watching the new skinhead, which was excellent, or they were watching someone behind him, which wasn’t good at all.

Litz tapped the man’s shoulder, said, I’m Jewish.

The skinhead twisted around with a flying fist that Litz caught in his hand and crushed like a walnut. Before the skinhead could yell, Litz reached his other hand through the jumpsuit’s crotch flap and fastened onto the man’s naked scrotum like a giant hungry tick.

Grant thought it would pop. Everyone was hoping for a pop, but it didn’t happen; it never did. Not to say Litz never ruptured their testicles, but there wasn’t ever a pop anyone could actually hear.

The skinhead’s shoes sprouted roots and he stood high and immobile as if hot rebar had been shoved up his rectum.

Litz put his other hand on the skinhead’s shoulder, almost comforting. Litz was at least a foot taller. Litz was also blond and blue-eyed.

See any white supremacists pacing the grass? Litz said. Any neo-Nazis? The men here who’re bald, it’s because they’ve lost their hair.

He applied more pressure to the skinhead’s testes.

On Litz’s seventh day at Bonifay FCI, NW Florida, the Panhandle, the officer guarding the showers had been bribed with a 200-dollar bill to go on his way to an early lunch.

Litz had been showering alone. Then he was surrounded by six naked skinheads. They wore so much ink it hampered their ability to sweat properly. Litz was larger than all of them but they forced him to the floor, knelt on him, and held him down face-first, so his backside was exposed.

We’re gonna split you in half like firewood.

Another said, This is how we’re taking you, and this is how you’ll take it. Christ-killer.

You got the wrong color hair and eyes for a Jew, said another

This upsets us, from the fourth. The fifth and sixth men didn’t speak.

A shattered skull, three elbows, and two knees bent backwards the wrong way, a snapped ankle, eleven toes and nine fingers broken, a sternum and a pelvis broken, a compound fracture of the femur, and a shattered hip.

None of the bones were kosher, save for one finger Litz had broken putting a man’s eye out all the way into the socket.

Thirty-one tiles in the corner of the shower had been cracked during the fight. It was Litz’s punishment to buy replacements, grout, and install them. He had no money in his prison account; Sunshine Corrections demanded that all outside banking be accessed through them, and Litz’s account hadn’t been opened yet. So it was Grant who fronted him. Plus for the two broken nozzles and a urinal. Grant fronted him all the money.

And thus began Litz’s erratic but persistent assault on all the white racists in Bonifay. And if not assaulted, then converted to Christianity’s highest principles: goodwill and forgiveness. The supremacists and neo-Nazis and Klansmen were, even together, the least populous of the prison’s 1,000+ inmates. But the most vile, but the most vulnerable. Yet no one had taken any action against them until Litz’s violent shower defense.

The screws — the guards — let Litz get away with whatever: private showers, free handhelds, fresh sheets daily, first in line for grub. All this because Litz — with a growing army of galvanized and disgusted inmates, including Grant — was doing the screws’ jobs for them, and enthusiastically. One less dangerous sect for the guards to worry over.

Litz’s purge had started six years ago, on his arrival, and lasted a few turbulent months. Bonifay was only thirty years old then.

The only white racist left, who would never submit to goodwill or forgiveness, was the renamed Odin, though he’d gained no knowledge, none, by the loss of his eye. After the reduction of his gang, Odin would shave his head in private, wherever privacy was to be found. This also lasted a few months. When he was found bald, Litz would break two of his fingers. This happened four times. Afterwards, Odin sported a rush of red hair that covered some audaciously bigoted tattoos.

In general, at Bonifay, Federal Correctional Institution, Maximum Security, the blacks hated the whites, the whites hated the blacks. Everyone hated the Latinos. The gays and their clique hardly counted — once in a while, but rarely.

Grant and Litz. Nobody hated them.

Grant was white, Irish-American. He watched Litz and this newest skinhead from atop the leftmost bleachers, where he was sitting among the blacks.

Litz, one hand still on the skinhead’s shoulder and the other around the man’s sack, eased him forwards, walked the skinhead backwards towards the infirmary’s door just off the Yard.

A nurse met them and took the crying skinhead away.

He might need hormone therapy, later, that one, Litz said, smiling. He leaned his torso over the counter on his right, angled his dirty hand into the air between the sink and the tap. The water came on automatically, as did a squirt of liquid soap. The female nurse there, Cronenweth, put two plastic gloves on and scrubbed the blood and urine off Litz’s fingers, palm.

I don’t want your wife getting sick, Nurse Cronenweth said.

And me neither, Litz said.

He’d found his wife by placing a classified ad in the Northwest Florida Daily News. Working woman wanted to come visit a docile, lonely, housebound man. She was a prostitute, as he’d been hoping. For a large fee she let him marry her. For smaller fees, twice a month, she came visiting for conjugals. If Litz was bored or disinterested, he rented his time with her to other inmates. His wife didn’t mind, so long as she was paid.

She was a shiksa, which didn’t bother Litz, though her breasts were too small. Their arrangement had been ongoing the last five years. When he wanted her to hurt him, she reluctantly complied, though it cost extra. One particularly turgid black eye was the culprit of debate among Litz’s friends for weeks.

Grant didn’t approve, but so long as Litz didn’t hurt the girl — who was much smaller than Litz — it was none of Grant’s concern. Litz never touched her if it wasn’t a loving caress. The conjugal guards always reported back to Grant, and Grant was repeatedly assured that the girl was safe.

That his good hand or the bad hand Litz uses, snaring them? one of the black men on the bleachers said, laughing. I’m always forgetting to ask, and I’m never close enough to look.

The bad one, Grant said. The damaged one.

The one looks like he accidentally left it in the fireplace overnight, then, that one. Ask me, I think it’s Litz is the racist.

You’re an asshole, someone else said. "Only an asshole would think that. Litz’s a humanitarian. He’s got balls."

It took a few seconds to register, the joke, then they all laughed. Grant, too. Grant the hardest. He loved to laugh, probably because he found it so difficult. Litz, his cellmate, had a big and free laugh. A gleeful, depraved, easily provoked laugh. Grant admired this, was jealous of it. Litz’s laughter had derailed many bad confrontations.

Grant had brown eyes. His hair, straight and fine and flat, grew down to his bull neck. It was twelve different shades of grey, all of them premature.

He’d been married for fifteen years, hadn’t heard from his wife for the last ten, since his arrest. He had a son he’d barely seen, before his arrest. Had a daughter, born after his arrest, that he had never seen.

Grant rolled down the top half of his orange jumpsuit so that he was sitting in the Florida glare bare-chested. The jumpsuit was UVA and UVB resistant, but Grant liked the sun on his skin. He rubbed the last of the month’s tube of SPF 50 on himself, then leaned forwards, hands resting on their opposite knees.

His complex blue tattoos — elbow to elbow and across his wide neck — looked like a yoke.


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Chapter 1

Sunday, June 24


The three front gates rolled open on treads, their wigs of concertina wire screeching. Litz followed Grant out. Mustaine, a guard, was behind them.

On the narrow road that serviced the prison entrance, a line of impatient cars was waiting for prisoners. Grant and Litz were the first prisoners freed. The early-morning air had no wind or heat, but there was some late-June humidity pushing it down, making the air tangible and hard to breathe.

The car at the head of the line was a two-door, 1969 Dodge Charger. The three men walked up to it, and Mustaine gave Grant the key with a lanyard necklace through its eye.

This is a very generous gift, Grant said, rubbing the bright key between his fingers. The key was new and sharp.

I pulled at every string I had, getting you out ahead of the others, Mustaine said. Those strings, they unraveled all my existing favors. I want you to know that and appreciate it.

We appreciate it, Grant said.

Because why? Litz said.

You made my time here a lot simpler, especially you, pointing at Litz. What with the skinheads. That’s right, I was serving time here same as you, just the other side of it.

You gonna retire? Grant said.

"Nah, they’re shifting me farther south to Dade Correctional, where the old people live. Bonifay’s gonna be annexed by Pensacola AFB, whatever Air Force is gonna mean eleven days from now. It won’t be able to turn a profit now, so few customers gonna be left, so the company’s selling. You, Mustaine said, laying a grateful finger on Grant’s chest, something he never would’ve done inside the gates, you saved my life during the riot."

It was really nothing, Grant said. Honestly, I’m surprised it worked.

Pulling that sheet across your cage, saying I was dead in there.

We got a little bit of hell for that, Litz said. You walking around alive and breathing when it was over. A lot of hell, me and Grant.

Grant said, You were good to us, too, Mustaine.

You’re smiling, Mustaine said to Grant. I can’t remember the last time I saw you smile, or if I ever did.

I’m headed home, Grant said, quite aware that he was smiling, had been all morning, couldn’t help himself, his face was hurting because of it. But the smile wouldn’t go away.

I’ll be staying in Florida. The Skin Cancer State, Mustaine said.

Country, Litz said.

Country, Mustaine said. Skin Cancer Country, eleven days forward. But you both want New York.

Yes, Litz said. Very much, yes. Yes.

Him more than you? Mustaine asked Grant.

No one more than me, Grant said.

Grant walked around to the driver’s side, Litz leaned against the passenger’s door.

I know you’re both well past the halfway mark, Mustaine said. Grant, how many years you had left?

Me? Only two.

I only had one, Litz said.

Send the Charger back down if you can, will you? Mustaine said. I’d prefer to think of this as a loaner, not a gift. I could sell her, make some money back.

The Charger was low to the ground and belligerent, with sleek lines, not an ounce of fat. She was maroon with a vinyl roof as black as her heart. The divided grille looked like an evil snout. Of all cars, it was the one most likely to be a demon’s familiar.

Full tank a gas, Mustaine said. Oil’s been changed. Toolbox and a spare in the trunk.

Spare toolbox? Litz said.

Tire, Grant said, shooting Litz a look but smiling anyway. Couldn’t help it.

Some other shit back there, too. Flashlights. Since we’re holding up the line, you can find out later. Some minor changes on the dash, nothing you’d notice. Conveniences. Automatic, not stick. She doesn’t run on vegetables or electricity, you’ll have to keep to the I-95 corridor for real gas stations.

Where there’s traffic, Litz said.

We were planning on only two, three stops along the Atlantic coastline, so that’s fine, Grant said. Traffic or no traffic, it’s where we were headed anyhow.

I bought her four weeks ago, for you, spent a lot of time in the restoring, Mustaine said. She purrs. No — she drives like a wanton whore. Treat her like one and she’ll open up for you like one.

Litz would know, Grant said.

Litz made a face at him.

I’ve a ’72 Dodge Challenger waiting for me at home, Grant said, and in as good condition.

I remember, that’s why I bought this one. You know how they handle.

Doesn’t it strike anyone odd, we’re driving home in a car older than we are? Litz said.

Classics don’t let you down, Grant said.

She better not, we got a, we’ve an expiration date to beat, Litz said. I’d really prefer something more modern.

Mustaine’s doing us a huge favor. Be gracious.

What kind of gracious? This car’s seventy years old. I expect, no Triple-A?

There’s no longer any Triple-A, not until things settle down afterwards, Mustaine said. No a lotta things till shit settles. Don’t be assuming any help except from Grant.

Comforting, Litz said. Disturbing.

Fuck you, Grant said, though smiling. You could’ve made arrangements for another ride?

My wife — 

We don’t have the kind of money she’d charge for that.

I do, my savings, Litz said.

Grant spread his arms. You see a bank around?

Well I would’ve made a withdrawal earlier, had I known we were getting — 

Mustaine said, All the banks are long closed. Till S-Day. Including the prison bank. She’s been closed a month, you just didn’t know it, we were told to keep quiet about that, they didn’t want a rush on withdrawals.

When we need it most, Litz said.

Grant said to Litz, We’ve no control over that, forget it. And I told you the car’d be fine. It’s fine. To Mustaine: I’m really sorry. He never was appreciative.

No, Mustaine said, never was. But you boys keep gettin along like this — and I mean awfully — it’s gonna be a real hard ride.

We’ll do okay, Grant said. We’re going home, that’ll keep our spirits up.

No fighting, Mustaine said. Jesus, look at the two of you. Giants. I’m not even certain you’ll both fit.

Then I’ll just hafta lose Grant along the way, Litz said.

My wife, Mustaine said, she made you a dozen ham and cheese sandwiches wrapped in wax paper, piled on the backseat.

Thank her for me, Grant said.

I’d have preferred bologna and mustard, Litz said. But thank her for me anyway.

Gallon plastic jugs of water back there, too, the floor, Mustaine said. Plus two blank handhelds, prepaid, in the glove box.

Shit, Mustaine, Litz said, be less complicated you drove us home.

She’ll get you to New York in two days, but I don’t think it’ll be that easy.

It won’t, Grant said.

The news is forecastin a lotta traffic, Mustaine said, by the back bumper, sliding his hands across the trunk. Worse traffic than’s already out there. He walked over to Grant, gave him a six-inch awl. You were always sayin you carried one.

I like the rubber nipple on the tip, Grant said.

Safety first, Mustaine said.

Safety last, Grant said, his smile expanding. He pocketed the tool. Then he gave Mustaine a hug.

Mustaine was as surprised as Litz.

Oh, Jesus Christ, Litz said. Now I gotta or I’m the asshole.

Litz walked around the car, gave Mustaine a hug. Grant and Litz were so big, and Mustaine so small, he practically disappeared in their embrace.

Mustaine backed away. Litz glanced at Grant; their eyes were almost level.

Will you stop smiling? Litz said.

I only bought it yesterday, the awl. And here, Mustaine said, handing them each new licenses. A reflective red M had been stamped over their faces. It was like a watermark, became lighter or darker as Grant tilted it in the sun. He didn’t like that M. Neither did Litz, who walked back around the car to his side. The second photo on each license, the profile, had a skinnier M.

With the licenses came money clips with mostly 200- and 500-dollar bills. Reagans and Kennedys.

"This M," Grant said.

I tried, I really did, Mustaine said, get at yours before the stamping started, but hell. Anyhow, you’re Marielitos now. They want you out of our State — Country. Out of the Country, fellas.

Should of done like California, Grant said, putting the items in his jeans’ pockets with the awl, started two months ago.

Amen, Litz said.

Not that it’s a long hop to Georgia, Mustaine said.

Something I gotta do before Georgia, though, Grant said.

This again, Litz said.

It’s gonna happen, Grant said to Litz. You can use the time to say good-bye to your wife. And child.

That child’s got dirty brown eyes, Litz said. He isn’t mine.

What color eyes has Marjolet got?

Guys, look, Mustaine said, a warning. There’s talk any Floridian Marielitos get caught after S-Day, it’ll be life. They want you outta the State, Country, for good and all.

Litz opened the passenger’s door, sat inside. It’s definite. This car’s gonna be way too small for me and him.

You got boots? Grant said. Rather walk?

Litz pulled the door shut. He rolled down the window, rested his right arm on the sill. The flesh on his right arm, down to his fingers, had clockwise whorls. It was also pitted and shiny and taut. Burned, piebald.

Mustaine was still standing near Grant, who had his hand on the door latch.

How’s it feel, jeans and a clean tee? Mustaine asked him.

Human, Grant said. Humane.

Mustaine lowered his voice. Look, now, be careful, and you be careful with him. Known each other long enough, what’ll set both of you off.

Grant petted the roof of the car. She looks sweet. I hope she drives like you say.

Well you’ll be too far north to call me a liar to my face.

Grant laughed. His first free laugh outside the prison, it’s been ten years.

Mustaine was glad to hear it, to see all Grant’s grey teeth flashing, to see him cheery. He so very often wasn’t.

There’s bad roads up and down the coast, so stick with the corridor, Mustaine said. And make it to New York. I don’t wanna hear of you caught in Maryland or Pennsylvania. Don’t become instant citizens in some State/Country you don’t want. And being Marielitos, prisoners again to boot. Those were New York licenses, remember. Don’t you waste these eleven days. Or this car, which would be even worse.

Grant laughed again.

Those’re genuine New York metal plates, Mustaine said.

I saw that, Grant said.

It was another favor, me gettin them delivered from all the way North, and in time. But the numbers I gave them won’t match any registry. They’ll scream fake, so don’t get pulled over neither.

A lot of don’ts, I’m hearing, Litz shouted from inside the car.

Grant took his hand off the latch, gave Litz the finger.

"So just don’t, Mustaine said. I did all I could for you."

You’re not getting another hug, Grant said. I’ll treat her like a whore, and under the speed limits always. You might get her back.

They shook hands, but Mustaine wouldn’t let go. There’s this other small thing.

I knew it, Litz yelled, opened the door, stood on the floorboard. The car leaned to the right under his weight.

I done you boys a lotta favors, now I gotta ask one of you.

What, Grant said, taking his hand back.

Esser, Mustaine said.

Waysec, Litz said. The Baton?

He helped me plenty, Mustaine said, then put his hands up, palms out. Not nearly as much as you two, but he did help me.

The Baton? Litz said. How.

We don’t got time for that, Mustaine said, looking behind him at the queue of cars. Some drivers were racing their engines in Park.

The man’s a moron, Litz said. Esser, not you.

Mustaine said, He claims to have a genius IQ.

Some genius he was, getting passed around like he did, Grant said.

I’m not sayin he’s smart, I’m sayin he thinks he’s smart. Anyway, what he is and we can all agree, Esser’s a survivor.

The Baton, Litz said.

Please don’t call him that, not when he’s around, Mustaine said. He looked up over the car, past the fences, to the prison’s entrance, then made a waving motion.

A short, stooping man came through the glass doors, down the brick walkway towards the open gates. He had a kind, ingratiating face that he always wore, and he wore it convincingly. It was in defiance to how he felt about himself, and of those around him, and of the place that had been holding him captive the past four years. His specialty was kidnapping. He favored the children of upper-middle-class families with poor home security.

Esser never harmed the children. He did not desire them sexually, nor to hurt them. Usually he only kept them for a few days, when the families inevitably paid using his series of elaborate switchbacks and fakes that had fooled the police and the FBI in twelve States.

To the children, wherever he held them, he framed their time with him as an elaborate adventure, assuring them that their parents were also playing along. He always kept there a giant television, current video games, candy, soda. And pills should the children become unruly.

On an irregular basis he engaged in identity fraud. Not the theft of individual identities, social security numbers and credit cards and such, but theft on a grander scale: institutions. Normally charities and election campaigns. It was during an election year that he was arrested. The kidnappings were never solved, nor did Esser confess to them, to anyone.

He was the same age as Litz, early thirties. Ten years younger than Grant.

Tell him to hurry, Grant told Mustaine. He thumped the roof of the car. Run, Grant shouted. "Put some stride in your stride."

Litz sat down, closed the door.

Esser jogged, reached the car. He thanked Mustaine with a nod.

Open the door, please, Litz? Esser said.

No way, Litz said.

Esser opened the door. Could you at least bend forward so I can get past — 

I will not in any way be inconvenienced by you on this trip, Litz said.

Esser was holding a small carryall. On both sides had been the words Sunshine Corrections Company. Esser had buried the words under black marker though the letters were phosphorescent, and their ghosts could be seen.

Grant and Litz had no bags.

Grant said to Esser, Waiting for me’s a wife and two kids I haven’t seen in ten years.

Esser said, Is it my fault you haven’t — 

Haven’t what? Grant said.

Litz looked up at Esser through the open window, shook his head sideways with clipped, conspiratorial rigor.

Sorry I took so long, Esser said, then squirmed through the tiny space into the backseat, elbowed some sandwiches out of his way, moved the gallons of water to fit behind the driver’s side, put his bag on the seat beside him.

Where were you headed? Litz said.

Colora — 

Cause you should know, we’re going to New York, Litz said.

That’s okay, Esser said.

Outside the car, Mustaine told Grant, You’re still smiling.

Thanks for it all, Mustaine. For everything, except Esser.

Good luck.

Grant got behind the wheel. As the Charger rolled away, the line of cars behind them shuffled forwards.

Mustaine walked back into the prison, came out with another criminal. Then another guard with another criminal. Within an hour the convicts would be coming out in batches.

Altogether throughout the day, 822 of Bonifay’s convicts who’d violated Federal laws — laws that would be null in eleven days, what with no Federation behind them — were released. This left 205 prisoners inside — 101 of whom were murderers, sexual offenders, child abusers, or molesters. These prisoners would be transferred elsewhere. Also transferred elsewhere were 104 prisoners who hadn’t yet served half their sentences and were thus ineligible for the unspoken parole.

The others. Freed Federal prisoners. Freed with the condition that they leave the State by S-Day.


* * *

Can’t we go down to the city this Thursday, Uncle Wish? Vick said, ten years old. Nearly eleven.

Wish, short for Wishful.

To the Verizon Stadium? Vick said.

What for? Darling asked, the boy’s mother.

Arena football, Val said. Short for Valiant.

You’re too young, Wish said. And what is it with you and arena football?

"I like the word arena. And sometimes it gets more violent than hockey."

Then no, Darling said.

Vick said, She won’t even let me watch it on TV.

Ask your uncle Val, Wish said.

No way, Val said.

Five years ago, Val had taken Wish’s oldest — Safford, then seven — into Ithaca proper, to a parade. Fourth of July. While Val was flirting with a cute single mom, Safford had wandered off with the money Val had given her on the drive over. When Val had the woman’s handheld number, and left her with a promise, he looked down, and Safford was gone.

An immediate and robust fear chilled his skin though the day had been hot and dry. He was worried for the child; his own parents had warned him about the dangers of stalking off without them. That there were hunters — monsters — who snatched loose children from the air with black magic. Took them into paneled dungeons. Took pictures of these children, made films, and when finished, buried the bodies in hasty graves off abandoned roads. Or worse, kept the children in the dungeons for years of abuse. On a bed in front of 3-D webcams, with another minor of the opposite sex — or the same sex — taking requests from perverts around the world.

It was two desperate, sweaty hours later when Val found Safford — mouth and hands sticky from cotton candy, the look of a stomachache on her face. She’d been in the company of a female police officer who was immune to Val’s apologies and banter.

Lesbian, Val had thought. Like most lotharios, pigeonholing any woman who resisted him.

You don’t ever take me anywhere, Vick said to Val.

And with good fucking reason.

Valiant! Darling said.

Like he hasn’t heard that word in school, a thousand times.

It’s the New York Gothams versus the New York Cosmopolitans, Vick said.

No, Wish said.

No, Val said. Wait, they’re called the Cosmopolitans?

The Cosmos, Vick said.

That sounds very delicate, Val said. Women on that team?

The whole league’s mixed, Vick said, with some gloating, as if he were responsible.

I bet there’s more women than men on the Cosmos, Val said, chuckling.

I do not want either of you, Darling said to her brothers, taking him down there just to see carnage. If you’re going into the city — 

We’re not, Val said. And specifically not for Cosmos.

There’s so much culture besides, Darling said, you’re gonna take him there.

We aren’t, Wish said.

The boy pouted, stirred his eggs with his fork.

Let’s join up our hands, Wish said.

They were sitting at an unvarnished wooden table, Darling at the head. It had come, originally, from their parent’s house. They held hands left and right, staring at the bounty of brunch fare before them.

We give thanks, Wish said.

Thanks, Vick repeated.

To the Lord for the food that’s been provided us. Thanks to Darling who wakes every Sunday at dawn. Not only to keep the four of us together but for her hard work — 

Always working, this good woman, Val said.

Creating these staples and surprises, Wish said.

Vick, bow your head, Darling said.

So we can remain a family, Wish said, and understand better and better, all these Sundays, what family really means.

It’s never any trouble, Darling said, though everyone noticed her rheumy eyes, the slight tremor in her arms from exhaustion.

What does family mean, Vick? Wish said.

Those we’re born to. Those we never ever abandon.

That’s a good answer, Val said. Better than last week’s.

I let you all down last Sunday, Vick said. All week I been trying to come up with something to make you proud.

And amen, Val said.

I’m not finished, Wish said.

Without further ado, oh let’s just eat, Darling said and let go of the two hands holding hers.

Fine. Amen, Wish said brusquely. Amen, pass the jam, Vick.

Vick passed him the jar, said, I’ve heard all the bad words at Uncle Wishful’s, Mom.

"You can hear them and use them in his home, not ours, Darling said. That’s only a few days a week you have to watch your mouth. Any trouble this week, Wishful? When Brea came by on Friday, I was still at the shop."

No. Brea, every day after school she was there, and no dinner till homework is done. Wish coated a croissant with apricot jam.

Val took a scone. And some undercooked eggs with scallions, just how he liked them.

And his cousins? Darling said.

Brea’s not so strict with her kids, Val said.

Wish said, You had kids of your own — 

Thank God I don’t, Val said. That I know about. Girlfriends I got, kids I don’t. And not six of them. Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ, Wish said. I’m fortunate enough to have — 

How’s the school contract coming along? Darling said.

We won’t be done until after S-Day, Val said around a mouthful of eggs. Foreman said to me the men’re worried the job’ll be shut down.

DeKalb told you that? Wish said. He should come to me, he’s worried.

They never come to you for anything, nothing requiring tact and sympathy, Val said.

Here we go, Wish said.

Forget it, Val said.

Vick took a ladle and heaped more food than he’d be able to finish onto his plate.

It won’t get scrapped, Wish said, just like our other contracts coming up. None of them’ll get halted.

Why would they be? Vick said.

Because they wouldn’t, Wish said and gave him a soft smile. Two Brothers Building is the best contracting firm in Ithaca. They wouldn’t let us go.

Where? Vick said.


Go where? Vick said.

Have a scone, piggy, Val said and slid two scones onto the boy’s plate.

You’re the one who likes scones, Uncle Val, not me.

Give them a chance.

Go where? Vick asked Wish again.

Forget it. Eat, Wish said.

Because I’m too young and I wouldn’t understand.

You’re not too young, Wish said. To everyone at this table you’re an adult. We’re all adults.

Which is high praise, Val said, as even his teenage kids act like children.

Not in my house they never do, Darling said. She’d been cutting her eggs into smaller and smaller pieces, doing the same to her bacon. Cutting her food, but not eating. Never when they’re over here to see me, which has been a while, Wish.

Wish said, Brea — 

A house is not a home, Vick said.

What? Val said.

Something we learned at school.

Yeah, I’ve heard it before, Val said, I never understood what it meant.

Me neither.

"Either, Darling said. Me either."

When I was very little, younger than you, Val said to Vick, we didn’t have school year-round. They gave us the summers off.

I was born too late, Vick said, sounding much older than ten, nearly eleven.

Val laughed.

Next Sunday we’ll bring all our kids, Wish said. Except Val, who doesn’t have any.

That I know of.

Darling cradled the back of Vick’s head in her palm. You know, soon, he’ll be old enough to understand everything you’re really saying. She covered Vick’s ears with her hands and mouthed Stop to Val.

What I meant to say, Val said, staring at Vick, what I meant was not yet.

No you didn’t, Vick said.

Val shrugged at Darling, who also shrugged.

He can bring his girlfriend, Vick said, chomping on some Texas toast.

Which one? Wish said.

The one or two has clothes fit for this brunch, Val said.

So Wednesday fat Dodson tried to dunk me in the mud, Vick said. But Wednesday night Uncle Wish showed me what to do, and Thursday I had Dodson in the mud. He was beaming.

Darling’s gaze rested uncomfortably on Wish.

Someone’s gotta show him these things, Wish said. I’m sorry, but that someone’s me, and it’s Val.

Simpdat, Val said.

Is it really as simple as that, Val? Darling said.

I’m afraid, sis, really, yeah, Val said.

Wish said, to Vick, No one pushes you down or trips you. It won’t happen again, will it.

Because I waited, Vick said, till everyone was around except for the teachers.

That’s right, Wish said. He would have placed a tender hand to the boy’s cheek but didn’t want to pamper him.

But she’s a girl and I felt bad afterwards, Vick said.

Wish looked at Darling, a little startled. He said, I didn’t know Dodson was a girl.

Darling was proud of her son and, with some reserve, proud of how she and Wishful and Valiant were raising him.

Val looked through the adjoining door into Darling’s workshop. Bedding, shirts, socks, and hosiery were hanging from clotheslines crisscrossing the upper parts of the room like a spider web. Darling’s Singer sewer and a sideboard of colorful spools squatted under the room’s only window. Along the baseboard were coffee cans filled with needles. Crochet chopsticks glinted dangerously all over the floor, here and there, like weapons forgotten after a fight.

Young man Markus has you bringing work home? Val said.

I brought them home, I still have property taxes gonna need paying, Darling said. "I’m the one pushing myself, not Markus. The Post is predicting a big assessment after S-Day."

Tough bitch, our Governor Cuomo, Val said. "President Cara Cuomo. Or Premier? Chancellor Cara Cuomo?"

Don’t go dipping into your savings, Wish said.

At least there’s no mortgage, Val thought.

People like Mom’s lace, Vick said. There’s mothers and kids at school, always asking me when she’ll have more.

Loom’s still in the basement? Val said.

Only when I have time for it, Darling said. It takes so long. I charge a high price and they keep asking Vick. She unconsciously hid her hands in her lap. The palms were hard and cracked, the fingertips scarred from carelessness or frustration.

Wish’s handheld rang. He touched the screen, put it to his ear, said, I’ve been waiting for you to call. Lemme call you right back. He hung up, looked at Val, said, Guy about that condo bid.

Val almost said What condo? but then noticed how Wish’s eyes were set, and said nothing.

Wish stood. I gotta find a room with some privacy, and walked out.

They never call me, Val said, to keep Wish’s pretense afloat. He gets the big calls, I get the complaints.

Is Uncle Wish smarter than you? Vick said.

You kidding? Guy’s got six kids. Six.

Vick, young enough that this confused him, looked at his mother.

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