On the cutting room floor
Like any endeavor, there are pieces that unexpectedly find their way into the text, and others that for one reason or another find their way out. Below is such a chunk. Just five or so pages, it was removed at the editorial edit stage to quicken the overall pace.
Unlike most deletions, this one was hard for me to let go as it was the first time we see Peri begin to break her Opti conditioning and take direct action. If you have already read The Drafter, you can easily spot where it was lifted out, and from a technical standpoint, it fits right back in fairly well apart from a few continuity glitches.
Set up: Peri and Silas at Peri’s comic book apartment, having decided to go back to the drafter bar and try to render a memory from what is there. But they have to shake Opti first.
Breathless, Peri peeked through the blinds: People walking, cars driving. The raggedy man on the corner playing music—a black car parked illegally at the curb. They’d found me? “I need to render something, or I’m going to go crazy and you won’t get your damned list.”
“I’m not worried about the list. I’m worried about you!” Silas said.
“Well, we can’t stay here. Opti’s at the front door.”
“What!” Silas pushed close behind her, the warmth of his body real and obvious. Focus blurring, she breathed in his scent, feeling herself come alive with adrenaline. Silas’s scent wound through it all, binding it. “Howard and Taf,” he whispered as he dropped back, his head down over his phone.
“They’re okay. The car wasn’t there when they left. Text them, but we have to go.”
“Go? Go where?” Silas said, eyes widening hen she gave him a where-do-you-think look. “Overdraft?” he blurted. “Now? Are you crazy?”
Did it make a difference? "We have five minutes before reinforcements show once they know for sure we’re still here. Bring what you want. We’re not coming back.”
“Oh, for God’s sake,” Silas muttered, starting to swoop about and throw stuff in bags. “I don’t know how you talk me into these things.”
But he was moving, and that was an unexpected comfort. “Meet me downstairs,” she said as she went into the hall, fixing the door so it would lock behind her. She needed a car.
Her steps were loud on the stairs, and Joe looked up as she came down and into the narrow store. “Joe!” she shouted to the die-hard hippy behind the counter. “Car. You got one?”
Head shaking an expansive denial, Joe grinned at her. “Aw, come on , Peri. The last time you used my van you put three thousand in damages on it. It’s a classic now.”
She didn’t remember cracking up his ride before, but Silas was on the stairs, and she could see the black car out the action-figure-strewn front window. Peri’s pulse quickened. “How much does a classic like that cost?”
Joe’s smile widened to show his crooked teeth. “Thirty-five hundred.”
Peri put twenty one-hundred-dollar bills on the cracked, hazy glass counter. “Plus a hundred off your rent for a year, plus it’s still in your name if you want it back.”
“Pleasure doing business with you, ma’am, as always,” Joe said, taking the money.
His eyes flicked behind her to Silas, and Peri smiled. She should be scared, but she felt alive, like herself after almost a week of running. “Thanks, Joe,” she said, leaning to give the old guy a kiss on his cheek as she took the Ironman fob he was holding. With a wave, she headed to the back. “You’re the best!”
“You told me you didn’t remember him” Silas said as the steel door clicked shut behind them.
She took a breath of the cool, garbage scented air. “I kiss any man who gives me his bitching hot van,” she said, seeing it parked by the Dumpster.
Silas scuffed to a halt, two bags of their stuff in his arms. “ Oh, no way,” he said as he stared at the wizard and dragon forever fighting their psychedelic war. “This is a bad idea. How fast can it be? The thing is probably fifteen years old.”
More like twenty. Peri had to use the key to unlock the old van, and she got in, relishing the scent of old, cold vinyl. “You ever been in a Detroit van, Silas?”
“Then get in.” Peri started the van up in a smooth sound that spoke of a forgotten power. Good, solid, Detroit construction. Just like me. You might want to put your seatbelt on. I’m going to tap Opti’s car.”
“I’m going to die,” he muttered as she put the car in gear. Dropping the bags in the back, he fumbled for his belt as she worked the van out of the tiny private parking spot and onto the street. The Opti car flashed its brake lights as it went into drive, and she smiled.
“Ahhh, it’s my professional opinion that you’re overly stressed and shouldn’t be operating heavy machinery,” Silas said, hand gripping the dash and feet spread wide on the dirty floor. “Does this thing have airbags?”
“Good God, no.” Peri clenched her teeth and yanked hard on the wheel, slamming on the brakes as they passed the Opti car. They spun, the passenger’s side hitting the Opti car hard enough to smash their fender, rocking the black car and hardly denting the heavy metal van. People turned to look, and her wide smile turned into one of satisfaction as the Opti stooges fought the airbags engaged by the little love tap. “You okay?”
Grinning, Peri waited until the driver got his broken sunglasses off his nose before she flipped him off. Airbag deployed—check. “You want me? Come catch me!” she exclaimed as the tires smoked and she roared off in a cloud of blue up a service alley. Designed to keep trucks off the road, it cut through the red lights and made a direct path out of the maze of buildings and into one of Detroit’s deconstructed, undeveloped green areas.
Needle edging to fifty, she headed into the wastes, knowing there’d be no lights to stop her—only a clear, unmaintained road leading to the next neighborhood that had been salvaged. Overly stressed . . . she mused. This was the best plan she’d had in a long time. Her heart was pounding and she felt alive. It was always better to act then react. This was what she lived for, and she was done running away.
“We can’t outrun them in this,” Silas said shakily, one hand on the ceiling, the other on the dash. He was pale, but his fear was for her, not himself, and she grinned.
“That’s not the idea,” she said, then chuckled when he shakily fished out his phone to text Howard or Taf. “They’re following, yes?”
Silas looked out the back since the side mirror was still at the comic book shop. “Yes.”
Peri tensed at the bridge coming up. Under it was another road. That was the one she wanted. She’d watched drag races there in her twenties. “Good. Look under the seat for a hammer. Joe is old school and wouldn’t go out without something.”
Sighing, Silas put the phone away and bent double, hand searching. “Pipe okay?” he said as he came up with it, and she wiggled her fingers for it.
“Perfect.” Breathless, she wedged it between her leg and the seat. “Find yourself something just as mean. When I stop, get whoever is in the passenger side out. I have the driver.”
“Ah, Peri? What’s the plan here?” he asked, and she pushed the accelerator.
“No plan, just a goal. I’m buying us some time.” Her hands on the wheel looked as if they were coated in blood, and her jaw clenched. “Hang on,” she said as she aimed for the rusted guardrail. The metal monster of a van wouldn’t even notice it.
“Peri!” Silas yelled, and she stiffened her arms, screaming in delight as they crashed through it, bouncing wildly as they went down the embankment. Her head struck the wheel when they found the lower road, and the van groaned, the engine racing when her foot hit the gas. Silas swore as they fishtailed until she righted their path on the lower road and headed for more emptiness. The cops wouldn’t care. Their jurisdiction ended when civilization had.
“Are you crazy?” Silas yelled, braced against the dash, ceiling, both.
“Are they following?” she shouted, racing to the next overpass a mile up. Around them were empty overgrown lots where homes had been razed. The mature trees were few and broken among the new growth seizing an unexpected chance. Brush grew in the drains, and deer grazed where backyard barbeques once took place. “Are they following!”
Clearly frustrated, Silas leaned to look. “Yes! Peri, there is something wrong with you!”
Only because you don’t see my thought processes, she thought, grinning when the Opti car caught up. Weaving back and forth, she kept the black car behind them on the empty road as they raced to the next overpass. Heart pounding, she adjusted her grip on the wheel. “Here we go!” she shouted as she jerked it, sliding sideways to block the road right under the bridge.
“Good God almighty!” Silas exclaimed . . . and then the Opti car crashed beautifully into their side. The van rocked, but it was Opti’s car whose back end lifted, not the van’s, and both men’s heads swung forward to crash into the wheel and dash.
“Go, go, go!” Peri slid across the seat and pushed Silas out since her door was smashed into the front of the black car. Metal pipe in her grip, she strode over to the car, hoping it would still run. “Get out!” she screamed at the dazed and bloodied man behind the wheel. “Out of the car! On the ground! Hands on your head!”
Silas shook off his daze and yanked the handle of the passenger side open. She was proud of him as he pulled the man out and shoved him skittering onto the cold pavement where he roughly searched out and took his Glock. Whistling for Peri’s attention, he tossed it to her.
She caught it, satisfied when Silas wrestled the man into a submission hold that looked surprisingly practiced, but if he had been in the psyche program, then he was used to dealing with violent people. “Out! Now!” Peri yelled, feeling better with firepower in her hands, and the man behind the wheel opened his door, shakily getting out with his hands up by his ears. “On the ground!” she barked as she took his Glock and threw it into the ditch. Sullen, the man facing her knelt. His eyes never moved from his partner’s gun pointing at him, telling her he was the more dangerous of the two.
“Silas! Lock Tweedledum there in the van with his cuffs. And get his phone while you’re at it. They probably have a car at my apartment. I don’t want them warning them.”
Silas’s eyes met hers, and he almost smiled as he manhandled the agent to the van.
“And where’s your phone?” she asked the man kneeling before her.
“Car,” he rasped, and she saw it on the floor of the car. The imagined blood on her hands made her grip on the Glock feel slick. Blood dripped from a cut on his forehead. His breathing had slowed, and if she didn’t lock him down soon, he was going to try something—and then she’d have to get tough.
“It’s not worth dying over,” she said when Silas came back. “Careful now. Be a good man, and you’ll go home tonight.”
Head down, he shuffled to join his partner. Only when she heard the cuffs ratchetting did Peri relax. She looked at her hands, deciding the blood was real. Her fingernails had cut her palms, probably when she’d first rammed them in the street.
“Let’s see how hard we hit you,” she said as she threw the agent’s phone into the ditch beside his handgun and slid in behind the wheel. Nose wrinkled, she held her breath as she turned the key. Silas, currently getting their things out of the van, visibly sighed when it roared to life. It was banged up, but as long as the radiator wasn’t leaking, they should be okay. She’d hit it carefully, the four years she’d worked Detroit’s crash-em-up derby serving her well.
That had been before I went to Opti-Tech, she thought when Silas threw their shopping bags, coats, and even Howard’s soldering iron into the car before he went to get the Glock out of the ditch.
“Nicely done,” he said as he slid in through the window looking as if he did this kind of thing all the time. “You okay?” he said, his mood almost cheerful, and she nodded, putting a hand to her face as a memory of her past meshed with the present. She didn’t often remember anything about her years at college, but perhaps the crash had jolted a few things.
The car chugged alarmingly as she put it in reverse and backed up. There was enough room to get around the van, but just. Silas checked the safety and tucked his new handgun away with a satisfied grunt. “What about the LoJack,” he asked as he noticed the blood on the dash. “Opti must chip their cars.”
“I’m sure they do,” she said as she put the window down to diffuse the smell of antifreeze. “But it’s reach is only about four or five miles. We fell off Opti’s network a mile back. They’ll find them eventually though, and focus on my apartment.”
Silas grinned to show his very white teeth. “Which is miles in the other direction.
Feeling free, she smiled back. “Just so. And that’s only after they find them. “Did I draft?”
He shook his head, looking for all the world as if he was proud of her. “No.”
Her stomach was in knots, the feelings of fear and exuberance a tight slurry. The steering wheel was sticky with both hers and the driver’s blood. Spewing a dark smoke, the car headed down the abandoned road to the next spot of humanity. She was going to get some answers, no matter if she liked them or not.
“Dr. Denier, huh?” she asked, eyes closing briefly in the wind coming in to shift her short hair. “How long have you been gone from Opti?”
Silas stared out the window, his good mood abruptly vanishing. “Not long enough.”