October 9, 2011
Growing up an absolute horror junkie, starting at around age 5, when it was time to write my first full length novel, I had one major question to answer. What, out of all the monsters, spirits and demons that populate my subconscious, will I pluck out and spend the next year or so living within an almost invisible, conjoined twin state? I spent a lot of time living with that question, letting it roll around the old brain pan, sifting its contents like a mad gold digger until I found that one true nugget that could give birth to a writing boom.
And then it hit me. It has to be about ghosts! Why ghosts? Because, unlike discovering gold in them thar hills, most people either have a personal ghost story, or are close to someone who has lifted the veil between this world and the next. I recently tested that theory in my writer’s group when I brought the subject up. Sure enough, five out of six people had had their own encounter with a phantom, wraith, ghost, whatever you want to name it.
Ghosts scare people because of what we, as a society, perceive to be their very real nature. Even if someone says they don’t believe in spirits, put them in a strange house at night and see how they react to odd noises or distant moans. Sure, it could be the house settling, but there’s a very primal part of our brains that reacts to the potential of the supernatural in ways we can’t control. Everyone loves a good ghost story, even the ones who say they get scared by them. It only seemed natural that I try to spin my own ghost story, and for close to four years I did just that, writing my book, Forest of Shadows, combining the classics of a good haunt with new, hopefully terrifying twists and turns.
Another reason for choosing ghosts was a series of unexplained encounters my wife and I had with a phantom boy in my house for over a year. He would be there, clear as day one moment, and gone the instant you went to seek him out. The oddest part of all was the feeling of comfort that always washed over us when he was around. Who was that boy and why did he only stick around for that one year? We’ll never know. But I did know that I wanted to get aspects of those events onto paper.
So I wrote. And the ghosts of my past and that shades of society’s darkest nightmares became my constant companions. When I knew I was going to write a scene involving apparitions or shadow people, I would darken the room, so it was only me and the feeble light from my computer screen. I wanted to feel the tingle of the phantom presence at my back, catch shadows within the inky darkness moving about from the corner of my eye. I wanted to be scared.
Enjoy this excerpt from Forest of Shadows. If you feel you have to sleep with the light on tonight, I’ve done my job.
“I’m here,” he called out with far less authority than he had wished. His voice cracked and he swallowed off the last syllable as he gulped for air.
With the normal night sounds silenced, his ragged breathing sounded like the whoosh of an incoming breaker.
He caught movement behind the window leading to the great room. A flash of something pale and alive. He blinked hard.
The face of a boy was pressed against the glass. But there was no body beneath it.
Judas stifled a scream and felt a strong urge to empty his suddenly swollen bladder right there and then. He watched the face, with its benign expression, indifferent to the terror stricken man in the front yard, as it pushed forward through the glass without breaking it. As the head hovered on the porch, a prepubescent body dressed in a dirty t-shirt and shorts slowly materialized. His neck came into focus last, forming the bridge between head and torso.
No way! No freakin’ way! Judas turned on his heels and started to run.
Shadows were seeping out of the trees like spilled molasses, coiling through the grass and sweeping up their trunks. The deathly quiet was broken by the hum of incoherent murmurings. Dozens of whispered voices swirled around him as the shadows continued their steady march towards the driveway and his only means of escape.
He swung back around and the boy was only a few feet from him, his body more corporeal. In fact, if Judas hadn’t seen him materialize from a wafting head he would have sworn he was face to face with your average ten year old boy out for a late night sneak.
This time Judas gasped aloud.
The boy narrowed his cold gray eyes, raised a rigid arm and pointed at the advancing shades.
Even though he wanted to run mad and screaming from this place, something compelled him to stay. Slowly and with great fear, he turned his head.
October 9, 2011
On the first day of Killercon, most authors are trickling in. Early on, Chris Welch and I did the tourist thing on Fremont Street, trying to spot where movies like "Diamonds are Forever" and "Honeymoon in Vegas" and others filmed their famous scenes. Our friend, fellow author Brian Pinkerton (author of the brand new novel Rough Cut, from Bad Moon Books), wasn't due until later. In the time between, I found myself with some time and a desire I'd had since spotting the large ads on buses and limos (and the $5 coupons in the little Vegas travel booklet), and armed with the knowledge that there would be an hour and a half to two hour wait, I cabbed to The Gun Store, where I would be given a choice among an almost limitless list of submachine guns and pistols to shoot.
As a thriller writer, I have always found that research can be everywhere and anywhere. Here was my chance to shoot full auto for the first time, and I decided to take it. I've known my way around guns nearly all my life. I've shot everything from black powder Civil War replicas to long guns in all calibers (including 5.56mm semi-auto), shotguns, and both revolvers and (admittedly to a lesser extent) semi-auto pistols. I've always prided myself on getting the gun stuff right in my stories and books, and I believe I have, in part thanks to my experience and to a fairly well-stocked reference shelf that includes more than one well-thumbed edition of Smith's Military Guns of the World. But I had never held or fired a submachine gun, even though my characters do it all the time. So here I was, and I had a hard time deciding whether to choose the H&K MP5, a standard modern police submachine gun, or the classic German World War 2-era MP-40 (known as the Schmeisser and seen in just about every war movie ever made... check out Clint Eastwood's awesome stance with a scorpion-like MP-40 in the Schloss Adler's staircase in the classic Where Eagles Dare). I chose the MP5 mostly because of my budget and the fact that more of my scenes have included it than the MP-40.
Ready with my plain target and ticket, I settled in for the wait at the main counter. Guns decorate every inch of every wall. Well-armed staff dressed in special ops-black shuttle unloaded weapons and tubs of ammo back and forth to the ranges. A long window allows those waiting to watch the shooters blast away in a hail of hot brass. The rattle of machine gun fire sounds like a movie soundtrack. The smell of cordite filters through the place like an air-borne hallucinogen. Coincidentally, most of the WW2 guns were kept tantalizingly behind the counter, where I could lust over the Schmeissers, the American-made Thompsons and a couple of M3 "grease guns," among many others.
While waiting, I spotted a gentleman in black whose nametag said he was Tony D. and decided that my wait would be well-spent if I asked some questions. I asked Tony if he would mind a few questions from a writer doing research and, to my delight, he agreed. Those WW2 guns are getting old, so my first question was how in the heck do they maintain them in firing shape? It turned out I had picked the best person to ask, as Tony admitted that he is the Chief Armourer -- it's his job to seek out parts all over the world and keep their stock in the best shape possible. From there, we discussed the pros and cons of various guns, including the Italian Breda submachine gun my own dad had used in the 50s during his stint in the Italian marines, when Italy and Yugoslavia almost came to blows over ownership of the city of Trieste. My dad had carried live ammo on the border, two small but jittery armies facing each other over a thinly-drawn line on a map. My story interested Tony as he informed me that his heritage is Italian as well, and so we were off, discussing families and his collection of exotic full-size machine guns (which he and a group of enthusiasts shoot in the Arizona desert once or twice a year). This was gold! I traded cards with Tony and secured his agreement to answer an occasional gun-related question via email. I told him my new book, Wolf'S Edge (to be published by Samhain October 4), contains a parallel story set in late-WW2 Italy based on my parents' recollections of life under German occupation and Allied bombing. I confessed that I'd vacillated between the modern smg and the old one, but had chosen the new one for expedience. The line was moving past the counter, so we parted ways with a hearty handshake and I set off to wait my turn in a very long and snaky line of guys and their girlfriends waiting to do the gangsta thing.
A half hour later, barely having reached the middle of the line, I felt a tap on the shoulder. I turned, startled, to see none other than Tony D., waving for me to follow. A couple dizzying minutes later, Tony personally handed me not only the HK MP5 I'd paid for, but also the WW2 MP-40 I'd passed on, as well as twice the ammo, and we were off and shooting. I was stunned, flattered, humbled, and -- I admit -- grateful for the opportunity to get the VIP treatment, even though it had been the furthest thing from my mind when I approached him.
Well, it was an instructive few minutes. Yes, shooting full auto squirts lead about as quickly as water from a hose. But instinctively I made the experience last and the rounds count more by shooting short bursts, improving my control of the chattering guns. The MP5 sported a laser sight, which made it easy to aim, but keeping the rounds within the target was difficult as it climbed up and to the right during shooting. The MP-40, on the other hand, Tony informed me (worth a cool $18 grand and change) would shoot like a thoroughbred -- and it did, with deeper reports and amazing accuracy with only mild climb straight up. Sure, we were shooting about 40 feet away, about the limit for these guns' accuracy, but I have to admit I tore up the center of that target pretty well for a beginner. I was happy to fare so well, continuing my life-long tendency to handle guns with instinctive ability I guess must be innate. All bragging aside, it's not that I was super accurate -- some rounds missed the target altogether as I gained some familiarity -- but I did well enough to feel as though my writing about guns isn't based on book research only. I also did learn a couple things you can't just read: recoil is fairly light on both guns, amazingly so (I'd expected a sore shoulder), and the MP-40 sports its bolt on the left, which seems amazingly well-designed (as Tony later confirmed) because when holding the pistol grip with your right hand, cocking the bolt with your left actually works better and gets you shooting again more quickly. What an experience!
I just want to thank Tony D. once again for the personal touch, the VIP treatment I didn't expect or demand, the friendly conversation, the answers to a writer's questions, and the offer to come back any time and shoot some more classic guns. I know I will return to the Gun Store. The last dab of frosting on the cake was having my picture taken with Tony and his goddaughter Jessica, who also works there, while on my way out. I count myself lucky to have had such a great experience, and having had the chance to make friends with such an expert... and a true gentleman!
Grazie mille, Tony!
October 9, 2011
For a few days in late September, over a hundred writers gathered in that city of sin, Las Vegas, to examine why they write what they write: chronicles of sins disguised as tales of horror and thrillers and paranormal romance and everything in-between.
As a veteran of the first two Killercons, I felt obligated and destined to attend the third installment, and as always it was a great decision. First and foremost, conventions are all about friendship and collegiality. Writing is a lonely business, a kind of thankless business (unless you hit it big), and there's nothing better than recharging your batteries by hanging out with your friends, most of whom you haven't seen in a while, and making new friends out of the like-minded people who are drawn to the events to promote, sell, buy, or collect books -- and authors.
Really, I could list just about the entire roster of attendees as friends, so instead I'll just mention a few. Anyone I've neglected here, please forgive my failing memory. You all made an impact on me, but it's possible we didn't have a chance to hang together much. That's what Killercon 4 is all about then! Yes, I will be there. And so will you, if you know what's good for you.
This year's event got off to a great start as I had dinner with other early birds Gene O'Neill, Gord Rollo, Chris Welch, Bob Meracle (and a cameo by Erik Williams). Soon we were joined by Weston Ochse and Shane McKenzie. Next day was reunion day as good buddies and new buddies rolled in: Brian Pinkerton, Lisa Morton, Mercedes Yardley (and her friends Ryan and Mason), John Palisano, P.S. Gifford, Hal Bodner, Michael Calvillo, Rhonda Wilson and Craig, Steven Booth, Norm Rubinstein, Monica O'Rourke, John Skipp, John Little, Gabrielle Faust, Robert Devereaux, William F. Nolan, Laura Hickman, Gardner Goldsmith, Lauren (whose name I can't remember!), Ben Etheridge, and of course organizers Wrath James White, Bailey Hunter and R.J. Cavender. The guests were notable and it was great both seeing them and being on panels with some of them: Ray Garton, Jonathan Maberry, Edward Lee, Jack Ketchum, Monica Kuebler, Jeff Mariotte... and more! There were more people, but my memory fails. My god, if I missed anyone I apologize! It was great talking to you all, buying some books, talking shop, sitting on the hot and controversial Erotic Fiction panel with Wrath, Ray, and Hal, getting my picture taken with the legendary Bill Nolan (of Logan's Run, Night Stalker, and Norliss Tapes fame) while chatting about his days writing for Dan Curtis (another legend), and meeting Paul Gifford's "creepy" friend, Bob. I don't think I had a bad conversation all weekend. I managed to get out some, too -- to The Gun Store (more in a separate post), to Fremont Street, to the Strip, to Bite (the Stratosphere's rock-themed vampire musical), and out and about. I want to thank my main posse: Chris, Brian, P.S., Gene, and Gord for some of the best times, but hey, there was nothing but good. I will see you all again next year. Killercon gets in your blood and doesn't seep out, believe me.
October 3, 2011
By W.D. Gagliani
“He who fights with monsters should beware lest he thereby become a monster. And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee.”
—Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil
(Somewhere between Minocqua and Eagle River, WI)
The keys clicked lightly under his fingers, and he watched the short paragraph take shape on the laptop’s screen before him. The light it emitted was enough to cast a blue-white glow across the room and over his shape. He hunched over slightly, refocusing his eyes and positioning the bifocals to give him a clear look at the text he was leaving behind. He moused over a phrase, adjusted it, cut another word here and added several words there.
He was very quiet. His family slept, and he didn’t want to complicate things by awakening them. Karina snored softly in the adjacent room, her form stretched under the sheet in the sideways position she preferred. Down the hall, the nearest room was where Katerina slumbered the innocent sleep of the six-year-old, a favorite bear watching over her from one side of the pillow and an animal—a jolly looking dog from the latest Pixar movie—was crushed in her sleepy embrace. The boys slept in the far room, across the hall from the main upstairs bath.
He smiled sadly as he thought of his family, asleep and unencumbered by what ate at him like acid. His smile turned into a frown and then a grimace as he tasted the acid column that rose in his throat. Real or not, he felt the vomit push its way into the back of his throat, and he fought to swallow it down.
Hands shaking, he typed a few more words, reread the six lines or so he had written into the blank file, then he moused over to the Print command and heard the sheet work its way through the elderly Epson below his desk. Then he highlighted and copied the text, clicked into the open browser, scrolled to where the text box sat waiting, empty, its cursor blinking like a clown’s evil wink. He pasted the text and Submitted it, then closed the page and clicked into the Preview function. There it was, his text posted on his website’s main page where the counter would soon begin to click upward as his regulars checked his blog and news.
He closed the browser but left the computer on. It really didn’t matter.
Behind him, where the bottom of the built-in bookcase met the lower cabinets, their shelves hidden behind cherry-wood doors, he flicked the disguised switch and waited for the upper bookcase to disengage from its lock. It hissed open a few inches, and he reached between its edge and the frame and opened wide the secret compartment. Behind the movable bookcase were several shelves of items and a built-in safe. He ignored everything but one item. He took it from its resting place inside the red velvet-lined case, then pushed the compartment door shut again.
He took the object and held it up where moonlight entering the wide picture window could illuminate it. The huge, silver disk above shed light over the lake and its surroundings, leaking into the living room and over his hands. The heavy object shone in the light. It was a dagger perhaps nine inches in length, sheathed in lightweight wood criss-crossed with carved symbols. The dagger’s grip was set with several irregular shaped jewels in a line above the straight cross-guard. The moonlight blackened the jewels so they looked like pools of darkness in the hilt.
His eyes suddenly filled, and he tilted his head as if tears could be coaxed to clear his pupils on their own. His motion achieved nothing, and the tears swelled up until they were heavy enough to seek their own ways across his cheeks. He repressed a sob.
He had decades to sob over.
He tucked the sheathed dagger into his belt, leaving his hands free.
Almost without realizing how he had gotten there, he stood in front of a door down the hall. Now holding the dagger in one hand, he used the other to edge the door open just enough to slip inside, where his daughter slept among stuffed animals and at least one doll. Her golden hair was made into a silver halo by the moonlight filtered through the blinds. She was tucked in all the way to her chin, her tiny hands wrapped around the plush dog.
He let his tears fall onto her pillow for a moment, looking at her one last time. Then he swiftly slid the blade from its scabbard, placed one hand over the top of her face and pressed down hard, effectively preventing her scream and keeping her from seeing what he was about to do.
Forgive me, he prayed as he quickly drew the blade once across her throat. He wasn’t sure who would grant the forgiveness, however.
Dodging the hot spray, he held her head down on the pillow until it and the bed were sodden, and her tiny struggles were finished.
Not long. It didn’t take long at all.
Sobbing quietly, snot bubbling from his nostrils, he left his daughter’s room and entered the next, where the boys slept.
Thankfully they had given up the bunk beds, preferring two individual singles set perpendicular to each other. He approached the closest, his younger son, and said his quiet good-bye.
Then he repeated the procedure with the heavy hand, pressure downward holding his son’s neck in position and keeping him quiet and blind. The blade sang through the young skin with nary a hitch, but this time the blood gush half-caught him as he swayed to evade it. His older son grumbled in his sleep, muttered, and snored after shifting sideways on his pillow. In a moment the large hand, the father’s hand, was holding the small head down, and the other hand was doing the deed almost as if they were independent of each other and of his control. He barely moved this time, letting more of his son’s blood bathe him as he suppressed the struggling boy beneath. This son had been his favorite.
He waited again for the bleed-out, snot now coating his chin. He was unmindful of the snot and tears and saliva that ran freely from his open mouth.
Then he headed for the master bedroom, where his wife waited.
Her eyes were open and questioning when he approached, apparently having heard either his walking or the children’s struggling. She probably hadn’t processed what she’d heard, because her instinctive alarm had not forced the issue and fully awakened her fear.
“What—” she began, but his hand covered her lips and eyes, and his one motion took the blooded silver blade through her neck. Even as the curtain of blood jetted out from her, he could feel the scream under his hand, the accusation, the terror.
It didn’t matter whether she asked the question, it was what he heard. His body covered hers, lovingly, feeling her struggles diminish until finally it went still beneath his.
He was drenched with his family’s blood now, a symbolic sacrifice of everything he had ever loved.
Carefully, he replaced the blooded dagger in its hiding place. The box contained two dagger-shaped cradles, and his filled one of them. The other cradle was dusty—it hadn’t held its dagger in decades.
Then he took a pistol from its hooks above where the case holding the blade lay among other items. He closed the secret compartment’s door.
He dragged himself through the hallway and to the living room, with its view of the woods and the lake. He surveyed the moonlit scene one last time.
He felt nothing, really. Did he?
His family’s fresh blood soaked his clothes and clogged his nostrils with its sweet, metallic stench.
No time for regrets. It was too late. Better decisions would have led to better outcomes.
The pistol in his hand was an antique, but he had kept it oiled and in good condition. And the magazine was filled with his best home loads. He pulled the toggle and cocked the German war-issue 1908 Parabellum model, which most people knew as the Luger. He felt the weight of the pistol, its superb balance, and he allowed himself one small, sad smile.
He stood with his back to the wide, white wall. Twisted the gun around in his grip. Rested the oily barrel on his forehead.
When he squeezed the trigger, the last thing he saw was the frozen face of his wife, asking Why? Her staring, accusing eyes registered for a fraction of a second, and then it was over.
His body spasmed once against the wall now ruined by the shower of blood and bits of skull, spasmed then slumped to the hardwood floor. A lake grew quickly below him like a crimson outline.
One hour later, the sound of breaking glass washed over the frozen tableau inside the house. Heavy boot falls marked the intruder’s trek through the rooms, one by one, ending at the wall where a man’s body lay slumped, his head collapsed like a deflated child’s balloon.
The blood was black in the reflected moonlight.
The intruder shook his head, then set about the search, which had just become more complicated.
Another hour passed, and the intruder found what he knew was there to be found. Not much effort had been made to keep the secret storage area truly hidden. With a laser measuring device, the intruder quickly located the several discrepancies that signaled secret compartments behind false walls.
Still almost two hours before dawn, the intruder found the main gas valve in the rear of the basement, the portion behind a door located in the cedar-paneled bar area dominated by a regulation pool table and various rich man’s toys. Behind the door, the house’s systems were ensconced in a room with walls of reinforced poured concrete. The intruder flicked on the lights, located the gas line and took a few moments to follow it with his eyes, then he took a wrench from his waist pack and loosened a couple connectors. He waited for a minute until he could smell the gas quickly escaping the pipe, then retreated through the open door.
Back upstairs, he set an innocuous-looking cell phone housing on a hallway table near the back door and basement entrance. Inside was a tiny, remote-operated device that would ignite upon receipt of a certain signal text. When it did, it would at the same time provide the needed spark and destroy itself. It would be indistinguishable from the kind of slag left by any sort of cell phone upon melting.
Confusion was the intended result. The crime scene would be a mess. Suicide? Murder? Murder-suicide? Unlawful entry, or fakery? The man whose body lay slumped against the wall would be blamed, and they’d stop looking for the rest of the story. Small-town cops would never go beyond the obvious in this one. There was plenty of the obvious on which to concentrate.
The intruder left the premises undetected. Two hours later—and a fair number of miles away—the time he knew was needed to fill the enclosed space with gas, he sent the text message.
Imagining the fireball, he smiled slightly.
In his trunk lay the wooden case he had removed from the scene.
Endgame: First Day
The bitter breeze blowing off the lake cut through his leather jacket and, instinctively, he dug his large hands into the pockets. He made fists, but he wasn’t aware he had.
The usual clanking of small boat rigging was down to a dozen or so stragglers still in the water of the North Point Marina. Lupo stood with his back to the old roundhouse, which was boarded up for the season. Wistfully, he recalled warm days on the lake, playing dominoes and drinking overpriced canned beer from the roundhouse deli, getting greasy with chips and sandwiches wrapped in waxed paper. Across the weathered picnic table in his memory was Caroline Stewart, laughing as they struggled to play the old man’s game they had somehow both enjoyed picking up.
Lupo’s fists started to hurt from the pressure, and then they started to itch.
It was strange, after all these years, having such clear memories of Caroline. She’d been his professor, confessor and confidante, and then lover.
And then he had killed her.
“Jesus, Nick, could you just let it go?” The voice from behind him startled him, but he pretended otherwise.
“You’ve beaten yourself up for too many years. You have good reason to move on now, and accept the past and what you are and what you will always be.”
Lupo wanted to stifle the raspy voice, but he already knew the old man would have his say.
He had killed Caroline Stewart, and that act of violence, while not completely his fault, had damned him forever, as far as he could tell. It had confirmed his suspicions—he really was a monster.
“Get over yourself,” said the old-man voice.
He resisted for a few moments, then whirled around.
There was no one there. Ghost Sam liked these surgical strikes, making his point in as bloody a manner as possible, then disappearing…wherever he disappeared to. Most likely Lupo’s head, which was definitely not a healthy place to be.
He was a monster, Ghost Sam’s platitudes notwithstanding.
How could a werewolf not be a monster?
“You’ve faced real monsters. I know monsters. You’re not much of a monster.”
“Christ, Sam, you still have a sick sense of humor even after death, you know that?”
“Laugh away, cop boy. But will you ever listen to me? No, you won’t. Apparently you inherited that stubbornness you always accuse your dad of having.”
Actually Lupo listened to Ghost Sam fairly often, both when he saw him and when he didn’t. But there had to be an end to it, a line he could draw.
His mind wandered back to Caroline, and what the Creature had done to her. The guilt was still tangible. She had backed his decision to become a cop, and he’d been on his way to being a good one when the most traumatic incident of his life took place. The Creature had done it, he knew it intellectually, but he couldn’t stop thinking that the Creature was still part of him, or that he could have controlled its rage. Miraculously, he had managed to evade suspicion, though he’d lived in fear for years, and then he’d climbed the ranks of the Milwaukee Police Department, all the way to Homicide Detective.
Until his past—and his secret—had come back to torment him and endanger the woman he now loved. He had managed to protect her so far, when she wasn’t protecting him, but he had a lousy record when it came to women who became attached to him.
He stifled what he had to admit was a sob.
Things weren’t so smooth now, and it was all his fault.
He’d tried to get her some help, but she was either at her meeting right now or at the casino. He couldn’t quite grasp why a woman as successful, intelligent, beautiful, and perfect in every way had succumbed to a strangely warped version of the same gambling addiction he saw manifested in old folks who flushed their life savings away while standing blank-eyed at slot machines.
What the hell was he supposed to do, lock her up? Keep her out of the casino?
He snorted in spurious laughter. He remembered when he was the one who needed to be locked up, when he feared the full moon would take him and force him to commit murder after grisly murder. In fact, the moon had indeed caused him to do some bad things, but he’d learned to beat the moon’s influence.
He had a lot on his mind today. It wasn’t just Caroline’s memory, or Jessie’s gambling. It was the look in Tom Arnow’s eyes as he’d died, after Lupo had flicked that damned dagger squarely into his chest. And it was what he’d done even later.
That damned cursed dagger.
He turned away from the gray water, his fists itching like a delicate torture. He wished he could flay the skin off his hands.
His iPhone buzzed in his pocket. Damn it, somebody always interrupting his life. He dug it out with an itchy hand.
“Yeah?” he barked.
He listened for a minute, verified the address, and clicked off. Third Ward, crime scene. He was practically there already. Just a hop down Lake Drive and then a few blocks south of downtown. DiSanto was meeting him there.
He turned and half expected to see Sam Waters standing nearby, his gray hair gathered in its usual ponytail and his small but somehow still imposing frame tucked into a too-large leather parka. But he was alone.
He crossed the deserted parking lot between the boarded-up roundhouse and the yacht club and climbed into the slightly battered Maxima he clung to stubbornly. Rich DiSanto, his partner of two years, hounded him ceaselessly about the car. As a homicide detective, Lupo had the choice to drive his own vehicle while on duty, and he preferred comfort to style.
“At least get a Mustang or a Camaro, one of those new ones,” DiSanto had a habit of nagging almost weekly.
“If I did,” Lupo usually reminded him, “you wouldn’t be very comfortable.” It was true—the Maxima had the horsepower he wanted, thanks to some custom work, and the leather seats were comfortably worn. DiSanto’s long legs needed the ample space below the seat.
No way would he confess to the childish DiSanto that he’d been, in fact, tempted by the recent Mustangs.
Lupo sat for a minute. A strange tingle centered on the back of his neck made him turn and scan the rest of the lot. A couple cars in slots near the yacht club and a minivan toward the beach side were his only company. They were deserted, probably people who worked maintenance at the club. He shrugged.
Paranoia strikes deep.
He’d given Wolfpaw Security Services—or whatever they were calling themselves these days—enough to chew on for a long while, and right now the congressional hearings were gearing up in D.C. He had to be the last thing on their minds at the moment.
He shrugged, then started up and zipped onto Lake Drive, heading south along the coastline. The trees that dotted the parkland around the pond beside the curvy road were already half bare. He chafed at the thought of another case, on top of the half dozen he and DiSanto still had pending. It was just that kind of fall season, he mused, with people losing their cool after having lost their money or their house, or their family. Tended to make people a little crazy, as did the weather, which had been gray and drizzly or downright cold for three weeks already.
Lupo knew, because the Creature within also wanted out. The depression that had set in to harass his human side had begun to affect the Creature, too. Bleed-through had started to increase a year ago, and Lupo wondered if it was an age thing.
The shitty fact of it was that he didn’t know, and he couldn’t ask, because all the other shapeshifters he had met so far he’d had to kill. There was no asking for fatherly advice in his world. He hadn’t even realized there were others like him until they showed up and started killing people he cared about and trying their damndest to kill him, too.
He checked again the address they’d texted him as he passed under the U.S. Bank building, Wisconsin’s tallest skyscraper at a conservative 601 feet, and headed for Water Street, which would take him into the heart of the Third Ward a few blocks south.
He had ambivalent memories of the Third Ward, since his friend Corinne had been involved with a porn outfit that had set up shop in a loft in one of the renovated warehouses there. She’d been murdered by Martin Stewart and a long nightmare had begun to unfold, the only positive aspect of which was his new and sudden relationship with Jessie Hawkins, whom he’d known for years but hadn’t realized he had fallen in love with until they were both targeted by the serial killer.
First she’d been his landlord Up North, where he went a few days a month to distance himself from people he might hurt when the moon turned full. They had certainly been friends for years, since she’d first taken over her family’s properties near Eagle River. In that time she had begun her practice inside the reservation, tied to it and its people because they were her own people, too. Jessie Hawkins came from a mixed marriage, her father having been a prominent physician and surgeon and part-time coroner, and she’d followed his footsteps in all the best ways. But neither Jessie nor Lupo had realized their attraction until the killer Martin Stewart began targeting everyone Lupo knew, including Jessie.
Now Lupo was hip to the fact that she was beautiful, a sort of earthier version of a famous model, as he had been told. Her flaming, highlighted chestnut hair either left to bounce off her shoulders in a controlled blaze or harnessed in a ponytail still made him want to comb it with his fingers. Her dark eyes were limpid, light-reflecting pools set above a long, straight but slightly upturned nose and a generous, smile-ready but sensuous mouth.
She had moved in with him recently, after he had brought them more trouble by kicking the sleeping wolf that was Wolfpaw Security Services.
Just thinking of them and what they had done—and almost managed to do—to everyone he cared about brought a rage so severe he worried about his own self-control. He shook his head.
“You’re right to worry,” Ghost Sam said, speaking from the passenger seat. He was translucent.
Lupo was used to the sudden appearances. “Damn right. But I almost took care of it, didn’t I?”
“If running away is taking care of it, then yes, you almost did.” Ghost Sam had a way of speaking sarcastically that made Don Rickles look like a comedian for children.
Damn it, Sam, I miss you.
“I know. I miss those Bloody Marys we used to have Up North,” the apparition said wistfully. “I miss the better Bond movies…Daniel Craig’s good, but they’ve sacrificed character for non-stop action.”
“It’s a reboot,” Lupo pointed out.
The passenger seat was empty again.
Shit, talking to myself again.
Except he always felt slightly better afterwards.
He was almost there.
* * *
Bram Stoker Award nominee that began the Nick Lupo series...
Is now back in ebook and trade paperback editions from Samhain Publishing!
Nick Lupo #4!
The stakes are high when Wolfpaw finally reveals what it wants from Nick Lupo. And why.
fiction - horror/crime thriller
A Nick Lupo novella... but it has been delayed.
Fiction - Horror/crime thriller
"In Wolf's Bluff
Gagliani once more proves that werewolves are scary as hell ... fast, vicious and thoroughly satisfying."
-- Jonathan Maberry
Fiction - Horror/crime Thriller
is the sequel to the Bram Stoker Award-nominated novel Wolf's Trap
. It's now published by 47North, an Amazon imprint.
Fiction - noir crime Thriller
is a tough, pulls-no-punches, hard-noir thriller that's not for the faint of heart.
Website of the author of Rough Cut, Abducted, and Vengeance
Website of fellow Samhain author Hunter Shea
Website of fellow Samhain author Brian Moreland
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