Riot Load by Bryon Quertermous follows crime writer Dominick Prince as he has to use his training in crime fiction to navigate his way through a plan to steal a sperm sample from a clinic and pay off a debt to an old friend (Available June 14, 2016).
Dominick Prince went through hell to make his dreams come true. He finally has a book deal, time and money to write whatever he wants, and a marriage to his college crush with a child on the way. But instead of working on his next book, Dominick spends his days as a mindless office drone at the university cancer center while his wife chases bail jumpers. When an old friend reappears to call in a favor, Dominick sees an opportunity for a little excitement.
The plan seems simple enough. Dominick will use his access at the hospital to help his friend steal the last remaining piece of her murdered lover: a sperm sample left during prostate cancer treatment. Standing in their way are a pair of brothers who find kidnapping potential children far superior to kidnapping actual children, and Dominick’s wife who has her own plans for the sample. Torn between his wife’s wrath and the debt he owes his friend, Dominick taps into the most devious parts of his crime fiction training to write himself a proper ending where he saves the day, saves the girl, and lives to write another day.
I was two hours into my thirty-minute lunch break and taking in a baseball game on a stuffy mid-July day in Detroit when it occurred to me that getting everything I ever wanted was the worst thing that could have happened to me.
“That one,” I said to the hot dog vendor, pointing to a short black woman across the way.
He nodded and handed me a sausage and a can of Diet Coke.
“Just once or more than that?”
He shrugged and took the five-dollar bill I handed him. I handed him another five. And then another.
“Three times,” he said. “Once with another woman. Younger. White.”
“Both were wearing hospital badges?”
He nodded again. I didn’t have any more money but I had what I needed. My coworkers had been spying on me. I took my time finishing my sausage and my Diet Coke, trying to enjoy the game and the atmosphere. After the game, I was walking back to my office at the university medical center around the corner when I saw a police cruiser following me. It wasn’t unusual to see police cars around that part of town, especially on game day, but this wasn’t a Detroit Police Department cruiser, it was one of the nicer, shinier Detroit State University cruisers. I sighed and slowed down.
“Got time for a friend?” Lindsey Buckingham asked.
“Gotta get back to work,” I said. “Can I come and—”
“Bullshit,” she said. “I’ve been watching you for a bit and you never—”
“Why have you been following me?”
“Get in. They got me on a tighter leash and I can’t be roaming like I used to.”
I got in and had a rush of emotion.
I was never sure how to tell people the story of what happened to me. I worked out most of my emotions writing my first novel, but the actual day-to-day trauma and psychological damage still popped up at the damndest times. Like right then.
So short of breath.
“I need a favor,” Lindsey said.
I tried to open the door, but even a campus cruiser had the back door child locks to keep prisoners from escaping so the door didn’t open and I stayed in the car.
Running out of breath.
Jesus. So hot.
I looked out the window and saw we were back to the hospital where I worked. My breathing returned to normal and I felt less boxed in. Staying in the car with Lindsey was better than going back to work and facing my conspiring coworkers.
“I can take the rest of the day off if you need me,” I said. “I do owe you.”
Lindsey turned as far around as she could to face me and poked her index finger toward my face.
“You need to go back to work and be the best employee you can be.”
“That’s your favor? Be a good employee?”
“We’ll talk more tomorrow. This is going to be rough on you but like you said. You owe me.”
When I was out of the car Lindsey yelled at me again.
“And don’t tell your wife about this.”
Right. My wife.
* * *
I married Posey Wade after her brother was murdered.
It started kind of as a joke. We’d been classmates and teaching partners during my last year of grad school for creative writing. When Parker Farmington, my thesis advisor and academic arch nemesis failed me and wouldn’t sign the paperwork for me to graduate, it was Posey’s naked shoulder I cried on in a hot tub while confessing my secret desire to kidnap Parker. Instead of ratting me out to the cops or to Parker, she took pity on me and put me in touch with a guy she knew who also wanted to kidnap Parker.
I don’t want to get into all of the details of what happened, I still have nightmares and panic attacks regularly because of it, but her brother ended up dead and so did the guy she hooked me up with. But rather than pull away from me, she pulled me closer.
We went out a few times after she lost a beer pong bet to me and we fooled around casually for a bit but then she got pregnant and it wasn’t much of a joke. Posey took it well, which surprised me, but what surprised me even more was how well I took it. My first girlfriend out of high school got pregnant a week after graduation while we were both still under the brainwashing spells of our religious upbringing. I bought a shitty ring that I gave to her in a half-assed proposal and took a stable, but shitty, job as a telephone electrician to pay the bills. For a long time I resented the sacrifices I had made to accommodate the situation and believed they held me back from achieving my true destiny as a writer (spoiler alert: turns out my lazy attitude toward the world and underdeveloped writing talent were the actual culprits). It was a mark of my selfishness and immaturity that I viewed the miscarriage of that pregnancy as my escape from the situation and a fresh start of my writing life.
Hopefully I’m not that much of a twit these days. After fighting and scheming so hard for an opportunity to have the freedom and money to do nothing but write, it only took me about three months of that life for me to get lazy and devolve into a structure-less void with no real purpose or aim. I spent those three months writing my novel, Blood Boy (a riff on my grad school nickname), and when the novel was done, I was done. I put everything I ever learned, experienced, read, imagined, and wished for into that book and seemed happy for that to be the only thing I would ever write.
The book was published by a digital publisher out of the UK, and the day I cashed the second half of the advance check I stopped going to class, stopped teaching, stopped writing, and started watching a lot of television on DVD. Just about the time the university came calling for their fellowship money back, I moved in with Posey, who had jumped head first into keeping her brother’s bail bonds business afloat. She fired most of the bail recovery agents her brother used, and after a month-long training class in Nevada she bought a gun, a Taser, and a lifetime supply of pepper spray and plastic wrist ties and became a bounty hunter. I had fun playing house and even went out and got my own self a job. My extensive writing training was a perfect fit for mindless clerical work and the money and benefits were good but I still found it hard to get excited for life, and that’s how I found myself at a baseball game piecing together exactly how my bitchy coworkers were spying on me. For the first time in a long time I was excited to get to work the next day. Excited to see what was going to happen next.
I showed up at work the next morning to find an HR rep and my two coworkers waiting for me in the conference room. The meeting wasn’t a surprise but my reaction to it was. Had it happened a day earlier I would have been on the defensive and looking to be a manipulative prick and probably gotten myself fired. But I was intrigued enough by Lindsey’s favor and the caveat that I do anything possible to keep my job, that I went into the meeting with my most contrite face on and played the apologetic father-to-be and bought myself a second chance. At least with HR.
“You’re a liar and we’re going to prove it,” Cammy Tate, the nastier of the two, said to me on the way back to the office suite.
I kept my mouth shut and tried not to flip her off. She was a thirty-year-old Ivy League graduate with two master’s degrees and a patent for something involving the drive train on race cars, but thanks to the rotten Michigan economy and the sexist world of academic medicine, she was nothing more than a secretary who made $10,000 less than I did and worked ten times as hard. Around lunch time being a good employee was starting to get exhausting and I was wondering how I could last the entire day when my boss waved me into the conference room. I was genuinely surprised for once and had no idea what I had done.
Sarah Janus was a squat Asian woman with scarred, leathery skin and a paranoid demeanor that hinted at a rough life prior to joining our office. It also made judging her age nearly impossible. On casual glance she would appear to be in her fifties or sixties, but every once in a while she would drop a pop culture reference, such as her recent conversation about how underappreciated Dawson’s Creek was in its day, that made me wonder if she was closer to my age.
“Shared services wants you in the sperm lab,” she said with a straight face.
“They want me what?”
She shrugged and didn’t even seem to be on the verge of cracking a smile. It wasn’t an odd request—shared services was a stupid program that resulted in some really stupid day-long placements for me—but the sperm lab was a new one.
“It’s still the cancer center,” she said. “Something about prostate patients. You know, I didn’t pay too much attention to it once they mentioned the…you know, the location.”
“I take the bus here,” I said. “Is there a stop at the—”
“It’s in this complex,” she said. “I think it will be good for you to get out of here for a while, you know, withthose two out for you again.”
Sperm lab. Well, I certainly didn’t see that coming. In the time I’d been with the Detroit State University Cancer Center as a medical administrative assistant my job had changed three times, my boss had changed twice, and now they were trying this shared services nonsense that made all administrative employees eligible for placement anywhere in the cancer center. I’d been placed in several different offices, but they were all administrative offices with the same oak and glass décor that all of the department chairs demanded and the same basic layout and the same group of bitter middle-aged former housewives running the show.
As a male I was always viewed with a healthy bit of skepticism and usually found myself living down to their worst expectations. But a lab was different. I wasn’t sure if it was good different, but it was different enough to excite me and I started wondering if I’d be inspired to reinvigorate my dormant science fiction writing passion. Early in my writing career I’d been obsessed with Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, and Michael Crichton and how they mixed real-world science into their fantastic stories. This was also during the brief period in my life when I believed anything was possible and harbored dreams of being an engineer or computer programmer despite lacking the needed math skills to even understand the recruiting brochures for the computer club.
I felt excited enough to eat healthy and take a walk during my lunch. It was sunny and breezy and I had a light step until I saw a familiar uniformed police officer heading my way. I kept my happy walk and my happy demeanor until Lindsey said, “Have you started your new assignment yet?”
“How did you know—”
“You’re not the only one who owes me favors. Have you started yet?”
“No. I was having lunch first.”
“Good. I need you to be aware from the beginning and if you suddenly start looking aware after they meet you it will look suspicious when…well, I’m getting ahead of myself.”
“Why do I need to be aware? What does this all have to do with a sperm bank?”
“I just need you to scope a few things out for me,” she said.
“What kind of things?”
“Location mostly and escape routes.”
Oh shit. This wasn’t going to turn out well.
“Escape routes? I can’t break any more laws.”
“It’ll be fine,” she said. “That sample is mine anyway. I don’t care what your wife says.”
Double shit. Jesus. My mind was already taking what it knew and drawing some very creepy conclusions.
“What is yours?” I asked.
“The sample,” she said. “You know he had cancer, right? That’s why he shaved his head. I always liked the look but—”
“No,” I said. “This is creepy and gross and…Jesus, I’m married to his sister.”
I’d never fully understood Lindsey’s relationship with Titus Wade. She’d explained it to me a few times—something about Titus being the first guy she had sex with after making a pact with God related to her surviving a sexual assault—but the details never stuck. When he was alive, Lindsey’s sole driving force in life was convincing Titus Wade he was her soul mate, and now that he was dead, she’d gone all-in on pursuing his remaining…essence…with the same passion.
“You’re the only one who can do this. I tried and they…well, that doesn’t matter. You owe me.”
“I’m married to his sister,” I said.
“You owe me. Titus Wade owes me. He promised me and that bitch sister of his—”
“That’s my wife. Jesus. I can’t even—”
“I want a baby. I want his baby. But he’s dead.”
“And you want me to steal his sperm sample?”
“You owe me.”
Copyright © 2016 Bryon Quertermous.
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Bryon Quertermous was born and raised in Michigan. His short stories have appeared in Plots With Guns, Thuglit, and Crime Factory, among others, and in the anthologies Hardcore Hardboiled, The Year's Finest Crime, Mystery Stories, and Uncage Me. He was shortlisted for the Debut Dagger Award from the UK Crime Writers' Association. He lives outside of Detroit with his wife and three children.