HAIR RAISING: New Dan Shamble, Zombie P.I. Here’s a free taste!

Next Tuesday, April 30, the third full-length Dan Shamble, Zombie P.I. novel will hit bookstores.  Here’s another set of hilarious adventures from the detective who puts the P.I. back into R.I.P.  In chapter one, below, you’ll see illegal cockatrice fighting, werewolf gambling rings, voodoo tattoos, and more.  Even if you’ve never read a Dan Shamble adventure before, I think you’ll enjoy it.  Preorder the book now in print and eBook formats.

HAIR RAISING

Chapter 1

People do bizarre things to amuse themselves, but this illegal cockatrice-fighting ring was one of the strangest pastimes I had ever seen.

Rusty, the full-time werewolf who raised the hideous creatures and threw them together in the ring for sport, had hired me to be on the lookout for “suspicious behavior.” So, there I stood in an abandoned warehouse among crowds of unnaturals who were placing bets and watching chicken-dragon-viper monstrosities tear each other apart.

What could possibly be suspicious about that?

No case was too strange for Chambeaux & Deyer Investigations, so I agreed to keep my eyes open.  “You’ll have a great time, Mr. Shamble,” Rusty said in his usual growling voice. “Tonight is family night.”

“It’s Chambeaux,” I corrected him, though the mispronunciation may have been the result of him talking through all those teeth in his mouth, rather than not actually knowing my name.

Rusty was a gruff, barrel-chested werewolf with a full head—and I mean full head—of bristling reddish fur that stuck out in all directions.  He wore bib overalls and sported large tattoos on the meat of his upper arms (although his thick fur hid most of them).  He raised cockatrices in run-down coops in his backyard.

Cockatrice fighting had been denounced by many animal rights groups. (Most of the activists, however, were unfamiliar with the mythological bestiary. Despite having no idea what a cockatrice was, they were sure “cockatrice fighting” must be a bad thing from the sound of it.)  I wasn’t one to pass judgment; when ranked among unsavory activities in the Unnatural Quarter, this one didn’t even make the junior varsity team.

Rusty insisted cockatrice fighting was big business, and he had offered me an extra ticket so Sheyenne, my ghost girlfriend, could join me.  I declined on her behalf.  She’s not much of a sports fan.

In the cavernous warehouse, the unsettling ambient noise reflected back, making the crowd sound twice as large as it really was.  Spectators cheered, growled, howled, or made whatever sound was appropriate to their particular unnatural species, getting ready for the evening’s show.  Several furtive humans also came to place bets and watch the violence, while hoping that violence didn’t get done to them in the dark underbelly of the Quarter.

This crowd didn’t come to see and be seen.  I tried to blend in with the other sports fans; nobody noticed an undead guy in a bullet-riddled sport jacket.  Thanks to an excellent embalming job and good hygiene habits, I’m a well-preserved zombie, and I work hard to maintain my physical condition so that I can pass for mostly human.  Mostly.

Previously, the warehouse had hosted illegal raves, and I could imagine the thunderously monotonous booming beat accompanied by migraine-inducing strobe lights.  After the rave craze ended, the warehouse manager had been happy to let the space be used for the next best thing.

The center of attention was a high-walled enclosure that might have been designed as a skateboard park for lawn gnomes.  The barricades were high enough that snarling, venomous cockatrices could not leap over them and attack the audience—in theory at least. Although, as Rusty explained it, a few bloodthirsty attendees took out long-shot wagers that such a disaster would indeed happen; those bettors generally kept to the back rows.

While Rusty was in back wrangling the cockatrice cages to prepare the creatures for the match, his bumbling nephew Furguson went among the crowds with his notepad and tickets, taking bets.  Lycanthropy doesn’t run in families, but the story I heard was that Rusty had gone on a bender and collapsed half on and half off his bed. While trying to make his uncle more comfortable, Furguson had been so clumsy that he scratched and infected himself on the claws.  Watching the gangly young werewolf go about his business now, I was inclined to accept that as an operating theory.

The fight attendees held tickets, scraps of paper, and printed programs listing the colorful names of the cockatrice combatants—Sour Lemonade, Hissy Fit, Snarling Shirley, and so on.  The enthusiasts were a motley assortment of vampires, zombies, mummies, trolls, and a big ogre with a squeaky voice who took up three times as much space as any other audience member.

I saw werewolves of both types—full-time full-furred wolfmen (affectionately, or deprecatingly, called “Hairballs” by the other type), and the once-a-month werewolves who transformed only under a full moon but looked human most of the time (called “Monthlies” by the other side).  They were all werewolves to me, but there had been friction between the two breeds for years, and it was only growing worse.

It’s just human, or inhuman, nature: People will find a way to make a big deal out of their differences—the smaller, the better.  It reminded me of the Montagues and the Capulets (if I wanted to think highbrow), or the Hatfields and the McCoys (if I wanted to go lowbrow) . . . or the Jets and the Sharks (if I happened to feel musical).

Rusty had asked me to pay particularly close attention to two burly Monthlies, heavily tattooed “bad biker” types named Scratch and Sniff.  Even in their non-lycanthropic forms, and even among the crowd of monsters, these two were intimidating.  They wore thick, dirty fur overcoats that they claimed were made of Hairball pelts—no, nothing provocative there!—coated with road dust and stained with blotches that looked like clotted blood.

Untransformed, Scratch wore big, bristly Elvis sideburns and a thick head of dark brown hair in an old-fashioned DA hairstyle; apparently, he thought this made him look tough like James Dean, but it actually succeeded only in mimicking Arthur Fonzarelli in his later shark-jumping days.  His friend Sniff shaved his head for a Mr. Clean look, but he made up for it once a month when his entire body exploded in thick fur.  His lower face, though, was covered with a heavy beard; he had a habit of stroking it with his fingers, then sniffing them as if to remind himself of what he had eaten last. Both had complex tattoo designs on their arms, necks, and probably other places that I did not want to imagine.

Known troublemakers, Scratch and Sniff liked to bash their victims’ heads just to see what might come out.  They frequently caused problems at the cockatrice fights, but since they placed large bets, Rusty tolerated them.

In recent fights, however, a lot of the money had disappeared from the betting pool, as much as 20 percent.  Rusty was sure that Scratch and Sniff were somehow robbing the pot, and I was supposed to catch them.  Now, these two struck me as likely perpetrators of all manner of crimes, but they didn’t look to be the subtle types who would discreetly skim 20 percent of anything. My guess, they would have taken the whole pot of money and stormed away with as much ruckus as possible.

Furguson wandered among the crowd, recording the bets on his notepad, then accepting wads of bills and stuffing them into his pockets.  As he collected money, he took care to write down each wager and record the ticket number.  For weeks, Rusty had pored over his nephew’s notations, trying to figure out why so much money went missing.  He counted and recounted the bills, added and re-added the bets placed, and he simply could not find what was happening to so much of the take.

Which is why he hired me.

Suddenly, the Rocky Balboa theme blared over the old rave speakers that the warehouse owner had confiscated when the ravers stopped paying their rent. Eager fans surrounded Furguson, placing their last wagers in a flurry, shoving money at the gangly werewolf like overcaffeinated bidders on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

Now, I’ve been a private detective in the Unnatural Quarter for years, working with my legal crusader/partner Robin Deyer.  We had a decent business until I was shot in the back of the head—which might have been the end of the story, for most folks. But me? I woke up as a zombie, clawed my way out of the grave, and got right back to work.  Being undead is not a disadvantage in the Quarter, and the number of cases I’ve solved, both before and after my murder, is fairly impressive.  I pride myself on being observant and persistent, and I have a good analytical mind.

Sometimes, though, I solve cases through dumb luck, which is what happened now.

While Rusty rattled the cages and gave pep talks to his violent amalgamated monsters, the Rocky theme played louder, and frantic last-minute bettors waved money at Furguson. They yelled out the names of their chosen cockatrice, snatched their tickets, and the bumbling werewolf stuffed more wads of cash into his pockets, made change, grew flustered, took more money, stuffed it into other pockets.

He was so overwhelmed that bills dropped out of his pockets onto the floor, unnoticed—by Furguson, but not by the audience members. As they pressed closer to him, they snatched up whatever random bills they could find. In fact, it was so well choreographed, the whole mess seemed like part of the evening’s entertainment.

Scratch and Sniff had shouldered their way to the edge of the cockatrice ring where they’d have the best view of the bloodshed. Despite Rusty’s accusations, I could see that the big biker werewolves had nothing to do with the missing money.  As the saying goes, never attribute to malice what can be explained by incompetence—and I saw the gold standard of incompetence here.

I let out a long sigh.  Rusty wasn’t going to like what I’d found, but at least this was something easy enough to fix.  His clumsy nephew would have to either be more careful or find another line of work.

The loud fanfare fell silent, and Rusty emerged from the back in his bib overalls. His reddish fur looked mussed, as if he had gotten into a wrestling match with the vile creatures.  The restless crowd pressed up against the fighting ring.  Rusty shouted at the top of his lungs. “For our first match, Sour Lemonade versus Hissy Fit!”

He yanked a lever that opened a pair of trapdoors, and the two creatures squawked and flapped into the pit.  Each was the size of a wild turkey, covered with scales, a head like a rooster on a bad drug trip with a serrated beak and slitted reptilian eyes.  The jagged feathers looked like machetes, and sharp, angular wings gave the cockatrices the appearance of very small dragons or very large bats.  Each creature had a serpentine tail with a spearpoint tip.  Their hooked claws were augmented by wicked-looking razor gaffs (I didn’t want to know how Rusty had managed to attach them).  Forked tongues flicked out of their sawtooth beaks as they faced off.

I’d never seen anything so ugly—and these were the domesticated variety.  Purebred cockatrices are even more hideous, ugly enough to turn people to stone.  (It’s hard to say objectively whether or not the purebreds are in fact uglier, since anyone who looked upon one became a statue and was in no position to make comparative observations.  Scientific studies had been done to measure the widened eyes of petrified victims, with a standard rating scale applied to the expression of abject horror etched into the stone faces, but I wasn’t convinced those were entirely reliable results.)  Regardless, wild turn-you-to-stone cockatrices were outlawed, and it was highly illegal to own one.  These were the kinder, gentler breed—which still looked butt-ugly.

One creature had shockingly bright lemon-yellow scales—Sour Lemonade, I presumed.  The other cockatrice had more traditional snot-green scales and black dragon wings.  It hissed constantly, like a punctured tire.

The two creatures flapped their angular wings, bobbed their heads, and flicked their forked tongues like wrestlers bowing to the audience. The crowd egged them on, and the cockatrices flung themselves upon each other like Tasmanian devils on a hot plate.  The fury of lashing claws, pecking beaks, and spitting venom was dizzying—not exactly enjoyable, but certainly energetic.  I couldn’t tear my eyes away.

Sour Lemonade’s barbed tail lashed out and poked a hole through Hissy Fit’s left wing.  The other cockatrice clamped its serrated beak on the yellow creature’s scaly neck.  Claws lashed and kicked, and black smoking blood spurted out from the injuries.  Where it splashed the side of the pit ring, the acid blood burned and bubbled.

One large droplet splattered the face of a vampire, who yelped and backed away, swatting at his smoking skin.  Scratch and Sniff howled with inappropriate laughter at the vampire’s pain.  The spectators cheered, shouted, and cursed. The cockatrices snarled and hissed.  The sound was deafening.

Just then the warehouse door burst open, and Officer Toby McGoohan entered, wearing his full cop uniform.  “This is the police!” he shouted through a bullhorn.  “May I have your attention—”

The ensuing pandemonium made the cockatrice fight seem as tame as a Sunday card game by comparison.

I’ll post CHAPTER TWO in my next blog.  You can preorder your copy now. The book will be released Tuesday April 30.

AND DON’T MISS THE OTHER DAN SHAMBLE, ZOMBIE P.I. ADVENTURES

***now available worldwide!***


 

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