SHAUN BAINES: FROM SCOTLAND WITH NOIR

It started with a “Hi, whatcha write” on Twitter, and weeks later author Shaun Baines and I were exchanging book spotlight info and a Q & A or two. It’s got to be serendipity, right?

Shaun’s bio reads like a kindred. Who hasn’t had a run-in with a bloke with a “Bad Joe” tattoo? (And if you haven’t, there’s this guy I met in Oshawa with a scorpion on his neck…)

Crime mixed with darkness and a lot of fantastic means BIG CHARACTERS with BIG PROBLEMS and Shaun’s all over this with WOODCUTTER, his debut novel available now as an ebook and then paperback on June 7.

Congrats, Shaun. Damp Scottish cottages yield results.

Read on…

–A.B.

 

1.

Your novel is set in Newcastle Upon Tyne, an English burg a mere stone’s throw from Southdean. To what extent do the two cultures meet?

As coincidence would have it, I live near Southdean, following a move from Newcastle to Scotland. Daniel’s story begins somewhere like Southdean. He is hiding from his criminal family in Hounswood, a village in the Scottish borders where he hopes to make a new home. As you can imagine, places like these are off the map in some respects. They’re quiet and friendly and the cultures of Hounswood and Newcastle don’t meet so much as clash. Newcastle is a busy, sprawling city in real life and the city I depict is also dark and dangerous. There is a certain anonymity to both places, but Newcastle shines so brightly, it’s hard to hide for long.

 

2.

Protagonist Daniel Dayton is in a tough spot—at odds with his family and possibly his own skin. What attracted you to writing a character with such enormous identity dilemmas?

I think we all have identity issues at some points in our life and one of the themes of the book is to look at how identity is shaped. Whether you love or hate your family, they are instrumental in how you are shaped. It’s the Nature versus Nurture debate. You inherit from them genetically and they mould you as you grow. Daniel rejects both these ideas and sets out on his own to discover who he is. His biggest problem is that he is too late. The Daytons have crept into his soul and won’t let go.  He is as much a part of them as they are of him. How can anyone run away from that?

 

3.

I love a good crime/noir/thriller. How would you categorize Woodcutter?

I set out to write a crime novel. It’s what I read and what I enjoy, but it’s a huge canvas with many sub-genres. There are police procedurals, psychological thrillers, serial killers making it personal – the list is endless.

Woodcutter is best labelled as Newcastle Noir. It’s hard-boiled fiction with morally dubious characters and violent action. There is dark humour and a casual style to the writing. Of course, the final judgement rests with the reader. They can decide what it is. Just as long as they think it’s good!

Ed. – Amen! 😀

 

4.

Tell us how you got here? Was the publishing process onerous or a piece of cake? (I say this with tongue firmly in cheek :D)

The whole process has been a dream; painless from start to finish. I say that knowing how lucky I’ve been and some other writers may not have had that experience. The truth is I wrote a book, the best book I could and then submitted it to various agents. I was fortunate to have been chosen by David Haviland of the Andrew Lownie Literary Agency. Super Dave sent it to publishers and we decided on Thistle Publishing. A contract was signed and the front cover came through, blowing me away. If it doesn’t win any awards, I’ll be amazed. And then Woodcutter was published. It doesn’t make a dramatic story and sounds like I’ve had an easy ride. Maybe I did, but a lot of it was down to the people I surrounded myself with. My agent, my beta-readers and most importantly, my wife, who suffers my writer anxieties on my behalf.

Ed. — The support of family and friends is integral.

 

5.

Thanks to Netflix, a lot of us here in North America are well acquainted with English Scandi Noir—Broadchurch meets Wallander meets Shetland. To what extent does geography figure in your novel? Does it play a part in drawing Daniel home and keeping him there?

I wanted the Newcastle I know to be recognisable to others. I use street names and landmarks readers can identify. Any businesses or specific locations are of my own devising and I had fun naming them. I’m particularly pleased with the naming of a café called Mag’s Pies and Peas. People from the north-east of England will get that one. (The Magpies is the nickname of the Newcastle United football team. I don’t follow football, but I know enough to come up with a pun.)

Actually, it’s the geography of the north-east of England that drew me in. It didn’t occur to me to write something about my town until I moved away from it. I was alone in a different country and it made me feel closer to home.

 

6.

We have now shared our books and views on our respective blogs. What are your promo plans for Woodcutter?

I’ve been both surprised and warmed by how welcoming the writing community is. Support is everywhere. I have several book bloggers working on reviews, other authors tweeting and retweeting about Woodcutter. I have had articles in magazines and in the local newspaper. It’s ongoing. The book will be released as a paperback on 7th June so expect another flurry of marketing around that time. I’ll probably stop short of walking the streets wearing a sandwich board. But then again, maybe not.

 Ed. — Sandwich boards are “in” this year!

 

Thanks for stopping by Shaun and sharing your insights! — A.B.

Woodcutter is available on Amazon. If you read and enjoy it, he welcomes reviews.

You can also reach Shaun at shaunbaines.com or on Twitter as @littlehavenfarm.

 

What it’s about…

CoverOn the run from his criminal family, Daniel Dayton returns home to Newcastle Upon Tyne when his abandoned daughter is attacked.

But his family have problems of their own.  Targeted by a brutal mercenary, their empire is destined to be destroyed should Daniel refuse to help.

Betrayed by his parents.  Despised by his brother.  In love with his sister-in-law.  Home has become a dangerous place to be.

Daniel wants his daughter safe.  And he wants his revenge, but in the shadowy streets of Newcastle, things are never what they seem.

 

Chapter One

Charles Bronson woke with a start. He was five foot five, thick set with wavy blonde hair. Like his namesake, he sported a handlebar moustache, but it wasn’t so he looked more like the movie star or that lunatic in prison. It was to detract from the nervous tick in his cheek coming alive from the moment he rose to the moment he fell asleep.

He rubbed his eyes and gulped. “Are you still up there?”

The room was a bedsit in an abandoned block of flats known as the Devil’s Playground, home to junkies and rat faced dealers. The tatty furniture was pushed against the walls, clearing a space for a tin bath filled with slurry. He’d obtained it from a farmer in Crawcrook who was paid enough not to ask questions. Above it was a naked man called Enoch, suspended by his ankles to a beam in the ceiling. His arms were either side of the bath, braced against the floor. Enoch’s skin was slick with sweat as he struggled to stop his head dipping into the slurry.

Bronson checked his watch. “That’s almost two hours. Sorry I nodded off, but if you’re not going to talk, then there’s nothing for me to do, is there?”

“I don’t know anything,” Enoch said, squeezing the words through gritted teeth.

“I wish I could believe that. You know, I’ve drowned two people in that tub so far and they all keep telling me the same thing. They don’t know anything.”

Bronson approached, smoothing out his moustache. His nostrils had become accustomed to the smell of the slurry, but he was annoyed about his clothes. This kind of stink couldn’t be washed out and he’d binned two suits already. He lived on a budget and the organisation he worked for weren’t the type of people to dish out clothing allowance.

“Enoch, I’m going home for a shower. Don’t worry. I’ll come back, but I live a fair distance away and I love long showers. Do you think you can hang around for me?”

He smiled at his own joke, though he’d used it before.

“Please, Bronson. Let me down. I don’t know anything,” Enoch said.

Who had scared these people so badly they would rather drown in cow shit than spill the beans? This was going to go wrong again, Bronson thought. His boss wanted answers, but no-one was talking. He’d be left with another dead body to dispose of and an awkward conversation to be had with his superiors.

“You pay the Daytons one hundred pounds a week, right?” Bronson asked.

Enoch nodded.

“What’s it called? Your restaurant?”

“The Peking Lantern.”

“Oh, I’ve been there. It’s nice. Anyway, you pay money so your lovely restaurant doesn’t get burned down with you in it, right?”

Enoch nodded again.

“Why would you stop paying?” Bronson asked.

“I don’t know.”

Bronson grabbed Enoch by his hair and stared into his frightened eyes. “You do know, but you’re being very rude by keeping it a secret.” He yanked downwards, forcing Enoch’s head under the slurry. Enoch fought against him, but he was too weak to offer much resistance. Counting down the seconds on his watch, Bronson finally released him.

Enoch coughed and spluttered, choking on the slurry in his mouth. When he was able to breathe, his breaths came as whimpers.

“I. Don’t. Know. Anything.”

“Jesus Christ,” Bronson said, wiping his dirtied hand down the side of his trousers. “That’s bad for you and bad for me, isn’t it?”

This was supposed to be his breakthrough. He figured Enoch would crack the minute he saw the bath full of shit, but he’d turned out to be a hard bastard. He would have admired that except his own head was on the line too. Someone was choking the money supply to the Daytons. If he didn’t figure out who, Bronson’s name was as much shit as the slurry Enoch was about to drown in.

A knock came at the door. The authorities gave the Devil’s Playground a wide berth, refusing to pour resources into an unwinnable fight. They allowed the tower block to police itself. Knowing he was safe, Bronson opened the door and smiled.

Peter Pan Hands shook his coat from his shoulders as he entered. He was in his forties with tumbling locks of ginger hair. His green eyes sparkled with mischief no matter what he was doing at the time. The Irish lilt of his voice charmed women and gangsters alike.

“If it ain’t the Magnificent One,” Peter said. “I gather I’ve got a collection.”

Bronson closed the door. Peter wrinkled his nose, but seemed unfazed by the scene in front of him. “Why do you always take their clothes off?”

“It’s something Daniel taught me,” Bronson said. “People feel more vulnerable when they’re starkers.”

Peter considered the idea until he was distracted by something. “I thought you said this guy was Jewish. Aren’t all Jews circumcised?”

“Enoch runs a Chinese restaurant. How orthodox do you think he is?”

“Orthodox or not, it’s obviously pretty cold in here, if you know what I mean?”

Bronson laughed, slapping Peter on the back, but Peter’s face grew serious. “Listen mate, I only dump these bodies out at sea as a favour to you. I’m not dropping a live one in for anyone.”

“I understand. I didn’t think he’d last this long.”

“I’m freelance and I need the money, but…”

“It’s okay, honestly. I’ll take care of it.” Bronson pulled out a knife and waved it in front of Enoch’s face. “This is my friend Peter. He’s an arms dealer, but he also has a boat. He’s going to drop your dead body in the North Sea if you don’t give me the answers I’m after.”

Despite his exhaustion, Enoch swung away from the blade and started to cry. “Okay. Cut me down and I’ll tell you.”

Bronson looked to the knife in surprise. Why hadn’t he thought of this earlier? He’d carried that tub of shit up three flights of stairs for nothing.

He placed the knife under Enoch’s penis. “Get talking or maybe you’ll get circumcised after all. I ain’t no doctor and this place ain’t sterile. You don’t want little Enoch to go green and drop off, do you?”

With his face purple and his eyes wide, Enoch spoke to the knife. “Someone sent a photo to my phone. It was of my wife. She was tied to a chair. She had a blindfold on. Her face was bloody, but she was alive. Then they sent a text.”

“What did it say?” Bronson asked.

“No more money to the Daytons. Next time she dies. Tell no-one.”

“That was it?”

Enoch nodded. “They released her. She didn’t see anything, I swear.”

“And you never saw anyone either, I suppose?”

“No, but when she came home, she had five hundred pounds with her.”

“Jesus,” said Peter to no-one in particular.

Bronson looked at him. “They’re paying people to not pay us? That’s crazy.”

“Or really smart,” Peter said. “Who’s going to give you money when it pays more to keep it in their pockets?”

“And if they do pay, their loved ones die. Who are these guys?” Bronson rubbed his chin, hoping the answer might come in a blinding flash of brilliance.

Enoch snuffled back a sob. “That’s all I know. Please cut me down.”

The twitch in Bronson’s cheek took on a staccato rhythm. It sometimes happened when he was worried. Enoch had told him all he knew, but it wasn’t much. Aside from a text, Enoch had no contact with this new, mysterious gang. Bronson could check his phone, find the caller ID, but it was probably a throwaway and already smashed into several pieces. No-one this careful would be that stupid.

After hours of interrogation and buckets of cow shit, Bronson still knew nothing.

“Okay, Enoch, time to go home,” he said, working his knife through the rope.

Bronson shivered as the temperature dropped and a voice spoke behind them. “What did you find out?”

Bronson and Peter turned to see Scott Dayton walk into the room. He was as tall as Daniel, but with none of his warmth. Scott’s eyes were icy blue and his skin was white. He dressed in dark suits, tailored to limbs as thin as icicles. Sometimes he looked like a funeral director, sometimes like the corpse about to be buried.

He adjusted the knot on his silken tie. “I asked you a question.”

Clearing his throat, Bronson recounted the little he knew and tried not to stutter. When he finished, Scott studied him for an uncomfortable amount of time before turning his attention to Peter.

“It looked like Bronson was letting Enoch go.”

Peter shrugged. “He can do what he likes.”

“No, he can’t. Neither can you.”

Peter pulled on his coat, evidently feeling a chill. In all the years Bronson had known him, he never backed down from a fight. He admired that in Peter, but hoped today might mark a change and if it didn’t, Bronson was powerless to intervene.

“I don’t work for the Daytons,” Peter said, buttoning his coat, “and I’m not scared of you, either.”

Scott gestured to Bronson. “Give me your knife.”

“He didn’t mean anything by it, Scott. There was no disrespect.” Bronson looked at Scott’s extended hand and turned to Peter. “Tell him you didn’t mean anything.”

Peter’s mouth clamped shut. His eyes narrowed as Bronson presented the knife to Scott, who held it aloft like a trophy.

“It’s time you learned who has the power here.” Scott span on his heel, driving the blade into Enoch’s chest. There was no escaping the strike and Enoch didn’t scream. His strength had long been spent. He gulped in surprise and his arms gave way, his head sloshing beneath the shit. The body convulsed, spilling slurry over the floor and spattering Bronson’s shoes.

“It’s like that freaky cheek of yours,” Scott said with a grin. “All that jerking around for no reason.”

“You didn’t need to do that, Dayton,” Peter said, his big hands rising from his side.

“You came for a dead body, right?”

Bronson slipped between the two men. His back was to Peter, but his eyes were locked onto Scott.

“He didn’t pay his debts, Peter,” Bronson said. “He was protecting the gang trying to take us down. He deserved it.”

“You Daytons are butchers.” Peter placed a hand on Bronson’s shoulder. “You’re on your own with this one, pal. Give me a call if you need anything else.”

They watched the Irishman leave. Bronson sensed the coldness emanating from Scott in waves. “He won’t say anything,” he said.

Scott punched Bronson in the stomach. He doubled over and Scott forced him to his knees. He held Bronson’s face over the bath of slurry. The oily stain of Enoch’s blood rested on the surface.

“You better start getting me some answers or you’ll be the one hanging up there next time. Who’s out there? Who’s trying to take us down?”

“I don’t know,” Bronson said, immediately recalling Enoch’s fateful words.

Scott pushed his face into the slurry. It was cold and drew itself up his nose. It’s just water, he told himself as disgust clawed at the back of his mind. Just water. Not cow shit.

He was released, but didn’t dare breath. He blew the slurry from his nose, wiping his face clean before gasping for air. He’d rather suffocate than have that stuff inside him. When his head stopped spinning and the gagging passed, he looked around the room to find Scott was gone. He was on his own.

“Bollocks,” he said.

 

About the author

 

IMG_4612 (2)Shaun didn’t always live in a damp cottage in Scotland.  He once unwittingly lived in a flat beneath a white supremacist. He wasn’t always a writer, either. He worked in a factory, a government institution, as a manager in a purchasing department and later as a gardener.

He has had a gun levelled at him and been threatened by a man with ‘Bad Joe’ tattooed on his neck. He doesn’t knowingly associate with criminals.

Shaun comes from the north east of England where his novels are set. He is represented by David Haviland of the Andrew Lownie Literary Agency. His short stories combine dark fantasy with contemporary crime. They can be found online, in magazines and in anthologies, including Eclectic Mix Vol 5 and Metamorphose Vol 3.

Woodcutter is his debut novel published by Thistle Publishing. It is based on the criminal underworld of his native home, available as an ebook on Amazon. The paperback will be published 7th June 2018.

These days, he keeps chickens and bees, grows his own fruit and vegetables and wonders where it all went so right.

 

 

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GOING NOIR WITH SIMON MALTMAN

Simon Author PhotoIt’s September 1 and the blog is alive again, and what better way to begin a new season than with a catch up. Some of the writers appearing over the next few weeks are returning as old friends dearly missed, while others are completely new with plenty of stories to tell. Today, we begin with North Irish author Simon Maltman. Simon’s into noir, music and characters from a time long passed. Welcome, Simon.

 

1.

You’re a contemporary artist with a foot in the past and your fans love that. What drew you to the 1940s and the noir it evokes?

 

The Billy Chapman character was actually the first protagonist I had come up with for crime fiction stories and I had used him in an earlier short story. I really love the original film noir movies and that was a big influence. Raymond Chandler is a great favourite of mine too which is probably pretty obvious to anyone familiar with his work. I suppose that part of the ‘story within a story’ in my novel is a bit of a homage to the likes of Philip Marlowe. I wanted to see what a PI in Belfast from that time might get mixed up in.

 

2.

I love dark humor and use it wherever I can. How do you account for yours? Where does it come from?

 

I think it would be fair to say that coming from Northern Ireland, there is a lot of it about. It’s quite unique here in its style and there can be trouble in translation! I’ve had a great editor to help me out!  Even for those from the Republic or the rest of the UK, it can be taken up wrong and is often very dark, black really! I enjoy that and I enjoy comedy in general. I try not to take myself too seriously and I think there’s good reason to find humour in life as much as you can.

 

3.

Tell us about your music and whether you put that skill to use in your writing. Do you hear the music in your fiction?

 

That’s an interesting question. I actually view them quite separately. With music I love recording and I am very much for the first take is great- that’s the one! Some say that’s just lazy haha! I find I have to be much more disciplined in writing and that it is much more about chipping away and refining. In that sense it reminds me of the editing and production elements in the recording of a song. I’ve heard people like Nick Cave say it’s harder to write a song than a book, but one or two verses compared to 50,000 words or so- I have to disagree!!

 

4.

The book cracks on at a fantastic speed with no words wasted. Are you like that personally?

 

Haha I’m not sure! My wife thinks I can be quite verbose at times! I probably do prefer to be concise when writing in work contexts and the like that’s true. When I was first approached about writing a novel I had just been doing short stories and it seemed like a mammoth task for sure. In saying that, the shorts I have written after it, I’ve struggled now to keep the word count down!

 

5.

I’m intrigued by the spate of recent past films cropping up. The Seventies and Eighties appear to be everywhere. I speculate that it has a lot to do with gadgetry and the lack thereof. Do you think modern characters are shortchanged by technology that does all the work for them?

 

I think there’s definitely something in that. I find it can be a narrative problem sometimes that everyone has a mobile phone and are so ‘connected’ all the time; especially when you want someone to be trapped by some type of elaborate threat! I suppose there’s always a pining for ‘simpler times’ and that too. Maybe it is harder to ground characters now in a way and still hoping they appear to live in the real present with all its trappings.

 

6.

Your character Brian Caskey is an ex-cop with a lot of baggage. Are ‘dark’ characters more interesting to write?

 

Yes, I think they are. An interesting nice guy protagonist is always going to be harder to pull off without them being a bit boring I think. Maybe that’s very cynical haha! I also think most people have their demons anyway and crime fiction in particular just highlights more of those flaws.

 

7.

And you’re a poet and short story teller as well?

 

Yes, I haven’t written much poetry in a long time. I enjoy still writing the short stories. In general I kind of focused in on crime fiction a few years ago and it’s definitely what suits me best, or is for now anyway.

 

8.

Northern Island and its history informs your story. Tell us about home and hearth.

 

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve definitely developed a real love of my country and it’s scenery, culture and history. There’s a lot of bad stuff, but so there is anywhere else I suppose. However dark is a story I am trying to tell, I always endeavour to tease out some of the beauty that Northern Ireland has to offer. I thinks it’s true too to write about what you know and I find it essential to plot stories in real places.

Simon’s novel A CHASER ON THE ROCKS will be available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Solstice Publishing.

 

A BIT ABOUT…

chaser coverHardened by the mean streets of Belfast, ex-cop Brian Caskey works as a struggling PI. He is isolated and erratic, often losing the battle to maintain his fragile mental health. Caskey escapes the real world by writing crime fiction stories about a 1940’s PI investigating mysteries during the Belfast Blitz.

‘A Chaser on the Rocks’ follows both of these characters in parallel as a ‘novel within a novel’. The two stories collide in a dramatic conclusion set against the backdrop of The Giant’s Causeway.

Simon Maltman has created a modern noir with a new twist, a dash of black humour and a fresh approach and comment on storytelling.

 

Excerpt

“Reaching to check for my phone, I realised I had left it in the car and my smokes too. I started to idle back towards the car when I heard what sounded like a large door slam followed by fast footsteps. I jumped over the three foot, outer wall onto the grass at the side of the driveway. Ducking down behind it, my breath rattled in my throat and a wave of nausea splashed about my stomach. I felt cold, but clammy, in my jacket and pulled it close to me opening out my collar. The footsteps had turned the corner and were running towards me. Each pair sounded several paces behind the other. One set passed and I stiffened. An alarm started to scream out into the cold air. A second pair of trainers raced past. The last set approached and for no good reason my body shot up. I looked the husband in the eye before I lunged at his sprinting silhouette, pushing him over with a shove. I tumbled over the wall after him and scrambled to get up myself; a few feet to the side of him. A blaze of light danced on my eyes and half my vision melted away like a Dali clock. Two scuffled steps and he was on me. I flapped like a swan in a sand pit and hit out as best I could. We rolled and I could feel my back scraping on stones and dirt. He hit me a few more times but was too close to hurt me much. I heard shouts, then the beginning of car sirens as he started to try and get off me. I got in a punch to his back which I could hear in his groan had hurt him some. He seemed to struggle to his feet and this time the running was accompanied by a siren duet. I fell against the wall and felt unconsciousness almost overwhelm me. The sirens were close now and an engine started. There was a crash of metal on metal, then a car door and more shouting. I went to sleep.”

 

Praise for Simon Maltman

 

“I’m amazed how a writer can cram so much into such a short space of narrative. You hit the ground running and it’s a sprint finish.”

Crime Book Junkie

“Praise Satan for Bangorian Simon Maltman.”

Irish News

“Long may he continue.”

Hotpress magazine

“A compelling tale… a short but snappy read that gives a fresh glimpse into a life of crime and where it can lead you.”

Writing.ie

“Those who foresaw the end of the book as artefact with the coming of the digital age hadn’t banked on the ingenuity and skill of a number of young writers who are converting the e-book into a work of artistic relevance. Such a case is that of Simon Maltman, a multifaceted writer and musician from Bangor.”

Dr. David M. Clark

Director Departamento de Filoloxía Inglesa

Universidade da Coruña

 

About the Author

Simon Maltman is a writer and musician from Northern Ireland. This is his debut novel after previously having crime fiction short stories featured in a number of magazines and anthologies. He has also had poetry and articles published in a range of magazines. Simon has self-published a number of crime fiction e-books over the last year. There is work underway for further crime fiction releases in the near future.

Simon is an established musician, along with his current band The Hung Jury. He lives in County Down with his wife and two daughters.

 

Links

facebook.com/simonmaltmancrimefiction

twitter.com/simonmaltman

Novellette RETURN RUN  http://bookgoodies.com/a/B01I1Y6RX0

 

All the best with the new release, Simon. Come back again!

–ABF

TOMORROW: Fresh off the Carnival of Parahorror in Buffalo, NY, Susan Lynn Solomon flys in with a Wicca tale or two.

 

 

THE CLOSED WORLD OF THE FUNERAL DIRECTOR

The closed world of a funeral director is rarely glimpsed owing to the strictures of confidentiality scrupulously maintained by industry professionals. In SCOOTER NATION, the second novel in A.B. Funkhauser’s Unapologetic Lives Series, confidentiality, or more keenly the silence naturalized by a desire to protect the privacy of others, leads to inflated misunderstandings underpinned by a culture of myth and lore. What follows are a chain of events both comic and chilling.

 

E   X   C   E   R   P   T

Krause looked like she was going to cry: “Don’t you knobs get it? We’ve been sold to the Flexor Group. I just know it.”

Carla stiffened. “What did you see? Who did you see?”

The death business was a small, closed community with few strangers. Everybody knew everyone else and their business too.

“I only saw their feet,” Enid replied. “Black shoes. Square toes.” Her face whitened. “Loafers!”

Scooter Creighton dropped his lighter. “Are you sure? No mistake?”

Eyes 1“No mistake. I was wearing my bifocals. There can only be one person behind this.”

The ancient intercom on the garage wall crackled to life. Jocasta Binns had found them: “Put the damned cigarettes out. Meeting starts NOW.

Scooter Creighton nodded meaningfully at his companions. The rude bitch was clearly on a roll. Like most funeral homes that hadn’t caught up to the twenty-first century, Weibigand’s had a front door equipped with a tinny doorbell that sounded whenever the door swung open. More modern establishments employed greeters or hostesses that manned large semi-circular hotel-lobby like desks for a more personal touch. But Weibigand’s, experiencing a steady decline in business year over year, lacked funds to pay for such a person. So the bell, on duty since the 1930s, was the only way to know that someone had come in. It had not sounded.

“Jocasta turned the bell off!” Enid shouted. “Why the hell would she turn the bell off?”

There were only two possible explanations: Either some non-staffer had been assigned to inside doorstand watch at the door and had shut the bell off, or the doors were being locked and the bell wasn’t needed.

“My god,” Carla gasped, thinking of the square-toed, black leather shoes that, beyond any doubt, now stalked the hall above. Though there were many, only a single pair held any relevance.

Every profession had its own share of false gods and banal superstitions. Those, carried forth on a wave of feverish gossip backed by assertions that everything said was ‘true’, gave rise to fantastic mythologies that made a chosen few more significant than they actually were. Graeham Grissom of B.H. Hoage, for example, was the undisputed embalming god of their age while “Count Floyd” Aiken could ‘will’ new business into being with a stroke of a pen. That old age, arthritis, early-onset dementia and the public’s annoying preference for cremation over medieval embalming procedures decreased the field of competitors, and so guaranteed Graeham’s mantle in the first instance, had nothing to do with the stories spread: he made esoteric concoctions in the old Hoage basement that rendered his people ‘pliable’ ‘natural-like’ ‘soft to the touch’ and even ‘warmer’ without the slightest sign of decay, even after a fifty-four day hold. The same held for Count Floyd. No one could turn a prearranged funeral into an ‘at need’ simply by sending a get better card, yet Floyd’s people did die suddenly whenever he did, whether sick or not. That the deceased had crossed the century mark in every case had little to do with a great tale.

But there were other stories out there: stories not so benign and infinitely more sinister. eyesSome, it was said, enriched themselves through the weak willed. These were the mendacious pocket-liners who evaded the law and curried favor with popular opinion regardless of talk.

These were the ones to watch…

And fear.

The little group assembled in the Weibigand garage knew that fear and felt it now because it was right on top of their heads. Scooter Creighton, jaws clenched, ground the words out first, like a metal vise in need of oil: “It’s Clayton. He is in the building.”

 

SCOOTER NATION

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ON SALE NOW

Geo Buy Link: http://myBook.to/ScooterNation

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