Thursday, 9 October 2014

From the Backlist #6

  The books that were forgotten in the rush of all things new, or just weren’t loved on as much as they should have been, these are our genre’s backlist, maybe you’ll find something old to love like it’s new

Santuario by GB Gordon
(Santuario #1)
First Published 8th of October 2012 by Riptide Publishing
Romantic Sci-fi thriller

Police teniente Alex Rukow has spent his life trapped on Santuario, his people’s isolated home-slash-prison-island. They’ve been living in poverty under the tyrannical regime of their own elite familias for the last two-hundred years, ever since their generation ship landed on the planet and found it already populated by earlier Earth settlers, the Skanians, who banished them to the inhospitable south.

Increasingly shamed by the decisions of their ancestors, the Skanians seek to open their borders. But dissent exists on both sides, and in the midst of this explosive political situation, a dead body appears on the island.

Bengt, a Skanian investigator, is shipped to Santuario to lead the murder investigation—which, he quickly realizes, the local teniente wants nothing to do with. As far as Bengt is concerned, things can’t get worse than the brutal climate, his own memories, and a growing attraction to a partner who will barely say two words to him. But then he and Alex run afoul of the local familias, and the problems with their investigation and their budding relationship seem like nothing compared to just getting out of this whole mess alive.

200 Years Too Long
Santuarian Bicentennial Has Citizens Questioning the Past
Thousands took to the streets of Hentavik yesterday on the 200th anniversary of the Santuarian generation ship landing on Jarðvegur. Individual voices have always questioned the Þing’s decision to segregate the newcomers on “Santuario” as its inhabitants call the island, but those voices have never been as numerous as they are today. People of all political convictions are ready to end the Santuarian isolation. “It’s not like they’re space aliens,” one protester told the Herald. “They’re human beings, like us. We have the same origins, even if they’re thousands of years apart. This planet gave us a home when we first came here. And we turn around and assign them some uninhabited, hellishly hot rock in the South Sea? That’s contemptible.”
Sources tell the Herald that more than a few Þing representatives share that sentiment and are lobbying to extend a hand to our neighbors in the south. The time to close the most shameful chapter in our history might be finally here.
Chapter 1
Three hours after sunrise, the temperature in the Quonset hut that served as the comandatura had already reached sauna level. When Alex opened the door to his office, he walked into the usual wall of muggy, stale air. A glance at the dead ceiling fan, a shrug, a quick check of his in-basket. The arbitration decision on the fender bender at the bridge had come in; each of the boys would pay for his own damages. The second paper was a handwritten note: Elena was withdrawing her complaint against her husband. Again. With a sad shake of his head, Alex ripped the domestic disturbance report to shreds and dropped it in the bin. Routine. Except . . .
He paused, pulled a folder from between two memos and drew his brows together. Looking at both sides of the thin cardboard sleeve, he perched on a corner of his desk. The capitán didn’t put together files, at least not for the one-page reports of thefts and cantina brawls that filled most of Alex’s days. And the files he did assemble, for cases having to do with the familias or Securitas, rarely ended up on Alex’s desk. Alex gingerly folded his too-tall frame into his chair and carefully centered the folder on his desk before opening it.
First page—morning rounds report. The rurale had found a body on the beach not too far from the slaughterhouse; male, about forty years old, dressed in nothing but canvas pants. The dead man had old scars on his back and fresh abrasions on both wrists, as well as a deep wound in his skull.
Alex scanned the rest and wondered why the Securitas hadn’t cleaned up after themselves. Unidentified bodies didn’t exist on Santuario, at least none with rope burns on their wrists. There were injured and missing persons, but no murder victims. Alex tried to remember the last time he’d heard of a death the policía had investigated. There’d been a knife fight in Rajon Five in which one of the combatants had been killed. That was it. He had never worked a homicide. Not in eleven years on the job. Why didn’t the capitán take care of this himself? Staring at a point beyond the wall, Alex dropped the report back into the folder, dislodging a yellow sticky note:
I’m too tied down with the Santillas case to mess with
a dead drifter. You speak Skanes, right? Inform ICE.
They’ll send someone to take care of this. Be polite!
Alex swore softly. Work with ICE and probably annoy the Securitas into the bargain; he was doubly fucked. The capitán had smoothly disentangled himself from the mess. A pox on him. Alex mentally reviewed what he remembered of homicide procedures from the academy and briefly entertained the thought of letting the file disappear or losing it. Unfortunately, there was still a body in the slaughterhouse waiting to be transferred to the morgue in Hentavik.
With an accusing look at the fan, he left his office and strolled past the clerk’s desk to the open door.
“Sultry today,” he ventured.
“Storm coming,” the clerk, Kazatin, nodded.
Alex leaned against the doorframe and studied the sky. “The poor sod they found on the beach this morning doesn’t give a shit anymore.”
Kazatin drew his head between his shoulders. “Gijón found him. He was already packed with flies. Why’d they leave him there?”
The same question Alex was asking himself. Not a breath of wind stirred the palm fronds. “Anyone from here?”
Kazatin shook his head. “Gijón hasn’t said anything.”
Hands in his pockets, Alex pushed himself away from the doorframe. “I’ll go have a look.”
He headed east down the dirt track that followed the coastline between the beach and the trees, now and then winding through the palms or brush. If the dead guy was a Securitas victim, they had hardly forgotten him there. They didn’t make mistakes like that. Which meant they’d left him there for the policía to find. On purpose. The thought made him want to puke. Of course, there was still a slight chance that it was someone else’s shit entirely.
# # #
A jumble of concrete and old bricks, the slaughterhouse occupied a patch of sparse grass and weeds between the road and the beach. Rambling vines had long conquered the walls and aided the sun and wind in widening cracks and peeling paint.
Rather than walk all the way around the building to the front entrance, Alex cut across the loose sand to where the wire fence had rusted away, and slipped through the hole. There were no windows facing the rear of the building, just a gray metal door. In the yard, an old man was emptying a pail into the incinerator. Alex tried to ignore the increasing stink of decomposition.
“Hola Miguel, quetal!”
The old man turned and raised a hand.
“You got a cigarette?” Alex asked.
Miguel looked at him sideways with raised eyebrows.
“Don’t worry, I’m not starting again.” Alex pulled down the corners of his mouth and pointed his thumb over his shoulder at the door. “Gotta go in there.”
Miguel nodded his understanding, handed over one of his hand-rolled cigarettes, and struck a match. Alex inhaled the smoke deeply. He’d pay for that cigarette. Miguel shook his head, but Alex just grimaced. With a mock salute, he turned and entered the rendering plant.
The foreman came over as soon as he saw the tan uniform in the dim light. “Ah, Teniente, please come in. He’s in the fridge. When are you going to take him away?”
“Soon, soon. A body in the fridge is bad for business.”
Alex shrugged. “Así es la vida.”
The foreman snorted, but shut up and led the way across the plant’s floor to the refrigerated warehouse. He had to bear down on the handle with the full weight of his skinny body to open the heavy metal door.
After the heat outside, the cool air felt pleasant, but when the door fell shut behind him, Alex shot a nervous glance over his shoulder.
“Don’t worry, Teniente. It opens from the inside as well. Down the right aisle, all the way to the back,” he said as he left.
Alex nodded and walked between the ceiling-high metal shelves to an aluminum table on wheels that had been pushed against the back wall. The man lay on his back. Alex had never seen him before. Which answered at least one of his questions. It was nobody from Peones. He was skinny and filthy and had bad teeth. Anywhere between 40 and 50, Alex guessed. The description fit a good many of the djeti, as the familias called anyone who didn’t belong to them. Alex checked the abrasions on the wrists—rather unambiguous signs of forcible confinement. The head wound was deep; the skin around it had been neatly shaved and part of the skull plate removed. No fall or blunt force trauma, that one. It looked more like surgery. He squinted through the cigarette smoke. Hardly any blood, no other injuries he could see. So maybe not Securitas after all; they tended to be less circumspect with their victims. He wondered what the crime scene looked like.
Goose bumps on his arms reminded him to get out. He rubbed his hands across the skin, and with a last musing look at the body, turned and walked back to the door. A twinge of trepidation made him push down on the latch more forcefully than necessary, but the door opened without a problem. Humid heat smothered him like a wet towel. The door into the yard stood wide open; Miguel was nowhere to be seen. With a slight feeling of regret, Alex dropped the cigarette butt in the sand and ground it out with the toe of his boot.
Down on the beach, the waves had draped black seaweed on the sand, and bolts of lightning flashed on the horizon. Still, it would be evening before the cooling rain would reach the coast. Alex grinned without joy. At least this case would keep him from roof repair duties and having to dig houses out of the mud. Hands in his pockets, he stared across the gray surface of the water, his eyes searching the northern horizon as always, even though the mainland was much too far away to be seen from here. He couldn’t imagine anyone wanting this murder solved. Or did Mendez? A drifter with a professional surgery wound. What a nice little puzzle. One that would give someone more than just a headache. Alex swore it wouldn’t be him, but he couldn’t help wondering who the guy had been and why he’d had to die.
“So contemplative, Rukow? Thinking about your case?”
Alex almost flinched. He turned slowly, carefully relaxing his facial muscles to achieve the vacant, indifferent expression he habitually showed to the world. He’d practiced that expression, rehearsed it for hours in front of a mirror until it revealed nothing of what he might think or feel. Survival training. “They don’t pay me to think,” he said.
Vilalba smiled. Alex was almost sure the other teniente had been posted in the small comandatura to watch someone. Vilalba didn’t fit. The clerk, Kazatin, was barely smarter than a slice of bread, and Gijón, the young rurale, was a rookie. It made perfect sense for them to be stationed in the boonies. Alex had Luìz to thank for being stuck in Peones, the village he’d been born in, the village in which he would die. And he thought Mendez might have pissed someone off. But Vilalba was a hard-liner, had contacts, and wasn’t stupid. He didn’t belong here. Apart from which, Alex didn’t like him. All good reasons to stay out of his way.
“’Taluego.” Alex saluted carelessly, only lifting his hand halfway to his hat. Then, he turned deliberately and walked west along the beach and through a grove of palm trees. It was unnaturally silent under the canopy, the calm before the storm, like having water in both ears.
Angling back north after a few minutes, he saw the neon-yellow spray marks as soon as he stepped through the underbrush. Gijón had preserved the silhouette of his find exactly according to manual, and the lasting calm had kept it mainly intact. Alex would soon find the photos on his desk.
The victim had lain there as if thrown away. Trash, no good anymore, not even a danger. Don’t take people to heart so much. Don’t let them get too close. Good advice from a mother who’d been a bad example in that respect. Getting involved, helping, dying. An inevitable sequence of events he’d experienced firsthand. He should find it easier to follow her counsel.
He walked the beach in a grid and hoped not to find anything. The cigarette he’d smoked had his body screaming for more, and he cursed his weakness. Focus. Whoever had brought the body here had left no traces. Alex briefly removed his hat to wipe the sweat off his forehead and out of his eyes. He checked further toward the road—no tire marks, no drag marks, nothing. He decided he’d done his duty and started back toward the comandatura.
# # #

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