My new novel, Thicker Than Water, is now available in the Kindle Store. Here are the first two chapters of the book to whet your appetite.
Tyr pulled off the lid and shoved the naked body head first into the steel drum. She was five feet ten inches and 140 pounds, big for the incinerator. Normally his rule of thumb was any girl over five foot eight was off limits since it usually meant having to cut them up in order to dispose of them, but this showgirl had been making eyes at him all night and he couldn’t resist.
Her legs splayed out in a “V” at the top of the barrel. He tried to fold them downward so he could light her up, mash the lid down on top of her, and move on with his life. Her left leg folded in fine, but the right one was temperamental. He tried breaking the bones in her shin and thigh, but the limb still wanted to hang over the side of the drum, preventing him from securing the lid. Shit. Maybe if he hadn’t packed so much wood and paper into the sides of the barrel, if the bitch hadn’t had such an obnoxiously big goddamn purse…
He considered taking the purse inside and burning it separately in the wood stove, but he didn’t like to break tradition. Next thing he knew he’d have ten charred tubes of lipstick in the fireplace. No, he’d gone to the trouble to build the incinerator; he might as well incinerate with the damn thing.
He turned toward the toolshed to get the saw.
It was then he noticed the figure strolling toward him from out in the distance. His posture straightened and a single jolt of adrenaline greased his heart. Had this figure been a human, it would have meant only disposing of another body. It was almost sunrise now and he would have to wait till tomorrow to do it, but he could have lived with that. Draining the showgirl hadn’t quenched his thirst as much as he’d hoped, and he would have been up for a postprandial snack.
But this wasn’t a human. You could tell by the way it walked, half-gliding along the field in his direction as though its existence took form mostly in another branch of reality and the world itself rotated under it. It was a characteristic of immortality developed after a century or so of living, the mark of a life form who was accustomed to being in control of every situation he encountered. This was a vampire, and an especially self-aware one at that.
Loki, came Tyr’s first thought. Thank God, it’s finally Loki. It’s time to finally set shit straight.
Thirteen years it had been now. Thirteen years since the night he impaled Loki to the wall and left him bleeding and screaming and swearing there’d be hell to pay. Thirteen years of wishing he’d knocked the son of a bitch’s head off and stuck it on a pike to burn in the daylight. Thirteen years and still no sign of him. No surprise visit with swords and Holy Water and a fanatical thirst for vengeance. No blanket of fire over his place of residence as a gift to come home to. No comeuppance.
But ten years was a sleepover. A fucking weekend trip to Malibu. Maybe the nightmare was finally on the horizon. Maybe Tyr was to be the one getting incinerated this morning. He could imagine his brother lobbing his head off the way he’d done to their father so many years ago, and then going into his house and drinking all his wine, smoking cigars and listening to records with a smile on his face.
It was less than an hour until sunrise. He supposed maybe he was to be tethered outside in silver chains and left to die in the rising sun as Loki listened to his screams from the comfortable dark of the parlor.
So be it. This perpetual perturbation, this ongoing anticipation of his own imminent demise, this fucking goddamn gutlessness was no way for an immortal being to live. They needed closure in some form or another and if that meant one of them dying then one of them would have to die. He braced himself for the fate he’d had the last millennium to prepare for.
But he was only being himself. His gutless pussy self. The thing approaching him at the incinerator was not Loki. He knew who it was. Their paths had crossed before. This was a contract killer—a killer of humans, not of vampires. These days, the newspapers called him The Wandering Butcher and had insisted every day for the last four years that authorities would detain him sometime within the next thirty or forty seconds. His marks were decided by his clients and executed in exchange for money, but his style echoed the voice of a psychologically-FUBAR sociopath medicating a grotesque addiction. Clothing was removed. Throats were slit. Victims were hung upside down and bled dry.
He told me to do it, the humans probably imagined him screaming in a lonely white room with a two-way mirror. I didn’t want to do it, but he made me!
The Butcher was so much more than any human detective would ever wrap his feeble fucking brain around. He’d been a hired gun masquerading as a serial killer for at least a hundred years now, maybe a thousand, maybe more. His methods and signatures changed every decade or so and he became a new person in the eyes of the human authorities who were purportedly hunting him. Most recently he’d been The Reverend, who crucified victims in the mountains of West Virginia. Before that he’d been the Manhattan Madman, who disemboweled them and carved obscene messages into the flesh of their pubic regions. For all Tyr could say, he’d been Jack the Ripper and the Zodiac.
He’d never made his age clear to the Brothers and Tyr doubted he would have been capable of answering the question even if it were asked. Rebirth into immortality left them forgetful of their pasts, and hundreds of years of life blended together, leaving them remembering only the things they gave thought to on a regular basis. Age wasn’t useful. Being 354 years old felt roughly the same as 571.
He was unsure whether he had reason to be afraid; but regardless of reason, he was. He’d spoken more than a few words with the Butcher on only one occasion, fairly friendly, and it had been the better part of a century since. They weren’t old friends. They were barely acquaintances. What’s more, Tyr’s life as of late hadn’t exactly been lived in conjunction with the established rules by which vampires were asked to live. Tyr knew almost nothing of the creature who was on his property, and hadn’t a glimmer of an idea what might have brought him out here on a surprise visit.
“Slow night at the shop?” he yelled to the Butcher, doing his best to hide his dismay as the menacing man advanced on him.
“On the contrary,” the Butcher replied. He stepped up to Tyr so they were finally face to face. “Who’s the drain?”
“Just some bitch. You want to help me cut off her leg?”
“I don’t want to but I will.” The Butcher looked the naked woman over. He gave Tyr a look as though Tyr were getting ready to stick a Taser up his own ass. “You don’t have to cut her. Pull her out. We’ll break some more bones and jam her into the fuckin’ thing. She’ll fit.”
And sure enough, with a few extra joints the showgirl’s body fit nicely into the drum, with only her ass sticking up over the rim. They doused her in gasoline, set her ablaze, slammed the lid down, and fired up the air compressor.
Tyr stood next to the Butcher in total silence and watched the girl’s body evaporate slowly from existence, hoping his own body would still exist when the sun came up.
The Butcher popped open a 1986 Margaux from Tyr’s cellar and found himself a seat on one of the sofas. Still in his satin trench, he sat in a formal, legs-crossed position no doubt awaiting an important discussion.
Tyr took a seat in an armchair opposite the Butcher and did his best to appear calm.
“Tyr, is it?” the Butcher asked, pouring two glasses of wine and handing one to Tyr.
The names had been Loki’s idea. He said they were living as gods amongst mortals, and he was right. Finding their mortal names failed to do them justice, they ditched them in favor of flashier names from mythology. Their human names were long since forgotten, lost in so many years of living as someone else. Tyr the god of war. Loki the prankster. In a sense it was their names that picked them.
“Yes. Yes, it is,” Tyr said. “You’ve got me at a disadvantage.”
The Butcher smiled.
Tyr was not amused.
“Are you here to kill me?” he asked.
The Butcher loosened up, uncrossing his legs and scratching his crotch.
“Ah, shit. I kill for blood, Tyr. Yours would dick with my system.”
Still not entirely convinced, Tyr gave him the benefit of the doubt for the time being. If he was here for blood he had an entirely strange strategy for spilling it.
“So what brings you to Casa Tyr?”
The Butcher shrugged. He unbuttoned his trench and let it slip open. The white, button-down shirt underneath was painted with blood and at least four bullet-sized holes decorated the silk.
He started to ramble. “It’s getting tough. This Cosa Nostra guy asks me to take out these brothers. Three brothers who’ve been dickin’ them around in some way or another…” He bowed his head and sighed deeply. “I don’t even know why I do it anymore. You and your brothers, you got the right idea with beautiful women and whatnot, but I’ve got these morals or some shit I could never get past. I feel like as long as I gotta kill, I might as well kill the right ones, but I can’t even say whether it makes a difference.”
It was true the Brothers didn’t live like most of their kind. In short they were reckless. Before Loki took charge they had lived under Odin’s rule and it had been a different game entirely. They’d lived the way The Chosen would have them live, never questioning The Augury. Hidden away in the night, they lived in the shadows and emerged only to prey on the unfortunate fools who wandered the wrong places.
But with Odin’s death and Loki’s aberrant and obnoxious lifestyle, their new standard of living had come to be the norm. With Loki calling the shots they left their damp and musky hiding places. They gave up living like insects and spiders and left it behind in favor of playing movie stars. Loki led them into the spotlight, made them the Rat Pack. Sex, drugs, laughter, wealth; it was an allegedly dangerous way to live, but they had been living it for almost four hundred years and so far no one had stepped out of the dark to stop them.
“I couldn’t tell you,” said Tyr eventually. “Give a human life and he bitches that it’s too short, give him time and he wastes it on shit he hates doing, give him the world and he doesn’t leave his hometown. I’m not sure the Earth’s best human is worth more than its best intestinal parasite. Hell, at least the parasite doesn’t go to church.”
The Butcher scowled. “I don’t know whether that’s denial or naivete talking, but I’d say you’re being ignorant. Why do you give the species so little credit, Tyr? You used to be one.”
“Yeah, yeah. I was also a sperm once. Doesn’t necessarily mean I’ve got to moderate my behavior to be sure good sperm have good lives. Don’t get me wrong, what you do is admirable,—”
“Cut the shit, Tyr,” the Butcher interrupted.
His expression was suddenly sharp and cold. He narrowed his eyes at Tyr and grinned as though catching him in a lie. Tyr swallowed. Something felt very wrong.
“Who’s the girl?” the Butcher asked suddenly.
Tyr’s stomach sank.
It can’t be. He’s a servant of Ofeigr. They’ve been watching me under a microscope and they’ve sent The Butcher to do me in. The Augury. The Chosen. It’s all real.
Tyr tried his best to play it off.
“Just some Vegas showgirl. What’s the problem?”
The Butcher leaned in close, lowered his eyebrows, and tightened the corners of his mouth.
“You know goddamn well I’m not talking about the drain,” he said. “Who’s the girl?”
While speaking in terms of time the name didn’t come along until near the end, it seemed to have been there all along. When it first appeared on the cover of a tabloid in the 1990s there was no discussion among them, no moment when they excitedly claimed it as their title. It was merely who they were and always had been.
To say it came along late meant nothing to Tyr, however, as his theory was to give something credit based on its genesis in time was to stoop to mortal levels and presuppose it began at all. A thousand years of existence had convinced him nothing of value had a beginning or an end. He knew the universe to have no chronology. In his opinion only the smallest, most minute details of the world began and ended, and they weaved together to flesh out broader things—things that could not be explained or understood so much as studied or meditated on.
So it began everywhere, all at once, and throughout time; a thousand things began in a thousand places. But while the events of a single life unfolded in terms of time, the events of fate unfolded in terms of reason, often moving against one another in a way that convoluted both, like ripples bouncing off the edge of a pond.
And then there was the writer. Be it by fate or by life, cause or effect, he was the one who wrote the words in the tabloid and, young as he was, he was often the one who had the words for everything else. It was his theory—as it is the theory of many writers—that there are only a small number of stories, all told before, and an infinite number of ways in which they can be retold. Were this the case, the romantic in Tyr would have chosen to believe it began with a girl in a tavern outside Las Vegas in 1999.
He tracked her down based on her first name, which he remembered clearly, and her last name, which he had to dig up from her mother’s obituary after the robbery years ago. He had an odd impulse to seek her out, a strange curiosity as to the kind of life she was living. After all, the things she brought to the world were, by extension, things he was bringing to the world as well.
He found when she left the orphanage, she had taken up showing her body to drunks in the Las Vegas metropolitan area. It was a town he loved anyway, and he took to finding her mostly as a means to fill his time. After so many centuries worth of nights in search of beautiful women in general, it was a refreshing change of pace to search for one in particular. He found her in a run-down shithole just outside the city limits.
She was a smudge of expensive lipstick on a dirty mirror, sitting amidst rambunctious lowlifes slurring together the wrong lyrics to songs that weren’t playing on the jukebox in the first place. The room was a Holocaust for brain cells populated by drunkards too seasoned to mourn the vanquished. She tried to blend in, but throwing back whiskey shots with an extended pinky, she practiced the same conformity as a match struck in a darkened room.
She was Tyr’s type, and not just his blood type. He wanted her the instant his eyes rolled over her, the instant his intuition took note of her, and from that instant her fate was decided. In the moment he slid open the heavy wooden door and floated into the cigarette-smoke fog, he made her the poster child of his past regrets and he vowed she would belong to him for the night.
Nineteen years old now. She was ripe for the picking.
She tried to dress badly but the unwashed clothes still complimented her figure. Her stained green button-down shirt, likely taken from an old flame, hung loosely with rolled-up sleeves and the missing button near the top glimpsed the line of her cleavage ever so slightly. Even without lipstick or makeup, she had matured into a beautiful young woman and the wounded dove she looked like made her all the more appealing.
He knew she was the kind of woman Loki longed for every time they hunted, which was probably an influence on his subconscious. Loki would have had her in an instant. She was something typically off-limits to Tyr because of his brother’s skill at charming and hypnotizing. Loki had always been the one to walk away from every social gathering with his pick of litter while the others clamored over whatever scraps he’d left in the buffet line.
But tonight, there was no Loki. This was Tyr’s day. Happy goddamn birthday.
He made his way across the bar to her, glass and plastic crunching below his boots and carving its way into the hardwood flooring. He could smell the succulent and erotic aroma of her blood from across the room. She was in heat, and therefore the blood was at its most delicious. His breaths were thick, wet drags, sucking in the toxins that densified the musky air as he walked stride after determined stride to this night’s drain.
He brushed his fingers insignificantly along her shoulder and she looked up at him, slinking away in a gentle panic. He grasped her arm delicately and held her there, showing her some hint of a smile left mostly to the imagination as he could plainly see anything further would have only offended. She gave a sigh that begged for his consolation and turned back to her drink. He obeyed, rubbing her back gently. She raised the glass and he pushed it back down to the table before she could drink.
This was what she wanted him to do, to care for her, to express concern, to give a shit. He knew this better than she. And as she protested, the roll of her eyes in a forced expression of frustration masked her gratitude almost flawlessly. Tyr had taken her already.
She didn’t recognize him. No surprise there. She had been six years old the last time she’d laid eyes on him and he’d been wearing a bandanna and waving a twelve-gauge shotgun at everyone around her.
She gave a long, deep sigh and said, “Kill me.”
The old Tyr would have laughed. She had no idea. But he detected sincerity in her voice that drew his attention. It could have been the alcohol blending with the tears, but in this moment she truly wanted death.
“What happened?” he asked, making it too sincere and kicking himself as soon as he heard his voice. He sounded like a sixteen-year-old boy feigning consolation to get into a classmate’s pants. I’m sorry your boyfriend cheated on you. You should get back at him by sleeping with me. Truth be told, it wasn’t far from what he was doing, but he expected better from himself. After a thousand years, one ought to know how the hell to seduce a sad girl.
But she accepted it, having already made up her mind to give the night to him—even if it was only in a deep, buried away part of her subconscious she likely wasn’t aware of yet.
“Liver cancer,” she said. “Six months.” Then she finished the shot of whiskey.
Even less, Tyr’s mind quipped.
Forty minutes later they were in the loft. Both bodies mostly naked with hands and mouths wandering hungrily, the girl’s heart rate accelerating, blood becoming warmer, rushing through her brittle body and building in pressure.
And there was Tyr in the midst of what mortals refer to as a midlife crisis—though Tyr’s life had no middle. Like an aging human male unable to perform, he found he could not kill. Not this one. Something about her was ripping into that place inside of him where humans kept their souls. He was feeling something he’d not felt in centuries, maybe millennia. What was it? Sorrow? Pity? Sympathy? He was losing his mind or regaining it. This long stretch of time spent away from his brethren had awakened something in his view of a human being that was unsettling him instantly.
He decided not to kill her.
He told her to put her clothes back on. She wasn’t sober. She protested and cursed at him but his linguistic prowess took hold of the situation and she found herself thanking him and kissing him on the lips when he gave her fare for the cab. She asked if she could see him again on a better night. He told her yes. She scribbled her name on a napkin and slipped it into his breast pocket.
Three days later, by dialing the number, Tyr broke a cardinal rule. She became the Juliet to his Romeo and the events of a thousand years clicked, worlds toppled, suns rose and set.
If the Blood Brothers had a beginning, it might has well have been Eva.
Thanks for reading. Let me know what you think.
To read the other eighteen chapters of Thicker Than Water get your copy from the Kindle Store here.