My new book Rigor Mortis is available today in e-book format, so I thought I'd post the first chapter here so you guys can take a look. Kindle also offers the entire first chapter as a free sample.
And I don't want to speak out of turn, but I have it on strict authority that Greg Crites is narrating the audio book as we speak. This book was written with his particular narration skills in mind, and I am extremely excited he's taken time out of his busy schedule to do it for me. If you're an audio book freak, go over and peruse his offerings on veinarmor.com. I suggest starting with Crusade, one of my favorite books of all time, and that's on a list that includes Christopher Moore's Fool and the amazing Confederacy of Dunces.
And now, without further ado, Chapter One of Rigor Mortis.
The human body demurring to death is never pretty.
Rigor mortis had long ago set in and receded, great gouts of seeping fluid taking the place of the muscle fibers which had ratcheted shorter and shorter until fully contracted, eventually succumbing to the swell of decomposition.
"Oh, fuck me in the ass, she's oozing all over a real Persian rug. What a waste." The buxom bane of my existence hitched up her slacks and crouched next to the putrefying body.
I gnawed on my unlit cigar, still unaccustomed to the foul epithets that consistently slide from between the pretty lips of my secretary-cum-assistant-cum-stalker. Six months ago, Carla Danning sauntered into my life, all tits, temperament and testicular torture, and she's been an invective-spewing shackle around my tackle ever since. Also, I have reason to believe that is not the name she was given at birth.
But let me introduce myself before we go any further.
My name is Declan Morneau - Dex for short. If I look in the mirror, what stares back is a long-haired heap of sinew and gristle, with too few clients and too much drinking time on his hands. He's comfortable in his own skin, uncomfortable around anyone else's - tired, apathetic, and generally resigned to both, due to his propensity toward circumspection.
As a consequence of the aforementioned lack of clients, I supplement my private detective work as a process server. Thanks to the generosity of our slave-owning forbearers, all citizens of these fine United States have the right to be duly informed of being summoned. Sounds good on paper, but you can't sprinkle powdered sugar on that steaming pile and expect it to go down any easier.
From as far back as I can remember, I've had this weird quirk where I see people and emotions in color. I have no idea why, and frankly I don't care. Sometimes it helps me figure people out, sometimes it just confuses things.
Carla Danning is yellow. Which is interesting, since yellow is a universally accepted signal for caution. Sometimes she takes on an amber resonance, a bit of brown filters in just below the yellow, which to me indicates an underlying darkness. She's short of stature with an incongruously large presence and a tendency toward crassness at inopportune moments. It's hard to ignore the woman, even if you want to.
I squatted down next to Carla, my knees and ankles popping a painful symphony of regret.
"See these inconsistencies?" Carla fingered the knots at the base of the tassels running along the edge of the rug. "These are hand-knotted, for sure. And the fringe isn't fixed with machine stitches."
That's the thing. Carla's smart, which was why I grudgingly agreed to hire her, despite the fact that I'd taken out two restraining orders on her in the past six months; restraining orders that had nothing to do with the questions I now have about her past.
The restraining orders had been much like spraying Raid at a scurrying cockroach; you know it isn't going to do much, but at least you're making an effort to establish some boundaries. The background check - that's something else. A more direct assault, one I'm not so sure I can justify.
The heavy feet clomping through the front door are going to belong to Sergeant Lash, a squat sparkplug of a man, weeks from retirement. Lash is all meat with a bulldog square jaw, cleft chin and a bald head. He and I will go through the standard, "How'd you get in, Morneau?" followed by my typical response: "Door was open, Sarge. Had a lead on a client, landed me here."
If I get hired to track someone down and they're dead when I find them, I like to check things out before the cops come in and make my life more difficult. I have my job to do just like them. So I do it, then I call it in.
"Crime scene's on the way." Lash looked down at us and shook his head. "Carla, your perfumery assault on this space, coupled with the stench of decomposition, is a dual nasal assault no man or beast should have to bear."
I placed both hands on my knees and stood, my joints repeating their earlier protest. I tried to cover the chuckle, coughed it out, but the maneuver was unsuccessful.
Our close proximity, on top of my encouragement of the Sergeant's dig, begged retaliatory action. Carla glanced at Officer Murkowski - much younger, more lithe and generally less grumpy than his superior. He walked around the house scribbling in a small notebook. Carla took the opportunity to stick her tongue in my ear while both officers had their backs to us.
I batted her away and continued to scan the room. As far as the body, the homicide in question was a foregone conclusion, considering the knife embedded in the neck of the bloated body, with its blade buried to the hilt. When pondering suicide, pretty young ladies rarely take a kitchen knife to their own necks if options like razor blades, pills and all manner of household chemicals are available.
A cursory check of the tiny house had revealed razors in the bathroom, plenty of prescription sleeping pills and anti-depressants in the medicine cabinet, two boxes of rat poison, and enough lilac-scented Fabuloso under the kitchen sink to take down a water buffalo, should the need have arisen.
"Family hire you?" Lash eyed Carla, who was adjusting her low-cut blouse as she stood up. But his question was for me.
"Yeah, you know the drill," I said.
I'd received the call two days earlier; a concerned woman wanted me to check into the disappearance of a cousin she'd expected to hear from a few days ago, but hadn't. The woman said she thought her cousin had gotten in over her head with something, but she had no idea what that was. Just a feeling she had. Must have been some feeling for her to fork over a five-hundred dollar retainer, which she deposited that same night through my website.
Forty-eight hours and a few background checks later, Carla and I found ourselves at the residence of one Ward Deckard, the owner of the house we now occupied.
Crystal Bell was the name of the woman liquefying on the floor nearby. So far I'd ascertained that Ms. Bell worked as an independent contractor for Deckard's cleaning company. Their personal relationship was still in question, though it might prove difficult to determine since Ward Deckard was presently in the hospital hooked up to all manner of life-support devices, having succumbed to a massive stroke one week ago.
One of the guys from county morgue entered and immediately set upon the body. I squatted down for the third time that day, knowing I'd regret it later, and watched him pull open his medical bag.
"Cavalry is on its way, Morneau. Finish getting what you need and head out," Lash grumbled. He gave me a bit of latitude at crime scenes, but from what I've heard, his replacement won't be so easily managed.
Carla bent over and whispered in my ear, "And startling finds of science allied with beautiful tools to spawn a plethora of pleasures. As I sucked the very pith of such sweet reveries, then you appear, to make these splendors meager by compare."
"Woman, stop with the exclamations of lust over the stench of death. It's unseemly."
Murkowski grinned, tapping the tip of his pen on his chin. "Shakespeare?" When Carla shook her head, he tried again. "Shelley?"
Carla winked at him. "You got it, sweet-pea."
I stood and stretched out the kinks. "You two are grating on my nerves. Take that higher literary learnin' somewhere it'll be appreciated. Preferably another hemisphere."
"Jealous?" Carla asked.
The sound that came out of me is what's generally referred to as a harrumph. "Officer Smiley is welcome to partake of your foul intentions. I've no patience for an overly libidinous female with a mouth like a longshoreman."
"That's not the impression I got last night." Carla wandered over to a stack of books on a table and used a pencil to slide them around as she perused the titles in between looking up to gauge my reaction.
Both cops stared at me, hoping for some elaboration. I had no intention of sharing the events in question; namely Ms. Danning cornering me in our office late into a night spent pouring through old case files, after what even I had to admit was an unfortunate amount of Johnnie Walker.
"Wretched wench, probably the spawn of some otherworldly sea siren and one of those aforementioned longshoremen," I grumbled, heading outside to light my stogie.
I took a long puff and pondered my insufferable assistant. If she'd just stop talking. . . if she were mute, that'd be half the problem solved right there. Much as I hate to admit it - and I'd never admit it to her - the cringe-worthy stuff that drips like honey from her possibly-forked tongue inspires that same gut-burn I usually have right before I guzzle antacid straight from the bottle. Stuff like that isn't supposed to come from a mouth that I now know is glossed with peach-flavored tint. How are you supposed to ignore someone when you know they taste like your favorite fruit? How do you to erase that kind of assault from your sensory processing center?
I kicked a small rock from the gravel driveway and watched it skitter into the grass and come to rest at the base of a stake with a For Sale sign on it. Vale Realty; I made a mental note to contact them.
Damn woman. I'd been minding my own business, trying to track down a lead, something I remembered from an old case file, and there she was in the doorway of my office, holding a pizza out in one hand and a new bottle of scotch in the other, as the buttons of her blouse strained against the maneuver I knew was not inadvertent.
Opening that second bottle hadn't helped matters.
By the time I could even begin to start processing what was happening, she'd straddled me in my office chair and commenced a slow-grinding assault. Add to that the incessant nibbling on my ear, and the result was a perfect storm of unbridled tension that required immediate release.
I shoved her off my lap and onto the floor at my feet, but that had done nothing to dissuade her. She'd popped up like a Jack-in-the-Box, her top three buttons popping at the same time. She leaned over me, her unencumbered and extremely bourgeoning décolletage aligned with my nose. Which was just below my eyes, which were planted on her neck, and damned if I was going to look left, right, up or down into the widening chasm that would suck me in like the goddamned Bermuda Triangle.
"We done here?" Carla asked, coming around to plant herself in front of me.
"Woman, I'm gonna get a cow bell for around your neck so you can't sneak up on me like that." I backed up few steps and took a long tug on my cigar, blowing the smoke into the empty space between us, hoping it would act as a buffer.
Carla moved through the haze with the steely smile I'd expect Medusa to be wearing just prior to turning someone into stone and dry-humping them into a pile of dust.
"For the moment, we too must be twain, but your moment is almost up, Detective." Carla walked to my sedan and opened the passenger door, sliding in with all the grace of a predatory cat about to make a meal out of something. Namely me.
My ass clenched, my sack shriveled, and my pecker stiffened, in unison. I marveled at how that was physically possible as I tried to unclench, un-shrivel and un-stiffen so I could join her in the car.