I was not expecting this, but yesterday I got a treat from my publisher: ARCs of MEAN STREETS.
Alas, only 3 and they are all committed already, but it makes me smile.
So, in honor of the honor, I’ve included an excerpt of my story from the collection, “The Third Death of the Little Clay Dog”–it’s even Halloween appropriate!
The Third Death of the Little Clay Dog
by Kat Richardson
Trouble radiated from the black figurine like some kind of dark neon at the Devil’s own fairground. Not that I could actually see any such thing even in the Grey, but an electric prickling sensation zipped up my arms and down my spine when I touched it and that was close enough; I know human hair can’t literally stand on end like a dog’s, but I would have sworn mine was trying to.
Nanette Grover was still standing at the side of her desk, looking at me and the little statue. Her fanatically neat office flickered silver, smudged with red and orange and sad shades of green she would never see–the emotional and energetic leftovers of her clients still hanging in the Grey like smoke. A ghost or two lingered in the corners with sour, accusing faces and the odor of misery, muttering their cycles of frustration. They weren’t interested in me, so I ignored them and put my attention back on Nan.
She was impeccable as always: her straightened, java-brown hair was smoothed into a perfect French twist, her stylish tweed skirt suit was unwrinkled even after she’d been behind her desk since five a.m., and her smooth, dark skin was highlighted by delicate makeup that didn’t show a single crease. Even her energy corona was cool and constrained to a narrow bright line, except when she stepped onto the stage of the courtroom floor where it alternated between hypnotic pall and legal scalpel. In spite of her beauty she had all the warmth of a copper pipe in the snow–which was part of her appeal as a litigator, but not as a human being. One of her opponents in court had referred to her as”the Queen of Nubia” and it wasn’t hard imagining Nan on a war elephant chasing off Alexander the Great–even her allies found her intimidating.
“Well?”she asked, the word leaving amber ripples in the air.
“Well what?” I responded, shrugging off the commanding effect of her voice.
“You’re supposed to accept or reject the conditions.”
“What happens if I say no?”
Her energy closed back down to an icy line. “Then I have instructions regarding the disposition of the item.”
“What are those?”
“None of your business. Yes, or no, Harper.”
“What was it the client wants done with this, again?”
Nan sat down on the other side of the desk, the mistiness of the settling Grey giving her a deceptively soft appearance, and blinked once, long and slow–like some kind of reset–and explained again, with no heat or change of inflection from the first time. “A colleague of mine in Mexico City forwarded this item to me upon the death of his client. His client, Maria-Luz Arbildo, had left you a bequest in her will, with conditions. Namely, to personally hand-carry the statuette–this little dog figurine–to Oaxaca City in Oaxaca state in Mexico, and place it on the grave of Hector Purecete on the night of November First and attend the grave as local tradition dictates until daybreak of November Second. Additional specific instructions for the preparation of the grave will be provided. All this to be done in the first occurrence of November First following his client’s death. Ms. Arbildo died earlier this month.”
“The twentieth of October,” I added. “A week ago.”
“November First is the day after Halloween. Doesn’t that seem strange to you” I asked.
Nan’s ice-smooth expression didn’t change. “No.”
“And I never met this woman, never heard of her, but she sends this thing all the way to Seattle so I can take it all the way back to Mexico–the far end of Mexico I might add. Still not sounding kind of weird?”
“I don’t question the conditions of clients.”
“Is this sort of thing even legal?”
“Perfectly. If it flew in the face of public interest, then it would be illegal, but this does not. The condition also does not require you to do anything illegal either here or there, nor to violate your professional ethics, nor take on unreasonable expenses–everything will be paid for by Ms. Arbildo’s estate. If you choose to follow the conditions of Ms. Arbildo’s bequest, you will receive the thirty thousand dollars, once the condition has been completely and correctly met. Sum to be paid through this office.”
I was raised in Los Angeles County California, so I’m not totally ignorant of Mexican culture–just mostly. I knew the First of November was the Mexican equivalent of Halloween, but I didn’t know the details. My experience as a Greywalker, however, makes me wary of any date on which the dead are said to go abroad among the living. I know that ghosts–and plenty of other creepy things–are around us all the time, it’s just that most people don’t see them. I do more than just see them; I live with them and I’ve discovered that days associated with the dead are usually worse than most people imagine–they’e veritable Carnivales of the incorporeal, boiling pools of magical potential. So being asked to take a folk sculpture to a Mexican graveyard on the Day of the Dead sounded like a dangerous idea to me. Especially when the client is deceased.
On the other hand, I can at least see what’s going on. As someone who lives half in and half out of the realm of ghosts, monsters, and magic, I stand a chance against whatever strange thing may rear its head in such a situation. And the money was attractive. The work I regularly did for Nan, investigating witnesses and filling in the details of her cases prior to trial, paid the majority of my bills, but it wasn’t an extravagant living. Even with all the rest of my work added in, thirty thousand dollars was a major chunk of what I usually made in a year and it would only take about four days.
I looked back down at the statuette. It was a hollow clay figure of a dog, about a foot tall and long–give or take–and about four inches wide. The shape was simplified, not realistic, with stumpy legs and tail, a cone-shaped muzzle, and a couple of pinched clay points for ears. It had been painted with a gritty black paint and decorated with dots and lines of red and white that made rings around the limbs and a lightning bolt on the dog’s side. It also had two white dots for eyes, but no sign of a mouth.
Peering at it, I could see the little clay dog had been cracked and repaired at some point, the casting hole in its belly covered up with an extra bit of clay and painted over with more of the black paint. A hint of Grey energy gleamed around the repair seam, but beyond that, I couldn’t tell anything about what might be inside the dog. The statue itself had only a thin sheen of Grey clinging to its surface like old dirt, as if whatever magical thing it came from had withered long ago. There wasn’t any indicative cloud of color or angry sparks around it as I’d seen with other magical objects, yet I was sure there was something more to it than met the eye.
I looked back up at Nan, who hadn’t moved so much as an eyebrow. The silence in her office would have unnerved some people, but I found it pleasant as contrast to the incessant mutter and hum of the living Grey and its ghosts.
“What about the lawyer?” I asked.
“What about him?”
“Is he legit?”
Nan didn’t crack either a smile or a frown. “Yes. His name is Guillermo Banda. He does a lot of maritime and international work.”
I admit I had some reservations but I was also a little intrigued by the msytery of it–I’m a sucker for mysteries–and the money was pretty good, so I shrugged and said, “All right, I’ll take the thing to Mexico.”