You can buy Corona Crime, the brand new sci-fi thriller for a world in the grip of Coronavirus, from Amazon today!
How might the world look after Coronavirus?
Corona Crime explores today’s obsessions – Coronavirus, capitalism and living forever – and projects them into a wild and scary future. The story begins in Santa Monica, California; continues in New York and London; and concludes in Vienna, Austria.
You can read the first four chapters of Corona Crime below. If you find them intriguing, you can get the paperback exclusively on Amazon. Or, for half the price, you can pre-order the e-book, for delivery on 15 October – the “release date” of Corona Crime.
I hope you enjoy it and will read with interest and apprehension your Amazon reviews and other feedback.
Here are the opening chapters.
CORONA CRIME: A WORLD AFTER CORONAVIRUS
Chimeric Brain Mouse Speaks Out: ‘I WANT MY BABIES TO BE HUMAN BEINGS!’
National Enquirer 2086
Jake Moonrath was on his way to re-possess a stolen lifetime when his best friend Ed Zipper and Ed’s wife Abigail briefly became parents.
The window of Ed and Abigail’s suite at the Hughes Procreation Center in Santa Monica had been propped open “to help baby breathe”. For a few instants, the new-born infant’s cries mingled with the reggae from the nearby Feeding Frenzy milk bar and the whispering of the breeze in the palm trees.
Senior Obstetrician Dr Alan Beasdale 100 took the freshly-chipped baby from the nurse and handed it to Abigail.
‘Is your husband OK?’ Beasdale said. ‘He seems distracted.’
Abigail peered up at the medic. It was hard to talk to a man whose face was covered by a mask. All she could see was his bright blue eyes and a fringe of dark hair so thick it looked unnatural.
‘He’ll be OK when Jake gets here,’ she said. ‘They can escape for a beer.’ She nuzzled the baby’s cheek. ‘For an hour, anyhow.’
The obstetrician peered at the new father, who was staring out of the window, frowning. ‘This fellow Jake an old friend?’
‘Jake is a Coronatime enforcement agent.’ Ed turned towards Abigail and the baby as if wondering what they were doing there. ‘Chasing down a Termination Contract. I hope he’ll make it here soon.’
‘I would love to meet him,’ Beasdale said. ‘But I have another delivery at 12.30.’ When he raised his eyebrows, Abigail saw the skin around his eyes was perfectly smooth. ‘Will you excuse me? Press the button if you need anything.’
‘Sure.’ Abigail beckoned to Ed, who had yet to hold the baby. ‘Come and sit down, sugar.’ She patted the sheets and felt a moment of calm as the doctor closed the door behind him. ‘Let’s all get to know each other a little.’
Northbound on the crumbling concrete of I-405, Jake clenched his teeth and cranked up the music.
Let us sing more cheerful songs,
more full of joy!
Yeah, right. How could you be full of joy when you were about to expose yourself to a severe risk of life expectancy reduction, or even death? The pulse tracker on his bracelet was blinking red.
Soon, he should be with Ed and Abigail, meeting the new kid. But first he had to put ’Time-expired Jennifer on the slab where she belonged. What if the Termination procedure hit a problem?
The danger ahead made Jake wish he could slow the vehicle. But he could no more change the speed of his Albuquerque Cheyenne Classic than any other driver on the sparsely populated highway. At forty miles per hour, he was locked in a safe distance behind the Nagasaki Commemoration up front. He eyed the Korean car’s smooth lines. An elegant roadster, much favoured by women. ’Time-expired Jennifer herself owned one, as it happened. But not for much longer.
Jake had been turned on to Jennifer’s case by the Chattanooga Life Exchange Foundation (“CLEF – your key to a better life”) two days before. The moment he had entered his holo room, a man with a moustache and dark-rimmed glasses had appeared, leaning forward over a desk that had materialised with him.
‘Baker 109, CLEF, Chattanooga,’ the recorded holo had opened. ‘Case for you.’
It was routine: a cash-poor, mid-aged woman going nowhere, forty years actuarially-certified life expectancy in hand, deciding to cash in her assets.
‘So,’ Baker 109 had said, biting the end off each word, ‘she takes out a generous Termination Contract with us here in Chattanooga and becomes, maybe for the first and certainly for the last time in her life, rich enough to live in style. Which she does, with gusto. Nothing wrong with that.’ He had coughed and wiped his moustache with a handkerchief.
‘However. Following much indulgence in moon-gazing, fancy vacations and so forth, she meets the usual younger man, who says, as young men do – ’ Baker had coughed again and read from a screen on his desk ‘ – beautiful mother, please don’t leave me. Termination Contract or no, I’ll hide you away in a little house in the big city, and we’ll make love ‘til the day we die.’ Baker had smiled. ‘Whenever that may be. Mr Moonrath, we’d like you to enforce the contract.’
Jake felt the Cheyenne slow for the Beverly Hills turn-off. The streets grew wider. Houses retreated beyond swathes of shrubs and lawns. Upmarket malls stretched for block after block.
The neighbourhood felt safe and prosperous. But ’Time-expired Jennifer and her boyfriend could be waiting to ambush him. His chest tightened. He turned to face the back of the car and closed his eyes. Time for calm.
Four minutes to South Clark. He pictured entering the house, repossessing Jennifer’s lifetime, collecting evidence, and driving to Santa Monica. He would cut the risk by observing the property before entering. Should he tell Ed he might be late? Maybe he and Abigail were enjoying quality time with the baby. Jake opened his eyes and punched the Birth Channel in on his bracelet. He left the music playing.
…All men become brothers
Under the sway of thy gentle wings
The Birth Channel was a misconceived Central Authority initiative to encourage reproduction by publicising the joys of childbirth. The programmers had trouble finding content: today, Abigail Zipper was the only birth on-air. She was sitting up in bed, cradling the child in her arms. Ed was sat next to her, shoulders hunched. A display showed a readout from the baby’s Coronatime bracelet and spine implant: the heart was going pow, pow, pow, firm and strong.
Jake smiled. Soon, he would be sharing Ed and Abigail’s big day. But first, he had to bring to justice a woman who was trying to steal something of immense value: her own life.
The Cheyenne coasted to a halt. Jake took a deep breath, turned to face the front and switched to the Crime Channel. He would be broadcasting himself, soon.
A Neon-Glo blue Nagasaki stood in the driveway of 137 South Clark. All polished up and maybe now someplace to go. Jake recognised the mix of artificial bushes and flowers in the yard, Tropical Medley it was called. Only the super-rich had time for a real garden these days. The tab scanner in Jake’s bracelet showed no sign of life. The house must be data-shielded.
What was happening inside?
Jake sat motionless, watching the house where ’Time-expired Jennifer had taken refuge. A few extra minutes would make no difference. He breathed out, breathed in, and waited.
At last, the red light on his pulse tracker disappeared. Jake flexed his fingers, activated the lapel holo camera he was required to wear during operations, and reached to open the car door. It was time to show the world what happened when the law caught up with a couple of Coronatime criminals.
EXTREME SUFFERING JUSTIFIES EXTREME MEASURES
One Life Army atrocity verification code
Sue Phu looked out at the rain and sighed. Three days into her confinement and still no sign of a break in the weather. From her front door the Mekong stretched, shimmering in the downpour. What kind of welcome was this for the new baby? Between her breasts a drop of sweat rolled down, a cool tickle which melted into warmth where her swollen belly rose against her dress. She yelled to her daughter, Last Chance.
‘Last Chance! Is the water still hot?’
‘Come and try it.’
Last Chance was crouched over an open fire in the corner of the hut, watching steam rise from a cauldron. She had helped deliver two of her mother’s children. The first time, the water had been too cold and Sue Phu had nearly died. Water-borne hepatitis, the man in the boat had said when he came for the baby. It was the only time Last Chance had ever seen him leave the boat. He had put on a special suit, like a space man, to take the blood sample and examine Sue Phu, his gloved hands holding back her eyelids so far Last Chance was worried her mother’s eyeballs might fall out.
The man had left lucky charms after that, to help keep Sue Phu and Last Chance healthy. Now they had glass bottles full of powder to sprinkle around the hut; pills to swallow before and after the stud-boys came; and red pellets which fizzed and boiled in the river water Sue Phu and Last Chance drank when the bottles they bought from the supply boat were all empty.
Sue Phu stepped inside the hut, touching the metal box over the door for luck. The box was smooth and cool; the man in the boat brought one whenever a woman in the village bled for the first time. A black dish on the roof stored up the sun in the box and shone it out during the night, from a glass eye on the front. The man in the boat said the box helped him know if Sue Phu needed anything.
Sue Phu had mixed feelings about the man in the boat. He never bargained. The prices he paid were falling. Sue Phu had even toyed with the thought of keeping the new baby, if it was a girl. But she couldn’t afford it. It was good that the man in the boat supplied for free the stud-boys without whom nothing would have been possible. All the women were serviced thus. They never saw any other men, or any other people at all, apart from the man in the boat.
Not since the time of Sue Phu’s great-grandmother had men lived in the village. What had happened to the men was a subject of dispute. Some said the Americans had killed them when they lost the great war, long ago. Others said the corona had killed the men and left the women. That had been when the aeroplanes had stopped flying, and the jungle had grown back across the country.
Some of the younger women said the virus was a myth – how could it exist, when no-one in the village had ever died from it? How could men ever have lived in the village, when the man in the boat took every male child away with him? The man in the boat, when people dared to ask him, smiled and said nothing.
Two days later, the rain stopped and Sue Phu delivered with the help of Last Chance a yelling, healthy baby boy. Last Chance said the new baby was crying so loud the man in the boat would hear. Sue Phu was delighted. She had never given birth to a boy. The first four babies she had sold had all been girls. Holding on to Last Chance, her fifth, had been an act of superstitious folly, as though such a demonstration might persuade the gods of her indifference. Penury had been averted only by the fascination the child exerted on the rest of the village: women had crowded in, taking turns holding the infant and bringing small gifts of food. But the gods had paid scant attention: Sue Phu had gone on to produce four more baby girls, one after another.
A few days after each birth, the man in the boat would visit, examine the baby, then bow to Sue Phu, his right hand flat against his heart. That meant the baby was OK. He would give Sue Phu a small case wrapped in a pink ribbon – for a girl – containing a number of dollar tokens. Then he would leave, with the baby. There were fewer tokens for a girl than for a boy. This time it would be different.
Sue Phu was nursing the child outside her front door when the boat came. She knew the sound: the roar of the engines rising to a scream as the boat hit a patch of open water, then dropping to a burble as it toiled between the river houses, vulnerable on their bamboo stilt platforms. The man in the boat looked after the women of the village. He had an interest in them, for sure. She held the child to her breast.
The boat came to rest in front of the house, rolling in the dark, calm water. Last Chance peered round the door. The vessel, longer than any two houses in the village and streaked with the rain of a hundred summers, was the most beautiful thing in creation. Life would have ceased without it. Yet its attraction was tinged with dread.
Sometimes, when Last Chance misbehaved, Sue Phu threatened to sell her to the man in the boat. In fact, the man in the boat had several times offered Sue Phu a cash payment in return for being allowed to take her daughter on board. He told her that as Last Chance grew older the price would be less; and that when the girl first bled, the price would fall to nil. Sue Phu had always refused.
On the boat a door opened and the man came out, blinking in the sunshine. He was tall, with long fair hair falling down over his shoulders, and wore only a sarong. The word “Peace” was tattooed on his left breast, above a white bird. On his left wrist was a smooth black band. Although the man in the boat had been coming to the village for as long as anyone could remember, he looked younger than Sue Phu.
‘Good morning, Sue Phu,’ he said. ‘I hear you got something good for me.’
Sue Phu nodded from her waiting place, three paces back from the edge of the platform. The man was always polite. His face was permanently set in a smile of friendship. Yet there was something about him that made her afraid. Not his eyes, which sparkled when he caught her glance. Nor his walk and posture, both of them humility itself. The stalking gait of the boat crew – short, hard men who spoke a language she did not understand – was more hostile. Rather, it was as if the man in the boat was gazing at her from a place far away, where Sue Phu’s life had no more meaning than the scurrying of an ant on the forest floor.
Many years ago, after a glass of rice wine, Sue Phu’s mother had told her the boat crew were angry because they were incomplete.
‘They are not like the stud-boys. They are smooth down there.’ Sue Phu’s mother had touched herself between the legs. ‘There is nothing hanging down. Or sticking up. It is the price they pay. It makes them irritable.’
‘Price?’ Sue Phu had frowned. ‘What price?’
‘The price of freedom. They want to ride on the boat, they pay. So they cannot bother us. Simple.’
‘But what if they do not want to ride on the boat? What happens to them then?’
Sue Phu’s mother had gathered her up and kissed her on the forehead. ‘I do not know. Maybe one day you can ask the man in the boat.’
But Sue Phu had never dared.
Now the ritual was beginning. Still standing in the boat, the man put on a face-mask and gloves, then took from one of his grim-faced crew a package sealed in plastic. He tore it open to extract a white tray with high sides and a fabric lining. He placed the tray on the cane matting at the edge of the platform and stepped back.
‘May I see the baby, Sue Phu?’ the man in the boat asked.
The tiny boy began to cry. Sue Phu did not kiss or comfort him. It was too late for that. She laid the infant gently in the tray, then knelt down at the back of the platform. She saw a fat tear well up on the baby’s cheek and trickled down, but suppressed the urge to step forward and wipe it away. Instead she watched, expressionless, her hands folded in her lap, as the man tickled the baby’s toes, examined its eyes, and, using a disposable syringe, extracted a sample of blood. The baby yelled lustily. Sue Phu bit her lip as the crewman took the blood inside, slamming the door behind him.
Everyone said they tested the blood to check that the father was one of the stud-boys. If the results came out wrong, the man in the boat would still take the child but would pay nothing. Sue Phu could not remember this happening. How could it, with no other men in the village? But they always took blood into the boat before any baby was passed fit for dollars.
The door stayed closed. The man in the boat sat in a chair at the stern, gazing at the river, ignoring Sue Phu and the baby. Sue Phu stared at the door into which the crewman had disappeared, willing it to open. There was something painted on it, faded by rain and sunshine. It looked like a severed hand, transfixed by a knife. A lizard ran out from the house onto the floor matting and stopped dead, its eyes rotating comically as it tried to decide whether to stay frozen or run away. Further down the riverbank, beneath the overhanging trees, something splashed into the water.
At last the boat door opened and the crewman emerged. His face revealed nothing. He said a few words in his guttural language. The man in the boat continued to gaze at the river. As if he had all the time in the world. Then he turned to Sue Phu and placed his right hand flat over his heart.
His palm was covering the white bird, she saw.
‘It’s a deal,’ the man in the boat said.
Sue Phu blinked. Her eyes were filling with tears. Eight times before, the man had taken her baby. It never got any easier. Behind her, she heard a whoop. Last Chance was jumping around and yelling. Two pregnant women peeked from the doorway of the next hut.
‘You done it, new baby,’ shrieked Last Chance. ‘You done it.’
Ignored by everyone, the baby cried.
The man in the boat stepped forward and looked down at the child. ‘Say goodbye?’ he said to Sue Phu.
Sue Phu shook her head. She had no baby now.
The man watched her for a moment, then addressed the child. ‘Say goodbye to your momma, kid.’ He took the plastic tray and placed a package, tied with a blue ribbon, on the cane matting. ‘This is for you, Sue Phu.’ The infant continued to sob, reaching out a tiny hand like a gesture of farewell.
At the rear of the boat, a crewman grunted as he lifted a pack of groceries onto the far end of the platform that surrounded the house. He sprayed down the package, sprayed his hands, then returned below deck.
‘May I say that we’re grateful for all your good work,’ the man in the boat said to Sue Phu. ‘If you are thinking of having another child, I should remind you that with eight already in our care plus little number nine here, you only need one more to retire and receive a regular payment for the rest of your life. Then you can leave all the work to Last Chance.’
Sue Phu spoke quietly. ‘You bring the stud-boys. I will be waiting.’
‘We will be back. As soon as we think you’re ready.’ The man picked up the tray and walked towards the rear of the boat, which slipped its moorings and began to move out into the channel. Sue Phu could hear the baby crying as the man opened the door and went inside. Then the door closed, and the crying was gone.
If you’re the kind of person who likes the idea of staying in bed for the rest of your life, Coronatime may be just your cup of tea.
Early Central Authority advertising, quoted in “Why Coronatime Stunts Society”, Zenon Kool, Schlaraffenland Press (out of print)
Jake was about to open the car door when he saw his bracelet signal an incoming call. He shook his head. Then he saw it was Ed. He killed the lapel holo and made the connection.
‘Hey.’ Jake murmured into the bracelet, his eyes focused the house. ‘Make it quick. You know I’m on an op here.’
‘Sure. Sorry, man.’ There was a moment’s silence. ‘You cased the place? It’s a Termination Contract, right? The subject will be agitated.’
‘Yeah, I watched for nearly half an hour, all good. I learned from the master, Ed. But I’ll be late.’
‘No worries. I’ll get out of your hair. Listen, Jake.’ Ed paused.
‘What is it?’
‘Be good to see you here. Something’s not right. But I can’t figure out what it is.’
Jake’s lips curled into a smile. ‘You uneasy, man? Don’t worry. It’s called fatherhood. I’ll be there as soon as I can. I promise.’ He terminated the call and stepped out of the car.
Across the road from the Hughes perimeter fence, a blonde woman stood outside the Feeding Frenzy milk bar, inspecting her face in the mirror of a scratched, pale-blue powder compact. It was a bright, clear morning, and few people were about. No one saw that the woman wore no powder, or make-up of any kind; her face was perfect already. When the breeze sent a strand of her hair curling up into the cool moist air she frowned as if troubled by some personal anxiety and snapped the compact shut.
It was nearly time.
Long ago, in another existence, the woman had been trained to ask little, and to give everything. It did not trouble her that only one person would ever know the greatness of what she was about to achieve. It was enough that she, Athena, was mistress of her own destiny. She entered the Feeding Frenzy.
The owner of the milk bar was a One Lifer, whose conviction that music should be played loud was classified in most theological reference works as a religious belief. When he saw Athena enter his establishment he at once dried his hands on a towel woven from recycled fibres by Native American artisans and hurried out from behind the counter. The tall blonde woman was his first customer of the day. Her DNA tab registered on his till. Her credit record showed that when she visited cafes, she normally consumed only a single health drink and never left a tip. But when he saw her shift her hips to pass between the tables, and caught her scent as she threw her jacket over a chair, he forgot about tips. It made a nice change from the usual beach bums and health workers who hung out at his place. In fact, he couldn’t help feeling pleased that the cafe was so empty. Perhaps he could strike up a conversation with her.
He had no idea that for the rest of the day it would be standing room only in the Feeding Frenzy.
‘The cloning of human beings is an abomination. Ask any religious leader. Conversely, the Pope himself uses Coronatime. You can’t get any greater moral endorsement than that.’
House Report on the Benefits of Coronatime in a world after coronavirus, Annex 4(B): The Dangers of Cloning (Interviews)
In Beverly Hills, Jake stepped out of the Cheyenne. The house seemed quiet. But it was hard to be certain. Enforcing Termination Contracts was a delicate business. Many offenders were crazed with fear. None had much to live for. They were liable to take their own lives, which legally didn’t belong to them, at the slightest provocation. The whole house might be wired and ready to blow. Even if a million dollars’ worth of Coronatime said otherwise. Open curtains in the front room should place ’Time-expired Jennifer asleep in bed. Perhaps with a passionthriller or two the night before to weigh down any errant eyelids. That was what Jake had suggested to Jennifer’s boyfriend, Franco Ardizzione.
Jake ran across the fake lawn. Speed was vital.
Right now, his bracelet would be interrogating the ID tab in his spine to compare the DNA of the blood surrounding it with his identity. The match confirmed, his bracelet would announce, loud and clear, “Coronatime enforcement agent”.
Not so anyone could hear it, except for the home security system at number 137. As the intruder alarm and shielding switched themselves off, a stream of data appeared on Jake’s bracelet. ’Time-expired Jennifer, biological and chronological age both 54, was inside the house. So was Franco Ardizzione, biological 18, chronological 31. Jake frowned. The discrepancy was large for a small-time conman. Could that be significant? Something to check out later. The front door of the house swung open as Jake stepped through it.
Into the heart of a gigolo’s gin palace. Everything screamed gloss, from the brilliant Outlive-U carpeting to the nozzles of the Dis-Arm/Dat-Arm anti-intruder complex at the angles of the hall. How many decades ago had phosphorescent carpets been a thing? Straight ahead, the wall was playing a tropical beach, waves breaking silently in the rays of a dying sunset. Probably a direct feed wallpaper, Jake thought, a real-time image of a landscape half way round the world. Soon it would be dark there, night falling at noon in LA.
This one’s for you, Jennifer.
Jake crept towards the bedroom, sneaker-soft on the Outlive-U. He hadn’t felt this wired since the raid on the West California Access Facility in the Man Without a Past case. He gripped his Big Fright scare-o-matic tightly.
Jake’s fringe had fallen forward; when he pushed it back he felt his face slick with sweat. Franco shouldn’t be a problem. But ’Time-expired Jennifer might do anything. Silently, Jake cursed the red tape that prevented him immobilising her without issuing an oral warning. The Chattanooga court had already declared her ’Time-expired, had they not? But his bracelet had been streaming a live feed to the Coronatime Enforcement Channel from the moment his tab unlocked the house. He could no more break the rules than any other law-abiding citizen.
A groan came from the next room. Jake raised the Big Fright. Disabler: ready. The old men in Washington had been procrastinating over changing the Criminal Justice Act for years. Hands: steady. Result: the guys on the front line had to creep around risking their lives (valuable) and those of their targets (value actuarially assessed) to preserve someone’s precious civil liberties. Civil liabilities, more like.
Jake took a deep breath and kicked open the door to the bedroom.
’Time-expired Jennifer and Franco Ardizzione were naked, on the bed, making love. If you could call it that.
Jennifer was old. Jake had imagined someone more glamorous, more full of life. He felt a pulse of pity at the sight of her knobbly knees, her bony feet, and Franco’s hairy ass.
‘Coronatime enforcement agent!’ Jake yelled. ‘Any movement and I open fire.’ He brandished the scare-o-matic. Its hideous mass performed no function except to house the tab-disabler which, having issued the prescribed oral warning, he was now entitled to use. He could no more do actual bodily harm to either of these two than he could fly: she alone was worth millions of dollars alive, and a load of lawsuits dead. But research had shown that people responded better to instructions when facing a perceived threat of pain, injury or death. Most enforcement officers agreed it felt good to have a scare-o-matic under your belt. People respected you more.
‘Stand up. I need to see you.’ Behind the bed, the walls glowed orange with moving images of some part of the human anatomy so enlarged that Jake could not immediately see what it was. ‘That’s it.’
They were both standing now, bodies pasty in the glow of the walls. Next to Jennifer, Franco looked like a child: short, with a firmly muscled body. The little man was alert, watching Jake with a disconcerting familiarity. Who was this guy?
‘Have you anything to say before you are disabled?’ Jake indicated the holocam on his lapel.
Jake had addressed Jennifer. Her soft green eyes might have been beautiful had they not been full of sadness. How many times had he witnessed the despair of the endless night to come? Once he put her under, she would spend the rest of her life on the slab at CLEF. But it was Franco who answered.
‘You’re late,’ he said. ‘You don’t know how lucky you are.’
‘I make it my job to be lucky.’
Franco shook his head, but said nothing. He seemed unnaturally calm for someone looking down the muzzle of a Big Fright.
Jennifer was staring at her lover. ‘This is who you were waiting for? Are you crazy? He’s a Coronatime enforcement agent.’
‘I promised you a third of a gram bounty to bring her in, Franco,’ Jake said. ‘A million bucks’ worth. But I’m taking you in, too, for Coronatime theft.’
Franco’s gaze was fixed on Jake. ‘I heard you were always on time. When you didn’t show, I figured you’d gone to see your pal with the new kid. That would do the job. I thought I’d use the time to say goodbye to Jennifer.’
He knew about Ed. How was that possible? And what did he mean, that would do the job?
But ’Time-expired Jennifer had heard something else.
‘Franco! A bounty? Can’t you see we’re in this together, sweetheart, you and I? Look at yourself. In it. Right up to here.’ Her hands being in the air, she jerked her chin up to indicate submersion. ‘He’ll take you down for helping me evade my contract. That’s a Corona crime. Did he give you anything in writing? Like hell he did.’ She glared at Jake. ‘You should be ashamed of yourself.’
‘It’s my job to return stolen Coronatime to its owners.’ Jake turned to Franco. ‘How the hell do you know about me?’
Suddenly, the little man’s composure cracked. ‘All I know is, you’re the meanest double-crossing bastard I ever set eyes on and…’ he slumped to his knees on the Outlive-U. ‘Don’t put me under, man, I’ll do anything, I got Coronatime. Please? I don’t want to wake up 15 years older.’
Jake stepped back. The mood-swing was wrong. ‘Away from the bed, Franco.’
‘I beg you.’ Franco’s voice had dwindled to a whine. His hand was under the bed.
‘Stand up now. Last warning – ’
Jake flicked off the safety on the Big Fright. In the same instant he saw Franco’s hand emerge, holding something. Instinctively, Jake pulled the trigger. A deafening explosion rang in his ears. Something warm spattered his face.
Franco lay on the Outlive-U. In his hand was an ancient handgun, a primitive thing made to fire metal bullets.
‘What was that noise?’ Jennifer stared down at Franco’s body. ‘Is he OK?’
‘I disabled him.’ On Jake’s bracelet, the red light burned. ‘He was threatening me.’
‘He’s injured.’ Jennifer pointed. ‘His head.’
Jake stared. She was right. The carpet glistened where Franco Ardizzione lay. Something was on Jake’s cheek. He wiped his face and his hand came away red. A chunk of Franco’s head was missing.
Jake had not disabled Franco. The man had killed himself. His death had been broadcast live. Ardizzione would have been facing Termination both for ownership of a deadly weapon and, Jake suspected, for other crimes he had yet to investigate. Franco’s biological age was 18. He would have had decades to live. All his Coronatime, which would have been the property of the Central Authority, had been lost in an instant. An inquiry was automatic. It would focus on whether Jake Moonrath could have prevented the squandering of a public asset worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
The man had only had time for one shot. Why had he not targeted Jake?
Jennifer’s face was pale. Her mouth hung open. ‘I loved him,’ she said.
‘He’s a con-man! He was ready to sell you out for a million bucks of Coronatime.’
‘He was more than that.’
‘Maybe. But not the way you think.’ He turned to face her. ‘’Time-expired Jennifer. You have the right to make a statement before your sentence is carried out.’
‘Don’t call me that.’ She blinked and turned away from the corpse. ‘You want me to say something on-air?’
‘It’s up to you.’ He wanted to tell the woman she had nothing to fear. But she was a convicted Coronatime criminal.
‘OK.’ Jennifer began to speak, her voice wavering. ‘As a member of the Confederation of US Journalists about to lose the right to life, I’d like to put on record my view that the Central Authority should outlaw the practice of Termination Contracts at once. I also want to declare my support for the One Life movement, although not of course the One Life Army.’
‘Thank you, Jennifer.’ Everyone due for Termination wished they had been a One Lifer. ‘Now back on the bed, please, and I’ll put you out. Relax.’ It was vital she did not injure herself as she lost consciousness. ‘Easy, now.’
Again, he released the safety on his Big Fright and pulled the trigger. In an orgasm of rapid data exchange her bracelet responded, checking separately her DNA tab, her security status on the Central Authority’s Federal Unitary Control Computer in Washington and lastly Jake’s own ID – a precaution against the scare-o-matic passing into the wrong hands.
It was done.
For a moment, Jake gazed down at the limp, naked body. It was almost as if she were the victim, not the perpetrator, of a crime.
Then he terminated the holo.
Who the hell was Franco Ardizzione? CLEF in Chattanooga had identified him as a small-time crook who preyed on cash-rich women near their Termination dates.
But he’d known about Ed Zipper.
He’d been waiting with a handgun to kill Jake.
He’d killed himself rather than face arrest and questioning.
He’d even admitted another crime, infinitely more egregious than Jennifer’s misappropriation of a single, worn-out lifetime.
Jake checked the time. Now he really had a problem.
Other resources for CORONA CRIME: a world after Coronavirus
If you would like to explore more elements of CORONA CRIME, do have a look at these posts:
- Corona Crime: 7 ways to explain the meaning of life
- Corona Crime: what motivates terrorists?
- Corona Crime: how DNA tabs are coming true
- Corona Crime: why wealth and creativity can’t mix
- Corona Crime: Klimt and Beethoven
- Corona Crime: Peter Pan and Steve Jobs
- Corona Crime: how to use your life fruitfully
- Corona Crime: when waiting for a London bus is pure pleasure
What to do next
Thanks so much for reading. I do hope you enjoyed it. As mentioned above, if you would like to read more about a world after coronavirus, the Amazon page for CORONA CRIME is here. If you would like to read something else I have written, my two earlier books are: Seven Hotel Stories and Blood Summit.