Well, it's been a while. Months have come and gone since my last post. I'm sure many of you even noticed. I have been busy during my absence from these pages, perhaps not as busy as I should be, but I didn't get into the Author business to be responsible and work hard. Which was a mistake as it turns out, but I digress.
As many of you are aware, last year I announced that I would be releasing the second Monday novel, titled Monday and the Apocalypse Engine, this December. I have good news and bad news on that front. The bad news first, I will not be releasing Monday and the Apocalypse Engine this December. It turns out writing a second novel had all sorts of new and different challenges than a first novel did.
The good news is I'm on track for a March 2013 release for Monday and the Counterfeit Corpse. That's right, the Apocalypse has been officially delayed. You read it here first, folks. But wait, I have still more good news. Just to reward all of you for your patience, I present a pre-release of Chapter One of the forthcoming Monday and the Counterfeit Corpse.
This is a pre-release, so I don't promise there won't be some changes between this version and the final published one. I also don't promise there won't be some formatting issues, punctuation, grammar, and spelling errors. But that just makes this even more special, right?
All right then, with only slightly more preamble, I proudly present Chapter One of the forthcoming novel, Monday and the Counterfeit Corpse (Book Two in the Fifth World Series).
My name's Zachariah Monday, I'm a detective for hire, personal investigator, occasional body guard, professional pain-in-the-ass, busybody, snoop, and accidental do-gooder. Actually I'm a world-class do-gooder. It's just that I don't get paid for it, and not getting paid is something I rarely do on purpose. Fortunately, I do mostly get paid for all the rest, so I'm getting by just fine, thanks for asking.
Detective work comes in two basic flavors, boring and deadly. Fortunately for me, it changes back and forth pretty frequently so I usually don't get too bored. Or dead. The real payoff doesn't have much to do with money though. Most cases paid, but a few precious ones were actually fun. I was about to wrap up one of the best cases I have ever had the pleasure of solving. In fact, I was actually going so far as to kill time before I ended this one.
Okay, making the bad guys a little nervous and hopefully throwing them off their game was the official reason I was stalling. That and the fact that I was counting on one more player in my little production, but if I'm to be completely honest, it was only a little bit of the former and a whole lot of the latter. I had my whole game plan worked out, all my lines carefully rehearsed, and every possible contingency covered. My partner says I love showing off. I tell him he's crazy, but man is he going to be able to say 'I told you so' after this one.
I leaned against the mantlepiece at the head of the room. I had chosen my position and facial expression carefully. The key was to look relaxed and calm, but ready for anything. It wasn't an easy thing to do, but I think I pulled it off. I looked around the room at the collection of witnesses, suspects, victims, and innocent bystanders. I smiled, carefully showing just the right amount of teeth.
In the center of the room in an impressive high-backed chair sat Mrs. Belinda Stanhope-Crane, also known as the Widow Crane, also known as my client. Here's a hint for anyone who wants to go into the detective-for-hire business: always have a rich client if you can possibly swing it; it just makes everything easier. Mrs. Stanhope-Crane was richer than King Midas wishes he had been and she was a great client. She had hired me to find out who killed her husband Malcolm Howard – her latest husband that is. Mrs. Stanhope-Crane had outlived a half-dozen husbands in her time. The deceased spouse in question was half his wife's age, at the time of death two weeks ago.
I had read about the murder in the papers before she came to me with the case. It was front-page stuff, “Scandalous marriage ends in bloody murder.” All sorts of tawdry allegations were flying. Popular gossip had it that hubby Howard had been killed by criminals plotting to steal all of his wife's money. And of course, everyone suspected that Howard had been in on it. What with his history as a convicted felon. It had all the makings of a first-rate movie of the week and I was smack dab in the middle of it all. It doesn't get much better than this in the detective-for-hire business.
I asked Belinda (she insisted that I call her Belinda) if she wanted me to prove her husband innocent or if she wanted me to solve the crime. Her answer had surprised me. She said neither; she only wanted justice to be done. I may just have fallen a tiny bit in love with Belinda right then and there. Plus she offered to pay me nearly double my usual rate.
Two people sat on the couch to her left, Nate Crane the oldest son from her first marriage and heir to the bulk of the Stanhope-Crane fortune – now that Howard was dead, anyway. To Nate's left was Margaret Stanhope-O'Shaughnessy, my client's sister. For a while Maggie O'Shaughnessy had been my primary suspect, but I knew better now. I hadn't revealed this publicly yet; it was better if the real bad guy didn't suspect what I didn't suspect until it was too late. I reached into my back pocket and pulled out my trusty notebook. It's times like this that I'm really glad I take copious notes. Also, it is easier to ignore people nonchalantly when you have an excuse not to look at them. I checked my notes and ignored up a storm.
Sitting across from those three and staring daggers at everyone was Brigid Howard, a woman who had emerged after the murder and alternately claimed to be Malcolm Howard's sister, secret wife, and criminal partner at various points in my investigation. She had also tried to seduce me, or possibly kill me. I'm still not sure which. I had her pegged now. She was just a gold-digger with a talent for lies. Her real name was Mildred Drood. She wasn't directly related to the case at all, but she sure had confused me for a while.
Standing against the back wall was the entire serving staff, the chauffeur, three maids, a stable master, a cook, and a butler. Everyone in the room was human except for the butler. He was a goblinblood, which is to say that he was of mixed human and goblin ancestry. Accordingly, he was nearly an inch shorter than the next shortest person in the room, who was a five foot, two inch maid named Ginny. I didn't remember Ginny's last name, but I can't be expected to remember everything, can I? I flipped several pages back in my notes. Ginny's last name was Prescott.
The goblinblood butler made up in width what he lacked in height; he easily weighed three hundred pounds and it looked to be entirely muscle. His traditional butler's uniform did little to hide his powerful physique. Not for the first time I thought about being on the business end of those sledgehammer fists and, like every other time, I decided that I didn't want to have that particular experience. He smiled at me, revealing huge slabs of teeth like pearly white tombstones.
Full-blooded goblins are like snowflakes – or they would be if snowflakes could bench-press motorcycles before a light lunch and shrug off injuries that would kill me three times over. What I meant by the snowflake thing was that no two goblins look very much alike. They were often some shade of green and they were usually about 4 or 5 feet tall. After that things got more complicated. Some goblins are hairless and scaly. Some goblins have great big pointy ears. A lot of them have long and lanky heavily-muscled limbs. But some of them didn’t have any of those qualities.
Scientists have theories on why goblins vary so widely from one to another. Wizards have theories as well. Maybe the most ancient and learned members of the goblin race know the answers. Most of the goblins that I know really didn’t care about the reasons behind why they were the way they were. Goblins are like that.
Mixed-race goblins, like the butler against the wall, were an even bigger bag of complicated. Some of them could pass for human if they wore baggy clothing, others – like the butler – could nearly pass for goblin. His head was wide and hairless and covered with tiny green scales, his ears were big and pointy and rose inches above either side of his head. And did I mention the teeth? Because the teeth looked like they could easily grind me into paste and I like to mention things like that.
I turned to a blank page in my notebook and started sketching teeth. Again, this wasn't relevant to the case in any way, but I was stalling for time, after all. I snuck a quick glance around the room again. If my last invitee didn't show up soon, someone's temper was going to blow and then things would get harder.
“Blast it, Monday!” exclaimed Nate Crane as he burst up from the couch. “How long are you going to make us sit around here? You promised us answers!”
I sighed. Why am I always right when I least want to be?
“Mr. Crane,” I said in a soothing voice. “If you'll just be patient for a few more minutes, I'll be able to explain everything.”
Just then the door banged open and an enormous man stormed into the room. He was well over six feet tall and hugely overweight. His great bald dome of a head gleamed brightly in the large room's witchlamps and a great shaggy sprawl of red beard covered the lower half of his face and spilled down his chest. He wore a New Jerusalem Police Department badge on his shirt and a tie that defied all taste and decorum.
“Lt. Mandrake!” I greeted him warmly, as an old friend deserves. “I'm so glad you could make it. I was just telling Mr. Crane here that you were on your way.”
“Fuck you, Monday,” Mandrake growled. “You asked me to be here and I'm here. Show me what you want me to see, but remember that you owe me big time for this. I don't make house calls.”
I cleared my throat ostentatiously and straightened my tie, Jasper Mandrake was a real charmer, but he was also the closest thing New Jerusalem had to an honest cop. Mandrake cared and that was worth a whole lot in my book. Also with the piles of cash that Belinda was paying me, I could afford Mandrake’s bribes, which was worth even more. Justice indeed, Mrs. Stanhope-Crane, justice indeed.
“Now that we're all assembled,” I said in my best public speaking voice. “Let's begin. As you all know, Mrs. Stanhope-Crane hired me to determine who was behind the murder of her husband, Malcolm Howard, and also why he was murdered. I have asked you all to be here today because I have the answers to those questions and more.”
I paused and let my gaze travel slowly across the large room, resting my eyes briefly on each of the assembled. Some of them looked me in the eyes, but others glanced away. Nervously? Shyly? Guiltily? It was hard to say for certain. I let the moment linger. The butler shifted slightly, moving into a stance that would allow him to move quickly, or possibly start a fight. I noted that and moved on.
“Mrs. St – I'm sorry – Belinda,” I began in what I hoped was a comforting tone of voice. “Your husband was not involved in the scheme to steal all your money. All of the evidence that I've found shows nothing but honest motivations. I believe that your husband truly loved you and wanted to spend the rest of your lives together. I am truly sorry.”
I paced back and forth a little bit before going on, partly because it makes me look thoughtful, but also because it provided a nice dramatic pause.
“Malcolm wasn't killed by your sister or your son,” I continued. “In fact, no member of your family was involved in the crime at all. The true killer planted all of that evidence to throw investigators off the track. And it worked, at least for a little while.”
“The handgun in Nathan's room?” asked Margaret Stanhope-O'Shaughnessy.
“The plans to the family safe in Margaret's room?” asked Nathan Crane simultaneously.
“All put there by the true killer,” I assured them both. “To set you against each other and to stall for time. Much like I've been doing for some time now. Jasper, have your men found it yet?”
“Of course they have,” Lt. Mandrake replied testily. “What do you think took me so long?”
“All right then,” I smiled. “Bring it in, please.”
“Bring it in!” bawled Mandrake in a huge ear-splitting voice.
The door opened once again and a uniformed police officer came in carrying a two-foot tall statuette of a crying woman. It was nicely sculpted, it looked pretty valuable. It was also the motive for Malcolm Howard's murder.
“The Weeping Lady?” asked Belinda Stanhope-Crane in disbelief. “What about it?”
“Not the Weeping Lady,” I replied. “This is a counterfeit. In fact, it's one of nearly a dozen counterfeits which have been moving through New Jerusalem for the last month.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed the butler edging slowly backwards. Unless I missed my guess – and I didn't – he was about to make his move. So it was time for me to make mine.
“Belinda,” I said. “A trusted member of your staff has betrayed you, stolen from you, and most tragic of all, when your husband discovered their crimes, committed cold-blooded murder.”
“But who?” cried Belinda. “Who did it?”
“Perdition take you all! I'm not going back to jail,” snarled a voice.
Twelve sets of eyes swept the room, looking for the source of the snarl. It was the cook and he had produced a handgun from somewhere and he was pointing it right at Belinda Stanhope-Crane. Both Lt. Mandrake and the uniformed officer were too far away to do anything, I was even further away and if I moved at all the crooked cook would surely shoot. Fortunately, I had planned ahead and had a shill in the crowd.
From behind the cook and well out of his field of view, a massive sledgehammer of a fist crashed into his head. The gun dropped from his suddenly slackened fist and clunked to the floor loudly, followed by the cook's unconscious body a moment later. I definitely never wanted to be on the business end of those enormous mitts.
“I got him, Boss,” said the butler who wasn't a butler. His voice was so deep I could feel it in my chest, no fully human throat would ever produce a voice like that.
“Good job, Baxter,” I replied.
Baxter Kline was my partner. Technically he was my employee, but that only went so far as me paying him. He was a great partner and he added a lot of value to the firm. When it came to actually following orders, he wasn't so great. But that's okay as he frequently tells me that I'm not so great as a boss either. We had infiltrated Baxter into the household a few weeks ago and today it had paid off.
“Wait,” began Nathan Crane. “The butler is working for you?”
“Yep,” I replied with a grin. “He's my partner, Baxter Kline.”
“Thank goodness!” exclaimed Belinda. “He was an awful butler. When all of this was over, I was going to have to let him go.”
Baxter actually looked contrite. “Sorry Ma'am. I was so busy running Zack's errands, I barely had any time for you at all.”
“Lt. Mandrake,” I called. “If you and your associate would be so kind as to drag the cook away in manacles I can get back to explaining what exactly has been going on here for the last three weeks.”
“I ain't your errand boy, Monday,” Mandrake growled, a dangerous edge to his voice. “But seein' as this jerkhole pulled a deadly weapon on an upstanding citizen, I guess it's my civic duty to haul him in.”
Mandrake turned towards the uniform and jerked a thumb towards the groaning cook, “Kovacks? Haul the jerkhole in.”
“Yes sir!” Kovacks replied smartly before busying himself with the aforementioned task.
Right about then the room exploded into a dozen different voices asking a hundred different questions. I flipped my notebook open and smiled.
“Let me start at the beginning,” I said.
About an hour later everyone was finally satisfied with my answers, or at the very least they were as satisfied as they were ever likely to get. Mrs. Stanhope-Crane and I shook hands, she gave me a fat bonus check – which I had totally earned, thank you very much, and we said our good-byes. Lt. Mandrake and Officer Kovacks had long since left with their collar, and everyone else had something important or at least distracting that needed doing.
Baxter and I left together in a shared cab. Sure we had made a good profit on this case, but there was no sense in throwing away perfectly good money. We rode in silence for a time while I deconstructed recent events. I had expected things to go worse, frankly. The cook was a career criminal; he had been part of an underground fighting ring for a while. I had expected him to give Bax a run for his money in the thug department. Don't get me wrong, Baxter Kline is a damn fine thug, a true gentleman, and quite possibly the heir to the Goblin Throne.
I realized Baxter was staring at me.
“What?” I asked.
“Why'd you lie to her?” he rumbled.
“I didn't!” I protested.
“Howard the hubby was in it up to his neck and you know it!” Baxter rumbled.
“At the beginning, sure!” I replied easily. “But he really did fall in love with Belinda and his partner killed him for it. Can you tell me what purpose would be served by hurting her with a meaningless truth?”
“You could argue that it would be doing the job she paid us to do,” Baxter suggested.
“She paid us for justice,” I said. “Justice is exactly what she got. It's bad enough she lost her husband. I'm not going to be the one to take away his memory as well.”
“Boss, you are even more of a romantic sap than you are unabashed hambone.” Baxter grumbled, but his smile softened the words and made a lie of the grumble.
“I thought I did quite well in there,” I observed, changing the subject to an area in which I was more comfortable.
“Yeah, yeah,” Baxter admitted. “You did just fine.”
“Ahem,” I said, holding out my hand.
Baxter glowered at me, but he shoved one of his massive paws into a jacket pocket and pulled out a money clip. He peeled off a twenty and laid it in my hand. I made a show of examining it, holding it up to the light to look at the paper and such.
“I didn't actually think you'd blow it, Boss,” Baxter rumbled. “I just think you've gotten too reliant on your pocket watch lately, and with it in the shop for repairs....”
“I'm more than my tools,” I sniffed in a fair approximation of Nathan Crane's voice.
As much as I refused to admit it, Baxter had a point. My charmed pocket watch was a powerful tool, and it helped me out quite a lot. A few seconds warning right before any physical danger threatened my person was a pretty handy thing to have around. I patted the jacket pocket I usually kept the thing in to remind myself that it wasn't there. I was operating without a net until the danger charm got out of the shop. And that was okay, sometimes it was good to leave the safety nets behind.
“This was a damn good case,” I said. “And the perfect end to a perfect day.”
“Not quite,” Baxter said. “We still don't have any idea what's going on with the counterfeit statuette. Why are they smuggling art into the city? And where is it coming from? We don't know any of that stuff.”
“True,” I agreed. “But none of that stuff is our problem. It's Jasper's job not ours, not until someone pays us to do it.”
Baxter revealed a flask from within the folds of his trench coat.
“I'll drink to that,” Baxter said.
And that is exactly what we did.