Trufant update

I had enough rejections so I’m self publishing Trufant.

I signed a contract with a hybrid press this week and I have a projected release date of mid February 2022

I’m posting the first chapter below, just a copy and paste from MS Word so I hope it formats correctly.

1 Armstrong

David Armstrong and Travis huddled under the awning of an abandoned bakery on Mason Street. Both were trying to stay warm and dry, and this time David feared he would die first.

For the third day in a row, a cold drizzle was blowing in from the Pacific, and he heard the next few days would be more of the same. The black sheet of Visqueen he had stolen from the construction site next door wasn’t wide enough to protect them both from the rain, but with the building’s overhang only his good leg was exposed, and it was soaked.

He had been wet and miserable for so long that he could no longer feel his fingers, and his left leg was numb. His body had burned through his last hit of black tar heroin hours ago, and he was feeling the first effects of withdrawal. His bones ached and his teeth chattered and not just from the cold. Travis shivered constantly too and neither of them had slept more than a few hours. Now the icy wind was cutting through the thin plastic sheeting like a knife.

Across the street, six of the thousands of unsheltered men and women on this side of San Francisco had already staked out the sewer grate. He had tried to sleep close enough to it last night to feel the warm air currents coming up from the cable car tunnels, but the big man with the acne scars and the yellow and black plaid coat threatened Travis with a knife, so they had moved back across the street.

The cold concrete and unrelenting chill made it difficult to get comfortable, and David pulled the dog closer, hoping its body heat would help. But it wasn’t the cold, or the rain. He was dopesick now and it was only going to get worse. He stretched out as far as he could, closed his eyes, and finally the exhaustion and lack of sleep caught up to him. For the next two hours he was back in Afghanistan, where it was warm and dry, and he felt safe—safe and Travis was alive again.

*

Standing behind Travis in the chow line, they worked their way toward the front when the first rocket landed outside. The blast was on the far side of the base, but they both felt the concussion, and the lights swayed on their chains, casting moving shadows on the floor. The next one was closer but still too far away to do any damage.

This was the third attack by the Taliban this week, and like the rest, this 107 mm unguided rocket fell short, landing outside the forward fire base’s perimeter wall, but each round was closer than the last, and it seemed the insurgents had an unlimited supply of both men and rockets.

After each attack, photos of the destroyed Type 63 launchers and the dead Taliban were passed around. They were gruesome scenes, pictures of men blown apart by either Hellfire missiles or 30 mm shells from a chain gun. Some officer must have thought the images would bolster morale, and for some, it probably did. “Fuck those towelheads!” they said, but to David, they were just dead men.

Loaded up with slabs of meatloaf, lima beans, and mashed potatoes, the two of them sat across from each other eating in silence, thinking more about the afternoon’s mission than the tasteless food.

“I think it will be hot again,” Travis said.

“It’s always hot, Travis,” David said, stabbing another chunk of meatloaf.

The familiar brrrp of an Apache’s gun interrupted their meal, and they looked at the far wall, picturing the dust and debris rising from the mountain beyond it.

“That fucked them up,” Travis said in a thick Brooklyn accent that always made everything sound funny.

*

There were no more rockets in this dream and all too soon the cold returned.

He listened to the steady popping of the rain hitting the aluminum awning, mixed with the buzzing of a streetlamp, and tried to remember if it had ever rained while he was overseas.

The thought of his best friend’s death always left him numb. It had been eight years since the real Travis died on a dirt road in Afghanistan. But some memories never lose their sharpness, or the pain that follows them.

He felt Travis lift his head and a deep growl came from the dog’s chest. In the dim light, he saw Travis looking across the street at the dark, ghostly shapes of the men sleeping next to the grate. Then one of the shapes moved, and a glint of steel reflected in the light.

He pulled Travis closer and cupped his hand over the dog’s snout, and the growling stopped, but his eyes remained on the moving shape across the street. The dog was trembling.

From sixty feet away and in the dim light, David felt the shape was staring at him, but it was hard to be sure as the steady drizzle began mixing with the first wisps of fog. The tiny droplets illuminated by the yellow streetlight floated on a breeze from left to right, helping to obscure the man’s silhouetted face. He couldn’t see anything but the form of someone crouched next to the others—but there was a feeling of dread he couldn’t shake. He sensed death.

Death is watching me!

He held Travis still for several more minutes, his hand still cupped over the dog’s snout. The figure of the man never moved. Hallucinations weren’t new to David, and so much time passed that he began to doubt what he had seen. Still, he felt this wasn’t his drug-addled brain playing tricks on him.

The dark shape began to move, slowly at first, rising until it stood next to one of the sleeping men. It looked like a man, but was it? Could a woman exude such a feeling of dread as he felt right now? It had to be a man, a short man covered in a dark rain jacket with a hood that hid his face.

The shape stepped away from the sleeping men and into the street toward him. Again, and for what seemed like an eternity, David felt the stare as Travis continued to tremble.

It was closer now, close enough that he could see vapor rising from under the hood each time it took a slow, steady, silent breath, and he hoped his own breathing wasn’t as visible.

Eight years ago, in another lifetime, he would have stood and faced this man. Knife or no knife, he had never cowered from a threat. But he wasn’t that man anymore. The shrapnel that had killed his best friend had torn into him as well.

“The lack of testosterone will have an adverse effect on you, Sergeant,” the doctor had said.

Travis began to whine, the sound mixing with the rattling sound of rain on the awning, and David hoped it was loud enough to drown Travis out.

“Shh,” he whispered. Finally, the man turned and moved silently down the street toward Shepard Place and disappeared into the thickening fog, leaving a wake of swirling mist.

He eased his hand away from Travis, and the dog turned and looked at him, the low whine intensifying, and again he could feel a vibration in the dog’s chest. Then they both shivered, and he pulled the dog in tight, trying to fight the chill and the fear.

“He’s gone now, Travis.”

Travis quit whining but stared silently across the street.

David could see all the sleeping shapes. Some of them were snoring, and he hoped what he had seen was just another part of the dream. He looked down Shepard Place, now just fog and shadows, any of which could conceal a man.

He waited for thirty minutes. The fog had thickened, and the rain was nothing more than a drizzle now. Two surveillance cameras were pointed at the front door of the shop behind the men. He knew there were more hidden in the fog, but he had to move. He had to know for sure what he had seen wasn’t just another nightmare.

His knee popped like a firecracker, and his bones ached as fear and withdrawal left him weak. He looked one final time toward Shepard Place, hoping the man had moved on. Pain in both knees almost made him cry out, and only the fear of what could be in the darkness kept him silent. Tying Travis to the wrought iron security gate behind him, he wrapped the plastic over his head and limped across the street. His good leg was still numb from the cold, and it took all his concentration to keep his head down and away from the cameras. The uneven steel cable car rails embedded in the street and the patchwork of concrete tripped him twice, but he made it across without falling or making enough noise to wake the sleeping men.

There were six of them under the awning and around the grate. Two of them were older men with patchy gray beards, in their sixties at least, but it was hard to tell. They were the ones snoring. Two others were younger and breathing deeply. The light reflecting off the plastic they were using for protection flickered with each man’s breath.

It was hard for him to focus and harder to think clearly, but even so, he knew the other two men would never breathe again. Their throats were slashed, and a vast torrent of each man’s blood mixed with the rainwater and ran down the sidewalk, disappearing into the grate. In the yellow tint of the sodium vapor streetlight, the pool of blood looked like black ink as it made a jagged path along the whiter concrete.

He knelt over the big man with the yellow and black plaid jacket and felt his pockets. He found the knife—a cheap imitation of a Swiss Army knife, a blood-stained syringe, two small bags of brown powder, a ball of crumpled aluminum foil, and thirty-five cents.

He held the bags to his nose and inhaled a slight chemical smell, not the acrid odor of vinegar common with cheap heroin. They were probably China White, a powerful synthetic rarer than the Black Tar heroin common on the streets of the city. Knowing what it was helped him focus on his next move, to get away from these dead men and find a safe place to smoke the first bag.

Across the street Travis barked as he stuffed the two bags, the coins, and the knife in his pocket. Then he looked at the syringe and thought of keeping it for himself, but needles were one of the few things that he still feared, too easy to OD, and too much work. Chasing the dragon, or inhaling heroin, was simpler, requiring just a Bic lighter, some foil, and a straw. Still, the needle was hard to throw away.

 It was hours before sunrise, and he wanted to be long gone before the sleeping men woke. Hopefully, the fog and the rain would make most of the surveillance cameras useless, but he kept his head down as he untied Travis and began shuffling north toward the Broadway Tunnel.