Brown River Queen cover art

Friday, April 29, 2011

The Cadaver Client

“Happy birthday, you mangy fleabag, you.”

I scratched his battle-scarred head. He rewarded me with the merest flick of his long, black tail.

I sat in my chair, my shiny new boots propped on my battered old desk, and watched Three-leg Cat lick the stump of his missing paw.

That’s how I celebrated the tenth birthday of my business. It had been ten years ago today that I’d scraped together enough coin to pay the rent on the office on Cambrit Street and hire a man to paint a finder’s eye on the bubbled glass pane set in the weather-beaten door. Three-leg, then a mangy injured kitten, had been the first living soul to pass through my open door.

For the last ten years I’d done what every finder does—I’d found things. Sons or daughters or fathers or trouble. If you’ve lost something, or someone, you can seek out my painted finder’s eye, and I’ll pull my feet off my desk, and for the right handful of coin I’ll see if I can find it for you.

I’d done very well, right after the War, finding fathers and sons left abandoned by the Regency when the Truce was declared. These days, I didn’t look for missing soldiers nearly as often as I looked for straying wives or errant husbands.

I reflected on that as Three-leg Cat washed his scar. For awhile the soldiers I’d found often brought their families joy, but the news I brought my clients lately was anything but joyous.

Three-leg Cat looked up, as though he’d heard my thoughts, and gave me a scathing look of feline contempt.

“Buy your own breakfast then,” I muttered.

Three-leg Cat leaped down from my desk, and it was then I heard Mama’s voice close by my door.

I groaned. I’d inherited Mama Hog along with the office. Her card and potion shop was two doors down from mine. She’d taken me on as a project the very first day, and ten years later she was still trying to browbeat me into the Mama Hog version of respectability.

I hoped she’d pass on by, but as usual, luck was showing no love to Markhats near and far. Mama banged on my door, then tried the latch.

“You in there, boy?”

I swung my legs down to the floor. “I’m closed, Mama. No, I’m retiring. Going to sell off my business and buy a barge.”

Mama guffawed and swung my door open, and it was then I saw Mama Hog wasn’t alone.

I gaped.

Mama Hog is old. She claims to be a hundred and twenty, and though I doubt that, I’d buy even odds she is on the bad side of eighty. Mama carefully cultivates every clichéd Witch Woman affectation ever spoken—a wild tangle of grey hair, fingernails that could scare a grizzly bear, and a mole that sometimes changes cheeks from day to day. That’s Mama, and I gather the look is good for business, even in downtown Rannit.

But if Mama was two-dozen clichés stitched together with wrinkles and cackles, her companion was something straight out of myth.

She was a head higher than Mama, which put her just a bit below my shoulders. If she had hair at all, I couldn’t see it, not beneath that trail-beaten black bowler hat. She wore a faded poncho that might have been striped in orange and black zigzags half a century ago, and six or seven layers of castoff rags under that, all clashing, all tattered and trailing threads or bits of cloth.

Her face, though—there were eyes, tiny and black, recessed so far beneath wrinkled grey brows I wondered how the woman saw. Her nose was a wart-encrusted proboscis that sprouted its own crop of fine, white hairs from within, and her chin protruded far enough forward to nearly meet the tip of her nose.

She had hands the color and texture of old leather, and black fingernails four times longer than Mama’s and sharpened to points besides.

She held a gnarled walking stick in her right hand and a handful of dark rags in her left. She was muttering, and though her black eyes were turned up toward mine, I didn’t think she was talking to me. She confirmed this by raising the rags to her lips and whispering to them, then shaking her head as if they’d replied.

“Boy, this here is Granny Knot,” said Mama. “I brung her here myself so I could make inter-ductions. Granny Knot, this is that finder what I told ye about. His name is Markhat. Markhat, this be Granny Knot.”

Mama caught my sleeve and hissed at me. “Don’t you dare make no mock of her, boy.”

“Pleased to meet you, Granny Knot.”

Granny whispered into her handful of rags, then held it to her ear, listened and cackled.

“Granny here needs to be hirin’ herself a finder,” said Mama. “I told her you was the best, boy. And I told her you’d deal fair with her. Don’t make a liar out of me.”

I groaned.

“Mama,” I began. “I just took on a big case, I was just headed out the door—”

“I pays,” said Granny Knot. Her black eyes sparkled, back in the shadows. “I pays good. Got old coin. Three hundred crowns. Pays you fifty.”

I almost snorted. Three hundred crowns, especially in pre-War old coin, was a small fortune. I didn’t figure Granny Knot of the handful of rags had ever seen three crowns stuck together, much less three hundred.

“Granny here is a spook doctor,” said Mama. “Best in Rannit.”

“Nice meeting you, Granny.” I rose. Spook doctors claim to converse with spirits. For a price, of course. Always for a price. “Nice hat.”

And that’s when Granny cackled again and pulled a canvas sack from somewhere beneath her rags and let it fall onto my desk with a tinkle and a thump.

“Three. Hundred. Crowns.”

And then Granny cackled again and went back to her whispered conversation with her pet rags.

Mama grinned at me, her two front teeth shining in triumph.

“I’ll leave you two alone to talk business,” she said. She made a small courtly bow to Granny, who plopped down in my client’s chair while a pair of grey moths escaped her wardrobe and began to dart around my office.

Mama stomped out. Granny beamed at me, and the coins in the sack shifted with that magical sound of gold on gold.

“You’ve hired yourself a finder, looks like.” I said. “So, tell me what it is you’ve lost.”

-- End Excerpt

Another excerpt, you ask?

Indeed it is, I reply.  This one from The Cadaver Client, in which Markhat takes on a dead man for a client.  This is a novella-length tale (hence the reduced price) which is set early in Markhat's career.  Fans refer to it as one of the 'pre-Darla' tales.

If you've been on the fence about trying the Markhat series, The Cadaver Client is a good place to start.  You'll meet Mama Hog, Markhat's next-door-neighbor and a major source of exasperation for the streetwise finder.  you'll also get a feel for Rannit, Markhat's rough-and-tumble home.  

Yes, the Markhat books are fantasy, but you won't find any winsome Elves or cute fairies here.  Or dragons, for that matter.  I based the mean streets of Rannit on what I've seen of the seedier parts of Memphis, Tennessee, and believe me, any Elf that tried to charm the masses with ancient songs would quickly find he was missing his wallet, his rings, and a significant volume of his blood, probably not in that order.

Why did I decide to drop a 1940s film-noir private eye into a world where magic works and the dead don't always stay buried?

Your guess is as good as mine.  Some will claim I must have suffered a recent head injury.  Others will speak of an excess of over-the-counter cold medicine and a bout of insomnia.  Still others will just make that finger-spinning motion by the side of their head when they think I'm not looking.

Any or all of them might be right.  But I've had a blast writing Markhat.  I think we've all wanted to be that guy who always has the perfect retort, who's never at a loss for words.  That's Markhat.  Cynical, quick-witted, weary enough of the world to see it for what it is, yet not so calloused that he can turn away from the suffering of innocents.  

No wonder I enjoy pretending to be the guy.  

I think you'll enjoy reading about him, too.  If the excerpt hooked you, follow the links below to choose which version you'd like.  Kindle, Nook, pdf for your PC, a version for your Sony e-reader, heck, even print -- choose below!

The Cadaver Client - Various Formats (Nook, pdf, Mobi, etc.)

The Cadaver Client - Amazon Kindle version

The Markhat Files - Printed book, 3 stories, includes The Cadaver Client!

The e-book versions are less than 3 bucks and the print book from Amazon is around ten (it includes 3 Markhat novellas -- The Cadaver Client, Dead Man's Rain, and The Mister Trophy).

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Dead Man's Rain

The Widow Merlat sat across from me, breathed through her scented silk hanky, and did her best to make it plain she wasn’t one of those Hill snobs who think of us common folk as mere servant-fodder. No, I was all right in her book—not a human being like her, of course, but as long as I kept my eyes on the floor and knocked the horse flop off my boots, I’d be welcome at her servant’s entrance any day.
“You come highly recommended, goodman Markhat,” she said, daring Rannit’s unfashionable south-side air long enough to lower her hanky while she spoke. “The most capable, most experienced finder in all of Rannit. I’m told you are discreet, as well. I would not be here otherwise.”
I sighed. My head hurt and I still had cemetery dirt on my shoes. I did not need to have my face rubbed in my humble origins by a Hill widow who doubtlessly thought her son was the first rich boy to ever take a fancy to the half-elf parlor maid.
“I’m also told you are expensive,” said the widow. She plopped a fat black clutch purse down on my desk, and it tinkled, heavy with coin. “Good,” she added. “I’ve never trusted bargains, nor shopped for them. Money means nothing to me.”
“Funny you should say that, Lady Merlat,” I said. “Why, just the other day I was telling the Regent that money means twenty jerks a day, to me. Plus expenses. And that’s only if I decide to take the job.” I leaned back in my chair and clasped my hands behind my head. “And, despite your generous display of the money that means nothing to you, I haven’t said yes yet.”
The widow smiled a tight, small smile. “You will, finder,” she said. “I’ll pay thirty crowns a day. Forty. Fifty. Whatever it takes, I will pay.”
Outside, an ogre huffed and puffed as he pulled a manure wagon down the street, and all the silk in Hent wasn’t going to keep the stench out of the widow’s Hill-bred nostrils.
The widow shoved her purse my way. I shoved it back.
“Tell me what you want,” I said.
She nodded, once and quickly, and took a deep breath. A hint of color fought its way past the powder on her cheeks.
“My husband is dead,” she said.
She was wearing more black than a barge-load of undertakers. “No,” I said, straight-faced. “How long?”
“Two years,” she said. More color leaked through. “Two years. He caught fever.” The widow’s voice went thin. “He caught fever and he died and I buried him.” She took in a ragged breath. “But now he’s back, goodman. Returned.”
“Returned?” I lifted an eyebrow. “How? Rattling chains, wearing a bed-sheet?” I stood. “Nice talking to you, Lady.”
Her small bright eyes got smaller and brighter. “Sit,” she hissed. “I am neither senile nor insane. My husband has returned. He walks the grounds at night. He rattles the windows, pulls at all the doors. All but four of the staff left after his second visit.” The widow Merlat gave her hanky a savage twist. “I had to hire caterers for the Armistice Day Festival,” she said. “The canapés were spoiled, and two of my guests fell ill after sampling the stuffed mushrooms.”
“Tragic,” I said. “Shocking. And the wine?”
“Goodman Markhat,” she said. “Are you mocking me?”
I sighed, eyed the coin-purse, sat. “Lady Merlat,” I said, “this sounds like a matter for the Watch, or the Church, or both. Why me? What can I do that they can’t?”
She twisted her hanky and chose her words. “The Watch. The Church. Don’t you think I tried, goodman? Don’t you think I tried?”
“I don’t know, Lady,” I said. “Did you?”
She glared. “Sixty crowns a day,” she said.
“So your husband is a revenant,” I said, slowly. “And he’s tracking up the flower beds and scaring the neighbors and the coachman is also the butler and nobody can cook a decent meal.”
“Sixty-five crowns,” she said, her voice glacial, to match her eyes. “Seventy, if you vow to hold your tongue.”
I grinned. “Sixty-five it is,” I said. “And I need to make one thing perfectly clear, Lady Merlat. I saw a lot of folks get suddenly, tragically dead during the War. What I didn’t see was anybody walking around afterward complaining about it.”
“You doubt my word?”
“I believe you believe, but that doesn’t make it the truth,” I said. “Have you seen your husband, Lady Markhat? Really seen him?”
She shuddered, and went corpse-pale underneath the powder. “Once,” she said in a whisper. “The second time. I’d moved upstairs, kept the windows shuttered and bolted. But I heard the dogs barking and Harl, the footman, shouting and I peeked outside and there he was, standing there, looking up at me.” She shivered all over, fought it off. “It was him, goodman Markhat. Two years in the grave—but it was Ebed.”
She hesitated. And then she lowered the hanky and looked me in the eye. “Please,” she said, and the word stuck in her throat, so she repeated it. “Please.”
“All right, Lady,” I said. “All right.” I opened my desk, pulled out a pad of ragged pulp-paper and a pair of brass dipping-pens. “I’ll do this much. I’ll try to find out who or what you saw,” I said. “Give it three days. If I come up empty, you only owe me for two.”
“I saw my husband,” said the widow. “I saw him, and others have seen him, and I’ll pay you sixty-five crowns a day to find out why he has returned, and how I can put him to rest.”
I sighed. “I need to know a few things, Lady Merlat,” I said. “Names, dates, addresses. And the location of your husband’s tomb.”
She found a fresh hanky and took a big breath.
Revenants and funerals and aching in the head.
Happy birthday to me.

Yep.  I sneaked another promo into the blog.  For Dead Man's Rain, which is a fan favorite in the Markhat series, at least judging from the emails I get.
The excerpt is from the opening.  Later on, you've got a haunted mansion, a mob of ruthless heirs, and Ebed Merlat, who may or may not be the walking dead.  Oh, and there's a storm.  A stormy night, in fact.  Dark, too.  So, one might say, a dark and . . . .
One might say that but I certainly won't.  It's a spooky little tale of (literally?) undying love and a guilt so profound it can't even be buried.  But don't take my word for it -- here are a few reviews I've received via email:
"...tons better than anything I ever wrote."   W. Shakespeare, deceased. 
"...and if we do not receive your payment by the 15th, we will consider the account delinquent."   MasterCard.
"Greetings of the day to you dear.  I am Dr. Reverend Mbai Basoli, and I have a 100% safe and legal business deal for you."
By now you're either hooked or you long ago hit the back button, so I'll list the various formats below.  Choose your poison!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Free Sample Tuesday: THE BANSHEE'S WALK

When I'm not ranting about miscreants and ne'er-do-wells, I write books.

At infrequent intervals, I mention these books here in the blog.  Who am I kidding?  I plug my books shamelessly, hoping a couple of you will follow the convenient links below the sample to get your very own copy.  

Today's excerpt comes from my Markhat novel THE BANSHEE'S WALK.  Markhat, the feckless hero, is a finder, which is what private eyes in his world paint on their doors.  People who've lost wives or husbands or sons or hope come to see Markhat, and if they're lucky, he finds what they've lost.  

But what Markhat usually finds is trouble.  In THE BANSHEE'S WALK, Markhat is hired by a wealthy patron of the arts to determine who has been surveying her estate in the dead of night, and why.  Markhat suspects nothing but a petty land grab, or a squabble over property lines -- but what he discovers in the forest called the Banshee's Walk is something much older and far more sinister.

Enjoy the excerpt.  Links to various e-book versions and the printed book follow...


Moving through a forest at night is a perilous business. You can’t see briars before they tear through your clothes and into your skin. You can’t see rattlesnakes until you’ve annoyed them and they bite. And Heaven help you if you run into a wild boar sow with piglets nearby, because boars are worse than snakes and briars combined.

I never saw an example of any of those. All I saw were soldiers, some mounted, most on foot. These weren’t all kids, either. Half were my age, which meant they were vets who done this sneaking around business before.

I just hoped none of them were better at it than me.

The stars wheeled by above. The coward Moon never rose. The wind kept blowing, howling now and then, reminding me of Buttercup. I still had a hunk of corn bread for her, mashed flat and wrapped in one of Lady Werewilk’s good cotton napkins.

I topped a tiny little hillock, made my way between the trunks of two mighty oaks, popped my head up long enough to count fires. I saw two.

And something else. A faint blue radiance, bobbing and trailing sparks that lay there glowing but didn’t touch off any fires.

I bit back a curse word. I’d watched five of the black robed bastards be yanked up into the sky and I’d been sure, absolutely sure, that I’d seen the last of sorcerers at least for the night.

But here was at least one more, still on the hunt.

I hoped Buttercup was somewhere safe. I wondered why they were so determined to snatch her.

I eased my way back down the hill on my belly, and then I crawled on, heading for the Faery Ring.

I chided myself a dozen times on that dark journey, about my destination. I was making an awfully long leap of faith, going from two mentions in an old Werewilk family history to being sure something ancient and potent was hidden along a creek that had dried to nothing generations before the War even broke. You’ll feel pretty foolish, I told myself, if you reach the Ring and all you find are oaks and midnight.

You’ll feel even more foolish if someone sees you and puts an arrow through your gut.

I couldn’t argue with either sentiment, but I kept going.

Halfway there, I began to see signs that I might have been right after all.

I found rutted wagon tracks, in the forest. Wagons had left the old road. I counted at least five. Men had cleared the way with axes, oxen and ropes. Some of the cut timber was so fresh it still wept sap.

But there were no men. Not a single sentry had been left in the wagons’ wake.

Although men had accompanied the wagons, in single file on either side of them, in numbers I couldn’t even estimate.

I stayed thirty feet or so off the new-cut road. I moved as quietly as I could, but I no longer crawled. Instinct told me that, at last, I was about to learn just what the fuss was about.

I smelled smoke from the fires before I saw them. A few moments later, I heard the first voices, and the first sounds of hammers and picks and axes. And then I topped another gentle rise, and it all came into view.

A ring of torches. Wagons. Men moving and shouting and working. Most were digging. Others were erecting a scaffold of fresh-cut timbers over the deep wound they’d dug in the soft, wet earth.

As I watched, chains were dragged from a wagon, and a heavy block and tackle, and ladders were propped against the scaffold and men clambered up them, chains and tackle in tow.

I felt a tiny hand slip into my right pocket. I didn’t even smell her over my own enthusiastic stink.

“Hello, Buttercup,” I whispered.

She found and unwrapped the corn bread, frowned at its mashed state, and then shrugged and began to gobble it down, using the napkin to keep the crumbs in place.

She stood pressed to my side, her right hand filled with corn bread and her left wrapped around my waist. 
The top of her filthy little banshee head failed to even meet the middle of my chest.

She was shaking. I didn’t dare move. I didn’t want to spook her, even though the realization that she was probably being tracked by at least one determined sorcerer was sending shivers up and down my spine.

“Did you lose your blanket?”

She looked up at me again and grinned.

And then she coughed, choking on a mouthful of dry corn bread.

It wasn’t the loudest cough I’d ever heard but it was close. But I dropped to my knees and dared putting an arm around her as I did so.

She didn’t bolt. She was shaking. She huddled close, still chewing, her eyes locked on mine.

I raised a finger to my lips.

She hesitated a moment, and then did the same.

I almost laughed. But instead I watched and listened.

The workers down below kept working. The movement of the torches and lanterns kept on as before, with none of them heading suddenly our way.

No booted feet rushed towards us. No iron hooves, either. I decided we’d found Fate’s favor, that time. I hoped the rest of the night would prove as fortunate.

“Do you know what they’re doing, down there?” I asked, in a whisper. I wasn’t really expecting a reply. I had no way of knowing whether Buttercup could speak or understand speech.

She tilted her head and eyed me curiously. I shrugged.

“No matter. We’ll just watch for a while.”

And we did. They dug. Dirt was hauled the edge of the light and dumped. I tried to pick out the ringleaders by looking for anyone not carrying a tool. Part of the activity right at the edge of the excavation was obscured by a tent that was being erected as I watched, and I wasn’t willing to risk moving just to see around it.

A horn blew, three short blasts. In the Army that meant archers to the fore. To the men below, it meant more shovels, on the double, because a mob of them leapt from the backs of various wagons and hoofed it toward the hole.

It was then I caught a brief glimpse of what I decided was the man in charge. A small group of men made a slow circle of the pit. Three of them carried odd glowing implements that they held out over the hole on lances.

The fourth was twice the height of any man I’d ever known, and as thin as he was tall. If he were a he at all. No way to tell, since he or she was wrapped in white robes from head to toe.

I tried very hard to sink back even further into the shadows. My knowledge of Rannit’s sorcerous crowd was by no means exhaustive, but anyone that odd would have been mentioned, here or there.

Which meant an out-of-town wand-waver was in the mix.

I thought back to those stories we told each other in the trenches. There had been something about an inhumanly tall wand-waver, way up in the Northlands. Longshanks or Longlegs or some such, fond of using plagues as weapons. The diseases had killed humans as well as Trolls. There had been grumblings that our losses to illness had been at least as numerous as those of the enemy.

After the War, the bulk of the Regency’s sorcery corps moved with the Regent to Rannit, which had survived the War with relatively little damage. The sorcerers who didn’t make the move were generally the ones who’d made powerful enemies among the wand-wavers who did.

Buttercup gobbled down the last of her corn bread. She then licked the napkin clean of crumbs and butter before deciding my other pockets might bear more yummy treasures.

“Whoa, sister, that’s no way to act.”

I grabbed her hands. They were tiny, but strong. She smiled and before I realized what was happening she leaped up in my lap and kissed me, square on the lips.

I fell over backward. Dry leaves crunched. Tattletale twigs snapped. Buttercup fell with me, giggling and redoubling her grip. I tried to pry her away without hurting her, but her tiny stature belied a powerful frame.
I was about to stand up and take her by the shoulders and just push her an arm’s length away when we both heard the sound of a horse trotting through the trees.

She let go. She drew her hands up over her mouth, covering a tiny mewling noise.

The blue glow shone through the limbs, coming our way.

--- End Excerpt

Want to read more?  Then clickety-click with your nimble little finger, dear reader.  Your choice of formats is below.

(Pre-order now, comes out June 7)

(Available now!)


Monday, April 25, 2011

Trash on Parade: Kage Games LLC

UPDATE 4-26-2011 1612 CST -- The game app has been PULLED from the Android store.  VICTORY

The world, as you know, is filled with worthless, reprehensible scum.

This week, I present to you the creators of the Google Android app 'Dog Wars,' who have just edged out Westboro Baptist for the top spot in my coveted 'Waste of Skin and Air' list, which showcases the most flagrant examples of humanity gone horribly, terribly wrong.

I know that some of you believe no person is bad through and through.  Some of you believe that hidden in even the darkest heart, a tiny spark of goodness survives, needing only patient, compassionate nurturing to blossom forth into the flower of human kindness.

People like you are so cute.  Clueless, of course, and nearly defenseless in a world that eats kittens for breakfast, but you're cute nonetheless.

And utterly mistaken.  Take for instance the Dog Wars game I mentioned earlier.

The creators of this travesty find it amusing to equip and fight virtual dogs in bloody VR death matches.  I suspect they and their mutant scum customer base use the app between actual dog fights and felonies, i.e., passing the time between violent home invasions and hanging around various alleys in search of their next fix.

Because those are the sorts of people who enjoy dog fighting.  They also enjoy rape, murder, and of course armed robbery, and they'd do them all at the same time if they had just a few more appendages.

The owners of Kage Games LLC know their market base (scum, worthless, see also Trash, Vermin, etc.) and are pandering directly toward it.  Of course, they defend their wares with a variety of mentally-challenged arguments,  claiming their 'game' is a harmless simulation.

Sure it is.  Just like 'Wife Beater 2.0,' and 'Mega-Rapist 2000.'


Those last two aren't games?  Why not?  After all, they're just harmless simulations.

Oh, right, because they not only depict but glorify violent crimes.  My bad.

I've looked for contact information for Kage Games LLC.  There's a web page, but it's a static image with no links or contact info.  I suspect the 'owners' pulled anything resembling an actual page when news of their disgusting game hit the web.

I'd love to let  Kage Games LLC know what I think of them.  Too bad they don't have the guts to put their names out in public.  But since they're hiding, the best I can do is call them out here:

An Open Letter to Dog Fight Fans, the Makers of the 'Dog Wars' App, and the Defenders Thereof:

You are filth.  Trash. Aberrations. Utterly and wholly contemptible.  Without worth or value as people of any sort.  Even the base chemicals which comprise your gap-toothed, foul-smelling bodies are worthless, since they must be riddled with impurities and laced with raw sewage.  

I can only imagine what sort of creatures brought you into the world.  Siblings, of course, who were in turn descended from a long line of siblings.  I suspect you were raised up in a remote cabin, where you practiced random cannibalism when you weren't molesting livestock or trying desperately to evolve opposable thumbs.

And now you've discovered the Internet.  Wonderful.  And you saw a need among your like-minded brethren for a 'game' that glorifies the killing of innocent dogs.  Lacking any sort of compassion or other higher mental functions, it's no surprise that you dived in with both club feet, eager to make a few fast bucks off your two favorite things, suffering and violence.

It appears that your 'game' will be yanked from the Android market any moment now.  And that's good.  Your sort of 'entertainment' has no place in a civilized society.

And neither do you.  It is my most sincere wish that each of you and your 'fans' contract something both truly nasty and inexorably disfiguring.  Huge anal warts, for instance.  Untreatable.  Incurable. And slow.

Now that would be fun.  Maybe you could even make it into a game app!  Plot the spread of the cancer through your system, maybe even have the raging tumors fight.  

Sounds like a fun game to me!  

If you'd like to email android and ask them what in the **** they're doing keeping such a piece of trash on their Market, do so here: