(Life and general laziness has made it difficult for me to finish this book – so I would love any feedback you have on the first 2 chapters. The setup is slow but I’m about 3/4s of the way finished with the entire book draft and am really happy how it’s going – minus the whole finishing part. Any feedback should be sent to email@example.com and is appreciated!)
“If you truly want honesty, don’t ask questions you don’t really want the answer to.” – proverb
Someone was banging on the steel door, though, with a door of that type it was more of a deep, dull thud.
Thud, Thud, Thud.
Andrews Adams had always considered his door kick-in proof – the main reason he installed it. The “thuds” took on the rhythm of the banging variety commonly associated with the police.
Thud, Thud, Thud, Thud.
“Mr. Adams, open up. We want to speak with you.”
There were a myriad of reasons why Andrew Adams would have the local authorities on the precipice of entering his premises after he opened his custom reinforced 2 inch thick steel door of his townhouse. He just hoped that the reason was on the more innocuous side of his transgression ledger. It was a either a good or bad testament to the way Andrew had lived his life to this point that the potential contents of the conversation were unknown to him.
It could quite literally be about most anything.
Even though it was mid-morning, Andrew was dressed in cut off sweat pants and an ancient, beat-up yellow Mr. Bungle t-shirt. Half asleep and moderately hung over, Andrew stumbled towards the door and went to deal whatever fate awaited him.
After more than a few bolts snapped unlocked, the door opened and there stood a youngish, athletic woman flanked by a man, who embodied the phrase “brick shit house.” She had short black hair, was medium height but had an inquisitive, pretty face with green eyes that were peering over Andrew’s shoulder and into his apartment. Whom he assumed was her partner was built like a professional wrestler sporting what barbers called “the ‘ole #2″ haircut. He felt his eyes on him even though they were covered by sunglasses. Both were dressed in suits. They didn’t have the appearance of normal police.
“Mr. Adams, I’m Inspector Natalie Davis. Can we chat inside, please?” She didn’t introduce Frankenstein.
He let Davis step inside and led her to his brown sectional couch. Both Natalie and Andrew wiped the crumbs of some long ago late night snack off the cushions before sitting. Her accompanying silent threat didn’t sit, and instead chose to stand between Andrew and his door. Which immediately and intentionally limited his options considerably.
“Mr. Adams, do you know why we are here?”
“Haven’t the foggiest,” Andrew replied while flashing his most (he hoped) innocent smile.
“Have you been harassing your neighbor, Mr. Adams?”
“You should ask him the same thing,” Andrew replied much too defensively. “The man is a menace and is up to something. If I ever saw him with a dog I would assume he was walking it home to beat it. How else to explain the pounding noises and squeals? I’ve banged on the walls to tell him to keep it down but that’s hardly harassment, right? That’s just trying to teach him to be a better neighbor. These are town homes…good walls don’t make good neighbors.”
“What is your WIFI’s SSID,” Inspector Davis replied undeterred.
“SSID?” Andrew said feigning confusion.
“The WIFI’s name? I want to jump on really quick…what’s it called?”
Andrew hesitated. Ah, that’s what this is about he thought. Hopefully. “It’s, um, ‘TheManIn657CheatsOnHisWife,’ I think.” And then he tried to hide his smirk. He had learned the hard way many times over that few people shared his humor or appreciated his cleverness.
Especially the cops.
Inspector Davis eyed Andrew, waiting for him to speak first. Andrew just stared at her blankly, with an even smile. He tried picturing the emoji that did that flat expression and used that as his inspiration.
After about a minute, the Inspector pulled out a small screen and started typing something onto it.
Apparently she didn’t need the WIFI password after all.
Looking up, Davis said: “It says here that you design applications for smartphones. And that you made a bit of money off of a recent one called…is it, Fap Happy Bird?” He swore the corners of her mouth turned upward ever so slightly.
He returned the look with another smirk. But he only nodded in response. Though the slight burning on his face meant that his cheeks were reddening.
“How does that game work exactly, Andrew? What’s the goal?”
This should be fun, he thought.
“It’s a quick twitch game where you shake the screen in an, err, upwards and downwards motion. And you try to hit each…eh, tall building…until it…mmm..explodes. The quicker you make the motion the more points you receive. The buildings get higher as the game progresses and you have less time to make your bird…er…” Andrew simply ended with a sigh. It was a stupid game for stupid people, but it paid for his apartment and most of his other endeavors. He merely cooked the shitty dish, it was the others that had the taste and the appetite to eat it.
Davis looked down again to her tablet, but this time, Andrew noticed her expression turned cold and serious. “Also, you used to be very active on the real-time social conversation network Atwitter but deleted your account recently. But before you did so you posted a series of tweets ‘bemoaning the encroachment of technology on our lives” and spoke of “a government with no regard for liberties.” You used the word ‘revolution’ 27 times in the last 6 months you had your account. Also, the keywords ‘government’ and ‘death’ and ‘drones’ have shown up well over a half dozen times.”
She looked up at Andrew, who finally protested after that last part.
“Look, lady pants. I may have used those words but you are taking them out of context. And I can’t imagine I used them together…often. In terms of revolution I’m a tech guy. We talk about revolution in the industry all the time. Mobile revolution, virtual reality revolution, zombie revolution, the fucking robot revolution.”
“So why delete your account, Andrew?”
“Hmm, I wonder why? Probably for this very reason! I felt it was being monitored. Plus, you know how it is now – no one is allowed to say anything remotely interesting in public any more. Social media, hell, conversation of all sorts is watered down. None of this is anything illegal as far as I can tell.” Andrew challenged, voice raising. “If there is anyone whose door you should be knocking on it’s the dude next door.”
“Why is that?” Natalie asked.
Andrew paused, took a breath and said: “There are boxes being delivered at all hours. I haven’t even seen the guy outside in the daylight before. There are noises – pounding, screeches, and…screams.”
He noticed movement behind him. A quick turn of the head confirmed that Natalie Davis’s partner had silently flanked him.
“So if that’s all you got, you got nothing,” Andrew said.
“It’s not. Not by a long shot,” but Davis slipped her tablet into his coat jacket, turned, and walked towards the door.
Her partner followed him and remarkably, turned and said, “See you soon.”
Andrew’s eggs arrived, but he was more concerned with his coffee. He’d snuck some alcohol in it out of flask from his front, buttoned up plaid pocket. No one at Beggs seemed to notice, as the two dozen occupants in the small, mostly outdoor cafe were either eating their food while looking at their phone. Or just looking at their phones.
“Dude, if you are drinking that means I have to drive, and for god sake’s it is not even eleven in the morning yet,” said Jay Bradley, Andrew’s (only) friend. He was medium height, with curly brown hair that sat on his head like a birds nest with flimsy construction. His slim frame was dressed in a non-descript light blue button up shirt and brown chinos. He essentially could be any of the thousands of middling bank managers in the history of the universe. Which he just happened to be. “Just stick with that one cup, and maybe the machine won’t shut down your car.”
Jay was referring to the unfortunate fact that every automobile was required by law to have a built-in breathalyzer. The federal government had withheld highway funds while states sued and protested but over a few years had eventually forced every state to enforce a 0.02 BAC legal limit. Essentially, one glass of wine would set if off, so unless you were walking, or using the fully government owned-ride hailing system Uber, you were out of luck. Your car would simply not start. While the effect was minimal for larger, more centralized cities where taxis and Ubers were prevalent, the law had shut down an estimated half of all bars and restaurants in the suburbs and rural areas. The ones that remained countered by setting aside metered overnight parking spots for those that wanted those two beers with dinner. They were jokingly referred to as “soon to be handicapped” parking.
“I’ve got a workaround,” Andrew said and pulled out a small mouthpiece from his pocket. “I can drink whatever I want, though I choose moderation. You know, free will and all that claptrap.”
“They choose for you, Andrew,” Jay said. “Risk mitigation. Species survival. You can’t be trusted.”
“But everything can kill you. Cigarettes. Genetics…Fucking air.”
“I hear they are working on that genetics part. Air, too. They will have a pill for that.”
“But if I take pills for my heart, my mind, my dick. What is the point? I’m just a half-conscious, lobotomized zombie. Isn’t life about the ups and downs? Without challenge how do you know what it feels like to succeed? To fail? Why smooth out all the mountains?”
“Right,” Jay said with a mouthful of turkey bacon. “What’s the point of living if you are miserable all the time?”
Andrew huffed, “You should be in advertising. I’m sure the Department of Mental Health would love that tagline.”
This conversational turn shouldn’t have surprised Jay. His old friend Andrew was easily riled up, particularly when talking about the current state of the world. It was something he’d mentioned his first day in college when he met him over 15 years ago. Jay had introduced himself to Andrew while standing in line at the bookstore. Andrew had said “Hello” and then proceeded to rail against the publishing conspiracy that resulted in overpriced textbooks.
“We have the same hymn book, Brother Andrew. You know this,” Jay said. “Happiness is just a small, meaningless respite between extended bouts of unhappiness. Check. How’s the 2-2-2 breakfast by the way?”
“Good, of course. I mean, there are only 4 things on the menu. I miss the days when there was more variety,” Andrew said pushing his plate away and transferring a bit more clear liquid from flash to coffee mug.
“Yeah, but after years of the empowered common folk giving star ratings to every food joint in town, the masses took it up a notch and started rating all the dishes at every restaurant. And pretty soon no one would buy anything that wasn’t top rated at the place. Which, as you know, means it made no sense to have variety. I mean, what else could the owner here do, for example? Just focus on his best few dishes and everyone is happy.” Jay emphasized his point with an audible “mmm” as he forked his scrambled eggs in his mouth.
“Right, who would want to take a chance on a menu item on a whim? Like, I don’t know, a fucking human being?!” Andrew raised his voice, looked around sheepishly and took a deep breath. “Sorry, it’s just…well, there were some people who came by the house earlier. Two inspectors…”
“You been bugging your creepy neighbor again? Liking his Facebook posts from 5 years ago to mess with him or something?” Jay interrupted him. He knew about Andrew’s obsessions, and that he was most likely bi-polar. But Jay didn’t think he was dangerous. Andrew, once you cut through the paranoia and constant theorizing, was actually a great friend to Jay. Though they were very different – Jay with a bank job, wife and a young son, Andrew living alone working on overtly phallic mobile applications – they had been through a lot together. Both didn’t come from money. They only went to college because the public college they went to was relatively cheap, and even that required government loans. But when Jay had needed money to get through the month, Andrew had lent him what he could and thus they both made it through college, even if their grades were middling. And when Andrew had pitched his idea to Jay about his mobile app, Jay had been his first investor. And that had worked out nicely for him.
But his friend didn’t have in him to not continue to push things, and when he started getting obsessed the only way for Andrew to stop was to reach the end of the thread. And no matter what happened he kept pushing, like a dog who got bit in the nose but keeps sniffing around in the backyard. Jay actually found it to be an admirable quality, as long as Andrew didn’t endanger himself or suffer from the blowback. On this particular issue, he wasn’t so sure that wouldn’t occur.
“Shouldn’t you be focusing on the sequel to Fap Happy Bird? You almost done with it? The original can’t still be selling,” Jay said trying to redirect the conversation.
“It is still in the Top 20 paid apps believe it or not,” Andrew allowed himself a smile. “I think the giggle factor and the fact the game has somehow not been banned is keeping it going. It’s success isn’t helping my motivation to finish the second, though. Plus…”
Andrew looked Jay straight in the eyes. Any good humor that he’d had before was now gone. “There is something going on next door, Jay. There are boxes – dozens a day – being delivered to his home at night. Burning smells. Weird sounds…sometimes bad, terrible sounds. He’s up to something.”
With a sigh, Jay, looked back at his friend.
“Is it worth going to jail over, Andrew? This particular obsession seems odd. What did your neighbor ever do to you? Who cares what they are doing? Focus on your own shit, man.”
“Look, the two inspectors at my house, weren’t police. I’m not sure who they are but they definitely weren’t public servants.”
“How do you know this?” Jay asked.
“I looked up the Inspector’s name. Ran some queries through some backdoor channels I know. Definitely not police.”
“So, this just confirms that my neighbor is up to something. And if I can get two strangers posing as police to knock on my door just for changing my WIFI’s name…”
“Never mind, the point remains,” Andrew quickly continued, “that I have to know what is happening on the other side of the wall attached to my own. I don’t feel safe. My home is not secure.”
Jay and Andrew stared at each other for a few moments. They had both finished breakfast. But there was an expectant look on Andrew’s face.
“The only way to do anything about it is to get people to believe you. And to get people to believe you will need evidence that your neighbor is doing anything other than minding his business. As your friend I will give you this gift, and I know that the moment it leaves my mouth it will be the worst thing I’ve ever said, and that a day will not pass from here until my untimely death that I won’t regret saying it,” Jay said.
Jay Bradley closed his eyes, took a deep breath and exhaled. As they had so many times before, the two friends needed to support one another. He opened his eyes and said: “Prove it to me. And I will help you.”