I’m really excited to share my latest creation with all of you.
Dead of Night (Ghosts & Magic #1) is an action-packed thriller, set in a near-future alternate Earth that has been altered by the re-introduction of magic (with a meta-scientific explanation based on real historical fact).If you like The Divine Series, I really think you’ll like this one (though I should warn that it does contain a bit more profanity than The Divine). The cover was designed by Mario Sanchez Nevado, whose work is just outstanding. You can see more of it at his website here.
A draft of the first chapter is also included below. Let me know what you think of it!
Small-time thief and hitman Conor Night thinks having terminal cancer is his worst problem. The illegal treatments keeping him alive are expensive, and the side effects a mixed bag:
Conor can raise the dead.
When a low-end hit points to a high-end job, Conor is suspicious, but it’s an opportunity he can’t afford to ignore. Armed with a set of soul-sucking ancient dice, a collection of corpses, and the estranged daughter of one of the most powerful wizards on Earth, it will take all of his wit, charm, and magic to navigate the treacherous world of the dominant Houses and either finish the job, or be finished himself.
He’s got ninety-nine problems, and dying is only one.
Want more than just a blurb? Read a draft of the first chapter now (warning: contains profanity):
Chapter 1: About that job…
I was methodical as I approached the door on my elbows, dragging myself like some kind of mutant lizard along the stained brown carpet that lined the eighth floor hallway of The Paramour Hotel. It had taken me almost ten minutes of left arm, right arm, rinse, and repeat to get from the first door, now thirty feet or so behind me, to this one, and at that point I was just about ready to stand up and walk the final few steps, if only to give my lungs a chance to expand again.
It only took a few repetitions of my favorite mantra,‘I don’t want to die’, to convince myself to stay prone and keep snaking. Left arm, right arm, left arm, right arm. I got my eyeball to the bottom of the door, fortunate that it had been hung with as little care as anything else in this dump.
“Now that we have the details out of the way… Did you bring it?”
Peeking in under the frame, I couldn’t see who was speaking, or even tell where the voice was coming from. What I could see were three pairs of feet, two on one side of a desk, and one on the other. They were all angled somewhat cockeye, which told me that the targets inside were sitting. The closer feet, they were packaged up in standard-issue brown boots. The other guy was wearing some nice shiny loafers, probably a Gucci or a Prada.
“Yeah, we’ve got it.”
There was a rustle. Someone pulling something from a plastic bag. The thunk when it landed on the desk said it was heavy. At least I was in the right place.
“Mr. Black will be pleased with your success,” Gucci said. “We’ve been having a lot of trouble getting the drops picked up lately.”
“We heard. If you had put the money up sooner, you wouldn’t have had to lose so many packages.”
I slid forward a few more inches, lifting my eyes to the rusted doorknob above my head. I really wanted to open the door, and I didn’t want to be seen or heard doing it. What would be the odds of that?
“Since we’re on the topic,” Gucci said, “Mr. Black has another job, if you’re interested.”
Laughter. “If the money’s right, we’re interested.”
A soft chuckle. “Of course. The money, my friends, is sure to be to your liking.”
I reached up, my hand moving ever so slowly towards the knob, boney fingers finally falling onto it with the softness of a feather. Even so, just touching the surface caused the door to emit a slight snap.
“You hear that?” one of the booted men asked.
“It’s an old building, Rodge. Shit probably creaks and groans all night.”
“Like your mother?”
I started to turn the knob, a fraction of a millimeter at a time. It was a movement so minute and precise I doubted many people could have repeated it. It was that control, that attention to the art that had made me everything I was today. It didn’t seem like much, crawling around on the floor of a shitty hotel like a worm, but from time to time it paid at least one or two of my bills.
“So what’s the job?” Rodge asked.
I ran my mind through the profile I’d been given of the targets. Roger Excelon, and his brother Tim. They were a pair of accomplished ghosts, experienced heavies who were making their move up into the big-time. Their normal work orders consisted more of guard duty than active carrying, but defense never made the same kind of coin as offense, and to be honest, their backgrounds did make them more suitable for pickup and retrieval.
The third guy was a fixer, an associate of Mr. Black’s whose job was to arrange the resources for the given play. There had been no way to know who he would be, and so that made him a wild card that I was only slightly nervous about. I had planned this thing right, and I’d allowed for the unknown variable.
“Another pickup, but a little more sophisticated this time. Mr. Black has a rival, and that rival has something that Mr. Black wants. Need I go on?”
“Nah, I get it.”
Rodge’s laughter was the perfect cover as I finished twisting the knob and ever-so-carefully eased the door open about six inches. It wasn’t enough for me to get into the room, but I didn’t want to get into the room. Yet.
“It sounds like there might be some violence involved,” Tim said. “Violence costs extra.”
“Yes, of course it does. I imagine there may be some violence. Dragons very rarely wish to part with even the smallest trinket from their hoards, if you know what I mean.”
“I’m not much for metaphors, but yeah, I think I know what you mean. How much?”
I heard the sound of wood scraping wood; a drawer being slid open. Then I heard the sound of something plastic bouncing on the desk.
“Two million,” Gucci said. “Payable in advance. The only way you lose it is if you die.”
“Up front? You trust us to do the job when we’ve already been paid?”
It was Gucci’s turn to laugh. “I trust you not to be stupid enough to double-cross Mr. Black. Besides, you two came highly recommended. You don’t build a reputation on lies, and guards don’t build a reputation on theft.”
Right arm, left arm. I pushed myself back from the crack in the door so I could think. Two million was a good haul, a lot more than any of the other jobs I had ever been offered. I could cover meds for a year with that kind of take. Of course, Mrs. Grey wouldn’t be very happy. The question was, how not very happy? I’d been ghosting both for and against her for the last three years, and she seemed like a reasonable sort. Of course, I’d never actually crossed her.
I felt an itch in my throat, and a constriction in my stomach. It was a reminder of the decision I was trying to make. The bottom line was that I was only getting a hundred thousand for this little soiree, and for the price it didn’t seem that important if one of Mr. Black’s fixers got through it alive. I’d still take out the Wonder Twins, which had been Grey’s goal from the start. How mad could she be for that?
Decision made, I squirmed back into position.
A beep told me they had run the card and confirmed the funding. Two million in bitcoin, digital currency, available to whoever brought the card in for transfer, minus a fee, of course. It crossed my mind to just finish the job and steal it, but I knew Black would send a goon squad over to sweep the scene once I was gone, and if the card was missing and the job ignored, they’d be all the more focused on finding out who had pulled the hit. There was no part of me that wanted to cross any of the Houses’ kill teams.
I felt another urge to cough, and I tightened my throat and fought against it, my eyes drawing tears for the effort. Not yet. It was too soon. I glanced down at my watch. One more minute.
“Looks like the money’s good,” Rodge said. “We have a deal.”
I heard Gucci’s chair squeak, and the sound of another drawer being pulled open. His voice was deeper and more firm when he spoke. “Take this. It has the address, an image of the target, and a shitload of reconnaissance data. Call the number when the job is done, and then wait for confirmation. You have forty-eight hours to check-in before we send a team looking for you. Understand?”
“Not a problem,” Rodge said. “This isn’t our first tango.”
“That’s why Mr. Black wanted you.”
I checked my watch again. Twenty seconds. I reached down to the inside pocket of the black nylon trench I was wearing and brought out a pair of small cubes made of carved human bone. I held them tight in my fist, whispered softly, and prepared to toss them into the room.
“That’s all I’ve got for you two right now,” Gucci said. I heard the chair move again, and the sound of springs. Whoever Gucci was, he was a fat-ass.
The other two chairs shifted. Rodge and his brother also stood.
That was when the window shattered.
Ten seconds early.
I forgot about my sneak attack, gathering my feet under me and standing up. I could hear the commotion in the room, shouting and gunfire, and the unmistakable thump of bullets finding flesh.
I threw the dice in at the same time I slammed the door open, grabbing the sawed-off shotgun from the makeshift holster under my coat and leveling it at the dynamic duo. It was the first time I had seen this pair, a couple of ogres with their massive builds, coated in tattoos and looking plenty mean. Heavies for sure. They had been pumping bullets into my companion in the window with custom made firearms, but now they turned to watch the dramatic entrance, their eyes following the bone dice.
My first round sent heavy lead buckshot scattering everywhere, digging into their skin and ripping through, sending blood splattering against the paisley wallpaper behind them. I tracked my eyes to Gucci, finding him standing in the corner, looking exceptionally calm.
“You’re early, dammit,” I shouted at Caroline. She had never been pretty, but the gunshots had ripped off half her jaw and an ear, and torn a nice chunk out of her thigh.
The dice rolled to a stop.
My eyes returned to the ogres, who were bouncing back from the first hit. They were bloody, but it looked like all it had done was piss them off.
“That fucking hurt,” Rodge said. I could see his muscles clenching and rippling, tensing to pounce on me. His partner was swinging a huge semi-automatic my way. One shot from that thing, and my head would probably be neatly burst from my neck.
I looked down at my dice. Lightning. Doubles.
“This is going to hurt more.”
A wail sounded from all around us, a high pitched shriek followed by a hint of something from the dice. I felt the beating of my heart hang and stop. I felt the pain of a dying man. In front of me, the leathers dropped their weapons, screaming and spasming. Right now, they would be feeling like their entire bodies were burning in intense flashes of pain, nerves overwhelmed and minds unable to process the explosion of sensation. Their size wasn’t a benefit against Lightning.
The woman had finally gotten into the window and raised the gun I had given her. Fingers broken, her aim sucked, but she managed to get two of the sixteen armor-piercing rounds into each of the ogres’ foreheads. They weren’t able to do much to stop it, and they both toppled over, dead. I watched the black shadow of their souls being pulled into the dice laying on the floor, and then turned my attention to Gucci.
He was still standing in the corner, unfazed by the death of his hired help. His eyes travelled from me to Caroline and back. “A necro?”
I re-holstered the shotgun and nodded.
“I didn’t think there were any more necros.”
“We’re a dying breed.”
The dry humor made him laugh.
It made me cough.
“Did you come to off me, or just those two?”
The instructions had said no survivors. I hadn’t made up my mind about that. “I heard you talking to them about a job. Two million.”
He smiled. “Who are you working for?” he asked. “If I had known there was a necromancer floating around, I might have given you a call first.”
Except I didn’t advertise my specialty. Even Mrs. Grey didn’t know what I was about. She had hired an assassin and a thief, not a necro. That was why I wasn’t sure about leaving him alive. It might be better for business in the short-term to let the secret out, but it wasn’t a good long-term plan.
“Don’t let the stories fool you,” I said. “I’m not half as cool as they would make it seem.”
In the stories, necromancers could control legions of the dead, kill with a touch, that sort of thing. I had no such luck. My animation efforts were limited to one corpse at a time, and my control of them was a little bit shaky. I couldn’t kill with a touch either, and the death magic… it was all wrapped up in the pair of dice, a game of chance, and it always required a payment in souls after use, one way or another. I was still around because I made the most out of what I had, not because I could work some magic.
“Tell that to those two brutes,” Gucci said. He held out his hand. “My name is Wilson.”
I didn’t take his hand, or offer my own. He pulled it back.
“Fine. You want the job? It’s yours. Take the card and the specs, they’re both buried somewhere under those empty mounds of muscle. Give a call when it’s done.” He stepped forward, to go between Caroline and me and out the door. Caroline grabbed his arm.
“Hold on,” I said. In my mind, I was running the probabilities, considering the odds. He knew what I was, and I was supposed to have killed him in the first place. I could finish this job, and take on the new one. Mrs. Grey would be happy and Mr. Black likely wouldn’t give a crap about some random underling.
His eyes flashed a bright blue. “I know what you’re thinking, necro. I urge you to reconsider.”
Real power, or a scare tactic? Looking at him, he seemed like the type who would blab, and I wasn’t ready for my predicament to become known to the Houses.
I let Caroline hold him for a few more beats. In the end, it was the shoes that made up my mind. Shiny black shoes belonged to dealers and salesmen. In a past life I’d preferred sneakers; simple and functional. Now I wore matte black boots, because anything else stood out too much in the shadows. Shiny was ostentatious. Shiny drew attention. Shiny made you look like you were bragging. I resented people like that, because they thought they had something I didn’t.
“I’ll take the job,” I said, holding out my hand.
“Forty-eight hours. Call the number. If you don’t, a kill team will be on you, and they won’t give a shit that you can raise the dead.”
I glanced over at Caroline, who let go of Gucci’s arm. He brushed his sleeve like he was clearing it of disease and reached out, wrapping his meaty fingers around my flesh coated bone.
“When you call, give them your number. Mr. Black can use-“
His eyes widened, and he looked down at his hand, still in my wasted grip. He could feel it now. The death of my flesh, the poison that I carried. I had been sentenced a long time ago, and it had made me what I was today. I had learned to fight, and to cheat, and to survive.
I couldn’t kill with a touch.
I needed to keep contact.
He tried to pull his hand away, but my grip was a vice. I’d always had strong, nimble hands. Doctor’s hands. He tried to call on his own power, if he really had any, but Caroline shoved her fist into his mouth and held fast. He could gnaw her fingers off, she wouldn’t notice, and the voice was how the energy was released. He tried to kick and flail, but she used her other arm to brace him, her deadness not understanding the limits of living muscle.
“I prefer to keep my anonymity,” I said, trying to explain to him why he needed to die. “Those shoes tell me you talk too much.”
He couldn’t do anything else, so he began to scream, the sound dampened by the hand in his mouth. We watched the necrosis travel up his arm, turning it a sick shade of green. Blood started to run from his nose, and he began to convulse and gasp.
It wasn’t a pretty thing, death. It didn’t spare your dignity, or your feelings. It just took you; sometimes by surprise, and sometimes with plenty of warning. If you were lucky, you had time to prepare yourself, to prepare your family and your loved ones, or in my case to spare them from the ugliness. If you were unlucky, like Gucci, you just dropped. Then again, maybe it was the other way around. Maybe he was the lucky one.
Either way, maybe the world would hear about your passing, and maybe someone would care.
Or… maybe not.