In Adam Sternbergh's Shovel Ready, we met Spademan, an assassin in a toxic New York who takes out the trash, if the price is right. In Sterbergh's dystopian future, the rich hide out in a virtual-reality paradise, the Limn, while everyone else is trapped in Hell. Here's a first look at the sequel, Near Enemy.
In Near Enemy, Spademan is hired to take out another target, but his intended victim warns that a second terrorist attack is going to hit New York. And this time, it's from the inside out. Spademan has to go deep into the darkest corners of the virtual world to find out the truth.
Check out an excerpt below:
You tell me.
Look at you, Sherlock Garbageman. Congratulations. You figured one thing out.
Don't fuck with me, Boonce. Just tell me.
He doesn't tell me. Instead he leans on the railing of the rotten wooden deck overlooking the dirty Hudson River and chuckles.
In the background, quick-moving clouds of seagulls circle garbage barges on the river and shriek. Dive-bomb garbage. Drown us both out. Then Boonce announces, still watching the
river, voice raised against the shrieking.
You know what's the most dangerous thing in the world, Spademan?
Now he turns to me. Not chuckling anymore.
A man armed with a box-cutter and one fucking fact.
We're standing on the upper deck of the South Street Seaport, down by the waterfront, at the tip of Manhattan's south end. The deck's railing is warped and the plankway is missing planks, victims of too many bad storms that hit too hard and too few city repair crews that still show up for their shifts.
Behind us, shifty merchants with makeshift wares sprawled out on ratty blankets stand haggling with clients, most of them tappers aching for another hour in the limn. South Street Seaport used to be an actual seaport once, two hundred years ago or thereabouts, big magnet for commerce, bustling fish market, the whole shebang, until all that got shut down. After that, seaport turned into a shopping mall. Discount t‑shirts sold from stalls that once housed fresh-caught sturgeon. Then the tourists left too, and the city went to hell, and now the seaport's more of an all-purpose open-air bazaar, with an open-door policy when it comes to merchants. Which is to say, most of these merchants opened someone's door, took whatever they could carry, laid it out here on a tattered blanket, and now they want to sell to you.
And just as pawn shops used to reliably pop up in neighborhoods where robberies happen, there are a half dozen by-the-hour flop-shops within stumbling distance of the seaport. People sell stolen shit here to raise enough cash to buy an hour in a bed. Some flops even offer ten-minute increments, though it's hard to imagine what kind of off-body fantasy you can cram into ten minutes.
Actually, it's not that hard to imagine.
Either way, the old seaport is an especially seedy corner of the city, even in a city full of seedy corners.
So, naturally, Boonce chose this place for our meeting.
I guess he only closes down Grand Central for you once.
I'd hoped for his office, tucked away in some police tower somewhere, but then, I keep forgetting.
He's off the books.
Boonce leans his weight, arms locked, on the rotting railing and winces. I'm impatient, so I press.
I don't like being lied to, Boonce.
No one likes being lied to, Spademan. And yet it happens every day.
He turns to me. Fidgets with that chunky watchband.
Speaking of which, how's your nurse doing?
I like that. Play dumb. Look, I can see why she's useful to your investigation, Spademan, given she's the last person to see Langland alive. Oh, and thanks for keeping that piece of information from me, about Langland being dead and all. Good thing you're not the only person on my payroll.
You never told me about Near Enemy, Boonce. Or that Lesser and Langland knew each other. Or that they both knew you.
Boonce sighs, like a husband caught cheating, but one who doesn't really care if the marriage ends.
Look, Near Enemy was Bellarmine's idea. But just the broad strokes. An initiative to protect the limn. You know, get some genius dorks to find all the holes in the limn and plug them.
Boonce gestures to the skyline.
Because that's where the next one's coming, you know. No one's trying to blow up any of this shit out here anymore. The bad guys want to get in there. In the limn. Given what Lesser saw, maybe they already have.
And what about Lesser?
What about him? He was just some brilliant geek that Langland dug up and handed over to me. Some prodigy wasting away at a public high school, totally bored, parents completely useless, had no idea what they had on their hands, and Langland plucked him. Just like most of the kids at Langland Academy. It wasn't a school so much as a salvage operation for brains. Lesser's was the biggest, by the way.
Boonce thinks a moment.
Well, maybe second biggest.
Checks that watch again.
Tell me, Spademan, while you were off poking around in my dirty laundry, did you ever happen to follow up on the one actual lead I gave you? That Egyptian kid, Salem Shaban?
Well, he's the one you have to worry about.
Because he's the biggest brain of all.
Boonce rubs his forehead, like a guy with a migraine. Or a decision to make. He makes it, then says.
Here's a little more backstory, since you're so eager for the big picture. I told you Shaban moved here after the States took out his dad, right? In Egypt? When he was a teen? Do you want to know who brought him here?
I'm guessing it's Langland.
Good guess. Shaban was another one of Langland's reclamation projects. Notorious whiz kid. Langland plucked Shaban from Egypt and had him shipped stateside. State Department threw a hissy, of course, but Langland had pull to spare. Then Langland brought Shaban to me, to work on the Near Enemy project. Along with Lesser. The two of them. Top of the class.
So Shaban knows Lesser too.
Knows him? Spademan, they were fucking bunkmates at Langland. And the banker handed them both over to Bellarmine because Bellarmine was Langland's stooge. He'd nurtured
Bellarmine since the day he graduated the police academy. Saw a big future for him. Got him all the way to top cop. Hoped to get him to mayor. May yet, I guess. After all, his money's not dead.
Boonce leans down and grabs a briefcase that's leaning on the railing at his feet. Pauses. Asks me.
You see today's Post?
That's right. I forgot.
Props the attaché on the railing, pops it open, and pulls out today's Post. Banner headline.
TOP COP TERROR SCARE: BELLARMINE POISED TO DROP BIG DEBATE BOMBSHELL.
Boonce points to the headline.
The first mayor's debate is this week. Open-air, just like Lincoln and Douglas, down in Battery Park City. And Bellarmine's been teasing some big revelation all week. Ever since last Saturday night. Coincidentally.
So maybe his bombshell comes wrapped in a burqa, Spademan.
You think Bellarmine knows about what happened to Langland?
Boonce stows the paper. Buckles the briefcase.
I think he more than knows.
Boonce puts the attaché down and leans on the railing again. Clasps his hands. Wrings them. Seems actually worried.
Think about it, Spademan. What's Bellarmine's whole platform in the election?
That's right. So who do you think stands to benefit if every rich fuck in this city suddenly panics because supposed terrorists found a way to crack the limn and blow you up for real? Which strongman's arms are they going to run in to?
Wait, Boonce. I thought Bellarmine's your boss.
He is. Which is why we're not having this conversation at my office.
Boonce watches the garbage barges pass.
Way of the world, right, Spademan? Start out as an idealist, end up as an underling.
You should have told me all this in the first place, Boonce.
He looks around. Says quietly.
That's the whole point, Spademan. I didn't know all this before. I'm just piecing it together, just like you. And as you can imagine, with this particular situation, there's not too many people I can turn to.
Then he leans in.
Look, there's one more thing you should know, and then I won't blame you if you bail right now. But I owe you the whole story. Bellarmine started Near Enemy, yes. Appointed me to run it. But his notion was a special division to protect the limn.
Well, I was more ambitious. I took it in a slightly different direction. Lesser was working on something for me. A hack, for the limn. Like hopping. But worse.
Boonce kneads his knuckles again. Looks like a doctor who diagnosed himself and got the worst possible news.
Lesser was working on a way to weaponize the limn, Spademan. That's what Near Enemy was really all about. Targeted assassinations in the limn, like drone strikes, but even better, because there's no collateral damage, no near misses. Can you imagine the applications? If you could find someone in the limn and take them out? From any bed, anywhere in the world?
Sure, Boonce. Sounds great. Except it's not possible.
Boonce worries his cuff links, tiny polished cop shields, like he's recalling something. Or regretting it.
All the things in this world that we think are rules, Spademan? Or laws? They're not. They're just problems to be solved.
Lesser thought he'd solved the problem.
I don't know. Because he bolted. Quit Near Enemy and went back to bed-hopping
full-time. Living in squalor. Which is where you found him, right before I found you, and he disappeared.
So why didn't you just arrest him in the first place?
For what? Having an idea? Truth is, that's why I was watching him. To see exactly what he knew. And who he might sell it to. Maybe that was a mistake. Maybe I should have taken care of him the moment he bolted. But, you know, I felt protective of him. Like maybe I could win him back. That was my mistake.
Looks at me. Eyes pleading now.
That's why I need to find him, Spademan. I need to know what he knows, and what he did with it, and who he gave it to. Because I unleashed this. This is on me. All of this. And I need your help to stop it.
I listen. Think a second. Mostly about how easy it would be to walk away. Surprise myself when I say instead.
I'll help you, Boonce. On two conditions.
Just name them.
You hide Persephone. Like we agreed.
Wherever she wants to go.
She's not safe at your apartment?
I'm not worried about where she is. I'm worried about who she's with.
I need to give her a better alternative.
Done. Safe passage. I can do that. What's the other condition?
When we find Lesser, you don't hurt him. He can face whatever he has to face for whatever it is he's done, but he doesn't just disappear.
Look at you, Spademan, getting all sentimental. Unless I'm wrong, this time last week, you had very different intentions for Lesser.
This isn't last week.
All right. I don't touch Lesser. Look, I don't need to. I just need to know what he knows. And who else knows it.
Which means you need to talk to Shaban, Spademan. Shaban and I have a history. Not a good one. And if it turns out he's in any way mixed up with Bellarmine? Well, obviously, I can't follow that road any further. You can.
Just talk. For now. You won't have trouble finding him. He's set up shop on Atlantic Avenue.
Boonce picks up his briefcase. Offers me his hand. No wink this time. Just a hand.
He smiles. Says to me.
A garbageman and an underling. City's last, best hope. Imagine that.
He turns to leave. Then I think of one more question.
Hey, Boonce, you're not a Buddhist, are you?
Why? You in the market for a new faith?
Just wondering about the name Near Enemy.
It's a tactical term. Geopolitical. People divvy up the world into far enemies and near enemies.
What's the difference?
The far enemy is the one you hate, the one you're sworn to fight against. The near enemy is the one you're close to, who you trust, but you shouldn't. Radical Islamists, for example. They think of Muslim nations that don't follow jihad as the near enemy.
And who's the far enemy?
He gestures to the city.
Reprinted from Near Enemy Copyright © 2015 by Adam Sternbergh. Published by Crown Publishers, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House LLC.