Advanced readers of TRIBE have described it as my best book, my most action-packed book, and even my funniest book (including Space Force). I had a blast writing it and love the characters like friends. I think you will too. The book comes out on November 26th in print, e-book and audio, but you can get a taste of it now. Below is a sample of the AMAZING audiobook narrated by R.C. Bray, along with the print for those of you who prefer your inner narrator. Maybe hit play and read along! And if you can’t wait to buy it, preorder now:
He wondered how many of his flock would survive the next few days. When he looked out at the gathering that had no racial, social, or financial boundaries and saw only earnest eyes looking back, he felt no concern about the risks they would face. Only pride. If they died at Her hands, in service of the returning glory, their lives would have—perhaps for the first time—true value.
“Blessed be the razor, kopis,” he said, voice monotone, echoing off the old brick walls. “May it cut clean and deep.”
“Blessed be,” a chorus replied.
“Blessed be the needle, dory. May it extend judgement to all the Earth.”
“Blessed be the Forgotten One, beloved by all. May she be restored to her rightful throne.”
The man, wearing a thousand-dollar business suit under his ruby red cloak, lifted his arms. The shadow cast by the flickering candlelight resembled twin snakes, writhing in anger. “This is our sacred bond. To not just witness the ascent, but to bring it about and bathe in the divination. No matter the cost. Blessed be.”
“We have been numbered?” the leader asked, brown eyes hidden in shadow, pleased grin for all to see.
“We have,” an elder replied from the ancient hall’s locked doorway. At sixty-five, he was the oldest among them. “Three hundred in total.”
The leader reached into his robe and felt the blade. He removed it. The plastic wrapping that kept it sterile crinkled in his fingers. The sound threatened the reverent mood, but the scalpel was essential for what came next. In the days to come, every man and woman was needed. Infection would not do.
He unwrapped the scalpel, sharp enough to cut without pain, and held it to his left palm.
Then he recited:
“We first, a crown of low-growing lotus,
“Having woven will place it on a shady plane-tree.”
The leader lifted a lotus flower—pink super-nova petals—woven into a crown of vines, and placed it atop a skeletal plane tree growing from the dirt floor. The tree, framed by grow lamps, lived a meager life, and yet clung to it.
“First from a palm of stalwart dedication, blood,
“Drawing we will let it drip beneath the shady plane-tree.”
The leader pulled the scalpel over his palm. Precise pressure and a steady hand ensured that blood would be drawn, but no scar would remain. He pinched the flesh, drawing blood. The drop stretched down, reaching, desperate, and then—free. It fell to the soil, nutrition for the nearly dead plant.
“Letters will be carved in the bark, so that someone passing by,
“May read in Her tongue: ‘Reverence and remember me. I am the Forgotten’s tree.’”
With a skilled hand, the leader reached out and carved a single word up the tree’s length, careful again to not cut too deeply. The others watched, so silent the hiss of candle flames could be heard.
He rubbed his bloodied hand against fresh letters, smearing dark red into the grooves. A finishing touch.
Then he leaned back.
The word twisted up the trunk, the penmanship elegant, the letters perfectly crafted, but legible only to the man who had carved them.
“It is done,” he said.
“It is done,” they repeated.
The reverberation of so many voices confined in stone shook his chest, and his heart. Emotion threatened to spill out, so he stepped aside, turning his shaded face, lest they see and assume weakness where there was only determination.
“You may begin,” he said, watching as one by one, men and women stepped up, cut the flesh of their choosing and offered a single drop of blood to the Forgotten’s altar.
She will be restored, he thought. He hoped. Blood would be spilled. Life would be lost. But there was nothing he wouldn’t do to restore her, as his eternal queen.
“What do you want?” Sarah said, voice iced in impatience.
The man didn’t notice. Or didn’t care.
She didn’t have a preference. She’d repeat the interaction a hundred more times that day. Thousands in the next year.
“Plain cruller,” the man said.
Sarah raised an eyebrow. She didn’t care what her customers bought. Didn’t care if they liked it, threw it in the trash, or shoved it where the sun didn’t shine. But a plain cruller was an insult to donuts. They shelved just two plain crullers a day, and at the end of most days threw them in the trash.
Her disapproval caught the man off guard and snapped him out of whatever mental track he’d been following. “What?”
“A plain cruller?” she asked. “You want a plain coffee with that?”
Her snort was so sudden that the man flinched.
He raised his hands. “What?”
She plucked a sheet of waxed paper from the box, turned to the donut display, and grasped a chocolate glazed donut. She held it up for the man to see. “You know what they say. Once you go black…” She gave her eyebrows a double-tap raise, and the man an undeserved smile. The cruller dropped in a Dunkin’ Donuts brown paper bag. She folded the top. Placed it on the counter.
“That’s not what I asked for,” the man pointed out.
“But it’s what you got,” she said. “Time to put on your big boy pants.” She pointed to the cooler. “But you can still grab a moo-juice. As long as you have chocolate, milk is acceptable.”
The customer paused, blinking like a cyborg trying to work out a problem.
Then he smiled.
Aww, damnit, she thought. This happened every time her perfected Bostonian attitude faltered, and good humor seeped through.
The customer was mid-twenties, at least five years her senior. He wore a nice suit, had a head of hair like a manicured suburban lawn, and since he got off the North Shore train, probably lived someplace affluent, like Manchester-by-the-Sea. Not a bad catch for a college drop-out with little hope for a future beyond customer service. But hell, the man ordered a plain cruller. There was no way in hell he was her type.
He’d clearly put himself into a chocolate and milk metaphor, with him being the milk—obviously—and with her being the chocolate because of her dark black skin.
“Four-fifty,” Sarah said, hoping the man’s confidence was short-lived.
He put a five on the counter, still smiling. “Keep the change.”
She rang up the order, put the five in the till, retrieved two quarters and put them on the counter with his receipt. “Can’t take tips.”
“Really? They can’t be paying you enough,” he said, leaning on the counter, not going anywhere despite the queue forming behind him.
“There’s a line,” she pointed out.
“Maybe I want more chocolate donuts,” he said, feigning a look at the menu. “Donut holes.”
She clenched her teeth and decided to let it pass. This was her fault. “They’re called Munchkins, and if you want some, you need to order them now.”
At the back of the line, a young face leaned out, staring at the customer. He couldn’t be more than sixteen, but the look in his eyes said those sixteen years hadn’t been easy. The bruise on his cheek said the same.
Sarah figured he’d slip back inside the line and squelch his anger like a New Englander, storing it up to use on the winter snow. Instead he stepped out of line and approached the customer.
This will be fun, she thought.
The young man ignored the customer and addressed her. “Are your double chocolates honey-dipped, or that plain shit?”
“Honey-dipped,” she replied. “I’m not a Philistine. They have chocolate Jimmies, too.”
A hint of a smile. “I’ll take—”
“Kid,” the customer said. “We’re having a conversation.”
“You were crashing and burning, dude.”
“Hey,” the old man at the front of the remaining line said—a real Boston roughneck. “I’m next.”
“If you had the balls to move me,” the kid said, “you’d have moved this asshole.” He hitched a thumb at the customer.
The customer at the counter gripped the kid’s green Poison T-shirt. Sarah vaguely recognized the image and the logo as belong to an 80s hair band. It was just one of the many things about the kid that seemed off kilter…and kind of cool. “I’m about done with your—”
Sarah reached out and clutched the customer’s wrist, the muscles in her forearm twitching with tension as the PSI increased. She didn’t put any thought into the action. She shouldn’t have done it. Would lose her job over it, if the man complained, and guys like this always complained. But it was too late now. She was committed.
So she squeezed.
The customer winced, but didn’t release the kid.
“Let go,” the customer told her.
“Let him go,” Sarah countered. He was trying to hide his discomfort, but she knew he was in pain. Knew where the pressure point in his wrist was hidden. And knew she could squeeze harder than he could take. It’s what had gotten her in trouble. What had cost her the scholarship.
“Don’t worry about it,” the kid told her. When she didn’t let go, he added. “Seriously.”
Abandoning someone in need didn’t sit well with her, but there was something in the kid’s unflinching and unafraid manner that made her trust him. She released the customer, revealing a red handprint where she’d been squeezing.
“You got this,” she told the kid.
“Can I order?” the man in line asked, irritation growing and spreading through the rest of the line. “I got places to be.”
“Pretty sure, I’ve already lost this job, so…” she pinched her fingers together and pursed her lips.
Bolstered by the audience, the customer gripped the kid’s shirt with both hands. If he could remove the kid, and get the line moving again, he’d be a hero to those waiting, and he’d salvage his wounded ego. He was about to speak, but the kid beat him to it.
“Do you know what an amygdala is?” the kid asked.
The customer squinted.
“It’s the fear center of the human brain.” The kid’s eyes remained locked onto the customer’s, unblinking.
The man blinked. “So?”
The kid smiled, Hannibal Lecter looking over a feast of human organs. “I don’t have one.”
The customer’s face fell, growing pale with the realization that he might have met his match—twice—in the past minute.
“I’m also impatient,” the kid said.
Though the movement was slow, the kid’s hand slipping into his pants pocket was impossible to miss.
While time progressed at its normal speed for Sarah, she could see the look of slow motion panic in the customer’s eyes, envisioning the myriad of paths his day could take and whether or not he wanted to consider any that ended with him in jail, or the hospital.
He released the kid, took a step back, looked ready to get in a last word, and then thought better of it. In five steps, he was lost in the rush of North Station’s morning commuters.
The kid took his hand out of his pocket, holding a one-dollar bill.
“Well played,” the roughneck said, genuinely impressed by the kid’s bluff.
Sarah didn’t think it was a bluff. The kid either had a big pen in his pocket, or a switchblade.
The kid slapped the one on the counter. “All I got.”
She quickly bagged two double-chocolate frosted donuts. She handed the bag to the kid, and motioned to the customer’s milk. “Have at it.”
The kid took the milk, paused, and then took the bagged cruller as well. Then he spun on his heels, and without a word of thanks, strolled off toward the exit.
Everyone’s got places to be, Sarah thought. Except me.
She turned to the roughneck, about to reassert her practiced indifference and ask what he wanted. But there was a presence behind her in the kiosk, large and ominous. For a moment, she thought the customer had returned, but then she smelled tacos—the scent of aged human body odor—and she knew that her mountain of a boss was standing behind her.
Sarah turned to face him.
“I saw,” he said. “And heard.”
Sarah frowned, untied her Dunkin’ Donuts apron, and hung it up. “Sorry.”
“I don’t blame you,” he said. “I just can’t support you. Need the job.”
“Makes two of us,” Sarah said.
“Then today’s not your lucky day,” he said, holding up her enveloped paycheck. “I’ll mail you the final one, but it won’t be much. Just three days.”
She took the envelope and exited the kiosk. “Thanks.”
“You’re a good kid,” he said. “Try to stay out of trouble and you’ll make it.”
Make what? She thought, storming away, anger brewing. She had potential. Everyone told her. But then everyone bailed on her the moment she overstepped. Story of my life, she thought.
Her parents died when she was ten. Thought it was a good idea to drink and drive their way into the Charles River. The city bailed on her, placing her into a series of foster homes until she was eighteen. Despite all that, she’d managed to score a scholarship to B.U., thanks to her prowess as a wrestler. They had Olympic hopes for her. But a few broken bones later—not hers—she was off the team, out of the school, and on the streets. A black kid in Boston with no family, no dreams, and now no job.
And I didn’t even grab a donut on my way out, she thought, heading for the bank.
The blinking orange hand turned solid, the luminous countdown beside it disappearing after hitting zero. Henry’s right foot hit the curb, then his left stepped into the street, as traffic pushed into the intersection.
In his ears, tearing through a bulbous pair of wireless headphones, was C.C. Deville’s high-pitched guitar solo in Talk Dirty to Me. Henry’s first foster-father was an idiot with poor taste in mistresses. The one good thing he did was introduce Henry to the band Poison. Henry wasn’t a child of the 80s—not even close—or a fan of Glam, long hair, or tight leather pants, but there was something about the music that made him happy when little else did.
He bopped his head to the music streaming from his cellphone. The city around him didn’t exist. The street into which he had stepped was as far away as the moon. There was the music, the donuts in his hands, and his destination. And when the donuts were gone, he’d resume singing along with Bret Michaels, for all to hear.
Henry stepped into traffic.
No horns sounded. Because no one saw him. Not just because of his wiry build, but because who in their right mind would step into a busy Boston intersection? Beantown drivers maneuvered through the streets like they were in a race with every other driver on the road. And it wasn’t like a professional NASCAR event. More like a post-apocalyptic death-race where the prize was your life, and losing meant being fed to a mutated tiger.
Stepping into the street was a death sentence.
Henry didn’t give it a second thought. He simply took another bite of double-chocolate bliss and kept right on walking—
—until a hand grasped his shirt and yanked him back to the curb.
Henry slipped the headphones down to his neck.
“What the hell?” he said to the good Samaritan—an overweight man in his fifties, sporting a shaggy beard and a worn briefcase. Henry knew the type. A government worker, pushing paper in one of the towering skyscrapers.
“Are you nuts?” the man asked, part anger, part concern, not yet knowing whether Henry was a delinquent or suicidal.
“Yeah,” Henry said. “I kind of am.”
He turned and stepped back toward the street, fully intending on completing his journey without waiting for the rules guiding other people’s lives to control him. He wasn’t offended by the concept. He just didn’t care. And it wasn’t because he was a bad person. He simply felt no fear of life’s consequences. For anything.
He didn’t lack a moral code. He understood right and wrong. But when he chose between them, fear of punishment for breaking the laws of social norms, or state and federal governments didn’t factor. He didn’t like hurting people, didn’t enjoy wounding people’s pride, and didn’t seek out trouble, but if any of the above happened…he’d shrug his shoulders and be on his merry way.
This time, the government worker took hold of Henry’s arm.
A mistake. Personal space was important to Henry, and those inside it were risking mental, emotional and/or physical pain. The logic that tempered most people’s instincts was missing, taken with his amygdala. Even he couldn’t predict how he’d react to life’s curveballs.
He turned to the man preventing him from walking through the intersection. Understood that the man was afraid for him—something his therapist told him was a good thing. The charity of strangers would keep him alive. While most people might draw back from a venomous snake, avoid the crumbling cliffside, or not step into Boston traffic, people with Henry’s condition weighed life or death decisions with the same kind of casual consideration normally reserved for debating the merits of Cocoa Pebbles vs. Cocoa Krispies.
Two options sprang to Henry’s mind—physical assault or verbal? The government worker was out of shape, but large, and had a good grip. Henry wasn’t concerned about being on the receiving end of a beating. Never crossed his mind. But he didn’t like wasting time. Efficiency was key.
“You’re fat,” Henry said. “Like, way too fat. Hippopotamus fat.”
The man released him, looking like he’d been slapped.
Henry held up his second donut and spoke as though the man were a puppy. “Here boy, you want it? You want the donut? Who’s a hungry fat boy?”
Insulted and degraded, the man looked ready to explode. Then he noticed the curbside audience of tourists, businessmen, and a snickering school group wearing Boston Aquarium T-shirts. He deflated, mumbled, “Asshole,” and backed away into the crowd.
Henry slipped the headphones back on. Nothin’ But a Good Time was playing. He stepped into the street, biting his donut, eyes closed in delight.
Angry drivers hung out of rolled down windows, hurling curses in a smattering of languages.
Henry didn’t notice. He continued across the street until reaching the other side. Unscathed and unconcerned with the chaos left in his wake.
On the far side, he breathed deep, inhaling the faint scent of ocean, the constant tang of exhaust, and the almost overpowering smell of sausage cooking at a street vendor. The donuts were good. Even better than the two Munchkins he’d been planning to buy, but meat cooked right…
His dough-filled stomach somehow managed to growl.
I could just take it, he thought, and if he was closer, he might have, despite the possibility of being caught and certainty of being burned. But he didn’t have time for distractions. Life goals and all that. Things to do. Places to go. No one to see, but money to make.
He passed the cart, eyeing his destination ahead: Harbor Bank. As far as banks went, the local establishment was small. One of a dozen in the Boston-metro area. It was owned by Bank of America and was federally insured, but it was a second thought to most people who passed its doors.
He approached the marble exterior, noting the aging guard standing out front, diligently smoking a cigarette. When Henry reached for the door, the guard eyed him for a moment, and then turned to watch a woman in a tight power suit.
Henry thought banks smelled funny. Like age and paper money, the way doctors’ offices smell like sterilization and plastic. The air conditioning was brisk, a welcome relief from the early June heat. Henry wore just a T-shirt, cargo shorts, and some old sneakers. He wore no underwear. No socks. A lack of fear kept blisters and chafing far from his mind. He’d have been just as comfortable walking down the street naked, but then he would have no place to keep things, and he wouldn’t be allowed into the bank. Shirts and shoes and all that. He didn’t worry about the rules, but he knew some had to be followed to get what you wanted.
So he followed the rules that enabled him and broke those that didn’t.
The bank’s interior was old school. Marble floor. Hardwood counters. Ten teller stations. Columns. Fake trees. Felt ropes to guide the non-existent clientele. It felt like a museum no one wanted to visit.
He stood at the island, fiddling with paperwork and watching the tellers.
There were just two of them. The one who thought a lot of makeup could hide her scowl, and the other, who was too pretty to be a bank teller. Henry squinted at her. A tight white blouse and the hint of a lace bra seen beneath it. He lingered for a moment. She noticed. Most teenaged boys would look away, face burning. Henry lingered some more until the young woman rolled her eyes and turned around.
She’s looking for a husband, he thought. She could judge a man by his looks and the dollar amount in his account. Know when to flirt and when to hold back. He respected the strategy. Ballsy for a woman with a functional amygdala.
She might have been a problem, but he’d put her off balance with his too-long stare.
Unskinny Bop began playing. It would be the anthem for the start of his new life.
He started tapping his foot. No one paid attention.
His whistle caught the made-up teller’s attention, deepening her scowl.
“What’s so wrong with your life?” Henry asked, and she turned away. He could see the tellers glancing at each other, mouthing, “What the hell?” and “I don’t know.”
When he started singing along with Bret, the women cringed. Their body language grew tight. Both locked in place. Neither wanted to deal with the weird young man with lingering eyes and a big mouth. Too bad for them, they didn’t get to choose which teller window he’d approach.
A breeze tickled his ears. He glanced back. A woman had entered the bank. Her casual, flat shoes and delicate white dress didn’t look expensive, but the way she carried herself spoke of the kind of confidence that only comes from fame or money. Her olive skin and dark eyes looked Mediterranean, but her comfort level in the bank suggested she was a regular. Local for at least a few years, but not born and raised. The abject lack of stress in her body language and the way she matched his stare for far too long were not common in New England…or most places.
She strolled through the bank, snapped her fingers a few times and said, “Susan?”
The frowning teller beamed and clapped her hands together, genuinely happy to see the woman, but doubly so because she’d been summoned away from Henry, who had fallen silent.
Whatever, he thought. Wasn’t going to pick you anyway.
Susan followed the newcomer to a side room, disappearing behind a solid oak door.
That left Henry and the gold digger.
He reached into his pocket, waiting for the young woman to make eye contact again. That would be the perfect time to—
A woman bumped into him from behind, catching him off guard. He nearly slugged her, but then—recognition. She wasn’t wearing the Dunkin’ Donuts apron anymore, but her dark skin, pom-pom hair, and wide smile were impossible to forget. He pulled the headphones from his ears in time to hear her say, “You snooze, you lose.”
He took a step toward her, hand still in pocket, but then he remembered her kindness. Sure, he had stood up to the man annoying her, but his motivation had been selfish. To get the line moving. To get something to eat. To stay on schedule. But her kindness was real.
Henry stood his ground, pulled the thick, metal pen from his pocket, and started filling out a deposit slip, scrawling numbers where there should be zeros, waiting for his turn.
Unless she takes too long. He glanced at his watch and decided Dunkin’ Girl had one minute. Just cash your check and leave, he thought, and then he heard casual conversation. Names. A laugh.
He shrugged. Oh, well.