After a traumatic encounter claims the lives of people under his protection, retired detective Gideon Brown wants nothing more than to curl up inside a whiskey bottle for the rest of his life. But a violent murder outside his apartment sends him out the front door and into the harsh, unforgiving light of Crash City.
Before he knows it, Gideon is on the run in a city left in ruins by the death and fall of a deity known as the Last God, hunted by a shadowy figure with the power to bring the dead back to life in the most horrific of ways.
Along the way he finds a pair of unlikely allies in a rookie soldier of the militaristic Seraph and a reclusive wych. Together the three must solve the mystery behind the corpse of the Last God that still lies in a devastated quarter of the city known as the Battery. All the while dodging murderous street gangs, unholy terrors, and a violent city police force.
Gideon learns the stakes extend far beyond the environs of Crash City.
And all he wanted was some breakfast.
Targeted Age Group:: Adult
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I wanted to write a book that doesn't necessarily care about genres. My favorite stories are the ones that successfully combine darkness with humor and I wanted to take that recipe and add a fantastical twist to it.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
The main character Gideon Brown, is based off the old school hardboiled detective trope, but in this case he's more like if you tried to hard boil an egg but got the time wrong and it came out a little runny on the inside. He's not particularly strong or brave, but he gets by through sheer determination, a bit of luck, and a lot of help from his friends.
They burned a homeless man in the alley outside my bedroom window last night.
I will say, there’s nothing quite like waking up in a mad terror to the serenade of a screaming vagrant and the pungent aroma of crisping fresh. Trust me, it's a disconcerting experience.
The first thing is coming to the realization that you're not the one screaming. Sounds simple, right? Problem is, the body wakes up well before the brain does and it takes a few seconds to sort out what in bloody hells is going on. This is doubly true if said brain is clawing its way to the surface from the murky depths of a blackout drunken binge.
In this case 'what's going on' involved a bunch of assholes in bathrobes camped out in my alleyway performing some ritual involving a great deal of chanting and, as mentioned earlier, play time with gasoline and matches.
I never understood the attraction of cults. Staying up all hours of the night trying to summon some dark beastie with a name like the alphabet had been dumped into a burlap sack and dashed against the rocks a time or two. Best case scenario you stumble home in the early morning hours with aching feet and a sore throat. Worst case? You succeed and end up as part of a cosmic horror snack pack.
Where was I? Oh yeah. The screaming.
Those initial pain-filled howls were soon followed by lot more folks screaming which were in turn followed by what I'm certain was laughter before it all went silent. To be clear, it was not the good kind of laughter. No, this brand of laughter leaves you spending the rest of the night sitting on the couch with a loaded revolver in your lap.
Dawn didn't bring the peace I had hoped. A peek through bedroom window blinds confirmed the architects of the prior evening's shenanigans had vacated. But left behind was something that turned my blood cold. The words GIDEON BROWN smeared on the fire-blackened brick wall in ash, the letters three-foot-tall and bold as day.
Someone had taken the time to write out my name using the remains of a person they had just violently murdered, and they did it less than fifteen feet from where I lay my head at night. I'm not sure what kind of message they were trying to send, but it was a highly unwelcome one.
I moved back to the couch, kicking discarded food containers and dirty clothes out of my path as I went. My head pounded and my stomach gurgled. It sounded like an angry raccoon trapped in a running washing machine. It was hard to think. I needed some food in my stomach and a glass or three of something much stronger than coffee.
To say I'm not a morning person is like saying I don't like getting stabbed in the mouth with a rusty knife. I mean, the word understatement doesn't quite cut it. The only thing makes a morning tolerable are two fingers, at a minimum, of some good, hard alcohol burning away in my guts. A little intestinal bonfire to level out the mood and stop the hands from shaking. So far, this particular morning was far from tolerable.
A wall clock lay on the floor, the face smashed, glass shards intermixed with the broken remains of a bottle. The second hand still ticked away, marking the moments in a never-ending chase around the numbered circle. Broken, but still functioning. I checked the time. Still early, but late enough the city residents would be up and about their daily business.
TAP TAP TAP
My arm swung out, pistol pointed at the front door of the apartment and finger tightening on the trigger. Silence stretched. The clock ticked away, the sound seeming thunderous. One second became two, two became three, three became four.
I strained my ears, attempting to hear anyone moving out there, maybe the telltale sounds of someone descending the stairway leading to the street.
With a great deal of effort, I pried my finger from the trigger and let the gun fall to the couch cushion.
"Hells man. Pull yourself together before you put a bullet into some poor mailman." My nerves were already on a razor's edge, and the unexpected knocking nearly pushed them over the edge. As my father would say, 'I was more nervous than a mouse in a sack full of feral cats'.
Quiet as I could, I crept across the room, using my foot to gently slide an empty whiskey bottle from where it lay on the stained carpet and away from the entrance. The door had one of those peepholes drilled through at eye level, the kind that allows you to view who’s on the other side without letting them see you. Peering out revealed nothing but the empty landing at the top of the stairs.
Revolver still in hand I cracked open the door and stuck my head out and checked both ways.
"Great. Now I'm hearing things."
As I went to close the door, my eye caught a small white card sticking out from the corner of the carpeted welcome mat at my feet. At some point in the past, someone had drunkenly scrawled the word NOT in black marker above the factory-printed flowery WELCOME.
I plucked the card out for a closer look only to discover the dog-eared piece of card stock was one of my own business cards. On the front was my name, embossed in gold lettering with my office address below. On the back were the words Professional Skeptic in that same gold lettering.
After checking the stairwell again to make sure there wasn't some crazed torch-wielding maniac skulking about, I tucked the card into a pocket and closed the door.
My apartment was small and, for the better part of a year, had been a haven from the outside world. A cozy den I could hole up in and lick my wounds. But right then it didn't feel like a sanctuary. It felt like a noose around the neck, drawing ever tighter.
I had no one to call on. The closest thing to an authority in this city was the Seraph and I didn’t much care for the idea of trying to explain to them I had nothing to do with the murder that literally had my name all over it. That bunch was very much a stab first, ask questions never kind of outfit. What I did know was that I couldn’t stay here any longer. I needed to get somewhere a little more public until I figured out what to do about all this.
I threw my longcoat over my shoulders and tucked the revolver in one of the pockets along with a box of shells. The gun was an ugly snub-nosed piece of malformed metal that, despite its looks, had served me well throughout the years. Given the heft, if push came to shove, I'm reasonably certain I could beat someone to death with it if I ran dry of bullets.
The smell of hot garbage assaulted me the moment my feet hit the street and the early-morning sunlight punched me right in the face. With a curse I pulled my hat down over my eyes, hunched my shoulders, and set off down the street.
There was a time when I loved walking the streets of Crash City. I would lose myself in the sights and sounds of the giant concrete beast, streams of people flowing like blood through asphalt capillaries. A juggernaut of civilization trudging forward to a bright future. That felt like a lifetime ago now. The world had been on a downward slope ever since the Last God fell.
The sidewalk was heavy with foot traffic, legions of working stiffs heading off to whatever day job kept the lights on one more week. A car horn honked as an angry commuter expressed his dissatisfaction at the inability of the vehicle in front of him to somehow phase through the dozen or so other cars jammed bumper to bumper on the shimmering blacktop.
I kept my head down and my feet forward, avoiding eye contact with my fellow pedestrians. These days I only ventured outside when I had to. But I needed food, drink, and a little peace and quiet. I knew just the place to get all three.
The Yellow Crown was about three blocks from my apartment, an easy walk. The pub was a shitty little dive of a place with more cockroaches than customers, but I could get some breakfast and, more importantly, there would be whiskey. A lack of patronage was a mark in its favor as far as I was concerned.
A squad of Seraph soldiers with their snow-white armored vests and long-handled swords came towards me, the crowd parting before them like a bow wave. I moved out of the way, keeping one eye on them as they passed.
I had been so intent on the soldiers I didn't see the lawyers until I ran right into one of them.
Dark red spots spattered otherwise pristine white button-down shirts, fresh from whatever power brunch slash ritual sacrifice they'd just come from. Jostled by the crowd I bumped into the one closest to me, a short fellow with an athletic build and a mop of brown curls covering his head. He turned in my direction as we collided, mouth still open mid-laugh from whatever joke he had just heard. His right eye was sky blue while the left was nothing but a solid orb the color of blood. He lazily glanced at me before turning back to his friends and let out another braying laugh.
"Fucking hells," I breathed as they moved away.
With a start I realized I had a white-knuckled grip on the handle of the revolver. An instinctive response to a close encounter of the douchey kind. Fortunately, the gun was still in my pocket, hidden from view and the pack of predators continued on their way, unaware of the sound and fury that nearly ensued.
It's not like I had any intention of blasting away with a hand-cannon right there in the middle of the street. Even if I survived an altercation with mop-top and his buddies three, my head would be decorating a lamppost by the end of the day. The Seraph didn't take too kindly to unsanctioned mayhem in their city. That said, I found the weight of the six-shooter in my hand comforting.
You don't fuck around where lawyers are concerned. Rabid dogs are paragons of stable behavior by comparison.
A cultist stood on a street corner, dressed in a pink bathrobe complete with a set of matching fuzzy slippers. "The New God has come!" he called as he swung what appeared to be a cowbell in wild circles above his head. "He will drown your sins in pain!" As I turned onto Fourth Street, I made sure to keep my distance in case any of the half-dozen diseases he appeared to have were communicable.
Maybe it was my jangled nerves, or the distraction caused by my still-pounding head, but it took a full five minutes or more before I realized I was being followed.
Your average person would likely have never picked up on it, but I had a hyper-sensitive awareness of my surroundings. The kind of awareness you only acquire from years of people seeking to cause you bodily harm. A well-honed essential survival instinct.
It began with the hairs on the back of my neck suddenly standing at attention, like soldiers whose commanding officer just walked in the room. Goosebumps broke out on my arms and my heart rate kicked up a notch. Something was walking in my footsteps, gliding through my wake as I plowed a path through the clogged artery of Fourth Street.
Keeping my movements relaxed and natural I snuck a glance to the side, catching a blurred movement in my peripheral vision, about twenty feet back in the crowd. A pale grinning face below the brim of a broad hat, eyes hidden in shadow. I couldn't put my finger on it, but there was something decidedly off with that smile, like the pearly crescent was using every one of its own teeth plus a bunch more borrowed from friends. As soon as I caught sight of my follower, it was gone again, quick enough to make me question whether I saw anything at all. A sane person might've dismissed the whole thing as a trick of the eye, cooked up by extreme anxiety coupled with an imagination kicked into high gear.
Luckily for me I'd given up on the concept of sanity a long time ago. I prefer to keep my goals attainable.
I've seen more than my fair share of weird shit over the years, but no bells of recognition rang from that brief glimpse. A few minutes later the sensation of being watched faded and my neck hairs gave up their upright vigil. Either whatever was following me had left… or gotten a lot better at hiding itself. For my own piece of mind, I went with the former option.
By the time I reached my destination I had almost convinced myself the mysterious stalker was nothing more than a byproduct of raw nerves and sleepless nights after all. Almost. A sense of foreboding had an iron grip around my heart.
I'm sure when the place was first built, the Yellow Crown had been a nice establishment, but those days were long gone. At some point in the distant past someone had made the regrettable decision to coat the brickwork fronting the building in a lurid yellow. The look had not aged well. Peeling paint exposed the rough red brick, making the entire wall look like it had some sort of scabby rash. The front of the place was dominated by a single large window so dirty you couldn't see through the thick glass. In the center was a faded, lopsided yellow crown that looked to have been painted on by blind children. Thankfully, it too, was barely visible beneath the grime.
Parked at the curb was a long and sleek limo. Jet black with tinted windows. An unusual sight, a little too up-scale for this part of town. Leaning casually to the side of the Crown's entrance was a terrifyingly ugly man.
He stood a little over six feet and was built like the brick wall he rested against, wearing a sleeveless vest that appeared to have been stitched together from the hides of mange-ridden street dogs. The skin on his bared arms displayed a host of faded scars, crisscrossing the corded and bunched muscles beneath. Shaggy and matted straw-colored hair reached his shoulders, and he sported a patchy beard that looked like it had been hot glued on by vengeful toddlers. It was the kind of face only a mother could love. Provided said mother was blind, drunk and recovering from recent head trauma.
Any other day, the sight would've stopped me in my tracks. Followed by a quick about face and the immediate creation of a fresh set of tracks in the opposite direction. But at that moment I had a raging thirst whose demand to be quenched—preferably with a liquid of the proper alcohol content—was increasing by the second. The only thing I cared about was getting a drink. If this bruiser got between me and my whiskey we were going to find out if his scarred-up hide was bulletproof, Seraph be damned.
His gaze shifted to me as I approached the door, eyes like chips of blue ice boring into me before returning to the stream of foot traffic still flowing down the sidewalk. The only change in his expression was a slight half-smile tugging at the corner of his mouth.
Yes, I was missing all sorts of red flags. Give me a break, it'd been a rough morning.
Keeping one wary eye on the scarred ganger, I slipped past and ducked out of the harsh morning light and into the darkened interior of the Crown. As my eyes adjusted to the gloom, I was startled by the pale ghost of a face floating behind the bar. It took a moment before realizing the apparition was my own reflection. Squinting, the lines at the corners of my eyes crinkled with deep hills and valleys of folded skin on a face that hadn't seen a razor in weeks—cheeks and chin trapped in a purgatory between stubble and full-grown beard. By the Fallen, did I ever look like shit.
That's when it hit me.
To be more accurate, that's when he hit me.
The only warning was the movement of a shadow where I swear no shadow existed moments before. A face glided out of the darkness behind me and our eyes met in the mirror. Those eyes stared out of a hard, angular face. Sharp, like the edge of a blade and those eyes, they were the unmistakable eyes of a murderer.
There was no time to react. A flash of metal was followed by a sudden roaring in my head. I tried to lift my arms as the floor rushed up to meet me, but they didn’t appear to be on speaking terms with my brain anymore. I heard voices, but the words were lost, drowned out by the rushing sound in my ears.
Then darkness was all I knew.
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