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Walking Dead – Chapter Five

Thanksgiving. Birthday. Another bout of illness running rampant through the household. Long-form project completed, now in rewrite stage, with revision due December 17th to erstwhile and long-suffering Hollyweird agent, Angela Cheng-Caplan. Too much time spent on Fallout 3 (with planned long-winded thoughts on the game and on the state of console RPGs in general to eventually follow). Comic scripts.

And Dan DiDio, in true fashion, remains a man who cannot keep his powder dry, God love him. (It’s his answer to number 1, for those of you who have neither the inclination nor the time to read the whole thing.)

The announcement about Action Comics is the first of three (well, kinda four, but two of them are joined at the hip) upcoming books for DC. It is not, as some have speculated, that I left the industry in a huff, nor was it that there was a grand falling out. Nothing so dramatic. I do not live that kind of drama. It is, more than anything, that my enemy in all things is time, and time has effectively tied me down to the surgical steel table and is casually walking away as the industrial laser inches inexorably towards my nethers, saying, “No, Mr. Rucka, I expect you to die.”

Elliot and I will be watching Goldfinger today. No, I do not plan on explaining the meaning of the name “Pussy Galore.” Sue me.

I am behind on just about every single thing I need to be doing at this point. Matthew Southworth is waiting for Stumptown pages. Steve Lieber is waiting for Whiteout: Night pages. Michael Siglain is waiting for pages on REDACTED and REDACTED. Philip Tan is not waiting for pages, but that’s only because I type exceptionally quickly, if I may say so myself, and will have him squared-away before the end of the day.

Oh, and the LiTG “amber” that was posted last week regarding mercuryeric‘s and my “difficulties” doing FC: Resist? Total and utter bullshit.

If you’ve made it this far, bless you for sticking with me.

I promised Chapter Five of Walking Dead quite a while ago. Been holding off on posting it for a couple of reasons. Time, as mentioned, was one of them. I’ve also been arguing with myself about giving so much of the book away so far in advance of its release. And then there’s the nature of the ending of this chapter. And other things. As it stands, I suspect this’ll be the last of the preview chapters, though I may relent and post Chapter Six around the start of the new year. I don’t know. I am, as they say, undecided.

Again, it is worth noting that there will be minor differences between what has been posted and what will be published at the end of April. We’re through the copy-edit now, and I expect the galley pages by the first of the year. Things will continue to be tweaked, adjusted, and corrected.

As ever, the review course may be found here (Chapter One), here (Chapter Two), here (Chapter Three), and, finally, (Chapter Four) here.

For your patience and pleasure, I present


Chapter Five

I found him having dinner in a restaurant on the Batumi waterfront, maybe half a klick from the working part of the port, at a place called Sanapiro. Dinner appeared to consist of khinkali – high-density meatballs – and several bottles of beer. Khinkali is something of a national dish, and I knew from experience that one or two were enough to fill the stomach like fresh-poured concrete. If I was reading his table right, he’d already gone through half a dozen already, and showed no signs of slowing down.

“I’m looking for a girl,” I told him.

He didn’t look up from his meal, giving me an excellent view of the top of his head. His hair was thinning, stringy, black, and long, and the fat at the back of his neck swelled and spilled where his collar failed to to contain it.

“Later,” Zviadi said. “I’m eating.”

I resisted an urge to sigh, took in the restaurant around us. It was busy and loud, as almost every Georgian restaurant is wont to be, and nobody was paying us any attention at all. Floor-to-ceiling windows formed the wall along the front of the establishment, and the sunset ricocheting off the Black Sea bathed everything and everyone within in golds and reds. When I looked back to Zviadi, he’d taken up his bottle of beer, gulping from it as he watched the pedestrians and the traffic, resolutely ignoring my presence.

“You’re Zviadi?” I asked, though there was no doubt that I had the right guy.

He brought the bottle back down to the table, empty, then renewed his assault on his plate, all without looking at me. His hands were stubby and broad, but surprised me by being clean.

“I’m. Eating.”

I dropped a fifty euro bill onto his plate. It stopped his fork short, and his other hand darted forward, snatching the bill up. He put it to his mouth, sucking the oil and sauce that had begun to collect on it, and as he did so he finally turned his attention to me. Then he nodded, folding the bill one-handed and shoving it into a pants pocket, before gesturing for me to take the chair opposite him. He never let go of the fork in his other hand.

After I’d taken a seat, he resumed eating, asking around a mouthful, “For how long?”

“Depends on if it’s the right girl. I’m looking for a specific one.”

“I don’t remember you. I’ve never seen you before.”

“I don’t think she’s one of yours.” Actually, I was praying she wasn’t one of his. “You were pointed out to me as someone who could help me find her.”

His chewing slowed, and the fork came down and a napkin came up, and he cleaned his mouth and his chin, again watching me. He was rightly suspicious, but curious, too, though I suspect he was mostly wondering how many more of those Euros I was carrying, and what the most efficient means of parting me from them might be.

I answered without his asking. “I’ve got money, I’ll pay for the help.”

A slight nod, followed by a pull from a fresh bottle of beer. “Who gave you my name?”

“I asked around.”

“Asked around. Where did you ask around?”

I used my head to indicate the harbor, out the window.

“People talk too fucking much,” he muttered. “Tell me about this girl.”

In my pocket, I was carrying a print-out, a picture of Tiasa that I’d pulled from old security video at the house, and for a moment thought about showing it to him. But already I wasn’t liking where things were heading, what I’d stepped into the moment I’d arrived in Batumi, begun searching for Zviadi around the port. It hadn’t taken long to learn that the man was a pimp, and the women who’d pointed me to him had done so only with great reluctance, and only after I’d crossed their palms, their apprehension visible. The girl who had finally told me to check Sanapiro was maybe – maybe – sixteen.

“Young,” I said. “Black hair, blue eyes. Tall and slim. Local girl. Pretty.”

“How young?”

“Fourteen.” I was careful to not betray any revulsion when I said it.

“Sounds like you know her pretty well. You’ve been with her before?”

“Can you help me find her or not?”

“I got a girl, almost as young. Blonde. Ukrainian.”

“I told you, local. If you can’t help me find her, then I’ll take my money somewhere else.”

He waggled his fingers at me, telling me to calm down, grinning. Bits of dinner were visible between his teeth. “Just checking. I tell you what, I’ll make a couple of calls, you give me an hour or two, then meet me at Lagoon. You know Lagoon, just down the street, at the corner of Portis Shesakhevi?”

“I can find it.”

“One hour, two hours most, okay?” He finished his beer, wiped his hands and face again with his napkin. “Two hundred euro. In advance.”

“You’ve got fifty,” I said, not because I wasn’t willing to pay that much, but because if I did, he’d have known I was a fool. “You get another fifty if you’ve got information for me when I see you again.”

“Maybe I can’t find you this girl,” he said, shrugging.

“Then you’ve already been paid for doing nothing.”

Zviadi used a fingernail to clean his teeth, then got out of his chair. His lower body was a surprise, compared with his upper, his legs so relatively slender I wondered how they managed to support him. He trundled out of the restaurant without another word, leaving me to pay for his meal.

***

The Dnepr wasn’t in any condition to drive, so I’d had to take a bus down from Kobuleti, a modified minivan the locals referred to as a marshrutka. By the time I’d left Iashvili in his office, gone home, gotten my things together, printed off the best picture of Tiasa I could find, squared Miata away, and actually come back into town to arrange the ride, it had already been late afternoon. It was just before six when I reached Batumi.

I’d taken enough time before leaving home to check Bakhar’s address book for anyone named Zviadi, but of course, nothing was going to be that easy, and there’d been no one by his name, let alone an entry with a Batumi number. Ultimately, though, the search for Zviadi hadn’t taken very long at all.

I’d headed north up Zubelashvilis Kucha from where the battered old minivan had dropped me outside the old train station, and made for the port. The walk had taken under twenty minutes, and I’d actually passed Lagoon along the way. Once I’d reached the harbor, I’d started asking around.

The trick hadn’t actually been in finding someone who knew Zviadi. The trick had been in convincing one of his girls that it was safe for her to take my money, and to tell me where I could find him.

Tonight would mark the third night since Tiasa had been taken, and the thought of her having had to spend any of it in the company of men like Zviadi wound my spine tight, and made my stomach ache. That the man would sit in a restaurant – could sit in a restaurant – and so casually discuss his business in full view of the world made it all the more grotesque, and it made me feel as if I was the only one who actually gave a damn about it at all.

I’d wasted time, and Tiasa Lagidze was suffering for it, and I kept telling myself that if I could find her, I could make it up to her. I could free her from the nightmare that had started three days ago in Kobuleti.

If I could just find her in time.

***

Zviadi surprised me. He was actually at Lagoon when I arrived before ten, and, just as he’d been at Sanapiro, he was easy to spot. The restaurant had a naval theme going, old Russian submarine clocks and ship wheels on the wall, and I thought it was surprisingly busy for a Thursday night. I waited just inside until I was sure he’d seen me, then stepped back out onto the street. The humidity had died down with the sunset, and the air was pleasantly cool. After half a minute, he emerged and began walking for the water, motioning me to accompany him.

“You’re not from here,” Zviadi said, checking the traffic as we crossed the road to the waterfront. “Your Georgian is very good, but you’re not from here.”

“Does it matter?”

“Maybe, maybe not. You an American?”

I shook my head. “I have money. Do you have the girl I want?”

“I think maybe I found her, yeah. Maybe not her, maybe one like her.”

“I need to see her.”

“You need to pay me.”

I peeled off another fifty and handed it over to his waiting palm. He didn’t look at it, just stared at me.

“I told you two hundred,” he said. “Two hundred, I take you to the girl.”

“You get the rest when I see her. Maybe it’s not the right girl.”

“But maybe it is the right girl,” Zviadi said.

I handed over another fifty, and when he saw I wasn’t giving him any more, grunted and crammed it into the front pocket of his tightly stretched pants, where he’d stowed the other bill I’d paid him earlier. Then he pulled out a mobile phone and brought up a number, turning away from me as he dialed it.

“We’re coming,” he told whoever answered, listened to the response, grunted, then hung up and replaced the phone on his hip.

“Who was that?” I asked.

“We can walk from here,” Zviadi said. He began heading in the direction of the harbor, where the big ships were loading cargo in the sodium lights, not bothering to look back.

I followed him, thinking it was probably a very good thing I’d brought a gun with me to Batumi.

***

It was creeping past eleven by the time we reached where we were going. We could probably have covered the distance quicker, but Zviadi’s anatomy made that unlikely. Spindly loading cranes moved containers of cargo overhead, and the sound of machines, cranes, forklifts, lorries, and men at work was constant and loud. Perhaps a kilometer to the south was a rail yard, and every now and again I could hear the whistle from an engine, pulling out or pulling in, another part of the supply convoy feeding goods south into Turkey and Armenia.

We pushed further into the docks, passing a line of four giant fuel tanks to the east. The harbor here had been built like an inverted ‘c’, opening to the west, with a breakwater formed along the northern side, then mirrored to the east in a similar, though less trafficked, set up. We passed several outbuildings, port offices, more storage, more containers. Sweat shone on Zviadi’s face, glistening orange in the lights, and as we moved further away from the main business of the port, as the noise dropped away, I could make out his breathing, labored from the walk.

Our destination was the third of three blue-roofed, Soviet-era structures, what looked to be warehouses from the outside, all of them windowless. The last of the lighting had dropped away some hundred meters back, and most of the illumination now came from the canopy thrown up over the main harbor, magnified by the water vapor constantly in the air. To the right, barely silhouetted against the eastern edge, I could make out the hulks of abandoned ships, beached and corroded. I could taste sea salt and rust.

Zviadi stopped for a moment, looking at the buildings, and I watched his tongue creep out over his lips, wetting them as he tried to catch his breath. Then he thrust out his hand to me, palm up.

“The rest of the money,” he said.

“You think they won’t let you have my wallet after they’re done with me?” I asked him.

He blinked. “What? I—“

He was to my left, so I used that leg, brought my foot up and swept his right knee. He tumbled forward, managed to barely get his hands out in time to keep from planting himself face-first into the broken concrete beneath our feet. I used my right to kick him in the side once, and then again, to flip him onto his back.

Then I put the heel of my boot on his sternum and pressed down, to make certain he understood.

He got the message quickly, and didn’t make a sound.

“What am I walking into?” I asked him, and when he hesitated, I gave him some of my weight. He grunted, more in fear than in pain, I thought. “Who’s in there?”

“Nobody!” It came out choked. “Nobody!”

“You’re supposed to signal them, is that it? How?”

He stared up at me, then nodded. “I was going to text them.”

“Who are they?”

“Some guys. They just want to talk to you, that’s all they want.”

“Why do they want to talk to me, Zviadi?”

“I don’t know.”

I moved my right foot from his sternum to his groin and applied pressure. He brought his hands down to try and push my leg away, but he had no leverage, and he wasn’t strong enough, and when he did it, I pushed down harder. His inhale was sharp and accompanied by a whimper. I put a finger to my lips to indicate that he wanted to keep it down.

“I called around!” He sounded like he was choking, either on his pain or his fear, either of which would’ve been fine by me. “For your girl, the one you were looking for! And they asked who wanted to know, and I told them, I told them this foreigner was asking! They said bring you here!”

“Why?”

He shook his head, wincing, cheeks inflating. I wondered how many of his dumplings were threatening to come up the direction they’d entered.

“Why?”

“I don’t know! They said bring you here!”

I looked up from him, at the building. No idea what was inside. Alena would’ve shat a brick if she knew I was considering walking in there alone.

“How many of them?” I asked Zviadi. “How many are coming?”

“Two, three, I don’t know.”

So double that, and the high estimate became six. There was no way I was going to take six guys, certainly not if they were who I thought they might be. Low estimate would be four, and even that was too many. Taking four by myself would require a minor miracle.

Nothing in what I had been taught, in what I had learned, either in my first career or my present one, told me that meeting these guys head-on was a good idea. Everything I knew told me that I should walk away, walk away now, and not look back.

Except there was a chance that whoever they were, they knew where Tiasa Lagidze was.

I drew my weapon and Zviadi flinched, hands flying to his face. I let his nuts go free from my boot.

“Get up,” I told him. “You’re coming with me.”

46 Responses to Walking Dead – Chapter Five

  1. sd6

    Hey! Eddy Barrows! He was the artist on my very first comic work, and as the kids today say, “I dig his stuff.”

    And for the record, I have yet to explain the double-entendre of any Bond Girl name to Orion, and I have no plans to do so until he’s 18. ;)

  2. kozemp

    I hadn’t seen the DiDio interview until now.

    Not that new work isn’t great news, but isn’t Action Comics without Superman a… erm… less than great idea?

    JLK

  3. jeditigger

    Happy Belated, Greg, though I think you saw my well wishes in ‘s journal.

    I admit I’m getting spoiled with you posting chapters here, but I have to agree that you’re being a little too generous.

    You have an amazing visual style of writing. I think sometimes work with comic scripts helps in that regard and sometimes hurts. You definitely convey imagery that helps me see what’s going on. Too many writers fail in that regard.

  4. uzumerid

    Congrats!

    Congrats on the Action gig! It’s going to be wonderful to see you in the Superverse again, your work on Adventures sucked me back into the character when I got back into comics. Please, for the love of God, tell me we’ll see more of your amazing take on Mxy.

    Also glad to hear the FC Resist rumor was bullshit. A fantastic issue, anyway.

  5. lurkerwithout

    Glad to see you’re still working regularly. Wish it was on a title I had any interest in (Flamebird & Nightwing? Really? No one could think of names other characters don’t already use?) Hope you’ve recovered from being sick and looking forward to new books…

  6. kali921

    Happy Belated Birthday! Check your user info page and my journal!

    I’m glad to hear that you’re busy.

  7. jeffrey

    Fallout 3, the great glorious timesink.

    Hope the illness at least held off until after the birthday!

  8. abc_evie

    Very excited about Action–I for one am strangely fine with a Superman book that doesn’t include Superman. More excited about potential other DC-related announcements though.

    Btw, I’ve somehow gotten into this thing of reading your books out of order, so to avoid ruining every single plot point before it happens, I’m not reading any of these previews. I read the first graf of Chapter 1 and that already was too much.

  9. admin

    A sound strategy, in my opinion.

  10. admin

    Well, that all depends on what happens in the book, or so it seems to me.

  11. admin

    Thanks!

  12. admin

    In theory, the names Flamebird and Nightwing are taken from Kryptonian myth, so one could argue that their use in the current DCU is a retread.

    I’m excited about the book. But if this one doesn’t wet your whistle, there are more to come….

  13. admin

    No, the illness preceded and then pursued.

  14. admin

    Yeah, I can see how the out-of-order thing might be a problem, especially beginning with Critical Space.

  15. admin

    I shall! I will! I did! Thank you!

  16. abc_evie

    Actually started with Shooting at Midnight, so I had some continuity for a while and then it all went to hell. I blame Amazon and their stock availability. Still enjoy it all greatly, of course.

  17. jeffrey

    Agh. Why is there no Fallout 3 VATS for viruses?

  18. insektmute

    Fallout 3′s been OK so far. I do kind of wish they’d done more, though. Too much of it feels like Oblivion with a Fallout skin.

    Despite the comparatively linear structure of most JRPG’s, I think I sometimes prefer the stronger narrative that they tend to have. Waiting for Persona 4 right now, which I’m hoping will suck 100+ hours from my life like P3 did.

  19. odessasteps

    Count me as another reisting temptation to read these and will not-so-patiently for the book itself.

    Did you ever get to watch the new Ninja Warrior?

  20. lithera

    *sniffle*

    I admit the idea of a Bette Kane and Dick Grayson would make my little fangirl heart go pitterpatter a might too fast. This might, actually, though, get me to buy a Superman title regularly.

  21. lithera

    I need to figure out if I should read this chapter or not. I’m so busy at work these days, I don’t really have the mental space to pick up Patriot Acts and read it so I know what happens between here and there. All I can think about is sales and discounts and where are my orders, damn it?

  22. darkphoenixrisn

    Action without Superman will seem strange, but I look forward to getting to know Flamebird and Nightwing.

  23. the_fallen_

    First i’d like to say congrats on Action Comics, can’t wait to see what you do with it. :) Especially following up Geoff, should be great.

    Oh and Rich being full of shit? That never happens *complete sarcasm* Something tells me he’s just looking to post a bunch of bogus information to get everyone against Dan for some reason.

    But 4 upcoming series? Why am I getting the feeling more then action is an ongoing?

  24. ericsandstrom

    Hmmm…

    Author of Patriot Games?!!

    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us

  25. admin

    Re: Hmmm…

    Yeah, you’re not the first to notice that. Amazon ran the placeholder cover, not the final cover. It will be corrected, I am told. Preferably soon.

  26. slick_nyc

    Action Comics without Supes would be… different, though I’d like to see what you have planned. You actually got me interested in Elektra for a time, which I didn’t think was possible, so I’ll at least give it a look.

  27. jared465

    “Long-form project completed, now in rewrite stage, with revision due December 17th to erstwhile and long-suffering Hollyweird agent, Angela Cheng-Caplan.”

    hey….whats that exactly – can you say??

    I saw you playing a bunch of Fallout 3…i’m a bit surprised cause you seemed kind of “meh” about it.

    And i have to say i dig the Clancy voice based Endwar game. Don’t hold it against me! (and its not like he has anything to do with any of those games nowadays…)

  28. enewsom

    Bond girl names….

    The good thing is that, with Connery’s accent, you can tell him they called her “Pushy” Galore because she was aggressive.

    When I was a kid, my mom showed me Die Hard with the sound muted so I didn’t get exposed to the F-word. The violence, we were OK with.

  29. jmorse

    As if Clancy wasn’t prolific enough.

    Fantastic Greg. I can’t wait to read the rest.

  30. kei87

    Damn, that was a punchy bit of prose. As always, I am blown away.

    I’m taking a fiction workshop and our teacher has repeatedly stressed the value in taking a red pen and circling every adjective and adverb to make us question if we really need each one.
    Your writing style really demonstrates the value in staying away from the broad histrionics and flowery language that early writers like myself keep on wanting to run to.

    On a less technical note, is Walking Dead going to stay in eastern Europe? I always liked the Queen and Country stories that occurred there, but part of me wants to see Atticus back in the states.

  31. 619nerd

    I’ve avoided reading the preview chapters so far, I think I want to wait until the whole book is sitting in front of me before I start reading it. Thank you for posting them though!

    Speaking of Fallout 3, my copy shipped today. I ended up deciding to import it since the local release is going to be censored (they decided that being able to nuke towns and a gun called “Fat Man” were apparently not the most appropriate ideas for the Japanese audience…)



  32. will_eslinger

    Stumptown?

    Is there any word on when Stumptown is going to be solicited? Whiteout: Night for that matter?

    And yeah, Fallout 3 is kick ass.

  33. admin

    Nice of you to say. I think I tend to stay away from the florid because I’m no damn good at it, myself.

    Walking Dead starts in Eastern Europe, but isn’t confined there. There’s a fair chunk set in the U.S.

  34. admin

    Re: Stumptown?

    Pending. Since the book is going to be in color, the printing schedule for it is rather particular. As a result, we’re trying to get as much of the first arc in the can before we solicit. At this time, I don’t know when that’ll be, but I suspect sometime in the next three/four months.

  35. admin

    I can see how that might be a concern.

  36. admin

    Don’t really want to get into it yet. Something that I’ve been working on for a while, but it’s not there yet. When it’s “ready” I’ll probably be marginally more inclined to share.

    I’ve been sucked into Fallout 3, I freely admit it. But I have many, many quibbles with the game, almost all of them based in the personal-preference realm. Waiting to finish the playthrough before I try to articulate anything more clearly.

  37. admin

    Elektra took me a while to get a handle on. I kinda wish I could go back to her and try to finish what I started there, but can’t imagine that’ll ever happen. Not even sure it’s possible, frankly.

  38. admin

    I think you’ll like ‘em.

    (At least I hope you will!)

  39. admin

    Thanks!

    And, uhm…no comment?

  40. will_eslinger

    Re: Stumptown?

    Ok, cool. It’s not that big of a deal, quality overrides timelyness in my book and I’m certain that Stump down is going to be pretty damn awesome.

  41. the_fallen_

    No comment huh? Well then I’m sure Montoya or Kate will be very happy with their ne series…whichever one it is mind you ;)

    Keep up the amazing work and it’s an added plus that you guys are the only mini that hasn’t had a major delay. :)

  42. slick_nyc

    It’s a shame you can’t. Having Elektra be an “Action Junkie” going through withdrawal and rehab (of a sorts) was a good take on her. I would’ve liked to have seen what she would have been coming out of that.

  43. jonlaw

    Great chapter! Of course I am kicking myself for reading any of them, because now I know I have to wait. You were very clear where you were going to have to cut it off. I knew what I was doing, but . . . arrrrrrrrrrrggggggggg!

    You really have the knack for ending one chapter with a hook right into the next. This is going to be one hell of a book. I can see it already. I hope the time flies until it comes out, because I really need to read it.

    Thanks for sharing.

  44. stealthbunny

    I second that. With great resounding joy. I have been just forced to read the first Twilight book and did so with great pain and frustration. Even a single chapter of ruckawriting is pure relief after wading through THAT. I have NEVER had to reread any of your action scenes trying to figure out just what the hell happened there. If I do reread, it’s to savor.

  45. stealthbunny

    My empathies. I’m an eBay seller myself. By this time of the season, I’m lucky if I remember to brush my hair at all each day.

    And I haven’t read Patriot Acts yet either.

  46. lithera

    I work at “The World’s Largest Online Retailer”. It has been a crazy month and a half or so.

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