WEDNESDAY MORNING DOUBLE-BARREL BOOK BOMB! My friend and colleague Larry Correia has been kind enough to double-promote Tuesday’s releases of A STAR WHEELED SKY and Dan Willis’s IN PLAIN SIGHT. Please, please, please, share wide and far! Dan’s noir urban fantasy is only 99 cents on Kindle right now. It’s a steal! And there is a paperback to boot. (I have three paperbacks on order myself, in addition to the Kindle download.) I will vouch for Dan, as one of Utah’s veteran authors, and a great guy as a person. You cannot go wrong putting down dollars on both books for the holidays!
. . . “Here you are at last, dear boy,” Doctor Ignatius Bell said, shutting the flimsy paperback book he’d been reading. “I was beginning to think I’d have to send out a search party.”
Alex laughed and sat down in the chair next to Bell, setting his hat on the ottoman.
“Not to worry, Iggy,” Alex said with a grin. “I had to make a stop at the Mission.” Alex had dubbed Bell “Iggy” during their first year together and the name just stuck. Bell didn’t particularly like it, but he seemed to take it as a sign of affection from Alex, so he tolerated it.
“Yes, your secretary informed me thus when I called.”
There was a note of irritation in Iggy’s voice and Alex flinched.
“I should have called,” he admitted, taking out another of Burt’s cigarettes and lighting it. “Did I ruin dinner?”
Ever since Iggy let Alex run his own cases, Alex had been paying rent to bunk at the brownstone. Iggy hadn’t insisted, but Alex needed to pay his way. He did, however, let Iggy cook for the both of them. Iggy had learned to cook in the navy and it had become a serious hobby for him ever since.
“I made a quiche,” Iggy said, puffing on his cigar. “It was delicate, light as air, and delicious.”
“What’s a quiche?”
Iggy sighed and put his hand to his forehead as if it suddenly hurt.
“I think your fellow uncultured Americans would call it a bacon pie.”
Alex perked up at that. He hadn’t eaten anything since the poached eggs Mary cooked him.
“I left you some on the table under a cover,” Iggy said.
Alex put his hands on the chair’s arms but before he could rise, Iggy spoke again.
“How did it go today?” he said, opening his book again. “It must have gone well if you can afford cigarettes again.”
Alex stifled a sigh and leaned back in his chair. Apparently Iggy wanted his pound of flesh for Alex’s lack of judgment. The Brits really loved their social rules.
“Funny story about the cigarettes,” he said, then launched into a detailed description of his day. For the most part, Iggy just listened quietly, commenting when he wanted clarification on any certain point.
“So,” he said when Alex finished. “Father Harry wants to see you in private on Saturday.” He puffed his cigar for a moment before adding, “Ominous.”
Alex laughed. Father Harry was many things, but mysterious wasn’t one of them. The man was an open book.
“He probably just wants me to do some rune work for him and doesn’t want to talk about it in front of the sisters. You know what a gossip Sister Gwen is.”
Iggy nodded, staring into the fire.
“I’m sure you’re right,” he said, though he didn’t sound convinced. “In any case, I’ll wager you’re hungry.”
Alex stood and picked up his hat.
“Oh, Father Harry even paid me for my work.” Alex fished the five-dollar bill out of his pocket and held it up.
“You should probably put that in the safe,” Iggy said before returning to his book.
Turning toward the hearth, Alex approached the bookcase on the left. About six feet off the floor, just high enough that Alex had to reach up to get it, stood a thick book bound in green leather. Unlike the other books on the shelf, this one tried very hard not to be noticed. The rune that shielded it was so powerful that it bled over onto the books on either side, a volume of Shakespeare’s poetry on the right and a large, thin book bound in red leather on the left.
Alex took down the green book and opened it. The center of each page had been painstakingly cut out with a razor blade, then painted with varnish to make them all one solid piece. From the outside, the book appeared perfectly normal, but once opened, it had a hollow well inside, large enough to hide three of Iggy’s pulp novels. Alex withdrew a small stack of cash held together by a paper clip. He added the fiver to it, then retuned the clip and re-shelved the book. This was Alex’s emergency stash, money that not even Leslie knew about. Any time he had off-the-books cash, it went into the safe. Iggy said it was an important habit to develop.
Iggy had lived through the big war and several bank runs in his home country. Alex never doubted that the man mistrusted banks. He was also sure that Iggy had his own safe somewhere in the house, under the floorboards in his room, or maybe behind some loose bricks in the basement. It never tempted him. Alex made his own way in the world and he never took what wasn’t his just because he could. Still, the idea of it made him want to go looking, just to see if he could find his way through the runes that kept it hidden.
Of course, it was more likely that it was here in the library, in a book or a series of them, just like Alex’s.
Always hide things in plain sight, Iggy told him. No one thinks to look there; they always think you’re trying to be clever.
“Good night, Iggy,” Alex said but the doctor had bent over his novel again and seemed oblivious.
Alex ate his bacon pie in the kitchen. For something with a girly name like quiche, it was really quite good. After he finished, he washed his plate, fork, and glass in the sink, then set them aside to dry. He thought about opening his magic vault and replenishing his rune book, but he just didn’t have the energy. He was tired. He’d had a full day, but it wasn’t full the way he wanted it to be. The police job had started out great, but now Danny and Callahan would lie in wait and catch the murderers red-handed. It was open and shut with nothing more for him to do but pick up his check. Not that he minded that part, but he wanted to feel more useful. He wanted a case that would be hard to solve, one he could make his name with. If Leslie got him one more job finding a lost dog or a cheating husband, he’d pack it in and hawk Barrier Runes on rainy street corners.
Not really, of course, but it had been a long day and Alex wanted to indulge in a few minutes of self-pity.
His room was on the third floor, above Iggy’s. It was small and modest with just the bare essentials; a bed, a desk, a wing-back chair, a nightstand, and a dresser. A narrow door led to a tiny bathroom with a toilet, sink, and stand-up shower. A telephone and a bottle of bourbon with a glass stood on the nightstand, and Alex poured himself a slug, then stripped down. He hung up his jacket and threw his trousers over the back of the wing-back chair. His barrier rune only kept falling rain from hitting him. It did nothing about puddles, so his shoes were soaked. He’d have to oil the leather to keep it supple. He poured himself a second slug of the bourbon and set to work.
When he finally got to bed, the clock on the nightstand read eleven twenty-five.
It felt like Alex’s head had just hit the pillow when he was startled awake by the telephone. At whatever ungodly hour of the morning it was, the sound grated on his nerves like a rasp. He felt an instant headache form somewhere behind his left eye. Reaching out in the dark he managed to find the phone and fumbled the receiver to his ear.
“Yeah?” he mumbled.
“Alex?” a desperate voice came across the wire. He knew it sounded familiar, someone he knew, but his brain wasn’t fully awake yet. It was a woman, he recognized that, and she was just short of hysterical. “Alex!” the voice said again, more urgent than before. “Are you there?”
“Sister Gwen?” he asked, the connections in his mind putting a name to the voice. “What’s—”
“You have to come down to the Mission, Alex,” Sister Gwen said. Her usually calm voice broke. Alex had never heard her anything but calm and in control, but now she was neither. The relief of reaching him warred with some unknown panic and she sobbed. “You have to come now. Hurry!”
She was weeping and her voice betrayed a fragile state of mind.
“Of course,” Alex said, sitting up. “Of course. I’ll come down right now.”
He hoped this would calm her and she seemed to relax a bit. She drew several ragged breaths and her voice came over the wire in a tense whisper. “They’re dead, Alex.”
Alex’s mind snapped into full wakefulness.
“Who?” he demanded. “Who’s dead?”
• • • ● ● ▼ ● ● • • •
I also forgot to plug (in yesterday’s launch) the FREE STORY in the Waywork Universe (hat tip: Joe Monson!) which is up at the Baen web site. I’ll put the free link to the story at the top of the comments. 9,000 words of my award-caliber short fiction, which gives the story of a very important character in the book, and get the Waywork Universe started off.
. . . The fist that caught Elvin in the face was a sucker punch. He toppled back over the school lunch bench, knocking the trays of two other students to the floor and half covering himself in food.
The trio of Outworld boys were the same three who’d been menacing Elvin ever since he’d turned fifteen. Not any bigger than Axabrast was. But—by Elvin’s estimation—much meaner. They were the sons of men who’d come from elsewhere in the Starstate. Technicians lured to Planet Oswight’s shipyard industry by promises of bonus money. It wasn’t glamorous work, any more than the Outworld boys were glamorous young men. They sneered at Elvin as he got to his feet.
“Typical Dissenter,” said one of them, a particularly cruel lad named Boxlo. “Doesn’t know his table manners.”
The three howled with laughter, as sauce, meat, and vegetables dripped down Elvin’s front. The smell in his nostrils was the same as it had been on other occasions when these particular lads had come for him at meal time. Like before, Elvin struggled to contain his rage. Three-to-one was never good odds, no matter how you sliced it. He’d fought back each time, and gotten cracked harder for his effort. He vacillated between eyeing the school mess hall exit, and the leader of the trio, named Ordi.
Elvin unconsciously rubbed the seal on the back of his hand.
“Takes three o’ you bastards to equal one o’ us,” he growled.
“Is that so?” Boxlo said, mocking Elvin’s tone.
“Aye,” Elvin said.
The third Outworld boy, who typically followed the other two, picked up a piece of fruit from the deck—an apple grown in one of Planet Oswight’s many hydroponics farms—and threw it at Elvin’s head.
Elvin ducked, while the older boys and girls around him cleared the area. They’d seen this kind of thing before. Outworlds ganging up on Dissenters, and Dissenters doing the same in kind. The school was riven in this way, to the point that most Outworlds and Dissenters traveled the school corridors in packs. Even the girls, who didn’t ordinarily go in for the kind of macho violence upon which the older boys seemed to feed. But they could get sucked in, too, once somebody threw a punch.
Elvin, in his usual fashion, was one of the few Dissenters who preferred to walk alone. And he paid for it every time.
In his head, Elvin heard his gran’s voice say, There’s nae respect among men that you don’t earn the hard way.
Elvin then launched himself at the three, and got Boxlo on his back before the other two could react. One satisfyingly hard fist to Boxlo’s mouth, and the other two were suddenly on top of Elvin, kicking and hitting. Each time, the strikes came harder, got more vicious. Elvin didn’t care. The adrenaline of rage was in his blood. Too many days hearing his name mockingly called after him as he went to class. Too many instances of humiliation in front of the other kids, who always left him to fend for himself—even the other Dissenters, who didn’t consider Elvin to really be one of their own. Not enough to rush in and risk punishment on his behalf. If he’d been a good pack-runner like most, maybe things would have been different. But here again, Elvin had to make his own justice.
Read more HERE!
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