QSFer Lolly Walter has a new MM sci fi book out: Navarro Suarez. And there’s a giveaway!
In a bleak future destroyed by climate change, family is all that matters to Navarro. He’ll do anything to protect those closest to him, including violate his own moral code. Then one bloody day, he finds himself the caregiver of a fragile boy who threatens everything Navarro holds dear. He knows what he has to do. The only question is, can he do it?
***This work is a short story and can be read as a standalone.***
Lolly is giving away five eBook copies of Dry Run with this post – comment below for a chance to win.
Forty minutes in, Navarro’s impromptu security detail just inside the front door of the Flats was bordering on interminable. Ollie didn’t talk, just slid his finger back and forth across his monitor, sweeping the remote outdoor camera up and down the street, and it drove Navarro crazy. He had chattered away, sharing all the latest gossip — new partnerships, fights over food, the couple that always screwed in the showers. All he’d gotten in return were nods and a couple of grunts. The only break had been when Liliana had come down ten minutes ago to report that one pair of runners was unaccounted for.
“Um, so, how are things down here on One?” Navarro tried.
The dingy, windowless first floor of the Flats housed most of the company’s offices. The big boss maintained a corporate office on the west side of town, but the tech department, the supply staff (and the supplies), the doctor, and of course, the talent, had all set up shop here. Navarro and the other runners didn’t spend much time on One, though.
“You see that kid got brought in from corporate yesterday? Looked mostly dead.” Ollie shifted and made quick eye contact, like he was surprised he’d spoken, too. “Thought you might have because you were, you know.”
Navarro did know. He’d planned to be a doctor. He’d finished one year of pre-med before his mother went missing and the University of Texas had shut down. Didn’t mean much anymore. All his practical experience came from fixing up runners on the sly for injuries they didn’t want to explain to the doctor. “I didn’t see him. He die?”
“Don’t think so. He’s being kept in Vail’s exam room. Tiniest teenager I’ve ever seen. Came in with a pretty black girl healthy enough to pass medical and get sent on up to B. Skin and bones, both of ’em.”
It was Navarro’s turn to grunt. They didn’t usually take kids in bad shape. Skinny, yes. Skinny could be fixed. Bad teeth, sure. Near death? Navarro couldn’t remember it happening in the whole time he’d been with the company.
“Shit. Incoming wounded.” Ollie pulled a small white VICE-shot from his pocket, manipulated the monitor one more time, and opened the door. “Watch the screen, Suarez. Let me in when I get back.”
Navarro glanced at the monitor mounted at eye level in the wall. On it, one of their runners, a woman with hair down to her ass — what was her name? Something with a P? — dragged her pudgy, full-breasted partner across the cracked, jagged pavement. Blood dripped from the injured girl’s hand, leaving a trail in the street.
The door slammed, and Ollie appeared in the camera’s view. He looked both ways before running to P and her wounded partner. Ollie lifted the girl’s feet, and he and P carried the girl up the block. When they got close, Navarro slid his finger over the monitor, checking the street the same way Ollie had done, then opened the door and held it for the trio to pass.
The blood dripping from the girl’s hand came from her mangled elbow. Another red spot bloomed vivid and deadly over her abdomen.
Navarro ran down the hall and threw open the door to Dr. Vail’s office. The tiny, white-haired doctor jumped and turned his back on the patient he’d been leaning over, the only one in the room.
“Mr. Suarez, this is an examination room, not a—”
“Shut up, Vail,” Ollie said, nudging Navarro to the side. “We got problems. Gunshot.” He and the now-sobbing P laid the girl on a gurney.
Dr. Vail straightened. “Suarez, you’re with me.”
Navarro strode to the sink and scrubbed his arms up to the elbow. The harsh chemical smell of the antiseptic peel burned his throat. The outer layer of his skin flaked off and floated down the drain, leaving his arms shiny, pink, and sterile. He stepped closer to the soft-edged girl and waited for instructions.
“Oliver, get the whiny baby out of here,” Dr. Vail said.
Ollie grunted and dragged P from the room. The door closed behind them, and across the wounded girl’s body, Navarro met Dr. Vail’s watery eyes.
“All right,” Dr. Vail said. “Rank?”
Dr. Vail tutted. “Rank, Mr. Suarez. What’s this girl’s rank?”
Navarro bent over the girl’s face and brushed her choppy bangs aside. Blunt, straight eyelashes. High, prominent cheekbones. Latina. “C.”
“She’s not one of mine. I know all the B runners, too. Too pretty for D.”
“Right.” Dr. Vail nodded, more to himself, it seemed, than Navarro. “Fetch a scalpel, Perma-Bond, anesthesia ampoule, forceps, and ice packs.”
The supplies closet opened when Navarro waved his arm in front of it, and he retrieved all the items Dr. Vail had requested. When he returned to the gurney, though, and started to place them around the girl, Dr. Vail motioned him away.
“No, no. Take the Perma-Bond and ice packs and tend to the boy they brought in yesterday. I’ve got this.”
“But…” Navarro gestured to the girl’s bleeding middle. “Won’t she take two people to—”
“Low priority. I’ll do what I can for her, but the boy’s going to be an A. He gets the attention.”
Navarro didn’t even try to keep the shock from his voice. “She could die!”
A monitor beeped behind him, keeping time with his too-speedy breaths. It sounded four times before Dr. Vail answered.
“Look, Mr.… Navarro, I’m paid to focus on the company’s bottom line.” He pointed at the other patient. “He’s more valuable. He—”
“He doesn’t even work for us yet. He’s not part of the family.”
“You want to work on the girl alone, and I’ll tend to the boy?”
Navarro snatched up the Perma-Bond and ice packs and turned his back on the girl. Under his breath, he said, “Pendejo.”
“I speak Spanish. Now, three broken ribs, right side. Ruptured spleen. Broken arm. The nose, obviously. Bruised kidneys. Internal bleeding.”
Jesus. “I don’t know how to treat all of that.”
The shell of the anesthesia ampoule broke, and the girl made a swallowing sound. She’d at least not die in pain. Fabric ripped, and Navarro imagined the girl’s shirt being torn away before Dr. Vail tried to get at the bullet. In spite of all he’d seen in the last five years, Navarro closed his eyes against the burn of tears.
“I’ve already addressed his most pressing issues,” Dr. Vail said. “I need you to attend to the ribs. You know how to do that, yes?”
Navarro nodded without looking back. He brushed his tears away on his shoulder and focused on the boy in front of him.
So small. The boy barely took up a third of the bed. His little hunched body faced the wall. Blood matted his hair. His sun-blistered elbow jutted sharp enough to show the structure of the joint. Navarro needed to turn him to get at the ribs, but he’d never seen someone so fragile. How had this kid managed to walk his way into the corporate office?
A second thought, darker and scarier. Was this boy meant to be Navarro’s replacement?
“Hey, kid,” Navarro whispered. “You awake?”
The boy didn’t speak, but he stiffened, his spine straightening.
“I need you to turn over so I can examine your ribs. They hurt, right?”
The boy inhaled sharply and shifted, swinging his knees skyward and twisting his torso after them until he laid on his back. His face, God. Two rows of surgical pins protruded from the bridge of his nose. The left eye was swollen shut, purple-black, and the right was stained red all around the chocolate iris. His puffy, cracked lips were split. His body didn’t look much better. His tattered, filthy micropoly shirt and pants stretched over his body. The too-short clothes left his ankles and a strip of belly laid bare. The skin at his stomach was almost as brown as his arms. One of his hands was drawn tight into a fist.
Navarro reached to pull up the boy’s shirt, but the fist knocked his hand away. The boy hissed.
“I need to pull up your shirt to fix your ribs,” Navarro said. “You’ll feel better.”
That blood-stained brown eye narrowed and trailed from Navarro’s face to his hand, which hovered over the boy’s stomach. Behind them, the wet, sloppy sounds of Dr. Vail wresting a bullet from the girl’s gut played out. The boy moved his head in that direction, brow furrowed.
“Hey. Hey, nuevecito.” Navarro snapped his fingers in the boy’s face and waited until their eyes met to speak again. “Focus on you and me. We can’t help her. I can help you, though, if you let me.”
The boy’s raspy voice licked out like a dying man in a desert. “Sí. Ayúdame, por favor.”
Navarro ticked down a mental list of the boy’s injuries. “Are you thirsty?”
A squeeze bottle of water lay on a rickety table near the boy’s head. Navarro picked it up and nudged at the boy’s lips with the straw. Blood welled in one of the cracks along the boy’s mouth, but he opened up and let Navarro give him a drink.
“Gracias.” The boy sounded less parched. His voice was deeper than Navarro expected, more teen, less kid.
“De nada.” Navarro smiled. “Let me work on you now, yeah?”
The boy grimaced and awkwardly moved his arm to the hem of his shirt, and as he did, Navarro realized that what he’d taken as darker patches of skin along the boy’s forearm were fingerprint bruises. The boy pulled his shirt up to his chest.
Navarro gasped and took a hasty step back. He whirled to find Dr. Vail brushing a sealant over the hole in the girl’s stomach. The opaque purple covering moved with her pulse. Blood gurgled underneath. Navarro put his fist to his mouth as the words he’d planned to say died in his throat. The girl, a part of the runner family, would die. The boy behind him would live.
Dr. Vail glanced up from the girl’s wound. “You have a problem, Mr. Suarez?”
The boy. Navarro turned and found the boy’s open eye on him. They stared at each other for a minute, then the boy looked past him. “Lo siento.”
Navarro kept his voice low. “Cut the crap, kid. I know you speak English.”
The evidence was right there. Above that tan strip on the boy’s belly, below the vicious purple and black bruises covering most of his ribs and chest, the skin was creamy white.
The boy sighed. “I’m sorry.”
Navarro ignored him. He brushed his fingertips over the boy’s bruised skin, searching for the telltale swelling that indicated the location of the broken bones. Over each spot, Navarro placed a Perma-Bond patch large enough to compensate for the possibility he was off by a bit. The boy stayed still and didn’t complain even though broken ribs hurt like hell. Navarro pulled the boy’s shirt down and laid ice packs over the patches.
“You’ll heal in a couple days, nuevecito. Try to stay still.” Without giving the boy a chance to answer, Navarro grabbed the Perma-Bond, returned it to the closet, and headed for the door.
He’d pulled it open and had a foot outside the room when the boy said, “Thank you.”
Lolly Walter grew up in a small town on the plains of central Illinois. She got a degree in English and a nice piece of paper certifying her to teach, then after jobs working with kids, at a newspaper, and even a motel, she came to the uncomfortable conclusion that to be the person she was meant to be, she’d have to leave behind a place and people she genuinely loved.
She moved to Texas, married the first man she met (really, that happened!), and has never looked back.
These days, she homeschools/cajoles/chauffeurs her three children, writes like her laptop keyboard is her only source of oxygen, and catches all the baseball games she can (Go Cubs!). She loves writing about complex characters in tough situations.