In this excerpt from chapter 8 of my global warming novel, Carbon Run, the fugitive Bill Penn is looking for work. Searching the Yesler City neighborhood of a port town with his injured dog Maxie, he’s located an old shipmate, who’s agreed to meet him at a bar and take him to a job on a mysterious ship. Bill is doubtful, but he fears capture by agents of the Bureau of Environmental Security.
Bill and Maxie returned to the Brass and Canvas after dark, and he found the place packed with raucous sailors and longshoremen, male, female, trans, and andys. He had to leave Maxie outside tied to a lamp post. It was a Friday night, and a band called Shanghai People’s Outlaws stuffed the chords of the latest Sichuan rockabilly into the narrow bar so tightly Bill saw the hot, smoky air vibrate. The crowd near the miniscule stage bounced up and down to the throbbing beat, and Bill needed to blend in. He bought a Hanoi with the last of his paper euros, and he squeezed into a corner near the front window, where he could keep an eye on Maxie and watch for Micah. He nursed his beer for an hour before Micah arrived. She touched him on the shoulder, startling him; she hadn’t come through the front door, as Bill expected. Micah leaned close, smelling of sweat from a run. She was worried about something.
“Are you ready?”
Even though the band was taking a break, Bill couldn’t hear Micah. “What?”
The sailor was agitated. “Do you want a job or not?”
Something held Bill back. He couldn’t put his finger on it. “I want to know more about the job first.”
“You’ve got to decide now. I’m not taking you to the ship unless you want the job.”
Bill didn’t like Micah’s demand for an answer. “What’s the name of the ship?”
“Forget it!” Micah started to leave.
“Wait!” Bill grabbed Micah’s arm. “I’ll go.”
She beckoned Bill to follow. Halfway to the rear door, Bill remembered Maxie. “Micah, give me a second!”
Bill pushed his way through the crowd, getting a return shove once or twice. Outside, he knelt down to untangle Maxie’s leash from the post.
“Come on!” Micah urged.
Then Bill heard a siren. It came from the end of the block. One and then two dark cars entered the narrow street, flashing blue-green lights.
A bouncer at the front door yelled “Cops! Cops!”
Scores of people poured out of the door like cattle let loose from a pen. They tore down the sidewalk away from the police cars. Micah plunged into the crowd. Bill picked up Maxie and followed Micah, though he immediately lost sight of his friend. At the end of the block, the crowd spread out onto the adjacent streets. Bill looked back for an instant, and he saw two green-shirts near the bar’s entrance pushing men and women into the wall. Another pair of BES officers took up positions outside the front door. A patron slumped against the glass, taken down by a stunner. Bill’s pounding heart skipped a beat. Inspector Kilel was on the street, in the face of the barkeeper.
“Bill! Bill!” Micah waved. “Over here, in the alley!”
Another dark car screeched to a halt. It disgorged a security robot. Near panic, Bill ran to Micah.
Micah pulled Bill behind a composting dumpster. ““Put down the fucking dog and help me move this before the robot gets here.”
The robot moved insistently toward Bill and Micah, avoiding parked cars and fire hydrants.
“What’s the point of hiding here?” Bill gently let Maxie down. “Let’s run!”
“No! We need time.”
Bill heard the muffled steps of the robot’s rubber-shod feet. Then there was a clicking sound. The robot had deployed its stunner
“Ready?” Micah said.
The stunner swiveled to the trio.
The pair pushed the dumpster, half-full of garbage, into the path of the robot, smashing the stunner against a brick wall. There was a metallic crunch, and the fugitives bolted into the alley. They turned a corner, Maxie trailing behind, limping on her bad paw. Micah surprised Bill with her speed, and Bill almost lost her again when she turned a corner. Bill kept looking over his shoulder at Maxie, who was doing her best to keep up. Micah came back. “Come on, damn you! We’re lucky the green shirts haven’t caught up.”
Making another turn, Micah ducked into a doorway and pounded on the door. Bill and Maxie came up. The door was opened a crack by a young woman wearing only a bra and panties in the ruddy light. Micah pushed her aside. The woman pushed back. “Micah, what the fu—“
“Sorry, Beth. Bad guys behind us. You’d better close the door. Wait for the dog.”
The woman didn’t argue as Bill brushed past. For an instant, his face was in the woman’s breasts. “Excuse us.”
The fleeing group exited the hall into a lobby with a few upholstered chairs and a leather sofa. Two men and a woman sipped glasses of wine at a table. A middle-aged woman stood behind a counter. Micah waved at her as Bill and Maxie followed, her claws clattering on the worn wood floor. Micah stopped on the establishment’s entrance, checking the street, Bill presumed, for bad guys.
Bill’s curiosity was piqued. “Do you know those people?”
“Friends from a long time ago. I drop in now and then.” The neighborhood was dark and quiet. “Cops’ll be here any minute. We need to get to the ship.”
Micah walked briskly into the darkness, compelling Bill and Maxie to trail her. Even though Bill had visited Port Simpson dozens of times, the years away had left his mental map of Yesler City out of focus. Micah followed alleys and side streets, heading in the general direction of the water. After a quarter-mile or so, the trio came out to a thoroughfare, empty of traffic, except for an automated trolley trundling toward them.
Micah halted near a trolley stop, keeping to the shadows. “I think we’re safe enough now.” When the trolley was within a hundred feet or so, she stepped over to the pickup zone, and the machine slowed to a halt, its wet brake pads screeching. Bill was certain every green-shirt within a ten-mile radius picked up the noise. But he heard no sirens and saw no stalking robots. He lifted Maxie, who was limping badly, and followed Micah aboard. She dropped a couple of renminbi coins into the fare box.
“Destination, please.” The disembodied voice came from a speaker in the box.
“Terminal 53,” Micah said. “For both of us.”
“Please take a seat.” The trolley’s voice was friendly, if impersonal. “Would you like a narrated tour of the sights as we travel, ma’am? I entertain many visitors like yourself. Does your com have visual enhancement features? I can show you some interesting images as I narrate. Port Simpson is very historic and has many interesting shops and entertainments. I note you speak English. If that is not your first language, I can deliver narration in Chinese, Japanese, Urdu, Hindustani, Arabic, Russian, Polish, Swedish, Inuit…”
The voice paused a half-second, as if translating. “Yes, ma’am.”