“A Great science fiction detective story”
– Ian Watson, author of The Universal Machine
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In Luck and Death at the Edge of the World we met Dave Fellows, nicknamed Felon, a soldier turned LAPD officer who was as brutal as he was cheerful.
Gat Burroughs, the protagonist of the novel, joined the California National Forces out of desperation, trying to avoid poverty and homelessness in an unfamiliar world. Felon joined because hurting people was in his nature.
In Luck and Death, Gat hides his dislike of Felon and Felon appears to take Gat’s dishonest friendliness at face value. The reader has to wonder whether Felon has any idea of how he’s perceived by others. As it turns out, he has more insight into himself than you might have imagined.
In Felon and the Judas Kiss, we revisit two characters from Luck and Death and get to know them a little more deeply than was possible in the novel. One is Felon and the other is Calvin Hearn.
We know from Luck and Death that while Felon reveled in the atrocities of the Tijuana incursion, Cal broke down in the midst of the fighting. His unlikely rescuer was Felon.
Gat tells us what he knows about the events and what followed.
I have no idea where Cal was during that op, but by the time we ﬁnished stomping all over the city in our big combat boots and regrouped back in California, he was catatonic.
Ironically it was Felon who’d pulled him out and gotten him into the Jenny, because Cal would never have made it on his own. Felon came across him at sunset, long shadows stretching out across the ground everywhere you looked as evening began to creep up. Cal was sunk to his knees in the middle of a street littered with bodies and body parts, wounded children, dead fathers, dying mothers. His hands were clasped together, big eyes shut tightly, praying in a feverish stutter amidst the carnage, the burning buildings, and the endless smoke and screaming. Felon had nothing but contempt for weakness, but he was loyal to the Forces and would never have considered leaving another soldier behind. He picked Cal up, threw him over his shoulder, and carried him back to the landing zone, ﬁring his weapon all the way even though there was no one ﬁghting back. That was just how Felon was, and pretty much still is. Any chance to ﬁre off a round.
Cal was discharged based on his breakdown, invalided out, and I lost track of him. I assumed that he would simply stay the way he was, incoherent and babbling prayers, for the rest of his life. Felon let me know otherwise, though. An L.A.P.D operation targeting a series of break-ins had focused on a small group of homeless who the P.D. thought were behind the thefts. Felon had gone to a small Christian mission that a couple of the suspects were known to frequent, showing up for free food each evening. When he arrived, Felon looked for the pastor in charge of the mission. What he found was Cal.
Apparently Cal, who’d been placed indeﬁnitely in a Forces psychiatric center, had returned to the world by degrees. His obsessive prayers had stopped, although he had obviously undergone some kind of personal revelation because he still prayed, in a more normal fashion by this point, at least four or ﬁve times a day.
Eventually the chaplain at the center had taken Cal under his wing. And why not? The Forces was just about the most atheistic organization in California and the chaplain didn’t have much else to do. Most of the men he approached with his offers of faith and guidance told him to go to hell, by which they meant a place like Tijuana, or maybe Bowling Green, not some anemic theme park with pitchforks and lakes of ﬁre. So he and Cal had studied the Bible together and prayed together, and under his ministrations Cal had slowly become more and more functional.
Ultimately, when Cal was well enough to be discharged from the hospital, the chaplain had suggested he study theology. Cal had his Forces pension and education credits and did just that, attending a small Christian college. When he graduated, he started the Saint Francis Mission, using seed money from the college to rent a small store-front on Yucca Street near Vine, at the core of one of the largest populations of homeless in L.A.
But the man Felon found wasn’t the same boy he’d once ridiculed. Felon knew the street names of the men he was after. He wanted legal names if Cal knew them, and he wanted Cal to help arrest the suspects. Not that he expected Cal to actually lay hands on them, simply to wait until they came to the mission and then point them out. He had started in on Cal by reminding him that he’d saved Cal’s life. When that approach failed, Felon naturally defaulted to threats and intimidation, expecting Hearn – the cowering mess, the weakling – to capitulate quickly. To his surprise that didn’t work either.
“Damndest thing Gat,” he told me. “That fucker used to hide under a chair if I yelled ‘boo,’ but I couldn’t get him to budge, no way, no how. He was totally calm, and you know what he says to me? He says ‘I’m ready to die for my ﬂock if I have to.’ I’m telling you Gat, he really believes this God stuff.”
To Felon that was like believing in a ﬂat Earth, or peace, or something equally absurd.
In Felon and the Judas Kiss, we see this later encounter between Felon and Cal Hearn play out.
Social tensions in Los Angeles have reached a breaking point. To avoid a disaster and large-scale loss of life, Felon and Cal will have to work together in a way that tests both of them.
Felon and the Judas Kiss is a novelette, coming in at around 65 pages (the exact number will depend on your ebook reader). It’s available now from Amazon.com for $1.99.