Nameless: Season Two will be available free to Prime members, as well as Kindle Unlimited subscribers on June 10, but you can read the excerpt below now.
Every night lacks a moon and stars. Dawn always comes without the sun. Wind never blows and rain never falls. Here, there is no robin song, no trees where birds might roost, no sky through which they might fly.
These windowless rooms spare Spenser Whooton from the sight of a world he despises.
He has put filters on the overhead light panels, softening their fluorescent glare. But sometimes he prefers candlelight. At the moment, the pulsing of a score of lambent flames paints the walls of his study with radiant shapes and shifting shadows like contesting spirits engaged in the eternal battle of good and evil.
Of course, Spenser knows that neither good nor evil exists, only what is logical and illogical. With a bachelor’s degree in the study of the literature of the illiterate, a master’s degree in creative deconstruction, and a second master’s in crafting reality, he is keenly aware of the profound ignorance of the masses and the danger they pose by their stubborn insistence that life has meaning.
Meaning is the enemy of happiness.
Those paranoid yet optimistic fools who constructed this place had stocked one room with twenty thousand pounds of candles cached in metal drums, to be used after the public power supply failed and the hundreds of propane tanks for the backup generator were empty. Through no fault of their own, the apocalypse never came.
They were idiots. In Spenser’s estimation, most people are idiots. He has only contempt for them.
The great unwashed think that contempt is an unworthy emotion, when in fact contempt, even more than envy, is essential if those who share his philosophy are ever to build a better world in which retaliatory injustice is the only justice and truth is always and only what enlightened leaders say it is.
Sometimes, as now, holding a candlestick on which a taper is impaled on a pricket, the melting wax collecting in a brass drip pan, Spenser wanders the chambers of this redoubt. In such light, mystery layers its vaults and corridors, a sense that here the seeds of the future wait to grow, that as master of this realm, he will be a grand historic figure a hundred years from now.
One of the largest rooms contains freeze-dried food in sealed canisters, enough to feed fifty people for a decade. Its shelf life is forty years, and it is replaced every thirty.
The idiots who built the place are long dead. A new idiot now regularly supplies it.
Only twenty-eight, Spenser Auggie Whooton hadn’t been around when the world was supposed to end with the United States and the Soviet Union unloading thousands of hydrogen bombs. He wishes they had. Only catastrophe can bring about radical change for the better.
By the time that he was a college sophomore, Spenser wanted to be president, so that he might control a nuclear arsenal that could be turned on those millions of his compatriots in flyover country who were too stupid or too selfish to strive for the changes that must occur. However, becoming president requires decades of ingratiating oneself with the moronic, amoral types who need to be liquidated, which is too tedious a career path to pursue. He’s resigned to being an unassuming agent of change, setting little fires wherever he can, feeding the chaos by destroying a bank here, a neighborhood grocery there, a Starbucks anywhere.
Ironically, his living quarters and workplace provide him with a degree of security and peace conducive to devising imaginative acts of violence. His contribution to the destruction of the current civilization might eventually be less humble than he now believes.
As is always the case during his wandering, he pauses the longest in the arsenal, surveying the weapons with a quiet ecstasy. The Beatles were a regressive band making music that, for the most part, should be purged from the culture, but they had it right when they sang “happiness is a warm gun.”
Here are handguns and shotguns and rifles, sound suppressors for pistols, airtight steel ammunition cans packed full of hollow-point rounds with full-metal jackets. If all of this were, in one day, put into the hands of a few thousand bold individuals with the right sense of history, the city streets would run with blood, and this corrupt civilization would begin to fall.
Instead, the stock in the arsenal is treated as the inventory of a business, sold in bulk to mere criminals who will chip away at the foundation of society and gradually weaken it toward a collapse at some future time. That is the theory behind selling thousands of weapons a year to gangbangers and other thugs: Let those nihilists prepare the way, so when the true revolutionaries make their move, the system will be easily destroyed.
Spenser understands this approach, but he can’t bring himself to approve of it. He yearns for the Sturm und Drang of mass terror.
Nevertheless, once a week he ascends to the shaft head, where he collects the orders for weapons and ammunition that have been left by an intermediary he’s never met. He packages what is wanted and loads it into whatever transport has been provided: on some occasions an ambulance, other times an armored truck like those that deliver money to banks, or a van apparently belonging to the power company—always a vehicle that neither local police nor federal agents will find suspicious.
City and state authorities have long thought that the high rate of gun violence is the fault of black-market merchants driving gun shipments in from surrounding states, though they can never catch them. They can’t catch them, because that’s not how it’s done.
Although the poison is being dripped into the system rather than injected in massive doses, he takes some solace in the certainty that a significant number of these guns are going to other metropolitan areas. And because they are superb counterfeits—Glock, Smith & Wesson, Heckler & Koch knockoffs—manufactured in the most foreign of foreign countries, they are untraceable.
Sometimes, late in the evening when a few glasses of good wine have mellowed him, he wishes that he could have an album of photos of all the people killed with guns he has provided. He would enjoy paging through such a collection. In the absence of an album, he has nothing as arousing, only porno DVDs, though they get the job done.
Nameless stands at a second-floor window, drinking coffee, reviewing the dangers of the day ahead, which include the storm. Nature can be as deadly as the human beings she has spawned, though she can’t match them for cruelty, because she is a green machine without emotions. Sometimes winter comes to this city as early as November, although seldom with the fury expected of this year’s initial storm. Dawn brings a wind that scours the littered streets and forces the homeless to retreat to neighborhoods where burned-out storefronts, left unrepaired after recent riots, offer shelter from the cold. The sky looks as hard and white as a slab of ice, but the snow has not yet begun to fall.
He arrived the previous evening in a Ford Explorer registered to an international NGO called Peace Forever, which exists only on paper. He often carries no ID, though in this case he has a driver’s license in the name of Recado de Verdad.
That is not his true name. He doesn’t remember his real name, for his identity is entombed behind a wall of engineered amnesia. His recollections are limited to the many missions that he has undertaken during the past twenty-six months. He is grateful for this forgetfulness, for he suspects—intuits, knows—that in his shrouded past are memories that might destroy him.
Nameless doesn’t know who blessed him with this amnesia or with what technology it was accomplished, although they must be the same people who assign him to his missions and supply everything he needs to fulfill them.
Often he stays in a hotel booked for him and paid in advance by his handler, known only as Ace of Diamonds. Who Ace might be—what Ace might be—he doesn’t know. They have never spoken, communicating only by text messages on his current smartphone, which he always destroys after his mission is accomplished.
This time, however, his target is a man so powerful and with such control of this metropolis that Nameless is keeping a lower profile than usual. These days, most hotel security teams photograph guests surreptitiously on check-in and keep those images on file, a resource that the city’s ruling clique might well exploit in the aftermath of this operation.
He is occupying a once-proud row house in a neighborhood of abandoned structures, three blocks square, slated to be bulldozed to make way for a sports arena financed by taxpayers for the benefit of team owners and the politicians they bribe so generously. Although no one occupies the more than two hundred other buildings, certain liability issues require that public services be maintained until final condemnation notices are issued. He has all the comforts of home while living in what might as well be a ghost town.
These blocks are fenced off from all traffic. He has been provided with a remote control to the motorized chain-link gates, so that he can drive freely to and from this safe house. The Explorer is tucked out of sight in a one-car garage at the back of the property.
As he finishes the coffee in his mug, the wind abruptly relents as if it is a theater curtain opening to reveal the stage. In the sudden stillness, the show begins; the first feathery flakes descend in gentle spirals. In its beginning, either a profound change in the weather or a revolution can seem to have a tender intent; however, every storm is ultimately a violent event.
He loathes violence, although he is good at it. Unlike those he has come here to confront, he’s not a bloodthirsty revolutionary ignorantly convinced that justice is one and the same thing for all times and all places. Shaped and misshapen by culture and politics and other forces, justice is too plastic a concept to inspire righteous action. Instead, Nameless is committed to the discovery and defense of truth, because truth is always and only what it is, the sole reliable light through this fun-house world of deception.
He has slept well and is ready for the unpleasantness that’s coming. He needs no alarm clock, because he always goes to sleep within a minute of putting his head on the pillow, and he always wakes at the time that he selected before switching off the bedside lamp. Like amnesia, this is one of the gifts that his unknown benefactors have given him.
Having drunk the last of his coffee, he sets the empty mug on the windowsill and prepares for the day’s work. When he arrived, his weapon was waiting for him in the pantry, in an empty tin of butter cookies: a five-round Smith & Wesson Chief’s Special chambered for .357 Magnum. In the absence of cookies were also four speedloaders providing another twenty rounds.
This operation is expected to require neither automatic weapons nor much ammunition. Ace of Diamonds and whoever else plans these missions have proven to be reliable strategists and tacticians; otherwise, Nameless would have been dead a long time ago.
He holsters the gun and shrugs into a lightweight, quilted, hooded jacket. He puts two speedloaders in each zippered pocket.
He slips his arms through the straps of a small backpack, the kind of book bag favored by high school students.
If he were going to be outdoors for an extended period of time, he would be inadequately dressed for the blizzard now crystallizing the metropolis. However, for the most part, he will not be in the city, but under it, the colossal weight of its structures and its corruption bearing down on him.
Frequently, Nameless works alone, although this time he has a partner—James Freeman—whom he has never met. This individual is not one of the operatives who work with Ace, but an outsider, a local, which is unusual. When a partner is needed, Ace has always paired Nameless with in-house agents. James Freeman has recommended this condemned neighborhood as a safe home base. Ace of Diamond’s text messages about the man have seemed a bit coy. Nameless intuits that there will be a surprise of some kind when they meet.
After a brief silence, the wind is howling again, as though this is a postapocalyptic world without human beings, where wolves have reclaimed the city. The snowflakes, once big and soft, are now small and icy, whipping through the streets in torrents.
The iron drain grate is in an alley that was busy back in the day when commerce thrived here. Currently, though this is still an inhabited neighborhood, you can kill someone—take fifteen minutes at it—with little risk of being apprehended by the police.
For most of his life, Jimmie Freeman has expected to be killed, either slowly or by a bullet in the head. If someone tries again to waste him—they tried twice before—he hopes it won’t be a head shot, because he wants to look respectable in death, which is hard to do when your face is racked and jacked by a high-caliber hollow-point round. Besides, even if you’re tied up and tied down, with three meth freaks eager to take turns cutting off slices of your pecker with straight razors, you can still have hope, a chance, as long as your brain works and you haven’t bled out.
All Jimmie has ever wanted is a chance. He’s had a few, but never a big one. He’s only sixteen, however, so he has a little time to catch some luck. He believes in luck, although he knows that he’s a lot more likely to step in the bad kind than fall into the good kind. He even believes in grace, which comes from God, but lately he suspects that God seldom traffics with this city anymore.
Jimmie Freeman has been going underground since he was ten years old, when he realized that he needed to save himself from all those people who want to break him and change him, those bullying street bosses and schoolyard pushers and scammers who have no use for a kid who wants to be someone different from them. They envy him for his dreams and resent him for doing well in school. They mock him for obeying his mother, who is afflicted with multiple sclerosis and works from home as a bookkeeper for two chiropractors. She makes him swear to stay away from the gangs, and he does, though turning them down ensures that he is their target. They don’t think much of women in the first place, and a sickly woman is an object of special scorn; they say that no real man would let such a weak bitch tell him what to do. Jimmie wants to be the kind of man who earns that title not merely by being of a certain age but by doing what is right. In his free time, when he is exploring the world below the city, he never encounters gang members who would co-opt or kill him.
Now, crouched in the deserted alleyway, he lifts one end of the iron grate from the drain. He slides that heavy item aside and eels into the three-foot-diameter vertical pipe, which is five feet from top to bottom. Standing bent kneed in a small catch basin full of paper and plastic debris, he pulls the grate into place overhead.
Such pale wintry beams pass through the slots in the grate that Jimmie might as well be in absolute darkness. A Tac Light is clipped to his belt, but he doesn’t need it here. He doesn’t suffer from either claustrophobia or a fear of the dark.
Thin, lithe, and well practiced in the techniques of urban spelunking, he sits on the lip of the catch basin, legs extended into an adjoining culvert that slopes down to the large main storm drain serving this sector. This passage is the same diameter as the vertical pipe by which he entered. He can squirm through it on his belly, but he eases forward until he is lying on his back. Palms flat against the curve that encircles him, he thrusts forward.
Years of storm runoff have smoothed this concrete. No rain has fallen in a few days, but the undercity is by nature always slightly damp. Condensation facilitates his slide along maybe fifteen feet of culvert. This tributary terminates seven feet above the floor of a main storm drain, a tunnel twelve feet in diameter. As if passing through a birth canal, Jimmie Freeman is born from narrow darkness into a bigger darkness. He slips down the curved wall of the large drain to stand in what seems like the perfect silence of the grave.
Gradually he becomes aware of the subtle noises that translate through the concrete and bedrock on which the city stands: the muted rumble of trains, the faint rhythmic laboring of what might be the pumps that keep water supplied to the populace.
He unclips the Tac Light from his belt and switches it on and plays the beam over the mottled walls. There are no bats here, as he once feared. The alligators of urban legend are nowhere to be found. The cool air is somewhat dank, but not unpleasant.
These aren’t sewers. They are storm drains flooded and washed clean by the drenching rains to which this waterside city is often subjected. Because rats feed on cockroaches among other things, and because there is nothing here for the bugs to eat, there are no roaches and rarely rodents.
In fact, over the six years since he first descended into this underworld, the streets above have become dirtier and more littered than these drainways—and more violent. The deterioration of the city makes him determined somehow to earn enough money to relocate to a safe, clean, quiet town. Recently, his determination has been twined with growing desperation.
But now he has a chance, a bit of good luck. A chance can be wasted, and good luck can turn bad, but not this time. Not this time. He is going to buy a better life for his mom and a brighter future for himself.
This mammoth drain, wide enough to drive through, always makes him acutely conscious of what challenges the builders of the city met over generations and of what wonders they accomplished. These subterranean passageways usually remind him that he is a boy of little experience, small and powerless. On this occasion, however, he feels taller and stronger. From books and movies, he knows the city used to be a magical place—vibrant, glamorous. The magic that once made its towers shine has worn away, though perhaps, like the dust of ages, the magic has settled down here, where now he breathes it in and is empowered by it.
Many smaller drains open high in the walls of this main line, all unmarked. But the source of each tributary large enough to admit maintenance teams is identified by a sign made of black-and-white tiles inlaid in the concrete: North Avenue, Grand Avenue . . .
Jimmie Freeman is so familiar with this undercity that he doesn’t need the signs to guide him. With only the flashlight, he can find his way to that three-block-square neighborhood that has been condemned for a new sports arena. His fortune waits there.
Nameless does not lower his head in defense against the storm. The icy air and skirling wind are energizing, and he is inspired by this neighborhood, an ethnic enclave that once bustled with people leading meaningful lives.
The sterile office skyscrapers and the expensive high-rise residential towers stand at a distance. Screened by thick skeins of windblown snow, those soaring structures seem unreal, like a mirage of a city extending a promise of glamour that it will never fulfill.
By contrast, these row houses and humble stand-alone homes, in spite of the similarities in their design and ornamentation, are rich with character. Through his mind flicker vivid scenes: these streets as they once were when children played here and neighbors visited one another on their stoops and porches, when workmen came home at day’s end with their lunch pails, when families in their Sunday dress walked to church.
The images that he sees are neither works of his imagination nor memories. They are intense moments of clairvoyance. One of his abilities, over which he has no control, is receiving visions of the past or future, involving his life or the lives of others. These are often brief fragments or else long montages of fragments, the meaning of which he sometimes can’t discern until it’s too late.
He is the product of weird science beyond his understanding, but because the clairvoyance is imperfect, he suspects it is a side effect that his handlers did not anticipate.
Now he comes to a corner grocery, abandoned like everything else in this redevelopment zone. The sign announces Antonello’s. Once, family businesses like this were the heart of America; but there seem to be fewer of them every year.
As he approaches the front door of the grocery, where he is to meet James Freeman, he halts when everything around him abruptly changes: Morning becomes sunset; the waning day suddenly lacks snow. In the crimson light of the sinking sun, the condemned buildings have ceased to exist.
Blocks away, as the sky darkles, the most recently built office towers are among those thrusting high into the twilight. Therefore, this is not a clairvoyant glimpse of the past. However, there is no sports arena as depicted on the billboard above the chain-link gate by which he arrived here the previous night.
Instead, he is surrounded by drab two-story structures that resemble cellblocks in a prison camp. Some parapeted roofs feature gun emplacements ringed by razor wire.
Two men appear and hurry past, oblivious of Nameless. They wear black uniforms and polished black boots, and they carry pistols in belt holsters. On each man’s coat sleeve, below his shoulder, is a patch bearing a triskelion: A white circle encloses three muscular red arms that radiate from the center, joined at the shoulders to form a wheel that suggests unstoppable momentum; each arm is bent at the elbow and each hand is fisted, symbolizing power, and the red is no doubt an endorsement of bloody violence.
In the near distance a woman screams, a shrill expression of such terror and despair that Nameless is chilled to the marrow. Then other men, women, and children cry out, protesting some outrage or fate that is revealed when the camp rattles with machine-gun fire that silences the voices.
The vision folds away like an origami flower shriveling into a bud of paper, into a seed. The truth of the city in winter returns.
Emotionally shaken, physically shaking, Nameless doesn’t know if what he has seen is an inevitable totalitarian future or only one possibility toward which the country is moving.
Because of his success at bringing the hammer of truth down on those whom the system has failed to prosecute, because he forces on them the consequences of their evil, he wonders if his missions are preludes to some greater task of an importance so profound that he can’t imagine it. Always, and again now, he turns his mind away from that question, because it is too daunting to dwell upon.
The pneumatic glass door of Antonello’s grocery must have had sufficient value to warrant being removed and taken elsewhere as the business vacated the premises. Where it once stood is a plywood wall with a crude temporary man-size door. It’s locked.
He zippers open his jacket and unclips a police lock-release gun from his belt. He inserts the automatic pick in the keyway and pulls the trigger a few times, until all the pins are kicked to the shear line. With the wolfish wind howling at his back and snow spitting past him in a rabid foam, he steps into a darkness where generations of a family worked hard and served their neighbors and lived their dream until everything was taken away from them by the city.
Excerpted from Nameless: Season Two by Dean Koontz with permission from the publisher, Amazon Original Stories. Copyright © 2021 by The Koontz Living Trust. All rights reserved.