Blood Hound Excerpt

This is an excerpt from Chapter 11 of Blood Hound, which is on sale for 99c on Amazon between the 29th – 31st, just in time for Halloween!

Outside, Yuri loomed down over me like a coffin on its heel. The old wolf was actually older than Nic, which meant he was cresting his early 60s. He was enormous, the kind of hoary man that could pound the shit out of thirty-year-old prizefighters in the ring without breaking a sweat. Now, his heavy shoulders were hunched in towards his chest, his hands buried in his pockets. His skin was clammy and pale.

“Yuri. You look… dreadful.” I was, for a moment, bereft of words. “Where have you been?”

“Long time explaining.” His voice caught and clicked weirdly, like he was talking through a mouthful of soggy bread and thumbtacks. There were awkward, painful pauses between his words. “Can I sit… down?”

Details filed into my awareness in seconds. The bruises under his eyes. The dried spittle at the corner of his lips. The coat he was wearing was too heavy for the summer heat. My nape prickled. “Perhaps. Tell me where you’ve been.”

“Came back to talk about Vincent.” He finally looked down at me then, and I recoiled slightly from the door. Yuri’s eyes were normally dark, the whites a little yellow from hard years of prison hooch and nicotine. Now, they were black—a blackness that sucked in light and didn’t return it. No reflection, no life, no anything. For a moment, they held me captive with the siren promise of knowledge. I knew somehow that Yuri, or the thing that had once been Yuri, now held more knowledge than my own curious mind could withstand.

Letting him in felt like a bad idea, but the mystery was irresistible. I licked my lips, throat suddenly dry, and opened the door to let him pass. “Shoes on the rack, please.”

Yuri crossed the threshold. He didn’t take off his shoes, and my brief captivation disappeared. Honestly. I really hated it when people didn’t take their shoes off.

The huge man lumbered to the kitchen, turning his head one way, then the other. He stopped, neck craned, and stared at the icebox section of the refrigerator. The icebox. The seal was still in the tin chalice, in the icebox. My heart rate leapt.

“I’ve been underground.” Yuri didn’t look at me as he took his seat, shuffling heavily into a chair at the kitchen table. The table was a small, square thing, no bigger than a card table, and barely sat Vassily and me. Yuri, sitting side-on with his elbow braced down, dwarfed it. “Underground. I figured you might be interested in some new work.”

“That depends on the nature of the work.” I stayed standing. “I assume you don’t want coffee?”

“No.” Yuri swiveled his face towards me just as I was about to step in through the door. The look in the other man’s eyes stopped me. “We have the kind of work you want. The kind you really want. None of this underpaid Girl Friday bullshit.”

“Who’s ‘we’?” In the closeness of the kitchen, Yuri smelled like alcohol. Not liquor, like vodka or whiskey, but pure alcohol. The cold, nose-stinging smell of preservative. Surreptitiously, I rubbed my fingers together and then pitched my own thigh. No, I wasn’t still dreaming. “The Manellis?”

“Manelli.” Yuri ground the word out like a woodchipper. It could have been agreement or just echolalia. “Hell no. I was sent t-to make you an offer. The kind that suits a true magus.”

Now there was an expression you didn’t hear every day. I stared at Yuri intently, trying to pick up anything I could. He wasn’t right, but he wasn’t… anything. I was beginning to mistrust things with a lack of aura, and I was beginning to think I’d made a mistake letting him into my house. “That seems reasonable. You have three minutes to make your pitch.”

The big man looked up lazily with his void-black eyes and laid one of his hands on the table. “Power. Instruction. A position of leadership. And an out from the Organizatsiya, and the geas that Sergei has on the whole damn thing.”

A creeping sensation ran up through my spine. I remembered the dream, though I could not recall the face of the pale-skinned, white-haired woman in the circle. I did remember the last stark image before rising: my mouth stuffed full of my own entrails. “You’re not Yuri. Yuri knows nothing about these things.”

“I do now,” Yuri said. The words seemed to carry a weight to them, wielded like a fist through the thickness of his tongue. “And I’ll tell you this, Lexi. You’re so powerful that you could become a god.”

I was rendered speechless. It was partly the awful cliché, but it was also because the thought had never genuinely occurred to me. I wanted to be better at my Art. Who wouldn’t? Godhood was never on the agenda. “Why on earth would I want to be a god?”

“Men like you are either masters or slaves. Most of ’em are slaves. That’s why the Vigiles take kids with the gift, Lexi. It’s why operations have spooks, and don’t let them out of their sight. You don’t want to stay here.” In that moment, Yuri sounded more like his old self, halting voice and all. “Living and d-dying… under someone like Sergei? Lev? They all think you belong to them.”

The words hooked in my sense of pride. I tried reaching back inside, towards Kutkha, but I felt nothing there. It was as if I were walled off from him, left with nothing other than the distant sense of beating wings. “I have on good authority that gods don’t exist.”

“They do. Men become gods. Jehovah? He was a war leader and a spook. Alexander the Great? Jason and the fleece? Heroes and mages, the lot of ’em.” Yuri’s black eyes bored into me. “Just like Carmine.”

My eyes narrowed. “How do you know Carmine?”

“Maybe he got the same offer. Maybe he said ‘yes.’ He was tired of being somebody’s bitch. What about you?”

“I’m no one’s ‘bitch’,” I replied, crisply.

“Psh. You’re Sergei’s bitch. I watched you grow up right into his design, kid. Grisha’s skinny little weirdo, accidentally sorted out onto the conveyor belt for fighting cocks before he got thrown into the grinder with the rest of the chicks.”

“Sergei is coming back to Brighton Beach,” I said. “He will likely name Vassily Avtoritet, and I will be his second.”

Yuri leaned in. The prickling was worsening, ringing cold bells through my nerves. There was something wrong about Yuri’s skin. It was distended and tight, and when I looked down, I noticed his tattooed hands were bloated and puffy. “Kid, they haven’t even made you a captain. They think you don’t have the experience. Killing people doesn’t put you in line for anything except a bullet between the eyes when the big cats vote you’re too out of control. That’s just cold hard reality. Did you ever wonder what Sergei sees in you?”

Of course I did. Numerous men had been born in or on the periphery of the Organization, and of all of them, Sergei had selected me and Vassily. I have one clear memory of him from my childhood: a memory of being hoisted up in tattooed hands the size of Christmas hams, looking down into his broad, beaming face and bushy beard. Sergei was as much a Slav as Vassily and I were, but he had red hair: red hair and violet eyes. I remember looking down into those twinkling purple-blue irises, understanding even then that they were full of cold humor and equally cold assessment. When he was here, he’d been a shadow over my shoulders, always watching. Every school report, every play, every equestrian competition. He watched everything with indulgent, predatory patience, rewarding the good and being outwardly disappointed by the bad. The same way you trained a dog.

“No. And how would you know?” I asked.

“Son, I was the first guy to bring heroin here from the ’Stans. Me and Nic. We took a convoy of poppy over the border all the way to a ship in Karachi.” Yuri exhaled, and his throat buzzed with phlegm. “I knew Sergei before you were a gleam in your daddy’s eye. Man is a Class-A shitbag. A real circus master. He’d fuck you with a razor blade for your jacket if he wanted it.”

I glared at him in sullen, offended silence.

“I know what Sergei sees in you. Same thing he sees in all t-the rest of us poor motherfuckers.” Yuri grinned. “Machine parts.”

The undeniable truth of Yuri’s words made me pause. I rubbed my hands on my thighs, leaning away. My fingers were stinging with salt, rubbed raw within the illusory security of their casings.

“Tiny, fragile, cheap… machine parts.” Yuri’s voice dropped to a brittle hiss. “Itty bitty. And there’s lots of you. Lots of Alexis. Lots of Yuris. You’re already a slave. Just like your mother.”

“You don’t know anything about my mother.” That remark snapped the growing hypnotic fugue short. I reached back and pulled the gun free from my waistband. “Shut up.”

“I know more than you do.” Yuri’s soulless eyes burned under the fluorescent lights of the kitchen. “You think your dad was her only man before she capped herself?”

“SHUT UP!” I barked.

A weird, choked sound bubbled up from Yuri’s throat. It took me a moment to realize he was laughing. “She hated him. Hated you. She hated us. The Organization.”

Shaking, I raised the pistol in a teacup grip. My arms, back, and stomach were taut with rage.

“Yeah. Get angry.” Yuri sat back but didn’t otherwise move. He didn’t give two shits about the gun. “Think about it. You get t-to choose what Sergei did with you? Choose what you were born into? How you turned out?”

My nostrils trembled as I drew a deep, furious breath.

“Had your school paid up, car paid up, all sponsored… so you could do this. Pull a gun on the guy tellin’ you how things work. You’re a slave, kid. You joined the system, and they got you good.”

It was true. It was all true. Sergei had put Vassily and me through The Knox School together, bought our cars. After my mother’s funeral, Sergei had bought my first horse. They weren’t gifts—they were investments. We’d both known it and worked hard out of gratitude and obligation and maybe more than a little fear. Our patron had checked us into college and assigned us our subjects. Finance. Business. He wanted white-collar leaders with a taste for comfortable living and big money. I had done everything he wanted—except one thing.

“So you tell me, Alexi. Where’d it get you? Your loyalty?”

I lifted my chin. My instincts screamed at me to disengage, but pride wouldn’t let me. I’d taken so much shit from the other muzhiki in this place. “I’ve got everything I need.”

“You work like a dog, live in a shitty apartment, and half the Organization thinks you should be put down. There ain’t no respect for spooks in this place, kid. I know the guys at work, what they say about you.” Yuri didn’t blink. “Rumor is you’re a faggot.”

“Say that again.” Every muscle in my body trembled. It couldn’t be true. My finger tightened on the trigger. In the ensuing silence, the small click seemed very, very loud.

“Faggot.” He sounded it out long and slow, like I hadn’t heard the first time. “You don’t believe me? Ask Nic. Everyone thinks you make out like you’re a big tough guy after killing your dad to hide it. But it doesn’t have to be that way,” Yuri replied. “You want your soul to walk beside you like it was real, like Carmine? You can do that. Want to learn how to walk on water? It’s possible. Create gold? Skullfuck people from across the room? You can. I can sense it, Lexi. You woke up. You’re one of the big boys now.”

bh_mockupGet Blood Hound on Amazon: http://amzn.to/1Qaxc4H

Sneak Peek: Cold Cell

Today’s post is Part 1 of 2 posts offering the first chapter draft of Cold Cell. Read part 2 here.

It rained blood the day that I enacted the first stage of my revenge, and not in the romantic, metaphorical sense.

Three weeks had passed since Sergei robbed Vassily’s grave: Three weeks to heal, to regain my fitness, to test the limits of my magic, and to get my very first tattoo. I had it done at a small, no-name shop just off Times Square, the same place where Vassily had gotten most of his ink. As I’d hoped, they still had his designs on file. I learned that his python tattoo, which began on his right shoulder and looped its way down around his arm to weave through the sockets and mouth of an empty skull on the back of his hand, was called a ‘sleeve’. So that was what I got, a sleeve that was the mirror image of Vassily’s, winding down the full length of my left arm in coils of shaded navy-blue ink. The only change I made to the design was to the color of the snake’s eyes. Vassily’s had been red. I had mine done in blue.

Getting the tattoo finished was a part time job. In between gym and learning to ride a motorcycle, I spent a good five hours a week in the parlor with my artist, Jose, straddling the seat with my shirt off and my eyes closed. There, I could lose myself in the purr of the tattoo machine and the aura of focused energy that played along my magical senses, listening to the soft background of rock music and thinking of very little. In that emptiness I found under the needle, dark inspiration germinated and blossomed into plans.

The 22nd of October found me in the Financial District, on my way to visit one Yegor Gavrilyuk, CPA, who worked out of an office in 44 Wall Street. It was an old and stately building, standing solidly under a low, gunmetal-gray sky. In a good suit and tie and a good-quality wig of fashionably blond, slicked-back hair, I looked like any other yuppie bustling between his office and the New York Stock Exchange, one of many pushing through the canopy of black umbrellas that were out in expectation of rain. No one gave me or my carry-on bag so much as a second glance as I entered the atrium of Yegor’s building, stepped into the elevator, and pressed the button for the 28th floor. Surrounded by a forest of suits, I read the front page of the Wall Street Journal and listened to the awkward throat clearing, clicking rustle of too many people crammed into a too-small metal box.

By the time I reached my floor, my healing tattoo was itching and I felt hot under the collar, queasy from the press of bodies around me. Pulling my carry-on behind me, I gratefully emerged into a marble foyer and clacked my way down the echoing hallway to the glass-fronted reception of Weiss & Co Financial Services. The lady at the desk – financial executive receptionists were always female, weren’t they? – was a pencil-thin redhead with dark eyebrows and brown eyes. She wore an artfully fitted gray dress that was probably worth more than my entire suit. Both of them.

“Good morning, sir,” she chirped. “How can I help you?”

I didn’t bother smiling, and I let my usual Trans-Atlantic accent drop so that she could hear the Russian accent I typically worked to conceal. “I am here for an appointment with Mr. Gavrilyuk.”

The woman’s pale brow creased slightly. “I’m sorry, but Mr. Gavrilyuk doesn’t have any appointments until eleven.”

“I know. He forwards his calendar to my boss in case we need to speak with him urgently,” I replied. “Please call his extension, and tell him that Nicolai Chiernenko would like to discuss one of our accounts.”

The receptionist blinked at me, deer-like and mildly indignant, but she slowly picked up the receiver and began to dial. I was a better liar than I thought.

While she hung on the line, I nosed around the office, marking the fire escape, the location of cameras, and the patterns of energy in the room. Practically every building in the Financial District had wards – good wards, wards that I, a single spook working alone, could not hope to overcome in an emergency. These were enchantments laid down by the Adepts of the Inner School and other Masonic orders. They were beautiful, though, and playing my senses out along the elegantly formed strings of magic woven through the stone and metal was a satisfying distraction from the meeting I was sure to have.

“Hello, Mr. Gavrilyuk? Yes, this is Lisa… I have a Mr. Chiernenko here who would like to see you regarding one of his accounts, if you have time? He says it’s urgent. No, he’s alone. Alright, thank you. I’ll let him know.”

I turned as she hung up, and she smiled with double rows of laser-white teeth. “Someone will be out to see you in in just a moment, Mr. Chiernenko. Take a seat.”

“Thank you, but I would rather stand.”

She smiled again, a little woodenly this time, and then turned back to her monitor and keyboard.

Perhaps five minutes later, another woman strode around the corner from the same direction I’d first arrived, and pushed through the glass door separating the reception from the lobby outside. She was also well-dressed, her blond hair pulled into a tight bun. When she saw me, her eyes narrowed slightly.

“Mister Chiernenko?” She asked.

“Yes?” I cocked my head.

“Oh… I’m sorry. Excuse me for saying so, but I remember someone who was taller and… less well-built.” There was an uncertain lilt in her voice, green-yellow.

“That would be Nicolai. I am Roman Chiernenko. Nic is taller and I am wider,” I said, forcing a small, stiff smile and trying to make the most of my temporarily blue eyes.

Her face suffused with hidden laughter for a moment, and then she gestured with hand and head towards the door. “Yes, well, please come this way, Mister Chiernenko.”

The P.A – I assumed she was the P.A – led me back to the elevators. Yegor Gavrilyuk was a wealthy man and the Accounts Director of AEROMOR Shipping and Freight, and he didn’t work in the boiler room with lesser accountants and analysts; he had his own private suite. A well-insulated suite, in a building as old and solid as this one.

I was led to a solid oaken door in a gold-and-cream corridor. The P.A swiped her card, knocked, and then opened it a crack, but before she got too far, I gently touched her wrist with one gloved hand.

“Excuse us, please,” I said, meeting her eyes. “This is a sensitive matter.”

“Oh… of course.” The lady blinked and withdrew from the momentary contact.

After she was a good ways down the hall, I opened the door myself and then closed it behind me with a sharp click as Yegor stood up in alarm. The blood drained out of his face. His eyes widened.

“YOU! What are YOU doing here?” He pushed back from the edge of the desk, putting distance between himself and his chair. “I’ll call security, I’ll-”

“Tzain.” I spoke the word calmly, forcefully.

Energy thrummed through my gut and hands with a thrill of pleasure. The lights flickered; the door behind me made a grinding sound as the lock failed, short-circuiting, and every other electronic device in the room simply died. We were left in the confines of a strange, humming silence.

Yegor stared at me in desperate shock. He was a soft, paunchy man with a fleshy face, small eyes, and a fluff of brown hair. He had turned the same color as his yellow linen shirt.

“Please, Yegor Vladimiovich. Take a seat.” I motioned to his chair. “And put your hands on the desk where I can see them, or I will speak another word of power and boil your brains in your skull.”

Read part 2 of this chapter >>

Blood Hound is a Finalist in the 2016 Dragon Awards!

dragon_con_nominationHoly shitsnacks, guys! The Grumpiest Ukrainian Wizard in the world is a DragonCon Dragon Awards Finalist!

If you want to enable the Magical Russian Mafiya takeover of DragonCon, register to vote here: http://application.dragoncon.org/dc_fan_awards_signup.php

You’ll get a confirmation email, and then DragonCon will send you a ballot.

If you don’t want to vote for me, check out Ronnie Virdi’s Grave Beginnings, another great Urban Fantasy title that also made it to the finals!

About the Author

I write gritty dark fantasy, urban fantasy, and science fiction. You can see all my books at: http://www.jamesosiris.com/books.

When writing gets tough

You should write because it brings you happiness and fulfillment. I did it for the pure joy of the thing, and if you can do it for joy, you can do it forever - Stephen King I’m about 65,000 words into Strange Fruit, the second book in the Alexi Sokolsky novel series. And I want to give up.

Now… that doesn’t mean I WILL give up. But I want to.

I recently got my first full-time office job. For most people, moving into white-collar mediocrity is, at best, a pleasant stroke of luck and one that they largely hope for and expect after leaving school. For me? It’s nothing short of a miracle. By all rights, I should have been dead years ago. People with my kind of history have the odds pointing them to prison, drug addiction, suicide or reoccurring homelessness. But somehow, I managed to not become a drug-addicted suicidal homeless person, and I now have a pod and a business phone number and no less than three suits. I am now comfortable. And it feels bizarre.

Twenty years ago, I was living hand-to-mouth in a women’s shelter with my mother. I was homeless. It seemed that every other day, someone or something would try to kill us. We often went without substantial food. When we were at our worst off, we didn’t have gas or electricity. I used to horde corn, because my biggest comfort food as a kid was a can of corn (with the water) and some butter mixed up as a kind of soup. When canned corn is the highlight of your day, you know shit is FUBAR.

That was twenty years ago. Now, as an adult, I have the perpetual sense that a bomb is waiting to explode somewhere. Not a literal bomb (though sometimes – I am pretty high-strung), but a metaphorical one. Or, perhaps literal in the sense that I expect SOMETHING to come crashing in to destroy my life.

As you may or may not know, writing is essentially professional gambling. No matter how gifted, talented, persistent or productive you are, the best result of all of your particular circumstances and abilities is to lift the odds. Slightly. If your daddy or your uncle is in Penguin, you have a better chance – but not a guaranteed entry, even then. Because they, and everyone else in publishing, is also gambling – every book they invest into and publish is a gamble they make to bring in money. And so every writer, no matter how gifted or well-endowed with wordsmithery, can expect to be rejected over, and over, and over. They can expect their sales to go up and down, their books to fall in or out of fashion, or to lie dormant for 15 years before their buddy decides they want to make a TV show out of it and it mysteriously and suddenly becomes a multi-million dollar phenomenon (Game of Thrones, Game of Thrones *cough cough*). For every George R.R Martin, though, there are a thousand Nancy Nobodies who never get past the front desk of a literary agent.

People ask how Twilight or 50 Shades of Grey got published. After several years in the industry, I can tell you: luck. Pure dumb luck. The way that Harry Potter got published. The way that Dr. Seuss got published. The way that even hard-working and relentless Steven King got published, though he boosted his odds with huge output and by pushing on through rejection.

My corn-loving ragamuffin of an inner child looks at that scenario, and goes: “Fuck that noise: I just want to eat.”

And so, here I am: sitting on a 65K manuscript, a book coming out in October (unless I am also very lucky, and the agent who is reading Blood Hound at the moment decides to take it on), and one other non-fiction title that I hope will be coming out in December, and I wonder… should I bother? Or should I just focus on my time-consuming but stable full-time job?

But the fact remains that writing brings me the greatest joy. There’s no glow quite like the glow of holding a book in your hands, in the magic of creating something out of nothing. And it is magical: the root of Occult magic was the inscription of letters, sigils and other symbols with the goal of creating an effect. Writing does that. It is a form of Look at that smile! God Has Heard goes to live in another good home.magic, whether you are writing science fiction, fantasy, or romance.

That magic is why I doubt I will give up, despite the fatigue and the odds of getting published. But I want to.

Another reason I don’t want to give up is because I get photos from my fans holding my books, like this one. Look at that smile! God Has Heard goes to another good home.

Unless the agent currently reading my manuscript miraculously decides to rep it, BLOOD HOUND – a novel featuring hitmen, wizards, and creepy-awesome unicorns – will be published on the 15th October 2015. Read the first chapter by signing up to my infrequent New Releases mailing list: click here!

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