When I wrote Cobalt City: RESISTANCE in the wake of the 2016 elections, I knew things were bad–that they were almost certainly going to get worse. That was a big impetus for getting the book launched in time for the 2018 elections. Well, the launch happened. The election happened. And now everything is fixed.
*listens to producers in his ear piece* Wait. What? It’s so much worse in many ways?
Well. Seems our dystopia has managed to outpace the ones we write about in many ways. That is one of many reasons I haven’t been posting as actively on here. I don’t want this blog to be one, long existential scream into the void. And honestly, depression and exhaustion have taken a toll.
So to counter all of that, I’ve elected to share one of my favorite scenes, one of my favorite chapters from Cobalt City: RESISTANCE where the vagabond vigilantes Manuel de la Vega (Gato Loco), Snowflake, and new recruit Felix Joseph (Caterwaul) are in a real pickle of a Mad Max variety. Nothing like a Nazi bike gang to liven up road trip!
Link to the book is available at the bottom for the interested, but honestly this is less of a sales pitch than it is a catharsis. Enjoy! The chapter is below the line.
They picked up the pursuit ten miles outside of Vegas—a flotilla of heavy cruising cycles. Thirteen of them at first, ridden by serious looking individuals in full on Nazi cosplay. They pulled alongside the truck, hurling incoherent insults at Snowflake or Manuel, depending on which side of the truck they pulled up to. They worked in shifts, one or two riding up then falling back to be replaced by fresh riders.
Their colors, emblazoned on the back of their vests and jackets proclaimed them to be Sons of Thule. Snowflake remembered seeing a few of them at the gas station at city limits where he’d topped off the tank for their trek towards Utah. “I swear by all that’s holy that I didn’t provoke these Nazi assholes,” he said angrily.
Both Manuel and Felix knew he wasn’t angry at them. He was angry at the situation. They’d been swerving in, trying to bait him into a sudden movement that might cause a jackknife or other accident. Thankfully, Snowflake had been driving this particular rig for over a decade, and he’d driven under worse conditions—like Seattle in rush hour after a baseball game let out. Still, none of them really knew how long this road harassment would go on. And though they hadn’t started brandishing weapons yet, most of the bikers had knives and pistols strapped to their legs.
“I really thought we’d put this whole Nazi thing behind us as a country,” Felix said. “Or at least exiled them to Idaho.”
“They’re fighter jets harrying a tanker right now,” Manuel said. “They can’t really take us down unless they’re willing to throw one of their bikes under our wheels. And if they start shooting for the tires, that’s harder than it looks. They might get bored and back off before we have to pull over. Or they could keep harrying us as a matter of principle. It’s not like there are any damn highway patrol out on this stretch of road.”
“It seemed like a good idea at the time, Manny,” Snowflake said. “I mean, we’re not in a rush.”
“Not blaming you. Just thinking out loud.”
“Let me suit up to go out and even things up,” Felix said.
“We’re not stopping the truck,” Snowflake and Manuel said in unison.
“I shimmy out the back window of the cab and onto the top of the trailer. You can open the back remotely. I’ll drop in, suit up, ride out.”
“Jesus, Manny,” Snowflake said after a protracted pause. “Are you sure he’s not your biological son?”
“I was never that reckless,” Manuel said. At least it hadn’t sounded so reckless when he’d done it.
“I told you we should have gone to Disneyland,” Felix said.
The panda driver snorted and goosed the engine. “$100 a day tickets, too many kids, and animatronic Johnny Depp in the Pirates of the Caribbean ride? I’ll take playing Mad Max versus Nazis any day.”
Manuel laughed. “I thought you loved that ride!”
“I did,” Snowflake grumbled, glancing to his side mirror as the harrying riders changed positions yet again. “But it should have remained timeless. And yes, creepy and inappropriate because they were goddamned pirates. Fuck that preening gloryhound in all his many holes, he has no right to sully that perfect passion play of ocean-going debauchery with his stupid Keith Richards impression. Anyway, Antelope Canyon won the draw, fair and square.”
There was a moment of awkward silence in the cab while the others tried to gauge how serious the panda was in his statement. Before they could ask, he shook his head and motioned to his side mirror.
“Son of a… can you see this asshole riding up on us now?”
Both Felix and Manuel craned their necks, pushed forward in their seat to peer around Snowflake and out the driver side window. They eventually saw an older biker, a hard face colonized by massive gray sideburns beneath an old-school black military helmet topped with a spike.
“That’s something you don’t see every day,” Felix whistled.
Snowflake rolled down the truck window, shouting over the wind and engine noise of the 60 mph impromptu intolerance parade. “That’s not even a Nazi helmet, you human flapjack! That’s Weimar Republic! Wrong war! You’re just appropriating random German culture now, you fucking Hasselhoff!”
The biker responded by pulling out a pistol the size of a hog’s leg.
“It was the Hasselhoff thing, wasn’t it?” Snowflake said to his friends. “That was too far.”
“Your mouth is going to get us killed,” Manuel said.
“Boss?” Felix signaled to the trailer with his thumbs.
“Ok. Caterwaul. You’re up,” Manuel said grimly. “Try not to get killed.”
Felix unbuckled and shimmied over the seat to the small cab window. It took a bit of fiddling with the latch, Snowflake muttering half in complaint and half in incoherent instructions, before he managed to slide it open. Gripping the sides of the window, he wiggled through like an otter into the bed of the truck.
The bikers who witnessed it set up a war whoop, happy for a change in the status quo without any thought on what that change could mean. Manuel almost felt sorry for them. How could they know they’d picked a fight with a group of travelling vigilantes? If they had any idea, they would have started shooting before Felix got suited up and on his bike.
Felix Joseph gauged the road ahead, straight enough to not risk throwing him too badly, and with his stomach in his throat he scrambled onto the top of the trailer and mobile garage of the Gato Loco crew. He crouched low, feeling the wind on his back threaten to toss him from his perch. Fingers trailing lightly upon the white surface coated with road dust, he scampered to the back of the trailer. A quick glance over the back showed the door still closed.
Felix shifted, closer to the back corner of the trailer than he liked, liking this plan more in the concept than the execution. Crouching low, he waved a hand down the side of the trailer where Snowflake would be able to see it. He heard the click from the back door as it popped open.
After wiping his hands on the legs of his jeans to make sure they were dry, Felix gripped the back lip of the trailer and dropped down, swinging into the back.
That was when the bullets started to fly.
It might have been the Coeur d’Alene youth’s brazen acrobatics that prompted it. It could have been the Nazi biker’s brief glimpse into the shadowed depths of the trailer, the two bikes strapped down, the gear on the side walls prompting either avarice or fear. Whatever the cause, of the four shots that rang out, only one made it through the door of the trailer, clipping the hem of Felix’s faded red Pegasus Motors t-shirt before coming to rest in one of the off-road tires mounted on the far wall.
Felix scowled, looking out behind the trailer. There were maybe as many as twenty bikes back there now. Damn things were multiplying like bunnies. He slapped the big flat steel button that secured the door then the green button for the intercom.
“Everything okay back there?” Snowflake asked.
“They missed me,” Felix said, quickly shrugging out of his clothes. He paused only long enough to stick his finger through the bullet hole in his shirt. “Barely.”
“But did they hit my stuff?”
“One of the tires, I think.” Stripped down to his jockeys, Felix popped the wardrobe locker open and tossed clothes and tennis shoes in the bin at the bottom. He took the dark blue neoprene & Kevlar pants off the hook and fell over trying to put them on in the moving vehicle. “Ow!”
Manuel’s voice came through the intercom, fainter than Snowflake’s due to the microphone being in the driver’s visor rather than the somewhere in the middle of the cab. “You okay?”
“It’s nothing,” Caterwaul grunted, rolling to his back to finish hiking up the tight costume pants. “Just fell. Putting these pants on while we’re moving kind of sucks. I don’t know how you do it.”
“He doesn’t,” Snowflake says. “He makes me stop the truck. Not an option here. Get your britches on, junior. One of these guys just took out my side mirror with crowbar.”
Felix hopped back up, tossed the boots on the floor and stepped into them. At least they were easy, and cinched up around his feet when they sensed his weight on the insole. The top was next, the same deep blue neoprene and Kevlar as the pants, short-sleeved for comfort with the signature Gato Loco symbol on the back, and a trio of midnight black clips where the front of the shirt overlapped, in a diagonal from left breast to navel. The gauntlets were next, with sleek, black metal forearm guards that could triple in width for extra protection as needed. Strong enough to stop one of Stardust’s Starbolts, or so Snowflake promised. Finally, the helmet, a half-faceplate compared to Manuel’s full plate helmet, but with the same sculpted ears and crazy eyes above the visor.
Suited up, he hopped onto the seat of his bike, a lighter, more nimble chassis than the sleek monolith that was Gato Loco’s ride, Shadow. Felix kissed his fingers and touched them to the crossbar of the bike. “Ok. Pop the door. I’m going out!”
He fired the bike to life, felt the weight shift as the wheel clamps disengaged. Sunlight flooded into the trailer ahead of him as the doors flew open. The look on the faces of the Nazi biker’s immediately behind the trailer was so priceless, he wished momentarily there had been a camera in the helmet. “Let’s ride.”
Caterwaul cleared his throat, gunned the engine, and belted out a sonic scream that hit the two closest bikers like an oncoming car. As they went down in a tangle of metal and pain, it bought Caterwaul the opening he needed to exit. The bike hopped down from bed of the trailer, fishtailing as he adjusted the throttle to accommodate for the change of momentum.
Behind him, the motion sensors detected his departure and the doors clapped shut. Caterwaul spun the bike around, kicking up a plume of smoke from his back tire as he gunned back in pursuit of the truck. If someone with a crowbar was bashing on the truck, it felt like a good idea to clean them off and buy Snowflake some breathing room.
He gunned up the driver’s side of the trailer and big red pickup, thankful for the first time that other than this fracas the crumbling two-lane blacktop was deserted. There were two bikers on this side of the truck, one whip-thin with a swastika on the back of his shaved & sun-burned scalp, the other muscular and forgettable if not for the crew colors on the back of his denim vest and crowbar in his hand.
Caterwaul jockeyed in between the truck and the bald rider who had somehow not registered the earlier sonic blast as a warning that things were about to get weird. Noticing the other rider so close to him, Baldy wobbled slightly when he looked up and saw the stylized cat-head helmet. Caterwaul took advantage of the moment of confusion and kicked the Nazi biker hard in the side, forcing him off the road and tumbling into the desert beyond.
The other biker was bringing back the crowbar for another whack at the truck. Not only had he smashed off the side mirror, the door was dented all to fuck and the door handle was barely hanging on. Caterwaul grabbed the other end of the crowbar and yanked hard enough on it that the rider lost control of his bike. He spilled out across the asphalt and would probably have some broken bones, but at least he was wearing a helmet. His bike was not so lucky and the front tire was pulled beneath the truck’s rear tire, crushing it.
A few bullets whizzed by, sparking off the roadway and the side of the truck. Felix felt the impact of two of them in his back, the force of the bullets absorbed by his jacket. Considering how many bikers had been behind him, he’d expected more. The roar of their bikes filled his ears and he checked his mirror. There were only two bikes behind him. The others seemed to be moving to the other side of the truck.
“They’re using the truck for cover,” Manuel said through the helmet communicator. “They’re pushing hard. I think they’re going to try and get ahead of us, maybe try and force a stop. If I could get to my suit…”
“But you can’t,” Felix said. “Not in time. Not without stopping the truck. Do you have a headcount?”
“I have twelve on this side.”
Caterwaul saw them streaking on ahead, a good twenty to thirty miles an hour faster than the truck could go pulling the full weight of the trailer. The road stretched on pretty straight with no side routes, no turns, just a sun-baked gun barrel of disused highway. “Ok. I have two behind me.”
Fourteen total. Even suited up against non-powered individuals, he didn’t like those odds. “How do you feel about blasting through a wall of motorcycles?” Felix asked.
“I love it. Especially if there are a few Nazis on the motorcycles at the time. My truck doesn’t like it as much.”
“And they might have an improvised spike strip of some kind,” Manuel said. “Their moving ahead is a cocky move. It’s either that or they’re going to pull up to a stop so they can take better aim and empty their guns into us. Either way, it’s… hold on.”
There was a grunt and wham sound. Felix checked his mirror to see that the two bikes that had been behind him were gone.
“Got one with my door,” Manuel said. “Sorry about the paint, Snowflake.”
“That’s the least of our worries,” the panda answered.
A few hundred feet ahead, the remains of the Sons of Thule motorcycle club #220 or whatever chapter and branch they were had formed a line across the highway. They looked pretty damned confident and at least a little bit angry.
“Stop the truck,” Manuel said.
“Looks like we have us a Mexican standoff,” Felix said, coming to rest sideways right in front of the truck’s front bumper.
“In Mexico, we just call those standoffs,” Manuel said. “I’m going to try and hurry back to get suited up. Hopefully seeing a gimp like me out of the vehicle won’t bait them into charging. But be prepared to buy me some time.”
“You sure that’s a good idea?”
“I’m all out of good ideas, buddy. All I have left is crazy.” Manuel slid out of the passenger side to the highway. He raised his voice to be heard on the other side of the truck. “You got this, kid?”
Felix felt that same lump in his throat as before he jumped onto the trailer. He wondered how many more sonic screams he could do before he shredded his voice. Four? Five? He wondered how many of the bikers were trained fighters or how many were just assholes who liked to scrap. “I got this. But hurry up, okay?”
He stood astride his bike, listening to Manuel’s boots scrape on the cracked road surface. The bikers held the line ahead. Several of them had stepped off their bikes, displaying chains, knives, pipes, guns, a whole arsenal of unpleasant. “What are they waiting for?” he asked in to the headset.
“For our next move,” Snowflake said. “If I try to turn this beast around on this highway, I flounder and they’re on us like a fat kid on a cupcake. We advance, they Bonnie & Clyde us. We try and wait them out, they push the line and try their luck. Pretty sure they’re not going to give Manny the time he needs to get suited up before they start the dance.”
Caterwaul smoked his rear wheel as he twisted the throttle, spinning around to face the assembled bikers. Two of them rode out to meet him, almost shoulder to shoulder. As the distance closed, he realized they were dragging what looked like a length of wire between them, glinting however faintly in the sun and kicking up road dust. He couldn’t tell for sure if it was just slender cable or maybe razor or barb wire. Felix didn’t want to know.
They raced towards each other in a diabolical game of chicken. With something like twenty feet between them, Felix was the one to flinch first, shouting out a sonic blast that blew both men off their bikes. He jogged hard left, avoiding the nearest bike as it toppled over, grinding up sparks.
That still left way too many of them, and they were angry now. Plus, they’d seen his big secret weapon already. He wouldn’t be able to surprise them with that again. Caterwaul gunned the bike and closed the distance, aiming for a gap just to the side of a long-haired guy who was built like a mountain and carrying what turned out upon closer examination to be a small chainsaw.
Those with guns started shooting, and he felt bullets pound into his bodysuit like hard rain. They wouldn’t penetrate the armor, but they hurt like crazy, each one landing like a hammer blow. He’d bruise for sure, and if they might even crack a rib if they hit with something of a large enough caliber. One bullet snapped his head back slightly as it clipped his helmet high and on the left. He lowered his head to make his chin less visible, just to be safe.
He kept laser focused on the chainsaw dude, and at the last second, as the evil lumberjack raised the chainsaw to come at him like a piece of spruce, Caterwaul slammed on the front brake lifting the rear tire from the ground. Using his momentum, he whipped the rear of the bike around, clocking the Nazi with the spinning tire. The chainsaw went flying off into the line of Sons of Thule, and they dove for cover.
Caterwaul hopped off his bike.
Ten to one.
Not ideal, but fuck these fucking Nazis.
His training took over and he waded into the melee on auto-pilot. In the close combat, they were reluctant to use guns for fear of hitting their fellow gang members. The melee fighters took the first dance, mixing it up with chains, pipes, and knives. With the arm guards expanded into small shields, Caterwaul was able to block most of the incoming blows. And when they got close enough in their attacks, he used Judo to disarm and toss them.
All he saw was the motion of incoming attacks. All he saw was threats and opportunities. He flowed like water. He struck like vengeance. And after a few minutes, they stopped getting back up.
“Holy shit, kid,” Snowflake said from the cab.
Felix and Manuel answered in unison. “What?”
“You can stop suiting up, partner,” Snowflake said. “Unless you want to help move some bikes out of the way.”
“How are you doing, Felix?” Manuel said.
“Bruised. Really bruised. I can clear a path, but I want a fist full of aspirin and a motel with a jacuzzi tub when we stop for the night.”
“It’s a deal.”
The Nazis who were still conscious had dragged most of their fellow gang members to the side of the road and were moving their bikes. They didn’t take their eyes off Caterwaul the entire time. He could hear them muttering curses under their breaths, saw the hate in their eyes.
And the fear.
Felix Joseph didn’t put a lot of stock in the feelings of violent bigots. But he hadn’t changed any minds here. All he’d done was prove that they were right to be afraid of him. He tried to take some pleasure in that. Felix found it frustratingly hard to hold onto.
Cobalt City: RESISTANCE is available at Amazon in print or for your Kindle and is getting some great reviews.