Category Archives: Reading

Kal’s Liberty Con 34 AAR

The latest Liberty Con is come and gone. I had a blast. For those of you unfamiliar with it, Liberty Con is a Science Fiction and Fantasy literary convention with a very high percentage of writers in attendence. It’s not uncommon to encounter NYT Bestselling authors in the hallway.

There are always interesting conversations to be had and many of the panels are awesome, with many authors, editors, publishers, artists, and other professionals. More, Liberty Con is like a family, with everyone being friendly & welcoming.

What made Liberty Con 34 even more special? For one thing, it’s been a couple years (due to lockdowns) that we could meet in person. I got a chance to see people I haven’t seen in quite a while. For another, it’s a distilled environment of all things science fiction and fantasy. I always meet new people and learn new things.

This year there was a lot of catching up with friends, meeting new readers and authors, and generally spending great deal of time talking and listening. It can be hectic and a bit frenzied moving from one end of the hotel to the convention center and back (especially when you’re like me and you inevitably left something and have to go back a few times).

The convention is amazingly well-run. For those who have attended a lot of conventions, you know how important that is. For those who don’t… well, believe me, a well-run convention will draw more and better writers and professionals and is supremely worthwhile.

The convention staff put a tremendous amount of effort into things and it showed in everything. I can’t stress enough how well everything worked.

For actual events, I was on two panels: World Building in Epic Fantasy, moderated by David B. Coe, with myself, Michael Falciani, Chuck Gannon, and DJ Butler. It was a fun discussion and the different views on world building, especially regarding how much is too much, provided a lot of discussion and fed into a lot of questions from the audience.

I moderated a panel, Train as we Fight, which was a discussion about the realities of military training and writing about it as well. I had Tom Kratman, Mike Massa, and Rick Partlow on the panel. All of them provided some great discussion.

Other things at the convention that I thought were fantastic:

James Schardt ran a miniature painting studio in the crafting room. As a gamer, I thought it was really awesome, and he 3D printed models, had brushes and paints, and infinite patience, especially with how many younger attendees swarmed him on day one. Really one of the best parts of the convention and I hope it happens again in the future.

The Con Suite, always amazing, was running on the 16th floor. Liberty Con serves actual food at their Con Suite, and the draw of good food & awesome people makes for a great setting. I had conversations there with script writers, aspiring authors, scientists, and others.

Many conventions have an Author’s Alley, the one at Liberty Con rotates through hourly, so there’s always new and different authors, every time you walk past. It is tremendously great to walk past, see friends and fellow authors, and to strike up conversations. As an author, it’s awesome to have the opportunity to pitch my books to prospective readers.

All in all, Liberty Con was a fantastic time. If you have the opportunity, I highly recommend attending. Tickets for next year go on sale 15 July of this year (getting tickets and a hotel are the hardest part, which tells you something).

A Note About Valor’s Inheritance

For those interested, I figured I would share some of the “behind the scenes” writing craft that went into writing the sixth Children of Valor book. Part of the delay in releasing Valor’s Inheritance has been that there are multiple stories I want to tell, especially as characters head in different directions.

For a while, I considered changing the format, switching to third person, which would have allowed me to write from the perspectives of other characters in the universe. That was the plan for a while, which is why at numerous times the next books were going to be a separate series (War of Valor). Instead, I chose to keep writing with Jiden Armstrong as the main character. These other stories I’m going to spin off in separate novels. I made a deliberate choice to keep the existing format as: a) it’s what the readers are familiar with and primary interest is in Jiden Armstrong (I would assume), and b) those other stories benefit from standing on their own and I can give the characters and stories more attention.

It was a difficult decision for me to make. I spent a lot of time outlining and weighing out the differences between the two. Honestly, it might have been a bigger decision for me, mentally, than mattered to my readers. But it was about determining the best way for me to tell the story, so in the end, I had to be mentally good with it.

What comes out of it is I already have essentially three series in the universe: Children of Valor, Forsaken Valor, and Rising Wolf / Fenris Unchained. What I plan to do is spin off individual novels with specific characters in addition to these existing series. The first planned one is already outlined and I’ve begun work on it, and focuses on some of the people left behind on Century after the invasion.

I have ideas for a few other spin-offs, but I don’t want to bog down the main-line stories too much. It’s going to be a bit of a balancing act, writing the three series in this universe, spin offs, and still managing to write my other universes (Eoriel Saga, Shadow Space Chronicles, and others).

But that’s the fun part of writing, finding the time to tell all the stories, right? *Sobs quietly into beer*

That’s all for now, thank you for reading and I hope you enjoyed the insight into what went into writing Valor’s Inheritance.

Coming Soon: Valor’s Inheritance

I’m happy to announce that Valor’s Inheritance, the sixth book of the Children of Valor series is coming 17 June!

“Blood is inherited and virtue is acquired, and virtue in itself has a value that blood lacks.”

— Don Quixote

Jiden Armstrong has lost nearly everything. 

 Her home world and most of its people have been captured by alien invaders.  All too many of the cadets and personnel she served with have been killed in the defense of their planet.  The Century Planetary Militia’s starships and fighters thrown away by Admiral Drien to cover his cowardly retreat.

All that is left is a meager inheritance for the survivors: a handful of ships, off-world accounts, and refugees willing to give all they have to save their homeworld.  Multiple factions of survivors compete to control those resources.  Some, like Jiden’s grandmother, want to build up a force to liberate their planet.  Others, like Admiral Drien, want to gain the support of a stronger power and let others do the bleeding to save Century.

Jiden, as before, is in the middle of it all.  She will have to manage meager resources while she trains up new recruits to save Century.  Because whether they can acquire more resources or not, the Centurions are going to save their people.  Jiden knows that in the end: all the wealth and power of Century doesn’t matter; the true inheritance of Century is the willingness to shed blood to save it.

Hi there! A Moon Knight Review

So… what exactly did I watch?

You might ask yourself that very question as any given episode of Moon Knight wraps up, whether it is the first or the final one. For some perspective, take a mix of Deadpool, a mix of Venom, a heavy splash of the 1990’s The Mummy and The Mummy Returns.

There’s a lot in there, a lot going on. The show takes some hits from some people as being “slow paced” and not enough action. I’d counter that by saying that it is part of the way they are telling the story, which is meant to be a bit of discovery and the audience learning things along the way.

For some valid criticisms: it’s a disjointed, confusing mess. It’s done that way on purpose, sort of, but there’s a hefty dose of “well, this will blow the audience’s mind.” It’s not a standard superhero narrative. I had to read into the Moon Knight character (thanks to the various wiki sites) to find out that Moon Knight is borderline anti-hero, for innumerable reasons.

Without giving too many details away, their whole discovery storytelling would sort of fall apart if we watched the show chronologically (not to mention that a good chunk of the storytelling takes place inside the head of a character).

As far as actors, Oscar Isaac does a fantastic job, especially given just how chaotic the plot and shoots must have been. May Calamawy, the damsel not so much in distress does a good enough job, though there were a couple points where I could tell that they wished they could cast Rachel Weiss from The Mummy (yes, the similarities were that strong). I don’t think the writers quite had the chops to pull off Evelyn from The Mummy, which is a bit of what they were going for. Ethan Hawke makes an acceptable villain, if a bit too preachy at times, which is pretty standard for a Marvel villain.

Is it the best show ever? Not hardly. The afore mentioned disjointedness can be irksome. There are a number of missed tie-ins with mythology, and there are sections that they just leave hanging (only to try and cram a lot of it into the final episode, if they address it at all). It is entertaining and amusing with enough twists and turns to keep you coming back for more. The humor is fun, the transitions are bizarre, and the whole show feels like Moon Knight and Deadpool need to team up for a buddy cop antihero movie.

All in all, if you already have a Disney Plus subscription, it’s worth a watch.

New Release: For the Love of Death

Death has a crush on a mortal and there will be hell to pay…

Someone or something is killing musicians in a ritualistic fashion.  The FBI is investigating me because my cases dealing with magic and things that mortals aren’t meant to deal with don’t make for clean reports.  My old partner doesn’t trust me any more and my new partner isn’t read in on all the crazy magic stuff.

All that I could take, except my guardian angel is distracted by the killer’s latest target.  It gets worse than that, because that distraction might just be something more.  He’s falling for her, and if I can’t protect her from the killer, he might just Fall for real.  So I’ve got to buckle down and find the killer… for the Love of Death.

https://amzn.to/3BRwYJS

For the Love of Death: Snippet 1

Chapter 1

I knew I was in trouble when death walked into the bar with a big, shit-eating grin.

And boy do I mean that literally.  Samael, the Archangel of Death, stepped into the bar like he knew exactly what was going to happen and that he was going to love every second of it.  I’ll back up a bit by saying that Sam isn’t just the Archangel of Death, the sort-of designated sniper of the preternatural world, but he’s also on a special assignment as my guardian angel.

When I say that, most people would think I was crazy.  It gets worse, believe me, because my guardian’s role is to protect my mortal soul and my physical body, and he’s of the mindset that the best defense is a really good offense.  Most times that meant he settled for killing any humans or preternatural creatures that threatened me in imaginatively gruesome fashions.

But he would do that with a superior smirk, maybe even a jaunty grin.

I don’t know that I’d ever seen him this happy with himself.  Except, just maybe one time, in a distant, dusty mountain range when a couple hundred insurgents had been trying to kill me.

This is bad, this is really bad, I thought to myself.

The first thing I did was look over at my partner.  Special Investigator Amanda Ashburn was seated with the fence we were here in this particular crappy bar to meet.  Under other circumstances, we would have some kind of backup, both of us working for Colorado’s El Paso County Sherriff’s Department.

Unfortunately, we weren’t here on official business.  We had asked one of Amanda’s contacts in the Catholic Church to translate a list of names, they had asked us for a favor in return.  Something had been stolen from a church and a middleman had arranged to get it back.  The fence who had it was jumpy and the Church hadn’t wanted to set a precedent where they rewarded people for stealing from them, so they wanted us to acquire it and turn it over to them.

The fence in question had been looking for exits ever since Amanda sat down at the table with him.  His nervous darting glances had grown more frequent and I’d already had a sinking feeling as this had dragged on longer than a simple transaction should have taken.  Father Terrence, Amanda’s contact with the Church, had given us a substantial quantity of cash to buy the item back.  He hadn’t been too specific on what it was, just a small box, possibly locked, that was the prize.

I hadn’t dared ask what might have happened if someone had already opened the box and taken whatever was inside.  In just the past nine months, I’d seen all kinds of things that normal people would think were impossible.  There might be nothing in the box, the box might be what was valuable, or what was inside might be incredibly dangerous, melt-your-face-off like the Ark of the Covenant from the Indiana Jones movie.  At the time, it had seemed like a simple favor to go and pick it up.

Now I was wondering just how badly I’d screwed up by not asking for more information.

The supposed fence didn’t look like the typical scum-of-the-earth criminal type I would have imagined.  He was young, he wore trendy-looking sunglasses and designer jeans.  He had a gray hoodie up over his head and the sunglasses hid his eyes.  From this angle, I couldn’t get a good look at his face other than in profile in the shadows from his hoodie.

 I scoped out the room, not really certain what I was looking for, but knowing that there was something I’d missed.  The first thing I noticed was that the bartender’s entire demeanor was off.  Not only was he ignoring several patrons, but his attention was in the direction of my partner and the fence, rather than anywhere else.  No, not just there, but also on the far corner.

There was a group seated there, three men and two women.  They hadn’t stood out the first time I scoped out the room.  They looked similar enough to other bar patrons, except as I looked at them, their attention was focused anywhere and everywhere except on the table with my partner and the fence… or on me.  One was one her phone, another was reading a beer list.  The other three were ostensibly casually talking, but they all kept pausing as they talked, as if they weren’t keeping track of the conversation or weren’t focusing.

They were all remarkably fit and healthy for this sort of place, too.  Up north in the Springs, they could have passed for military, maybe, except for the fact that they all sported facial tattoos, which wasn’t allowed.  One of the women had some kind of spider web tattoo that ran up the side of her neck and onto her face with a remarkably life-like spider crawling up onto her cheek.

One of the men seemed to notice me looking at them and he said something in a low tone to the woman on her phone.  She didn’t look up, but I saw her say something in return.

Samael, the Archangel of Death, walked calmly over and sat down across from me, partially blocking my view.  “Ari.”

“Sam,” I tried to lean over to see around him, but in truly typical fashion, he managed to shift and block my view of the suspicious men and women without needing to move at all.  Sam outwardly looked rather plain.  He could have passed for my brother, if I wasn’t a family-less orphan, anyway.  To me he appeared tall, lean, with olive skin, blue eyes, and raven-black hair.  He looked to be dressed professionally, suit and tie, which should have stood out in a place like this.

I knew from experience that most people would be hard-pressed to realize there was someone at the table with me, and harder pressed to describe what that person looked like.  I also knew that his presence, like most of what he termed the preternatural, would distort electronic recording devices like security cameras and cell phones.

And, when he wanted to, his physical form could shift, despite his apparent size and stature, to be bigger or smaller or, in this case, to block my view of potential threats, just because it amused him.

“You seem happy,” I couldn’t help but begrudge him that.  The past few months had felt like everything and everyone were conspiring to irritate me.

“Some days I enjoy my job more than others,” Sam replied, just as I saw motion over by Amanda.  I looked over to see her set a black canvas duffle bag on the table and the fence reached down below the table and pulled something out of a similar black duffel bag.  His had a symbol of some kind on the side, it looked a bit like some kind of Japanese kanji, though I couldn’t see it well from where I sat.

It wasn’t a box.  At least, it wasn’t like any box I had ever seen.  It was some kind of big clay jar, about eighteen inches tall, maybe eight inches wide at the widest, and tapering at either end.  The fence set it on the table and it seemed to have far more weight than any object that size should, thumping on the table with a echoing thud that penetrated the far corners of the bar.

All conversation ceased.  The entire bar went still and I saw everyone’s attention had gone to the table.  The fence noticed and he scooped the jar back off the table and slid his chair back in a squeak that echoed through the still bar.  Amanda was looking at the jar in with confusion and curiosity.

“I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” I muttered.

Sam’s smile widened, “Sometimes, Ari, you can be remarkably perceptive.”  He stood up from his chair, shrugged his shoulders a bit in a motion akin to a boxer preparing for a bout, and his next words made my stomach sink, “And here… we… go…”

Amanda reached out to try and stop the fence and then all hell broke loose.

***

Kal’s (Belated) July 2021 Update

Hey everyone! It’s now late July. The past couple of months have been extremely busy for me, I’ve spent most of it doing not one but two military exercises as part of my day job. It’s been a lot of long days, but now that those are complete, I’ve opened up some more bandwidth to focus on writing once again.

The good news is that I’m prepping the next Angel of Death novel for release, currently looking at the end of August, pending edits, lining up a cover, and all that fun stuff.

Other things I’ve been working has been a general site overhaul. They’re relatively minor changes, just adding pages for some of my series and cleaning things up, with one exception. I’ve added a swag store to the site, with a few items as yet. Feel free to look around and I would love some feedback on the changes (or what readers would like to see).

That’s all for now, more coming over the next few days!

New Release: A Quiet Death

A dead man just ran away from his own murder scene.

Six months ago, that would be someone else’s problem.

My name is Ari, and after hellspawned werewolves tried to rip my soul out, I made this sort of thing my problem.  Now I am working the case, well, me, my sharp-shooting partner, and my guardian angel, the Angel of Death.

It’s a case that involves human trafficking, corrupt politicians, necromancy, sorcery, seduction, and a deal with the Devil.  You know, same stuff, different day.

Unfortunately for me, that’s only the beginning, because something evil has escaped onto our world.  I’ve got to take it down, before things get out of hand.  Because if things start to go off track too much, then the thing looking over my shoulder protecting me might go off like a tactical nuke.

But that’s part of life, right?  Who wants to die a quiet death?

A Quiet Death is now available! https://amzn.to/3vvOqzT

A QUiet Death: Snippet 2

Here is the second snippet for A Quiet Death, sequel to In Death’s Shadow:

“What do you think?” I asked as we walked back to Amanda’s car.  “Zombie, wight, vampire?”

“I have no idea,” Amanda drained the last of her coffee.

“You don’t?” I asked in shock.

She opened her door and paused, looking over the roof of the car, “I’ve been doing this for all of three years.  Until a few months ago, the worst I worried about was a fire-lighting dwarf arsonist.  Bodies shouldn’t get up and walk away.  I would think your friend there would have something to do with it.”

We both looked over at Sam.  The literal angel of death.  Archangel, I reminded myself, his name was Samael, which translated to something like “Venom of God.”  “You’ve been quiet.”

“You haven’t asked me any questions,” Sam answered.

“If we did, what would you say?” I asked.

“Digging into the kind of thing that can animate a dead body is probably best left alone by your kind,” Sam told me.

“That’s what I figured you’d say,” I growled in reply.  For all that he was assigned to protect me, Samael sure didn’t seem to go out of his way to help.

“Me too,” Amanda noted, climbing into the car and waiting as I folded down into the passenger seat before she started it up.  “I figured he wouldn’t be all that much help.  That’s why I’ve got a little list of people to talk with.”

“Like Father Terrance?” I asked.  The catholic priest had served as a contact before.  From what I understood, he’d coordinated with the church’s militant anti-monster unit, the Peregrinatio Contra Umbram.  He had also helped Amanda back when she’d had her first encounter with the unnatural and helped her cope.

“I’ll talk to him later tonight,” she said.  “I was thinking of someone else, someone a little more on the gray side.”

“Like a CI?” I asked.  There were confidential informants who provided law enforcement all kinds of tips, but I didn’t know if that kind of thing existed for the supernatural.

“Eh, more like a deal broker, but he might be willing to give us some information,” Amanda answered.  She pulled out, slapping her coffee into one of the cup holders even as she accelerated out, throwing me back into the seat.

She had to slow down at the first major intersection as we missed the light.  Like most of the big intersections here in Colorado Springs, this one had four panhandlers, one on each corner.  A ragged-looking man, wearing an ill-fitting set of camouflage pants and a military dress coat had a sign about being a veteran in need.  Having served myself, I would have felt some sympathy if I’d believed him at all.  Nothing about the way he stood or moved looked military.

I gave him a baleful glare as he came up next to our car.  He still jingled his can outside the window, though, as if he didn’t care at all.

“Easy, there,” Amanda seemed to sense my anger.

“Guy there never served,” I growled.  “It pisses me off that he’s lying about military service to get people to feel sorry for him.”  In the minivan behind us, a harried-looking soccer mom brought down her window and passed him some bills.  The grifter gave her a gap-toothed smile and moved along to the next vehicle, shaking his cup.

“Nothing to do about it.  We could arrest him for panhandling, but in case you hadn’t noticed, we’d fill the jail up before lunchtime,” she noted.  “I can’t say I like the fake vets, either.  My older brother was Army and my little brother joined the Marines, after all, but what can we do?”

I didn’t know what to say to that.  There wasn’t anything we could do.  Colorado Springs had laws against panhandling, but there were so many homeless, many of them drug users, that the police would do nothing but arrest people if they did.  The Springs had a number of charitable shelters that helped to get people back on their feet, but the area also had homeless camps that had taken over several of the parks.  There were thousands of people, and this intersection was a pretty good demographic, about half or more claimed to be military veterans, half of them were drug addicts, and more than half were subject to mental illness.

It wasn’t just an eyesore, it had become a public health issue, with the Riverwalk area being contaminated with human waste and discarded drug needles.  That was bad enough, but I’d heard that the unclaimed bodies at the morgue had become a bigger issue, they had hundreds of bodies in storage, corpses from overdoses and the like that nobody wanted and nobody claimed.

The city had asked for more money to deal with that, but for now, they’d pulled in a couple of refrigerated trucks to deal with the excess.  They were parked out right behind the coroner’s office and every time I had to drive past it was a grim reminder.

Sam, of course, seemed to find it amusing.

The light changed and Amanda wove her way through traffic, driving with a single-minded focus and complete disregard for little things like physics and passenger comfort that left me white knuckled.  My guardian didn’t seem fazed, but that didn’t reassure me, either.  He liked living on the edge and he’d as much as admitted that he could, if he wanted, pull me right out of the car, right out of reality if my life was under real threat.

Amanda pulled us up out front of a new-age holistic medicine store in a strip mall, one of the ones with a pot dispensary on one side and a bong shop on the other, two doors down was a sign for a “gentleman’s club.”  “This is your CI?” I asked.  The sign over the shop read The Hidden Hand.

“Sometimes things are more than they appear,” Amanda answered.  “Follow me.”

She didn’t walk straight for the door.  Instead she walked over to the side, squeezing between a no-parking sign and a scraggly-looking dead tree, then walking back towards the door.  The behavior was odd enough that it left me standing there, wondering just what she was doing.

I knew enough not to argue, but I felt pretty silly as I did as she’d done.  “Why did we do that, wards or something?” I asked.  She’d warded her house before, but we hadn’t had to do anything special to get in.

“It’s a path,” Samael growled behind us, “I didn’t know she knew about the pathways.”

“I’m learning,” Amanda shot over her shoulder at him, even as she pushed the door open and stepped into the shop.

“What’s a pathway?” I asked quietly, but Sam didn’t answer.

Stepping into the shop, I felt as if the sounds of the outside world cut off immediately.  The lighting in the store seemed off as well.  Some kind of purple coating on the inside of the windows dimmed the outside sunlight to a dull purple glow and a few scattered lamps gave little pockets of light, leaving the shop with an otherworldly feel.

“This is not a good place for you to be,” Sam growled.

“Afraid we might learn something?” Amanda jeered at him.

“Nothing you can learn here would be good for you,” Sam told her in a deep voice.  I shot him a look and realized with shock that he’d shifted closer to his full form.  His eyes had gone jet black and the air around him seemed to shudder and crackle a bit.

“Ah, customers, welcome,” a friendly voice spoke.

I pulled my eyes away from Sam, and noticed the speaker right away.  He was a tall man, dressed in robes of Middle-Eastern origin.  He wore a keffiyeh, though I didn’t recognize the tribal pattern and the light made it difficult to differentiate the colors.  I suppose even in the light of day I wouldn’t have been surprised if I didn’t recognize the pattern, since most of my experience in that region of the world had been focused on small areas where I’d been deployed.

“Kasah, my partner and I are here to ask you a few questions,” Amanda answered.

He came forward, “Ah, Deputy Ashburn, I hadn’t recognized you in work clothes, normally you wear something more comfortable,” Kasah answered.  He had strange, golden-tinted irises, and his perceptive gaze swept over Amanda and then me.  To my shock, that gaze went to my guardian.  “Powerful one, are you here on business as well?”

Sam’s voice answered in that same deep tone that I could feel in my bones, “Peddler, I am here in my role as guardian.”

“Ah,” Kasah shot me a look, “he must be very important to have so powerful a guardian.”  He smiled at me, “Anything you want in the shop, on the house.”

“I’m good, thanks,” I told him.  I hadn’t really looked around the place and with how Sam’s back was up, I wasn’t sure I wanted to do so.

Kasah’s smile didn’t waver and he looked back at Amanda, “What can I do for you Special Investigator Ashburn?”

“How much does a human body go for in your circles, Kasah?” Amanda’s tone was accusatory.

Her CI blinked, a slow, almost serpent-like motion.  “My shop has no trade in slaves, Deputy.  That sort of thing might draw the wrong attention, no matter how willing the merchandise may be.”

I wasn’t sure I wanted to know what he was talking about.  “No, we’re talking about a dead body,” I blurted, hoping to head off any forays into that kind of topic.

“A corpse?” Kasah smirked.  “There are values to different aspects, of course.”  He moved over to a row of shelves, upon which there were rows of jars.  “Sinistra Kidney, for example, is quite valuable.  Bibitor Liver, hmmm, less so in these times.  Fortem Heart, oh, so very precious…”

“Not pieces, the whole thing,” Amanda snapped.

“A whole body… how very distasteful,” Kasah pulled a silk handkerchief from inside his sleeve and covered his face, as if he were nauseated.  “Unless it were processed, the valuable pieces extracted and prepared, it would not be valuable for sale to my customers at all.”

I thought about the damage that the three-fifty-seven rounds had done to the body, about the blood and bits of tissue splattered all over the floor and walls.  “There wouldn’t be much left of any organs,” I told him.  “Lots of damage to the body.”

“Then I would have little interest for my shop,” Kasah waved his other hand, even as he kept his handkerchief over his mouth and nose.  “Please tell me you did not bring such a thing?”

“A body is missing,” Amanda growled at him.

“What?” Kasah seemed surprised enough that he lowered his hands.  “Missing, as in someone took it?”

“From a crime scene,” Amanda went on.  “And missing as in a witness says it stood up and jumped out a window.”

“Perhaps this body was not a corpse after all,” Kasah smirked.  “Tell your people they should make certain of such things.”

“They were certain, and there was enough blood that no one would be standing up, much less diving out a window,” Amanda snapped.  “Got anything here that could do that kind of thing?”

Kasah’s gaze flitted to the beaded curtain to the back room and back to us, a motion so quick I barely caught it.  “There is nothing dealing with necromanticrituals in my shop,” he told us.  “And what you’re describing is either dark art of the worst sort or…” he trailed off.

“Or?” I asked.

“Or we’re dealing with something that isn’t human at all, right?” Amanda asked.

Kasah gave a slight nod.

“If you’re not dealing in that kind of thing, it doesn’t mean your customers aren’t,” Amanda said after a moment.  “I’ll need a list.”

“I can’t give out a list of my shop’s customers,” Kasah shook his head.  “They would never trust me again!  Half of my dealings are built upon trust and discretion!”

“And bodies don’t get up and run about on their own.  This is bad, Kasah, it was a normal person who saw this.  If this happens elsewhere, it could draw attention.  We could get a panic,” Amanda gestured out the purple-tinted windows.  “We get large numbers of people seeing things, it will draw official attention… you know, like the fellows that came to town a few months ago?”

Kasah hissed, “The Peregrinatio Contra Umbram.  I don’t want them poking their heads in this.”  There was venom in his voice, hate and… fear?

“I warned you when they came to town last time, Kasah.  But if you don’t give me what I need to move forward on my own, I’ll have no choice but to talk to them to see what they know, and they’re not going to draw any lines between the gray and the black.”

Kasah brought his handkerchief up and covered his face, “Fine,” he spat.  “I’ll get you your names, but don’t tell them where you got them.”  He went into the back of the shop, sending his bead curtain rattling.

***

A Quiet Death comes out 30 April 2021!

A Quiet Death: Snippet One

Chapter 1

Rolling to a stop just outside the small house on the edge of town, my partner, Special Investigator Amanda Ashburn somehow managed to unbuckle her seatbelt, scoop up her coffee, and open her door in one smooth motion.

It took me rather longer than her to get my tall frame unfolded from her car.  A few months ago she’d had a comfortably large government-issue SUV.  Apparently wrecking it in a battle with hellspawned werewolves and cartel hitmen had meant Colorado’s El Paso County Sherriff’s Department had allocated her something rather more economical.

By the time I’d unfolded myself from the car, she was already walking up the steps to the small house, “What have we got?” She was asking of the two deputies who stood to either side of the door.

“Shooting,” the one answered.  I recognized Damien Garcia as I came up.  Mostly because we’d done our in-processing together.  He’d transferred down here from Denver, taking a job here in Colorado Springs over a better paying position up north, mostly because things in Denver were getting out of hand and, as he’d told me, he was a family man who wanted to be there while his kids grew up.  He and Deputy Alison had been partners for a month now, since he and I had run

“Perp is in the first room, Detective Haley is with her,” he told us both.  He gave me a nod and then went back to spreading out the crime scene barricades.

“Nikki, huh?” Amanda asked.  “Glad she got the perp.”  I could see she wanted to ask more questions.  Questions like why she and I had been called out if they already had the shooter.  She settled on, “Where’s the vic?”

Damien flinched a bit, “Uh.  You should talk to Sergeant Haley.”

His face had gone a bit pale as he said that and I saw him swallow nervously.  Whatever had spooked him, it was something that he didn’t even like to think about.

I felt a chill go through me as I realized that.  The last time I’d seen the law enforcement so spooked, it had been because werewolves had infiltrated a good chunk of the Colorado Springs police force, mostly by ripping their victims to shreds, consuming their souls, and then taking their place.  It had been in an attempt to track me down and obtain a certain artifact in my possession, but the police didn’t know that and they hadn’t been mentally, spiritually, or emotionally able to deal with the profoundly unnatural events.

I followed Amanda inside, doing as she did and taking care to avoid the splintered doorframe, “Somebody likes impressive entries,” I noted.

She pointed at the dusty bootprint on the sagging door, right near the deadbolt.  “Human,” she said in a low voice.  “Hit it right next to the deadbolt.”  She pointed at the doorframe, where the deadbolt had shattered right through.  “Just a simple locking latch, anchored in with half-inch bolts to the frame.”

“Yeah, one kick and that’s all she wrote,” I nodded.  Helping out with the county during my trial period, I’d seen the aftermaths of plenty of break-ins and forcible entries.  Most homeowners thought a deadbolt meant their door was secure.  After seeing just how easy it was to kick in a normal door, I’d drilled my latch plate at my new apartment with two-inch screws right into the frame.  If I had the chance, I was going to try and talk my new landlord into letting me swap out the wooden door for a steel one, too.

“Like you need to worry about a home invasion,” Sam chuckled in my ear.

I shot my guardian a look, but he just gave me a toothy grin in return.

Amanda went into the front room.  Sergeant Haley was there, the senior deputy of Major Crimes Unit, she looked a bit like a bear with a sore tooth at the moment.  “Took you two long enough,” she growled, “did you stop for coffee or something?”

Amanda sipped her cup of coffee in response.

Oh, it’s going to be one of those days, isn’t it?  I thought to myself.  Haley had transferred in from Colorado Springs Police Department, just as a lot of the Sherriff’s department had transferred over to the police in the wake of the horrible losses the department had suffered.  There’d been a lot of restructuring during all those transfers.  As part of that restructure, Special Investigator Amanda Ashburn and Probationary Deputy Kiehl (that was me), got folded under Major Crimes Unit.

Colorado Springs Police Department and one Special Investigator Ashburn hadn’t gotten along very well.  My partner had been investigating what most would term the supernatural for years, and she’d been given a lot of leeway so long as whatever had happened stopped happening and there was a nice, believable story about what had happened.

She’d lost a lot of that leeway in the wake of seventeen dead police officers.

No one suspected the supernatural, of course.  Even when three of the werewolves had materialized inside the police precinct, all most of the normal people had seen were deranged bikers swinging big knives.  The bodies of otherworldly beings seemed to just… unravel, and all the footage of the various attacks seemed either horribly out of focus or hard to look at or showed nothing out of the ordinary at all.

It reinforced what my guardian angel had told me: the human mind was not designed to understand things outside of the natural order.

“Sorry we’re late,” I told Sergeant Haley, “We were down south.”

“Traffic is getting awful,” Haley admitted.  “Glad you’re up here, though, this is…”  She made a face.  “Well, I don’t know what the hell this is.”  She gestured at where a woman sat, Henry “the Hunk” Alison stood next to her.

Henry was a tall, good-natured Provisional Deputy who’d gone through the Academy with me.  When they’d been calling off names the first day of our academy and they’d called off “Alison” and he’d replied with his soft, deep voice, it had thrown our instructors off and their constant calls of “Alison” had becomes something of running joke until they’d resorted to calling him by his first name, Henry, then Hank for brevity, and then finally someone had turned that into Hunk and finally, “the Hunk.”  The moniker had followed him after he graduated, in good part because no one could look at the tall, handsome young man and call him “Alison.”

With his blonde hair, blue eyes, height, and features, he probably could have gone into acting or modeling or something.  With how seldom he spoke and his friendly nature, he tended to put people at ease with no issues.

“That’s Angela Gowther.” Sergeant Haley gestured at the short, brunette woman seated on the couch.  She looked jumpy and nervous and her gaze kept going to the kitchen, almost like she was worried she’d left the stove on or something.

“Victim or perp?” Amanda asked.

“Little bit of both,” Haley shrugged.  She pulled out her notepad and read off it.  “Twelve forty-five, she hears a knock at the door, goes to check it.  It’s a man, one Andy Chin.”

“That guy,” Amanda scowled

“Chin?” I asked.

“Chin is suspected of multiple home invasions.  He also has ties to the local mob, acts as their enforcer, real nasty piece of work,” Sergeant Haley growled.  “His daddy got deported back to China, but Chin was born here in the US so the couple minor felonies he’s got just meant a few stays down in Canon City.”

“Great,” I shook my head, “so he broke in?”

“He did, and she shot him six times with her three fifty seven,” Sergeant Haley held up an evidence bag, with the weapon inside it.  “Then she reloaded and shot him another six times.  Then she called us.”

“She reloaded?” Amanda raised her eyebrows, “Good on her.”

I couldn’t argue with the sentiment, but Haley gave us a glower.  “She didn’t need to shoot him that many times.  Undue force.  That’s why she’s in cuffs.  Now that you’re here, I’m taking her back to the station for further questioning.”

“Seems pretty open and shut as self-defense,” Amanda noted.  “But I suppose that’s up to the DA’s office.  Where’s the body?”

“That’s why you’re here,” Haley told us.  “Garcia and the Hunk got on scene nine minutes after the shooting.  Garcia confirmed Chin’s ID from his wallet.  The Hunk confirmed no pulse and called the coroner.  They both started interviewing the shooter.  When I showed up, there was no body.”

My partner and I both stared at her.  “What the hell do you mean no body?”

“Check the room across the hall,” Haley told us.  “But it looks like either he stood up and walked off… or someone took his body before it even got cold.”

***

Any hope I’d had that this was some kind of joke to play on the new probationary deputy went out the window, along with what had to have been Chin’s body.

I paused to take pictures of the broken glass while Amanda was taking pictures of the huge swathe of blood across the floor.  She paused and pointed at a twisted bit of metal.  “See that?”

“Jacketed hollow point?” I asked.

“Yeah, still bloody, must have blown out of Andy Chin’s back along with a few pints of his blood and plenty of bone and organs,” Amanda shook her head, pointing at the bits fanned out around the obvious impacts.  “What have you got over there?”

“Something went through the window,” I told her, feeling like I wasn’t too smart as I did it.  But what else was there to say?  “Glass is broken but there are… well, bits, attached.”

“Yeah,” She walked over and pulled a set of tweezers and picked a bit of what looked like skin and hair off a remaining shard of glass.

“Werewolf?” I asked hopefully.

“Nah, it looks human.  And this is the middle of the day.  Plus there’s blood and remains.  Anything preternatural should have been gone by the time we got here, or on its way out.”  She dropped the skin and hair in an evidence bag.

“So…” I cleared my throat, trying to get the words to come out, “What you think happened is that Chin, after taking twelve rounds of three fifty seven to the chest, he what, just stood up, jumped through the window, and ran off?”

“Let’s talk to Garcia,” Amanda answered.

We went out front.  A news van had shown up, parked next to the coroner van.  I recognized the coroner, Doc Leo and a couple of his assistants.  The stooped man looked pale and wan in the bright sun.  They didn’t seem particularly disappointed not to be loading up a body.

Garcia was standing down by his patrol car.   He still had a wary look to his eye and his expression sank as we approached.  “Hey Damien,” I nodded at him.

“Ari,” He nodded back.  His gaze, though, went to my partner, “Look, Special Investigator Ashburn—”

“I don’t think you did anything wrong, Garcia, I just want to know what you saw,” Amanda told him.

I saw sweat bead his forehead and he looked around, as if he were looking for his partner or any backup.  “I told Sergeant Haley what I saw,” he told us.  “I pulled the guy’s wallet out, found his driver’s license, recognized Andy Chin’s face and name, and then left the Hunk to confirm he was dead while I interviewed the shooter.”

“What did the Hunk do, then?” Amanda asked.

“He called it in that there was no rush on the coroner,” Garcia told us.  “I mean, you could see the guy’s internal organs, blood everywhere, guy was toast.”  He shook his head, “Then the Hunk joined me and we interviewed the shooter, took her firearm, and then when I went back out in the hallway, the body was gone.”

“Just like that?” Amanda asked.

“Yeah… yeah, just like that,” Garcia told us, but his eyes looked a little wild.

“You didn’t see anything else, Damien?” I asked.  “Like maybe he got up off the floor and dove out the window?”

Damien didn’t answer.  He didn’t really have to.  His face had gone gray and his hands shook a bit.

“Ah, shit,” I shot Amanda a look.

“You know, you tell anyone that’s what you saw, they’ll have you in an ‘I love me’ jacket and on happy meds before you could finish, right?” Amanda noted.  “Which is why you won’t even tell us.  And that’s why we won’t be writing any of this down.”

Damien gave us both a grateful look.  “I’ve seen… well, I’ve seen a lot.  But nothing I’ve ever seen before is like what… what happened.  But you two aren’t saying I’m crazy…”  He trailed off and he looked between Amanda and me.  “I heard a lot of strange things about what happened a few months back…”

“Some drug cartel hired guns went rabid, that’s all,” Amanda told him in a relaxed tone.  “Don’t worry about it.”

“Yeah, yeah, sure,” Damien let out a tense breath.  “And Andy Chin must have been wearing body armor or something.”

Anyone who got a look at the room where Chin had been shot wouldn’t believe that.  But then again, if there wasn’t a body, there probably wasn’t going to be a whole lot of forensics.  In fact, if Chin was considered to be on the loose, then the shooter wouldn’t be charged for his “murder.”

“Yeah,” I nodded.  “Body armor, that makes sense.”

Damien gave me a nod, “I hope you guys find him.”

I shuddered a bit at the thought of what might make a corpse get up off the ground.  Nothing good, I would bet.  Zombies, vampires, do those sort of things really exist?  I hadn’t asked.  My introduction to the supernatural had been a thousand-year-old werewolf trying to kill me and the follow-up had been his entire pack trying to finish me off… and the werewolf lord himself escaped from hell.

I’d survived those encounters, but I still hadn’t learned much about the powers that be.  I didn’t know what was possible.  I had no idea about the supernatural or preternatural.   For all that I had a guardian angel, he didn’t exactly tell me anything of use.  A glance at Sam showed him smirking at me as normal, his dark eyes sparkling as usual in the presence of recent, graphic death.

“Well, we’ll take it from here, Damien,” I told him.  “Thanks for your help.”

I hoped I had time to get more of a crash course on all this.

***