Welcome to my serial novel! Below you can read a blurb and chapter one - the story will publish fortnightly, though patrons do get each chapter early, along with the complete ebook + extras at the end :)
Graves Robbed, Heirlooms Returned is the first in what I want to be a fun Urban Fantasy series following the investigations of 'Reed Lavender', nephew to Death herself, a man with the ability (among others) to hear the final words of the deceased.
He uses this information to solve crimes or bring peace, often joined by a cast of Reaper-relatives and even demi-Gods (all of whom offer varying levels of help and hindrance), but in his first case he also uncovers something bigger and darker beneath his city, something vast, something that is ripening to rot...
In the bright moonlight, Reed Lavender inserted his best crowbar into the pine box where the top met the sides and wrenched the steel down. Wood squeaked and he shuddered. Worse than fingernails on a blackboard. He lifted the lid free, resting it against the freshly turned earth – which, unlike the sound of an opening coffin – was an almost pleasant thing. A pungent scent but real. Honest. Worms and bugs, minerals and secrets lived in the earth; when you got right down to it, grave dirt wasn’t really any different to regular dirt.
And he was certainly down to it now, about to be elbow-deep in a coffin.
But for what they’d given Elise, the word ‘coffin’ was a stretch. A pine box wasn’t much of a final resting place – dignity hardly came cheap in Rikerton’s funeral home and unclaimed bodies were lucky to avoid the incinerator. Or maybe that would have been better. Dust to dust and all that.
“But then you’d be out of work,” he told himself.
Elise the runaway – that’s what the police thought she was – lay in her dirty jeans and the same faded Pink Floyd t-shirt she wore when she walked into the cafe two days back. Her arms lay at her side, cuts on her palms mostly hidden. Her face had been covered... by a used napkin. “Jesus, Jennings, that the best you could do?” Reed growled. At least the napkin was in one piece, the undertaker had been known to be far more slipshod at times.
Reed lifted the napkin... and ground his teeth.
She’d been beaten blue. Deep bruises swam across her cheeks, one eye swollen shut and the other just as blackened, torn skin at her temple. Jennings had cleaned her face up well enough but there were still leaf-fragments and dried blood in her hair. The pallor of death had washed out Elise’s freckles, mere suggestions crossing her bent nose. God, what is she, fifteen? She looks so small.
Reed tossed the napkin aside and unwound his scarf, folded it and placed it over her face, standing still a moment, shaking as he blinked. The night air ran chill fingers across his now-exposed throat and the back of his neck. Finally, he took a breath and leant over the coffin, where he lifted her arm. “Sorry, sweetheart,” he said softly, twisting her silver bracelet up to the moon. Only the letters ‘Elise’ engraved there. Really, there was little he could learn from a perfunctory glance at her clothing and jewellery that the police wouldn’t have already catalogued. He’d check that later, of course – but Elise deserved more.
No, he’d have to wake her up – sort of.
Her last words would maybe be enough of a clue. Most folks didn’t have much to say, right before the end. Sometimes it was a scream or a grunt if he was unlucky. Other times, they addressed their killer. Or a loved one, perhaps, if the death was peaceful. Not that I’ve heard a lot of those in my time.
There’d been a man out west, he couldn’t recall where, so many cities and towns blended together, whose last words had been an apology for burnt toast. After that, the poor guy hadn’t said a thing before being t-boned at an intersection by a bus an hour later, two blocks from his office.
But sometimes, a person’s last sentence held a clue.
“Come on, Elise, tell me something I can use.”
He removed the scarf a moment, took her cold hands and closed his eyes; sending his awareness down through her mute fingertips, pushing his way along quiet veins until he reached her chest, still echoing with the memory of a million heartbeats, then at last up the throat to the tongue; the tongue which remembered everything.
But it would move only once more.
“In the name of Mors, speak any that you might,” he whispered. “I’ll help you if you can.”
Her body resisted.
Not unusual. It meant reliving the pain and shock – why wouldn’t her body want to fight that? It was at rest now, if not at peace. But he had to know. Reed pushed harder, pouring both his hope and anger into the request. “Please, Elise.”
A flicker, a tiny sound as her jaw shifted.
He opened his eyes and leant close. Would it be a scream? A clue? Nonsense? Her voice was little more than a rasping whisper, such as might easily be mistaken for a breeze, but he caught the words.
“Wow, what a beautiful view. This is some place; you can see half the city from here.”
“Shit.” Poor girl, she probably never saw it coming.
Reed lowered Elise’s hands. Half the city. That hardly narrowed things down – there were only hundreds of such high points available. But it probably put the owner in a certain tax bracket at least. He shook his head. No assumptions. It was his first rule. And that went for murder too – maybe it was an accident. Still, something happened to bring Elise’s life to an unjust end.
He had to find out; no-one else was looking and Elise’s grandmother deserved answers. Even unpleasant ones, he supposed.
Reed placed the scarf back over the girl’s face and reached for his shovel.