When Sneaker’s friend Slip is trapped in Hell while retrieving a soul sent down by mistake, she rushes to her aid, at the risk of her own soul being trapped in Hell forever. A good friend could do no less. Sneaker is a Hell Cop. She works with Getter from the Hell Cop books; Hell Cop, and The Golden Palace. In this 17,300 word novelette, she’s on her own.
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An excerpt from Sneaker:
I had had an interview scheduled with Sneaker, a female Hell Cop. The day before we were to meet I got a call, she had an emergency, she had to reschedule. Ten days later we met for lunch. This is what happened during some of those days.
Sneaker raced east along I-80, toward Lake Tahoe as fast as her ten-year old Suburu would go. When retrieving an innocent soul sent to Hell by mistake, the idea was, of course, to find them and guide them to Heaven Gate as quickly as possible, though, in a place where time for souls is not measured, a few hours, or even days, meant little. After all, they were already dead. However, a Life was in danger, a Retriever’s Life, so Sneaker hurried.
Slip was one of only five female Soul Retrievers. A small sorority trying to make their mark in a male dominated business. Reason enough to rush to her rescue. But Slip and her partner, Lowman, had helped Sneaker when she’d gone out on her own after Destiny retired. They had become friends. To Sneaker, that was reason enough.
It had been Lowman who called. No chit chat, she came right to the point. “Sneak, this is Lowman. Slip’s in trouble. Can you help her?”
Sneaker didn’t hesitate. “Of course. Where do you want to meet?”
“That’s a problem. I got a busted leg and wrist. I’m no use.”
“No problem. Where is she?”
“Close to your back door.”
“I’ll get her. It’ll cost you.”
“What ever you want.”
“Put a beer on ice for me.”
As the land began to rise, Sneaker turned north on a rough two lane road, broke the speed limit by at least fifteen miles per hour for about six miles, then, by a lake, turned west on a twisty dirt road. A cloud of dust caught up to her when she skidded to a stop in a tiny pullout. She pressed a button on her Find, a half electronic, half magic unit about the size of a TV remote used by Soul Retrievers and Hell’s various demon inhabitants to navigate in Hell. A shimmering disk appeared ahead, a road ran through the middle of it. Tires spitting gravel, Sneaker raced down that road.
In a gloomy cul de sac surrounded by mostly dead trees with graspy branches that any arborist would have trouble identifying, she parked facing out. Within minutes she donned her backpack and weapons, an oversized revolver that shot miniature shotgun shells filled with hellshot – buckshot mined and manufactured in Hell – and an eight inch survival knife, among others. Regular Lifer bullets or buckshot had little effect on demons and other of Hell’s creatures. Hellshot, though, would tear them up, mostly.
Geared up, she aimed the Find at the blank gray face of a high rock wall, pressed a button, and stepped through.
She emerged into a small, rough hewn, chamber dimly lit by light seeping in through the stone wall. A quick survey revealed no nasty creatures waiting under the spiral stone staircase that rose from the center of the chamber to vanish in the gloom hundreds of feet above her head. A small heap of miscellaneous bones filled a dark corner where various Retrievers over the centuries had kicked the remains of their more unfortunate predecessors.
Sneaker rushed up the stairs two at a time, careful to avoid the steps with protruding leg bones dripping with dried flesh and clothing in various states of decay. Passages led off at intervals into darkness. Sneaker stopped on the sixth landing up in front of a particular passage. While catching her breath she checked again that her big revolver was loaded with Hellshot shells. One couldn’t be too careful.
Gun in hand, Sneaker strode into the passage. Around the first bend a shadowy glow from the rock itself lit the way. She moved swiftly. For Lifers, minutes counted. Sneaker had little attention to spare for wondering how Lowman, all Soul Retrievers used a nom de guerre, a female Retriever based in Japan, could know that Slip, another female Retriever based in India, was in trouble. That sort of thing wasn’t supposed to be able to happen. But then the connection between the two women had always been a bit different. Whether it was love, psychic mutation, or magic, the two women always seemed to be able to communicate without words or wires.
Sort of like her and Getter. Their connection wasn’t quite as close as Slip and Lowman, but they usually knew what the other was thinking. On the way to her apartment in Oakland, after she got the call from Lowman, she’d called him and left a message asking him if he might help. She didn’t like asking for help, but she trusted him, and more importantly, he trusted her.
Sneaker jumped through the occasional shimmers that filled the passage and took her more than one step farther along her backdoor to Hell. She passed the Jump Bugs without touching one, and leaped over the Cage Spider’s pit in record time. She stopped at the passage exit to switch mental gears and drink. One minute rest, max.
From the cave mouth a hundred feet up a steep rocky escarpment, she looked out on a desolate plain said to be the site of a key battle in the second soul revolt. The occasional demon bones, a set of ribs or a mound of smaller misshapen bones, could be seen scattered about the rocks and sand. From the cave entrance foothills stretched straight out until they curved out of sight miles away. They rose up to mountains that from a distance looked green and cool and peaceful, but weren’t. Sneaker had hard-won first-hand knowledge, and the scars to prove it, of that fact. From the right, straight up cliffs, cracked and broken, undulated into desert mist.
Slip’s location lay a mile away, as the Skyhook flew, close to a Milly den. Skyhooks were large feathered inhabitants of Hell with fifteen to twenty foot wingspans, and a hook underneath they use to snag souls, and occasionally Soul Retrievers, on the fly. They have a long hooked beak useful for feeding on their catch, on the fly.
Skyhooks are trainable. Like a horse in the wild west, a rider has to find a way to climb aboard one of the big birds and hang on. Extremely agile flyers, they’ll take that rider on a wild acrobatic ride that includes loops, twists, spins, and wings folded-dives ending in last second upside-down pull outs that might drag the rider’s feet on the ground leaving a small burst of dust behind. For those who manage to hold on, an empathic connection forms. Partners for life. Sneaker had taken that ride once, but hadn’t made it. Fortunately she let go over water and reached shore before something ate her.
The safest way to Slip was to follow a narrow path that wound between the cliff base and a jumble of boulders fallen from the ragged, black, cliff face over unknown millennia.
No time to be safe. Sneaker ran straight across a half mile of open ground, exposed, no cover, trusting her instincts and abilities, and, as always, to luck. It’s what friends did.
Barely breathing hard, Sneaker stopped to scope out the situation, around a massive nose of rock. Through lightweight binoculars Sneaker saw that a Milly (twenty foot long, six foot wide, ocher and brown splotchy millipede creature with two rows of two foot spikes down its back) had Slip and the male soul she had gone to Hell to retrieve trapped twenty-five feet up a sheer cliff face. Its, “ChChChChCh,” carried through the hot, dry air.
“Damn big bugs,” she muttered. She knew that though many creatures in Hell might look like insects, they were really demons. But, as far as Retrievers were concerned, if it looked like a bug and acted like a bug, big or small, it was a frackin’ bug.
The two sat at the dead end of a narrow diagonal ledge. Slip, a forty something Indian woman with black hair in a now coming apart braid, scratched at dried blood on her face. A thirty something Indian man, his skin pale now that he was a soul, had his legs drawn up and rested head on knees.
Sneaker wanted to go in gun blazing, even though hellshot would barely bother the Milly, unless shot from underneath or hit by a lucky head shot between the layers of chitinous armor plating. Several sections of missing legs showed where Slip had tried. The Milly had one other weak spot. Five sections back from the anchor point for the major and minor pincers, five spikes formed a semi- circle. This made a seat for a Driver Demon.
Driver Demons have a round, red leather body, long flexible legs, muscular arms, and a sharp, protruding face with eyeballs on stalks. They could more or less control a Milly by stroking the five spikes. This one was building a ramp of rocks to reach the trapped Retriever and soul. Take out the Driver and the Milly might or might not stop picking up boulders with its major pincers. It would still want Slip for lunch.
Sneaker knew the next nose of rock about a mile along the cliffs, contained a Milly den. The Driver hadn’t called for help. Why share the meal? But that was only a temporary situation. Scorps often hunted Millys, and they usually hunted in groups. The Milly worked fast and Sneaker had one minute to decide what to do. Other ledges cut across the cliff face. One ledge to the right rose fifty feet to the top. Access from above was her only option.
She scanned the area one more time, then scrambled along the cliff base to the ledge that topped out above Slip. A quick look and she started up. Millys were quick. If it noticed her before she reached twenty feet above the ground….
It did. The big bug raised it’s front half, twisted and darted toward her as fast as its nine hundred and twenty-six remaining legs could take it while still carrying a one ton rock in its pincers. It chittered at her as it ran.
Sneaker ran, too. Up the ledge, until it narrowed. She had to side step a twenty foot section.
“Yie! Yie! Yie!” the Driver Demon yelled as it attempted to control its creature. To no avail. The Milly reared up, exposing its belly, a clear shot if Sneaker hadn’t had to cling to the rock with both hands, and lunged.
Sneaker cleared the narrow section. With barely room to draw her gun, she snapped off a shot. The hellshot hit the boulder in the Milly’s grasp as it smashed into the rock below her, disintegrating the ledge. She dropped, grabbed the upward ledge, scrabbled back up. The boulder struck again, splitting the ledge under her feet. A falling rock shaken loose from above grazed her shoulder. Pain shot down her arm. Her oversized revolver slipped out of her hand. She stomped on the weapon as it slipped over the edge. If any circus needed a contortionist, Sneaker put on a great audition reaching for that gun without letting it slip over the edge.
The Milly reared back for another strike.
Milly snapped its body. Sent the boulder flying.
Sneaker’s lightning reflexes kicked in. She skidded to a stop. The rock impacted the ledge two feet in front of her. Rock chips sprayed, scored her cheek. She ignored the stings, jumped the new gap in the ledge and raced to the cliff top.
“Yae! Yae! Yae!” cried the Driver as he directed the Milly to hustle its leggy way back to the almost completed ramp.
A few scraggly trees clung to the top. Level for fifty feet it then gently sloped out of sight. Sneaker ran around the trees till she was above Slip. Digging a rope from her pack, she looked down.
“Sneaker?” Slip called up. “How are you here?”
“Nice to see you, too, Slip,” Sneaker yelled back. She tied one end of the rope to a twisted tree trunk, then dropped the line to Slip. “Lowman called me. Said you needed some traveler’s assistance. Looks like she was right.”
Below, the Milly scuttled about, the ramp of rocks almost finished. Slip and the soul had no place to hide.
“This is Nandi,” Slip said, introducing the Indian soul who shinnied up the rope.
“Better hurry up,” Sneaker said. “That ramp’s about done.”
“Why didn’t Lowman come with you?” Slip asked.
Sneaker hauled on the rope. Souls being mostly (80-90%) insubstantial they didn’t weigh much. “She broke her leg and wrist while mountain biking. I’m the back up.”
Nandi’s head rose over the edge. He looked up. His eyes grew wide. “Look out!”