Experiment

When it comes to my writing, I’m not so good at putting things out there. Why? Because I want it to be perfect. I’ll edit things forever and still not be satisfied, so when I do release something, it’s still in ‘rough draft’ phase because everything I’ve changed now needs editing. So I thought I’d try an experiment, and start releasing scenes without editing. This is the start of a short story series I’m writing in a steampunk/noir setting. It got written in about an hour, and basically wasn’t edited, so it’s rough around the edges, but I like the tone of it, I think. I hope you enjoy it! Also, enjoy a cameo character!

It was one of those nights again. One of those cold, rainy nights that makes you glad it’s Friday night, except it wasn’t. In my line of work, every night feels like Friday night, but it might just be the Monday to a week that will never end. I don’t take chances with my Friday nights, so I’d settled in for a long one. The fire was just starting to crackle down, the beef stew had just started to rumble in my stomach, and I was in the middle of unstoppering what had been advertised as ‘the bourbon a lifetime’. After the week I’d had, believe me, I deserved it.

Between all of the paperwork I signed, not to mention the state secrets I’d be giving up, I can’t really tell you much, but what I can do is give you some friendly advice, so here goes.

Never get into a fistfight with a German-made clockwork man, and if you do, keep your guard up against those jabs. If a magician tells you that a simple pendant will let you sneak undetected past a rogue witch’s wards, especially if his bloody name is “The Amazing Rando”, don’t believe him. In fact, just turn and run right there, because he’s probably looking for any excuse to leave you for dead, but he’ll settle for killing you himself.

And if anybody tries to sell you silver bullets as defense against werewolves? You tell them to hunt their own damned werewolves. No, they don’t just melt in the gun, and the bullet’s not too light to fire; I don’t know where those stupid myths came from. But good luck getting them to rifle; you’ll have about the accuracy of a musket. Great at 25 feet or less, but who wants to fight werewolves at 5 paces?

Like I said, I can’t tell you what I had done that week, but I can tell you that I’d learned a lot.

…Where was I?

Right, I was just getting ready to enjoy a bourbon I’d been saving for just such a night. Now, mind you, this bourbon was aged in barrels that were literally out of this world; the wood is from the living sugar trees of a plane we’ve affectionately nicknamed “Lothlorien” because the primary intelligent inhabitants look vaguely like elves. Well, if elves had a mouthful of sharp, murderous teeth, claws that can slice through flesh and leave grooves in any metal, and a savagery that makes the Ostarian acid-cat look like a mewling kitten. I think it’s really just the pointy ears that makes them look like elves. You’d understand if you ever saw them. Of course, you’d probably die then, so I wouldn’t recommend it. Anyway, I did a favor for somebody important a while back, and he promised me a sample from a Lothlorien brewery. So my job does have its perks.

I was finally ready to spend a night alone with my Dorwinion brew — yes, I’ve been waiting to make that joke for months, and no, I don’t care that it’s probably lost on you — and I mean really ready. A tornado could have torn through my house and all it would have left behind would have been me and my bourbon.

Then came the knock at the door. I hate late night knocks at the door. Nobody shows up in the middle of the night to tell you good news; they wait until the morning. Midnight knocks are reserved for death warrants, or somebody telling you they accidentally shot your dog. I decided to ignore it. I put down the shot glass I’d been holding, and grabbed a whiskey glass from the shelf. That was more like it. I poured a glass, then added a small chunk of ice to open it up. The knocking started again. I decided to start with a swig from the bottle. Elves may be bloodthirsty bastards, but boy do they make a good cask. The wood had imbued the bourbon with more than a hint of the flavor of burnt sugar, almost reminiscent of a strong rum, and I’d swear my next breath ignited briefly in my mouth. The glass could sit for now. I took another swig.

A woman’s voice came through my door. “Chance? Chance Pendleton? Harry Stone sent me. He said if I ever needed a friend in New York, I should come to you.”

That’s me, Chance Pendleton. My father was a cop and a detective. Me? Well, I tried that route. In fact, I’ve walked a lot of paths in my life; con man, stage magician, actual magician, trapeze artist, and now, private eye. I would have gone back to being a detective, but let’s just say they won’t let me in several states, and will shoot me on sight in several more. For now, I think I’ll stay private. I thought it would suit me better; no partners, no bosses, and no paperwork… Well, it turns out that last part’s false. There’s more paperwork; you wouldn’t believe the NDAs you have to sign to testify for an ethereal being.

I wish I could say it was duty that drove me to this line of work, but honestly, I do it because I’m good at it, and I like it. It’s fun with the right dash of ‘OH DEAR GOD I’M GOING TO DIE’, which I think is something everybody have three square meals a day of. And of course, it’s the only way I could stay licensed for half the things I do. Not because it’s all that hard to get licensed (you have to be crazy to want to, so there goes that criterion), but because of my record.

I did mention that, right? In addition to being an ex-con man, I’m also an ex-con. You wouldn’t think a sentient flesh-eating disease could be labeled ‘endangered’, but they lawyer up as fast as anybody else.

And Harry? Well, he’s one of the closest things I have to a friend in this world. He’s also the only name that can get my attention when I really don’t want to be disturbed. Of course, we’ve had our disagreements, and I’ve lost track of which one of us has almost gotten the other killed more. But we watch each other’s backs. I sat down, turned my chair to face the door, took another swig from the bottle, and then set it down beside me. I snapped my fingers and the door swung open. “Come in.”

A tall woman stepped in the doorway and wrung out her umbrella before standing it by the door. She wriggled out of her coat; after looking briefly for a coat rack, she shrugged and folded it in her arms. I’d been meaning to get a coat rack eventually, but my job doesn’t exactly leave me with much free time. Without the coat, she looked even taller, with a slim, boyish frame. Short blond hair fell barely past her chin, and she stared at me with sharp, green eyes. She was cute, in the way an angry school mistress might be. I guess Harry wasn’t the worst friend.

I motioned her to a chair and snapped again; the door closed behind her. She wrinkled her nose and took a seat. I had been hoping for a more impressed reaction, but I guess the city sees more and more every day.

She looked me up and down questioningly. “So you’re Chance Pendleton? Harry talked so much about you. I’d thought you’d be…I dunno, taller?”

“Don’t worry, whatever Harry said about me, it’s definitely true.” I tried to wink reassuringly. I imagine it looked about the same as if a bug had landed in my eye, because she grimaced and swallowed a chuckle.

“That’s good, because I don’t want my money going to waste.”

I took another swig. She was a client. She was one of those clients.

 

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