Authors: William Oday
Tags: #Post-Apocalyptic | Infected
William Oday, July 2016
Copyright © 2016 William Oday
All rights reserved worldwide
All rights reserved. With the exception of excerpts for reviews, no part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, dialogues, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locations, or persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
The Last Peak Series
THE DARWIN PROTOCOL
THE DARWIN COLLAPSE
THE DARWIN EVOLUTION
I’m pounding away on the next story in this series, The Darwin Evolution (The Last Peak, Book 3). If you’d like to find out how Mason and his family fare in a world gone mad, please click the link below.
Your email address will never be shared and you can unsubscribe at any time. Hope to see you around the bonfire again someday!
Readers Are Saying
“It’s up there with Wool [by Hugh Howey]”
“Wow, just Wow!”
“Truly excellent. A must-read.”
“Impeccably paced, it’s a tense thriller.”
“a friggin’ home run”
“can’t wait for the next book!”
“one contentious action packed tale.”
“explodes off the pages”
“Hooked me from the first page”
“Well crafted story, great characters, and action.”
Want the Next Book for Free?
I do my best to squash every error creeping through the pages of this book. A professional editor also combs through it looking for what I missed. Despite our combined best efforts, the occasional mistake still slips through. But with your valiant help, Dear Reader, we will catch the last of them!
If you notice an obvious error, please email me at
. For just one caught error, I’ll be happy to email you a digital copy of the next book I finish for free. That’s right! One error for one book. (Creative use of words or grammatical structure doesn’t apply. Honest-to-goodness mistakes absolutely do.)
Brooklyn, New York
shoved through the horde of people surrounding the newspaper stand on the corner of Union and Fourth. Cries of dismay echoed through the crowd. The boy drifted with the moving currents, grateful for the warmth of so many bodies. He wasn’t trying to get to the front of the line because he had no money with which to purchase a newspaper. Besides, he had no interest in news. That was for rich people.
People with food in their bellies.
The passing thought of food made his stomach twist on itself in agony. The sudden pain made him dizzy and he might’ve fallen over if it weren’t for the people pressing in on all sides.
Rough, wool coats scratched his cheeks and arms. A woman passed by and her perfume momentarily masked the stench in his nose. His own stench. The relentless stink of life in the gutter.
He hated winters in the big city. His bare hands and feet had been tingling numb for days. The heat of the crowd was all he could afford. But the warmth of this tight squeeze wasn’t the only benefit. Mixing with the masses had another advantage.
It made pinching a wallet easier.
And he needed all the help he could get. While he was a better pickpocket than most of the other urchins he’d come across, winter always made the profession a challenge.
It was the freezing wind that did it. It made his hands feel thick and clumsy—two things that made the job almost impossible. Add to that the fact that his bare feet felt like blocks of ice and he couldn’t trust them to run right if a mark caught on and got physical or whistled for the cops.
The boy bumped through the crowd looking for the right opportunity. Long, dark wool jackets surrounded him. There would be an opening if he just kept moving, kept waiting for it. He couldn’t afford a mistake.
Even if his feet weren’t half-frozen, he couldn’t have run. He just didn’t have the energy. A mistake would mean getting collared. And getting collared would mean a beating.
New York City’s finest took a dim view of street rats like him. And they used every opportunity to make their feelings known. A week ago, they’d beat a kid to death for trying to steal carrots from the local grocer. There were supposed to be laws against that kind of thing, but laws only protected rich people. Street rats protected themselves or they didn’t live long.
The boy had survived many winters, but the emaciated limbs hanging from his bony torso suggested that streak wasn’t likely to last much longer.
He needed food.
Something more than the rotten scraps he occasionally found in trash bins. Something more than the infrequent feasts when he landed a decent score.
And so he’d moved to a new street. One with more people and possibilities. Of course, there were always dangers entering new turf, but he’d run out of options. He wasn’t inclined to take unnecessary risks when simple survival already required so many necessary ones. He’d been holed up for days and would’ve stayed put, but the clawing beast in his gut drove him half-mad with hunger.
There came a point when the possibility of death by beating was better than the certainty by starvation.
He’d already reached that point many times this winter and he would again if this attempt didn’t kill him.
Weaving through the crowd, he patted coat pockets with fingers that burned like fire now that feeling had returned. He patted another and the pocket contained something. Something promising. But the flap was buttoned down and his stiff fingers weren’t all that useful yet.
He was considering how to approach the job when the burly man turned and spotted him. The man looked down at the boy and both knew the score in an instant.
The boy tried to dodge into a gap but the burly man caught him with a hammer blow to the head before he could get away.
The thump sent a jolt of pain through the boy’s shoulders and back. His legs almost gave out but he managed to dive between two dark coats and leave the burly man behind. In a daze, he hurried through more coats, trying to put distance between himself and another crippling punch.
He pushed through a gap and stumbled into an open pocket at the front of the crowd. The newsstand owner took money with one hand and handed out copies of
The New York Times
with the other. The edition pinned to the stand had a big headline in black ink.
KENNEDY IS KILLED BY SNIPER
AS HE RIDES IN CAR IN DALLAS
It had a picture of the president and the story below.
The boy couldn’t have cared less. The president had never done anything for him. The president had never put food in his hands or boots on his feet. He was just another rich person in a far off land called Washington who made laws for other rich people and talked about even more far off lands like the moon.
If this country could spend so much money trying to put a man on the moon, why couldn’t it spend a few cents to put a sandwich in his hand?
New York City was like that. Too many people all trying to grab their share and more before someone else could get it. They were rats fighting to chew off an ever-larger piece of the cheese.
The current of bodies spit him out next to the newsstand. A magazine with Elvis on the front captured his attention. The king of rock and roll had glorious sideburns. Perhaps they were the mark of a king.
The boy looked up at the man selling papers.
The boy shook his head.
“Big surprise. Get lost, or else!”
The boy didn’t have to guess at what the
might mean. He slipped back into the crowd, rubbing his hands together and blowing warmer air from his lungs over them.
If he didn’t score something solid today, he was certain he wouldn’t make it through another freezing night.
He stumbled through the crowd a while longer, letting the press of bodies move him where it might, trusting to fate that the right opportunity would present itself eventually. As he drifted, he curled and uncurled his fingers hoping to get more feeling back into them before that moment arrived.
Something soft brushed by. It tickled the fine hairs on his bare arm. A black coat. Finer and softer than the usual rough wool. An understated sign of wealth that shone like a spotlight for people in his profession. He gently bumped a shoulder against the man’s coat pocket and felt a distinct bulge.
A magical bulge that promised an end to the agony of his body eating itself.
He winced as his stomach clenched tighter, anticipating the meal that was not yet assured. The boy followed the mark through the crowd, but never too closely. Now that the target was set, he didn’t want to blow it by tripping on the mark’s heels. A successful pick was as much about timing as technique. And both were required if you wanted to walk away with your head intact.
Between two dark coats, he caught a glimpse of another filthy, young face. One not so different from his own. He’d seen the older boy around a number of times and had thus far managed to avoid him. And that was the way he intended to keep it. The older boy was a good foot taller than him and, while skinny, had a lean frame that hinted at a dangerous strength.
It wasn’t uncommon for fights to break out between kids living on the street. Over resources. Over turf. Over pride. Over nothing. And, as often as not, one of the parties involved ended up dead.
The boy avoided other urchins wherever possible. He simply didn’t have the size or strength to defend himself. Running was the only option. It had worked thus far.
He ducked and lost sight of the taller boy as he continued trailing behind the rich man. Trailing and waiting for the right moment.
The rich man bought a paper and then began pushing his way out of the crowd.
The boy followed.
The rich man neared the edge of the crowd.
The boy knew all would be lost the instant the man broke free of the mass. It was the chaos of the accidental jostling that covered the execution of the intended one.
It was now or never.
He dodged between two coats and bumped into the rich man. As their bodies collided, the boy slipped a hand inside the long coat. He trailed down the silky lining and parted the interior pocket.
His fingers dipped lower and pinched around a soft, leather wallet. He lifted his hand. His heart pounded in his ears as the wallet pulled free.
He had it.
Who knew how much money a man like that carried around? It might be enough to eat for a month!
The boy completed the pick with the wallet gripped tightly in his hand. He turned to disappear into the crowd when plush wool fabric wrapped around his neck and drew tight. The arm inside the fabric bulged with muscle. A large hand wrapped over his hand holding the wallet. The grip closed tight, crushing his fingers into a ball.
The boy panicked and kicked out but his limbs were so weak and the choking arm so strong.
A breathy voice whispered in his ear.
“Thinking I’m an easy mark, eh? I’ll show you easy.”
The man dragged the boy free of the crowd. The boy struggled to break loose but it was no use. The man pulled him into a nearby alley and deeper into its darkness. He slammed the boy against the brick wall and then slammed a fist into his gut.