Some of you are aware that I am writing a novella from Terrible’s POV, which I am hoping to have ready for a Christmas release. So I figure, it’s Thanksgiving, and because the thing I am most thankful for is YOU (yes, you), I’d post the first chapter of it here so you can get a look at it.
Please keep in mind I haven’t finished this, or edited it yet. This is pretty literally a first draft. But I do hope you all enjoy it! (It does not yet have a title, FYI.) And it starts in the time between UNHOLY GHOSTS and UNHOLY MAGIC, though it will move into UM and CoG as the story goes on.
So…here we go!
He’d seen a lot of dead bodies in his life. He’d created a lot of dead bodies in his life, done a lot of damage to living ones. But he’d only a few times seen a body like the one in front of him now, flesh torn an frozen into jagged chunks, covered in blood turned to ice. Slick Michigan, one of Bump’s street-dealers.
What was left of him, leastaways. He were barely recognizable; sliced to shit, with nothing but bloody holes in he chest and stomach, between his legs. His throat was slit. His skin were shredded.
That was part of the problem. Terrible knelt by the body to get a closer look. Had somebody chopped Slick up like that, or had animals got to him? There were plenty around. Not just dogs and cats, neither. Never could tell what might come outen an alley, especially where they were, near the docks.
Dock people kept all kinda shit as pets; hell, he wouldn’t be surprised to find some of them had been eating off Slick. Terrible hated being by the docks. He scanned the streets over and over, watched the windows of the buildings nearby, ready to move fast if he saw even a shadow. The barrel of his gun dug into his side; usually he left it in the car, but on the border streets, or the docks…
“What you thinking?” Roley stood on Slick’s other side, shifting from foot to foot. Anxious. Terrible guessed he couldn’t blame him. The sight of Slick ain’t exactly made him feel good, neither, even if they weren’t where they were. “Like a pack of dogs got he, aye?”
Terrible shook his head. “Somebody had a knife. Slit he throat. But the rest…ain’t know.”
He stood up. “Get he packed up, dig, take he to the cooler. Let Bump get a look in.”
He weren’t thinking just of Bump having a look, though, were he? No. He weren’t. Which made sense. Got a mutilated body, it made sense to have a witch look at it. Especially since he ain’t liked the look of some of them slices, some of them patches of missing skin. Looked like maybe somebody carved some shit into Slick’s body, maybe then cut it off after he were dead. Like maybe somebody doing magic.
So it made sense to think maybe he oughta give Chess a ring-up, see was she busy, if she minded having a look. He hated to do it to her, since Slick ain’t exactly looked pretty, but still. Made sense.
Made sense to step back as Roley and Winchuk started moving Slick’s body, too. An unburied body were like a magnet for a ghost, or could be. Chess taught him that; well, he’d always thought it were true, but she’d confirmed it. Sometimes they’d try coming back, getting back into them bodies. Why they had to be buried so fast, burned so fast. Were why he made sure them at the Crematorium got their money every month, right on time, so bodies could get dropped off there and taken care of.
But he ain’t felt that kind of…unease, like he’d learned he felt when ghosts were around. Not a big feeling. Just a funny one, like somebody were squeezing his stomach a little bit.
Whatever it was, he ain’t felt it then. Good thing, too. But he still didn’t like the look of that body, and he still thought it were best to check with Bump and get the aye to bring Chess in.
Had nothing to do with wanting an excuse to spend more time with her. Nothing at all. Just doing he job.
Roley and Winchuk had Slick turned over. Terrible held up a hand to stop em going further, then reached into Slick’s pockets. The denim, crusted with frozen blood, scratched at the back of his hand as he pulled out Slick’s wallet. Nothing missing, least not what he could see. Still had lashers in it; Terrible weren’t certain how much Slick shoulda had, but he had enough that it ain’t looked like he got robbed. Drugs in he other pocket, too, so definitely ain’t been robbed.
That ain’t made much sense, though. Not for the docks. Aye, this spot—way up ninety-ninth—weren’t a busy one. And aye, Slick had only been dead half a day at most; he picked up he product the night before just right but ain’t showed up that morning to turn in he earnings. So no more than fifteen hours, and long enough to freeze solid, or at least for he skin and all to freeze solid, causen he might just be so stiff from being dead.
He’d died sometime during the night, was all Terrible knew. Figuring shit like that weren’t what he done best; well, figuring any shit weren’t what he done best, was it?
A small crowd had started forming, attracted—he guessed—by the sight of him, Roley, and Winchuk. Maybe attracted by the body, seeing as how the sun had only been up a few hours and it were hidden in some tall weeds where it weren’t easy to see, specially in the dark.
But a crowd in the docks never were a good thing. He knew enough of the dock-people not to be worried. Knew what to do if they started getting too close, if it started lookin like they realized they outnumbered him. But he ain’t exactly wanted to do it, so better to just get out clean.
And try figuring why Slick were up in that part of town to start with. He worked Fifty-fourth, nowhere near the docks. No reason for him bein up there, where most of the buildings ain’t even had roofs and most of the walls looked like crumbling pyramids.
He gave Roley and Winchuk the nod to lift the body. No blood. A little on the grass and trash under it, but looked like transfer. None soaked into the dirt. Slick ain’t been killed there, then. Just dumped there.
He looked at the little crowd. “Anybody hear aught? See anything?”
Heads shook all around. Shit. Were what he expected, but still shit.
A dame stepped forward, her skin as pale as Slick’s from cold an lack of sun. Terrible ain’t felt the cold much neither—an even if he did he wouldn’t have showed it—but he couldn’t imagine how that dame weren’t shivering so hard she could barely stand. Barely dressed at all, she was, just wrapped inna dirty blanket scrap with holes for she arms, tied around her waist with a blue ribbon. Bright blue, only barely smudged with dirt. Like she tried keeping it clean an nice, tried making herself pretty the only way she could. Something about it made sadness echo in he chest.
Specially since there wasn’t shit he could do on it, not really. He’d slip her some cash for her knowledge, but it wouldn’t go past her next meal, maybe whatever man she gave herself to; no woman went alone on the docks. Not even a tough little one like this one, standing straight an ignoring the cold.
Then he looked a little closer an saw part of the reason why she ain’t felt the cold, leastaways. Her pupils were hardly visible, just tiny black dots practically spinning in her eyes.
“Be Unk’s place, there,” she said, in such a high, squeaky voice he almost expected dogs to start howling. Her bony arm stretched out, her bony finger pointing at the paper-covered window—weren’t even a real window, just an irregular hole knocked in the brick wall—next to where Slick’s body had been. “Could be Unk see or hearn aught, could be, you asking he.”
Terrible turned, stared at the window-hole. Whoever Unk were, he were likely watching now. He’d come out in a minute, when he saw them all looking, saw Terrible looking. Least Terrible hoped he would. He’d heard Unk’s name before, and them at the docks seemed to respect the dude. Terrible didn’t want to have to go in after him.
And he didn’t have to. After a minute or so—a minute or so in which Terrible unfolded his arms, straightened his back, raised his chin, making the threat more clear—the tied-together battered slats of wood that worked as a door opened, and Unk stepped out onto he front walk.
Old and skinny, bundled in scraps of burlap and fur that looked like dog. A bright green stocking cap covered his head all the way down to his eyes. Bright, aware eyes. Unk had seen something, aye he had.
“Dumped he here roundabout darktide,” he said. “Darktide, it were, hearing me a car, an gave me a peek. Fast peek, ain’t watching long. No headlights. No moonlights. Ain’t seed it much. But hearing me a voice. Man voice. Hearing the trunk close.”
He looked at Slick’s corpse, or what there were of it, wrapped in plastic hangin between Roley an Winchuk. “Hearing a thud. Car drives off.”
Terrible nodded his thanks. “Drive off fast? Only one voice?”
“One voice. No tires squealin or whatnot.” Unk bowed. “Be all.”
Terrible nodded again. So two people—only one talked, aye, but who’d he be talking to iffen he were on his alones?—dumped Slick there at low tide, which would be just before dawn if he had his knowledge right. Which maybe he ain’t, of course. He’d have to check. And whoever it was either figured he weren’t seen or ain’t gave a fuck iffen he was, causen he ain’t bothered to take off fast.
Which sounded like it were planned, not panicked. People panicked and killed somebody, they were terrified of being seen and caught. They fucked up, made mistakes, ran around tryna hide. But people who planned murders, they didn’t worry so much. They studied, hunted around for places to dump the body, set on times to do it when almost nobody be up to see or hear.
Meant good chances they knew the docks, too, seeing as how darktide were superstition in the dock-people. Bad luck, so they thought. They ain’t gone out during it. They ain’t liked it when the tide come in, neither, but then Terrible felt the same way. The air felt weird when the tide come in, like charged with electricity.
Weren’t the time to start thinking on it. Unk had already gone back inside, so Terrible pulled two twenties from his wallet and held them out to the woman. She stepped forward like she were walking on jagged glass, every step real hesitant and scared, and tugged them out of his hand from arm’s length.
Terrible tipped his head toward Unk’s house, seeing the paper over the window gapped on the side. So Unk were watching, would know he had lashers coming. “Pass he one, dig?”
The dame nodded.
Behind her the crowd started shifting. Time to get gone. He could stay longer, aye, but better to save that for when he needed it. Best thing to do in that part of town was get in fast, get out fast. Hand out a few lashers or a few broken bones, depending; enough of both so they didn’t forget who he was.
He gave Roley and Winchuk the nod toss the body into the back of the truck, and watched them get in the cab theyselves. Time to go.
Time to start tryin to find out who killed Slick Michigan, and more importantly why.
* * *
Bump’s annoyance came through loud and clear when Terrible walked into the red living room. Always hurt his eyes a little at first, afore he got used to it. He weren’t a fan of the pictures on the walls, neither, but weren’t his place to say on it. He just tried not to pay em too much attention.
Bump paced up and down the floor, his gold toe-ring flashing with every other step. His cane leaned against the couch; he wore loose black pants and a blue button-front shirt, and his eyes were bloodshot. Looked like he’d been up all night celebrating something. Terrible wondered when he’d left his house last.
“Be Slobag, betting,” Bump said, without stopping he pacing. “Fuckin betting him behind this one, yay, tryna take heself over, gots he—”
“Naw.” Interrupting Bump wasn’t always the best idea, but he really ain’t wanted to see this one turn into an all-day tirade. “Ain’t thinkin so. Thinkin be some else. Slick all cut up, dig, ain’t just were shot or whatany, like that kinda killing. Lookin like…like be personal, maybe. Or got some other reasoning’s behind it. An Slick ain’t work near the borders, neither. No reasoning I see why it’d be him them went for.”
“Maybe Slick be fuckin spyin.”
Terrible shrugged. “Know Slick gots heself a rep, likes the dames already got men, dig. Maybe one of them catch up to he. Ain’t be the first time he been in trouble over it.”
Bump waved his hand. “Maybe. Maybe you got it right, yay, got the fuckin recall now on that. Only I ain’t wanting rule Slobag the fuck out, yay, ain’t wanting fuckin forget on he. You give it the check-on, you get onna street.”
That one wasn’t too bad. Calmed down fast that time. Good thing, too, causen what Terrible was about to say wouldn’t make Bump happy. “Also…had the thinkin could be magic, dig. Slick gots he some funny cuts on he, like maybe something carved into he, then cut off so’s we ain’t know on it. Like be some ritual or whatany like that.”
“You just fuckin sat there gave me how it probably some fuckin dude ain’t liked Slick fucking he woman. Which one it fuckin be?”
“Just sayin, is all.” He pulled out a smoke and lit it up, spent a few seconds arranging the ashtray to give himself time to think how to put it. Damn it, he should have thought on it more in the car, gave himself time to get the words right. “Ain’t know which it is. Were thinkin…maybe oughta give Chess a ring-up, ask her take a look. Just for certain, dig.”
Silence. He kept staring at the red carpet, tryna pretend there were nothing more to his thought than wanting to make sure they had everything covered. Aye, that was the reason, true thing. He wouldn’t ask on bringing Chess in iffen he were certain what or who got Slick. But he knew Bump wouldn’t see it that way, not after some of the comments he’d made over the last month and a half.
Sure enough, when he glanced up Bump was watching him, arms folded, leaning against his desk. “Thinkin be magic? Or thinkin be a fuckin excuse spend you some time with the ladybird?”
“Ain’t needing an excuse.” He shrugged as he said it, like it ain’t mattered. “Wouldn’t say iffen I ain’t think it could be something.”
Bump held out his hand. “Lemme have a look-see on them fuckin photos again.”
The camera sat in Terrible’s bag, at his feet. He dug it out and handed it over without meeting Bump’s eyes. Maybe he were wrong. The only evidence he had that it could be something to do with magic was his own suspicion. There weren’t any markings or any shit like that on the body. No weird magic shit in he pockets or aught like that. Nothing. Maybe he was just wishing it, causen it’d be a chance to see Chess more.
He already saw her a fuck of a lot more than he’d ever expected, or hoped. Almost every day. Never would have seen that one coming; iffen he’d been asked two months past he’d have said she may have been the prettiest dame he’d ever met but she seemed like one of the bitchiest too—but this would be extra time.
He sure as fuck wouldn’t complain on seeing her more. But he didn’t think that were why. He just didn’t. Something on this one were setting off alarms in he mind, makin him feel like…like something was wrong. Something starting that weren’t good, wouldn’t end well.
Bump flipped through the images on the camera, the pictures Terrible had taken an hour or so before in the cooler. “Just looks like fuckin slices to me, yay? Come fuckin on, Terrible, you done worse damage than that you own fuckin self, specially you lose you fuckin temper. You fuckin knowing that.”
“Aye.” He did know that, ceptin he ain’t lose he temper with knives, not since he were a kid. “Only, some of them patches missing, were thinking maybe were shit carved into he skin.”
“An now them fuckin gone. So what you fuckin think the ladybird gonna pick fuckin up offa that? Nothin to fuckin see is nothing to fuckin see, yay?”
Fuck. He ain’t thought on that one. Made sense, though. Chess were smart, real fucking smart. Had she all that school, an knew more than he could ever hope to. But aye, even she probably ain’t could figure on what magic might be used iffen there weren’t any evidence of it. An the body ain’t felt like aught were happening with it, neither; Terrible weren’t real good on all that, but he knew how he’d felt when everything went down at Chester Airport, and he ain’t felt anything like that with Slick’s body.
Maybe he were just wanting to get Chess involved so he could be with her. Maybe all he concerns were just bullshit made up causen he wanted to be with her more. “Just figured it ain’t hurt askin.”
Bump snorted. “Askin to get you some fuckin trouble, yay. Oughta fuckin know you better. Ain’t can trust a junkie.”
“You trust her.”
“Nay, I fuckin ain’t. Trust her do what I fuckin ask she doing, yay, causen her does it, her gets she needs, dig? Puts Bump in control. Only ain’t fuckin seein you given em to she, so ain’t can guess on why you givin she the fuckin trust you do.”
He forced himself not to move. “Chess ain’t like that.”
“Yay, her is. Only you ain’t fuckin seein it, causen you wanting in she panties so fuckin bad, gots you all crazed up—”
“Don’t got the knowing why you ain’t just fuck she already, yay, get you fuckin over you bullshit on it.”
Like it was that simple.
No point explaining that, though. Explaining that he didn’t try because if she didn’t let him they’d both feel awkward and he wouldn’t get to see her anymore. He didn’t try because if she did let him—and she might, sometimes he had the thought she just might, specially were she fucked up—she’d run away from him as soon as they were done. He knew she would. She’d done it before. She’d done it that night, the one he couldn’t forget no matter how hard he tried—and he’d tried real fucking hard. No point explaining that she preferred her bedpartners first-name- and one-time-only.
So pretty much, he didn’t try because no matter if she let him or not, he wouldn’t get to see her anymore.
And definitely no point explaining how that would kill him. He’d already had a taste of what he were missing, and it was fucking torture. He couldn’t imagine how much worse it would be to actually have her, to have her bare skin against his and her warm body under his, to touch her everywhere, kiss her everywhere…and then lose her. For good.
Bump must have seen something on his face. Or maybe it was just that Bump already knew all this; not cause he’d been told, but just because he knew. Bump weren’t stupid. He had eyes. His expression changed, the sarcasm and irritation leaving. “Be fuckin careful, yay? Alls I meaning. Dig me that you and she got some fuckin friend thing on, her likin you and all that fuckin shit. Can see her fuckin do. Maybe you gots the right, there, yay. Her do got the knowing how to keep she fuckin mouth shut, her do.”
He shifted position, crossing his ankles in the other direction. “Only still wanting you bein fuckin careful. Gots meself some fuckin experience on this one, Terrible. Ain’t can trust a junkie, causen it fuckin comes down to you or them pills? Them takin the pills every fuckin time. Wishing it weren’t the fuckin truth, yay, I do, only it is. And ain’t wanting you fuckin get the hard find-out on it.”
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!